Spanish Grand Prix: Hamilton scorches to the top in FP2 as Ricciardo and Grosjean impress

Under the scorching hot Barcelona weather, it was Lewis Hamilton who topped the time sheets with a 1:16:883. His teammate Valtteri Bottas finished in P2 (+0.287) behind. It seems like normal service is resumed for the Mercedes team after locking out the top two earlier in the day.

The temperature at the Circuit de Catalunya increased by three degrees celsius by the time FP2 came around which made tyre degradation key to every teams’ running plans. The track temperature was so high that running through sector three would put a much more significant level of load through the rear tyres and push the soft compounds out of their optimum operating window. It was likely we would see slower times than earlier in the day.

Thus, teams took this time to work out the delta between the medium and hard compounds. The question on everybody’s lips will be whether the top teams will risk running the hard compound tyres in Q2. This session was critical to figuring these questions out.

Red Bull had a bitter-sweet session in which Max Verstappen finished P3 (+0.821) ahead of both Mercedes drivers. However, Alexander Albon continued to struggle, only good enough for P13. Verstappen was able to reduce the deficit to Mercedes by a tenth however it seems a little farfetched to think that the Red Bull will be able to challenge the Mercedes going into Saturday.

Daniel Ricciardo finished another impressive P4 as the Australian continues to impress in that ever-improving Renault. If they can make it through to Q3 on the harder compound tyres, do not count out the Honey Badger to make a massive impression in this race. Esteban Ocon finished in P9 (+1.420) but given the young Frenchman’s ability to make the one stop work at Silverstone, expect him to be a factor in a race that is expecting high temperatures and high degradation.

Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Renault F1 Team RS20.
Spanish Grand Prix, Friday 14th August 2020. Barcelona, Spain.

Haas will be extremely pleased with their performance this weekend with a surprising time set by Romain Grosjean in P5 (+ 1.250). We saw earlier in FP1, the Frenchman setting a similar time good enough for P6. His session ended ten minutes before the end with a mechanical issue. Whether P5 is representative of their true pace or a sign of their nearest rivals sandbagging before qualifying, it remains to be seen. But it will be a positive sign for the American team who have regularly missed out on Q2 this season. Kevin Magnussen struggled down in P16 (+1.878) but will be eager to replicate his teammates impressive pace.

McLaren began the session testing some parts on the bargeboard of Lando Norris’s car. However, they will be worried about the sudden drop in pace over the past few races. Perhaps the new bargeboard will help in the high-speed corners later in the weekend but a P7 (+1.331) for Sainz and a P14 (+1.623) for Norris leaves a lot of room for improvement.

Likewise, Racing Point had a difficult day with Sergio Perez in P8 (+1.410) while Lance Stroll was down in P11 (+1.474). However, Perez will be happy to outperform his teammate in both sessions the weekend he returns after suffering mild symptoms of COVID-19. As the controversy of the Racing Point break-ducts consume the discourse off-track they may be pleased that it will distract from their on-track plateau in performance. However, I expect Racing Point to be up there with Renault vying for a Q3 slot.

Alpha Tauri had a decent day in which Pierre Gasly finished P10 (+1.429) ahead of Danil Kvyat in P15 (+1.759). The Russian once again struggled to find pace in the car and had further frustrations when the Williams of Nicholas Latifi blocked him going into turn 2. The team have shown signs of improvement in the races and so may choose to run the harder compound in Q2 to start on an alternate strategy.

Alfa Romeo finished with Raikkonen in P17 (+2.017) and Giovinazzi in P18 (+2.081). Though they were a few tenths faster than their nearest rivals Williams.

Rounding out the final two places were the Williams drivers, Nicholas Latifi in P19 (+2.272) and George Russell P20 (+2.508). The Canadian will be happy to outperform his highly rated teammate going into Saturday. However, it seems to be the young British driver’s tendency to deliver a lap time out of nowhere when it comes to qualifying and so will be ready to achieve his fifth Q2 appearance in a row.

While the Mercedes lock out the top two positions the fight for best of the rest will be captivating to watch. Ricciardo and Grosjean are showing glimpses of brilliance. Leclerc is still outperforming that Ferrari and Carlos Sainz will be eager to put on a good performance at his home race in order to reverse his run of bad luck.

 

 

Spanish Grand Prix: Valtteri Bottas fastest in FP1, Ferrari improve

Valterri Bottas set the quickest time during FP1 of the Barcelona Grand Prix. His teammate Lewis Hamilton was second, only 0.039 seconds behind. Those times were set on a qualifying run in the latter half of the session on the soft tyres.

Mercedes will be looking to bounce back after a disappointing result at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix. Barcelona has been a good track for the German team in the past,  but there will be concerns that the temperature over the weekend will potentially harm their tyre wear, similar to what happened at Silverstone.

However, they can breathe a sigh of relief that they can mitigate that risk by being almost a second clear of the rest of the competition again.

2020 Spanish Grand Prix, Friday – LAT Images

Max Verstappen set the third fastest time +0.939 seconds behind the Mercedes drivers. Following a race win last weekend the Dutchman will be hoping for another positive drive at a circuit where he achieved his first race win.

Alexander Albon finished  lower in P8  (+1.821). The Thai driver has been facing criticism recently after a string of results where he has failed to perform at a level close to his teammate. The Red Bull car seems to be a handful which was communicated to the team early on in the session, Albon complaining of a ‘sharp’ car.  This simply means that the car is too reactive. When a driver turns the steering wheel, if the car reacts too sharply it will inevitably give you a nervous feeling. Even before you reach a corner you are already worried about your input. Max is naturally faster in a sharper car while Albon is having to adapt his driving style.

Luckily, later in the session Albon mentioned that he was happier with the balance of the car, despite losing time on the straights.

Ferrari will be happy that Sebastian Vettel was closer to his teammate. While Charles Leclerc has had an impressive run of races where he has finished on the podium twice, a new chassis was brought to this race in an attempt to solve the difficulties Vettel has been having. Charles Leclerc finished P4 +1.185 off the pace while Vettel finished in P5, one hundredth of a second behind.

The Scuderia were surprisingly good on managing the Pirelli tyres at Silverstone. If both drivers can capitalise on a good qualifying position, things may be looking up for the team to score good points this weekend.

Haas will be pleased with their efforts as Romain Grosjean finished in P6 +1.506 off the pace while Kevin Magnussen was P9 +1.835 off.

They will be hoping to score points for the first time since Budapest after a disappointing run of form.

Sergio Perez was back in action after the fiasco following a positive coronavirus test. His time only good enough for P7 (+1.689) however was set on the medium compound tyres. Likewise, Lance Stroll set his fastest time on the medium compound tyres good enough for P10 (+1.858), nearly two seconds off the pace.

Racing Point certainly have more pace than that and may have been running high fuel, long race runs. Time will tell what their true pace will be on soft tyre and low fuel.

Racing Point Media

Renault had a productive day once again running a combination of long and short stints throughout the session. Esteban Ocon was P12 +1.951 adrift while his teammate Daniel Ricciardo was P18 +2.445 off.

While Renault’s season has been a mixture of positives and negatives, they will hope to replicate their impressive form at Silverstone here. The Enstone team have been playing around with a fundamental front suspension change and have been trying to find the optimum balance between front aerodynamics and front suspension for many weekends. It seems the second race at Silverstone gave them to opportunity to find the right setup for the demands of the circuit.

As Barcelona mimics Silverstone with many flowing high speed corners. Renault may be able to dial that car in and give there drivers something stable and quick to race with.

McLaren were running a specific programme in order to figure out the cooling issues they experienced with Carlos Sainz at Silverstone. Carlos Sainz finished P11 +1.948 off while Lando Norris was P13 (+1.959).

Sainz will be hoping for a positive result after a string of reliability issues and horrendous pit stops have cost the Spaniard over 25 points at least since Styria. At Styria, Budapest and the 70th Anniversary McLaren have not delivered a sub five second pit stop for Carlos, putting him into traffic after he was running best of the rest each time. All of these, on top of the tyre failure at the first Silverstone race while in P4 shows he has had his fair share of bad luck this season. Andreas Seidl iterated this point after practice to Sky F1 saying that: “On Carlos’s side, we clearly have to admit we have let him down as a team several times this year”.

Alpha Tauri was P14 with Pierre Gasly (+2.103) while Danil Kvyat was P17 (+2.360). The Russian a good potion of the session in the garage, when he was finally able to get a run out he was complaining about the headrest in his cockpit.

Pierre Gasly has been in magnificent form and will be hoping to extend his unbeaten qualifying record against his teammate this season.

Antonio Giovinazzi finished P15 (+2.132) while Kimi Raikonnen was alongside him in P16 (+2.196). Another uneventful session for the Italian team, who have looked like the slowest car on the grid at times.

Williams gave test driver Roy Nissany a run out this session. He finished P20 just under three tenths slower than Nicholas Latifi in P19. However, the Israeli set his time on the mediums and for most the session was very close to the Canadian. It was a relatively uneventful session for the British team apart from a spin caused by Roy Nissany going into sector three.

As the weekend progresses the temperatures are expected to rise. It will be interesting to see the effect this has on teams who have struggled in the heat such as Mercedes and McLaren.

70th Anniversary GP Qualifying: Bottas pips Hamilton to pole in a close fight

Valtteri Bottas took pole at Silverstone on Saturday afternoon after beating teammate Hamilton by 0.063 seconds in a extremely close battle as Mercedes locked out the front row after yet another dominant qualifying this season. The Finnish driver would be delighted at this result especially after signing on for one more year with the Silver Arrows. He will definitely be looking forward to starting the race on pole after the disappointment of last weekend.

Nico Hulkenberg put on a stellar display in the final parts of the qualifying to put himself on the second row for the race tomorrow in third, a tenth of a second ahead of Max Verstappen in fourth. The other Racing Point of Lance Stroll couldn’t extract the maximum out of the car and ended up qualifying sixth, which puts him on the third row alongside Daniel Ricciardo. The Renault driver put in a mega performance in Q3 on medium tyres but he couldn’t quite get on the second row which was looking likely after the first run of Q3. His teammate Ocon in the other Renault did not make it out of Q2 and will be starting 11th, pending an investigation after impeding George Russell during Q1.

Nico Hulkenberg, Racing Point RP20

Ferrari’s dismal form continues. Sebastian Vettel failed to make it to Q3 and will be starting 12th on the grid; Leclerc, who managed to make it to the second row last week couldn’t make it past the fourth row this time and will start eighth. The only direction the team seems to be going is backward and there will be a lot of questions asked back at Maranello.

Pierre Gasly in the Alpha Tauri looks to be set for another impressive weekend at Silverstone after managing 7th place today with an impressive lap. Teammate Kvyat, on the other hand, never made it out of Q1 after an error-ridden lap which saw him finish 16th.

Alex Albon and Lando Norris made up the fifth row in 9th and 10th for which both the drivers would not be overly happy.

It was a very average afternoon for McLaren with Norris at 10th and Sainz at 13th and they will be hoping that the fortunes change come race day tomorrow, especially with the midfield very tightly packed.

George Russell maintained his perfect qualifying record against his teammate after an extremely impressive lap which saw him progress to Q2 and put him fifteenth on the grid while his teammate will be starting P18.

Haas will be disappointed with their qualifying after only one car made out of Q1 with Grosjean in P14 and Magnussen in P17 after making a costly error in Q1.

Alfa Romeo started 1st-2nd-3rd-4th for the first ever British GP in 1950 but fast forward 70 years and they will be starting at the back with Giovinazzi at 19th and Kimi at 20th after a poor showing in Q1.

With Mercedes locking out the front row for the 67th time, it looks set to be a straight fight between the Silver Arrows for victory while the long-awaited podium for Hulkenberg might finally happen. With an extremely close midfield starting all the way from 3rd to 13th, it looks set to be a promising race for the 70th Anniverary Grand Prix.

Hamilton takes 91st pole position ahead of British Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton has taken the 91st pole position of his career ahead of tomorrow’s British Grand Prix, three tenths in front of team-mate Valtteri Bottas and over a second clear of third-placed Max Verstappen. It makes Mercedes the first team in F1’s history to take eight consecutive pole positions at the same circuit.

Hamilton suffered a spin at Luffield on his first run in Q3 but recovered to post two laps good enough for pole, the quickest being a new track record of a 1:24.303.

Charles Leclerc got to within a tenth of Verstappen in what is Ferrari’s first second-row start of the season. McLaren’s Lando Norris will line up a very respectable P5.

Lance Stroll only just made it through to Q3 and qualified P6 ahead of Sainz and the two Renaults of Ricciardo and Ocon.

Having struggled all weekend, Vettel will line up only tenth for tomorrow’s race. What’s more, he will be starting the race on the soft tyres rather than the more favourable mediums.

Alex Albon failed to make it through to Q3 for the second race in a row and only managed P12 behind the Alpha Tauri of Pierre Gasly. He suffered a hefty crash during free practice on Friday and was plagued by an electrical issue on Saturday morning.

Nico Hulkenberg, drafted in at the last possible moment to replace Sergio Perez after Perez tested positive for COVID-19, qualified P13.

Daniil Kvyat will start P14 ahead of George Russell, who made it through to Q2 for the third consecutive time in his Williams. He was, however, investigated for failing to slow for yellow flags after his team-mate span at Luffield in Q1.

Both Alfa Romeo cars failed to make it through to Q2 yet again, as did both Haas cars. Nicholas Latifi will line up P20 after his aforementioned spin.

 

[Featured image – Steve Etherington]

Hulk is back – The German driver impresses on his F1 return with Racing Point

With news that Sergio Perez had tested positive for COVID-19 breaking on Thursday evening, Racing Point had a decision to make as to who would come in and effectively replace him for at least this weekend’s British Grand Prix and even possibly for the 70th anniversary race weekend the next week. Well, it was all to perfect for a certain German driver who’s last race came some 243 days ago.

After losing his seat at Renault at the end of last season, Nico Hulkenberg was most likely wondering how he could get himself back in a seat. However, what he probably wasn’t expecting was how it would come about and how much earlier an opportunity for him to return to the grid would arise. With that said, news broke hours before the start of Free Practice 1 that Racing Point had opted to replace Checo with Nico, who had already spent three-quarters of an hour of Friday morning in the Racing Point simulator ahead of his scheduled return.

With 177 Grand Prix’s to his name, it absolutely makes sense for both Nico and the Pink Panthers for him to take the drive, replacing his former Force India teammate and he did not disappoint!

Glen Dunbarr / Racing Point F1 Team

Free Practice 1:

Nico’s initial lap of the historic Silverstone track was slightly delayed due to the fact we were still awaiting the result of his own COVID test, however, it wasn’t too long of a wait and before you knew it, Nico was taking to the track in the RP20 and was actually the first out.

After a couple of bedding in laps and a could of stops into the pits, Nico went on to complete an impressive 24 laps and subsequently posted a best lap time of 1:28.592 which was good enough to see him end FP1 in 9th just +1.170 behind the fastest man of the session – Max Verstappen (1:27.422).

What was more impressive was the fact that while he was just over one second off Verstappen, Nico was only +0.591 off his teammate Lance Stroll, who ended up finishing the first session third fastest posting a 1:28.004 (+0.582 behind Verstappen).

Post FP1 thoughts had you thinking that given Nico hasn’t taken to the track whatsoever this season let alone jumping into a car which has a serious chance of challenging this weekend, he could only get fast. Excitement building for FP2? Absolutely.

Final Session Times:

Free Practice 2:

FP2 got underway and Nico took his time in the garage before heading out to put an initial lap time of 1:29.906 for 13th with almost 20 minutes of the session gone. The following lap, Nico got himself into the top 10 with a much more improved 1:29.041 (9th), pace was starting to gather for the 32-year-old German.

With just under an hour of practice left, Nico saw teammate Stroll set a session fastest 1:27.274 during a qualifying simulation run. Nico’s answer? Well, it was 1:27.910 to go 5th fastest and move to within +0.636 of Stroll.

With just three quarters of an hour left in the session though, Red Bull’s Alex Albon went off the track at Stow in a big way after losing the rear end and spinning in barriers. The session was red flagged and all car’s returned to the pits for around 15 minutes.

With restart of the session and around 30 minutes to go, Nico went on to complete a further 25 laps and ultimately ended up in P7 at the checkered flag. As for his teammate Stroll, well.. he ended up being the fastest man of the session with his before mentioned lap of 1:27.274 which was +0.090 fastest than second quickest Alex Albon, who after his crash at Stow, didn’t return for the rest of the session.

Final Session Times:

 

What Nico Had To Say:

“The 24 hours has been a bit special. Crazy and wild. 16:30pm yesterday afternoon I got the call took a plane here and then seat fitted until 2am last night. Then into the simulator at 8am for an hour with a bit of prep work. It was a short night, but all worthwhile.”

Mark Sutton / Racing Point F1 Team

Overall Assessment:

Nico’s return to the track after 243 days was a very impressive one giving the circumstances. With as much notice as he had, I don’t think you could have asked much more from him. Yes, we all know that the car he was in control of could and should have been up with Stroll’s timing but let’s be honest, 24 hours on from being told he was coming in, Nico did an excellent job in staying within six hundred tenths of his teammate.

The rest of the weekend will now be an opportunity for Nico to repay Racing Point’s trust in giving him to replace Checo. You can well imagine that with the data collected from his laps today and the debriefing to follow, Nico’s confidence will have grown massively and could show not only in tomorrow’s FP3 but also in what is expected to be a much cooler Qualifying.

It’s fair to say that despite the circumstances that surround his return, it’s great to see the man that they call Hulk back in a Formula One car. Welcome back, Nico!

Opinion: Lando Norris is an important figure for F1’s future

We have been blessed over the last couple of years with a flurry of young and exciting talented drivers, including Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, George Russell and Alex Albon. Fast and aggressive, they make up a new era and a changing of the guard, waiting to pick up where Lewis Hamilton leaves off after he retires.

However, there’s one driver in particular who I think is going to pick up the baton that Hamilton drops – that driver is Lando Norris.

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, Verstappen and Leclerc have the race wins and in a straight fight between the three 2019 F1 rookies, Norris lost out to Russell in the F2 championship but there’s more to it than that.

McLaren Media Centre

I first started taking note of Norris in the first round of the 2017 FIA F3 European championship, where won his first race. The name Lando Norris was not one you were likely to forget, and I tried to remember where I knew it from. After a quick internet search, I realised I knew him from his Ginetta Juniors days. I also realised I was there at Croft when he took his first win in the championship, on his way to third overall.

I then saw he was racking up junior formulae championships like it was kills in Call of Duty. 2015 MSA Formula champion, three separate titles in 2016 in the Toyota Racing Series and two separate Formula Renault championships, as well as being the youngest ever world karting champion. It’s safe to say I was in utter awe and also bewilderment, because how did I let this guy slip right under my nose?

I followed his progress throughout 2017 in European F3, a series almost completely dominated through its entire existence by Prema. Between 2012 and 2018, every team’s championship was won by the Italian outfit, and all but one of those driver’s titles was won by a Prema driver. That, is apart from one. Lando Norris.

Moving into F2, I wanted to see Norris perform a full clean sweep with Carlin, having won the F4 and F3 championships with them but unfortunately he couldn’t quite match George Russell. No matter, because Norris got the call up by McLaren to race for them in F1 the following year.

In his first season, Norris quite rightfully got the reputation for being a joker. His antics with team-mate Carlos Sainz and many other drivers earned him a legion of adoring fans. He seemed to be so uncompromised by the ever heavily monitored world of F1.

But he wasn’t just a joker, putting in some pretty remarkable performances. In only his second race at Bahrain he performed a hugely audacious move around the outside of Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly to finish sixth. He beat his vastly more experienced teammate in the qualifying head-to-head and was very unlucky not to score more than 49 points throughout the season.

Of course, we all know how this season began for Lando. He earned a podium in the delayed season opening Austrian Grand Prix. I was absolutely elated when it was confirmed he was on the right side of five seconds to the penalised Hamilton. However it was long before that when Lando really sealed his reputation as the future of F1.

Back when the Australian Grand Prix was called off, Norris and Max Verstappen committed very early to the replacement sim racing events. Both have been a strong presence in the virtual racing world and it was here where Norris really shone.

Streaming to his extremely popular Twitch channel, it really added a whole new layer to his character and so many of his fellow drivers have followed in his footsteps. During the lockdown, Norris took part in the likes of Veloce’s Not The GP series, the F1 Virtual Grand Prix events, IndyCar and Aussie Supercars iRacing races and the Le Mans 24 Virtual. He may not have been winning everything; certainly after Leclerc, Russell and Albon joined him in the F1 Virtual Grand Prix events, Lando quickly took a back seat to the trio whilst he fought hardware issues.

McLaren Media Centre

But had it not been for Norris, none of them would have had the opportunity to showcase a new side to themselves. Yes, they’re just playing video games but if anything, that makes it all the more important.

Darren Cox – the former head of Nismo and GT Academy – referenced a recent survey that found 72% of people who play video games got into motorsport as a result of racing games, and that the average age of racing fans is declining. He has a point. It’s how I got my foot into the door of motorsport, so F1 needs engaging personalities like Lando and the Esports world to help attract the next generation of racing fans.

Norris is important because of how active he is in the world of sim racing and interacting with his fans. When Lando was invited by IndyCar to compete in the iRacing Challenge round on the Circuit of the Americas he worked with his old performance engineer Andrew ‘Jarv’ Jarvis, who had taken a job in McLaren’s new IndyCar effort.

There are videos of Lando and Jarv from Twitch talking in such excessive and exquisite detail about the setup of the car which, considering how little access we have to racing teams and the process they go through to get the right setup, was extremely fascinating.

In the end, what else is it about Lando? Well, he’s just a very likeable, charismatic, unproblematic chap who is very unassuming, enthusiastic, personable, and has the raw ability to match that. He reminds me so much of Jenson Button, in that he seems so unafraid and easy-going. It takes a lot of effort to dislike him.

At the moment, Lewis Hamilton continues to bring new audiences to F1 and leads the charge for F1 to attract a more diverse, multicultural audience that will appeal to new markets. Once Lewis does hang up his helmet, not only will Lando along with the likes of Russell and Albon fill the grandstands at Silverstone, but Lando along with all these new young stars will be the leading lights, spearheading motorsport into the new age.

Oh, and one more thing. Lando Norris is just incredibly relatable. Everyone hears his jokey and enthusiastic radio calls and his infectious giggle, and we are reminded that he’s just like the rest of us. Whilst we would revere other-worldly figures like Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, we relate to Lando and a lot of these younger drivers. We are reminded that they aren’t mighty men who we could never have a hope in hell of being like. Instead, we can be like them no matter what we set our minds to, that we are bound by nothing and we have no anchors holding us back.

 

[Featured image – McLaren Media Centre]

Tom’s Hungarian Grand Prix Race Notes

After an excellent and action packed two-race weekend in Austria to open the 2020 Formula One season, our attention was turned to Hungary for race three. Known as Monaco without the close barriers (and minus a luxury yacht or ten) the Hungaroring had the potential to deliver even more thrills and spills and didn’t it just. Without further ado, let’s take a look at some Hungarian Grand Prix weekend highlights and yet even more talking points.

Lewis Hamilton 

Quite frankly, I don’t think there’s anywhere else you could possibly start, is there? Fresh off the back of a masterclass in Styrian, Hamilton arrived at the Hungaroring needing just one win to equal the Michael Schumacher’s record of eight wins in Hungary. Boy, didn’t he deliver!

Hamilton’s mind-blowing qualifying meant he started on pole, leaving the field needing something to happen at turn’s one and two or it was game over. Sure enough, Hamilton had it all his own way as he cruised through the opening corners and never looked back. In fact, the Brit opened up a staggering eight-second lead by lap three. Oh, and he had a free stop at the end of the race to claim the fastest lap crown and that all-important extra point.

Put simply, Hamilton and his unstoppable Mercedes were once again class apart and he thoroughly deserved his 86th career win.

Oh, Red Bull!

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Being a Red Bull fan wasn’t easy this weekend. Both drivers reported issues all weekend, Albon’s qualifying was one to forget and race day was looking like it was headed for disaster. Did it end up being a disaster? Absolutely not! However, did it very nearly not happen at all? Absolutely!

My memory doesn’t always serve me correct but that said, I can not for the life of me remember the last time there was pandemonium on the grid prior to lights out as there was on Sunday. Just 12 corners into the pre-formation lap, Red Bull’s race looked as if it run before it had even began. Locking up into Turn 12, Verstappen collided with the barriers, leaving him needing a miracle to make lights out.

Thankfully, the Red Bull mechanics were not about to let the story end there. Not only did they get the job done but they got the job done spectacular fashion. Usually, the job that they were facing to repair his damaged RB16 would take around an hour and a half to put right however, somehow they pulled it out the bag in just 20 minutes!

Verstappen, in return, managed to take himself from 7th to 2nd, dedicated his podium to his mechanics and telling them on the team radio, “This podium is definitely dedicated to my mechanics”.

As for Albon, he managed to get over his Saturday session and pull himself from 13th to 5th. Albon has developed a reputation for getting it done when he’s up against it on a Sunday and once again, he didn’t disappoint. Although, he very nearly didn’t have a finish at all (more on this shortly).

Racing Point

I had a decision on who to mention first between Haas and Racing Point (or Mercedes depending on how you feel about the ongoing battle with Renault – sorry, Lawrence). I decided on Racing Point because yet again I am left wondering what else had this car got in it?

Racing Point locked out the second row of the grid. However, despite Stroll dropping a place to finish fourth and Perez dropping three places to end up in P7, that’s still very impressive. Here’s why.

Both Stroll and Perez were constantly giving their rivals something to think with their pace. It looked as  if Stroll was going to start on the front row for only the second time in his career – only to be denied of course, by Mercedes.

This was another great showing from a team, who firmly believe we haven’t seen the best of yet. With a week off between now and the British and 70th anniversary Grand Prix’s at Silverstone, how much more can they improve ahead of next year’s rebranding? Personally, I’m not sure but I know one thing – I can’t wait! Well done, Racing Point. A point is certainly starting to be made. Loud and clear too!

Haas Haas Haas

No, that’s not a misprint, that’s actually Kevin Magnussen and Haas laughing all the way to Silverstone with a 9th place finish and two championship points in the bag! Oh, wait… Checks notes… Maybe not, because after what looked like a masterstroke from Haas was actually a breach of rules and ultimately cost the team a place after both Magnussen and Romain Grosjean were each handed  a 10-second time penalty.

With the formation lap coming to an end, Haas decided that the track conditions were improving and that running on intermediate tyres was old news. Both drivers were told to pit for soft tyres which, as I mentioned, was a masterstroke. They eventually found themselves running in 3rd and 4th respectively. This was great to see but it was the long game they were using this strategy to benefit from.

To me at the time I thought it was a brilliant strategic work however, after the race the FIA thought otherwise and decided they had actually breached the regulations. Great thinking Haas but there’s undercutting and then there’s breaking the rules. It’s a far cry from what Guenther Steiner once described them as looking like though and credit where it’s due, it was still a very good showing.

George Russell and Williams

Now, I know that both Russell and teammate Nicholas Latifi both had a nightmare of a race, as Williams remain the only team yet to score a point this season. However, both drivers did amazingly well in qualifying, marking the first time two Williams drivers made it through to Q2 since 2018. Doesn’t seem that long? Well, think back to last season’s horror show at Williams and it does.

Russell was outstanding in qualifying and actually gets my highlight of the weekend with his ‘That’s the lap, That’s the lap’ reaction on the team radio after he put in a worldy of a lap to go 5th at the end of Q1. I’m not going to be the one and I don’t really need to say it BUT Russell right now is surely putting in a great audition for a certain seat in the coming year or so.

Another busy day for the stewards, and another Renault protest

Sergio Perez, Racing Point RP20

Oh boy, where to start! In fact, there’s only one place and that’s with Renault vs Racing Point – part four!

As we all know by know, Renault are serious not letting go of break-duct gate and after the race, issued the following statement:

‘We confirm that Renault DP World F1 Team has submitted a request to the Stewards of the Event for clarification on the legality of the Racing Point RP20. We have no further comment on this matter until the Stewards have arrived at a decision.’

Rewind a week to the day and it’s the same statement regarding the same battle – the legality of the Racing Point. Renault is adamant that Racing Point has broken the rules when designing their car, while Racing Point are categorically denying any wrongdoing. Who is right and who is wrong? Well, you can make your own mind up but for me, I really don’t see how we are this far along and this is still a conversation. Renault though are not letting go and have said that they will contest every race weekend until the FIA give them full closure. The FIA have already told Racing Point that their car is legal but Renault are still having none of it!

Renault versus Racing Point wasn’t the only thing that the stewards were looking at after this weekend’s race. There was also Albon’s dry start, Valtteri Bottas’ jump start, as well as the aforementioned Haas double-time penalty.

For Albon, the stewards came to the decision that Red Bull did not use their dryers to dry his grid spot and no further action was deemed necessary.

As for Bottas, that is very much self-explanatory. Yes, he jumped the start by the finest of margins but ultimately he didn’t benefit from it as he dropped a place from P2 to P3. Had he benefited from the error or even overtaken Verstappen to claim second place then maybe there could/would have been something done about it, but as it is, Bottas is the only one who has suffered as he surrendered his championship lead to teammate its Hamilton.

Final thoughts

So, as the F1 takes its first break since returning, you have to admit that while it wasn’t as action-packed as rain-struck Austria,  the conflicting opinions on the teams radios as to whether it was going to rain or not, and indeed when, was brilliant to listen to. Hungary wasn’t the best race given Hamilton’s and Mercedes’ pure dominance once again but overall, it was a great way to prepare us for a huge doubleheader at Silverstone.

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]

Hamilton wins Styrian Grand Prix as Ferrari implode again

An excellent drive from Lewis Hamilton saw him take a dominant victory at the Styrian Grand Prix, while Ferrari scored no points after Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel collided on the first lap.

Hamilton grabbed a superb pole position in a treacherous wet qualifying on Saturday and got off to a good start, getting clear of second-placed Max Verstappen, who battled hard in the first sector with the McLaren of Carlos Sainz.

Into Turn 3, Leclerc dived down the inside of multiple drivers in the midfield, but the space into the apex tightened up and Leclerc mounted his team mate’s rear wing, having bounced up off the sausage kerb on the inside. Vettel retired from the race after losing his rear wing while Leclerc’s race was ultimately ended by the subsequent excessive floor damage.

George Russell’s great work in qualifying for Williams was undone when he ventured into the gravel following a battle with Haas’ Kevin Magnussen.

Valtteri Bottas managed to get past Sainz in the opening stint of the Grand Prix, before Alex Albon followed suit with a routine move into Turn 4. Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton’s consistent lap times were seeing him slowly pull away from Verstappen.

2020 Styrian Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

A slow stop for Sainz would then push him further down the midfield pack, compounding what had been a challenging start for McLaren, with Lando Norris battling away with the Racing Point of Sergio Perez.

The Renaults of Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon also battled hard in the opening exchanges, with Ocon eventually having to relinquish the position to his McLaren-bound team mate after a tense battle as they were chasing Ricciardo’s future team-mate Carlos Sainz for fifth.

Ocon would then retire with a terminal issue, while Kimi Raikkonen and Kevin Magnussen gave us a couple of really good battles, with the Finn eventually coming out on top in the Alfa Romeo.

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen pitted almost in tandem with each other, both re-joining in front of Verstappen’s team mate Alex Albon, demoralisingly for the Thai-British driver.

Perez and Norris then went long in the first stint, along with Valtteri Bottas, all hoping their strategies would win them their respective battles. As Perez re-joined, he pulled off an absolutely exceptional move on Carlos Sainz round the outside of Turn 6, and set off in pursuit of his team mate Lance Stroll. After a close encounter with the Canadian, he squeezed past him and breezed past the Renault of Daniel Ricciardo, who continued to frustrate Stroll.

After an intense battle into Turn 4 with Verstappen, Bottas eventually got past a steely Verstappen, with the Dutchman scoring his first points of the season in third following an early non-finish last week.

2020 Styrian Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

Perez, during all this, had caught up to Albon in the other Red Bull but very nearly recreated the incident between Hamilton and Albon last week, making contact with the Red Bull, but not spinning him. Unfortunately for Perez however, the contact cost him his front wing.

This would prove disastrous for the Mexican. Lando Norris had been allowed past his team mate Sainz and set the fastest lap of the race, and set after the squabbling Stroll and Ricciardo.

After Hamilton had crossed the line to claim an imperious win, a frustrated Stroll dived down the inside of Ricciardo and that sent both of them off the track, allowing the resurgent Norris, who started ninth, to pass them both into turn four, jinking between the Renault and the Racing Point.

Perez, meanwhile, was crawling to the chequered flag after his front wing had all but fallen off following his contact with Albon, and Norris brilliantly snuck past him into the final corner. It was then a photo-finish between Perez, Stroll and Ricciardo to the line. Perez just held onto seventh place, while Ricciardo had to settle for eighth behind Stroll having once been running in fifth.

After making another stop, Sainz smashed the fastest lap record set by Raikkonen in 2018 with a 1:05.6, and he would take the fastest lap point in ninth.

It was a resurgent Hamilton after a tough weekend at the Austrian Grand Prix last time out, but his 85th career win at the Styrian Grand Prix puts him right back into championship contention, and six wins behind the all-time 91 race win record set by Michael Schumacher.

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]

Bottas wins chaotic Austrian Grand Prix as Norris claims debut podium

Valtteri Bottas has taken victory at a chaotic Austrian Grand Prix that saw just eleven cars reach the chequered flag, with Charles Leclerc in P2 and Lando Norris claiming his first ever podium in P3. Lewis Hamilton finished second on the road but dropped to fourth due to a five-second penalty he received for a collision with Alex Albon.

The race was sedate enough for the first ten laps. Bottas built up a 3.2-second gap to Verstappen, while Norris slipped back to P5 behind Albon and Hamilton. On lap 11, though, Verstappen lost power on the approach to Turn 3 and told his engineer that his car kept going into anti-stall. He limped back to the pits and retired on lap 13.

LAT Images

The next casualties were Daniel Ricciardo and Lance Stroll. Ricciardo pulled into his garage with a cooling issue while Stroll, who had been struggling with a lack of power for several laps, retired due to a sensor issue.

Bottas had built up a six-second gap to Hamilton by lap 17, but on lap 21 Hamilton set a new fastest lap and began to reel his team-mate in. Four laps later, the gap was down to 3.8 seconds.

Lap 26 saw the first safety car of the race, brought out due to Kevin Magnussen suffering a brake failure at Turn 3. A flurry of pitstops ensued with every driver opting for the hard tyres except for Perez, who went with the mediums.

When the safety car period ended, Vettel lunged down the inside of Carlos Sainz going into Turn 3. He misjudged the attempt and span, dropping down the order to P15. While the incident was noted, no investigation was deemed necessary by the stewards.

On lap 42, Bottas and Hamilton were warned about sensor issues that had been detected in the gearbox of both cars and were told to stay off the kerbs. This warning was repeated several times and the gap between the two widened as Hamilton eased off slightly. Despite this apparent issue, the duo were still over ten seconds ahead of third-placed Alex Albon.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Lap 51 saw the next retirements. George Russell ground to a halt from what had been a promising P12 and brought out the second safety car of the day. Romain Grosjean, meanwhile, ran off the track at the final corner and pulled into the pits with seemingly the same brake problem that curtailed team-mate Magnussen’s race.

Red Bull chose to bring in Albon for a change to the soft tyres, losing P3 to Perez in the process, while both Mercedes stayed out on hard tyres that had already completed 25 laps by that point.

The Safety Car came in on lap 54 briefly, after which Albon re-took third place from Perez after Perez locked up going into Turn 3.

At that exact moment, however, the safety car was brought out again, this time because Kimi Raikkonen’s front-left tyre had come clean off the chassis going into the final corner. It was initially unclear whether it was Albon or Perez who had been ahead at the moment the safety car came out, but it was decided a few laps later that Albon had been slightly ahead of Perez and thus the Red Bull driver slotted into P3.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Lap 60 saw the safety car come back in and Albon set about chasing after Hamilton on his newer soft tyres. He saw an opportunity going into Turn 4 and went for it, only for the two to come to blows. Albon span and fell down the order to last place. The incident was duly noted and investigated, with Hamilton being given a five-second penalty.

Albon slowed a couple of laps later, saying over the radio that his engine was stopping. He wound up finishing P13, or last.

Between lap 64 and lap 66, Leclerc got past Norris and then Perez to find himself in P3 behind the Mercedes duo. It looked as if Perez was in with a shout of finishing on the podium due to Hamilton’s penalty, only for his hopes to be dashed when he was awarded a five-second penalty of his own for speeding in the pitlane and then being overtaken by Norris.

Lap 70 saw the last retirement of the race when one of Daniil Kvyat’s tyres disintegrated going into Turn 1. He managed to bring the car to a stop behind the barriers at a marshall post.

Bottas crossed the line to take the chequered flag at the end of lap 71 with Hamilton in P2, Leclerc in P3 and Norris in P4. Hamilton’s penalty, though, dropped him to P4 and promoted Leclerc to second and Norris to the final podium position.

[Featured image – LAT Images]

Austrian Grand Prix Preview: F1 is back, but not as we know it

112 days after the opener in Melbourne was supposed to get underway, the Formula One season will finally begin in Austria this Sunday.

As with the return of most sport during the COVID-19 pandemic however, things will work a little differently in the F1 paddock. Media presence will be lower, the freedom of the drivers to roam around the surrounding area during race week will decrease and, perhaps most prominently, there will be a complete absence of fans.

The Austrian Grand Prix will mark the first of two races at the 4.3-kilometre Red Bull Ring, with the Styrian Grand Prix following just a week later. This is all part of the FIA’s plan to satiate the year with as many races as possible so as to create as exhaustive a calendar as possible for the world championship season, which needs to be at least eight races long to classify as such.

Normally by this point of the year, we would know who is competitive and who is not, but the cars have not run since testing in Barcelona at the beginning of the year and, as we learned last year especially, testing pace is little to go by.

It is therefore quite difficult to determine who the favourites are going to be, but the same could generally be said in Spielberg last year. Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari were all competitive last season, with Max Verstappen narrowly beating Charles Leclerc to victory following a controversial overtake at the end of the race, the investigation for which was not concluded until hours after the drivers had stepped off the podium.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

One of the major points of interest is the perennially fascinating midfield battle. The Racing Point, designed on last year’s Mercedes, is tipped to be one of the major challengers to fourth place in the Constructors’ as they look to knock McLaren off their perch as best of the rest. Renault’s inconsistencies over the past couple of seasons will need to be rectified by their new driver-pairing of Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon, as the French team consider their future involvement in the sport they have failed to re-master since their return in 2016. Alpha Tauri – rebranded from Toro Rosso – and Alfa Romeo will also have an eye on challenging for the best of the midfield teams.

Haas are understood to be the only constructor not bringing upgrades to this race, as uncertainty looms about their interest in F1 too. Their upgrades last year affected them adversely rather than helping them progress after the first race, and they will look to avoid further regression this year. They managed a fourth and fifth-placed finish in Spielberg in 2018, while Kevin Magnussen qualified an impressive fifth last season. A gearbox penalty and the Haas car’s ghastly race pace saw him finish behind both the Williams cars.

Speaking of which, Williams’ car was three seconds quicker in testing in Spain than it was in the 2019 Spanish Grand Prix, which will lead the British team to believe they can climb off the bottom of the championship table and relieve some of the immense pressure currently on Claire Williams’ shoulders.

One of the shortest tracks on the calendar follows the longest wait for a Formula One season since the World Championship’s inception. The Styrian mountains will not be alive with the sound of fans, but they will still be alive with the sound of Formula One cars.

 

[Featured image – Matthias Heschl/Red Bull Content Pool]