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Cyril Abiteboul: Renault boss steps down from role

Ahead of Renault’s new identity as Alpine, and a reshuffle at the team, Cyril Abiteboul is leaving his role as team boss effective immediately.

Abiteboul’s journey as a team boss began in 2013 when he took charge of the doomed Caterham, having acted as Renault’s Deputy Director of Sport until 2012.

In 2015, he returned to this role and, having seen the Renault name return under Frederic Vassuer’s leadership, he took charge of the French outfit at the back end of 2016.

Under Abiteboul’s leadership, Renault managed a fourth-placed finish in 2018 – Courtesy of Renault F1 Media

Sandwiched in between these stages of his career has been the controversy with Red Bull. On various occasions between 2015 and 2018, he had several public fall-outs with Red Bull Principal Christian Horner. Red Bull’s struggles with Renault power in the hybrid era led to tensions between the two teams, and Horner’s complaints about the performance and reliability of the Power Unit began to irritate Abiteboul.

This relationship came to a head in 2018, when Red Bull announced they would no longer be using Renault engines for 2019 onwards, and would instead turn to Honda, who had supplied Toro Rosso that season to a degree of success.

power Unit Disputes led to a complete breakdown in the relationship between Red Bull and Renault in 2018 – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Renault endured a tough 2019, finishing fifth compared to fourth in 2018, and a long way behind McLaren.

A similar story rang true in 2020, but they were much closer to McLaren and Racing Point, fighting for third during much of the campaign, but ultimately finishing fifth again.

They also managed three podiums last year; Daniel Ricciardo finished third in Germany and Imola, while Esteban Ocon claimed a spectacular P2 in Sakhir, in what was Sergio Perez’s first win in Formula One. The Mexican has signed for Red Bull this year, replacing Alex Albon.

Daniel Ricciardo’s third at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was the second of three for Renault last year – Courtesy of Renault F1 Media

Abiteboul’s tenure will be remembered with a great deal of respect. He fearlessly led the team through thick and thin, and has laid the groundwork for Alpine to progress and achieve the success Renault once enjoyed. He enticed Ricciardo into his project, and having lured Fernando Alonso back to the team after the Australian’s departure, Abiteboul bows out with the team in a far better state than it was in when he arrived.

Lights out on an extraordinary year: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Preview

What a year. 2020 was tipped by many to be one of the most exciting in modern times and, well they were not wrong.

This has been by far the most astonishing year any of us have ever witnessed, both on and off the track, and even the most ardent of optimists cannot deny that it has been a struggle for everyone.

However, you also have to appreciate the fruits that have come out of a very tough situation. We have seen amazing race tracks like Mugello, Imola, Istanbul, Portimao and the Nurburgring introduced to a revised calendar, which has been a real delight for us all.

The Eifel Grand Prix saw a welcome return to the Nurburgring – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

We went from 22 races to 17, and it all culminates this weekend at the Yas Marina Circuit for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. In a year that has been dim for many, the floodlights will shine a light of F1’s season finale.

The 5.5 kilometre track made its debut in F1 in 2009, closing out Jenson Buttonb’s title-winning year, and Brawn GP’s successor Mercedes arrive here having won every race in Abu Dhabi since 2014.

And this will fill them with hope, because a horrible race in Bahrain last weekend leaves them desiring a strong result to close out what has been an otherwise phenomenal year.

Following a devastating result in Sakhir, George Russell may get a shot at redemption this weekend – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

It is yet unclear whether newly-crowned seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, who contracted Coronavirus in the build-up to the Sakhir Grand Prix, will recover in time for this weekend. It therefore may be that George Russell returns to the car that he so nearly steered to victory in a stunning debut last race, only to be denied by not one, but two disasters.

Mercedes fitted team mate Valtteri Bottas’ tyres to race leader Russell’s car, forcing him to stop again and Bottas to stay out on dead tyres after a safety car. Having passed Bottas and made his way back up to second, Russell was baring down on Sergio Perez, only for a slow puncture to send him back to the pits. He would finish ninth, while Bottas ended up just one place better in eighth.

It was the aforementioned Perez that took his first ever F1 win, and the first ever for Racing point too. Following his devastating retirement last race that cost him a podium, he gave himself a great chance of securing fourth in the drivers’ standings this weekend, while Racing Point have now moved 10 points clear of McLaren in the battle for third in the Constructors’. Renault sit a further 12 points back.

Sergio Perez’s stunning victory was his first in F1, and Racing Point’s first as a team – Courtesy of Pirelli Media

It makes for an extremely intense finale in the context of the midfield battle, with all eyes firmly fixed on who will claim valuable positions in the drivers’ and constructors’ standings.

The gains will be valuable both financially and in terms of personal pride, and McLaren would be fully grateful of third following their cash flow issues at the start of 2020. As the race for third reaches a head, we eagerly anticipate this enormous battle between Racing Point and McLaren under the lights of Abu Dhabi.

Racing Point are locked in an intense battle with McLaren and Renault as we head to the final race – Courtesy of Racing Point Media

It has been a tough year for many, but hopefully F1 has helped make it that bit easier for you all, and we look forward to covering one last race for you before we gladly turn our backs on 2020.

The Gladiator mindset of a Racing Driver

It is no secret that, a few years ago, a crash like the one Romain Grosjean suffered would have surely resulted in death.

So many things and so many people came together to help protect Romain and save the Frenchman’s life, and many of those people are now looking down as Guardian Angels.

Romain Grosjean was extremely fortunate to escape his huge crash in Bahrain last weekend – Courtesy of Haas Media

Amazing pioneers like Professor Sid Watkins and Charlie Whiting have played such a monumental part in the safety of Formula One drivers today, and those two will have been looking down, smiling as their relentless work in the push for safety paid off for Romain, as it has done for so many.

But some are still right here with us. Extremely special mentions have to go to medical driver Alan van der Merwe and Doctor Ian Roberts, whose quick thinking aided Grosjean in getting out of his flaming and broken Haas. Furthermore, the marshal who ran all the way across the track to help put out the fire, risking his life in the process, deserves much praise for his brave efforts.

My colleague Tim Weigel discussed in his piece not long ago the concerning brittleness of the barrier which caved in, causing the shocking sight of the front half of the car wedged in the wall. This is something that the current heroes protecting our drivers will doubtless look into, but overall, every safety device worked to perfection.

Without the functionality of even one of those components, the situation would have been greatly and we perhaps might have been looking at a fatality.

One of said components used to be one of the most polarising subjects in F1 upon its introduction in 2018 – the Halo. In the end, the name is the most apt description; not only is it round, but it is the protective layer that so brilliantly looked after Grosjean at the Bahrain Grand Prix. No one now is left in doubt about the positive effect it has had – it even saved Charles Leclerc’s life in Belgium the very year it was introduced.

After two years of testing, the protective Halo device was introduced in 2018 – Courtesy of Jake Archibald released under Creative commons 2.0

But what I also wanted to talk about is the unbreakable mentality of a racing driver. All 19 of them, following Grosjean’s horror-crash and subsequent miraculous escape, put their helmets back on and went racing again. Remarkably, Lance Stroll’s collision with Daniil Kvyat, which saw the Canadian upside down, seemed terribly minor compared with the horrific events we had just witnessed an hour prior. But everyone gave it everything they had, fully aware and freshly, painfully reminded of the risks they were taking to give us a show under the lights.

Grosjean’s Haas team Principal Guenther Steiner said, as Romain was recovering in hospital, that the Frenchman is aiming to return to the team in Abu Dhabi – if he is cleared to race, he will likely be taking part in his last race in F1. He is being released by Haas at the end of this year along with team mate Kevin Magnussen, but he is replaced for the second race in Bahrain this weekend by Pietro Fitipaldi.

Brazilian Pietro Fittipaldi will deputise for Grosjean this weekend – Courtesy of Haas Media

Grosjean’s reported eagerness to return underlines the courageous and unbelievable mental toughness of a racing driver – not just in Formula One, but in the whole of motorsports. Anyone would be forgiven for neglecting to race after experiencing or seeing a crash the magnitude of Grosjean’s, but Formula one’s Gladiators are not alone in bravely fighting on.

I caught up with BTCC driver Bobby Thompson as he prepared for a sim race on a Friday night, followed by a weekend of racing at Donington park. He suffered an enormous shunt in Croft in October, and he told me about the fighting spirit that exists within a racing driver.

Bobby Thompson has recently recovered from a big shunt himself – Courtesy of BTCC Media

“When you’re putting the helmet on that’s one of the risks to begin with,” he told me candidly. “After the crash you’re ready to just jump back in. If anything, you’ve had a bit of time out, and you’re really eager to get back out there.”

I found it was also important to mention the progress in risk limitation in F1 and the realm of motorsport. In Formula One, for instance, there were 37 fatalities between 1950 and 1994, yet there has only been one since. That one since Ayrton Senna at Imola was Jules Bianchi, and his tragic accident in 2014 prompted a series of rule changes and safety feature installations, many of which saved Romain Grosjean in Bahrain.

Asked about the safety advances in motorsports, he heaps praise on the governing bodies who have fought to limit the risks on track. “Even in club racing now, everything’s monitored a lot finer; even the junior single-seater formulae now are starting to get halos, which should have been from the start really. If we just go back five years before the halo, Grosjean still might not have been here [after his Bahrain crash] so even the last five years have been incredible.”

Thompson has been racing for AMD Technik Essex in BTCC this year – Courtesy of BTCC media

A huge thanks to Bobby Thompson for his time, and a massive tip of the hat to everyone, past and present, whose heroic and devoted hard work paid off last Sunday, and will continue to do so for many years hence.

Bahrain – but not quite how we know it: Sakhir Grand Prix Preview

After a heart-in-mouth opening lap last time out in Bahrain, F1 returns to Sakhir this weekend, but the track will look a little different.

Turning left immediately after turn four, the drivers will embark on an oval version that goes round to the end of the lap, with sub-one minute lap times anticipated.

Due to the freshness of the outer layout, there will be an odd and intriguing contrast between a rubbered-in track and a green circuit with very little grip.

However, the outer part is mainly full throttle and requires a lot of power, which is why more Mercedes dominance is expected.

Despite that, a track like this is reminiscent to other short circuits like Austria. Losing even the slightest time can be of extreme detriment, and it will prove incredibly difficult to re-gain that time once it is lost, particularly in qualifying.

But while we were all expecting the new layout to be the main talking point of this weekend, it is the miracle escape for Haas’ Romain Grosjean that will dominate race preparations, following a moment that shocked the sporting world.

Romain Grosjean’s injuries mean he will not be taking part this weekend – Courtesy of Haas Media

Grosjean turned across the track and hit the Alpha Tauri of Daniil Kvyat, before smashing into the barrier and splitting his car in two, as it burst into flames in the process.

Having been in the fire for half a minute, the Frenchman was somehow able to escape from the car and, with the help of the heroic marshals and Dr. Ian Roberts, got away with only minor burns to his hands and ankles.

But the FIA will doubtless be looking closely at how the barrier broke in the way it did, and why there was such an enormous fireball upon impact. However, the halo and the safety mechanisms within the car did their job, and all came together to save Grosjean’s life.

He will be replaced by young Brazilian driver Pietro Fittipaldi while he continues to recover, and going up against Danish driver Kevin Magnussen will be the Test and Reserve’s first test in the F1 scene.

Pietro Fittipaldi will make his debut this weekend – Courtesy of Haas Media

Meanwhile, the aforementioned Mercedes will be striving to further push home their advantage in what is a version of the track that suits them even better than the previous. Lewis Hamilton is aiming for his 96th career win, as he also aims to surpass Sebastian Vettel for wins in Bahrain.

His team mate Valtteri Bottas had yet more horrible misfortune early on in bahrain which cost him a place on the podium, with Red Bull taking full advantage. Max Verstappen took second, while Alex Albon took his second podium of the season and strengthened his chances of retaining his Red Bull seat next year.

Red Bull were buoyed by a double-podium last time in Bahrain – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

The Ferrari-powered teams will likely struggle more this weekend and, having only seen Charles Leclerc’s works Ferrari score a single point last time, this may be another weekend to forget for the Prancing Horses, Alfa Romeo and Haas.

Charles Leclerc brought home the only point for the Ferrari-based teams last weekend – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

Racing Point fell 17 points behind McLaren after the double non-finish last weekend. Lance Stroll found himself the wrong way up after Kvyat’s spear into turn eight, while a late and gut-wrenching engine failure for Sergio Perez cost him a podium. McLaren, meanwhile, scored points with both Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz. As a result, McLaren will come into this weekend knowing they can put themselves in a very strong position indeed going into the last race in Abu Dhabi as the battle for third intensifies.

McLaren are within touching distance of third in the Constructors’ Championship after the events of the Bahrain Grand Prix – Courtesy of McLaren Media

It is still Bahrain, but minus a large chunk of the track – and hopefully minus the heavy crashes too.

Feature Image Courtesy of Mercedes Media

Night begins to fall on 2020: Bahrain Grand Prix Preview

In a year that has not seen an awful lot of light either in Formula One or the outside world, darkness will soon descend on the 2020 season, with three night races in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi closing out the championship.

And whilst the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships have already once again been grabbed with authority by Mercedes, it is the battles further down that, true to form, promise to be as eccentric as ever as we head to Sakhir.

Mercedes have sealed both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships for the seventh year running – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

The 5.4 kilometre circuit has played host to 16 Formula one races since its inception in 2004, and was eventually rushed onto this year’s calendar after it had to miss out on its slot as the second race of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It will play host to two consecutive race weekends, but not quite as we know it. While this weekend utilises the accustomed track, the following weekend will see the vastly shortened version take its place, with sub-one minute lap times predicted.

Such pace will not be afforded in the first of the two meets in the desert, meaning that Mercedes’ dominance could possibly be kerbed slightly.

If we remember back to last year, Charles Leclerc all but had the win in the bag before engine issues cost him the victory, and would have cost him a podium had it not been for a late safety car.

A cruel engine problem saw a victory-bound Charles Leclerc finish third last year – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

But this performance from Ferrari is as much a concern this year as it was promising last year. The Prancing Horses were really the only team able to touch Mercedes that weekend, with Red Bull struggling find podium-earning pace.

And Ferrari have been woeful this year; their pace has picked up since the beginning of the season in Austria, but no wins and just three podiums are a damming indictment on what has been an extremely one-sided affair for the titles.

As a result, we should not anticipate much of a challenge for the win, and Valtteri Bottas in particular will be hoping this is the case following one of the most disastrous days of his career last time out in Turkey. To compound his non-points finish, he had to watch his team mate Lewis Hamilton beat him to the championship and claim his seventh title.

Valtteri Bottas congratulates champion Lewis Hamilton after a horrible day at the office for the Finn – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

But it is the aforementioned midfield that will be catching the eye. Bahrain does seem to be able to promote some decent side-by side action down the main straight and up towards turn four, and drivers have shown plenty of times at this track that they are perfectly unafraid of an audacious overtaking attempt elsewhere too.

Sergio Perez’s phenomenal podium last time in Istanbul sees him an impressive fourth in the Drivers’ standings on exactly 100 points. He is three clear of Charles Leclerc, and you only have to count back another one point to find Daniel Ricciardo in fifth.

Sergio Perez (right) out of a drive for next year despite hauling his Racing Point car to fourth in the Drivers’ Championship – Courtesy of Racing Point Media

Istanbul certainly aided the shaking-up of the order, making for what will be a scintillating final three rounds of the season. The close racing in Sakhir will be an excellent catalyst for the showdown for what will now be a coveted fourth spot.

With eighteen points between third-placed Racing Point and fifth-placed Renault in the Constructors’ standings too, prepare for three weekends of thrills and spills as the championship reaches its last chapter.

2020 Turkish Grand Prix Preview

After a nine-year absence, Formula One will finally make its long-awaited return to Intercity Istanbul Park this weekend, as F1 gears up for the final four rounds of the championship.

With Mercedes having sealed a remarkable seventh-straight Constructors’ Championship in Imola last race, Lewis Hamilton has his sights set on a seventh drivers’ title, and could achieve such if he finishes within seven points of Bottas – so a P2 would seal the deal so long as the Finn does not take the fastest lap.

The Silver Arrows pair are now the only two drivers left who have a mathematical chance of winning the title, and Bottas’ efforts both for the team and his own championship gains have been praised by Hamilton. The championship leader has paid tribute to Bottas in the last week, saying that he “does not get the credit he deserves,” describing him as an “amazing team mate” both on and off the track.

Valtteri Bottas stands on the podium after winning the Russian Grand prix – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

Overall, the pair have blown away the competition from the excellent Max Verstappen and Red Bull, at the track where, last time a Formula One race was held, Sebastian Vettel won for the Milton Keynes-based outfit.

This was, of course, a time of the last great period of dominance in the sport, but Mercedes have since far surpassed that, and Vettel’s new employers Ferrari, who last won this race in 2008 with Felipe Massa, have flattered to deceive in a hugely underwhelming 2020.

Felipe Massa was the last Ferrari driver to win in Turkey 12 years ago – Courtesy of Ferrari media

Living fairly vicariously on their past successes, the Italian team’s performance improvement, particularly with Charles Leclerc, has not gone unnoticed, but they are now a world away even from the 2018 car that almost carried Vettel to title victory.

However, perhaps even more enticing is the incredibly engaging battle for fourth in the drivers’ championship and third in the constructors’. Two-time podium finisher this year Daniel Ricciardo leads Leclerc by 10 points, with a further 22 points covering the six positions between fifth and tenth.

Daniel Ricciardo’s two impressive podiums have put him in fourth in the championship – Courtesy of Renault Media

Holding that tenth spot is Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly, who sits just one point behind Alex Albon in the senior Red Bull team. The Thai-Brit will be more than aware that he has less than a handful of races left to impress Christian Horner and Helmut Marko enough to convince them to give him a drive in 2021. His unfortunate error of judgement the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix left him 118 points off Lewis Hamilton and 98 points behind team mate Verstappen.

This weekend very much has an end-of-season feel about it, as Mercedes look to build on their success, teams and drivers vie for best of the rest, and drivers set out to Istanbul with a point to prove for next year.

The 5.3 Kilometre Istanbul circuit has been one of the magnificent bi-products of the Coronavirus-hit season, and it is unlikely that we will see it on a Formula One calendar again after this year, so enjoy it!

Scintillating speed and painful memories – Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Preview

The Emilia Romagna region in Bologna plays host to round number 13 of the 2020 championship this weekend, as F1 makes a welcome return to Imola.

Having last appeared on the Formula One calendar 14 years ago, the 4.9 kilometre rollercoaster of a circuit has undergone several incarnations in its 40-year F1 history, for some reasons more pertinent than others.

Michel Schumacher won the last race here in 2006 – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

The deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger in the same weekend in 1994 rocked the world of racing, and left us with indelible and painful memories that, in many ways, have helped shape F1 into what it is today.

Having said that, we have seen plenty of other reasons to remember this track, and the high-speed, flowing and alluring nature of the track is certainly one of them. Michael Schumacher’s various different pole position laps are ample example of that.

And with this current generation of Formula one cars, which will of course be replaced at the end of next season, this track will surely provide all the thrills and spills we have already witnessed over the course of the 2020 season.

Surprise podiums and race winners have joined surprise additions to the calendar this season, and Imola was certainly one of said surprises. Last week in Portimao was a one-off race that we were left extremely grateful for.

Lewis Hamilton won a thrilling Portuguese Grand prix last time out – Courtesy of Mercedes media

Off the back of an outstanding weekend at the Algarve, Imola has a fair bit to live up to, and how Lewis Hamilton would love to take his 93rd win and claim victory at the 29th circuit in his career.

But not only is this a different track – it is a different weekend. If I may cast your minds back to when this race was announced in July, it was confirmed that it would be a two-day weekend, and here is how it will work.

There will be one practice session on Saturday morning, and as such the drivers will have 10 sets of slick tyres available as opposed to the 13 they are accustomed to. Qualifying and the race will go ahead as usual, but there will be a larger gap between practice and qualifying to allow for consultation between the teams and the FIA to consider any suggested changes.

Will this have any bearing on performance? Probably not, but it will be a test of adaptability to slightly different racing conditions for the drivers, and this may provide more shock results, such as McLaren and Renault podiums, and who can forget Pierre Gasly’s remarkable win in Monza a few weeks ago?

Pierre gasly’s remarkable win in Monza was the first of his career – courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

And speaking of the Frenchman, he has this week signed a new contract for 2021 with his Alpha Tauri team, who also completed some pre-season testing at this track prior to the season’s start.

As for who is really expected to perform well though, it is rather interesting. Imola has a decent amount of straights, but the highly technical corners and chicanes littered around the place provide plenty of banana skins for the drivers to negotiate around, and this will provide the opportunity for Red Bull to close up to Mercedes.

Couple that with the fact that Ferrari, McLaren, Renault Racing Point are all showing marvellous signs of rapid improvement, this weekend could provide a mega battle for the podium, if not for the win.

Racing Point and Ferrari have joined McLaren and Renault in showing impressive improvement lately – courtesy of racing Point media

That top spot, however, is expected to be taken by Lewis Hamilton, and at the scene of the tragic accident that claimed his hero Senna, a 93rd win here would be on of the most personally significant of his career.

F1 visits Portimao: Portuguese Grand Prix Preview

After a 24-year absence, Formula One is finally about to return to Portugal this weekend, as we gear up for round 12 of the 2020 season and the first ever at the Algarve circuit.

Having visited the country 16 times in the past on world championship level, F1 will be hosted by the 4.6 kilometre circuit as part of the new circuits hurriedly introduced to fill the gaps in the staggered Formula One calendar in 2020.

As a result, you could be forgiven for suggesting that Algarve has been on of the scarce positives to come out of the Coronavirus pandemic, along with multiple new and returning tracks that have added to a thus-far vibrant season of racing.

Perhaps said vibrance does not quite apply to the 2020 drivers’ and constructors’ title battles; Mercedes’ 10 wins and Lewis Hamilton’s impressive eight can testify to that, and the same rang true after a marvellous drive from the six-time champion earned him victory at the Nurburgring a fortnight ago.

Lewis Hamilton’s win at the Eifel GP was his eighth of the season and 91st in F1 – equaling Michael Schumacher’s record – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

Daniel Ricciardo’s mightily impressive podium for Renault, and Max Verstappen’s second place with the fastest lap followed Valtteri Bottas’ failure to finish, with the Finn admitting over the two-week break that he “needs a miracle” if he is to mount a serious challenge to his team mate Hamilton for the drivers’ title in 2020.

Renault’s result was a further example of just how tight the midfield battle is. McLaren, Racing Point and the occasional cameo from race-winning Alpha Tauri have made for an enticing season in the midfield over the opening rounds, with Renault power finally proving itself a serious contender for the top three in the Constructors’ battle this year.

After 32 races with the team, Ricciardo’s podium in Germany was his first with Renault – Courtesy of Renault Media

What has been curtailed, however, is the usual three-way battle between Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari, with the Scuderia falling massively from any sort of grace performance-wise this season. The Portimao circuit may provide some relief to their issues though. While Portimao does feature a long home straight and a couple of braking zones in the first sector, there are lots of flowing parts of the track where, technically, there will be lots for the drivers themselves to do in order to find lap time. This is particularly the case into the double-right of turns 10 and 11. This should help somewhat to mitigate the time lost down the straight with Ferrari’s shocking power deficit and seemingly woeful chassis. Bear in mind though that Mattia Binotto is confident that new upgrades the Maranello outfit have brought to the car will further improve their chances of a strong result this weekend.

Conversely, the non-Ferrari powered teams will be excited for this weekend. Getting it right through the tricky technical sections, including the deceptive final corner, as well as having some decent performance down the straight could make for some surprise qualifying results, and a fiery battle for position during the Grand Prix.

Mick Schumacher presents Lewis Hamilton with his father’s 2020 race helmet to honour Hamilton’s magnificent achievement – only previously done by Michael Schumacher – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

Having just equalled the once-unbeatable Michael Schumacher race-win record, the first ever championship grand Prix at Algarve may be Lewis Hamilton’s time to become the first ever 92-time winner.

Why Daniel Ricciardo’s podium represents more than 15 points for Renault

Vindication. That was the first word that came to mind when Daniel Ricciardo crossed the line and secured a podium finish for Renault at last weekend’s Eifel Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.

Ricciardo celebrates his podium with his team – Courtesy of Renault F1 Media

The Australian, who will also have a prodigious sense of justification following his move to the team last year, secured his first podium since 2018. It was the French team’s first top-three result under the Renault name since Nick Heidfeld at the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix, when the German deputised for the injured Robert Kubica. But Renault’s return in 2016, taking over from the struggling Lotus brand, was supposed to be the start of a brand new era; the beginning of a glorious success story; the joyful culmination of a story of struggle.

But just eight points between 2016 drivers Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer was the crash down to earth that the Parisian name was not expecting – along with the rest of the F1 paddock. The manufacturer that had powered 168 wins in Formula One history has experienced a bruising reality check.

But they have come close – Nico Hulkenberg was denied in Singapore 2017 when he lost air pressure in his engine, and in 2019 when he crashed out of his home Grand Prix at Hockenheim. This was a result that was going to come – Renault were always going to persist – but nobody quite thought it would be four years after their return that they would eventually achieve a top three finish.

They had to watch Carlos Sainz, their former driver, take a podium for McLaren in Brazil – the Woking team beating Renault to this achievement, and let’s not forget: McLaren are powered by Renault engines.

Even earlier this year, Lando Norris and Sainz both earned podium finishes for the papaya team, inspired by the unstoppable spirit of their founder Bruce McLaren – the New Zealander who, in his time, once became the youngest ever race winner in F1.

Former Renault driver Carlos Sainz has now managed two podiums since leaving the Renault – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

This podium will also be of great personal pride to team principle Cyril Abiteboul. The Frenchman has had a storied history with the manufacturer of his nationality. He led the Caterham team in 2013 and 2014 before it went bust, and had already acted as Deputy Director of Renault Sport F1 until 2012. At this point, Renault supplied Caterham, Lotus and, of course, the revered Red Bull team. The engine of immense significance to Abiteboul, a former engineer himself, was in the middle of powering the Milton-Keynes-based outfit to four consecutive world championships with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber between 2010 and 2013.

Sebastian Vettel celebrates his third world championship in a Renault-powered Red Bull – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Having seen the success, both with his team and as an individual having had the opportunity to lead Caterham, he witnessed the sudden, and very stark downfall.

Caterham ran out of finances at the back end of 2014, and were forced to fold. Abiteboul’s very own team had been taken from him almost as quickly as it had been presented. He returned to Renault, and continued his occupation as Director of Renault sport. Bad, however, went to worse.

In 2014, the turn of the hybrid era had brought Red Bull’s world crashing down, and they were no longer the dominant force they were. In spite of Ricciardo’s impressive three wins that season, Abiteboul had returned to a largely unsuccessful engine supplier, and some extremely unhappy customers.

Red Bull flattered to deceive in 2014 – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Lotus, who had also hit the mud in 2014, jumped ship and asked for Mercedes engines for 2015, with the German manufacturer and now world champions obliging. Red Bull’s fortunes worsened that season, and tensions rose massively between Abiteboul and Red Bull boss Christian Horner. Red Bull were unable to find a different supplier for 2016, and agreed to continue paying Renault for Power Units. There was, however, a catch. The Renault name was not to make an appearance on the car henceforth, with the former champions opting instead to sport the Tag Heur brand.

A few wins but plenty of reliability failures later throughout 2016, 2017 and 2018 spelled the end for Renault’s journey with Red Bull. In 2018, Christian Horner made the almost absurd decision to switch to Honda power for 2019, after comments throughout the year which had enraged Abiteboul.

But there was a counter to Horner’s decision. Renault had acquired the services of a driver who had grown tired of playing second fiddle to his team mate – that driver’s name was Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull.

Ricciardo made the brave switch from Red Bull to Renault for the 2019 season – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Renault’s situation, having been improving to the extent of a fourth placed championship finish in 2018, once again fell the following season. While they had to watch Red Bull win races with Honda engines, Renault fell behind McLaren and were emphatically knocked back into the midfield.

Ricciardo and new team mate Esteban Ocon have enjoyed a positive start to the 2020 season – Courtesy of Renault F1 Media

This year though, things are on the up. New-boy Esteban Ocon has been showing signs of improvement following his year out, and the Renault PU is proving to be battling with Honda for the second-quickest motor on the grid. They are quicker than Ferrari, and though they may be fifth in the championship, they are level on pace with McLaren and Racing Point and very much eyeing third in the championship this time around.

The signs are pointing to better times ahead for Renault, and as well as a tattoo for Abiteboul, this podium represents the start of an upwards journey and, finally, the road to success for the soon-to-be Alpine F1 Team.