F2 Russia preview: title in De Vries’ hands

The 2019 Formula 2 Championship could be decided at this weekend’s penultimate round in Sochi, Russia, as points leader Nyck de Vries has his first chance to wrap up the title.

De Vries has been the runaway title leader this year, having amassed three wins, seven further podiums and four pole positions, and finishing in the points in every race bar one. This has put the ART driver on 225 points going into the penultimate round at the Sochi Autodrom, 59 clear of nearest rival Nicholas Latifi.

Mathematically speaking, there are still four drivers that can take the title away from De Vries: Latifi, Luca Ghiotto, Jack Aitken and Sergio Sette Camara. But such is the gulf between De Vries and his challengers, that if those four fail to score even in the feature race, De Vries can wrap up the title by finishing anywhere in the top five—or as low as seventh, if he also secures the four points for pole position.

But while it’s unlikely that all four of De Vries’ rivals will finish outside the top ten in Saturday’s feature race, they can’t afford to squander any opportunities this weekend as at least one of them needs to outscore De Vries by 12 points or more to take the fight down to the wire in Abu Dhabi.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

With the top five focusing on the championship this weekend, those drivers sitting just behind them in the standings will be hoping that preoccupation will give them a chance to steal some major results before the end of the season.

Nobuharu Matsushita currently sits sixth in the championship, out of title contention on 116 points. The Honda junior driver said earlier in the year that his goal was to finish in the top four in the standings, to earn him the necessary superlicence points to graduate to F1 with Toro Rosso.

But although he has two feature race wins to his name this year, Matsushita is still 37 points adrift of fourth-placed Aitken—perfectly achievable with 96 points still up for grabs, but a tall order given Aitken’s form this year.

And as if Matsushita’s goal of fourth place wasn’t already far enough away, he may yet drop another place in the standings this weekend with Renault junior driver Guanyu Zhou only one point behind him in eighth.

Zhou, who recently tested Renault’s 2017-spec F1 car, has been F2’s standout rookie this year, accumulating four third-place finishes and a pole position at Silverstone. However his maiden win at this level still eludes him, and he will be hungrier than ever to claim it this weekend and tee himself up as a 2020 title contender.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

BWT Arden and the Sauber Junior Team by Charouz will once again field full entries this weekend, after both entered just one car each at Monza following the tragic loss of Anthoine Hubert and injury of Juan Manuel Correa at Spa last month.

GP2 and F2 veteran Artem Markelov has been brought in to take over Arden’s second car alongside Tatiana Calderon. He will carry the number 22, as Hubert’s number 19 has been officially retired for the rest of the season.

Meanwhile, Sauber have signed Matevos Isaakyan to fill Correa’s place for the final two rounds. The 21-year-old drove for SMP in the World Endurance Championship last year, and finished runner-up in the 2017 Formula V8 3.5 series. Together with Markelov and ART’s Nikita Mazepin, Isaakyan will make it three Russians on the grid for their home event.

Last week, Correa’s family issued an update on his condition that said he had been removed from his induced coma and no longer needed an ECMO machine to assist his breathing. However, he remains in a serious condition in intensive care and is awaiting major surgery to his right leg, which is being delayed until his lungs are capable of withstanding the operation.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

Singapore GP preview: Mercedes favourites at Marina Bay

Formula One heads to the streets of Singapore, for the start of the final flyaway leg of 2019 under the lights at Marina Bay.

Ferrari and Charles Leclerc head to Singapore on the crest of two wins on the bounce at Spa and Monza. But compared to those two high-speed circuits, Ferrari’s low downforce package won’t be anywhere near as effective on the tight Marina Bay Street Circuit.

As has been the case for most of the 2019 season, Mercedes is expected to be the team to beat this weekend. It was in Singapore last year, where Lewis Hamilton took pole position and the race win, that Mercedes finally seemed to understand what was needed to conquer one of its few “bogey” circuits. And judging by the fact Mercedes has won every street race since, there’s every reason for them to be confident about their chances on Sunday.

Paul Ripke / Mercedes AMG

However, Mercedes does have one shadow looming over them this weekend—engine reliability. Since introducing their Spec 3 power unit at Spa three weeks ago, Mercedes have seen uncharacteristic failures in the customer cars of Sergio Perez’s Racing Point and Robert Kubica’s Williams. So far the works team has had no blowouts of its own, but after two demanding power tracks and with Singapore’s reputation for testing cars to their limit, there’s no room for complacency.

The other threat to Mercedes this weekend comes in the form of Max Verstappen and Red Bull. Verstappen has run well in in Singapore in recent years, qualifying second in 2017 and 2018 and finishing runner-up to Hamilton last year.

With the Red Bull-Honda package improving with every race, it would be no surprise to see Verstappen duelling with Hamilton for his third win of the season.

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

As always, the difficulty and unpredictability of Singapore will provide the midfield teams with plenty of opportunities to sneak away with big points hauls.

Renault took a double points finish at Marina Bay last year, but their RS19 has been much more at home on high speed and lower downforce tracks this year. Given their results from slower tracks like Monaco and Hungary, Renault will likely find themselves scrapping with or even behind the likes of McLaren, Alfa Romeo and Toro Rosso this weekend.

Haas will also be bracing themselves for another tough Grand Prix on Sunday. Although their prolonged dispute with former title sponsors Rich Energy has finally come to an end, their struggles with tyre degradation certainly have not. And in the heat of Singapore, there aren’t many worse problems to have.

However, Haas and Renault can both take some optimism from the fact that this is the Singapore Grand Prix. With tempers running high and the walls never far away, Singapore is the place where anything can happen.

Haas F1 Media

F3 Italy: Tsunoda takes first win in sprint race

Honda and Red Bull junior Yuki Tsunoda took his first Formula 3 win during the wet-dry Monza sprint race, seeing off challenges from Liam Lawson and Jake Hughes.

