Russian GP: Bottas reigns supreme in Sochi

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In a race that was decided pretty much by the events happening before the lights going out, Valtteri Bottas took his 2nd victory of the year, long after the win in the first race of the season. His teammate Lewis Hamilton was awarded two different 5-second penalties for two practice start violations that he committed prior to the race start, in the locations where he was not supposed to.

This made the race very difficult for the record chasing English driver as he dropped well down the order after he had to serve the penalty in a pitstop. He recovered well to be able to finish on a podium but will be gutted to miss out on a win. Bottas on the other hand would welcome this victory at a track where he is supposedly at his strongest.

It was a lonely Sunday afternoon drive for Max Verstappen, which pretty much sums up his season so far barring the last couple of races. The Dutchman dropped to as low as 4th on the race start but recovered immediately to 3rd place and Lewis’ penalty meant that he would comfortably finish 2nd. It was a similar race for Sergio Perez in the racing Point at 4th place after he too recovered from a poor start.

It was a chaotic start to the grandprix after many incidents unfolded one after the other. McLaren lost the most out of all the teams at the start after Carlos Sainz crashed into the wall in an attempt to try and go around the bollards and his teammate Norris ran over the debris left by Sainz and only managed to finish 15th at the end of the race after a forced pitstop. Racing Point also lost one car on the opening lap after Lance Stroll got tagged on the right rear tyre by the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc which sent the former spinning into the barriers. The effect of the new upgrades was not to be seen today and will have to wait until the Nurburgring at the earliest.

A couple of mini battles unfolded in the midfield between Ferrari and Renault followed by another between the Alpha Tauris and Albon’s redbull. Renault’s bid to swap their cars and catch Perez ended in a way they would not have wanted after Ricciardo was handed a 5-second time penalty for not following race director guidelines. It did not quite help Ocon’s case after the Frenchman was stuck behind the Ferrari of Vettel and could not catch Leclerc towards the end of the race. Ricciardo’s penalty did not hurt him much after he managed to pull ahead of Leclerc and finish 5th. For Ferrari, it was a mixed result as Leclerc managed to finish 6th and Vettel paid the price for staying out long and could only manage P13 on his 250th GP start.

Both the Alpha Tauris managed a double points finish with home driver Kvyat at 8th and Gasly at 9th following their battle with Albon in the other RedBull. Kvyat could have finished ahead of Ocon at 7th after the Russian battled the Renault driver almost towards the end of the race but it just wouldn’t happen for him thanks to the superior straight line speed of the Renault.

Kimi Raikkonen could only manage 14th in his record equaling 322nd race start but his teammate Giovinazzi in the other Alfa Romeo would be very happy with his race result at P11, just missing out on the points. Haas also registered one decent result with Magnussen at P12, ahead of a works Ferrari but they would quickly want to forget the P17 salvaged by Romain Grosjean. Both the Williams finished with Latifi at P16 and Russell at P18, with what was an unusual 3-stop race for the English driver, with the last stop seemingly an ambitious attempt for a fastest lap. It was however not there for the taking as Bottas eventually ended up with the point on offer.

In what was expected to be the 91st win for Lewis Hamilton, the race win went out of the window thanks to the pre-race events. His teammate jumped in at the chance to take maximum advantage to cut the gap in the championship standings to 44 points with a handful of races to go. Hamilton will now have to be careful for the next 4 races as he has picked up 2 penalty points today and two more would mean that a race ban would be handed to him, which could seriously dent his championship hopes.

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Tuscan GP review – Mayhem at Mugello

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Due su due as the Italians would say. If you thought the red flagged madness of Monza from last week was extreme enough, F1’s first visit to Tuscany at the Mugello circuit was that turned up to eleven!

It was Lewis Hamilton though who took victory ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, which on the surface sounds very typical but it was anything but that. The race began with the long run down to turn one, and Max Verstappen – who had some drama pre-race with the mechanics trying to check something, he had a good initial launch but his car seemed to almost forget how to use its engine for a moment. Tumbling down the order and then got caught up in a collision.

Verstappen seemed to get rear ended by Räikkönen heading into turn two, who was in a bad position next to Pierre Gasly and Romain Grosjean trying to claim the same piece of tarmac. Just up the road, Carlos Sainz got tapped by Lance Stroll which sent him spinning, and Sebastian Vettel couldn’t avoid him in the one-off burgundy liveried Ferrari and limped back to the pits with a broken front wing.

Bottas had jumped Hamilton at the start and they were running ahead of Charles Leclerc and Alex Albon. But a safety car was called as both Gasly and Verstappen were out of the race, and coming to the restart, Bottas left it as late as he was legally allowed to before he bolted, trying to give his rivals behind him as little a slipstream as possible. However, chaos ensued.

Sainz, Magnussen, Giovinazzi and Latifi were caught up in melee coming to the restart as many drivers had tried to get the jump on the restart. The race was stopped and the drivers gathered in the pits, and now standard procedure is a standing restart after seeing it for the first time only last week.

Second time around, Hamilton swung round the outside Bottas at turn one and Leclerc retained third place, before being passed by Stroll and Ricciardo. The Ferrari driver elected to pit early for hard compound tyres as he was just bleeding time on the set he was on. Ricciardo then came in to attempt an undercut on Stroll, a strategy that seemed to be working due to high speed nature of Mugello and it was successful as when the Racing Point driver boxed, Ricciardo was ahead.

The other Racing Point driver Sergio Pérez was passed by Lando Norris before he then successfully undercut the McLaren driver. Meanwhile, the sole remaining Red Bull in the race of Alex Albon had elected to go longer than the rest of the field.

At the front, the two Mercs were on medium compound tyres and Bottas was hoping to do the opposite of what Hamilton was doing. However Bottas came in before Hamilton due to the condition of his tyres and put on hard compound, which gave Hamilton a comfortable buffer to then come in on the next lap and do the same, and retained his gap in front.

Bottas was hoping for a safety car, and well he got one. Racing Point’s Lance Stroll went off at the very high speed uphill right hander Arrabbiata after suffering what was suspected to be a puncture. Bottas dove for the pits and it was thought he had gotten a huge advantage as the safety car was called just as Hamilton drove past, but it didn’t come out in time to serve as a help for Bottas, as Hamilton managed to make it round again and pitted.

The race was then red-flagged for a second time, and with only twelve cars left in the race. Bottas was hoping to keep the trend of second place getting the better getaways but this time, it wasn’t to be as both Hamilton and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo rocketed off the line.

Meanwhile at the back, heartache for the newly taken-over Williams team as George Russell had lined up ninth on the restart but had been passed by everyone. He soon got back past Grosjean but even with a 5-second penalty looming over Räikkönen, it looked increasingly unlikely that he would get back into the points.

But for his best mate Alex Albon, things were about to get rosier. He put a beautiful move around the outside of turn three on Pérez and after previously being denied two podiums by coming together with Lewis Hamilton in both Brazil last year and Austria this year, the Anglo-Thai driver put a move on for third and made it stick past Ricciardo. Cyril Abiteboul having made a bet with his driver that if he scores a podium before he leaves the team, he will get a tattoo of the smiley Australian’s choice.

However it wasn’t meant to be as finally, in a time where everyone was expecting a switcheroo between him and last week’s Italian GP winner Pierre Gasly, he finally got to stand on the podium with Bottas and Hamilton.

Ricciardo came home fourth ahead of Pérez, Norris, Kvyat, Leclerc, Räikkönen (who finished ahead of Leclerc but dropped back from the penalty he received for crossing the pitlane entry line too late) and Vettel rounded out the points finishers.

Carnage ensued in the hills of Tuscany, and also whilst not a result that Ferrari would have wanted, it is still very fitting that they have their 1,000th Grand Prix be at a circuit they owned since 1988. A proper old school circuit with plenty of elevation change and gravel traps which have punished a few drivers this weekend across all the races.

F1 goes on a week long break, can we all survive that? The circus reconvenes at Sochi Autodrom on September 27th and following on from that is a run of races which include circuits such as Nürburgring, Portimão, Imola, Istanbul, two races at Bahrain on different layouts before the season concludes at Abu Dhabi on December 13th.

Italy presents us with a strong, unexpected argument for a reverse grid as Pierre Gasly wins in Monza

Benvenuti a Monza! We’re here and we’ve settled in for two weeks of exciting racing in Italy, but should we have come? Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari might like to weigh in on that one.

The Italian Grand Prix was the first weekend where the teams were no longer permitted to use their ‘party-mode’ engine modes, typically used in qualifying by certain teams to boost their chances of a better lap time.

At the start of the race it was a tale of two halves for the two Mercedes drivers, as Hamilton got yet another great start off the line, gliding into first place unchallenged as Bottas got swallowed up by the pack. McLaren had an excellent start with Sainz quickly taking 2nd position, and his team-mate Lando Norris overtaking a struggling Bottas going through the first and second Lesmos, which is testament to McLaren’s progress in recent years.

2020 Italian Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

Bottas was quickly overtaken by Daniel Ricciardo, putting the Renault driver into 5th, and pushing Bottas down to 6th. Bottas was quick to report a possible puncture but chose not to pit. Bottas’ race engineer, Ricciardo Musconi, confirmed there were no issues with his tyres, but Bottas still looked to be struggling as he was overtaken by the Red Bull of Max Verstappen through the Parabolica.

It was a sorry start for the home favourites Ferrari, who qualified in 13th and 17th. Just when they thought it couldn’t get any worse, Sebastian Vettel reported brake failure on lap four, smashing through the foam barriers at the end of the pit straight and limping his way back to the pits, where the car was retired for the second time this season.

Ferrari’s hopes were then pinned on Leclerc, who didn’t appear to be having the same issue but didn’t really seem to be having a much better race. Hope was quickly abandoned after a a shocking crash going into the Parabolica, where the Ferrari ploughed into the tyre wall, bringing out the safety car for the second time and red flagging the session. Leclerc’s crash athough dramatic, proved exactly how valuable the halo truly was, as he was able to get out of the car and run from the scene unscathed. All this in the same weekend that Netflix were spending time with Ferrari.

Shortly before the crash, Hamilton had made a quick decision to pit after the safety car came out for Kevin Magnussen, who was forced to stop on track just before the pit entrance with a suspected power unit issue.

Mercedes took what they thought was a risk-free pit-stop, with Alfa Romeo’s Giovinazzi following suit shortly after. It wasn’t long until the race was stopped due to Leclerc’s incident, and both Hamilton and Giovinazzi were placed under investigation for entering the pits after it had been closed due to Magnussen’s stoppage.

This visibly rattled Mercedes, who were looking pretty comfortable. Hamilton took it upon himself to grab his scooter and make his way to Race Control during the red flag in an attempt to justify his actions, arguing on the radio that “there was no light” going into the pit lane.

This didn’t save him nor Giovinazzi, who were both given a 10-second stop and go penalty, serving F1 fans with the biggest game-changer in the hybrid era.

Hamilton was noticeably annoyed by this decision and was talking about building up a lead once again before taking his penalty. He was dissuaded from doing this by his race engineers, who had decided to ‘take the hit’ on this occasion.

2020 Italian Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

Mercedes’ loss meant some considerable gains to the likes of Alpha Tauri, Racing Point, Alfa Romeo and McLaren.

The red flag wasn’t in place for too long and on lap 27 we were back on track heading for a dramatic restart.

Gasly was lightning fast on the restart, overtaking Stroll to take what was essentially first place, as Hamilton made his way around and back into the pits to serve his penalty. He re-joined the race 23 seconds behind the rest of the pack, meaning he would have to have had the drive of his life to get back to a podium finish.

Though it looked like a good opportunity for the Racing Point, Stroll seemed to have issues with the brakes, causing him to run off on the Della Roggia chicane and giving away two positions and putting him down into 5th. This was quickly taken from him by Sainz who had his eyes firmly set on the prize.

