Hammer year for Mercedes, Τoto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton

A very uncertain year, turned out ideally for Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton. The six-time world champion, proved once again that he is currently one of the best, if not the best, driver on the grid, even with the season premiere postponed for a couple of months, Hamilton remained in top form.

In Austria, Hamilton received a time-penalty and finished fourth, whilst his main rival for the title, Valtteri Bottas claimed the victory. Since then, Lewis has finished only once outside the top three and that was in Monza and he has won nine of the thirteen races this season.

IMOLA, ITALY – NOVEMBER 01: Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1, Winning Constructor Representative, Race Winner Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 and Daniel Ricciardo, Renault F1 celebrate on the podium during the Emilia-Romagna GP at Imola on Sunday November 01, 2020, Italy. (Photo by Andy Hone / LAT Images)

It was only a matter of time until Hamilton matched and then broke Michael Schumacher’s 91 victories record. At the Eifel Grand Prix, the British Champion started second behind his team-mate, it took him 13 laps and a lock up from Bottas to take the lead on Sunday. From there, Lewis Hamilton had a comfortable victory and equalized Michael Schumacher’s wins record.

Very emotional moments followed, after the chequered flag, Lewis Hamilton said:

“Honestly as I came into the pit lane that was only when I realised I equalled it, I hadn’t even computed it before that across the line. I couldn’t have done it without this incredible team, everyone continuing to push behind me and giving it their everything. So a big, big thank you and huge respect to Michael.”

Race winner Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 celebrates on the podium

At the age of 35, Lewis Hamilton looks on top form and he found the inspiration that he needed to keep him going on full speed. In the past six years only one driver managed to stop him and that was his ex-team-mate Nico Rosberg. In 2016 the German driver won the championship with 385 points, five more than his title rival.

These records cannot be achieved without having a team, which supports you on every step, during good and bad moments. The key to Hamilton’s success is Mercedes, the team that he is driving for.

Mercedes, achieved something that no other team has managed in the F1 history, they have won seven consecutive world titles, it is the most successful team in the hybrid era.

The maestro of this success is of course Toto Wolff. The Austrian has led Mercedes all these years, he is the α and the ω of this team. Alongside him, he has a team of skilful engineers who are working hard to stay at the top each season.

ALGARVE INTERNATIONAL CIRCUIT, PORTUGAL – OCTOBER 25: Race Winner Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 celebrates on the podium with the trophy after taking his 92nd Grand Prix win, the most for any driver in F1 history during the Portuguese GP at Algarve International Circuit on Sunday October 25, 2020, Portugal. (Photo by Sam Bloxham / LAT Images)

Toto had a short racing career in motorsport, he raced in Austrian Ford Racing and won the Nürburgring 24 Hours in 1994. After three years, the Austrian, decided to quit racing, he completed his studies at the Vienna University of Economics and Business and founded his own investment company in 1998.

In 2009, Toto invested in Williams F1 Racing and after only three years in 2012, he became the Executive Director of the team and Williams celebrated their first victory in eight years at the Spanish Grand Prix.

By the end of 2013, Toto Wolff purchased 30% of Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd. He was appointed Head of the Mercedes group and had the responsibility of the whole Mercedes-Benz group. A few months later, Mercedes celebrated their first constructors’ title in their F1 history and since then they haven’t tasted second place in the championship.

The good news is that Toto Wolff announced that he will remain at Mercedes in 2021.

‘I love this team and I think this is my place’ Wolff said.

Even a non-Hamilton and Mercedes fan has to admit that this driver and that team managed to achieve something unique in the sport, they have proved that money is not the only key to success, a team spirit and the correct decisions are needed as well.

 

Hungarian Grand Prix – Hammer time

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, dominated the wet-dry conditions Hungarian Grand Prix.  The British champion, claimed the pole on Saturday’s qualifying session and had an easy Sunday afternoon.

The drama in Hungary started early, more specifically while the drivers were driving to the grid, Max Verstappen crashed into the barriers at turn 12, the track was wet and the drivers were on intermediate tyres. Red Bull’s mechanics urgently repaired Max’s car and that allowed him to start the race from the seventh position.

At the start, Valtteri Bottas moved before lights out and that was the reason why he stopped immediately, for a few seconds, which cost him position and allowed Stroll to jump ahead, behind  Lewis Hamilton.

Verstappen and Vettel had a good start, Max placed third and Vettel fourth.

The track was drying off, on the third lap Bottas and Leclerc pitted for slicks, the Finn rejoined on mediums whilst Charles swapped to softs. A risky move by Ferrari, which didn’t pay off, Leclerc was struggling a lot with the soft tyres, he was complaining to his team on the team-radio. On the following lap, Hamilton, Stroll and Vettel pitted for mediums.

Haas, started both Magnussen and Grosjean on slicks. Their strategy was smart and after the chaotic period with the pit stops, Kevin was third and Romain fourth.  The happiness in Haas’ garage didn’t last long, Stroll passed both Haas’ drivers and moved up to the third place.

Leclerc, couldn’t follow the pace of the rest of the drivers, Albon was right behind Charle’s car on lap 14 and was trying to pass Ferrari and move up to the seventh position. Alex requested extra power from Red Bull and overtook Charles on lap 18.

It was obvious that Ferrari had to protect Leclerc. They called him into the pits for the hard tyres on lap 21 and returned on the track on the 15th position.

More rain was expected during the race, teams started calling their drivers into the pits for fresher tyres, some drops appeared on the track but that was not enough to affect the strategy of the teams.

Mercedes went for the undercut to give the opportunity to Bottas to overtake Stroll for the third place. Lance Stroll pitted a couple of laps later and rejoined behind the Mercedes.

Bottas was closing to Verstappen for the second place, on lap 50 the Finn pitted again for the hard tyres. He rejoined behind Verstappen but he had fresher tyres. Bottas was pushing until the end of the race, he managed to reduce the gap but he didn’t get the chance to make a move on Max for the second place.

Lewis Hamilton pitted for softs in order to secure the fastest lap of the race and score the extra point. Lewis was not challenged at all during the race and secured an easy victory, the second one this season and 86th in total.

 

Indianapolis Grand Prix – 2005 a Race to Remember

A race that I will never forget, as a Schumacher fan. I was happy because that victory, in a disastrous season for Ferrari, was like a cold beer during a hot day in the summer. That day will be stuck in my mind for the rest of my life.

Ferrari Media

It was a tough season for Ferrari and Schumacher. The team had dominated for the past five years, but that year Fernando Alonso, accompanied by Giancarlo Fisichella, decided to shake the standings. Renault scored nine points more than McLaren-Mercedes and they were crowned as constructors’ champions.

The strangest race of the season, if not F1’s history, took place in the US and more specifically in Indianapolis.

Ralf Schumacher had a serious crash during the practice session on Friday, caused by a tyre failure. The German crashed at turn 13, a special high-speed and very demanding turn which was applying extra load on the tyres.

Ferrari Media

Williams, was not the only team that had an issue at that specific turn. The following day, Michelin stated that BAR, McLaren, Red Bull, Renault, Sauber, Toyota and Williams had problems at the same turn. The tyre supplier couldn’t find the root cause of the problem. Michelin proposed that the teams use tyres with different specifications, but the problem was that the ‘new’ tyres, which were the same type as the ones that used in the Spanish Grand Prix, had the same flaw.

Time was ticking. The FIA proposed adding a chicane at the final turn of the circuit but it was vetoed by Ferrari. On race day, Charlie Whiting gave the green light to the drivers to start the formation lap. 20 cars started but only six completed the lap. Only the teams that were racing with Bridgestone’s tyres could participate in the race, leaving only Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi.

“If it comes down to my choice, I want to race,” David Coulthard stated.

It was an easy victory for Michael Schumacher. The German driver led the race from the beginning and took the chequered flag, followed by his team-mate Rubens Barrichello. Tiago Monteiro and Narain Karthikeyan finished third and fourth respectively, while Christijan Albers finished fifth and Patrick Friesacher sixth.

That victory was the only one for Schumacher and Ferrari in 2005 and moved him to third place in the drivers’ standings.

2020 Scuderia Ferrari Season Preview

Last year was a tough season for Scuderia Ferrari, the Italians presented a promising car in Spain, during the pre-season tests, but they failed their fans in the opening races. Three victories and nine pole positions in 21 races, despite the disappointing numbers, it was a dreaming season debut for Charles Leclerc. The Monegasque, took two of the three chequered flags for Ferrari and secured seven pole positions in his first year in the Scuderia.

Everyone at Maranello, is looking forward to 2020, a year that can crown them world champions almost after twelve years.

Although..

“I am not as optimistic as last year” Binotto said.

“Some of the others are faster than us at the moment, I believe. How much faster is really difficult to judge and I will go through all the data in the next few days but I don’t think we are as fast as them at the moment.”

Not the most promising statement from Ferrari’s team principal, there is a chance, though, that Binotto is hiding his cards.

In total, Ferrari’s drivers, Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, completed 844 laps. Their main rival, Mercedes, did the most laps during the two pre-season tests, 903 for Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

Ferrari’s advantage, last year, was the straights, mainly because Scuderia, had one of the most powerful power units. After, the two weeks of testing, turns out that Ferrari lost that advantage, but improved their performance on slow corners.

Mattia Binotto asked if his team is hiding the true potential of their engine, but the Italian was clear about that.

“We are not hiding. That is our true performance.

“It’s difficult to split on the streets what is drag and what is power, but certainly we are down on speed compared to other competitors. That’s affected by one way from the drag and the other from the reliability programme that we have in place.”

Mercedes, still has the advantage and it looks that they will be unbeatable this season as well. It will be a challenging season for the Scuderia, Reb Bull will be also a strong opponent and the Italians have to prove that are still capable of designing fast cars that can deliver over the season.

 

Pictures courtesy of Pirelli F1

Honda, From Nadir to Zenith

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA – JUNE 30: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB15 celebrates during the F1 Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on June 30, 2019 in Spielberg, Austria. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

‘Success represents the 1% of your work which results from the 99% of failure’ Soichiro Honda.

In 2015, Honda returned to Formula 1 and powered McLaren’s cars. That season, the Japanese manufacturer supplied Alonso’s and Button’s car with the Honda RA615H 1.6L engine. It was a tough season for McLaren and a difficult return in F1 for Honda, the engine was unreliable both drivers retired 12 times combined in the 2015 season. Kevin Magnussen, who replaced Alonso in the Australian Grand Prix, didn’t even start the race because his engine failed while he was driving to the grid.

In general, it was a disastrous season that everyone in McLaren and especially Honda would like to forget.

The following year, McLaren-Honda finished 6th in the constructors’ standings. Progress was made, considering the 9th position in 2015.

“Half happy and of course we are not satisfied at our current position,” said Hasegawa.

In 2017, Honda redesigned their engine and named it RA617H. Changes applied in 2017 rules, FIA dropped the regulation for limited engine development during one season, that gave the chance to the Japanese team to design a reliable motor. Honda’s official, Yusuke Hasegawa described the new design as “very high risk”.

“The concept is completely different. It’s very high risk, we don’t know a lot of things about that new concept. We know it will give us a performance advantage but the biggest risk is whether we can realise that potential this year.” Said Yusuke

Long story short, it was another disastrous season for McLaren-Honda. The engine was unreliable, Fernando Alonso finished 15th and Stoffel Vandoorne 16th. Jenson Button, who replaced Alonso in Monaco, retired due to suspension damage.

During the season, McLaren announced the end of the partnership with Honda, after three years.

Honda is a great company which, like McLaren, is in Formula 1 to win,” said Shaikh Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa, McLaren Group Executive Chairman and Executive Committee principal.

“It is unfortunate that we must part ways with McLaren before fulfilling our ambitions, however, we made the decision with a belief that this is the best course of action for each other’s future,” commented Takahiro Hachigo, President and Director of Honda Motor.

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA – JUNE 30: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB15 on track during the F1 Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on June 30, 2019 in Spielberg, Austria. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Last season, Honda partnered with Toro Rosso and scored 33 points, more than the years with McLaren combined.

Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley retired three times due to engine issues, whilst in 2017 McLaren’s drivers forced to retire nine times for Honda related problems.

The positive results and the signs of improvement convinced Red Bull to offer a two-year contract to Honda for 2019 and 2020.

In Melbourne, Max Verstappen secured the first podium for Red Bull Racing-Honda. That was the first podium for the Japanese manufacturer after their return to Formula 1 in 2015.

That was the beginning of a new era for Honda, eight races later, Verstappen wins the Austrian Grand Prix, the first win for Honda in the hybrid PU Era and the first since 2006.

Honda boss, Toyoharu Tanabe, had no idea what to do for Austrian GP podium.

“I was surprised when I was told to go [to the podium], I had no idea what I should do and that’s why I got to the podium later than other people. Normally you need to stay before the National Anthem – I thought I should be there for that but I was a bit late. But I joined after that. This was my first time – I was worried about what to do and no one told me!”

Max Verstappen had a bad start, dropped from second to seventh, but managed to recover and after some tremendous laps, passed both Bottas and Leclerc and reached his first victory in 2019.

The Japanese never give up, even when they face difficulties, they find the courage to fight back and overcome all the obstacles to reach their goal.

“We were strong, but for the next race, I cannot guarantee we’ll be a strong as in Austria” said Toyoharu Tanabe

As Formula 1 fan, I truly hope that Honda will remain competitive and will deliver reliable engines to Red Bull racing and Toro Rosso. The sport, needs strong teams to keep the competition high and increase the action during the races.

Fernando Alonso: Ups and downs in an illustrious career

Fernando Alonso is a double World Champion, the man who defeated Michael Schumacher, and a living legend of F1. However,  his career is in a constant decline, and that’s his fault.

In 2001, a young Fernando Alonso came into F1, driving for a backmarker team with a rich history, called Minardi. This was the first F1 drive for a person whose career in karting and junior series was something special. Coming from a country with next to no history in this sport, he made a name for himself, proved himself, and made it to the ‘big league’.

Right from the start, he showed his enormous talent, proving to the big teams that he would become a force to be reckoned with. He went on to become just that. For 2003 he joined Renault, the first time he raced for a good team, fighting for podiums and, in 2004, for wins too.

Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, Mexico City
Friday 26 October 2018.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren.
Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _1ST2566

Then came 2005 and 2006, arguably his best years in the business. He beat Michael Schumacher with ease, as if the German were a rookie and not a seven-time world champion. He and Renault made sure they had no obstacles in their path and they pushed through, though not without some controversy.

In fact, Alonso’s entire career is defined by controversy, either through his actions or for what he publicly (and unapologetically) proclaims. Even during his winning tenure with the French team, he was criticizing the FIA for its decisions – most famously at the Italian GP back in 2006 – or attacking Ferrari for no apparent reason. Ironically, he joined them in 2010.

This leads us to another big problem with Alonso: his mouth. As big as his talent may be, he is a man of a lot of words – most of them, unnecessary. He always thought he had the upper hand over everything because that’s how he was taught to act by a certain Flavio Briatore.

The Italian former team boss is the perennial manager of Alonso and has had a big impact on the Spaniard’s attitude since day one. He is a great leader of men, but his approach in F1 is somewhat controversial – especially after the 2008 ‘crashgate’ scandal. This translates on Fernando’s stand on things, on how he sees F1, and himself in it.

He may now be a veteran in F1, a man who has seen and done everything, but that attitude, the feeling that he can control the driver market or that he can knock on every door and have them open, is something that doesn’t know age.

Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, Mexico City
Friday 26 October 2018.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren.
Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _1ST3356

One bad choice after the other defined the second part of his career. His McLaren days in 2007 were the start of his fall, before the five-year tenure with Ferrari seal his fate as far as wins and championships are concerned.

The second stint at McLaren is the latest consequence of his decisions. He seems to be responsible for everything bad (and good) that has happened in his career. It’s a great shame that he leaves F1 with just two championships and 32 wins, but that’s what he could get with his personality, his character and the guidance he had.

This does not undermine his achievements, though. He must and will be remembered as one of the best to ever drive at an F1 track, but history will not be easy on him.

Dimitris Bizas

 

Featured image – Pirelli Media Site

Renault: Building everything from scratch.

Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) Renault Sport F1 Team RS18.
Mexican Grand Prix, Friday 26th October 2018. Mexico City, Mexico.

Photo credits: Renault Mediacentre

2016 marked Renault’s return to Formula 1, A six year plan was put in place for the French marque’s comeback to the top of the grid. Three years into that timetable, things are going well for the team.

At the end of 2015, the Lotus team, powered by Mercedes engines, was in a constant demise. Poor results and a declining financial state had the British-Russian team on the ropes. Renault’s intention to return as a works team was rumoured around the paddock for quite some time, and on 28 September 2015, it was officially announced. The Enstone factory would be yellow again.

We have seen this scenario before, and the examples from recent history are profound. Red Bull did the same thing back in 2005, Mercedes, too, in 2010. And they all succeeded, because they all had a thorough plan.

The fact that the managerial positions in Renault are not being held by the same people anymore does not affect the fact that the French are a ‘work in progress’, with signs of improvement every single year.

Their driver line-up is improving little by little. Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen was just the beginning, although they would love to have Romain Grosjean on board, had he not left for Haas.

2017 saw Nico Hulkenberg joining the team, making him their number one driver, for some reason the German scored points on 7 occasions, finishing 10th on the standings. And for the 2018 season, Carlos Sainz joined him.

Next year Daniel Ricciardo will have the Renault badge on his chest, this shows the team’s determination to push through a really hard driver market and make the necessary moves, to ensure that it can have the drivers who will be able to extract the maximum potential out of the car. Does it ring a bell Red Bull did the same with Mark Webber firstly and Sebastian Vettel two years later; so did Mercedes with Michael Schumacher for its first ‘awkward years’ and Lewis Hamilton for its domination.

Apart from that, Cyril Abiteboul, team principal for Renault Sport, has done a fairly good job recruiting experienced and talented people at the team’s technical side. Marcin Budkowski, Ex FIA man, joined them last April, and James Allison is rumoured to make the step from Brackley to Enstone. It’s highly important for them to have staff that knows how to make the right choices and develop a championship-winning car.

2021 is the biggest chance for Renault to be in the contention for the world title. It is not an easy task, but they have already shown their progress from 2016 to 2017, and from 2017 to 2018. From 9th on the standings, they currently are 4th, having the ‘best of the rest’ car and the ‘best of the rest’ driver in Hulkenberg.

If they can continue like this, success is a matter of time.

Dimitris Bizas

Expanding to the US: How it can be properly done

Formula One’s unfulfilled dream is and has always been to expand to the USA and gain popularity in a market of 300 million people—but how can this be properly done?

Thirteen years have passed since that bizarre 2005 US Grand Prix, when Michelin’s teams decided not to race, scared of what could be the outcome of a tire exploding on the mighty Indy oval. F1 remained in the States for the next two years, but its pride had been hurt irretrievably.

F1’s journey in America has been an adventurous one, with many ups and downs along the way. It’s not so common for a country to host a Grand Prix on 13 different circuits, and it’s not a coincidence that this happened with the US.

The popularity of IndyCar and NASCAR meant F1 struggled to gain the American support it wanted. Constantly changing the venues was a way for F1 to become relevant, and earn the respect of the crowd. Some prestigious tracks have welcomed F1: Sebring, Watkins Glen, Long Beach, Indianapolis. Nothing was enough, though, to convince the fans.

But when it was announced in 2010 that F1 would have its own track in the States, the Circuit of the Americas, it marked the first step in the long journey to establishing itself on the other side of the Atlantic.

Since 2012, F1 has proved that everything is bigger in Texas. It’s not just Americans who have embraced the US Grand Prix in Austin—huge numbers of Mexican fans make the small trip into Texas to watch their heroes. Even when Formula 1 returned to Mexico City, their support at COTA didn’t deteriorate.

Nevertheless, Liberty Media wants to expand its activities in the US by adding another Grand Prix to its calendar. The proposed Miami street circuit was the chosen one, but negotiations broke down and the plan for a 2019 race was abandoned.

And that’s because while a street circuit may seem the easiest solution, it’s much more complex than it looks to get right. Building a track from scratch is a financial and commercial challenge, and that leaves the street circuit looking a more viable choice.

But designing a street layout has its own complications, given the many concerns that need to be settled with the city council and local population.

It can be done, but the biggest mistake with the Miami case was the hurry in which every party acted—besides the fact that the layout itself is a mess, if we want to be honest.

But this does not mean that F1 should abandon its expansion plan to the United States. Street circuits seem to be the perfect choice, and big cities have offered to host a second GP there, but the selection of this city is really important. Miami is one of the best candidates, plus New York, Los Angeles, even Boston or Seattle. Big cities that can draw a big crowd make headlines and have people interested in F1 genuinely, not artificially.

Apart from races, events like this weekend’s F1 Festival in Miami can act like bait to F1 fans who want to see some action. In that way, F1 can engage with its fans on another level—a level that Europeans take for granted.

The sport’s leadership should understand that the USA has nothing in common with Europe, or even Asia, in terms of marketing and promoting. Having a proper second Grand Prix, plus special festival events, are good solutions, but it will take some time for those to make a difference.

By Dimitris Bizas

Ferrari’s year turned into Ferrari’s nightmare

Photo credit: Ferrari Media Site

My name is Dimitris Bizas, I am from Greece, and I study Communication, Media and Culture at Panteion University. I have been writing about Formula 1 since 2012, firstly at totalracing.gr and, for the past 18 months, for the ‘4Wheels’ magazine. Motorsport is my passion and getting to write and report on it is a true blessing.

2018 was supposed to be Ferrari’s year: they built a good, competitive at any given Sunday car, they had Sebastian Vettel at his prime and they carried with them a year’s worth of experience in title battles, from their 2017 campaign. However, they seem to have failed to capitalize on their chances once again, and the reason is simple, but not so obvious.

Let’s start from the very beginning of this season, the Australian Grand Prix. Ferrari did the unexpected, with Sebastian Vettel winning a race which Hamilton led up until the Safety Car, having taken a remarkable pole position the day before. They continued their winning ways at Bahrain, they were held up by the Red Bulls at China, and then came the first real ‘wake-up call’ for Vettel and his team: the Baku incident.

He could be on the podium, on the second or third place, hadn’t he been in such a hurry to overtake the Mercedes boys. He was somewhat lucky that he did not end up on the barriers at the exit of Turn 1, taking the checkered flag 4th.

This was the first sign of his lack of composure under pressure. But, since it was so early in the season, it didn’t affect his championship aspirations, despite the fact that his arch-rival, Lewis Hamilton, took his maiden 2018 win that day.

Fast forward to France, and Vettel has just taken a commanding victory on Hamilton’s ‘second home’, at Montreal. He grabbed a truly unbelievable pole on Saturday (sing of his confidence at that point of the season), and he went on to win, reminding to his nemesis that 2018 is not a 2017 repeat.

Of course, this feeling of superiority against Hamilton was short-lived. Paul Ricard marked the first of a series of mistakes from Vettel – mistakes that ultimately cost him the world title. He got off the line brilliantly, before hitting Bottas from behind, losing place after place, and finishing only 5th – a result far from representative for his overall performance that weekend.

Then there was Germany and his biggest mistake of his career, probably. That was the first turning point for his campaign – losing 25 points, in front of his home crowd, and seeing his rival taking the win instead, was a huge blow, not only for his team, but also for his confidence. Sebastian Vettel is and has

always been a driver whose performance is affected completely from his morale. If he is elevated and on a roll, he seems unstoppable, invincible. However, a single race gone bad can make him vulnerable, prone to mistakes. It is as if a huge weight is put to his shoulders, and this year, that weight is all the expectations from within his team and from the hundreds of thousands of Tifosi. It is not an easy task.

The final nail on his title hopes’ coffin was put at the Italian and the Singapore Grand Prix. His spin at Variante della Roggia and the crucial mistake during the FP2 at Marina Bay were the ones which gave Hamilton a huge advantage, both on the standings, and on the ‘psychological war’, as he calls it. He now stands 67 points ahead of Vettel, and Austin could be the place where he will have both hands on his 5th world championship.

Ferrari’s fault on this run

Although it is easy to point fingers and proclaim that Vettel lost the title on his own, Ferrari has been subpar when the stakes were extremely high.

One of their biggest weaknesses is the consistency they do not show during the season, not only on the track, but also back at the factory. Keeping a respectable –nay, a competitive- level of performance during the span of 21 races is crucial for the title battle, and the Maranello squad has not met the standards of their rivals, Mercedes.

Both at Brackley and at Brixworth, work was done in order to close the gap from the dominant –as it stood in the first 1/3 of the season- SF71H. The disadvantage on the power unit area and the tire management were the two main factor that held the Germans back, and they made a remarkable job recovering from a deficit on and off track. This allowed Hamilton to push harder, to build his confidence with the car, and ultimately to win one race after the other.

