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

Bottas stays at Mercedes, Renault sign Ocon

Renault and Mercedes have kick-started the 2020 driver market by announcing their driver lineups for next year at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Mercedes made the first move by announcing on Thursday morning that they had exercised their option to keep Valtteri Bottas for a fourth consecutive season with the team.

Bottas said: “I am very happy and proud to be part of the team for a fourth season and wish to thank every team member and the board of Mercedes for their trust and belief in me.

“My performances have been getting better and better each year, and this is a great way to kick start the second half of 2019.”

Team boss Toto Wolff said he had resigned Bottas for “another season at least”, and praised his contribution to Mercedes’ successes since 2017 as “exemplary”.

LAT Images / Mercedes AMG

Shortly after, Renault announced that it had signed Esteban Ocon for 2020, with the Frenchman free to join the team after being denied a potential Mercedes drive by Bottas.

Ocon joins Renault on a multi-year deal and will replace Nico Hülkenberg, who will leave the French marque after three seasons.

Ocon had previously been part of the Renault stable as their test and reserve driver in 2016, when he took part in four free practice outings in the RS16. Before arriving in Formula One, he was also a member of the Enstone-based Lotus junior programme.

Renault F1 Media

Speaking about joining Renault, Ocon said: “First and foremost, I am very proud to become a Renault driver. I have grown up at Enstone, starting with Lotus in 2010 and then with Renault. I am very attached to this team and everyone who works there; they are the ones who opened the doors of top level motorsport for me.

“Secondly, I am pleased that a team with big ambitions has entrusted me with the opportunity to once again demonstrate my skills at the highest level of F1.”

Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul paid tribute to the departing Hülkenberg’s work at the team, calling him “a pillar” of Renault’s progress since rejoining F1 in 2016.

Speaking on Twitter, Hülkenberg called it “a pity” to be leaving Renault at the end of the season, and added that he is “confident” about being on the 2020 grid but has “nothing to announce at the moment”. He is widely tipped to join Haas, after Gunther Steiner confirmed on Thursday that Hülkenberg is on the American team’s shortlist to partner Kevin Magnussen.

Renault F1 Media

F1 makes its anticipated return: Belgian Grand Prix Preview

After a summer break that always feels like a lifetime, Formula One is back, and the circus this time arrives at the 7 kilometre Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest.

The summer has seen a couple of changes. Pierre Gasly, who has endured a horrible season at Red Bull alongside the imperious Max Verstappen, has been dropped by Red Bull axe-man Helmut Marko and placed back at Toro Rosso. His replacement is Anglo-Thai driver Alexander Albon, who moves up from the junior team having impressed in his rookie season alongside Daniil Kvyat—although the Russian, having scored a podium in Germany and more points this season than his younger team-mate, will feel as though he should have been with the Austrian team heading into Belgium.

Albon joins the team for a race at which they are not expected to pull off the spectacular heroics that Max Verstappen has displayed in the first half of the season. Spa is very much a power track, but the tricky, twisty middle sector will provide somewhat of an opportunity for the Bulls to make up time on Mercedes and Ferrari.

Lars Baron, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Speaking of them, Ferrari need to establish some kind of foothold in this season’s championship, having failed to win a race in the first half of the season, with Charles Leclerc falling agonisingly short of victory in Bahrain and Austria, and Sebastian Vettel losing the win in Canada due to a penalty. The prancing horses, who have thus far been cantering ponies, are generally better in a straight line than Mercedes this year, and this weekend is a great chance to grab that first win.

As for Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton certainly cannot be counted out of a win, and it is not as if the Mercedes is tremendously slower than the Ferrari on the straights. However, Hamilton will surely have one eye on the title with a 62 point lead over team-mate Valtteri Bottas, and may opt to play the long game.

Bottas is in a different boat. Following a blistering start to the season, winning in Australia and Azerbaijan, the Finn has fallen back, and has since started to show the cracks that we have seen in the last two seasons partnered with Hamilton. No wins since race four, a crash in Germany and a clumsy incident with his team mate in Hungary has left his future in doubt, with Esteban Ocon among a couple of names potentially being lined up to replace him next year. Bottas is running out of time in the harsh climate of Formula One, and he needs a strong result at Spa to kick off the second part of the season and salvage his future at Mercedes.

LAT Images / Mercedes AMG

Further back, Haas drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen both need strong weekends themselves. Several incidents between the two drivers have frustrated their demanding team boss Guenther Steiner, and neither of them currently have a safe seat for next season.

It was at this race 12 months ago where Racing Point, undergoing their transformation as Racing Point Force India, came close to a podium with Sergio Perez. A podium will not be expected this time, but points will certainly be the objective. So too will be the case for Renault’s drivers, who both failed to score points here last year after Nico Hulkenberg catapulted Fernando Alonso, and Daniel Ricciardo was caught up in the ensuing melee.

George Russell was hopeful that Williams were taking steps in the right direction following the last race in Budapest, but we should not expect them to be able to lift themselves off the bottom of the time sheets this time around.

Hamilton is back to defend his championship lead, Bottas and Ferrari need to bounce back, and Formula One is back, as is Eau Rouge, I mean Raidillon, oh forget it…

Follow full live text commentary of free practice, qualifying and the race on our Twitter account, @PitCrew_Online.

Header image by Wolfgang Wilhelm / Mercedes AMG

How Hockenheim affects the F1 driver market

With the summer break just around the corner, the German Grand Prix was always going to be a key race for those drivers chasing new contracts for 2020. And when the rain came down on race day, the crazy conditions allowed some to shine and left others dreadfully exposed.

Pierre Gasly

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Already under pressure just to keep his Red Bull seat for the rest of this year, Pierre Gasly’s German Grand Prix was a nightmare he just didn’t need. After starting the weekend with a chassis-wrecking shunt in FP2, Gasly then spent most of the race once again mired in the midfield pack, before retiring in ignominious fashion after rear-ending (ironically, some might say) Alex Albon’s Toro Rosso.

With his teammate again excelling across the weekend to take Red Bull’s second victory of the season, Hockenheim might just be the final nail in the coffin for Gasly.

Daniil Kvyat

Peter Fox, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Gasly’s error-strewn weekend was bad enough by itself, without Daniil Kvyat putting in arguably the drive of his career to steal an unlikely third place for Toro Rosso.

Helmut Marko was quick after the race to say Kvyat’s podium didn’t guarantee him Gasly’s seat for the rest of the year—after all, a podium wasn’t enough to keep Kvyat himself in that seat back in 2016. But even if Red Bull don’t give him another chance at the senior team, Kvyat’s Hockenheim performance will have certainly raised his stock ahead of a potential midfield reshuffle.

Valtteri Bottas

LAT Images / Mercedes AMG

Toto Wolff said at the start of the German Grand Prix weekend that Valtteri Bottas needed “two solid performances in Hockenheim and Budapest” to be sure of a contract extension for 2020.

Judging by Wolff’s table-banging and audible cry of “Damn it, Valtteri!” as Bottas spun into the wall on lap 56, the Finn’s chances of keeping his seat from Esteban Ocon have been considerably reduced. Add to that his lacklustre early race pace and qualifying defeat by both Max Verstappen and an unwell Lewis Hamilton, and this becomes a very costly weekend for Bottas’s future.

Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen

Haas F1 Media

Gunther Steiner was visibly furious with Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen after they hit each other late on at Hockenheim, just one race after taking each other out on the first lap at Silverstone.

A driver change now looks like a certainty, though whether Steiner and Gene Haas have enough patience left to wait until 2020 is still up for debate. If not, Ferrari simulator driver Pascal Wehrlein is thought to be the most likely to slot into one of the cars after the summer break.

2020 F1 driver market preview

Now that the 2019 F1 Championship is nearing its summer break, the traditional driver market rumours have started coming in thick and fast. To help sort the bluff from the believable, we’ve identified five key hotspots in this year’s silly season.

Esteban Ocon

Mercedes AMG

Esteban Ocon is expected to be the driver market’s dominant figure this year. Although his chances of a 2020 Mercedes drive have been slashed by Valtteri Bottas’ run of improved form, there is no shortage of teams to which the Frenchman has been linked.