The same ambition and determination weren’t felt in either of the Red Bull cars, who have struggled more than usual. Albon was the first to have issues, running wide on lap one after being squeezed by Stroll and Gasly down the main straight, and causing damage to the Haas of Romain Grosjean. Albon was given a 5-second penalty for the damage he caused.

As usual, there was greater expectation of success with Verstappen, who was making some respectable overtakes, and scrapping with Bottas for 6th/7th position. Unfortunately, this was short lived as he was forced to retire the car on lap 31 due to a power unit issue.

Come lap 34, Sainz was chasing Gasly for the win after he and Raikkonen gave fans an absolute masterclass in overtaking through Turn 1.

Stroll bounced back from his earlier brake issue and overtook Raikkonen the following lap, moving him into third place.

Sainz continued to chase Gasly right down to the final lap of the race. Gasly just managed to stay ahead and out of DRS range of the determined McLaren driver and took his first ever F1 win, something absolutely none of us expected would happen going into this race weekend.

MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 06: Race winner Pierre Gasly of France and Scuderia AlphaTauri celebrates on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 06, 2020 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202009060423 // Usage for editorial use only //

After being essentially demoted from Red Bull in the middle of 2019, this win is exactly the boost Gasly and the wider Alpha Tauri team needed. You’d have to be a hard individual not to feel some emotion watching him sit on the podium, sipping champagne in sheer disbelief. It’s only a shame the Tifosi weren’t there to make his win even more special.

We cannot end this race review however, without giving a special mention to Williams, who had its final race with their de-facto team principal, Claire Williams. It followed the announcement last Thursday that the family had decided to step away from Formula 1 after 43 years. It’s a real shame for us to see both she and the family say goodbye to the F1 family.

We owe Williams so much after having been an enormous part in F1’s development, bringing iconic moments for us all to appreciate and look back on with fondness. Though they will continue to race under the same name, something tells me it just won’t quite be the same anymore, so thank you Frank, thank you Claire, and thank you Williams for the great memories. We hope to see you back on top soon.

Belgian GP Review: Hamilton takes 89th career win

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom’s British Grand Prix Race Notes

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Well, well, well, I have to say that at one point, I was massively struggling to find a way to make this interesting for you. However, queue the final couple of laps of the Grand Prix and the race really came alive! So, where to start? Here are my British Grand Prix Race Notes…

Lewis Hamilton 

I mean what can you say? Lewis led from start to finish, cruising home to claim a 7th British Grand Prix win, moving 30 point clear in the Driver’s Championship. Ok, I say cruised, he did for 50 laps at least before the real fun started and it almost got away from him. (more on this shortly).

Hamilton now moves to within four wins of Michael Schumacher’s all-time GP wins record. Back against him? You really shouldn’t. It’s inevitable and given the car that is under him, there’s no way he’s not going to claim the crown sooner rather than later.

Image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

I said at the start, what can you say? Well, not much more really. It was a relaxed drive for Lewis and once again, Mercedes show why they are miles ahead of the grid, even when they only have three fully functioning tires on the car!

Final Laps of Pure Carnage:

As mentioned, the Grand Prix looked all but done right from the start and the Race Note’s almost ceased to exist however, this historic Silverstone track had other ideas and gave us two laps of pure carnage and entertainment!

It all started with Valteri Bottas and after sitting in second place for 50 laps, Bottas reported on the team radio that he was suffering from a lot of vibration. At the time it was apparent that his tires we’re starting to struggle but what we didn’t know was just how bad they really were.

Nonetheless, it wasn’t long before we found out and as the Finn headed into the first corner to start his 51st lap, Bottas lost his front left tyre completely as it’s pressure dropped ultimately leading to his front wing punctured it. Bottas came into the pits at the end of the lap and he found himself going from second to finish the Grand Prix in 11th place. Which may sound bad but it could have been worse as at one point, you were left wondering if he was even going to make it to the pits at all!

Bottas wasn’t the only man suffering from tyre degradation either as Lewis Hamilton also quickly found out.

After leading the race completely unchallenged, it looked as if Lewis could sit back, relax and enjoy his final lap with his now 32 plus second lead over Max Verstappen, but what he didn’t know was that his tyre, just like his teammates tyre, was about to go bang!

Lewis heard about Bottas’ puncture and admitted that his looked fine but as he turned into Luffield, his very own left front tyre punctured and left him hoping that he would beat Verstappen to the checkered flag. As we know, he did but that 32 plus second lead quickly vanished into a 5.8-second win. Close call? Absolutely and in the words of Lewis himself, ”It was definitely a heart-in-the-mouth kind of feeling” for the Brit.

Danny Ric

To wrap up this week’s race notes, it’s the man himself, the man who never stops smiling and most probably has the best sense of humor the grid has ever seen.

Daniel Ricciardo, a man on a mission of late, who has those boots that are made for overtaking and overtaking he did. Danny Ric started 8th on the grid and battled all afternoon against both McLaren’s of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris, which in truth up until puncture gate, was the only entertainment of the day. (Apart from K-Mag and Dani Kvyat’s crashes maybe).

Anyway, Danny Ric was one of nine drivers to benefit from Bottas’ second to last lap puncture and thanks to a solid drive from the Australian, he ended up coming him to finish in P4 which matches his best ever finish for Renualt. Had Hamilton’s tyre issue been a lot worse than it was then we could have been talking about a podium finish for Danny Ric but Hamilton somehow got his Silver Arrow home and he had to settle for fourth which isn’t anything to turn your nose up at. (No pun intended, Danny). Great drive!

Other mentions:

Image courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari

Ferrari had a tale of two weekends and depending on who you ask, the response to how they faired this weekend will be very different. Charles Leclerc had a very impressive weekend which was topped off by a podium finish in P3, which Sebastian Vettel had a nightmare weekend as he ended up in P10. Vettel struggled to stay on the track for most of the weekend and the race pace just wasn’t there for him again. That said, it was a much more improved Ferrari overall.

McLaren will be hugely happy with their showing as Lando Norris brought his MCL35 home to finish in P5, which is great news in terms of the constructor’s standings as Lance Stroll could only manage a ninth-place finish as Racing Point had a race to forget given Nico Hulkenburg’s car didn’t even make the grid due to a power unit failure.

Alpha Tauri will also be happy as Pierre Gasly had an excellent race to finish in seventh after team mate Dani Kvyat crashed out after a clash with Red Bull’s Alexander Albon.

Final Thoughts:

It was a race that looked as if it was over before it even started but thanks to a final few laps of pure carnage, it really did not disappoint in the end. Hamilton may have won his 7th British Grand Prix but it wasn’t as easy as it potentially could have been in the end.

Shall we do it again? Ok then, see you next week for the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix!

 

2020 Styrian Grand Prix preview: second chance in Spielberg

Another week, another visit to Austria’s Red Bull Ring—this time for the Formula 1 Styrian Grand Prix.

Last week’s Austrian Grand Prix was a terrific opening round to the 2020 season. Valtteri Bottas landed an early blow in the title fight with Lewis Hamilton, Lando Norris earned his maiden podium with a last-gasp effort, and there was plenty of close-quarters racing throughout.

Last week’s result was also largely unexpected, thanks to incidents and reliability issues almost halving the field by the chequered flag. That means we could get a very different result again this weekend, if the teams and drivers don’t have half as much trouble keeping their cars on track.

One of the teams that’s sure to factor more in the Styrian Grand Prix is Red Bull. It was clear last time out in Austria that they were Mercedes’ closest challengers, but technical problems for both Max Verstappen and Alex Albon led to a double DNF instead. Both drivers will be going into this weekend pushing hard to make up for that, with Albon especially motivated after coming so close to his first F1 podium.

Racing Point F1 Team

Racing Point will also be hoping for a much better result this time out. The RP20 showed more evidence of its considerable pace in practice and qualifying, but a technical DNF for Lance Stroll and a penalty dropping Sergio Perez behind both McLarens in P6 left a lot still on the table for the team. Provided everything goes to plan for them this weekend, Racing Point should be able to finish ahead of their midfield rivals and take away a decent haul of points.

However, there will be several teams hoping for a repeat of last Sunday’s attrition. Alpha Tauri and Alfa Romeo both managed to score points last time out, with Pierre Gasly in P7 and Antonio Giovinazzi in P9, but on pace alone neither team looked that close to the top ten throughout the weekend.

And then there’s Ferrari. Although Charles Leclerc finished second in the opening race, that was very much a great result salvaged from a terrible outing. The SF1000 looked sluggish all weekend, never troubling Mercedes or Red Bull and qualifying behind McLaren and Racing Point. Add to that Sebastian Vettel’s spin after colliding with Carlos Sainz, and the result was a very sobering start to the season.

One glimmer of hope for the Scuderia was that the car looked much more responsive later in the race on the harder tyres, and the team will have hopefully learned something from last weekend’s pain that can be used to improve this weekend. If not, Leclerc and Vettel will likely find themselves scrapping away with the upper midfield rather than challenging for the podium.

The 2020 Styrian Grand Prix gets underway with free practice this Friday, with full coverage on our Twitter feed.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

The tide is high, HMS Gasly sails again

Know what? I’m not even going to start this piece with a touching build-up. P2. A Toro Rosso, gleaming with blue, red and glorious silver in the Sao Paulo sunlight, crossed that Interlagos finish line in second place. The man himself leapt out of his machinery, lungs burst, cameras attentive, to let the world know they just witnessed reality, no mirage – his two fingers were raised to make it abundantly clear. Pierre Gasly has his name in lights again.

Anyone who knows me, is even so much as the slightest attentive to what I stand for, knows this isn’t so much an objective piece detailing a reputation rebuild for the ages as an unashamed love letter. It’s one born of anguish for a man who can cure me of my own at the drop of a blue Toro Rosso cap, joy for a fresh talent batting the jokes and speculation for six and above all else, well, it being my time to be this emotional.

Listen to the team radio, the full one. I implore you, if you already haven’t. It’s loud, it’s booming and it’s the two most poignant minutes of just what that result means to Pierre. It’s the safeguard from a trophy-less career but also so much more. It’s when the boxer has to summon up the strength among the lights of a stadium, and the imploring from a soliciting crowd to get back up. It’s the hit that brings them back into it.

For a few out there, this was probably a textbook if moment, a case of what could be possible if the right chips fell down. To me it was the inevitable, it was only a matter of when. If we’re taking this boxer analogy and running with it, Pierre’s one of the most punch-drunk sportsmen around and is still standing. He’s a warrior.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – NOVEMBER 17: Second placed Pierre Gasly of France and Scuderia Toro Rosso celebrates on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 17, 2019 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

From the moment he first came to my attention on that debut GP2 weekend in Monza, 2014, it’s been a non-stop barrage of challenges, all of which he’s risen to with aplomb. A 2015 season in the series, his first full shot, concluded with level-pegging with his DAMS teammate Alex Lynn, taking none of the team’s two wins. 2016 was a perfect retort – now at PREMA, Pierre took five poles and three out of three at the season’s end, four wins and most importantly the last GP2 championship title in history.

Then, Super Formula. Tasked with proving his mettle against sage, experienced competitors well-versed in the art of Eastern racing, Pierre was a Suzuka-bound typhoon away from potentially winning the series, only losing out by one point to then-one time champion Hiroaki Ishiura. Does ‘losing’ feel like the right word? It feels like a victory to me, given the circumstances.

And we know the story of Pierre’s first stint at Toro Rosso. That sterling drive in Bahrain, one that saw him finish fourth with an almost Prost-esque controlling drive among the midfield in only his seventh Grand Prix, kick-started a season which bestowed other stand-out results; seventh in Monaco, sixth in Hungary, more points in Belgium and Mexico all with a Toro Rosso package spearheaded by a Honda engine going through severe development gains and the spate of penalties that come with.

That was the smooth among the rough, woven together like different colours of yarn in a sewing machine. But this year is one I’ll hold above the rest as his most heart-warming, inspirational seasons – for those twelve races with Red Bull, the sewing machine was sparking, threatening to blow while the needles couldn’t be found anywhere. And once the thing finally powered down, he set about fixing it again… and he’s succeeded.

32 points in 8 races. Average finish of 8th. Points in 75% of Grand Prix, Q3 appearances in 50%. Amongst it all, Pierre has had emotional hardships to deal with that no-one should ever face – the loss of a close friend the racing community will always sorely miss in Anthoine Hubert, a man whose colours adorned Pierre’s helmet in Monza, whose memory was right up there on that Interlagos podium and whose legacy will always shine bright in his heart.

A demotion to Toro Rosso which meant Pierre had to adapt mid-season to different circumstances and changed expectations, with a mission already thought complete by 2018’s end back on the to-do list, along with such personal circumstances, has been handled with the utmost capability and dignity. Pierre’s been fighting back against the tide for months now, and that glorious Sunday in Sao Paulo was above all else the validation of his hard work.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – NOVEMBER 17: Second placed Pierre Gasly of France and Scuderia Toro Rosso celebrates in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 17, 2019 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

And that result was everything I dreamt it would be and more. Hearing the sheer unbridled euphoria of a man who’d had to stomach so much pain over the course of 2019, seeing the special bond he and his Faenza squad be beamed out on show to the world and knowing that as tough as times may get, he’ll always have that one special moment holds stratospheric meaning to me. As I stated before, this is my personal love letter and not a showing of balance – this was the time I finally got to hear the man I’ve poured my heart into for over five years utter the words ‘this is the best day of my life’.

And I felt it, because in that whirlwind of post-race emotion it honestly felt like the only words present in my brain were emanating from Pierre’s mouth. It felt like mine too. It felt like vindication, for the both of us. It felt like I’d have the most wonderful reference point to look to and remember every time I hit the hard times in life. It felt, for the want of a flashier term, so damn freakin’ good. The pain of 2019 is fading away, the belief is stronger than ever, and there’s a boatload of joy ready to be enjoyed in 2020. HMS Gasly is sailing again.

 

[Featured image – Mark Thompson/Getty Images]

Alex Albon ‘keeping feet on the ground’ ahead of first race for Red Bull

Red Bull’s new signing Alex Albon says he will be ‘keeping [his] feet on the ground’ ahead of his first race for the team at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Albon has just twelve Grand Prix under his belt and while he is excited about the prospect of racing for one of the most competitive teams in F1, he is nonetheless aware that he has a lot still to learn.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

“Not many drivers get the chance to drive a car capable of winning a race so early in their F1 career, so it’s a great opportunity to be driving for Red Bull,” Albon said. “It’s a big step, a big difference, and the factory’s a lot closer to my house which is handy!

“We know what the car is capable of and we’ve seen what Max has been able to do this year. I want to see what it’s like compared to what I’m used to, but at the same time, I know this weekend is my first time in the car, I’m still learning and improving as a driver and there’s definitely more to come.

“I know one of the main differences will be the noise and attention that comes with the move but I’m keeping my feet on the ground. I’m just focused on the job I have to do for Spa, I’ll be doing a lot of listening and observing.”

The news of Albon’s promotion came after Pierre Gasly, who himself had moved from Toro Rosso to Red Bull at the beginning of 2019, struggled to match the performance of Max Verstappen. Despite assurances from both Christian Horner and Helmut Marko that his seat was safe for the time being, Gasly nonetheless finds himself back at the junior team for the second half of the season.

Albon made his first official trip to the Red Bull factory as one of their drivers on 26th August, two weeks after the announcement was made, for a seat and suit fitting.

“We’ve got as much simulator prep done as we can,” Albon said, “so now it’s about going through procedural things with the team and getting to know everyone. It should be good!

“This is a big step, but I feel I’ve been through these big jumps before and taken the opportunities – I’m not worried about that. I’m focused and ready to be as strong as possible for the second half of the year.”

 

[Featured image – Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool]