Azerbaijan GP: Leclerc takes his 2nd pole of the season in Baku

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

It was Charles Leclerc of Ferrari who took pole in Baku on Saturday afternoon after a frantic qualifying session. The Monegasque driver received a nice little slipstream behind the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton in the first run of Q3 and was able to put a competitive time on board which was good enough for pole position.

The second run of Q3 was brought to a halt after Yuki Tsunoda of Alpha Tauri  crashed into the barriers during his flying lap which was followed by Carlos Sainz of Ferrari locking up and losing his front wing in the same corner followed by a hard hit to the barriers. This meant that there was yet another red flag in the session and pole was decided. The Spaniard however managed a lap good enough for P5 in the first run but will not be too amused after the crash was severe on the back end of his car which might result in a gear box change.

Mercedes finished the session with Lewis Hamilton qualifying at P2 and Bottas at P10, after the Finnish driver provided Hamilton a tow during the first run of Q3 but could not get his own lap in during the second run. The team will be satisfied that they could put at least one car on the front row but Bottas will rue his misfortune on a track that he is generally good at.

Driver’s championship leader Max Verstappen drove a very good lap but only managed a P3 while his teammate Sergio Perez could only manage P7. One thing that Redbull can still be confident of is the fact that their race pace has looked promising in the season so far and crucially, the championship rival Hamilton is not so far up ahead.

Pierre Gasly continued to impress after an excellent lap saw the French driver place his Alpha Tauri at P4 after an amazing lap while his teammate Tsunoda managed a P8. An excellent position for the team overall barring the carsh for Tsunoda later on means they will be hunting that double points finish right from the start.

Lando Norris continued his good start to the season after qualifying at P6 but the English driver is under investigation for infringements after red flags in the first qualifying session. His teammate Daniel Ricciardo’s dismal season continued after the Australian driver crashed into the barriers towards the end of Q2 which ended his qualifying and put him on P13 on the grid for the race tomorrow.

Fernando Alonso bounced back from his bad outing in qualifying at Monaco and qualified into Q3 this time around with a mega performance. Having termed Baku 2018 as the best race of his career, Alonso will be looking to make the most of the scenario as he is set to start from P9 on the grid and is in with a chance for some valuable points tomorrow. His teammate Esteban Ocon could not get out of Q2 and will be starting the race from P12.

Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll brought on the first red flag of qualifying in Q1 after he crashed out towards the end of sector 2 on his first run in Q2 and will be starting at P19. His teammate Vettel narrowly missed out on Q3 by as less as three hundredths of a second after the red flag brought on by Ricciardo meant that he could not improve his lap time. The German driver will start at P11 but has an advantage of starting on tyres of his own choice.

Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi was involved in the second red flag during Q1 after crashing into the same corner as Lance Stroll and the Italian driver will be starting last. His teammate Kimi Raikkonen will be starts P14 after his Q1 laps were good enough to get out of it. Both the Haas cars had clean Q1 laps and they will be starting with Schumacher at P17 and Mazepin at P18 respectively.

George Russell in the Williams got out of Q1 yet again and will be starting the race at P15 but it was not certain before the start of the session. The English driver had to wait until the mechanics changed the entire power unit of his car after a water pipe leak meant he could not continue at the end of his last free practice. His teammate Latifi will line up at P16 after failing to get out of Q1.

The race is set to get underway with championship rivals Hamilton and Verstappen all set to start at 2nd and 3rd while Ferrari slowly seem to be improving and mounting challenges. The race promises to be a cracker as is the usual setting in Baku when the five lights go out.

Spanish GP: Hamilton takes win number 98

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Lewis Hamilton took his 98th Formula 1 win on Sunday afternoon after delivering yet another stunning drive which was strategically very reminiscent of Hungary 2019. The English driver started from his 100th pole position and fell behind to his title rival Max Verstappen but thanks to an aggressive and well thought out strategy from the Mercedes team, he was able to come back into the race and take the lead towards the very end and went on to win.

Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas was once again limited to playing the team game as he failed to match either of Hamilton or Verstappen. The Finnish driver did not quite back down after team orders were implemented which meant Hamilton had to overtake him losing some time in the process. It all ended well as the English driver was able to catch the leading Redbull and take a healthy lead in the driver’s championship. Sergio Perez in the other Redbull could only manage only a 5th place finish which brings into question, the ever present dilemma surrounding the Redbull second car.

Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari drove an excellent race finishing 4th ahead of Sergio Perez in the Redbull which means it is good signs for the Ferrari after a season to forget last year. Carlos Sainz in the other Ferrari also had a very good drive after his battles with the McLaren drivers saw him finish 7th. Daniel Ricciardo in the McLaren seems to have gotten over his shaky start to the season and drove an excellent race to finish P6 while his teammate Lando Norris just seems to have taken foot off the gas after a good start to the season and managed an 8th place finish only.

Esteban Ocon started off the weekend in a brilliant fashion after qualifying P6 but could only manage P9 in the race while his teammate Alonso after being involved in the tussle for the final points position for a long time had to pit towards the end and ended up at a lowly P17. Alpha Tauri had a mixed weekend after Yuki Tsunoda’s car had an engine failure very early in the race but Pierre Gasly managed his race well after he had to overcome the challenge of Aston Martin drivers.

Aston Martin had a very under the radar showing with both the drivers Stroll and Vettel finishing outside points and the team will be left to figure out how to better their fortunes in a fortnight’s time for the Monaco grandprix. It was a better outing for Kimi Raikkonen in the Alfa Romeo than last time as he finished the race this time around and finished well at P12. His teammate on the other hand had to sit through a sub 40 second pit stop and could only manage a P15.

‘Mr.Saturday’ George Russell had yet another mellow Sunday interms of the result but the whole team will definitely take heart from a performance where he was close to P10 for the most of the afternoon but failed to put the final fight in for it and finished P14. His teammate Latifi in the other Williams finished at P16.

Haas cars had yet another slow outing during the race and Mick Schumacher managed an 18th placed finish despite a bright start from him and his teammate Nikita Mazepin only finished last of the lot while often being mentioned in the radio for not following the blue flags correctly.

Redbull definitely seemed to have the pace going into the race but they were caught out by Mercedes’ aggressive strategy just like Hungary 2019 as Lewis Hamilton drove his heart out in Barcelona. Max Verstappen will have many more chances in the upcoming part of the season to take the challenge to Hamilton on track but for now the momentum is with the British driver.

Portuguese GP: Hamilton takes 2nd win of the season

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Lewis Hamilton took his 97th career win at Portimao on Sunday afternoon after fending off the challenge from his teammate Bottas and Redbull’s Max Verstappen. The English driver started 2nd on the grid behind his teammate Valtteri Bottas and got off to a steady start. He was later jumped by Verstappen at the early safety car restart and was running 3rd at one point. Hamilton then made his way back into the race in fiery fashion after picking off both Verstappen and Bottas on the main straight and never looked back once he was in control.

The race saw a very early safety car brought in on lap 2 after both the Alfa Romeos tangled on the main straight with Kimi Raikkonen losing the front wing in the process. The Finnish driver then had to retire while his teammate managed to stay on. It was a good restart from the other Finnish driver in the Mercedes which enabled him to open up a gap over the drivers behind him. The race was not the one to remember for him however as he was later on overtaken by both his teammate and Verstappen. A little comfort for him was that the final pitstop made towards the end of the race enabled him to grab the fastest lap and the extra point from today’s outing.

Redbull ended their day where they started on the grid with Verstappen at 3rd and Perez at 4th but would have hoped for much more from the race, especially with the car looking quick enough to challenge Mercedes this year. Verstappen was initially awarded the fastest lap of the race towards the end but the lap time was deleted thanks to the Dutch driver exceeding limits at track 14. His teammate Perez ended his race at 4th after having a super long first stint on medium tyres for 53 laps and went with soft tyres for the rest of his race.

It was yet another top 5 finish for Lando Norris in his McLaren as his excellent start to the season continued. The English driver was mega at the restart and battled Alpine’s Esteban Ocon to jump places. His teammate Ricciardo in the McLaren also bounced back from a poor show in qualifying on Saturday and finished in the points at 9th place after a stellar drive.

Ferrari had a mixed showing at the grandprix, mostly brought upon by themselves as Leclerc finished at P6 after starting 8th and Carlos Sainz despite having a good start, only managed P11 after a questionable strategy call from the team. The Italian outfit will however take heart from their showing compared to the kind of season they had last year.

Alpine managed a double points finish with Esteban Ocon in 7th and Fernando Alonso in 8th after excellent drives from both the drivers. Alonso turned the clock back years with some fine overtaking moves while Ocon showed why he deserves to be in F1. The final place in the points belonged to Pierre Gasly who had a decent race and managed to finish 10th while his rookie teammate Yuki Tsunoda could only manage a 15th placed finish.

With Kimi Raikkonen retiring as early as lap 2, Alfa Romeo had only one car finishing the race with Giovinazzi at P12 after the Italian driver managed to pull some moves towards the end of the race. Aston Martin could only manage out of points finishes for their drivers with Vettel finishing P13 and Stroll finishing at P14. The team will hope for a better performance in the coming weekend and will quickly want to turn their season around if they want to be anywhere close to where they were last year.

It was a poor showing for Williams on Sunday especially with George Russell starting at P11. The English driver could not manage to hold his place there during the course of the race and could only manage a 16th place finish while his teammate in the other Wiliiams only managed 18th. Haas will be very disappointed with their result after Mick Schumacher could only manage a 17th place finish and his Russian teammate Nikita Mazepin finished last of the runners, with a whole minute behind his own teammate at one point during the race.

The season is definitely off to a great start with Redbull looking a lot closer to Mercedes than they ever were and with Lewis Hamilton’s dominance under threat from the ever hungry Max Verstappen, this could go on to be one of the classic seasons of F1.

Dual in the desert Bahrain

What a race…

Image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

After what seemed like an unusually long winter Formula 1 is back with a bang in the desert.

After winter testing, three practice sessions and qualifying all that we knew for sure was the grid had indeed tightened up, especially for the top two teams in Mercedes and Red Bull.

Max Verstappen had taken pole position from Lewis Hamilton by just under four tenths of a second with the sister Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas in third and Charles Leclerc in fourth.

Even sitting thousands of miles away the anticipation at the start was palpable.

The instillation lap did nothing to calm the nerves as Checo Perez loses power initialising a second instal lap.

He did manage to power up the ailing Red Bull but had to start from the pit lane.

Five red lights go out and we’re away for the Bahrain Grand Prix and indeed the start of the 2021 season. Unsurprisingly to many fans the number two Haas crashes out at turn one and his race ends before it can even start, leaving Mick Schumacher the sole Haas driver as the safety car is deployed.

Leclerc had managed to snatch third from Bottas before the safety car was deployed! Sainz lost out at the start and is down in P10, with Alonso and Stroll both gaining a position from him.

Verstappen leads the pack away from Hamilton who is left to defend from Leclerc into turn one.

Bottas takes third place back as we settle into a familiar pattern.

Verstappen pulls out a small lead of just under two seconds.

Further down the pack Sergio Perez starts to haul the Red bull through the field.

Mercedes are first to blink and try the undercut, putting the hard tyres on and it looks like a great decision as Red bull stays out as Lewis starts pumping in purple sectors and is the fastest man on track.

Verstappen’s in at last! And goes from mediums to mediums, he will have to stop again. He exits the pits nearly seven seconds behind Hamilton!

The top three are Hamilton, Verstappen and Bottas. Further down the field Vettel and Alonso are fighting it out for P8!

Max is putting in the strong laps now on tyres ten laps newer than Hamilton’s. He closes to within two seconds or so, as Mercedes once again throws the dice and pull Lewis in for a new set of hard boots.

He exits the pits in third behinds Bottas in second and Max in first.

Bottas stops but there’s a problem with the front left! It’s a 10.9s stop and he comes out behind Leclerc in P5

Verstappen pits for hards and is stationary for an incredible 1.9 seconds and leaves himself 8.7s to make up to Hamilton in the final 17 laps.

Hamilton’s trying to keep his tyres going until the end, andy it’s falling back into Verstappen’s hands as he starts to take chunks off Lewis.

Verstappen is eating into Hamilton’s lead like its an open buffet. Half a second out in the middle sector alone, and he can see the Mercedes on the straights now.

Hamilton brakes another record this time for the most laps led in F1 with 5,112!

Vettel and Ocon have come together. Both have got going again, but Vettel has some damage to his front wing. Looks like Sebs fault but that’s one for the stewards to decide.

Max is like a lion hunting down his prey with only the odd back marker to hold him back, Lewis locks up and goes wide at Turn ten! He keeps the lead but Verstappen is just a second behind now and within DRS range.

Lap 52 and Hamilton only has half a second over Verstappen as he tries around the outside of Turn one but Hamilton holds him off!

Down to Turn four and Verstappen goes around the outside again, and this time he takes the lead!

Max Is immediately told by his team to give the place back as he’s left the circuit whilst taking the position, if he doesn’t do it a penalty could be costly.

Verstappen’s loses grip in Hamilton’s wake but he’s now out of DRS range on the start finish straight.

Bottas stops for a new set of tyres as he attempts to grab the extra point for fastest lap.

Hamilton starts the final lap and Verstappen is back within DRS range, no matter how well Max has driven this weekend he just can’t get passed the exuberant Hamilton who takes the win from Verstappen and Bottas.

Norris, Perez, Ricardo and Yuki Tsunoda all make impressive debuts, Alonso and Seb looked good and should improve as we get further into the season.

Mick Schumacher had a quiet race finishing last but that’s all that can be expected in the under developed Haas.

HAM

VER

BOT

NOR

PER

LEC

RIC

SAI

TSU

STR

RAI

GIO

OCO

RUS

VET

MSC

DNF: GAS, LAT, ALO, MAZ

Bahrain Test Part Two

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN – MARCH 12: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda on track during Day One of F1 Testing at Bahrain International Circuit on March 12, 2021 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Joe Portlock/Getty Images)

Here we go, four more hours but I can’t see much changing except for the odd driver and the weather.

Daniel Ricciardo still on top of the timing sheets as we start with Gasly and Verstappen close behind in the standings

This session can be described in one word, dusty! They can’t push the cars and are having to short shift and are actually off the throttle at some points on the track.

Coming up to the three hour remaining mark and very little has changed, we’re waiting on the first appearance of the seven time World Drivers Champion Lewis Hamilton

Will they refer to him as Sir Lewis?

First sight of Carlos Sainz in his new Ferrari, it’s a big year for the young Spaniard.

Three hours and two minutes and the World Champion joins the track for the first time and looks straight on it power sliding his way around the track. Times are still down on Ricardos best set earlier today in the morning session, laps are around four to five seconds slower.

Verstappen goes fastest on a 1:31.4O on the hard tyre After completing 80 laps.

Drivers seem to be finding some grip now as Max remains out gaining valuable data for the team.

Tsunoda has impressed on his first outing in the AlphaTauri it’s a little odd seeing the number 22 and not having Jenson Button driving behind the wheel.

With 1 hour 37 minutes left on the clock Lewis and the Mercedes seem to be getting into their stride with a lap still a full 1.5 seconds behind the pace set by Verstappen.

With 90 minutes remaining

1 VER 1:31.412

2 NOR +0.397
3 GIO +0.533
4 OCO +0.716
5 RIC +0.791

The number 9 Haas has completed 48 uneventful laps.

55 minutes to go and Verstappen puts in a flier 1:30.6 and has completed 113 laps just as Carlos Sainz spins his Ferrari.

Hamilton getting the laps in, still off the pace but getting valuable data and obviously we don’t know his fuel levels.

Lando Norris is comfortably third on the timing sheets behind Ocon and Verstappen. The McLaren looks very happy with its new Mercedes engine.

24 minutes to go and Lando posts a faster lap taking him into second place overall. McLaren have had a solid first day of testing.

Lance stroll posts an impressive 1:31.7 and moves up to fourth in the over all rankings.

Hamilton is out lapping in his Mercedes, but he is seriously lacking in traction, spectacular to watch but he’s not improving his times.

Under five minutes to go and the virtual safety card has been deployed, and that brings the session to an end.

1 VER 1:30.674 139

2 NOR +0.215 46

3 OCO +0.472 129

4 STR +1.108 46

5 SAI +1.245 57

6 GIO +1.271 68

7 RIC +1.529 45

8 GAS +1.557 74

9 TSU +2.053 37
10 HAM +2.238 42

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

Alonso returns to F1 with Renault

(Image courtesy of Fernando Alonso Instagram)

When Fernando Alonso announced in 2018 that he would be stepping away from Formula 1, very few of thought he would return. With the current status-quo as it is with the last few years dominated by Mercedes with only Red Bull and Ferrari able to hold a candle to them, and Alonso growing evidently tired of being in a lackluster McLaren, it was perhaps understandable that many of us didn’t believe these rumours of the two-time champion returning to F1 with the team that took him to those two world championships, Renault.

But sure enough, it was confirmed by Renault that Alonso would make his F1 comeback next year partnering up with Esteban Ocon and replacing the McLaren-bound Daniel Ricciardo. The former Red Bull driver signed a two-year deal with the French automotive manufacturer which was estimated to be in the region of nearly €25 million per year. But the promise of a car being able to challenge for podiums in the coming years wasn’t convincing enough for Ricciardo, and he will now take the seat of Carlos Sainz who is off to Ferrari to replace four-time champion Sebastian Vettel.

Alonso claimed he would not return to F1 unless he had a race winning car, and in a post on Instagram, he seems to be pinning all his hopes on the upcoming revolutionary 2022 regulations which will close the gap between the top three teams. With the teams having agreed to continue using their current cars for 2021, Renault certainly don’t look like a frontrunning team right now.

The experience of Alonso will undoubtedly play a part in developing their 2022 car but even so, time isn’t on his side. He will be turning 41 in 2022 which means at the very most, he has at most three years if Michael Schumacher’s three-year tenure in his comeback with Mercedes is anything to go by. Will he still be at the top of his game? Even if by some miracle, Renault are consistent front runners and he’s challenging for podiums, wins and maybe even the championship, would Fernando still be capable?

Then there’s the question of Renault’s academy drivers. With Esteban Ocon being out of F1 for 18 months prior to the Austrian Grand Prix and having only raced two full seasons prior with Force India as well as a couple of races with the Manor team in 2016, he’s far from being able to lead a team just yet so that undoubtedly factored in when finding who could take Ricciardo’s seat. However there’s still questions to be asked about where this leads the two probable F1 graduates in Renault’s academy right now.

These two drivers are Formula 2 racers Guanyu Zhou and Christian Lundgaard. Zhou is entering his second season of F2, prior to his first season , he hadn’t been that impressive in the junior formula, although was runner-up in Italian F4 in 2015. He had been on the Ferrari driver academy before joining Renault’s for 2019, and despite his time in European F3 not being indicative of being potential F1 material, he stepped it up when it mattered.

Zhou scored five podiums and a pole position on his way to seventh overall, and began the 2020 season with a pole at the Red Bull Ring, and was set for his first win before his Virtuosi F2 car let him down. Plus you have to think that Zhou is also a marketing goldmine for a manufacturer like Renault, since he would be the first Chinese driver and China is always a market that brands want to sell in so it would make sense from a marketing standpoint.

Then we have Lundgaard, who won two F4 championships in 2017, finished runner-up in Formula Renault EuroCup and took a race win last year in FIA Formula 3 with ART Grand Prix. He’s now in F2 with ART and scored a fourth and fifth in his first F2 races. He has had a rapid rise through the lower ranks and undoubtedly has the ability, but perhaps it may have been too early and he could be in prime position to be in the Renault F1 drive after Alonso retires for good.

Since we are talking about Renault juniors, it would be an insult if we didn’t talk about the driver who was perhaps in the best position for that seat alongside Ocon.

Lundgaard may have remained in F3 for a title charge in 2020, but that ART F2 drive had already been paid for by Renault so he was promoted into the seat that most likely would have been occupied by 2018 GP3 champion Anthoine Hubert.

Having won two sprint races last season in F2 at Monaco and Paul Ricard with BWT Arden, but tragedy struck at Spa-Francorchamps when Hubert was fatally injured. I would have put a lot of money on Hubert being champion in F2 this year had he been in that ART seat, considering the past two champions George Russell and Nyck De Vries raced with ART as well.

(Image taken from F1 2020 Game Play)

Nevertheless, it’s the return of Fernando Alonso with Renault for 2021. I can definitely imagine a few more iconic moments from him, especially in the Drive to Survive season focusing on the 2021 season, the combination of Fernando and Cyril Abiteboul is going to make for some interesting moments for us, that’s for sure.

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)

Fernando Alonso named as McLaren Racing ambassador

McLaren have announced the continuation of their relationship with double world champion Fernando Alonso, naming the Spaniard as a McLaren Racing ambassador.

They also revealed that Alonso will drive alongside Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris in selected tests over the course of the 2019 season to aid in the development of this year’s car, and also of the 2020 design.

“Becoming a McLaren ambassador is a true honour,” Alonso said. “It is a special team, and despite the challenges we have endured recently, it remains so. I said before I stopped racing in Formula 1 last year that I see myself with McLaren for a long time to come, so I am delighted at this new role and the ability to stay closely involved with the team I feel is my spiritual home.”

Fernando Alonso, McLaren, in the pit lane | LAT/McLaren

Speaking of the announcement, McLaren Chief Executive Zak Brown said, “For any race team, having someone of Fernando’s class on hand to provide support through his experience is of huge value. His insights and perspective will be welcomed by both our drivers and engineers alike, while his stature and character remain highly appealing to our partners and fans.”

Alonso retired from F1 at the end of last year with two titles and 32 race wins to his name, four of which came during his first stint at McLaren in 2007. He rejoined the team in 2015, where an underwhelming Honda power unit put a stop to any hopes of adding to his tally.

As part of his pursuit of motorsport’s Triple Crown, Alonso will make his second Indy 500 appearance later this year, having first competed at the event with McLaren in 2017.

“We have the Indianapolis 500 in May of course, which I am looking forward to immensely,” Alonso said, “but this is just the beginning of many things we can do together. I am particularly passionate about nurturing young talent, whether that’s with my own team or helping the new generation of Formula 1 drivers at McLaren unlock their true potential. This is important to both the team and myself, so will be an especially rewarding part of my role.”

 

[Featured image – Steven Tee/McLaren]

Fernando Alonso: What’s Next?

Image courtesy of Pirelli

Motorsports After coming perilously close to drinking the milk at the end of the 2017 Indianapolis 500 race, speculation over whether Fernando Alonso would take the leap from Formula 1 to the Verizon IndyCar Series began to spread across the paddocks on both sides of the pond.

It was confirmed in November of this year that Alonso would throw his hat into the ring once again driving for McLaren, working with Andretti Racing, in the hopes of obtaining the unofficial ‘Triple Crown’. There is much speculation as to whether Alonso would be interested in becoming a more permanent fixture in what some motorsport fans consider the ‘American Version’ of F1, however, nothing has been set in stone.

Talking with journalists following his last race in Formula 1 at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Alonso is in no hurry to make plans: “I needed a break and I need to find motivation again.

“For 2020, I don’t know exactly what I will do or what will be the plan. I am open to different things – maybe a full season in IndyCar, maybe a full season in F1 again.”

Alonso wouldn’t be the first Formula 1 driver to make the transition. He would be following iconic drivers such as Rubens Barrichello, Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya, and with the interesting mix of street and oval circuits, the series offers a new challenge for Alonso after 18 years in F1.

In the run up to the end of the Formula 1 season, Alonso signed himself up to a mixture of endurance races. He is scheduled to complete the remaining 3 races in the World Endurance Championship, finishing in Le Mans, before heading to Indianapolis for the second time to hopefully take the win.

Not long after reaching the chequered flag in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Alonso was back in the driving seat, this time having swapped cars with NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson. It was thought that Alonso’s interest was in testing Johnson’s car in preparation for the Daytona 500, which he has since confirmed he will be a part of.

Interestingly enough, Johnson’s contract with NASCAR team, Hendrick Motorsports is set to end in 2020 and having already expressed an interest in IndyCar. Though it is highly unlikely Johnson would ever drive in F1 (apart from the one-off car swap), taking an open-wheel car out for a spin has given him a new outlook on his abilities:

“What I take away from that F1 experience is I climbed in an unfamiliar car and environment and did really well. My natural instincts, my ability to drive, my ability to scare myself and challenge myself hasn’t gone anywhere.” Perhaps the pair are beginning to lay the foundation for a standalone McLaren team in the Verizon IndyCar Series?

It’s probably best not to get carried away just yet, as Alonso has also confessed his departure from F1 might be short lived: “I’ve been doing this my whole life. Maybe next year by April or May I am desperate on the sofa, so maybe I find a way somehow to come back.” Perhaps he will follow in ex- Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa’s footsteps in announcing retirement, before returning unexpectedly to race another season.

Only time will tell, but for now keep an eye on Alonso, his career certainly isn’t over yet!