F2 Italy: Aitken wins sprint race as De Vries extends title lead

Renault development driver Jack Aitken took his third win of the 2019 Formula 2 season in the Monza sprint race, while Nyck de Vries took another podium to extend his title lead.

Aitken started from reverse grid pole ahead of Giuliano Alesi and Jordan King and got away well from the line to hold the lead into Turn 1. Behind him King moved up to second, while Callum Ilott overtook a slow starting Sergio Sette Camara for fourth.

Sette Camara was then hit from behind by Luca Ghiotto into Turn 1, with the Italian damaging his front wing in the process.

King kept with Aitken throughout the opening laps, staying generally within a second of the Campos driver. With the tow helping King to close up on the straights, Aitken began weaving before the braking zones to try and drop King from his slipstream.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

On lap 7 King made a successful move for the lead, passing Aitken into the Rettifilo. Aitken tried to fight back at the Roggia chicane on the same lap but was forced wide, although on lap 9 Aitken repayed the favour by passing King into Turn 1.

As Aitken and King continued to battle throughout the lap, Ilott closed up behind them, having previously passed Alesi for third on lap 5.

On lap 11 the fight for the lead came to a head as King dove to the inside of Roggia. Aitken was forced to cut the chicane, but rejoined the track still in the lead as King missed the apex himself and surrendered second place to Ilott.

As was the case with King, Ilott then stayed with Aitken but was unable to get close enough for a move as Aitken continued weaving to break the tow. However, on lap 19 race control showed Aitken the black and white driving standards flag and ordered him to stop changing direction into the braking zones.

On the final lap, Ilott was finally able to draw close enough to challenge Aitken into Turn 1, but a massive lock up sent the Ferrari junior down the escape road and spinning out of the race. With Ilott out, Aitken took the chequered flag at the end of the lap with two seconds in hand over King.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

After charging to the feature race podium yesterday, championship leader Nyck de Vries took another strong result in the sprint race to boost his title lead yet further.

De Vries made steady progress in the first half of the race, moving up from sixth on the grid to follow closely behind the leading trio of Aitken, Ilott and King by lap 11. His hard work was almost undone on lap 18 when a lock up at Turn 1 dropped him behind Nobuharu Matsushita, but a 5-second time penalty for Matsushita ensured De Vries would finish ahead to inherit third place when Ilott span out.

De Vries also benefited from his main title rivals both enduring disappointing finishes outside the points. Nicholas Latifi, who spun on his way to the grid before the race, struggled for pace throughout and finished in tenth.

And after making contact with Sette Camara on the opening lap, Ghiotto hit the DAMS driver again on lap 7 and not only dislodged his front wing entirely but also gave Sette Camara a race-ending puncture which brought out a brief Virtual Safety Car. Ghiotto remained in the race, but finished last of all in 15th place.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

Matsushita’s penalty dropped him to fifth in the end, behind Guanyu Zhou who started from the back of the grid after retiring from the feature race. Mick Schumacher finished sixth and gained an extra two points for the fastest lap, Alesi finished seventh, and Louis Deletraz took the final point in eighth.

After finishing third in both races of the weekend, De Vries leaves Monza with a 59-point advantage over Latifi, who in turn is only 11 points clear of Ghiotto. There are 96 points remaining over the final two rounds of the season.

Aitken’s sprint race win elevates him to fourth place in the standings, two points behind Ghiotto and two ahead of Sette Camara. Matsushita has overtaken Zhou for sixth following his feature race win on Saturday.

F3 Italy: Tsunoda takes first win in sprint race

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

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

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

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

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

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

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

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

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

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

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

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

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

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

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

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

Finally Ferrari at Monza? 2019 Italian Grand Prix Preview

Charles Leclerc tackles the first chicane. Photo credit Pirelli.

After a sombre, heart-breaking, mournful weekend at Spa following the death of Anthoine Hubert after a horrifying crash at Raidillon, the F1 paddock travels resolutely to Italy for the Italian Grand Prix.

Charles Leclerc was good friends with Anthoine Hubert, and after claiming an emotional first win last time out, he comes to the 5.7 kilometre Monza circuit hoping to hastily add a second to that tally, along with his Ferrari team, for whom it was also their first win of the season, and team mate Sebastian Vettel, who had a horrible experience on race day in Belgium and needs to put that behind him with a positive weekend here.

