Alfa Romeo – Romain Grosjean’s last chance saloon?

Rewind, back to summer 2018. Buckling under the glare of the Netflix cameras, the heat from Cyril Abiteboul’s yellow submarines, and the demise of what was once his prized asset, Gunther Steiner had a tough decision to make. He was hanging over the eject button, beads of sweat heavy enough to fall and depress the thing theirselves, all the while Romain Grosjean waited for the decision.

He was ultimately spared by his boss, thanks to an 11th hour renaissance giving Haas the support they needed in the points tally, but one year on it’s a case of deja vu. Only this time, the situation’s different. Being bested by his teammate Kevin Magnussen again in the standings is one thing, but the two have been drawn like magnets to each other’s carbon fibre, and team morale is at an all-time low. The American dream could well be over for Romain.

If that button’s finally pressed, it’d be easy to think the jig is up for him in F1 entirely. What team’s even in a position to take on a 33 year old with a history of erratic form, radio outbursts and, if his current partnership is anything to go by, struggles with maintaining morale with his other side of the garage? Well, there is still one chapter potentially left in his book of tales: Alfa Romeo.

 

Before I delve any deeper, there’s a majestically-haired elephant in the room in Antonio Giovinazzi. Youthful rookie and Ferrari academy product, the natural assumption is that he’s safe for 2020. Even I think that, though there’s every chance Alfa could start to take a dimmer view of his potential if his results fail to pick up by the season’s end. So far 32 of the team’s 33 points have been scored by their talisman Kimi Raikkonen, with Antonio contributing a sole point, while the qualifying battle is 7-4 in the Finn’s favour.

This doesn’t tell the whole story. After his two-race cameo at the beginning of 2017, Antonio went 23 months without competitive racing – which has brought on an understandable rustiness to his craft – and has shown flashes of what made him such a formidable force in GP2 three years ago. Also, while he may be in the twilight of his career, Kimi’s shown no signs of hitting the brakes, driving like a man reborn throughout the season. Antonio’s results aren’t as black and white as they appear.

Serious questions will arise if he doesn’t improve in time for post-season though, and in an ever-sharpening midgrid slog Alfa need a much more even split of the points if they want to trouble the upper places in the Constructors’ table. Ferrari’s commitment to treating him as a genuine contender for a future race seat of theirs’ could evaporate too, what with Mick Schumacher waiting in the wings and the Scud suffering with the absence of a man who performed admirably in their simulator department.

If those results don’t come, and both Ferrari and their understudies decide Antonio is best placed back on the sidelines, there stands two options. Do they wait for Mick, and hope he can jump the final barrier to the big time? Or do they reach out for an experienced hand, and give the next scarlet prodigy time to find his feet? Mick himself has never been one to rush his progress, and his carefulness has worked so far. The latter stands as the best option.

Romain could become the most desirable free agent on their radar, if Steiner finally calls time, and despite the many flaws in his arsenal there’s benefits to a team like Alfa having him onboard. Firstly, those teammate issues I talked about? They won’t have them. Not only is Kimi arguably the most docile and unproblematic driver they could hope for, he’s also well aware of Romain after their two seasons together at Lotus in 2012 and 2013, when they worked fairly harmoniously as a duo. No red flags to be found there.

Alfa Romeo’s a harmonious team to be at in general, too. Romain’s a confidence player, and when he’s made to feel comfortable he’s undoubtedly capable of contributing star races for his team – he’s shown that at Haas in the past and especially with his against-the-odds podium in Belgium 2015 – so the lack of pressure in Switzerland would suit him down to the ground.

It’s also too frequently forgotten just how blazingly quick Romain is. The second half to his 2013 season was a comeback for the ages, with him acting as the only real threat to Red Bull and taking four podiums in his final six races. His aforementioned podium with Lotus in 2015, against the backdrop of financial woes and even bailiffs hounding the team, was a much-needed bright light in their season. His first season with Haas resulted in a beatdown of Esteban Gutierrez, with the team’s 29 point haul entirely down to him. He’s more than capable of hitting those heights again, given a fresh start.

The final reason the move makes sense is that Kimi won’t keep going forever. Alfa have gained immeasurably from having a sage head within their driver line-up, but once his contract’s up at the end of 2020 that’s likely to be his final contribution to the sport. Bedding in a like-for-like replacement in Romain, while Mick plies his trade once more in F2, would mean that when he’s finally prepared for the step up they have a known quantity alongside him – a strategy which has worked so effectively this season. 

If there’s any team that can get a tune out of Romain, it’s Alfa Romeo. And if there’s anyone who can fill the brief Alfa will need when Kimi hangs up his overalls, it’s Romain. Antonio still has the greatest claim to their second seat, but if he were to be deemed surplus to requirements, there’s a golden chance to plan for the future by recreating a flagging driver’s past. 

Two GPs, one pole, one win – who in F1 has done it?

I’m all here for Formula One facts and stats. The more obscure they are, the better. So when Max Verstappen carved his name onto the walls of the sport’s history with his first career pole position – the 100th driver ever to achieve the feat – last Saturday at the Hungaroring, the cogs began to twirl in my brain and Literally Some Wikipedia pages were opened. 

One thing led to another, and before long on a dreary Thursday evening I pondered this (get ready, this is an obscure one with a capital O): who in F1 history has ever taken one World Championship pole position, and one win under similar rules, but without both being at the same Grand Prix weekend? As it turns out, only five drivers have done it. Here’s who they are.

1.  Robert Kubica – 2008 Bahrain GP pole, 2008 Canadian GP victory

I’ll start the list with the only driver currently on the F1 grid, and the only one still currently able to escape it. Serial comeback king, serial public denouncements at the hands of a controversial Canadian, it’s a shock to the system to think back on the titan Robert Kubica once was and realise those ‘serials’ don’t extend to his win tally – just a fateful encounter with that same Canadian’s homeland event in June 2008 prevents him from being in the winless zone.

And it’s a crying tragedy. It’s so easy to forget for most when George Russell is batting him around the park most weekends (oddly though, not in the actual Drivers’ standings – 1 point to 0 there), but Robert’s 2008 season with BMW Sauber was chilling to the bone; one of the best individual seasons there’s been in the 21st century. Keeping the title alive until the penultimate race in an F1.08 chassis that had its development cut short for that dismal ‘09 season, it could’ve been so much more than a single pole in Bahrain and that victory.

A career kicked into life by dislodging, of course, Jacques Villeneuve in the summer of 2006 looked set to hit new heights after a season spent racing at an even higher level than ‘08 with Renault, and a pre-contract with Ferrari agreed for 2012. But, in distressing circumstances, it was all cut short. A participation in the Ronda di Andora rally ended in a severe crash, with the barrier entering the cockpit of his Skoda Fabia. After many years spent regaining his fitness in the rallying scene, 2017 saw Robert finally grace the world of F1 again with a mid-season test under his old team, Renault. Then after a 2018 season spent testing with Williams, he capped off a remarkable comeback with a 2019 race seat.

Mark McArdle / Wikimedia Commons

 

2. Vittorio Brambilla – 1975 Swedish GP pole, 1975 Austrian GP win

The Monza Gorilla. That was the nickname Vittorio Brambilla went by, but rather saddeningly neither his pole nor his win was taken at the temple of speed, and his home city. South Africa would be the first event Vittorio would lay claim to being the fastest in – for the Saturday, at least. He’d hold onto the lead of the race until Lap 16, before first Carlos Reutemann sailed by and Vittorio was forced into a Lap 36 retirement when his transmission gave way.

Austria would be his chance, though after qualifying 8th it looked unlikely. Luckily for him, the race was storming – like literally, the weather was torrid. Vittorio blasted his way into 3rd through the spray, and by the time the GPDA called an end to the drenched event on Lap 29, he’d landed himself top spot. The oldest driver on the grid at age 37, his and March’s first win was a reality, and in typical Brambilla fashion he damaged the car after crossing the line. After his retirement from both Alfa Romeo and racing in 1980, he occasionally drove the Safety Car at Italian GP events, before dying of a heart attack at age 63 in 2001.

 

3. Heikki Kovalainen – 2008 British GP pole, 2008 Hungarian GP win

The poster boy for rapid rises and drastic falls, Heikki Kovalainen was on for a breakthrough season for the top in 2008 after a fine debut season with Renault the year before. That… didn’t happen, although McLaren deemed his input towards a second place in the Constructors’ Championship enough to stay, and he finds himself on this list of mine. Oh what joy that’ll bring to him.

Heikki’s solitary pole was taken on his teammate Lewis Hamilton’s home turf, and who could blame him for anticipating his first time on the top step? Again… didn’t happen. Lewis was in inspired form on Sunday, and took his first home win over a minute ahead of the next car. Heikki? He had a spin and finished 5th. It’d only be two races later until he was on that top step though, with the Hungaroring gifting him fortune at the expense of his teammate’s title rival Felipe Massa, who cruelly retired three laps from the end with an engine failure.

Heikki’s F1 career was in freefall from there on. One more podium at Monza – a race he was widely expected to win – preceded a tough sophomore season at Woking before he was cast to the scrapheap, where Team Lotus (later named Caterham) rescued him. In his three seasons there, not even a point was scored, although his efforts suggested he was still a handy driver on his day. After a two-race cameo in place of Kimi Raikkonen back at Enstone for the other Lotus in 2013, again scoreless, Heikki found success in Japan’s GT500 series – still competing, he won the 2016 title there for Lexus Team SARD. 

David Hunt / Wikimedia Commons

 

4. Jose Carlos Pace – 1975 South African GP pole, 1975 Brazilian GP win

The only driver on this list to have a Grand Prix circuit named after him, and oddly the second to achieve this two GP, one win, one pole feat solely during 1975 – much like Robert and Heikki in 2008 – Jose Carlos Pace instilled pride into the nation of Brazil with his racing exploits, alongside their biggest hope Emerson Fittipaldi. His peak was that fateful day in Interlagos, and he’s the first on this list to achieve his win before his pole.

The Interlagos circuit had only been on the calendar for two years heading into 1975, but both wins were taken by a Brazilian – Fittipaldi taking the chequered flag each time. Not this year, though. That honour was all Carlos’, with his compatriot instead finishing behind him to make it a Brazilian 1-2 on a wonderful day for the nation’s pride. The pole would instead come in the next race in South Africa, where braking problems consigned him to 4th in the race. Nonetheless, a star was born over those two events, and were it not for a fatal airplane accident in 1977 there’s every chance we could’ve been remembering him now as a World Champion.

 

5. Lorenzo Bandini – 1966 French GP pole, 1964 Austrian GP win

The list ends here, with the only driver to take his one pole and win over two different seasons. Lorenzo Bandini spent the first three years of his F1 career drifting between race seats and events on the sidelines, beginning with Ferrari in 1961 right until his Cooper and BRM adventures led to a full time drive with the Scuderia in 1964. That year was the first in which he’d achieve any great success, with 4th place in the Drivers’ standings secured and his first win taken in Austria, sandwiched between two 3rd place finishes in Germany and his home country.

He’d have to wait another two years before he ever led a grid away, but that time eventually came around. Leading the standings coming into the third race of 1966, Lorenzo planted his Ferrari on grid slot numero uno at the French GP, and this would be the peak of his F1 career. Forced to retire from the race, only two points would follow in his career before a horrific crash on the 82nd lap of the following year’s Monaco GP led to his death three days after due to the burns he’d suffered. Much like Carlos, Lorenzo had great potential and was robbed of the time to fulfil it with. 

Lothar Spurzem / Wikimedia Commons

 

[Featured image – Williams Racing]

Groundhog day? Mercedes top the times again in Canada FP1

It’s Groundhog day… again. The Canadian Grand Prix is in town, and FP1 brought with it standard fare – clipping of unforgiving Montreal walls, spins into the tricky chicanes, and some furry little critters causing issues for the drivers. Lewis Hamilton topped the session ahead of Valtteri Bottas, almost one second ahead of the Ferraris.

The session was barely ten minutes into its ignition, when FP1 stand-in Nicholas Latifi did well to avoid a groundhog that fancied a walkabout on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Nature’s buddy soon scuttled off to the other end out of harm’s way, and current F2 leader Latifi carried on as before.

Before long, he’d suffer a lock-up at the chicane, while his teammate for the afternoon George Russell was forced to pull back in for the Williams mechanics to fix a loose set of belts in the cockpit. At the other end. Mercedes (who once again talked down their chances around the Montreal circuit) were quick to show they mean business, Bottas leading Hamilton on a 1:13:495 – the exact same as his five-time champion adversary.

Romain Grosjean took his Haas for a spin, but was able to recover and continue his run. Not so lucky was Antonio Giovinazzi, who had a Giovi-nasty accident into turn nine after pirouetting under acceleration out of the corner. His suspension was damaged, and his Alfa Romeo, dangling right rear wheel and all, had to be lifted away.

Max Verstappen confirmed what Ted Kravitz suspected on the Sky feed – that the track was ‘insanely dirty’ – but managed with the terrain well enough to slot into third, on a 1:14:376. Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari topped the speed trap, at 331.3kph, suggesting the Scuderia may be lacking on the corners but do have a healthy amount of power behind them.

Pierre Gasly brushed the Wall of Champions – the first real bit of action the corner’s seen so far – and Sebastian Vettel found the limits of his Ferrari at the Turn 12 hairpin. By the time the chequered flag was out, Hamilton led Bottas on a 1:12:767, with nearest challenger Leclerc 0.953 behind the leading Mercedes. Verstappen brought it home in fourth on a 1:13:755, suggesting Red Bull could once again trap Ferrari in their web, while Vettel led his old teammate Kimi Raikkonen. The rest of the top ten was Sainz, Perez, Ricciardo and Magnussen.

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]

ThePitCrewOnline Exclusive: Ilott discusses teammate bond, jump to F2 and what lies ahead

Callum Ilott may have had a torrid time in the Monaco sprint race, forced into a retirement before the lights went out where he was set to start in P2, but he was still in high enough hopes to look forward to the next F2 race in Paul Ricard, while answering a few other questions.

Ilott is a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy, and as such there have been questions as to the pressure that can put on a young driver. Ilott insisted it has instead been a positive boost: ‘Not really, I’d say more of a support mechanism because they prepare you well in all aspects, not just the driving, so I’d say that’s a confidence boost going into whatever you’re doing.

‘If there’s a problem, you work together to find a solution. There’s always pressure to perform, but I put as much pressure on myself as they do on the outside, so it doesn’t change much, I want to get as far in motorsport as possible and do as well as I can, and I don’t think anyone’s going to push me harder than myself to do that, so that’s the most pressure I receive and they’re there to help, to push me to help to improve me’

Ilott then talked about the differences the new F2 cars have, compared to the outgoing F3 machinery he’d driven in the past. ‘Firstly, 260hp for the old F3 car compared to around 600 for the F2 car, so quite a big step up from that, but I think the new F2 car is over 100 kilos heavier than the old F3 car, so that makes a difference in how it behaves and how agile it is.

‘The old F3 car had a lot of downforce, for the size of the car, I also think the Pirelli tyre’s a different tyre all round, they’re quite soft, so there’s a bit more grip from the tyre on a quali lap on an F2 car than the F3 car, but also when you’re doing the races in an F3 car you’re pushing 99, 100% all the time whereas in an F2 car you’ve gotta manage the tyres.

Credit: FIA Formula 2 Media
Credit: FIA Formula 2 Media

‘It’s different, the F3 car was always very lively, you had so many laps to get it as close to the edge as possible, whereas the F2 car, in quali you normally get 2, 3 laps maximum, which makes it quite hard to get into a rhythm, you just have to go out and nail it.

‘In the race, I would say the F2 is easier to overtake, which again is quite fun, but F3, if you were to make an overtake it had to be a proper one ─l to get past. It’s different for different reasons. I think I learned a lot from my F3 days, because 3 years of 30 races a year plus Macau, making it 32 plus testing you’re able to do in the winter. I got a lot of track time doing that, and a lot of laps at the limit which is good and prepared me for the rest.

Finally, when asked about his relationship with Charouz Sauber Junior Team teammate Juan Manuel Correa, Illot glowed about their productive and harmonic partnership. ‘It seems all good, we’ve both had our areas to work on and improve and we’re getting there. I’ve made a big rate of progression from the beginning of the season. We’re getting on really well, having a lot of fun, and it’s important because once you go up the teams are getting smaller, with F4 maybe having three teammates, F3 having another two and F2 having one.

‘It’s harder to have a good relationship with someone [in lower series], but we get along well and have a good laugh, and work to improve as a team when we need to, and work individually when we don’t.

‘A good result, I think the place I want to have a good race in is the feature race, I think Monaco was easily the place we could’ve done it after qualifying, so big shame for that, but these things happen, so make up for that at Paul Ricard. It’s quite a tough track in its own way, the last sector becomes very complex, it’s easy to lose tyres, in GP3 I should’ve been pole there, but I messed up at the last sector big time. It’s a track where I know I can be quick, the team went well there last year, so we’ll see what we can do, but we just need to make up a little bit for the points we’ve lost’

ThePitCrewOnline Exclusive: Juan Manuel Correa on the move to Europe, F2 and close racing

Juan Manuel Correa has found himself to be one of the star rookies in F2 this season, but it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. From settling into the European racing scene (and way of life), to his hopes for the current season and his highlights so far, Correa opens up about his experiences in the junior category.

Correa moved to Europe as a teenager, to finish his junior career in the European open-wheel scene. It was a big transition, I can’t say I’m still transitioning because I’ve been in Europe for the last five years, but it’s definitely a big transition, and a tougher one than most people can imagine, there’s been very few drivers who can make the switch, and be successful in both parts of the world.

‘It’s a mix between the level, I find it to be much higher over here in Europe. But in the lifestyle, the big change, not only your professional life but your social life. That was probably the hardest thing for me to get used to, living alone here in Europe, different culture than the US, it took me two or three years before I really felt comfortable in Europe. Now I feel much more at home, obviously I still consider Miami my real home but I feel good, that’s not an issue any more for me.

When asked about his aims for the rest of the F2 season, namely the championship, Correa expressed that was never expected to be in the script. ‘I would say my main objective is not to catch them in the championship, that’s not our objective. What I do still feel we can catch them in is results, if we come to the last three, four races of the year, and we’re able to fight with them on track for a position that’s really the goal, we should be very proud of it. It was obvious that these people would be fighting for the championship before the season started.

Credit: FIA Formula 2 Media
Credit: FIA Formula 2 Media

‘Some people have 3, 4, even 5 seasons of experience in this category, so it’s not realistic to fight with them in the championship, especially seeing now how strong of a start they’ve had, I’m not really looking at that. Is it possible? Anything’s possible, but that’s not even my aim right now.

Correa feels as though Charouz’s performance can be strong in Paul Ricard. ‘I would say yes, and not only at Paul Ricard, I think we’re missing some pieces to the puzzle, but once we sort that, like qualifying, we will be fighting for podiums for the rest of the season. Baku wasn’t a one-off thing, we’ve seen in Barcelona if I didn’t have the issue in the first race we would’ve been fighting for a top-eight finish, Monaco if I hadn’t had the crash I would have probably finished 5th or 6th, so it’s not like we’re having one-off performances, we just have to polish things during the weekend.

‘At the moment that is my priority, it’s a bit strange actually because we always have good race pace, free practice pace, but we struggle in the qualifying, whereas Callum doesn’t so at least we have him as a good reference, which definitely helps, but we need to get that sorted, and then the whole weekend becomes so much easier. You don’t need to risk on strategy on Race One, it becomes a lot smoother if you’re at the front.

On a lighter note, Correa ended with naming his favourite race battles so far. ‘That’s a tough one! I’ve had a lot of wheel-to-wheel action in all of the weekends, but I’d probably say now in Monaco, Race Two, that was a good one, I had a lot of fun that race, felt really good with the car, also Baku Race Two, defending so much the whole race was quite a handful but I would choose Monaco Race Two, that was a lot of fun.

Why the Lotus 49 is F1’s most important car

If you were asked, what’s the most successful car in Formula One history, what would you say? Likely enough, 1988’s all-conquering McLaren MP4/4 (or, if record wins in a season is your metric, Mercedes’ W07). The most beautiful? Jordan’s 191, drizzled in the sexiest of liveries thanks to 7UP. But what about the most important? Well, that accolade falls to none other than Lotus’ not-so-difficult second album- the 49.

The 49 began life as Colin Chapman’s newest lovechild back in 1967, built to replace the ageing 25 that had escorted the wondrous Jim Clark to two World Championship titles. The 25 was a revolutionary car in its own right, being the first to have a fully stressed monocoque chassis (this made it 3x stiffer and much stronger than the chasing field), but the 49 would be an even smarter beast. It would go on to, unknowingly, shape the course of Formula One itself.

The first reason for my claim can be found in Formula One’s, and possibly all of racing’s, most iconic powerplant: the Ford-built, Cosworth-engineered Double Four Valve, otherwise known as, you guessed it, the DFV. This engine was a colossus, placing Cosworth on the map as an established go-to for private teams and even title hopefuls, and lasted 19 seasons, right up to Martin Brundle’s foray in the 1985 Austrian Grand Prix. And it started its journey nestled in the back of the 49.

The first thing to know about the 49’s usage of the DFV is that Team Lotus built the car around it. Not metaphorically, literally. The engine was a genuine stress-bearing member of the car, bolted between the monocoque and suspension/gearbox. Stiffness, already a major string to the 25’s bow? That was boosted, and with the issue of anti-vibration mounts now a non-factor, the 49 was lighter for it. Effectively all Formula One cars followed this technique, the first ever-present standard the 49 introduced to open-wheel racing’s elite series.

The DFV was a driving force behind Lotus’ successes for the next 16 seasons, with every World Championship won by the Team Lotus outfit after its introduction powered by Cosworth’s masterstroke. When the 49 debuted, back in 1967, they had a monopoly on DFV usage- they were to be the only team putting it to use. While they didn’t manage to win the ’67 title, with unreliability plaguing Jim Clark’s efforts, the 49 did join an established list of greats, Clark taking its maiden win at the first attempt in Zandvoort, and Cosworth’s unanticipated decision to put the DFV on the open market for teams to buy didn’t dent Lotus’ success.

1968 would see Graham Hill take up the mantle of team leader with aplomb, after the tragic death of Clark in a Formula Two race earlier in the year, and he delivered the last of his two titles. And it’s here where we touch on the second sport-changing innovation the 49 delivered, this time one which has been not just an ever-present, but a snowballing force in open-wheel racing: front and rear wings.

In Monaco, Chapman and his team were rattling their heads for ways to lather downforce on their machine, and the solution came from Can-Am racing: Chaparral had been using front splitters and rear wings on their racing cars to generate downforce, and slice through the air. Thus, Team Lotus debuted a similar take, with aerofoil wings bolted directly to the front nose and rear suspension. And they worked to perfection, with Hill winning the race in dominant fashion.

Other teams would take time to adopt, but ever since the 49 gave way to wings, they would never leave the sport. By the early 70s, everyone had to adapt or perish, and a modern-day Formula One car simply can’t be driven without a front and rear wing in place (see Michael Schumacher’s struggles without one, for instance). The wings tacked onto the 49 evolved over time, too: the front section remained largely the same, but the rear spoiler morphed from a rising engine cover, to a full three-slotted wing, to a towering Goliath of a spoiler scraping the clouds above.

So let’s recap: the 49 not only acted as carrier for the sport’s most synonymous, and widely appreciated engines, it also introduced two critical aspects of Formula One design to the sport, both of which are still integral to the cars we have today and very likely the future ahead. It also bears the success it deserves, with two Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship titles in ’68 and ’70, and also outside of itself shaped history, with Jochen Rindt being the only Formula One driver to ever posthumously win a world title.

The MP4/4 may have created new standards itself, what with the beautiful lowline chassis layout, the MP4/1 before it brought carbon fibre into the mix, and Renault’s RS01 from 1977 lays claim to turbocharged engines, but for sheer breadth of innovation, not one car has had such a shaping effect on the sport than the 49.

Is Monaco’s glamour wearing thin in a 21st century F1?

Ariel view of Moanco. Image courtesy of Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

‘To tell you the truth, I hate Monaco. It’s like trying to ride a bicycle around your living room’ – Nelson Piquet.

Nelson Piquet was always a conscious stream of stinging quotes, but this one is arguably his most famous. At the time, it was at complete odds with the narrative of Monte Carlo’s diamond event – one of towering importance, energising luxury and an insatiable desire that this, this be the one race every driver must win, in order to be remembered as a great.

Yet in 2019, Piquet’s summary feels very poignant and true. And as each year goes on, that feeling only grows. But why is it so? What factors are at play, bubbling over the surface to damage the armoured love for a Formula One mainstay? There are many; the lack of on-track overtakes, a heavy reliance on strategy, and an emphasis on what happens off the track rather than on it. And it’s the latter that I want to dissect.

The Cote d’Azur embodies wealth. The glitz and glamour of the event began as a fantastical shot in the arm for all involved. A setting drizzled in history, playing host to casinos, hotels and restaurants galore, Monaco provided the unique backdrop of up to 30+ of the finest racing cars of the time zooming round an opulent city, a final ingredient for an extravagant souffle. It was magical, and a gleaming beacon of hope for those who wanted to be there, be a part of it.

The super yachts of Monaco. Image courtesy of Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

But times, since those heady days of the ‘50s and ‘60s, have changed. We now live in a world where the excessive is held in disdain, and the necessary is king. Formula One has changed, too: no longer a gentleman’s European tour, but a worldwide hand reaching out to new fans who would never have so much as heard tyres wince within their own country. If there’s anything that sums up the change F1 has gone through (and had to, unless it loses all relevance) is the old ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone’s resistance.

‘I’m not interested in tweeting, Facebook, and whatever this nonsense is’.

Ecclestone said of the growing social media juggernaut, a key player in modernity. He’d go on to disregard the young racing demographic entirely, saying ‘I’d rather get to the 70-year-old guy who’s got plenty of cash. There’s no point trying to reach these kids because they won’t buy any of the products here and if marketers are aiming at this audience, then maybe they should advertise with Disney.’

Ecclestone’s Formula One peak came in the ‘70s and ‘80s, when sponsorship was rising to a position of potency in the series and appeasing those funnelling money into both drivers, teams and sport was of high importance. Why speak against those who are allowing the sport to grow like it never had before? More so, why do anything but bend all efforts towards getting sponsor’s services in the rich elite’s lives, and products in their possessions? Ecclestone was never able to shift from the ideology of ‘jobs for the boys’ – and by that I mean catering his circus for the rich men he was intertwined with – and that’s a major player as to why he’s no longer at the helm.

He valued Monaco as an important string in his bow, with the elite eager to turn up and flaunt their most extravagant yachts, take in the wonders of casino life and be exposed in turn to the sport’s sponsor involvement. And Monaco, to this day, is still the same event; a racing-comes-second honey trap. The issue is, while the bees may still be arriving like before, the onlooking fans aren’t salivating at the thought of this race in particular. The year on year procession, where ever-widening cars are threading a needle which hamstrings their true power, and in turn making the races heavily reliant on outside variables, is becoming more and more apparent.

The fan-base that the new owners of Formula One, Liberty Media, have tried at length to get back on side, be it with much increased social media presence (they’ve even finally embraced Snapchat), expansive content and greater scope of reach, are beginning to look past the glamour of Monaco, and are finding at the bare bones an event that quite simply isn’t up to standard.

The season generally reaches a nadir at this circuit – to the point where the weekend is written off as a bore-fest before it even starts. There’s arguably no track on the calendar so dependent on weather variables for a good race, and if Piquet thought his Brabhams were no joy in the Principality, I spare a thought for the class of 2019, with wider, longer and faster cars.

Max Verstappen ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The glamour of Monaco is fading away. It can’t mask the unsuitability of the event any longer. It’s never been so irrelevant in the eyes of the people who make Formula One what it is, the fans. With Liberty’s aid (somewhat) the gentleman’s aura of past is starting to diminish, in favour of the new guard. A new guard who are realising, when you strip away the off-track splendour, that this mainstay of the calendar is at odds with the direction we are going in. It’s a bastion of the Ecclestone era, a rotten tooth among renovation plans. And if this trajectory continues, Monaco could well lose its relevance in the 21st century world.

F2 Monaco feature race: De Vries masters the principality

The resurgence of the McLaren-less Nyck De Vries continued among the yacht-webbed glamour of Monaco, and the Principality did more than play host to a Dutch siege. Nicholas Latifi encountered the first real bump of his F2 season, while Jack Aitken was force fed a Calpol bottle’s worth of bad luck, at the hands of Mahaveer Raghunathan.

MONTE CARLO, MONACO – MAY 24: Car of Callum Ilott (GBR, SAUBER JUNIOR TEAM BY CHAROUZ) being pushed the pit lane by marshals during the Monaco at Monte Carlo on May 24, 2019 in Monte Carlo, Monaco. (Photo by Jerry Andre / LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship)

The race began with Callum Ilott stalling on the grid. Unable to re-start, he was sent to the back of grid – cruelly denied a chance at the win from second place. The gird took another formation lap, reducing the race length. On the second start attempt Mick Schumacher valiantly commenced a fightback from fifth after dropping back from third due to a wheelspin-riddled start. A move on Anthoine Hubert at the tricky Mirabeau corner was arguably the race’s finest.

Schumacher would be involved in another incident but this time for the wrong reasons. Latifi’s shot of bravery went wrong with his attempt to overtake into Loews corner, only to find Schumacher wasn’t planning on leaving the door open for him. Both were lucky to make it out of the incident relatively unscathed; no damage to Schumacher’s Prema while Latifi’s DAMS suffered a minor front wing break.

Schumacher may have been the innocent party in the Latifi incident, but not long after he would cause a much more severe accident of his own. Attempting to overtake Tatiana Calderon into Rascasse, the Ferrari academy driver, misjudging the admittedly wide apex, hit Calderon and leading to both cars stalling. The red flag was brought out as  the cars behind Calderon and  Schumacher had to park behind the pair, and confusion reigned supreme.

MONTE CARLO, MONACO – MAY 24: Anthoine Hubert (FRA, BWT ARDEN) and Sean Gelael (IDN,PREMA RACING) during the red flag during the Monaco at Monte Carlo on May 24, 2019 in Monte Carlo, Monaco. (Photo by Glenn Dunbar / LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship)

Once the race resumed,  the cars that had pitted under red flag conditions were classed as being a lap down, much to the bemusement of the drivers and teams, while conduct under the red flag period itself was declared for investigation after the race. Schumacher was given both a five-second time penalty for cutting the track and a drive-through for the incident with Calderon.

Latifi, not deterred by the last time, went for a similar Loews corner lunge on Hubert, but while it was unsuccessful he was able to bail out of it without contact. Meanwhile, after earlier in the race where Aitken was held up to the tune of 20 seconds by the glacial Raghunathan, who had blocked him in qualifying the day before, the final blow was exacted when Raghunathan rammed the rear diffuser of Aitken and sent him into the Loews wall.

The final piece of action was left to Juan Manuel Correa, who binned his car at the swimming pool section to sprinkle flakes of carbon fibre on a Monaco feature race packed with action. And the one to enjoy a first slice? That was De Vries, who had been nothing short of masterful. Latifi might now just know the identity of his strongest challenger for the rest of the season.

Featured image courtesy of Jerry Andre / LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

Hubert hooks up Monaco F2 sprint win

Anthoine Hubert became the first rookie of F2’s field to snatch victory in the 2019 championship, but was made to work for it on the tricky streets of Monaco by Louis Deletraz, who set up a nail-biting photo finish. Guanyu Zhou rounded off the podium and made it a day to remember for a pair of Renault junior drivers.

Hubert started the race much as he finished it, competent but under pressure. The same can’t be said of Mahaveer Raghunathan, who cut across the pit lane exit and gained four places, only to (quite deservedly) be given a 10-second time penalty. Zhou, meanwhile, went around the outside of Artem Markelov for third, and Ralph Boschung worked his way up into P7.

Luca Ghiotto caused the first accident of the day, making contact with the sidepod of Tatiana Calderon at Mirabeau and sending the Colombian into the wall. After the stricken Arden was removed from the track, Ghiotto too found his day ruined when he crashed with Raghunathan into Loews corner, ending both their races.

Boschung was forced into retirement shortly after, while Nobuharu Matsushita climbed to 9th and feature race winner Nyck De Vries into P6. Sean Gelael added a large dose of spice to proceedings with a forceful double-punt on Giuliano Alesi, the second contact forcing the Italian out of the race.

The front four drivers began to pull away from fifth-place Dorian Boccolacci, to the tune of over ten seconds, while Deletraz continued to hound and press Hubert into a possible mistake up front. The chance would ultimately not come, however close he made it across the line – Hubert was on the right side of a photo finish and recorded his maiden F2 win.

Nicholas Latifi just managed to cling on to his title lead by a point from De Vries, with the fastest lap putting him on 95 points. Ghiotto finds himself third on 67 points, while Jack Aitken and Guanyu Zhou have 62 and 54 respectively. DAMS leads the teams’ table with 147 points, while Virtuosi Racing remain second on 121 points.

 

[Featured image courtesy of Joe Portlock/FIA F2]

Daniil Kvyat: a rise from the ashes

Russia, 2016. The third running of Sochi’s very own Grand Prix. This article doesn’t begin there, nor does it click into gear a race prior, when Shanghai played ringmaster. You’d be expecting those, given the point of discussion. The destination, for those wondering, is actually the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. Mexico, 2015.

If Red Bull’s junior academy is the seeding bed, and Toro Rosso the tomato plant, then Daniil Kvyat’s career path was one of the fruit being picked, placed in a bag and chopped up for the salad bowl a little earlier than the gardener would have liked. Not that it was apparent in this race – the Russian was ripe, for both a second career podium and a mission statement for next year, first sentence: ‘I’m the boss now’.

As it turned out, after a mid-race safety car restart, Kvyat would be nailed on the entry to Turn 1 by Valtteri Bottas’ Williams. The taste of champagne trickled away, replaced by his inner choice words, and so did the opportunity to prove he didn’t need a whirlwind of madness to clear his route to a rostrum. I’ve not just harked back to this race to avoid treading down a popular path, dissecting those moments – I’ve done it to pinpoint where Kvyat really began his fall.

Kvyat’s career (arguably, given his opportunism the next year in China) never reached those heady heights again. It was the last time he was placed atop F1’s ‘next best thing’ shrine, the last time he was hailed as the clean-cut superstar about to take a top team by the scruff of the neck. The last two races of his 2015 season weren’t alarming, but left much to be desired, and then came the intense beatdown he received at the hands of Daniel Ricciardo in 2016’s first four races.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

And we all know how the story goes from here. From edging his teammate, a star burning ever so bright in himself, to a path towards humiliation, Kvyat was javelin-launched out of the Red Bull first team for their next pack of motorsport chewing gum, Max Verstappen. While his 18-year old successor held aloft the winner’s trophy in his very first race, Kvyat was given a rude awakening by his new partner Carlos Sainz.

His stint at Toro Rosso was painful for us all, but especially so for him. His interview after qualifying at the 2016 German Grand Prix symbolised the most desolate side of Formula One, that of a man fighting not only 22 drivers but his own mental health. And after a 2017 season littered with mistakes, culminating in a crash in Singapore while Sainz romped home to 4th and more ‘Vamos!’ than a Peruvian football stand, Kvyat was dropped. A superb cameo in the US, earning a point for 10th, couldn’t save him. And that, looked like that.

But amazingly, given the cascade of humiliation he was made to endure in his unconventional F1 career, Kvyat didn’t let that weekend in Texas be the end of it. A year as development driver under the tutelage of Ferrari allowed him to take reprieve from the right-at-you cannon fire of a 21 race season, every Grand Prix spent under the sea of microphones, cameras and expectations.

And it’s done him the world of good. When Kvyat was announced for a return to Toro Rosso in September – a move borne out of necessity given how sparse the Red Bull academy was at the time – to replace the man who ironically replaced him to begin with, Pierre Gasly, I’m sure we all feared the worst. Like the close friend who picks up the phone to a toxic remnant of the past, we wanted to tell him no. Don’t do it. They’ll only hurt you again. But from where I’m standing, five races in and a slew of European races still in the distance as blank canvases, Toro Rosso have sent him on his way with paintbrushes in his hand, art on his mind and hope in his heart.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

And this time, I really don’t think the hope will kill him. Because he’s too busy killing it, as he proved to such eye-widening effect in Barcelona. A 9th on the road, which should’ve been so much more were it not for a botched pitstop, signalled a performance beyond the sum of its parts. The overtakes were masterful, the racecraft was impeccable and the confidence was brimming. And it’s no flash in the pan, because it was much the same in Australia, where he strong-armed Pierre Gasly into staying behind, and qualifying in Azerbaijan, when he waltzed it into 6th on the grid as if he was Baku’s ruling king.

To conclude, I’ll throw a little fact here that puts all of this into context: three years ago in Spain, Kvyat began the weekend having been told, while watching Game of Thrones, he was surplus to requirements at Red Bull Racing. In the race, all he could muster was 10th place while his teammate wooed the crowds a half-minute up the road in sixth. Three years on, he’s forced the F1 door open, reclaimed his lost seat, and been the main cause for outcry over Spain’s Driver of the Day vote. Fans are beginning to wonder if he can once again reach the top, and rejoin Red Bull. Winter came, and Kvyat prevailed. And that can surely warm even the most icy of hearts.

 

[Featured image: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool]