F1 Virtual Grand Prix Series to return

During last year’s extended off-season, F1 put on a set of Virtual Grand Prix races to sustain our appetite for racing whilst we couldn’t do that in real life. It ran between the weekend of what would have been the Bahrain Grand Prix to the weekend when the Canadian Grand Prix would have taken place, before F1 returned to real racing three weeks afterward.

The races were entertaining and there was hope we could see the Virtual Grand Prix return during the winter off-season. Well, now it’s back!

Starting at the end of this month, a run of three consecutive weeks will see more drivers, other notable sporting athletes and celebrities compete on the F1 game. The first race will take place on January 31st on the Red Bull Ring, the second on February 7th on Silverstone and the last round on February 14th on Interlagos.

Unlike the 2020 events which all ran as standalone races, all three events will keep a points tally and have a champion at the end of it. Had points been counted last year, Williams driver George Russell would have been the unofficial winner with four wins in the last four races, but this time a champion will officially be crowned.

For the three-race championship, the format has been given a little shake-up. Before the official race, the drivers of the F1 Esports series will take to the virtual track in a five-lap sprint which will essentially be a qualification race to determine the grid.

In support of last year’s Virtual Grand Prix events, the F1 Esports drivers such as eventual 2020 champion Jarno Opmeer, his predecessors David Tonizza and Brendon Leigh among the many other talented racers would compete in a Pro Exhibition race. Now they’ll be playing a much more direct part in the event itself, perhaps enticing more people to seek out the F1 Esports series when it returns for its fifth season later this year.

Enzo Bonito and David Tonizza, FDA (Scuderia Ferrari Media)

After the grid is determined, the usual crowd will take over and compete in a 50% distance race. All ten teams will battle for points and will nominate a charity for F1 to send a donation to after the three-race season ends, with all the drivers playing a part in getting the best possible result and earning their selected charity some money.

So who will compete? F1 says to keep your eyes on their social media channels for driver announcements in the upcoming weeks. Expect a fair amount of celebrities and other sporting athletes to compete alongside drivers both in F1 and from other categories.

13 of the 23 drivers from last season competed in at least one race in the first run of Virtual Grand Prix races: Lando Norris, Nicholas Latifi, Charles Leclerc, George Russell, Alexander Albon, Antonio Giovinazzi, Carlos Sainz, Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon, Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Pérez and even the super subs Pietro Fittipaldi and Nico Hülkenberg.

Expect that a few of these will take part. Despite being some of the first to commit to them, Norris and Leclerc are both currently recovering from COVID-19 and Norris has even stated he would be taking a step back from any committed sim racing events in the off-season.

Other notable drivers who competed include former drivers like Jenson Button, Anthony Davidson, Johnny Herbert and Stoffel Vandoorne, DTM driver Phillip Eng, F2 driver and Renault junior Guanyu Zhou, and many Ferrari Driver Academy members like Robert Shwartzman, Callum Ilott, Gianluca Petecof and Arthur Leclerc. BTCC driver Nicolas Hamilton even did a couple of races with his brother’s former team McLaren.

Many guest drivers from outside of motorsport drove during the first leg of Virtual Grand Prix races—some with more success than others—such as surfer Kai Lenny (pictured in the feature image above driving for Red Bull). Some standout performances from top athletes in other sports include Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and professional golfer Ian Poulter, who both also competed in many of Veloce Esports’ Not The GP races.

Some other popular additions to the grid would include YouTubers such as Jimmy Broadbent who did a few races with Racing Point, and also Tiametmarduk who competed in the last two Virtual GP events for McLaren after becoming their Esports team’s brand ambassador.

Ultimately, the Virtual Grand Prix races were an immense success even if they could have been conducted better. But with the lack of time to plan in advance and how the F1 schedule was changing all the time, we got the best we could. Now though, this three-race mini championship promises to provide us with some immense entertainment as we prepare for the 2021 F1 season.

Keep an eye out on F1’s social media channels to find out who will represent the 10 teams and expect to be able to watch the three events in the three successive weeks beginning on January 31st on F1’s official YouTube, Twitch and Facebook pages.

My league racing journey

Image courtesy of F1 2020 gameplay

 

So the motor racing season has ended and we’re all twiddling our thumbs waiting for it to come back. I’m sure we’ve all got things to keep us occupied, like watching YouTube videos and playing video games perhaps? I know I certainly have. But more than playing video games, I’ve been participating in league racing.

What is league racing I hear you ask? Well it’s organised competitive racing that takes place on driving games including but not limited to the F1 games, Gran Turismo Sport, Assetto Corsa Competizione, Project CARS, iRacing, rFactor 2… you get the idea.

The league racing scene when it comes to the Codemasters F1 games, is often where you will find F1 Esports hopefuls competing looking to remain sharp or get their foot in the door. Some of the top-line F1 gaming leagues include Apex Online Racing and Online Racing League. It was always something I knew I wanted to get involved in, but for the longest time I never felt I could do, however 2020 was the year I finally decided to dip my toes in to the online racing scene.

It all began with my friend Oscar telling me about some racing he was doing with a league he was involved in on Gran Turismo Sport called RaceSquare, and what enticed me was that they were using Super Formula cars. These are the cars used in Japan’s top-level single-seater championship which I really enjoyed driving, and I ended up doing rather well in my first race. It was at Suzuka and I was one of the leading drivers; a guy called Matt absolutely schooled me though.

The highlight for me of that particular season was a race at Monza. We have caution periods where we all bunch up and go slow to ensure nobody who got hit off loses too much, and I absolutely aced a restart and got from ninth to fifth. I then immediately drove around another competitor in the second part of the Rettifilio chicane. Before long, I pass the guys in third, second and then finally the leader and I don’t relinquish that lead. My first victory in online competitive racing, and in a very strong field as well.

Image courtesy of Gran Turismo sport gameplay

The race itself was never broadcast, but if you own Gran Turismo Sport then you can go to the Discover tab on the game and search in the Replays section with the Search tags: ‘league’, ‘superformula’ and ‘racesquare’, you’ll be able to find a video of it that I shared and you can give it a watch for yourself.

I did okay for a first-timer but my contacts with RaceSquare went a bit dry after that. We tried doing a series of races with the Red Bull X2014 Junior car but that died off pretty quickly, however I still hold the utmost gratitude towards them and have fond memories of my time there.

Not long after F1 2020 was released, The PitCrew Online’s own Rob Kershaw made me aware of a league starting up called The Optimal Racing League that he was a commentator for. Rob lends his voice to many F1 gaming leagues; he even commentates on a league called The Formula PlayStation League that our very own Jack Prentice took part in and he managed to finish third in the championship last season.

He put me in touch with the guys heading that up and I was placed in the second tier. I qualified rather well for my first race and barring a careless maneuver I did which spun a competitor out, to whom I apologised immediately after the race, it was a great drive from myself. I finished third on my F1 game league racing debut – best of the rest behind the two drivers in the McLaren cars. I pitted near the end to get the fastest lap and I did just that.

The next race was much of the same. I pitted near the end as I was so far behind the two McLaren drivers and getting a podium and fastest lap, except I actually managed somehow to qualify on pole position.

I unfortunately never really did improve much after that – they were my high points. I do firmly try to keep myself grounded and remember I’m doing this because I want to do it and that I enjoy it, but I’d be lying if that illusive first victory in an F1 2020 league wasn’t something I desperately wanted. It all culminated in the last round of Optimal Racing League at Silverstone where I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed. It went badly.

Coming to the end of the race, we had a safety car period and everyone in front of me pitted as I had already done so a few laps before. I got very flustered and couldn’t keep tyre temperature, and on the restart I kept the overtake button on and drained my battery by mistake. A competitor then tried to pass me and I tried to move across to defend my line but they couldn’t avoid me. I attempted to relinquish the position but they were wedged on my car and lost a whole chunk of positions. I felt terrible about it, so I drove off and crashed, left the lobby and the league’s Discord server.

The next few months, I never went anywhere near league racing as I didn’t want to be the reason why someone’s race is ruined. However it was JessGames95 on Twitter who I’ve been friendly with for a while, that brought me back into the league racing scene. She’s a well known and much beloved commentator in the league racing community, having done commentary for Apex Online Racing, Online Racing League and Inside Line Racing, and she was advertising a league called PSGL that peaked my interest.

Known at the time as PlayStation Gaming League – now known as Premier Sim Gaming League – I decided to sign up on a whim thinking I had no chance. After submitting the evaluation material, they placed me in the 11th and bottom tier as I still need some driver aids. I joined for their penultimate race at the US Grand Prix circuit and qualified a very respectable third, then somehow I put in a stonking performance.

Aside from some contact with another competitor which cost them a bit of their front wing (which I again apologised for), I held my own against the guy who would go on to win the championship throughout the whole race, hounding him after a safety car period and had it not been for one in-game penalty which I got in a very careless manner, I would have won!

Image courtesy of Formula 1 2020 gameplay

My confidence is back and now I’m in PSGL’s F1 2020 tier 11 series full-time driving the McLaren and you can watch me on their YouTube channel every Thursday at 7pm UK time. So far this season, I haven’t had the results to reflect how I feel I’ve performed, as I’ve had some strategic blunders on my side and gotten involved in some clumsy incidents which have sometimes been my fault, sometimes not.

But what matters is, I enjoy it. I’m not trying to become the next F1 Esports champion, I’m not going to be the next Brendon Leigh, David Tonizza or Jarno Opmeer, I’m just a noob who wants to race on a clean, level playing field with some likeminded people.

Like a majority of people who go league racing, it isn’t just those who are the best who spend hours changing setups in-game and obsessively go through time trial trying to nail every corner. I for one don’t try to practice too much so I don’t let it overconsume my life.

Also it’s not all about who has all the best equipment like a top line racing wheel and monitors. I have a Logitech G29 wheel. It’s nowhere near as amazing to use I imagine as the Fanatec made wheels they use in F1 Esports, but you don’t even need a wheel to be good! My teammate in PSGL is called Mark, he’s extremely good and he uses a controller. He embarrasses me every week!

So if you’re sick of open lobbies on racing games, I implore all of you to start seeking for a league that is at your skill level as there is certainly one out there for everyone. I hope more and more leagues accommodate for the casual player, ones who need some driver aids and aren’t particularly savvy in setting up their car.

Regardless if you are the next F1 Esports hopeful or a scrub like me, racing is for everyone.

Imola Returns and Australian Grand Prix Postponed!

Formula One have today confirmed that the season opener, which was due to be held at Albert Park on 21st March, has been postponed. Imola, which was not due to hold a race this year, has also been confirmed to be the second race of the season, filling the Vietnam Void.

Bahrain will now be the opening race of the year, with lights out on 28th March. The Australian Grand Prix has now been moved to 19th-21st November, slotting in between Brazil and Saudi Arabia, both of whose dates have been moved to 5th-7th November and 3rd-5th December respectively. The season finale in Abu Dhabi has also been moved back a week to accommodate this.

The news of Australia’s postponement comes just one year on from the disaster weekend the FIA had at the same track. Appalling indecision and a lack of communication with the fans saw many people arriving at the track, only to be told the race was cancelled; hours before Free Practice One was due to start. Indeed, it may well have happened had it not been for a McLaren team member testing positive. It seems, however, that the FIA learned from this debacle and have therefore called off this year’s event in good time.

As a result of the cancellation, Winter Testing, which was supposed to take place from 2nd-4th March, could be rescheduled and relocated to Bahrain. However, talks with the teams are still ongoing on how they can fit this in.

Yet, the Australian Grand Prix is not the only race expected to be cancelled this year, with doubt also cast over the Chinese Grand Prix. It is believed that Portimao will fill the gap left by China should the event managers cancel it. With Imola set to take place on 16-18th April and a potential return to Portimao, there is much excitement among the fans.

Imola and Portimao were two of several tracks thrust into the 2020 calendar as the FIA tried to put a good package of races together in a Covid-affected season. Imola pleased fans with its history, and Portimao’s roller-coaster of a circuit provided an action-packed race. I don’t think there will be many complaints if they were to return again this year.

F1 2020: End of Season Awards

The 2020 season has come to a close – at 161 days, it was the shortest since 1966, condensing 17 races into that window which has in previous seasons taken nearer 300. The final race took place on the 13th December. The time has now come to reflect on some of the extraordinary achievements that were made and exceeded in times that happen in every hundred years. Most of these decisions were made by the public using @PitCrewOnline and Twitter Poll. 

We start with our first award, Qualifying Lap of Year, where you get to see the cars at the fastest! Our four options, place they qualified and resulting race are:

Hulkenberg P3 – 70th GP

Gasly P4 – Emilia Romagna GP

Stroll P1 – Turkish GP

Leclerc P4 – Sakhir GP

Winner: Hulkenberg – 62% of Public vote

This was his second consecutive race filling in for Sergio Perez after he tested positive for covid-19, although he couldn’t start the British Grand Prix due to a last minute problem with the car. Unlike the latter Bahrain rounds where the track changed to shortened Sakhir track, the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone had no changes from the British event. He qualified a fantastic P3, going faster than Verstappen; he was only beaten by the fastest car ahead of him in Mercedes. He ended Sunday in P7 so managed to score points, but the podium continues to elude him.

Nico Hulkenberg brilliantly deputised for Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll at various points of the season – Courtesy of Racing Point Media

The next award is: Best Start of the Year. the nominees are:

Max Verstappen – P7 to P3 – Hungarian GP

Kimi Raikonnen – P16 to P7 – Portuguese GP

Carlos Sainz – P7 to P2 – Portuguese GP

Sebastian Vettel  – P11 to P3 – Turkish GP

Winner: Kimi Raikkonen – 44% of Public vote

Kimi had a great start at Portimao, gaining 9 places on the opening lap; he even continued to rise to sixth place in the race for a further few laps before others tyres began to get temperature on the unique surface the track had. It narrowly beat Vettel’s start which received 33% of the vote at Turkey. 

2020 was Kimi Raikkonen’s second year with Alfa Romeo – Courtesy of Alfa Romeo Media

The Third award is: Overtake of the Year. We love wheel to wheel action – even better when DRS isn’t involved! Our options are:

Charles Leclerc on Lando Norris – outside of turn 4 – Austrian GP

Alex Albon on Lance Stroll – Outside of Copse – 70th Anniversary GP

Sergio Perez on Charles Leclerc – lap long battle – Eifel GP

George Russell on Valtteri Bottas – Sakhir GP

Winner: George Russell – 77% of Public vote

George Russell took his chance at the Sakhir Grand Prix with both hands but things out of his control prevented a maiden victory. He showed his skills and the pass on his team mate at the beginning of the final stint of the race after a calamitous safety car period for the team was one of these.

George Russell’s excellent performance at the Sakhir Grand Prix was undone by Mercedes’ blunders – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

Next is an award for Pit Crew of the Year, which didn’t need a poll; a much more statistical thought!

Red Bull

9 times this year they have broken the 2 second barrier, with their fastest time being 1.86 on two occasions – close to the world record 1.82 time. Another remarkable feat was replacing Verstappen’s front left suspension in record time after his error en route to the grid at Budapest which led to his fantastic start. They won the DHL Fastest pit stops with 555 points with Williams next to 264. They only failed to achieve the fastest pit stop at Spa and Monza. 

Red Bull’s remarkable work on the grid helped Max Verstappen onto the podium after his crash before the race – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

A bit of a hysterical award next! The Dyson Hoover Award

(Other hoover brands are available)

Valterri Bottas – For picking up bargeboards, and getting them stuck in his airflow which ruined his car’s downforce. He has also a habit of getting punctures of running over debris – Baku 2018 springs to mind.

Rookie of the Year!

Nicholas Lati… There was only one full time rookie this year? Nicholas Latifi! Solid job on his debut year. He nearly scored points in the inferior Williams at Imola where the unfortunate Russell made his one of his very few mistakes of the season in P11. Next season will be about cutting that deficit at the tracks we visited this year and spending time on the simulator; points in 2021 will be the target! Especially with Montreal looking likely to be one of our venues, Latifi will want better understanding and a better car for that event!

Nicholas Latifi’s first season was solid, but he will be hoping for a slightly stronger performance next year – Courtesy of Williams Media

Race of the Year!

Max Verstappen’s win – 70th Anniversary GP

Lewis Hamilton’s 92nd win – Portuguese GP

Lewis Hamilton secures 7th Title – Turkish GP

Sergio Perez wins after Mercedes fail – Sakhir GP

Winner: Sakhir GP – 38%

The Sakhir GP took it by just 3% over the title securing Turkish event. Sakhir had the action! The lap one drama took out the touted Verstappen and putting the unlikely victor Perez last! Mercedes were the creators of their own downfall, and what if Jack Aitken, technically driving Russell’s car, didn’t put it in the wall? People questioned the shortened Sakhir layout, but it was great. if anything, another DRS zone before the final corner would have been great.

A crazy Sakhir race saw Esteban Ocon earn his first ever podium – Courtesy of Renault Media

Driver of the Year!

The drivers to the left of the quarter final option were seeded in Championship order and then drawn at random against the other four randomly who had fantastic seasons in other cars. These were the agreed top 8 by Pit Crew census then each went to a 3 hour poll except for the final. That went for a 24 hour poll during Abu Dhabi weekend.

Quarter Finals

Sergio Perez (67%) – Pierre Gasly (33%)

Max Verstappen (52%) – Carlos Sainz (48%)

Lewis Hamilton (57%) – Charles Leclerc (43%)

Daniel Ricciardo (44%) – George Russell (56%)

Semi Finals

Sergio Perez (59%) – Max Verstappen (41%)

Lewis Hamilton (59%) – George Russell (41%)

Final

Sergio Perez (56%) – Lewis Hamilton (44%)

The public decided that Sergio Perez is the 2020 driver of the season! Congratulations to Checo! The season has come to a close, and some drivers are yet to be confirmed. Will our driver of the year get a call from the Red Bull hierarchy placing Albon on the sidelines for 2021? 

Sergio Perez has inexplicably been left without a seat for next year… so far – Courtesy of Racing Point Media

That is the Awards for 2020, with the calendar being arranged on short notice and bubbles being kept to with only a few positive cases it looks like F1 can call 2020 a success. Old friends of Imola and Turkey came to assist whilst Portugal and Mugello came to show what they could do. Vaccines look to be starting to be distributed to assist with the pandemic, so fingers crossed some normality resumes to the world of Motorsport and beyond.

Turkish GP: Hamilton wraps up 7th championship in Turkish delight

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Win number 94, world championship number 7, records broken, records equaled. Lewis Hamilton reigned supreme in changing conditions on Sunday by putting in yet another world class performance to take his 2nd Turkish grandprix win and his 7th world driver’s championship.

The lights went out on a fairly wet track at Istanbul Park and all the chaos unfolded as the cars set out on their way. Racing Point had the best possible start they could ask for with Stroll leading into turn one and Perez following him swiftly, thanks to the slow starting Max Verstappen in the Redbull. The Dutch driver failed to get the wheels going and fell behind, allowing the Racing Point drivers to pull away.

The absolute winner of the start had to be Sebastian Vettel, who started all the way down at 11th and managed to get to 3rd, all on the first lap. His teammate comparatively had a slower start but came alive later in the race to finish a high 4th. The start also saw Hamilton’s only remaining championship rival Bottas tangle with the Renault of Ocon which caused him to spin out, taking him out of contention. Carlos Sainz was another big gainer at the start, leaping six places on the first lap alone.

As the race progressed, there were no signs of any rain and the track slowly but surely kept drying up. Racing Point, especially Lance Stroll was enjoying a very big lead early vs his teammate Perez while Max Verstappen recovered quickly from a poor start and was battling the fast starting Ferrari of Vettel in the early laps. The track still had considerable amount of water on it at this point but it was Charles Leclerc of Ferrari who blinked first among all the drivers and made a switch to inters.

Following his pace closely, were many other teams and most of them made the switch to inters immediately in the following few laps. Verstappen however chose to overcut the drivers in front of him and it worked out well for him as he came out ahead of Vettel after the first round of pit stops while the Racing Points were still maintaining 1-2. This led to a nice little battle for a few laps between Vettel and Hamilton as the British driver set about to catch the German, a sight reminiscent of 2017 and 2018.

Around lap 20, Verstappen seemed to have made the overcut strategy work perfectly for him until he came out 2nd best while chasing Perez and went spinning at turn 11. This caused him to drop down all the way down to 6th as he flat spotted his tyres and was taken out of the picture for the race win. At the midway point after the Verstappen incident, there was a 5-way fight for the race win with Stroll, Perez, Albon, Vettel and Hamilton all covered by 12 seconds as things started to get really tight.

A second round of pit stops were the order of the day as the inter tyres seemed to be overworked and everybody but Hamilton and Perez made the call to go to a new set of inters. The pair who were 1-2 in the race at this point chose to keep track position as opposed to the rest of the field, a decision which proved worthy at the end of the race with them finishing 1-2 as they were. The second phase of pit stops really altered the course of the race as Lance Stroll, who was once comfortably leading the race started getting picked off by the drivers behind him as the Canadian could not find any grip on his new inter tyres and could only finish 9th.

The McLarens mad their way into the race in a fine manner after starting as low as 15th and 16th on the grid. Carlos Sainz after getting a really good start,  fully capitalized on it as the race progressed. The Spaniard was calm and collected and took the race as it came to him. He managed both the wet and inter tyres really well and finished an excellent 5th while his teammate Norris also drove a very good race to finish 8th. Renault however could only salvage one point in the race despite starting high up on the grid. Daniel Ricciardo made a couple of mistakes which he could not completely recover from and only managed 10th place while his teammate Ocon managed a 11th place after spinning out at the start.

It was a day to forget for Valtteri Bottas who had a dreadful start to the race and it did not stop for him there. The Finnish driver kept spinning in the race at regular intervals, pushing him all the way back down after every time he seemed to have made up some ground. His misery was complete when his own teammate lapped him towards the end of the race. It was however Ferrari’s best day of the season with Sebastian Vettel finishing on the podium and Charles Leclerc finishing 4th. At one point, it seemed like Leclerc was on course for a 2nd place finish but his move on Perez came undone as the Monegasque locked up and went wide and his German teammate who was right behind him, took full advantage of the mistake and snatched a podium place on the very last corner of the final lap of the race.

Redbull would be disappointed after what seemed to be a very good first part of the race for both drivers, ended only otherwise. Mistakes from Verstappen and Albon throughout meant that they could only finish as high as 6th and 7th respectively, which otherwise looked set to be a double podium at one point. Both the Haas cars were forced to retire during the race as so did Nicolas Latifi of Williams, after starting from the pitlane and Giovinazzi of Alfa Romeo. George Russell in the Williams also had to start from the pitlane after damaging his front wing while coming on to the starting grid before the race and he finished at 16th. Kimi Raikkonen in the other Alfa Romeo finished 15th, after having his share of incidents during the race.

Alpha Tauris had a quiet day compared to how the race went after Danil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly finished 12th and 13th respectively. They were however not without incident after a curfew breach with Gasly’s car saw him relegated to the back of the grid before the start of the race.

A day which promised excitement, chaos and unpredictability truly delivered in what was record breaking race and a record equaling championship for Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. The English driver now has 7 world driver’s championships to his name, an honour only shared by Michael Schumacher.

Pirelli info graphics

Turkish GP: Lance Stroll takes surprise pole in a rain hit qualifying

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Lance Stroll came out on top on Saturday afternoon at Istanbul Park where order was totally disrupted in one of the most chaotic qualifying sessions of the season. He became the first driver who isn’t from the traditional top 3 teams to be on pole since Felipe Massa at Williams, a feat achieved all the way back in the first year of the turbo hybrid era in 2014.

Racing Point pulled off an unlikely masterstroke by sending out both of their cars on intermediates as opposed to the rest of the field who were on wets,  setting them up for a brilliant race tomorrow. Both Perez and Stroll duly delivered lap after lap and it all paid off in the end with Stroll taking pole position and image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Sergio Perez taking P3 on the grid.

In a qualifying session where it looked like Max Verstappen was certain of pole, Redbull’s decision to mirror Racing Point and sticking intermediates on the Dutchman’s car did not quite work out for them. To make matters worse, Verstappen was on his way to a provisional pole lap while the call was made, causing the driver to abandon his lap. In the end, the Redbull driver had to make do with P2, but will be more than fancying his chances for a victory tomorrow. His teammate Albon also had a really good qualifying session putting him at P4.

The track was heavily criticized as the practice sessions unfolded, especially by Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, who was quite unhappy with the things out there. Taking 17 out of 17 poles so far this season, it comes as a very big surprise that the German team could only manage P6 and P9 for Hamilton and Bottas respectively. Both their cars struggled to find grip throughout the weekend and a wet track only made matters worse. The championship equation for Hamilton becomes much simpler for Hamilton tomorrow, as he can be crowned champion if it stands this way.

Q1 started off as scheduled but had to be red flagged with 7 minutes to go thanks to heavy rain and it was a good 45 minute delay until the pitlane opened again. Lap times kept improving once the session restarted but the session had to be red flagged once again as Romain Grosjean in the Haas beached his car in the gravel and could not get it running again.

A little bit of controversy unfurled towards the end of Q1 when Nicolas Latifi also beached his car in the gravel and there were doubled waved yellows in the middle part of the track. Kevin Magnussen was seen complaining on the radio, alleging that a lot of drivers who made it past Q1 had not lifted their foot of the throttle as required in those conditions. The incident is set to be investigated and could change the line-up on the grid. This resulted in both Haas drivers Magnussen and Grosjean, Williams drivers George Russell and Latifi, Kvyat in the Alfa Tauri all getting knocked out in Q1.

Q2 was fairly straightforward on an otherwise chaotic session which saw both the Ferraris of Vettel and Leclerc get knocked out after yet another sub-par display, which continued their woes for the season. Both the McLarens were also out of Q2 which is a bit of a blow for the English team considering their competitors Renault and Racing Point had very good qualifying sessions. The team will line up with Land Norris at P11 and Carlos Sainz at P13 and will be playing catch up right from the start.

Pierre Gasly was another surprise name to not make it to Q3 considering his form throughout the season but the biggest result of Q2 ultimately belongs to Alfa Romeo, which saw both Kimi Raikkonen and Antionio Giovinazzi make it to Q3 while also beating both the works Ferraris in the process. The team will have a very good chance at grabbing some precious points towards the end of the season with Raikkonen starting P8 and Giovinazzi starting P10.

Renault produced an excellent qualifying result with Ricciardo at P5 and Ocon at P7, giving them a platform to get some crucial points in their bid to take the 3rd place in the constructors championship. Track limits were once again the topic of the session as several drivers kept having their times deleted throughout the session but ultimately, it did not prove costly for anyone which might not be the case for tomorrow.

A promising race seems to be on the cards with the track offering very less grip to the drivers and to make matters complicated, the weather might also have a say tomorrow. The magic number for Lewis Hamilton’s 7th world championship is set to be ‘8’ as he has to make sure that his teammate and only remaining championship rival Bottas does not outscore him by more than 8 points. If that does happen, the title would be decided in Bahrain, in a couple of weeks time.

The Problems With The Provisional F1 2021 Calendar

Earlier this week Liberty Media released the provisional calendar for the 2021 Formula One season. While there were minimal surprises, it raised some eyebrows about the integrity of the sport.

Many believe that the idea of racing in countries with less than ideal human rights records contradicts the mantra “We Race As One” that Formula One has been pushing so often this year. With races in Bahrain and China, as well as the new Saudi Arabia race, many believe that F1 should not be holding races, and thereby drawing in fans, in countries where seemingly dodgy political regimes can reap the economic rewards.

To counter that, some have argued that it isn’t fair to punish the inhabitants (for whom many will not have had a say in who runs their country) by not allowing any international sport to be held for them to see. Ultimately though, money talks and therefore Formula One is unlikely to avoid controversial venues if they have suitable funds.

Another issue some have raised is Liberty Media’s insistence on quantity over quality. Initial plans are for a 23-race season sometimes covering tracks that have famously struggled to produce exciting racing. F1 is entertainment as much as sport, and as a result fan enjoyment should be a top priority. If you were to ask F1 fans to create their dream race calendar, very few would have as many as 23 venues, and even fewer would include the likes of France and Spain.

By focusing on the number of races over the quality of the racing the track produces, some believe you run the risk of wearing the fans out. Yes, we love racing, but if you’re tuning in every weekend to watch very little of it, you’re going to get worn out and lose some love for the sport. This is all without mentioning the impact on the teams being away from their families for so long.

At the end of the day, Formula One is seen by the owners as a business over a form of entertainment and therefore Liberty Media are certain to want a race calendar that can maximise their profit. Fan opinion is just an aside.

Feature image courtesy of Racing Point F1 Media

F1 Throwback: Massa’s maiden triumph in Turkey

In its short tenure on the Formula 1 calendar, Turkey’s Istanbul Park circuit has helped create plenty of iconic moments. From Red Bull’s infamous clash in 2010 to the many incidents around the mighty Turn 8, it’s not hard to see why the Turkish Grand Prix is a fan-favourite return this year.

But for Felipe Massa, there’s one Istanbul Park moment that would surely spring to mind before any other—the end of the 2006 race, when he crossed the finish line to become a Formula 1 Grand Prix winner for the very first time.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

2006 was already set to be a big year for Massa. Having cut his teeth with Sauber, this was the year he was called up by Ferrari to replace countryman Rubens Barrichello as Michael Schumacher’s teammate.

Prior to Turkey, which was the 14th round of the 18-race season, Massa’s start to life at Ferrari had been mixed. His pace was clear by his four podiums, two fastest laps and qualifying results, but his scorecard was marred by spins and a first-lap collision with Christian Klien and Nico Rosberg in Melbourne.

With rumours swirling of Ferrari considering a Schumacher/ Kimi Raikkonen partnership for 2007, what Massa needed was a definitive result to close out the season. And that was exactly what he set up on Saturday in Istanbul, when Massa took advantage of several errors by Schumacher to take his first pole position by three tenths over his teammate.

Given Schumacher’s tight championship battle with Fernando Alonso and Massa’s team role as the German’s rear gunner, Schumacher was still considered the favourite on race day. But come lights out, Massa soaked up the pressure as Schumacher and Alonso bore down on him into Turn 1, and was able to bolt clear by almost a second by the end of the first lap.

Behind the leading trio, Giancarlo Fisichella spun his Renault at the first corner as he backed out of a move on Alonso, causing a chain reaction incident in the midfield. Raikkonen, Scott Speed, Nick Heidfield and Ralf Schumacher were all caught up and joined Fisichella in pitting for repairs, while Midland’s Tiago Monteiro retired on the spot.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

On lap 13 the safety car was deployed when Vitantonio Liuzzi spun and stalled his Toro Rosso at the exit of Turn 1, and Massa pitted together with Schumacher, Alonso and Jenson Button. But while Massa kept his position at the front, Alonso managed to jump Schumacher for second as Ferrari’s attempt to double-stack their stops held Schumacher up in the pits.

When the race resumed, Massa took advantage of his teammate’s battle with Alonso to restore his lead. As Alonso drove defensively to hold off his title rival, Massa continued to get further and further away from the pair and closer to his first victory.

But on the final lap there seemed to be a cruel final twist waiting for Massa before the finish line. As Schumacher closed to within a few tenths of Alonso and began all but pushing the Renault along, Massa drastically backed off the pace to the tune of several seconds compared to his teammate.

The understanding was that if Schumacher managed to retake second from Alonso, Massa was obliged to let Schumacher by for maximum championship points—at this late stage in the season, Alonso had a ten-point lead in the standings so a win would have put Schumacher level with four rounds remaining.

However, despite Schumacher’s best efforts he simply ran out of opportunities to pass Alonso, meaning Massa was free to push on to the line and take the victory with five and a half seconds still in hand.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Two weeks later at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, Ferrari announced that Schumacher would be leaving the team at the end of the year, and that Massa would stay on to partner Raikkonen. Massa closed out the 2006 season with two more pole positions, a second place at Japan, and a home win at Interlagos.

He would win twice again at Istanbul Park, in 2007 and 2008, and currently holds the record for the most wins at the circuit.

There are many moments that define Felipe Massa’s F1 career: the pain of losing the 2008 World Championship, the darkness of his 2009 crash in Budapest, and of course his emotional guard of honour after retiring from the 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix.

His maiden win is every bit as defining as what came after. A thoroughly deserving victory against two of the sport’s greatest drivers, Istanbul Park was a glimpse of the formidable talent Massa had to offer.

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.

 

Emilia Romagna GP: Hamilton wins as Mercedes secure 7th straight constructors championship

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes took his 93rd Formula 1 win and their 7th consecutive constructors championship respectively at Imola on Sunday afternoon in what was an event filled race in the third Italian grandprix of the season. It was not a straightforward win for Hamilton as the English driver lost out at the start thanks to fast starting Max Verstappen from 3rd.

Things started falling into place for him as the race progressed and it all played very nicely into his hands after an extended first stint paid off thanks to a virtual safety car around lap 30 which enabled him to assume the lead of the race ahead of his teammate Bottas and Verstappen in the Redbull. The drama did not end there as Max Verstappen crashed out of the race with less than 10 laps to go triggering a full course safety car.

A Mercedes 1-2 and Redbull not scoring any points meant that Mercedes have now secured their 7th consturctors crown, beating a previous record of 6 by Ferrari set in the 1999-2004 period. The whole team would be overjoyed at the achievement but Valtteri Bottas might not share the complete enthusiasm as the Finnish driver would feel he missed out on a victory.

Daniel Ricciardo made waves again after he drove a fantastic race to make it two podiums in three races as the Aussie driver had to sustain pressure from Leclerc in the early parts of the race and Kvyat in the final stages after the safety car. His teammate Ocon in the other Renault had to retire at the midpoint of the race thanks to a clutch issue.

Danil Kvyat’s best result of the season heavily depended on the safety car as the Russian drives came out all guns blazing following the restart as he made really good overtake moves on Leclerc and almost made a podium out of all this for himself but failed to get past Ricciardo. His teammate Gasly in the other Alpha Tauri had to retire early in the race due to terminal issue after starting from as high as P4.

Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari secured another very good result for the team after finishing 5th thanks to a good start to the race. His teammate Vettel was on course for a points finish but it was all undone when the Ferrari mechanics had a tough time during his one and only pitstop and the German driver was left stranded for 13 seconds in the pits, a scenario that pretty much summed up how his season has been progressing.

Sergio Perez looked set for a podium finish after a Racing Point’s strategy seemed to have paid off which saw the Mexican driver jump 7 places from his starting position but deciding to stop under the safety car for fresher tyres proved costly for the Mexican as he dropped to 6th and could not finish higher. His teammate Stroll in the other Racing Point could only finish 13th after tangling with Ocon in the opening lap which meant a front wing change for the Canadian driver very early on.

It was a low double points finish for McLaren with Sainz at 7th and Norris at 8th which keeps the team still in the battle for the 3rd place in the constructors championship with Renault and Racing Point. The British team will certainly hoping for better results in the next few races with Renault and Racing Point looking faster than them on the track at the moment.

It was also a double points finish for Alfa Romeo with Raikkonen at 9th and Giovinazzi at 10th after the former drove a stellar first stint on the medium tyres for almost 50 laps which meant he performed an overcut on most of the out of points runners. The team will be delighted to pick up points in their home country that will put them above Haas and Williams in the standings. As for Williams, George Russell looked set to pick up his first ever points in 38 F1 races but he had a Grosjean-esque moment under the safety car and crashed out of the race while trying to keep his tyres within temperature. His teammate Latifi in the other Williams finished just outside the points in 11th.

Redbull had a race to forget thanks to a DNF for Verstappen which triggered the safety car and from the restart after the safety car, Albon spun around all by himself after being overtaken by Perez and could only finish 15th which means that there is now more doubt looming on his future in F1.  As for Haas, Kevin Magnussen had to retire after he had complained about headache issues and could not finish the race in that condition while his teammate Grosjean finished 14th after a very late 5-second penalty for exceeding track limits multiple times.

Another race win for Hamilton means that a win or a 2nd place finish in the upcoming race irrespective of Bottas’ result will secure the 7th world championship for the Englishman, which seems like a real possibility the way things have been going on this season. Despite constructors championship being wrapped up, it is a lot to look forward to in the upcoming final four races of the season.