Haas F1 has lost its appeal against Romain Grosjean’s disqualification from September’s Italian Grand Prix.
Grosjean was excluded from the results of the Monza race, which he originally finished in sixth, following a protest by the rival Renault team over the legality of his VF-18’s floor.
Haas had developed its floor earlier in the year for introduction following the summer break, but a technical clarification from the FIA made just before the summer break—demanding a 50mm radius at each front corner of the reference plane—made the floor design illegal.
With the summer shutdown leaving no time to modify the design, Haas initially applied to the FIA for dispensation to run the new floor until Singapore. However, the FIA offered no official ruling on the matter and made it clear to Haas that their car would be open to protest in Monza if it ran the illegal floor.
This open discussion for leeway formed the basis of Haas’ appeal against Grosjean’s exclusion, but on Thursday the FIA appeals court in Paris decided to uphold the Monza stewards’ decision.
Haas team principal Gunther Steiner said the team was “obviously disappointed” to lose its appeal.
He added: “We [will] simply move forward and look to the final two races of the year to continue to fight on-track, earn more points, and conclude our strongest season to date.”
Renault’s technical director Nick Chester said: “We are satisfied with the decision and I would like to thank the court and the FIA for their work on this matter. Technical regulations—especially those introduced for safety reasons—must be observed strictly.”
The 2018 driver market has been both kind and cruel to F1’s young drivers. On the one hand, Charles Leclerc, Pierre Gasly and Lando Norris have all secured dream promotions to Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren respectively.
But on the other hand, Esteban Ocon and Stoffel Vandoorne have both found their F1 careers on the rocks thanks to silly season developments, while rising stars like George Russell struggle to find any space on the grid.
As the final 2019 deals begin to fall into place, we look at which young drivers might yet find seats for Melbourne next year.
Despite becoming Italy’s first F1 driver in six years when he deputised for Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber last year, Antonio Giovinazzi has been unable to add to his two starts since being leapfrogged in Ferrari’s junior scheme by Charles Leclerc.
But with Leclerc moving from Sauber to Ferrari, Giovinazzi might finally get his shot at a full-time race seat. If Ferrari’s right to nominate one of Sauber’s drivers is to be believed, then Giovinazzi could be just an executive decision at Maranello away from joining the Swiss team’s lineup for next year.
If Ferrari does insist on Sauber taking Giovinazzi, that will put pay to one of Stoffel Vandoorne’s best post-McLaren options.
Should Sauber be off the table, Vandoorne’s only real hope for 2019 is Toro Rosso. Honda is reportedly keen to bring Vandoorne into Toro Rosso having valued his feedback during their partnership with McLaren.
But even with Honda behind him, Vandoorne will have his work cut out convincing Helmut Marko that he has more potential than was shown in his two years with McLaren.
Another potential obstacle in Vandoorne’s route to Toro Rosso is Pascal Wehrlein. The former Manor and Sauber driver is leaving the Mercedes family at the end of the year in a bid to open up more opportunities on the F1 grid, and is said to have a big fan in Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost.
It’s not the first time Wehrlein has been linked with Toro Rosso—he was touted as a potential mid-season replacement for Brendon Hartley earlier in the year. Those rumours may have come to nothing, but Wehrlein’s sudden appearance as a free agent in the driver market will surely give Red Bull and Toro Rosso something to consider.
The details of Esteban Ocon’s plight to remain in F1 next year hardly need repeating by now. Currently his best chance of a 2019 race seat involves either Mercedes pressing customer team Williams to pick him over a more well-funded alternative, or breaking free from the Mercedes camp as Wehrlein has done and hoping that leads to a shot with Haas or Toro Rosso.
If neither avenue comes to fruition, then we’ll likely see Ocon take up a third driver role with the works Mercedes team—possibly dovetailing that with outings for the marque’s HWA-run Formula E team—before aiming to replace Valtteri Bottas in 2020.
If current drivers like Ocon and Vandoorne are struggling to stay in F1 next year, it’s doubtful anyone from the junior formulae will find space on the 2019 grid.
As the Formula 2 championship leader, Mercedes junior George Russell should be the best placed young driver to make the step up to F1. However, his position behind Ocon in the Mercedes hierarchy means that it’s unlikely he’ll be allowed to overtake the Frenchman and take an F1 drive at his expense.
On the other hand, F2 stalwart Artem Markelov may yet get his F1 break after five years in the feeder series. His Russian Time backing has seen him linked to Williams in recent weeks, and an FP1 run with Renault in Sochi will be the perfect chance to make his case when it counts.
Formula 3 title leader Dan Ticktum was being queued up to join Toro Rosso for next year, until the FIA pointed out that he was ineligible for a Super License. Ticktum will likely move to F2 for next year to complete his Super License, before stepping up to Toro Rosso in 2020.
Mercedes-Benz has announced that it will part ways with Pascal Wehrlein at the end of the 2018 season.
The decision, which has been described by both parties as mutual, brings to an end a six-year partnership that included a record-breaking run in the DTM and Wehrlein’s Formula One debut with the Mercedes-engined Manor team.
Mercedes motorsport chief Toto Wolff said: “Our junior programme has always been about supporting young talent and finding opportunities that are in the best interests of the drivers’ careers.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t offer Pascal a competitive drive for next year. In his best interests, we have therefore decided together with Pascal not to extend our agreement and to give him the best chance of securing an opportunity elsewhere that his talent merits.”
Wehrlein added: “I am very grateful for all the support Mercedes has offered me. Now it’s time to take the next step. I am looking for new challenges and opportunities and am currently talking to other teams about a cockpit for next season.”
Wehrlein’s break came in 2014 when he became the DTM’s youngest ever race winner and was appointed third driver for the Mercedes F1 team. The following year he became the youngest ever DTM champion.
Wehrlein made his F1 debut in 2016 with Manor and scored his first championship point in Austria. The following year he moved to Sauber and took a further two points finishes, in Spain and Azerbaijan, but lost his seat for this year to Charles Leclerc following Sauber’s renewed Ferrari partnership.
Toto Wolff has been quoted recently as saying that Mercedes would be prepared to let its junior drivers go if doing so would help their careers, following his struggle to find Wehrlein’s former stablemate Esteban Ocon an F1 seat next year.
Red Bull has confirmed that Pierre Gasly will join the team for 2019, stepping up from Toro Rosso to replace the outgoing Daniel Ricciardo.
Gasly will join the senior Red Bull team for his second full season in Formula One, having made a late season debut with Toro Rosso at the 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix. Since then Gasly has recorded three top ten finishes, with his best being fourth place at this year’s Bahrain Grand Prix, and contributed all but two of Toro Rosso’s 28 points.
It’s believed that these performances (as well as his experience of Honda power at Toro Rosso and in his 2017 Super Formula campaign) made Gasly the favourite to take Ricciardo’s vacant seat even before fellow Red Bull junior Carlos Sainz removed himself from the market by signing with McLaren.
“To be awarded a drive at Aston Martin Red Bull Racing from 2019 is a dream come true for me,” Gasly said. “It has been my goal to race for this team since I joined the Red Bull Junior Driver Programme in 2013, and this incredible opportunity is another step forward in my ambition to win Grands Prix and compete for World Championships.
“I wish to thank Franz Tost and everyone at Toro Rosso for giving me the golden opportunity of a drive in Formula One. My focus now is to do everything I can to give them a season to celebrate.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said: “Since Pierre stepped into a Formula One seat he has proved the undoubted talent that Red Bull has nurtured since his early career. His stellar performances this year, in only his first full season in Formula One, have only enhanced his reputation as one of the most exciting young drivers in motorsport.”
McLaren reserve driver Lando Norris will make his F1 race weekend debut at the Belgian Grand Prix, taking over Fernando Alonso’s car for Friday practice.
The running will mark Norris’ third time driving McLaren’s MCL33, following appearances at the in-season tests in Barcelona and Hungary, and could be followed by another FP1 drive next weekend at Monza.
McLaren sporting director Gil de Ferran called the Friday practice role “part of [Norris’] ongoing development”. He added that the team would “take a strategic view race-by-race” whether to give Norris any more outings in future Grands Prix.
Coming after Alonso’s decision to leave F1 at the end of 2018, it’s understood that McLaren will use Norris’ Friday performances to judge whether he is ready for a promotion to F1 for next year in place of Stoffel Vandoorne.
Norris had been tipped to join McLaren in 2019 after storming to an early lead in this year’s Formula 2 championship. But a run of varying results in the mid-season triple header, which led to George Russell taking the title lead in Austria, have raised questions about whether next year is too soon for the 18-year-old to make his F1 debut.
Norris is currently 12 points behind Russell in the standings, and has one win to Russell’s four.
Renault director Cyril Abiteboul has said that the team will begin trialling concepts for its 2019 car at Spa this weekend, as focus at Enstone turns towards the new wing regulations coming for next year.
“Most of our resources are now focused in preparing for 2019,” Abiteboul said. “We are pushing on with aero developments, and will bring some concepts at upcoming races onto the R.S.18 that are ultimately destined for next year’s car.
“We have been offensive and decisive in the driver market [in signing Daniel Ricciardo] and now we have to do the same on both chassis and engine development.”
Abiteboul also said that, despite looking ahead to 2019, Renault will still “keep bringing developments to this year’s car to find gains wherever possible”.
Technical director Nick Chester said that maintaining their development pace will be key in making sure Renault stays ahead of Haas and Force India in the fight for fourth in the Constructors’ Championship:
“We’re in a super tight battle in the midfield. We’re being pushed hard and we have quite a lot of work to do.
“The objective is to find raw car pace. We have to put more performance on the car to have a good fight until the end of the year. We have a new floor for Spa and some other bodywork parts to go with that, which should be helpful.”
2017–18 Formula E champion Jean-Éric Vergne has said that he has been approached by an F1 team over a 2019 race drive.
The former Toro Rosso F1 driver revealed the contact in an interview with crash.net when asked about his chances of returning to Grand Prix racing:
“It’s a possibility. It’s funny how the world of motorsport changes. Three years ago, I don’t think anybody would have called me from F1 and said: ‘Hey, do you have a contract for next season?’.
“When you change your state of mind, when you change a little bit how you work, you see the results straight away. You see it in the results, and you see it in how people look at you and how they speak to you. When you start representing a brand [like Formula E], it changes a lot of things.”
Vergne’s comments have come amid a breakout year for the Frenchman, in which he took four Formula E victories en route to the season four title with Techeetah, as well as an LMP2 class win at Le Mans with G-Drive (although this was later taken away for a team technical infringement).
They also follow a series of surprise announcements in the F1 driver market over the summer, which will see Daniel Ricciardo move from Red Bull to Renault and Fernando Alonso step away from the series in 2019.
Vergne’s previous F1 tenure spanned three years at Toro Rosso between 2012–2014, in which he partnered future Red Bull graduates Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat. He was dropped from the Red Bull programme for 2015 in favour of Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz, and spent two full seasons as a simulator driver at Ferrari before leaving the F1 paddock completely in early 2017.
Who might Vergne’s F1 suitor be?
Although Vergne confirmed he had been approached by an F1 team for next year, he gave no clues as to which team was interested in his services.
The most obvious possibility is his former employer, Toro Rosso. The Red Bull junior team is in need of at least one new driver for next year—with Pierre Gasly set to replace Ricciardo—and proved last year with Brendon Hartley that calling back ex-academy drivers is an option when an F1-ready protege isn’t available.
The chances of Vergne wanting to return to the Red Bull fold after the manner of his 2014 exit are slim—although Vergne hasn’t necessarily said he’s entertaining the offer he’s received, for that matter.
Haas were said to have had an interest in Vergne ahead of their maiden campaign in 2016, and may do so again as they weigh up alternatives to Romain Grosjean. Williams may also have been the ones to offer Vergne a 2019 drive, as Lance Stroll’s expected move to Force India will leave a race seat open at the Grove team.
Last weekend’s German Grand Prix opened with the unsurprising news that Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas would be remaining with Mercedes for the next year and beyond.
Coming just before the summer break, Mercedes’ announcement is set to kick-start what has so far been a slow-building driver market for 2019. Daniel Ricciardo is expected to remain with Red Bull, while the current paddock word is that Ferrari will hand Kimi Räikkönen another year’s extension.
But with the top teams entering a holding pattern, what does that mean for any potential moves elsewhere on the grid?
Force India, Renault now key to the midfield
With the grid’s top six seats filling up, all eyes are turning now to Force India, Renault and Esteban Ocon.
Despite Force India holding an option on Ocon’s services, Mercedes has been trying to place their young Frenchman at Renault next year to safeguard his career against the financial and legal troubles plaguing Force India. It’s unclear whether this switch will still go ahead now that Force India is no longer facing a winding up order, but the consensus is that it’s still on the cards at least.
If Ocon does make the move it will be at the expense of Carlos Sainz, even though the Spaniard will be free to commit to Renault long-term once Ricciardo blocks off the final Red Bull seat.
Force India could have another vacancy to fill, with Sergio Pérez on the shopping list for Haas. If there is a seat free at the Silverstone-based team, Lance Stroll will be at the front of the queue to take it with help from his father’s backing. Stroll is also said to be keen on bringing Robert Kubica with him from Williams, to act as his benchmark and mentor, should both Force India seats open up.
Williams and McLaren fall into place
With Stroll almost certain to switch to Force India, that leaves an opening at Williams. And despite that seat being arguably the least attractive on the 2019 grid, Williams does still have a few options to fill it.
The first is Kubica (if there’s no room for him at Force India), who would provide Williams with a relatively consistent lineup as they try to escape their downward spiral. Mercedes junior George Russell is also in the frame, and would bring with him a discount on the team’s power units to offset the loss of Williams’ Stroll and Martini funding. (Russell also has the added perk of being Williams’ first full-time British driver since Jenson Button in 2000.)
McLaren will also be keeping an interested eye on the Force India/ Renault situation as they look to finalise their 2019 lineup over the summer break. Fernando Alonso looks likely to stay with the team for another year at least now that their IndyCar talk has cooled, although Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren future is far less certain.
Early season reports had Lando Norris as sure to replace Vandoorne for next year, but a midseason F2 slump has put Norris’ F1 promotion into doubt for now. Sainz’s contractual limbo has moved him into play for the second McLaren seat, arguably the most competitive option open to him if he is forced out of Renault. Kubica has also been touted as an outside contender.
Few options for Red Bull and Ferrari juniors
The deadlock at the top of the grid means that there isn’t much upward movement available for the likes of Pierre Gasly and Charles Leclerc. The latter has been linked to Grosjean’s Haas seat lately, but there seems little sense in Ferrari switching Leclerc from one midfield team to another for the sake of it—given his trajectory, it would be better to see how Leclerc develops in a sophomore year at Sauber.
Leclerc staying put rules out a Ferrari-backed Sauber placement for Antonio Giovinazzi—with one of the Scuderia’s juniors already in the team, Sauber is more likely to either keep Marcus Ericsson for a fifth season or pick up Vandoorne from McLaren.
As for Red Bull’s academy team, the likelihood of seeing a brand new face replacing Brendon Hartley is slim. Red Bull may want F3 protege Dan Ticktum in the car, but his lack of superlicence points is an obstacle the FIA won’t be willing to overlook—so too is the case for Honda juniors Nirei Fukuzumi and Tadasuke Makino.
Featured image by Steve Etherington, courtesy of Mercedes AMG
Brendon Hartley has said he believes his Toro Rosso team is set for a strong result in this weekend’s British Grand Prix, following a series of performance updates in the last few races.
“I think we can be in good shape following the power unit upgrade that came in Canada,” Hartley said. “The aero upgrade in Austria also arrived at the right time because [at Silverstone] you need as much downforce as possible.
“I’m hoping for a strong weekend and better luck than in recent races.”
Hartley added that he is excited about his first British Grand Prix as a Formula One driver:
“I’m looking forward to tackling [Silverstone] in a modern F1 car, because it’s going to be crazy quick. The track has been resurfaced this year, so there will be even more grip than in the past.
“Silverstone is a real driver’s track and it has often produced great racing especially when the weather is at play: it’s one of the originals and it has a lot of character and a great atmosphere.”
Toro Rosso’s last outing at Silverstone was one of the low points of its 2017 campaign, with Carlos Sainz retiring after a collision with Daniil Kvyat on the opening lap.
The Red Bull junior team is looking to bounce back after an equally frustrating Austrian Grand Prix last weekend, which saw Pierre Gasly struggling throughout the race with floor damage after a first lap clash with Stoffel Vandoorne, and Hartley retire on lap 54 with a mechanical failure.
Feature image by Peter Fox / Getty Images, courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool