Who could be Haas 2021 drivers?

image courtesy of Haas F1 Team

In the lead up to this weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix, it was announced that both Haas drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen would not be retained by the American outfit for 2021, which makes it Haas’ biggest shake-up since it first appeared on the F1 grid back in 2016. Grosjean has been with the team from the start, and Magnussen joined him for 2017. Aside from Mercedes with Hamilton and Bottas, Haas have been the only team with a consistent line-up for many years so this news is hugely telling as far as the future for the team.

There have been some indications as to who could end up at Haas, some more likely than others. So let’s run through some possible candidates.

Experienced sideliners

First up we have to immediately mention the likes of Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Pérez, both drivers are very well known quantities of the F1 paddock that are in danger of missing out.

Hülkenberg lost his Renault seat to Esteban Ocon and failed to secure a full-time drive for 2020, however has performed incredibly in his appearances with Racing Point when both drivers fell ill. One of those being Pérez, who has been let go from the team in favour of Sebastian Vettel when it is rebranded as Aston Martin.

Both drivers are of really high quality and shouldn’t have to beg for drives. But even Pérez who brings a lot of money from his native Mexico is struggling to find a seat at all, and may even end up at Williams alongside Nicholas Latifi and kicking out the also very highly rated George Russell.

But even being a great and proven driver isn’t enough these days, there needs to be more. For example..

Ferrari juniors

At the last Grand Prix, Ferrari academy drivers Mick Schumacher and Callum Ilott (who are both first and second in the FIA Formula 2 championship) were due to make FP1 appearances. Schumacher was due to drive with Alfa Romeo and Ilott was with Haas, however the foggy October sky around northern Germany put pay to that plan and instead they’ll be making their FP1 debut at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Despite being considered a Ferrari ‘B-Team’, Haas have never done what Alfa Romeo have done and run one of Ferrari’s academy drivers in one of their seats. They’ve had the likes of current Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc and Alfa Romeo driver Antonio Giovinazzi do FP1 runs for them, but with the plethora of young talent in Ferrari’s camp, this could very well change for next year.

Not only do you have Schumacher and Ilott, but also last year’s FIA F3 champion Robert Shwartzman who comes with strong backing, however he seems less likely and a second season in F2 wouldn’t do any harm.

With the financial strains put on many teams due to the pandemic, it would make sense for the team to take on a Ferrari junior in exchange for getting their Ferrari power units cheaper. However speaking of financial incentive, that leads me on to the name that is floating around like a stubborn rubber dinghy.

Another kid with a rich dad

No list of possible drivers for smaller F1 teams would be complete without at least one rich kid who has more money than talent. The one in question here is Nikita Mazepin, son of $7.1 billion net-worth Dmitry Mazepin, who won’t stop trying to buy his son an F1 team. His name has been mentioned in conversations for buying out the likes of Force India, Renault, Williams and now Haas.

Mazepin has had a pretty underwhelming career, although he is fighting for victories in his second season of F2 and finished runner-up to the late Anthoine Hubert in the 2018 GP3 season. He was also runner-up in the FIA World Karting Championship in 2014 to current McLaren F1 driver Lando Norris, so I must give him credit where it’s due.

However like current Williams driver Nicholas Latifi, it’s obvious that his father’s money would be more of a reason than his ability as to why Haas would hire him. In this day and age, it’s a necessary evil if it means Haas can keep afloat and there are certainly many drivers who have much less ability they could have picked.

With that being said though, Mazepin is up there with the likes of Dan Ticktum and Santino Ferrucci in terms of polarising and distasteful character. He once punched Callum Ilott and only got a one race ban for it after claiming the Brit held him up in practice at the Hungaroring for an F3 race. He’s also come under fire for threatening to out a current F1 driver as gay, which when you consider the possible implications due to F1’s reliance on money from very homophobic countries, just makes me despise this Russian.

One thing is for sure though should this happen, the Drive To Survive episodes that we will inevitably see with a bad tempered team boss and spoilt son of a Russian oligarch, they’ll be entertaining to watch.

So who could it be?

Immediately, Mazepin seems all but certain, as unfortunate as it is. The extra injection of cash could be imperative for Haas as this could very well serve as a rebuilding phase for the team. Puzzlingly though, the extra money from Sergio Pérez’s backers may not be accepted, which considering a combination of an inexperienced driver like Mazepin with a seasoned veteran and both bringing in money sounds very ideal.

At the moment, it’s all rather up in the air. Haas may end up going with a Ferrari junior on one side of the garage and Mazepin on the other, which could end up backfiring since both drivers are hugely inexperienced and we remember how Williams struggled in 2018 with the money coming from both Lance Stroll’s and Sergey Sirotkin’s backers but both being very inexperienced.

If I was a betting man, that’s who I’d go for right now, Mazepin and a Ferrari academy driver.

But let’s take a moment to acknowledge their current drivers. Romain Grosjean is an anomaly, having had ounces of pace but lacked that refinement to keep him from keeping it on the straight and narrow but over time instead of ironing out those rough edges, he’s lost that spark and arguably shouldn’t have been picked over Nico Hülkenberg for 2020.

As for Kevin Magnussen, from scoring a podium on his debut to becoming the F1 bad boy and driving way too aggressively on occasion, and like Grosjean did show plenty of promise. However that whittled out and now I would be very surprised if either of them managed to find a drive in F1 for next season.

What’s next for them? Well Grosjean has expressed interest in spearheading Peugeot’s Le Mans Hypercar program as well as flirting with the idea of both Formula E and DTM, whilst Magnussen could be linked with a move to IndyCar although I would hope if he does, his defense style is quickly dealt with on ovals..

Russian GP: Hamilton takes pole in an intense qualifying

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Lewis Hamilton took his 5th straight pole of the season at Sochi on saturday afternoon to put himself in an excellent position in his bid to equal Schumacher’s record tomorrow (91 wins). The pole position looked set to evade him today after the fiasco in Q2 almost saw him miss out on Q3.

Hamilton failed to register a time in Q2 as he crossed track limits during the first run of Q2 and this meant that the 6 time world champion had only one run under his belt to put a time on the charts. However, a Sebastian Vettel crash during the second run of Q2 brought out a red flag with exactly 2 minutes and 15 seconds to go and Hamilton barely made it to the finish line before the flag fell, setting a lap time good enough to go into Q3.

It is not Valtteri Bottas, but Max Verstappen on the front row this time as the Dutchman put in an amazing lap in the second run of Q3 to go 2nd. Bottas who started the weekend well could not make it onto the front row after hitting the sausage kerb in turn 2 and losing momentum going into the rest of the lap.

Sergio Perez put in a great effort despite not having upgrades on his Racing Point and qualified on the second row alongside Bottas while his teammate Stroll could not make it out of Q2 after getting his lap time deleted in the first run and suffering a temperature issue towards the end of Q2.

Ricciardo’s fine form during the weekend continued after his efforts in qualifying will see him start at 5th on the 3rd row next to Carlos Sainz in the McLaren. The 4th row will be a repeat of the colours in the 3rd row but with Ocon in Renault at 7th and Norris in the McLaren at 8th.  Gasly in the Alpha Tauri is set to line up at 9th next to Albon in the RedVull who will be hoping for a much better race than the qualifying today.

Both the Ferraris crashed out of Q2, one literally of Sebastian Vettel at turn 4 after hitting the kerb and one of Charles Leclerc narrowly missing out and all set to start at P11 as the advantage from the minor upgrades they have got this weekend also seems to be minor. Danil Kvyat is set to line up next to Leclerc at 12th and will look to score some good points in his home race, especially after his car seems to be showing a decent race pace.

George Russell in the Williams made it into Q2 for the sixth time this season  and will line up at 14th after yet another good effort in Q3 but his teammate Latifi will have to be content with 19th. It is going to be a Ferrari powered bottom 6 except Latifi after both the Haas cars and the Alfa Romeos are all in the bottom 5.

Kimi Raikkonen went spinning in the second run of Q1 which will mean that he is set to start 20th on the grid and his teammate Giovinazzi will start 17th. Grosjean and Magnussen in their respective Haas cars are set to start 16th and 18th with Grosjean surprisingly offering some positive feedback at the end of Q1.

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

With Hamilton set to start on the soft tyres thanks to the Q2 drama and with Max Verstappen just next to him, it might not be a straightforward drive to win number 91 for the English driver. It is also worth remembering that Bottas’ last victory at Sochi came from 3rd on the grid, which is where he will line up tomorrow, with a tyre advantage. It is all set to play for, in the Russian Grand Prix.

Tom’s British Grand Prix Race Notes

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Well, well, well, I have to say that at one point, I was massively struggling to find a way to make this interesting for you. However, queue the final couple of laps of the Grand Prix and the race really came alive! So, where to start? Here are my British Grand Prix Race Notes…

Lewis Hamilton 

I mean what can you say? Lewis led from start to finish, cruising home to claim a 7th British Grand Prix win, moving 30 point clear in the Driver’s Championship. Ok, I say cruised, he did for 50 laps at least before the real fun started and it almost got away from him. (more on this shortly).

Hamilton now moves to within four wins of Michael Schumacher’s all-time GP wins record. Back against him? You really shouldn’t. It’s inevitable and given the car that is under him, there’s no way he’s not going to claim the crown sooner rather than later.

Image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

I said at the start, what can you say? Well, not much more really. It was a relaxed drive for Lewis and once again, Mercedes show why they are miles ahead of the grid, even when they only have three fully functioning tires on the car!

Final Laps of Pure Carnage:

As mentioned, the Grand Prix looked all but done right from the start and the Race Note’s almost ceased to exist however, this historic Silverstone track had other ideas and gave us two laps of pure carnage and entertainment!

It all started with Valteri Bottas and after sitting in second place for 50 laps, Bottas reported on the team radio that he was suffering from a lot of vibration. At the time it was apparent that his tires we’re starting to struggle but what we didn’t know was just how bad they really were.

Nonetheless, it wasn’t long before we found out and as the Finn headed into the first corner to start his 51st lap, Bottas lost his front left tyre completely as it’s pressure dropped ultimately leading to his front wing punctured it. Bottas came into the pits at the end of the lap and he found himself going from second to finish the Grand Prix in 11th place. Which may sound bad but it could have been worse as at one point, you were left wondering if he was even going to make it to the pits at all!

Bottas wasn’t the only man suffering from tyre degradation either as Lewis Hamilton also quickly found out.

After leading the race completely unchallenged, it looked as if Lewis could sit back, relax and enjoy his final lap with his now 32 plus second lead over Max Verstappen, but what he didn’t know was that his tyre, just like his teammates tyre, was about to go bang!

Lewis heard about Bottas’ puncture and admitted that his looked fine but as he turned into Luffield, his very own left front tyre punctured and left him hoping that he would beat Verstappen to the checkered flag. As we know, he did but that 32 plus second lead quickly vanished into a 5.8-second win. Close call? Absolutely and in the words of Lewis himself, ”It was definitely a heart-in-the-mouth kind of feeling” for the Brit.

Danny Ric

To wrap up this week’s race notes, it’s the man himself, the man who never stops smiling and most probably has the best sense of humor the grid has ever seen.

Daniel Ricciardo, a man on a mission of late, who has those boots that are made for overtaking and overtaking he did. Danny Ric started 8th on the grid and battled all afternoon against both McLaren’s of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris, which in truth up until puncture gate, was the only entertainment of the day. (Apart from K-Mag and Dani Kvyat’s crashes maybe).

Anyway, Danny Ric was one of nine drivers to benefit from Bottas’ second to last lap puncture and thanks to a solid drive from the Australian, he ended up coming him to finish in P4 which matches his best ever finish for Renualt. Had Hamilton’s tyre issue been a lot worse than it was then we could have been talking about a podium finish for Danny Ric but Hamilton somehow got his Silver Arrow home and he had to settle for fourth which isn’t anything to turn your nose up at. (No pun intended, Danny). Great drive!

Other mentions:

Image courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari

Ferrari had a tale of two weekends and depending on who you ask, the response to how they faired this weekend will be very different. Charles Leclerc had a very impressive weekend which was topped off by a podium finish in P3, which Sebastian Vettel had a nightmare weekend as he ended up in P10. Vettel struggled to stay on the track for most of the weekend and the race pace just wasn’t there for him again. That said, it was a much more improved Ferrari overall.

McLaren will be hugely happy with their showing as Lando Norris brought his MCL35 home to finish in P5, which is great news in terms of the constructor’s standings as Lance Stroll could only manage a ninth-place finish as Racing Point had a race to forget given Nico Hulkenburg’s car didn’t even make the grid due to a power unit failure.

Alpha Tauri will also be happy as Pierre Gasly had an excellent race to finish in seventh after team mate Dani Kvyat crashed out after a clash with Red Bull’s Alexander Albon.

Final Thoughts:

It was a race that looked as if it was over before it even started but thanks to a final few laps of pure carnage, it really did not disappoint in the end. Hamilton may have won his 7th British Grand Prix but it wasn’t as easy as it potentially could have been in the end.

Shall we do it again? Ok then, see you next week for the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix!

 

Michael Schumacher – a true great but left with no competition

When we watch sports – be it tennis, football (round and pointy) or our favourite motorsport series we look for the new star, that person who will shake things up. Senna did that in the Tolman, Niki in the Ferrari and Lewis in the McLaren, with one of the most awe inspiring first season’s in F1.

There’s one person I left off of that list, and that is Michael Schumacher. His rise to fame was nothing short of amazing jumping from Endurance cars  to F1 in the Jordan and then to eventually win seven Formula One World Driver Championships.

True greats end up with two situations which can be blemishes on their career, firstly teammates that look grey in comparison. Senna, Prost, Lauda, Alonso and Hamilton – barring when teammates were world champions themselves had less than stellar teammates, either via talent not being the same or because of contracts, is one thing that is to be expected. You aren’t going to be a world champion in a no.2 seat – ask Mark Webber. McLaren and Mercedes have mostly for instance run with no preferred main driver. Hamilton/Alonso and Senna/Prost are the two that most remember. But since Mercedes returned as a works team in 2010, their drivers have no preferential treatment. Alonso more or less dismissed the talent of Hamilton, and then scrapped with his teammate for the most of the season, perhaps to his cost and his Championship chances. Senna and Prost, were completely different in how they raced, both were racers. They mostly worked “well together” until well that corner at Suzuka and Senna, being Senna wasn’t happy with the tarmac being “inferior” to the P2 slot of Prost’s Mclaren.

One team in Formula One has traditionally has had contracted driver placings, that is Scuderia Ferrari S.p.A.. The system of number one and two drivers has worked well for them up until the mid 90’s. That started to erode, first with the paring of Eddie Irvine and then later with Rubens Barrichello from 2000. Both were fast drivers, and if Michael wasn’t there, they’d have probably won championships with Ferrari.  Both Barrichello and Irvine suffered from retirements, we won’t ever know if those were due to testing parts or for genuine reasons.

The 2006 Ferrari team at Brazil at Schumacher’s last race for Ferrari. Image courtesy of Ferrari

The second situation which nearly every dominant world champion faces (Senna and Prost didn’t as much), is that if you start to win as many world championships as Prost, Lauda, Senna, Vettel, and perhaps more acutely, Schumacher and Hamilton – well drivers retire, either to race in another series, or start their own vineyard!. Sometimes you are done with the sport, for which theirs many reasons, from health issues to the simple fact of not being good enough to be beat the best. But as a world champion you crave to have the best fight for the championship that you can, ideally not with the little new kid but that one, who has won a lot.

In any sport, you have golden eras, where there isn’t just one great but three maybe four individuals (and teams in team sports) who stand out. In Formula One we’ve had had the late 80’s, where we had, Piquet, Prost, Senna and Mansell whom where fighting for the world championship, they all became world champions.

In the 90’s we had Häkkinen, Hill, Villeneuve, Senna, Prost and Mansell all gunning for the championship. Schumacher won two world championships in 94-95 – early in his F1 career, it was a rich fabric of talent, that were World champions or in waiting. Schumacher became the best because he beat the best. But slowly one by one, they, had their names engraved upon the Formula One world champions trophy. Some jumped to another Series, Mansell to Indycar in 1993. Or others, going to less competitive cars, Villeneuve (British American Racing) and Hill (Arrows). Others simply stayed on a year and retired, Häkkinen and Prost. Senna, of course sadly lost his life at Imola in ’94.

He didn’t have the competition. Those world champion weren’t there, or in uncompetitive cars. Ferrari where the only competition, and Rubens was prevented from racing Michael, which came to a head in 2002 at the Austrian GP with Barrichello being ordered to let Schumacher pass him for the win. This lead to one of the most embarrassing podiums known in recent years.

Schumacher won in 94,95 and then from 2000,01,02,03 and 04 being his last championship win before he retired in 06. Those years (00 to 04) whilst showing his ability as a driver, to win. But you always felt with the team orders that win rate was partly Barrichello’s input as well as his own.

I entitled this piece, “Michael Schumacher – a true great but left with no competition” that is true, his existing competition of world champions left the sport one way or another. But he then had to fight off new competition in the form of Raikkonen and Alonso, whom ended up with three world championships between them. Alonso beat Schumacher in 2005 and 2006, Räikkönen nearly did so in 2003 but bested McLaren teammates Alonso and Hamilton in 2007 by one point.

Featured Image courtesy of Ferrari

Michael Schumacher – How the Rainmaster was born

Whilst Michael Schumacher had many incredible races, this is one of my favourites showing his incredible skill in changing conditions.

It was 1997 and it was the 12th race in the season which was taking place at Spa Francorchamps, Belgium.

Qualifying for the race had been dominated by Jacques Villeneuve (Williams-Renault) who secured pole position followed by Jean Alesi (Benetton Renault) in 2nd and Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) 3rd on the grid.

In the morning warm-up the weather conditions were hot and dry and Schumacher only managed 15th place.

However, about 30 minutes before the start of the race, an unexpected twenty minute heavy downpour changed the race conditions dramatically.
During the time the cars were assembling on the grid, Schumacher took the opportunity of making some exploratory laps of the track by returning to the pits rather than the grid in both his race car and the spare car, which had been set up for intermediate weather conditions. Schumacher chose to race in the spare car.

Whilst going to take his place on the grid, Schumacher’s brother, Ralf, who had qualified 6th on the grid, spun and crashed his Jordan at Stavelot, resulting in him starting from the pit lane in the spare car.

For the first time in Formula 1 history, the race was started behind the safety car.

Of the front running cars, both the Williams drivers and Alesi started the race on full wet tyres whilst the others were on intermediates. The pack remained behind the safety car for the first three laps and the proper racing began on lap four. Villeneuve was still in front followed by Alesi and Schumacher.

At the start of lap five, Schumacher made a brave move past Alesi on the inside of the La Source hairpin and then overtook Villeneuve at the Rivage loop to take the lead. By the end of lap five Schumacher had built a lead of 5.8 seconds over Villeneuve. Bear in mind, in real terms it was only the second lap of actual racing. He then continued at a truly unbelievable pace, increasing this to 16.9 seconds by the end of lap six, which in real terms was only lap three. He was truly in a class of his own.

Fisichella, who was driving for Jordan and had also started on intermediate tyres, was now in 2nd place after Villeneuve made an unexpected pit stop.

Schumacher was in control of the race and continued to pull away, and by the end of lap 12 his lead had stretched to a full minute. Following a second pit stop, Villeneuve had dropped to 16th.

The track was drying by this stage in the race and pit stops were taking place for slicks to be fitted to the cars. Schumacher pitted on lap 14 for his slicks and after re-joining the race, he eased his pace and controlled the race. He eventually crossed the finish line some 27 seconds ahead of the 2nd place car of Fisichella, followed by Heinz-Harald Frentzen in his Williams-Renault.

If Schumacher had continued at his original pace, who knows how far ahead of everybody he would have been.

Having started from pole, Villeneuve finished his race in 5th, which meant that Schumacher extended his lead over Villeneuve in the Drivers’ Championship to 11 points with 5 races left in the season. Ferrari led Williams by 6 points in the Constructors’ Championship.

I truly believe that this was one of Michael Schumacher’s best drives and it was at this race that he gained the title ‘the Rainmaster’, which was to stay with him for the remainder of his racing career.

BK

Image courtesy of Mercedes Benz AMG F1 Team.