Tsunoda made a rapid start from sixth on the grid and joined Hughes and Pedro Piquet in challenging reverse polesitter Fabio Scherer for the lead into Turn 1. Hughes emerged from the Rettifilo in the lead, with Tsunoda slotting into third behind Scherer after muscling past Piquet through the chicane.

By the end of the second lap, Tsunoda had already passed Scherer for second while the Swiss driver struggled in the wet conditions, and stayed tight to the back of race leader Hughes.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Tsunoda’s charge was hindered by a couple of mistakes, which dropped him over three seconds behind Hughes by lap 9 and forced Tsunoda to defend briefly from Scherer and fellow Red Bull junior Lawson.

But as the track dried out, Hughes struggled to keep his wet weather tyres cool and Tsunoda put in a series of quick laps to close back up to the front. Within five laps Tsunoda was already within a second of Hughes, and on lap 15 the Japanese driver swept around the outside of Hughes into Turn 1 to take the lead.

Hughes briefly retook the lead on lap 16 following a mistake from Tsunoda, but Tsunoda regained it the following lap with a dive to the inside of Turn 1.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

The battle for the remaining podium positions continued throughout the race. Scherer held onto third for a while but was unable to keep pace with Hughes and Tsunoda in front, which brought Lawson and Richard Verschoor onto his gearbox.

At the start of lap 10 Lawson forced Scherer into a mistake at the Rettifilo and moved into third. Richard Verschoor also took advantage of Scherer’s error to take fourth place shortly after, and put pressure on his MP Motorsport teammate Lawson for third, although Lawson managed to see off the challenge in the end.

Tsunoda and Hughes’ battle at the front allowed Lawson to draw up to the back of them. After Tsunoda saw off Hughes’ resurgence on lap 16, Lawson then managed to reel in the HWA driver and take away second place into Turn 1.

As the race entered its final phase Lawson looked as though he had the pace to challenge Tsunoda for the win, as he closed up to within a second of the Jenzer driver by lap 20. But Tsunoda responded to the challenge and opened the gap back up, and by the end of lap 22 he beat Lawson across the line by 1.5 seconds.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Hughes held onto third ahead of Verschoor, while Scherer dropped back through the order to finish seventh behind Piquet and Leo Pulcini. The final point went to championship leader Robert Shwartzman, after he beat ART’s Christian Lundgaard to eighth by 0.067s across the line.

Shwartzman leaves Monza with a 33-point lead over title rival and Prema teammate Jehan Daruvala, with 48 still remaining at the Sochi finale. Juri Vips and Marcus Armstrong, who both finished outside the points in both rounds this weekend, are no longer in contention for the title.

Tsunoda’s sprint race win and third place in the feature race move him up to eighth in the championship.

Meet the 2019 Red Bull Junior Team

While Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon have grabbed the headlines this summer, there’s more to the Red Bull driver programme than just their Formula 1 stable. We take a look at each of their upcoming young talents, from karting all the way to the F1 feeder series’.

Juri Vips

Juri Vips celebrating victory at the Red Bull Ring (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Juri Vips is perhaps the closest Red Bull junior to Formula One right now. The 19-year-old Estonian joined the programme ahead of last year’s Macau Grand Prix, after becoming an F4 champion in 2017 and finishing fourth in the 2018 European F3 series. He is currently driving for Hitech in FIA F3, and is running second with two victories to his name.

Patricio O’Ward

Patricio OWard racing Super Formula at Motegi (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Red Bull’s newest signing is Patricio O’Ward, winner of the 2017 WeatherTech Sportscar and 2018 Indy Lights championships. O’Ward has had a mixed 2019 so far, racing a part-time IndyCar entry with Carlin after losing his initial Harding Steinbrenner Racing drive due to sponsorship issues. With Red Bull backing he has since made appearances in F2 for MP Motorsport and Super Formula with Team Mugen.

Yuki Tsunoda

Yuki Tsunoda driving for Jenzer at the Hungaroring (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

2018 Japanese F4 champion Yuki Tsunoda joined the Red Bull programme through his links with the Honda Formula Dream Project. Red Bull currently has the 19-year-old racing on the F1 support bill in FIA F3 with Jenzer Motorsport. Tsunoda is also driving for Team Motopark in the Euroformula Open series, where he is running fourth in the standings with one win.

Lucas Auer

Lucas Auer on his way to third at SUGO (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

24-year-old Austrian Lucas Auer is another one of Red Bull’s new 2019 signings. Auer has flirted with the pinnacle of motorsport already, having challenged for titles in Formula 3 and DTM and tested Force India’s F1 car in 2017. He has joined O’Ward in Super Formula for this year, and took his first podium of the series at Sportsland SUGO.

Liam Lawson

Liam Lawson in the FIA F3 paddock (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

New Zealander Liam Lawson joined Red Bull this year just a few days after his 17th birthday—and after securing the Toyota Racing Series title over Ferrari junior Marcus Armstrong. Lawson has continued to race Armstrong in FIA F3 this year, driving for MP Motorsport. He is also placed third in Euroformula Open with two victories to his name.

Jack Doohan

Jack Doohan at the Red Bull Ring (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Son of MotoGP legend Mick Doohan, Jack Doohan has joined fellow Red Bull juniors Lawson and Tsunoda in this year’s Euroformula Open Championship. He is currently seventh in the standings with two second places and six other points finishes. Doohan has also taken multiple victories driving for Hitech in Asian F3 this year.

Dennis Hauger

Dennis Hauger celebrating victory in ADAC F4 (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

After a successful Formula 4 debut last year, Red Bull has rewarded 16-year-old Dennis Hauger with a dual programme in Italian F4 and ADAC F4 for 2019. Driving for Van Amersfoort Racing in both series’, the Norwegian driver has taken six wins and seven pole positions altogether this year and is currently second in the Italian standings.

Jonny Edgar

Jonny Edgar driving in the Italian F4 Championship (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

15-year-old British driver Jonny Edgar has stepped up to his first season of racing cars this year, driving for Jenzer Motorsport in the Italian F4 Championship. He is currently 13th in the standings after six points finishes, the best of which so far is a fifth place at the Hungaroring. Like Hauger, he is also entered in the ADAC F4 series.

Harry Thompson

Harry Thompson in the 2018 WSK Final Cup (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Having only turned 15 earlier this month, Harry Thompson is the youngest current member of the Red Bull Junior Team. After being named FIA Karting Rookie of the Year in 2018, Thompson is continuing his karting career this year in both European and British championships.

It Came Home: The British Grand Prix Race Review

Ask every driver in Formula 1, the home race is guaranteed to be their favourite. This was no exception for current World Champion Lewis Hamilton going in to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone this weekend, aiming to build on his lead over rivals Sebastian Vettel and team-mate Valterri Bottas.

It wasn’t an ideal start for Hamilton though, having qualified in P2 on Saturday afternoon after being pipped to the top spot by fellow Mercedes driver Bottas, with only 0.006s between the two laps. This time Hamilton didn’t simply have the luxury of building a lead from the start, he’d have to earn his keep and get past the fiery Finn before getting to the golden trophy.

Behind the two Mercedes’ drivers sat Charles Leclerc in P3, eager for another opportunity to be on the podium following a dramatic Austrian Grand Prix which saw him lose out on 1stplace to the ballsy Dutchman, Max Verstappen and Red Bull who coincidentally sat in P4, providing fans with a great deal of entertainment throughout the race.

It was a relatively clean start all round, however Haas’s week of drama continued as Kevin Magnussen and Roman Grosjean made contact in the first lap, which unfortunately forced both drivers to retire from the race. This unlucky accident resulted in Grosjean’s 5thretirement of the season, and no doubt, 2 pairs of thoroughly boxed ears from an extremely angry Gunter Steiner in the post-race briefing.

At the front of the grid, both Mercedes’ drivers had a good start, with Bottas’ managing to hold his team-mate at bay with some excellent defending. Bottas’ looked to be building a lead on Hamilton. This was all in vain as Antonio Giovannazi beached his Alfa Romeo in the gravel giving Hamilton the opportunity for a free pit stop.  Unfortunately, Bottas wasn’t able to catch up with the Brit, who had been rewarded by opportunistic strategy from Mercedes engineers. This lead was held for the duration of the race, much to the joy of the hordes of Hamilton fans in the stands that day.

But we expected that.

Meanwhile, a little bit further down the track, some exciting racing was finally taking place.

Charles Leclerc ahead of Max Verstappen at the 2019 F1 British GP. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Verstappen was keen to rub yet more salt in Leclerc’s wounds for another podium finish, providing fans with some clean, excellent racing for 13 laps, after which came an overtake that had fans (aka me) screaming at their TV’s in amazement. Both Leclerc and Verstappen came into the pits at the same time, putting enormous pressure on both Ferrari and Red Bull mechanics to get the tyres changed flawlessly and quicker than the other team.

Red Bull won the battle, but as soon as the mechanics had stopped cheering on Verstappen taking 3rdplace from Leclerc in the pitlane, the young Ferrari driver had re-gained the position emerging back on track. New tyres on a newly re-surfaced track caused Verstappen to run wide at turn four, leaving the door wide open for Leclerc to take back 3rdplace.

To pit or not to pit, that was the question once again for Leclerc’s strategists at Ferrari who were slow to bring their number two driver in to change his boots during the safety car. This cost the young Monégasque track position, coming out ahead of Verstappen who had also pitted and emerged in 6th.

The re-start was promising for Verstappen who managed to overtake Leclerc for a second time (on track this time), and push on towards his team-mate Pierre Gasly for 4thposition. Gasly honourably moved aside to allow Verstappen to charge after the other prancing horse, which he quickly met and began the battle for 3rdplace once again.

Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel before Vettel’s late braking incident at the 2019 F! British GP. Image courtesy of Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Verstappen overtaking Vettel going into Stowe could have been one of those moments that go down in fondly remembered Formula 1 history, unfortunately, the gods of racing weren’t happy to leave well enough alone. Almost immediately after Verstappen had gained the position, he had lost it once again after Vettel misjudged his braking and shunted the back of the Red Bull which caused them both to run off the track.

By some miracle, the only thing that was damaged was the two drivers’ egos, and the pair somehow managed to work their way out of the notoriously tricky gravel trap and back onto the track to continue with the race. Vettel was slapped with a 10-second time penalty for this incident, which adds to what has been a gut-wrenching season for the 4-time World Champion.

This weekend was not simply an opportunity for fans to bask in Hamilton’s never-ending glory, British fans were also able to say thank you to a F1 icon, Sir Frank Williams who was celebrating an astonishing 50 Years in Formula 1. Although Vettel’s mistake cost Ferrari important championship points, it also gave the Williams’ drivers the opportunity to not finish last for the first time this season. British driver George Russel finished 14thahead of his team-mate Robert Kubica in 15th, although it doesn’t seem like much of an achievement, it was a welcome change for the struggling team.

The racing wasn’t simply reserved for Ferrari and Red Bull, McLaren and Renault were also able to get stuck in. McLaren golden-boy Lando Norris made his intentions quite clear from the beginning, as payback for Ricciardo’s cheekiness in the driver’s conference at the start of the weekend.

The two battled it out wheel-to-wheel, quite literally from the start of the race, through Copse, Maggots and Becketts until Ricciardo eventually lost out to the youngster in the hair-raising battle. Norris’ spectacular driving ability was over-shadowed by McLaren’s poor strategy choice which eventually kept Norris out of the points, finishing in 11th; Ricciardo managed to score his first few points since Canada, finishing in 7thplace.

Following his win at Silverstone, Lewis Hamilton is able to go into the German Grand Prix with a 39-point lead on his main rivals, Valterri Bottas and Max Verstappen. That said, after this weekend, there’s quite clearly something special about a home race, and with Hockenheim just around the corner, perhaps this is where Vettel will start to make his comeback.

Featured Photo by Gareth Harford / LAT Images via Pirelli

 

Where will F1’s juniors be in 2019?

The 2018 driver market has been both kind and cruel to F1’s young drivers. On the one hand, Charles Leclerc, Pierre Gasly and Lando Norris have all secured dream promotions to Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren respectively.

But on the other hand, Esteban Ocon and Stoffel Vandoorne have both found their F1 careers on the rocks thanks to silly season developments, while rising stars like George Russell struggle to find any space on the grid.

As the final 2019 deals begin to fall into place, we look at which young drivers might yet find seats for Melbourne next year.

Antonio Giovinazzi

Ferrari Media

Despite becoming Italy’s first F1 driver in six years when he deputised for Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber last year, Antonio Giovinazzi has been unable to add to his two starts since being leapfrogged in Ferrari’s junior scheme by Charles Leclerc.

But with Leclerc moving from Sauber to Ferrari, Giovinazzi might finally get his shot at a full-time race seat. If Ferrari’s right to nominate one of Sauber’s drivers is to be believed, then Giovinazzi could be just an executive decision at Maranello away from joining the Swiss team’s lineup for next year.

Stoffel Vandoorne

Glenn Dunbar / McLaren Media

If Ferrari does insist on Sauber taking Giovinazzi, that will put pay to one of Stoffel Vandoorne’s best post-McLaren options.

Should Sauber be off the table, Vandoorne’s only real hope for 2019 is Toro Rosso. Honda is reportedly keen to bring Vandoorne into Toro Rosso having valued his feedback during their partnership with McLaren.

But even with Honda behind him, Vandoorne will have his work cut out convincing Helmut Marko that he has more potential than was shown in his two years with McLaren.

Pascal Wehrlein

Sauber F1 Team

Another potential obstacle in Vandoorne’s route to Toro Rosso is Pascal Wehrlein. The former Manor and Sauber driver is leaving the Mercedes family at the end of the year in a bid to open up more opportunities on the F1 grid, and is said to have a big fan in Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost.

It’s not the first time Wehrlein has been linked with Toro Rosso—he was touted as a potential mid-season replacement for Brendon Hartley earlier in the year. Those rumours may have come to nothing, but Wehrlein’s sudden appearance as a free agent in the driver market will surely give Red Bull and Toro Rosso something to consider.

Esteban Ocon

Racing Point Force India F1 Team

The details of Esteban Ocon’s plight to remain in F1 next year hardly need repeating by now. Currently his best chance of a 2019 race seat involves either Mercedes pressing customer team Williams to pick him over a more well-funded alternative, or breaking free from the Mercedes camp as Wehrlein has done and hoping that leads to a shot with Haas or Toro Rosso.

If neither avenue comes to fruition, then we’ll likely see Ocon take up a third driver role with the works Mercedes team—possibly dovetailing that with outings for the marque’s HWA-run Formula E team—before aiming to replace Valtteri Bottas in 2020.

Outside F1

Renault Sport F1 Team

If current drivers like Ocon and Vandoorne are struggling to stay in F1 next year, it’s doubtful anyone from the junior formulae will find space on the 2019 grid.

As the Formula 2 championship leader, Mercedes junior George Russell should be the best placed young driver to make the step up to F1. However, his position behind Ocon in the Mercedes hierarchy means that it’s unlikely he’ll be allowed to overtake the Frenchman and take an F1 drive at his expense.

On the other hand, F2 stalwart Artem Markelov may yet get his F1 break after five years in the feeder series. His Russian Time backing has seen him linked to Williams in recent weeks, and an FP1 run with Renault in Sochi will be the perfect chance to make his case when it counts.

Formula 3 title leader Dan Ticktum was being queued up to join Toro Rosso for next year, until the FIA pointed out that he was ineligible for a Super License. Ticktum will likely move to F2 for next year to complete his Super License, before stepping up to Toro Rosso in 2020.

David Pastanella / Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull confirm Gasly for 2019

Red Bull has confirmed that Pierre Gasly will join the team for 2019, stepping up from Toro Rosso to replace the outgoing Daniel Ricciardo.

Gasly will join the senior Red Bull team for his second full season in Formula One, having made a late season debut with Toro Rosso at the 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix. Since then Gasly has recorded three top ten finishes, with his best being fourth place at this year’s Bahrain Grand Prix, and contributed all but two of Toro Rosso’s 28 points.

It’s believed that these performances (as well as his experience of Honda power at Toro Rosso and in his 2017 Super Formula campaign) made Gasly the favourite to take Ricciardo’s vacant seat even before fellow Red Bull junior Carlos Sainz removed himself from the market by signing with McLaren.

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

“To be awarded a drive at Aston Martin Red Bull Racing from 2019 is a dream come true for me,” Gasly said. “It has been my goal to race for this team since I joined the Red Bull Junior Driver Programme in 2013, and this incredible opportunity is another step forward in my ambition to win Grands Prix and compete for World Championships.

“I wish to thank Franz Tost and everyone at Toro Rosso for giving me the golden opportunity of a drive in Formula One. My focus now is to do everything I can to give them a season to celebrate.”

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said: “Since Pierre stepped into a Formula One seat he has proved the undoubted talent that Red Bull has nurtured since his early career. His stellar performances this year, in only his first full season in Formula One, have only enhanced his reputation as one of the most exciting young drivers in motorsport.”

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

A retrospective review of the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix – Jordan GP’s first victory

It was one of the most dramatic races ever – It’s worth mentioning also that the team hadn’t done that well that year, with numerous DNF’s and a very slow car as well. However, when the team changed their designer, bringing Mike Gascoyne on board and he introduced a new floor and sidepods. Damon Hill drove the improved car to fourth in the German and Hungarian races, the two races before Belgium.

 

During the Friday’s free practice sessions, Damon placed the car fourth and then third fastest, showing the changes were making a dramatic difference. Then in qualifying Damon put the car third on the grid, ahead of Michael Schumacher and behind only Mika and David in their McLaren Mercedes.

 

In the wet and raining warm up on Sunday morning the two Ferrari’s led the way, with Michael ahead of Eddie Irvine, whilst Damon was sixth.

1998_belgian_grand_prix_start_by_f1_history-d9inqba

At the first start there was a massive accident taking out nine cars. The drivers who didn’t restart were Rubens who was injured, Olivier, Salo and Rosset.

 

The rain eased off and after the clean up that saw so many cars out, the grid lined up for a restart with the drivers opting to switch to intermediate tyres.

 

At the start, Damon Hill took the lead, but Mika Hakkinen spun at La Source and was hit by Johnny Herbert who clipped the front of the McLaren. With Mika and Johnny colliding at the first corner, the safety car came out for a couple of laps whilst the mess was cleared up.

1998_belgian_grand_prix_by_f1_history-d9iq172

At the restart after those safety car laps, Jacques passed Jean Alesi, moving into fourth place. Seven laps into the race, Damon and Michael were lapping a full three seconds faster than all the other drivers and were eight seconds ahead of Eddie Irvine who was third.

 

After eight laps, the rain started to fall harder and Michael Schumacher took the lead from Damon, out braking the Brit into the bus stop chicane. Once there, with his set-up on his Ferrari set to the track getting wetter. Each lap saw the German pull away from Damon and the lead by lap 13 was ten seconds.

 

Lap nine saw Eddie spin off and damage his front wing and further back the remaining Stewart driven by Jos Verstappen retired after his Ford engine failed. Twelve laps in and Michael had a nine second lead over Damon. Williams driver, Heinz Harald Frenzen was now in third place, but Jean in his Sauber was actually catching the German ahead of him. On lap 14, Frenzen ran wide into the gravel in the final third of the lap, and Jean passed him, moving into third and was now lapping faster than Damon. The lap times were starting to increase as the rain began to fall heavier and Jacques had now caught his teammate. On lap 16, having not stopped for full wets the Canadian spun out and retired from the race. The result of that was our top three was now Michael, Damon and Ralf.

 

However, the race was to have a dramatic moment on lap 25, when Michael struck the rear of David’s McLaren as he was coming through to lap him, and this ripped off his right-front wheel and suspension, and David’s rear wing being knocked off! The two drivers completed the lap, Michael driving on just three wheels, but then Michael stormed down to the McLaren pits and had a go at David. He was pushed away by his own team who had tried to stop him from going down there in the first place.

 

The net result of this was that Damon was back in the lead. A couple of laps later, Damon ran wide at the bus stop chicane and took a skip over the grass. No big drama though, as he had a good lead over his teammate. In third place by this point was Jean Alesi in his Sauber and at points, he was lapping faster than the two Jordan’s ahead of him.

 

The following lap saw an identical crash – Fisichella in his Renault hit the rear of Nakano’s Minardi as they came down to the bus stop chicane, with the result that he lost control and also hit the barrier at the start of the pit lane. A small fire started on the side of the car, which was put out quickly and given the position of the car, race control released the safety car which stayed out for five to six laps whilst the mess was cleared up. A number of cars pitted during the safety car period and Damon managed to pit and re-join in the lead.

 

David’s McLaren had been rebuilt with a new rear wing and re-joined the race in seventh place but was four laps behind the sixth-place driver. With 12 laps remaining, the safety car was still out there but preparing to pit and the race would restart.

 

With 10 laps remaining, Damon had everything under control and was pulling away from his young teammate, Ralf, who in turn was keeping a good gap to Jean in his Sauber and four seconds covered the top three with eight laps remaining, but the gap then started falling as the rain eased off and with just five laps remaining just three seconds covered the top three.

 

Three laps to go and Damon had opened up a bit more of a lead now with the rain falling harder again. Jarno Trulli, running in the final points position was lapped safely by Damon on lap 42.

1998_belgian_grand_prix_podium_by_f1_history-d9hlfmg

The final lap passed without incident and Damon Hill crossed the line to win his twenty-second race and Jordan’s first. Ralf took second place and Jean Alesi took Sauber’s first podium in third place with a brilliant drive. Heinz Harald-Frenzen was fourth and Pedro Diniz, driving for Arrows was fifth and taking the final points position of sixth, Jarno Trulli in his Prost.

 

I’d say, that this race is definitely one of my favourites, and not just because Damon won, but for the incredible drama and excitement it brought to the those who watched.

 

Full race result

 

Pos No Driver Constructor Laps Time/Retired Grid Points
1 9  Damon Hill JordanMugen-Honda 44 1:43:47.407 3 10
2 10  Ralf Schumacher JordanMugen-Honda 44 +0.932 8 6
3 14  Jean Alesi SauberPetronas 44 +7.240 10 4
4 2  Heinz-Harald Frentzen WilliamsMecachrome 44 +32.243 9 3
5 16  Pedro Diniz Arrows 44 +51.682 16 2
6 12  Jarno Trulli ProstPeugeot 42 +2 Laps1 13 1
7 7  David Coulthard McLarenMercedes 39 +5 Laps 2
8 22  Shinji Nakano MinardiFord 39 +5 Laps 21
Ret 5  Giancarlo Fisichella BenettonPlaylife 26 Collision 7
Ret 3  Michael Schumacher Ferrari 25 Collision damage 4
Ret 4  Eddie Irvine Ferrari 25 Spun off 5
Ret 23  Esteban Tuero MinardiFord 17 Gearbox 22
Ret 1  Jacques Villeneuve WilliamsMecachrome 16 Spun off 6
Ret 21  Toranosuke Takagi TyrrellFord 10 Spun off 19
Ret 19  Jos Verstappen StewartFord 8 Engine 17
Ret 8  Mika Häkkinen McLarenMercedes 0 Collision 1
Ret 6  Alexander Wurz BenettonPlaylife 0 Collision 11
Ret 15  Johnny Herbert SauberPetronas 0 Collision 12
DNS 18  Rubens Barrichello StewartFord 0 Collision 15
DNS 11  Olivier Panis ProstPeugeot 0 Collision 14
DNS 17  Mika Salo Arrows 0 Collision 18
DNS 20  Ricardo Rosset TyrrellFord 0 Collision 20

