Leclerc Wins whilst there’s Heartbreak for his Teammate

Charles Leclerc nurses the car to victory in a dramatic Austrian Grand Prix which saw his main championship rival have grip issues and his teammate retire when his car caught fire.

The race start. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

Lights out and Max Verstappen gets a great start to start ahead of Leclerc. Behind them, George Russell was alongside Sainz heading into turn one after getting a good start himself. Through the orange smoke, the two were alongside each other all the way down to turn three, Sainz narrowly getting ahead while Perez had joined in, battling Russell.

On the run down to turn four, the Mercedes was slightly ahead but the pace of the RedBull meant Perez would have to try around the outside of turn four. This didn’t work in RedBull’s favour as they touch, spinning Perez into the gravel trap. Like a copy of the Hamilton/Albon incident a few years ago, Russell tapped the inside back wheel of Perez. He was given a five-second time penalty which he served at his first stop.

Unlike the Sprint, the Ferrari’s didn’t battle each other, meaning Leclerc could catch up to Verstappen after he had pulled a gap early on. By lap 12 Leclerc was within DRS range of the RedBull and into turn four the Monegasque made a late move down the inside, clipping the curb on the way out. An excellent move by him and great driving from both drivers. Just a couple of laps later and RedBull decided to pit Verstappen. It appeared tyre degradation would be a problem for RedBull throughout the race.

While that was happening Lewis Hamilton was battling the Haas of Mick Schumacher who had overtaken the Merc at the start. Hamilton made a brilliant move down the inside of turn eight, carrying more speed in the car. One lap later the other Haas came into view but this time it would prove to be an easier overtake down the inside of turn four with DRS help.

Further down the field on lap 24 an epic battle commenced. Having slightly more pace than Zhou, Alonso looked down the inside of turn nine but thought better of it and backed out. This left him vulnerable to Magnussen behind him who was on good pace. The Haas and the Alpine were both catching the Alfa and ended up going three-wide into turn one. Everyone made it through with Magnussen coming out on top and Zhou coming down the inside of Alonso.

The epic five car battle into turn three. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

This battle meant that the two cars behind of Norris and Schumacher had caught up and a three-car battle became a five-car battle into turn three. Alonso slots in behind Magnussen but Norris comes from behind to go around the outside and takes the place off of Alonso. Schumacher also managed to get around Zhou as they headed down to turn four. Norris, with more speed, goes around the outside again of Magnussen but goes too wide so has to yield to the Haas.

On lap 27 Ferrari finally decided to pit both their cars, coming out behind Verstappen but importantly having fresher tyres. At this point, it looked like Verstappen would have to make a second stop to keep up with Ferrari.

Hamilton meanwhile was making great use of the newly found pace in his car from Silverstone. On lap 30 he made a great move on Ocon before turn three, showing that even though the Merc isn’t as powerful as RedBull and Ferrari, it is definitely quicker than the rest of the midfield.

Three laps later and the inevitable happened. On tyres that were 12 laps fresher, Leclerc overtook Verstappen into the braking zone of turn three. Verstappen didn’t really fight it, knowing that he didn’t have the pace or the grip at that point. As a result, RedBull brought him in on lap 37 for more fresh hard tyres.

Lap 40, and just as things had started to settle again Vettel and Gasly had contact at turn four, almost a carbon copy of the Russell/Perez incident earlier with Vettel in the gravel. Gasly ended up getting the time penalty to add to the one he got for track limits. Luckily he had already served that penalty, so only five seconds would be added to his time at the end.

Lots of drivers got black and white flag warnings during the Grand Prix, as was the theme throughout the whole weekend. Many drivers, like Lewis Hamilton, came onto the radio to complain but only Gasly and Norris got time penalties.

On lap 50 Ferrari brought in both their drivers again to put on more hard tyres. It looked like the two stops would be the quickest with RedBull not having an answer to the Ferrari pace throughout the race. It only took three laps for Leclerc to catch up and re-take the lead from Verstappen.

However, unfortunately for Ferrari, their reliability issues came back. For Sainz, who had an amazing weekend in Silverstone, his engine actually appeared to explode before catching fire on lap 57. In replays, the bodywork actually shook as the car came to a stop on the hill of turn three. In some scary scenes, the car was in flames quite quickly, and with no handbrake, it was proving difficult for Sainz to get out of the car.

A brave marshal came in with a block and Sainz was able to get out safely. The car was engulfed in flames, but the marshals were able to put it out. This brought out the virtual safety car, meaning both Leclerc and Verstappen pitted for new mediums to take them to the end of the race.

Russell putting the moves on Ocon. Image courtesy of Mercedes Media

As we went green again Russell was making great moves to bring himself up towards his teammate, now in a podium position. He made a great switch-back move on Ocon heading out of turn three to put himself in fourth place.

It was a tense last few laps for Ferrari fans though as Leclerc came on the radio to say his throttle was sticking. Verstappen was catching him but the degradation was too high so he couldn’t make it work and Leclerc was able to nurse the came home to take the victory.

Leclerc needed that victory after the last few races of unsuccessful running and to keep himself in the championship fight. This has now put him back to second in the championship but still 38 points off of Verstappen. Ferrari will be going back to Maranello to investigate their problems and try to resolve them quickly if they want to fight for this championship.

2022 Austrian GP Sprint Race

Round 11 of the 2022 F1 World Championship sees the return to Austria and the Red Bull Ring circuit, it’s also the 2nd Sprint Race weekend of the season. Less than a week since the British GP and one of the best F1 races in years the short Red Bull Ring has a lot to live up to.

After practice and Qualifying the local Orange Army were happy cheering on their beloved World Champion Max Verstappen, who put his RedBull onto pole position for today’s sprint race which would decide the grid for the all-important GP on Sunday. This season the top eight finishers in the sprint race receive points so the sprint race itself has become even more critical in terms of the championship fight.

Alongside Verstappen on the front row is Charles Leclerc in his Ferrari, after a disappointing string of results he could get his championship challenge back on track in front of the excited Orange Army. The Mercedes again looked to have returned to competitiveness but both drivers had offs in qualifying so would be starting 4th and 9th. With the short nature of the track the sprint race should be a close battle through the field.

Before lights out Alonso’s car still has the tyre warming blankets on as the rest of the field drive away, The Spaniard will now have to start from the pitlane. At the end of the formation lap Zhou in the Alfa Romeo stopped before the grid, the cars were sent on another formation lap and Zhou would also be made to start from the pitlane once he got the car started again.

The Sprint start. Image courtesy of RedBull Content Pool

Lights out and Verstappen leads the two Ferraris away, Sainz and Leclerc battling away for most of the first lap after the Spaniard led his teammate into turn two. Gasly went out at turn one after contact with Hamilton after trying to squeeze the Mercedes driver into the first corner.

After 3 laps Verstappen already had a 2 second lead over Leclerc, who led his teammate by half a second, they were followed by Russell, Ocon, Magnussen, Schumacher, Perez, Bottas, and Hamilton rounding out the top ten.

Leclerc set the fastest lap at the end of lap 4 trying to get within DRS of the leading RedBull. The two Ferraris were running so close together that they were letting the leading RedBull getaway. A great battle between them lap after lap but they had now fallen 3 seconds behind Verstappen, once again Ferrari seemed to be handing a win to the RedBull driver.

As lap 8 began Hamilton moved ahead of Bottas into P9, can the 7-time World Champion make up more places to get a better grid slot for tomorrow’s race?

Perez in the second RedBull was now making a move up the field, easily taking P7 from Schumacher as the young German concentrated on trying to overtake his teammate. On the following lap, he makes it passed Magnussen and up to P6.

Lap 11 and Vettel in the Aston Martin was sent into the gravel by Alex Albon in the Williams, the German manages to escape the gravel trap and return to the race.

At half distance Verstappen leads by 3 seconds from Leclerc, his RedBull teammate makes another paced and is up to P5 after taking Ocon Alpine. Hamilton has now made it onto the back of the two Haas cars, unfortunately for him, Schumacher had DRS so he couldn’t catch him enough on the straights.

As ever with a sprint race the field settles and laps pass with nothing much happening, if they are to keep this format they have to change something as it just doesn’t seem to work.

Hamilton was finally free of the Haas. Image courtesy of Mercedes Media

With 5 laps to go Hamilton is still stuck behind the Haas of Schumacher, back up front Verstappen leads by just over two and half seconds cruising to an easy win. The Ferraris have settled a few seconds apart with seemingly no pace to make any impression on the leader.

Lap 21 and finally Hamilton makes it passed the German, can he catch the next Haas in the remaining 2 laps.

