After much speculation, the day finally came for Red Bull to unveil the RB16B, ahead of the 2021 season. The announcement was delivered with as much fanfare a virtual launch can muster, hammering home what we all expected; it’s the same, but different.
Red Bull have made themselves the talk of the off-season, after signing Sergio Perez to replace Alex Albon, who is now a reserve and test driver in the team, and the more recent announcement to take over their contract with Honda, and begin developing their own power units from 2022 onwards.
Some fans were a little disappointed to see the standard livery that has remained largely unchanged for a number of years, and Red Bull have made no secret of the fact that there has been a lot of carryover from the 2020 car, due to the deferral of the change in regulations.
Image courtesy of Red Bull
In spite of that, the team are keen to emphasise that the real changes have taken place beneath the surface. ‘For it’s final season in F1, Honda is introducing a new power unit’ amongst other changes.
Though it’s difficult to determine the extent of these changes from a carefully positioned press photo, it looks like there may be some change to the side-pods on the car, which in turn would mean greater downforce on the car.
Image courtesy of Red Bull
The RB16B ‘aims to carry the momentum of 2020 into the new season in a bid to fight for this years title’. The team feel confident this will help them take the fight to the as-yet unchallenged Mercedes, who have remained the dominant team in F1 for the past 7 seasons.
It will be all eyes on Silverstone tomorrow, when Max and Checo take to the track in the RB16B for the first time for a day of filming.
Will we see a shakedown livery? Do we have a new contender for the championship title, or will it just turn out to be the same, but different for another year running?
Benvenuti a Monza! We’re here and we’ve settled in for two weeks of exciting racing in Italy, but should we have come? Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari might like to weigh in on that one.
The Italian Grand Prix was the first weekend where the teams were no longer permitted to use their ‘party-mode’ engine modes, typically used in qualifying by certain teams to boost their chances of a better lap time.
At the start of the race it was a tale of two halves for the two Mercedes drivers, as Hamilton got yet another great start off the line, gliding into first place unchallenged as Bottas got swallowed up by the pack. McLaren had an excellent start with Sainz quickly taking 2nd position, and his team-mate Lando Norris overtaking a struggling Bottas going through the first and second Lesmos, which is testament to McLaren’s progress in recent years.
Bottas was quickly overtaken by Daniel Ricciardo, putting the Renault driver into 5th, and pushing Bottas down to 6th. Bottas was quick to report a possible puncture but chose not to pit. Bottas’ race engineer, Ricciardo Musconi, confirmed there were no issues with his tyres, but Bottas still looked to be struggling as he was overtaken by the Red Bull of Max Verstappen through the Parabolica.
It was a sorry start for the home favourites Ferrari, who qualified in 13th and 17th. Just when they thought it couldn’t get any worse, Sebastian Vettel reported brake failure on lap four, smashing through the foam barriers at the end of the pit straight and limping his way back to the pits, where the car was retired for the second time this season.
Ferrari’s hopes were then pinned on Leclerc, who didn’t appear to be having the same issue but didn’t really seem to be having a much better race. Hope was quickly abandoned after a a shocking crash going into the Parabolica, where the Ferrari ploughed into the tyre wall, bringing out the safety car for the second time and red flagging the session. Leclerc’s crash athough dramatic, proved exactly how valuable the halo truly was, as he was able to get out of the car and run from the scene unscathed. All this in the same weekend that Netflix were spending time with Ferrari.
Shortly before the crash, Hamilton had made a quick decision to pit after the safety car came out for Kevin Magnussen, who was forced to stop on track just before the pit entrance with a suspected power unit issue.
Mercedes took what they thought was a risk-free pit-stop, with Alfa Romeo’s Giovinazzi following suit shortly after. It wasn’t long until the race was stopped due to Leclerc’s incident, and both Hamilton and Giovinazzi were placed under investigation for entering the pits after it had been closed due to Magnussen’s stoppage.
This visibly rattled Mercedes, who were looking pretty comfortable. Hamilton took it upon himself to grab his scooter and make his way to Race Control during the red flag in an attempt to justify his actions, arguing on the radio that “there was no light” going into the pit lane.
This didn’t save him nor Giovinazzi, who were both given a 10-second stop and go penalty, serving F1 fans with the biggest game-changer in the hybrid era.
Hamilton was noticeably annoyed by this decision and was talking about building up a lead once again before taking his penalty. He was dissuaded from doing this by his race engineers, who had decided to ‘take the hit’ on this occasion.
Mercedes’ loss meant some considerable gains to the likes of Alpha Tauri, Racing Point, Alfa Romeo and McLaren.
The red flag wasn’t in place for too long and on lap 27 we were back on track heading for a dramatic restart.
Gasly was lightning fast on the restart, overtaking Stroll to take what was essentially first place, as Hamilton made his way around and back into the pits to serve his penalty. He re-joined the race 23 seconds behind the rest of the pack, meaning he would have to have had the drive of his life to get back to a podium finish.
Though it looked like a good opportunity for the Racing Point, Stroll seemed to have issues with the brakes, causing him to run off on the Della Roggia chicane and giving away two positions and putting him down into 5th. This was quickly taken from him by Sainz who had his eyes firmly set on the prize.
The same ambition and determination weren’t felt in either of the Red Bull cars, who have struggled more than usual. Albon was the first to have issues, running wide on lap one after being squeezed by Stroll and Gasly down the main straight, and causing damage to the Haas of Romain Grosjean. Albon was given a 5-second penalty for the damage he caused.
As usual, there was greater expectation of success with Verstappen, who was making some respectable overtakes, and scrapping with Bottas for 6th/7th position. Unfortunately, this was short lived as he was forced to retire the car on lap 31 due to a power unit issue.
Come lap 34, Sainz was chasing Gasly for the win after he and Raikkonen gave fans an absolute masterclass in overtaking through Turn 1.
Stroll bounced back from his earlier brake issue and overtook Raikkonen the following lap, moving him into third place.
Sainz continued to chase Gasly right down to the final lap of the race. Gasly just managed to stay ahead and out of DRS range of the determined McLaren driver and took his first ever F1 win, something absolutely none of us expected would happen going into this race weekend.
After being essentially demoted from Red Bull in the middle of 2019, this win is exactly the boost Gasly and the wider Alpha Tauri team needed. You’d have to be a hard individual not to feel some emotion watching him sit on the podium, sipping champagne in sheer disbelief. It’s only a shame the Tifosi weren’t there to make his win even more special.
We cannot end this race review however, without giving a special mention to Williams, who had its final race with their de-facto team principal, Claire Williams. It followed the announcement last Thursday that the family had decided to step away from Formula 1 after 43 years. It’s a real shame for us to see both she and the family say goodbye to the F1 family.
We owe Williams so much after having been an enormous part in F1’s development, bringing iconic moments for us all to appreciate and look back on with fondness. Though they will continue to race under the same name, something tells me it just won’t quite be the same anymore, so thank you Frank, thank you Claire, and thank you Williams for the great memories. We hope to see you back on top soon.
Image courtesy of Mercedes AMG F1 Team Steve Etherington.
There has been, and continues to be much speculation over the future of Mercedes-AMG F1 team principle Toto Wolff, who is perhaps infamously out of contract at the end of the 2020 season.
Toto has confirmed that he is in talks with Mercedes’ parent company, Daimler, however it doesn’t appear that any formal decision has been made as yet.
Unfortunately, the fact that the decision hasn’t been made so quickly, given Mercedes’ sheer domination with Wolff at the helm has, inevitably, set tongues waggling through the paddock and the wider F1 community.
But is this speculation valid?
There’s absolutely no denying that, under Wolff’s management, Mercedes have gone from being a team filling up the middle/back positions on the grid (circa 2011/2012, while Schumacher still had a drive), to hoovering up championship after championship for 6 years running. Other teams’ inability to match Mercedes’ pace has inspired regulation changes, and has even endangered viewing figures as fans protest the sport has become too ‘predictable’ as a result.
For Toto, it seems the team’s success is one of the reasons behind him carefully considering his future at Mercedes. Speaking before the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, he admitted he was ‘in a moment of reflection where F1 is heading to’. Wolff continued, ‘I really enjoy the role and my plan is to continue but I never want to be in a situation where you are becoming from very good to good.’
It’s an interesting approach from Toto who, you would imagine given the vast success, would be quite happy to sign up for another few years. It is also interesting that Wolff’s decision to take time and reflect comes as we turn our attention to the Renault garage, who have famously signed Fernando Alonso for two more championship seasons.
You’re probably wondering how Alonso could have anything to do with Wolff’s decision to stay at Mercedes. The truth is it doesn’t, however, as there has been speculation about Toto’s future, there has been far more (for far longer) about whether Alonso should return to F1 or concentrate on other projects.
One could argue that it shows considerable level-headedness (essential for the role of team-principle, you’d imagine), and an absence of narcissism, to be aware that your track record doesn’t necessarily guarantee the same success going forward, and that it might even be a hindrance to those waiting in the wings to be given their opportunity to progress.
Depending on which side of the argument you’re on, it seems like Wolff is removing pride from the equation, something that doesn’t seem to have happened when Alonso signed with Renault. (Poor Hülkenberg!)
This is, of course, the first opportunity for Wolff to really consider his future in the team after the sad loss of his fellow team boss, Niki Lauda, whose absence is felt not just in the Mercedes garage, but in F1 as a whole.
Like Niki, Toto is quite the entrepreneur, with a keen eye for driver talent (he famously manages Esteban Ocon, who some of us expected would be filling Bottas’s seat last year), as well as having small stakes in Aston Martin and as of June this year, Williams F1. Perhaps he could give Dr Helmut Marko a run for his money, and turn his attention to making further investments, and manage new drivers coming up through the formulas.
Personally, I find this unlikely, however I would like to see Wolff move to another team, or even another formula that needs a little bit of development. An advisor for Williams F1 maybe? Or, working with the Mercedes-Benz EQ Formula E team, and boosting its profile even further.
Whatever he decides, I’m certain the Wolff name will remain an enormous part of F1, and if all else fails, I’m sure Sky Sports F1 will be waiting in the wings with a decent contract for him, just in case.
