2020 Styrian Grand Prix preview: second chance in Spielberg

Another week, another visit to Austria’s Red Bull Ring—this time for the Formula 1 Styrian Grand Prix.

Last week’s Austrian Grand Prix was a terrific opening round to the 2020 season. Valtteri Bottas landed an early blow in the title fight with Lewis Hamilton, Lando Norris earned his maiden podium with a last-gasp effort, and there was plenty of close-quarters racing throughout.

Last week’s result was also largely unexpected, thanks to incidents and reliability issues almost halving the field by the chequered flag. That means we could get a very different result again this weekend, if the teams and drivers don’t have half as much trouble keeping their cars on track.

One of the teams that’s sure to factor more in the Styrian Grand Prix is Red Bull. It was clear last time out in Austria that they were Mercedes’ closest challengers, but technical problems for both Max Verstappen and Alex Albon led to a double DNF instead. Both drivers will be going into this weekend pushing hard to make up for that, with Albon especially motivated after coming so close to his first F1 podium.

Racing Point F1 Team

Racing Point will also be hoping for a much better result this time out. The RP20 showed more evidence of its considerable pace in practice and qualifying, but a technical DNF for Lance Stroll and a penalty dropping Sergio Perez behind both McLarens in P6 left a lot still on the table for the team. Provided everything goes to plan for them this weekend, Racing Point should be able to finish ahead of their midfield rivals and take away a decent haul of points.

However, there will be several teams hoping for a repeat of last Sunday’s attrition. Alpha Tauri and Alfa Romeo both managed to score points last time out, with Pierre Gasly in P7 and Antonio Giovinazzi in P9, but on pace alone neither team looked that close to the top ten throughout the weekend.

And then there’s Ferrari. Although Charles Leclerc finished second in the opening race, that was very much a great result salvaged from a terrible outing. The SF1000 looked sluggish all weekend, never troubling Mercedes or Red Bull and qualifying behind McLaren and Racing Point. Add to that Sebastian Vettel’s spin after colliding with Carlos Sainz, and the result was a very sobering start to the season.

One glimmer of hope for the Scuderia was that the car looked much more responsive later in the race on the harder tyres, and the team will have hopefully learned something from last weekend’s pain that can be used to improve this weekend. If not, Leclerc and Vettel will likely find themselves scrapping away with the upper midfield rather than challenging for the podium.

The 2020 Styrian Grand Prix gets underway with free practice this Friday, with full coverage on our Twitter feed.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

A case for: The Finnish GP

This weekend would have been the return of the Dutch Grand Prix at the Zandvoort circuit to the F1 calendar, which is only happening because of a certain Max Verstappen. F1 madness has gripped the Netherlands, it only took about five years for a driver to generate enough buzz to get it back on the calendar. But we aren’t talking about that today, instead I’m talking about a country which has had three drivers who have won the Formula One world championship yet have never gotten close to having a Grand Prix in F1’s 70 year history.

1982 champion Keke Rosberg, 1998 and 1999 champion Mika Häkkinen and the much beloved 2007 champion Kimi Räikkönen all hail from a small country up in Scandinavia, you might have heard of it, Finland! A country that has a rich history of motorsport, mainly through rallying with seven drivers who have won the World Rally Championship, and if you ever saw the piece on Top Gear where James May is given racing lessons by Mika Häkkinen, you’ll realise how seriously the Finns take driving.

So why may I ask, has Finland never had a Grand Prix? Maybe the Scandinavian countries aren’t warm enough throughout the year, but immediately I can refute that because Sweden had a Grand Prix between 1973 and 1978. Plus it’s not like there isn’t demand! We always hear about the Finns traveling down to the Hungaroring for the Hungarian Grand Prix. Why should they be made to travel upwards of 2,000 kilometres to attend a Grand Prix?

For this year, construction was completed on a circuit on the Northern Eastern outskirts of Helsinki with the intention of bringing back the Finnish MotoGP. The circuit was called the Kymi Ring, and it hosted an open test shortly after finishing construction with the Grand Prix scheduled for July 12th, but understandably has been postponed in the current circumstances.

Looking at this video of a virtual lap from the newly-released MotoGP 20 game by Milestone, you can see that the Kymi Ring has some rather unique corners. The fast flowing turn one heading into an uphill hairpin, then a long back-straight before a series of very technical, flowing yet tight corners. Plenty of elevation change too, which is always an amazing characteristic with all the great circuits.

Whether F1 could have a good race here is another matter, although it wouldn’t be any worse than Yas Marina and Sochi. In any case, there have been discussions to potentially have other top-line racing series at the Kymi Ring other than MotoGP. This includes Karting, Rallycross, Speedway, Motocross, and even top-line circuit car racing such as World Touring Cars, DTM and the World Endurance Championship!

Those last three in particular should definitely hammer home how serious the Kymi Ring is about being the home of Finnish motorsport. It has gotten the top grades by both the major motorsport governing bodies for motorcycle and car racing, with the FIM giving it a safety grade A for motorcycle racing, and the FIA have granted the circuit and its facilities, grade 1 licence. Thus making it the first and only Nordic circuit to meet the requirements to host an F1 Grand Prix.

So immediately, this track meets the regulations to host F1, so it would beg the question, why isn’t it already trying? Well, as the answer always seem to be, money. MotoGP got priority over F1 because it cost way less, and it may build up the interest of potential investors but even so, I don’t see any reason why Finland wouldn’t be hugely onboard with getting the F1 circus to go there.

It just astounds me to think that it has taken so long to have the conversation about a Finnish F1 Grand Prix, particularly as we have got an aging Kimi Räikkönen – still racing in F1 at 40 – who will at some point overtake Rubens Barrichello for most Grand Prix starts when F1 does resume. Lewis Hamilton has Silverstone, Fernando Alonso had Barcelona and Max Verstappen will have Zandvoort, why can’t Kimi have the Kymi Ring? I mean, I doubt he actually cares but what about the adoring fans?

Like I was saying, the Finns have to make the journey to Budapest if they want to watch Kimi, their other Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas and indeed all the other drivers. Why should they? I’m British, so whether or not the Finns have their own Grand Prix doesn’t effect me hugely, but I think it’s an insult that they have never had one, particularly at the height of Häkkinen’s and Räikkönen’s careers.

One of Finland’s neighbouring countries is Russia, which already has a Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom near the shores of the Black Sea, one of the most southerly points of European Russia. However, there are strong talks of a circuit that has just been completed called Igora Drive, just north of St. Petersburg and not far from the Finnish border potentially taking over the Russian Grand Prix from 2021. This circuit is/was set to host a DTM round this year, and it looks a damn sight better than the current Russian Grand Prix venue.

If it were me organising the schedule, I’d put Kymi Ring and Igora Drive in successive weeks in late July and early August, probably at the expense of the Hungaroring, sorry Hungarians! With the Finnish F1 Grand Prix being a week or two after the MotoGP but before the WRC Rally Finland round. A month’s worth of racing action for the Finns!

As I said earlier, I’m British and none of my family are in any way linked to Finland, nor do I have any special affinity with Finland. But I firmly believe that all you Finns out there deserve a Grand Prix, and I hope it does happen. Kiitos!

Image courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari

Driver Spotlight: James Baldwin – Sim Racing’s All Star | Part One

I am sure a lot of you have been enjoying the Esports races that have been happening and have been keeping us sane whilst we await the return of real life racing. With the events organised by The Race with their All-Star Esports Battle races and Veloce’s Not The GP series now being joined by their own Pro Series, and not forgetting F1, IndyCar and MotoGP among others organising their own events, we are not short of choice, are we?

Seeing what has been happening in this trying time has been great, and seeing many notable real-world racers take to the virtual world to keep themselves sharp and us entertained is just great to see. Max Verstappen and Lando Norris have been the leading lights with their large followings, helping show what sim racing can really provide.

However, as much as this is familiar surroundings for one driver in particular, I know that he will want to get on the real track very soon. He has been participating in these events alongside Verstappen and Norris and in the first race of the Veloce Pro Series, he finished second to Lando. This driver being James Baldwin.

Like Max and Lando, Baldwin started out racing karts aged eight and won four British karting championships by the age of 15. He attempted a move up into cars in 2015, but only had the money to do a grand total of two races in Formula Ford, so with all that pressure of his family’s money being put into these races, James quite understandably felt that pressure a bit too much. He did those two races and there was no more money, and his racing dream was seemingly over.

After a while out of the driving seat, James shifted his focus to sim racing and quickly proceeded to pick up where he left off in the success department. Through an event organised by Renault on the game Project CARS 2 in which he won, Baldwin got an invitation to participate in the eRace of Champions, where the winner would be allowed to compete in the main Race of Champions at the venue for the Mexican Grand Prix.

The Race of Champions is a tournament in which drivers from many different disciplines compete with equal machinery on makeshift circuits in stadiums to find out who is the champion of all champions. In 2018, the organisers opened up an Esports competition in which Italian driver Enzo Bonito won and therefore allowed him to compete in the main event alongside World’s Fastest Gamer winner Rudy van Buren.

For the 2019 event, Bonito would be joined in the Sim Racing All Stars team by whoever would succeed him as the eROC winner and everyone was expecting him to be joined by two-time F1 Esports champion Brendon Leigh. But in a huge upset, Baldwin defeated Leigh to become eROC champion and he impressed the judges along the way, those judges being nine-times Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen, 2001 F1 runner-up David Coulthard and renowned stunt driver Terry Grant.

He lined up alongside Bonito for the Nation’s Cup competition in the Sim Racing All Star team and also competed for individual glory in the Race of Champions. Whilst his Nation’s Cup teammate grabbed the headlines for defeating Formula E champion Lucas di Grassi and IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, Baldwin was by no means any slouch as he won against local NASCAR hero Rubén García Jr. in one of the heats.

This would only be the start of a year of ascendency for James Baldwin, otherwise known as Veloce Jaaames. Yes, three A’s, he didn’t fall asleep on his keyboard when he was coming up with that.

As you can tell by the other part of that username, James is a part of Veloce Esports. The team founded by Formula E champion Jean-Éric Vergne and teammate from his Carlin F3 days Rupert Svendson-Cook, which has really led the charge and pioneered the turn of introducing Esports to a mainstream audience. Their initial focus was on virtual racing before expanding into FPS games and even the car football game Rocket League.

Back to James now, because 2019 had not even gotten started for him and it was not about to stop. He entered into the Project CARS world championships which were taking place at the Mercedes headquarters in Stuttgart and James ended up winning that. Veloce then entered last minute as a wildcard into the Le Mans Esports Series Super Final which would take place before the 24 hours of Le Mans.

In an incredible and never-seen-before format, the teams made up of three drivers would – just like in real life – race for 24 straight hours but in nine races on both historical and modern variants of the Le Mans circuit as well as races at Silverstone, Spa and Sebring in a vast variety of car classes ranging from 1960s Le Mans cars, Group C, GTE, LMP cars of varying eras and many more.

From 11am to 9:30am the following day, all twelve teams would compete in two or three hour enduros to rack up points, and it was one second head start in the final for every point more than the team behind them. Baldwin and his two Veloce stablemates Noah Schmitz and David Kelly overcame a 15-second deficit to somehow win the final 90-minute race and therefore won the whole event and a hefty cash prize! They stood on the Le Mans podium, sprayed champagne whilst all the teams prepared for the start of the real-life 24 hour race and presumably they all went to bed and collapsed from exhaustion.

Images courtesy of WFG

AND Veloce Esports

Singapore GP preview: Mercedes favourites at Marina Bay

Formula One heads to the streets of Singapore, for the start of the final flyaway leg of 2019 under the lights at Marina Bay.

Ferrari and Charles Leclerc head to Singapore on the crest of two wins on the bounce at Spa and Monza. But compared to those two high-speed circuits, Ferrari’s low downforce package won’t be anywhere near as effective on the tight Marina Bay Street Circuit.

As has been the case for most of the 2019 season, Mercedes is expected to be the team to beat this weekend. It was in Singapore last year, where Lewis Hamilton took pole position and the race win, that Mercedes finally seemed to understand what was needed to conquer one of its few “bogey” circuits. And judging by the fact Mercedes has won every street race since, there’s every reason for them to be confident about their chances on Sunday.

Paul Ripke / Mercedes AMG

However, Mercedes does have one shadow looming over them this weekend—engine reliability. Since introducing their Spec 3 power unit at Spa three weeks ago, Mercedes have seen uncharacteristic failures in the customer cars of Sergio Perez’s Racing Point and Robert Kubica’s Williams. So far the works team has had no blowouts of its own, but after two demanding power tracks and with Singapore’s reputation for testing cars to their limit, there’s no room for complacency.

The other threat to Mercedes this weekend comes in the form of Max Verstappen and Red Bull. Verstappen has run well in in Singapore in recent years, qualifying second in 2017 and 2018 and finishing runner-up to Hamilton last year.

With the Red Bull-Honda package improving with every race, it would be no surprise to see Verstappen duelling with Hamilton for his third win of the season.

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

As always, the difficulty and unpredictability of Singapore will provide the midfield teams with plenty of opportunities to sneak away with big points hauls.

Renault took a double points finish at Marina Bay last year, but their RS19 has been much more at home on high speed and lower downforce tracks this year. Given their results from slower tracks like Monaco and Hungary, Renault will likely find themselves scrapping with or even behind the likes of McLaren, Alfa Romeo and Toro Rosso this weekend.

Haas will also be bracing themselves for another tough Grand Prix on Sunday. Although their prolonged dispute with former title sponsors Rich Energy has finally come to an end, their struggles with tyre degradation certainly have not. And in the heat of Singapore, there aren’t many worse problems to have.

However, Haas and Renault can both take some optimism from the fact that this is the Singapore Grand Prix. With tempers running high and the walls never far away, Singapore is the place where anything can happen.

Haas F1 Media

Hamilton triumphs in an incident-packed Monaco Grand Prix

Over the course of the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, the world of Formula 1 came together to celebrate the extraordinary life of Niki Lauda, triple world champion who sadly passed away in Vienna on the 20th of May at the age of 70.

The drivers all paid their respects, and the teams placed their own tributes on their cars, with Mercedes’ tributes have been most poignant. Lauda had been the non-executive chairman of the team and was regularly seen in the team garage alongside Toto Wolff; he had been an enormously important figure in bringing Lewis Hamilton to the team.

Lauda was always seen in the paddock wearing a red cap and so, in tribute, Hamilton and Bottas‘ cars had a red star painted on the bodywork – a reportedly permanent change – and the normally silver halo was painted red in the triple world champion’s honour. 

2019 Monaco Grand Prix, Thursday – Steve Etherington

Prior to the start of the Grand Prix, a minute’s silence was held to remember the Austrian, who fought against all odds following a horrific crash at the Nürburgring in 1976. At the time, his chance of recovery was slim and a priest administered the last rites and yet, miraculously, he survived. As the F1 world took a moment to remember a legend, few words were needed, other than ‘Danke Niki. 

Qualifying once again saw Mercedes at the front of the pack, with Lewis Hamilton taking pole position with a staggering 1:10.166. Teammate Valtteri Bottas, who posted a time just eight hundredths of a second slower, lined up alongside the Brit. Max Verstappen had looked quick in free practice and secured third position, with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel securing 4th. Unfortunately for Charles Leclerc, his home race weekend didn’t get off to the best of starts and he qualified 16th after a major strategic error from his Ferrari team. The midfield once again remained incredibly close, bringing hopes of wheel-to-wheel action and entertainment in a race which is notorious for being fairly uneventful.

As the race got underway, Hamilton got a perfect start, with teammate Bottas also starting well. Around Sainte Devote, Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi had to cut the corner, however the stewards deemed an investigation was unnecessary. Leclerc fought his way past the cars ahead, making a memorable move around Lando Norris at the hairpin. Despite an impressive start and progression up the pecking order, a tussle with Nico Hülkenberg caused a puncture in the Ferrari driver’s right rear tyre and damage to the floor of his car.

With debris from Leclerc’s tyre littered across the circuit, the safety car was brought out and many drivers dived into the pits. In a rare mistake from the Red Bull pit crew, Max Verstappen was let out of his pitbox too soon and found himself pushing Bottas near to the wall. As a result, Bottas lost second place and was forced to pit again, changing onto the hard compound tyres. The stewards investigated and gave Verstappen a five-second penalty for the unsafe release, which was to be added to his time post-race. He was also given 2 points on his license. 

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Leclerc was stuck at the back of the train of cars due to his collision with Hülkenberg, and on lap 16, both himself and George Russell found the road ahead blocked by Antonio Giovinazzi and Robert Kubica, the latter having been hit by the Alfa Romeo when the Italian took the inside line at Rascasse. Luckily, all four drivers managed to get back on track and carry on with their race, even though Giovinazzi was given a ten-second penalty for the incident.

Leclerc made another pitstop and switched to softs, but his car was suffering from a severe lack of downforce. Unfortunately, he was forced to return to the Ferrari garage and retire from his home race. 

Stroll was investigated by the stewards for a clash with Kimi Räikkönen – the Finn taking part in his 300th Grand Prix – and was given a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage. 

By lap 48, the leaders were caught in a train of backmarkers, with Bottas being compromised by Lance Stroll and losing a chunk of time.  

Lewis Hamilton was doing his utmost best to care for his tyres, however their deteriorating condition and Mercedes’ strategy left the Brit anxious.  In the closing stages of the race, Verstappen remained on Hamilton’s tail, posting similar lap times which kept him on average just half-a-second behind the leader. Sebastian Vettel had been running in 3rd place for most of the race and it was a quiet and uneventful afternoon for the four-time World Champion. 

Ferrari Media

After a brilliant effort to pass the race leader with two laps to go, Verstappen and Hamilton made contact at the Nouvelle Chicane, but luckily both escaped the incident unscathed. The stewards reviewed the incident, but confirmed no further action was needed. 

Hamilton took his fourth victory of the season, dedicating the win to Niki Lauda, with Verstappen finishing second. However, because of his penalty, he was classified fourth behind Vettel and Bottas.

Pierre Gasly secured a bonus point for posting the fastest lap time, the second time he has done so this year. Carlos Sainz had a strong race for McLaren, finishing in 6th, while both Toro Rossos impressed in 7th and 8th. Daniel Ricciardo took the final point for Renault, with Lando Norris just missing out in eleventh. 

There are now 17 points between Hamilton and Bottas in the Drivers’ Championship. Mercedes appear to be running away at the top of the Constructors’ standings 

The seventh round of the 2019 Formula 1 season will take place on the 9th of June at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve for the Canadian Grand Prix.  

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]

F1 2019: Five early predictions for the new season

The 2019 F1 season is almost upon us, with winter testing starting in a couple of weeks and the Australian Grand Prix commencing next month. It’s the perfect time for five early predictions, some of which are pretty long shots.

 

1. Charles Leclerc will take three wins

Ferrari has a new kid on the block. Charles Leclerc spent his rookie season at Sauber, but from 2019 it’s time for his dream to come true. That could prove to be immensely stressful for the young Monegasque, but he may rise to the occasion and even take some wins. If Ferrari is at least on the same level as it was in 2018, then Leclerc could be able to snatch one, two, or even threewins in his first season with a big team, cementing his position at Maranello and proving his talent once again.

 

2. Nico Hulkenberg will take his first podium

It’s something of a mystery how Nico Hulkenberg, a driver who has been in teams with podium potential, has never finished in the top three. But, with Renault constantly improving and with a bit of luck (after all, it is needed as well), the Hulk could finally take that podium finish he truly deserves.

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Renault Sport F1 Team on the grid.
German Grand Prix, Sunday 22nd July 2018. Hockenheim, Germany.

 

3. Red Bull-Honda will not be in the top three

The all-new collaboration between Red Bull and Honda is one of the hottest topics ahead of the new season, and rightfully so. Honda has proven to be a bit of a ‘wild one’, especially on the reliability front, and Red Bull could be its next victim. Everyone acknowledges the fact that Red Bull is great in designing an aerodymanically efficient car (Adrian Newey is still the best out there), but this could not be enough for them to stay in the top three. Maybe Renault could step up…

 

4. Alfa Romeo Racing will be in the top five

The Alfa Romeo-Sauber collaboration worked out perfectly for both sides during the 2018 campaign, with the team finishing seventh in the final standings. Now, with the all-new Alfa Romeo branding, Kimi Raikkonen on board and excellent technical staff, the prospect of them finishing in the top five is not such an absurd thought. After all, the backing from ‘sister’ team Ferrari is certain and could prove vital.

Charles Leclerc, Alfa Romeo Sauber C37 at Formula One World Championship, Rd20, Brazilian Grand Prix, Race, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday 11 November 2018.

 

5. Mercedes will not be champions

Finally, the most bold of these predictions sees Mercedes not taking its sixth world championship in a row as a constryctor. Maybe Lewis Hamilton will be the drivers’ champion, but his team may be hurt by Valtteri Bottas’ incompetence. Ferrari has, on paper at least, a strong line-up, and so does Red Bull and Renault (if we count the French team as a real threat), so Mercedes is really on the ropes on this one.

 

Less than 40 days remain until the season opener in Albert Park, and the nine-month journey around the world begins for the F1 circus.

 

[Featured image: Ferrari Media]

Sauber renamed Alfa Romeo Racing for 2019

The team previously known as Sauber Alfa Romeo F1 Team has announced its renaming as Alfa Romeo Racing ahead of the 2019 season.

A partnership between Sauber and Alfa Romeo was forged prior to 2018, and resulted in the team finishing P8 in the constructors’ championship thanks to the efforts of its drivers Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson.

Today’s announcement, however, means that the Sauber name will disappear from the F1 grid after 25 years in the sport. It first appeared back in 1993, and survived even when BMW bought the team in 2006.

“It is a pleasure to announce that we will enter the 2019 Formula One World Championship with the Team name Alfa Romeo Racing,” said team principal Frederic Vasseur. “After initiating the collaboration with our title sponsor Alfa Romeo in 2018, our team made fantastic progress on the technical, commercial and sporting side.

“This has given a boost of motivation to each team member, be that track-side or at the headquarter in Switzerland, as the hard work invested has become reflected in our results. We aim to continue developing every sector of our team while allowing our passion for racing, technology and design to drive us forward.”

Charles Leclerc, Alfa Romeo Sauber C37 at Formula One World Championship, Rd20, Brazilian Grand Prix, Practice, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday 9 November 2018.

Alfa Romeo was last involved in F1 back in 1985, and is best known for its title-winning campaigns in F1’s first two seasons in 1950 and 1951. In 2019, its drivers will be 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen, and Ferrari junior Antonio Giovinazzi.

Michael Manley, CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automotives, said, “Alfa Romeo Racing is a new name with a long history in Formula One. We’re proud to collaborate with Sauber in bringing Alfa Romeo’s tradition of technical excellence and Italian panache to the pinnacle of motorsport.

“Make no mistake: with Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi on one side of the pit wall and Alfa Romeo and Sauber expertise on the other, we are here to compete.”

 

[Featured image – Alfa Romeo Racing]

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