2018 Mid-Season Review: Formula Won Again?

The Hungarian Grand Prix was the twelfth round of the 2018 Formula One season, meaning we are now over halfway through the year. All the teams will enjoy a well-deserved break for four weeks, which gives them the time to relax and maybe come up with some new ideas to improve the car and gives us the time to look back at this season before looking ahead to the Belgian Grand Prix.

After the Hungarian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton leads the drivers’ championship with 213 points, in front of rival Sebastian Vettel who has 189 points. Behind him are Räikkönen (146 points), Bottas (132 points), Ricciardo (118 points), and Verstappen (105 points), with Hülkenberg (52 points), Magnussen (45 points), Alonso (44 points) and Perez (30 points) closing the top ten in the drivers’ championship.

However, these numbers don’t tell the whole story. How did it come to these standings? How did each team perform this year so far? How did the drivers perform? Let’s take a look at that, team by team.

 

Mercedes

Currently leading both the drivers’ championship with Lewis Hamilton and the constructors’ championship, it would seem that Mercedes are on another dominant run. However, that is far from the truth. Mercedes are having a very tough season currently. Their season started mediocre in Australia as Hamilton ended in a solid second place (the VSC cost him a shot at victory), but Bottas only ended up in eight place after an awful qualifying.

In Bahrain things got a little better for the Brackley-based team, with Hamilton bringing home eighteen points with his P2 finish, whilst Bottas brought home fifteen points with his third place finish. The following races they scored some good points too, although a late drama in Azerbaijan cost Bottas a victory as he ran over debris and incurred a puncture.

Mercedes have so far achieved two 1-2 finishes, one at the Spanish Grand Prix and one at the German Grand Prix, with the latter meaning a lot more to the German team, especially because Hamilton started from fourteenth place and came through to win the rain-affected race.

A definite all time low this season for Mercedes came at the Austrian Grand Prix, where both cars failed to cross the finish line due to mechanical problems (just after they got an upgraded engine).

The team can go into the summer break buoyed by a victory in the Hungarian Grand Prix, courtesy of Lewis Hamilton. Bottas had a disappointing race in Hungary, though, as he made contact with Vettel and Ricciardo in the last ten laps of the race, costing him his front wing and resulting in a ten-second time penalty after the race.

Mercedes are still the team to beat, and it is most likely that if they continue like this Lewis Hamilton will become a five-time World Champion. Bottas looks out of the running for the championship battle, because of his bad luck early on this season.

2018 Großer Preis von Ungarn, Sonntag – Wolfgang Wilhelm

 

Ferrari

Someone else who is hoping to become a five-time world champion is Sebastian Vettel. In the first couple of races of the year it was the German who got away with a full complement of points. A very chaotic Chinese Grand Prix, however, ruined his winning-streak as he got hit by Verstappen. Vettel was spun and picked up some damage so he could only finish in eighth.

His teammate Kimi Räikkönen scored some solid points too with a third position in Australia and China, although he retired from the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Räikkönen will probably have to help his teammate in this fight – he got ordered at Hockenheim to let Vettel past. It was at that race where the biggest disaster this year so far took place for Ferrari, as Vettel crashed out of the lead of his home race in the rain. This very rare mistake from Vettel kept him from taking his first every victory at Hockenheim and, with the track’s uncertain future you wonder if it will even be possible for him to make up for it in the future. This meant he lost some important points, and with his rival Hamilton taking victory it meant Vettel lost the championship lead.

In the Hungarian GP Vettel crossed the line in second place, losing another seven points to his rival Hamilton, who took victory.

With the passing of Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne at the age of 66 just before the Hungarian Grand Prix the Italian team might lose some stability. Marchionne led Ferrari to become the team it is now and they are the closest they’ve ever been to a constructors championship since 2007. Let’s hope Ferrari can continue to fight Mercedes for the constructors championship and bring it home for Marchionne.

 

Red Bull

The Austrian team were the third-best team last year, and this year it is no different. They are not fast enough to regularly beat the Mercedes or Ferrari, but are much faster than Renault, Haas and McLaren in the mid-field.

Where Mercedes and Ferrari have a pretty stable point scoring record so far, Red Bull have had more problems. They have walked away from a race weekend with no points on two occasions this year. At the Bahrain Grand Prix mechanical issues ended the race of both Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, and the Azerbaijan Grand Prix ended up as a major disaster for the team as their drivers crashed into each other, costing the team valuable points.

However, there were still some very good moments for the Austrian team this season. In China Ricciardo took victory because of a brilliant strategy in what was a chaotic race, whilst Verstappen took victory at the team’s home Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring, although they were helped by the DNFs of both Mercedes drivers. Ricciardo also dominated at the Monaco Grand Prix, even though he suffered some problems with the car during the race.

The team announced earlier this season that they will switch to Honda engines for 2019, and they hope this will make it possible for them to not just fight for the third position in the teams standings, but also for the first place.

For now though, they still have ten races to go with Renault engines. With circuits coming up like Mexico and Singapore there should be enough possibilities for them to get at least another victory.

 

Renault

Best of the rest at the moment are Renault. The French team are currently embroiled in a tight battle for the fourth position in the constructors championship, with Force India, Haas and McLaren.

There has only been one race so far where they haven’t scored any points, which is a very impressive result for the French team.

Two fifth places are the highlights of the year so far, by Hulkenberg at his home Grand Prix at Hockenheim, and by Sainz at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The difference between the two teammates in the drivers’ championship, however, is big, with Hulkenberg on almost twice as many points as Sainz.

The fight for the constructors championship is still very much on, and Renault have to find improvements from Spa-Francorchamps onwards as their rivals are still on their tail.

Renault Sport F1 Team

 

Force India

After a terrible qualifying at the Hungarian Grand Prix the gap to their main rivals at Renault only increased for Force India. The team really struggle to even get in the top ten regularly, and there have been three races so far where Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez have not scored any points between them.

Their biggest points haul came from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, where the team scored fifteen points in total, thanks to a spectacular third place for Perez.

Placed into administration over the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend, the team’s future is uncertain. Sergio Perez, his manager, BWT, and Mercedes want the money back Force India owes them, with Perez saying he brought action against his team to “save [them] and protect the 400 people who work there”. Now it is even a question whether they’ll start the Belgian Grand Prix or not. Let’s hope they can get out of trouble,as it would be a huge shame to lose such an amazing team.

 

Haas

Haas began the Hungarian Grand Prix equal on points with Force India. The so-called “second Ferrari” team started the season very promising at the Australian Grand Prix after an impressive qualifying. The race, however, ended in a horrible nightmare as two identical mistakes at the pit-stops of both Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen meant they had to retire.

At the Austrian Grand Prix they once again put in an impressive qualifying and followed that up with an even more impressive race in which they scored twenty-two points thanks to a fourth place for Grosjean and fifth place for Magnussen.

After a pretty good Hungarian Grand Prix the team jumped to fifth in the constructors championship, leaving Force India behind.

The team seem to have found pace this year. Of course not all races ended well, but for a relatively new team they are surely proving what they are capable of. Can they keep up their good performances for the upcoming nine races?

 

McLaren

After years of disappointment due to problems with the Honda engine, this year could finally have meant the Woking team could fight for the podiums.

Now driving with a Renault engine, they were immediately aiming to fight the Red Bulls. At the Australian this looked very much possible, with Alonso finishing in P5 and saying “now we can fight!’”. Vandoorne ended that race in ninth, a nice result for McLaren then, scoring almost more points in one race than in the whole of last year. The dreams of fighting the Red Bulls continued when they finished the Bahrain Grand Prix in seventh and eighth.

Unfortunately, these dreams were shattered from Monaco onwards, where the pace had seemingly vanished and the points almost became out of reach. At the Monaco, Canadian and French Grand Prix the team scored no points, mostly because of retirements (Alonso had DNFs in all these races).

The highest position they achieved after these problems was P8 in Austria, Great Britain and Hungary, all thanks to Alonso. Team-mate Vandoorne was lacking pace, even losing almost a full second to Alonso at the qualifying for the British Grand Prix, and he had to retire from the Hungarian Grand Prix from what would have been a ninth-place finish.

The Renault engines have not brought the real change the team were hoping for. It even looks like the team are struggling more than ever, as qualifying pace is way off and results in the races are disappointing for such a great team. Maybe the summer break will bring the change they desperately need.

Steven Tee/McLaren

 

Toro Rosso

Currently standing eighth in the constructors standings with just twenty-eight points, the team will not be happy.

Brendon Hartley in particular has just had no luck. This became especially clear when he crashed heavily during free practice at the British Grand Prix due to a suspension failure. Two days later, he had to retire from the race after just one lap as the team found a problem with the car.

Seven races out of the twelve so far have yielded no points. When they have gotten into points though, the results have been very impressive. Gasly got P4 at the Bahrain Grand Prix and P6 at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Hartley has just two points to his name, whilst Gasly brought home twenty-six points. The Kiwi’s future is uncertain because of his disappointing results, but a lot has been due to problems out of his control.

 

Alfa Romeo Sauber

One driver showing his potential this season is Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari Driver Academy driver from Monaco just keeps on impressing everyone. With a car that shouldn’t regularly finish in the points, he got himself two consecutive points finishes in Baku and Spain. His sixth place in Baku definitely was a highlight for the team, bringing home eight very important points for the team. He even held up Alonso in Spain in a tense battle in a race where he finished in tenth place.

His teammate Ericsson has improved himself. Seemingly motivated by the speeds Charles has shown, he now too scores points from time to time. With five points for the Swedish and thirteen points for Leclerc, the team are now ninth in the constructors championship.

The last few races Sauber were able to out-qualify McLaren, and even in the races they have showed they have the pace to fight for position. Hopefully they are able to continue this fantastic performance.

 

Williams

It has been an absolute nightmare for Williams so far. Eleven of the twelve races resulted in zero points for the team, leaving them last in the championship. The only points they have managed so far were the four points Lance Stroll achieved because of his eighth position at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Even Robert Kubica, test driver for the team, said it is “embarrassing” to drive the car. Newcomer Sergey Sirotkin, while showing a few flashes of pace, doesn’t seem to be able to build up any momentum.

Williams has lots of work to do if it wants to score some points after the summer break. If they don’t, they will be hoping for another chaotic race like Azerbaijan, otherwise the points will be scarce.

 

 

 

Featured image courtesy of Ferrari.

2018 Hungarian Grand Prix Review: Silver versus Red

The last race before the teams could enjoy the summer break took place at the Hungaroring, on the outskirts of Budapest. The twelfth round of the season started very interesting with a spectacular wet qualifying. The starting grid was thus very shaken up, with Toro Rosso in P6 and P8. Carlos Sainz started from fifth, while Red Bull were disappointed with P7 and P12. Force India were disappointed as well, with neither driver making it to Q2. Lewis Hamilton took pole in front of his teammate, with Kimi Räikkönen following in third ahead of Sebastian Vettel.

A wet qualifying meant that all teams were free to choose on what dry tyre to start the race on. Both Mercedes drivers started on the ultrasofts, while Vettel chose the softs and Raikkonen chose the ultrasofts.

The start went well for Lewis Hamilton and he maintained the lead, while Bottas kept second. It was behind them where a change took place as Vettel overtook his teammate Räikkönen into turn two. By the end of the first lap there was already one retirement. Charles Leclerc was forced to bring his car to a halt after flying debris from contact between Ricciardo and Ericsson ahead of him damaged his radiator.

On lap six, Max Verstappen pulled over to the side of the circuit, telling his engineer over the radio that he had no power. He sounded very angry and disappointed, with the spotlight once again on Renault after yet another forced retirement. His expletive-filled message made sure that FOM had a busy time censoring it. It was reported that the problem lied within the MGU-K, meaning he might have to take a grid penalty at the Belgian Grand Prix.

On lap fifteen Kimi Raïkkönen was the first to make a pit stop. He went from the ultrasofts to the softs, which meant he was probably going for a two-stop strategy rather than a one-stop. The stop took a bit longer than normal, because there was some rubber stuck in the brakes that the mechanics had to remove. He emerged in sixth, in front of Sainz and Ricciardo.

2018 Großer Preis von Ungarn, Sonntag – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Valtteri Bottas responded to Raikkonen’s stop by going to the soft tyre a lap after his fellow Finn. That same lap, Ricciardo finally got past Sainz, and he set about chasing down Raikkonen and claiming the fastest lap as he did so. Vettel  was losing time to Hamilton, and by lap nineteen the gap had opened up to almost nine seconds.

On lap twenty-two Ferrari told Vettel over the radio that they had switched to ‘plan C’. He began to close the gap, but a mistake on lap twenty-three meant he lost all the time he had gained.

McLaren were struggling for pace, with Alonso and Vandoorne fighting for eleventh place. Hamilton stopped for new tyres on lap twenty-six, changing from the ultrasofts to the softs. Could he make it to the end on these tyres?

Daniel Ricciardo meanwhile was fighting against Gasly. The Honda-powered Toro Rosso looked strong, but the Australian lunged down the inside at turn one and taking fifth place, although he had yet to make his pit stop.

Mercedes told Bottas that Vettel was probably going for another fifteen to twenty laps on his softs, and that the German was being held up by traffic.

After thirty-five of the seventy laps, Vettel was leading with a 12.5 second gap to Hamilton, who had a gap of twelve seconds to his teammate behind. Räikkönen was fourth, followed by Ricciardo, Gasly, Alonso, Vandoorne, Magnussen and Ocon completing the top ten.

On lap thirty-nine Ferrari mechanics brought Raikkonen in for a second pit stop, opting for another set of softs. A lap later Vettel pitted for his first stop of the race, choosing the ultrasoft tyres so he could try and attack the Mercedes duo. The pit stop was a bit slow, and he re-joined one second behind Bottas.

Daniel Ricciardo went to a set of ultrasoft tyres with twenty-five laps to go. He was sitting comfortably in fifth place, with a gap of fourteen seconds to Kimi ahead and twenty-two seconds to Gasly behind.

On lap fifty-one a yellow flag was brought out for Vandoorne, who had to retire the car because the gearbox was gone. This yellow flag resulted in a Virtual Safety Car, but Hulkenberg was the only one who used it to make another pit stop.

With fifteen laps to go the battle between Vettel and Bottas was heating up, as Vettel got into DRS range. Ferrari reported to Vettel that Bottas was struggling with his tyres, and to continue to put pressure on him.

2018 Großer Preis von Ungarn, Sonntag – Wolfgang Wilhelm

In the closing laps it became a three-way fight for P2, with Raikkonen having joined the fray, although it was clear that Räikkönen was not allowed to make it difficult for his German teammate. Over the radio Vettel was asked by his engineer how fast he could go. In response, he said he could go half a second faster but it was impossible as he was still stuck behind Bottas.

On lap sixty-five Vettel tried the overtake on Bottas, going around the outside of the Finn at turn one to get a better exit. He was in front of Bottas going into turn two and closed the door. Contact between the two, as Bottas clipped the back of Vettel, damaged the front wing of the Mercedes. Replays suggested Bottas braked too late, and that it was no more than a racing incident.

Bottas dropped back as a result, and found himself fighting with Ricciardo for fourth. By lap sixty-eight Ricciardo was in DRS range and tried to overtake Bottas around the outside of turn one, but it once again ended in disaster as Bottas ran a bit wide, making contact with Ricciardo’s sidepod and pushing the Australian wide.

Mercedes advised Bottas to let Ricciardo pass in the hope to avoid a penalty afterwards. He did get a ten-second penalty after the race, but he kept his fifth place because the gap to Gasly was big enough. He also received two penalty points.

Up front, Hamilton took victory, with Vettel and Räikkönen completing the podium. Bottas finished in fifth place after letting Ricciardo pass. Behind him, Gasly, Magnussen, Alonso, Sainz and Grosjean completed the top ten.

Hamilton now leads the championship with 213 points, and Vettel follows with 189 points. Meanwhile a Finnish battle for third place is on, with Räikkönen on 146 points and Bottas on 132 points.

Now the summer break finally has arrived. In four weeks time Formula One will return to the Ardennes forests for the Belgian Grand Prix at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, a fan-favourite track and loved by the drivers. Let the fight for the championship go on.

 

 

Featured image – 2018 Großer Preis von Ungarn, Sonntag – Steve Etherington