Ricciardo confident Renault “heading in the right direction” despite early problems

Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo says he is confident the team are “heading in the right direction”, despite the problems he has suffered in the first few races of the 2019 season.

Ricciardo has suffered two DNFs in two races, retiring from his home Grand Prix in Australia as a result of damage sustained when his front wing was broken at the start of the race, and then grinding to a halt on lap 53 of the Bahrain Grand Prix due to a loss of power.

Despite this, Ricciardo still believes that there are signs of promise and was buoyed by a positive showing in the post-Bahrain Grand Prix test.

Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Renault F1 Team RS19.
Bahrain Grand Prix, Saturday 30th March 2019. Sakhir, Bahrain.

“I’m certainly getting there in terms of extracting the maximum [from the car] and getting more comfortable,” he said. “These things do take time, but it’s good to iron out these details going forward. We’ll get there soon and sure enough and I’m confident we’re heading in the right direction.”

Renault have identified a certain pattern in their performance over the course of the weekend, and Ricciardo says it’s just a matter of the team finding their feet and delivering on the potential of the car.

“We showed signs [of pace] over the race weekend, going from a struggle on Friday, followed by an improvement on Saturday to being in and amongst it on Sunday.

“The car clearly has pace, but for me, it’s about finding all of it. I feel there’s a lot more to come.”

(L to R): Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Renault F1 Team with Cyril Abiteboul (FRA) Renault Sport F1 Managing Director.
Bahrain Grand Prix, Friday 29th March 2019. Sakhir, Bahrain.

Team Principal Cyril Abiteboul shared a similar sentiment. “The start of the 2019 season has fallen short of our high expectations,” he said. “Our overall competitiveness is good enough for our drivers to be racing in the top ten and closer to the top teams than last year, but we have suffered from reliability issues.

“We move onto China with caution, but also with a resolution to really get the season going.”

 

[Featured image – Renault F1 Team]

Toto Wolff: Mercedes not daunted by Ferrari challenge

Ahead of this weekend’s 1000th Grand Prix, due to be held at the Shanghai International Circuit, Toto Wolff has said that his Mercedes team are not daunted by the challenge posed by Ferrari in the first few races of the season. Instead, he believes the opposite is true.

“The challenge we are facing doesn’t daunt us – it’s uplifting,” Wolff said. “We will keep pushing to extract the maximum performance from our package to deliver the best race we can.

“We will try and exert pressure, maximise our opportunities and keep working hard to develop our overall package. We’ve seen exciting races so far this season and we’re looking forward to the next fight in Shanghai.”

2019 Bahrain Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Mercedes have taken two somewhat unexpected wins so far, with Valtteri Bottas claiming victory in Australia and Lewis Hamilton doing likewise in Bahrain.

Many had tipped Ferrari to have the edge over the Silver Arrows based on their form in pre-season testing, but they struggled around the streets of Albert Park, before Charles Leclerc suffered a reliability issue whilst dominating the Bahrain Grand Prix, with Sebastian Vettel spinning from a podium position in a battle with Hamilton.

What that means is that Mercedes hold the lead in both the drivers’ and constructors’  championships, with a 1-2 in both races so far. Despite this, though, Toto Wolff is under no illusions that Mercedes are clearly ahead in terms of performance.

2019 Bahrain Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

“Two races into the 2019 season, it may seem like we’re in a strong position,” he said. “We have 87 points, just one below the maximum score. But the constructors’ standings do not tell the full story.

“The truth is that we aren’t as quick as our direct competitors throughout qualifying and the race in Bahrain. The Ferrari was considerably faster on the straights and this added up to several tenths around one lap.

“Nevertheless, the saying goes that ‘in order to finish first, first you have to finish’ and the combination of solid performances from the team, reliability of our systems and a strong drive from our drivers secured us the one-two.”

 

[Featured image – Wolfgang Wilhelm]

Chinese Grand Prix Preview: The Millennia

Here we are then – 69 years, 71 circuits, 32 countries, millions of laps, and 33 World Champions later, we have arrived at the 1000th Formula One Championship Grand Prix. Legends have been and gone, tracks have been celebrated and forgotten, while some have stood the test of time. From Juan Manuel to Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Lewis Hamilton, and Michael Schumacher, the 999 championship Grands Prix so far have bought us the thrill of high speed drama, the jubilation of seeing our chosen few win championship gold, and the sorrow of watching some of our heroes and idols fall prey to the inherent and cruel danger of the sport.

The big 1000 brings us to the 5.4 kilometre-long Shanghai International Circuit for the 2019 Chinese Grand Prix. An undulating first sector, high speed corners, along with harsh braking zones make for a real test of driver skill and car performance, and the circuit has given us some fantastic races over the years, like last year for example, with Daniel Ricciardo taking a dramatic win for Red Bull after an incident-packed race.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

We have seen five-time champion Lewis Hamilton’s 2007 championship dreams end in the pit entrance, crashes on the way to the grid half and hour before the race even started, an historic win for Mercedes, and the wheels falling off for Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi in 2010 – literally.

In terms of the here and now, 2019 has already seen its fair share of excitement, drama, and exquisite racing. Coming into China, the cooler temperatures are generally expected to favour Mercedes over Ferrari, particularly in terms of tyres, which the Italian team really struggled with in the first race in Australia, but had no problems with in Bahrain.

The problem they did have, however, was an electric failure in Charles Leclerc’s engine, costing him a fairytale maiden victory under the most cruel of circumstances and handing the win and the 1-2 to Mercedes, all while Sebastian Vettel was trying to keep his Ferrari pointing in the right direction. Leclerc’s Bahrain engine will still be used for China, as the issue was discovered to be as simple as a short circuit, meaning he will not have to take a grid penalty.

Ferrari Media

Vettel knows he will need to bounce back after a below-par performance in the first two races of the season. The fact that China is predominantly a power track will help, but Mercedes’ power coupled with their ability to keep the tyres in an operating window much more consistently than Ferrari should make for a cracking race. Let’s not count out Red Bull either, who won the race last year and could so easily have had a 1-2, if not for a moment of madness from Max Verstappen that saw him wipe both himself and Vettel out at turn 14.

Further down, Renault look to improve on what has been a nightmare start to the season. An engine problem in qualifying and a bizarre first lap crash for Daniel Ricciardo ruined their weekend in Australia, before synchronised engine failures last time out in Bahrain saw the team leave the desert with no points.

Racing Point, Alfa Romeo, Toro Rosso and McLaren continue their impressive and exciting battle in the midfield, while Haas, generally considered to be quicker than all of them, need an answer as to why their race pace was lacking so badly – a sixth-placed qualifying for Kevin Magnussen led to a P13 finish in the race in Bahrain, while Romain Grosjean failed to see the chequered flag after contact on the first lap.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

As for Williams, China does not look like a circuit that will go any way to improving their disastrous fortunes in the early stages of the season, with the tricky corners and long straights providing risks for poor reliability and a severe lack of spare parts. It’s not getting easier for the team that, during their championship-winning glory days, would not have foreseen them having the slowest car on the grid going into F1’s 1000th race.

This weekend will be a celebration for Formula One, but who will be celebrating a momentous win at F1’s championship milestone? Onto number 1000 we go.

 

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

Let the Show Begin, is F1 still boring?

A few months ago, almost everyone was complaining about the Halo. In Spain, where the first off-season test took place, the majority of the F1 fans didn’t like the design of the 2018 cars, especially because of the ‘Sayonara’ shape which is attached on the cockpit.

The next biggest issue that most of us had/have, is the lack of overtaking and suspense. Which I will agree, the past seasons were boring with zero suspense. We knew the winning team from the first race, except last season where Vettel was challenging Hamilton, our agony lasted until the British Grand Prix. The British champion returned to the winning mode and personally, I couldn’t see the Ferrari be able to stop the Silver Arrows.

This year, everything looks different. In Australia, Hamilton took the pole, but Ferrari copied their last year’s recipe and Vettel took the chequered flag. Two weeks later, in Bahrain, Sebastian Vettel drove from the pole till the final lap and scored his second consecutive victory.

Red Bull, which have faced several technical and non-technical issues this season, managed to do the impossible. Daniel Ricciardo, started the race from the fourth place, but after a thrilling race he took the chequered flag.

Lack of suspense

In Bahrain, Ferrari did not have an easy afternoon. Lewis Hamilton, had an impressive race, he managed to finish third from the ninth place, whilst his team-mate, was pushing Vettel, who decided to go for one stop strategy and finished the race on softs. Valtteri was close to Vettel, he had fresher tyres and a harder compound, in the final laps he was less than a second behind the German, but he couldn’t find the space and the speed to pass Vettel’s Ferrari. It was a thrilling race full of suspense and unpredictable until the chequered flag. After 57 laps, Sebastian Vettel finished first, 0.699s ahead of Valtteri Bottas.

The Battle between the Middle Teams

A dreaming start for the McLaren, in their first season with Renault powered engines. In Australia, Fernando Alonso finished fifth, between the two Red Bulls, while his team-mate, Stoffel Vandoorne finished ninth and scored two points for the McLaren. In Bahrain, both McLaren’s drivers finished in the points, Nando and Stoffel scored ten points combined. That was the second consecutive double point finish for McLaren. Fernando Alonso, didn’t stop the good performances in China. The Spaniard finished seventh ahead of Sebastian Vettel, including a great overtake on Vettel.

Renault looks that provides stable engines to McLaren, which is currently fourth in the constructor championship with 28 points. Fernando Alonso has scored 22 points so far, and he is in the sixth place, not far behind from Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen.

Another team, which had an impressive start been Haas, the American team impressed their fans in Australia with their competitiveness and their speed. Unfortunately, both drivers retired after a mistake during their pit-stops.

The two teams which have not met their fans’ expectations are the Force India and Williams. Force India has scored one point until now, they are ninth ahead of Williams which are at the bottom of the championship. Esteban Ocon, finished tenth in Bahrain and scored the only point for Sahara Force India so far.

Mercedes, the calm before the storm

Mercedes looks like the giant who is sleeping and everyone is trying not to wake him up. The Silver Arrows, have the speed and the pace to follow both Ferrari and Red Bull. Some poor strategic decisions cost them the victory in Australia. Bottas was chasing Vettel in Bahrain, but didn’t manage to pass him and in China Valtteri and Hamilton finished second and fourth respectively.

If the Halo makes the cars uglier but the championship more exciting and unpredictable, I would suggest to add more ‘Halos’ to the cars.

For me, the championship has not even started yet, next race takes place in Azerbaijan, which was one of the most unpredictable and emotional race of the 2017 season. Ferrari seems to have the upper hand, but both Mercedes and Red Bull are close and can easily challenge the Italians.

Let the show begin..!

Twitter – @FP_Passion

Chinese GP: has Ricciardo ended Bottas’s Mercedes hopes?

Daniel Ricciardo’s path to victory in Shanghai last Sunday was full of all the precise car placement and late-braking brilliance that F1 has come to expect from its smiling assassin.

But what was perhaps the most noticeable part of Ricciardo’s win was not the moves he made to achieve it, but who he beat along the way.

Wolfgang Wilhelm/Mercedes AMG F1

Fans and pundits alike were quick to point out that the two drivers who trailed Ricciardo onto the podium in China—Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen—also happened to be the same drivers under pressure from the Australian for a 2019 seat.

It was a coincidence sharp enough to be ominous—and judging by the two Finns’ downcast expressions in the post-race press conference, neither appreciated the irony in that result.

For Bottas, the timing of his defeat by Ricciardo could hardly have been less fortunate. It was only a week ago that the Finn was being criticised for a lack of aggression in his pursuit of Sebastian Vettel for the lead in Bahrain, and it will surely not have escaped his notice that one of those critics was Ricciardo himself.

After Bahrain, Ricciardo was quoted by Motorsport.com as saying he would have “at least tried” to overtake Vettel were he in Bottas’s position: “For me, the first opportunity you have to take. If it’s for a win, you just can’t [settle].”

To then have victory snatched away at the very next event, with a decisive move up the inside by the same man posturing to replace you? There’s misfortune, and then there’s misery.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

But what makes matters worse for Bottas is that he didn’t just lose out on victory for himself, he also let slip a victory for Mercedes.

With Lewis Hamilton struggling to get on the pace across the China weekend, the burden was on Bottas to lead Mercedes’ charge against Ferrari and secure their first win of the season.

And although the Finn’s chances of winning in Shanghai were ruined by the ill-timed safety car, it’s hard not to notice the similarities between this race and Bahrain. Both times Bottas was the lead Mercedes, both times a clever pit strategy put him in a winning position, and both times he finished only second.

