Indy 500 Drama: Alonso Fails To Qualify

In pursuit of the Triple Crown (Monaco GP, Le Mans 24 Hours and Indy 500) Fernando Alonso and McLaren returned to American soil for the Indianapolis 500.

Saturday was the day where the top 30 qualifying took place, with the fast nine to qualify again on Sunday for pole position and the six drivers out of the top 30 would also qualify again on Sunday, but with a higher stake.

After the two-time F1 World Champion did not make the top 30 (he ended up in 31st) it was time for ‘Bump Day’, where the last six drivers fight for the last three positions on the starting grid. The three slowest would pack up and go home. James Hinchcliffe, Sage Karam, Fernando Alonso, Max Chilton, Patricio O’Ward and Kyle Kaiser were all in the danger zone.

First to put a time on the table was James Hinchcliffe. With an average of 227.543 MPH, he was almost guaranteed of a spot on the grid for next week’s race, having missed out on the race last year. Next in line was Max Chilton, and just like Alonso, with a Carlin car. His pace was way off, with a mere 226.192 MPH meaning his chances would be very slim to qualify.

The third driver to make his run was Alonso. His first lap looked promising for a good result, and he ended up with an average of 227.353 MPH, putting him in (at that moment) second place.

Zak Brown and Fernando Alonso watch and wait after their qualifying attempt. Credit: Joe Skibinski/IndyCar

With three drivers to go, it would take just two of them to be faster than Alonso for the Spaniard not to qualify for the legendary race. The fact that Fernando was signing some autographs rather than watching the timings showed everything about his nerves. He just didn’t want to look, knowing full well that it would be very close.

Sage Karam surprised with a pretty quick average of 227.740 MPH, putting him on the top of the table. He pushed Alonso back to third place, just enough to qualify. But with two drivers left, tensions were rising.

Patricio O’Ward, the new Red Bull F1 junior, also drove with a Carlin built car, which showed; an average of 227.092 MPH put him in fourth, meaning he was done for this year. The last one who could attempt to qualify was Kaiser.

His first lap was the same as Alonso, but his second and third lap were slightly quicker than the Spaniard’s. With only one lap to go, Alonso once again went to sign some items of fans, too afraid of looking at the timings.

In a very dramatic manner, Kaiser – with his very small Juncos Racing team – beat the great (but new) McLaren Indy team to the last spot on the grid: 227.372 MPH. Just 0.019MPH quicker than Fernando.

Juncos Racing celebrate qualifying for the Indy 500, despite numerous setbacks. Credit: Chris Jones/IndyCar

In a reaction on social media, Alonso said: “A difficult week, no doubts. We tried our best, even today with a completely different set-up and approach, 4 laps flat on the throttle but we were not fast enough. It’s never easy to drive around here at 227mph+, and want more speed… We tried our best and we’ve been brave at times, but there were people doing a better job than us. Success or disappointments only come if you accept big challenges. We accepted.”

Gil de Ferran, McLaren sporting director, apologized to Alonso, the team and fans. “This has been a very emotional and difficult experience, I think, not only for me but for the whole team”, he said. “I want to take this opportunity to apologize and thank the fans, not only here in the U.S. but globally, who have been following our progress.  So you know, this is in my 35 years of racing – actually a few more – the most painful experience I’ve ever had.”

Even though Alonso will not be there, the show still goes on. The only Carlin car to qualify for the Indy 500 was Charlie Kimball in 20th. Meanwhile, Simon Pagenaud took pole and got a cheque of $100,000, with Ed Carpenter and Spencer Pigot lining up next to him. There will still be a fantastic race and all fans of motorsport should definitely watch it.

Simon Pagenaud accepts his pole award for his first ever Indy 500 pole. Credit: Chris Jones/IndyCar

(Featured Image Credit: Shawn Gritzmacher/IndyCar)

Daniil Kvyat: a rise from the ashes

Russia, 2016. The third running of Sochi’s very own Grand Prix. This article doesn’t begin there, nor does it click into gear a race prior, when Shanghai played ringmaster. You’d be expecting those, given the point of discussion. The destination, for those wondering, is actually the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. Mexico, 2015.

If Red Bull’s junior academy is the seeding bed, and Toro Rosso the tomato plant, then Daniil Kvyat’s career path was one of the fruit being picked, placed in a bag and chopped up for the salad bowl a little earlier than the gardener would have liked. Not that it was apparent in this race – the Russian was ripe, for both a second career podium and a mission statement for next year, first sentence: ‘I’m the boss now’.

As it turned out, after a mid-race safety car restart, Kvyat would be nailed on the entry to Turn 1 by Valtteri Bottas’ Williams. The taste of champagne trickled away, replaced by his inner choice words, and so did the opportunity to prove he didn’t need a whirlwind of madness to clear his route to a rostrum. I’ve not just harked back to this race to avoid treading down a popular path, dissecting those moments – I’ve done it to pinpoint where Kvyat really began his fall.

Kvyat’s career (arguably, given his opportunism the next year in China) never reached those heady heights again. It was the last time he was placed atop F1’s ‘next best thing’ shrine, the last time he was hailed as the clean-cut superstar about to take a top team by the scruff of the neck. The last two races of his 2015 season weren’t alarming, but left much to be desired, and then came the intense beatdown he received at the hands of Daniel Ricciardo in 2016’s first four races.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

And we all know how the story goes from here. From edging his teammate, a star burning ever so bright in himself, to a path towards humiliation, Kvyat was javelin-launched out of the Red Bull first team for their next pack of motorsport chewing gum, Max Verstappen. While his 18-year old successor held aloft the winner’s trophy in his very first race, Kvyat was given a rude awakening by his new partner Carlos Sainz.

His stint at Toro Rosso was painful for us all, but especially so for him. His interview after qualifying at the 2016 German Grand Prix symbolised the most desolate side of Formula One, that of a man fighting not only 22 drivers but his own mental health. And after a 2017 season littered with mistakes, culminating in a crash in Singapore while Sainz romped home to 4th and more ‘Vamos!’ than a Peruvian football stand, Kvyat was dropped. A superb cameo in the US, earning a point for 10th, couldn’t save him. And that, looked like that.

But amazingly, given the cascade of humiliation he was made to endure in his unconventional F1 career, Kvyat didn’t let that weekend in Texas be the end of it. A year as development driver under the tutelage of Ferrari allowed him to take reprieve from the right-at-you cannon fire of a 21 race season, every Grand Prix spent under the sea of microphones, cameras and expectations.

And it’s done him the world of good. When Kvyat was announced for a return to Toro Rosso in September – a move borne out of necessity given how sparse the Red Bull academy was at the time – to replace the man who ironically replaced him to begin with, Pierre Gasly, I’m sure we all feared the worst. Like the close friend who picks up the phone to a toxic remnant of the past, we wanted to tell him no. Don’t do it. They’ll only hurt you again. But from where I’m standing, five races in and a slew of European races still in the distance as blank canvases, Toro Rosso have sent him on his way with paintbrushes in his hand, art on his mind and hope in his heart.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

And this time, I really don’t think the hope will kill him. Because he’s too busy killing it, as he proved to such eye-widening effect in Barcelona. A 9th on the road, which should’ve been so much more were it not for a botched pitstop, signalled a performance beyond the sum of its parts. The overtakes were masterful, the racecraft was impeccable and the confidence was brimming. And it’s no flash in the pan, because it was much the same in Australia, where he strong-armed Pierre Gasly into staying behind, and qualifying in Azerbaijan, when he waltzed it into 6th on the grid as if he was Baku’s ruling king.

To conclude, I’ll throw a little fact here that puts all of this into context: three years ago in Spain, Kvyat began the weekend having been told, while watching Game of Thrones, he was surplus to requirements at Red Bull Racing. In the race, all he could muster was 10th place while his teammate wooed the crowds a half-minute up the road in sixth. Three years on, he’s forced the F1 door open, reclaimed his lost seat, and been the main cause for outcry over Spain’s Driver of the Day vote. Fans are beginning to wonder if he can once again reach the top, and rejoin Red Bull. Winter came, and Kvyat prevailed. And that can surely warm even the most icy of hearts.

 

[Featured image: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool]

Chandhok calls for 18-race F1 calendar

Sky Sports pundit and former F1 driver Karun Chandhok has said that F1’s calendar should be limited to 18 races to ensure each event remains special.

The championship calendar has featured a record 21 Grands Prix for three of the last four seasons, and Liberty Media has expressed a desire to expand that to 25 in the near future. 2020 will see the return of the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, as well as the debut of a new street venue in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Liberty has also investigated running street races in Miami, Las Vegas and Copenhagen, and is reportedly in talks with both South Africa and Morocco about returning F1 to Africa.

Steven Tee, LAT Images / Pirelli Media

But Chandhok has told ThePitCrewOnline he believes this is the wrong direction for F1’s schedule to go: “I think 18’s a good number, I think it’s good for fans to have a break. Somewhere around the 18 mark makes each race have a good amount of importance.

“When I was growing up, 16 races was the number. In January I would get the Autosport sticker sheet on the first page of the magazine and I would stick it on the side of my desk, and every one of those Sundays was blocked out because those were 16 events.

“Now if you get to 21 and have triple headers, if a kid misses one they go, ‘Oh, there’s another one in a week’s time’. Each one is less of an event, and I think we run the risk of that.”

Chandhok also called for Liberty to keep “a good balance” in mind when seeking future F1 destinations: “You need that balance of modern circuits that bring in the money and income because that supports the sport, but you also have the historical races.

“And I think you need that balance [to include] street races. Baku has turned out to be a great event—great racing, good event to go to, looks good on TV. Singapore’s another one. So it’s good to have that balance, and also to go to Silverstone and Spa and Monza and places like that.”

Glenn Dunbar, LAT Images / Pirelli Media

F1 returns to Zandvoort for the 2020 Dutch Grand Prix

After weeks, months, and even years of speculation, today it was finally announced that Formula One will make its return to the Netherlands, with the Dutch Grand Prix due to be held at Zandvoort from 2020 onwards.

The Heineken Dutch Grand Prix, as it will be named, will be the first Grand Prix held in the Netherlands for 35 years. The last was held in 1985, when three legendary F1 drivers stood on the podium:  Lauda, Prost and Senna.

For the special occasion, F1 chairman Chase Carey came to Zandvoort to finally make an end to all the speculation.

“We are particularly pleased to announce that Formula 1 is returning to race in the Netherlands, at the Zandvoort track,” he said. “From the beginning of our tenure in Formula 1, we said we wanted to race in new venues, while also respecting the sport’s historic roots in Europe.

“Next season therefore, we will have a brand new street race that will be held in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, as well the return to Zandvoort, after an absence of 35 years; a track that has contributed to the popularity of the sport all over the world.

Marcel van Hoorn / Red Bull Content Pool

“In recent years, we’ve seen a resurgence of interest in Formula 1 in Holland, mainly due to the enthusiastic support for the talented Max Verstappen, as seen from the sea of orange at so many races.

“No doubt this will be the dominant colour in the Zandvoort grandstands next year.”

He mentioned there is no official date for the Grand Prix for now, as the calendar has yet to be confirmed.

This announcement didn’t come as a big shock to fans, but it still has some major consequences. For instance, the Spanish Grand Prix will most likely have to be dropped from the calendar to make room. The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya has no contract for next year and this deal certainly spells trouble for them. The Dutch Grand Prix will probably be held in May, when F1 normally heads to Spain.

The track itself also needs improvements, especially in terms of infrastructure. The government didn’t want to spend any money, going against the wishes of track owner Prins Bernhard van Oranje. The local council of Zandvoort, however, agreed to contribute €4m for the construction of a new road to the circuit and organisation of other events outside the track during the Grand Prix weekend, so investors can profit from the race as well.

All problems aside, the Orange Army has gotten what it wanted so desperately, all caused by one F1 driver making millions of Dutchmen excited about the sport. The announcement comes in the same week that Max Verstappen is set to give a demo with his Red Bull around the circuit during the Jumbo Racing days. Coincidence?

[Featured image: Marcel van Hoorn / Red Bull Content Pool]

Bottas takes blistering pole position in Spain

The clouds cleared and the sun came out as qualifying got underway at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain this afternoon.

Q1 got off to a rather quiet start until Nico Hulkenberg locked up his front-right tyre and ran into the barrier at turn four and over the barrier, losing his front wing. The German managed to rejoin the circuit, but had to limp his Renault back to the pits for repairs before he could set a competitive lap time.

Shortly after, British driver George Russell had a spin on the final chicane at turn 13 before rejoining the track.

At the end of Q1, the pack was led by Valtteri Bottas, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in P2 and Lewis Hamilton in P3. Rookie Lando Norris managed to finish the session in an impressive P6, and home-boy Carlos Sainz managed to finish Q1 in P8.

The five drivers who dropped out of Q1 were Hulkenberg and Stroll – who has dropped out of Q1 for nine consecutive races – followed by Giovanazzi, and both Williams’ of Russell and Kubica. Russell has a five place grid penalty for a new gearbox so will start P20 in tomorrow’s race.

LAT Images

In Q2, both Mercedes drivers set impressive pace at the start, with Hamilton setting a new track record of a 1:16.038. Vettel’s time, by comparison, was six tenths slower.

Ricciardo majorly impressed in Q2, slotting into P10. The Renault hasn’t shown great pace so far this weekend, and despite not having completed any qualifying runs in FP3, Ricciardo managed to set a very competitive time of 1:17.299, a positive outcome for Renault after Hulkenberg’s incident in Q1.

The session ended with Bottas in first with a 1:15.924, followed by teammate Lewis Hamilton and the the two Ferraris in P3 and P4.

Out at the end of Q2 was Lando Norris, Alex Albon, Carlos Sainz at what is his home race, Kimi Raikkonen, and Sergio Perez.

Bottas put in an extraordinary flying lap at the beginning of Q3, setting a blistering time of 1:15.406, six tenths quicker than Hamilton.

Leclerc didn’t set an initial lap-time, seemingly in a bid to set one single flying lap. Despite his best efforts, the Monegasque driver finished the session in P5.

LAT Images

Valtteri Bottas took pole position with his first lap time in Q3, with Hamilton in P2 followed by Vettel, Verstappen and Leclerc. Pierre Gasly, Grosjean, Magnussen, Kvyat and Ricciardo rounded out the top ten. Ricciardo, however, has a three-place grid penalty from the previous race so will start P13 on the grid.

It certainly looks like tomorrow’s race will be an interesting one under the sun in Barcelona. Will it be another Mercedes one-two, or will the Ferraris fight them for victory? Time will tell.

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]

2019 Spanish Grand Prix Preview

Back we come then, to the place where Ferrari looked on top of the world. Vicariously, we felt an air of excitement that Ferrari, after two years of threatening, may finally have been able to throw the gauntlet down to Mercedes and give us the exquisite title race that 2017 and 2018 had promised, but failed to deliver.

As it has turned out, Mercedes have completely turned the initial outlook on its head, and have made the best team start in the history of Formula One – four one-two finishes to start the year. Where Ferrari had such optimism of the back of winter testing, it doesn’t look as though the Circuit de Cataluña will be any kinder to them than any of the first four tracks have been.

The 16-turn 4.6 kilometre track is full of tight, twisty technical sections that, conversely to the last couple of years, are likely to suit Mercedes over Ferrari, while the Prancing Horses are looking to take advantage of the home straight and the those  between turns nine and ten.

Spain promises to be Red Bull’s first real chance to potentially grab a victory; their car provides the best aerodynamic efficiency of any team on the grid, and following Max Verstappen’s podium in Azerbaijan, this will be a race that one or two associated with the Austrian team will be quietly confident about, especially considering the opportunity for momentum heading to Monaco – another track that will suit the Red Bull car down to the ground.

Away from the front three, this will be the home race for McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, who is hoping on an improvement on his start to the season, which has included unreliability with the car, and being outperformed by new kid on the block Lando Norris, who has made an absolutely brilliant start to life in Formula One.

At the back, Norris’ fellow British rookie George Russell’s Williams team are starting to feel the effects of a distinct lack of spare parts, particularly after the wall at the castle section in Baku fancied Robert Kubica’s front wing for lunch, before then claiming Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari for dessert. However, the higher dependability on the driver in Spain than we have seen in the opening rounds might provide an opportunity for one of the two drivers to lift themselves off the bottom of the order – wishful thinking of course, but Williams have never been a team to give up, as history definitively and adamantly tells us.

This is a big weekend then for Ferrari. This weekend will see the first of the season for significant upgrades to cars as we enter the European leg of the season, and failure to win here will be another significant and compounding blow for Ferrari in their ever-incrementing challenge to beat Mercedes.

The champions, on the other, hand, will see this as a golden opportunity to put more breathing space between them and their Italian rivals and win an astonishing sixth consecutive Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship.

And of course let’s not forget Valtteri Bottas, with his go-faster beard, looks to extend his championship lead over team mate Lewis Hamilton in what is starting to look like a fascinating battle between the two – he certainly hasn’t been a side-kick so far this year.

The Spanish Grand Prix hasn’t always been the most exciting, and subsequently not the most anticipated race, but this weekend means a lot for our championship protagonists.

 

image courtesy of Pirelli media.

2019 Azerbaijan GP Review: The Beard Strikes Again

The 1001st GP of Formula One takes place at Azerbaijan, on the very narrow streets between some old and classic buildings with the modern city centre in the background. Baku has become the scene of two classic Formula One races, in 2017 and 2018. Whereas the inaugural race in 2016 was deemed very dull. Would the 2019 race become one of the classic ones, or will it be a sarcastic ‘Well Done Baku’ again?

Even before the start of the race drama took place. FP1 got suspended after 15 minutes due to a loose drain cover which caused major damage to George Russell’s car (and to add to that the tow truck crashed into a bridge), and qualifying almost took two hours (instead of one) thanks to two red flags caused by Robert Kubica and Charles Leclerc.

Three drivers had to start from the pit lane for different reasons. Pierre Gasly has to start from the pits because he missed the weighbridge check at the end of FP2.
Robert Kubica starts from the pits due to his crash in qualifying. The damage, caused when he hit the barriers at turn 8, was big and Williams decided to change the whole set-up of the car at the cost of a pit lane start.
Third driver to start from the pit lane is Kimi Räikkönen. He got disqualified from the qualifying results after the FIA noticed that the front wing was too flexible, which is against the rules.

With all of that cleared up, it’s time for the five red lights to come on, and off again. Hamilton gets off the line quicker than his teammate on pole, but the Finn defended his position and then drove away. Perez jumped Verstappen on the start and takes third place.

It got worse for the Dutchman when Norris almost overtook him on the main straight after just one lap, but after a few laps he got back into the rhythm and closed the gap to Perez. Eventually after a few circuits behind the Mexican, Max uses DRS to overtake the Racing Point car for P4.

Meanwhile Charles Leclerc charges his way through the field and gets fourth place in lap nine, starting from P8. Someone else charging though the field is Gasly – starting from pit lane he gets into P8 after ten laps.

Lap twelve and Vettel goes into the pits from third place for his pitstop to the medium tyre. He gets back on track in P5. His teammate was going much faster on the mediums, almost 2 seconds faster than both Mercedes’ and soon Mercedes followed with a pitstop for Bottas.

One lap later Hamilton comes into the pits for the same strategy: opting the medium tyres. This gave Leclerc the lead. Verstappen goes to the pits in lap fifteen, putting him behind Gasly (who still had to make his pit stop).

The chaos never struck Baku in the first half of the race, and it seemed like strategy would make the difference today. Mercedes versus Ferrari was on again, with Mercedes looking better for the win. Leclerc in the lead on his old medium tyres was losing time to Bottas on his much newer set of mediums.

The first bit of chaos happened when Grosjean missed his braking point and had to take the exit road. He lost three places thanks to that mistake.

In lap thirty-two the second bit of chaos happens. Ricciardo overshoots turn three and Kvyat on his outside can’t turn in. They didn’t hit each other in that incident, but they did when Ricciardo tried to back off onto the track and then struck Kvyat who was just standing there.

Leclerc finally comes into the pits with sixteen laps to go. He goes for the soft tyres and now has to charge through again, as he dropped back behind Gasly in P6. Two laps on his new tyres and he overtakes the Frenchman for fifth place, giving room to close the gap to Verstappen.

Gasly drives an amazing race, his best for Red Bull yet, until in lap 39 his engine stopped. The first Safety Car is a fact, although it is the Virtual SC. Just eleven laps to go and Bottas was leading, ahead of Hamilton and Vettel. In fourth Verstappen was chasing down the German.

For the first time this season Ferrari try to get the fastest lap. Leclerc, on P5, has a gap of 29s to Perez behind and makes a pit stop to push for four laps and get that extra point. The soft tyre didn’t seem to be the best tyre of the day, but thanks to a slipstream by Hulkenberg he managed to clinge the fastest lap and set a new lap record.

Five laps to go and Hamilton gets closer tobhis teammate up front, trying to get DRS to pass his Finnish teammate. Hamilton pushed a Hammer time lap out for the extra point, but more importantly

he now was within DRS range with two laps to go. In the end Bottas won the 2019 Azerbaijan GP ahead of Hamilton. Vettel would join them on the podium, with Verstappen and Leclerc completing the top 5.

After two very iconic races in 2017 and 2018, all drama was happening on the Friday and Saturday at the 2019 edition of this race. So, well done Baku.

Image courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari
 Baku, 27 April 2019 – The Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow SF90s will start the Azerbaijan Grand Prix from the second and fifth rows of the grid, when the race starts

Red flags cause chaos in qualifying for Azerbaijan GP

The sun was shining over the Baku Street Circuit this afternoon as qualifying for the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix got underway.

Q1 began with two brief yellow flags when Hamilton and Hulkenberg both ran off-track before rejoining the circuit, with Stroll also having a brief scrape with the wall.

A red flag came out just moments after the chequered flag fell on Q1, with Williams’ driver Robert Kubica clipping the wall at turn eight and hitting the barriers. Kubica was okay, but Williams were left with a huge repair job on their hands.

The first session ended with Pierre Gasly in P1, followed by Charles Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton. The five drivers knocked out of Q1 were Stroll, Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Russell and Kubica.

LAT Images

After a delayed start due to the recovery of Kubica’s William’s, Q2 finally got underway, but the red flag was brought out again within minutes when Charles Leclerc crashed into the barriers at turn eight – the exact same place where Kubica crashed in Q1. Leclerc was uninjured but was left understandably frustrated as he made his way back to the Ferrari garage.

After yet another half-hour delay, Q2 finished without further incident. Max Verstappen topped the time sheets followed by Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton in P3. The five drivers out in Q2 and lining up from P11-P15 on the grid for tomorrow’s race are Carlos Sainz, Daniel Ricciardo, Alex Albon, Kevin Magnussen and Pierre Gasly, who didn’t set a time in Q2 due to his penalty for missing the weigh-in yesterday in practice. He will start tomorrow’s race from the pit-lane.

Q3 was relatively uneventful with nine out of ten drivers out on track in a bid to get pole position. Despite having crashed out in Q2, Leclerc set a competitive time and will start tomorrow’s race in tenth place.

Valtteri Bottas set a sensational lap time of 1:40.495, placing him on pole position for tomorrow’s race. Hamilton completed the front row with Sebastian Vettel behind in P3 next to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. The rest of the grid consists of Perez in P5, Kvyat in P6, Lando Norris in an impressive 7th, with Giovanazzi, Raikkonen and Leclerc rounding out the top ten.

LAT Images

If today’s dramatic qualifying is anything to go by, tomorrow promises to be a very interesting race in Azerbaijan!

[Featured image – LAT Images]

Well Done Baku? FP1 Drama for Williams

The Azerbaijan GP is famous for its pretty spectacular races (except for the inaugural race of 2016), but this time the drama already started after a few minutes into Free Practice 1.

Charles Leclerc exited turn 2 and came up on the straight, driving partly over a drain cover. This caused the cover to come loose and a little  later it was George Russell who drove over it with his Williams. He parked his car just after turn 3 and looked to the floor of the car, which was damaged quite heavily.

Immediately the red flag was dropped and the tow truck came to pick up the Williams. Track inspections under the lead of Michael Masi (which would normally be the job of the late Charlie Whiting) and it took just a few seconds before they decided to suspend the whole session. A very dramatic decision as there was more than an hour left in the session, meaning teams would lose important track time.

The drama didn’t stop there, however. The tow truck was on its way to the pits to bring back the number 63 Williams car to the Williams box, when it hit a bridge. The tow was too high for the bridge, which caused hydraulic damage to the tow truck. The hydraulic fluid was spreading over the Williams car, whilst the team was waiting for another recovery car to take over the task of the failed tow truck.

The damage caused by the drain cover was so heavy that the whole chassis had to be changed. Russell won’t be able to run until FP3. Sadly, another day for (one side of the garage of) Williams gone.

Forget Williams – Andrea Moda is F1’s biggest joke team

From the moment Claire Williams confessed there were problems on the horizon for their new challenger, FW42, it was evident to me, and to the F1 community, that things weren’t getting any better for her team. And, lo and behold, those fears were set in stone on Barcelona’s first testing day, when every team but the 9-time Constructors’ champions were ready to go. Once they did arrive, they came to realise they’d made another step back – they were over a second off the next slowest car.

Claire Williams (GBR) Williams Racing Deputy Team Principal.
Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Thursday 25th April 2019. Baku City Circuit, Azerbaijan.

So, naturally, this has got the wheels whirring in motion once again, that of the fans and media taking turns pummelling the back markers proverbial pinata with their stinging words, memes and hot takes. ‘The worst team I’ve ever seen’ has even been doing the social media rounds. The three races they’ve competed in have done scant good for fanning the flames, but I’m here to tell a little story that might just put things into perspective – the tale of Andrea Moda, F1’s true joke team.It’s September 1991, and F1 outfit Coloni are going through the wars. A Subaru engine supply scolded the team, and they switched back to customer Ford units for 1991. It did them no good, and the team consisting of just six people and even had Portuguese rookie Pedro Chaves walk out on them. They needed a buy-out to get back on their feet and grow into a respectable F1 outfit – and their prayers appeared to have been answered, when Italian shoe designer Andrea Sassetti threw his finances into the project.

And from the off, the whole saga was a Herculean disaster. The signs, believe it or not, were initially promising – planning to field two drivers instead of the one they were limited to in ‘91, both Alex Caffi and Enrico Bertaggia would be enjoying the fruits of what was intended to be BMW’s labour back in 1990, utilising that car design and coupling it with a Judd V8 powertrain. But when the team arrived in South Africa for the season opener, they had to make do with a modified Coloni chassis from the last year, with their new (old?) design still not ready.

Not that they’d even race it. The FIA weren’t impressed with the team’s refusal to pay a $100,000 sum required of new teams, something Sassetti disputed as Andrea Moda were bought rather than created. They were excluded from racing in Kyalami, and by the time they caved to the FIA’s demands for the next race in Mexico, they were still preparing the new cars and both their drivers were out of the door for publicly airing their annoyance at the lack of preparation going on.

For the third race, surprisingly experienced coup Roberto Moreno and newcomer Perry McCarthy would turn up to Brazil, looking to drive the team forward. Perry wouldn’t get the chance, being denied a Super Licence to race around Interlagos, and the staggering lack of pace the car offered would deny Moreno a path out of pre-qualifying.

Their former fired driver Bertaggia came back to the attention of Sassetti with significant funding, but as the team had already made their two designated driver changes he was prevented from reversing his decision. The sheer ineptitude of Sassetti’s grasp on rulebooks led him to resent McCarthy from then on in, blaming him for failures and blatantly disadvantaging him for the benefit of Moreno.

It took until Monaco for things to get better – and even then, it was only by their and Coloni’s lowly standards and not those of a standard F1 team. Moreno managed to get through pre-qualifying, due to attrition in the session more than anything else, but his skill did keep his qualifying time within the threshold needed and actually pipped Eric Van de Pole to 26th and second last on the grid.

This was celebrated like a victory by the team, which given in its former guises the last time they did this was 1989 was at least slightly understandable. It only took 11 laps for Moreno to retire from the race, but participating at all was at least something to build on.

Build on it they did not. Out of the paddock, Sassetti’s unprofessionalism was laid bare when his Italian nightclub was burned down to the ground by an attempted killer, who then attempted to shoot him dead. Yeah, that really happened. Andrea Moda were taking bullets left right and centre on the track too, if they were ever to go out on it. They withdrew from the next race in Canada due to their Judd engines not being there – the cars were present, yet the unit that makes them go was not. Only Brabham lending an engine allowed Moreno to take part in another fruitless pre-quali. And it still got much, much worse.

French truck drivers protesting prevented the parts needed at Magny Cours arriving, so once again they couldn’t run. Sponsors eventually got to the end of their tether and jumped, Sassetti was having to cut costs more and more, and eventually things spiralled into the dangerous. Only one car’s worth of parts were ready for Britain, but Andrea Moda would swap parts between the machines in a quick rush, hoping both drivers could set their times without farce. Speaking of farce, even that word isn’t strong enough for a team sending their driver, McCarthy in this case, out on wet tyres on a dry circuit.

Before long, the team was rightfully barred from taking part in the World Championship. Constant no-shows, not one clean-ran race, and the constant unprofessionalism and anarchy of Sassetti left the FIA with no choice to bar the outfit, and given Andrea Moda were found to be putting a damaged steering system in McCarthy’s car, it was best they weren’t able to race. The final nail in the coffin for the team? Sassetti’s arrest in Belgium over forging invoices. As bad as Claire and the Williams gang have been over the last eighteen months, they have a long way to go before they match the biggest joke team of F1.