At the chequered flag Verstappen wins again from Leclerc and Sainz, they are followed by Russell, Perez, Ocon, Magnussen, Hamilton, Schumacher, and Bottas.

Following them is Norris and Ricciardo in the disappointing Mclarens, Stroll, Zhou, Gasly, Albon, Tsunoda, and Latifi. Vettel and Alonso, who never made the start of the race.

Will Ferrari regret letting their drivers battle so much and let the RedBull driver getaway, once he had the lead he never looked troubled?

Tomorrow’s race should be a bit more exciting as strategy comes into play.

F1 Weekend Preview: The Hills are alive with F1 cars

Britain brought drama and a three-team battle for the podium places. We now move to Austria where Mercedes have traditionally gone well but this year they have been having unpredictable weekends. It’s a home race for RedBull but Ferrari will want to spoil the party if they can get on form.

Ferrari is at it again

Carlos Sainz finally got his first win in Formula 1 after taking his first F1 pole position on Saturday. He fought hard through the drama and mostly kept his cool under the building pressure from the previous 9 races. For him, the strategy worked in his favour and the battle behind him on the safety car restart meant he could get a gap and stay out of trouble.

Ferrari team orders before strategy nightmare for Leclerc. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

His teammate was not so lucky though. Leclerc picked up damage in the restart of the race but, unlike RedBull with Perez, he didn’t repair his damage or change tyres early in the race. Initially, he was faster than his teammate, taking the lead, and didn’t look to affect him during the race. However, during the safety car Hamilton, Perez and Sainz were all pitted for softs, but Leclerc was left out on old hard tyres.

This would turn out to be a poor decision for Leclerc’s race. He lost out to his teammate on the restart and then entered into a great battle but came out the loser between himself, Perez and Hamilton. For the championship battle, this means Leclerc is 43 points behind Verstappen. Ferrari needs to close this gap and bring a strong strategy to Austria.

Have Mercedes found form?

All weekend at Silverstone Mercedes looked quick and like they could actually trouble RedBull and Ferrari. Whilst they qualified in P5 and P8, their race pace was much better than their one-lap speed. Lewis Hamilton in particular really triumphed in the wet session before RedBull and Ferrari took over in Q3.

Lewis Hamilton after the restart. Image courtesy of Mercedes Media

During the race Lewis Hamilton was undeniably quick, putting in fastest laps throughout the race and closing the gap to the Ferrari’s in front. It looked like a very real possibility that he could have won the race.

However, without George Russell competing in the race it was hard to tell the overall pace of the team. Moving forward to Austria, Mercedes will want to bring the improvements they made at Silverstone to the RedBull Ring and put in another solid performance.

Verstappen wins but Norris is The Driver of the Day

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Round two in Austria set up to be the sequel that was better than the original. After a great qualifying session yesterday, the start seemed unpredictable and could spice up the championship fight. Drama is never far though as before the race Russell begun to report problems with the rear of the Williams, fans hoping that it wouldn’t be a repeat of last week.

As they lined up after the formation lap, Norris and Verstappen were pointed at each other, ready for battle. The lights went out and both got a good start, but Verstappen had a better second phase, moving in front of the McLaren before turn 1. Everyone got away cleanly, with Hamilton pressuring Perez for the entire lap but Perez coping well. The safety car deployed at the end of the first lap hampered anyone looking for a move. Esteban Ocon had been squeezed by Giovinazzi and Schumacher into turn 1, causing damage to his front suspension and eventually stopping on track.

At the safety car restart Verstappen backed everyone up until he got onto the main straight. Norris was caught out and Perez put him under pressure, with the Mercedes closely following behind. At turn 4 Perez tried to pass on the outside of Norris but ended up on the gravel at the exit. Sparking the beginning of what appeared to be a busy day at the office for the stewards, Norris was eventually handed a 5 second penalty for the incident.

By lap 15 Verstappen had pulled out a 6 second gap and had all but checked out at the front. Events continued for Norris though because he was managing to hold off advances from the 7 time world champion. Doing a great job of handling the pressure, Norris made it difficult for Hamilton who was beginning to suffer from being behind him. However, on lap 20 Hamilton managed to make a move that stuck, Norris knowing that strategically it wasn’t worth a huge battle over. Hamilton came over the radio to say that “Norris is such a great driver” recognising the job he is doing and making every Norris fan a bit emotional.

Further down the order on lap 18, action was happening all over the track. Perez, who had now dropped due to his turn 4 incident, was battling Leclerc who had DRS into turn 4, but Perez managed to out break him, keeping his place. Only for Leclerc to do a switch back on the exit and with better traction made the move stick. Ricciardo was also looked more comfortable with the McLaren and made a great move into turn 3 on Vettel.

Norris and Bottas were the first to pit of the front runners. Bottas managing to jump Norris because he had to serve his 5 second penalty. Once Hamilton and Verstappen pitted that looked it for the first 2 podium positions, Verstappen had a 13 second gap which Hamilton knew he wouldn’t be able to make up.

Meanwhile, after the stops the battle for P6 got interesting, Gasly, Ricciardo, Perez and Leclerc were fight but the main battle in the group between Perez and Leclerc was reaching boiling point. At turn 4 Leclerc tried a move down the outside of Perez, produce an almost exact same result as the Norris, Perez incident on lap 1. It took a total of 46 seconds for the stewards to go from investigating to giving Perez a 5 second penalty. Just 2 laps later however, neither driver had learned but this time the battle continued to turn 6, where it looked as if Perez had forced Leclerc onto the gravel again. Another p5 second penalty was awarded to Perez, added 10 seconds onto his time at the end of the race. Credit to the stewards because they were at least consistent with the penalties today.

Not featured much in the race, Hamilton began to struggle on the hard tyres just 15 laps after the pit stops and picked up some damage around lap 36 coming out of turn 10. This meant Bottas was allowed to close the gap. There was radio silence from Mercedes as they decided if they would let them race but eventually the call was made to let them race, then a team order for the drivers to switch came through and the deal was done in turn 1 of lap 55. Norris, who had been chasing down the pair of them, capitalised on the struggling Hamilton and overtook him just 1 lap later to see himself into the podium positions.

With just 10 laps to go Russell was still in P10 but Alonso had closed him down and the battle in continued for the last points positions. Fans most likely willing Alonso to stay behind with Russell doing an excellent job at defending under the pressure so that he could finally get a point for the Williams. However, today was not that day because with just 3 laps to go Russell was passed by Alonso.

The final 2 laps were full of drama. Sainz made a late move on Ricciardo to finish P5 for Ferrari once Perez’s penalties were added, important for the McLaren – Ferrari constructor’s battle. Raikkonen on lap 71 looked at a move on Russell but had to back out at turn 4, meaning Vettel saw an opportunity to gain a position, however in a bizarre mistake for Raikkonen, he appeared to turn in on Vettel causing both to crash into the gravel.

Whilst the incident between Raikkonen and Vettel was happening, Verstappen crossed the line for his 15th win. A dominant performance from lights out meant the win was never in doubt for him. Bottas finished P2 and Norris finished in P3 with driver of the day after putting in a fantastic performance, further showing his great from in 2021. Mercedes didn’t really appear to affect the race much and couldn’t answer the performance of Verstappen in Austria. However, with upgrades reported to be coming to Silverstone and a home crowd for Hamilton, could this see a change in fortune for Mercedes?

Info graphics courtesy of Pirelli motorsports

 

Red Bull display dominance at the Red Bull Ring

Max Verstappen took a dominant victory at the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday, as Mercedes went four races without a win for the first time in the hybrid era.

After an excellent qualifying session yesterday, the stage was set for the latest edition in the fight between Lewis Hamilton and Verstappen. The midfield fights also looked to spice up the race, with Norris benefiting from Valtteri Bottas’ penalty and Gasly qualifying really well. Points were possible for George Russell in his Williams starting in P10; the fans can hope. Overtaking is definitely possible at this track with 3 DRS zones and a powerful slipstream meant the battle was on!

The lights went out and Verstappen immediately cut across Hamilton before turn one, having trust that Hamilton would not lock up and go into the back of him. Looking further down there were 4 cars across the track in a battle up to turn 3. Leclerc clipped the rear left of Gasly with his front right wing and tyre, giving himself damage and causing a puncture in Gasly’s tyre. In an attempt to steer the car around turn 3, Gasly collected Latifi and Giovinazzi but luckily didn’t end any of their races. Unfortunately for Gasly that was the end of his race, coming into the pits with suspension damage – Leclerc was able to pit for a new set of tyres and continue.

An early incident with Pierre Gasly meant a busy afternoon for Charles Leclerc – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Media

As Verstappen was pulling out a gap of two seconds and almost checking out in the lead by lap 6, his team mate Sergio Perez began to struggle behind the McLaren of Lando Norris saying over the radio that he did not have the speed on the straights to keep up. There were questions as to whether they would fight the Red Bull and Mercedes cars behind them, or race to their own plan and focus on staying ahead of Ferrari. On lap eight, these questions were answered. Perez made what looked like an easy move on Norris using DRS, and Bottas passing just a lap later. McLaren said on lap 12 that they were happy with the situation with Norris who was not experiencing some of the early car issues that team mate Daniel Ricciardo had.

After a very positive start for Russell, he made up three places from P10. The issues began when his engineer said, “plan B for reliability”, and pitting on lap 26 for tyres it appeared he had a slow stop to add more pneumatic pressure to the car. Having had to change his rear brake by wire overnight, it was hoped that this would be the last of his problems. However, just one lap later Russell pitted a second time for more pressure. At this point the hearts of Russell fans sunk knowing that points were no longer a possibility. 10 laps later Russell retired with the issue not able to be resolved. Heartbreak for him and Williams.

Perez was the first of the front runners to stop, but he had a slow left rear which meant that when Mercedes pitted Bottas they could punish Red Bull for the mistake with the undercut being powerful here, although not as much as Paul Ricard last week. Bottas was able to come out in front of Perez, which was vital for both the team fight and the race strategy. The large gap now formed by the dominant performance by Verstappen means that when Hamilton pitted just a lap after Bottas, he could not close it when Verstappen pitted.

Whilst not a classic or shocking race, this did have its entertainer in Leclerc. He began his recovery drive on lap two, making places very quickly and seemingly on a charge by lap 25, making a fantastic late move on Ocon. This was then a theme throughout the race; Leclerc continued to make his was through the pack, making brilliant moves and almost colliding with Raikkonen but managing to keep it clean. He made a great switch back move on Tsunoda out of turn four which was so exciting to watch. He ended up being voted driver of the day for a very entertaining recovery drive to finish seventh.

By lap 35 there was over a 30 second gap to Norris in P5, so Red Bull pitted Perez for tyres hoping to take the fastest lap off of Hamilton at the time. Gaining on Bottas at nearly two seconds a lap, he achieved provisional fastest whilst closing the 20-second gap. With just 2 laps to go, having settled for 2nd place, Hamilton pitted for fresh tyres to re-take the fastest lap from Perez.

A late stop from Lewis Hamilton saw him claim the fastest lap of the race – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

As the race ended, Verstappen won with a 35 second lead, showing his impressive and dominant form over the weekend and the race. Hamilton achieved fastest lap to finish P2 and crucially get that world championship point. Perez was still gaining on Bottas, and was poised to overtake for the podium place, but the chequered flag came just in time for the Finn. One or two more laps and Perez could have ended up on the podium.

Belgian GP Review: Hamilton takes 89th career win

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Lewis Hamilton took his 5th win of the season and 89th win of his career on Sunday afternoon in Spa on a day that called for very high tyre management. The Englishman started on pole and had to fend off an early challenge on lap one from his teammate and Max Verstappen. Once he was out in front, it was rarely any challenge apart from managing the tyres which were falling off at the end.

Both him and his teammate Bottas pitted under the safety car around lap ten during a safety car brought on due to Giovinazzi losing his rear and ending up in the barriers while collecting George Russell in the process. The Mercedes duo put on hard tyres like pretty much the rest of the field and limped to the end to finish 1-2.

Max Verstappen of Redbull failed to mount a challenge to the Mercedes after he was put on the same hard compound tyres following the safety car and he had to go into management mode as well. The outright winners of the race apart from the top 3 has to be the Renault sport team after Daniel Ricciardo drove a mega race to finish P4 and take the fastest lap in the process while finishing only 3 seconds behind Verstappen.

His teammate Ocon pulled off a last lap overtake on Red bull’s Albon to finish 5th and the team will be very much looking forward to Monza given the similar characteristics of the Italian circuit. Albon has to be content with 6th after a different strategy call from his team saw him finish the race on mediums which put him at a disadvantage towards the end.

McLaren had a mixed raceday after Carlos Sainz’s bad luck followed him to Spa this weekend. The Spaniard failed to even make it to the grid following an exhaust failure while bringing the car on to the track and will be hoping for something to go his way during next week. The other McLaren of Lando Norris put on a decent show after he finished 7th towards the end passing Lance Stroll on the way and putting up a fight with Albon and Ocon for 5th.

