2021 Dutch GP: The undercut that could have worked and Gasly’s underappreciated race


Zandvoort is back, and with a bang, we must say.

Sure, it was not the race that we were waiting for, since it lacked the chaos, Safety Car outings and red flags that were anticipated, but it provided a good story up front, with Max Verstappen and the two Mercedes scrapping in a strategic battle, and a mesmerising, yet utterly unsung, performance from Pierre Gasly.

Although the win never seemed out of hand for Max Verstappen, Mercedes’ pitwall did what it could to turn their fortunes around, and get advantage of their 2-to-1 battle for the lead. With Sergio Perez down in the last places of the grid after a pitlane start, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas could cooperate and win the race (for the Briton, of course), by strategy.

A congested Q1 last Saturday saw Sergio Perez start 16th for the Dutch Grand Prix – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

The Dutch circuit proved as difficult to overtake on as teams and drivers predicted, so everything had to be done through the undercut: both times, Mercedes pulled Hamilton for a pit stop, in order to get ahead of Verstappen, when he would stop for a fresh set of tires. However, both times this plan failed, for two different reasons.

On lap 20, Peter Bonnington gave Hamilton the ‘box’ message, Hamilton obliged, and the plan was for Verstappen to actually get stuck behind Bottas, whom Mercedes did not call for a pit stop immediately. Red Bull responded to Hamilton’s stop one lap later, and after 10 laps, the Dutchman got behind Bottas. Mercedes hoped that he would lose time to the Finn, allowing Hamilton to get closer and take advantage of the situation, to pass for the lead.

Max had other plans, though, and passed Bottas easily into Turn 1 on the first time of asking. The Mercedes driver did not defend, nor tried to block his (and, mainly, his teammate’s) opponent, making life so much easier for Verstappen and Red Bull.

Mercedes attempted to use Hamilton and Bottas to scupper Max Verstappen on Sunday – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

Christian Horner, Red Bull’s team principal, highlighted the importance of this overtake in his post-race remarks:

“The crucial part of the race for Max – because the two-stop was the faster race – was to make sure that we re-passed Valtteri immediately. And he did that. That then opened up opportunities to make the second half of the race much more manageable, whereas if he’d have spent a lot of laps behind Valtteri, that could’ve opened us up to an undercut.”

On the second time Mercedes tried to do the undercut, they did not have Bottas as a bulwark, and they made a crucial mistake: they got Hamilton out on track behind a queue of drivers who -mind you- were not out of place. So, he lost precious time behind them; Red Bull called up Verstappen and got him with a fresh set of hard tires, and off he went, leading the race.

I would go as far as to say that Mercedes did the wrong thing not to put Hamilton on the hard compound for his last stint. The 32 laps remaining from his last pit stop up to the end of the race were a few more than what the mediums could do in a competitive pace.

What that shows is, Mercedes knew this race was not theirs to win, even with the numbers game on their side. Verstappen and Red Bull had a great car and a lot of support to win the first Dutch GP after 36 years. And it must go without saying that RB targeted that particular race, which in return produces consistently great performances by them.

That does not mean that a Hamilton win, his 100th, was totally out of cards. They had two opportunities to make that happen, but the gaps were marginal and the chances not on their side.

As far as Pierre Gasly is concerned, it is a great shame that this driver had one more uneventful, yet amazing race near the front pack.

When Gasly and AlphaTauri click just right at a track, they seem an unbeatable combination in the midfield pack.

He matched his best qualifying performance, starting the race from P4, and from the ‘go’ he built a substantial gap between him and his opponents, mainly Leclerc and Alonso.

With the latter he had a brief battle, too, passing him around the outside at the Tarzanbocht, bravely and decisively. It may not have been a difficult overtake, and he was on fresher tires, but he pulled it off.

And that is the gist of Gasly’s performances this year: he does the job quietly and effectively. AT is not the best team in the midfield, it rarely tops it and surely it gives its battles with one driver, since Yuki Tsunoda has been in a prolonged slump in his performance.

Zandvoort proved once again that Gasly is at his peak form, one year on from his first win at Monza. He has found himself once again, completely overcoming the nightmare that his half-a-season tenure at Red Bull was, and -maybe- getting ready for a return at Milton Keynes in 2023…

Main image courtesy of Pirelli Media

2021 Belgian GP: F1 is and will always be about business

image courtesy Lars Baron, Getty images / Red Bull content pool

What happened at Spa last Sunday was a farce. There is no need to mince our words.

Criticism, especially when it’s constructive and well-minded, is needed in times like these, when Formula 1 and the FIA have handled an admitedly difficult situation poorly.

The 3-hour stand-off to wait for the rain to ease off (never-mind stop at that point) was a remarkably bad decision, not only on hindsight, but also as we went through it.

Weather radars repeatedly showed that the rain was going to keep on falling for a long time. Michael Masi, the race director since Charlie Whiting’s untimely death back in March 2019, waited for an opening on the weather, which was about to come around 17:40 local time. That’s the reason they stopped the clock after 2 hours of no running (well, we had 2 laps, let’s not be too unreasonable!), only to have an hour in our hands to resume the race, even for such a short period of time.

Of course, the rain never really stopped, it didn’t even ease off. No such scenario was on the horizon in the first place.

F1, and the FIA as a result, took a decision solely based on two factors: the need to do a race for the spectators at home, and the need to put on a show for those at attendance at the track.

It was with great pleasure when I read that the race organisers, as well as F1 and the FIA will discuss on refunding the 70,000 spectators at Spa one way or another. They deserve their money back, since for some of them the memory of their first ever F1 race from the sidelines was an utter disappointment.

And let us be clear. Safety is paramount, and with such a poor visibility due to the standing water on the surface of the track, and the continuous rain falling on it, made the possibility of having a race (or, at least, a normal race) practically non existent.

That realisation that we, as fans, made quite early on, Masi and his team did too. But, they pushed on for a hopeless case.

And TV scheduling, the money that sponsors and promoters, broadcasters and shareholders made those responsible of the race being cancelled or not really anxious of the possibility of actually pulling the plug and calling it a day.

It is days like these that we all collectively realise that Formula 1 is and has always been a business – a well-run, pretty exciting, show-stopping business, mind you, but a business nonetheless.

And as a business, it has to cater for those that open and close the money faucet, those who keep the wheels rolling. Unfortunately for everyone else, this means exploiting loopholes in the already flawed rules and regulations, trying to find a way to continue and actually ‘finish’ the race.

When race direction saw that the potential of a somewhat normal conclusion to this already chaotic day was minuscule, it tried to push forward and actually award points – it saw this as a ‘natural’ way to put an end to all this. They put on the 60 minutes countdown to the end of the race, as if it was ever going to last more than 2 laps behind the Safety Car, in order to have an official classification.

Drivers were really perplexed by that decision, with some of them calling for a swift change around the rules on this issue, showing their dismay with the way it was all handled. It was a farce.

No one wants to see a high speed, no visibility passing through Eau Rouge and Raidillon, or a high speed crash like those we witnessed on Friday and Saturday.

But no one wants to wait four hours for nothing. And for a sport that takes proud in its technological prowess and its innovative ways, that was at the very least below par.

Formula 1 drivers moving to IndyCar elevate the whole series

image courtesy of IndyCar/ Matt Fravor

Alexander Rossi, Marcus Ericsson, Fernando Alonso, Romain Grosjean, and most recently Kevin Magnussen (and potentially Alex Albon).

Marcus Ericsson Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix by Chris Jones

All these drivers have at least one thing in common: they used to be Formula 1 drivers who moved to the IndyCar series in the past few years.

It is by no means the first time that we see this pattern: drivers from Formula 1 have consistenly looked outside Europe for their future endeavors, and IndyCAR (or CART for a brief period of time) was an attractive option. Nigel Mansell and Emerson Fittipaldi did the same, and they became CART champions and, in the case of Emmo, an Indy 500 champion.

However, in recent years, a lot of proper talent has been left with no F1 seat –  these drivers have to find an alternative, a way to move forward with their careers.

Excluding Alexander Rossi, who is an American and had always the opportunity to jump ship, should he need to, every other F1 driver who raced or is currently competing in IndyCar, is not from the US, nor has any firm connections with the other side of the pond.

This is especially telling of the appeal IndyCar has these days to a lot of drivers, like Ericsson or Grosjean, who came from F1 and are podium finishers and winners of their own in the series.

McLaren’s commitment is also a significant step into making IndyCar a prime opportunity for drivers, young or not, to get their names heard and their abilities shown to a broad audience. Colton Herta, for example, has become a household name in Europe, even though he is an American, driving in an American racing series, for an American team, just because so many European drivers have moved there and brought attention to the sport.

Fernando Alonso’s Indy 500 participations, although not successful, inspired other drivers try this route, see where it leads them.

Even before Romain Grosjean was out of F1, he was contacted by Coyne Racing to drive for them in 2021. A Swiss-born Frenchman did the unthinkable – or so it was a couple of years ago – and went on to become an IndyCar driver, and a podium finisher with solid chances to win his first race in the series this year. He is so impressed and enthousiastic about the championship, he even considers racing in ovals in 2022, despite denying such a proposition after his horrific accident at Sakhir last November.

Couple that with the TV deals to broadcast IndyCar in Europe (namely the Sky Sports one in the UK and the DAZN one in other countries in the continent), and you have a solely-American championship going international, at least in its appeal and recognition.

And believe me when I say it is important for IndyCar and the whole organisation that Roger Penske presides over, to find global recognition. That is, because even though the recent Music City GP was watched by 1.212 million viewers on NBCSN, the NASCAR races have consistently more viewers, topping to 2-2,6 million viewers on average. But, NASCAR has next to zero international audience – IndyCar must take advantage of that.

It is a paradox. IndyCar prouds itself to be an all-American single-seater series, yet it has a broad international (mostly European) audience, with an ever growing European grid. NASCAR will hold the US market, maybe until F1 takes over in the next years (if we take into account its current trajectory).

And let’s not forget that former F1 drivers joining IndyCar make the series more competitive, less predictable. Big names, such as Will Power, Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden have taken over the championship for the past few years, and they are all great drivers, don’t get me wrong on that one. However, they do not possess the kind of talent that Grosjean or Magnussen (who’s considering a move there), or even Lundgaard (who did an one-off appearance last Sunday at IMS, despite him having a food poisoning the night before) have. They are staples of the grid, they are champions, record-holders, winners. But, they are not the ones that will move Indy forward, let’s be honest.

IndyCar is in a prime position to get to the next level, attract new names, maybe new manufacturers, become global, get the respect it deserves, win over even the most skeptic motorsport fan out there – just because the current F1 grid is so saturated, it can’t afford to give every talent a racing seat.

Drivers know that, IndyCar knows that, Penske does too.

Sebastian Vettel’s justified DSQ doesn’t mean it’s not a harsh penalty

Main image courtesy of Aston Martin F1 Media

It is a story of despair, one of highs and lows. In just 2 hours, Sebastian Vettel and the Aston Martin F1 Team found themselves with a podium at hand in Hungary, and then left with nothing.

It is without a doubt a great shame – a great drive after a dismal start for a lot of drivers, meant that Vettel could climb up the podium places, and then fight for the win with Esteban Ocon, losing out in the final laps.

However, it should be mentioned that the offence he and his team had done was punished not severely, but according to the rules.

Being unable to provide 1 litre of fuel after the qualifying session and the race is almost always a violation of the rules worthy of a Disqualification from the results. This litre must be retrievable by the FIA and the technical officers in order for them to take a sample and test it on the laboratory for potential illegality regarding the fuel.

And it’s one of those rules that are not to be interpreted by the stewards. The punishment is set, and the stewards are there to award it.

This fact sits especially hard with the Silverstone team, which is in a close fight in the constructors’ standing with AlphaTauri and Alpine, and with Vettel’s 2nd place points (which he may not get after all) they could close the gap from their rivals.

Since the team lost its right of appeal after yesterday’s hearing, the FIA and the stewards justified their decision, with the following exempt from their statement being particularly telling:

“For the assessment of whether or not the one-litre requirement was broken, it does not make a difference why there was less than one litre.

“There may be a couple of explanations why at the end of a race the remaining amount is insufficient. In any case, it remains the sole responsibility of the Competitor to ensure that the car is in conformity with the regulations all times (Art. 3.2 FIA International Sporting Code) and it shall be no defence to claim that no performance advantage was obtained (Art 1.3.3 FIA International Sporting Code).”

All of the above suggests that the FIA does not take into account the reason that the team did not have the 1 litre in its car’s tank (this time, it was a fuel pump malfunction, a rare but possible failure).

Which, as a fact, makes the DSQ punishment even harsher. This is not to say that not having the required fuel in the car after the end of the race is not a reason not to be punished for, but it’s another thing to hand out the same penalties for every type of illegality.

It was clearly not intended by the team to not have the required quantity of fuel to present to the technical officers, and still they got disqualified. And from that failure, they lost a miraculous podium finish.

FIA knows this system of hard, not flexible penalties in some aspects of the technical rulebook has to be somewhat amended in the next years.

From the dawn of F1, all rules are there to deter the teams from making dangerous decisions, and that is the reason that sometimes they are so severe in their impact. That means that sometimes, they are unfair as well.

Not all offences are equally severe, and not all of them are the same. It is one thing to not have 1L of fuel because you decided to burn it all to gain some advantage, and another to have a fuel pump failure and lose some fuel that you did not want to.

Although, it should be mentioned that the stewards are consistent in those types of punishments. Their life gets easier in that regard, because they go by the book, quite literally.

And they should not get more severe in their decisions in other occurrences just to make up for the harsh punishments in other incidents.

Dr. Helmut Marko compared Vettel’s DSQ with Hamilton’s 10 second penalty in the Silverstone accident:

“It is clear why Vettel almost ran out of petrol, because a normal race had been calculated and then he simply used more in the fight with Ocon – no driver saves petrol in this situation. Where is the relation there compared to Hamilton’s offence?

“Then there is Hamilton’s statement about Fernando Alonso’s dangerous driving. [Alonso] drove sensationally, defended optimally, and then this statement from someone who shoots out a competitor a race before.”

This seems an unfair comparison. Race control has ”wiggle-room” in those type of incidents, with Hamilton & Verstappen or the Hamilton & Alonso battle – that’s why they are completely inconsistent.

But, we should first change the severity for some type of offences, if those offences have been a result of a malfunction, or an accident.

Let’s be more flexible. Especially in the budget cap era, no penalty should be given without taking into account all the factors.

Legendary Races Week: 1985 European Grand Prix

Nigel Mansell took his first F1 victory after 72 starts and Alain Prost celebrated his first F1 world championship on a track that was not supposed to hold a Grand Prix that year.

Brand Hatch has come to be an iconic motorsport venue over the years. It has held 14 Grand Prix, but it was not meant to be the place that the European GP would be held, back in 1985.

The provisional calendar of that season had New York and Rome as the new locations in the F1 championship. However, both were utterly ill-prepared, and John Webb stepped in and offered the Brands Hatch circuit as the venue of the European GP, the 14th round of 1985 Formula One World Championship.

The track was familiar to all the teams and drivers, as it was a popular testing venue back in the day.

For a race that was not scheduled to be held that year, it proved to be a landmark. However, it is necessary to take a step back and see why this Grand Prix has so much importance in the history of the sport.

The 1985 F1 season was a fight between McLaren and Ferrari, or Alain Prost and Michele Alboreto, if you prefer. Alboreto had the early lead in the championship, but after the first few rounds, Prost and his McLaren MP4/2B made a resurgence that saw the Frenchman (who lost the previous two titles by minuscule margins) get back on his feet, with the fate of the world championship in his hands. Couple that with the unreliability of the Ferrari 156/85, and it all was in favor of ‘the Professor’.

Coming to Brands Hatch, Prost needed to score two more points than Alboreto to be crowned champion, three rounds before the end of the year. He was determined to do just that, even without the help of Niki Lauda behind the wheel of the other McLaren. The Austrian had broken his wrist during practice in Belgium and was ruled out of the event early on.

In qualifying, Ayrton Senna took his sixth pole position of the year, with the very fast on one-lap pace of the Lotus 97T. Nelson Piquet came in second, 0.3 seconds behind his compatriot, with championship rivals Prost and Alboreto in 6th and 15th place respectively.

Senna held on his position at the start, keeping his head cool over the next few laps, until lap 13.

Keke Rosberg had managed to squeeze past 2nd, having started 4th, and he had set his sights on 1st place. The Finn made a desperate lunge down the inside of the leading Lotus, before the Bottom Straight, which got him in trouble, as he span onto the grass. To this day, he will argue that it was Senna’s fault.

Piquet was a victim of that clash, too, as he hit the Willaims on the rear left, leaving him out the race, and Rosberg with a puncture.

The 1982 champion went straight into the pits, and after a 20 second stop, he rejoined, crucially, just ahead of Senna and Nigel Mansell.

Let’s just pause it there for a moment. At the time, Mansell was a 32-year-old driver with a respectable four-year stint at Lotus to his name, before he moved to Williams-Honda to partner Rosberg. However, he was still waiting for his breakthrough and first ever win in Formula 1. Even though he had driven some cars with winning potential, the Brit could not capitalise on his potential – yet.

So, the motorsport gods handed him a golden opportunity. Rosberg, furious with Senna after their incident, decided to hold him off as much as he could in the twisty Brands Hatch layout, giving Mansell some time to catch the Brazilian and pass him.

Sure enough, he did. Mansell got past the Lotus and then his teammate, who in return tried to stall Senna a little bit more, to give Mansell a further advantage.

By Jerry Lewis-Evans – CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43891399

Even though the drama of the first-place battle was delightful to watch, there was a championship on the line, too. Prost, having had a poor start, made his way up through the order, driving on the edge lap after lap. His work was made easier when Alboreto was forced to retire with a failure in the turbo on the 13th lap. Memorably, he decided to drive his burning car right down the pit lane, unbuckle his belts and stand up as he coasted along to the Ferrari pits. He was fuming – literally and metaphorically.

Prost continued to push forward. When Stefan Johansson in the other Ferrari suffered electrical problems, the Frenchman was promoted 4th, having passed Elio de Angelis for 5th some laps before. With Alboreto out of the picture, a fifth-place finish would be enough to secure the title.

Shortly after, he conceded fourth place to Rosberg without a fight to ensure he would finish the race. It was such choices that earned him the nickname of ‘the Professor’.

At the front of the pack, Mansell drove an excellent race and cruised to his first Formula 1 victory, after 72 starts. Ayrton Senna finished second, with Keke Rosberg rounding up the podium.

Fourth was Alain Prost, the newly crown world champion. One year after he lost the title to Lauda by just half a point, the Frenchman didn’t put a foot wrong and he took the 1985 championship, whilst also helping McLaren to take its third ever Constructors’ Championship.

Brands Hatch would host the British GP the following year, which was the last time the iconic circuit held an F1 race.

That 1985 edition, though, was memorable and hugely significant to the history of this sport.

How the 2021 regulations could lead F1 down a spec-series route

Much has been said about the 2021 F1 regulations, and many people in the higher ranks of the sport have expressed their concerns over the proposed plans.

We are just mere weeks (if not days) away from the deadline set by the FIA, the teams, and Liberty Media. On October 31st, all three parties must co-sign the final Technical and Sporting Regulations for the 2021 Formula One championship, the most anticipated set of regulations since 2014.

Chase Carey, Ross Brawn, and Jean Todt have all been vocal about the changes that need to be made in order to revitalize the sport, give teams new motivation and incentive, and promote pure and competitive racing.

This, however, is no easy task. Radical changes come with consequences, sometimes ruining something that was already working perfectly fine beforehand.

For instance, when F1 experimented with the qualifying format back in 2016, including an elimination every couple of minutes, it was a huge disaster for the drivers, teams and, most importantly, the fans. After just two Grand Prix, the Q1-Q2-Q3 format was back.

That is a best case scenario: an idea goes totally wrong and gets revoked, and we start from scratch.

You cannot do that with a new set of aero regulations, though.

For the past 18 months, F1 officials – presided by Ross Brawn (who has recruited people like Pat Symonds and Rob Smedley) – have been conducting thorough research on how they can improve racing in 2021.

F1.com

The blueprint was set in July. F1 cars must be designed in such a way that the downforce lost behind another car is minimal compared to this year’s machinery. And they had the ideas to make this happen.

They tested these solutions in the Sauber Motorsport wind tunnel, and in August the first scale models of the new cars were revealed.

Nikolas Tombazis, the man in charge of all the technical aspects of FIA single-seaters championships, has been hands-on in these tests, and he has been pretty open about the results they produced:

“There have been no major surprises,” he said, speaking to F1.com. “There is a 5-10% wake disruption, compared to the current levels of 50%, although it depends on the exact configuration you are testing and so on.”

This is positive news, because that is the end goal. F1 cars must be able to follow each other without ‘dirty air’ being a problem anymore.

However, as previously mentioned, this does not come without consequences.

Aero regulations are extremely restrictive at the moment, as they should in order to get the results FIA and Liberty want. They cannot let teams be overly innovative, coming up with concepts that drastically alter the blueprint proposed by Tombazis, Brawn and the other officials. The teams know that.

Sources inside one midfield team have said that technical directors from up and down the grid do not find these aero rules to be what they wanted.

Mattia Binotto, who is now serving as the team principal of Ferrari but has previously held the position of technical director, has suggested that his team may have to use its veto if it finds that the 2021 changes are not what it wants, or if they go against what they see F1 as being at its core.

Speaking to crash.net, Binotto said, “There are a few things that are important to us the degree of freedom on development; the degree of freedom, especially if we think on the aerodynamic regulations, which we believe is too descriptive; the degree of freedom of other parts of the car where some prescriptions have been set.

Ferrari Media

“These I think are the key points on which I think there is still room of collaboration and making a different choice compared to what has been achieved so far.

“We are more focused really on trying to collaborate and address what we believe is fundamental rather than simply say that we’ve got the veto right.”

Every change comes with a fair amount of criticism, but this may be absolutely justified. From the very beginning, Formula One has been about innovation, going beyond the perceived boundaries, searching for the millisecond every single time you are on the track. These new rules may not allow that at all.

F1 could be on its way to becoming a ‘fancy’ spec series, and that is not good.

Sure, the engines will not be the same, the brakes will not be the same (as of now), and the wealthier teams will always find a way to get the best drivers and employ the best personnel, but the aero rules are a huge part of F1 and its approach in racing.

It is certainly not easy to close the gap between the top teams and the midfield, and converging the grid with restrictive ruleset and a really loose budget cap may be the only viable way to do that at the moment.

Nevertheless, F1 must be extremely cautious in its next steps. F2 and F3 are spec series for a reason. Formula 1 must be the pinnacle of motorsport, and innovation is a key factor to that. That innovation is something that should not be taken away.

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]

The Red Bull-Honda collaboration could become the new F1 powerhouse

Max Verstappen showcased that a Honda-powered Red Bull is capable of winning, even in the 9th race of their collaboration.

Honda is a colossal company, an immensely powerful player in the automotive industry, immune to the ‘group trend’ that other manufacturers have gone into. Since its return in F1, though, back in 2015, it has been hit year with multiple reliability problems, publicly blamed for the misfortunes of the McLaren collaboration, to the point that nobody thought it could be able to stand back on its feet and rise to the challenge in this hybrid era.

The move to Toro Rosso in 2018 was a crucial one for Honda and its F1 plans, because it gave them the opportunity to make a fresh start, with a team that has minimal aspirations, fighting for the best possible result in the midfield battles. McLaren is a team that is used to be a front-runner, Fernando Alonso is a driver who wants to be the protagonist, not a bystander, and that played a huge role in the McLaren-Honda relationship through that 3-year spell. Toro Rosso, on the other hand, have been just the sister team of Red Bull, the first step for young Red Bull Academy drivers to make their way into F1.

Now, Honda had its chance to make everything the way it wanted it to be. No pressure, no strings attached.

Effort and grind run in the Japanese people’s blood. Japan is known for its commitment to work hard, trying and succeeding. And Honda does represent that mindset in the best of ways.

When the Red Bull-Honda collaboration was announced during last year’s French Grand Prix, it became apparent almost immediately that this is not a project that could give a championship in its first year – not even in its second.

Even though RB had all the essential data regarding the Japanese power unit from Toro Rosso, it was crystal clear that this is a long-term relationship, planned out thoroughly, with patience and determination to succeed.

“When they came back into the sport they had a very tough time in the years that they were with McLaren,” said Christian Horner.

“They then moved to Toro Rosso last year and they had some time to get their house in order and start to progress.

“All we have seen is a real dedication and determination, and that is why having won that race, Tanabe-san went to collect the trophy for the constructor.

“After all the effort that they have put in, it is great to see Japan represented up there and Honda picking up the constructors’ trophy.”

This has always been the right path for Honda in this era of F1, with the complexity of the engines playing a big part in a team’s success. McLaren didn’t realise that when it mattered, and the rest is history. Red Bull did understand that time would be needed for Honda to make the difference and bring back the championship to Milton Keynes.

The Austrians have built a well-run organisation, where people understand their role in the company, and fully commit to the goal, whichever that is. It is no coincidence that, even during the adversity with Renault over the last 5 years, they were able to win races and fight for podiums consistently.

This is the case in 2019, too. Honda has started a new cooperation with a team that can really help them propel their growth and get the coveted land as soon as possible.

Winning in Austria, in their home race, with hundreds of thousands of Verstappen fans cheering for him, is really the stuff of dreams. It is certain that Red Bull targeted that race, and took all the necessary measures to be able to fight for the victory in Red Bull Ring – the first with Honda.

Verstappen himself stressed the importance of the timing of this win:

“I’m just very happy that it happened today and it just gives us a lot of confidence as well to the boys and maybe a few doubts are going away because of it.”

The Dutch driver is the noncontroversial leader of this outfit, and that’s very positive for them. Last time there was an alpha-dog in that team was the Sebastian Vettel era and they won 4 consecutive world titles.

They have a clear path if Max decides to continue believing in this team and this project, because he is a driver that can be the star of this sport for the next 15 years. He is a talented young driver, a proven winner, and having him as their leader, it just makes everything easier for them and their road to a title.

It is really fortunate for Red Bull (and Honda, subsequently) that Verstappen does support this collaboration, despite his comments about the power of the engine, or his surprise that he was able to win in Austria. He just puts pressure on them, but not in a negative way.

Having said that, it’s necessary to remember that this project is not short-term. It’s a five year planned out cooperation, and no one stops either side to extend that contract and 2021 is going to be their breakthrough year.

Even if the new regulations don’t provide many changes to the technical side of the sport, Red Bull and Honda understand that this is the best timing for their push to a championship-winning campaign. They will try their hardest to keep Verstappen, and if they do, they will have all the ingredients to get to that trophy.

Red Bull has that reputation of a team that can exploit every change in the regulations every time they change drastically (namely, 2009), and Honda will by then have an even better PU to provide to them, better suited to their needs.

F1 is all about long term commitments, plans that run through the next 4 or 5 seasons – it’s the only way a team can reach the top.

Honda understands that, Red Bull does, too. No one can guarantee that they will get their chip fast or easy, but they will be contending.

How Ferrari has lost out in cornering speed

Images courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari

Ferrari seemed to be the car to beat after pre-season testing, but 3 races into the season, Mercedes has dominated, taking 1-2 finishes right from the start. How did the Italian outfit lose all the ground it had, and why is it difficult to come back?

2019 started with a really positive vibe for Ferrari. Mattia Binotto, a man who has earned the utmost respect of everyone in the team, was appointed team principal, and Charles Leclerc, a driver who knows Scuderia inside out and has been part of it since 2016, replaced Kimi Raikkonen and brought something unprecedented for the Italians, optimism.

Chinese Grand Prix 2019 – Charles Leclerc

All they had to do was get the results on track, a feat that seemed really difficult for them in 2018. Even though Sebastian Vettel started the season strongly, dominating the early part of the championship, the slump that followed was devastating for him and his team, resulting in another lost title.

It’s fair to say that the SF71H was the better part of the championship, the best car out there. It was fast in the straights, rapid in the corners, managed the tires better than its counterpart, the Mercedes W09, and it proved to be the most reliable car only for Ferrari to spoil it with a misjudged upgrade package after the Singapore GP.

The foundation was there for the 2019 car, though, and that seemed to be the case in this year’s pre-season testing. The SF90 was tremendous, toping the timesheets, with experts (and the teams themselves) arguing that this was the car to beat.

Lewis Hamilton’s remarks may have been the most graphic, and possibly exaggerated:

“I think it’s potentially half a second, something like that. But we will be analysing a lot from this test and there will be some mods that we’ll try and implement before Australia. There’s obviously not a lot of time, but over this next week, hopefully we’ll gain another tenth at least just in our understanding of the car.”

And they gained, not just a tenth, but seemingly 8 tenths of a second against Scuderia, which seemed to have taken a huge blow in Melbourne. Set-up problems, cooling issues, all sorts of things happened to the car that was meant to be the winner at the season opener.

Set-up woes and a key factor that changes everything

Right from the start, Binotto emphasized on the set-up issues his team faced in Australia, saying that this was a one off thing, downplaying the importance of this problem, or even worse not fully acknowledging its full extent.

“You’re always hoping to address and improve the situation through the weekend when you’ve got some issues with balance and the set-up,” he said. “It didn’t happen. We need to bring all the data back home and try to analyse it.

“That has to remain an exception all through the season. But I think it will be a good lesson learned.

“If we may identify where the issue was, we can be back even more stronger.”

This year’s aero kits are a very different kind from those of 2017 or 2018. Simplifying the front wing and the bargeboards, widening the rear wing and its effect on the straight line speed messed with the balance of the Italian car, more than any other on the grid.

Ferrari tried to maintain a more aggressive approach with its front wing design, with the inner part of it being taller than the outer, meaning that towards the endplates, the outwash would still be the same as it was with the 2018 wings – and that is the main issue with the set-up changes.

Simplifying aero parts has an effect on the things a team can ‘tweak’ to get the most out of its car, because the operating window of it is really decreased, and every detail has a bigger impact on the car’s performance.

Mercedes tried to be more conservative with its front end design, and that enables it to make changes to the set-up without compromising its all around performance as much as Ferrari.

The Maranello squad tried to push for the straight line speed not only by making big gains in the ERS deployment (with the MGU-K being at full power for the better part of the lap), but with its aerodynamic components, in order to have as less drag as possible. But, less drag means less downforce around the corners, and I don’t know any track which is composed only by big straights.

Even Baku has a very tricky middle sector, full of mid and low speed corners, and Ferrari addressed that by bringing its first upgrades there, per Binotto:

“We are bringing a few updates to Baku, as the first step in the development of the SF90.”

It is almost certain that Ferrari will bounce back and sort these problems out. It is only a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’. And this cannot come soon enough.

Mick Schumacher to make F1 test debut in Bahrain

Mick Schumacher will drive for Ferrari and Alfa Romeo in the upcoming in-season test in Bahrain, after this weekend’s Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit.

Joe Portlock / FIA F2 Championship

The 19-year-old son of 7-time world champion Michael Schumacher will compete in the F2 championship this season, with the Prema team.

His career started in karting in 2011, where he did not race under his real surname, and he had the nickname ‘Mick Junior’.

Schumacher moved to the ADAC Formula 4 championship, in 2015, after testing the single-seater in 2014. His tenure with the Jenzer Motorsport outfit saw him take one win in 22 races, and 10th in the drivers’ standings.

In 2017, Mick made the next step in his career, driving in European Formula 3, with Prema. After a sub-par season, claiming just one podium, Schumacher pushed through and, in 2018, he drove phenomenally, clinching the title with 8 wins and 7 pole positions.

Glenn Dunbar / FIA F2 Championship

Late in 2018, it was announced that he will graduate to the F2 championship with Prema, and early in 2019 Scuderia Ferrari took him under its wing, adding him to its Young Driver Academy.

This gives him the opportunity to drive Ferrari’s SF90 and Alfa Romeo’s C38 next week, in the young drivers’ test in Bahrain.

That will be the first time the Schumacher name will appear in an F1 session since his father’s retirement at the end of 2012.

F1 2019: Five early predictions for the new season

The 2019 F1 season is almost upon us, with winter testing starting in a couple of weeks and the Australian Grand Prix commencing next month. It’s the perfect time for five early predictions, some of which are pretty long shots.

 

1. Charles Leclerc will take three wins

Ferrari has a new kid on the block. Charles Leclerc spent his rookie season at Sauber, but from 2019 it’s time for his dream to come true. That could prove to be immensely stressful for the young Monegasque, but he may rise to the occasion and even take some wins. If Ferrari is at least on the same level as it was in 2018, then Leclerc could be able to snatch one, two, or even threewins in his first season with a big team, cementing his position at Maranello and proving his talent once again.

 

2. Nico Hulkenberg will take his first podium

It’s something of a mystery how Nico Hulkenberg, a driver who has been in teams with podium potential, has never finished in the top three. But, with Renault constantly improving and with a bit of luck (after all, it is needed as well), the Hulk could finally take that podium finish he truly deserves.

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Renault Sport F1 Team on the grid.
German Grand Prix, Sunday 22nd July 2018. Hockenheim, Germany.

 

3. Red Bull-Honda will not be in the top three

The all-new collaboration between Red Bull and Honda is one of the hottest topics ahead of the new season, and rightfully so. Honda has proven to be a bit of a ‘wild one’, especially on the reliability front, and Red Bull could be its next victim. Everyone acknowledges the fact that Red Bull is great in designing an aerodymanically efficient car (Adrian Newey is still the best out there), but this could not be enough for them to stay in the top three. Maybe Renault could step up…

 

4. Alfa Romeo Racing will be in the top five

The Alfa Romeo-Sauber collaboration worked out perfectly for both sides during the 2018 campaign, with the team finishing seventh in the final standings. Now, with the all-new Alfa Romeo branding, Kimi Raikkonen on board and excellent technical staff, the prospect of them finishing in the top five is not such an absurd thought. After all, the backing from ‘sister’ team Ferrari is certain and could prove vital.

Charles Leclerc, Alfa Romeo Sauber C37 at Formula One World Championship, Rd20, Brazilian Grand Prix, Race, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday 11 November 2018.

 

5. Mercedes will not be champions

Finally, the most bold of these predictions sees Mercedes not taking its sixth world championship in a row as a constryctor. Maybe Lewis Hamilton will be the drivers’ champion, but his team may be hurt by Valtteri Bottas’ incompetence. Ferrari has, on paper at least, a strong line-up, and so does Red Bull and Renault (if we count the French team as a real threat), so Mercedes is really on the ropes on this one.

 

Less than 40 days remain until the season opener in Albert Park, and the nine-month journey around the world begins for the F1 circus.

 

[Featured image: Ferrari Media]