The German Grand Prix brought with it another weekend of high expectations for Mercedes and Ferrari. Mercedes celebrated 125 years in motorsport and their 200th race start by bringing a bit of 1950s nostalgia to the Hockenheimring, while Sebastian Vettel returned to home turf in the hopes of starting to claw back the championship lead built by rival Lewis Hamilton.
All bets were off come race day, as the drivers were faced with the prospect of their first wet race of the season. This year’s rookies were more than a little apprehensive, with McLaren’s Lando Norris describing it as “driving into the unknown”.
The stewards eventually decided to have the formation lap done behind the safety car. The likes of Hamilton, Verstappen and Magnussen were eager to get going, encouraging the stewards to bring in the safety car after the third formation lap. It was only after the fourth lap that the stewards finally got the message, and the grid lined up for a standing start.
Verstappen was eager to get going, but his start was lacklustre as he and Pierre Gasly struggled to find enough grip to build on their excellent qualifying positions, with Verstappen dropping two places within the first ten seconds of the race. Bottas was forced to run wide at turn one, and Kimi Raikonnen came out of nowhere to take third place. Leading the pack, Hamilton pushed on unchallenged.
For the first few racing laps, the cars moved tentatively around the circuit, dodging spray, puddles, and each other. Sergio Perez was the first casualty, crashing at turn eleven, bringing out the safety car and causing a flurry of activity in the pits.
A busy pit-lane can vastly increase the chances of an unsafe release and, sure enough, Grosjean was forced to slam on the brakes to avoid Charles Leclerc, who had just finished his stop. Ferrari were slapped with a fine, which was a refreshing change from the stewards, who have found themselves in the firing line a great deal this season with their questionable penalty decisions.
The safety car peeled away and we were back racing on lap four, which allowed a feisty Sebastian Vettel to start eating up positions after his P20 start, and by lap seven he was already in eighth place.
On lap 15, poor Daniel Ricciardo faced yet another DNF, after his engine failed and spewed oil all over the track. The virtual safety car was deployed, but only for a lap.
Two laps later, Leclerc came in for his second stop of the race to replace his intermediate tyres, and Carlos Sainz skidded off the track at turn 16. He managed to save it, though, and avoided bringing out the safety car again, virtual or otherwise.
Elsewhere in the pit-lane, talk had already turned to potentially switching to slicks. Haas became the grid’s guinea pig as they pitted Kevin Magnussen on lap 23 to change to the dry tyres despite drizzle still out on track.
The rain didn’t seem to phase Magnussen, though, and this gave the other teams the confidence that maybe it was time for dry tyres after all. Vettel and Verstappen came in for a change of boots, but Red Bull almost immediately regretted their decision, as Verstappen could barely find any grip and span. He somehow managed to re-join the track in third place, with no damage done.
Despite his pre-race apprehension, Lando Norris had been running very respectably considering it was his first ever wet F1 race. Lap 28, though, saw everything change, as he was forced to retire due to a loss of drive. This brought out the second VSC of the race and caused yet more pit-lane activity.
Mercedes and Ferrari took full advantage of another free pit stop, with Hamilton and Leclerc emerging tentatively on soft tyres. Despite their careful driving, Leclerc crashed and beached his car at turn 16, bringing out the safety car. Almost immediately after, Hamilton came skidding past Leclerc and lost a chunk of his front wing.
The incident caught Mercedes off-guard, as Hamilton chose to dive into the pits with no warning. The team scrambled frantically to replace the front wing and change his tyres again, and Hamilton ended up losing four places in the chaos. The drama didn’t end there, and Hamilton was given a five-second penalty for entering the pits on the wrong side of the bollard.
The race restarted on lap 34, with Max Verstappen leading and Nico Hulkenberg in P2. Things seemed to settle down briefly, allowing for fans to enjoy a truly mixed-up, unusual grid. Unfortunately, this was short lived, as Hulkenberg, having dropped down to P4, crashed at the final corner on lap 41, bringing out the safety car once again.
By lap 46 we were back racing again. Mercedes had chosen not to pit Hamilton under the safety car, and it is unclear whether they would have pit him at all had it not been for his protests over the radio. They eventually relented and brought him in, where he served his five-second penalty.
Red Bull did not hesitate in pitting Verstappen again. This allowed Lance Stroll to lead the race for the first time in his F1 career. His time in the spotlight, though, was short-lived, as Verstappen re-joined the track and promptly reclaimed the lead.
By this point, the track had started drying out, and fastest laps were being set left, right, and centre. Daniil Kvyat was the first to do so, having worked his way up to third. This was quickly followed by both Haas drivers, and finally reclaimed by Verstappen on lap 50.
On lap 54, Hamilton’s day went from bad to worse, spinning at the first corner and narrowly missing the wall. This left him down in 15th, last of the cars still running. While Hamilton was lucky to avoid the wall, Bottas wasn’t so lucky. He spun in exactly the same place, and the barriers claimed yet another victim. The safety car was brought out, for what was the last time that afternoon.
It was an unfortunate way to end what could have been a promising afternoon for the Finn, eager to prove his worth to Mercedes and secure his seat for 2020.
Proving his worth wasn’t an issue for Vettel this afternoon. Despite starting P20, he had steadily worked his way up the grid and, upon the final race re-start, made light work of Sainz, Stroll, and Kvyat to take P2 on lap 63.
While Verstappen thrived in the conditions, Gasly struggled to hold position, dropping down to 14th at one point. By lap 60 he had worked his way back up to 7th and looked to claim 6th from Alex Albon. The Thai driver wasn’t about to give up the position without a fight, and Gasly ended up running into the back of Albon. The damage forced him to retire at the last moment.
After what felt like a lifetime, the chequered flag finally waved, with Verstappen crossing the line to take the win ahead of Vettel and Daniil Kvyat.
The German Grand Prix’s place on the calendar may be under threat, but yesterday’s race reminded us just why we continue watching F1 every weekend – Kvyat described it as a “horror movie, with a bit of black comedy”.
The action didn’t even stop when the race ended. Both Alfa Romeo drivers where placed under investigation for breach of Article 27.1, relating to clutch torque application at the race start. Hours after the race’s end, the duo were handed 10-second stop and go penalties, promoting Robert Kubica into the points for the first time in ten years.
Going into this weekend, it would have been a safe bet to say Mercedes would dominate, but instead we were treated to a race that will go down in F1 history. It’s amazing what a sprinkle of rain can do!
Featured image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
Ask every driver in Formula 1, the home race is guaranteed to be their favourite. This was no exception for current World Champion Lewis Hamilton going in to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone this weekend, aiming to build on his lead over rivals Sebastian Vettel and team-mate Valterri Bottas.
It wasn’t an ideal start for Hamilton though, having qualified in P2 on Saturday afternoon after being pipped to the top spot by fellow Mercedes driver Bottas, with only 0.006s between the two laps. This time Hamilton didn’t simply have the luxury of building a lead from the start, he’d have to earn his keep and get past the fiery Finn before getting to the golden trophy.
Behind the two Mercedes’ drivers sat Charles Leclerc in P3, eager for another opportunity to be on the podium following a dramatic Austrian Grand Prix which saw him lose out on 1stplace to the ballsy Dutchman, Max Verstappen and Red Bull who coincidentally sat in P4, providing fans with a great deal of entertainment throughout the race.
It was a relatively clean start all round, however Haas’s week of drama continued as Kevin Magnussen and Roman Grosjean made contact in the first lap, which unfortunately forced both drivers to retire from the race. This unlucky accident resulted in Grosjean’s 5thretirement of the season, and no doubt, 2 pairs of thoroughly boxed ears from an extremely angry Gunter Steiner in the post-race briefing.
At the front of the grid, both Mercedes’ drivers had a good start, with Bottas’ managing to hold his team-mate at bay with some excellent defending. Bottas’ looked to be building a lead on Hamilton. This was all in vain as Antonio Giovannazi beached his Alfa Romeo in the gravel giving Hamilton the opportunity for a free pit stop. Unfortunately, Bottas wasn’t able to catch up with the Brit, who had been rewarded by opportunistic strategy from Mercedes engineers. This lead was held for the duration of the race, much to the joy of the hordes of Hamilton fans in the stands that day.
But we expected that.
Meanwhile, a little bit further down the track, some exciting racing was finally taking place.
Verstappen was keen to rub yet more salt in Leclerc’s wounds for another podium finish, providing fans with some clean, excellent racing for 13 laps, after which came an overtake that had fans (aka me) screaming at their TV’s in amazement. Both Leclerc and Verstappen came into the pits at the same time, putting enormous pressure on both Ferrari and Red Bull mechanics to get the tyres changed flawlessly and quicker than the other team.
Red Bull won the battle, but as soon as the mechanics had stopped cheering on Verstappen taking 3rdplace from Leclerc in the pitlane, the young Ferrari driver had re-gained the position emerging back on track. New tyres on a newly re-surfaced track caused Verstappen to run wide at turn four, leaving the door wide open for Leclerc to take back 3rdplace.
To pit or not to pit, that was the question once again for Leclerc’s strategists at Ferrari who were slow to bring their number two driver in to change his boots during the safety car. This cost the young Monégasque track position, coming out ahead of Verstappen who had also pitted and emerged in 6th.
The re-start was promising for Verstappen who managed to overtake Leclerc for a second time (on track this time), and push on towards his team-mate Pierre Gasly for 4thposition. Gasly honourably moved aside to allow Verstappen to charge after the other prancing horse, which he quickly met and began the battle for 3rdplace once again.
Verstappen overtaking Vettel going into Stowe could have been one of those moments that go down in fondly remembered Formula 1 history, unfortunately, the gods of racing weren’t happy to leave well enough alone. Almost immediately after Verstappen had gained the position, he had lost it once again after Vettel misjudged his braking and shunted the back of the Red Bull which caused them both to run off the track.
By some miracle, the only thing that was damaged was the two drivers’ egos, and the pair somehow managed to work their way out of the notoriously tricky gravel trap and back onto the track to continue with the race. Vettel was slapped with a 10-second time penalty for this incident, which adds to what has been a gut-wrenching season for the 4-time World Champion.
This weekend was not simply an opportunity for fans to bask in Hamilton’s never-ending glory, British fans were also able to say thank you to a F1 icon, Sir Frank Williams who was celebrating an astonishing 50 Years in Formula 1. Although Vettel’s mistake cost Ferrari important championship points, it also gave the Williams’ drivers the opportunity to not finish last for the first time this season. British driver George Russel finished 14thahead of his team-mate Robert Kubica in 15th, although it doesn’t seem like much of an achievement, it was a welcome change for the struggling team.
The racing wasn’t simply reserved for Ferrari and Red Bull, McLaren and Renault were also able to get stuck in. McLaren golden-boy Lando Norris made his intentions quite clear from the beginning, as payback for Ricciardo’s cheekiness in the driver’s conference at the start of the weekend.
The two battled it out wheel-to-wheel, quite literally from the start of the race, through Copse, Maggots and Becketts until Ricciardo eventually lost out to the youngster in the hair-raising battle. Norris’ spectacular driving ability was over-shadowed by McLaren’s poor strategy choice which eventually kept Norris out of the points, finishing in 11th; Ricciardo managed to score his first few points since Canada, finishing in 7thplace.
Following his win at Silverstone, Lewis Hamilton is able to go into the German Grand Prix with a 39-point lead on his main rivals, Valterri Bottas and Max Verstappen. That said, after this weekend, there’s quite clearly something special about a home race, and with Hockenheim just around the corner, perhaps this is where Vettel will start to make his comeback.
Featured Photo by Gareth Harford / LAT Images via Pirelli
Looking out into the stands you could almost be forgiven for thinking the McLaren’s fans had taken over, but in Austria, a sea of orange can only mean one thing – Max Verstappen has come home (kind-of).
Verstappen put in a steady performance in FP1, but found himself involved in an unfortunate high-speed crash at turn 10 in FP2 which saw him lose the back end of the car and collide with the barrier. Thankfully, Verstappen was unhurt and the car was made ready in enough time for FP3 and the Qualifying session on Saturday afternoon.
Max and the team were optimistic in spite of the set-back; ‘Crashes can happen unfortunately, but maybe it’s a good thing because they’ll take the whole car apart and so a few new parts on it.’
Sure enough, as if by magic, Verstappen’s positivity, a lot of hard work overnight from the Red Bull engineers and a rare grid-penalty for Lewis Hamilton resulted in an excellent qualifying position for the Dutchman, starting 2ndon the grid, next to Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
It was an impressive run for Max who confessed after qualifying he had been dreading bringing the car to Austria; ‘Before we came here, I was not really looking forward to qualifying because I knew it was going to be hard.’
Sat at the front of the grid, the pressure was on for Max to make a good start to the Austrian Grand Prix. Unfortunately, after being sat for over half a minute, the RB15’s anti-stall system kicked in when it really mattered, setting him back to 7thplace before reaching turn one. Thankfully Verstappen’s determination and a huge amount of encouragement from the crowd saw the Red Bull flying through the pack in spite of the ropey start.
Speaking to Sky F1 after the race, Max said he was ‘extremely disappointed but I just kept pushing hard… I had to stay calm and get through them cleanly’. The RB15 sailed through the grid overtaking Valterri Bottas for second place on Lap 56 in spite of a hair-raising issue with an exhaust sensor, causing what Verstappen describe as a ‘loss of power’ over the team radio.
This was quickly forgotten about as Max pushed on to close what was a 5 second gap between himself and Leclerc’s Ferrari. By Lap 69 Verstappen was in a position to challenge Leclerc, which he quickly achieved in a controversial overtake at turn 4 which caused the two cars to bump tyres and push Leclerc into the run-off area.
The chequered flag fell in favour of Verstappen and Red Bull, much to the delight of the army of Dutch fans. This was quickly overshadowed by a furious Leclerc protesting the move, followed by a notice from the Stewards who put the ‘incident’ under investigation.
The Stewards decision to put the overtake under investigation exposes Formula 1 to yet more criticism, following their poor decision to give Vettel a 5-Second time penalty which ultimately handed Hamilton the race win in Canada. The fact that something like a driver running off the track or touching wheels, something we see on an almost weekly basis at the start of a race, suddenly warrants an investigation, shows the lack of consistency and a reluctance to allow actual racing to take place.
It took the FIA almost 3 hours to decide on something that should have gone down as good, close racing. Perhaps it says more about the lack of action in the sport in recent races, that when the stewards see something mildly exciting happening on track, they’ve forgotten how to deal with it.
There has been and continues to be an enormous push forwards in terms of safety in Formula 1, the most recent of which was the introduction of the halo in 2018 to further protect the drivers head in the car. The controversy about Vettel’s ‘unsafe re-entry’ in Canada and now the debate over Verstappen’s overtake in Austria clearly comes from a concern about safety, however in doing so, this hints at a fear from the FIA of allowing for racing and the minor racing incidents that go along with it. Clearly, the FIA need to re-evaluate and make allowances for true racing and entertainment.
