F2 Bahrain preview: title in Schumacher’s grasp

Formula 2 returns to the track this weekend at the Bahrain International Circuit for the penultimate round of the 2020 championship.

It’s been a while since September 27th, when we last saw F2 action at the Sochi Autodrom. Guanyu Zhou left Russia an F2 winner at last, having taken victory from Nikita Mazepin in the curtailed sprint race, but it was championship leader Mick Schumacher who made the most of the weekend.

After taking his second win of the season in the feature race, Schumacher came back through the field on Sunday to finish third on the sprint race podium as well. As a result, Schumacher comes to Bahrain with a healthy 22-point lead over his nearest rival Callum Ilott.

In fact, Schumacher could wrap up the title this weekend, perhaps even as early as the feature race. With two rounds remaining, Schumacher would have to outscore Callum Ilott by 26 points across the weekend—a feature race win with either pole or the fastest lap would do it.

But although Schumacher has one hand on the championship trophy, the margin between him and Ilott is still close enough that it wouldn’t take much for the tables to turn. All Ilott needs is a pair of strong results and some bad luck for Schumacher, and we could be looking at a very different picture for next weekend’s Sakhir finale.

Callum Ilott, UNI-Virtuosi (Scuderia Ferrari Press Office)

As ever in F2, there plenty more tight championship battles right through the field than just the one at the front.

Yuki Tsunoda is currently third in the championship but only seven points separate him from Mazepin in sixth. With Red Bull open about wanting Tsunoda to race in F1 with AlphaTauri next year, he’ll be wanting to open that gap a little more to make sure he scores the necessary super licence points.

Tsunoda’s Carlin team didn’t have the most competitive outing in Bahrain last year, with Louis Deletraz’s pair of fifth places their best result. However, the British team does know how to prepare a good car for the circuit, as was seen by Lando Norris and Sergio Sette Camara scoring a win and two podiums respectively in 2018.

Further back again, Felipe Drugovich will be one to keep an eye on this weekend. The Brazilian has been one of the surprise stars of the season, taking two sprint race wins and a pole at Silverstone, and he’ll be well aware that any more great results this weekend will be a big help as he looks for a 2021 seat further up the grid.

Finally, Bahrain will see Formula 3 driver Theo Pourchaire make his F2 debut with HWA. Pourchaire, who finished runner-up in this year’s F3 championship, will take over the #17 HWA from Jake Hughes, who raced at the last round in Sochi following Giuliano Alesis’s mid-season switch to MP Motorsport.

Alesi will continue with MP Motorsport this weekend, despite reports earlier this month that he was in danger of losing his seat and backing from the Ferrari Driver Academy.

Theo Pourchaire, ART F3 (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Night begins to fall on 2020: Bahrain Grand Prix Preview

In a year that has not seen an awful lot of light either in Formula One or the outside world, darkness will soon descend on the 2020 season, with three night races in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi closing out the championship.

And whilst the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships have already once again been grabbed with authority by Mercedes, it is the battles further down that, true to form, promise to be as eccentric as ever as we head to Sakhir.

Mercedes have sealed both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships for the seventh year running – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

The 5.4 kilometre circuit has played host to 16 Formula one races since its inception in 2004, and was eventually rushed onto this year’s calendar after it had to miss out on its slot as the second race of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It will play host to two consecutive race weekends, but not quite as we know it. While this weekend utilises the accustomed track, the following weekend will see the vastly shortened version take its place, with sub-one minute lap times predicted.

Such pace will not be afforded in the first of the two meets in the desert, meaning that Mercedes’ dominance could possibly be kerbed slightly.

If we remember back to last year, Charles Leclerc all but had the win in the bag before engine issues cost him the victory, and would have cost him a podium had it not been for a late safety car.

A cruel engine problem saw a victory-bound Charles Leclerc finish third last year – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

But this performance from Ferrari is as much a concern this year as it was promising last year. The Prancing Horses were really the only team able to touch Mercedes that weekend, with Red Bull struggling find podium-earning pace.

And Ferrari have been woeful this year; their pace has picked up since the beginning of the season in Austria, but no wins and just three podiums are a damming indictment on what has been an extremely one-sided affair for the titles.

As a result, we should not anticipate much of a challenge for the win, and Valtteri Bottas in particular will be hoping this is the case following one of the most disastrous days of his career last time out in Turkey. To compound his non-points finish, he had to watch his team mate Lewis Hamilton beat him to the championship and claim his seventh title.

Valtteri Bottas congratulates champion Lewis Hamilton after a horrible day at the office for the Finn – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

But it is the aforementioned midfield that will be catching the eye. Bahrain does seem to be able to promote some decent side-by side action down the main straight and up towards turn four, and drivers have shown plenty of times at this track that they are perfectly unafraid of an audacious overtaking attempt elsewhere too.

Sergio Perez’s phenomenal podium last time in Istanbul sees him an impressive fourth in the Drivers’ standings on exactly 100 points. He is three clear of Charles Leclerc, and you only have to count back another one point to find Daniel Ricciardo in fifth.

Sergio Perez (right) out of a drive for next year despite hauling his Racing Point car to fourth in the Drivers’ Championship – Courtesy of Racing Point Media

Istanbul certainly aided the shaking-up of the order, making for what will be a scintillating final three rounds of the season. The close racing in Sakhir will be an excellent catalyst for the showdown for what will now be a coveted fourth spot.

With eighteen points between third-placed Racing Point and fifth-placed Renault in the Constructors’ standings too, prepare for three weekends of thrills and spills as the championship reaches its last chapter.

F1 completes 2020 schedule as Istanbul returns

Yes, you heard that correct! With its heavily revised schedule that stemmed from F1 having to suspend its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we now know for a fact that F1 will have a season containing 17 Grands Prix from July to December.

Along the way, we have unfortunately lost fan favourite events such as Baku, Suzuka and Interlagos, and the two new additions to the schedule Hanoi and Zandvoort. But in their place we’ve had some incredible tracks added in to more than make up for it. These being new circuits such as Mugello and Algarve, and returning beloved circuits such as Nürburgring and Imola. Well another much beloved circuit is making an unexpected return and that’s Istanbul Park – the home of the Turkish Grand Prix between 2005 and 2011.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY – MAY 08: Mark Webber of Australia and Red Bull Racing holds off Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari during the Turkish Formula One Grand Prix at the Istanbul Park circuit on May 8, 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Mark Webber; Fernando Alonso // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI201412160311 // Usage for editorial use only //

With the announcement of the return to Turkey which will be on November 15th, also came the completion of the entire schedule. F1 will finish off the season with a triple header in the Middle East: two Grands Prix on the Bahrain International Circuit on November 29th and December 6th, then the ever beloved (I say with sarcasm) Yas Marina circuit will host the final GP on December 13th.

The second race in Bahrain however, does have an added variable. With the other two circuits to host two GP’s this year (Red Bull Ring and Silverstone), neither circuit was held on an alternative layout, but the two Bahrain races will not be on the same layout. For those of you who were watching F1 back in 2010, you’ll remember that Bahrain held the season opener and used a longer variant of the usual layout with a section between the typical turns four and five that extended out and fed back into the regular GP circuit.

2019 Bahrain Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

It wasn’t a beloved layout and they reverted back to the regular layout from 2012 onwards after the 2011 race had to be called off due to civil unrest. Rest assured, this second race in Bahrain isn’t going to be on what is dubbed the ‘Endurance’ layout, nor is it on the ‘Paddock’ layout that players of the most recent F1 games have grown accustomed to when racing the alternate Bahrain GP layout.

2010 Bahrain Grand Prix, Sunday

The second Bahrain race will take place on the ‘Outer circuit’, which breaks away from the traditional Grand Prix circuit at turn four like the Endurance layout, but then takes a detour to what is normally turn 13, so it misses the entirety of the infield. Ross Brawn has gone on record stating that it’s perhaps the closest F1 will get to an oval, so expect the teams to be running a radically different downforce package to the race on the traditional GP loop.

Alright now that’s over with, let us wax lyrical about how amazing Istanbul Park is! F1 hasn’t been to the Turkish GP venue since 2011 but it still holds a special place in F1 fans’ hearts. The circuit has not got one bad corner, the peak of which comes at the quadruple apex turn eight which a lot of F1 fans are excited about considering the cornering speeds of the current era cars.

ISTANBUL (TURCHIA) 06/05/2011
© FOTO ERCOLE COLOMBO

Istanbul has always had a lack of attendees, the result of the organisers not seeing value in it after their stunt in 2006. They attempted to get the world to recognise a breakaway of the island of Cyprus as the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” of which only Turkey recognises. This resulted in Cyprus filing a complaint and the FIA fined the organisers five million dollars.

Since losing the Grand Prix, the organisers have turned the circuit into an over-glorified car showroom, which just hurts to hear. it’s like using the Mona Lisa as a coaster for a hot drink mug. It had even lost its FIA Grade-1 rating which is why I wasn’t expecting it to be in the conversation to be hosting a Grand Prix on the revised schedule. But it has, and it is! Savour it everyone, potentially we may never see this circuit again.

Hopefully Codemasters can find a way to get all the new tracks into the next F1 game, even if it is later on as downloadable content.

That’s it, the 2020 Formula One World Championship will conclude on December 13th with the Abu Dhabi GP after 17 races. If only we could pick Istanbul up and drop it in France so the French could have a decent circuit to host their Grand Prix, but we don’t live in an ideal world. Nevertheless, I’m sure a lot of you out there are looking forward to seeing the return of this beloved circuit.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

How to deal with an F1 heartbreak, Leclerc style

Charles Leclerc’s Bahrain hotel room ought to have been marked a no-go zone. It’s a testament to the Monegasque, humble and self-examining in his conduct, that it would be the first place he gives himself chance to vent. He navigated each interview with professionalism betraying his years, out of the car, onto the podium and back down the steps on his way to an apologetic Scuderia.

Never has it been as easy to forget, that this is a day on which a driver achieved their first podium in Formula 1, for the most historic racing team of all time. This should have been cause for celebration. Instead, Leclerc would be forgiven for wanting to slump in the corner of said room and attempt to retcon his most recent memory with force.

Having taken his first pole position, Leclerc was adamant both to his team and the breathtaken media that the job wasn’t over – “I am trying to stay as cool as possible, because there are no points for pole position”. He knew Sunday, his true date with destiny, awaited him. With a red tuxedo immaculate and a metaphorical tie millimetre-aligned, Leclerc spent 47 laps wooing to the utmost only to be stood up at the table in the night’s dying moments.

Ferrari Media

The term ‘bitter blow’ doesn’t do it justice. Leclerc was faultless, a messy first lap aside, on a day where the infectious seeds of inconsistency were sprouting up all across the grid. Mercedes had collapsed pace-wise. Sebastian Vettel relapsed into troubles of the recent past. Pierre Gasly was again cast in the sea of the midfield, and Red Bull were in no position to put up a fight. The only one who had both the machine, and the disposition to utilise it, was him.

But, as we know in F1, the Gods can strike at any time. Again, Leclerc was humble in his approach to the media after the race – “It happens, it’s part of motorsport”. The fabric of not only his successes, but his career and person, is a stoicism that affords clarity, and a rigid confidence in the ripples of outside influence evening themselves out over seasons and careers.

To make it big in racing, all drivers have to learn this the hard way. The biggest surprise is how Leclerc exudes this sense he was born with it. His ability to think long-term is an offshoot of his acceptance that outside variables can’t be changed, and as we’ve seen many a time through his interviews he likes to instead look inwards at every opportunity, and obsessively hold himself to account wherever he can. It’s beyond admirable.

Ferrari Media

It’s a sign of being in control, even when every single thing outside of your mind and body wants to break you down. That losing yourself is improbable, bordering on impossible, because there’s a foundation of introspection that can’t be shaken. Leclerc’s painfully emotional F2 win in Baku is proof of this; his father had passed away mere days ago, the pressure of his ‘next big thing’ tag was weighing down on him, and the race was as chaotic as they come. His focus that day was as though those issues were denied access into the confines of his cockpit.

He’d go on to suffer a troublesome first three races with Sauber, visibly struggling to tame an unpredictable car. Instead of looking to deflect, or simply carry on as normal, Leclerc opted instead to ask himself difficult questions, more so than with his team. He certainly helped Sauber develop the C37 into a midfield mainstay, but the hardest treatment was placed by himself, on himself. No one was willing to do it with a rookie who hadn’t even been driving poorly, but let it be known Leclerc holds himself to world-class standards.

And he does this because each and every time, it’s allowed him to blossom. Even when most other drivers want an arm around the shoulder from their team, and an easy time of it in the press pen, Leclerc doesn’t allow himself the satisfaction of such comforts until he’s improved in a way no one would even have noticed but himself. The mental solidity that takes, when locked in the furnace of Formula One, is unfathomable.

So if anyone can handle the pain of having the most glorious win of any driver’s career – a maiden victory with Scuderia Ferrari – kissed away into the wind, it is Leclerc. As much as we’d all understand if he locked himself away with a whisky bottle until the pain numbed, it is not, never has been and never will be his way of dealing with issues. Leclerc always bounces back, and every ounce of adversity only serves to make him stronger.

 

[Featured image – Ferrari media]

Lewis Hamilton: Mercedes ‘very, very lucky’ at Bahrain Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton has admitted that Mercedes were ‘very, very lucky’ to claim a 1-2 at the Bahrain Grand Prix, with Charles Leclerc’s power unit issue putting a stop to what was otherwise a very dominant performance by the Monegasque.

Hamilton had started the race in P3 but fought his way past Sebastian Vettel on lap 38 to claim P2. Then, with under fifteen laps to go, the other Ferrari of  Leclerc developed a power issue that cost him roughly 30mph in speed on the straights; in just two laps Hamilton had wiped out Leclerc’s nine-second lead and passed him with ease to take the 74th Grand Prix victory of his career.

“It was very tricky out there today,” Hamilton said, “and I had to give it everything I had. We were very, very lucky to get this 1-2, Ferrari outperformed us all weekend.

“Ultimately you want to have a real fight and want to pass someone because you’re quicker, so it feels a bit weird and you can’t quite believe your luck in these scenarios.”

2019 Bahrain Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Hamilton praised Leclerc for his performance nonetheless and offered some words of consolation to him in the post-race cool down room. He is under no illusion about Mercedes’ pace relative to Ferrari, and is bracing himself for some tough races to come.

“I have been in similar situations [to Leclerc] and I know how it feels, but Charles did a great job all weekend long and has a beautiful, bright future ahead of him,” he added.

“We’ve only had two races; one where we were rapid and far ahead, one where Ferrari had the upper hand. It’s hard to say how the next races are going to pan out, but I anticipate that it will be a tough fight and that it will be a back and forth between the two teams.

“We need to keep working hard to see where we went wrong this weekend and to see where we can improve the car. But as we saw today, reliability also plays an important role, so we need to keep working on all areas.

“We’ll take the points we got today and move forward to China.”

 

[Featured image – Steve Etherington]

Albon “very happy” to score first points in F1

Toro Rosso rookie Alex Albon said he was ‘very happy’ to pick up his first ever points in Formula 1, thanks to a ninth-place finish in what was a very dramatic Bahrain Grand Prix.

He admitted that a certain amount of luck played into the result, having been promoted a couple of positions thanks to the retirements of both Renaults ahead of him.

“That was a busy race – I felt like I was always fighting with someone at some point, there was always something to do!” Albon said. “I didn’t have the best start as I was a bit shy into the first corner, but after that, I put my head down and got on with it.

“We had a good strategy and decent pace on the prime tyre. In the end, we got a bit lucky with the retirements, but I’ll take it!”

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

He also spoke of the difficult nature of the race, highlighting a mix of the weather conditions and the roughness of the circuit on the Pirelli tyres.

“It was so tricky with the wind out there and it made the car unpredictably, but we were quite strong in the race, it’s just a shame about the start. It was a challenge to overtake because when you get close to another car the tyres overheat and you get a bit stuck.

“However, I enjoyed myself out there and it was good to get that experience. I’m very happy to pick up my first points in Formula 1 and I hope we can carry this pace into China.”

 

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

Bahrain Grand Prix: Ferrari reliability problem ‘unacceptable’

Ferrari Team Principal Mattia Binotto has labelled the reliability issue that cost Charles Leclerc a victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix as ‘unacceptable’ and something that the team are investigating to prevent from happening again.

Leclerc had dominated the Bahrain race weekend, finishing top of the timing sheets in FP1 and FP3 and claiming his first ever pole position in F1 on Saturday by almost three tenths.

He slipped back to third at the start but recovered to retake the lead by lap five and dominated thereafter. That was, until he developed a power unit problem with just fifteen laps to go, one which cost him several seconds per lap. The two Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas caught and passed him, but Leclerc was saved from losing any more positions by the safety car brought out to recover both Renaults. He came home third, his first podium in F1 but one tinged with disappointment.

Speaking of the power unit issue, Mattia Binotto said, “It was a shame for Charles. He was in the lead for much of the race and showed that he was particularly comfortable here in Bahrain, also setting the race fastest lap.

Ferrari Media

“He deserved to win and it was only the reliability problem, which we must now investigate, which prevented him from doing so. That is something unacceptable from us and it shows how important it is to get every last detail right in order to win.”

Leclerc added, “It’s part of motorsport, we know that. Sometimes it’s not your day to win and today wasn’t ours. In the final part of the race we had an issue with the power unit and I had to slow down.

“It’s a shame because the race seemed to me to be under control. The team is disappointed and I am disappointed but there are a lot of positives to take home from this weekend.

“These things happen in motorsport: we took the best out of it anyway. It’s my first podium even if I’m not enjoying it as much as I wanted. It’s life, it happens, we’ll come back stronger”.

 

[Featured image – Ferrari Media]

2019 Bahrain GP Review: Drama in the Dust

The second race of the 2019 season took place under the bright lights of the Bahrain International circuit. Charles Leclerc started from pole position, making him the 99th driver to take pole in the 999th F1 Grand Prix, with Vettel, Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen started behind him.

The lights went out and both Vettel and Bottas got better starts than Leclerc, demoting the Monagasque to third with Hamilton in fourth after the first lap.

Chaos broke out behind the leaders, with sparks flying around the cars of Stroll and Grosjean. The Frenchman would eventually retire from the race. At the back the Williams drivers had a heated fight, which was more for their honor than the points.

Leclerc managed to pick up the speed after his horrible start and regained second place from Bottas. This overtake cost the Finn momentum, meaning that his teammate Hamilton could overtake him as well.

Verstappen in P5 came under pressure from Sainz in the McLaren, a potential haul of points McLaren could definitely use. What they couldn’t use, however, was a touch with Verstappen which meant Sainz received major damage on his front right tyre. The incident was investigated by the stewards, but no action was taken.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Up front, Ferrari told that both drivers were free to fight, and they took advantage of it. Leclerc closed the gap to Vettel quite easily, telling his team “I’m quicker guys!” On lap six he managed to overtake the German using DRS, retaking the lead.

Gasly had to regain his respect after a disappointing qualifying, but struggled in a huge midfield fight with Norris, Magnussen, Albon and Kvyat. To make matters worse, his pit stop went horribly and cost him further precious seconds.

On lap thirteen Kvyat spun due to a slight touch with Giovinazzi at turn eleven, losing places as a result. To add insult to injury, the Russian Toro Rosso driver later got a five-second penalty for speeding in the pitlane. That same lap, Bottas and Hulkenberg came into the pits.

Race leader Leclerc made his pitstop on lap fourteen, opting for the mediums whilst Hamilton went for the soft tyres.

Vettel lost his second place to Hamilton on fresher tyres, but the Brit’s strategy would mean he needed to make another pitstop to fulfill the rules of using two different compounds during a race.

2019 Bahrain Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Some small mistakes from Hamilton meant that Vettel closed the gap, even though the German was on the harder tyre. Hamilton complained about oversteer and had to make another stop. On lap 23 Vettel overtook him, leading to some stressful board-radios from Hamilton.

In the midfield a fun fight between Norris and Räikkönen for P7 took place, keeping each other under pressure.

On lap 33, car number 33 came in for his second pitstop. Verstappen couldn’t be happy as his pitstop went awful, not the first pitstop that’d gone wrong at Red Bull today. Hamilton made his second pitstop two laps later, going for the mediums. He came back on track in front of Verstappen.

Vettel then tried to cover the Mercedes, making his second pitstop, going to the mediums for a second time. He came back just in front of his rival. Immediately after that Leclerc made his second pitstop, and emerged with his lead intact.

Last year’s championship rivals came very close to crashing, with Vettel edging Hamilton out by only a small margin. The German smelled blood and overtook Bottas, who then came into the pits with only a small margin to Verstappen.

Ferrari Media

Up front, a fight for second place between Hamilton and Vettel spelled drama: Hamilton overtook Vettel and the German spun round on his own, costing him a lot of time. He then lost his front wing, as the car was shaking a lot on the straight after turn ten. He had to make another pitstop, dropping down to ninth.

On lap forty-six Leclerc caused a scare when he reported to his team that something was wrong with the engine. His pace dropped away very quickly, with Hamilton closing the gap from nine seconds to just five in three laps. With ten laps to go the Ferrari was really struggling, just managing to put 1:40s on the board compared to the 1:36s of Hamilton.

Hamilton therefore easily managed to overtake him. Leclerc turned his attention to managing the gap to Bottas in P3. He still held the fastest lap, earning him an extra point, but that couldn’t make it up for the disappointment of losing out on his first win due to an engine problem. He was losing around 40 kph on the straights. Bottas closed the gap to him by five seconds a lap and later overtook him for P2.

Further drama sparked with just three laps to go, as both the Renault cars cut out in the first sector. This brought out the safety car, saving Leclerc from losing third place to Verstappen. When it rains it pours: Sainz also retired from the race with just three laps to go.

The race ended behind the safety car, meaning Hamilton won the race ahead of Bottas and a very disappointed Leclerc, who still took the extra point for fastest lap.

Ferrari Media

Some great sportsmanship was shown by Hamilton, sounding sorry for Leclerc and also trying to cheer him up after the race. Verstappen, Vettel, Norris, Räikkönen, Gasly, Albon and Perez completed the top ten.

It was certainly a very dramatic race, and the season is just two races old. Next up is China – will Leclerc get his revenge there or will Mercedes take another win?

 

[Featured image – Wolfgang Wilhelm]

2019 Bahrain Grand Prix Preview

After an impressive start to the 2019 season in Australia, the Formula One bandwagon arrives in Bahrain for round two of the championship under the lights in the desert.

The 5.4 kilometre circuit welcomes the sport for what should hopefully be another exciting and closely contested race – a race that was won last season by Sebastian Vettel, narrowly beating Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Ferrari Media

This, however, looks a much different Bottas. He had ample opportunity to make a move and pass Vettel last year, but appeared passive and Vettel clung onto his lead. The ruthlessness that we have since seen from the Finn, and the impressive and dominant performance last time out in Australia leads to a firm belief that, given the chance again this year, he would not need a second invitation to take the victory.

Typically, however, this has been Ferrari’s track. The increased temperatures and powerful nature of the circuit has been taken advantage of by Vettel’s prancing horse in each of the last two races in Sakhir. But their start in Melbourne has left a decided uncertainty as to whether the story will be the same this year.

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Honda-powered Red Bull look like they’re going to be pushing Ferrari to their limit this year, and may even have the odd advantage over Mercedes at certain tracks. The champions themselves looked remarkably quick in Australia having far from shown their hand in testing, while Ferrari head into Bahrain scratching their heads as to why they were so far off the pace last time having looked on top of the world in Barcelona in February.

Of course, Australia is a unique track and certainly differs from Bahrain in terms of track evolution and the flow of the tracks, which is what makes this race equally as anticipated and leaves us itching to find out whether Ferrari are really as slow as we were perhaps made to ascertain in Australia, whether Bottas will make a charge for his team mate Lewis Hamilton’s throne this year, and whether Red Bull’s Honda partnership really is something to be excited about.

Renault F1 Team

Further down the field, Racing Point and Renault will both be hoping they can improve on disappointing weekends last time out, as Toro Rosso look to capitalise on a mostly positive weekend with Daniil Kvyat and Alex Albon. McLaren seek their first points of the season following Carlos Sainz’s fiery exit in round one and Lando Norris’ unlucky non-points finish after a stupendous qualifying on his debut, while Alfa Romeo try to extend their impressive push forward after a confusing, mixed weekend in Melbourne. Williams look to Robert Kubica and George Russell for inspiration as they attempt to move closer to the midfield battle following an atrocious start to the year that saw them back of the pack in Australia.

While we would love for this to be all about the racing, unfortunately it can’t be. For the first time in over 40 years, F1 travels to a Grand Prix without race director Charlie Whiting. The word “legend” gets used too often in the sporting world now, but it’s a word that fits him perfectly. He made every effort to make the racing as entertaining as possible, and played a massive part in cars being as safe as they are now. He understood the sport from every perspective, and was respected both as a race director, but also as a fantastic human being in the paddock, and it is sad to head into a race without him. The way the atmosphere changed in F1 from the excitement on Wednesday, when he was walking the track and talking to Sebastian Vettel, to the sorrow on Thursday when the news broke that he had passed overnight, speaks volumes about just how much he meant to the sport and the fans all around the world. He was more than just a mechanic, or the man who kept the drivers in check, or the man who pressed that button to start the race—he was an icon. He will be sorely missed.

However, Charlie would want the show to go on, and F1 will make sure it does in the 19th Bahrain Grand Prix and the 999th F1 championship race—we’re nearly at 1000 folks!