Add that to the qualifying crash in Australia that left Bottas starting 15th on the grid, and Mercedes could be forgiven if their faith in the once-Flying Finn has become a little half-hearted this year.

And the danger there is that Hamilton, also out of contract this year, has hinted several times that the next deal he signs might well be his last. The driver decisions facing Mercedes this year will therefore be made with that post-Hamilton future in mind—their priority will be to lock in place the driver most capable of leading the team forward once Hamilton departs.

Given that’s something Ricciardo’s already shown he can do during his Red Bull tenure, Bottas will have a lot of work to do after his early season errors to prove to Mercedes that he is still their best option.

Steve Etherington/Mercedes AMG F1

There is still time for Bottas to turn his situation around—although that time is fast running out.

Ricciardo’s contract renewal talks with Red Bull were due to start this month, and if he decides early not to stay then the Australian could be meeting with Toto Wolff by the time F1 comes round to the European season in May. The uncertainty over Hamilton’s extension might hold up the talks for now—but alternatively, the fear of Ferrari poaching Ricciardo while Mercedes waits may well push Wolff into a swift decision.

Bottas will need to impress quickly, then, if he is to even remain in the running for his seat. But luckily for the Finn, the next race in Azerbaijan should be one of his stronger events—last year, he came from the back after a first lap crash to steal second from Lance Stroll across the line.

Another performance like that will go a long way to restoring Mercedes’ confidence in Bottas at this crucial time in the season—and if he can go one step further and take the Silver Arrows’ first 2018 win, then all the better.

But whatever results Bottas brings from Baku and beyond, he will have to up his game generally, and prove he is capable of taking the fight to Ferrari and Red Bull whenever Hamilton can’t.

Because as messages go, Ricciardo’s “lick the stamp and send it” jibe on the Shanghai podium couldn’t have been any clearer: if Mercedes wants a driver who will do more than settle for second, they know where to find one.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

2018 Chinese GP Driver Ratings

2018 is turning out to be the an exciting season. For the first time in the hybrid era it has been three races since the Silver Arrows last jumped on the topstep. China tends to be a race with very few retirements but safety cars aplenty and it was a factor today. 

Daniel Ricciardo – 10

He never wins a boring race, a stat that shows this is that he has never won a race from starting in the top three. ‘Sometimes you’ve got to lick the stamp and send it.’ That is what he said on the podium after his moves, especially on the divebomb from far back on Hamilton at turn 14. He was sixth at the restart, and through some great moves he finished first. Once he got through the field he pulled a gap and was never seen again. It is the first shooey of the season, some more to follow?

Valterri Bottas – 8

Flying the flag for Mercedes in the race, the Finn got a great start managing to jump one of the Ferrari’s. He kept it behind him and didn’t let the other get away. This allowed him to a great outlap to undercut the Ferrari to get the lead and control the race. His tyres lost him the lead but kept the other Finn behind him for a great second place considering had the second best car.

Kimi Raikkonen – 8

He got screwed by his team, Ferrari seem to be putting all their eggs in one basket with Vettel. It isn’t always going to work if they do. Kimi was a bit fortunate with the timing of the safety car after losing around 15 seconds to Hamilton after being left out there by the team. Had tyre age on his side to allow him to pull some passes off and finish on the podium. Spoilt today with a a few words on the podium too! 

Lewis Hamilton – 7

It was a grumpy Lewis Hamilton day much like Bahrain, he was never happy. ‘Is it me or there a lot of cars with fresh tyres behind me’ was a quote in the race. This was a clear shot at the team as was left in no mans land. He was just behind the others all weekend, with everything happening around him he closes the gap on his championship rival. Two races though not on the podium for the Brit.

Max Verstappen – 6

Patience, that is what the Dutchman needs more of, we all know he has the speed. Twice in one race he made mistakes on overtaking. First, on the outside of Hamilton where he could of waited for the DRS rather than losing places to Ricciardo. The second being the half gap on the inside of Vettel for the following lap as time was on his side. He would of probably won the race if he kept it clean but instead fifth due to a penalty. Unlike Bahrain he admitted it was his fault, think a talk with himself tonight needs to be done.

Nico Hulkenburg – 9

Once more this German is so under rated, with contracts up in air at the end of this season surely teams have to take a note. He has never been on the podium but consistently in the points and keeps it clean unlike others. Another strong day for him that puts him firmly as the number one driver at Renault.

Fernando Alonso – 8

Ringing the neck out of his car, finding the pace which his team mate cannot. His racecraft that he has only helps him further from starting so far back in the field. Kept tyres in good condition and his nose clean to push on. Nice move on Vettel late on to get even more points, due to a higher result is sixth in the standings.

Sebastian Vettel – 8

Through no fault of his own the championship leader finished down in eigth. He started the race well and did his token fast first lap to break the DRS on second place. He managed the gap well to keep the field behind him which was brilliant. The team kept him out too long which as a result allowed Bottas to jump him, and then running wide at the hairpin gave the aggresive Verstappen a gap that he would attempt a pass causing a spin. He lit the rears up when trying to get back pointing in the right direction which hindered him for the remaining laps. Had the pace but others hurt him. 

Carlos Sainz – 7

Very much in the shadows of his team mate currently, he needs a big display. Nearly got the stricken Ferrari at the end of the race but more points for him, albeit another finish far behind his team mate.

Kevin Magnussen – 7

Said he was lucky to just miss out on Q3. He qualified eleventh allowing him to have first choice of tyre. He went with the soft and slowly picked off the positions, undercuts pushed him back to further down the field though, more points for the American team.

Esteban Ocon – 6

An okay race for Ocon, he finished higher than he started which is something good to take for him. Hope for the team at Baku when they were strong last year but keep it clean! 

Sergio Perez – 6

The Mexican well renowned for his skill to keep life in his tyres you’d have thought would thrive in these conditions. A result from probably being one of the ten to go through into Q3 he was not helped by starting on the ultra soft tyres. The damage was done as went long on second stint and had no pace throughout.

Stoffel Vandoorne – 6

The Belgian is in the same boat as Carlos Sainz, playing second fiddle to his team mate. Mclaren seem to be talking a lot of gas and air when it comes to the performance of their car, but Vandoorne isn’t getting what his team mate can out of it. This time drivers’ didn’t retire so finished out of the points.

Lance Stroll – 7

A great start for Stroll today, quite a few positions picked off at the 270 degree turn one. Williams had a bit more pace this weekend albeit being slower than last year in qualifying. Solid midfield finish, confidence can be built as we head into the European season.

Sergey Sirotkin – 6

Is growing into the seat but questions continue to be asked if signing him was the correct decision. Is learning the car well, and gaining confidence. Not much was said about him throughout the race. 

Marcus Ericcson – 6

Good finish for Marcus, showing his rookie team mate that there is more potential in the Sauber Alfa Romeo. Peope saw him as a pay driver as they dropped the impressive Wehrlein over him but mixing it in the midfield and not always coming out second best.

Romain Grosjean – 5

Besides the few explicit words on the radio early on in the race when it seems the team said to let his team mate through Romain had a very quiet race. Getting into qualifying three seemed to hinder him. Forget and move on, but take confidence pace in the car is there.

Pierre Gasly – 5

It was the Frenchman’s eigth start and that showed, a bit of a yo-yo season thus far. Toro Rosso struggled with China very power concentrated track. He took out his team mate causing the safety car and ruined both races for the team. Gone back to Australia, want to keep the Bahrain-esque form up. Very silly, but he’ll learn from that.

Charles Leclerc – 6

For a driver that had never been to China he wasn’t adrift of the field, of course there are simulators that can be used but great display. The European season is when Leclerc will come to a next level.

Brendon Hartley – 5

The car wasn’t at the races today and was pretty much held back. The Kiwi was doing his own thing before being a passenger to a collision with his team mate. Had to retire late on due to damage.

Two things to conclude really, Verstappen, we rave how exciting he is to watch but he needs to learn. One of the late great Ayrton Senna’s quotes ‘If you no longer go for the gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver’ can be used to defend him. I don’t even think that he would of attempted that optimistic move.

Gave Ricciardo the driver of the day, but a big shout out to the Red Bull team for the whole of the weekend. A record breaking engine change in this era yesterday, and the two double stack pit stops really shows drive in the team to do the best they can at the track. Off track great tactics was decided in a few seconds when the safety car was called too. In a fortnight the Formula 1 circus is off to Baku, much earlier this year.

 

Images Courtesy of Redbull content pool