McLaren’s Fernando Alonso has said the team is seeking to improve their pace during qualifying ahead of this weekend’s German Grand Prix at Hockenheim.
“We know we need to work on our qualifying performances to give ourselves the best chance on Sunday,” he said, “but we’ve also seen that during the race we can push forward and secure points, so the aim is to achieve the same in Germany [this] weekend.”
So far this season, Alonso has only made it into Q3 twice – in Spain and in Monaco – while team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne hasn’t managed to do so at all. For the most part, the duo have been stuck in the midst of the mid-field, with P13 and P14 being their most frequent results in qualifying. There is no doubt that the French Grand Prix provided their worst Saturday of the year so far – though Vandoorne has failed to make it out of Q3 on four occasions, Paul Ricard has been the only track thus far where Alonso has joined him.
Speaking of the Hockenheim track, Alonso was realistic about his chances. “[I] have won there three times so it’s great to be back after a break last year. The track is viewed as one of the classics, it’s fun to drive and there are a couple of overtaking opportunities – and an extra DRS zone this year – so hopefully we can fight with the cars around us.
“The next couple of races before the summer break are on very different tracks. We need to work hard, and do as much as possible to adapt our set-up for each of them to maximise our chances. We know this weekend won’t be an easy track for us but we’ll give it our best as always.”
Last time out at the power-sensitive Silverstone, Alonso unexpectedly made up five places during the race to end up in the points for the 200th time in his career. In apparently typical McLaren style, the eighth place finish was not made easy for him after – unsurprisingly – a lacklustre qualifying the day before, a trend Alonso and the team are hoping they can end sooner rather than later.
Mercedes’ Toto Wolff has said that the team are “hungry [and] ambitious” ahead of their home event at this weekend’s German Grand Prix.
It has been a strange series of races for the Silver Arrows, something Wolff admits. “We didn’t score as many points in the triple-header as we had hoped for,” he said. “A lot of that was down to our own mistakes. However, there is a silver lining to this – while we didn’t maximise on points, we did bring the quickest car to all three races.
“Hockenheim will mark the halfway point of the 2018 season. We’ve had a decent first half – on the one hand, we’ve left points on the table and had to do damage limitation more often than we would have wanted. On the other hand, we still scored a good amount of points, both drivers have shown strong performances and we have a fast car.
“So, there are many reasons why we’re looking forward to the second half of the 2018 season; we’re hungry, ambitious and want to kick on from there.”
At the French Grand Prix, the first race of the triple-header, Lewis Hamilton romped to victory while Valtteri Bottas was spun at the start by Sebastian Vettel, suffering a left-rear puncture in the process that dropped him way down the order. He eventually recovered to seventh. A week later in Austria, both Bottas and Hamilton retired from the race in what is believed to be Mercedes’ first double mechanical retirement in F1 since the 1950s. Then, another week after that, Silverstone and the British Grand Prix saw an inversion of the Paul Ricard incident. This time, it was the other Mercedes of Hamilton that was pitched into a spin on the first lap by the other Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen. Bottas would finish P4, while Hamilton recovered to finish P2.
Speaking of the looming German Grand Prix, Wolff added, “Going to Hockenheim always feels like coming home. It’s only about a 90-minute drive from the Daimler headquarters in Stuttgart.
“While we had the great opportunity to race in front of many of our colleagues from Brackley and Brixworth in Silverstone, we’re now looking forward to welcoming the German members of the Mercedes family to the circuit and to holding high the three-pointed star on home turf.
“The track itself is quite interesting; it has a variety of corner speeds and will test every aspect of the car.
“We will fight hard to not only put on a good show for our friends and fans in Hockenheim, but also get the result that they will be hoping for.”
Going into the race, Hamilton and Bottas are P2 and P5 in the WDC respectively, with the former eight points behind leader Sebastian Vettel. In the constructors’ championship, Mercedes are twenty points behind Ferrari, with the prospect of their home race making them keener than ever to make up ground.
Featured image courtesy of Steve Etherington / Mercedes AMG F1.
5th October 2014 was a dark day that holds many painful memories for the world of Formula One. It was the day that French racing driver Jules Bianchi – a man so talented he was tipped to be a multi-world champion – crashed into a recovery vehicle at turn seven at Suzuka and, after a long battle, eventually succumbed to his injuries on the 17th July 2015.
Exactly what has Formula One learned since Jules’ passing? First of all, we have to look at the marshals and the stewards. Regardless of whose responsibility it was, a recovery vehicle was deployed under a yellow flag in incredibly wet conditions. Not a safety car or a red flag, but a yellow flag. This, plainly and simply, should never have happened.
As a result of this recovery vehicle deployment, the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) was invented so as to keep the drivers to a delta time after an incident. This would mean that drivers would slow down immediately, and there would not be the confusion that is otherwise presented by localised yellows. This is not to say that localised yellows no longer exist, but Adrian Sutil’s accident in Suzuka – the reason the recovery vehicle was deployed – would have seen a VSC brought out instead. The VSC was first used at Monaco in 2015 when Max Verstappen and Romain Grosjean crashed at Sainte Devote.
However, the most concerning aspect of the incident is not the yellow flags, but rather the fact that the recovery vehicle was allowed out on track under such circumstances. In 2008 at the Nurburgring, a recovery vehicle was deployed after several spins at turn one, and it was hit by a Toro Rosso. Thankfully it was a small impact and no harm was done as a result, but surely you would think that Charlie Whiting would learn from something so dangerous. As it was, he didn’t, and once again he allowed the recovery vehicle to be let out onto the track at Suzuka. This time, the decision resulted in a fatal accident.
This negligence is the reason Jules’ father, Philippe Bianchi, decided to sue Formula One, then-F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, FOM (Formula One Management) and the Marussia Formula One Team for whom Jules had been racing. He later retracted this because, realistically, he could receive all the money in the world, but he would not get his son back.
Our sport has come a long way since Bianchi’s death, and steps have been taken to prevent the same thing happening again. In fairness, Charlie Whiting has since taken precautions to avoid similar circumstances to the ones to which he contributed nearly four years ago.
They say the good die young, but Jules was not just good. He was on another level, but unfortunately these safety advances came too late for one of Formula One’s brightest ever stars.
Looking at the results, you wouldn’t have thought much happened during the British Grand Prix, but some action at the start and a couple of safety car periods spiced the race up. The final race of the triple-header in Europe saw Sebastian Vettel take the win.
Sebastian Vettel – 9
There were pre-race doubts about Vettel’s fitness – he had tape put on his neck after FP3 – but the adrenaline kicked in and his start was beautiful, waving concerns away. All the action happened behind him. The safety cars late on in the race put him behind on the track but a great dive-bomb up the inside of Bottas sealed the win. Great victory as we head towards Germany next!
Lewis Hamilton – 9
The Brit got a tardy start which he would come to regret, even if he ended the race in a position where he lost minimal amounts of points. There were some very interesting comments from him afterwards suggesting that tactics from Ferrari were what resulted in him being taken out, bringing back memories of Mexico 2017. Hamilton was the last car on track at the end of lap one, but like a knife through butter he carved his way through the field. A disappointing start, but if you look from lap two onwards it was a great race for him.
Kimi Raikkonen – 7
Raikkonen has finished on the podium at the last three races, but never on the top step. The Finn owned up to his coming-together with Hamilton, saying the incident at turn three was his fault and accepting the penalty handed to him. Team-mate Vettel stormed off into the distance, while Raikkonen couldn’t quite match Hamilton near the end of the race.
Valtteri Bottas – 8
The Mercedes team threw away the lead again today, deciding to keep Bottas out after the second safety car. Before that he was faster than Vettel, so on a level playing field Bottas could have beaten the German and taken the flag first. Much like in China and Baku, strategy from his team may have cost him the victory once again, even if it may have been tougher in Silverstone to remain in the lead. A great start made amends for a poor qualifying on Saturday, but he is clearly still playing second fiddle to Hamilton.
Daniel Ricciardo – 7
Silverstone turned out to be a track which highlighted the frailties of the Red Bull package. Roughly 80% of the track is spent at full throttle, and power isn’t exactly Red Bull’s strong point. Ricciardo was out qualified once again by Verstappen, with a DRS issue hampering his performance. He was great at defending against Raikkonen during the race but unfortunately the safety car came out at the wrong time for him, as he had already made a pit-stop two laps beforehand. The lack of speed along the straights prevented him from passing Bottas in the closing laps of the race.
Nico Hulkenburg – 8
Best of the rest and great haul of points for the German. Renault were the only team to use the hard tyre during the race, having worried about blistering on the other compounds, and the tactic worked brilliantly. Hulkenberg did supremely well to keep the pack behind him at the two safety car restarts.
Esteban Ocon – 7
Ocon is showing his worth a lot more this season compared to last, and provided a great result at for Force India at what is essentially the team’s home race, given that their factory is literally just over the road. Ocon made it through to the final part of qualifying, and kept the car in the top ten on Sunday.
Fernando Alonso – 8
Alonso’s McLaren may lack pace on a Saturday but on a Sunday, in the hands of the Spaniard, it is one of the best in the midfield. He took advantage of the safety cars to pit for some fresh rubber, allowing him to get past Kevin Magnussen at the end. He may appear calm on the outside, but it isn’t hard to imagine that deep down all is still not well with the relationship between himself and McLaren.
Kevin Magnussen – 7
Hampered by the first lap accident with his team-mate, Magnussen did well to score points considering the clash inflicted some damage to his car, which restricted his speed. He was one of few drivers not to pit under the safety car which pushed him down the order late on, but he managed to hold on to salvage some points.
Sergio Perez – 6
Much like Hamilton, Perez saw the field drive past him after contact on the first lap spun him at turn one. He recovered well and found himself in contention for the last point, which was ultimately claimed by Pierre Gasly Chafter a collision between the two near the end of the race. After the race, though, Gasly was awarded a five-second penalty for the incident, meaning Perez inherited P10 and the one point that comes with it.
Stoffel Vandoorne – 4
It was a quiet weekend in general for Vandoorne. He was a whopping 0.9 seconds slower than Alonso on Saturday, and with others making the decision to start the race from the pit-lane it meant he was the last on the grid. He finished the race in 12th, meaning he now hasn’t scored since Baku. Lando Norris in currently second in Formula 2 and is hotly tipped for a drive in F1 next year. It could well be this seat that he takes.
Lance Stroll – 5
Williams are currently the worst car on the grid, and unfortunately nothing put that more on show than Sunday’s race. Prior to the first safety car they were the only team to have been lapped, and Stroll made a mistake in qualifying which ended up his car being beached in the gravel.
Pierre Gasly – 7
Gasly had a good Sunday and initially finished tenth, a welcome result given that Toro Rosso been having a tough time of it recently. The Frenchman collided with Perez with a few laps to go, and a harsh time penalty given to him after the race pushed him down the field. Silverstone was a track which showed Honda’s deficit to the other manufacturers, but there are still promising signs and it was a far better day for Gasly than the results suggested.
Sergey Sirotkin – 5
Sirotkin, along with his team-mate, started the race from the pits after taking on new parts. Like Stroll, Sirotkin also made a mistake in qualifying, but managed to keep the car going and set a lap, albeit one that turned out to be the slowest of the session. Seeing the Williams team run plum last is such a shame to see.
Max Verstappen – 7
Verstappen may have been classified as a finisher, but a brake-by-wire issue ended his day late into the race. Ever-hungry, he was running in a solid podium position, but with the deficit of his Renault power-unit he was a sitting duck at the restarts. His defending to Raikkonen was brilliant.
Carlos Sainz – 5
A poor performance for Sainz both on Saturday and Sunday. A less-than-par qualifying session put him in the thick of the action, and he collided with Romain Grosjean. A weekend to forget for the Spaniard.
Romain Grosjean – 5
Will Austria be seen as a peak in Grosjean’s season? Three collisions in one weekend isn’t good enough. The first occurred in practice, with the second being the cardinal sin of hitting his team mate on the first lap. The third, a tangling with Sainz at Copse, ended his race. Grosjean should have lifted off the throttle, but he kept his foot buried, causing instability and ultimately the collision.
Marcus Ericcson – 6
Ericsson’s DRS didn’t close as he approached turn one during the race and he crashed heavily, bringing out the first safety car. The crash rounded out an unfortunate weekend for the Swede, after England took his country out of the World Cup the day before. He did, however, have great pace during qualifying and got through to Q2.
Charles Leclerc – 8
An unfortunate error in the pits for Sauber resulted in Leclerc’s rear tyre not being fitted properly and the team telling him to stop the car. He had made another Q3 appearance on Saturday and had been running seventh at the time of the error, which meant the loss of a potentially big haul of points.
Brendan Hartley – N/A
You can’t really comment on what a horrible weekend the Kiwi has had. The suspension failure on Saturday pretty much ended his weekend. He didn’t see any track action in qualifying, and a last minute problem starting from the pit lane resulted in retirement after one lap. None of it whatsoever was his fault.
There is now a two-week break before we head to Hockenheim in Germany, a track that we see appear every so often on the calendar. Vettel won on Hamilton’s home turf this weekend, but can Hamilton strike back with victory in Germany? Vettel hasn’t got a record like Hamilton at his home track, and has only won in Germany once in his Red Bull days. The summer break looms and, for drivers such as Grosjean and Vandoorne, the pressure increases.
It’s that time of the year again. No, not Christmas—the British Grand Prix. Once an airfield in the Second World War, Silverstone was turned into a race track in the late 1940s, and it is the second oldest track on the F1 calendar behind Monza.
The 5.1-kilometre track has seen some changes in recent years. The left-right Abbey chicane which led to Bridge was changed into a right-hander—now Turn one—and Bridge was disused, but is still an attraction for spectators during the weekend. Instead, we have the Wellington straight which leads to the long left-hander of Brooklands. The start/finish line is no longer the straight between Woodcote and Copse, but instead the uphill run from Vale to Abbey.
One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the appeal of the race. The activities, the camping, the barbecues and the atmosphere among the fans gives the British GP weekend a real festival feel, and expect it to be no different this weekend. The appeal of the Maggots, Becketts and Chapel complex has never changed either in 70 years of Silverstone. The high-speed section provides speed, fun and excitement for the drivers, and with these high downforce cars, most of it is now flat out.
Silverstone hasn’t always been the home of Formula One racing in Britain, however. It used to alternate with Aintree in the 1970s, and Brands Hatch has also hosted the race.
The third part of Formula One’s first ever triple-header will see British favourite Lewis Hamilton race in front of his home fans—he has won each of the last four races at Silverstone.
Sebastian Vettel comes into this weekend with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ championship after his third-place finish in a crazy Austrian Grand Prix. Max Verstappen won the race, his first win in 2018, from Kimi Raikkonen, while Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo and Hamilton all retired due to mechanical failures. As a result, Ferrari also lead the Constructors’ Championship—it was a pivotal moment in the season, and it is all perfectly poised coming into one of the most eagerly anticipated weekends of the year.
The favourites will be Mercedes. The power-sensitive nature of the track, coupled with the extra motivation of it being Hamilton’s home race, will work in their favour. However, the high speed sections will be more suited to Ferrari and Red Bull, and let’s not forget the power Ferrari have as well.
As the Red Arrows fly over, will it be the Prancing Horses, the Silver Arrows, or the Charging Bulls who will enjoy the taste of victory in the one of the biggest sporting events of the summer? We’ll find out this weekend at the home of British Motorsport.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has praised Max Verstappen’s approach to the Austrian Grand Prix, in light of the Dutchman’s win this afternoon.
It was Verstappen’s first victory of 2018 after a series of incidents in the early stages of the year, and is Red Bull’s first win at their home race since it returned to the F1 calendar, re-branded in their image, in 2014.
“To win in a Red Bull Car at the Red Bull Ring is something I never imagined would happen this morning,” said Horner. “All credit to Max today, he drove a very, very mature race, managing a very tricky situation with the tyres and he completed a very controlled drive to win our first Austrian Grand Prix.”
Verstappen started the race in P4 and gained a position on the opening lap when Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen overcooked an attempt to overtake Lewis Hamilton.
When Valtteri Bottas retired on lap fourteen and brought out the Virtual Safety Car, Verstappen emerged from the round of pit-stops in P2, now on the soft tyres and thirteen seconds behind the other Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, who had stayed out.
He then inherited the lead of the race when Hamilton finally did pit, and calmly waved off his team’s concerns about his tyres blistering, an issue that befell a number of other drivers on the grid. Kimi Raikkonen may have been closing in the final stages of the race, but Verstappen had built up enough of an advantage to hold on to victory.
His team-mate Daniel Ricciardo – whose 29th birthday it was today – retired from the race on lap fifty four. “It was a great shame not to have Daniel up on the podium as well,” Christian Horner said, “after running for so many laps in P2, but then his rear tyre started to overheat which caused a second pit stop. Shortly after that we began to see an exhaust crack that was causing gearbox damage, forcing his retirement.
“A special word to our pit-crew, again executing a faultless stacked pit stop on our route to victory, as they had done previously this year in China. I have to also applaud out entire staff back at the factory and their commitment to produce a competitive race car. The day belongs to them, to Max, to the team, to Red Bull and particularly to Mr Mateschitz who has given so much to modern Formula One. We are all delighted for him.”
The second race of the first ever ‘triple header’ saw F1 return to the mountains of Austria, for the Grand Prix at Spielberg’s Red Bull Ring.
As it’s the team’s home race, Red Bull Racing had high hopes. These hopes were, however, seemingly shattered when a disappointing qualifying on Saturday meant that Max Verstappen would start the race on Sunday from P5 (which ended up as P4 when Vettel got a three-place grid penalty for impeding Sainz in Q2), with Daniel Ricciardo in P7 behind the Haas of Romain Grosjean. There was no reason for them to be yodelling just yet.
This weekend not only was a special Grand Prix for the Austrian team’s management, but also for Max Verstappen personally. With a sea of orange shirts in his very own ‘Max Verstappen Grandstand’, it is no surprise that this is seen as the second home Grand Prix for the Dutchman (with Belgium being the other one). Not only that, shortly before the weekend he announced he would be driving with a special helmet design. Rather than its normal dark blue, his helmet instead shone yellow as a thank-you to his first big sponsor, the Dutch supermarket Jumbo. Were these things the trigger for Verstappen to get the luck he so desperately needed?
He had a pretty good start, and went from P4 to P3 after turn one as Kimi Räikkönen and Valtteri Bottas ran wide. Still taking risks on the first lap, he made slight contact with Raikkonen, who then had to run wide a bit. He was briefly under investigation for the touch, but the stewards decided it was just a racing incident as the consequences for the drivers were little.
Shortly after Nico Hülkenberg retired with a spectacular engine failure – resulting in some big flames – another car retired. It was none other than Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, whose gearbox got stuck in second gear, resulting in a loss of drive. This brought out the Virtual Safety Car on lap fourteen. Some teams decided to use this VSC to change their strategy, as Ferrari and Red Bull put on the soft tyres on their cars.
One team that didn’t decide to change their strategy, however, was Mercedes, and Lewis Hamilton stayed out on track. This led to a gap of just thirteen seconds to Verstappen, who emerged from his pit stop in P2. It takes roughly twenty-one seconds to complete a pit-stop in Austria, including time spent driving down the pit-lane, so it was looking disastrous for Hamilton. When he finally did pit, Max Verstappen inherited the lead and, from that moment onwards, dominated the race. Things later when from bad to worse for Hamilton, and he eventually had to retire the car due to engine problems.
One critical issue during the race for lots of drivers was tyre degradation. Daniel Ricciardo for instance had changed to the softs during the Virtual Safety Car period, but after just twenty-two laps it became clear he would not be able to make it to the end, as his rear-left tyre was destroyed.
Someone that didn’t seem to struggle at all with the soft tyres, however, was Verstappen. He drove over fifty laps on those tyres to bring home the victory for Red Bull Racing, claiming his fourth career win. The orange crowds went insane and it didn’t look like the party would end very soon for the fans and the team.
Criticised for his aggressive driving style many times this season, Verstappen has surely shown the press they were wrong. Whilst his teammate struggled on the same tyre compound after just twenty-two laps, Max managed to make it to the end and keep both Ferraris behind. Once again his aggressive driving style brought him a brilliant victory. Should he really change his driving style?
Valtteri Bottas has claimed his first pole position of the year, and leads a Mercedes 1-2 into tomorrow’s Austrian Grand Prix.
Of the big-hitters, only Bottas and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen had a truly clean session. Both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel made mistakes early on – at turn three and turn four respectively – and ended up relatively far back after the first Q3 runs had been completed. It took until the last couple of minutes for the pair to pull themselves back up the order – Hamilton ultimately qualified P2, and Vettel P3, with both pushing Kimi Raikkonen down into P4. Vettel was noted as being under investigation for allegedly impeding Carlos Sainz in Q2, but since Sainz did advance to Q3 it is uncertain whether Vettel will receive any penalty.
Red Bull had expected qualifying to be a struggle compared to Mercedes and Ferrari coming into the weekend. Max Verstappen may have qualified P5 but he was still two tenths behind Raikkonen, and Daniel Ricciardo ended up P7 behind the Haas of an impressive Romain Grosjean. Replays of team radio throughout the session indicated a certain amount of tension in the team, with Ricciardo frustrated that Verstappen did not follow orders to lead the Australian for a lap and give him a tow, as Ricciardo had done for Verstappen the lap before.
Kevin Magnussen and the two Renaults of Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg complete the top ten.
Further down the order, Charles Leclerc continues to impress in the Sauber. He qualified P13 but carries a five-place grid penalty due to his gearbox needing to be changed following a stoppage on track in FP3.
Force India’s Sergio Perez had a nightmare of a session. The Mexican complained of running out of battery during his first run and of getting stuck in traffic during his second. He failed to make it out of Q1 and starts P17.
It was also a frustrating session for McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley. Both were looking to pull themselves out of the drop-zone and into Q2, but encountered yellow flags on their flying laps when Charles Leclerc ran through the gravel trap in the final moments of Q1.
Both Mercedes and Red Bull will start tomorrow’s Grand Prix on the supersoft tyres, with all those around them starting on the ultras. Bottas will be hoping to convert pole position into a win, at the circuit where he claimed his second ever victory in 2017.
Austrian Grand Prix Grid
1. Valtteri Bottas – 1:03.130
2. Lewis Hamilton – 1:03.149
3. Sebastian Vettel – 1:03.464
4. Kimi Raikkonen – 1:03.660
5. Max Verstappen – 1:03.840
6. Romain Grosjean – 1:03.892
7. Daniel Ricciardo – 1:03.996
8. Kevin Magnussen – 1:04.051
9. Carlos Sainz – 1:04.725
10. Nico Hulkenberg – 1:05.019
11. Esteban Ocon – 1:04.845
12. Pierre Gasly 0 1:04.874
13. Fernando Alonso – 1:05.058
14. Lance Stroll – 1:05.286
15. Stoffel Vandoorne – 1:05.271
16. Sergio Perez – 1:05.279
17. Sergey Sirotkin – 1:05.322
18. Charles Leclerc – 1:04.979 *5-place penalty for gearbox change
19. Brendon Hartley 1:05.366
20. Marcus Ericsson – 1:05.479
Update – 17:30 – Sebastian Vettel has been given a three-place penalty by the stewards for impeding Carlos Sainz at turn one in Q2. The German will now start P6, promoting Kimi Raikkonen to P3, Max Verstappen to P4, and Romain Grosjean to P5.
The French Grand Prix returns to Paul Ricard this week, ten years after the last race in the country was held. Spare a thought for all the teams, who will no doubt be bracing themselves for the prospect of Formula One’s first ever triple-header, with the French, Austrian and British Grand Prix all taking place over the coming weekends.
Last time out in Canada was something of a shock to the system for many. Past form would have suggested Mercedes were set to dominate the weekend, but that was not the case at all. It may not have been the most exciting race in the world – it was really so very, very far from that – but Sebastian Vettel was sublime all weekend and he cruised to victory from pole position, followed home by Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen. With Lewis Hamilton in P5, it means that Sebastian Vettel is now in the lead of the championship, by just one point.
Ferrari won the last French Grand Prix – which was held at Magny Cours in 2008 and was won by Felipe Massa – and Kimi Raikkonen is one of only two drivers on the current grid, the other being Fernando Alonso, who have won the Grand Prix before. The power unit upgrades Ferrari introduced for Canada proved fruitful, and with Paul Ricard’s long straights you can expect the team to go very well again this weekend.
Mercedes, meanwhile, are set to finally introduce the power unit upgrades that were originally meant to be brought in for Canada, but were ultimately delayed because of quality control issues. There is no getting away from the fact that they were very underwhelming in Canada, and will definitely be grateful for the upgrades in France given the nature of the track.
Max Verstappen finished P3 in Canada – the first race this season that he has put in a weekend without incident – continuing Red Bull’s tradition in the hybrid era of performing better there than otherwise might be expected of them. With Daniel Ricciardo also finishing in the top five, and both drivers happy with the upgrades introduced, there is no apparent reason to suggest that Red Bull won’t be able to replicate that sort of performance in France.
Force India’s Esteban Ocon’s first win in a single-seater was actually at Paul Ricard, and he believes that he is potentially on for a good result this weekend. “On paper, the track should suit us,” he said, “with a long straight and some slow corners where we can use our car’s mechanical grip really well. It’s a track which will be new for everyone and we’re usually good at finding a set-up quickly, so I’m not too worried.”
Renault are currently enjoying their best start to a season since they returned to F1 as a works team in 2016, and they head into their home race having been bolstered by the power unit upgrade they brought in Canada. They are a respectable P4 in the WCC, 16 points ahead of McLaren. If both Renault and McLaren perform in France as they did in Canada, expect that gap to grow considerably.
Last time out at the Canadian Grand Prix, Haas introduced a new front wing and floor plus a revised bargeboard, and they are optimistic that these will suit the layout of the Paul Ricard track after two consecutive races of not getting either car into the points. This will actually be Romain Grosjean’s first home race in F1 – his rookie year was in 2009, a year after the last French Grand Prix took place – so expect him to be especially keen for a good result.
Both Toro Rosso drivers are similarly optimistic about what they might be able to achieve in the race. Pierre Gasly, for whom this is also a first home race in F1, has either won or at least gotten on to the podium every time he has raced at Paul Ricard, and Brendon Hartley, who crashed out of the last race in Canada along with Lance Stroll after contact between the pair, has said: “Paul Ricard is a circuit I know well, although not in a Formula 1 car. We did a lot of testing there with WEC in the LMP1 car and I won the LMP2 category in 2013. It was always a popular track for endurance testing and I’m also pretty handy round there in the night-time, although that’s not going to come into play in a Formula 1 car!”
Speaking of the World Endurance Championship, there is no doubt that the majority of the off-track spotlight will be on McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, fresh from winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans alongside his #8 Toyota co-drivers Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakijima. However, it may be a case of coming back to reality with a bump for Alonso, as well as for team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne. They struggled around Canada – Vandoorne finished two laps down in P16 and Alonso retired – and with Paul Ricard’s long straights it may unfortunately be more of the same for the Woking-based outfit.
Charles Leclerc is on a very impressive run of performances at the moment. In Canada he finished ahead of Gasly, both Haas cars, the McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne, Sergey Sirotkin and even Sergio Perez in the Force India, and managed to hold off Fernando Alonso in several wheel-to-wheel duels before the Spaniard retired from the race.
Williams’ Lance Stroll is a lot more muted about the track than some of his rivals. “I know [it] from when I drove in Formula 3. I had a good time there and won a race, but I have to be honest because I can’t say I like it,” he said in Williams’ race preview. “It is just run offs everywhere and I am not a big fan.” As mentioned, he crashed out of the Canadian Grand Prix on the first lap – that just about sums up the luck he and the Williams team have been having this year – but maybe don’t expect the French Grand Prix to be the best place for a turn in fortunes.
Featured Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
Formal talks between Red Bull and Honda started earlier this week for the possibility of the Japanese giants to supply the team for the 2019 season onwards. Informal talks where held prior to the hectic Azerbaijan Grand Prix between Red Bull’s Helmut Marko and Honda’s Masahi Yamamoto.
With Red Bull currently using Renault, and their junior team Toro Rosso using Honda they have the unique capability to review both power units. Red Bull have partnered Renault since the 2007 season. Success peaked with the Red Bull team winning four Driver and Constructors Championships in a row. Since the 2014 season though when the complicated hybrids were introduced, the relationship has become very fractious publicly and it makes those years seem much longer ago than they were. Renault have had enough and multiple sources late last year said that they want to stop supplying the team.
Cyril Abiteboul from Renault Sport have made it clear to Red Bull they need to know the situation prior to the 15th May. This is the date when they have to provide information to the FIA for next season in regards to which teams they will supply engines too. They need to start organising the amount of parts they need, so Red Bull – Honda will have to conclude discussions pretty quickly. If nothing is completed by that set date Renault are forced to continue to supply Red Bull.
Red Bull’s interest has grown due to Honda coming on leaps and bounds since last season. Throughout pre-season testing they performed with far greater reliability and speed than previous seasons.. It seems from the performance of Toro Rosso thus far, McLaren may have made another mistake to add to their collection in recent years. All the power units are getting closer, its just that Mercedes have that so called party mode to exploit in qualifying. The unreliability of the Honda engine the in the McLaren of previous years wasn’t solely down to Honda, which McLaren, have confirmed since.
So far in 2018 season it seemed all the reliability Honda had in pre-season was lost when Gasly had to retire his car due to a MGU-H problem at the Australian GP. They have had no major problems noted since then.
Renault are not without their own faults this season. Two most major ones happened at Bahrain. Verstappen suffered from an unexpected power surge causing him to lose the rear end of the car. This made him a passenger as his car collided into the wall ending his qualifying. On the Sunday an energy store problem halted Ricciardo’s drive from a strong position. This ironically gave Gasly a boost up the order, to which he finished an outstanding 4th, after an amazing qualifying on Saturday. This was the best ever result for Honda powered car since their return to the sport.
The talks are ongoing. F1 has recently announced new aero rules have been for 2019, so albeit 4 races into the season, preparations for the next season will start earlier than usual. The Spanish Grand Prix is when major upgrades are shown and we start to see what the 2018 prototype cars are really capable of. With the forthcoming 15th of May engine deadline falling a few days after the Spanish GP, we are likely to see announcement very soon, if not before the GP.
If Red Bull as expected do move to Honda power, only time will tell if this was the right choice. But do they have any other choice as they have burnt many bridges already in F1?