If Mercedes were to release Ocon as they did Pascal Wehrlein last year, then he could prove the keystone for the midfield shuffle. Renault and Haas especially are known to be interested in a free Ocon, and both teams have drivers out of contract.

Sebastian Vettel

Ferrari Media

Although Sebastian Vettel has a contract with Ferrari for 2020, his distance from the title, infamous disagreements with the stewards and the rise of Charles Leclerc have all left him openly questioning whether F1 is still the place he wants to be.

At the moment Vettel is still expected to at least see out his contract rather than walk away early. But if he does call time on his F1 career this season, the most likely candidate to take his seat is thought to be Bottas or Daniel Ricciardo.

Nico Hülkenberg

Renault Sport Media

Nico Hülkenberg might have scored more than half of Renault’s total points since he joined them in 2017, but that hasn’t stopped team reportedly eyeing up Ocon for his seat next year.

If Hülkenberg were to lose his Renault drive, his only alternative on the 2020 grid would be a sideways move to Haas, Racing Point or Alfa Romeo. However, after nine seasons mired in the midfield he may decide to take his considerable talent to a more competitive series—Formula E, perhaps, or returning to Le Mans with Aston Martin’s hypercar entry.

Romain Grosjean

Haas F1 Media

Romain Grosjean is another driver under pressure from Ocon, with one wild silly season story claiming Haas were even trying to swap the two Frenchmen around for this weekend’s German Grand Prix.

But while that particular rumour has come to nothing, it is true that Grosjean is facing a lot of competition for his seat—not just from Ocon, but also Hülkenberg, Sergio Pérez and now-Ferrari development driver Wehrlein. Whether Grosjean remains on the F1 grid at all next year remains to be seen, with his best option likely swapping seats with Pérez and joining Racing Point.

Nicholas Latifi

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

There isn’t much space for new young drivers on the 2020 grid, but Formula 2 frontrunner Nicholas Latifi already has his feet under the table with a Williams reserve role. If Williams and Robert Kubica decide to part company at the end of a frustrating year for both parties, Latifi is next in line to replace the Pole.

Latifi has also been linked with Racing Point, forming an all-Canadian lineup with Lance Stroll should Pérez move on to Haas. However, Ocon is a much more likely alternative at present, given his fruitful past relationship with the team and his friendship with Stroll.

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Esteban Ocon aiming to finish season “on a high”

Heading into this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Esteban Ocon has said he is hoping to finish the season “on a high”, with his future beyond the floodlights of Yas Marina currently uncertain.

“It’s always a bittersweet feeling when you get to the end of the season,” he said, “but the main motivation is to finish on a high, especially when there is so much at stake in the championship. The last couple of races have been very disappointing, but there’s still one last chance to score a good result before the end of the year.”

Force India currently lie seventh in the constructors’ championship on 48 points, sandwiched between McLaren and Sauber. They, of course, had to start from scratch at the Belgian Grand Prix following their buy-out and rebranding over the summer break. Their fight-back has been rather remarkable, ignoring the coming together between Ocon and team-mate Sergio Perez on the first lap in Singapore.

Heading into Abu Dhabi, tens of millions of dollars worth of prize money is at stake for the team, and Ocon is keen to deliver.

“Abu Dhabi is always good fun. We travel there when it’s getting cold in Europe so it feels a bit like you’re going on holiday. It’s a wonderful paddock too – one of the best – and I always feel very relaxed there.

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Racing Point Force India F1 VJM11.
Brazilian Grand Prix, Friday 9th November 2018. Sao Paulo, Brazil.

“I have a lot of good memories from Abu Dhabi: it’s the place where I first drove during a Formula One weekend and I was crowned GP3 champion there. The start of that race in 2015 was incredible – I knew I had to take the title right there on lap one and I did it.”

Ocon knew that his future at Force India was in doubt even before the summer break when, as mentioned, a consortium led by Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll bought out the team, making it more than likely that son Lance would make the jump from Williams for 2019. Ocon’s fate at Force India was then sealed when Sergio Perez renewed his contract with his team, leaving the Frenchman out in the cold. For a long while Ocon had been linked to the second seat at Williams alongside fellow Mercedes junior George Russell, however it was announced this morning that Robert Kubica had been signed instead.

Ocon has since been linked to a role with Mercedes as simulator and reserve driver, with some suggesting that he is being primed to be brought in as a Mercedes race driver in 2020.

For now and for one last race, though, Ocon’s allegiances lie with Force India, and he is hoping the partnership ends on a high under the lights of Abu Dhabi.

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Racing Point Force India F1 VJM11.
Brazilian Grand Prix, Friday 9th November 2018. Sao Paulo, Brazil.

 

Featured image – Racing Point Force India

2018 Singapore Grand Prix: One to forget for Force India

With their spirits high on the back of their impressive form in the last few races, Racing Point Force India looked as though they would continue their success this weekend in Singapore. When Perez and Ocon ran well in practice, and clocked impressive times in Saturday’s qualifying session, who could have known that the weekend would end as it did?

As the lights went out, it appeared – briefly – as though we might have an opening lap unusually free of incident. Unfortunately, a battle between the two Force India drivers soon put paid to that idea. You’ve no doubt seen the replays from every which angle by now but whether, as the stewards determined, you feel the collision that unfolded was a racing incident, or whether you feel there is blame to be placed (presumably on Perez), it was an incident that I think we can all agree should not have happened.

My own opinion is that while Ocon might have been a little plucky, there was no excuse for Perez not to have left him a bit more room. However, I also think there’s little point in dissecting the incident. It happened, it shouldn’t have happened, and that’s all that really matters.

Sergio Perez (MEX) Racing Point Force India F1 VJM11.
Singapore Grand Prix, Sunday 15th September 2018. Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore.

The incident left a despondent Ocon in the wall and out of the race, although what appeared to be one of his wheel rims continued on without its owner, finding a temporary new home on the front wing of Sergey Sirotkin’s Williams. Perez, meanwhile, escaped unscathed, running in seventh position until his pit stop.

The second moment of the race that Perez will surely rue came when he had been following Sirotkin (now sans extra wheel rim) for over ten laps. Clearly growing frustrated, Perez had taken to bizarre radio shout-outs to Charlie Whiting asking him to do something about the Russian driver who, for anyone watching, seemed to be defending hard but driving fairly. While Sirotkin was later involved in a questionable move with Brendon Hartley, which rightly earned him a penalty, there was little evidence that he’d acted unreasonably towards Perez.

Just as it seemed that Perez had finally managed to clear the Williams, he inexplicably turned left, spearing straight into his rival. In this second disastrous incident for Perez, it was near impossible to view it as anything other than wholly his fault. He finally finished the race in 16th, after serving a drive-through penalty for the collision, and will surely leave Singapore with a great deal to think about before the next race.

Sergio Perez (MEX) Racing Point Force India F1 VJM11.
Singapore Grand Prix, Sunday 15th September 2018. Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore.

Unfortunately, the events of this weekend’s race mean that Force India will have more to think about than their position in the standings. Instead, managing their drivers and minimising tensions between them will likely be a focus within the team. Despite not being unfamiliar with these sorts of problems between their drivers last season, until now it had seemed that such issues had been left behind in 2017.

But now, with their drivers once again not trusted to race each other, how will this impact their chances against not just each other, but the other teams? Only time will tell whether this new, undesirable twist in the tale of Racing Point Force India will continue to boil over, or whether they will be able to put it behind them for the good of the team.

Where will F1’s juniors be in 2019?

The 2018 driver market has been both kind and cruel to F1’s young drivers. On the one hand, Charles Leclerc, Pierre Gasly and Lando Norris have all secured dream promotions to Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren respectively.

But on the other hand, Esteban Ocon and Stoffel Vandoorne have both found their F1 careers on the rocks thanks to silly season developments, while rising stars like George Russell struggle to find any space on the grid.

As the final 2019 deals begin to fall into place, we look at which young drivers might yet find seats for Melbourne next year.

Antonio Giovinazzi

Ferrari Media

Despite becoming Italy’s first F1 driver in six years when he deputised for Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber last year, Antonio Giovinazzi has been unable to add to his two starts since being leapfrogged in Ferrari’s junior scheme by Charles Leclerc.

But with Leclerc moving from Sauber to Ferrari, Giovinazzi might finally get his shot at a full-time race seat. If Ferrari’s right to nominate one of Sauber’s drivers is to be believed, then Giovinazzi could be just an executive decision at Maranello away from joining the Swiss team’s lineup for next year.

Stoffel Vandoorne

Glenn Dunbar / McLaren Media

If Ferrari does insist on Sauber taking Giovinazzi, that will put pay to one of Stoffel Vandoorne’s best post-McLaren options.

Should Sauber be off the table, Vandoorne’s only real hope for 2019 is Toro Rosso. Honda is reportedly keen to bring Vandoorne into Toro Rosso having valued his feedback during their partnership with McLaren.

But even with Honda behind him, Vandoorne will have his work cut out convincing Helmut Marko that he has more potential than was shown in his two years with McLaren.

Pascal Wehrlein

Sauber F1 Team

Another potential obstacle in Vandoorne’s route to Toro Rosso is Pascal Wehrlein. The former Manor and Sauber driver is leaving the Mercedes family at the end of the year in a bid to open up more opportunities on the F1 grid, and is said to have a big fan in Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost.

It’s not the first time Wehrlein has been linked with Toro Rosso—he was touted as a potential mid-season replacement for Brendon Hartley earlier in the year. Those rumours may have come to nothing, but Wehrlein’s sudden appearance as a free agent in the driver market will surely give Red Bull and Toro Rosso something to consider.

Esteban Ocon

Racing Point Force India F1 Team

The details of Esteban Ocon’s plight to remain in F1 next year hardly need repeating by now. Currently his best chance of a 2019 race seat involves either Mercedes pressing customer team Williams to pick him over a more well-funded alternative, or breaking free from the Mercedes camp as Wehrlein has done and hoping that leads to a shot with Haas or Toro Rosso.

If neither avenue comes to fruition, then we’ll likely see Ocon take up a third driver role with the works Mercedes team—possibly dovetailing that with outings for the marque’s HWA-run Formula E team—before aiming to replace Valtteri Bottas in 2020.

Outside F1

Renault Sport F1 Team

If current drivers like Ocon and Vandoorne are struggling to stay in F1 next year, it’s doubtful anyone from the junior formulae will find space on the 2019 grid.

As the Formula 2 championship leader, Mercedes junior George Russell should be the best placed young driver to make the step up to F1. However, his position behind Ocon in the Mercedes hierarchy means that it’s unlikely he’ll be allowed to overtake the Frenchman and take an F1 drive at his expense.

On the other hand, F2 stalwart Artem Markelov may yet get his F1 break after five years in the feeder series. His Russian Time backing has seen him linked to Williams in recent weeks, and an FP1 run with Renault in Sochi will be the perfect chance to make his case when it counts.

Formula 3 title leader Dan Ticktum was being queued up to join Toro Rosso for next year, until the FIA pointed out that he was ineligible for a Super License. Ticktum will likely move to F2 for next year to complete his Super License, before stepping up to Toro Rosso in 2020.

David Pastanella / Red Bull Content Pool

Force India continue their charge for Racing Points

Sergio Perez in the pits for new tyres. Image courtesy of Racing Point Force India

Following on from an impressive debut (if you can call it that) for Racing Point Force India at Spa, I held high hopes that the team would continue their climb up the points ladder this week in Monza. While the Pink Panthers had no problem at all in cruising past Williams in the (largely non-existent) points battle in Belgium, would passing Sauber for 8th in the standings prove more challenging?

The weekend got off to a great start, with the pink team again showing their wet weather prowess in FP1, with Perez and Ocon taking full advantage of the conditions to finish P1 and P3 respectively. Who knew panthers (albeit pink ones) were so fond of the rain? Things settled down a little once the rain clouds dissipated, but Perez and Ocon were still impressive in the dry FP2 and FP3 sessions, placing “best of the rest” or close to it.

Their competition in the standings for this weekend, Sauber, faced a more difficult time, most spectacularly for Marcus Ericsson in FP2, who became the unfortunate passenger of a car that jerked violently to the left before rolling repeatedly as a result of his DRS failing to close. Luckily he escaped unscathed, but it didn’t look pretty, and forced the team to break curfew to fix the car during the night.

Although the pace was still looking good for Force India in qualifying, they looked to have made a costly mistake in Q1, deciding not to send Perez out for another run at the end of the session. Unbelievably, he found himself a single thousandth of a second on the wrong side of Romain Grosjean’s time, pushing him down to 16th and out. Ocon made it comfortably through, meanwhile, eventually ending up a respectable eighth on the grid. It looked likely, at this point, that while Ocon might have a shot at the coveted best of the rest spot, Perez might struggle to even reach the points.

On Sunday though, Perez charged through the field like a man possessed, wrestling his way to where he probably should have been if not for Saturday’s strategy oversight. By lap 10 he was in the points, and his charge continued impressively from there on. Ocon arguably had an easier ride, having started further forward, but both impressed in the race, finishing 7th and 8th on the road (more on that later).

Sauber meanwhile, continued to struggle without the straight-line speed required to excel at Monza, with Leclerc putting in a valiant effort but ultimately coming up short, and Ericsson having a tough time towards the back of the field. So while Perez and Ocon finished comfortably in the points, Sauber failed to score.

It doesn’t take a genius to do the maths: going into the weekend with a mere one point advantage over Force India, Sauber were now very solidly on the back foot, with Force India sailing on through to rise up to P8 in the standings.

However, the story doesn’t end there. After the race, the floor on the Romain Grosjean’s Haas was found to be illegal, and he was promptly disqualified, pushing Ocon and Perez up to P6 and P7 in the race results. Although Haas may yet appeal, if the decision stands, Force India stand to gain – not just points, either, but yet another position in the standings! Yes, after just two races as a “new“ team, Force India really do sit seventh in the Constructors’ table.

So, what’s next on the horizon? Sixth no longer seems impossible. Fifth might involve just a bit too much wishful thinking. But if there’s one thing for sure, it’s that I wouldn’t want to bet against them.

Otmar Szafnauer: “We need to keep up the momentum from Spa”

Racing Point Force India’s recently-promoted team principal Otmar Szafnauer has said he is keen for the team to keep things moving forward after their tumultuous summer break and the impressive performance from their two drivers at the Belgian Grand Prix.

“The last few weeks have been a period of transition for the team, but with the support of the Commercial Rights Holder, the FIA, and our fellow competitors we returned to competition in Spa,” Szafnauer said. “Getting some points on the board was the priority and to come away with fifth and six places was a wonderful reward for the entire team.”

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Racing Point Force India F1 VJM11 celebrates with the team at the end of the race.
Belgian Grand Prix, Sunday 26th August 2018. Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium.

The Silverstone-based team was put into administration over the summer break but, after a period of uncertainty, was saved by a consortium led by Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll, father of Williams’ Lance Stroll. The buy-out saw Force India forfeit all of the constructors’ championship points they had accumulated over the first half of the season and effectively enter the Belgian Grand Prix as a new team, rebranded as Racing Point Force India.

Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez started the race at Spa P3 and P4 after a rain-affected qualifying, and on the first lap there was a moment going into Les Combes where it looked like Ocon might have challenged Hamilton and Vettel for the lead. The Frenchman eventually finished the race in sixth, with Perez one position ahead of him in fifth, vaulting Force India ahead of Williams in the constructors’ championship and leaving them just one point behind Sauber already.

“The new ownership gives us a welcome injection of stability and investment,” Szafnauer added. “We retain a wonderful group of people working back at base and trackside, and with the off-track distractions now behind us we can concentrate on doing what we do best – building cars and going racing. Our performance level in Spa was a real credit to the entire team. The sight of Esteban and Sergio challenging for the lead on lap one is an image that we will cherish.

“We head to Monza determined to deliver more points. We need to keep up the momentum from Spa. Monza is all about top speed and stability on the brakes, and I think it will play to our strengths. Looking further ahead, we have more performance to introduce to the car over the next few events, hopefully starting from Singapore.”

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Racing Point Force India F1 VJM11.
Belgian Grand Prix, Sunday 26th August 2018. Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium.

 

Featured image – Esteban Ocon (FRA) Racing Point Force India F1 VJM11.
Belgian Grand Prix, Saturday 25th August 2018. Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium.