Zak Brown: “There is a lot to be excited about” in 2019

McLaren CEO Zak Brown has said he believes fans of the team have “a lot to be excited about” in the 2019 season, after a challenging 2018 campaign.

McLaren finished sixth in the constructors’ championship on 62 points, with the highlight being a fifth-place in the Australian Grand Prix courtesy of Fernando Alonso. Team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne had a best finish of P8, which came in the Mexican Grand Prix.

In a year when they believed their new Renault power-unit would propel McLaren up the order, it is difficult to call 2018 anything but a disappointment for them.

“2018 was a difficult year,” Zak Brown said, “but one where we’ve implemented a lot of change. We’ve learned a lot, we understand the mistakes we’ve made, and we’ve worked hard to make sure we don’t replicate those moving forward. We did finish sixth in the championship, so on paper it was a step forward from 2017, but it certainly wasn’t a season of the calibre that anyone at McLaren or our fans would have expected.”

Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.
Tuesday 27 February 2018. Zak Brown
World Copyright: Steven Tee/LAT Images
ref: Digital Image _R3I3944

Brown is optimistic about the team’s chances in 2019 though, highlighting in particular the numerous personnel changes they have made. “We’ve brought in Gil de Ferran,” he said, “who brings an unusual mix of a racer’s instinct with strategic acumen, promoted Andrea Stella to lead our performance development and analysis group, brought back Pat Fry as engineering director to lead the design of the MCL34, and of course appointed James Key as our technical director to give us the singular technical leadership that has been missing.”

Speaking of the development of their 2019 car, Brown added, “Everyone is working extremely hard. We have a good understanding of what we need to do to improve our race car. The changes we’ve made over the last five or six months, both in our structure and leadership, are already in play and beginning to take effect.

“We need to get back to the basics, come out with a stronger car next year, and continue on the rebuilding journey to get us back to winning races. 2019 should be another step forward in that direction.”

With Fernando Alonso retiring from F1 and Stoffel Vandoorne moving to Formula E, Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris will be driving for McLaren next year. Sainz made the move to McLaren from Renault, whilst Norris will be making his F1 debut.

 

Featured image – Mark Sutton/McLaren

HWA ‘convinced me straight away’ – Stoffel Vandoorne

Last week, it was announced that McLaren man Stoffel Vandoorne would be joining Formula E next season with the HWA outfit, Mercedes’ precursory entry into the electric series. Today, he said that he was ‘convinced straight away’ to join up the developing sport after losing his Formula One drive.

“I had my initial contact with Toto, which was before McLaren decided what they were going to do. Toto explained the project and as soon as I thought about it, there was no real hesitation”

Vandoorne was plagued by battery issues in the first day of testing which significantly reduced his running time in the car but on the second day of testing, he was able to utilise more time on track. ”We had a better day than yesterday.” The Belgian stated. “We had more laps this morning which was quite productive for me. The focus for us is to push through all the difficulties we’ve been having and learn from those.”

He admitted that the issues did not reveal themselves during the private testing that Venturi had been afforded to both himself and new teammate Gary Paffett.

“For us, it’s a new challenge, there’s a lot of processes we have to go through and from my side, I’ve also been combining this with Formula One. It’s like jumping from one ship to another for the past few months but the team is now focused on Formula E.”

Stoffel Vandoorne (HWA RACELAB), Valencia pre-season testing – Credit: LAT/Formula E

In reference to the additional Venturi testing that he had received, he said that it put him in a much better position. 

“You always want to do more testing and I would have liked for [this test] to have gone a lot smoother. But the two days I had before definitely helped to come here and have an idea of what everything feels like.”

When asked how Formula E compares to Formula One, the Belgian was very open that there was a difference and also spoke of his inexperience within the series.

“It’s very different to what I am used to, and compared to any other series, it’s quite different the way you drive the car and how the car handles. It’s all different challenges. I have no reference of the Gen 1 car but the car seems a big step forward in terms of the previous generation. You can set up the car in a number of ways and make a big difference with those. I had no expectations. I went into it very open minded and tried to maximise what we have.”

Stoffel Vandoorne (HWA RACELAB), Valencia pre-season testing – Credit: LAT/Formula E


Vandoorne did not think that despite having a new Gen 2 to contend with and new regulations in the fifth season that he would have an advantage against those much more acquainted with the previous generation car.

“I don’t think there is a big difference. A lot of the drivers have been here a while working with their teams so they’ll have a bit of a head start. It’s not easy as a new driver to step in and perform straight away. From our team perspective, we need to manage our expectations and be competitive as I want to be successful.”

