The Formula One circus stays in the Styrian mountains as the Red Bull Ring plays host to the Austrian Grand Prix, just seven days after Max Verstappen claimed victory at the same circuit in the Styrian Grand Prix.
It would take a brave person to bet against Verstappen taking his third consecutive victory on Sunday, given his dominant performance last weekend. Sergio Perez will be hoping he can make it two Red Bulls on the podium, after coming within a second of Valtteri Bottas in the previous race.
A double podium is probably the best case scenario once again for Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton making a rare trip to the Brackley simulator in an aim to extract every last inch of performance out of his car. The quick turnaround means no upgrades for this race, and there are mixed messages from the Mercedes camp regarding how much more development we will see on their 2021 car.
The pace from the top two teams meant Ferrari and McLaren were once again left fighting for fifth. Although it was Lando Norris who won the midfield battle last weekend, Daniel Ricciardo was showing good pace before reliability troubles dropped him down the order. Ferrari will also be hoping for a smoother weekend from Charles Leclerc, who showed some inspired moves after being controversially involved in Pierre Gasly’s retirement.
AlphaTauri, Alpine and Aston Martin will look to pick up some of the lesser points once again, in what looks to be one of the tightest midfield battles for years. Strategy could well be key in this battle, as free air is hard to come by on the track with the shortest lap time of the year. Pirelli are also bringing softer tyres to the Austrian GP than they did at the Styrian round, which might lead to more action in the pitlane.
For George Russell, he will be hoping his pitlane action is much more conventional this weekend. A pneumatic leak cost him a shot at his first ever points for Williams, with the Brit admitting that there’s no guarantee he will be able to replicate that performance again this time around. His teammate will also be hoping for a better result, after being an innocent victim in last weekend’s lap one shenanigans.
Alfa Romeo will be hoping they can sneak a point, after just missing out with Kimi Raikkonen last time around. The intriguing battle between the Haas cars will also be one to watch, as Mick Schumacher and his teammate battle for inter-team supremacy, which must be a small ray of light in a very difficult debut season for both drivers.
It’s fair to say last week’s race was not a classic, but different tyres (and possibly different weather) could make the Austrian GP an entirely different beast indeed.
The final piece of the Formula One car reveal puzzle has now been put in place, with Scuderia Ferrari revealing their challenger, the beautiful SF21.Broadcasting from Museo Ferrari, Mattia Binotto the Team Principal of Ferrari presented the single seater using hologram technology, instead of the usual Ferrari fanfare, no doubt due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
As with all the 2021 cars, there was a partial freeze on development, with the SF21 being described as “born out of last year’s car” with revised aerodynamics and a new power unit (which will bring music to the ears of Tifosi everywhere). Ferrari have had a torrid time in recent years and are seeking a season in which they can provide a title challenge again. Power unit 065/6, as it has been named, has been worked on extensively with Ferrari’s technical partners with an efficiency in areas such as recovery of exhaust fumes being targeted. Ferrari have also made major changes to their aerodynamics, spurred on by regulation changes which has seen them focus on increasing aerodynamic charge and reducing drag. The new front wing and nose have added to the aerodynamic efficiencies that Ferrari have worked on for the 2021 season. The technical changes are arguably overshadowed however by the stunning new livery.
The standout features of the sleek livery are the burgundy coloured rear which is a nod to the very first Ferrari racing car, most recently seem at the Mugello Grand Prix in 2020, and bright green on the engine cover featuring the logo of title sponsor Mission Winnow. The deeper red effect is certainly eye-catching and will bring a smile to the hearts of the loyal fans of this iconic brand.
Ferrari and certainly the F1 world need a better 2021 and one can only hope that the optimism of the launch will be rewarded on track as Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz take to the track
Technical specifications Ferrari SF21
Power unit 065/6 Capacity 1600 cc Max RPM 15,000 Supercharging Single turbo Fuel flow 100 kg/hr max Configuration V6 90° Bore 80 mm Stroke 53 mm Valves 4 per cylinder Injection 500 bar – direct
ERS System Configuration Hybrid energy recovery system via electrical Motor Generator Units Battery pack Lithium-Ion batteries of minimum 20 kg weight Battery pack max energy storage 4 MJ MGU-K max power 120 kW (161 hp) Max MGU-K RPM 50,000 Max MGU-H RPM 125,000
At just 103 days, the winter break between 2020 and 2021 is one of the shortest, certainly in modern history in Formula One. In actual fact, it was set to be shorter still, but with the postponement of the Australian Grand Prix, the new season will kick off in Bahrain, but what can we expect from this year?
Well, in truth, this year will probably be a case of “same, but different”, as regulations set in place for 2021 mean that the 2020 cars have been carried over to this year, and only aero parts and PUs are eligible to be changed. Fundamentally, though, the cars must remain the same, and the chassis will be identical to last year, so do not expect any massive jumps in performance.
This means to say that Mercedes should still be top dogs, Red Bull should be a close second, and the midfield will still be as intense as it was throughout the entirety of the 17 races last year.
But while substantial increases or otherwise in performance is too much to expect, little nuggets of gold may just help swing the tide a little as someone, somehow, looks to topple Mercedes’ absolute brilliance at the front.
Sergio Perez, surprise winner of the crazy Sakhir Grand prix last season, will make his highly-anticipated Red Bull debut having replaced the hapless Alex Albon. The discussion has been raging as to whether he will be able to beat their current titan Max Verstappen, and whether the Mexican truly does have the pace to compete at the front and spur Red Bull into serious Constructors’ Championship contention. It is widely expected that, if Perez is dominated by Verstappen the way Albon and Pierre Gasly were, it is a case of the car being geared to the Dutchman, as opposed to a lack of pace from Max’s team mates.
264 points separated Mercedes and Red Bull last year, so it will be fascinating to see if Red Bull’s third driver pairing in as many years will be able to close the gap and make life a little more uncomfortable for the imperious champions.
Speaking of whom, newly-crowned champion Lewis Hamilton has finally put pen to paper on a new contract with the German team, in a deal that takes him to the end of the 2021 season.
Reasons for just the one-season extension have been speculated about; who knows if it could be down to the impending salary cap, or whether it is because Hamilton feels as though he only has one year left with the Silver Arrows, and in Formula One as a whole?
This would make sense. Hamilton is set to win his eighth championship this season, beating Michael Schumacher’s remarkable seven in the process. The sport could certainly do with having Hamilton around next year, and we are likely set to see one of the most historical moments in the history of Formula One.
His team mate Valtteri Bottas could well be going into his last year with the Silver Arrows, but conversely to Hamilton, his future may not be in his own hands. In spite of a second-placed finish in the championship last season, Bottas’ overall performance has occasionally left something to be desired, and he will need to show stronger title credentials this year if he is to remain a part of the team in 2022.
A large part of this equation is the impressive progress of George Russell who, with a good performance in the Williams in 2021, could find himself in line for a drive next season. Particularly after Russell’s magnificent pace last year in the Sakhir Grand Prix alongside Bottas, this season will be a monumental one for both of them.
Further down, Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo are definitely ones to watch as they make their debuts for Ferrari and McLaren respectively. Ferrari acquired the services of Sainz after Sebastian Vettel’s departure for Aston Martin, while Australian Daniel Ricciardo left Renault for McLaren, replacing Spaniard Sainz. Ferrari’s new engine and aero parts for this season could lift them further into the midfield battle, and above the abysmal eighth place they managed last season with Vettel and Leclerc. Vettel meanwhile, with his new team and new haircut to boot, will attempt to make his presence felt in his new adventure with the new Aston Martin team, who take over from Racing Point this year.
Just as exciting as the German’s new venture, Fernando Alonso makes his comeback in 2021 in the Alpine team that has replaced Renault for this year, and after two seasons out, expectation is high. Frenchman Esteban Ocon, who managed his first podium last season in Sakhir, gets a real test of his ability by going up against a driver who, as well as being a two-time champion, is widely regarded as one of the quickest and most skilled drivers in F1’s rich history.
Alonso, though, comes back probably feeling a fair bit older than he did when he left. He raced against Jos Verstappen and Michael Schumacher during his first 18-year spell in the sport, and he is now about to race against their sons.
While Max had already become a fixture towards the end of Alonso’s first tenure, Michael’s son Mick will now be on the same grid as one of his father’s greatest rivals, as two generations collide.
Schumacher claimed glory in the F2 championship last season with Prema, and he arrives in Formula One with one of Ferrari’s junior teams: Haas. The American outfit enter this year will a new driver lineup; the departing Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen are replaced by Schumacher and car number nine.
As Lewis Hamilton seeks a record eighth championship, and Mercedes try to extend their record of Constructors’ championship successes, the 2021 season is a huge one for a lot of drivers, in what is the last year before the regulation changes in 2022.
What a race! In the jumbled up 2020 calendar that began in July at the Red Bull Ring, the last three races are a triple feast in the Middle East. Beginning with the traditional Bahrain circuit last weekend and ending the season at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi but that middle race would be another one at Bahrain. However it would be on the outer circuit which the F1 cars had been lapping at under a minute all through the weekend.
The lead up to the weekend was already packed with action, as Romain Grosjean’s horror crash from which he thankfully escaped with just a few burns meant that Haas drafted in reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi. Then the huge bombshell dropped that world champion Lewis Hamilton had tested positive for COVID-19 which meant Mercedes had to go looking for a replacement driver. That turned out to be George Russell who left a vacant seat at Williams, and that ended up being F2 racer Jack Aitken.
In qualifying, it was Bottas who just pipped Russell to pole by a microscopic margin. Max Verstappen qualified third and Charles Leclerc put in a mighty lap to drag that lacklustre Ferrari to fourth on the grid, and following him were Pérez, Kvyat, Ricciardo, Sainz, Gasly, Stroll, Ocon, Albon, Vettel, Giovinazzi, Magnussen, Latifi, Aitken, Räikkönen, and at the back were Norris and Fittipaldi who had taken grid penalties.
At the start, Russell immediately got away better than Bottas who had to hold off Verstappen’s advances, and struggled to get out the first few corners. His compatriot Räikkönen spun in the back of shot and thankfully no awful imagery to worry about like last week at the same corner. But Bottas’ eyes were on Verstappen, closing the door on him which left an open opportunity for Pérez to go past the Red Bull.
But it was Leclerc who got caught out trying to brake for the corner, smacked into the Racing Point and spun him round, leaving Verstappen with nowhere to go but into the wall and retirement along with Leclerc. Somehow, Pérez was able to continue and pitted, benefitting from the subsequent safety car and was able to rejoin the back of the pack in 18th.
At the front, Russell’s massive lead that he got at the start was eliminated, but he wasn’t done. The safety car period ended on lap six and Russell eased off whilst Bottas was under pressure from McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, who rose to third amid the first lap chaos. He went around the outside of Bottas into turn one, but going through the turn two and three complex, Sainz ran wide and that allowed the Merc right back through.
Whilst Russell was experiencing what it’s like to be in the lead in an F1 car, further down the order were two of his mates, Lando Norris and Alex Albon. Lap 20 and Albon made a move stick on Norris, who was then immediately overtaken by Pérez despite the Mexican being spun on the first lap. The following lap, Albon was then passed by Pérez at the same corner.
Back at the front with Russell, he already had a gap of over a second before the DRS was enabled. The Mercs began gapping Sainz, and it was a steady lead Russell held over Bottas which fluctuated as they negotiated lapped traffic. He extended that lead after he pitted, undercutting Bottas after he was left out for a further four laps, and the gap went to the highest it had been all race even in spite of a sensor scare.
Russell’s typical Williams teammate Nicholas Latifi pulled off and caused a Virtual Safety Car, and not much changed other than Bottas swiped into Russell’s lead. But Pérez was continuing his charge through the field, putting a move on teammate Lance Stroll going into turn four and then the following lap, on former Force India teammate Esteban Ocon. The Mexican was absolutely flying out there. He was now on course for a podium finish with his strategy completely played out.
However, Russell’s replacement at Williams Jack Aitken lost the car coming out of the last corner and clattered the tyre barrier, leaving his front wing on the track and he dove for the pits. A Virtual Safety Car was initially called, but that became a full Safety Car, and Mercedes felt the need to cover off Pérez. But man, did they mess up.
The two Mercs double stacked, Russell came in and they put on the tyres, all well and good. Then Bottas came in and there seemed to be some hesitation, and they sent him back out on the same tyres he pitted with, which was a bit odd as to why they did that. Then it became very apparent. Russell had been sent out on tyres which were intended for Bottas, so now he was bunched up behind the safety car with Pérez, Ocon and Stroll behind him and he was called back to the pits to change the tyres.
This was a huge mess-up on Mercedes’ part. Russell came back out in fifth behind Bottas who remained on his old set, but looked to have the best tyres out of everyone in the top five. Racing resumed and Russell was a man on a mission, making quick work of his teammate on the old set of tyres pulling off an immense outside move going through the long turn six, then passing Stroll and Ocon with the help of DRS. He then set to work catching Pérez who was a long way up the road.
Russell was eating into Pérez’s advantage lap after lap but yet again, disaster. Russell was called back to the pits AGAIN as he had a slow puncture and they put him on softs, whilst the other Mercedes of Bottas just went backwards as he was overtaken by Sainz, Ricciardo and Albon in very quick succession.
But up at the front, a man who for some reason doesn’t have a drive in 2021 guaranteed. Sergio Pérez took an incredible first win for both himself, and the team that he’s leaving after next week’s season finale. Esteban Ocon took second ahead of Lance Stroll, then it was Sainz, Ricciardo, Kvyat had also passed Bottas in the closing stages, Russell recovered to ninth ahead of Norris who scored the last point.
Russell finally got his long awaited first points finish as well as another for fastest lap, although it was little consolation for what was throughout the entire race looking set to be an incredible first win for the guy. He did absolutely incredibly all weekend, and it definitely will not be the last we hear from Russell, who may get a second stab at the cherry this weekend in Abu Dhabi providing Hamilton isn’t well enough to participate.
But it was Pérez who after 190 starts, finally took victory and became the first Mexican to win an F1 Grand Prix in 50 years. A win that was perhaps long overdue, especially if we harken back to Malaysia 2012 when he came very close in his Sauber to denying Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso a win that day. But better late than never, and hopefully Pérez is not out of F1 for long.
After a heart-in-mouth opening lap last time out in Bahrain, F1 returns to Sakhir this weekend, but the track will look a little different.
Turning left immediately after turn four, the drivers will embark on an oval version that goes round to the end of the lap, with sub-one minute lap times anticipated.
Due to the freshness of the outer layout, there will be an odd and intriguing contrast between a rubbered-in track and a green circuit with very little grip.
However, the outer part is mainly full throttle and requires a lot of power, which is why more Mercedes dominance is expected.
Despite that, a track like this is reminiscent to other short circuits like Austria. Losing even the slightest time can be of extreme detriment, and it will prove incredibly difficult to re-gain that time once it is lost, particularly in qualifying.
But while we were all expecting the new layout to be the main talking point of this weekend, it is the miracle escape for Haas’ Romain Grosjean that will dominate race preparations, following a moment that shocked the sporting world.
Grosjean turned across the track and hit the Alpha Tauri of Daniil Kvyat, before smashing into the barrier and splitting his car in two, as it burst into flames in the process.
Having been in the fire for half a minute, the Frenchman was somehow able to escape from the car and, with the help of the heroic marshals and Dr. Ian Roberts, got away with only minor burns to his hands and ankles.
But the FIA will doubtless be looking closely at how the barrier broke in the way it did, and why there was such an enormous fireball upon impact. However, the halo and the safety mechanisms within the car did their job, and all came together to save Grosjean’s life.
He will be replaced by young Brazilian driver Pietro Fittipaldi while he continues to recover, and going up against Danish driver Kevin Magnussen will be the Test and Reserve’s first test in the F1 scene.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned Mercedes will be striving to further push home their advantage in what is a version of the track that suits them even better than the previous. Lewis Hamilton is aiming for his 96th career win, as he also aims to surpass Sebastian Vettel for wins in Bahrain.
His team mate Valtteri Bottas had yet more horrible misfortune early on in bahrain which cost him a place on the podium, with Red Bull taking full advantage. Max Verstappen took second, while Alex Albon took his second podium of the season and strengthened his chances of retaining his Red Bull seat next year.
The Ferrari-powered teams will likely struggle more this weekend and, having only seen Charles Leclerc’s works Ferrari score a single point last time, this may be another weekend to forget for the Prancing Horses, Alfa Romeo and Haas.
Racing Point fell 17 points behind McLaren after the double non-finish last weekend. Lance Stroll found himself the wrong way up after Kvyat’s spear into turn eight, while a late and gut-wrenching engine failure for Sergio Perez cost him a podium. McLaren, meanwhile, scored points with both Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz. As a result, McLaren will come into this weekend knowing they can put themselves in a very strong position indeed going into the last race in Abu Dhabi as the battle for third intensifies.
It is still Bahrain, but minus a large chunk of the track – and hopefully minus the heavy crashes too.
Romain Grosjean was lucky to escape an incident that left the entire world stunned. After contact with Alpha Tauri’s Daniil Kvyat at turn 3, Romain veered uncontrollably off the track and sailed into the adjacent Armco barrier.
The impact, caught on the world feed, was horrendous. The Haas disappeared into the barrier, which was followed by eruption of flames akin to an explosion from an action movie. Quite simply, it was terrifying, and enough to instantly bring out the red flag.
What awaited was a very tense period in which the world waited in horror for any positive news regarding Romain’s condition. Fortunately, the Frenchman was seen leaping over the barrier from inside the inferno itself. It was a very nasty incident and a close escape.
On further inspection it could be seen that the car had split in two; the rear separated from the cockpit which had sailed through the barrier and lodged itself there as the flame began.
There are few mounting points that connect the cockpit to the rear of the car so the question on everyone’s lips was how this crash could have caused the car to split in two? Possible questions will be raised about the structural integrity of these connecting points.
In terms of the fire: It looks likely that it was the fuel collector that was punctured which holds two to three litres of fuel. The thought behind this is that if the entire capacity of the fuel tank has been compromised (equating to many kilograms of fuel) it would have been a much larger explosion.
What is even more apparent, is that the halo device surely saved Romain Grosjean’s life. Without it, there would have been nothing to protect Grosjean’s head from going into the barrier. I believe everyone at the Pit Crew would like to take a moment to praise the safety improvements made in Formula One over the last fifty years as well as the medical and emergency staff who swiftly attended and dealt with both Romain.
We await the official news on Romain Grosjean’s health, currently flown to a nearby hospital for evaluation. All things said, he seems to have escaped with relatively minor injuries including some broken ribs and minor burns.
We sincerely wish him good health and a swift recovery.
PART 2 – THE RACE
Lewis Hamilton dominated unopposed from start to finish to take the 95th win of his career. He was joined on the podium by Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon who takes his second podium of the season.
It was a frenetic start which saw Sergio Perez get an amazing start the beat Valtteri Bottas off the line. Down the order Lando Norris picked up front wing damage from contact with Daniil Kvyat while the likes of George Russell lost places off the start. Of course, what followed was the Grosjean crash at turn three.
The following red flag lased between 45 and 60 minutes and we got back under way at 18:35 local time.
The restart classification took the order from the safety car line two, situated at the end of the pit lane. Notable changes included Perez in third, Bottas in fourth and Norris in seventh.
However, the drama did not end there as Lance Stroll’s Racing Point was flipped over on the restart, almost a carbon copy of the Esteban Gutierrez and Pastor Maldonado 2014 crash. This was caused by contact with Kvyat who received a penalty as a result and brought out a safety car.
The misery continued for Racing Point who looked assured for a podium through Sergio Perez who had been able to keep third place the entire race. Unfortunately, an engine failure on the final few laps brought Racing Point’s hopes for third place in the constructors’ crashing down.
McLaren went from zero to hero today with a magnificent double points finish. Lando Norris took advantage on the restart making his way past the likes of Esteban Ocon to finish in fourth. Likewise, it was an excellent day for Carlos Sainz who put on an overtaking masterclass from 15th to 5th. After being able to extend the stint on the softs, younger medium rubber helped Sainz overtake both Renaults, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, and Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly.
The latter will be left with mixed emotions today with Gasly doing an incredible stint on hard compound tyres to finish in 6th place. He was left compromised at the end of the race but was spared a late lunge from Valtteri Bottas due to a late safety car. Daniil Kvyat in contrast had a miserable day, unfortunately involved in both incidents with Grosjean and Stroll. He was able to make it back to 11th to end a very eventful day for the Russian.
Renault will be disappointed not to achieve more today with Daniel Ricciardo in 6th and Esteban Ocon in 8th. For the majority of the race it looked to be Ocon with the advantage. But as Ricciardo close the gap, the two fought which compromised them both against the likes of Carlos Sainz. Ricciardo was able to get past following the pit stops, helping the team to close the gap to Racing Point in the constructors.
Valtteri Bottas will be wanting the season to end as soon as possible. He lost position to Sergio Perez off the line and was then forced into an early tyre change due to a puncture. He attempted to extend the hards early in the race but was unable to make any sizable impact on fresh mediums. 8th place means he loses further ground to Verstappen in the drivers’ championship.
Two weeks on from Ferrari’s highs at Turkey, it was a return to normality today as the power demands of Bahrain severely hampered both cars. Charles Leclerc would finish in 10th with Sebastien Vettel in 13th. With similar power demands expected next weekend at Bahrain’s outer circuit, I expect there to be a similarly unspectacular performance.
Williams may not have achieved that elusive championship point, but should take positives after Russell finished in 12th while Latifi in 14th. Indeed, Russell had to defend from a charging Sebastien Vettel to keep 12th, albeit with a sizable power advantage with the Mercedes PU.
Alfa Romeo and Haas rounded out the final classifications. Kimi Raikkonen in 14th, Giovinazzi 15th and Kevin Magnussen 16th. Giovinazzi had been running ahead of his teammate until deciding to pit under the Sergio Perez safety car which put him firmly behind.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As Formula One heads to the temple of speed at the 5.7 kilometre Monza circuit, the question on everyone’s lips is not really whether Mercedes will be the dominant force over the course of the weekend.
Instead, we are left wondering just how massive the advantage will be for the Silver Arrows as they seek to continue their astonishingly impressive start to the 2020 season.
Despite the extended 2020 lay-off due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Mercedes have very much picked up where they left off at the end of 2019, winning six of the first seven races. And the power-dominated track – the quickest in the calendar – will very much play into the hands of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
Unlike last weekend at Spa, there does not appear to be any threat of rain. However, despite the forecast, hopes of a damp race in Belgium were dampened by a lack of dampness, as Mercedes took a one two for the first time in six races in Belgium, extending their lead at the top of the tree.
A potential surprise in Italy though would very much include Renault. Their top speed at Belgium aided Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon to a fourth and fifth placed finish respectively, giving them an assured feeling going into this weekend at Monza, where a podium could beckon. It would be the Frenchman’s first ever podium in Formula One, while Daniel Ricciardo would be looking for his first podium since the Monaco Grand Prix in 2018, where he won.
Conspicuous in their absence thus far in this preview have been Ferrari. Spa was nothing short of a disaster for the Scuderia. The powerful nature of the track in Francorchamps was always going to affect the struggling Ferrari power unit adversely, but no one really expected them to be so far from the points pace-wise. Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc were both knocked out in Q2 last Saturday, and Vettel beat his team mate to a lowly thirteenth position in the race. If the affect of the straight line speed in the Ardennes Forest worked against them, Monza will be a travesty. Haas and Alfa Romeo – both Ferrari powered teams – competed with the works team, and Kimi Raikkonen’s pass on former team mate Vettel was the epitome of just how far Ferrari have fallen. It is easy to forget that Charles Leclerc won this race last season.
Racing Point, meanwhile, seemed to struggle more than expected at Spa, meaning it will be intriguing to see how their car performs at a track that, in theory, should really suit their car and the Mercedes engine that goes with it. Pierre Gasly’s pass in the Alpha Tauri on Racing Point’s Sergio Perez through Eau Rouge was the pick of the bunch last time out. Another strong performance from the Frenchman at his team’s home race could push him further into contention to take the Red Bull seat back away from the struggling Alex Albon.
It looks as though Mercedes will be raiding the home of Ferrari once more, as the temple of speed welcomes F1 for round eight of the 2020 season.
Formula One rolls into the luscious town of Francorchamps this week, the threat of rain looms for the upcoming weekend as we await the 76th Belgian Grand Prix.
At a remarkable seven kilometres, Spa boasts the shortest name and the longest track on the calendar – which this year has been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we all have reason to be extremely grateful to see Spa on the shortened and condensed list of races this year. It is one of the most challenging, exhausting and bravery-inciting circuits F1 has seen in its 70-year history – Charles Leclerc and Fernando Alonso can testify to that after flying car incidents into turn one in 2012 and 2018.
And if previous form is anything to go by, we could be in for a fascinating race. The last eight F1 races at Spa have seen seven different winners – Jenson Button, Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc. Mercedes power has claimed five of the last 10 races, with Renault and Ferrari power taking the flag in the other five.
The clouds that promise an invigorating twist to the tail throughout all three days of running could provide Red Bull the opportunity to win their fourth race here, with Dutchman Max Verstappen seeking to once again throw a spanner in Mercedes’ almost flawless works and earn his second win of the season after the 70th anniversary Grand Prix in Silverstone.
And it is a good thing for Mercedes’ rivals that the ominous rain threat is there – because this track suits the Silver Arrow almost down to a tee.
With tremendously long full-throttle sections and a heavily reduced necessity for downforce, Mercedes would expect to have the superior car around this track. And they still may. Coupled with excellent proficiency in the car, they have a six-time world champion in Lewis Hamilton that has won four of the last five rain-affected races in F1 – Germany last year being the only exception. He was also the last driver to win a rain-affected race in Belgium back in 2010.
Racing Point, dubbed the pink Mercedes in the midst of the “copying” row, also know that if they can master the wet conditions, a podium finish may be on the cards for them – it would be their first since Sergio Perez in Baku two years ago.
The Ferrari powered cars would be grateful of some rain too this weekend. Ferrari, Haas and Alfa Romeo have all struggled immensely in the early part of the campaign, and some unpredictable weather conditions may just be the catalyst needed for a strong result for those teams – it seems outrageous saying this given that Ferrari won this race last year with Leclerc.
McLaren, who now have two podiums to their name in as many seasons, looked incredibly strong with Carlos Sainz in qualifying in Styria in the wet, and will undoubtedly sense an opportunity themselves.
As F1 returns to Spa, Charles Leclerc knows he may just need a sprinkle to claim a second consecutive win here – and while there will be no orange wall for Max Verstappen, it looks likely there will be a few walls of spray this weekend.
Feature Image Courtesy of Mark Thompson/Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool
It’s safe to say that 2020 has not been the best year for Ferrari. From dropping Sebastian Vettel, who has previously been their best shot at a title, to engine problems leaving them and their customer teams falling behind initial expectations.
Only two podiums in the first four races would usually be a disaster for Ferrari in the modern era, especially when McLaren have one third place and Mercedes have won all four. It doesn’t bode well for a team with such pedigree within the sport.
Not having both drivers through to Q3 in Austria wasn’t a major issue, especially as Charles Leclerc had described the performance of the car as “probably worse than we expected”. But when team principal Mattia Binotto confirmed that there were major design flaws with the SF1000, particularly regarding the aerodynamics, this did not fill anyone within the team, or the fans, with confidence.
As if things couldn’t get worse, they did at the Styrian Grand Prix when both cars collided on the first lap and had to retire. Even with the new upgrades to the front wing and rear diffuser, the car just couldn’t meet the standards expected from the team and the fans.
Hungary was an improvement, especially in qualifying. Both drivers made it through to Q3 and both finished the race, even if they were both lapped by Lewis Hamilton.
Also, Ferrari are lucky to not have had significant mechanical failures like some Mercedes engines and the electronics issues with the Honda-powered cars. The Ferrari-powered Haas cars had issues with the brakes in the Austrian GP. Even if their power unit isn’t as good as in 2019, its reliability is something to be impressed about.
2020 was destined to be the year for them. Leclerc had just finished his maiden year with the team and Vettel going into his last with them. Surely, just surely, they could string a good season together.
A technical restructure for the team before the British Grand Prix was needed and came with Rory Byrne being mentioned, who helped Ferrari to titles in the dominant Schumacher era. His expertise will be used to ensure the team do not fall as far behind as they currently are.
Bringing a low aerodynamic package to Silverstone, one that would commonly be seen at a track like Spa-Francorchamps, proved that Ferrari were focusing on a defensive strategy rather than trying to attack from the front. This is due to the fact that Silverstone is dominated by engine power and this has been the main point of concern for the team.
The qualifying performance from the team was more impressive at Silverstone than previous races, with Leclerc starting in fourth place just over a second behind the new record time set by Hamilton, and Vettel also qualifying in the top 10.
This was also supported by a strong performance in the race with a podium for Leclerc, assisted by a tyre issue for Valtteri Bottas in the final moments of the race, and tenth for Vettel, after struggling to keep the Alpha Tauri of Pierre Gasly behind him.
After four races, the team is in fourth place in the constructor’s championship, one point ahead of Racing Point who have had a strong showing so far. For the drivers, Leclerc is in fifth position behind Lando Norris, and Vettel is only two points behind Gasly in 13th place. Vettel has not finished a race higher than sixth, which would usually be the minimum for one of the top three teams.
2020 has unfortunately proved that Ferrari are not going to be automatically considered to be in the running for titles or even race wins. With the rules staying the same into 2021, it is unlikely that they will be more competitive next year.