F1 driver market: Who will twist after Mercedes sticks?

Last weekend’s German Grand Prix opened with the unsurprising news that Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas would be remaining with Mercedes for the next year and beyond.

Coming just before the summer break, Mercedes’ announcement is set to kick-start what has so far been a slow-building driver market for 2019. Daniel Ricciardo is expected to remain with Red Bull, while the current paddock word is that Ferrari will hand Kimi Räikkönen another year’s extension.

But with the top teams entering a holding pattern, what does that mean for any potential moves elsewhere on the grid?

Sahara Force India F1 Team

Force India, Renault now key to the midfield

With the grid’s top six seats filling up, all eyes are turning now to Force India, Renault and Esteban Ocon.

Despite Force India holding an option on Ocon’s services, Mercedes has been trying to place their young Frenchman at Renault next year to safeguard his career against the financial and legal troubles plaguing Force India. It’s unclear whether this switch will still go ahead now that Force India is no longer facing a winding up order, but the consensus is that it’s still on the cards at least.

If Ocon does make the move it will be at the expense of Carlos Sainz, even though the Spaniard will be free to commit to Renault long-term once Ricciardo blocks off the final Red Bull seat.

Force India could have another vacancy to fill, with Sergio Pérez on the shopping list for Haas. If there is a seat free at the Silverstone-based team, Lance Stroll will be at the front of the queue to take it with help from his father’s backing. Stroll is also said to be keen on bringing Robert Kubica with him from Williams, to act as his benchmark and mentor, should both Force India seats open up.

Andrew Hone / Williams F1

Williams and McLaren fall into place

With Stroll almost certain to switch to Force India, that leaves an opening at Williams. And despite that seat being arguably the least attractive on the 2019 grid, Williams does still have a few options to fill it.

The first is Kubica (if there’s no room for him at Force India), who would provide Williams with a relatively consistent lineup as they try to escape their downward spiral. Mercedes junior George Russell is also in the frame, and would bring with him a discount on the team’s power units to offset the loss of Williams’ Stroll and Martini funding. (Russell also has the added perk of being Williams’ first full-time British driver since Jenson Button in 2000.)

McLaren will also be keeping an interested eye on the Force India/ Renault situation as they look to finalise their 2019 lineup over the summer break. Fernando Alonso looks likely to stay with the team for another year at least now that their IndyCar talk has cooled, although Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren future is far less certain.

Early season reports had Lando Norris as sure to replace Vandoorne for next year, but a midseason F2 slump has put Norris’ F1 promotion into doubt for now. Sainz’s contractual limbo has moved him into play for the second McLaren seat, arguably the most competitive option open to him if he is forced out of Renault. Kubica has also been touted as an outside contender.

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

Few options for Red Bull and Ferrari juniors

The deadlock at the top of the grid means that there isn’t much upward movement available for the likes of Pierre Gasly and Charles Leclerc. The latter has been linked to Grosjean’s Haas seat lately, but there seems little sense in Ferrari switching Leclerc from one midfield team to another for the sake of it—given his trajectory, it would be better to see how Leclerc develops in a sophomore year at Sauber.

Leclerc staying put rules out a Ferrari-backed Sauber placement for Antonio Giovinazzi—with one of the Scuderia’s juniors already in the team, Sauber is more likely to either keep Marcus Ericsson for a fifth season or pick up Vandoorne from McLaren.

As for Red Bull’s academy team, the likelihood of seeing a brand new face replacing Brendon Hartley is slim. Red Bull may want F3 protege Dan Ticktum in the car, but his lack of superlicence points is an obstacle the FIA won’t be willing to overlook—so too is the case for Honda juniors Nirei Fukuzumi and Tadasuke Makino.

Featured image by Steve Etherington, courtesy of Mercedes AMG

F1 2018: British Grand Prix Driver Ratings

Looking at the results, you wouldn’t have thought much happened during the British Grand Prix, but some action at the start and a couple of safety car periods spiced the race up. The final race of the triple-header in Europe saw Sebastian Vettel take the win.

The 2018 Formula One British GP winners; (left to right)Lewis 2nd, Seb winner and Kimi 3rd. Image courtesy of Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel – 9

There were pre-race doubts about Vettel’s fitness – he had tape put on his neck after FP3 – but the adrenaline kicked in and his start was beautiful, waving concerns away. All the action happened behind him. The safety cars late on in the race put him behind on the track but a great dive-bomb up the inside of Bottas sealed the win. Great victory as we head towards Germany next! 

 

Lewis Hamilton – 9

The Brit got a tardy start which he would come to regret, even if he ended the race in a position where he lost minimal amounts of points. There were some very interesting comments from him afterwards suggesting that tactics from Ferrari were what resulted in him being taken out, bringing back memories of Mexico 2017. Hamilton was the last car on track at the end of lap one, but like a knife through butter he carved his way through the field. A disappointing start, but if you look from lap two onwards it was a great race for him.

 

Kimi Raikkonen – 7

Raikkonen has finished on the podium at the last three races, but never on the top step. The Finn owned up to his coming-together with Hamilton, saying the incident at turn three was his fault and accepting the penalty handed to him. Team-mate Vettel stormed off into the distance, while Raikkonen couldn’t quite match Hamilton near the end of the race.

 

Valtteri Bottas – 8

The Mercedes team threw away the lead again today, deciding to keep Bottas out after the second safety car. Before that he was faster than Vettel, so on a level playing field Bottas could have beaten the German and taken the flag first. Much like in China and Baku, strategy from his team may have cost him the victory once again, even if it may have been tougher in Silverstone to remain in the lead. A great start made amends for a poor qualifying on Saturday, but he is clearly still playing second fiddle to Hamilton.

 

Daniel Ricciardo – 7

Silverstone turned out to be a track which highlighted the frailties of the Red Bull package. Roughly 80% of the track is spent at full throttle, and power isn’t exactly Red Bull’s strong point. Ricciardo was out qualified once again by Verstappen, with a DRS issue hampering his performance. He was great at defending against Raikkonen during the race but unfortunately the safety car came out at the wrong time for him, as he had already made a pit-stop two laps beforehand. The lack of speed along the straights prevented him from passing Bottas in the closing laps of the race.

 

Nico Hulkenburg – 8

Best of the rest and great haul of points for the German. Renault were the only team to use the hard tyre during the race, having worried about blistering on the other compounds, and the tactic worked brilliantly. Hulkenberg did supremely well to keep the pack behind him at the two safety car restarts.

 

Esteban Ocon – 7

Ocon is showing his worth a lot more this season compared to last, and provided a great result at for Force India at what is essentially the team’s home race, given that their factory is literally just over the road. Ocon made it through to the final part of qualifying, and kept the car in the top ten on Sunday. 

 

Fernando Alonso – 8

Alonso’s McLaren may lack pace on a Saturday but on a Sunday, in the hands of the Spaniard, it is one of the best in the midfield. He took advantage of the safety cars to pit for some fresh rubber, allowing him to get past Kevin Magnussen at the end. He may appear calm on the outside, but it isn’t hard to imagine that deep down all is still not well with the relationship between himself and McLaren.

Sebastian Vettel leads the 2018 British GP. Image courtesy of Ferrari

Kevin Magnussen – 7

Hampered by the first lap accident with his team-mate, Magnussen did well to score points considering the clash inflicted some damage to his car, which restricted his speed. He was one of few drivers not to pit under the safety car which pushed him down the order late on, but he managed to hold on to salvage some points.

 

Sergio Perez – 6

Much like Hamilton, Perez saw the field drive past him after contact on the first lap spun him at turn one. He recovered well and found himself in contention for the last point, which was ultimately claimed by Pierre Gasly Chafter a collision between the two near the end of the race. After the race, though, Gasly was awarded a five-second penalty for the incident, meaning Perez inherited P10 and the one point that comes with it.

 

Stoffel Vandoorne – 4

It was a quiet weekend in general for Vandoorne. He was a whopping 0.9 seconds slower than Alonso on Saturday, and with others making the decision to start the race from the pit-lane it meant he was the last on the grid. He finished the race in 12th, meaning he now hasn’t scored since Baku. Lando Norris in currently second in Formula 2 and is hotly tipped for a drive in F1 next year. It could well be this seat that he takes.

 

Lance Stroll – 5

Williams are currently the worst car on the grid, and unfortunately nothing put that more on show than Sunday’s race. Prior to the first safety car they were the only team to have been lapped, and Stroll made a mistake in qualifying which ended up his car being beached in the gravel.

 

Pierre Gasly – 7

Gasly had a good Sunday and initially finished tenth, a welcome result given that Toro Rosso been having a tough time of it recently. The Frenchman collided with Perez with a few laps to go, and a harsh time penalty given to him after the race pushed him down the field. Silverstone was a track which showed Honda’s deficit to the other manufacturers, but there are still promising signs and it was a far better day for Gasly than the results suggested.

 

Sergey Sirotkin – 5

Sirotkin, along with his team-mate, started the race from the pits after taking on new parts. Like Stroll, Sirotkin also made a mistake in qualifying, but managed to keep the car going and set a lap, albeit one that turned out to be the slowest of the session. Seeing the Williams team run plum last is such a shame to see.

 

Max Verstappen – 7

Verstappen may have been classified as a finisher, but a brake-by-wire issue ended his day late into the race. Ever-hungry, he was running in a solid podium position, but with the deficit of his Renault power-unit he was a sitting duck at the restarts. His defending to Raikkonen was brilliant.

 

Carlos Sainz – 5

A poor performance for Sainz both on Saturday and Sunday. A less-than-par qualifying session put him in the thick of the action, and he collided with Romain Grosjean. A weekend to forget for the Spaniard.

 

Romain Grosjean – 5

Will Austria be seen as a peak in Grosjean’s season? Three collisions in one weekend isn’t good enough. The first occurred in practice, with the second being the cardinal sin of hitting his team mate on the first lap. The third, a tangling with Sainz at Copse, ended his race. Grosjean should have lifted off the throttle, but he kept his foot buried, causing instability and ultimately the collision.

 

Marcus Ericcson – 6

Ericsson’s DRS didn’t close as he approached turn one during the race and he crashed heavily, bringing out the first safety car. The crash rounded out an unfortunate weekend for the Swede, after England took his country out of the World Cup the day before. He did, however, have great pace during qualifying and got through to Q2.

 

Charles Leclerc – 8

An unfortunate error in the pits for Sauber resulted in Leclerc’s rear tyre not being fitted properly and the team telling him to stop the car. He had made another Q3 appearance on Saturday and had been running seventh at the time of the error, which meant the loss of a potentially big haul of points.

 

Brendan Hartley – N/A

You can’t really comment on what a horrible weekend the Kiwi has had. The suspension failure on Saturday pretty much ended his weekend. He didn’t see any track action in qualifying, and a last minute problem starting from the pit lane resulted in retirement after one lap. None of it whatsoever was his fault.