Pierre Gasly certainly put in a driver of the day performance after starting the race on the hard tyres and choosing not to stop under the safety car which enabled him to be on fresher tyres towards the end of the race. The Frenchman definitely made most of this strategy and put in some brilliant moves, especially one up the Eau Rouge onto Radillon on the inside vs Sergio Perez. This saw him finish 8th despite starting outside the top 10 and earned him some well deserved points. His teammate Kvyat in the other Alpha Tauri finished 11th after a quiet race.

Racing Point had a very average race following a similar qualifying and they will be left pondering on the loss of the really good pace that they have been showing so far in the season. Sergio Perez finished in the final points spot at 10th despite trying a different strategy to his teammate Lance Stroll who finished 9th.

Ferrari had a similar, if not worse race compared to qualifying after both the drivers swapped their qualifying positions with Vettel finishing 13th and Leclerc finishing 14th. Leclerc got off to a great start and put himself in 9th place before eventually losing places lap after lap. His pitstop under the safety car did not go according to the plan as well and he had to spend more than 30 seconds in the pitlane. As if this wasnn’t enough, he was then called in for an unexplained pitstop which left him visibly disgruntled on the radio, akin to his teammate.

It was not a completely bad day for the ferrari powered cars after Kimi Raikkonen in the Alfa Romeo finished 12th ahead of both the works Ferraris while passing one of them on the track in a straight fight. Both the Haas cars finished with Grosjean at 15th and Magnussen at 17th after another very underwhelming weekend for the American team. Latifi finished 16th in the only remaining Williams after his teammate was taken out by a crashing Giovinazzi much earlier in the race.

With the promise of rain yet again not being fulfilled, Spa did not deliver the quite the race every F1 fan had hoped for. Mercedes and Hamilton would not be complaining to much after finishing 1-2 yet again and hamilton extending his lead at the top to 47 points over Verstappen. Renault will be the ones looking forward to another power hungry track in Monza while Ferrari might not be missing the Tifosi too much given how they have been performing so far this season.

Alonso returns to F1 with Renault

(Image courtesy of Fernando Alonso Instagram)

When Fernando Alonso announced in 2018 that he would be stepping away from Formula 1, very few of thought he would return. With the current status-quo as it is with the last few years dominated by Mercedes with only Red Bull and Ferrari able to hold a candle to them, and Alonso growing evidently tired of being in a lackluster McLaren, it was perhaps understandable that many of us didn’t believe these rumours of the two-time champion returning to F1 with the team that took him to those two world championships, Renault.

But sure enough, it was confirmed by Renault that Alonso would make his F1 comeback next year partnering up with Esteban Ocon and replacing the McLaren-bound Daniel Ricciardo. The former Red Bull driver signed a two-year deal with the French automotive manufacturer which was estimated to be in the region of nearly €25 million per year. But the promise of a car being able to challenge for podiums in the coming years wasn’t convincing enough for Ricciardo, and he will now take the seat of Carlos Sainz who is off to Ferrari to replace four-time champion Sebastian Vettel.

Alonso claimed he would not return to F1 unless he had a race winning car, and in a post on Instagram, he seems to be pinning all his hopes on the upcoming revolutionary 2022 regulations which will close the gap between the top three teams. With the teams having agreed to continue using their current cars for 2021, Renault certainly don’t look like a frontrunning team right now.

The experience of Alonso will undoubtedly play a part in developing their 2022 car but even so, time isn’t on his side. He will be turning 41 in 2022 which means at the very most, he has at most three years if Michael Schumacher’s three-year tenure in his comeback with Mercedes is anything to go by. Will he still be at the top of his game? Even if by some miracle, Renault are consistent front runners and he’s challenging for podiums, wins and maybe even the championship, would Fernando still be capable?

Then there’s the question of Renault’s academy drivers. With Esteban Ocon being out of F1 for 18 months prior to the Austrian Grand Prix and having only raced two full seasons prior with Force India as well as a couple of races with the Manor team in 2016, he’s far from being able to lead a team just yet so that undoubtedly factored in when finding who could take Ricciardo’s seat. However there’s still questions to be asked about where this leads the two probable F1 graduates in Renault’s academy right now.

These two drivers are Formula 2 racers Guanyu Zhou and Christian Lundgaard. Zhou is entering his second season of F2, prior to his first season , he hadn’t been that impressive in the junior formula, although was runner-up in Italian F4 in 2015. He had been on the Ferrari driver academy before joining Renault’s for 2019, and despite his time in European F3 not being indicative of being potential F1 material, he stepped it up when it mattered.

Zhou scored five podiums and a pole position on his way to seventh overall, and began the 2020 season with a pole at the Red Bull Ring, and was set for his first win before his Virtuosi F2 car let him down. Plus you have to think that Zhou is also a marketing goldmine for a manufacturer like Renault, since he would be the first Chinese driver and China is always a market that brands want to sell in so it would make sense from a marketing standpoint.

Then we have Lundgaard, who won two F4 championships in 2017, finished runner-up in Formula Renault EuroCup and took a race win last year in FIA Formula 3 with ART Grand Prix. He’s now in F2 with ART and scored a fourth and fifth in his first F2 races. He has had a rapid rise through the lower ranks and undoubtedly has the ability, but perhaps it may have been too early and he could be in prime position to be in the Renault F1 drive after Alonso retires for good.

Since we are talking about Renault juniors, it would be an insult if we didn’t talk about the driver who was perhaps in the best position for that seat alongside Ocon.

Lundgaard may have remained in F3 for a title charge in 2020, but that ART F2 drive had already been paid for by Renault so he was promoted into the seat that most likely would have been occupied by 2018 GP3 champion Anthoine Hubert.

Having won two sprint races last season in F2 at Monaco and Paul Ricard with BWT Arden, but tragedy struck at Spa-Francorchamps when Hubert was fatally injured. I would have put a lot of money on Hubert being champion in F2 this year had he been in that ART seat, considering the past two champions George Russell and Nyck De Vries raced with ART as well.

(Image taken from F1 2020 Game Play)

Nevertheless, it’s the return of Fernando Alonso with Renault for 2021. I can definitely imagine a few more iconic moments from him, especially in the Drive to Survive season focusing on the 2021 season, the combination of Fernando and Cyril Abiteboul is going to make for some interesting moments for us, that’s for sure.

Bottas wins chaotic Austrian Grand Prix as Norris claims debut podium

Valtteri Bottas has taken victory at a chaotic Austrian Grand Prix that saw just eleven cars reach the chequered flag, with Charles Leclerc in P2 and Lando Norris claiming his first ever podium in P3. Lewis Hamilton finished second on the road but dropped to fourth due to a five-second penalty he received for a collision with Alex Albon.

The race was sedate enough for the first ten laps. Bottas built up a 3.2-second gap to Verstappen, while Norris slipped back to P5 behind Albon and Hamilton. On lap 11, though, Verstappen lost power on the approach to Turn 3 and told his engineer that his car kept going into anti-stall. He limped back to the pits and retired on lap 13.

LAT Images

The next casualties were Daniel Ricciardo and Lance Stroll. Ricciardo pulled into his garage with a cooling issue while Stroll, who had been struggling with a lack of power for several laps, retired due to a sensor issue.

Bottas had built up a six-second gap to Hamilton by lap 17, but on lap 21 Hamilton set a new fastest lap and began to reel his team-mate in. Four laps later, the gap was down to 3.8 seconds.

Lap 26 saw the first safety car of the race, brought out due to Kevin Magnussen suffering a brake failure at Turn 3. A flurry of pitstops ensued with every driver opting for the hard tyres except for Perez, who went with the mediums.

When the safety car period ended, Vettel lunged down the inside of Carlos Sainz going into Turn 3. He misjudged the attempt and span, dropping down the order to P15. While the incident was noted, no investigation was deemed necessary by the stewards.

On lap 42, Bottas and Hamilton were warned about sensor issues that had been detected in the gearbox of both cars and were told to stay off the kerbs. This warning was repeated several times and the gap between the two widened as Hamilton eased off slightly. Despite this apparent issue, the duo were still over ten seconds ahead of third-placed Alex Albon.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Lap 51 saw the next retirements. George Russell ground to a halt from what had been a promising P12 and brought out the second safety car of the day. Romain Grosjean, meanwhile, ran off the track at the final corner and pulled into the pits with seemingly the same brake problem that curtailed team-mate Magnussen’s race.

Red Bull chose to bring in Albon for a change to the soft tyres, losing P3 to Perez in the process, while both Mercedes stayed out on hard tyres that had already completed 25 laps by that point.

The Safety Car came in on lap 54 briefly, after which Albon re-took third place from Perez after Perez locked up going into Turn 3.

At that exact moment, however, the safety car was brought out again, this time because Kimi Raikkonen’s front-left tyre had come clean off the chassis going into the final corner. It was initially unclear whether it was Albon or Perez who had been ahead at the moment the safety car came out, but it was decided a few laps later that Albon had been slightly ahead of Perez and thus the Red Bull driver slotted into P3.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Lap 60 saw the safety car come back in and Albon set about chasing after Hamilton on his newer soft tyres. He saw an opportunity going into Turn 4 and went for it, only for the two to come to blows. Albon span and fell down the order to last place. The incident was duly noted and investigated, with Hamilton being given a five-second penalty.

Albon slowed a couple of laps later, saying over the radio that his engine was stopping. He wound up finishing P13, or last.

Between lap 64 and lap 66, Leclerc got past Norris and then Perez to find himself in P3 behind the Mercedes duo. It looked as if Perez was in with a shout of finishing on the podium due to Hamilton’s penalty, only for his hopes to be dashed when he was awarded a five-second penalty of his own for speeding in the pitlane and then being overtaken by Norris.

Lap 70 saw the last retirement of the race when one of Daniil Kvyat’s tyres disintegrated going into Turn 1. He managed to bring the car to a stop behind the barriers at a marshall post.

Bottas crossed the line to take the chequered flag at the end of lap 71 with Hamilton in P2, Leclerc in P3 and Norris in P4. Hamilton’s penalty, though, dropped him to P4 and promoted Leclerc to second and Norris to the final podium position.

[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]

“Put a Ring On It” – 2019 Austrian Grand Prix Preview

Beyoncé may have said “if you like it, then you should’ve put a ring on it”, but in motorsport we race the rings instead. Yes, it’s race weekend once again, as F1 is welcomed by the circuit previously known as the Österreichring!

It was known as such between 1969 and 1995, and then became known as the A1 Ring from 1996 to 2003. Finally, Dietrich Mateschitz bought the circuit and in 2008 started a reconstruction. From 2014, the newly-branded Red Bull Ring became host once again to a European round of the Formula One Championship.

The Red Bull Ring was originally 5.911km in length, with its weakness being its safety record and high speeds (second only to Silverstone during its Österreichring period). Something had to be done, and as such it was shortened to 4.326km in its guise as the A1 Ring, and again in 2016 to 4.318km.

Red Bull Ring sectors. Image courtesy of Pirelli.This weekend we head back to the Red Bull Rin  after last week’s French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard, which was dominated by Mercedes with Hamilton and Bottas finishing 1-2.

Can I mention hot air? No, not the untruths one may hear, but instead air streams from the African continent. Tyres could again play a massive part in the race this weekend, with it predicted to be one of the hottest days in Europe so far, courtesy of very warm air streams. Last weekend in France saw temperatures hit 56°C, but this weekend could hit 60°C. That alone will shift the working windows of the tyres and also will vary between teams . With higher air temps we could also see the 2019 aero regulations cause some teams issues with heat distribution.

Available tyres for the races up to the Russian GP. Image courtesy of Pirelli

The Red Bull Ring, following its 2014 redesign, is one of the shortest tracks on the F1 calendar, with the current configuration’s lap record being a 1:06.957, set by Kimi Raikkonen in 2018. With four sharp turns (T1, T3, T7 and T8) and three DRS zones allowing overtaking, the race is not a foregone conclusion.

Infograpics for the 2019 Red Bull Ring. Image courtesy of Pirelli

2019 has been a year of Mercedes dominance, with them having won all eight races so far – two for Valtteri Bottas and six for Lewis Hamilton.

Ferrari has had correlation issues in their fluid dynamics simulation to wind tunnel analysis, hence the testing of new front wing and floor assemblies at Paul Ricard. With that issue presumably sorted, can their car finally show its promise?

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won here in 2018, and he will be hoping for that to happen again this year to finally break the Mercedes strong-hold on the championship.

And if Verstappen, Vettel and Leclerc can’t mount a challenge? It will, yet again, be between the Mercedes boys of Hamilton and Bottas.

 

[Featured Image courtesy of Colombo Images/Scuderia Ferrari]

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