Halo: Vindicated, Barriers Need Work.

mage courtesy of Haas F1 Team

I’m not going to show you the pictures or the video, because I had my fill of replays during the red flag period. I tend to agree with Daniel Ricciardo – the sheer number of replays was unnecessary and disrespectful.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. If you missed it, Romain Grosjean experienced a terrifying shunt at turn 3 on the opening lap of the Bahrain Grand Prix today (29 November 2020, at the time of writing) after contact with Daniil Kvyat’s Alpha Tauri. Grosjean’s Haas arrowed into the crash barriers on the right side of the circuit at 221 km/h. The awesome force of the impact – it is no exaggeration to say that my breath caught in my throat and I was brought to inner stillness merely seeing it –  was such that the front of the car became wedged in the barrier, and the rear of the car physically separated. The fuel cell was torn open, and the car was engulfed in flames. Arrestors having failed, the Haas’ wheels came to rest on opposite sides of the track. The marshals at their nearby post were fortunately spared anything more serious than a good scare.

In a resounding victory for the halo, developed in the aftermath of Jules Bianchi’s tragic 2014 crash at Suzuka, Romain Grosjean survived the impact to emerge from the flaming wreckage of the entangled car and barrier under his own power, quickly assisted by Dr. Ian Roberts as the medical car arrived on scene while marshals immediately began combating the blaze.

Grosjean himself, once a critic, unsurprisingly A convert. Thanks to the fantastic safety engineering in the modern era, Grosjean is recuperating in hospital, with only minor burns to show for his ordeal. Without the halo the motorsport world would likely be mourning a driver.

In light of recent close calls involving vehicles being allowed to race with recovery vehicles and personnel near the track, it’s important to emphasize how Formula 1’s safety procedures worked perfectly today. The practice of having the medical car follow the field on the first lap proved its wisdom, had Grosjean required more urgent intervention help was on hand within seconds rather than minutes. The marshals’ training and discipline was in evidence as they immediately began firefighting efforts. This too could have made the difference between life and death had Grosjean not been able to escape on his own.

Despite the victories for safety, the events in Bahrain show that there is still room to improve. The lack of energy-dissipating material in the runoff area and as part of the barrier must be considered and remedied. Properly-constructed barriers are highly effective in transferring energy away from an out-of-control vehicle, as Max Verstappen’s pre-halo encounter with the wall at Monaco in 2015 after colliding with Grosjean illustrates. I don’t mean to imply that the barrier design at Sakhir was ill-considered, but rather that the circumstances leading to Grosjean’s crash may have simply been unanticipated. It’s easy to see once it’s happened, after all. 

Romain Grosjean and the motorsport community are fortunate today. I hope that FIA will take a moment to evaluate barrier construction at all major circuits and take into account previously unconsidered possibilities for impacts and undertake efforts to mitigate newly seen risks.

Motorsport is always going to have an element of danger, this is inherent in pushing humans and machines further in the quest for speed but there are so many things we can do to mitigate the risks. The halo proved its worth today, and other safety procedures showed their wisdom, but there is still more we can do to ensure that our drivers live to race another day.

Turkish GP: Hamilton wraps up 7th championship in Turkish delight

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Win number 94, world championship number 7, records broken, records equaled. Lewis Hamilton reigned supreme in changing conditions on Sunday by putting in yet another world class performance to take his 2nd Turkish grandprix win and his 7th world driver’s championship.

The lights went out on a fairly wet track at Istanbul Park and all the chaos unfolded as the cars set out on their way. Racing Point had the best possible start they could ask for with Stroll leading into turn one and Perez following him swiftly, thanks to the slow starting Max Verstappen in the Redbull. The Dutch driver failed to get the wheels going and fell behind, allowing the Racing Point drivers to pull away.

The absolute winner of the start had to be Sebastian Vettel, who started all the way down at 11th and managed to get to 3rd, all on the first lap. His teammate comparatively had a slower start but came alive later in the race to finish a high 4th. The start also saw Hamilton’s only remaining championship rival Bottas tangle with the Renault of Ocon which caused him to spin out, taking him out of contention. Carlos Sainz was another big gainer at the start, leaping six places on the first lap alone.

As the race progressed, there were no signs of any rain and the track slowly but surely kept drying up. Racing Point, especially Lance Stroll was enjoying a very big lead early vs his teammate Perez while Max Verstappen recovered quickly from a poor start and was battling the fast starting Ferrari of Vettel in the early laps. The track still had considerable amount of water on it at this point but it was Charles Leclerc of Ferrari who blinked first among all the drivers and made a switch to inters.

Following his pace closely, were many other teams and most of them made the switch to inters immediately in the following few laps. Verstappen however chose to overcut the drivers in front of him and it worked out well for him as he came out ahead of Vettel after the first round of pit stops while the Racing Points were still maintaining 1-2. This led to a nice little battle for a few laps between Vettel and Hamilton as the British driver set about to catch the German, a sight reminiscent of 2017 and 2018.

Around lap 20, Verstappen seemed to have made the overcut strategy work perfectly for him until he came out 2nd best while chasing Perez and went spinning at turn 11. This caused him to drop down all the way down to 6th as he flat spotted his tyres and was taken out of the picture for the race win. At the midway point after the Verstappen incident, there was a 5-way fight for the race win with Stroll, Perez, Albon, Vettel and Hamilton all covered by 12 seconds as things started to get really tight.

A second round of pit stops were the order of the day as the inter tyres seemed to be overworked and everybody but Hamilton and Perez made the call to go to a new set of inters. The pair who were 1-2 in the race at this point chose to keep track position as opposed to the rest of the field, a decision which proved worthy at the end of the race with them finishing 1-2 as they were. The second phase of pit stops really altered the course of the race as Lance Stroll, who was once comfortably leading the race started getting picked off by the drivers behind him as the Canadian could not find any grip on his new inter tyres and could only finish 9th.

The McLarens mad their way into the race in a fine manner after starting as low as 15th and 16th on the grid. Carlos Sainz after getting a really good start,  fully capitalized on it as the race progressed. The Spaniard was calm and collected and took the race as it came to him. He managed both the wet and inter tyres really well and finished an excellent 5th while his teammate Norris also drove a very good race to finish 8th. Renault however could only salvage one point in the race despite starting high up on the grid. Daniel Ricciardo made a couple of mistakes which he could not completely recover from and only managed 10th place while his teammate Ocon managed a 11th place after spinning out at the start.

It was a day to forget for Valtteri Bottas who had a dreadful start to the race and it did not stop for him there. The Finnish driver kept spinning in the race at regular intervals, pushing him all the way back down after every time he seemed to have made up some ground. His misery was complete when his own teammate lapped him towards the end of the race. It was however Ferrari’s best day of the season with Sebastian Vettel finishing on the podium and Charles Leclerc finishing 4th. At one point, it seemed like Leclerc was on course for a 2nd place finish but his move on Perez came undone as the Monegasque locked up and went wide and his German teammate who was right behind him, took full advantage of the mistake and snatched a podium place on the very last corner of the final lap of the race.

Redbull would be disappointed after what seemed to be a very good first part of the race for both drivers, ended only otherwise. Mistakes from Verstappen and Albon throughout meant that they could only finish as high as 6th and 7th respectively, which otherwise looked set to be a double podium at one point. Both the Haas cars were forced to retire during the race as so did Nicolas Latifi of Williams, after starting from the pitlane and Giovinazzi of Alfa Romeo. George Russell in the Williams also had to start from the pitlane after damaging his front wing while coming on to the starting grid before the race and he finished at 16th. Kimi Raikkonen in the other Alfa Romeo finished 15th, after having his share of incidents during the race.

Alpha Tauris had a quiet day compared to how the race went after Danil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly finished 12th and 13th respectively. They were however not without incident after a curfew breach with Gasly’s car saw him relegated to the back of the grid before the start of the race.

A day which promised excitement, chaos and unpredictability truly delivered in what was record breaking race and a record equaling championship for Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. The English driver now has 7 world driver’s championships to his name, an honour only shared by Michael Schumacher.

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Turkish GP: Lance Stroll takes surprise pole in a rain hit qualifying

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Lance Stroll came out on top on Saturday afternoon at Istanbul Park where order was totally disrupted in one of the most chaotic qualifying sessions of the season. He became the first driver who isn’t from the traditional top 3 teams to be on pole since Felipe Massa at Williams, a feat achieved all the way back in the first year of the turbo hybrid era in 2014.

Racing Point pulled off an unlikely masterstroke by sending out both of their cars on intermediates as opposed to the rest of the field who were on wets,  setting them up for a brilliant race tomorrow. Both Perez and Stroll duly delivered lap after lap and it all paid off in the end with Stroll taking pole position and image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Sergio Perez taking P3 on the grid.

In a qualifying session where it looked like Max Verstappen was certain of pole, Redbull’s decision to mirror Racing Point and sticking intermediates on the Dutchman’s car did not quite work out for them. To make matters worse, Verstappen was on his way to a provisional pole lap while the call was made, causing the driver to abandon his lap. In the end, the Redbull driver had to make do with P2, but will be more than fancying his chances for a victory tomorrow. His teammate Albon also had a really good qualifying session putting him at P4.

The track was heavily criticized as the practice sessions unfolded, especially by Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, who was quite unhappy with the things out there. Taking 17 out of 17 poles so far this season, it comes as a very big surprise that the German team could only manage P6 and P9 for Hamilton and Bottas respectively. Both their cars struggled to find grip throughout the weekend and a wet track only made matters worse. The championship equation for Hamilton becomes much simpler for Hamilton tomorrow, as he can be crowned champion if it stands this way.

Q1 started off as scheduled but had to be red flagged with 7 minutes to go thanks to heavy rain and it was a good 45 minute delay until the pitlane opened again. Lap times kept improving once the session restarted but the session had to be red flagged once again as Romain Grosjean in the Haas beached his car in the gravel and could not get it running again.

A little bit of controversy unfurled towards the end of Q1 when Nicolas Latifi also beached his car in the gravel and there were doubled waved yellows in the middle part of the track. Kevin Magnussen was seen complaining on the radio, alleging that a lot of drivers who made it past Q1 had not lifted their foot of the throttle as required in those conditions. The incident is set to be investigated and could change the line-up on the grid. This resulted in both Haas drivers Magnussen and Grosjean, Williams drivers George Russell and Latifi, Kvyat in the Alfa Tauri all getting knocked out in Q1.

Q2 was fairly straightforward on an otherwise chaotic session which saw both the Ferraris of Vettel and Leclerc get knocked out after yet another sub-par display, which continued their woes for the season. Both the McLarens were also out of Q2 which is a bit of a blow for the English team considering their competitors Renault and Racing Point had very good qualifying sessions. The team will line up with Land Norris at P11 and Carlos Sainz at P13 and will be playing catch up right from the start.

Pierre Gasly was another surprise name to not make it to Q3 considering his form throughout the season but the biggest result of Q2 ultimately belongs to Alfa Romeo, which saw both Kimi Raikkonen and Antionio Giovinazzi make it to Q3 while also beating both the works Ferraris in the process. The team will have a very good chance at grabbing some precious points towards the end of the season with Raikkonen starting P8 and Giovinazzi starting P10.

Renault produced an excellent qualifying result with Ricciardo at P5 and Ocon at P7, giving them a platform to get some crucial points in their bid to take the 3rd place in the constructors championship. Track limits were once again the topic of the session as several drivers kept having their times deleted throughout the session but ultimately, it did not prove costly for anyone which might not be the case for tomorrow.

A promising race seems to be on the cards with the track offering very less grip to the drivers and to make matters complicated, the weather might also have a say tomorrow. The magic number for Lewis Hamilton’s 7th world championship is set to be ‘8’ as he has to make sure that his teammate and only remaining championship rival Bottas does not outscore him by more than 8 points. If that does happen, the title would be decided in Bahrain, in a couple of weeks time.

Potuguese GP: Hamilton makes history at Portimao

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Lewis Hamilton absolutely demolished opposition on Sunday afternoon at Portimao to take the coveted win number 92 which has been the talk of the weekend. Hamilton lost out at the start to his teammate Bottas and the fast starting McLaren of Carlos Sainz and had to make his way back into the lead of the race, which he did in spectacular style.

It was a chaotic start to the race which started off in very light rain conditions meaning that the cars starting on the dirty side of the grid had their work cut out for them. This meant that both Mercedes cars lost out to the McLarens at the very beginning and the race briefly saw Sainz lead the proceedings for a few laps. Normality was restored after Mercedes drivers managed to get their tyres going and made it into the 1-2 positions and eventually ended up there.

Max Verstappen starting at 3rd also lost out at the start to McLarens and the Racing Point of Sergio Perez and later made his way back into the race, finally finishing at 3rd. It was not so simple for the Dutchman as he was involved in a first lap incident with Sergio Perez which saw the Mexican driver go spinning out of the track. This meant that Perez had to really work hard for a decent result and he did a stellar job and finished in points at 7th place.

Pierre Gasly’s excellent year continued at Portimao after the French driver put in another excellent performance to finish at 5th place. On an afternoon where almost every other driver struggled to make soft tyres work, Gasly made them work just right during his first stint which made the ultimate difference for him and provided that very strong finish.

McLaren were on course for a high points finish but it was all undone when Lando Norris was tagged by Lance Stroll in an overtake attempt but it did not come off well for the Canadian after he sustained damage on his car and also inflicted some on Lando’s car for which he received a time penalty as well, adding to the one he received for infringing track limits. The Racing Point had to retire towards the end due to damage and a wing change for Norris meant that he could not finish any higher than 13th.

Renault were the big winners in the battle for 3rd in the constructors championship after their Sunday afternoon earned them a double points finish with Ocon at 8th and Daniel Ricciardo at 9th. The former went an astounding 55 laps on medium tyres before finally switching to softs towards the end through which he was able to overcut most of his competitors and achieved a good finish.

It was a good day for Ferrari as well compared to how their 2020 has been going after Charles Leclerc finished at 4th place, producing yet another fantastic drive as he has been doing so far this season and Sebastian Vettel, finally after quite a few races, finished in the last points position following his battle with Kimi Raikkonen. The German driver was also closer to a 9th place finish after he got ever so close to Ricciardo but a major lock up prevented him from making that move.

It was an amazing start to the race for Kimi Raikkonen after he made up as many as 10 places on the opening lap to fins himself at 6th but the ultimate lack of pace from the Alfa Romeo meant that it was inevitable that he would drop down the order and finally finish 11th. His teammate Giovinazzi in the other Alfa Romeo finished 15th following his battles with Magnussen and Russell at the back of the field.

It was a flurry of time penalties in the race after both Romain Grosjean and Danil Kvyat were handed 5 seconds each when they breached track limits and this meant that they could not salvage much out of the weekend as they finished well outside points. George Russell drove a good race which saw him finish 14th but that elusive points finish still seems to evade him. His teammate Latifi could only manage an 18th place finish.

The one talking point among the out of points finishers has to be Alex Albon who has had yet another underwhelming weekend, With Christian Horner admitting that Red Bull are prepared to look outside their pool of drivers, a 12th place finish does not exactly make the case for Albon retaining his seat in the Milton Keynes based team and this means that the Thai driver will have to ensure a strong finish to his season.

Today’s race has seen yet another Schumacher record broken, this time the biggest one in the form of number of race wins. 92 is the magic number for Lewis Hamilton in car no.44, who extends his championship lead to 77 points over the car no.77 of Valtteri Bottas. The record equaling 7th driver’s championship is now a matter of when, rather than if, for one of the all time greats of F1.

Who could be Haas 2021 drivers?

image courtesy of Haas F1 Team

In the lead up to this weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix, it was announced that both Haas drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen would not be retained by the American outfit for 2021, which makes it Haas’ biggest shake-up since it first appeared on the F1 grid back in 2016. Grosjean has been with the team from the start, and Magnussen joined him for 2017. Aside from Mercedes with Hamilton and Bottas, Haas have been the only team with a consistent line-up for many years so this news is hugely telling as far as the future for the team.

There have been some indications as to who could end up at Haas, some more likely than others. So let’s run through some possible candidates.

Experienced sideliners

First up we have to immediately mention the likes of Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Pérez, both drivers are very well known quantities of the F1 paddock that are in danger of missing out.

Hülkenberg lost his Renault seat to Esteban Ocon and failed to secure a full-time drive for 2020, however has performed incredibly in his appearances with Racing Point when both drivers fell ill. One of those being Pérez, who has been let go from the team in favour of Sebastian Vettel when it is rebranded as Aston Martin.

Both drivers are of really high quality and shouldn’t have to beg for drives. But even Pérez who brings a lot of money from his native Mexico is struggling to find a seat at all, and may even end up at Williams alongside Nicholas Latifi and kicking out the also very highly rated George Russell.

But even being a great and proven driver isn’t enough these days, there needs to be more. For example..

Ferrari juniors

At the last Grand Prix, Ferrari academy drivers Mick Schumacher and Callum Ilott (who are both first and second in the FIA Formula 2 championship) were due to make FP1 appearances. Schumacher was due to drive with Alfa Romeo and Ilott was with Haas, however the foggy October sky around northern Germany put pay to that plan and instead they’ll be making their FP1 debut at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Despite being considered a Ferrari ‘B-Team’, Haas have never done what Alfa Romeo have done and run one of Ferrari’s academy drivers in one of their seats. They’ve had the likes of current Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc and Alfa Romeo driver Antonio Giovinazzi do FP1 runs for them, but with the plethora of young talent in Ferrari’s camp, this could very well change for next year.

Not only do you have Schumacher and Ilott, but also last year’s FIA F3 champion Robert Shwartzman who comes with strong backing, however he seems less likely and a second season in F2 wouldn’t do any harm.

With the financial strains put on many teams due to the pandemic, it would make sense for the team to take on a Ferrari junior in exchange for getting their Ferrari power units cheaper. However speaking of financial incentive, that leads me on to the name that is floating around like a stubborn rubber dinghy.

Another kid with a rich dad

No list of possible drivers for smaller F1 teams would be complete without at least one rich kid who has more money than talent. The one in question here is Nikita Mazepin, son of $7.1 billion net-worth Dmitry Mazepin, who won’t stop trying to buy his son an F1 team. His name has been mentioned in conversations for buying out the likes of Force India, Renault, Williams and now Haas.

Mazepin has had a pretty underwhelming career, although he is fighting for victories in his second season of F2 and finished runner-up to the late Anthoine Hubert in the 2018 GP3 season. He was also runner-up in the FIA World Karting Championship in 2014 to current McLaren F1 driver Lando Norris, so I must give him credit where it’s due.

However like current Williams driver Nicholas Latifi, it’s obvious that his father’s money would be more of a reason than his ability as to why Haas would hire him. In this day and age, it’s a necessary evil if it means Haas can keep afloat and there are certainly many drivers who have much less ability they could have picked.

With that being said though, Mazepin is up there with the likes of Dan Ticktum and Santino Ferrucci in terms of polarising and distasteful character. He once punched Callum Ilott and only got a one race ban for it after claiming the Brit held him up in practice at the Hungaroring for an F3 race. He’s also come under fire for threatening to out a current F1 driver as gay, which when you consider the possible implications due to F1’s reliance on money from very homophobic countries, just makes me despise this Russian.

One thing is for sure though should this happen, the Drive To Survive episodes that we will inevitably see with a bad tempered team boss and spoilt son of a Russian oligarch, they’ll be entertaining to watch.

So who could it be?

Immediately, Mazepin seems all but certain, as unfortunate as it is. The extra injection of cash could be imperative for Haas as this could very well serve as a rebuilding phase for the team. Puzzlingly though, the extra money from Sergio Pérez’s backers may not be accepted, which considering a combination of an inexperienced driver like Mazepin with a seasoned veteran and both bringing in money sounds very ideal.

At the moment, it’s all rather up in the air. Haas may end up going with a Ferrari junior on one side of the garage and Mazepin on the other, which could end up backfiring since both drivers are hugely inexperienced and we remember how Williams struggled in 2018 with the money coming from both Lance Stroll’s and Sergey Sirotkin’s backers but both being very inexperienced.

If I was a betting man, that’s who I’d go for right now, Mazepin and a Ferrari academy driver.

But let’s take a moment to acknowledge their current drivers. Romain Grosjean is an anomaly, having had ounces of pace but lacked that refinement to keep him from keeping it on the straight and narrow but over time instead of ironing out those rough edges, he’s lost that spark and arguably shouldn’t have been picked over Nico Hülkenberg for 2020.

As for Kevin Magnussen, from scoring a podium on his debut to becoming the F1 bad boy and driving way too aggressively on occasion, and like Grosjean did show plenty of promise. However that whittled out and now I would be very surprised if either of them managed to find a drive in F1 for next season.

What’s next for them? Well Grosjean has expressed interest in spearheading Peugeot’s Le Mans Hypercar program as well as flirting with the idea of both Formula E and DTM, whilst Magnussen could be linked with a move to IndyCar although I would hope if he does, his defense style is quickly dealt with on ovals..

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

 

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.

Belgian GP Review: Hamilton takes 89th career win

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Lewis Hamilton took his 5th win of the season and 89th win of his career on Sunday afternoon in Spa on a day that called for very high tyre management. The Englishman started on pole and had to fend off an early challenge on lap one from his teammate and Max Verstappen. Once he was out in front, it was rarely any challenge apart from managing the tyres which were falling off at the end.

Both him and his teammate Bottas pitted under the safety car around lap ten during a safety car brought on due to Giovinazzi losing his rear and ending up in the barriers while collecting George Russell in the process. The Mercedes duo put on hard tyres like pretty much the rest of the field and limped to the end to finish 1-2.

Max Verstappen of Redbull failed to mount a challenge to the Mercedes after he was put on the same hard compound tyres following the safety car and he had to go into management mode as well. The outright winners of the race apart from the top 3 has to be the Renault sport team after Daniel Ricciardo drove a mega race to finish P4 and take the fastest lap in the process while finishing only 3 seconds behind Verstappen.

His teammate Ocon pulled off a last lap overtake on Red bull’s Albon to finish 5th and the team will be very much looking forward to Monza given the similar characteristics of the Italian circuit. Albon has to be content with 6th after a different strategy call from his team saw him finish the race on mediums which put him at a disadvantage towards the end.

McLaren had a mixed raceday after Carlos Sainz’s bad luck followed him to Spa this weekend. The Spaniard failed to even make it to the grid following an exhaust failure while bringing the car on to the track and will be hoping for something to go his way during next week. The other McLaren of Lando Norris put on a decent show after he finished 7th towards the end passing Lance Stroll on the way and putting up a fight with Albon and Ocon for 5th.

Pierre Gasly certainly put in a driver of the day performance after starting the race on the hard tyres and choosing not to stop under the safety car which enabled him to be on fresher tyres towards the end of the race. The Frenchman definitely made most of this strategy and put in some brilliant moves, especially one up the Eau Rouge onto Radillon on the inside vs Sergio Perez. This saw him finish 8th despite starting outside the top 10 and earned him some well deserved points. His teammate Kvyat in the other Alpha Tauri finished 11th after a quiet race.

Racing Point had a very average race following a similar qualifying and they will be left pondering on the loss of the really good pace that they have been showing so far in the season. Sergio Perez finished in the final points spot at 10th despite trying a different strategy to his teammate Lance Stroll who finished 9th.

Ferrari had a similar, if not worse race compared to qualifying after both the drivers swapped their qualifying positions with Vettel finishing 13th and Leclerc finishing 14th. Leclerc got off to a great start and put himself in 9th place before eventually losing places lap after lap. His pitstop under the safety car did not go according to the plan as well and he had to spend more than 30 seconds in the pitlane. As if this wasnn’t enough, he was then called in for an unexplained pitstop which left him visibly disgruntled on the radio, akin to his teammate.

It was not a completely bad day for the ferrari powered cars after Kimi Raikkonen in the Alfa Romeo finished 12th ahead of both the works Ferraris while passing one of them on the track in a straight fight. Both the Haas cars finished with Grosjean at 15th and Magnussen at 17th after another very underwhelming weekend for the American team. Latifi finished 16th in the only remaining Williams after his teammate was taken out by a crashing Giovinazzi much earlier in the race.

With the promise of rain yet again not being fulfilled, Spa did not deliver the quite the race every F1 fan had hoped for. Mercedes and Hamilton would not be complaining to much after finishing 1-2 yet again and hamilton extending his lead at the top to 47 points over Verstappen. Renault will be the ones looking forward to another power hungry track in Monza while Ferrari might not be missing the Tifosi too much given how they have been performing so far this season.

Mugello added to F1 schedule

Formula One have announced that along with the current eight Grand Prix in Europe on the revised schedule, they will be making the trip to the Mugello circuit for what will be the inaugural Tuscan Grand Prix on September 13th, the week after the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

If you are a fan of MotoGP, you will be very familiar with this circuit, as it plays host to the Italian MotoGP. The circuit itself is owned by Ferrari, whose 1000th Grand Prix will now take place at their own circuit but whether or not they can win is another matter completely.

So for those of you unfamiliar with Mugello, here is all you need to know for when the F1 circus shows up in Tuscany on September 13th.

In anticipation of the news, I prerecorded an onboard lap at Mugello on Project CARS 2. Please ignore my terrible driving and my usage of the driving line, we can’t all be David Tonizza.

You start off with a very long and wide front straight with a bit of a dip before turn one San Donato, a long open hairpin that immediately sets you up for a quick left right section dubbed Luco and Poggio Secco. That second part really tightens up on exit which opens up possibility for a lot of errors.

A short run to Materassi which requires a lot of corner speed, then Borgo San Lorenzo will set you up to continue the momentum. Next up is probably one of the most amazing sequences of corners in motorsport, one that will look incredible in F1 cars.

The run from turns six to nine involves a lot of elevation change, Casanova will be right on the limit for these F1 cars before setting up for Savelli, which feeds into the two Arrabbiata corners, two steep uphill, tight and almost flat out corners that I genuinely am having difficulty thinking of a comparable alternative on the traditional F1 schedule.

This leads to a quick right left section with Scarperia and Palagio and then another long sweeper at Correntaio which has a bit of downhill camber. Then a quick flick through Biondetti before one final long sweeper at Bucine which will catch out a lot of drivers trying to get the best run into their qualifying lap.

An absolute beast of a circuit which is unlike most F1 circuits, a real old school track that I know the drivers will really enjoy it. If I had to think of a comparable circuit, I would liken Mugello to Suzuka due to their shared characteristics of high speed cornering, elevation change and rapid change of direction.

Of course along with the announcement is also the confirmed September 27th slot for the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi, which probably resulted in many collective groans throughout the F1 community but Mugello more than makes up for it. There may be other additions to the schedule that were not on the original draft of the 2020 F1 season calendar, including former San Marino Grand Prix venue Imola, and even the Algarve circuit in Portugal, both of which are very similar in terms of elevation change and long sweeping corners to Mugello.

If there’s one group of people I feel sorry for in this landmark announcement, it’s Codemasters. I get the feeling that Mugello will not be possible to create in game for 2020 but I hope that this circuit along with many other potential circuits to host a Grand Prix this season are included in the next F1 game next year.

Let’s hope the 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix lives up to the hype.

Haas F1 Team Takes First – 2020 Contender Reveal

Haas F1 Team gave the Formula 1 world a pleasant surprise yesterday by revealing its 2020 contender early. The VF-20’s new livery presents a welcome return of the design elements of the team’s first years in contention. The return to the gray, red, a different, lighter gray (I suspect we could be forgiven for thinking it white), and black color scheme presents a welcome evolution of the team’s 2018 livery as well as a return to the branding of Haas Automation.

Haas F1 Media

In the press release accompanying the reveal, it is entirely unsurprising that neither Haas Automation founder and team chairman Gene Haas nor team principal Guenther Steiner mentioned the debacle that was Rich Energy’s sponsorship. The usual nods to lessons learned were suitably dispensed, along with the hopes that 2020 will see an evolution of 2018’s form in both design and results.

The livery suits the 2020 design well. For the sake of Haas fans, here’s hoping that the on-track performance will match its visual appeal.

The VF-20 will make its physical debut as scheduled on 19 February 2020, the opening day of pre-season testing in Barcelona, with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean in the cockpit.

Haas F1 Media

 

[Featured image – Haas F1 Media]