Singapore GP preview: Mercedes favourites at Marina Bay

Formula One heads to the streets of Singapore, for the start of the final flyaway leg of 2019 under the lights at Marina Bay.

Ferrari and Charles Leclerc head to Singapore on the crest of two wins on the bounce at Spa and Monza. But compared to those two high-speed circuits, Ferrari’s low downforce package won’t be anywhere near as effective on the tight Marina Bay Street Circuit.

As has been the case for most of the 2019 season, Mercedes is expected to be the team to beat this weekend. It was in Singapore last year, where Lewis Hamilton took pole position and the race win, that Mercedes finally seemed to understand what was needed to conquer one of its few “bogey” circuits. And judging by the fact Mercedes has won every street race since, there’s every reason for them to be confident about their chances on Sunday.

Paul Ripke / Mercedes AMG

However, Mercedes does have one shadow looming over them this weekend—engine reliability. Since introducing their Spec 3 power unit at Spa three weeks ago, Mercedes have seen uncharacteristic failures in the customer cars of Sergio Perez’s Racing Point and Robert Kubica’s Williams. So far the works team has had no blowouts of its own, but after two demanding power tracks and with Singapore’s reputation for testing cars to their limit, there’s no room for complacency.

The other threat to Mercedes this weekend comes in the form of Max Verstappen and Red Bull. Verstappen has run well in in Singapore in recent years, qualifying second in 2017 and 2018 and finishing runner-up to Hamilton last year.

With the Red Bull-Honda package improving with every race, it would be no surprise to see Verstappen duelling with Hamilton for his third win of the season.

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

As always, the difficulty and unpredictability of Singapore will provide the midfield teams with plenty of opportunities to sneak away with big points hauls.

Renault took a double points finish at Marina Bay last year, but their RS19 has been much more at home on high speed and lower downforce tracks this year. Given their results from slower tracks like Monaco and Hungary, Renault will likely find themselves scrapping with or even behind the likes of McLaren, Alfa Romeo and Toro Rosso this weekend.

Haas will also be bracing themselves for another tough Grand Prix on Sunday. Although their prolonged dispute with former title sponsors Rich Energy has finally come to an end, their struggles with tyre degradation certainly have not. And in the heat of Singapore, there aren’t many worse problems to have.

However, Haas and Renault can both take some optimism from the fact that this is the Singapore Grand Prix. With tempers running high and the walls never far away, Singapore is the place where anything can happen.

Haas F1 Media

Ilott given Barcelona F1 test debut with Alfa Romeo

Ferrari academy driver Callum Ilott will make his Formula One test debut in May with Alfa Romeo, at the in-season test following the Spanish Grand Prix.

Ilott will complete a day of running in the Alfa Romeo C38, and will be Ferrari’s second junior to get an F1 testing opportunity with the Swiss team following Mick Schumacher’s test debut in Bahrain next week. The Barcelona test will mark Ilott’s first on-track experience driving a F1 car.

Glenn Dunbar / FIA F2 Championship

Alfa Romeo team principal Frederic Vasseur said: “We are very pleased to announce that Mick Schumacher and Callum Ilott will each complete a rookie test day for Alfa Romeo Racing.

“It is in our DNA to spot and nurture young talents. Mick and Callum are perfect examples of determined and skilled racers who deserve to be given the chance to take the next steps in their careers.”

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto added that opportunities for F1 test experience for Ilott and Schumacher would be “very useful at this stage in their career”. Ilott tweeted that it was a “really proud moment” to be selected by Alfa Romeo.

Mick Schumacher to make F1 test debut in Bahrain

Mick Schumacher will drive for Ferrari and Alfa Romeo in the upcoming in-season test in Bahrain, after this weekend’s Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit.

Joe Portlock / FIA F2 Championship

The 19-year-old son of 7-time world champion Michael Schumacher will compete in the F2 championship this season, with the Prema team.

His career started in karting in 2011, where he did not race under his real surname, and he had the nickname ‘Mick Junior’.

Schumacher moved to the ADAC Formula 4 championship, in 2015, after testing the single-seater in 2014. His tenure with the Jenzer Motorsport outfit saw him take one win in 22 races, and 10th in the drivers’ standings.

In 2017, Mick made the next step in his career, driving in European Formula 3, with Prema. After a sub-par season, claiming just one podium, Schumacher pushed through and, in 2018, he drove phenomenally, clinching the title with 8 wins and 7 pole positions.

Glenn Dunbar / FIA F2 Championship

Late in 2018, it was announced that he will graduate to the F2 championship with Prema, and early in 2019 Scuderia Ferrari took him under its wing, adding him to its Young Driver Academy.

This gives him the opportunity to drive Ferrari’s SF90 and Alfa Romeo’s C38 next week, in the young drivers’ test in Bahrain.

That will be the first time the Schumacher name will appear in an F1 session since his father’s retirement at the end of 2012.

Top ten F1 test liveries

It’s that time of the year – no, we’re not talking about the climate: no, this is about that special time when the garages are open, the engines are growling and racing tracks are once again put to good use.

But even earlier than this week, we had a few shakedown tests. The prequel to the pre-season, if you will. And two teams decided to treat us to some special liveries to mark the occasion – Red Bull and Alfa Romeo both ran unique testing liveries, masking their cars’ intricacies while offering the fans a welcome shot of variety.

But with them both joining the long line of testing liveries, can they be considered to be up there with the best of them? We’ll be ranking our top ten favourite test liveries, from eras far gone to the present day.

10 – Renault, 2002 pre-season testing

When we think back to Renault’s F1 beginnings, the original turbo era comes to mind. Alain Prost, unreliability, and yellow, white and black liveries were the main elements of Renault’s roots.

To celebrate their finally outright owning an F1 team for the first time since then the French manufacturer paid homage to their old-style liveries (no black though). Basic yet sleek, it would eventually be spruced up with dashes of blue.

9 – BAR, 2006 Friday running

Alright, so this one isn’t actually pre-season testing. But this unique 555 livery (part of British American Tobacco, team owners) replacing the usual Lucky Strike branding was a splendid sight to see.

It was used for Friday practice running, when third cars were permitted to be used by certain teams – Anthony Davidson was running the car in these colours at the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix.

8 – Red Bull, 2015 pre-season testing

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Red Bull are no strangers to this ‘unique livery’ thing – they’ve done it four times now, and that’s excluding the one-off liveries they’ve tried out for size in races (the stunning Wings For Life designs in particular).

This black-and-white camo livery for 2015 was never going to be used full-time, as it was intended to hide important aspects of the car away from prying eyes. Not that it was all that useful, at least in this case; Red Bull came fourth in the 2015 standings.

7 – Spyker, 2007 pre-season testing

Spyker’s one-season stint in F1 may not have been bright, but their originally intended test livery certainly was. The strongest of orange tones, the Spyker in anything nearing sunny weather ended up looking red – not the result Spyker wanted.

The faux-Ferrari paint job was thrown to the scrapheap, in favour of a lighter shade of orange that would perfectly showcase the team’s Dutch flair. Fun Fact: they once led a race, Markus Winkelhock in the 2007 European Grand Prix.

6 – Williams, 2014 pre-season testing

Williams, for the last five years, have adorned a striking white Martini livery. It’s easy to forget that the Grove outfit’s adopted colour is actually blue – last seen on 2014’s barnstorming FW36.

The Martini deal was still to be negotiated when 2014 testing commenced, and so Williams ran this simple yet fetching dark blue design, signalling a back to basics approach that propelled the team back to the top of the grid. If they’ll ever get there again, we’ll have to see…

5 – Alfa Romeo, 2019 shakedown

One of the two unique new designs we saw break this week, Alfa Romeo Racing’s hearts and clovers paint scheme was a reference to both Valentine’s Day and the team’s historic emblem.

The Hinwil-based team, finally ditching the iconic Sauber name for 2019, are hoping to make progress on their promising 2018 campaign. With a radical new design, maybe those hearts adorning it in the shakedown with foreshadow a lovely season ahead.

4 – McLaren, 2005 pre-season testing

McLaren brought back the iconic papaya colour schemes back full-time in 2017, but for many years the paint job was only used for test outings, like their 2005 title contender, MP4-20.

The striking presence the bright papaya gave was a stark contrast to the usual chrome and black McLaren were so synonymous for running in the Mercedes era, and it was always a refreshing sight.

3 – Red Bull, 2019 shakedown

The Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB15. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull, as stated earlier, are no newbies to trying out a unique testing livery. This year’s such example centered around a striking red and dark blue combo, with everything made up of camo-esque lines designed to throw off prying eyes.

It marked the dawn of the Honda era, with Red Bull breaking away from previous suppliers Renault after a 12-year partnership. Can the Japanese manufacturer bounce back from their pain with McLaren, and create a winning combo with Red Bull?

2 – Renault, 2016 pre-season testing

The 2016 pre-season marked the third time Renaut would outright own its own F1 team (funnily enough, they re-purchased the team they sold to Genii Capital in 2010). And as such, they went back to basics with their livery.

2002’s homage missed out the black; 2016’s test livery was almost nothing but. There were yellow accents, but otherwise it was a smooth black paint job. When it came to actually racing the thing, Renault simply inverted the black and yellow colours.

1 – Red Bull, 2018 shakedown

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Finding a top pick for this list was a hard one – the simplicity of the 2016 Renault, and the novelty of this year’s Red Bull were tempting, but it’s their design from last year that wins out.

The digital camo, designed in blue and grey, looks both menacing and stylish. It also compliments the car, helping to hide the halo while accentuating the main features of the body. It’s just a shame it was only used for one day…

Featured image courtesy of Getty images / RedBull Content Pool

F1 2019: Five early predictions for the new season

The 2019 F1 season is almost upon us, with winter testing starting in a couple of weeks and the Australian Grand Prix commencing next month. It’s the perfect time for five early predictions, some of which are pretty long shots.

 

1. Charles Leclerc will take three wins

Ferrari has a new kid on the block. Charles Leclerc spent his rookie season at Sauber, but from 2019 it’s time for his dream to come true. That could prove to be immensely stressful for the young Monegasque, but he may rise to the occasion and even take some wins. If Ferrari is at least on the same level as it was in 2018, then Leclerc could be able to snatch one, two, or even threewins in his first season with a big team, cementing his position at Maranello and proving his talent once again.

 

2. Nico Hulkenberg will take his first podium

It’s something of a mystery how Nico Hulkenberg, a driver who has been in teams with podium potential, has never finished in the top three. But, with Renault constantly improving and with a bit of luck (after all, it is needed as well), the Hulk could finally take that podium finish he truly deserves.

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Renault Sport F1 Team on the grid.
German Grand Prix, Sunday 22nd July 2018. Hockenheim, Germany.

 

3. Red Bull-Honda will not be in the top three

The all-new collaboration between Red Bull and Honda is one of the hottest topics ahead of the new season, and rightfully so. Honda has proven to be a bit of a ‘wild one’, especially on the reliability front, and Red Bull could be its next victim. Everyone acknowledges the fact that Red Bull is great in designing an aerodymanically efficient car (Adrian Newey is still the best out there), but this could not be enough for them to stay in the top three. Maybe Renault could step up…

 

4. Alfa Romeo Racing will be in the top five

The Alfa Romeo-Sauber collaboration worked out perfectly for both sides during the 2018 campaign, with the team finishing seventh in the final standings. Now, with the all-new Alfa Romeo branding, Kimi Raikkonen on board and excellent technical staff, the prospect of them finishing in the top five is not such an absurd thought. After all, the backing from ‘sister’ team Ferrari is certain and could prove vital.

Charles Leclerc, Alfa Romeo Sauber C37 at Formula One World Championship, Rd20, Brazilian Grand Prix, Race, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday 11 November 2018.

 

5. Mercedes will not be champions

Finally, the most bold of these predictions sees Mercedes not taking its sixth world championship in a row as a constryctor. Maybe Lewis Hamilton will be the drivers’ champion, but his team may be hurt by Valtteri Bottas’ incompetence. Ferrari has, on paper at least, a strong line-up, and so does Red Bull and Renault (if we count the French team as a real threat), so Mercedes is really on the ropes on this one.

 

Less than 40 days remain until the season opener in Albert Park, and the nine-month journey around the world begins for the F1 circus.

 

[Featured image: Ferrari Media]

Sauber renamed Alfa Romeo Racing for 2019

The team previously known as Sauber Alfa Romeo F1 Team has announced its renaming as Alfa Romeo Racing ahead of the 2019 season.

A partnership between Sauber and Alfa Romeo was forged prior to 2018, and resulted in the team finishing P8 in the constructors’ championship thanks to the efforts of its drivers Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson.

Today’s announcement, however, means that the Sauber name will disappear from the F1 grid after 25 years in the sport. It first appeared back in 1993, and survived even when BMW bought the team in 2006.

“It is a pleasure to announce that we will enter the 2019 Formula One World Championship with the Team name Alfa Romeo Racing,” said team principal Frederic Vasseur. “After initiating the collaboration with our title sponsor Alfa Romeo in 2018, our team made fantastic progress on the technical, commercial and sporting side.

“This has given a boost of motivation to each team member, be that track-side or at the headquarter in Switzerland, as the hard work invested has become reflected in our results. We aim to continue developing every sector of our team while allowing our passion for racing, technology and design to drive us forward.”

Charles Leclerc, Alfa Romeo Sauber C37 at Formula One World Championship, Rd20, Brazilian Grand Prix, Practice, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday 9 November 2018.

Alfa Romeo was last involved in F1 back in 1985, and is best known for its title-winning campaigns in F1’s first two seasons in 1950 and 1951. In 2019, its drivers will be 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen, and Ferrari junior Antonio Giovinazzi.

Michael Manley, CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automotives, said, “Alfa Romeo Racing is a new name with a long history in Formula One. We’re proud to collaborate with Sauber in bringing Alfa Romeo’s tradition of technical excellence and Italian panache to the pinnacle of motorsport.

“Make no mistake: with Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi on one side of the pit wall and Alfa Romeo and Sauber expertise on the other, we are here to compete.”

 

[Featured image – Alfa Romeo Racing]

The Factory – Alfa Romeo

(c) Logo courtesy of and licensed to Alfa Romeo part of the Fiat Group

In my second The Factory feature I will take a look at Alfa Romeo. I can feel the confusion from you the reader now at the fact that this feature is supposed to concentrate on current constructors in the world of racing. Alfa Romeo aren’t racing next year! Some cry – I wouldn’t be so sure about that. Read on…..

It was in 1911 when Alfa Romeo first began to race competitively, the Targa Florio. Two years later they would finish second in the Parm-Paggio Berceto race with Nino Franchini.

During the 1920s and 1930s Alfa Romeo received success, Giuseppe Campari would win at Mugello in 1920 with Enzo Ferrari finishing second in the Targa Florio that year also. There was another Mugello win the following year with Campari at the wheel and in 1923 Ugo Sivocci won the Targa Florio.

Alfa Romeo wanted to press forward, they knew that they had to keep developing and improving to make their mark in the racing world and so in 1923 Vittorio Jano moved from Fiat to the factory to design their Grand Prix racing cars.

In 1925 they would win their first world title, the first AIACR World Manufacturers’ Championship with wins at the European Grand Prix at Spa and the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

The factory continued to be competitive moving into the 1930’s, in 1932 Tazio Nuvolari and Rudolf Caracciola won five Grand Prix’s between them, but it was in 1933 that Alfa Romeo would recall all its racing cars, close the factory doors and transferred all their assets, with the insistence of the Italian government, to Enzo Ferrari who was now running a privatised factory team called Scuderia Ferrari.

With the cars moved to Ferrari Louis Chiron went on to win the French Grand Prix in 1934 and the Alfa car won 18 or 35 races in Europe. The Silver Arrows were beginning to outclass Alfa Romeo but Nuvolari did hit back by beating the Germans in the own backyard at the Nurburgring in 1935.

Alfa Romeo commanded the Targa Florio, winning six times in a row during the 1930s and also taking the Mille Miglia, with the exception of 1931, every year from 1928 to 1938.

With their 8C 2300 car, Alfa Romeo would also win the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1931 to 1934, moving them swiftly onto the sportscar scene.

They developed their sportscar programme in 1963, taking class wins in races and developed a new 90 degree V8 engine, designed by Carlo Chiti and this was to compete with the dominant Porsche team. They raced in the World Sportscar Championship from 1967 to 1977 taking two world titles (1975 and 1977).

As a Formula One constructor and engine supplier Alfa Romeo took two Drivers’ Championships (1950 and 1951) and would compete in F1 from 1950 until 1988. As a constructor Alfa Romeo pulled out of Formula One at the end of 1951, after their second title, but would supply F1 teams during the 1960s, with their V8 engine run by McLaren and March during the 1970s. Brabham took Alfa Romeo engines from 1976 until 1979 and they also supplied Osella from 1983 until 1988.

They did re-enter Formula One as a constructor themselves from 1979 until 1985 and in 1987 had struck a deal to supply Ligier until Fiat took over Alfa Romeo and that contract fell through.

As a constructor, Alfa Romeo entered 110 races, winning 10. They attained 26 podiums, 12 pole positions and 14 fastest laps to go with their two world titles. Drivers to have raced for the team include, Nino Farina, Juan Manuel Fangio, Bruno Giacomelli, Mario Andretti, Andrea de Cesaris, Eddie Cheever and Riccardo Patrese.

The factory has had major success in Formula Three, Michele Alboreto for example won the European F3 title in a March-Alfa Romeo and from 1980 to 1984 they won four consecutive Italian F3 titles.

In 1989 Alfa Romeo entered IndyCar, the engine developed using the unraced Ferrari 637 indy car. They recorded no podiums, no poles and no race wins, eventually pulling out of IndyCar in 1991.

They skirted with rally, the Giulietta won the 1958 1000 Lakes Rally, they also went on to secure victories in the Elba and Costa Brava rallies in 1975 winning the Group 2 category in the WRC Tour de Corse. They produced the GTV6, one of the fastest Group A rally cars, but this was reclassified as a Group B by the FIA at the end of the 1986 and was less competitive.

It was in Touring Cars where Alfa Romeo found most of their success, taking numerous ETCC titles, Trans-Am Championships, BTCC, DTM and winning the Bathurst 12 Hour.

Now part of the Fiat group, there has been much talk over the last few years of an Alfa Romeo return to Formula One, but nothing concrete and no deal with the FIA was forged to see the marque return.

Alfa Romeo are now again competing in the new TCR Series where the Giulietta has taken race wins during the 2017 season.

It is, however, returning to touring cars for 2018, be it through a dealer team entry. An Alfa Romeo Giulietta will once again be on the British Touring Car grid next season with Handy Motorsport. The front-wheel drive Giulietta will be fitted with a BTCC TOCA engine in its first season, but a bespoke unit could be developed in the future. The last time Alfa Romeo appeared on the grid in BTCC was 2007. It is not a full factory entry but Alfa Romeo’s 62 strong dealership network in the UK have been encouraged to support the project.

So we have an Alfa Romeo, semi-factory, car back on the grid for next season. It is hoped that this is just the beginning of a return to racing for this historic marque. 

“La meccanica delle emozioni” 

Alfa Romeo has won the following major victories and championships:

5 – World Championships (1925, 1950, 1951, 1975, 1977)

11 –  Mille Miglia (1928,1929,1930,1932,1933,1934,1935,1936,1937,1938,1947)

10 – Targa Florio (1923,1930,1931,1932,1933,1934,1935,1950,1971,1975)

4 – 24 Hours of Le Mans (1931, 1932, 1933, 1934)

17 – European Touring Car Championships (1966, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1976 (Divisions 1 and 2), 1977 (Divisions 1 and 3), 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004)

9 – Makes Championship

4 – Drivers’ Championships

10 – Italian F3 Championships

10 – European F3 Championships (1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990)

5 – European F3 Cups

7 – French F3 Championships (1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1989)

2 – German F3 Championships (1984, 1989)

3 – Giro Automobilistico d’Italia (1954, 1988, 1989)

2 – Trans-Am Championship (1966, 1970)

1 – Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft (DTM) (1993)

2 – British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) (1983, 1994)

5 – Spanish Touring Car Championship (1988, 1991, 1994, 1995, 1997)

2 – French Touring Car Championship (1983, 1984)

6 – Italian Superturismo Championship (1988, 1992, 1998, 1999, 2003, 2004)

7 – European Historical Gran Turismo Championships

4 – European Classic Touring Car Championships

3 – Bathurst Unique Fuel Championships 

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing