After what felt like an extremely long time, Formula 1 is back with a street race in Baku. However, while the winner and fastest team may be predictable, the weekend format has changed. There will be six sprint weekends this season, starting with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, but after a vote, the sprint weekend format is drastically different.
For those that didn’t know, there was rumour and discussions amongst the teams regarding the structure of a sprint weekend from the start of the season. A vote was taken and it has been decided that qualifying for Sunday’s race will be on Friday with Saturday becoming ‘Sprint Saturdays’.
A one-hour Sprint Shootout will determine the grid for the Sprint just a few hours later. This makes Saturday a stand-alone day meaning teams don’t have to worry about where they finish affecting them for Sunday’s Grand Prix.
The reason for this is that Pirelli hasn’t been able to make enough tyres for the season so this is the solution Formula 1 has come up with. Another reason will likely be in the name of entertainment for the viewer.
There will be many opinions floating around about the changes, but this will be the format for all six events this year so we will have to wait until the last one to see if this is a format that will work for Formula 1 in the future.
Introducing… Sprint Saturday ✨
🗓️ All-new weekend format 👀 Saturday's Sprint sessions do not affect the Grand Prix ⏱️ Friday's qualifying sets Sunday's grid 🆕 New Sprint Shootout qualifying session
It has been a month since we last saw the teams take to the track in Melbourne for what ended up being a chaotic race with many controversies and lots to talk about. However, we are now back on the streets of Baku but the results could be a familiar story.
Red Bull will likely be very dominant again with their overall raw pace. But in the break, other teams have been able to go away and develop their cars because, unlike in the summer, there has been no mandatory factory shutdown.
With this in mind we could see Alonso push his way past the Mercedes, or will they have done enough to stay ahead? George Russell has said there will be plenty of changes to the car for this race.
For those long-suffering Ferrari fans they will have their fingers crossed the team managed to pull out some development to make their car and strategy more reliable, while McLaren fans will be hoping for more pace. There are many reasons to watch this weekend but the progression of some teams will go unnoticed but is worth keeping an eye on.
Verstappen wins a chaotic Australian Grand Prix under very confusing circumstances. Hamilton finished P2 in a mixed day for the team while Alonso finished in P3 for the third time this season despite nearly being taken out of the race by Sainz in a dramatic restart towards the end of the race.
Lights out and Verstappen came straight across to cover off the advances of Russell, but his attempt was not successful. The reigning world champion did appear to exercise some caution with a slower exit from turn two. He seemed to be struggling.
Behind them, Leclerc had made a good start but Stroll was coming up close behind him. Leclerc turned into turn three but Stroll had taken the apex of the corner and tapped his rear right-hand side. Leclerc went for a spin and ended up in the gravel, ending his race prematurely.
At the same time, Verstappen leaves enough gap for Hamilton to be alongside him into turn three. It was a brave move from the seven-time world champion but he makes it through the inside of Verstappen. There were a few complaints on the radio but everything was deemed a lap one racing incident.
The safety car was deployed with a Mercedes one-two. On the restart, Russell made sure he pulled a gap to his teammate and the now-frustrated Verstappen. Everyone got a clean lap with Hamilton and Verstappen closing gradually on Russell. The driver from Kingslynn was on the radio asking if he is to defend against his teammate or preserve his tyres but he was answered when they called him into the pits for a new set of hard tyres. Russell came out in P7 on lap 6, but just one lap later it would prove to be the wrong decision.
Albon lit up the rear tyres into turns six and seven and spun straight into the barrier, projecting gravel all over the track. Albon was out and initially, the safety car was deployed. But the FIA needed time to get rid of the gravel on the track and brought out the red flag.
This gave everyone a free choice of tyres before the restart but was unfortunate timing for Russell. They rolled out on the formation lap before lining up on the grid for the restart. Russell was down in P7 with work to do while Hamilton was in P1 with Verstappen alongside.
Most drivers were on hard tyres so at the restart it was obvious they couldn’t get the immediate grip they wanted. Verstappen struggled again with the standing start but Alonso backed out of a move on the outside of turn one due to the lack of temperature in his tyres.
The lead for Hamilton wouldn’t last long though. On lap 12 Verstappen had DRS and a superior pace around the outside of Hamilton to take the lead of the race. Meanwhile, behind them, the other Mercedes made his way up into P4, past Gasly.
Sainz and Perez were also making their way through the pack. Sainz made turn three his new favourite overtaking spot but getting past Norris and then Tsunoda in consecutive laps. Perez used his extra pace to make it up to P13 before the next major incident.
Without warning, on lap 19, flames began to spit out the back of Russell’s car. Mercedes later suggested it was a power unit failure. However, Russell was able to safely stop at the end of the pitlane and get out of the car. This brought out a Virtual Safety Car and closed the pitlane. Therefore there were no changes of tyres for anyone and the race got back underway once the flames had been put out.
Perez continued his good form by making it into the points with a fantastic double move on Piastri and Tsunoda on lap 23. Piastri and Tsunoda had been battling for the majority of the race at this point, so when Piastri finally made the move on the Alpha Tauri on lap 29, the home crowd roared.
By lap 32 the race had settled into business as usual. Verstappen was setting consistent fastest laps, but Perez was able to make the most of DRS zones and get his name on the fastest lap board. Hamilton and Alonso then entered the fastest lap chat as they closed the gap to Verstappen.
At this point, the teams were considering a second stop due to potentially being on the hard tyres for 49 laps by the end of the race. The battle was mostly between Aston Martin and Mercedes trying to work out who would jump first.
However, their questions were answered when, in a strange incident, Magnussen lost his rear right tyre. It appeared that on the exit of turn two, he just went too wide and hit the wall, losing his tyre and bringing out another safety car, and eventually the red flag two laps later.
It was all set up then for a two-lap sprint to the finish with everyone changing to soft tyres. It would be another standing start as stipulated in the rules. As the cars lined up on the grid it looked as though Verstappen was very far forward in his box. He was however his wheels were still on the line and therefore in the box.
Absolute chaos ensued at the restart. Verstappen got away well with Hamilton hanging on the P2. Behind the Sainz had made a good start but he hit the rear of Alonso in front causing the Aston to spin on the exit of turn two.
Behind them, Gasly locked up into turn one and ended up across the grass before getting back on the track. As he arrived on the track he didn’t see the car of his teammate on the outside of turn two. Gasly veered back to the racing line but collided with Ocon pushing both into the wall and out of the race.
Perez also took a trip across the gravel but made it out safely, while at the back Sargent locked up into the back of De Vries. Both got stuck in the gravel and were out of the race. Unsurprisingly the red flag was deployed again but this led to some confusion about restarting for a fourth time.
With everyone back in the pitlane the clock was on lap 58 of 58, meaning only one racing lap left. Any laps behind the safety car count as racing laps so it appeared the race would finish behind the safety car, but the question was what order would the cars be in.
At the British Grand Prix in 2022, the red flag came out before the cars had made it through sector one so they went back to the last known order of the cars, the grid. This was a similar situation. The red flag came out before Verstappen made it to turn five, meaning they didn’t have any timings for drivers after the restart and would have to go back to the order from the grid on lap 57.
Once the crashed cars had been taken out of this grid order, it meant that Alonso was back up in P3 with Sainz in P4, Piastri in the points and Hulkenberg down in P8. This frustrated Haas as Hulkenberg was up in P4 after the carnage at the start. To rub salt in the wound for them, Sainz was given a five-second time penalty for causing a collision with Alonso.
After a re-shuffle of the cars in the pitlane, they headed out on the final lap. At the end, the safety car peeled off and Verstappen took the chequered flag with Hamilton in P2 and Alonso in P3. Sainz attempted to create a small gap but with the cars bunched up he dropped to the back of the pack and out of the points.
Only 12 cars finished the race and McLaren managed to capitalise on this with both cars getting points. Piastri was extremely happy to get his first points in F1 in his first home race and he gave plenty for the home fans to cheer about after a long race day.
We now wait until the end of April for the next race, but I imagine this won’t be the last we hear of the restart procedure for that time.
Showcased in London, Alpine’s new A523 was shown in not one, but two liveries.
The two liveries are very similar to last year. One is a mixture of blue, black and pink and will be run for the majority of the season. For Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Australia, however, Alpine will run a fully pink livery for sponsor BWT.
In comparison to the 2022 car and livery, there are very minimal changes. There was a bit more blue added to the front wing with more carbon being exposed, more than likely due to the weight of the car. The sidepods and floor have also changed a little bit according to the images.
Speaking about the car, the technical director at Alpine Matt Harman said, “These days are of course limited and not representative, but we’ve certainly had a great day and we now look forward to testing in Bahrain where we expect to continue our learning of the 2023 car.”
Speaking at the launch, Pierre Gasly, who has joined Alpine after leaving Alpha Tauri, said, “I’m extremely excited. Its a beautiful car. It’s a new beginning for me. A start of a new journey.”
Team Principal of Alpine Otmar Szafnauer said that the plan for the year is, “Less DNFs, more points, hopefully some podiums, a lot closer to 3rd and further away from 5th than we were in 2022.”
Speaking about last season, Pierre Gasly added, “Alpine has a fantastic season last year… The target is to consolidate 4th in the championship and close the gap to the top 3.”
Esteban Ocon said, “We are all very proud of the work that we have achieved and the little bonus that we drove the car already.”
Alpine conducted their shakedown on Monday and will head to Bahrain with the other teams next week to do three days of pre season testing before the first race of the season the following week.
Verstappen takes a dominant win in the final race of the season while his teammate misses out on vice champion by just three points to Leclerc after a split in strategies for the Red Bulls. Sebastian Vettel got driver of the day as he closed out his F1 career by finishing in the points.
They lined up on the grid with last-day-of-term feelings echoing throughout the fandom. At lights out Perez got away well going side by side with his teammate into turn one but backing out before turn two. Behind them, Sainz had gotten a poor start allowing Hamilton past while Russell had let Norris through into turn one.
Hamilton did set his sights on the other Ferrari but was caught by Sainz towards the chicane at turn six. Sainz dived down the inside, and Hamilton went wide, bouncing over the sausage curb before getting ahead of Sainz again. The stewards noted the incident and after what sounded like some bargaining, eventually Hamilton had to give the place back.
This wasn’t too last long as just one lap later Hamilton was all over the back of Sainz. Making a move around turn nine Hamilton made the move stick. He was expected to pull away, but it appeared that the lap one incident may have damaged the Mercedes as he began to lose a bit of power. By lap nine he had been overtaken by Sainz and his teammate.
On lap 12 Vettel found himself in an Alpine sandwich, fighting hard with Ocon in front but not quite able to make a move stick. This allowed Norris to focus on his driving and strategy to stay in the fight for P4 in the constructor’s championship.
This led to an epic three-lap-long battle between the drivers before Ocon went in for his first stop. This allowed Vettel to open up a gap to Alonso and was, at one point, in P4 on the track after others around him stopped for the first time during the race.
While these stops were happening, Russell came in but had a slow stop with an issue on the rear right. He eventually was released into the path of Norris which was immediately investigated. Russell ended up with a five-second time penalty which he had to take at his next stop.
Lap 28 is where it all unravelled for Alonso. He had pitted for a new set of hard tyres but sadly he wouldn’t make it as he retired from the race with a suspected water leak. This would mark the end of his third stint at the Enstone-based team before moving to Aston Martin for 2023.
At the front, there was lots of discussion about strategy, with the teams opting to split between cars. By lap 34, when Perez pitted for the second time. Verstappen, Leclerc and Hamilton, the top three, were on one-stop while their teammates were being kept on two-stop strategies.
So on lap 38, Leclerc in P2 was a confirmed one-stopper, and Perez was now in P6 with a 15-second gap to his rival and 20 laps to go. However, he was catching the Ferrari at a pace of about six-tenths per lap, and with four cars between them, it looked like it would be impossible.
Just as we were about to settle in to watch Perez catch Leclerc, a yellow flag was waved in sector two for Schumacher and Latifi who had both gone for a spin. Schumacher tapped the back of Latifi who appeared to be braking early into the corner. Both cars got back underway so there was no safety car needed. Schumacher got a five-second time penalty and Latifi eventually retired from the race.
Towards the closing stages of the race, Perez had made his way back up to P4 with only Hamilton between him and Leclerc. Perez, with more speed, made a good move down the inside of the Mercedes into turn six, but Hamilton had DRS going down the next straight and took the place back. It wasn’t too last long for the brit though as Perez made the move stick around turn nine. The Red Bull now had Leclerc in his sights with 10 laps to go.
In the final few laps, Perez was only three seconds behind Leclerc and it was going to be very tight. But at the same time, Hamilton’s gearbox let go and he was forced to retire on lap 56 of 58. This was Mercedes’s first and only mechanical retirement of 2022.
On the final lap, as Verstappen rounded the corner to take his 15th win of the year, Perez was not quite close enough to Leclerc meaning he had to settle for P3 while the Ferrari man celebrated taking vice champion status. This also meant that Ferrari kept their P2 place in the constructors.
In the battle for P4 between McLaren and Alpine, despite a car retiring, the French team kept ahead by 14 points. Norris did get an extra fastest lap point but sadly for them, Ocon finished P7 which was enough for Alpine.
There were the now obligatory doughnuts at the end from Verstappen, Leclerc and Perez. Ricciardo did them at turn none and Vettel came down to the main straight after everyone else had finished completing their set. There was not a dry eye in the house after his interview with Jenson Button knowing that he has now completed his F1 career… although many drivers believe he will be back.
The 2022 season is over, 22 races officially complete… Only 105 days until Bahrain.
The penultimate round of the season takes us to São Paulo for the Brazilian Grand Prix where we see the final sprint race of 2022. For Verstappen this year there is no threat as both championships are sealed, but further down the grid, everything is to play for.
The Best of the Rest is Up for Grabs
Alpine and McLaren have been locked in a battle all season for P4 in the constructor’s championship but in the last few races, with an improvement in Ricciardo’s performances and Alpine’s reliability problems, the gap has closed to just seven points.
McLaren will be doing everything in their power to get ahead of the French time in the last doubleheader and a sprint race may be what they need to gain extra points.
Behind them, Aston Martin sits just four points back from Alfa Romeo in P6 while Haas is clinging on to P8 by just one point from AlphaTauri. As we get into the last two rounds of the season every point for these teams will be crucial and reliability issues or driver errors could make the difference in the vital prize money awarded to each team.
Another factor playing on the minds at AlphaTauri for the last two rounds will be the number of penalty points Gasly has gained. He now has 10 points, five of which were given in the last three rounds.
In Japan he was penalised for speeding under red flag conditions, he was more than 10 car lengths behind the car in front of him during the safety car period in Austin and in Mexico, he was given another point for leaving the track and gaining and advantage in a battle with Lance Stroll.
The French driver is now only two points away from an automatic race ban so he will need to be weary in Brazil so he can compete in the last race at Abu Dhabi. Additionally, these points take a full year to be erased from his license, which means a potential race ban will hang over him until May 2023 at his new team, Alpine. Not an ideal start to a new season with a new team.
The 2023 Driver Line-up is Not Complete
The majority of the grid for next season has been decided, however, the future still seems uncertain for Hass and Riccardo as we are yet to have any official announcements for their plans next year.
Haas have not confirmed the driver taking the seat alongside Magnussen however the options look pretty clear. It appears a straight choice between Mick Schumacher and Nico Hulkenberg who both appear to be at a loose end for next season.
Schumacher’s Ferrari contract will run out at the end of the 2022 season and has not been renewed. Further to this, he has made a few driver errors over the last few years and Gunther Stainer has been candid and said that they cost the small team huge amounts of money in spare parts.
Hulkenberg looks to be untied from the Aston Martin outfit as he was not mentioned in the Vandoorne announcement a few weeks ago. With experience, this could be a good fit for the Banbury-based team, but he hasn’t had a full-time drive since 2019 and could be expensive in terms of salary for Haas.
We are expecting confirmations before the end of the season so it is worth keeping an eye out for those.
Max Verstappen became the first man in Formula One history to win fourteen races in a season with victory at the Mexican Grand Prix, as the Mercedes challenge failed to materialise on race day.
A different tyre strategy gave Mercedes hope of a first victory of the season, but Lewis Hamilton had to settle for second once again, with Sergio Perez coming home in third place.
The start of the race turned out to be crucial, with pole position traditionally not the best at this circuit due to the 800m run towards turn one. Red Bull started Verstappen and Perez on the softs to give themselves the best chance versus the medium-shod Mercedes cars, and it worked out with Verstappen able to retain the lead, and Perez able to get ahead of Russell. Barring pitstops, it remained that way in the top four, with Ferrari unable to challenge in what was the Italian squad’s slowest weekend of the season.
Given the high altitude nature of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez stretches the cars’ cooling to the limit, it was perhaps unsurprising to see the field managing their cars throughout the early stages. Despite this, Red Bull weren’t able to stretch their soft tyres much beyond lap 20, with Perez the first of the front-runners to pit on lap 23, and Verstappen coming in two laps later. Both were put on medium tyres, raising the question as to whether they’d be able to manage these enough to get to the end, or whether they’d go aggressive and push for a two-stop strategy.
The pace of these fresh mediums was clear to see, especially on Perez’s car, with the Mexican setting fastest lap after fastest lap as a cacophony of cheers followed him around the circuit. Mercedes were forced to react to stop Hamilton from being undercut by Perez, with the Brit coming in on lap 29 for hard tyres.
George Russell was adamant that he wanted to stay out on the mediums for as long as possible, in an attempt to change to the soft tyres at the end of the race. Eventually, he was called in on lap 34, again for a set of hard tyres.
Mercedes were hoping that the mediums would degrade enough to give them a chance of taking victory for the first time this season, but Hamilton spent most of his second stint looking in the rearview mirrors at Perez, rather than closing the gap to Verstappen. Although the Mexican did briefly get within DRS range of the Mercedes, Hamilton’s superior pace through the final sector meant that, as was the case last year, an overtake was never really an option. From here on in the positions looked set in stone, with Verstappen, Hamilton and Perez cruising home to take the podium places, as Russell finished in fourth place after a late stop for softs, in order to secure the fastest laps. Carlos Sainz finished in fifth place ahead of Charles Leclerc in sixth, with the Monegasque driver now dropping behind Perez in the fight for second in the standings.
As is often the case in Formula One, it was the midfield that provided most of the action. Fernando Alonso led this pack for the majority of the race, after jumping the Alfa Romeo of Valtteri Bottas at the start. Unfortunately, reliability problems struck the Spaniard once again, and he retired for the fifth race this season, in what could be a big blow in Alpine’s battle with McLaren for fourth in the championship.
One of the few drivers to go for a medium-soft strategy was Daniel Ricciardo, and he utilised the red-walled Pirellis superbly, securing seventh place despite picking up a ten-second penalty for a collision with Yuki Tsunoda, which led to the Japanese driver’s retirement. Ricciardo overtook Lando Norris, Bottas, Alonso and Esteban Ocon in the final stint – in what was by far the Australian’s strongest showing this season. Ocon came home eighth ahead of Norris, with Bottas holding on to take tenth for his first points since the Canadian Grand Prix in June.
Ricciardo’s pace on the softs at the end may have left many drivers wondering what could have happened to their races if they had gone longer in the first stint – notably Hamilton and Russell. Mistakes from both drivers in qualifying helped Verstappen to secure pole position. Still, the Dutchman’s pace on race day was once again on a different level – with Verstappen also now having the record for most points in a Formula One season, with two races still to go. However, as Max is one of the first to admit, the points system and amount of races in a season now mean these records are perhaps easier to secure in the modern era.
After a week that was dominated by talk of cost-cap punishments, Red Bull will be glad they could do their talking on the track once again – in what is now their most successful season in the sport. With Brazil and Abu Dhabi still to come, you’d be a brave person to bet against Red Bull and Verstappen securing the top step on the podium once again this season.
Three rounds left to go, and both championships wrapped up but that doesn’t stop the action. Mexico is next with plenty of off-track drama to chat about before the on-track drama begins.
Haas vs Alpine vs RedBull vs The Stewards
During the US Grand Prix Alonso hit the back of Stroll after the Aston Martin made a late move down the back straight. This sent the front end of the Alpine into the air before brushing a barrier. Luckily for the Spaniard, he was able to get his car back to the pits for the team to change the tyres and front wing. However, it appeared his wing mirror was not attached properly and came off during the race.
The RedBull of Perez also had an issue with body parts falling off. After a first lap incident part of his front wing was flapping around for several laps before flying across the track. The team decided not to change his wing through the entire race because he would lose too much track position.
After the race, Haas protested against both RedBull and Alpine which led to a 30-second time penalty for Alonso, dropping him outside the points. Alpine has since contested the result and will be a part of a hearing, scheduled to take place today. The protest regarding Perez was seen as inadmissible by the stewards.
The problem actually lies with the stewards. They should have brought out the black and orange for both cars like they have done with Magnussen many times this season. This looks to be another case where the teams are coming out worst off from a decision which they should have made during the race by the stewards. This is likely to cause many rumours throughout the paddock.
Perez takes on his Home Race in a Championship Winning Car
This year there is no doubt which team has been able to capitalise the most in races, and with both championships wrapped up, this may be Perez’s chance to be the first Mexican to win his home Grand Prix.
It has been no secret that Perez has had to play number two driver this year and last year, the difference now is that there is no need for the team to favour Verstappen to gain points for his championship. This means that Perez has everything behind him to win the race. However, performances have not been on his side lately.
Whilst overall he is still an extremely quick driver, he has struggled to keep up with his teammate as well as the Ferraris and often both Mercedes. He will be hoping for a turnaround in form so he can give the home crowd something to cheer about.
Qualifying is on Saturday at 9pm BST and the race starts at 8pm on Sunday.
After two weeks off we head to the streets of Singapore for a night race which we haven’t been to since 2019. There is the possibility that Verstappen could wrap up the championship while most of the talk in the paddock will be about the changes in the driver market.
2023 driver line-up is all change
Whilst there is still a gap at Alpine after the Alonso/Piastri incident, there have been extensions and exits from other teams along the grid.
Zhou was confirmed at Alfa Romeo for 2023 as well as an extension announced for Tsunoda over at Alpha Tauri. The interest in the Alpa Tauri drivers is likely to continue because, despite an announcement earlier in the season saying Gasly is staying, there has been significant interest in his seat as there is increasing pace in the rumours behind Gasly’s move to Alpine, but there has been no official confirmation of this.
One of the other interesting and slightly more inevitable announcements was the exit of Latifi from Williams at the end of the 2022 season. This was a long await change as Latifi hasn’t been performing to the same level as his teammates, and since the takeover of the team by Dorilton, they no longer need his money.
However, the timing of the announcement would suggest that the weekend in Monza sealed his fate. After Albon, unfortunately, had appendicitis he had to miss out on the race weekend, allowing Nyck de Vries to step in. While the race itself ended in an anti-climax behind the safety car, de Vries was able to finish his first F1 race in P9, comfortably ahead of Latifi and therefore bringing plenty of questions before Williams announced his exit from the team.
Can Verstappen round off the championship?
RedBull and Verstappen have had an incredible run of form recently, winning five races back to back and 11 races this season meaning Verstappen could wrap up the driver’s championship this weekend if the race goes in Verstappen’s favour.
The things to look out for is that if Verstappen wins without the fastest lap, Leclerc needs to finish P9 or lower and Perez needs to finish P5 or lower. If Verstappen wins with the fastest lap then Leclerc needs to be P8 or lower and Perez needs to be P4 or lower for Verstappen to win.
Considering the reliability and poor strategy calls of Ferrari, this situation is not out of the question. For Perez, RedBull will simply play the team game to make sure Verstappen secures the championship sooner rather than later.
The final race of this triple header takes us back to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix. It could be a homecoming for Ferrari which is dominated by the RedBull pace and an emergent Mercedes proving to be championship competitors towards the end of the season.
Who can stop Verstappen?
Verstappen and RedBull have put on a dominant display of pace and strategy in the two races after the summer break, extending their lead in the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships. In Belgium, Verstappen was almost in his own league which was positive for them heading into Monza.
However, with Perez not having a great weekend in Zandvoort and Leclerc making it onto the podium, Leclerc has moved in P2 in the driver’s championship but is still 108 points back from the reigning world champion.
Ferrari will want to try and impress in front of their home fans, but their overall speed has dropped since the change in regulations and further messed-up strategy calls have made it difficult for the team to catch up to RedBull. Their Sainz pitstop issues in Zandvoort added to their lack of points and have now brought Mercedes into contention for P2 in both championships.
Having been very much battling for a win in Zandvoort on actual pace Mercedes will want to take that momentum forward with them. If it weren’t for the VSC and full safety car Hamilton could have had a win this year. Despite this, they will be cautious going into Monza because it hasn’t always been a track that has suited their car.
The battle for fourth hots up
Alpine and McLaren are locked in the fight to finish highest of the midfield teams by the end of the season. Currently Alpine is 24 points ahead in P4 going into Monza where engine power is important on the high-speed track.
Alonso has finished in the top 10 in the last 10 races which has helped Alpine to that P4 spot, however, Norris has got some good momentum and is the best of the rest in P7 in the championship. The teams are fairly evenly matched, but their performances are still unpredictable, making it exciting for fans to watch.
McLaren goes into Monza with memories of last year’s 1-2 finish and will want to bring that pace and teamwork back to the track this year with the aim of leaving Italy ahead of Alpine in the constructors’ championship.
Although Sebastian Vettel’s retirement announcement on Thursday was a surprise to many, it wasn’t wholly unexpected. Few, however, could have predicted the events that have transpired since.
Aston Martin admitted to being caught unaware by Vettel’s retirement, with team principal Mike Krack talking only weeks ago about retaining the four-time world champion for another season. The rumours seemed to suggest that they would be replacing one German with another, with Mick Schumacher and current Aston Martin reserve Nico Hulkenberg being the main names touted for the seat.
It’s safe to say, therefore, that Monday’s announcement that Fernando Alonso would be extending his record-breaking career in green, rather than the blue and pink of Alpine, came almost out of nowhere. There had been mumblings that the Spaniard was considering a move out of Enstone for a third time, but many thought that a one-year extension for Alonso was a done deal. Even the 41-year-old said it would only take ’10 minutes’ to sort out a new contract with the French squad, but there was clearly some stumbling block in the background to force Fernando to go for a change.
If Aston were surprised by Vettel’s announcement, Alonso’s left Alpine astounded. Team principal Otmar Szafnauer found out at the same time as everyone else, which is likely to lead to a very awkward meeting once the summer break is over. Once crumb of comfort for Otmar however, would have come with the fact that this freed up the seat for their junior driver Oscar Piastri, and it was announced on Twitter on Tuesday that he would be driving alongside Ocon in 2023.
As soon as the announcement was posted, however, questions started to be asked. There were no quotes from Piastri in the announcement. The tweet only spoke about how he was being ‘promoted’ into a race seat, not that he had signed any formal contract. And sure enough, just short of two hours later, the reigning F2 champion announced that he had not signed a contract with Alpine for 2023, and would not be driving for them next year. But how did Alpine get themselves into this mess?
I understand that, without my agreement, Alpine F1 have put out a press release late this afternoon that I am driving for them next year. This is wrong and I have not signed a contract with Alpine for 2023. I will not be driving for Alpine next year.
Midway through last season, Esteban Ocon signed a contract for 2024 with the Enstone-based team. The plan seemed simple, keep Piastri in F2 for two seasons, and promote him once Alonso retired at the end of 2022. Problem one came when Piastri won the F2 championship, rendering him ineligible for the series this year. Problem two came with the fact that Alonso had no intention of leaving the sport just yet. Both are nice problems to have, but three into two doesn’t go, and frustrations were building in the background.
It looks like these frustrations have boiled over in the past week, and the lid will not be going back on this pot any time soon. Alonso feels his performances deserve more than a one-year contract, but as Alpine wanted to keep Piastri, this is all he was going to get. Other teams have picked up on this dilly-dallying from Alpine, with McLaren (who had the option to use Piastri as a reserve this season) allegedly swooping in to sign the highly rated 21-year-old for 2023, as a replacement for Daniel Ricciardo.
This isn’t the only contract shenanigans that McLaren finds themselves in at the moment. Over in IndyCar, reigning champion Alex Palou is being sued by his current team Chip Ganassi Racing, after they announced that he would be driving for them, prompting him to announce that he would be driving McLaren. If Palou and Piastri both end up in papaya next season, this gives them a glut of talent across IndyCar and F1, with their lineup for Formula E next season also yet to be announced.
It is possible then, that Alpine will have an Australian driving for them next season, just not the one they expected. Daniel Ricciardo did a stellar job in the yellow of Renault in 2020, and apart from a win in Monza last season has not looked close to the driver he was during his two-year spell with the French marque. The 33-year-old has made it clear he wants to stay in F1 next year, and this may well be his only opportunity.
But let’s go back to how this all started. Sebastian Vettel clearly didn’t see enough progress at Aston Martin to convince him to stay in Formula One. His father said that the decision was made in Austria, where he qualified last and was involved in incidents in both races, which is enough to make anyone question their motivation. So if he’s not seen any positives, what has made Alonso take one last (presuming he does retire at the end of 2024) throw of the dice?
Next year’s Aston will be the first car to have the fingerprint of Dan Fallows on it. As a member of the aerodynamics department at Red Bull (and eventually the head of aero), Fallows was involved in the Milton Keynes-based team’s dominant run in the early noughties, as well as their recent resurgence. Joining Aston at the start of the season meant he was never able to have a massive impact on the 2022 car, although the new rear wing shown off at Hungary suggests he has some radical ideas to move the team up from the lower end of the order. Being ninth in the championship also means Aston Martin will get more wind tunnel time than nearly all their rivals, invaluable at any time but especially in this modern era of Formula One.
Vettel’s retirement brings to an end one of the most successful careers of all time, with only Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher securing more wins than Sebastian. He will certainly be missed in the F1 paddock, and it is ironic that for a man who doesn’t like the spotlight away from the track, his departure has delivered plenty of drama for fans to discuss over the summer break.