Sergio Perez took his second pole position of the season ahead of the Miami Grand Prix on Saturday.
The Mexican set the fastest lap in the early part of the third and final qualifying session, before a late crash for Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc left him and Max Verstappen seventh and ninth respectively.
Leclerc lost control in the first sector of the lap on the final run in qualifying. It follows a collision with the barrier earlier in the weekend, and one last weekend in Baku during sprint qualifying.
Perez will be joined on the front row by Fernando Alonso, with Carlos Sainz third ahead of Haas’ Kevin Magnussen. The Dane will be investigated later on for an impeding incident with Sir Lewis Hamilton in the first phase.
Alpine’s Pierre Gasly will start fifth ahead of George Russell, and Leclerc had to settle for eighth after his crash on his second run in Q3. Max Verstappen had made what turned out to be a costly error on his initial run in the third session, and the red flag induced by Leclerc means that the reigning champion will start ninth. Valtteri Bottas rounded off the top 10.
Alex Albon got his Williams up to 11th ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, and a hugely disappointing day for Hamilton saw him eliminated in the second part of qualifying in 13th. Zhou Guanyu will start Sunday’s race 14th, with Nyck de Vries and Lando Norris behind on the eighth row.
Yuki Tsunoda was out-qualified by de Vries for the first time this season as he qualified 17th, and another surprise exit arrived in the form of Lance Stroll down in 18th.
Oscar Piastri’s elimination in 19th spelled McLaren’s first double Q1 exit this season, while home hero Logan Sargeant starts at the base of the grid.
Perez heads into the race in search of his third win of the season, which could send him to the top of the championship.
The 2020 season has come to a close – at 161 days, it was the shortest since 1966, condensing 17 races into that window which has in previous seasons taken nearer 300. The final race took place on the 13th December. The time has now come to reflect on some of the extraordinary achievements that were made and exceeded in times that happen in every hundred years. Most of these decisions were made by the public using @PitCrewOnline and Twitter Poll.
We start with our first award, Qualifying Lap of Year, where you get to see the cars at the fastest! Our four options, place they qualified and resulting race are:
Hulkenberg P3 – 70th GP
Gasly P4 – Emilia Romagna GP
Stroll P1 – Turkish GP
Leclerc P4 – Sakhir GP
Winner: Hulkenberg – 62% of Public vote
This was his second consecutive race filling in for Sergio Perez after he tested positive for covid-19, although he couldn’t start the British Grand Prix due to a last minute problem with the car. Unlike the latter Bahrain rounds where the track changed to shortened Sakhir track, the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone had no changes from the British event. He qualified a fantastic P3, going faster than Verstappen; he was only beaten by the fastest car ahead of him in Mercedes. He ended Sunday in P7 so managed to score points, but the podium continues to elude him.
The next award is: Best Start of the Year. the nominees are:
Max Verstappen – P7 to P3 – Hungarian GP
Kimi Raikonnen – P16 to P7 – Portuguese GP
Carlos Sainz – P7 to P2 – Portuguese GP
Sebastian Vettel – P11 to P3 – Turkish GP
Winner: Kimi Raikkonen – 44% of Public vote
Kimi had a great start at Portimao, gaining 9 places on the opening lap; he even continued to rise to sixth place in the race for a further few laps before others tyres began to get temperature on the unique surface the track had. It narrowly beat Vettel’s start which received 33% of the vote at Turkey.
The Third award is: Overtake of the Year. We love wheel to wheel action – even better when DRS isn’t involved! Our options are:
Charles Leclerc on Lando Norris – outside of turn 4 – Austrian GP
Alex Albon on Lance Stroll – Outside of Copse – 70th Anniversary GP
Sergio Perez on Charles Leclerc – lap long battle – Eifel GP
George Russell on Valtteri Bottas – Sakhir GP
Winner: George Russell – 77% of Public vote
George Russell took his chance at the Sakhir Grand Prix with both hands but things out of his control prevented a maiden victory. He showed his skills and the pass on his team mate at the beginning of the final stint of the race after a calamitous safety car period for the team was one of these.
Next is an award for Pit Crew of the Year, which didn’t need a poll; a much more statistical thought!
9 times this year they have broken the 2 second barrier, with their fastest time being 1.86 on two occasions – close to the world record 1.82 time. Another remarkable feat was replacing Verstappen’s front left suspension in record time after his error en route to the grid at Budapest which led to his fantastic start. They won the DHL Fastest pit stops with 555 points with Williams next to 264. They only failed to achieve the fastest pit stop at Spa and Monza.
A bit of a hysterical award next! The Dyson Hoover Award
(Other hoover brands are available)
Valterri Bottas – For picking up bargeboards, and getting them stuck in his airflow which ruined his car’s downforce. He has also a habit of getting punctures of running over debris – Baku 2018 springs to mind.
Rookie of the Year!
Nicholas Lati… There was only one full time rookie this year? Nicholas Latifi! Solid job on his debut year. He nearly scored points in the inferior Williams at Imola where the unfortunate Russell made his one of his very few mistakes of the season in P11. Next season will be about cutting that deficit at the tracks we visited this year and spending time on the simulator; points in 2021 will be the target! Especially with Montreal looking likely to be one of our venues, Latifi will want better understanding and a better car for that event!
Race of the Year!
Max Verstappen’s win – 70th Anniversary GP
Lewis Hamilton’s 92nd win – Portuguese GP
Lewis Hamilton secures 7th Title – Turkish GP
Sergio Perez wins after Mercedes fail – Sakhir GP
Winner: Sakhir GP – 38%
The Sakhir GP took it by just 3% over the title securing Turkish event. Sakhir had the action! The lap one drama took out the touted Verstappen and putting the unlikely victor Perez last! Mercedes were the creators of their own downfall, and what if Jack Aitken, technically driving Russell’s car, didn’t put it in the wall? People questioned the shortened Sakhir layout, but it was great. if anything, another DRS zone before the final corner would have been great.
Driver of the Year!
The drivers to the left of the quarter final option were seeded in Championship order and then drawn at random against the other four randomly who had fantastic seasons in other cars. These were the agreed top 8 by Pit Crew census then each went to a 3 hour poll except for the final. That went for a 24 hour poll during Abu Dhabi weekend.
Sergio Perez (67%) – Pierre Gasly (33%)
Max Verstappen (52%) – Carlos Sainz (48%)
Lewis Hamilton (57%) – Charles Leclerc (43%)
Daniel Ricciardo (44%) – George Russell (56%)
Sergio Perez (59%) – Max Verstappen (41%)
Lewis Hamilton (59%) – George Russell (41%)
Sergio Perez (56%) – Lewis Hamilton (44%)
The public decided that Sergio Perez is the 2020 driver of the season! Congratulations to Checo! The season has come to a close, and some drivers are yet to be confirmed. Will our driver of the year get a call from the Red Bull hierarchy placing Albon on the sidelines for 2021?
That is the Awards for 2020, with the calendar being arranged on short notice and bubbles being kept to with only a few positive cases it looks like F1 can call 2020 a success. Old friends of Imola and Turkey came to assist whilst Portugal and Mugello came to show what they could do. Vaccines look to be starting to be distributed to assist with the pandemic, so fingers crossed some normality resumes to the world of Motorsport and beyond.
Vindication. That was the first word that came to mind when Daniel Ricciardo crossed the line and secured a podium finish for Renault at last weekend’s Eifel Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.
The Australian, who will also have a prodigious sense of justification following his move to the team last year, secured his first podium since 2018. It was the French team’s first top-three result under the Renault name since Nick Heidfeld at the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix, when the German deputised for the injured Robert Kubica. But Renault’s return in 2016, taking over from the struggling Lotus brand, was supposed to be the start of a brand new era; the beginning of a glorious success story; the joyful culmination of a story of struggle.
But just eight points between 2016 drivers Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer was the crash down to earth that the Parisian name was not expecting – along with the rest of the F1 paddock. The manufacturer that had powered 168 wins in Formula One history has experienced a bruising reality check.
But they have come close – Nico Hulkenberg was denied in Singapore 2017 when he lost air pressure in his engine, and in 2019 when he crashed out of his home Grand Prix at Hockenheim. This was a result that was going to come – Renault were always going to persist – but nobody quite thought it would be four years after their return that they would eventually achieve a top three finish.
They had to watch Carlos Sainz, their former driver, take a podium for McLaren in Brazil – the Woking team beating Renault to this achievement, and let’s not forget: McLaren are powered by Renault engines.
Even earlier this year, Lando Norris and Sainz both earned podium finishes for the papaya team, inspired by the unstoppable spirit of their founder Bruce McLaren – the New Zealander who, in his time, once became the youngest ever race winner in F1.
This podium will also be of great personal pride to team principle Cyril Abiteboul. The Frenchman has had a storied history with the manufacturer of his nationality. He led the Caterham team in 2013 and 2014 before it went bust, and had already acted as Deputy Director of Renault Sport F1 until 2012. At this point, Renault supplied Caterham, Lotus and, of course, the revered Red Bull team. The engine of immense significance to Abiteboul, a former engineer himself, was in the middle of powering the Milton-Keynes-based outfit to four consecutive world championships with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber between 2010 and 2013.
Having seen the success, both with his team and as an individual having had the opportunity to lead Caterham, he witnessed the sudden, and very stark downfall.
Caterham ran out of finances at the back end of 2014, and were forced to fold. Abiteboul’s very own team had been taken from him almost as quickly as it had been presented. He returned to Renault, and continued his occupation as Director of Renault sport. Bad, however, went to worse.
In 2014, the turn of the hybrid era had brought Red Bull’s world crashing down, and they were no longer the dominant force they were. In spite of Ricciardo’s impressive three wins that season, Abiteboul had returned to a largely unsuccessful engine supplier, and some extremely unhappy customers.
Lotus, who had also hit the mud in 2014, jumped ship and asked for Mercedes engines for 2015, with the German manufacturer and now world champions obliging. Red Bull’s fortunes worsened that season, and tensions rose massively between Abiteboul and Red Bull boss Christian Horner. Red Bull were unable to find a different supplier for 2016, and agreed to continue paying Renault for Power Units. There was, however, a catch. The Renault name was not to make an appearance on the car henceforth, with the former champions opting instead to sport the Tag Heur brand.
A few wins but plenty of reliability failures later throughout 2016, 2017 and 2018 spelled the end for Renault’s journey with Red Bull. In 2018, Christian Horner made the almost absurd decision to switch to Honda power for 2019, after comments throughout the year which had enraged Abiteboul.
But there was a counter to Horner’s decision. Renault had acquired the services of a driver who had grown tired of playing second fiddle to his team mate – that driver’s name was Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull.
Renault’s situation, having been improving to the extent of a fourth placed championship finish in 2018, once again fell the following season. While they had to watch Red Bull win races with Honda engines, Renault fell behind McLaren and were emphatically knocked back into the midfield.
This year though, things are on the up. New-boy Esteban Ocon has been showing signs of improvement following his year out, and the Renault PU is proving to be battling with Honda for the second-quickest motor on the grid. They are quicker than Ferrari, and though they may be fifth in the championship, they are level on pace with McLaren and Racing Point and very much eyeing third in the championship this time around.
The signs are pointing to better times ahead for Renault, and as well as a tattoo for Abiteboul, this podium represents the start of an upwards journey and, finally, the road to success for the soon-to-be Alpine F1 Team.
Honda has announced that it will be withdrawing from Formula 1 as a power unit supplier at the end of the 2021 season.
The Japanese manufacturer stated its desire to realise “carbon neutrality by 2050” as its reason for withdrawing.
“Honda needs to funnel its corporate resources in research and development into the areas of future power unit and energy technologies,” a statement read, “including fuel cell vehicle (FCV) and battery EV (BEV) technologies, which will be the core of carbon-free technologies.”
Honda only returned to F1 back in 2015 as a supplier for McLaren. This relationship – which lasted until 2017 – was fraught with unreliability and performance issues.
They have, however, since made improvements. They joined forces with Alpha Tauri (then named Toro Rosso) in 2018 and Red Bull in 2019 and have powered them to a combined five race victories, making them the only power unit supplier to win races with more than one team since the start of the hybrid era in 2014.
Their withdrawal, though, now leaves both Red Bull and Alpha Tauri in something of a limbo and with not much time to find a new supplier.
If they are unable to find an alternative, then Renault are bound by the regulations to supply them. This is because Renault currently supply the least number of teams, with Mercedes and Ferrari already at the maximum permissible number of three.
However, Red Bull’s split from Renault in 2018 was acrimonious to say the least and it would no doubt be with great reluctance that both parties rekindle that relationship.
Honda’s withdrawal might also have implications for Japanese F2 racer Yuki Tsunoda. Tsunoda is a Honda-backed driver and there were rumours that he was set to be promoted to Alpha Tauri in the near future. However, with Honda now out of the picture that promotion is uncertain.
Red Bull have said that they “acknowledge” Honda’s decision, and have thanked the manufacturer for “its exceptional efforts as power unit supplier”.
One of the main talking points of the current 2020 season is Racing Point – nicknamed the Pink Mercedes. Subsequently, Renault have raised concerns about the legality of their car to the stewards. We are awaiting a decision upon the review of the brake ducts as Racing Point have handed over their current car’s ducts and Mercedes are due to sample a pair from the 2019 car – the Mercedes W10. The stewards are investigating all of this, but unfortunately there is no timescale presently so every race Renault can continue to protest a result or any team if they are unhappy with the result. It is much easier to copy external aerodynamics from images and videos such as wings and floor designs but internal details are much harder which is why brake ducts were the focalpoint. If their brake ducts are passed clear and are very similar, what stops Red Bull giving their junior team Alpha Tauri their old designs to base next year’s car, similar to what they did prior to 2010? Will 2021 be the return of four Red Bulls to the grid?
Scuderia Toro Rosso, now Alpa Tauri, entered the Formula One grid when Red Bull bought the beloved backmarkers Minardi. Their first car, the STR1, was near enough a carbon copy of the 2005 RB1 whilst Red Bull moved onto the RB2. This preceded the arrival of one of the greatest designers in the history of the sport – Adrian Newey. He moved over from McLaren for 2007 to embark on a new challenge. Controversy ensued that season when the RB3 and STR2 were both designed on the same chassis by Newey. Williams and Spyker felt this was against the concorde agreement, very much on the terms to what Renault are going to the stewards for this season. The FIA classed this is as legal for a customer chassis but the Toro Rosso team then managed the car throughout the season.
GEPA pictures/Red Bull Content Pool // 1329476893572-1682678767 // Usage for editorial use only //
The cars remained identical until 2009. Ironically Toro Rosso was the first Red Bull branded car to win an F1 race in Monza in 2008. Sebastian Vettel, as a result, earned a drive for the Red Bull team alongside Mark Webber. In 2010 Toro Rosso built its first car, the STR5, from scratch as duel-designs had been banned. Adrian Newey and Red Bull Technology had no say on this car due to differing engine suppliers. Since transmission assistance and suspension assistance were introduced in 2013 and 2018 respectively, Red Bull have once again been able to aid their second team. This arrangement is very similar to Haas’ relationship with Ferrari.
An interesting scenario now arises if Racing Point have managed to near enough copy the Mercedes car from last year. Can Alpha Tauri, within regulation, just get the base designs to build their AT02 car on their own chassis? They would not need to take hundreds of photos; owner Helmut Marko probably would get the prints to a certain extent within the rulings. The Red Bull for many seasons has been dubbed the best car on the grid aerodynamically and has cut the deficit to Mercedes around the less power sensitive tracks on the calendar such as Monaco and Hungary. Such circuits have more sectors with low to medium speed flowing corners. Red Bull took a gamble with Honda power and the Japanese manufacturer is beginning to find its footing in the hybrid era. Hopefully now at power tracks like Monza, we will start to see Red Bull competing once again.
Upon all of this would we see the return of four Red Bulls like the mid to late noughties when Toro Rosso entered the grid? A cost-cap has also been agreed for the future so this would assist both teams greatly. Red Bull could make a return in possibly passing on old designs if permitted and as a result Alpha Tauri would spend less on research and design.
It was good day for Hyundai, but not so good for Citroën, who suffered two separate technical failures on their cars.
With six stages all on gravel today, the start list looked like this – Tänak, Ogier, Neuville, Meeke, Evans, Latvala, Lappi, Suninen, Sordo, Loeb.
It was a good start by Seb Ogier, who won SS 1 – Gandesa 1 (7,00 km) from Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville was right there as well. The short stage didn’t affect Ott Tanak too much either, with the championship leader only losing 1.8 seconds to the reigning champion.
With the longer SS 2 – Horta-Bot 1 (19,00 km), it started to unravel for Ogier. He started to lose time very early in the and the problem got worse and worse. By the end, he and Julien had lost 44 seconds and had fallen to fifteenth position. Is this the moment when the championship slipped away from the Citroën pilot? Thierry moved into the lead after winning the stage, with his Spanish teammate just a few tenths behind. Kris now held third, as the top Toyota at this point. Elfyn suffered a part spin, losing a few seconds and falling behind his Finnish teammate, but not by a big margin. Meantime, Ott had made his way up to fourth place.
The next stage, SS 3 – La Fatarella – Vilalba 1 (38,85 km), a really long and proper stage. Seb Ogier lost even more time on this long stage, losing almost three minutes, and was now three and a half minutes from the lead. His fellow multiple world champion Seb Loeb won the stage and moved up to sixth place. Meantime, Dani Sordo took the lead with championship hopeful Thierry now falling to second place. Elfyn had a better stage, setting the fourth fastest time and moving up the leaderboard to into fourth place. The drivers to fall behind were Kris, who was just a few tenths behind the Welshman and in fifth, whilst Esapekka was now in seventh place. The gaps were really quite small though, with only twelve seconds covering first and seventh.
After lunchtime service, SS 4 – Gandesa 2 (7,00 km), and Dani was quick out of the blocks once more, winning the stage from Teemu. Loeb also went well, making it a one-three for Hyundai in the stage and moving him above Kris and Elfyn and into fourth place. Thierry put a good stage together and continued to hold second overall. Hyundai had found a good set up for their cars, and were going well indeed.
Into SS 5 – Horta-Bot 2 (19,00 km) and Loeb won from Sordo, whilst Latvala was starting to feel more comfortable, setting the same time as Dani. Loeb’s pace moved him into third overall, with Ott now falling behind the former champion. Kris was also going well, passing Elfyn. Esapekka Lappi sadly dropped out of the standings with a technical problem. We now had a Hyundai one-two-three! Seb Ogier was well out of the running and despite his complete professionalism really struggling for motivation.
The final stage of the day then, and SS 6 – La Fatarella – Vilalba 2 (38,85 km) saw a massive push from Loeb, which gave him a superb stage victory, beating Kris and Thierry and was enough to give him and Daniel the rally lead, whilst Thierry and Dani completed a one-two-three for Hyundai. On the flip side, Elfyn had a terrible stage with an engine problem and he lost 38 seconds and fell to seventh. Not how he would have wanted to end the day, but at least he’s still in the running for the points and we know how fast he is on tarmac.
Driver Quotes at the end of Day One
Seb Loeb (1st)
“An incredible day for the team! It is a wonderful feeling to be leading this rally, even if at this early stage of the weekend. There was a bit of a tyre strategy in the morning, and I was only able to get the hard compounds working to their optimum performance at the end of the loop. The conditions were just too slippery and greasy in the opening stages. The afternoon was better and I had a good feeling throughout. In the final stage, the car was perfect and I was just flying. We gave it a push and it was good enough to secure a 1-2-3 for the team to end the first day. We now have two long days of tarmac ahead of us.”
Thierry Neuville (2nd)
“We have had a great start to this rally and the car has been working very well. We had a positive opening loop this morning and continued in the same direction for the afternoon. There were some tricky sections at times but we stayed focused and tried to be efficient. The final stage was particularly tough with some visibility issues, a combination of the sun being low and some fog, so we had to remain concentrated. Aside from losing a second or two at the last hairpin, it was a strong end to an almost perfect day.”
Dani Sordo (3rd)
“All in all, we have had a good day and things are looking good for the team on the standings with the top three positions. The car has been working very well, even with changeable grip levels. The only downsides were a puncture 5km before the end of the morning loop, which lost us some time, as well as a disappointing end to our afternoon. Some places were difficult to drive but there was nothing immediately wrong. I think we can still be happy with our performances today, as we now turn our attention the tarmac stages.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Kris Meeke (4th)
“This morning I struggled a bit with the setup and so I wasn’t comfortable over the bumps, especially in the long stage, SS3. But everything came together in the afternoon. The car felt a lot different and I could trust it a lot more. I said beforehand that I needed to be within 10 seconds of the lead tonight and the gap is currently 13, so it’s not bad, we’re still there. My pace has been strong on asphalt this year and I know the Yaris WRC works really well, so I’m confident and looking forward to the rest of the rally.”
Ott Tänak (5th)
“It was a really tough and demanding day today. When you’re opening the road during the first loop, it’s constantly slippery, but in a way it’s still manageable. The conditions are always more difficult in the second loop and it can be really frustrating. I pushed as hard as I could and I couldn’t do any more, so we need to be happy with that. Tomorrow is very much a new day and a very different day, and hopefully it can be a stronger day for us.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (6th)
“This day on gravel was not as simple as last year. After the rain earlier in the week, the grip level was much lower, and it was more difficult this morning. Then in the afternoon, the grip was pretty consistent, but there were many ruts. I wasn’t confident enough this morning, but we made some changes with the suspension in service, and I fought back in the afternoon. I feel a lot more relaxed and confident now and I’m looking forward to the next two days on asphalt.”
Elfyn Evans (7th)
“It was shaping up to be a pretty good fight, but it didn’t go our way in the end. We had some speed at times, but then we had a pretty bad misfire on the last stage. We managed to change a few things on the road section and get it going again so it’s just one of those things – and we’ll need to make sure we’re on it from the word go when the action moves to Tarmac tomorrow.”
Teemu Suninen (8th)
“We found a good rhythm this afternoon and I had a really good feeling with the car. I tried to set some good times, and I was happy that we managed to do that. But I wasn’t so good at managing the tyres on the long stage. On the first pass I pushed too hard, and on the second I didn’t push enough. It’s something I need to improve, but I know it’s a learning curve so I will make some good notes and do some good homework.”
Citroën Total WRT
Sébastien Ogier (17th)
“I lost the power steering pretty much at the start of SS2, then the gearshift paddles went and finally the central differential. It was so hard physically to drive the car without power steering, I ended up with blisters on my hands. Obviously, it’s disappointing because the intention was there. We made the right call on tyres and the time on the opening stage confirmed the good feeling we had. Everyone in the team is disappointed this evening, but obviously we’re professionals and our approach has always been to never give up and see where we are at the end of the rally.”
Esapekka Lappi (DNF)
“I’m disappointed that my rally has come to a premature end, especially as I had enjoyed a pretty solid and consistent day up to that point, in terms of pace. The gaps were small and we were up for the fight, because I felt comfortable in my C3 WRC. I will now look forward to Australia and finishing the season on a high with the best possible result.”
STANDINGS AFTER DAY ONE
Loeb / Elena (Hyundai i20 WRC) 1:21:24.7
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1.7
Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) +7.6
Meeke / Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +13.0
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +21.7
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +30.1
Evans / Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +44.0
Suninen / Lehtinen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +51.8
Katsuta / Barritt (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:50.3
Ostberg / Eriksen (Citroën C3 R5) +2:59.8
Well, a very interesting first day on the gravel roads in Spain. It’s certainly not the day that the Citroën team would have wanted, and now it is looking very likely that we will see our first Estonian world champion.
At the front, Hyundai’s drivers are doing all they can to help Thierry take the fight to the final round, but with Ott Tänak sitting in fifth overall, he’s in a good position to take the title.
Toyota had a reasonable day, with Kris, Ott and Jari-Matti all setting pretty good times, and will look to move up the order tomorrow.
At M-Sport they had their moments, but with the problems that Elfyn had in the longest stage this afternoon, they’ll be wanting more from the weekend. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.
Now, tomorrow sees the crews attack seven stages totaling 121km. We’ll have a better idea if Ott Tänak is set for his first championship by the end of tomorrow.
A typhoon warning may have left the Suzuka circuit barren, but if thoughts were the metric to go by the minds of Pierre Gasly and Helmut Marko’s were anything but. They were only half-a-point away from the ultimate prize, after all.
Pierre had his own considerations, certainly about how he was staring down a double-barrel gun of success (were he to prevail, he’d be the first overseas champion since Andre Lotterer in 2011, first rookie since Ralf Schumacher in 1996 and first overall for both since the renaming from Formula Nippon in 2013), but Marko’s were likely about just what a blinder they’d played with their decision.
Opting not to fast-track Gasly into a Toro Rosso F1 seat after his 2016 GP2 title win, the time spent putting noses out of joint in Japan’s elite open-wheel series looked every inch a masterstroke. Red Bull and Honda’s relationship began to blossom and their next hopeful’s confidence was sky-high. It offered another nugget to chew on, too: did they need to bother with the de-facto ladder to F1 at all?
Two years on, it’s almost time for the Suzuka finale once again. There’s not been a Red Bull-backed entry in the renamed F2 full-time since Gasly, and yet three of their academy hopefuls have featured in Super Formula just this season. None of them have replicated anything like the silky form of their French predecessor, nor have they been given the chance.
The #15 Team Mugen car, one of two Red Bull-backed seats in the series, began the season in the hands of the controversial Dan Ticktum. Dan had only just graduated from European F3 the season before, and toiled in the Asian Series not long after, yet Red Bull saw the risk of placing their baby cub into the lion pit of sage ex-F1, DTM and WEC drivers as a worthwhile one.
Three races, three struggling endeavours and a solitary point later, allegations of Ticktum’s attitude hitting rock bottom and even acts of assault on a Mugen team member had the Brit packing his bags for the first flight out of both Japan and the Red Bull Junior Programme. It spelled disaster for a man the casino chips were placed on, but as luck would have it the energy drink colossus had snagged a promising IndyCar driver struggling for funds in Patricio O’Ward.
The new poster child of the Junior Programme, the dust was brushed off the seat of the #15 car and Pato was placed firmly inside, in an attempt to acclimatise the 20 year old Mexican into more traditional open-wheel racing alongside a crack of the F2 whip in Austria as a one-off.
Three races, three growingly impressive efforts and three points later, Pato has now disembarked from the Red Bull train after just four months and four events raced under the Junior Programme’s tutelage. Bereft of expected Super Licence points, the jig was up. The #15 Team Mugen welcomes it’s third Red-Bull backed starlet in Estonian F3 graduate Juri Vips while Pato looks set to make up for lost time back in IndyCar for 2020.
Three. Drivers. Let’s evaluate the season: an F3 graduate, short (admittedly of his own fault) on confidence and recent career racing, was deemed a worthy competitor for Super Formula’s high calibre. Once his old habits and inexperience set ablaze his title chances, Red Bull replaced him with a similarly inexperienced prospect mid-season. Pato’s North American schooling was given all of three events to be repurposed before a short-term fast-tracking broke down, and now another F3 graduate is taking the mantle for the finale.
Aside from Red Bull’s other championship effort, Lucas Auer – an ex-DTM driver deemed unlikely to ever be in their future F1 plans – who sits third in the table, the Junior Programme’s 2019 trip east has been an unmitigated disaster. One driver was thrown into the deep end too soon, and the other was submerged in the waves even sooner, and was deemed little more than a vanity project the moment the plan A for him became an impossibility.
Gasly, like other F1-attached junior drives such as Stoffel Vandoorne, were able to not only survive but succeed in Super Formula because they were at the tail-end of their growth. Two GP2 champions, brimmed with open-wheel experience and virtually ready for the big time, they had the necessary time to grow stronger and wiser before they were unleashed on a series filled with stalwarts in the primes of their careers. F3 and inexperienced Indy graduates aren’t at such a level and either need to be given the time to acclimatise, or not be placed there at all.
Red Bull’s usage of Super Formula as an alternative to F2 has been one marred with underestimation of what it takes to succeed in the series, and drastically short-term ambitions for the drivers they deem fit to place in it. Ticktum’s warning signs were well apparent even before he made the leap, and yet Red Bull didn’t recognise the error they were making. Pato was beginning to adjust to a jarring challenge with aplomb, yet Red Bull have no desire to see his development through, and now Vips stands to be deemed fit for a 2020 Team Mugen seat despite his own premature stage of development.
In a way, it’s a sign of just how far Red Bull’s Junior Programme has fallen; what was once an environment in which talent aplenty flowed through the mains, and World Championships were wringed out of the system, is now a barren wasteland frequently topped up with drivers they’d deemed inadequate years ago or bundled into F1 without prior funding. Current Red Bull Racing duo, Max Verstappen and Alex Albon, are signs of this.
Max never suffered rejection from the programme, but neither can it lay claim to truly nurturing him pre-F1 – he spent all of one week in it before being announced as a 2015 Toro Rosso race driver, and was already a made man by the time they inquired for his services – while Alex spent a solitary season with them in 2012 before being released.
Toro Rosso now sees two drivers who were both ruled as unneeded at the A-team and sent to bide their time back in Faenza, with Daniil in particular even being dropped from the Red Bull lifeline for over a year in 2017 before, once again, the talent tank ran dry and an ex-employee’s services were required. Recent Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley is another example of such a scenario.
The Super Formula experiment is backfiring for Red Bull, and it’s of their own doing. Shunning a ready-made proving ground in F2 and treating the proud, developed Super Formula as a junior series without consideration for the culture shock it provides to drivers not yet properly developed has and will continue to be a disaster, and for every victim it creates there aren’t enough phone numbers in the exes list to realistically ring as last resorts. It had Pierre teetering on the edge of glory two years ago; it has the Junior Team on the brink of implosion now.
Red Bull’s new signing Alex Albon says he will be ‘keeping [his] feet on the ground’ ahead of his first race for the team at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.
Albon has just twelve Grand Prix under his belt and while he is excited about the prospect of racing for one of the most competitive teams in F1, he is nonetheless aware that he has a lot still to learn.
“Not many drivers get the chance to drive a car capable of winning a race so early in their F1 career, so it’s a great opportunity to be driving for Red Bull,” Albon said. “It’s a big step, a big difference, and the factory’s a lot closer to my house which is handy!
“We know what the car is capable of and we’ve seen what Max has been able to do this year. I want to see what it’s like compared to what I’m used to, but at the same time, I know this weekend is my first time in the car, I’m still learning and improving as a driver and there’s definitely more to come.
“I know one of the main differences will be the noise and attention that comes with the move but I’m keeping my feet on the ground. I’m just focused on the job I have to do for Spa, I’ll be doing a lot of listening and observing.”
The news of Albon’s promotion came after Pierre Gasly, who himself had moved from Toro Rosso to Red Bull at the beginning of 2019, struggled to match the performance of Max Verstappen. Despite assurances from both Christian Horner and Helmut Marko that his seat was safe for the time being, Gasly nonetheless finds himself back at the junior team for the second half of the season.
Albon made his first official trip to the Red Bull factory as one of their drivers on 26th August, two weeks after the announcement was made, for a seat and suit fitting.
“We’ve got as much simulator prep done as we can,” Albon said, “so now it’s about going through procedural things with the team and getting to know everyone. It should be good!
“This is a big step, but I feel I’ve been through these big jumps before and taken the opportunities – I’m not worried about that. I’m focused and ready to be as strong as possible for the second half of the year.”
[Featured image – Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool]
Lewis Hamilton has taken victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix, making best use of a free pit stop to chase down Max Verstappen and take the lead in the closing laps of a race that saw every driver outside the top four lapped.
Verstappen had retained his lead after the first pit stops and fended off an attacking Hamilton as the pair picked their way through traffic. Running wide when attempting an overtake at turn four, Hamilton dropped back and the gap to Verstappen stabilised around the one-and-a-half second mark.
With a sizeable gap to the Ferrari duo in P3 and P4, Mercedes made the decision to bring Hamilton in on lap 49 for what was a free stop, switching him onto the medium tyres. He emerged some 20 seconds behind Verstappen and set about chasing him down, being told by his team that Verstappen would be down to “zero rubber” by the end of the race.
Sure enough, Verstappen reported on lap 64 that his tyres were dead, and Hamilton closed at a rate of almost two seconds a lap to make a move round the outside of turn one and take the lead with just three laps to go.
With Verstappen reporting that he couldn’t make it to the end of the race, he made a free pit stop on lap 68 to switch to the soft tyres and chase the bonus point for fastest lap.
Sebastian Vettel finished a distant third, overtaking team-mate Leclerc on lap 68. Vettel ran a very long first stint and only came into the pits on lap 40 to change onto the soft tyres. By the time he had caught up to his team-mate, Leclerc’s hard tyres were some 40 laps old, and this allowed Vettel to dive down the inside going into turn one and take the final podium position. With the gap to Hamilton at over a minute, Ferrari will certainly be hoping that the long straights of Spa and Monza will allow them to claw back
Carlos Sainz finished in an impressive fifth place for the second race in a row, with Gasly and Raikkonen behind in sixth and seventh respectively.
The other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas took himself out of win and podium contention on the first lap. Lock-ups going into the first two corners allowed Hamilton to slip past and take second, and then contact with Leclerc damaged his front wing and forced him to pit. Dropped to plum last on the road, it was a long day for the Finn and he eventually reached the chequered flag in eighth place.
The top ten was completed by Lando Norris – who was hampered by a slow pit stop – and Alex Albon.
Hamilton’s victory means he heads into the summer break with a 62-point lead in the championship. Two bad races in a row means that Bottas is now just seven points ahead of Verstappen in P2, and you have to think that second is now firmly in Verstappen’s sights going into the next half of the season.
Hungary was the fourth good race in a row this season following Austria, Silverstone and Hockenheim, but can the trend continue when the F1 circus reconvenes at Spa at the end of the month?
‘Success represents the 1% of your work which results from the 99% of failure’ Soichiro Honda.
In 2015, Honda returned to Formula 1 and powered McLaren’s cars. That season, the Japanese manufacturer supplied Alonso’s and Button’s car with the Honda RA615H 1.6L engine. It was a tough season for McLaren and a difficult return in F1 for Honda, the engine was unreliable both drivers retired 12 times combined in the 2015 season. Kevin Magnussen, who replaced Alonso in the Australian Grand Prix, didn’t even start the race because his engine failed while he was driving to the grid.
In general, it was a disastrous season that everyone in McLaren and especially Honda would like to forget.
The following year, McLaren-Honda finished 6th in the constructors’ standings. Progress was made, considering the 9th position in 2015.
“Half happy and of course we are not satisfied at our current position,” said Hasegawa.
In 2017, Honda redesigned their engine and named it RA617H. Changes applied in 2017 rules, FIA dropped the regulation for limited engine development during one season, that gave the chance to the Japanese team to design a reliable motor. Honda’s official, Yusuke Hasegawa described the new design as “very high risk”.
“The concept is completely different. It’s very high risk, we don’t know a lot of things about that new concept. We know it will give us a performance advantage but the biggest risk is whether we can realise that potential this year.” Said Yusuke
Long story short, it was another disastrous season for McLaren-Honda. The engine was unreliable, Fernando Alonso finished 15th and Stoffel Vandoorne 16th. Jenson Button, who replaced Alonso in Monaco, retired due to suspension damage.
During the season, McLaren announced the end of the partnership with Honda, after three years.
Honda is a great company which, like McLaren, is in Formula 1 to win,” said Shaikh Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa, McLaren Group Executive Chairman and Executive Committee principal.
“It is unfortunate that we must part ways with McLaren before fulfilling our ambitions, however, we made the decision with a belief that this is the best course of action for each other’s future,” commented Takahiro Hachigo, President and Director of Honda Motor.
Last season, Honda partnered with Toro Rosso and scored 33 points, more than the years with McLaren combined.
Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley retired three times due to engine issues, whilst in 2017 McLaren’s drivers forced to retire nine times for Honda related problems.
The positive results and the signs of improvement convinced Red Bull to offer a two-year contract to Honda for 2019 and 2020.
In Melbourne, Max Verstappen secured the first podium for Red Bull Racing-Honda. That was the first podium for the Japanese manufacturer after their return to Formula 1 in 2015.
That was the beginning of a new era for Honda, eight races later, Verstappen wins the Austrian Grand Prix, the first win for Honda in the hybrid PU Era and the first since 2006.
Honda boss, Toyoharu Tanabe, had no idea what to do for Austrian GP podium.
“I was surprised when I was told to go [to the podium], I had no idea what I should do and that’s why I got to the podium later than other people. Normally you need to stay before the National Anthem – I thought I should be there for that but I was a bit late. But I joined after that. This was my first time – I was worried about what to do and no one told me!”
Max Verstappen had a bad start, dropped from second to seventh, but managed to recover and after some tremendous laps, passed both Bottas and Leclerc and reached his first victory in 2019.
The Japanese never give up, even when they face difficulties, they find the courage to fight back and overcome all the obstacles to reach their goal.
“We were strong, but for the next race, I cannot guarantee we’ll be a strong as in Austria” said Toyoharu Tanabe
As Formula 1 fan, I truly hope that Honda will remain competitive and will deliver reliable engines to Red Bull racing and Toro Rosso. The sport, needs strong teams to keep the competition high and increase the action during the races.