Russian GP: Bottas reigns supreme in Sochi

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

In a race that was decided pretty much by the events happening before the lights going out, Valtteri Bottas took his 2nd victory of the year, long after the win in the first race of the season. His teammate Lewis Hamilton was awarded two different 5-second penalties for two practice start violations that he committed prior to the race start, in the locations where he was not supposed to.

This made the race very difficult for the record chasing English driver as he dropped well down the order after he had to serve the penalty in a pitstop. He recovered well to be able to finish on a podium but will be gutted to miss out on a win. Bottas on the other hand would welcome this victory at a track where he is supposedly at his strongest.

It was a lonely Sunday afternoon drive for Max Verstappen, which pretty much sums up his season so far barring the last couple of races. The Dutchman dropped to as low as 4th on the race start but recovered immediately to 3rd place and Lewis’ penalty meant that he would comfortably finish 2nd. It was a similar race for Sergio Perez in the racing Point at 4th place after he too recovered from a poor start.

It was a chaotic start to the grandprix after many incidents unfolded one after the other. McLaren lost the most out of all the teams at the start after Carlos Sainz crashed into the wall in an attempt to try and go around the bollards and his teammate Norris ran over the debris left by Sainz and only managed to finish 15th at the end of the race after a forced pitstop. Racing Point also lost one car on the opening lap after Lance Stroll got tagged on the right rear tyre by the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc which sent the former spinning into the barriers. The effect of the new upgrades was not to be seen today and will have to wait until the Nurburgring at the earliest.

A couple of mini battles unfolded in the midfield between Ferrari and Renault followed by another between the Alpha Tauris and Albon’s redbull. Renault’s bid to swap their cars and catch Perez ended in a way they would not have wanted after Ricciardo was handed a 5-second time penalty for not following race director guidelines. It did not quite help Ocon’s case after the Frenchman was stuck behind the Ferrari of Vettel and could not catch Leclerc towards the end of the race. Ricciardo’s penalty did not hurt him much after he managed to pull ahead of Leclerc and finish 5th. For Ferrari, it was a mixed result as Leclerc managed to finish 6th and Vettel paid the price for staying out long and could only manage P13 on his 250th GP start.

Both the Alpha Tauris managed a double points finish with home driver Kvyat at 8th and Gasly at 9th following their battle with Albon in the other RedBull. Kvyat could have finished ahead of Ocon at 7th after the Russian battled the Renault driver almost towards the end of the race but it just wouldn’t happen for him thanks to the superior straight line speed of the Renault.

Kimi Raikkonen could only manage 14th in his record equaling 322nd race start but his teammate Giovinazzi in the other Alfa Romeo would be very happy with his race result at P11, just missing out on the points. Haas also registered one decent result with Magnussen at P12, ahead of a works Ferrari but they would quickly want to forget the P17 salvaged by Romain Grosjean. Both the Williams finished with Latifi at P16 and Russell at P18, with what was an unusual 3-stop race for the English driver, with the last stop seemingly an ambitious attempt for a fastest lap. It was however not there for the taking as Bottas eventually ended up with the point on offer.

In what was expected to be the 91st win for Lewis Hamilton, the race win went out of the window thanks to the pre-race events. His teammate jumped in at the chance to take maximum advantage to cut the gap in the championship standings to 44 points with a handful of races to go. Hamilton will now have to be careful for the next 4 races as he has picked up 2 penalty points today and two more would mean that a race ban would be handed to him, which could seriously dent his championship hopes.

 Pirelli Motorsports info-graphics

 

Sebastian Vettel: Possible Redemption?

So the worst kept secret in F1 is out. Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel will be moving to Racing Point for next season when it is rebranded as Aston Martin. It all was the result of Vettel’s departure from Ferrari who he has raced for since 2015, a partnership that he had hoped would have resulted in a fifth championship – but it wasn’t meant to be.

Vettel won four straight championships with Red Bull who housed him throughout his junior career, however nowadays you would be forgiven for doubting that this was the same driver. The Vettel of today has been so dejected, dare I say humbled by his lack of success with the Scuderia, and there’s a narrative these days that it’s all because of Ferrari. I however disagree with this notion, it’s not all one party’s fault the relationship has soured.

Sebastian Vettel celebrates his fourth and final championship with the Red Bull Team – courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Before I proceed, I feel the need to put forward my biases and perspective so everyone knows. I wasn’t a fan of Vettel back in his Red Bull domination days, and to an extent I’m still not a fan but even now, I do have some sympathy for him.

When he joined Ferrari, it was the beginning of the Mercedes dominance in the turbo hybrid era so Vettel had a mountain to climb. He had just come off the back of a winless final season with Red Bull in which he was shown up rather considerably by new Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who took three wins on his way to third in the championship.

He took the seat of departing Fernando Alonso, who had hoped to be Ferrari’s next champion and came very close but lost out to Vettel in 2010 and 2012, and lined up alongside Ferrari’s last champion Kimi Räikkönen. Vettel really surprised in his first season with the Scuderia, as he took three victories at Malaysia, Hungary and Singapore on his way to third in the championship.

Vettel enjoyed a positive first season with Ferrari – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

However unlike his teammate the previous season Daniel Ricciardo, Vettel took those victories on pure pace as opposed to benefiting from some misfortunes that befell both Mercedes cars. In fact from 2014-2016, it was Vettel’s three wins that were the only ones that were won not from misfortunes for Mercedes. Even with Merc’s dominance, Vettel came very close to denying Nico Rosberg runner-up in the championship that year.

2016 was a bit of a nothing year for Vettel, but with the regulation change coming into 2017 there was renewed hope for Vettel and Ferrari that they could take the battle to Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. At first it was very much hopeful, as Vettel and Hamilton traded places in the first two races and then the Ferrari driver began opening up a lead.

Despite a promising 2017 season, Vettel fell short of his fifth title, losing out to Lewis Hamilton – Courtesy of Ferrari media

Whilst the two drivers were relishing this opportunity to battle it out for the championship, it did all come to a head at Azerbaijan when Hamilton led Vettel under safety car conditions, Vettel didn’t anticipate Hamilton’s movement and ran into the back of him, assumed he brake tested him so he did the thing he believed was a good idea, drove alongside Hamilton and deliberately ran into him.

Then the infamous Singapore start collision caused by Seb moving over on Kimi and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen handed the momentum to Hamilton, and with Mercedes outdeveloping Ferrari, the 2017 title race was swiftly over. A rejuvenated Vettel went into 2018 feeling confident, and he took two wins from the first two races to open up an early lead. But before long, Vettel began making more and more errors.

He threw away a win at Baku when he locked his brake going into turn one on a safety car restart, locked up at the start at the French GP and clipping Bottas, thus ruining both their races. However it was Hockenheim that sealed Vettel’s fate, where he had a commanding lead and when some drizzle arrived and he lost it heading into the stadium section and burying it in the gravel and tyre barrier.

From then on, it came thick and fast. Monza lap one when he spun after touching Hamilton, Suzuka when he spun when trying to pass Verstappen heading into spoon, lap one at the US Grand Prix when he tapped Ricciardo and, you guessed it, spun. Couple that with Hamilton driving like a man possessed, Hamilton went from trailing Vettel in terms of championships 4-1 to then being 5-4 in his favour.

Meanwhile on the other side of both garages, their Finnish teammates were highlighting the difference between them.

Whilst Vettel had Räikkönen as his teammate, Hamilton had Valtteri Bottas. Both of them were playing supporting roles, but it was quickly becoming obvious that whilst Hamilton’s driving was warranting the lead driver status, Vettel clearly wasn’t doing enough to have his teammate hang back. This coincided with the meteoric rise of a Ferrari-backed driver from Monaco, called Charles Leclerc.

After winning titles in GP3 and Formula 2, Leclerc spent his rookie F1 campaign with Sauber and got the call-up to Ferrari for 2019. Clearly very highly rated by many, there was expectations that Leclerc could do what Ricciardo did in 2014 and wipe the floor with Seb. In a way, he kind of did.

As Leclerc looked set to take victory in only his second race for the team before a mechanical failure dropped him to third, Vettel had it difficult to hold him back initially and then spun again when passed by Hamilton later in the race. Vettel then got a penalty for skipping across the chicane at Canada and nearly colliding with Hamilton, which ultimately lost him the race and he protested after the race with an act of defiance switching of the first and second place boards.

Vettel’s dangerous re-join at last year’s Canadian Grand Prix earned him a race-costing penalty – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

At Silverstone, he locked up and slammed into the back of Max Verstappen just after he overtook Vettel after spending the majority of the race up until that point having a very close battle with Leclerc. Another spin at Monza was further compounded by Leclerc taking victories at the previous race at Spa, and then in front of the Tifosi, but even with Seb taking victory at Singapore the following round couldn’t shake the narrative that he was losing it.

It wasn’t helped when in Brazil, Vettel swiped at Leclerc putting them both out in an incident very similar to when he did the same at Istanbul back in 2010 to his then Red Bull teammate Mark Webber. In the end, Leclerc won the qualifying battle and despite Vettel being ahead in more races, he still finished behind Leclerc.

Ferrari endured a tumultuous 2019 season with among a tense inter-team rivalry between Vettel and Charles Leclerc

I am not just pointing these out to kick Vettel whilst he’s down, I took no pleasure in watching him make these errors which were becoming an all too common occurrence, prompting the meme ‘SBINALLA’ whenever he would mess up. Of course, before this delayed season began it was announced that Vettel’s Ferrari contract would not be renewed and he’d be replaced in 2021 by Carlos Sainz.

Since then, it’s been a narrative of “Vettel didn’t perform because Ferrari didn’t believe in him”. To that I say, well can you blame them? If a rookie kept making the mistakes Vettel was making, they would have probably been replaced. It’s a two-way system, Vettel made a lot of unforced errors which resulted in Ferrari losing faith, and now they don’t give him the belief that he needs.

Vettel will leave Ferrari having failed to win a championship with the team

Again I don’t take pleasure in saying this, even I’ve begun to feel sorry for the guy. However maybe the move to Aston Martin is just what he needs. A fresh start (which seemed to bode well for him in 2015), plus the current ‘Pink Mercedes’ which will be used again in 2021 could lend well to his driving style. The turbo hybrid cars don’t have as much rear downforce as pre-2014 cars due to the exhaust gases not being channeled under the car.

Vettel’s style could bode even better when the 2022 regulations roll around since they utilise ground effect. However by that point, maybe the likes of Verstappen, Leclerc and all the other young guns will be the benchmark.

I’m not writing him off completely, but Vettel has got a lot to be proud of in his career. Winning for Toro Rosso at Monza, winning four straight championships at Red Bull, and he could do very well with Aston Martin. But ultimately, just because he has done that in the past doesn’t mean his errors during his time at Ferrari can be overlooked.

I hope Vettel gets his mojo back and can bring a win or two for the team that started out as Jordan back in 1991, I hope he can prove to himself and everyone else that they are wrong.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of Ferrari Media

Italy presents us with a strong, unexpected argument for a reverse grid as Pierre Gasly wins in Monza

Benvenuti a Monza! We’re here and we’ve settled in for two weeks of exciting racing in Italy, but should we have come? Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari might like to weigh in on that one.

The Italian Grand Prix was the first weekend where the teams were no longer permitted to use their ‘party-mode’ engine modes, typically used in qualifying by certain teams to boost their chances of a better lap time.

At the start of the race it was a tale of two halves for the two Mercedes drivers, as Hamilton got yet another great start off the line, gliding into first place unchallenged as Bottas got swallowed up by the pack. McLaren had an excellent start with Sainz quickly taking 2nd position, and his team-mate Lando Norris overtaking a struggling Bottas going through the first and second Lesmos, which is testament to McLaren’s progress in recent years.

2020 Italian Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

Bottas was quickly overtaken by Daniel Ricciardo, putting the Renault driver into 5th, and pushing Bottas down to 6th. Bottas was quick to report a possible puncture but chose not to pit. Bottas’ race engineer, Ricciardo Musconi, confirmed there were no issues with his tyres, but Bottas still looked to be struggling as he was overtaken by the Red Bull of Max Verstappen through the Parabolica.

It was a sorry start for the home favourites Ferrari, who qualified in 13th and 17th. Just when they thought it couldn’t get any worse, Sebastian Vettel reported brake failure on lap four, smashing through the foam barriers at the end of the pit straight and limping his way back to the pits, where the car was retired for the second time this season.

Ferrari’s hopes were then pinned on Leclerc, who didn’t appear to be having the same issue but didn’t really seem to be having a much better race. Hope was quickly abandoned after a a shocking crash going into the Parabolica, where the Ferrari ploughed into the tyre wall, bringing out the safety car for the second time and red flagging the session. Leclerc’s crash athough dramatic, proved exactly how valuable the halo truly was, as he was able to get out of the car and run from the scene unscathed. All this in the same weekend that Netflix were spending time with Ferrari.

Shortly before the crash, Hamilton had made a quick decision to pit after the safety car came out for Kevin Magnussen, who was forced to stop on track just before the pit entrance with a suspected power unit issue.

Mercedes took what they thought was a risk-free pit-stop, with Alfa Romeo’s Giovinazzi following suit shortly after. It wasn’t long until the race was stopped due to Leclerc’s incident, and both Hamilton and Giovinazzi were placed under investigation for entering the pits after it had been closed due to Magnussen’s stoppage.

This visibly rattled Mercedes, who were looking pretty comfortable. Hamilton took it upon himself to grab his scooter and make his way to Race Control during the red flag in an attempt to justify his actions, arguing on the radio that “there was no light” going into the pit lane.

This didn’t save him nor Giovinazzi, who were both given a 10-second stop and go penalty, serving F1 fans with the biggest game-changer in the hybrid era.

Hamilton was noticeably annoyed by this decision and was talking about building up a lead once again before taking his penalty. He was dissuaded from doing this by his race engineers, who had decided to ‘take the hit’ on this occasion.

2020 Italian Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

Mercedes’ loss meant some considerable gains to the likes of Alpha Tauri, Racing Point, Alfa Romeo and McLaren.

The red flag wasn’t in place for too long and on lap 27 we were back on track heading for a dramatic restart.

Gasly was lightning fast on the restart, overtaking Stroll to take what was essentially first place, as Hamilton made his way around and back into the pits to serve his penalty. He re-joined the race 23 seconds behind the rest of the pack, meaning he would have to have had the drive of his life to get back to a podium finish.

Though it looked like a good opportunity for the Racing Point, Stroll seemed to have issues with the brakes, causing him to run off on the Della Roggia chicane and giving away two positions and putting him down into 5th. This was quickly taken from him by Sainz who had his eyes firmly set on the prize.

The same ambition and determination weren’t felt in either of the Red Bull cars, who have struggled more than usual. Albon was the first to have issues, running wide on lap one after being squeezed by Stroll and Gasly down the main straight, and causing damage to the Haas of Romain Grosjean. Albon was given a 5-second penalty for the damage he caused.

As usual, there was greater expectation of success with Verstappen, who was making some respectable overtakes, and scrapping with Bottas for 6th/7th position. Unfortunately, this was short lived as he was forced to retire the car on lap 31 due to a power unit issue.

Come lap 34, Sainz was chasing Gasly for the win after he and Raikkonen gave fans an absolute masterclass in overtaking through Turn 1.

Stroll bounced back from his earlier brake issue and overtook Raikkonen the following lap, moving him into third place.

Sainz continued to chase Gasly right down to the final lap of the race. Gasly just managed to stay ahead and out of DRS range of the determined McLaren driver and took his first ever F1 win, something absolutely none of us expected would happen going into this race weekend.

MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 06: Race winner Pierre Gasly of France and Scuderia AlphaTauri celebrates on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 06, 2020 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202009060423 // Usage for editorial use only //

After being essentially demoted from Red Bull in the middle of 2019, this win is exactly the boost Gasly and the wider Alpha Tauri team needed. You’d have to be a hard individual not to feel some emotion watching him sit on the podium, sipping champagne in sheer disbelief. It’s only a shame the Tifosi weren’t there to make his win even more special.

We cannot end this race review however, without giving a special mention to Williams, who had its final race with their de-facto team principal, Claire Williams. It followed the announcement last Thursday that the family had decided to step away from Formula 1 after 43 years. It’s a real shame for us to see both she and the family say goodbye to the F1 family.

We owe Williams so much after having been an enormous part in F1’s development, bringing iconic moments for us all to appreciate and look back on with fondness. Though they will continue to race under the same name, something tells me it just won’t quite be the same anymore, so thank you Frank, thank you Claire, and thank you Williams for the great memories. We hope to see you back on top soon.

Ranking the F1 chances of F2’s top five hopefuls

This year the Formula 2 grid is full of drivers from F1 junior academies, with the top spots in the standings locked out by proteges from Ferrari, Red Bull and Renault.

With plenty of 2021 F1 seats still up for grabs, we’re taking a look at the chances of these young hopefuls stepping up to the top tier next season.

Yuki Tsunoda, Carlin (Dan Istitene / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

1. Yuki Tsunoda

Of all the young academy drivers on the 2020 F2 grid, joint Red Bull/ Honda talent Yuki Tsunoda looks the most likely to join F1 next year. Not only is he already racking up wins, poles and podiums in an impressive debut season, but Alpha Tauri boss Franz Tost has said it’s only a matter of time before Tsunoda is promoted to the team.

At almost 40 points adrift of the championship leader Callum Ilott, Tsunoda is an outside contender for the F2 title at best. But given Red Bull’s comments, so long as he can remain within the top four of the standings to secure the necessary super licence points, it seems almost a sure bet that Tsunoda will be a 2021 Alpha Tauri driver.

Robert Shwartzman, Prema (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

2. Robert Shwartzman

If Tsunoda is the most likely F2 driver to get an F1 promotion for next year, then Ferrari protege Robert Shwartzman isn’t far behind. After a dominant run to last year’s F3 title, Shwartzman immediately staked his claim to this year’s F2 crown with two wins early in the campaign.

Shwartzman may have lost the F2 lead to fellow Ferrari junior Callum Ilott, but that doesn’t seem to have harmed the Russian’s status as the FDA’s golden boy. And as well as his formidable talent, Shwartzman comes with additional backing from SMP Racing, which would be an excellent sweetener for Alfa Romeo should he be lined up to replace Antonio Giovinazzi.

Mick Schumacher, Prema (Courtesy of Ferrari Media)

3. Mick Schumacher

Ahead of the season Mick Schumacher was touted as one of the favourites for the F2 title. But although he’s scored more points and podiums than he did in his 2019 debut, a mix of incidents and mistakes means Schumacher’s campaign is still without a win.

However, Schumacher’s chances of an F1 promotion still remain relatively high for two reasons. Firstly, because there’s still half the F2 season left to run, meaning he has another 12 races to break his winless run and move up from fifth in the standings. And secondly, because if he can get in a position to earn his super licence, there’s every chance Ferrari will want to take the opportunity at getting a Schumacher back into F1 as soon as possible.

Callum Ilott, UNI-Virtuosi (Dan Istitene / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

4. Callum Ilott

It may seem odd or even unfair putting Callum Ilott behind his fellow FDA members Shwartzman and Schumacher, considering he is currently leading both in the F2 standings and should therefore be Ferrari’s F1 priority. But although Ilott’s every bit their match on track, Shwartzman and Schumacher both have a certain extra “superstar” quality that has left Ilott somewhat in their shade.

However, being F2 champion brings plenty of its own superstar quality. If Ilott can see off Shwartzman in the second half of the season and take the crown himself, he’ll give Ferrari no choice but to take notice of him instead.

Christian Lundgaard, ART (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

5. Christian Lundgaard

As F2 debuts go, Christian Lundgaard’s has been excellent so far. With a win and two further podiums to his name, the Renault junior has not just performed well on his step up from F3, but is currently third in the championship behind Ilott and Shwartzman.

However, even if Lundgaard were to march forward in the rest of the year and snatch the F2 title, the chances of it leading to an F1 seat are very slim at best. Renault have none available, having signed Fernando Alonso to partner Esteban Ocon for the next two years. And with no customer team to place him at either, Lundgaard’s F1 hopes probably depend on waiting for a gap at the works team to open up in 2022.

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