Speaking of his opinions of the sport before he joined, Vandoorne always had a open outlook on the series. 

“It’s an up and coming series and I think if you look, they have only existed for four seasons. In that timespan, many manufacturers have joined and I think it shows that they see a future in this sport. It has huge potential and the electric development is still in such an early stage so I think that cars will keep progressing. There’s already been a huge step between the two generations of cars and I am sure they’ll be another step forward.

What went wrong for Stoffel Vandoorne at McLaren?

Belgian driver Stoffel Vandoorne is to leave McLaren at the end of the 2018 season, with Lando Norris set to replace him. Two miserable years with the Woking-based team have led to Vandoorne being shown the door and, with Fernando Alonso having made the decision to retire at the end of the year, McLaren will walk into 2019 with the all-new driver line-up of Norris and Carlos Sainz.

Where, however, did things go so wrong for Vandoorne?

There was a promising future for Stoffel Vandoorne prior to joining McLaren at the start of the 2017 season. The Belgian won championships in Formula 4, Formula Renault 2.0, and GP2, and was hotly tipped to be a success as part of McLaren’s young driver programme.

It was even a promising start to life in F1 – he deputised for the injured Fernando Alonso at the 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix, after the Spaniard’s huge shunt at the previous race in Melbourne. Vandoorne out-qualified Jenson Button in the other McLaren, and took the team’s first point of the season with a P10.

Monza, Italy.
Saturday 1 September 2018.
Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren, prepares to get into his car.
Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _2ST7751

Vandoorne was rewarded with a drive for the 2017 season after Jenson Button retired at the end of 2016, but after all the hype and promise surrounding the future of his F1 career, things have not gone well at all for Vandoorne.

Vandoorne was partnered with Alonso for 2017, and since has been out-qualified by him 30 times over the period of the whole of last season and the first fourteen races of 2018. Vandoorne, by stark contrast, has out-qualified Alonso just three times since the start of their partnership, and Vandoorne has been an average of 0.3 seconds slower than Alonso. It’s a big margin.

Vandoorne’s average finishing position in 2018 has been 12th, with Alonso’s being 9th, and he is currently 36 points behind the double world champion in the championship.

Vandoorne has visibly struggled for pace in his McLaren, regardless of the comparison with Alonso, who is after all a double world champion and arguably one of the best ever drivers in the sport. The Belgian hasn’t looked comfortable, and has struggled to be on the pace in many of the Grand Prix since the start of 2017.

This is strange. After all, he did a superb job in 2016 in Bahrain, and it was then when many keen eyes in F1 turned to him as a future world champion. The performance issues could potentially have been down to the radical changes to the cars made between 2016 to 2017, or due to the pressure that he may have felt having to try and compete with Alonso.

Earlier this year, Alonso leapt to Vandoorne’s defence and said that past team-mates have been “a lot further away” than him. He was stated that there was a major issue with downforce on Vandoorne’s car, and even urged the team to analyse data to try and resolve the issue.

A lot of scepticism greeted these comments, and many have suggested that Alonso was merely trying to convince us all that Vandoorne’s lack of performance has been the fault of outside factors.

The claims aren’t without substance though. Honda – who were ridiculed for three hapless years supplying McLaren, with reliability failures littered throughout the tenure – have worked very well for Toro Rosso this year, and McLaren have shown little improvement with the Renault engines they expected would take them much further up the field, suggesting a serious problem with the McLaren chassis.

Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium.
Sunday 26 August 2018.
Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren, arrives on the grid.
Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _2ST5204

This will be of little consolation to Vandoorne, because the circumstances of being in a poor car up against Alonso have still meant that his F1 future dangles on a string.

The car has, however, been very unreliable and slow. The Renault engines have not treated customer teams McLaren or Red Bull well at all this season, and Alonso said after the Italian Grand Prix that McLaren have “taken a step backwards” in terms of reliability this year. That being said, Vandoorne and Alonso have each had two reliability failures this year, and Alonso has still managed to easily out-perform him this year.

Where next for Vandoorne? There is still hope for him. Williams, Haas and Toro Rosso are all still yet to announce their driver line-ups for next year. There is no secure future for Brendon Hartley or Romain Grosjean after disappointing seasons thus far for them, having been out-performed by Pierre Gasly and Kevin Magnussen at Toro Rosso and Haas respectively.

Gasly is moving up to Red Bull to replace Renault-bound Daniel Ricciardo for next year, meaning that there are potentially two seats available at Toro Rosso, with Daniil Kvyat linked with a potential return to F1 with them.

Lance Stroll is set to move to Racing Point Force India following the buyout of the team by his father, and Sergey Sirotkin may yet be dropped by the British team. Sauber are set to keep Marcus Ericsson because of his funding, but Charles Leclerc may well be off to Ferrari if Kimi Raikkonen retires at the end of the year. Rumours are now floating around that Ferrari have agreed a deal with the Monegasque for next year.

Let’s not forget also that, as it is, Esteban Ocon – despite having done such a good job for Racing Point Force India – may well be forced out of the team if and when Stroll is signed to partner Sergio Perez because of the ownership by his father. That then means that he will also be looking for a team for next year.

There is yet hope for Vandoorne, but after such a torrid time with McLaren, his hopes of staying in the pinnacle of motorsport are hanging in the balance.

Lando Norris to replace Stoffel Vandoorne at McLaren for 2019

McLaren have signed up-and-coming British star Lando Norris as their second driver for 2019, alongside in-bound Carlos Sainz.

The 18-year old from Somerset will be replacing Stoffel Vandoorne, who was announced this morning to be leaving the team at the end of the season after two difficult years with them.

Norris won the prestigious McLaren Autosport BRDC Award in 2016, and the year after that claimed the FIA Formula 3 European Championship and joined the McLaren Young Driver Programme, before graduating to F2 for 2018, where he is currently embroiled in a battle for the title with fellow Brit George Russell.

Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium.
Thursday 23 August 2018.
Lando Norris, McLaren, lowers himself into his seat.
Photo: Sam Bloxham/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _J6I9762

His first taste of F1 came when he participated in the end of season test in Abu Dhabi in 2017. Since then, he has taken part in 2018 pre-season testing, the mid-season test in Hungary, and also in FP1 at both Spa and Monza.

“To be announced as a race driver for McLaren is a dream come true,” said Norris. “Although I’ve been part of the team for a while now, this is a special moment, one I could only hope would become reality.

“I’d like to thank the whole team for this amazing opportunity and for believing in me. I’m also extremely grateful for the commitment McLaren has already shown in my development, allowing me to build my experience in a Formula 1 car in both testing and on Fridays during the past two race weekends.”

McLaren CEO Zak Brown added, “We believe Lando is an exciting talent, full of potential, who we’ve very deliberately kept within the McLaren fold for exactly that reason.

“We already know he’s fast, he learns quickly, and has a mature head on his young shoulders. We see much potential for our future together. The investment we have made in his budding career with simulator development and seat-time in the car has been well-deserved, as he has continued to prove his abilities both behind the wheel and in his work with the engineering team.”

Monza, Italy.
Friday 31 August 2018.
Lando Norris, McLaren, with Tom Stallard, Engineer, McLaren, and Zak Brown, Executive Director, McLaren Technology Group.
Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _2ST6519

F1 2018: British Grand Prix Driver Ratings

Looking at the results, you wouldn’t have thought much happened during the British Grand Prix, but some action at the start and a couple of safety car periods spiced the race up. The final race of the triple-header in Europe saw Sebastian Vettel take the win.

The 2018 Formula One British GP winners; (left to right)Lewis 2nd, Seb winner and Kimi 3rd. Image courtesy of Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel – 9

There were pre-race doubts about Vettel’s fitness – he had tape put on his neck after FP3 – but the adrenaline kicked in and his start was beautiful, waving concerns away. All the action happened behind him. The safety cars late on in the race put him behind on the track but a great dive-bomb up the inside of Bottas sealed the win. Great victory as we head towards Germany next! 

 

Lewis Hamilton – 9

The Brit got a tardy start which he would come to regret, even if he ended the race in a position where he lost minimal amounts of points. There were some very interesting comments from him afterwards suggesting that tactics from Ferrari were what resulted in him being taken out, bringing back memories of Mexico 2017. Hamilton was the last car on track at the end of lap one, but like a knife through butter he carved his way through the field. A disappointing start, but if you look from lap two onwards it was a great race for him.

 

Kimi Raikkonen – 7

Raikkonen has finished on the podium at the last three races, but never on the top step. The Finn owned up to his coming-together with Hamilton, saying the incident at turn three was his fault and accepting the penalty handed to him. Team-mate Vettel stormed off into the distance, while Raikkonen couldn’t quite match Hamilton near the end of the race.

 

Valtteri Bottas – 8

The Mercedes team threw away the lead again today, deciding to keep Bottas out after the second safety car. Before that he was faster than Vettel, so on a level playing field Bottas could have beaten the German and taken the flag first. Much like in China and Baku, strategy from his team may have cost him the victory once again, even if it may have been tougher in Silverstone to remain in the lead. A great start made amends for a poor qualifying on Saturday, but he is clearly still playing second fiddle to Hamilton.

 

Daniel Ricciardo – 7

Silverstone turned out to be a track which highlighted the frailties of the Red Bull package. Roughly 80% of the track is spent at full throttle, and power isn’t exactly Red Bull’s strong point. Ricciardo was out qualified once again by Verstappen, with a DRS issue hampering his performance. He was great at defending against Raikkonen during the race but unfortunately the safety car came out at the wrong time for him, as he had already made a pit-stop two laps beforehand. The lack of speed along the straights prevented him from passing Bottas in the closing laps of the race.

 

Nico Hulkenburg – 8

Best of the rest and great haul of points for the German. Renault were the only team to use the hard tyre during the race, having worried about blistering on the other compounds, and the tactic worked brilliantly. Hulkenberg did supremely well to keep the pack behind him at the two safety car restarts.

 

Esteban Ocon – 7

Ocon is showing his worth a lot more this season compared to last, and provided a great result at for Force India at what is essentially the team’s home race, given that their factory is literally just over the road. Ocon made it through to the final part of qualifying, and kept the car in the top ten on Sunday. 

 

Fernando Alonso – 8

Alonso’s McLaren may lack pace on a Saturday but on a Sunday, in the hands of the Spaniard, it is one of the best in the midfield. He took advantage of the safety cars to pit for some fresh rubber, allowing him to get past Kevin Magnussen at the end. He may appear calm on the outside, but it isn’t hard to imagine that deep down all is still not well with the relationship between himself and McLaren.

Sebastian Vettel leads the 2018 British GP. Image courtesy of Ferrari

Kevin Magnussen – 7

Hampered by the first lap accident with his team-mate, Magnussen did well to score points considering the clash inflicted some damage to his car, which restricted his speed. He was one of few drivers not to pit under the safety car which pushed him down the order late on, but he managed to hold on to salvage some points.

 

Sergio Perez – 6

Much like Hamilton, Perez saw the field drive past him after contact on the first lap spun him at turn one. He recovered well and found himself in contention for the last point, which was ultimately claimed by Pierre Gasly Chafter a collision between the two near the end of the race. After the race, though, Gasly was awarded a five-second penalty for the incident, meaning Perez inherited P10 and the one point that comes with it.

 

Stoffel Vandoorne – 4

It was a quiet weekend in general for Vandoorne. He was a whopping 0.9 seconds slower than Alonso on Saturday, and with others making the decision to start the race from the pit-lane it meant he was the last on the grid. He finished the race in 12th, meaning he now hasn’t scored since Baku. Lando Norris in currently second in Formula 2 and is hotly tipped for a drive in F1 next year. It could well be this seat that he takes.

 

Lance Stroll – 5

Williams are currently the worst car on the grid, and unfortunately nothing put that more on show than Sunday’s race. Prior to the first safety car they were the only team to have been lapped, and Stroll made a mistake in qualifying which ended up his car being beached in the gravel.

 

Pierre Gasly – 7

Gasly had a good Sunday and initially finished tenth, a welcome result given that Toro Rosso been having a tough time of it recently. The Frenchman collided with Perez with a few laps to go, and a harsh time penalty given to him after the race pushed him down the field. Silverstone was a track which showed Honda’s deficit to the other manufacturers, but there are still promising signs and it was a far better day for Gasly than the results suggested.

 

Sergey Sirotkin – 5

Sirotkin, along with his team-mate, started the race from the pits after taking on new parts. Like Stroll, Sirotkin also made a mistake in qualifying, but managed to keep the car going and set a lap, albeit one that turned out to be the slowest of the session. Seeing the Williams team run plum last is such a shame to see.

 

Max Verstappen – 7

Verstappen may have been classified as a finisher, but a brake-by-wire issue ended his day late into the race. Ever-hungry, he was running in a solid podium position, but with the deficit of his Renault power-unit he was a sitting duck at the restarts. His defending to Raikkonen was brilliant.

 

Carlos Sainz – 5

A poor performance for Sainz both on Saturday and Sunday. A less-than-par qualifying session put him in the thick of the action, and he collided with Romain Grosjean. A weekend to forget for the Spaniard.

 

Romain Grosjean – 5

Will Austria be seen as a peak in Grosjean’s season? Three collisions in one weekend isn’t good enough. The first occurred in practice, with the second being the cardinal sin of hitting his team mate on the first lap. The third, a tangling with Sainz at Copse, ended his race. Grosjean should have lifted off the throttle, but he kept his foot buried, causing instability and ultimately the collision.

 

Marcus Ericcson – 6

Ericsson’s DRS didn’t close as he approached turn one during the race and he crashed heavily, bringing out the first safety car. The crash rounded out an unfortunate weekend for the Swede, after England took his country out of the World Cup the day before. He did, however, have great pace during qualifying and got through to Q2.

 

Charles Leclerc – 8

An unfortunate error in the pits for Sauber resulted in Leclerc’s rear tyre not being fitted properly and the team telling him to stop the car. He had made another Q3 appearance on Saturday and had been running seventh at the time of the error, which meant the loss of a potentially big haul of points.

 

Brendan Hartley – N/A

You can’t really comment on what a horrible weekend the Kiwi has had. The suspension failure on Saturday pretty much ended his weekend. He didn’t see any track action in qualifying, and a last minute problem starting from the pit lane resulted in retirement after one lap. None of it whatsoever was his fault.

Ferrari Media

There is now a two-week break before we head to Hockenheim in Germany, a track that we see appear every so often on the calendar. Vettel won on Hamilton’s home turf this weekend, but can Hamilton strike back with victory in Germany? Vettel hasn’t got a record like Hamilton at his home track, and has only won in Germany once in his Red Bull days. The summer break looms and, for drivers such as Grosjean and Vandoorne, the pressure increases.

Austrian Grand Prix: Bottas Claims First Pole of the Year

Image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Valtteri Bottas has claimed his first pole position of the year, and leads a Mercedes 1-2 into tomorrow’s Austrian Grand Prix.

Of the big-hitters, only Bottas and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen had a truly clean session. Both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel made mistakes early on – at turn three and turn four respectively – and ended up relatively far back after the first Q3 runs had been completed. It took until the last couple of minutes for the pair to pull themselves back up the order – Hamilton ultimately qualified P2, and Vettel P3, with both pushing Kimi Raikkonen down into P4. Vettel was noted as being under investigation for allegedly impeding Carlos Sainz in Q2, but since Sainz did advance to Q3 it is uncertain whether Vettel will receive any penalty.

Red Bull had expected qualifying to be a struggle compared to Mercedes and Ferrari coming into the weekend. Max Verstappen may have qualified P5 but he was still two tenths behind Raikkonen, and Daniel Ricciardo ended up P7 behind the Haas of an impressive Romain Grosjean. Replays of team radio throughout the session indicated a certain amount of tension in the team, with Ricciardo frustrated that Verstappen did not follow orders to lead the Australian for a lap and give him a tow, as Ricciardo had done for Verstappen the lap before.

Kevin Magnussen and the two Renaults of Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg complete the top ten.

Further down the order, Charles Leclerc continues to impress in the Sauber. He qualified P13 but carries a five-place grid penalty due to his gearbox needing to be changed following a stoppage on track in FP3.

Force India’s Sergio Perez had a nightmare of a session. The Mexican complained of running out of battery during his first run and of getting stuck in traffic during his second. He failed to make it out of Q1 and starts P17.

It was also a frustrating session for McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley. Both were looking to pull themselves out of the drop-zone and into Q2, but encountered yellow flags on their flying laps when Charles Leclerc ran through the gravel trap in the final moments of Q1.

Both Mercedes and Red Bull will start tomorrow’s Grand Prix on the supersoft tyres, with all those around them starting on the ultras. Bottas will be hoping to convert pole position into a win, at the circuit where he claimed his second ever victory in 2017.

Austrian Grand Prix Grid

1. Valtteri Bottas – 1:03.130

2. Lewis Hamilton – 1:03.149

3. Sebastian Vettel – 1:03.464

4. Kimi Raikkonen – 1:03.660

5. Max Verstappen – 1:03.840

6. Romain Grosjean – 1:03.892

7. Daniel Ricciardo – 1:03.996

8. Kevin Magnussen – 1:04.051

9. Carlos Sainz – 1:04.725

10. Nico Hulkenberg – 1:05.019

11. Esteban Ocon – 1:04.845

12. Pierre Gasly 0 1:04.874

13. Fernando Alonso – 1:05.058

14. Lance Stroll – 1:05.286

15. Stoffel Vandoorne – 1:05.271

16. Sergio Perez – 1:05.279

17. Sergey Sirotkin – 1:05.322

18. Charles Leclerc – 1:04.979 *5-place penalty for gearbox change

19. Brendon Hartley 1:05.366

20. Marcus Ericsson – 1:05.479

 

Update – 17:30 – Sebastian Vettel has been given a three-place penalty by the stewards for impeding Carlos Sainz at turn one in Q2. The German will now start P6, promoting Kimi Raikkonen to P3, Max Verstappen to P4, and Romain Grosjean to P5.