The drama doesn’t seem to have dampened the spirits of Red Bull and Honda, who have seen their first win since 2006. Indeed, Max’s initial comment after getting out of his car hit the nail on the head; ‘It was hard racing. If it’s not allowed, what’s the point in racing in F1?’.
Whatever your thoughts on the winner, the Austrian Grand Prix has produced yet another talking point in Formula 1. It’s unfortunate that once again, real racing is overshadowed by the stewards.
Daniel Ricciardo’s decision to exchange his Red Bull wings for a Renault Sport beret for 2019 surprised many. Ricciardo began his F1 career back in 2011, racing with Toro Rosso and Red Bull for nine years and showing his abilities with bold overtakes, clean racing, and a grin visible even when wearing a helmet.
Ricciardo’s decision to leave Red Bull was hard news for some. With two strong drivers in that team during the 2018 season, it was becoming increasingly difficult to say who, between Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, held the number one seat.
This isn’t, of course, the first time a talented driver has taken the decision to move to a less-successful team in the hope of making some big improvements. The most recent success story was, of course, Lewis Hamilton’s decision to leave McLaren for Mercedes in 2013. The rest, they say, is somewhat monotonous history.
But why did Ricciardo leave for Renault?
Although Renault have a rich and varied history in Formula 1, their success in recent years has been hit-and-miss. After a few years taking places in the middle of the grid, the decision to sign Nico Hulkenberg for the 2017 season allowed for Renault to become a slightly more permanent fixture in the top ten in qualifying.
Renault’s confidence seems to have been boosted a great deal by Ricciardo’s signing, describing Ricciardo and Hulkenberg as ‘one of the strongest – if not the strongest – driver line-ups on the grid’. The fact that the two Renault drivers are particularly talented is undeniable, which makes it a shame that Ricciardo’s first season with the team has lacked the strength they had initially hoped for.
It has been a slow start for all parties involved, riddled by technical faults, friendly fire and gearbox failures, which resulted in four DNFs so far this season. The Canadian Grand Prix proved to be a great opportunity for Renault, after Kevin Magnussen’s crash in Q2 kept Verstappen out of Q3 and opened the door for Ricciardo to qualify fourth, his best starting position since joining Renault.
Despite this promise, though, the race didn’t result in a podium finish. Ricciardo and Hulkenberg finished P6 and P7 respectively, which is respectable enough. However, Renault’s decision to keep Hulkenberg behind Ricciardo despite Hulkenberg being on fresher tyres seems to have caused a bit of disharmony in the garage.
According to team boss Cyril Abiteboul, Renault’s position in the Constructors Championship proved more important on this occasion.
“I wanted to make sure that the team’s back in the game, and the drivers will also be back in the game, their own game, from next week onwards,” he said.
Renault are currently 5th in the Constructors Championship, having jumped up from 8th thanks to their result in Canada. They now sit just two points behind McLaren, so it seems that the the temporary self-preservation tactic paid off.
Though Renault’s season has been a little slow to get started, Ricciardo’s optimism hasn’t waned.
“We’re realistic in our approach, but the team should be proud of this weekend [Canada],” he said. “They have that drive and determination to push on now and that’s really encouraging.”
As the Formula 1 train pushes on to Circuit Paul Ricard in France this weekend, it is hoped that Ricciardo and Renault’s fortune will continue on for their home race. Ricciardo’s move to Renault has allowed for that little bit more variety and action in the middle of the pack, something that fans argue has been quite limited in recent seasons.
The iconic Monaco Grand Prix marked the sixthrace of the 2019 F1 season, and while the focus this week has been on the loss of F1 legend and Mercedes mentor Niki Lauda, the race around the streets of Monte Carlo finally brought a long-awaited challenge to reigning champion Lewis Hamilton, in the form of Max Verstappen and Red Bull.
Red Bull’s decision to kiss goodbye to their partnership with Renault in 2018 was hardly a surprise to the world of F1, after a number of seasons falling short of their dominant years with Sebastian Vettel. It was also hardly a surprise to find that fans were dubious about their subsequent contract with Honda, who famously struggled in their partnership with McLaren.
With Max Verstappen hungry to win his first championship, the move to a power unit that had been even less reliable than Renault seemed like very risky business, but is the risk beginning to pay off?
Rob Marshall, Red Bull’s chief engineering officer, certainly seems to think so, even if they are under no illusion they still have a way to go.
“We can see areas around the power-unit packaging-wise,” he said. “It’s just making different bits and moving a few things around. [Honda] are very open to our suggestions.”
The Red Bull and Toro Rosso drivers both felt the benefit of an upgrade brought to Baku, which was reflected in Verstappen’s solid performance. The same could not be said for his team mate Pierre Gasly, however, who was forced to retire on lap 40 out of 51 due to a loss of power.
In the run up to the Monaco Grand Prix, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, who has been highly critical of the suppliers in the past, expressed the teams delight in working with Honda this season.
“We are very happy with the progress that’s being made […] to have closed that gap [to the top 2 teams] and put that performance on the car is really encouraging,” he said.
Horner was under no illusion about still having work to do with the car generally but, aside from Gasly’s retirement in Baku, reliability hasn’t been as much of an issue for the team.
“Reliability compared to previous years has been fantastic, and performance is strong […] Now we have to try and focus on diminishing the gap further to Mercedes”.
Verstappen found enough pace to challenge Hamilton’s Mercedes, running in second position in Monaco from lap 11 after exiting the pit lane ahead of Bottas following an unsafe release. Though Verstappen finished in fourth place as a result of his five-second penalty, he is still positive about his race overall.
“Of course I would have liked to have been on the podium but if we look at the pace and performance, we were strong,” he said.
Pierre Gasly also had a respectable performance around the streets of Monaco, finishing fifth and also taking an extra point for fastest lap for the second time this season.
In terms of points and podiums, then, Red Bull is building a steady lead ahead of the other teams. After Monaco, Red Bull are on 110 points and are beginning to close the gap between themselves and Ferrari, who currently have 139 points. In the drivers’ championship, Verstappen is in fourth position with 78 points, behind Vettel with 82 points.
Pierre Gasly is in sixth position with 32 points behind Leclerc who has 57 points. Verstappen has also finished third twice so far this season – Monaco would have been another podium had it not been for the unfortunate penalty.
It almost goes without saying that Mercedes are the ones to beat, however with Red Bull’s newfound pace, it’s certainly an encouraging start for a team that were once the ones to beat.
[Featured image – Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool]
Formula 1 Pre-Season testing got underway in Barcelona this morning with a healthy mix of old and new faces racking up the laps. Rookies Lando Norris and Alex Albon for McLaren and Toro Rosso were first out on track.
Albon had the marshals on their toes after causing the first red-flag of the session, one minute after lights went green. Albon’s Toro Rosso was sat in the gravel facing the wrong way after having lost it upon exiting Turn four, and after a 20-minute recovery from the marshals, we got back into the session.
Both Ferrari and Mercedes were keen to begin testing the harder tyres this morning, running the C1, starting at a slightly slower pace than the previous day. After Bottas’s morning test yesterday, it was the turn of Hamilton to set an early alarm, and by 8:20am he had set the first time of the day at 1:32s.
Ferrari’s new driver Charles Leclerc got in the seat for the first time, initially taking a steady approach to handling his new car by setting a 1:42. He picked up the pace pretty quickly after that though, going from the bottom to the top of the table by setting a more-than-respectable 1:19 and showing the world he can match the pace of his teammate Sebastian Vettel. Vettel has already gone on record in considering Leclerc a ‘full rival … He got the seat for a reason and I’ve got to take him very seriously’. With a personal best of 1:18.2 this morning, it’s difficult to view Leclerc in any other way.
After Verstappen’s impressive performance yesterday, Red Bull’s number two driver Pierre Gasly took to the wheel for the first time at just after 8:30am, sharing the track with Alfa Romeo’s number two, Antonio Giovinazzi. Gasly put in a steady first lap on C3 tyres with a 1:37.5, before picking up the pace and putting in a 1:22, and a 1:21 shortly after. Giovinazzi puts in a 1:24 and continues to improve, achieving a 1:20 after 22 laps.
Like Hamilton, Ricciardo was also back in the driver’s seat this morning following yesterday’s afternoon session. Ricciardo’s Renault matched the pace of Red Bull and Gasly lap after lap, as both cars achieved a respectable 1:21s.
Meanwhile, it looked to be yet another slow start for Racing Point this morning after yesterday’s arguably disappointing session. The team managed to rack up a meagre 30 test laps across the whole day. Performance Engineering Director Tom McCullough summarised the day; ‘We had some teething problems, which caused us some downtime across the day, and a small oil leak, but nothing overly concerning’.
McCullough explained the teams aim for today’s session, focusing on aero data collection and giving Lance Stroll an opportunity to experience his new car, however by 8:50am, Stroll had only managed two installation laps. By 9:05am, Stroll had achieved his first timed lap, managing a 1:29 on C3 tyres. His pace improved quite quickly with a 1:21.6, coming second on the timing sheets over Hamilton’s 1:24.6. Stroll surpassed his teammates efforts yesterday, completing 45 laps before lunchtime.
Perhaps a little dubious to appear on track too early this morning, Kevin Magnussen and Haas finally ventured out to do an installation lap on intermediate tyres, before returning to the pits. Magnussen was back on track after 35 minutes in the garage, putting in his first flying lap of 1:23.4. He continued to build on this by following it with a 1:21.9, and a 1:21.6 moving ahead of Albon’s Toro Rosso.
Magnussen spent a further 20 minutes in the garage; the Haas social media team describing it as an ‘extended stay’, offering no indication of why the team have put in so few laps this morning.
Ricciardo’s Renault decided to spice up the morning by parting ways with its rear wing while using DRS, causing him to spin off track and into the gravel. Miraculously he managed to get the car out without causing a second red-flag in the session.
The lunch break came and went with some teams opting for a driver change, namely Mercedes and Renault. Bottas was the first man on track, followed closely by Charles Leclerc for Ferrari. Leclerc was the first man to break the 100-lap benchmark, followed by rookie Alex Albon for Toro Rosso.
Nico Hulkenberg settled down to test his Renault for a race distance and continued to knock out lap times in the 1:20s. Hulkenberg didn’t manage to top the timesheets, however Renault seem to have found consistent timing and distance of greater value than fastest car on track. He did eventually break free of the monotony and started pushing the car just a little bit, managing a personal best of 1:20.3 which put him in 8thposition.
Pierre Gasly spun out going in to turn 12 with only an hour and a half left on the clock. Though the damage didn’t look overly disastrous, it was a sorry end to Gasly’s otherwise smooth and steady session.
Pietro Fittipaldi took to the wheel in place of Kevin Magnussen who was forced to retire from the race early due to a seat-fit issue, which could explain the frequent ‘extended stays’ K-Mag was having in the morning session. Fittipaldi managed a total of 13 laps before the end of the session.
Sadly, we heard very little from Williams today. It is thought they will be arriving with the car very early tomorrow morning, with a view to joining in the testing tomorrow lunchtime.
McLaren are continuing to play the come-back kid by coming second only to Ferrari on the timing sheet. It’s an extremely positive start for the team, but ultimately Ferrari stole the show once again, taking fastest lap for the second day in a row (a 1:18.2) along with a healthy distance on track. With 157 laps under his belt, Leclerc has taken thorough advantage of his opportunity to get used to his new car.Image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports
Barcelona enjoyed the dulcet tones of multiple V6 engines today, as the first session of winter testing finally got under way.
Alfa Romeo were awake bright and early to reveal their car and livery – becoming the final team to do so – before Kimi Raikkonen took it out for a quick spin (literally), getting stuck in the gravel in the first 15 minutes of the session.
Red Bull’s social media team were also up early do a second ‘reveal’, showing off the traditional matte livery they have used over the past four years and disappointing fans that had grown fond of the shakedown livery they had initially debuted.
Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari began taking the challenge to Mercedes early doors, putting in an impressive number of laps and topping the timing sheet with an eyebrow-raising 1m18. The same success could not be said of Ferrari’s sub-team Haas; Romain Grosjean was forced to pull over on track, causing a red flag after a couple of successful installation laps due to fuel pressure loss. At least Haas’s mechanics weren’t short of work to do!
At the lunchtime break, Vettel remained at the top of the timesheets with a 1m18 and an impressive 72 laps. Just behind him was Perez in the Racing Point car with a 1m19, and Bottas with a 1m20. While Ferrari seemed keen to display their might early on, Mercedes clearly felt no pressure to respond so early in the session.
The session recommenced at 2pm and although some teams chose to test with the same driver, others decided to make the swap and we saw five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton take the wheel for the first time since the shakedown at Silverstone last Friday.
Hamilton put in a healthy number of laps, most of them running in the 1m20 range, once again feeling absolutely no pressure to be topping the timing sheets just yet.
There was a slightly hair-raising moment for McLaren when Carlos Sainz’s car stopped at the end of the pit lane causing the third red flag of the day. McLaren were quick to redeem themselves though, managing to run an impressive 119 laps, staying comfortably in the 1m20s, and even managing to come second to Vettel’s Ferrari with a respectable 1:18.5. It’s an optimistic start for a team that has suffered a great deal of disappointment in previous seasons.
On the theme of disappointment, more sad news came from the Williams garage. After being unable to complete a planned shake-down on Saturday, and announcing they would not be taking part in today’s testing, a further announcement came after lunch confirming they would not be able to take part in testing until Wednesday ‘at the earliest’.
Deputy team boss Claire Williams described the delay as ‘extremely disappointing’, and indeed with Robert Kubica taking a seat this season after an eight-year hiatus from F1, it is disappointing to delay his anticipated return even further.
Daniel Ricciardo made his debut for Renault this afternoon after his teammate Nico Hulkenberg had a positive morning, describing the car as “the best I’ve seen at Renault”, which is a promising hint for what is to come. Both commentators and fans are slowly getting used to seeing Danny in a black and yellow race suit, this didn’t faze Danny who put in a respectable 44 laps, making Renault one of five teams that have surpassed the 100-lap milestone today.
There was an interesting moment in the last hour of the session between Hamilton and Kvyat in the Toro Rosso, as Kvyat pushed Hamilton to work to overtake him. After a couple of laps and pointing out the nose of the Mercedes car, Hamilton was forced to back off as he was unable to complete the manoeuvre, which begs the question: do the front-wing changes help or hinder Mercedes performance?
Kimi Raikkonen was his usual charismatic self before completing 114 laps in the freshly unveiled Alfa Romeo car, going into the test with the aim of getting a ‘more real picture of the car’, but with the unintentional aim of causing the final red-flag of the day, one minute before the end of the session.
Today was unquestionably Ferrari’s day with Vettel putting in a whopping 169 laps and remaining quickest throughout the whole session with a 1:18.1. Second came Carlos Sainz in the McLaren with a 1:18.5 and Grosjean with a 1:19.1 in spite of only completing 65 laps before stopping on track earlier in the session.
Overall though, the theme for today was getting a feel for the car and putting the laps in; no exciting racing just yet, but it’s a promising start for the 2019 season.