McLaren’s Fernando Alonso is certain that this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be a “very emotional” race for him, as he hangs up his helmet in F1 and moves on to pastures new.
“Abu Dhabi will certainly be a very emotional race for me, as it will be the end of a long and happy 17 years in Formula One,” he said. “The time has come for me to move on, but I’m looking forward to ending the season – and my F1 career – on a positive note.”
In a career spanning more than 300 races that began in a humble Minardi all the way back in 2001, Alonso won two world championships along with 32 wins and 97 podiums, in stints driving for Renault, McLaren (well, the first stint at least) and Ferrari. His last win was at his home race around the Circuit de Catalunya in 2013, with first an underwhelming 2014 Ferrari and then a woefully underpowered McLaren Honda making his pursuit of further victories difficult and then virtually impossible.
Despite this, Alonso is not severing all ties with McLaren once he retires from F1, and plans to fight as hard as ever in Abu Dhabi.
“I’m also pleased that my relationship with McLaren will continue with the Indy 500,” Alonso added, “and there will be more new challenges together. There are very exciting things ahead, and I’m enthusiastic for what the future will bring. For now, I’m not ruling anything else.”
“I’m fully focused on this weekend in Abu Dhabi, and making the most of every day – in the car, with the team, and with my family and friends. Abu Dhabi is a tough circuit, but we don’t have anything to lose, so both Stoffel and I will be fighting hard as always.”
Alongside Alonso, Abu Dhabi will also be the last race at McLaren for Stoffel Vandoorne. Speaking of the duo, McLaren Sporting Director Gil de Ferransaid, “The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will certainly be a significant end of the season for everyone at McLaren, as we bid farewell to Fernando and Stoffel in their final Grand Prix for the team. They have been incredible team-mates and ambassadors for McLaren and for the sport, as well as great guys to work with.”
Featured image – Steven Tee/McLaren – Digital Image _2ST7317
Williams have announced that Robert Kubica will race for the team in the 2019 Formula One season.
The signing comes eight years after Kubica last appeared on the grid, with the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix being the Pole’s last outing in a stint in F1 that yielded one win, before a rally crash in February 2011 left him with severe injuries to his arm.
As his recovery progressed he made a return to rallying and competed in the World Rally-2 Championship, ultimately claiming the title with five wins to his name and dovetailing his campaign with sessions in Mercedes’ F1 simulator.
After stints in the ERC and various GT series, he then signed with the ByKolles LMP1 team to race in the World Endurance Championship in 2017, having tested alongside the team’s regular drivers at the end of 2016. However, after pre-season testing, Kubica announced that he would not be participating in the upcoming season.
Instead, he took part in tests with the works Renault F1 team and with Williams over the course of 2017, his first taste of F1 since his accident. He had long been in the frame for a full-time race seat at Williams for 2018, having participated in the 2017 post-season test for the team alongside Felipe Massa, Lance Stroll, and Sergey Sirotkin. He finished third in the group in terms of lap-times when fuel and tyres were accounted for and, with Massa retiring and Stroll already signed, Williams ultimately went for Sirotkin, who also brought with him a larger budget. The deal with Kubica, that many believed to be near completion, fell through, although he was still signed as test and reserve driver.
Over the course of 2018, Kubica participated in five test sessions as part of his role and a further two Friday practice sessions, alongside regular work in the team’s simulator.
Speaking of his signing for 2019, Kubica said, “Firstly, I would like to thank everyone who has helped me during what was a difficult period of my life over these last few years. It has been a challenging journey to make it back to the Formula One grid, but what seemed almost impossible is now beginning to feel possible, as I am excited to be able to say that I will be on the Formula One grid in 2019.
“Being back on the F1 grid next season will be one of the greatest achievements of my life, and I’m sure with hard work and commitment we will be able to help motivate the team to achieve good things together. Thank you again to everyone who has supported me and believed in me. I will finally be back on the grid behind the wheel of an F1 car, and I cannot wait to get back racing.”
Kubica will race alongside British rookie George Russell, with current Williams driver Lance Stroll expected to make the move to Force India and Sergey Sirotkin’s future uncertain.
On the 12th of October the calendar for next year’s championship was announced, and it contained some surprises. First up, there are fourteen rounds, one extra compared to the last few years. This coming season will be the forty-seventh season of the championship.
Here’s the full schedule.
Monte Carlo Rally January 24-27
Rally Sweden February 14-17
Rally Mexico March 7-10
Tour de Corse March 28-31
Rally Argentina April 25-28
Rally Chile May 9-12
Rally Portugal May 30-June 2
Rally Italy June 13-16
Rally Finland August 1-4
Rally Germany August 22-25
Rally Turkey September 12-15
Rally GB October 3-6
Rally Spain October 24-27
Rally Australia November 14-17
The first surprise is the addition of Rally Chile two weeks after Rally Argentina, clearly as a double-header. It does make me wonder why they didn’t include Rally Mexico in that, rather than coming back to Europe, and then heading back to Southern America…. Anyway, the other big surprise is that there’s no returning Rally Japan. The rumours suggested it would return, but that looks more likely to be in 2020 along with a return of the championship to Africa with a round in Kenya with the Safari Rally.
The schedule looks pretty similar to this year though, apart from the addition of Chile. Adding a new round will bring an interesting dimension to the championship, with all new stages. Recently, the Dakar has run through part of Chile, so it’ll be interesting what the organiser decides in terms of the stages.
The summer break is in the usual place with a seven week between Italy in June and Finland at the start of August. Wales Rally GB remains at the start of October, which for the first time this year featured stages on closed roads. Once again, the season starts in Monte Carlo and ends down-under in Australia.
Also, we’ve had a number of driver changes and announcements. First of all, Seb Ogier is returning to Citroen Racing and young Finn Esapekka Lappi is switching from Toyota to drive the other C3 WRC.
Confirmed at Toyota today as their team for 2019 are Ott Tanak, Jari-Matti and the return of Kris Meeke to the sport. When Citroen terminated his contract back in May, it was a big shock. Now we will have one of the best drivers back in the sport. Let’s not forget, he is the only driver from the UK to win in Finland. At Hyundai we know that Thierry has signed for three years with the team.
Now the teams and drivers that we know are as follows.
Hyundai Motorsport- Thierry Neuville (new three-year deal) and Andreas Mikkelsen (starting the second year of a two-year deal).
“I am really happy to sign a new three-year contract with Hyundai Motorsport. We have improved a lot in recent seasons, and it has always been my target to build continuity for my career by remaining with this team. Since 2014, we have shared many special moments together, as well as working through some more difficult times. Our debut victory together in 2014 remains a highlight, and we have since taken more wins together. There is a fantastic family atmosphere and I get on very well with my team-mates. This is very important to me. Alongside Nicolas, who has played a key role in our successes, our focus is on completing this current season in the strongest way possible, aiming to secure the titles. From there, we will continue to build, hopefully, to an even brighter future with Hyundai Motorsport.”
Citroen Racing- Seb Ogier and Esapekka Lappi.
“I’m really enthusiastic about the prospect of taking on this new challenge with Citroën. In fact, I can’t wait, especially as I haven’t forgotten that this is the team that first gave me the opportunity to compete in the world championship. There were various factors that influenced my decision. I really like the idea of working again with people with whom things went pretty well a few years back and I’m also excited by the chance to try and pull off the challenge of becoming world champion with a third different manufacturer. And although I’m not taking anything for granted, I am convinced that the car has definite potential and I have great faith in the people at Satory.”
“Obviously, I’m delighted to be joining the team and to be the future team-mate of Sébastien. It’s a good opportunity for me to keep developing. After having learned many things from Jari-Matti Latvala last year, and from Ott Tänak this year, I’ll have everything it takes to be even better if I also manage to draw inspiration from Seb! I’m convinced that the car has a lot of potential, as does the team, which has a long history and lot of experience in the WRC. The fact that Pierre clearly wanted to recruit me also counted a lot when it came to making my decision. It’s also going to be a great challenge, trying to win together.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing- Ott Tanak, Jari-Matti Latvala and Kris Meeke.
Tommi Mäkinen (Team Principal)
“We are all very excited to have Kris joining us here at TOYOTA GAZOO Racing. We know that he is very fast, but he also brings a lot of experience. His technical understanding is at a really high level and I believe he can provide new knowledge and ideas to help us in our aim to keep making the Yaris WRC better.
I am also very pleased that Jari-Matti will continue to be part of our team. He has done some brilliant work for us and has recently been regularly on the podium again, which has been very important. Together with Ott, who has proven that he is absolutely one of the fastest drivers right now, I think we have a very strong line-up for next year, with three drivers who are all quick, experienced and can win rallies. I believe we will again have a strong team to fight for both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles.
Lastly, I am very sorry to see that Esapekka has decided to leave us for a new challenge, but we all wish him the best of luck for the future.”
“It’s a huge pleasure and honour for me to become a Toyota driver. I’d like to thank Akio Toyoda, Tommi Mäkinen and the entire Toyota team for their faith in me. Three years ago, we first discussed the possibility of me joining the team, and I’m so happy that it’s finally happened now.
The performance of the Yaris WRC speaks for itself, but the team spirit here is incredible at every level, also with the Japanese culture of honour and respect. I can’t wait to get started. I’ve got no particular objectives other than to enjoy my driving again and help Toyota to win a championship.
The very first championship that I won was actually when I was aged 16 and co-driving for my brother on our local road rally championship. We clinched that title in a Toyota Corolla, so for very many reasons, it feels incredibly good to be here. I can’t think of a better place to be.”
We are still waiting for M-Sport to confirm what their plans are, but potential drivers could be Elfyn Evans, Teemu Suninen, Hayden Paddon and Craig Breen.
Sebastian Vettel believes that Ferrari can still be a force to be reckoned with in 2018, with their spirit “unbroken despite everything” they have been through.
“Today, I found it quite inspirational walking through the garage and watching the guys work,” Vettel said. “All the team is fired up and that certainly helps, as the last couple of weeks haven’t been that easy. The spirit is unbroken despite everything.”
Vettel has only won two races out of the past ten – taking the chequered flag at Silverstone and Spa – and he has been involved in incidents or been the victim of various strategy mistakes in Germany, Hungary, Italy, Singapore and, most recently, in Japan.
Vettel finished in sixth place in Suzuka after a clash with Max Verstappen early on in the race dropped him to the back of the pack. The German tried to dive down the inside going into Spoon Curve but made contact with Verstappen and ended up spinning. The incident, which was investigated by the stewards but didn’t result in any penalties, left Vettel to fight his way back through the field. He now trails title rival Lewis Hamilton by 67 points with four races still to go.
Speaking of the coming together with Verstappen, Vettel said, “I was obviously pushing to pass, I knew he had a penalty, but I also felt that we were fast. I could see that his battery was clipping, while I had saved some energy from mine. I saw a gap and went for it on the inside, he obviously tried to defend and I couldn’t go anywhere, so we touched. However, this is part of racing.”
F1 now heads to the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas, where Hamilton has his first chance at winning his fifth world championship. If he outscores Vettel by eight points – so, if Hamilton wins the race and Vettel doesn’t finish second, for instance – then he would wrap up the title.
“Races like [Japan] are a bit of a hand-over and we know it is difficult from where we are in the points standings, but we don’t have much to lose,” Vettel said. “We have given everything so far and I believe there’s still something we can learn and understand from the car. So we keep fighting and resisting and we’ll see what the other races bring.”
Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg will be starting his 150th Grand Prix at the upcoming Singapore Grand Prix, and he is hoping for a “positive weekend” at a circuit that he sees as something of an anomaly on the F1 calendar.
“It’s a unique Grand Prix in more ways than one,” Hulkenberg said, “and it’s the only real night race we have on the calendar. Racing under artificial lighting does take a little getting used to, but Singapore has been on the calendar for so long now, it feels pretty normal. We don’t see too much daytime there as we’re working on European time. We sleep until lunchtime and then the work begins. The facilities at Singapore are really good, and it’s a very enjoyable venue for a Grand Prix.”
With its relentless twenty-three corner layout and temperatures in excess of thirty degrees even at night, since its inaugural race in 2008 Singapore has developed a reputation for being one of the most physically demanding Grand Prix around.
“The circuit itself is very physical and puts a lot of strain on the body,” Hulkenberg added. “It’s up there as one of the toughest circuits of the season. It’s a long lap with corners coming thick and fast, with not many straights to have a break. The humidity makes it hard combined with all the action we’re doing at the wheel with non-stop corner combinations and frequent gear changes.”
This weekend’s race is the tenth anniversary of the first Singapore Grand Prix at Marina Bay and, as mentioned, is also Hulkenberg’s 150th in F1. As such, he is hoping he will be able to move on from the last couple of races, where he has started from the back of the grid thanks to penalties.
“It’s a significant milestone to have been racing in Formula 1 for so long with that many races under my belt. But it’s just a number at this stage and we have a challenge on our hands in the midfield battle, so I’ll be drawing on my experience and targeting a positive weekend in Singapore.
“We did all we could from the back of the grid [in Italy], and I’m pleased with how the weekend progressed. It’s good that the team are back in the points especially at a power-sensitive circuit like Monza. The penalties are hopefully out of the way and we head to Singapore in [a] confident mood aiming to have both cars in the points.”
McLaren have signed up-and-coming British star Lando Norris as their second driver for 2019, alongside in-bound Carlos Sainz.
The 18-year old from Somerset will be replacing Stoffel Vandoorne, who was announced this morning to be leaving the team at the end of the season after two difficult years with them.
Norris won the prestigious McLaren Autosport BRDC Award in 2016, and the year after that claimed the FIA Formula 3 European Championship and joined the McLaren Young Driver Programme, before graduating to F2 for 2018, where he is currently embroiled in a battle for the title with fellow Brit George Russell.
His first taste of F1 came when he participated in the end of season test in Abu Dhabi in 2017. Since then, he has taken part in 2018 pre-season testing, the mid-season test in Hungary, and also in FP1 at both Spa and Monza.
“To be announced as a race driver for McLaren is a dream come true,” said Norris. “Although I’ve been part of the team for a while now, this is a special moment, one I could only hope would become reality.
“I’d like to thank the whole team for this amazing opportunity and for believing in me. I’m also extremely grateful for the commitment McLaren has already shown in my development, allowing me to build my experience in a Formula 1 car in both testing and on Fridays during the past two race weekends.”
McLaren CEO Zak Brown added, “We believe Lando is an exciting talent, full of potential, who we’ve very deliberately kept within the McLaren fold for exactly that reason.
“We already know he’s fast, he learns quickly, and has a mature head on his young shoulders. We see much potential for our future together. The investment we have made in his budding career with simulator development and seat-time in the car has been well-deserved, as he has continued to prove his abilities both behind the wheel and in his work with the engineering team.”
Racing Point Force India’s recently-promoted team principal Otmar Szafnauer has said he is keen for the team to keep things moving forward after their tumultuous summer break and the impressive performance from their two drivers at the Belgian Grand Prix.
“The last few weeks have been a period of transition for the team, but with the support of the Commercial Rights Holder, the FIA, and our fellow competitors we returned to competition in Spa,” Szafnauer said. “Getting some points on the board was the priority and to come away with fifth and six places was a wonderful reward for the entire team.”
The Silverstone-based team was put into administration over the summer break but, after a period of uncertainty, was saved by a consortium led by Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll, father of Williams’ Lance Stroll. The buy-out saw Force India forfeit all of the constructors’ championship points they had accumulated over the first half of the season and effectively enter the Belgian Grand Prix as a new team, rebranded as Racing Point Force India.
Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez started the race at Spa P3 and P4 after a rain-affected qualifying, and on the first lap there was a moment going into Les Combes where it looked like Ocon might have challenged Hamilton and Vettel for the lead. The Frenchman eventually finished the race in sixth, with Perez one position ahead of him in fifth, vaulting Force India ahead of Williams in the constructors’ championship and leaving them just one point behind Sauber already.
“The new ownership gives us a welcome injection of stability and investment,” Szafnauer added. “We retain a wonderful group of people working back at base and trackside, and with the off-track distractions now behind us we can concentrate on doing what we do best – building cars and going racing. Our performance level in Spa was a real credit to the entire team. The sight of Esteban and Sergio challenging for the lead on lap one is an image that we will cherish.
“We head to Monza determined to deliver more points. We need to keep up the momentum from Spa. Monza is all about top speed and stability on the brakes, and I think it will play to our strengths. Looking further ahead, we have more performance to introduce to the car over the next few events, hopefully starting from Singapore.”
Featured image – Esteban Ocon (FRA) Racing Point Force India F1 VJM11.
Belgian Grand Prix, Saturday 25th August 2018. Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium.
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso has said that despite having fond memories of the Monza circuit, he is not holding out hope for a good result at this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix, with the track unlikely to play to his car’s strengths.
“Monza is a very special circuit for me and I have a lot of happy memories there,” he said. “It has a different feeling to many tracks – maybe because of the heritage or the fans, I’m not sure – but the emotions you feel when the fans invade the track after the race is like nowhere else in the world – there’s so much passion there.
“For us we know this weekend will be difficult, like in Spa. Better tracks are coming for us, that’s for sure, but Monza has all the characteristics that expose the weaknesses of our package. We just have to work as hard as possible and see what we can get out of it.”
Last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix came to a rather jarring halt for Alonso before he’d even reached the first corner. P17 was his result in qualifying – the worst Saturday for McLaren so far this year after team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne qualified P20 – but the Spaniard was bumped up a few places on the grid thanks to engine penalties given to those around him.
Unfortunately, that put him right in the thick of things when Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg missed his braking point going into La Source on lap one and triggered a series of events that ended in Alonso being launched over the top of Charles Leclerc in an incident reminiscent of the crash at the start of the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix.
“After the accident in Spa last Sunday,” Alonso added, “I know the team has been working very hard to make sure we have enough parts for this back-to-back race. I’m very grateful for their efforts and I’ll still be giving it maximum attack even if it will be a challenging weekend.”
Featured image – Steven Tee/McLaren. Ref: Digital Image _1ST2801
Lewis Hamilton has claimed his 78th pole position in Formula One, setting a time seven tenths quicker than title rival Sebastian Vettel as rain showers shook things up in Q3 at Spa-Francorchamps.
The Brit now holds the record for the most pole positions claimed at the circuit, beating the previous record of four poles held by Juan Manuel Fangio and Ayrton Senna.
Ferrari had looked as if they had the edge coming into qualifying, with the Scuderia setting the fastest times in every practice session as well as in Q1 and Q2. However, when the rain started to fall in Q3, the pendulum swung in Mercedes’ favour. Sebastian Vettel managed to significantly improve his lap time in the final runs of Q3 as the track began to dry but it wasn’t enough to overthrow Lewis Hamilton at the top of the timing screens. He will start the race tomorrow in P2.
Force India, or Racing Point Force India if you want to be pedantic, saw both of their drivers put in superb performances. Esteban Ocon – whose future is uncertain amid rumours of Lance Stroll being drafted into the team as soon as Monza or Singapore – qualified an amazing P3. Team-mate Sergio Perez recovered from a huge moment coming out of Eau Rouge and going into Raidillon to post the fourth quickest time. There must be something in the Force India water at Spa, for this is the circuit where Giancarlo Fisichella claimed pole for them in 2009 and where previous incarnations of the team, notably Jordan Grand Prix, have always run well.
Also putting in a great performance was the Haas of Romain Grosjean. The Frenchman had been surprisingly off the pace all weekend, but he managed to get it together when it mattered and qualified P5.
Kimi Raikkonen had been looking particularly strong all weekend, but Ferrari made the strategic error of only giving him enough fuel for one lap in Q3. This meant the Finn was confined to the garage towards the end of Q3 at precisely the moment when the fastest laps were being set on track. He ended up P6.
The Red Bull duo of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo will, like Raikkonen, definitely not be satisfied. Thanks to a mix of strategic error and the low-drag trim they had been running, they ended up P7 and P8 respectively and over four seconds away from Hamilton’s pole time.
The other Haas of Kevin Magnussen qualified P9, nearly three seconds behind his team-mate, and Valtteri Bottas rounded out the top ten having failed to set a time in Q3. The Finn came into qualifying carrying engine penalties and knowing that, whatever happened, he would be starting the Grand Prix from the back of the grid.
Outside the top ten, the main surprise came in the form of Renault’s Carlos Sainz being knocked out of Q1 by the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson.
Not so surprising, however, was the pace of the two McLaren cars. It is turning into a home race to forget for Stoffel Vandoorne – the Belgian had been slowest in FP1, FP2, and FP3, and that trend, unfortunately, continued into Q1. This was McLaren’s worst qualifying of the year so far, with Vandoorne’s team-mate Fernando Alonso also failing to make it out of Q1 and qualifying P17. They will, however, get bumped up a couple of places thanks to the engine penalties given to Valtteri Bottas and also to Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg.
Featured image: 2018 Großer Preis von Belgien, Samstag – Steve Etherington
Toto Wolff has hailed Mercedes’ unexpected 1-2 finish at the German Grand Prix as the “perfect scene”.
The German marque’s duo of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton had started the race in P2 and P14 respectively, after the Brit suffered a hydraulic failure in qualifying. Bottas held position at the start but for the most part could only sit back and watch Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel begin to open up the gap, whilst Hamilton set about carving through the field. Both drivers had longer first stints than those around them – Bottas changed from the ultras to the softs on lap twenty-eight, and Hamilton swapped from softs to ultras on lap forty-two after having broken into the top five.
It was after Hamilton’s pitstop that the rain began to fall. It had been a looming threat hanging over the race, and it was only a matter of when, not if, it would arrive. Despite it turning out to be only a brief shower, many in the midfield made the decision to pit for intermediates.
On lap fifty-two, championship leader Sebastian Vettel crashed in the damp conditions and brought out the safety car, with Bottas and Vettel’s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen choosing to pit for fresh ultrasoft tyres. Hamilton, though, stayed out and thus inherited the lead.
When the race restarted, Hamilton began to pull away – although he was helped by Mercedes telling Bottas to hold position despite the Finn being on the fresher tyre – and eventually crossed the line to win the German Grand Prix and reclaim the lead of the drivers’ championship. With Bottas in P2, Mercedes also re-took the lead of the constructors’ championship from Ferrari.
Hamilton’s win was briefly under threat when he was summoned to the stewards post-race to explain why he cut across the pitlane entry line when under the safety car, but he was eventually let off with a reprimand and was not given a penalty.
“What an incredible race – here at Hockenheim, on home turf for Mercedes, and a one-two finish after all the bad luck we have had in recent races,” Toto Wolff said. “Today it felt like that turned into good fortune for us and it was the perfect scene on the podium with our two drivers and Dr Zetsche up there. Like always, the race happens on Sunday not Saturday, and sometimes it’s not the quickest car that wins; that was what happened today.”
Wolff also extended his sympathies to Ferrari regarding the news that Fiat Chrysler’s CEO Sergio Marchionne was replaced due to worsening health after a recent operation. “But even in the joy of victory, our thoughts also remain with Sergio Marchionne and his family; although we are rivals on the track, we are friends off it and we were saddened to hear the news of his illness.
“It’s hard to sum up a Grand Prix like this one in a few sentences but things were unfolding in an interesting way when the rain came.
“After the drama of Silverstone and then qualifying yesterday, this is a dream result and that unpredictability is the beauty of sport. But our focus will turn quickly to Hungary, where we will have to do it all over again next weekend.”
Featured image – 2018 Großer Preis von Deutschland, Sonntag – Steve Etherington