The tide is high, HMS Gasly sails again

Know what? I’m not even going to start this piece with a touching build-up. P2. A Toro Rosso, gleaming with blue, red and glorious silver in the Sao Paulo sunlight, crossed that Interlagos finish line in second place. The man himself leapt out of his machinery, lungs burst, cameras attentive, to let the world know they just witnessed reality, no mirage – his two fingers were raised to make it abundantly clear. Pierre Gasly has his name in lights again.

Anyone who knows me, is even so much as the slightest attentive to what I stand for, knows this isn’t so much an objective piece detailing a reputation rebuild for the ages as an unashamed love letter. It’s one born of anguish for a man who can cure me of my own at the drop of a blue Toro Rosso cap, joy for a fresh talent batting the jokes and speculation for six and above all else, well, it being my time to be this emotional.

Listen to the team radio, the full one. I implore you, if you already haven’t. It’s loud, it’s booming and it’s the two most poignant minutes of just what that result means to Pierre. It’s the safeguard from a trophy-less career but also so much more. It’s when the boxer has to summon up the strength among the lights of a stadium, and the imploring from a soliciting crowd to get back up. It’s the hit that brings them back into it.

For a few out there, this was probably a textbook if moment, a case of what could be possible if the right chips fell down. To me it was the inevitable, it was only a matter of when. If we’re taking this boxer analogy and running with it, Pierre’s one of the most punch-drunk sportsmen around and is still standing. He’s a warrior.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – NOVEMBER 17: Second placed Pierre Gasly of France and Scuderia Toro Rosso celebrates on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 17, 2019 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

From the moment he first came to my attention on that debut GP2 weekend in Monza, 2014, it’s been a non-stop barrage of challenges, all of which he’s risen to with aplomb. A 2015 season in the series, his first full shot, concluded with level-pegging with his DAMS teammate Alex Lynn, taking none of the team’s two wins. 2016 was a perfect retort – now at PREMA, Pierre took five poles and three out of three at the season’s end, four wins and most importantly the last GP2 championship title in history.

Then, Super Formula. Tasked with proving his mettle against sage, experienced competitors well-versed in the art of Eastern racing, Pierre was a Suzuka-bound typhoon away from potentially winning the series, only losing out by one point to then-one time champion Hiroaki Ishiura. Does ‘losing’ feel like the right word? It feels like a victory to me, given the circumstances.

And we know the story of Pierre’s first stint at Toro Rosso. That sterling drive in Bahrain, one that saw him finish fourth with an almost Prost-esque controlling drive among the midfield in only his seventh Grand Prix, kick-started a season which bestowed other stand-out results; seventh in Monaco, sixth in Hungary, more points in Belgium and Mexico all with a Toro Rosso package spearheaded by a Honda engine going through severe development gains and the spate of penalties that come with.

That was the smooth among the rough, woven together like different colours of yarn in a sewing machine. But this year is one I’ll hold above the rest as his most heart-warming, inspirational seasons – for those twelve races with Red Bull, the sewing machine was sparking, threatening to blow while the needles couldn’t be found anywhere. And once the thing finally powered down, he set about fixing it again… and he’s succeeded.

32 points in 8 races. Average finish of 8th. Points in 75% of Grand Prix, Q3 appearances in 50%. Amongst it all, Pierre has had emotional hardships to deal with that no-one should ever face – the loss of a close friend the racing community will always sorely miss in Anthoine Hubert, a man whose colours adorned Pierre’s helmet in Monza, whose memory was right up there on that Interlagos podium and whose legacy will always shine bright in his heart.

A demotion to Toro Rosso which meant Pierre had to adapt mid-season to different circumstances and changed expectations, with a mission already thought complete by 2018’s end back on the to-do list, along with such personal circumstances, has been handled with the utmost capability and dignity. Pierre’s been fighting back against the tide for months now, and that glorious Sunday in Sao Paulo was above all else the validation of his hard work.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – NOVEMBER 17: Second placed Pierre Gasly of France and Scuderia Toro Rosso celebrates in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 17, 2019 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

And that result was everything I dreamt it would be and more. Hearing the sheer unbridled euphoria of a man who’d had to stomach so much pain over the course of 2019, seeing the special bond he and his Faenza squad be beamed out on show to the world and knowing that as tough as times may get, he’ll always have that one special moment holds stratospheric meaning to me. As I stated before, this is my personal love letter and not a showing of balance – this was the time I finally got to hear the man I’ve poured my heart into for over five years utter the words ‘this is the best day of my life’.

And I felt it, because in that whirlwind of post-race emotion it honestly felt like the only words present in my brain were emanating from Pierre’s mouth. It felt like mine too. It felt like vindication, for the both of us. It felt like I’d have the most wonderful reference point to look to and remember every time I hit the hard times in life. It felt, for the want of a flashier term, so damn freakin’ good. The pain of 2019 is fading away, the belief is stronger than ever, and there’s a boatload of joy ready to be enjoyed in 2020. HMS Gasly is sailing again.

 

[Featured image – Mark Thompson/Getty Images]

Legendary Races Week: 1999 European Grand Prix

The underdog. Why do we love them so much, huh? There’s just something about witnessing the flawed become bulletproof; when a driver’s stars align for that one glorious time, a team defies all the odds, or even both, it’s an occasion like no other.

And when I think of underdogs in Formula One, I catch my mind thinking back to the 1999 season. Heinz-Harald Frentzen challenging for the championship with the privateers Jordan after a sour exit from Williams, Eddie Irvine mounting his only title challenge, Mika Salo’s mid-season super sub duties… there were plenty of them.

That year’s European Grand Prix symbolised the theme of the season perfectly in that regard. The weekend started with the Drivers’ Championship in the balance – both Mika Hakkinen and Irvine were level-pegging at the top on 60 points, Frentzen’s annus mirabilis had him just ten points behind on 50 and David Coulthard was just behind on 48. Michael Schumacher was still nursing his broken foot sustained at the British GP, leaving Mika Salo to fill his vacant seat at the Scuderia.

The day belonged to a team that would cease to exist as we know it the next year, though: Stewart Grand Prix. Late in the day, short on the margin, it never seemed as though three-time World Champion Jackie’s namesake outfit would replicate even one of his wins. Neither did it seem like their elder driver, Johnny Herbert, would have time left to add to his two Grand Prix victories, and was fast becoming a set-in-stone figure in the history books. 

So when he qualified 14th for the race, all hope of that changing was a pipe dream. Frentzen took pole to continue his own underdog story, while Irvine was 9th, behind Coulthard and Hakkinen in 2nd and 3rd. Herbert’s teammate Rubens Barrichello, he himself a Stewart defective to Ferrari for 2000, was just behind him in 15th.

The race began with a delayed start, as Williams’ Alex Zanardi and Minardi’s Marc Gene lined up out of sequence on the grid. The top five cars all jumped the start, but their blushes were saved. When the start did take place, it wasn’t long before the real drama started – Damon Hill’s Jordan suffered an electrical failure on the first lap, causing Alex Wurz to swerve into Pedro Diniz and send the Sauber driver into a dramatic barrel roll. 

Diniz was able to walk away from the shunt, and while the race began to mellow as far as the rigidity of carbon was concerned, the fate of other mechanical parts across the grid were to be far worse. The top six remained static for the opening stint – Frentzen led with aplomb from the McLaren duo led now by Hakkinen, Ralf Schumacher, Giancarlo Fisichella and Irvine. Not long after the Irish title hopeful passed Fisichella though, did the rain begin to pour.

And the raindrops sparked the rising of a tech-xodus. Hakkinen and Irvine were the first to blink, but Ferrari’s pit crew had their new hope wait 28 seconds in a delayed stop, dropping him down the field. The dice of retirement rolled on race leader Frentzen first, striking down his Jordan with the same technical failure his teammate Hill suffered. His title ambitions were dented, and the story of the underdog had its ink smudged.

The racing gods sought to clean up that ink, when they oversaw the next drop-out – Coulthard gambled on dry tyres in the worsening conditions, and on lap 38 his McLaren met its maker in the barriers. Fisichella inherited the lead ahead of Schumacher after Hakkinen was forced to conceding into replacing his wet tyres with new dries, and under the radar unexpected stars were emerging.

Lap 49 saw Fisichella spin out in another botched case of leader’s demise, kissing his maiden victory into the arms of a man seeking his own first. As soon as it was sent his way, however, a rear tyre puncture cruelly denied him the chance to notch Williams’ first win in almost two years, and left him ruing what could have been along with a string of broken-hearted challengers. But the next inheritant of the lead was to have his day against the odds.

Herbert had been building a head of steam all race long, and emerged from the lower reaches of the podium before the final double-blow into an unlikely lead, shouldering the weight of his team’s prayers. Hakkinen and Irvine were scrambling to keep their title hopes alive while a sea of malnourished drivers were enjoying the photosynthesis of World Championship points – they just had to cling onto them. Minardi hadn’t scored in four years, so when Luca Badoer found himself in fourth with 13 laps to go tears were beginning to flood in the eyes of Faenza faithful.

There were tears that lap, but they were ones coming agonisingly from Badoer – his car broke down, and he broke down with it by the side of the track. Jarno Trulli was a fine second for Prost Grand Prix just ahead of Barrichello in the second Stewart, and it was to stay that way come the end of the race. The podium was filled out for the first, and so far the only, time with teams named after and owned by ex-F1 drivers. Gene managed to salvage a point for Minardi, taking the private champagne back off the ice. But this was Johnny’s day, and even Hakkinen’s fighting fifth couldn’t dampen the energy around him and his team.

With just one more season on the horizon, this marked the end of Johnny’s podium escapades. None tasted sweeter. Unlike the other two, there was no shade of a World Champion hanging over him, nor a winning machine expecting of such results. This time the underdogs had their day all to themselves. Aside from the attrition, aside from the battles, aside from the conditions, the reason Europe 1999 was so brilliant is because of the message it sent. You can be in a race against time, with the worn tyres of doubt and the broken front wing of resignation, but as long as you stay in the race, your day will come. It’s why we love the underdog, after all. 

Why Red Bull’s misuse of Super Formula needs to end

A typhoon warning may have left the Suzuka circuit barren, but if thoughts were the metric to go by the minds of Pierre Gasly and Helmut Marko’s were anything but. They were only half-a-point away from the ultimate prize, after all.

Pierre had his own considerations, certainly about how he was staring down a double-barrel gun of success (were he to prevail, he’d be the first overseas champion since Andre Lotterer in 2011, first rookie since Ralf Schumacher in 1996 and first overall for both since the renaming from Formula Nippon in 2013), but Marko’s were likely about just what a blinder they’d played with their decision.

Opting not to fast-track Gasly into a Toro Rosso F1 seat after his 2016 GP2 title win, the time spent putting noses out of joint in Japan’s elite open-wheel series looked every inch a masterstroke. Red Bull and Honda’s relationship began to blossom and their next hopeful’s confidence was sky-high. It offered another nugget to chew on, too: did they need to bother with the de-facto ladder to F1 at all?

Two years on, it’s almost time for the Suzuka finale once again. There’s not been a Red Bull-backed entry in the renamed F2 full-time since Gasly, and yet three of their academy hopefuls have featured in Super Formula just this season. None of them have replicated anything like the silky form of their French predecessor, nor have they been given the chance.

The #15 Team Mugen car, one of two Red Bull-backed seats in the series, began the season in the hands of the controversial Dan Ticktum. Dan had only just graduated from European F3 the season before, and toiled in the Asian Series not long after, yet Red Bull saw the risk of placing their baby cub into the lion pit of sage ex-F1, DTM and WEC drivers as a worthwhile one.

Dutch Photo Agency/Red Bull Content Pool

Three races, three struggling endeavours and a solitary point later, allegations of Ticktum’s attitude hitting rock bottom and even acts of assault on a Mugen team member had the Brit packing his bags for the first flight out of both Japan and the Red Bull Junior Programme. It spelled disaster for a man the casino chips were placed on, but as luck would have it the energy drink colossus had snagged a promising IndyCar driver struggling for funds in Patricio O’Ward.

The new poster child of the Junior Programme, the dust was brushed off the seat of the #15 car and Pato was placed firmly inside, in an attempt to acclimatise the 20 year old Mexican into more traditional open-wheel racing alongside a crack of the F2 whip in Austria as a one-off. 

Three races, three growingly impressive efforts and three points later, Pato has now disembarked from the Red Bull train after just four months and four events raced under the Junior Programme’s tutelage. Bereft of expected Super Licence points, the jig was up. The #15 Team Mugen welcomes it’s third Red-Bull backed starlet in Estonian F3 graduate Juri Vips while Pato looks set to make up for lost time back in IndyCar for 2020.

Three. Drivers. Let’s evaluate the season: an F3 graduate, short (admittedly of his own fault) on confidence and recent career racing, was deemed a worthy competitor for Super Formula’s high calibre. Once his old habits and inexperience set ablaze his title chances, Red Bull replaced him with a similarly inexperienced prospect mid-season. Pato’s North American schooling was given all of three events to be repurposed before a short-term fast-tracking broke down, and now another F3 graduate is taking the mantle for the finale.

Aside from Red Bull’s other championship effort, Lucas Auer – an ex-DTM driver deemed unlikely to ever be in their future F1 plans – who sits third in the table, the Junior Programme’s 2019 trip east has been an unmitigated disaster. One driver was thrown into the deep end too soon, and the other was submerged in the waves even sooner, and was deemed little more than a vanity project the moment the plan A for him became an impossibility.

Dutch Photo Agency/Red Bull Content Pool

Gasly, like other F1-attached junior drives such as Stoffel Vandoorne, were able to not only survive but succeed in Super Formula because they were at the tail-end of their growth. Two GP2 champions, brimmed with open-wheel experience and virtually ready for the big time, they had the necessary time to grow stronger and wiser before they were unleashed on a series filled with stalwarts in the primes of their careers. F3 and inexperienced Indy graduates aren’t at such a level and either need to be given the time to acclimatise, or not be placed there at all.

Red Bull’s usage of Super Formula as an alternative to F2 has been one marred with underestimation of what it takes to succeed in the series, and drastically short-term ambitions for the drivers they deem fit to place in it. Ticktum’s warning signs were well apparent even before he made the leap, and yet Red Bull didn’t recognise the error they were making. Pato was beginning to adjust to a jarring challenge with aplomb, yet Red Bull have no desire to see his development through, and now Vips stands to be deemed fit for a 2020 Team Mugen seat despite his own premature stage of development.

In a way, it’s a sign of just how far Red Bull’s Junior Programme has fallen; what was once an environment in which talent aplenty flowed through the mains, and World Championships were wringed out of the system, is now a barren wasteland frequently topped up with drivers they’d deemed inadequate years ago or bundled into F1 without prior funding. Current Red Bull Racing duo, Max Verstappen and Alex Albon, are signs of this.

Max never suffered rejection from the programme, but neither can it lay claim to truly nurturing him pre-F1 – he spent all of one week in it before being announced as a 2015 Toro Rosso race driver, and was already a made man by the time they inquired for his services – while Alex spent a solitary season with them in 2012 before being released. 

Toro Rosso now sees two drivers who were both ruled as unneeded at the A-team and sent to bide their time back in Faenza, with Daniil in particular even being dropped from the Red Bull lifeline for over a year in 2017 before, once again, the talent tank ran dry and an ex-employee’s services were required. Recent Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley is another example of such a scenario.

The Super Formula experiment is backfiring for Red Bull, and it’s of their own doing. Shunning a ready-made proving ground in F2 and treating the proud, developed Super Formula as a junior series without consideration for the culture shock it provides to drivers not yet properly developed has and will continue to be a disaster, and for every victim it creates there aren’t enough phone numbers in the exes list to realistically ring as last resorts. It had Pierre teetering on the edge of glory two years ago; it has the Junior Team on the brink of implosion now.

 

[Featured image – Sho Tamura / Red Bull Content Pool]

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.