Sergio Pérez takes maiden victory in astonishing Sakhir GP

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.

F2 driver Jack Aitken stepped in for Mercedes-bound George Russell this weekend – Courtesy of Williams Media

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.

After an intense qualifying, Russell pipped Bottas into the first corner – Courtesy of Mercedes media

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.

Esteban Ocon earned a thoroughly-well deserved podium – Courtesy of Renault Media

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.

Bahrain – but not quite how we know it: Sakhir Grand Prix Preview

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.

Romain Grosjean’s injuries mean he will not be taking part this weekend – Courtesy of Haas Media

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.

Pietro Fittipaldi will make his debut this weekend – Courtesy of Haas Media

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.

Red Bull were buoyed by a double-podium last time in Bahrain – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

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.

Charles Leclerc brought home the only point for the Ferrari-based teams last weekend – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

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.

McLaren are within touching distance of third in the Constructors’ Championship after the events of the Bahrain Grand Prix – Courtesy of McLaren Media

It is still Bahrain, but minus a large chunk of the track – and hopefully minus the heavy crashes too.

Feature Image Courtesy of Mercedes Media

Bahrain GP: Grosjean Escapes Inferno, Hamilton cruises to 95th win amid a tumultuous race.

PART 1 – THE GROSJEAN INCIDENT

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.

Romain Grosjean’s quick reactions and amazing work from the medics and marshals saw him escape the horrible accident. We all wish him a speedy recovery – Courtesy of Haas Media

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.

Lewis Hamilton now has an incredible 95 wins in Formula One – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

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.

Just one point for Charles Leclerc and none for Sebastian Vettel spelled a horrible evening for Ferrari – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

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.

George Russell contrived to fend off Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in the closing stages – Courtesy of Williams Media

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.

RACE CLASSIFICATION

  1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 57 Laps
  2. Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing +1.254
  3. Alex Albon Red Bull Racing +8.005
  4. Lando Norris McLaren +11.337
  5. Carlos Sainz McLaren +11.787
  6. Pierre Gasly Alpha Tauri +11.942
  7. Daniel Ricciardo Renault +19.368
  8. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +19.680
  9. Esteban Ocon Renault +22.803
  10. Charles Leclerc Ferrari +1 Lap
  11. Daniil Kvyat Alpha Tauri +1 Lap
  12. George Russell Williams +1 Lap
  13. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari +1 Lap
  14. Nicholas Latifi Williams +1 Lap
  15. Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo +1 Lap
  16. Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo +1 Lap
  17. Kevin Magnussen Haas +1 Lap
  18. Sergio Perez Racing Point DNF
  19. Lance Stroll Racing Point DNF
  20. Romain Grosjean Haas DNF

Feature Image Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

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.

Mercedes to dominate at Monza? 2020 Italian Grand Prix Preview

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.

2020 Belgian Grand Prix, Friday – Steve Etherington

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.

2020 Belgian Grand Prix, Sunday – Steve Etherington

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.

Daniel Ricciardo could claim his first podium in 44 races this weekend

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.

GP ITALIA F1/2019 – DOMENICA 08/09/2019
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

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.

Alex Albon hopes to improve on a tough start to the 2020 season

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.

 

Feature Image courtesy of Glenn Dunbar/LAT Images

Belgian Blockbuster in the wet? 2020 Belgian Grand Prix Preview

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.

www.sutton-images.com | Fernando Alonso, McLaren MCL33 crashes and gets airborne at the start of the race at Formula One World Championship, Rd13, Belgian Grand Prix, Race, Spa Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday 26 August 2018.
BEST IMAGE

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.

2016 Belgian Grand Prix, Sunday

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.

Charles Leclerc dedicates his 2019 win to friend Anthoine Hubert – who lost life earlier in the weekend – Ferrari Media

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

Opinion: 2020, the year that could have been for Ferrari

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.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

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.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

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.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

2020 Styrian Grand Prix preview: second chance in Spielberg

Another week, another visit to Austria’s Red Bull Ring—this time for the Formula 1 Styrian Grand Prix.

Last week’s Austrian Grand Prix was a terrific opening round to the 2020 season. Valtteri Bottas landed an early blow in the title fight with Lewis Hamilton, Lando Norris earned his maiden podium with a last-gasp effort, and there was plenty of close-quarters racing throughout.

Last week’s result was also largely unexpected, thanks to incidents and reliability issues almost halving the field by the chequered flag. That means we could get a very different result again this weekend, if the teams and drivers don’t have half as much trouble keeping their cars on track.

One of the teams that’s sure to factor more in the Styrian Grand Prix is Red Bull. It was clear last time out in Austria that they were Mercedes’ closest challengers, but technical problems for both Max Verstappen and Alex Albon led to a double DNF instead. Both drivers will be going into this weekend pushing hard to make up for that, with Albon especially motivated after coming so close to his first F1 podium.

Racing Point F1 Team

Racing Point will also be hoping for a much better result this time out. The RP20 showed more evidence of its considerable pace in practice and qualifying, but a technical DNF for Lance Stroll and a penalty dropping Sergio Perez behind both McLarens in P6 left a lot still on the table for the team. Provided everything goes to plan for them this weekend, Racing Point should be able to finish ahead of their midfield rivals and take away a decent haul of points.

However, there will be several teams hoping for a repeat of last Sunday’s attrition. Alpha Tauri and Alfa Romeo both managed to score points last time out, with Pierre Gasly in P7 and Antonio Giovinazzi in P9, but on pace alone neither team looked that close to the top ten throughout the weekend.

And then there’s Ferrari. Although Charles Leclerc finished second in the opening race, that was very much a great result salvaged from a terrible outing. The SF1000 looked sluggish all weekend, never troubling Mercedes or Red Bull and qualifying behind McLaren and Racing Point. Add to that Sebastian Vettel’s spin after colliding with Carlos Sainz, and the result was a very sobering start to the season.

One glimmer of hope for the Scuderia was that the car looked much more responsive later in the race on the harder tyres, and the team will have hopefully learned something from last weekend’s pain that can be used to improve this weekend. If not, Leclerc and Vettel will likely find themselves scrapping away with the upper midfield rather than challenging for the podium.

The 2020 Styrian Grand Prix gets underway with free practice this Friday, with full coverage on our Twitter feed.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Vettel vs Leclerc: The making of the most explosive partnership ever?

It was coming, wasn’t it?

In the dying laps of the Brazilian Grand Prix, following a safety car,  Ferrari’s talented Monegasque upstart Charles Leclerc dived down the inside of team-mate Sebastian Vettel going into turn one. Nothing wrong with that move. On the exit of turn three, however, came a moment that epitomised what has been a long and painful struggle for Ferrari over recent years.

Attempting to gain his position back, Vettel re-created his 2010 drama with then-Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber, and moved across on Leclerc, terminally damaging Leclerc’s wheel, and giving himself a race-ending puncture.

I know we can’t use one incident to suggest that this is already the most controversial team-mate battle in F1 history. It doesn’t come close to Senna vs Prost or even Hamilton vs Rosberg, but what happened in Brazil was the culmination of an incredibly tense season at the Scuderia. It was a volcano that wasn’t going to stay dormant for long.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Vettel has a history of being more than a little incident-prone. Even during his spell of dominance at Red Bull, there were cracks under pressure, clashes with rivals, and an almost permanent sense of volatility. Then, after his move to Ferrari, there were incidents in Baku and Singapore in 2017, and multiple errors in 2018.

This year, his rivalry with Leclerc has seen a stark contrast with Vettel’s placid and comfortable relationship with Kimi Raikkonen. This year saw him come up against a young, quick, aggressive, motivated and extremely talented Leclerc. This pressure has in some ways pushed Vettel to become a better version of himself, but the mistakes have always been there, as has the flare that comes with competitive team-mates who simply will not accept number two status at the most historic and successful team in F1.

Success may seem distant for Ferrari at the moment, but as a team that dominates all of the papers in Italy and is the biggest talking point of a proud racing nation, the headlines are never far away. In typical Ferrari fashion, they have occupied them at every opportunity this year, but mainly for the wrong reasons.

On multiple occasions at the start of the year, Ferrari opted to swap their drivers over when chasing the quicker Mercedes cars, despite their cars being equal in pace. These decisions were puzzling to put it kindly, and led to friction that would dominate the rest of the season.

Singapore saw one of the most contentious incidents yet between the two. Leclerc was leading from pole, but Ferrari decided to give Vettel the undercut and inadvertently gave the German the lead of the race in the pit stops. Vettel won the race, ahead of a furious Leclerc.

At this point, tempers were sizzling, but Ferrari insisted that they had the situation under control.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

They came close to blows on the first lap of the US Grand Prix, and as soon as they went side-by-side in Brazil, you knew what was coming.

Ferrari have worked themselves into a situation that they cannot control. As in many races over the last couple of years, they have cost themselves valuable points with a combination of nonsense strategies and driver errors.

Regarding Vettel and Leclerc, there’s no need to explore specific points during races when Ferrari mishandled their driver situation. Forget China, forget Spain, forget Singapore, and forget Brazil. Ferrari were in trouble before the season even began.

Mattia Binotto started his role in the worst way possible. Before Melbourne, the new team principal stated that Ferrari would favour Vettel in the first part of the season and perhaps give Leclerc equal standing if he proved his worth as the year progressed.

I’m not sure I’ve seen a team boss make such a foreboding start to a reign as team boss. These comments will have created a lack of trust and a polarising divide between Vettel and Leclerc, because how are they supposed to race if they know they constantly have a team decision hanging over their heads? How does Leclerc hope to prove himself as a Ferrari race winner if the team will swap him and Vettel over anyway?

It gave the perception that Vettel had become Ferrari’s darling, and that Leclerc would have to be the bridesmaid. Binotto’s comments made it a personal battle between his drivers and they hadn’t even hit the streets of Melbourne for the weekend yet.

Would the tale have been different had Binotto been a bit more considerate in his comments? It’s difficult to tell, but I certainly feel there would be less animosity in Ferrari.

However, if you’re a neutral looking for exciting headlines every race, then Binotto’s a genius!

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Let’s face it, F1 has often felt stagnant in the last few years, because intense rivalries have been hard to come by. Lewis Hamilton’s battle with Valtteri Bottas has always been quite passive and amiable, despite Mercedes’ favouring the six-time champion.

Max Verstappen has had a grudge with Esteban Ocon, who will race for Renault next year, since their junior days.

Those rivalries aside, we are yet to see a battle to the extent of Hamilton and Rosberg. Looking back over the years, there has always been friction in such an emotionally-fuelled sport. The aforementioned battle of egos between Senna and Prost springs to mind, as does Mansell vs Piquet. Jacques Villeneuve wants to fight with everyone he meets, and who can forget Fernando Alonso’s beef with both Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel?

This friction gives us talking points other than Mercedes and Ferrari winning, with Max Verstappen, to his credit, often helping to spice up the action at the top of the field.

However, it almost seems like F1 doesn’t have room for mind games and antagonism any more, despite other racing series proving it can still be done.

MotoGP riders do a good job of getting into each other’s heads, and the same applies to Formula E. Jean Eric Vergne, Sebastien Buemi and Lucas di Grassi don’t exactly have soft spots for each other.

And that doesn’t come down to snide remarks and below-the-belt comments in the media like we often see in F1, this is about drivers passionately confronting each other about incidents and making sure everyone knows where they stand on conflicts. Remember Sebastien Buemi going round screaming at every driver he saw after race one of the 2017 season finale in Montreal?

This is what F1 needs more of and hopefully the new 2021 regulations will bring the field closer together and we can see more on-track fights and debates between drivers every race.

Of course, we’re not asking drivers to get the boxing gloves out. All we want is drivers racing closely and entertaining us, giving us something to talk about. Is that so much to ask of a sport that has given us so many jaw-dropping moments over the years?

So, could Vettel vs Leclerc become a rivalry for the ages? Quite possibly, but let’s hope it’s not the only one we have to talk about in years to come.

Brazilian GP: Albon tops FP1 despite crashing out, as Ferrari lead FP2

FP1 – A Damp Day on Track

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – NOVEMBER 15: Alexander Albon of Thailand driving the (23) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB15 on track during practice for the F1 Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 15, 2019 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Red Bull’s Alex Albon set the fastest lap in FP1, before bringing out the red flag to end the session after crashing out on slicks in drying conditions.

He topped the session with a 1:16.142, set shortly before he hit the wall at Juncao, with Valtteri Bottas second with a 1:16.693 and Sebastian Vettel in third with a 1:17.041. However, the morning’s session looked unlikely to be representative as the session started off wet and dried out slowly, with slick tyres not being seen until the final five minutes of the session.

The adverse conditions led to limited running, with four drivers – including Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen – not setting timed laps. Nicholas Latifi took the place of Robert Kubica, the driver he is expected to replace at Williams in 2020, in his sixth FP1 session of the season.

The session got off to a slow and soggy start, with Carlos Sainz the only driver to set a lap time in the early stages, with Lewis Hamilton and then Charles Leclerc the first drivers to emerge on intermediates just over the half-way point in the session.

With five minutes remaining, a flurry of cars came out on slick tyres, with both Red Bulls suffering problems in the damp conditions, but several drivers found the conditions challenging. Verstappen and Daniil Kvyat both suffered spin, and the session was brought to an end when Alex Albon hit the barriers.

FP2 – Ferrari on Top

GP BRASILE F1/2019 – VENERDÌ 15/11/2019
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

By the time FP2 came around, conditions had improved, and despite reports of raindrops mid-session, the rain stayed away enough to avoid a switch to intermediates.

The two Ferraris topped the timesheets, with Sebastian Vettel in first with a 1:09.217. Leclerc, who has a ten place grid penalty owing to an ICE change this weekend, set a 1:09.238 in second. Verstappen was third, and the Mercedes cars of Bottas and Hamilton were fourth and fifth respectively.

The midfield battle looked as close as ever, with a little over four tenths of a second separating the Haas of Kevin Magnussen in sixth and the Racing Point of Lance Stroll in 17th.

The session was red flagged early on as Robert Kubica’s Williams hit the wall before he was even able to set a lap time, scattering debris all around and likely creating some headaches for Williams, who have been beset by a shortage of parts this season.

Verstappen set the early pace before being usurped by the Ferraris at the top of the table, while Valtteri Bottas created some hairy moments for both teammate Lewis Hamilton and the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, failing to move out of the way as they came past on flying laps. Bottas and Leclerc also had a close shave in the pit lane, but the stewards deemed an investigation unnecessary.

Pierre Gasly parked up with 20 minutes to go with a probable engine issue, his car exuding plumes of smoke. The other Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat brought out the red flag to end the session, with Kvyat coming to a stop in the same place as Albon in FP1. However, Kvyat’s incident was likely to be mechanical as his dash appeared to cut off, sending him off the track.

 

[Featured image – Scuderia Ferrari Press Office]