Monza is the oldest track on the Formula One calendar, and it is home to the oldest team in F1 history, add those two together and you get Ferrari fans – lots of Ferrari fans. The Tifosi enter this weekend knowing that their team come to their holy grail expected to deliver a win on home soil for the first time since 2010 – they cannot wait a decade since Fernando Alonso’s victory in what was one of the greatest seasons F1 has ever seen.

This, however, has been anything but as far as Ferrari are concerned, and the pace they promised in Barcelona in testing at the beginning of the year has been completely blown away by a dumbfounding Mercedes team, but a track where straight line speed is everything, and after a great start to the second part of the season, this is a golden opportunity for the Italian giants to begin washing away the image of incompetence that they have been portrayed in this season. A chance for Leclerc to send the home crowd into raptures in his first season, and a chance for Vettel to grab his first Ferrari win in Monza and turn around his terrible fortunes thus far in 2019.

But omnipotent is the sheer brilliance of the current and surely soon-to-be six-time champion Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, who have won each of the last five races in Italy, including last year with Hamilton, despite a Ferrari front row lock-out in qualifying.

That weekend saw the fastest qualifying lap ever by Kimi Raikkonen, who will surely not be achieving such a feat this time around, but will be anticipating a better time of it than he had in Spa after being nerfed into turn one by the overzealous Max Verstappen, before the Dutchman planted his damaged Red Bull into the wall at Eau Rouge, much to the despair of the Dutch fans who came from the Netherlands to watch their hero race.

Their collision had left the door open for their respective team mates to capitalise and gain important points. A fantastic drive from Red Bull new boy Alex Albon saw him come home in fifth, while Antonio Giovinazzi met the wall in the closing stages at Pouillon having been on for points. He arrives at his home race chasing an improvement on his thus-far one point tally in 2019.

The midfield, featuring a McLaren team which saw Carlos Sainz’s car succumb to stalling issues and Lando Norris’ engine give up the ghost just one lap from the end while running in P5, should see a fair bit of overtaking at a track where passing is traditionally plentiful every year, and all six of those teams will fancy their chassis’ and engines’ chances of being best of the rest, while Red Bull are expected to be largely on their own as the third quickest, and Williams will sadly again be very much on their own at one of the tracks they will have been fearing the most.

The race sets for Monza.

Ferrari’s best chance yet at home redemption, but will the ominous Mercedes threat topple them again? Will Lewis Hamilton take another substantial step towards title number 6? Or will Ferrari finally break their duck in Italy? Monza awaits…

F3 Monza: Title is Shwartzman’s to lose

The penultimate round of the 2019 FIA Formula 3 Championship takes place this weekend at Monza.

After a double podium at the last round in Belgium, championship leader Robert Shwartzman has the opportunity to wrap up the title in Italy this weekend.

There are currently seven drivers who can still mathematically deny Shwartzman the title: Jehan Daruvala, Juri Vips, Marcus Armstrong, Christian Lundgaard, Pedro Piquet, Leo Pulcini and Max Fewtrell. But such is Shwartzman’s lead that if the Ferrari junior can outscore his rivals by 26 points, the championship will be his with one round to spare.

Shwartzman’s closest challenger is his fellow Prema teammate and Ferrari junior Daruvala, who is on 129 points to Shwartzman’s 152. But Daruvala doesn’t have the luxury of just looking ahead, as Vips and Armstrong are within 10 points of him and Lundgaard is only a strong result away from joining them.

Jehan Daruvala, Prema (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship)

With the season nearing its finale, close racing is expected throughout the field as drivers try to use what few opportunities are left to impress ahead of 2020.

Bent Viscaal, Felipe Drugovich, Simo Laaksonen, Teppei Natori and Fabio Scherer have all scored just one points finish each this season, and they will be fighting desperately at Monza to get more points on the board while they can.

Scherer’s fellow Sauber Junior Team drivers Lirim Zendelli and Raoul Hyman will also be on the hunt for any chance to end their season on a high and justify their links to the F1 team for another year. Zendelli, the runaway 2018 German F4 champion, has only six points to his name and hasn’t scored since Austria, while Hyman has no points and a best result of 13th.

And in a similar situation is Hitech driver and Renault junior Ye Yifei, who has come close to the points on several occasions but remains 24th in the championship.

