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!

Fernando Alonso and Jimmie Johnson complete Bahrain car-swap

A mere 14 hours after his emotional goodbye to F1, Fernando Alonso was already back at a race track and at the wheel of an F1 car. The car in question was the 2013 McLaren, the last of the V8’s in F1, though that was not his main focus for the day. Alonso was there to try out Jimmie Johnson’s NASCAR, with growing speculation around a potential Daytona 500 entry for the Spaniard in the coming years. While Alonso got his first taste of NASCAR, Johnson, in turn, got his first experience in an F1 car, having already spent a day in the McLaren simulator in Woking.

As day broke at the Bahrain International Circuit, Johnson headed out for an installation lap in his #48 NASCAR. He gave Alonso a few pointers and showed him how to exit the car in the customary NASCAR way… through the window. After that, Alonso emerged onto the Bahrain track for the first time since his seventh-place finish in April, with the two-time F1 champion also completing installation laps in the McLaren.

They’d given their own cars a run, but now it was time for them to have a go in each other’s cars, as that was the whole reason they were all there in the first place! Alonso, impatient as ever, was the first to head out, taking time to adapt to the different challenges that the NASCAR posed compared to his F1 car. The biggest change for Alonso was the braking and downforce of the NASCAR, which were nowhere near the levels of F1, as well as the sheer weight of the #48 and its tendency to slide through corners.

For all the difficulties Alonso had, Johnson had them pretty much in reverse. He had to deal with huge levels of acceleration and deceleration, not to mention the G-forces that go with it, and the increased downforce of the F1 car, meaning he had to completely rethink his driving style. While some of that could’ve been recreated on the simulator, the over 6 Gs of loading could not, so Johnson was in for quite a shock when he hit the brakes for the first time. Afterwards, he took to Twitter to say how this loading made his eyes ‘lose focus’ and his ‘vision to go blurry’.

But, despite the challenges, Johnson certainly impressed Alonso with his attitude and times, ending the day only a few tenths shy of the Spaniard’s morning benchmark. Equally, Alonso impressed in the NASCAR, but then that was to be expected – he’s already proven he’s a weapon in any car he drives, and this was no exception.

Alonso ended his F1 career by doing donuts on the start/finish straight at Abu Dhabi with fellow champions Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. He ended the car swap by doing donuts with Johnson, with both soon mastering the donut technique needed in their new cars.

Although this was all posed as a bit of fun, it did have true meaning, for Alonso at least, as he eyes up opportunities across the racing world. He’s likely to be driving a NASCAR in anger in the not too distant future while Johnson, as impressive as his times were, is unlikely to climb in an F1 car again unless it’s for an event like this. But, either way, both drivers seemed to have a brilliant time in Bahrain, getting a taste of each other’s worlds and attracting a lot of media attention in the process.

Knowing Alonso and Johnson, that probably won’t be the last of their adventures together… who knows what the next chapter might involve!

#JJxALO

Featured image courtesy of Andy Hone/McLaren

The Chequered Flag Falls On The 2018 Season With Dramatic Finale in Abu Dhabi

After another impressive season with Mercedes, it seems that nothing could stop five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton from dominating the race track once again on Sunday afternoon in a somewhat dramatic fashion.

Qualifying results meant that Mercedes had a front row lockout, Hamilton taking prime place on pole position followed by Bottas in second, ahead of the two Ferrari’s of Vettel and Raikkonen in third and fourth, and the two Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen in fifth and sixth. The top ten was completed by Romain Grosjean in seventh, an impressive lap time put Charles Leclerc in eighth, Esteban Ocon  was ninth and rounding out the top ten was Nico Hulkenberg for Renault.

As daylight faded and the floodlights dominated the night sky, the drivers lined up on the grid, many facing an emotional race ahead; the likes of Kimi Raikkonen who was about to take on his last race for Ferrari, Daniel Ricciardo’s last dance for Red Bull Racing, and of course Fernando Alonso’s final ever Formula One race. It was going to be a challenging afternoon in the desert.

Lights out and both Mercedes, followed by both Ferraris and Daniel Ricciardo, got a clean start into turn one, chased by the rest of the pack. Grosjean and Alonso both ran wide but quickly rejoined, with Fernando losing a few places to Ericsson and Gasly. Max Verstappen was strong off the line, however he encountered a problem with a water temperature sensor which temporarily slowed him into turn two, dropping him down the order.  After speaking over the team radio, Max managed to reset the system and the sensor issue was resolved.

2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Sunday – Steve Etherington

Leclerc shot up the order to sixth followed by Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Verstappen, Ocon, Sainz and Perez. Leclerc was closing in on Ricciardo and the two switched places numerous times, with Daniel eventually fighting his way back up the field.

Meanwhile, Grosjean and Hulkenberg were fighting behind them for position. Grosjean’s Haas was on the outside line going into the corner, Hulkenberg right alongside him. Nico attempted to move across in front of Grosjean, however he misjudged the corner and, as a result, the pair locked wheels, forcing Hulkenberg’s car to barrel through the air into the barriers, the car coming to rest upside down and with some flames igniting in some of the rear bodywork. The Safety Car was deployed and, thankfully, Nico was unscathed if not a little shaken from the accident.

It was a disappointing race for Kimi Raikkonen whose Ferrari came to a stand still on the start-finish straight at the end of lap seven, the display on his steering wheel going black; a disappointing end to his last race for Ferrari.

Kimi’s technical issue meant that Virtual Safety Car was deployed and Mercedes took the plunge, deciding to bring Hamilton in for supersoft tyres on lap eight of fifty-five. He emerged in P5.

Numerous battles were being had across the board, notably between Ocon and Verstappen who had collided in Brazil. This time, Max got the place without any problems. Gasly and Ericsson were having a scrap before Ericsson’s car suffered a technical failure, and Ocon and Sainz were scrapping for P7.

2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Sunday – Steve Etherington

By lap 23, many of the drivers had pitted. However, Red Bull decided to keep Daniel Ricciardo out for a long stint on the ultrasofts, the Australian leading the race before pitting on lap 34 for supersofts, the slower of the compounds. He came out of the pitlane in P5 behind teammate Verstappen.

By lap 35 Bottas was struggling, locking up on several occasions. Sebastian Vettel took advantage of this and managed to steal second place. Both Red Bulls soon closed up on a struggling Bottas and snatched another two places from him, Max up to the final podium spot and Daniel in 4th position.

As the race reached its closing stages, technical issues arose for Esteban Ocon, Pierre Gasly and Marcus Ericsson who all were forced to retire, a disappointing end to each of their seasons.

Despite the drama behind him, Lewis Hamilton had a faultless race, cruising to his 73rd career victory in Formula One. The podium was completed by Sebastian Vettel in 2nd place and Max Verstappen in 3rd, Daniel Ricciardo finishing his 100th race and last for Red Bull Racing in an admirable 4th position.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Valtteri Bottas finished in 5th followed by an impressive result for Renaults’ Carlos Sainz in 6th and Alfa Romeo Saubers’ Charles Leclerc in 7th, both in their final races for their respective teams before moving on to pastures new at McLaren and Ferrari.

It was a well fought but disappointing final race for double world champion Fernando Alonso, who just missed out on the points in P11. At the end of the race, Alonso was joined by Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel who all performed doughnuts on the home straight for the Abu Dhabi crowds as a farewell to the 2018 season and the legendary Spanish driver, a truly remarkable end to the championship. The countdown is on for 2019!

 

Featured Image: 2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Ferrari Media

BrazilianGP Review: Robbery in Brazil for Verstappen

The title has been decided, but that doesn’t mean the season is over just yet. The 20th round of 2018 was ready to bring some spectacle, with the Brazilian Grand Prix at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace.

Once again qualifying took place under difficult circumstances. Interlagos is (in)famous for its unpredictable weather conditions, and this year was no exception. This resulted in Lewis Hamilton taking Mercedes’ 100th pole position and his luck didn’t stop there. Sebastian Vettel secured second place, although both drivers were at risk of losing their positions. Hamilton seemed like he wasn’t awake at times as he blocked Sergey Sirotkin during his outlap and hindered Kimi Räikkönen on his flying lap, but it didn’t end up in a penalty, a strange decision by the FIA.

Lewis Hamilton. Photo curtesy of Pirelli

 

Vettel’s incident was even stranger. Vettel was called in for inspection and had to go onto the weigh bridge. In his haste, he drove onto the weigh bridge itself, and drove off it with his engine turned on, therefore destroying the weigh bridge. This resulted in a reprimand and a $25,000 fine.

Honourable mention goes to Charles Leclerc. During Q2 he was out of the top 10. Reporting to his team that it was raining too heavily, he put in a superb lap which saw him continue to Q3. There Sauber surprisingly locked the fourth row, but Daniel Ricciardo would drop five places due to a grid penalty.

On race day it seemed like it would stay dry but there was still  a threat of a potential thunderstorm. Vettel locked his brakes into turn one, giving Valtteri Bottas second place immediately. Meanwhile, both Renault drivers were battling each other, they even had a slight touch but survived.

In lap four it was a very bold move from Max Verstappen who dive-bombed Vettel, giving him third place. However, the Ferrari’s were on the soft tyres while the other two top teams were on the supersofts. Ricciardo quickly found his way back to the top six and was now charging the slower Ferrari’s ahead. His teammate took second place though, overtaking Bottas into the first corner. The Finn was really struggling, with Räikkönen, Vettel and Ricciardo knocking on his door.

Lap 16 saw the first pit stop, Fernando Alonso came in but his rear right tyre wasn’t fitted correctly. Quick reactions by the Spaniard meant that pit crew could still fix it. Bottas came in for his pit stop in lap nineteen, meaning that the Ferrari’s now had free air to continue on their softs. One lap later Hamilton came in, also opting for the medium tyres.

Marcus Ericsson, who had a great starting position, spun at high speed and returned to the pits. Not for a regular pit stop, but a retirement – the first of the race. A few laps later though Vettel overtook his teammate for sixth, but it didn’t last long as they were surprisingly told to switch places.

Photo curtesy of Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool.

 

Disaster struck for Verstappen as Esteban Ocon tried to overtake the Red Bull, but took the inside and touched Verstappen. He spun, but could continue the race (after he showed the Frenchman the middle finger of course). Eventually the stewards decided that Ocon caused the collision, handing him a stop/go penalty for crashing into the race leader.

Ricciardo and Vettel had locked horns but the Australian wouldn’t give up that easily and kept his fifth place. A few laps later Ricciardo passed Bottas for fourth place. With 17 laps to go, Vettel took his second pit stop and opted for the supersofts. This dropped him back to seventh place behind his future teammate Leclerc.

However, it would be the victory for the 2018 World Champion. Mercedes, after winning the Drivers’ Championship with Hamilton, now also have the 2018 Constructors Championship. Verstappen took second place (arguably he should have placed higher) and Räikkönen completed the podium, keeping Ricciardo at bay.

Verstappen, responding to Horner’s disbelieve: “Yeah I know what to say, I really hope I won’t see him in the pits…” with a lot of censoring needed. And as it would have it, the two did meet with Verstappen pushing Ocon three times in a widely broadcast standoff.

After some drama, it is time to look towards the last race of the season. The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix could result in some drivers taking big risks for the win. It will be Alonso’s final race in F1; he’ll be hoping to step away from F1 with a good result. In short, it should be a good one.

McLaren and Alonso confirm return to Indy 500

It’s been on the cards for a while now, but McLaren have today confirmed that they will be participating in the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 with Fernando Alonso. They’ll return to the ‘Brickyard’ as McLaren Racing with no confirmation as to which of the two IndyCar engine suppliers the team will be running with, though presumably it would be Chevrolet.

We have, of course been here before… last year McLaren shocked the world by allowing Alonso to run in the Indy 500 instead of the Monaco GP with the goal of winning the race and thus completing a third of motorsport’s ‘Triple Crown’. At the time, Alonso only had one part of the crown, the Monaco GP. This has, of course, changed since then with the Spaniard taking the win at the 24 hours of Le Mans, along with teammates Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima. This, therefore means that he’s only missing the Indy 500 to take the crown – but this could be his toughest challenge yet.

Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, Mexico City
Friday 26 October 2018.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren.
Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _1ST3356

When he last attempted the Indy 500, Alonso rocked up and was right up there contending for the win, only to be thwarted, rather ironically, by his Honda engine letting go. He took this defeat very graciously, delivering a very amusing speech at the gala after the race and drinking a carton of milk in the press conference.

Getting his hands on the real glass of milk, however, will not be easy by any stretch of the imagination. With the universal aero kits, the whole dynamic of oval racing has changed drastically, meaning that Alonso’s previous experience won’t count for all that much in the grand scheme of things. Pack racing is no more, and strategy is more important than ever, so it’ll be crucial that McLaren get some experienced IndyCar engineers on board.

With no Andretti teammates to rely on, things will be even tougher for Alonso, not to mention the fact that luck has to be firmly on your side to win the world-famous race; something that seems to have alluded Alonso in the past few years!

Another thing that will almost certainly be different is their engine supplier with the team expected to take Chevrolet engines instead of the Honda they used last time. This is because of a number of reasons, chief among which is the fractious relationship that McLaren and Honda endured throughout their most recent F1 partnership, leaving Honda unwilling to supply McLaren again. Also, Alonso’s WEC forays with Toyota don’t exactly help matters so Chevrolet is probably McLaren’s best option.

But anyway, this move is undoubtedly a positive thing for both parties. If IndyCar can’t have Alonso for the season, they’ll take him for the Indy 500, whether he wins, wrecks or does anything in between. Expect another announcement fairly soon, shedding some more light on the engine situation but, for now at least, McLaren and Alonso have got another two F1 races to focus on!

Fernando Alonso and Jimmie Johnson announce car-swap

After just over two months of teasing, Fernando Alonso and Jimmie Johnson have finally announced that they will be driving each other’s cars at the Bahrain International Circuit on the 26th November, the day after the Abu Dhabi GP. No more information than that is given in the admittedly cringe-worthy fifty-second clip posted on both driver’s social media accounts, but it does at least draw some sort of an end to the speculation that had been conjuring up ever since this was first hinted at in mid-September.

The first video, posted on 12th September, set up the idea of a car-swap scenario with both drivers expressing interest at the events on the opposite side of the Atlantic. Really, this goes back much further than September, in fact back to late January when the pair took part in a rather amusing photo-shoot at the Daytona 24 hours, which can be essentially described as a staring competition (with a cameo from Lando Norris).

The next teaser came nearly two weeks ago with another equally cheesy clip, showing Alonso and Johnson going about their training regimes while watching each other’s races, though both of them were winning their races so it must have been from quite some time ago!

This whole saga has been very typical of Alonso’s appearances on social media of late, generally communicating through the medium of cryptic GIFs and tweets. Basically, it’s made everyone do what we’re doing now, talk about both Alonso and Johnson, whose careers have taken respective nose-dives in recent years. Johnson hasn’t won a race all season in the NASCAR Cup Series, his last win was back at Dover in 2017 and many have been speculating about his future in the series. It’s a very similar story for Alonso whose winless drought stretches back to the 2013 Spanish GP, with his F1 career coming to a conclusion at the end of this season.

The car-swap could be seen as a publicity stunt for both drivers, both wanting to remind the world of their greatness despite their respective lulls. Equally, they could just be doing it for a bit of fun; they’re both of a similar ‘drive anything’ type of personality and have clearly formed a strong friendship over the years… This kind of thing has probably been on the cards longer than anyone else knew, they just had to work out how to make it feasible.

Alonso himself may view this as the start of his 2019 ventures which remain as of yet unannounced. He’s hinted that he’ll probably not be doing a complete season of anything but instead dipping in and out of various series with the Indy 500 obviously a target and rumours that he may be attempting the Daytona 500 as well.

Whatever the reason behind it, the car-swap will be very interesting to see with more focus probably on Alonso’s NASCAR performance than Johnson’s F1 run for a multitude of reasons, mainly that the Spaniard will almost certainly drive a NASCAR again whereas Johnson is unlikely to get another go in an F1 car.

Bring it on… #JJxALO

Featured image courtesy of Steven Tee/McLaren