Ferrari Media

There is now a two-week break before we head to Hockenheim in Germany, a track that we see appear every so often on the calendar. Vettel won on Hamilton’s home turf this weekend, but can Hamilton strike back with victory in Germany? Vettel hasn’t got a record like Hamilton at his home track, and has only won in Germany once in his Red Bull days. The summer break looms and, for drivers such as Grosjean and Vandoorne, the pressure increases.

2018 British GP Review: Is it coming home?

Formula One hosted it first ever triple header, which concluded at round 10 The British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Silverstone normally produces drama and excitement and this year was no exception.

‘Homeboy’ Lewis Hamilton started the race from pole as he claimed his 76th career pole with a lap he called himself ‘’the toughest lap ever’’. Behind him was Vettel with a small gap of only +0.044s. It was a tense battle for pole. For many teams like McLaren and Williams the British Grand Prix is their home Grand Prix as well. They didn’t impress the home crowd like Lewis did, as Stroll caused a red flag for spinning into the gravel. Sirotkin did the same, but he managed to get back to the pits to try another flying lap. Vandoorne was almost a second slower than his teammate Alonso in qualifying. He ended up in P17 as Alonso started from P13. Was it really coming home for the Brits?

Sebastian Vettel leads the 2018 British GP. Image courtesy of Ferrari

The start of the race was a bit chaotic for Toro Rosso, as the car of Brendon Hartley wasn’t ready during the parade lap, as mechanics were still working on his car in the garage. He did manage to start the race though from the pits, but after already one lap he returned to the pits to retire. Hamilton had an awful start as Vettel overtook him into turn 1. To make things even worse, Lewis spun in turn 3 after he got hit by Kimi Räikkönen who locked his brakes. Kimi eventually got a 10-second time penalty for the incident. Hamilton thus had to start from the back. After two laps he was back up to P14 after overtaking some slower drivers. Perez had a difficult start as well as he spun in turn 1, almost collecting both the Williams cars that started from the pit lane.

Meanwhile a great battle between Max Verstappen and Kimi was unleashed, just like in Barcelona 2016. Max defended heavily whilst Kimi was looking for a move. Vettel took the lead and extended it by almost a second per lap on Bottas in second place. Renault did a good job, with Hülkenberg and Sainz making up some places at the start. Hamilton was in P8 by lap 9, catching up the Sauber of Leclerc and eventually overtaking him that same lap. Hülkenberg was his next target, but that wasn’t a problem for him as he got him in lap 10 using DRS on the Hangar Straight. Kimi was frustrated at his team as he was struggling to get past Max. His team reminded him of his penalty whilst he was ‘’just trying to help, but I probably shouldn’t be thinking’’. He clearly was unhappy as the pressure from behind of Ricciardo increased. As a result of this all, Räikkönen ended up being the first to do a pit stop in lap 14, putting on the mediums.

Williams and McLaren battled each other, but only for their honour as the points were out of reach. Force India had mixed feelings with Ocon in the top 10 but Perez in last place after the incident at the start. Haas impressed in Austria, but seemingly struggled at Silverstone as they were just fighting for the last few points.

Max Verstappen ahead of Kimi Raikkonen. Image courtesy of Charles Coates/Getty Images via Red Bull Content pool

Max Verstappen went into the pits in lap 18, changing to the medium tyre which meant that Lewis passed the Dutchman. Hamilton however still had to make his pit stop. He was up to P3 when Daniel Ricciardo went into the pits, followed by Charles Leclerc to make his stop too. The team made an impressive 2.3 second pit stop, but it already looked too good to be real as he had to stop the car after exiting the pit lane.

Bottas passed Hamilton as he was on a new set of mediums, whilst Lewis was still going on his old softs. Valtteri was closing the gap to Vettel as he really pushed his new tyres to the limit. The only team that gave the new ‘Ice Blue’ hard tyre a try, to probably make it to the end of the race. With the exceptional high temperatures at Silverstone this didn’t seem like a bad idea. This was confirmed in lap 31 as Ricciardo made his second pit stop of the race, going back to the soft compound which meant he came back at P6 behind Hamilton who made his first and only pitstop in lap 25.

In lap 33 Ericcson crashed heavily in the first corner at full speed after using too much of the outside kerbstone. This brought out the yellow flag and eventually the Safety Car, as his car was deep into the tyre barriers. Luckily he could climb out of his car on his own. The Safety Car situation got the strategists thinking into overdrive: should they pit their cars now or wait. Bottas didn’t take a second pit stop, but Verstappen, Räikkönen and Vettel did. Bottas now led with his old mediums, whilst Vettel was in P2 with his new soft tyres and surprisingly Hamilton in third position. He didn’t make another pit stop too, which led to complaints from the British driver as he was worried he ‘’wouldn’t make it’’ on these tyres. His team assured him that he was the fastest driver on track and that he shouldn’t give up. Ricciardo didn’t get lucky during the SC, as he ended up in only P6 after he already had made his second pit stop. The team told him that ‘’the timing of the Safety Car was unfortunate’’.

The Safety Car went into the pits in lap 37, starting the fifteen lap sprint race to the finish flag. At the restart Vettel wasn’t focused as Bottas drove away. Kimi overtook Max in turn 6, which led to a massive fight between the two. This fight ended early as another Safety Car occurred for a crash between Sainz and Grosjean at Copse Corner. Sainz was at the outside, cutting to the inside where Grosjean already was. The Frenchman did have a moment of oversteer and crashed into Sainz. It thus looked like a racing incident.

The second Safety Car situation of the race ended in lap 41 of 52, shortening the sprint race from fifteen laps to just ten. These SC situations meant that Hamilton could manage his older tyres to the end. The second restart went horrible for Kimi as he went wide but he could get his P5 back. Vettel tried to overtake Bottas at turn 6 as he was very close but he had to lift, otherwise they would probably collide. Alonso had a good restart overtaking Magnussen for P9, but Magnussen took back his place the same lap. Max made a mistake coming up on Hangar Straight, making an overtake easy for Räikkönen. Vettel and Bottas had a legendary fight for the victory. Hamilton was under pressure from Kimi, whilst Lewis was increasing the pressure on Vettel who put Bottas under pressure. It was a massive fight for the podium between the four drivers, as the camera helicopter captured the top four in just one shot.

The problems for Max Verstappen got worse as he spun in lap 46, eventually leading to his retirement from the race as he had problems with the brake-by-wire system. Meanwhile Vettel overtook Bottas into turn 6 with an amazing speed and a lap later Hamilton also overtook Bottas, taking an impressive P2 after a terrible start. With just five laps to go Lewis was just two seconds away from a victory on home soil. Bottas went down from P2 to P4 in just three laps, he was really struggling for pace. He even had to defend his P4 from Daniel Ricciardo for the last three laps, which he did successfully because the Red Bull just wasn’t fast enough. In the end it looked like Hamilton was happy to take P2, losing some time on Vettel and probably more thinking about defending his position from Räikkönen.

The 2018 Formula One British GP winners; (left to right)Lewis 2nd, Seb winner and Kimi 3rd. Image courtesy of Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel took his 51st career victory at the 2018 British Grand Prix, whilst Lewis Hamilton got voted Driver of the Day by the fans after a heroic drive saw him finish in second place in front of his home crowd. It wasn’t meant to be for Lewis to win his sixth British GP, but at least he brought home some very important eighteen points. Vettel extended his championship lead by a small margin because of this victory. After an exciting race, the British fans should be very happy to see Hamilton on the podium. Lewis himself didn’t look happy though as he skipped the post-race interview. He later on said that Ferrari “used some interesting tactics”, probably suggesting that Räikkönen hit him on purpose to give Vettel the win. Mercedes teamboss Toto Wolff went even further, saying “it was deliberate or incompetence”. It’s an all out warfare between Ferrari and Mercedes this year. Will Lewis still bring it home this year?

Featured Image courtesy of Ferrari media

Austrian Grand Prix: Bottas Claims First Pole of the Year

Image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Valtteri Bottas has claimed his first pole position of the year, and leads a Mercedes 1-2 into tomorrow’s Austrian Grand Prix.

Of the big-hitters, only Bottas and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen had a truly clean session. Both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel made mistakes early on – at turn three and turn four respectively – and ended up relatively far back after the first Q3 runs had been completed. It took until the last couple of minutes for the pair to pull themselves back up the order – Hamilton ultimately qualified P2, and Vettel P3, with both pushing Kimi Raikkonen down into P4. Vettel was noted as being under investigation for allegedly impeding Carlos Sainz in Q2, but since Sainz did advance to Q3 it is uncertain whether Vettel will receive any penalty.

Red Bull had expected qualifying to be a struggle compared to Mercedes and Ferrari coming into the weekend. Max Verstappen may have qualified P5 but he was still two tenths behind Raikkonen, and Daniel Ricciardo ended up P7 behind the Haas of an impressive Romain Grosjean. Replays of team radio throughout the session indicated a certain amount of tension in the team, with Ricciardo frustrated that Verstappen did not follow orders to lead the Australian for a lap and give him a tow, as Ricciardo had done for Verstappen the lap before.

Kevin Magnussen and the two Renaults of Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg complete the top ten.

Further down the order, Charles Leclerc continues to impress in the Sauber. He qualified P13 but carries a five-place grid penalty due to his gearbox needing to be changed following a stoppage on track in FP3.

Force India’s Sergio Perez had a nightmare of a session. The Mexican complained of running out of battery during his first run and of getting stuck in traffic during his second. He failed to make it out of Q1 and starts P17.

It was also a frustrating session for McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley. Both were looking to pull themselves out of the drop-zone and into Q2, but encountered yellow flags on their flying laps when Charles Leclerc ran through the gravel trap in the final moments of Q1.

Both Mercedes and Red Bull will start tomorrow’s Grand Prix on the supersoft tyres, with all those around them starting on the ultras. Bottas will be hoping to convert pole position into a win, at the circuit where he claimed his second ever victory in 2017.

Austrian Grand Prix Grid

1. Valtteri Bottas – 1:03.130

2. Lewis Hamilton – 1:03.149

3. Sebastian Vettel – 1:03.464

4. Kimi Raikkonen – 1:03.660

5. Max Verstappen – 1:03.840

6. Romain Grosjean – 1:03.892

7. Daniel Ricciardo – 1:03.996

8. Kevin Magnussen – 1:04.051

9. Carlos Sainz – 1:04.725

10. Nico Hulkenberg – 1:05.019

11. Esteban Ocon – 1:04.845

12. Pierre Gasly 0 1:04.874

13. Fernando Alonso – 1:05.058

14. Lance Stroll – 1:05.286

15. Stoffel Vandoorne – 1:05.271

16. Sergio Perez – 1:05.279

17. Sergey Sirotkin – 1:05.322

18. Charles Leclerc – 1:04.979 *5-place penalty for gearbox change

19. Brendon Hartley 1:05.366

20. Marcus Ericsson – 1:05.479

 

Update – 17:30 – Sebastian Vettel has been given a three-place penalty by the stewards for impeding Carlos Sainz at turn one in Q2. The German will now start P6, promoting Kimi Raikkonen to P3, Max Verstappen to P4, and Romain Grosjean to P5.

F1 2018: French Grand Prix Returns After 10-Year Absence

The French Grand Prix returns to Paul Ricard this week, ten years after the last race in the country was held. Spare a thought for all the teams, who will no doubt be bracing themselves for the prospect of Formula One’s first ever triple-header, with the French, Austrian and British Grand Prix all taking place over the coming weekends.

Last time out in Canada was something of a shock to the system for many. Past form would have suggested Mercedes were set to dominate the weekend, but that was not the case at all. It may not have been the most exciting race in the world – it was really so very, very far from that – but Sebastian Vettel was sublime all weekend and he cruised to victory from pole position, followed home by Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen. With Lewis Hamilton in P5, it means that Sebastian Vettel is now in the lead of the championship, by just one point.

Ferrari won the last French Grand Prix – which was held at Magny Cours in 2008 and was won by Felipe Massa – and Kimi Raikkonen is one of only two drivers on the current grid, the other being Fernando Alonso, who have won the Grand Prix before. The power unit upgrades Ferrari introduced for Canada proved fruitful, and with Paul Ricard’s long straights you can expect the team to go very well again this weekend.

Mercedes, meanwhile, are set to finally introduce the power unit upgrades that were originally meant to be brought in for Canada, but were ultimately delayed because of quality control issues. There is no getting away from the fact that they were very underwhelming in Canada, and will definitely be grateful for the upgrades in France given the nature of the track.

Max Verstappen finished P3 in Canada – the first race this season that he has put in a weekend without incident – continuing Red Bull’s tradition in the hybrid era of performing better there than otherwise might be expected of them. With Daniel Ricciardo also finishing in the top five, and both drivers happy with the upgrades introduced, there is no apparent reason to suggest that Red Bull won’t be able to replicate that sort of performance in France.

Force India’s Esteban Ocon’s first win in a single-seater was actually at Paul Ricard, and he believes that he is potentially on for a good result this weekend. “On paper, the track should suit us,” he said, “with a long straight and some slow corners where we can use our car’s mechanical grip really well. It’s a track which will be new for everyone and we’re usually good at finding a set-up quickly, so I’m not too worried.”

Renault are currently enjoying their best start to a season since they returned to F1 as a works team in 2016, and they head into their home race having been bolstered by the power unit upgrade they brought in Canada. They are a respectable P4 in the WCC, 16 points ahead of McLaren. If both Renault and McLaren perform in France as they did in Canada, expect that gap to grow considerably.

Last time out at the Canadian Grand Prix, Haas introduced a new front wing and floor plus a revised bargeboard, and they are optimistic that these will suit the layout of the Paul Ricard track after two consecutive races of not getting either car into the points. This will actually be Romain Grosjean’s first home race in F1 – his rookie year was in 2009, a year after the last French Grand Prix took place – so expect him to be especially keen for a good result.

Both Toro Rosso drivers are similarly optimistic about what they might be able to achieve in the race. Pierre Gasly, for whom this is also a first home race in F1, has either won or at least gotten on to the podium every time he has raced at Paul Ricard, and Brendon Hartley, who crashed out of the last race in Canada along with Lance Stroll after contact between the pair, has said: “Paul Ricard is a circuit I know well, although not in a Formula 1 car. We did a lot of testing there with WEC in the LMP1 car and I won the LMP2 category in 2013. It was always a popular track for endurance testing and I’m also pretty handy round there in the night-time, although that’s not going to come into play in a Formula 1 car!”

Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, Montreal, Canada
Sunday 10 June 2018.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren, and Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren, on the grid.
Image courtesy of  Andy Hone/McLaren ref: Digital Image _ONZ4265

Speaking of the World Endurance Championship, there is no doubt that the majority of the off-track spotlight will be on McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, fresh from winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans alongside his #8 Toyota co-drivers Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakijima. However, it may be a case of coming back to reality with a bump for Alonso, as well as for team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne. They struggled around Canada – Vandoorne finished two laps down in P16 and Alonso retired – and with Paul Ricard’s long straights it may unfortunately be more of the same for the Woking-based outfit.

Charles Leclerc is on a very impressive run of performances at the moment. In Canada he finished ahead of Gasly, both Haas cars, the McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne, Sergey Sirotkin and even Sergio Perez in the Force India, and managed to hold off Fernando Alonso in several wheel-to-wheel duels before the Spaniard retired from the race.

Williams’ Lance Stroll is a lot more muted about the track than some of his rivals. “I know [it] from when I drove in Formula 3. I had a good time there and won a race, but I have to be honest because I can’t say I like it,” he said in Williams’ race preview. “It is just run offs everywhere and I am not a big fan.” As mentioned, he crashed out of the Canadian Grand Prix on the first lap – that just about sums up the luck he and the Williams team have been having this year – but maybe don’t expect the French Grand Prix to be the best place for a turn in fortunes.

Featured Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

F1 2018: Canadian Grand Prix Preview

The Formula One circus will soon begin its busiest period of the year, with the prospect of four races in five weeks looming on the horizon, kick-started this weekend by the Canadian Grand Prix.

On the face of it, it would seem that there is no greater contrast on the calendar than the jump from Monte Carlo to Montreal. The former is known for its slow speeds where downforce is king, whereas the latter boasts one of the highest average speeds of any race on the calendar, with 45% of the lap spent at full throttle. There are, however, more similarities than you might think. Like Monaco, Canada has areas where there is virtually no run-off with the walls only a whisker away. Controlled aggression is the name of the game, and any small mistake could prove extremely costly.

Red Bull arrive at the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve off the back of a strong showing in Monaco. Yes, Max Verstappen may have binned it in FP3 but he was the source of the most overtakes during the race, and you could not fault Ricciardo for his race-winning performance up front.

Unfortunately, it is likely that the Australian will be receiving a grid penalty after his MGU-K failure during that race. Each driver is only allowed two MGU-Ks per season, and Ricciardo has already used up both of his. Using a third merits an automatic ten-place grid penalty. Furthermore, he has also used up his allowance of batteries and control electronics, which would mean an additional five-place penalty for each should they have to be changed as well.

Red Bull have in recent years gone better in Canada than perhaps would have been expected of them, given their Renault power unit’s deficiency to both Mercedes and Ferrari. Last year, for instance, Ricciardo finished P3 ahead of both Ferraris and both Force Indias, and Canada is of course the place where he scored his first F1 victory back in 2014.

It is arguable that this is a must-win race for Ferrari. Lewis Hamilton has a fourteen-point gap to Sebastian Vettel in the championship, and the next few races are probably more suited to the Silver Arrows than the Scuderia. Ferrari haven’t taken the top step of the podium since Bahrain back in early April, and it was at this point in the season last year that things began to slip away from them.

A single podium, in 2016 courtesy of Sebastian Vettel, is the highlight of the team’s trips to Canada in the hybrid era – surprisingly, even Red Bull have more podium finishes than that – although it is worth noting that in 2017 Vettel managed to recover to P4 after dropping to the back of the grid when contact with Verstappen on lap one broke his front wing.

If there has been one constant in Canada in recent years, it’s that this is Mercedes’ race to lose. There has only been one Canadian Grand Prix since the hybrid era began – the aforementioned race in 2014 – that Mercedes have failed to win. This is one of Lewis Hamilton’s best tracks on the calendar – he won the race in 2010, 2012, and every year between 2015 and 2017 inclusive – and it was here last year that he matched Ayrton Senna’s record for the number of pole positions claimed.

Team-mate Valtteri Bottas also has good history with the track. He finished on the podium twice when he was racing for Williams, and also last year in his first year with Mercedes. He also qualified an amazing P3 in his rookie year in 2013, in a car that only finished in the points once in the entire year.

Further down the grid, Toro Rosso will be hoping for a better showing than last year, when both Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz retired. Brendon Hartley in particular needs to put in a good performance, with questions about the safety of his seat continuing to be asked.

Williams have gone well in Canada recently. As mentioned, Valtteri Bottas finished on the podium twice during his stint driving for them, and in 2017 it was one of home favourite Lance Stroll’s best races. They struggled around Monaco, but they will be crossing their fingers that the long straights of Canada will better suit the design of their car and enable them to add to their meagre haul of points so far this year.

Force India will also be expecting good things – Sergio Perez scored a podium back in 2012, and Esteban Ocon will be keen to keep up the momentum from his P6 finish in Monaco.

Haas have claimed to have solved the braking problems that have plagued them seemingly since they joined the sport in 2016 and for that they will certainly be grateful, as a lot of time can be found around the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve just through having confidence on the brakes. They only have one points finish to their name in Canada so far, but there is a fair chance they will be able to add to that this weekend.

Renault are another team who have been on the bubble of being able to score points in Canada in the past. According to Cyril Abiteboul they are scheduled to introduce the next stage of their power unit development along with some aero upgrades, but with Canada’s long straights there will be no place to hide if those updates don’t prove fruitful.

McLaren – who will also be receiving updates from Renault – will be hoping that won’t be the case, but they are nonetheless bracing themselves for a difficult weekend.. Sunday’s race will be Fernando Alonso’s 300th in F1, but the track will not be one of McLaren’s best with its slow corners and long blasts at full throttle.

Finally, Sauber’s Charles Leclerc will be keen to bounce back from the brake failure he suffered in Monaco, and he believes Canada will be one of the best races of the year for himself and team-mate Marcus Ericsson, with both believing that the worst races are over and done with.

Australian Grand Prix: Race Preview

In a few days’ time, F1 will be back for 2018 and racing around the streets of Albert Park for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

After a fortnight of pre-season testing confused by rain and snow, this will be the first chance to see who’s settled where in the pecking order over the winter.

Ferrari Media

Much of the focus will of course be on Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, as both drivers are gunning to become the first of their generation to win a fifth world title.

After testing many are tipping Hamilton as having the advantage again, with Mercedes’ focus on long runs in Barcelona hinting at a daunting degree of race pace.

But that’s not to say Mercedes will have the race all to themselves this weekend. The record-breaking lap times set by Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen in testing may have been a little flattered by low fuel loads, but still suggest there’s enough speed in Ferrari’s SF71H to give the Silver Arrows a real challenge in qualifying.

And then there’s Red Bull, whose RB14 looked dependable on track and much closer to the top two than its predecessor. The Austrian outfit hasn’t won in Melbourne since 2011, but could Max Verstappen or homeboy Daniel Ricciardo have the machinery to buck that trend this year?

Add that to the paddock talk from Barcelona that Mercedes is once again finding it difficult to unlock pace on the softer tyres, and the reigning champions could be facing a real headache on a weekend favouring the soft, supersoft and ultrasoft rubber.

Renault Sport F1 Team

Nor is it just the top three who might be in for a tough scrap in Albert Park—the race to take first blood in the upper midfield battle looks to be equally tight.

At present, Renault looks favourite to be best-of-the-rest in Melbourne. The Enstone team has been one of the most-improved this winter, judging by a consistent presence high up the time and mileage leaderboards in testing, and their two drivers have a history of delivering good results in Australia.

But Renault aren’t the only ones expected to make a solid start to their 2018 campaign. Haas made a big impression in pre-season testing and have been tipped by champions Mercedes to be this season’s dark horse. And the hype isn’t without good reason, either—Haas ended testing as the fifth fastest team, and with Kevin Magnussen as the sixth-fastest driver.

And speaking of surprising testing performances, Honda will be hoping their respectable showing in Barcelona translates to their first points finish in the season opener since 2006.

Together with new partners Toro Rosso, the Japanese marque ended pre-season testing with the third-highest number of laps per team as well as setting some decent midfield times.

But form in testing is one thing—the true proof of Honda’s 2018 campaign will come when the STR13 takes to the race track this weekend.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

F1 testing: Raikkonen leads Alonso on final day

Kimi Räikkönen kept Ferrari on top for the final day of 2018 testing, leading by half a second from McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.

The Finn set his best time during the morning session, using hypersofts to post a 1:17.221s—just 0.039s slower than Sebastian Vettel’s record-breaking lap from Thursday.

Although Räikkönen’s focus turned to long runs in the afternoon as he notched up a total of 153 laps, his time was strong enough to remain fastest even as a flurry of hot laps came late in the session.

Steven Tee/LAT Images/McLaren Media

Fernando Alonso made the most ground on the leaderboard during that period, setting a pair of hypersoft-shod 1:17s that brought him within 0.563s of the Ferrari in the final 15 minutes.

The Spaniard did briefly top the leaderboard following that run with a 1:16.720s, but this time came by cutting the final chicane and as such was deleted.

As well as rising to second-quickest, Alonso’s afternoon was also spent recovering from yet another interrupted morning. After teammate Vandoorne logged 151 laps on Thursday, Alonso’s final session with the MCL33 was halted after just seven laps this morning, when a turbo problem prompted a five-hour engine change.

However, once that was completed Alonso had no further issues on track and ended the day with a respectable 93 laps.

Renault Sport F1 Team

Alonso’s P2 was the first in a trio of Renault-powered cars to slot in behind Räikkönen, as the French marque continued to show signs of improvements in its power unit performance.

Carlos Sainz’s works Renault was three tenths down on the McLaren in third. Like Alonso, he too was making up for lost track time in the final hours, following a gearbox problem that halted his RS18 after just four installation laps in the morning.

Fourth was Daniel Ricciardo, who set a supersoft lap of 1:18.327s—only three tenths off the hypersoft lap that put the Australian on top of Tuesday’s session.

LAT Images/Haas F1 Media

Romain Grosjean was fifth, putting in another strong showing of speed for Haas with a 1:18.412s. The Frenchman also posted the most laps of the day at 191.

Valtteri Bottas—who set his best time on the medium tyre—was the highest-placed Mercedes in sixth. Once again, the Silver Arrows split its day between Bottas and Lewis Hamilton, with the duo putting in a combined 201 laps on Friday to bring Mercedes’ testing total up to 1,040.

That’s 56 fewer than the team achieved during 2017 testing, but still leaves Mercedes comfortably top of this year’s mileage charts, setting 111 laps more than next-best Ferrari.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Slotting into third on the teams’ lap count was Toro Rosso-Honda, their total of 822 laps including the 156 logged by Brendon Hartley on Friday. The New Zealander was seventh-fastest in the end, one tenth down on Bottas and less than 0.020s quicker than Esteban Ocon’s Force India in eighth.

Charles Leclerc was ninth, and the first driver outside of the 1:18s. The reigning F2 champion’s final day was hampered when he span into the gravel trap in the morning—the delay limited Leclerc to 75 laps, the third-lowest total of the day.

Lewis Hamilton made a rare appearance towards the bottom of the leaderboard, as his 1:19.464s (good enough for fourth in the morning) tumbled down the order while his teammate drove the afternoon session.

The defending champion eventually settled in eleventh place, splitting the two Williams’ of Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll. During his morning in the FW41, Sirotkin recorded a century of laps to help Williams to fourth in overall testing mileage.

However, his teammate added only 27 laps of his own in the afternoon running, and with a best time of 1:19.954s Stroll made it the sixth time in eight days of testing that a Williams has been slowest.

Andrew Hone/Williams

F1 testing: Ricciardo breaks lap record; Renault nears 200 laps

Daniel Ricciardo lowered the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya’s unofficial lap record during Wednesday’s testing session, setting a time of 1:18.047s on the new hypersoft tyre.

The Australian’s lap was more than three tenths faster than the previous record set by Felipe Massa during testing in 2008, and nearly six tenths below last year’s fastest testing time, set by Kimi Räikkönen.

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were close behind the Red Bull. Their best flying laps, both set on the ultrasoft tyre, were four and five tenths adrift of Ricciardo respectively, but still comfortably within the 1:18s.

These times came as teams focused on performance runs during the morning session, the result being that many of Wednesday’s laps were among the quickest of 2018 testing so far.

Steve Etherington/Mercedes AMG F1

Fourth fastest was Sebastian Vettel. The German was given an unexpected extra session on Wednesday morning as teammate Kimi Räikkönen was unwell, but opted to concentrate on long runs rather than challenge Red Bull and Mercedes on the hypersoft—however, he did manage to lap within a second of third-placed Bottas despite running on the soft compound tyre at the time.

Three tenths behind Vettel came Brendon Hartley and Fernando Alonso, both setting closely-matched 1:19.8s on the ultrasofts. Alonso had looked set to enjoy McLaren’s first trouble-free day of testing so far when he ran among the pacesetters during the morning and notched up 47 laps early on.

However, an oil leak before midday resulted in an engine change that cost Alonso over six hours of track time—the Spaniard was only able to fit in another 15 minutes of running at the end of the day, bringing his Wednesday lap count up to 57.

Steven Tee/LAT Images/Pirelli Media

Carlos Sainz was seventh fastest, being the first driver above 1:20s and the only one of the day to set his time on the medium tyre.

Although Sainz’s best lap was ultimately two seconds off Ricciardo’s benchmark, he did contribute to Renault leading the way in terms of mileage on Wednesday. The Spaniard logged 88 rounds of the Barcelona track during his morning in the RS18, before teammate Nico Hülkenberg added a further 102 after lunch.

Their combined 190 laps puts Renault second so far in the number of testing laps completed per team, with 602 to Mercedes’s 658.

Renault Sport F1 Team

Romain Grosjean was eighth-fastest on a 1:20.237s. Haas ended the session with the second-lowest lap total when an oil leak on Grosjean’s car limited him to 78 laps across the day.

Räikkönen, who recovered to run in the afternoon, and Hülkenberg, were the lowest-placed manufacturer drivers in ninth and eleventh respectively, split by the Williams of Lance Stroll.

Force India, Sauber and Williams occupied the bottom spaces on the leaderboard with Esteban Ocon, Charles Leclerc and Sergey Sirotkin.

But although the three midfield teams were an average of three seconds off Red Bull’s pace, they were all much higher on the day’s lap charts. Leclerc’s 160 and Ocon’s 130 were beaten only by Ricciardo in terms of laps done by an individual driver, while Stroll and Sirotkin recorded 143 for Williams between them.

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

F1 testing: McLaren troubles continue into second week

McLaren suffered another day of limited mileage on Tuesday as F1 testing resumed in Barcelona, finishing the day bottom of the lap charts and with the second-slowest time.

After minor mechanical faults cost the team valuable track time last week, McLaren was left again on the back foot when Stoffel Vandoorne’s MCL33 broke down twice in the morning with a pair of battery failures shutting down his Renault engine.

And although McLaren seemed to resolve those issues in time for the afternoon, Vandoorne was not out for long before this session was also cut short—this time, owing to a hydraulics problem.

In total, Vandoorne completed just 38 laps across the whole of Tuesday, and finished last-but-one on the timesheets with a best of 1:21.946s.

Ferrari Media

While McLaren struggled, their rivals took advantage of the prime conditions in Barcelona to embark on the long run programmes traditionally seen in the second week.

Sebastian Vettel recorded the most individual mileage of the day with 171 laps, as well as ending the day fastest by two tenths from Valtteri Bottas.

However, Mercedes ran the furthest of any team on Tuesday, surpassing Ferrari by six laps by combining Bottas’s 86 laps in the morning with Lewis Hamilton’s afternoon total of 91.

Max Verstappen—who split Bottas and Hamilton to be third fastest—lost running in the final hour of the afternoon when his Red Bull stopped on track, but nevertheless logged 130 laps to be Vettel’s closest challenger.

Sauber, Renault and Williams also broached the 100-lap mark (the latter two teams splitting running between both of their drivers), while Haas and Force India came close with 96 and 93 laps respectively.

Sahara Force India F1 Team

In an unexpected turn, Toro Rosso and Honda endured the first difficult day of their new partnership on Tuesday. After accomplishing a respectable 53 laps in the morning session with Pierre Gasly at the wheel, an unknown issue kept the STR13 confined to the garage for most of the afternoon, with Gasly adding only a single lap to his total after lunch.

But despite those troubles, Gasly still managed to end the day fifth fastest and best of the rest with a 1:20.973s, putting the Frenchman less than six tenths off Vettel’s benchmark.

Kevin Magnussen was sixth and the last of Tuesday’s drivers to be within a second of the pace. He finished ahead of Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg and Carlos Sainz, who were separated by just 0.023s despite setting their laps on different tyre compounds.

Sergey Sirotkin enjoyed more profitable running than his first week of F1 testing, and was the highest-placed Williams in ninth. Two tenths separated the Russian from Sergio Pérez in tenth and Marcus Ericsson—who notched up 120 laps for Sauber—in eleventh.

Lance Stroll was Tuesday’s slowest runner behind McLaren’s Vandoorne, even though his 1:22.937s was set on the hypersoft tyre. However, with the Canadian making it to 86 laps despite sharing his day with Sirotkin, it’s likely Stroll’s programme was focused more on distance than outright pace.

Andy Hone/Williams F1