How to deal with an F1 heartbreak, Leclerc style

Charles Leclerc’s Bahrain hotel room ought to have been marked a no-go zone. It’s a testament to the Monegasque, humble and self-examining in his conduct, that it would be the first place he gives himself chance to vent. He navigated each interview with professionalism betraying his years, out of the car, onto the podium and back down the steps on his way to an apologetic Scuderia.

Never has it been as easy to forget, that this is a day on which a driver achieved their first podium in Formula 1, for the most historic racing team of all time. This should have been cause for celebration. Instead, Leclerc would be forgiven for wanting to slump in the corner of said room and attempt to retcon his most recent memory with force.

Having taken his first pole position, Leclerc was adamant both to his team and the breathtaken media that the job wasn’t over – “I am trying to stay as cool as possible, because there are no points for pole position”. He knew Sunday, his true date with destiny, awaited him. With a red tuxedo immaculate and a metaphorical tie millimetre-aligned, Leclerc spent 47 laps wooing to the utmost only to be stood up at the table in the night’s dying moments.

Ferrari Media

The term ‘bitter blow’ doesn’t do it justice. Leclerc was faultless, a messy first lap aside, on a day where the infectious seeds of inconsistency were sprouting up all across the grid. Mercedes had collapsed pace-wise. Sebastian Vettel relapsed into troubles of the recent past. Pierre Gasly was again cast in the sea of the midfield, and Red Bull were in no position to put up a fight. The only one who had both the machine, and the disposition to utilise it, was him.

But, as we know in F1, the Gods can strike at any time. Again, Leclerc was humble in his approach to the media after the race – “It happens, it’s part of motorsport”. The fabric of not only his successes, but his career and person, is a stoicism that affords clarity, and a rigid confidence in the ripples of outside influence evening themselves out over seasons and careers.

To make it big in racing, all drivers have to learn this the hard way. The biggest surprise is how Leclerc exudes this sense he was born with it. His ability to think long-term is an offshoot of his acceptance that outside variables can’t be changed, and as we’ve seen many a time through his interviews he likes to instead look inwards at every opportunity, and obsessively hold himself to account wherever he can. It’s beyond admirable.

Ferrari Media

It’s a sign of being in control, even when every single thing outside of your mind and body wants to break you down. That losing yourself is improbable, bordering on impossible, because there’s a foundation of introspection that can’t be shaken. Leclerc’s painfully emotional F2 win in Baku is proof of this; his father had passed away mere days ago, the pressure of his ‘next big thing’ tag was weighing down on him, and the race was as chaotic as they come. His focus that day was as though those issues were denied access into the confines of his cockpit.

He’d go on to suffer a troublesome first three races with Sauber, visibly struggling to tame an unpredictable car. Instead of looking to deflect, or simply carry on as normal, Leclerc opted instead to ask himself difficult questions, more so than with his team. He certainly helped Sauber develop the C37 into a midfield mainstay, but the hardest treatment was placed by himself, on himself. No one was willing to do it with a rookie who hadn’t even been driving poorly, but let it be known Leclerc holds himself to world-class standards.

And he does this because each and every time, it’s allowed him to blossom. Even when most other drivers want an arm around the shoulder from their team, and an easy time of it in the press pen, Leclerc doesn’t allow himself the satisfaction of such comforts until he’s improved in a way no one would even have noticed but himself. The mental solidity that takes, when locked in the furnace of Formula One, is unfathomable.

So if anyone can handle the pain of having the most glorious win of any driver’s career – a maiden victory with Scuderia Ferrari – kissed away into the wind, it is Leclerc. As much as we’d all understand if he locked himself away with a whisky bottle until the pain numbed, it is not, never has been and never will be his way of dealing with issues. Leclerc always bounces back, and every ounce of adversity only serves to make him stronger.

 

[Featured image – Ferrari media]

Lewis Hamilton: Mercedes ‘very, very lucky’ at Bahrain Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton has admitted that Mercedes were ‘very, very lucky’ to claim a 1-2 at the Bahrain Grand Prix, with Charles Leclerc’s power unit issue putting a stop to what was otherwise a very dominant performance by the Monegasque.

Hamilton had started the race in P3 but fought his way past Sebastian Vettel on lap 38 to claim P2. Then, with under fifteen laps to go, the other Ferrari of  Leclerc developed a power issue that cost him roughly 30mph in speed on the straights; in just two laps Hamilton had wiped out Leclerc’s nine-second lead and passed him with ease to take the 74th Grand Prix victory of his career.

“It was very tricky out there today,” Hamilton said, “and I had to give it everything I had. We were very, very lucky to get this 1-2, Ferrari outperformed us all weekend.

“Ultimately you want to have a real fight and want to pass someone because you’re quicker, so it feels a bit weird and you can’t quite believe your luck in these scenarios.”

2019 Bahrain Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Hamilton praised Leclerc for his performance nonetheless and offered some words of consolation to him in the post-race cool down room. He is under no illusion about Mercedes’ pace relative to Ferrari, and is bracing himself for some tough races to come.

“I have been in similar situations [to Leclerc] and I know how it feels, but Charles did a great job all weekend long and has a beautiful, bright future ahead of him,” he added.

“We’ve only had two races; one where we were rapid and far ahead, one where Ferrari had the upper hand. It’s hard to say how the next races are going to pan out, but I anticipate that it will be a tough fight and that it will be a back and forth between the two teams.

“We need to keep working hard to see where we went wrong this weekend and to see where we can improve the car. But as we saw today, reliability also plays an important role, so we need to keep working on all areas.

“We’ll take the points we got today and move forward to China.”

 

[Featured image – Steve Etherington]

Bahrain Grand Prix: Ferrari reliability problem ‘unacceptable’

Ferrari Team Principal Mattia Binotto has labelled the reliability issue that cost Charles Leclerc a victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix as ‘unacceptable’ and something that the team are investigating to prevent from happening again.

Leclerc had dominated the Bahrain race weekend, finishing top of the timing sheets in FP1 and FP3 and claiming his first ever pole position in F1 on Saturday by almost three tenths.

He slipped back to third at the start but recovered to retake the lead by lap five and dominated thereafter. That was, until he developed a power unit problem with just fifteen laps to go, one which cost him several seconds per lap. The two Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas caught and passed him, but Leclerc was saved from losing any more positions by the safety car brought out to recover both Renaults. He came home third, his first podium in F1 but one tinged with disappointment.

Speaking of the power unit issue, Mattia Binotto said, “It was a shame for Charles. He was in the lead for much of the race and showed that he was particularly comfortable here in Bahrain, also setting the race fastest lap.

Ferrari Media

“He deserved to win and it was only the reliability problem, which we must now investigate, which prevented him from doing so. That is something unacceptable from us and it shows how important it is to get every last detail right in order to win.”

Leclerc added, “It’s part of motorsport, we know that. Sometimes it’s not your day to win and today wasn’t ours. In the final part of the race we had an issue with the power unit and I had to slow down.

“It’s a shame because the race seemed to me to be under control. The team is disappointed and I am disappointed but there are a lot of positives to take home from this weekend.

“These things happen in motorsport: we took the best out of it anyway. It’s my first podium even if I’m not enjoying it as much as I wanted. It’s life, it happens, we’ll come back stronger”.

 

[Featured image – Ferrari Media]

2019 Bahrain GP Review: Drama in the Dust

The second race of the 2019 season took place under the bright lights of the Bahrain International circuit. Charles Leclerc started from pole position, making him the 99th driver to take pole in the 999th F1 Grand Prix, with Vettel, Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen started behind him.

The lights went out and both Vettel and Bottas got better starts than Leclerc, demoting the Monagasque to third with Hamilton in fourth after the first lap.

Chaos broke out behind the leaders, with sparks flying around the cars of Stroll and Grosjean. The Frenchman would eventually retire from the race. At the back the Williams drivers had a heated fight, which was more for their honor than the points.

Leclerc managed to pick up the speed after his horrible start and regained second place from Bottas. This overtake cost the Finn momentum, meaning that his teammate Hamilton could overtake him as well.

Verstappen in P5 came under pressure from Sainz in the McLaren, a potential haul of points McLaren could definitely use. What they couldn’t use, however, was a touch with Verstappen which meant Sainz received major damage on his front right tyre. The incident was investigated by the stewards, but no action was taken.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Up front, Ferrari told that both drivers were free to fight, and they took advantage of it. Leclerc closed the gap to Vettel quite easily, telling his team “I’m quicker guys!” On lap six he managed to overtake the German using DRS, retaking the lead.

Gasly had to regain his respect after a disappointing qualifying, but struggled in a huge midfield fight with Norris, Magnussen, Albon and Kvyat. To make matters worse, his pit stop went horribly and cost him further precious seconds.

On lap thirteen Kvyat spun due to a slight touch with Giovinazzi at turn eleven, losing places as a result. To add insult to injury, the Russian Toro Rosso driver later got a five-second penalty for speeding in the pitlane. That same lap, Bottas and Hulkenberg came into the pits.

Race leader Leclerc made his pitstop on lap fourteen, opting for the mediums whilst Hamilton went for the soft tyres.

Vettel lost his second place to Hamilton on fresher tyres, but the Brit’s strategy would mean he needed to make another pitstop to fulfill the rules of using two different compounds during a race.

2019 Bahrain Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Some small mistakes from Hamilton meant that Vettel closed the gap, even though the German was on the harder tyre. Hamilton complained about oversteer and had to make another stop. On lap 23 Vettel overtook him, leading to some stressful board-radios from Hamilton.

In the midfield a fun fight between Norris and Räikkönen for P7 took place, keeping each other under pressure.

On lap 33, car number 33 came in for his second pitstop. Verstappen couldn’t be happy as his pitstop went awful, not the first pitstop that’d gone wrong at Red Bull today. Hamilton made his second pitstop two laps later, going for the mediums. He came back on track in front of Verstappen.

Vettel then tried to cover the Mercedes, making his second pitstop, going to the mediums for a second time. He came back just in front of his rival. Immediately after that Leclerc made his second pitstop, and emerged with his lead intact.

Last year’s championship rivals came very close to crashing, with Vettel edging Hamilton out by only a small margin. The German smelled blood and overtook Bottas, who then came into the pits with only a small margin to Verstappen.

Ferrari Media

Up front, a fight for second place between Hamilton and Vettel spelled drama: Hamilton overtook Vettel and the German spun round on his own, costing him a lot of time. He then lost his front wing, as the car was shaking a lot on the straight after turn ten. He had to make another pitstop, dropping down to ninth.

On lap forty-six Leclerc caused a scare when he reported to his team that something was wrong with the engine. His pace dropped away very quickly, with Hamilton closing the gap from nine seconds to just five in three laps. With ten laps to go the Ferrari was really struggling, just managing to put 1:40s on the board compared to the 1:36s of Hamilton.

Hamilton therefore easily managed to overtake him. Leclerc turned his attention to managing the gap to Bottas in P3. He still held the fastest lap, earning him an extra point, but that couldn’t make it up for the disappointment of losing out on his first win due to an engine problem. He was losing around 40 kph on the straights. Bottas closed the gap to him by five seconds a lap and later overtook him for P2.

Further drama sparked with just three laps to go, as both the Renault cars cut out in the first sector. This brought out the safety car, saving Leclerc from losing third place to Verstappen. When it rains it pours: Sainz also retired from the race with just three laps to go.

The race ended behind the safety car, meaning Hamilton won the race ahead of Bottas and a very disappointed Leclerc, who still took the extra point for fastest lap.

Ferrari Media

Some great sportsmanship was shown by Hamilton, sounding sorry for Leclerc and also trying to cheer him up after the race. Verstappen, Vettel, Norris, Räikkönen, Gasly, Albon and Perez completed the top ten.

It was certainly a very dramatic race, and the season is just two races old. Next up is China – will Leclerc get his revenge there or will Mercedes take another win?

 

[Featured image – Wolfgang Wilhelm]

Ferrari team orders issued to avoid ‘any risks’ at Australian Grand Prix

Ferrari Team Principal Mattia Binotto says Ferrari issued team orders to Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc to avoid taking ‘any risks’ in the closing stages of the Australian Grand Prix.

Ferrari Media

Despite many labelling the Scuderia the favourites going into the season based on their form in testing, Ferrari struggled around the streets of Albert Park.

“Right from Friday, we didn’t feel comfortable at this track,” Binotto said. “Even though we did a lot of work on set-up, we didn’t find the right balance and even our qualifying performance demonstrated that we were struggling to adapt to the Albert Park track.”

After Vettel made a pitstop to switch onto the medium tyres, he failed to get enough grip out of them and was passed by Max Verstappen. When Leclerc then started gaining on Vettel using newly fitted hard tyres with ten laps to go, he asked the team whether he should stay behind.

“Yes, and back off to have some margin,” came the reply. Leclerc obeyed and the pair trailed home fourth and fifth, nearly a minute behind race winner Valtteri Bottas.

Ferrari Media

It was made clear in pre-season testing that Ferrari had the intentions of prioritising Vettel over Leclerc in an attempt to boost the former’s hopes in the title race. In Australia, though, it was a matter of not jeopardising either of their drivers’ results, despite the thirty second gap to Kevin Magnussen in the Haas behind.

Speaking of the decision, Binotto said, “When [Vettel] could no longer fend off Verstappen, we decided the most important thing was to get to the end, managing the tyres. When Charles caught up to him, it seemed wise not to take any risks.

“We leave Australia with a lot of data to analyse and we will use that to work out how to get back to our actual level of competitiveness for the race in Bahrain in two weeks time.”

Ferrari launch their 2019 campaign at Fiorano

Ferrari launched their 2019 contender this morning at a car launch event at Fiorano. 

In attendance was Scuderia Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto, Sebastian Vettel, and Vettel’s new team-mate Charles Leclerc.

With the updated regulations in force, the stunning SF90 sports a freshly designed matte-finish red and black livery, with several technical tweaks – most noticeably on the front wing – having been put in place in the hope of making Formula 1 races more action-packed and competitive, with more overtaking and smaller time margins between the teams.

CEO of Ferrari Louis Camilleri said, “The car embodies the latest state of the art technology, reflects the new regulations for the coming season and is the fruit of the combined enormous work and talent of everyone in the Scuderia.”  

Ferrari Media

With the last Ferrari champion being Kimi Räikkönen, the team have high hopes that their two drivers will be fighting for race victories and both the drivers’ and constructors’ Championships. 2019 marks Sebastian Vettel’s fifth year with the Italian team, whereas rising star Charles Leclerc will be making his Ferrari debut in just his second year in the premier class.

The Monégasque and the German will be fierce competition for their rivals over at Mercedes, who have retained their 2018 line-up of five-time drivers’ champion Lewis Hamilton, and Valtteri Bottas. There is much speculation regarding how Red Bull will fare having dropped Renault as their engine supplier in favour of Honda, however with winter testing coming up in Catalunya, there should be a clearer idea as to how competitive each team will be. With an experienced champion in Vettel, and with Leclerc’s natural talent, the duo will undoubtedly have starring roles in the forthcoming season. 

Daniel Ricciardo’s surprise move to Renault caused a knock-on effect in the drivers’ market which has produced one of the most exciting line-ups in recent memory. Robert Kubica will return to the sport after a prolonged absence due to sustaining injuries in a 2011 rallying accident; Brits Lando Norris and George Russell will race with British teams McLaren and Williams; Antonio Giovinazzi will take part in his first full Formula 1 season at Alfa Romeo Racing with Kimi Räikkönen as his teammate; and at Red Bull, fan-favourite Max Verstappen is paired with Pierre Gasly.  

Pre-season testing is set to get underway on Monday, the 18th of February, with the first race scheduled for the 17th of March. An unpredictable year lies ahead, however one thing is certain – the 2019 F1 season is shaping up to be a thriller.

 

[Featured image – Ferrari Media]

F1 2019: Five early predictions for the new season

The 2019 F1 season is almost upon us, with winter testing starting in a couple of weeks and the Australian Grand Prix commencing next month. It’s the perfect time for five early predictions, some of which are pretty long shots.

 

1. Charles Leclerc will take three wins

Ferrari has a new kid on the block. Charles Leclerc spent his rookie season at Sauber, but from 2019 it’s time for his dream to come true. That could prove to be immensely stressful for the young Monegasque, but he may rise to the occasion and even take some wins. If Ferrari is at least on the same level as it was in 2018, then Leclerc could be able to snatch one, two, or even threewins in his first season with a big team, cementing his position at Maranello and proving his talent once again.

 

2. Nico Hulkenberg will take his first podium

It’s something of a mystery how Nico Hulkenberg, a driver who has been in teams with podium potential, has never finished in the top three. But, with Renault constantly improving and with a bit of luck (after all, it is needed as well), the Hulk could finally take that podium finish he truly deserves.

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Renault Sport F1 Team on the grid.
German Grand Prix, Sunday 22nd July 2018. Hockenheim, Germany.

 

3. Red Bull-Honda will not be in the top three

The all-new collaboration between Red Bull and Honda is one of the hottest topics ahead of the new season, and rightfully so. Honda has proven to be a bit of a ‘wild one’, especially on the reliability front, and Red Bull could be its next victim. Everyone acknowledges the fact that Red Bull is great in designing an aerodymanically efficient car (Adrian Newey is still the best out there), but this could not be enough for them to stay in the top three. Maybe Renault could step up…

 

4. Alfa Romeo Racing will be in the top five

The Alfa Romeo-Sauber collaboration worked out perfectly for both sides during the 2018 campaign, with the team finishing seventh in the final standings. Now, with the all-new Alfa Romeo branding, Kimi Raikkonen on board and excellent technical staff, the prospect of them finishing in the top five is not such an absurd thought. After all, the backing from ‘sister’ team Ferrari is certain and could prove vital.

Charles Leclerc, Alfa Romeo Sauber C37 at Formula One World Championship, Rd20, Brazilian Grand Prix, Race, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday 11 November 2018.

 

5. Mercedes will not be champions

Finally, the most bold of these predictions sees Mercedes not taking its sixth world championship in a row as a constryctor. Maybe Lewis Hamilton will be the drivers’ champion, but his team may be hurt by Valtteri Bottas’ incompetence. Ferrari has, on paper at least, a strong line-up, and so does Red Bull and Renault (if we count the French team as a real threat), so Mercedes is really on the ropes on this one.

 

Less than 40 days remain until the season opener in Albert Park, and the nine-month journey around the world begins for the F1 circus.

 

[Featured image: Ferrari Media]

F1 2019: Finally the year of Prancing Horse?

Ordinarily, we go into F1 seasons asking the cliché question of whether Lewis Hamilton achieve greatness this year. The truth is that this question has been rendered absolutely redundant – he has already well and truly done that. The question as we go into a new season in Formula One is: will Hamilton retain the championship crown this year and further cement an already-undeniably brilliant legacy, or will 2019 finally be the year of the Prancing Horse?

Certainly, Ferrari’s progress has been very telling. In 2015 Mercedes, on average, out-qualified Ferrari by 0.7 seconds – a mammoth margin – but Ferrari were right on par with their German counterparts in 2018, often beating them to top spot.

The same could be said about 2017 too, and there were many occasions – particularly in the early going of the season – when we thought that it might just be the year of Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel, only for Hamilton and Mercedes’ prowess and excellence under pressure to shine through and steal the show, leaving the Italian giants empty-handed.

Ferrari Media

What has generally gone wrong for Ferrari is a combination of cruel luck, self-inflicted damage, and moments of utter stupidity and notable madness. In races such as Singapore 2017 and Germany 2018, Vettel has completely lost his cool and cracked under pressure – something not to be expected of a man who so impressively took four titles under the immense pressure of a field adorned at one stage by five other world champions.

Vettel’s errors in races like Italy, Japan, USA, France and the aforementioned Germany had a quite frankly shocking impact on the complexity of what turned out to be a remarkably one-sided championship battle last year. After the Japanese Grand Prix, it was calculated that Vettel would have been 13 points ahead of Hamilton in the lead of the title race at that stage had everything gone to plan. Instead, he was instead 67 behind. Of course then, we could bring up Hamilton’s DNF in Austria, or the untimely Virtual Safety Car (VSC) in Australia, which saw Vettel snatch the lead away from Hamilton that day. It makes for painful reading for Vettel.

Yet, while toiling in the misery of once again losing out to Hamilton in the championship battle, Vettel will have to take heart from the fact that, aside from the mistakes, the Ferrari might just be fundamentally better than the Mercedes, and provided Ferrari can maintain their rousing progress with the car. 2019 may just be Ferrari’s best chance yet of winning their first silverware since way back in 2008 when they won the Constructor’ title.

While all the talk is about Vettel and Hamilton, though, let’s not forget the dark horses (or dark arrow in the instance of one of them) of Valtteri Bottas and Charles Leclerc.

Ferrari Media

Bottas is on a quest to find some much-needed form if he wants to be able to compete for the World Championship this year and step out of the imposing shadow of team- mate Lewis Hamilton. The Finn, who has looked somewhat innocuous in the title race for the past couple of seasons, knows that this is last chance saloon if he is to seal a drive with the champions for 2020.

And not many drivers can say that just their 22nd race in their F1 career was in Ferrari colours, but this is a stat that Charles Leclerc will be able to proudly exult. The Monegasque enjoyed a remarkable first season with Sauber last year, earning him a spot with the Maranello team and swapping places with Kimi Raikkonen. He is largely tipped for greatness in the sport, and the godson of Jules Bianchi would like nothing more than to prove to Ferrari that he will not bow down as Vettel’s sidekick, and that he himself can be the brave gladiator who finally topples Hamilton and Mercedes.

With that being said, let’s bring a Bull into the Colosseum, shall we? The Austrian beast with Japanese racing history racing through its veins certainly cannot be counted out, as Red Bull seek to finally mount a serious title challenge with Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly, putting an end to the mere satisfaction of a couple of race wins.

This could be one of the most exciting seasons we’ve ever seen in Formula One. It’s certainly bubbled up nicely, but will there be an explosion of life into the championship battle when the lights go out in Australia?

 

[Featured image credit – Ferrari Media]

BrazilianGP Review: Robbery in Brazil for Verstappen

The title has been decided, but that doesn’t mean the season is over just yet. The 20th round of 2018 was ready to bring some spectacle, with the Brazilian Grand Prix at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace.

Once again qualifying took place under difficult circumstances. Interlagos is (in)famous for its unpredictable weather conditions, and this year was no exception. This resulted in Lewis Hamilton taking Mercedes’ 100th pole position and his luck didn’t stop there. Sebastian Vettel secured second place, although both drivers were at risk of losing their positions. Hamilton seemed like he wasn’t awake at times as he blocked Sergey Sirotkin during his outlap and hindered Kimi Räikkönen on his flying lap, but it didn’t end up in a penalty, a strange decision by the FIA.

Lewis Hamilton. Photo curtesy of Pirelli

 

Vettel’s incident was even stranger. Vettel was called in for inspection and had to go onto the weigh bridge. In his haste, he drove onto the weigh bridge itself, and drove off it with his engine turned on, therefore destroying the weigh bridge. This resulted in a reprimand and a $25,000 fine.

Honourable mention goes to Charles Leclerc. During Q2 he was out of the top 10. Reporting to his team that it was raining too heavily, he put in a superb lap which saw him continue to Q3. There Sauber surprisingly locked the fourth row, but Daniel Ricciardo would drop five places due to a grid penalty.

On race day it seemed like it would stay dry but there was still  a threat of a potential thunderstorm. Vettel locked his brakes into turn one, giving Valtteri Bottas second place immediately. Meanwhile, both Renault drivers were battling each other, they even had a slight touch but survived.

In lap four it was a very bold move from Max Verstappen who dive-bombed Vettel, giving him third place. However, the Ferrari’s were on the soft tyres while the other two top teams were on the supersofts. Ricciardo quickly found his way back to the top six and was now charging the slower Ferrari’s ahead. His teammate took second place though, overtaking Bottas into the first corner. The Finn was really struggling, with Räikkönen, Vettel and Ricciardo knocking on his door.

Lap 16 saw the first pit stop, Fernando Alonso came in but his rear right tyre wasn’t fitted correctly. Quick reactions by the Spaniard meant that pit crew could still fix it. Bottas came in for his pit stop in lap nineteen, meaning that the Ferrari’s now had free air to continue on their softs. One lap later Hamilton came in, also opting for the medium tyres.

Marcus Ericsson, who had a great starting position, spun at high speed and returned to the pits. Not for a regular pit stop, but a retirement – the first of the race. A few laps later though Vettel overtook his teammate for sixth, but it didn’t last long as they were surprisingly told to switch places.

Photo curtesy of Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool.

 

Disaster struck for Verstappen as Esteban Ocon tried to overtake the Red Bull, but took the inside and touched Verstappen. He spun, but could continue the race (after he showed the Frenchman the middle finger of course). Eventually the stewards decided that Ocon caused the collision, handing him a stop/go penalty for crashing into the race leader.

Ricciardo and Vettel had locked horns but the Australian wouldn’t give up that easily and kept his fifth place. A few laps later Ricciardo passed Bottas for fourth place. With 17 laps to go, Vettel took his second pit stop and opted for the supersofts. This dropped him back to seventh place behind his future teammate Leclerc.

However, it would be the victory for the 2018 World Champion. Mercedes, after winning the Drivers’ Championship with Hamilton, now also have the 2018 Constructors Championship. Verstappen took second place (arguably he should have placed higher) and Räikkönen completed the podium, keeping Ricciardo at bay.

Verstappen, responding to Horner’s disbelieve: “Yeah I know what to say, I really hope I won’t see him in the pits…” with a lot of censoring needed. And as it would have it, the two did meet with Verstappen pushing Ocon three times in a widely broadcast standoff.

After some drama, it is time to look towards the last race of the season. The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix could result in some drivers taking big risks for the win. It will be Alonso’s final race in F1; he’ll be hoping to step away from F1 with a good result. In short, it should be a good one.

Belgian Grand Prix: First-lap shunt calls time on halo debate

2018 is the debut season in F1, and in junior series F2, of the frontal head protection system more commonly known as the halo. Despite its unpopularity, the device has already proven its worth on numerous occasions.

Back when the halo was still in development, one of the crashes looked at was that of the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix, when Romain Grosjean sent his car flying over Fernando Alonso’s, only narrowly missing the latter’s head. Grosjean was handed a race ban for the incident while everyone knew that Alonso had been very lucky to avoid any injury.

Joe Portlock / McLaren

This time it’s another first lap crash at Spa involving Alonso that has caused debate surrounding the halo, and one that could’ve had a much different outcome had the device not been there. Nico Hulkenberg missed his braking point by quite some way, later saying that the turbulent air from the cars in front took weight off the front of his car, and ploughed into the back of Alonso. The Spaniard, now a passenger, then hit the back of Charles Leclerc’s car and was launched over the top of the Sauber, coming into contact with its halo.

As in 2012, all drivers involved walked away from the incident unscathed, and thoughts quickly turned to what sort of penalty Hulkenberg should get. It turned out to be a 10-place grid penalty for Monza, though Alonso insists that the penalty should’ve been more like that given to Grosjean in 2012.

The sheer damage to Leclerc’s halo was only realised when images of the device were released during the race. Alonso’s car, and more specifically his tyre, had left black rubber marks all over the right side of the halo, along with the side of the Sauber. Clearly, the outcome could, and would, have been a lot worse if those tyre marks were on Leclerc’s helmet and not his halo, showing exactly why the protection device was introduced.

Another thing the crash perfectly demonstrated is why the FIA were unwilling to delay the halo’s introduction. Imagine if that crash had happened and the halo wasn’t there. The outcome would have been a lot worse, while the FIA would be open to numerous lawsuits and we might just have lost one of F1’s brightest young stars.

This crash is, however, not the first one in 2018 to prove the halo’s worth. When Tadasuke Makino and Nirei Fukuzumi came together earlier in the F2 season, Fukuzumi’s tyre ended up on Makino’s halo, leaving similar black marks to those left on Leclerc’s. This should have ended the halo debate there and then, with Makino saying that the halo “saved his life”, but still it rumbled on.

Haters of the halo are, on various social media platforms, still trying to find ways to complain about it, despite both Leclerc and Makino’s crashes. I’ve seen a lot say that the wheel wouldn’t have come into contact with either of their heads anyway, so the halo doesn’t need to be there. But, there’s no proof for that, either way. Surely, it’s better to err on the side of caution by having the halo there, rather than risk it with their head’s exposed.

The presence of the halo makes championships without it look very exposed and excessively dangerous by comparison. Take IndyCar, for example. At Pocono, there was a huge wreck in which Robert Wickens’ car came perilously close to Ryan Hunter-Reay’s head, and a piece of debris entered James Hinchcliffe’s cockpit causing damage to his hands. Just watching IndyCar, Pocono aside, it looks like their heads are so exposed, something that has only really come to light because of the halo.

Renault Sport F1 Team

The FIA have said that they’ll share their findings from Leclerc’s crash with IndyCar, but the latter is unable to use the halo due to visibility issues on ovals and super-speedways. Nevertheless, the American series is looking to introduce a windscreen-type solution for next season.

Fellow drivers have praised the halo after Leclerc’s crash, with Leclerc himself saying that he was glad to have it over his head. 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg declared that the halo discussion was over because it clearly can save lives while Felipe Massa said that it can now be called “beautiful”. There has been a huge outcry of support for the halo and a crash like this, however awful it is to say, was needed to prove to the doubters that the device effective. Now there can be no question about that.

The strongly-opinionated type will probably still criticise the halo but, the fact is, it’s the best solution to the problem that currently exists. Eventually, there will be a halo replacement or adaptation that is better-looking but, in the meantime, the halo is most definitely here to stay and whether you like it or not, expect other series to be adopting it very soon.

 

Featured image – Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

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