‘Performance is strong’ at Red Bull Racing

The iconic Monaco Grand Prix marked the sixth race of the 2019 F1 season, and while the focus this week has been on the loss of F1 legend and Mercedes mentor Niki Lauda, the race around the streets of Monte Carlo finally brought a long-awaited challenge to reigning champion Lewis Hamilton, in the form of Max Verstappen and Red Bull.

Red Bull’s decision to kiss goodbye to their partnership with Renault in 2018 was hardly a surprise to the world of F1, after a number of seasons falling short of their dominant years with Sebastian Vettel. It was also hardly a surprise to find that fans were dubious about their subsequent contract with Honda, who famously struggled in their partnership with McLaren.

With Max Verstappen hungry to win his first championship, the move to a power unit that had been even less reliable than Renault seemed like very risky business, but is the risk beginning to pay off?

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Rob Marshall, Red Bull’s chief engineering officer, certainly seems to think so, even if they are under no illusion they still have a way to go.

“We can see areas around the power-unit packaging-wise,” he said. “It’s just making different bits and moving a few things around. [Honda] are very open to our suggestions.”

The Red Bull and Toro Rosso drivers both felt the benefit of an upgrade brought to Baku, which was reflected in Verstappen’s solid performance. The same could not be said for his team mate Pierre Gasly, however, who was forced to retire on lap 40 out of 51 due to a loss of power.

In the run up to the Monaco Grand Prix, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, who has been highly critical of the suppliers in the past, expressed the teams delight in working with Honda this season.

“We are very happy with the progress that’s being made […] to have closed that gap [to the top 2 teams] and put that performance on the car is really encouraging,” he said.

Horner was under no illusion about still having work to do with the car generally but, aside from Gasly’s retirement in Baku, reliability hasn’t been as much of an issue for the team.

“Reliability compared to previous years has been fantastic, and performance is strong […] Now we have to try and focus on diminishing the gap further to Mercedes”.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Verstappen found enough pace to challenge Hamilton’s Mercedes, running in second position in Monaco from lap 11 after exiting the pit lane ahead of Bottas following an unsafe release. Though Verstappen finished in fourth place as a result of his five-second penalty, he is still positive about his race overall.

“Of course I would have liked to have been on the podium but if we look at the pace and performance, we were strong,” he said.

Pierre Gasly also had a respectable performance around the streets of Monaco, finishing fifth and also taking an extra point for fastest lap for the second time this season.

In terms of points and podiums, then, Red Bull is building a steady lead ahead of the other teams. After Monaco, Red Bull are on 110 points and are beginning to close the gap between themselves and Ferrari, who currently have 139 points. In the drivers’ championship, Verstappen is in fourth position with 78 points, behind Vettel with 82 points.

Pierre Gasly is in sixth position with 32 points behind Leclerc who has 57 points. Verstappen has also finished third twice so far this season – Monaco would have been another podium had it not been for the unfortunate penalty.

It almost goes without saying that Mercedes are the ones to beat, however with Red Bull’s newfound pace, it’s certainly an encouraging start for a team that were once the ones to beat.

 

[Featured image – Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool]

RB15 racing livery revealed ahead of first test

It’s business as usual in the Red Bull garage as they have finally unveiled the racing livery for the RB15 ahead of the first session of winter testing which began in Barcelona this morning.

After an exciting week of livery reveals, Red Bull were the talk of the pit-lane by unveiling an unusual geometric livery ahead of the official ‘shake-down’ and filming day at Silverstone. It was made clear from Red Bull’s press release that the livery being displayed wasn’t set to last: “In recent years, we’ve chosen to kick off the year with some memorable paint jobs – but we revert back to our well established racing colours pretty quickly”.

The clarifications did not prevent fans disappointment as many had hoped the livery would have at least lasted until the end of pre-season testing, which begins today.

Thomas Butler / Red Bull Content Pool

The traditional matte colour scheme remains, with the trademark charging bull along either side of the car. The livery has been updated slightly to reflect their partnership with Honda, however it doesn’t create much of a difference to the design overall.

Although it would have been nice to see Red Bull really shake things up with their livery, it doesn’t stop them shaking things up on the grid this season. The Red Bull has put on its racing suit – bring on 2019!

 

[Featured image – Thomas Butler / Red Bull Content Pool]

Singapore Grand Prix Preview: City lights, crashgate and championship heartbreak

Photo credit, Renault F1

Located just south of Malaysia is the city-state of Singapore, the home of the only F1 street circuit in Asia, and the first ever night race in F1 history.

Singapore may have hosted a race for motorbikes and sportscars as far back as 1966, but the F1 Grand Prix as we know it was introduced in 2008. The five kilometre and 23 corner track, designed by Hermann Tilke, winds its way through Marina Bay, high end hotels, and brilliant road infrastructure, completed by fantastic night lights that reveal the true beauty of the city.

Speaking of 2008, the first ever Singapore Grand Prix in F1 was won by Fernando Alonso. The race, however, was marred by controversy and drama. Nelson Piquet, Alonso’s Renault team-mate, was told to deliberately crash into the wall so as to bring out a safety car, allowing Alonso to get to the front. As a result, Pat Symonds was suspended from the sport, team boss Flavio Briatore was banned for life, and all this came about after Piquet was sacked by Renault and informed the FIA of the incident.

Singapore’s explosive debut also had massive implications for the championship. Felipe Massa left his pit box with the fuel hose still attached to his car, and the time lost as a result of the team running to the end of the pit lane to get him back on his way saw him finish the race in 13th with no points. He would go on to lose the championship to Lewis Hamilton by just two points.

Singapore has, in fact, been notorious for denting championship hopes. In 2014, Nico Rosberg came into the race 22 points ahead of Hamilton in the championship, but a major engine issue before the race had even started saw him start from the pitlane and eventually retire the car several laps in. Hamilton won the race, and took a three point lead which Rosberg would ultimately be unable to overturn.

And who can forget last year? Sebastian Vettel, who was poised to take the championship lead by starting on pole, moved across on Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen at the start, leading to a crash that eliminated all three of them from the race. Hamilton went on to win, and Vettel found himself 28 points behind Hamilton in the championship.

This year, however, the roles are reversed, and Hamilton finds himself 30 points in front of Vettel in the championship. Vettel may just need some help from the unforgiving Singapore circuit to get himself back into contention.

As Fernando Alonso discovered in that shocking night in 2008, you certainly can take advantage of the safety car in Singapore, which has been deployed a remarkable 17 times in 10 races under the lights.

Vettel, despite his misfortunes last year, is the most successful driver at Marina Bay, winning in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015. His title rival Hamilton has won 3 times, in 2009, 2014 and 2017.

As well as crashes, safety cars, and title game changers, Singapore is also famous for its almost unbearable heat. The temperature, even at night, is typically around 30 degrees, and Daniel Ricciardo said after his first race at Singapore in 2011 with HRT that the physical demands of the race gave him a feeling he “never wanted to experience in a race car again”.

With so many variables in Singapore, this could be a chance to start a road to redemption, not only for Vettel’s title challenge but also for several others chasing seats in F1 for 2019, and it’s these variables that have us and the drivers excited about racing under the lights in Singapore.

Austrian Grand Prix: Christian Horner Praises “Mature” Max Verstappen

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.

Max Verstappen the Winner of the 2018 Austrian GP with Kimi and Seb. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

“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.

Max ahead of kimi. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

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.”

 

Orange Magic: Max Verstappen wins 2018 Austrian Grand Prix

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?

Start of the Austrian F1 race. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

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.

Max Verstappen leading the Austrian Grand Prix. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

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.

Max Verstappen. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

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?

Monza Preview: can Ferrari fight back?

GP ITALIA F1/2016 – MONZA (ITALIA) 04/09/2016
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Formula One returns off the back of a thrilling Belgian Grand Prix in which Lewis Hamilton clinched a well-deserved win. This week, the drivers will return to the Autodromo Nazionale Monza for the thirteenth round of the 2017 F1 season. With just seven points – the difference between first and second place separating Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel – things could soon change at the ‘Temple of Speed’ this weekend.

Ferrari: Is the comeback on?

Ferrari impressed at Spa last weekend, despite the track seeming to not suit the set up of their car. Vettel pushed Hamilton all the way to the end, coming close at the end of the safety car restart. He dived up the inside, only to fall foul of the Mercedes’s top line speed. The upgrades to the SF70-H certainly worked wonders at the Belgian circuit. Ferrari will be looking for another win at their home race in front of the passionate Tifosi this weekend and with their showing in Spa, they can certainly be a safe bet on taking the chequered flag for the first time since 2010.

They will need to nail their qualifying position at the circuit and the support of the passionate Italians will certainly provide the team with some much needed confidence. Vettel will want to win his first Italian Grand Prix in Ferrari red, chasing the record five wins that the legendary Michael Schumacher achieved in his time as a Ferrari driver. Expect the Italian team to be riding high with the support of the home crowd behind them.

GP ITALIA F1/2016 – MONZA (ITALIA) 04/09/2016
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER PIRELLI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)


Mercedes: one eye on the competition

Mercedes left Spa as a team of mixed fortunes. Hamilton claimed a dominant pole and a win that he had to fight until the bitter end for, whilst Valtteri Bottas had a race to forget. On the safety car restart, he was left vulnerable on his soft tyres to the attack of Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Räikkönen, forced off the track and recovering to fifth. Mercedes brought the fourth and final reincarnation of their engine to Spa in order to get around the lower oil burn regulations that come into play for engines introduced after this weekend. It was a decision that flared tempers within Ferrari as the Maranello outfit have yet to introduce the latest incarnation of their engine.

Mercedes surely will be tentative as they enter the Ferrari hunting ground. The circuit itself seems to favour the Silver Arrows with its long straights and low drag, however, Ferrari’s showing at the previous race where the circuit wasn’t one of their strongest will have put Mercedes on the alert. Hamilton will be aiming for Mercedes’s fourth consecutive Monza win and the chance to finally become the championship leader after trailing Vettel all season. Expect Mercedes to keep one eye on the competition, but focus on the job ahead.

Trouble brewing at Red Bull

Red Bull seemed to put themselves in a strong position in Spa. Despite the misfortune of Max Verstappen’s sixth DNF this season, Daniel Ricciardo managed to fight his way onto the podium and claim a third place after a couple of disappointing races. The Austrian team also ran some aero trails which proved critical towards their success in Spa and could potentially earn them success in Monza. Red Bull tested a new spec low-drag rear wing on Ricciardo’s car. This set up will suit the low-downforce track and long straights that Monza is famous for.

However, despite this positivity, Verstappen is set for grid penalties at the circuit after his fourth and final combustion engine failed on the ninth lap of the Belgian Grand Prix. This will no doubt make the young Dutchman hungry to carve his way through the field, hungry for success. However, the doubts over Renault and over their ability to provide a competitive engine will continue to rage, casting Verstappen’s future potentially into doubt.

GP ITALIA F1/2016 – MONZA (ITALIA) 04/09/2016
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Force India: Round Two?

The boxing gloves came out once more at Spa as Force India teammates Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon came to blows not once, but twice. They clashed in the opening lap with Perez bumping his teammate into the wall as they came towards Eau Rouge. However, things did not end there. On lap 30, Perez squeezed Ocon into the wall in a similar place as they came up towards Eau Rouge, however, on this occasion the outcome was not so favourable. It ended Perez’s race with a puncture as he spilled debris onto the track, bringing out the safety car. However, Ocon’s race was also compromised by a broken front wing and he limped home in ninth position. Such loss of points have forced the team to take a similar approach to Mercedes last season and introduce new rules of engagement.

Monza will be the first race that these will come into play and although, it seems that the racing will become diluted, it is easy to consider things from Force India’s viewpoint. They do not want to lose any more points and surrender the fourth place they hold in the constructor’s championship as it would affect funding for next year.

McLaren: The curious case of Fernando Alonso

McLaren had a race to forget in Spa. Stoffel Vandoorne had a 65 grid penalty to take as a result of exceeding his quota of power unit elements and for changing his gearbox. Fernando Alonso had similar mixed luck. He failed to get into Q2 due to a failure within the software running in his car as taking Puhon flat confused the system and left the Spaniard with no power. This continued into the race as despite a good start, Alonso retired on lap 26, reporting that once again there was no power. It’s a phrase that has sadly become the norm over the McLaren team radios.  However, shortly after the race, Honda reported that they could not find fault with Alonso’s power unit.

The former world champion had cut a sullen figure all weekend, using his radio to voice his opinion of the car, and things are not likely to change at Monza. The long straights will not favour the Honda engine and it’s likely that the team will have another weekend to forget. Alonso is also poised to take penalties as a result of taking a new upgraded engine to the race, it is hoped that by doing so, McLaren will be in a stronger position for the Singapore GP, considered one of the lower-power circuits. However, the question for McLaren is over Alonso’s future. The former world champion has made it clear that he is unhappy with the technology in the car and that he has other offers on the table. Although it will be a race to forget for McLaren, the future of Fernando Alonso will still loom large over Monza.

The Italian Grand Prix will commence on Friday 1st September with practise at 10am local time, followed by qualifying on Saturday 2nd September at 2pm local time. The race will be held on Sunday 3rd September at 2pm local time.

Sarah Jarvis