Lirim Zendeli, Sauber Junior Team by Charouz (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship)

Anthoine Hubert: 1996–2019

BWT Arden and Renault academy driver Anthoine Hubert has passed away at the age of 22 following a horrific crash during the F2 feature race in Belgium.

Hubert was caught up in an incident on the second lap of the race, triggered by Giuliano Alesi running wide and losing control at the top of Eau Rouge. After making contact with Alesi and the barriers, Hubert’s car was then struck at high speed by Juan Manuel Correa and sustained severe damage.

The FIA confirmed shortly afterwards in a statement on its website that Hubert had succumbed to his injuries and passed away at 18:35 local time. The FIA also said that Correa is currently in a stable situation and undergoing treatment at hospital, and that Alesi has been declared fit and released from the track medical centre.

Campos driver Marino Sato was also caught up in the incident, and fortunately was able to walk away. The F2 feature race was immediately suspended and will not be rerun.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

Hubert had established himself as one of the leading figures in Formula 2 during his debut this season, taking two sprint race wins in Monaco and France alongside seven other points finishes. Supported by the Renault Sport Academy, he was in line for a top drive with either DAMS or ART next year.

Hubert began his racing career in karts at the age of twelve, and finished third in the 2011 and 2012 U18 CIK-FIA World Karting Championships. In 2013 he made his car-racing debut in the French F4 championship, which he won at his first attempt before stepping up to Formula Renault for the following year. In 2016, Hubert graduated to European Formula 3 and won his first race in the series at the Norisring.

For 2017 Hubert joined ART Grand Prix in the GP3 championship, and was an instant star. He took his first podium (second place) at the third round at Silverstone, and went on to claim a further three podiums at the Hungaroring, Monza and Jerez to finish the year fourth in the standings.

Remaining with ART for 2018, Hubert built on his debut season to conduct an impressive championship campaign. Two consecutive podiums at the opening round in Spain led to his first GP3 victory on home soil at Paul Ricard. Hubert then converted pole at Silverstone into his second feature race win, and went on a run of five podium finishes across Hungary, Belgium and Italy. Two further podiums in Russia and Abu Dhabi sealed the 2018 GP3 title for Hubert by 16 points over teammate Nikita Mazepin.

Anthoine Hubert was one of the leading lights of the junior categories and will be sorely missed in the Grand Prix paddock. ThePitCrewOnline extends its deepest sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

F3 Belgium: Piquet denies Prema victory

Pedro Piquet and Trident took their first Formula 3 victory in the Spa feature race, enjoying a comfortable lead over his Prema challengers throughout.

Piquet got a good launch from second on the grid and passed polesitter Jehan Daruvala for the lead on the opening lap. Meanwhile, Daruvala’s teammate and championship rival Robert Shwartzman dropped back through the order from his starting spot in fourth.

While Piquet was passing Daruvala, two separate incidents further back brought out a virtual safety car: Jake Hughes was spun out of fifth place by Logan Sargent, and Alex Peroni misjudged an overtake on Devlin DeFrancesco and ended up in the barriers.

When the racing resumed, Piquet opened up his gap over Daruvala to nearly five seconds, while Shwartzman set about climbing back through the field. On lap 14 Shwartzman caught Daruvala and passed him for second place. Shwartzman then took 1.2 seconds out of Piquet’s lead, but with only three laps remaining he was unable to challenge the Trident for the lead and had to settle for second place.

Robert Shwartzman, Prema (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship)

Hitech’s Leonardo Pulcini looked set to finish fourth having run ahead of Yuki Tsunoda, Juri Vips and Christian Lundgaard for most of the race. But in the final laps Pulcini’s pursuers closed in and they went four-wide on the Kemmel Straight. Pulcini was the big loser and dropped behind, while Lundgaard appeared to come out in front but went wide into Les Combes and allowed Vips through into fourth.

But Lundgaard kept up the pressure on the Red Bull junior, and a lock up for Vips at the Bus Stop chicane on the last lap gave Lundgaard the opening to take fourth place across the line.

Vips managed to keep fifth place ahead of Tsunoda and Pulcini. Prema’s Marcus Armstrong finished eighth to take reverse grid pole for tomorrow, and Lundgaard’s ART teammates Max Fewtrell and David Beckmann rounded out the points in ninth and tenth.

Max Fewtrell, ART (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship)

F3 Belgium preview: All eyes on Prema

Round 6 of the 2019 Formula 3 season takes place this weekend in Belgium, where Prema will be feeling the pressure to keep up their command of the championship.

The Italian team have won half of all the races run so far this season and their drivers occupy three of the top four spots in the championship. For Robert Shwartzman, who currently tops the standings on 124 points, the goal will be to steer his car towards another podium at the very least and increase his 12-point lead over second-placed Juri Vips.

However, Shwartzman will be hard-pressed by his own teammates. Jehan Daruvala needs to regain some ground in the title battle at Spa, after a pair of non-points finishes at Silverstone and the Hungaroring undid his run of podiums and wins earlier in the season. And in fourth place in the standings, Marcus Armstrong will be looking to prove he is every bit in contention as his teammates after his first series win in the Hungary sprint race.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

But there’s no guarantee Prema will have it all their way in Spa this weekend. After dominating the first two rounds, in which Shwartzman and Daruvala took a feature and sprint race win apiece, the Italian team have faced a stern fightback from the likes of Hitech, HWA Racelab and ART.

Vips is as much a contender for victory this weekend as any of the Premas, and taking a third win of the season will go a long way to impressing his Red Bull bosses as they evaluate where to place the Estonian next year.

Nor can Christian Lundgaard be discounted. After a rocky opening to the season, including four consecutive non-points finishes across France and Austria, the Renault junior driver was imperious in Hungary as he sealed pole position, fastest lap and victory in the feature race. Provided Lundgaard and ART have made a genuine breakthrough with the 2019 F3 car, there’s every reason to expect this pairing at the front for the rest of the year.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Lower down the order, several drivers will be hoping to reignite their campaigns after the summer reset as they look to improve their positions in the 2020 driver market.

David Beckmann is one of those. After scoring three wins with Trident in last year’s GP3 championship, Beckmann has struggled with ART this year and is currently 11th with only four points finishes. With stablemates Lundgaard and Max Fewtrell a long way ahead of him in the points, Beckmann needs a good result in Belgium to get his season back on track.

Also needing to step up his game in the final three rounds is Yuki Tsunoda. Although the Japanese driver is currently dominating his Jenzer teammates (being the team’s only point-scoring driver), he remains 12th in the championship and behind fellow Red Bull juniors Vips and Liam Lawson. Tsunoda is having a much better season in the 2019 Euroformula Open championship, where he is fourth with one win and three further podiums, so there’s no doubt he’s got more speed to come if he and Jenzer can unlock the potential of his car in practice.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

FIA F2: Belgium preview

The three week summer break is over, and this weekend FIA Formula 2 returns for round 9 at Belgium’s Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

At the last round in Hungary, Nicholas Latifi struck back at title rival Nyck de Vries with victory in the feature race—his first win since Spain in May. However, with 30 points still the difference between them in De Vries’ favour, Latifi will need another strong result here at Spa if he’s to swing the momentum back towards him for the final four rounds of the season.

Luca Ghiotto dropped back from the title contenders in Hungary, and now sits fourth in the standings behind DAMS’ Sergio Sette Camara. With Jack Aitken only one point behind him, Ghiotto will be looking for a strong return from the summer break to reassert himself at the top.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

There will also be plenty of drivers to watch outside of the main title contenders. Carlin’s Nobuharu Matsushita—who won the feature race in Austria and finished on the podium again in Hungary—has said he is still hoping to earn an F1 promotion via his Honda academy links, but he will need to put in the results to get there. The Japanese driver needs to be at least fourth in the standings to earn his superlicence, which means overcoming the 50-point gap to Ghiotto.

Guanyu Zhou comes to Spa as the season’s best rookie in P6 with 107 points. But although he’s enjoyed a successful F2 debut with three podiums and pole position at Silverstone, the UNI-Virtuosi driver still has yet to claim his first win in the series.

Zhou’s closest competition for “best rookie” is fellow Renault academy driver Anthoine Hubert. Although Hubert is 30 points adrift of Zhou, he has picked up two sprint race victories for BWT Arden this season and will be hungry for more in the final rounds as he chases a drive with DAMS or ART for next year.

And finally, Mick Schumacher won’t be able to avoid the spotlight this weekend following his first F2 victory in the Hungary sprint race. His fans will be hoping that win proves a breakthrough result after a sobering start to his F2 debut, especially with Spa and Monza being tracks Schumacher knows from his European F3 days.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

W Series: Exclusive interview with Sabré Cook

Earlier in the year, Sabré Cook spoke to us for International Women’s Day as she prepared for both the upcoming W Series evaluations and her Infiniti Engineering Academy placement with the Renault Sport F1 Team. Since then she has taken three points finishes across the season, as well as third place at the non-championship round at Assen.

With W Series now over for 2019, we caught up with Sabré to hear her reflections on the inaugural championship and her plans for the future.

Sabré Cook on the podium at Assen (W Series Media)

James Matthews: First of all, congratulations on taking your third points finish of the season at Brands Hatch. How would you rate your season overall, and what has been your personal highlight?

Sabré Cook: Thank you! Overall the season has been a great experience and I’ve learned an immense amount. I definitely made mistakes along the way but I’m a better driver now because I learned from them. The highlights would probably be my 7th place and third-fastest lap at Norisring, and my reverse grid podium at Assen.

JM: Your P12 in the championship has guaranteed you a place on the 2020 W Series grid. Have you decided yet to return next year, and if so what will be your goals for your sophomore season?

SC: I will definitely be returning next year. I’ll continue to focus on improving my skills along with applying what I’ve learned this year. A top five result in the championship next year would be a satisfying result for me.

JM: What impact has being part of the W Series had on your career, both in terms of your development as a driver and your presence in the media?

SC: The W Series has given me the opportunity to work consistently on my performance as a driver more than I’ve ever been able to in the past. I feel like I’m making steady progress and it feels great. The media coverage and excitement over the series has certainly helped grow my media presence.

Sabré Cook at Misano (W Series Media)

JM: Catherine Bond-Muir told the media after Brands Hatch that W Series will be expanding to the US for 2021. Is there any US track in particular you’d like to see the series race on?

SC: I cannot confirm that the W Series will be going to the US for 2021, but I’d certainly welcome the addition to the race calendar. There’s so many great tracks in the US but I’d particularly love to see them go to Road America or WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

JM: Having spent most of your career so far racing in America, what were the biggest challenges you found racing in a predominantly European series?

SC: I’ve raced in European races before in karting, so from that I knew the high level of talent and aggression to expect. The challenges mostly came from trying to learn new tracks with limited track time, and getting used to some of the different rules and operating procedures.

JM: You told our Emily Inganni earlier this year that you have been balancing W Series with an engineering placement with the Renault F1 team. Have you been able to draw on the experience gained in that placement to improve your driving skills?

SC: My time at Renault F1 teaches me so much each day on how to be a better engineer. While that doesn’t always directly relate to my driving development it does give me a greater overall perspective as a driver and helps me see the design intent behind engineering decisions. But having access to feedback that [Daniel] Riccardo and [Nico] Hulkenberg give to their engineers on the RS19 each race, does directly show me how the top drivers communicate their feeling of the car.

Sabré Cook preparing for qualifying at Zolder (W Series Media)

JM: From your unique perspective as an engineer and a driver, what have been the most enjoyable and most challenging aspects of driving the W Series Tatuus-Alfa Romeo car?

SC: Driving a turbo engine is always fun and a new experience for me. It was a challenge but also enjoyable to figure out how to drive the oversteer balance of the car confidently. It was challenging from an engineering perspective not to be able to make any major changes to the car’s set up because I’d love to see, learn, and feel for myself what some of the larger changes would do to the balance of the car on each individual track. But I was there to drive, not engineer, and limiting us to a standard set up window is definitely the best layout for the series.

JM: W Series has been praised this year for the level of close racing throughout its field. Which driver have you most enjoyed battling with?

SC: I’ve enjoyed batting with each of the drivers, and really appreciate the opportunity to learn from the more experienced ones.

JM: What are your thoughts on how W Series has developed in its inaugural season?

SC: I think the W Series Team should be extremely proud of how amazing the champion has been in just the first season. I’ve never seen a series be so successful and have such a positive reaction and impact as much as the W Series has. I hope it continues to grow and affect so many people in a positive way.

Sabré Cook at the Norisring (W Series Media)

Alfa Romeo – Romain Grosjean’s last chance saloon?

Rewind, back to summer 2018. Buckling under the glare of the Netflix cameras, the heat from Cyril Abiteboul’s yellow submarines, and the demise of what was once his prized asset, Gunther Steiner had a tough decision to make. He was hanging over the eject button, beads of sweat heavy enough to fall and depress the thing theirselves, all the while Romain Grosjean waited for the decision.

He was ultimately spared by his boss, thanks to an 11th hour renaissance giving Haas the support they needed in the points tally, but one year on it’s a case of deja vu. Only this time, the situation’s different. Being bested by his teammate Kevin Magnussen again in the standings is one thing, but the two have been drawn like magnets to each other’s carbon fibre, and team morale is at an all-time low. The American dream could well be over for Romain.

If that button’s finally pressed, it’d be easy to think the jig is up for him in F1 entirely. What team’s even in a position to take on a 33 year old with a history of erratic form, radio outbursts and, if his current partnership is anything to go by, struggles with maintaining morale with his other side of the garage? Well, there is still one chapter potentially left in his book of tales: Alfa Romeo.

 

Before I delve any deeper, there’s a majestically-haired elephant in the room in Antonio Giovinazzi. Youthful rookie and Ferrari academy product, the natural assumption is that he’s safe for 2020. Even I think that, though there’s every chance Alfa could start to take a dimmer view of his potential if his results fail to pick up by the season’s end. So far 32 of the team’s 33 points have been scored by their talisman Kimi Raikkonen, with Antonio contributing a sole point, while the qualifying battle is 7-4 in the Finn’s favour.

This doesn’t tell the whole story. After his two-race cameo at the beginning of 2017, Antonio went 23 months without competitive racing – which has brought on an understandable rustiness to his craft – and has shown flashes of what made him such a formidable force in GP2 three years ago. Also, while he may be in the twilight of his career, Kimi’s shown no signs of hitting the brakes, driving like a man reborn throughout the season. Antonio’s results aren’t as black and white as they appear.

Serious questions will arise if he doesn’t improve in time for post-season though, and in an ever-sharpening midgrid slog Alfa need a much more even split of the points if they want to trouble the upper places in the Constructors’ table. Ferrari’s commitment to treating him as a genuine contender for a future race seat of theirs’ could evaporate too, what with Mick Schumacher waiting in the wings and the Scud suffering with the absence of a man who performed admirably in their simulator department.

If those results don’t come, and both Ferrari and their understudies decide Antonio is best placed back on the sidelines, there stands two options. Do they wait for Mick, and hope he can jump the final barrier to the big time? Or do they reach out for an experienced hand, and give the next scarlet prodigy time to find his feet? Mick himself has never been one to rush his progress, and his carefulness has worked so far. The latter stands as the best option.

Romain could become the most desirable free agent on their radar, if Steiner finally calls time, and despite the many flaws in his arsenal there’s benefits to a team like Alfa having him onboard. Firstly, those teammate issues I talked about? They won’t have them. Not only is Kimi arguably the most docile and unproblematic driver they could hope for, he’s also well aware of Romain after their two seasons together at Lotus in 2012 and 2013, when they worked fairly harmoniously as a duo. No red flags to be found there.

Alfa Romeo’s a harmonious team to be at in general, too. Romain’s a confidence player, and when he’s made to feel comfortable he’s undoubtedly capable of contributing star races for his team – he’s shown that at Haas in the past and especially with his against-the-odds podium in Belgium 2015 – so the lack of pressure in Switzerland would suit him down to the ground.

It’s also too frequently forgotten just how blazingly quick Romain is. The second half to his 2013 season was a comeback for the ages, with him acting as the only real threat to Red Bull and taking four podiums in his final six races. His aforementioned podium with Lotus in 2015, against the backdrop of financial woes and even bailiffs hounding the team, was a much-needed bright light in their season. His first season with Haas resulted in a beatdown of Esteban Gutierrez, with the team’s 29 point haul entirely down to him. He’s more than capable of hitting those heights again, given a fresh start.

The final reason the move makes sense is that Kimi won’t keep going forever. Alfa have gained immeasurably from having a sage head within their driver line-up, but once his contract’s up at the end of 2020 that’s likely to be his final contribution to the sport. Bedding in a like-for-like replacement in Romain, while Mick plies his trade once more in F2, would mean that when he’s finally prepared for the step up they have a known quantity alongside him – a strategy which has worked so effectively this season. 

If there’s any team that can get a tune out of Romain, it’s Alfa Romeo. And if there’s anyone who can fill the brief Alfa will need when Kimi hangs up his overalls, it’s Romain. Antonio still has the greatest claim to their second seat, but if he were to be deemed surplus to requirements, there’s a golden chance to plan for the future by recreating a flagging driver’s past.