Ferrari’s 1000th race – but hardly a celebration: Tuscan Grand Prix Preview

We did get an Italian team on the top step of the podium in Monza, and I would love to say it was not the Italian team we expected.

But in reality, no one was anticipating that there would be a Ferrari – or an Alpha Tauri –  winning in front of the Tifosi like they did last year, and no one would predict that this weekend either at Mugello.

But as the F1 circus rolls in towards the 5.2 kilometre Tuscan race track, Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly enters the weekend as the 109th different winner in F1 history following his tremendous and shock victory last Sunday at the temple of speed.

Pierre Gasly celebrates his momentous victory in Monza – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

For Ferrari, their 1000th race will be played out in front of the 10,000 spectators that will be permitted to enter the grandstands, but following the presence of the Netflix during what was a disastrous weekend for the Scuderia, they will probably be wishing they were not in attendance.

A brake failure for Sebastian Vettel and an enormous crash for Charles Leclerc followed on from a horrible qualifying performance for them in Monza. However, the slightly more downforce-orientated nature of the Mugello circuit compared to Monza may soften the blow to the Ferrari team that have been battered and bruised thus far by the car’s terrible lack of performance.

The Italian Grand Prix was a home race to forget for Ferrari – Courtesy of Ferrari Press Office

Mercedes, meanwhile, were dealt their first real blow of the 2020 season, as a polemic pitstop penalty for Lewis Hamilton cost him any chance of a victory, while team mate Valtteri Bottas continued his frustrating run of form by finishing fifth and failing to capitalise on the red flag and penalty drama. A win at what is a very technical and tricky race track would do his confidence a world of good, even if his world championship hopes seem to have dissipated.

Racing point and McLaren enter the weekend on almost as big a high as Alpha Tauri, following magnificent podium finishes for Lance Stroll in third and Carlos Sainz in second, but the Spaniard did not hide his disappointment at not being able to snatch the win from Gasly at the end. The higher-downforce nature at Mugello will suit McLaren slightly better than Alpha Tauri and Racing Point, but it would probably need a race equally as eventful as Monza to earn them a podium.

Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll join Gasly on the podium in Monza – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

But having said that, Stroll and Lando Norris are tied for points for fourth place in the drivers’ championship. They find themselves both ahead of Red Bull’s Alex Albon, who failed to score last weekend and is under pressure from the driver he replaced at the senior team last year – Pierre Gasly.

The Frenchman will be fully aware he is back in with a shout of being promoted once again for next season, and there will now be much anticipation as F1 heads to the first of the new tracks hurriedly introduced in the wake of the pandemic-affected 2020 season.

Following the second win for Alpha Tauri in the Italian Grand Prix, a second Italian chance beckons as Ferrari prepare for their 1000th race.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of Red Bull content Pool

Mercedes to dominate at Monza? 2020 Italian Grand Prix Preview

As Formula One heads to the temple of speed at the 5.7 kilometre Monza circuit, the question on everyone’s lips is not really whether Mercedes will be the dominant force over the course of the weekend.

Instead, we are left wondering just how massive the advantage will be for the Silver Arrows as they seek to continue their astonishingly impressive start to the 2020 season.

2020 Belgian Grand Prix, Friday – Steve Etherington

Despite the extended 2020 lay-off due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Mercedes have very much picked up where they left off at the end of 2019, winning six of the first seven races. And the power-dominated track – the quickest in the calendar – will very much play into the hands of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

Unlike last weekend at Spa, there does not appear to be any threat of rain. However, despite the forecast, hopes of a damp race in Belgium were dampened by a lack of dampness, as Mercedes took a one two for the first time in six races in Belgium, extending their lead at the top of the tree.

2020 Belgian Grand Prix, Sunday – Steve Etherington

A potential surprise in Italy though would very much include Renault. Their top speed at Belgium aided Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon to a fourth and fifth placed finish respectively, giving them an assured feeling going into this weekend at Monza, where a podium could beckon. It would be the Frenchman’s first ever podium in Formula One, while Daniel Ricciardo would be looking for his first podium since the Monaco Grand Prix in 2018, where he won.

Daniel Ricciardo could claim his first podium in 44 races this weekend

Conspicuous in their absence thus far in this preview have been Ferrari. Spa was nothing short of a disaster for the Scuderia. The powerful nature of the track in Francorchamps was always going to affect the struggling Ferrari power unit adversely, but no one really expected them to be so far from the points pace-wise. Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc were both knocked out in Q2 last Saturday, and Vettel beat his team mate to a lowly thirteenth position in the race. If the affect of the straight line speed in the Ardennes Forest worked against them, Monza will be a travesty. Haas and Alfa Romeo – both Ferrari powered teams – competed with the works team, and Kimi Raikkonen’s pass on former team mate Vettel was the epitome of just how far Ferrari have fallen. It is easy to forget that Charles Leclerc won this race last season.

GP ITALIA F1/2019 – DOMENICA 08/09/2019
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Racing Point, meanwhile, seemed to struggle more than expected at Spa, meaning it will be intriguing to see how their car performs at a track that, in theory, should really suit their car and the Mercedes engine that goes with it. Pierre Gasly’s pass in the Alpha Tauri on Racing Point’s Sergio Perez through Eau Rouge was the pick of the bunch last time out. Another strong performance from the Frenchman at his team’s home race could push him further into contention to take the Red Bull seat back away from the struggling Alex Albon.

Alex Albon hopes to improve on a tough start to the 2020 season

It looks as though Mercedes will be raiding the home of Ferrari once more, as the temple of speed welcomes F1 for round eight of the 2020 season.

 

Feature Image courtesy of Glenn Dunbar/LAT Images

Belgian Blockbuster in the wet? 2020 Belgian Grand Prix Preview

Formula One rolls into the luscious town of Francorchamps this week, the threat of rain looms for the upcoming weekend as we await the 76th Belgian Grand Prix.

At a remarkable seven kilometres, Spa boasts the shortest name and the longest track on the calendar – which this year has been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we all have reason to be extremely grateful to see Spa on the shortened and condensed list of races this year. It is one of the most challenging, exhausting and bravery-inciting circuits F1 has seen in its 70-year history – Charles Leclerc and Fernando Alonso can testify to that after flying car incidents into turn one in 2012 and 2018.

www.sutton-images.com | Fernando Alonso, McLaren MCL33 crashes and gets airborne at the start of the race at Formula One World Championship, Rd13, Belgian Grand Prix, Race, Spa Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday 26 August 2018.
BEST IMAGE

And if previous form is anything to go by, we could be in for a fascinating race. The last eight F1 races at Spa have seen seven different winners – Jenson Button, Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc. Mercedes power has claimed five of the last 10 races, with Renault and Ferrari power taking the flag in the other five.

2016 Belgian Grand Prix, Sunday

The clouds that promise an invigorating twist to the tail throughout all three days of running could provide Red Bull the opportunity to win their fourth race here, with Dutchman Max Verstappen seeking to once again throw a spanner in Mercedes’ almost flawless works and earn his second win of the season after the 70th anniversary Grand Prix in Silverstone.

And it is a good thing for Mercedes’ rivals that the ominous rain threat is there – because this track suits the Silver Arrow almost down to a tee.

With tremendously long full-throttle sections and a heavily reduced necessity for downforce, Mercedes would expect to have the superior car around this track. And they still may. Coupled with excellent proficiency in the car, they have a six-time world champion in Lewis Hamilton that has won four of the last five rain-affected races in F1 – Germany last year being the only exception. He was also the last driver to win a rain-affected race in Belgium back in 2010.

Racing Point, dubbed the pink Mercedes in the midst of the “copying” row, also know that if they can master the wet conditions, a podium finish may be on the cards for them – it would be their first since Sergio Perez in Baku two years ago.

The Ferrari powered cars would be grateful of some rain too this weekend. Ferrari, Haas and Alfa Romeo have all struggled immensely in the early part of the campaign, and some unpredictable weather conditions may just be the catalyst needed for a strong result for those teams – it seems outrageous saying this given that Ferrari won this race last year with Leclerc.

Charles Leclerc dedicates his 2019 win to friend Anthoine Hubert – who lost life earlier in the weekend – Ferrari Media

McLaren, who now have two podiums to their name in as many seasons, looked incredibly strong with Carlos Sainz in qualifying in Styria in the wet, and will undoubtedly sense an opportunity themselves.

As F1 returns to Spa, Charles Leclerc knows he may just need a sprinkle to claim a second consecutive win here – and while there will be no orange wall for Max Verstappen, it looks likely there will be a few walls of spray this weekend.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of Mark Thompson/Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Super Max again? Spanish Grand Prix Preview

At the beginning of 2020, the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona was set to be round number six of the 71st world championship season in the sport’s history. Now, 96 days after it was supposed to be held, it will still be round six.

Never, after pre-season testing in February at the same track, did anyone imagine that it would take this long for the F1 circus to return to Cataluña, or that the F1 season would be as altered and impacted as it has been – but F1 belatedly returns for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Haas’ Romain Grosjean at pre-season testing in Barcelona

The 4.6 kilometre circuit has seen 29 Formula One races, and only 10 times has the pole-sitter failed to win the race. Therefore, you would get the feeling that qualifying would be pretty important this weekend.

Cue Mercedes whose five pole positions from the first five races have once again symbolised a dominant car. Lewis Hamilton has established a 30-point lead in the world championship, but the champions did not have it their own way last time out at the 70th anniversary Grand Prix in Silverstone.

Red Bull’s Dutch sensation Max Verstappen produced a clinic in tyre conservation and consistency as he steered his car to victory following an exceptional strategy by the Red Bull team.

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 09: Race winner Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing walks with Second placed Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP with their trophies after the F1 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone on August 09, 2020 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Will Oliver/Pool via Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // AP-24VYR9KC11W11 // Usage for editorial use only //

It is also a circuit that will be naturally tough on the tyres. Mercedes’ strife over the two weekends in Northamptonshire saw Hamilton take a narrow win after a last-lap puncture. A puncture for Bottas saw him fail to score points in the British Grand Prix, and he lost the win and second place from pole position. He knows he needs to string together some strong weekends in order to propel himself back into championship contention.

2020 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

It all came on a day Verstappen claimed he would not have enough to challenge the Silver Arrows, and we now arrive at a circuit that where the team is expected to flourish. Complete with tricky, high speed corners and few straights, Red Bull will know that Spain is a wonderful opportunity to take their second consecutive victory, and the team’s fourth there since 2010.

A special mention also goes to Carlos Sainz, who enters his sixth home Grand Prix. He looks to become the second Spanish race winner in Barcelona after Fernando Alonso’s two victories – the second of which was in 2013 for Ferrari. Sainz did not manage any points in Silverstone due to puncture and pit-stop dramas and will be looking for a bounce-back this weekend.

BARCELLONA ( SPAGNA ) 12/05/2013
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO X FERRARI

But it is all eyes on Red Bull and Super Max, as they look to once again take the fight to Mercedes at the front at the circuit where Verstappen took his first ever victory in 2016.

 

Feature Image courtesy of Red Bull content Pool

Back where it all began: 70th anniversary Grand Prix Preview

70 years ago, the Formula One world championship was established and the sport embarked on the 1950 season – it would start at Silverstone.

The once-derelict wartime airbase has since brought countless F1 seasons to life with some extraordinary British Grand Prix races, and this last weekend was absolutely no exception.

After a last-lap puncture, Lewis Hamilton claimed his seventh win at the 5.8 Kilometre circuit in the most ridiculous of circumstances, following similar issues for team mate Valtteri Bottas and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, which would see them both finish outside of the points.

2020 British Grand Prix,Sunday – LAT Images

At the track where it all started back in 1950, it was a crazy finish last time out, and we will hopefully get to see another cracking Grand Prix in Northamptonshire for the 70th anniversary Grand Prix this weekend.

Of course a prominent question regarding the race will be tyre options; will Pirelli opt to switch to harder compounds for more durability or stick with the exciting lack of longevity that exists within the softer tyres? While it is not certain, it is believed that Alpha Tauri driver Daniil Kvyat’s crash was also due to a tyre failure. His team mate Pierre Gasly, meanwhile, seeks to build on an emotive points finish last time. He almost ironically out-qualified and out-raced the man who replaced him at Red Bull last season – Alex Albon.

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 02: Pierre Gasly of France driving the (10) Scuderia AlphaTauri AT01 Honda leads Alexander Albon of Thailand driving the (23) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB16 on track during the F1 Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on August 02, 2020 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // AP-24TQ5F39D1W11 // Usage for editorial use only //

The tyres fell into a long list of talking points in the British Grand Prix. These included Alex Albon’s late charge into the points, criticism of Romain Grosjean’s antics, and a return for Nico Hulkenberg that was over before it began.

Mercedes will want to claim a remarkable eighth win since 2010 in Silverstone, and Lewis Hamilton will be eager to take the 21st win from pole in Silverstone, having just claimed the 20th last time out.

This race will hopefully give us the chance to see some more midfield excitement too. Following an excellent fight between Renault, Racing Point and McLaren in the last race, there should be an array of entertainment on show in this race, particularly if Ferrari can find some pace and provide Red Bull with more of a challenge than they managed just previously. Having said that, Charles Leclerc’s impressive podium will have been a satisfying achievement following another challenging weekend.

GP GRAN BRETAGNA F1/2020 – DOMENICA 02/08/2020 credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Further behind, Romain Grosjean, who came under fire for his truculent defence following one of the safety car periods, seeks his first points in Silverstone for eight years.

Alfa Romeo know that their battle with Haas and Williams at the back is becoming perennial and synonymous with what is becoming a tiresome season, particularly for the Swiss and American outfits, while Williams display somewhat of a resurgence compared to 2019.

Red Bull, who will hopefully be staying hydrated between now and the weekend, know that tyre issues like last weekend could provide them with the leverage to go on and win the race.

2019 British Grand Prix, Sunday – Steve Etherington

In a weekend when we will hopefully get to see Nico Hulkenberg race this time, Formula One celebrates 70 years of exhilarating racing – but will it be Mercedes celebrating again in Silverstone?

 

Feature image Courtesy of Mercedes Media Database

2020 British Grand Prix Preview

After a two-week break since the Hungarian Grand Prix, the Formula One circus rolls into the lush fields of Silverstone for the 75th British Grand Prix, and the first of two back-to-back races to be held there in as many weeks.

The 5.8 kilometre circuit has seen 30 different winners in the 53 Grands Prix that it has hosted, one of them being the six-time winner Lewis Hamilton, who looks to make it a seventh on his way to, potentially, his seventh world championship this campaign.

2020 Hungarian Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

And it is he and his relentless Mercedes team that look to take their sixth win here since the new track layout was introduced in 2010, after an utterly dominant display by Hamilton won him the Hungarian Grand Prix last time out.

Ferrari’s 13 wins overall in Silverstone are nothing to gawp over regarding recent years – their last two victories in Northamptonshire came in 2018 with Sebastian Vettel, and back in 2011 with Fernando Alonso.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

And speaking of Ferrari, their terrible beginning to the 2020 season is not going to be improved at a track where the teams will need power – something that the Prancing Horses have been lacking in their power unit over the first three races. This has also translated to their customer teams Haas and Alfa Romeo. They have both struggled to make it out of Q1 in Austria and Hungary, but Kevin Magnussen’s point in Budapest was a step in the right direction for the American outfit. The Dane and team mate Romain Grosjean will be trying not to make contact for the third year in a row in Britain – something that landed them in a fiery rollocking from team boss Guenther Steiner last year.

Red Bull’s erratic car performance has negatively impacted on Max Verstappen and Alex Albon this year. Albon ended up out in Q2 in Budapest last time out, while Max Verstappen’s assessment of the RB16 has generally been that it is “too slow” to challenge the dominant Mercedes. He did very well though to hold off Valtteri Bottas for second two weeks ago. The Finn, who took victory in the first round in Spielberg, knows he needs a win over the next couple of races to close the gap back up to team mate Hamilton and stem the colossal tide from the brilliant Briton.

McLaren enter their home race having made a positive start to the year in Austria, but struggled in Hungary; Carlos Sainz claimed a ninth-placed finish, while Lando Norris failed to score points in thirteenth. However, seldom do poor weekends tend to happen for McLaren since the start of 2019 and the entertaining driver-partnership know that, with a bit of misfortune for Red Bull and Ferrari, they could go in search of a podium.

Racing Point will have the same perspective. Their exceptional qualifying in Budapest was followed by a fourth-placed finish for Lance Stroll, who may well yet be partnering Sebastian Vettel next year. The German is tipped to be signed by the team as it becomes Aston Martin in 2021.

As with last year, Williams find themselves entering this race having thus far been the only team yet to score points, but will have designs on lifting themselves off the bottom of the Constructors’ standings if changeable conditions play a factor.

After his eighth win in Hungary, Lewis Hamilton has his sights well and truly set on number seven in Silverstone – one of the best weekends of the year, and we get to see it twice!

Feature Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Hungary hat-trick for Hamilton? 2020 Hungarian Grand Prix

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

As 2020 hits its third race on the bounce, Lewis Hamilton looks to claim his third consecutive victory at the Hungaroring as F1 heads to the Budapest for the Hungarian Grand Prix.

A 21 minute drive from the city centre of Budapest, the 4.3 kilometre Hungaoring circuit prepares to host its 35th Formula One Grand Prix, and it is an eagerly awaited one.

With rain expected on race day, the acclimatised Red Bull to this downforce orientated track will have a strong chance of taking victory at a venue where, surprisingly, the pole sitter has failed to win the race on 19 occasions.

The last wet race was a dire one for current world champion Lewis Hamilton, who was one of many to succumb to the treacherous penultimate corner of Turn 16 in Hockenheim last year, albeit he was ill for much of the weekend. He did, however, put in a stunning performance in qualifying in Austria in extremely wet conditions, asserting the dominance that could well be about to take him to his seventh World Championship.

To take another step towards it this weekend though, he will no doubt face stern competition from team mate Valteri Bottas, winner of the first race in Austria, and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who impressed with a podium finish at the Styrian Grand Prix.

This also promises to be a competitive weekend between McLaren, Renault and Racing Point, who have all seemed to take an early incentive in the midfield battle –  McLaren enjoying the most success thus far. After a fastest lap point in each of the first two races as well as a podium finish with Lando Norris, this relatively short track, coupled with the downforce element, will show us whether the McLaren has definitive pace in the corners. It will also be a display of whether they could again challenge for the podium. Carlos Sainz qualified an exquisite third in the wet in Styria, and will be sensing an opportunity this weekend.

We are still yet to learn the outcome of the protest Renault filed against Racing Point after the second Grand Prix in Austria, but with two cars that seem closely matched should hopefully come some heated competition.

Ferrari’s lack of pace is expected to be slightly mitigated at a track that requires less power, which may also come as a relief to their customer teams Haas and Alfa Romeo, both of whom were also strugglers over the two weeks in Spielberg. Ferrari are anticipated to be bring some upgrades so as to try to figure out what exactly is going wrong with, not only their Power Unit, but their Chassis as well. What would of course help their cause is avoiding contact on the first lap this time.

The last time anyone won this race two seasons running was Hamilton himself – in 2012 and 2013. And with rain forecast on Sunday and a potentially thrilling race in store, the six time world champion looks to build on that record, and close the gap to team mate Valtteri Bottas at the head of the championship.

Hamilton wins Styrian Grand Prix as Ferrari implode again

An excellent drive from Lewis Hamilton saw him take a dominant victory at the Styrian Grand Prix, while Ferrari scored no points after Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel collided on the first lap.

Hamilton grabbed a superb pole position in a treacherous wet qualifying on Saturday and got off to a good start, getting clear of second-placed Max Verstappen, who battled hard in the first sector with the McLaren of Carlos Sainz.

Into Turn 3, Leclerc dived down the inside of multiple drivers in the midfield, but the space into the apex tightened up and Leclerc mounted his team mate’s rear wing, having bounced up off the sausage kerb on the inside. Vettel retired from the race after losing his rear wing while Leclerc’s race was ultimately ended by the subsequent excessive floor damage.

George Russell’s great work in qualifying for Williams was undone when he ventured into the gravel following a battle with Haas’ Kevin Magnussen.

Valtteri Bottas managed to get past Sainz in the opening stint of the Grand Prix, before Alex Albon followed suit with a routine move into Turn 4. Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton’s consistent lap times were seeing him slowly pull away from Verstappen.

2020 Styrian Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

A slow stop for Sainz would then push him further down the midfield pack, compounding what had been a challenging start for McLaren, with Lando Norris battling away with the Racing Point of Sergio Perez.

The Renaults of Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon also battled hard in the opening exchanges, with Ocon eventually having to relinquish the position to his McLaren-bound team mate after a tense battle as they were chasing Ricciardo’s future team-mate Carlos Sainz for fifth.

Ocon would then retire with a terminal issue, while Kimi Raikkonen and Kevin Magnussen gave us a couple of really good battles, with the Finn eventually coming out on top in the Alfa Romeo.

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen pitted almost in tandem with each other, both re-joining in front of Verstappen’s team mate Alex Albon, demoralisingly for the Thai-British driver.

Perez and Norris then went long in the first stint, along with Valtteri Bottas, all hoping their strategies would win them their respective battles. As Perez re-joined, he pulled off an absolutely exceptional move on Carlos Sainz round the outside of Turn 6, and set off in pursuit of his team mate Lance Stroll. After a close encounter with the Canadian, he squeezed past him and breezed past the Renault of Daniel Ricciardo, who continued to frustrate Stroll.

After an intense battle into Turn 4 with Verstappen, Bottas eventually got past a steely Verstappen, with the Dutchman scoring his first points of the season in third following an early non-finish last week.

2020 Styrian Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

Perez, during all this, had caught up to Albon in the other Red Bull but very nearly recreated the incident between Hamilton and Albon last week, making contact with the Red Bull, but not spinning him. Unfortunately for Perez however, the contact cost him his front wing.

This would prove disastrous for the Mexican. Lando Norris had been allowed past his team mate Sainz and set the fastest lap of the race, and set after the squabbling Stroll and Ricciardo.

After Hamilton had crossed the line to claim an imperious win, a frustrated Stroll dived down the inside of Ricciardo and that sent both of them off the track, allowing the resurgent Norris, who started ninth, to pass them both into turn four, jinking between the Renault and the Racing Point.

Perez, meanwhile, was crawling to the chequered flag after his front wing had all but fallen off following his contact with Albon, and Norris brilliantly snuck past him into the final corner. It was then a photo-finish between Perez, Stroll and Ricciardo to the line. Perez just held onto seventh place, while Ricciardo had to settle for eighth behind Stroll having once been running in fifth.

After making another stop, Sainz smashed the fastest lap record set by Raikkonen in 2018 with a 1:05.6, and he would take the fastest lap point in ninth.

It was a resurgent Hamilton after a tough weekend at the Austrian Grand Prix last time out, but his 85th career win at the Styrian Grand Prix puts him right back into championship contention, and six wins behind the all-time 91 race win record set by Michael Schumacher.

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]

Austrian Grand Prix Preview: F1 is back, but not as we know it

112 days after the opener in Melbourne was supposed to get underway, the Formula One season will finally begin in Austria this Sunday.

As with the return of most sport during the COVID-19 pandemic however, things will work a little differently in the F1 paddock. Media presence will be lower, the freedom of the drivers to roam around the surrounding area during race week will decrease and, perhaps most prominently, there will be a complete absence of fans.

The Austrian Grand Prix will mark the first of two races at the 4.3-kilometre Red Bull Ring, with the Styrian Grand Prix following just a week later. This is all part of the FIA’s plan to satiate the year with as many races as possible so as to create as exhaustive a calendar as possible for the world championship season, which needs to be at least eight races long to classify as such.

Normally by this point of the year, we would know who is competitive and who is not, but the cars have not run since testing in Barcelona at the beginning of the year and, as we learned last year especially, testing pace is little to go by.

It is therefore quite difficult to determine who the favourites are going to be, but the same could generally be said in Spielberg last year. Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari were all competitive last season, with Max Verstappen narrowly beating Charles Leclerc to victory following a controversial overtake at the end of the race, the investigation for which was not concluded until hours after the drivers had stepped off the podium.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

One of the major points of interest is the perennially fascinating midfield battle. The Racing Point, designed on last year’s Mercedes, is tipped to be one of the major challengers to fourth place in the Constructors’ as they look to knock McLaren off their perch as best of the rest. Renault’s inconsistencies over the past couple of seasons will need to be rectified by their new driver-pairing of Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon, as the French team consider their future involvement in the sport they have failed to re-master since their return in 2016. Alpha Tauri – rebranded from Toro Rosso – and Alfa Romeo will also have an eye on challenging for the best of the midfield teams.

Haas are understood to be the only constructor not bringing upgrades to this race, as uncertainty looms about their interest in F1 too. Their upgrades last year affected them adversely rather than helping them progress after the first race, and they will look to avoid further regression this year. They managed a fourth and fifth-placed finish in Spielberg in 2018, while Kevin Magnussen qualified an impressive fifth last season. A gearbox penalty and the Haas car’s ghastly race pace saw him finish behind both the Williams cars.

Speaking of which, Williams’ car was three seconds quicker in testing in Spain than it was in the 2019 Spanish Grand Prix, which will lead the British team to believe they can climb off the bottom of the championship table and relieve some of the immense pressure currently on Claire Williams’ shoulders.

One of the shortest tracks on the calendar follows the longest wait for a Formula One season since the World Championship’s inception. The Styrian mountains will not be alive with the sound of fans, but they will still be alive with the sound of Formula One cars.

 

[Featured image – Matthias Heschl/Red Bull Content Pool]

Andy Cowell leaves Mercedes: Why this news is bigger than we may think.

Image courtesy of Daimler Media

89 Not the most significant number of them all, but certainly one of the most prevalent in Formula One as the latest news hits the press.

Why? Because that is the amount of races Mercedes have won since the beginning of the V6 hybrid era in 2014. The Brackley-based team had already been on the rise in 2013, but the arrival of the turbo-charged era paved the way for six of the most utterly dominant seasons in sporting history. With those 89 wins have come 12 championships – six drivers’ and six constructors’ and, particularly last season, themselves and now six time world champion Lewis Hamilton looked unmatchable.

It does not take a genius to figure out what the key to this almost unprecedented success was. New engines means a completely different way of thinking, a different way of working; a different way of racing.

The V6 hybrid department has been led from the start by Andy Cowell – the brilliant mind that helped power Stewart Ford to their maiden victory in 1999. That team’s name now? Four time Constructors’ champions Red Bull.

He has been part of the Mercedes family since 2004, working on the Mercedes Ilmor engines – originally designed for IndyCar, but later used by McLaren and Sauber (now Alfa Romeo) in Formula One.

As his career progressed, he worked his indispensable magic on the V10s and then the V8s. His work on the brand new for 2009 KERS system, in which the kinetic energy from the brakes provided an electric speed boost at the drivers’ command, was revolutionary. Although Brawn GP did not use KERS that season, they did use Mercedes engines, and Cowell’s brilliance had slyly guided another team to glory in the pinnacle of motorsport.

Throughout nearly the entirety of the V8 era, Cowell was responsible for building the Mercedes drivetrains. These engines also helped Lewis Hamilton to championship success in 2008, and powered Michael Schumacher in his three-year return to the sport with the Mercedes factory team.

Then came 2014. Cowell’s almost unparalleled genius produced one of the finest, fastest and the all-conquering hybrid engine that has brought copious race wins for Mercedes, as well as helping to temporarily lift Williams out of their slump, pushing them to 14 podiums between 2014 and 2017.

Cowell’s work and engineering excellence has been one of the defining factors of Mercedes’ relentless success during the hybrid era, so just how big a loss will his departure be?

Well, another brilliant brain in the Formula One paddock, Jock Clear – formerly of Mercedes and now of Ferrari, gave a veracious account in 2016 of just how different these current cars are compared to their V8 predecessors. He remarked on the way that the engine and the chassis need to work as one package, rather than as two separate entities.

This means to say that there is a phenomenal and integral spine to the Mercedes team that has produced an incredible chassis, and incredible engine, and made them work in perfect harmony for six tremendous years.

With that being said, one person leaving from the engine department may not be such an issue – particularly with exceptional talents like Lewis Hamilton and his team mate Valtteri Bottas, who succeeded 2016 champion Nico Rosberg at this now dominant, highly decorated presence in Formula One.

But we saw what happened to Red Bull and Renault. Having achieved 68 wins in the nine seasons prior to 2014, Renault power was one of the most dominant forces in the sport. Since the arrival of the hybrids, Renault power has achieved 12. This pales into insignificance compared to Mercedes’ remarkable 89.

This, of course, is not strictly down to the engine. The aforementioned harmony between driver, engine and chassis is more vital now than ever before, so the lion’s share of the responsibility has to fall to the teams themselves, but it is certainly no secret that Mercedes power has blown away its competition since 2014, and this is down in no small part to Cowell.

So with McLaren moving to Mercedes engines for the 2021 season, Cowell’s departure leaves a void that needs filling, as well as a huge question mark as to who takes the reigns now, and what direction Mercedes decide to take in the engine department in the wake of Cowell’s absence.