On the other hand, Ferrari made some marginal gains over the summer, and all their upgrades after the summer break were not what they expected. They fell back when their rivals pushed forward, got ahead of them and tried to stay there.

Even if Vettel was perfect (which is highly unlikely in such a lengthy season), his team would have failed on him. Stagnation is a poison for every F1 team, especially in such a hard-fought battle.

The bottom line is that the Ferrari-Vettel combination lost another chance to make history, to bring the crown back to Italy after 11 years. The legacy of this cooperation is still a work in progress, and if these two years are just the beginning, they have time to improve, to learn from their mistakes and

mishaps. But, if this was their final chance (and that’s a big hypothesis), then History will not be lenient with them.

Dimitris Bizas

Charles to shake-up the harmony in Ferrari, can the Italians handle it?

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari SF-71H and Charles Leclerc (MON) Alfa Romeo Sauber C37 at Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Qualifying, Baku City Circuit, Baku, Azerbaijan, Saturday 28 April 2018.

An expected announcement followed by an unexpected move, published this week by Scuderia Ferrari. The Tifosi, released their 2019 driver line-up and presented Sebastian Vettel’s new team-mate, Charles Leclerc.

Kimi Raikkonen, will join Sauber for the next two years and will race alongside Marcus Ericsson.

“Signing Kimi Raikkonen as our driver represents an important pillar of our project, and brings us closer to our target of making significant progress as a team in the near future, Kimi’s undoubted talent and immense experience in Formula One will not only contribute to the development of our car, but will also accelerate the growth and development of our team as a whole. Together, we will start the 2019 season with a strong foundation, driven by the determination to fight for results that count.” said Sauber Team Principal Frederic Vasseur.

The Finn, surprised most of the fans with his move, from last week his fans in the media made it clear to Ferrari that they should keep Kimi for at least one more season. The Italians, had a different point of view, they chose a young talented driver to replace the flying Finn and have a strong driver line-up in 2019.

“Dreams do come true” posted Leclerc on twitter, the day that his move to Ferrari was published. Just a few years ago, when Vettel moved to Scuderia Ferrari, stated “the dream of a lifetime has come true”.

Next season, Ferrari will have one of the strongest driver line-up on the grid. Extra pressure on the shoulders on everyone in the team, especially if the Italians don’t manage to close the gap and beat Mercedes this season.

Even if nobody in Ferrari admits it, Vettel is the first and Raikkonen the second driver, there is a good relationship between the two drivers and each one knows exactly his role. From next season, the harmony in the team might be altered. Charles Leclerc, is a promising driver who has just started his Formula One career. From the other hand, Sebastian Vettel is a very experienced four-time world champion driver, who has to prove to the public that he can still race in high level.

Kimi has accepted his faith in Scuderia, and assisting Vettel as much as possible to win the championship. I don’t expect Charles to do the same.

“I’m not going to Ferrari to learn,I think I’ve had a very good season this year where I could learn most of it, and next year [my role] is to perform in a big team. I’m not saying I won’t learn anything anymore, because I have so much to learn still and I can still improve a lot in a lot of things. But definitely I will be a lot more ready than I was at the beginning of the year.” said Charles Leclerc.

The Monégasque, is not joining Ferrari just for the show and for the glory, he wants to add his name in Ferrari’s glorious history.

Are the Italians able to handle the situation?

Sebastian Vettel was the one who “ruled” in the team, but as he very well knows, if he don’t improve his current performance and win the championship, his seat at Ferrari will not be secure. Charles will grab any chance he can get and the German could live a déjà vu.

Kimi Raikkonen will enjoy the next two years in Formula One. The Finn, is going to race with much less pressure and with lower expectations. The fans will still be happy to watch him on the track and we will keep enjoying some great press conferences, like the one today!

“Q: And you’re still passionate about racing? The fire…

KR: No, I’m not actually. Just by pure head games for you guys I happened to sign and I’m going to spend two years there just not being happy.”

Ferrari is risking a lot with that move, they have chances to rule in the following seasons with a thrilling driver line-up but if their choice back fires…

Victor Archakis

Twitter: @FP_Passion