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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Brendon Hartley has said he believes his Toro Rosso team is set for a strong result in this weekend’s British Grand Prix, following a series of performance updates in the last few races.
“I think we can be in good shape following the power unit upgrade that came in Canada,” Hartley said. “The aero upgrade in Austria also arrived at the right time because [at Silverstone] you need as much downforce as possible.
“I’m hoping for a strong weekend and better luck than in recent races.”
Hartley added that he is excited about his first British Grand Prix as a Formula One driver:
“I’m looking forward to tackling [Silverstone] in a modern F1 car, because it’s going to be crazy quick. The track has been resurfaced this year, so there will be even more grip than in the past.
“Silverstone is a real driver’s track and it has often produced great racing especially when the weather is at play: it’s one of the originals and it has a lot of character and a great atmosphere.”
Toro Rosso’s last outing at Silverstone was one of the low points of its 2017 campaign, with Carlos Sainz retiring after a collision with Daniil Kvyat on the opening lap.
The Red Bull junior team is looking to bounce back after an equally frustrating Austrian Grand Prix last weekend, which saw Pierre Gasly struggling throughout the race with floor damage after a first lap clash with Stoffel Vandoorne, and Hartley retire on lap 54 with a mechanical failure.
Feature image by Peter Fox / Getty Images, courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool