Austrian Grand Prix Preview: F1 is back, but not as we know it

112 days after the opener in Melbourne was supposed to get underway, the Formula One season will finally begin in Austria this Sunday.

As with the return of most sport during the COVID-19 pandemic however, things will work a little differently in the F1 paddock. Media presence will be lower, the freedom of the drivers to roam around the surrounding area during race week will decrease and, perhaps most prominently, there will be a complete absence of fans.

The Austrian Grand Prix will mark the first of two races at the 4.3-kilometre Red Bull Ring, with the Styrian Grand Prix following just a week later. This is all part of the FIA’s plan to satiate the year with as many races as possible so as to create as exhaustive a calendar as possible for the world championship season, which needs to be at least eight races long to classify as such.

Normally by this point of the year, we would know who is competitive and who is not, but the cars have not run since testing in Barcelona at the beginning of the year and, as we learned last year especially, testing pace is little to go by.

It is therefore quite difficult to determine who the favourites are going to be, but the same could generally be said in Spielberg last year. Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari were all competitive last season, with Max Verstappen narrowly beating Charles Leclerc to victory following a controversial overtake at the end of the race, the investigation for which was not concluded until hours after the drivers had stepped off the podium.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

One of the major points of interest is the perennially fascinating midfield battle. The Racing Point, designed on last year’s Mercedes, is tipped to be one of the major challengers to fourth place in the Constructors’ as they look to knock McLaren off their perch as best of the rest. Renault’s inconsistencies over the past couple of seasons will need to be rectified by their new driver-pairing of Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon, as the French team consider their future involvement in the sport they have failed to re-master since their return in 2016. Alpha Tauri – rebranded from Toro Rosso – and Alfa Romeo will also have an eye on challenging for the best of the midfield teams.

Haas are understood to be the only constructor not bringing upgrades to this race, as uncertainty looms about their interest in F1 too. Their upgrades last year affected them adversely rather than helping them progress after the first race, and they will look to avoid further regression this year. They managed a fourth and fifth-placed finish in Spielberg in 2018, while Kevin Magnussen qualified an impressive fifth last season. A gearbox penalty and the Haas car’s ghastly race pace saw him finish behind both the Williams cars.

Speaking of which, Williams’ car was three seconds quicker in testing in Spain than it was in the 2019 Spanish Grand Prix, which will lead the British team to believe they can climb off the bottom of the championship table and relieve some of the immense pressure currently on Claire Williams’ shoulders.

One of the shortest tracks on the calendar follows the longest wait for a Formula One season since the World Championship’s inception. The Styrian mountains will not be alive with the sound of fans, but they will still be alive with the sound of Formula One cars.

 

[Featured image – Matthias Heschl/Red Bull Content Pool]

Ferrari swoop up Sainz and Ricciardo moves to McLaren

In a blockbuster morning of Formula 1 news, Carlos Sainz has been confirmed as a Ferrari driver for the 2021 season, while Daniel Ricciardo will partner Lando Norris at McLaren for the new year.

Sebastian Vettel’s announcement earlier in the week that he is going to leave Ferrari at the end of the current season blew the driver market wide open, and the confirmed news today was swiftly followed as teams already look to complete their line-ups for the 2021 season.

Sainz has signed a two year deal with Ferrari, and will partner Charles Leclerc, who had a hugely impressive debut season with the Scuderia last year, winning two races and finishing third in the championship ahead of team-mate Vettel. Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto showed his satisfaction at the move, saying, “We believe that a driver pairing with the talent and personality of Charles and Carlos, the youngest of the past 50 years of the Scuderia, will be the best possible combination to help us reach the goals we have set ourselves.”

Sainz began his career in F1 with Red Bull junior team Toro Rosso, but his frustration at a lack of opportunity at the main Red Bull team led to him joining Renault on loan for the 2018 season, having replaced Jolyon Palmer at the end of 2017. The news of Daniel Ricciardo jumping the Red Bull ship and joining Renault pushed Sainz out of the team, who then joined McLaren in 2019.

His relationship with team-mate Lando Norris was one of the more cheerful sides of the 2019 season, and the two transcended expectations for a team that is embarking on an impressive rebuilding process, which is what has enticed Daniel Ricciardo.

Ricciardo joined Renault from Red Bull for the 2019 season, but has quickly grown impatient at the team’s lack of performance, having seen a slump in pace. They finished fifth in 2019 compared to fourth in 2018, 54 points behind McLaren.

It is unknown the length of the contract Ricciardo has signed at the Woking-based team, but signing a prove race winner and a highly talented racing driver is a revolution in the recovery of the British outfit, and has been described by Racing Chief Executive Zak Brown as “an exciting new dimension to the team”.

Ricciardo and Sainz did, however, seem content enough to stay put at their respective teams, but the domino effect from Vettel’s departure has had a substantial knock-on effect on the rest of the grid.

There is now an vacant seat at Renault, for which the French team have an abundance of options. Sebastian Vettel may or may not retire at the end of the year, and former champion Fernando Alonso has been tipped for a return to partner Esteban Ocon for the new year. F2 stars Guanyu Zhou and Christian Lundgaard, who are part of the Renault programme, will also be vying for the seat, while Nico Hulkenberg has been name-dropped for a return. Hulkenberg was forced out of F1 after a contractual agreement between Toto Wolff and Renault saw Esteban Ocon take his seat for the 2020 season, which is expected to start in Austria in July amid the coronavirus crisis.

Depending on who does take the seat, the 2021 season could see the youngest grid in the 70 year history of the sport.

 

[Featured image courtesy of McLaren Media Centre]

Indianapolis Grand Prix – 2005 a Race to Remember

A race that I will never forget, as a Schumacher fan. I was happy because that victory, in a disastrous season for Ferrari, was like a cold beer during a hot day in the summer. That day will be stuck in my mind for the rest of my life.

Ferrari Media

It was a tough season for Ferrari and Schumacher. The team had dominated for the past five years, but that year Fernando Alonso, accompanied by Giancarlo Fisichella, decided to shake the standings. Renault scored nine points more than McLaren-Mercedes and they were crowned as constructors’ champions.

The strangest race of the season, if not F1’s history, took place in the US and more specifically in Indianapolis.

Ralf Schumacher had a serious crash during the practice session on Friday, caused by a tyre failure. The German crashed at turn 13, a special high-speed and very demanding turn which was applying extra load on the tyres.

Ferrari Media

Williams, was not the only team that had an issue at that specific turn. The following day, Michelin stated that BAR, McLaren, Red Bull, Renault, Sauber, Toyota and Williams had problems at the same turn. The tyre supplier couldn’t find the root cause of the problem. Michelin proposed that the teams use tyres with different specifications, but the problem was that the ‘new’ tyres, which were the same type as the ones that used in the Spanish Grand Prix, had the same flaw.

Time was ticking. The FIA proposed adding a chicane at the final turn of the circuit but it was vetoed by Ferrari. On race day, Charlie Whiting gave the green light to the drivers to start the formation lap. 20 cars started but only six completed the lap. Only the teams that were racing with Bridgestone’s tyres could participate in the race, leaving only Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi.

“If it comes down to my choice, I want to race,” David Coulthard stated.

It was an easy victory for Michael Schumacher. The German driver led the race from the beginning and took the chequered flag, followed by his team-mate Rubens Barrichello. Tiago Monteiro and Narain Karthikeyan finished third and fourth respectively, while Christijan Albers finished fifth and Patrick Friesacher sixth.

That victory was the only one for Schumacher and Ferrari in 2005 and moved him to third place in the drivers’ standings.

Michael Schumacher- The 1994 Spanish Grand Prix in 5th Gear

Michael Schumacher had many incredible races, but this race showed his resilience and determination to finish a race even with his car having mechanical issues.

It was the 1994 Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona and the first race held after the tragic deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna at the previous race at Imola. Schumacher was driving one of the Benetton-Ford cars, with team-mate JJ Lehto in the other.

Several top-level names, including Schumacher, were instrumental in the set-up and running of the Grand Prix Drivers Association (GPDA), and the 1994 Spanish Grand Prix was the first race after its formation. They had made the decision to install a temporary chicane before the Nissan corner, which was generally taken at near flat-out speed, in an attempt to improve safety by reducing speed at that point at the track.

Schumacher took pole position, the second of his career and second in a row, some half a second clear of Damon Hill, who in turn had qualified just one thousandth of a second ahead of Mika Hakkinen in third. Schumacher’s team-mate Lehto was fourth.

Jordan’s Rubens Barrichello qualified in fifth, followed by the two Ferrari’s of Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger. Martin Brundle managed P8 and David Coulthard, who was making his debut in Formula 1 for Williams, replacing Ayrton Senna, qualified a respectable P9. The Tyrrell of Ukyo Katayama completed the top ten.

Andrea Montermini had been elevated from test driver to race driver for Simtek after the death of Roland Ratzenberger, but he crashed heavily into the pit-wall and broke both ankles, this ending his race weekend and also his season.

Beretta retired on the formation lap when his Larousse-Ford’s engine failed on the formation lap. At the start of the 65-lap race, Schumacher led from pole position while Barrichello and Berger collided at the first corner. Neither driver retired as a direct result of the collision, although both did so later on.

Schumacher led for the opening 22 laps of the race before pitting with what looked like gearbox issues. The Benetton was left with only fifth gear still working.

Despite driving the last 40 laps in fifth gear and making another pitstop, in which he managed to not stall the car, Schumacher continued to set respectable lap times considering he was losing up to 20 miles an hour on the main straight. He adjusted his driving style to find new racing lines, backing off early on the straights and rolling through corners, drawing on his past experience as a World Sports Car driver for help.

Schumacher ended up finishing a very respectable P2 some 24 seconds behind the Williams of Damon Hill. It was a stunning drive to adapt to the ailing car and still bring it home on the podium, marking Schumacher as a true racer who kept fighting in conditions that were stacked against him.

Schumacher commented after the race, “At the beginning it was a bit difficult to take all the corners in fifth gear, but then I managed to find a good line and keep up lap-times that were more or less good enough to compete against the others behind me.”

It was a truly stunning drive from a true legend.

 

 

[Featured image credit: Martin Lee / Wikimedia Commons]

Autosport International Show Gallery 2020

At this years Autosport International Show, there were some pretty iconic cars on display, from all parts of the motorsport world.

The main feature included Seventy Years of Motorsport, and there were some incredibly beautiful cars on display from Le Mans, World Rally Championship, Indycar, British Touring Car Championship, Formula One and Formula E.

All were game changers in their own way.

The decades of the 1950’s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, ’00s, ’10s are all represented.

Away from there, there were other amazing displays. The Le Mans Toyota TS050 from 2018, the car that finally gave Toyota the victory that it has craved for decades, with Sébastien Buemi, Fernando Alonso and Kazuki Nakajima sharing the driving duties.

There was a display of Formula One cars as well.

Below is a group of classic rally cars – Some iconic machinery here, from the seventies, eighties, nineties and two-thousands. Three cars driven by Colin McRae featured as well.

Well, we hope that you have enjoyed this look back to this year’s Autosport International Show, while we wait for the racing season to re-start.

 

All photos courtesy of Warren Nel

Australian Grand Prix Preview: The start of a new decade in Formula One, but not in happy circumstances

Usually joyful and vibrant, the start of a new season in Australia would ordinarily bring a sense of positivity to Formula One fans around the world. This year, however, it is overshadowed by the seemingly omnipotent threat of Coronavirus.

And, indeed, three members of the paddock – two from Haas and one from McLaren – have already self-isolated after being tested for the illness.

However, the focus is not all on the doom and gloom side. Melbourne remains as picturesque and atmospheric as ever, and it is ready to play proud first host to what will hopefully be an enthralling season of racing.

Although, the likelihood of such seems fairly low. Mercedes dominated pre-season testing, and Ferrari looked average at best, with team boss Mattia Binotto playing down any chances of success for the Scuderia this year. Notwithstanding, Mercedes looked a way off Ferrari in Barcelona last year, and ended up dominating the season, so the true performance of the top three teams – including the resurgent Red Bull – remains to be seen.

Speaking of the former champions, they were given some degree of promise from their outings in testing, with potential championship contender Max Verstappen finding the limits – and falling foul of them – on a few occasions,. They also appeared to leave a few engineers in red scratching their heads as the enigmatic Dutchman looks to challenge Lewis Hamilton for the championship crown.

The enticing prospect of the fresh and finally integrated Alex Albon is also something we can look forward to, as well as the inter-team battle between Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc at the Maranello outfit. Valtteri Bottas, meanwhile, will have had no shortage of awareness of the effort and quality needed to defeat team-mate Hamilton this season.

Indeed, it was a positive start to 2019 for the Finn. He won last year at the 5.3-kilometre Albert Park circuit, and would win two of the first four races, but a frustrating barren spell of form would see Hamilton’s irresistible class shine through again.

It was, interestingly, only the fourth time that the driver starting from second had made to the first corner first at the track, so pole is inherently important there.

The newly-crowned six time world champion is certainly not resting on his laurels either. He comes into this season feeling ‘on another level’ – a stark proposition for those looking to knock him off his perch.

As always though, it is not all about the big guns up top. The vast majority of the competitive, intriguing racing came from the mid-pack and, provided the TV directors choose to give them some attention this time, there is a lot of action to look forward to.

Williams are at least a second quicker than last year, and have a distinct, tenacious habit of overcoming the several adversities they have been faced with in recent years, making them a good fit for a battle that will surely include everyone from McLaren down.

Well, maybe not everyone.

Racing Point – or the “Pink Mercedes”, as coined by Carlos Sainz – have copied Mercedes’ chassis design from last year to almost every meticulous detail, and as their resources incrementally rise to impressive extents year on year, they could challenge McLaren and re-take fourth spot in the Constructors’ dogfight – potentially even laying a stake on a top-three involvement as times this season. There would have to be a degree of fortuity however.

Another team in doubt for the midfield fight is Haas. After numerous problems both on and off track in 2019, the American outfit looked both slow and lacking in longevity, as Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean look to return their cars to points contention, and hopefully return them to the finish line without making contact this year.

As we say, though, testing is often little to go by, resulting in the discovery of many variables yet to be seen as the season goes on, and it all starts this weekend in Melbourne.

 

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

2020 Mercedes-AMG Petronas Preview

Mercedes head into the 2020 season aiming to win their seventh consecutive constructors’ championship, a feat never before achieved in F1’s history. Likewise, Lewis Hamilton is aiming to win his seventh title, which would put him level with Michael Schumacher at the top of the all-time list.

Hamilton is also on the verge of potentially matching and even surpassing Schumacher’s record of race wins, which currently stands at 91. Hamilton goes into 2020 just seven behind that tally. Given he has won an average of ten races a year since 2014, that is a real possibility.

Bottas, too, will be hoping to further add to his tally of seven race wins, in what is his fourth year with the team.

2020 Barcelona Pre-Season Test 2, Day 2 – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Mercedes’ form in pre-season testing should give them the confidence that they are able to achieve their goals, even though there are potentially a few concerns and question marks to be addressed too.

They completed 903 laps across the six days of pre-season testing, the most of any team and 59 more than second-placed Ferrari. Bottas also posted the fastest lap of the entire test – a 1m 15.732 set on the third day of the first test.

Mercedes were also responsible for potentially the biggest headline to come out of pre-season testing when they debuted their new dual-axis steering system, known as DAS. It was noticeably used more in the first week of testing than the second, and it will be interesting come Australia to see in which situation it is used more – long runs or qualifying runs.

2020 Barcelona Pre-Season Test 2, Day 2 – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Things were not all good for the Silver Arrows, though.

Hamilton ground to a halt with an oil pressure problem on the second day of the second test, an issue that meant he completed just 14 laps on that particular day. Bottas also suffered an electrical issue, in the first week.

Add to that the fact that Mercedes’ customer team Williams had four power unit problems in just six days of testing, and there are a few worries about the reliability of Mercedes’ engine.

If those problems can be resolved, and considering the stability of the regulations for this year, Mercedes should be in a prime position to begin to realise those dreams of a seventh consecutive championship.

With the Australian Grand Prix now less than a week away, we don’t have long to wait to find out if that is true.

 

[Featured image – Wolfgang Wilhelm]

2020 Scuderia Ferrari Season Preview

Last year was a tough season for Scuderia Ferrari, the Italians presented a promising car in Spain, during the pre-season tests, but they failed their fans in the opening races. Three victories and nine pole positions in 21 races, despite the disappointing numbers, it was a dreaming season debut for Charles Leclerc. The Monegasque, took two of the three chequered flags for Ferrari and secured seven pole positions in his first year in the Scuderia.

Everyone at Maranello, is looking forward to 2020, a year that can crown them world champions almost after twelve years.

Although..

“I am not as optimistic as last year” Binotto said.

“Some of the others are faster than us at the moment, I believe. How much faster is really difficult to judge and I will go through all the data in the next few days but I don’t think we are as fast as them at the moment.”

Not the most promising statement from Ferrari’s team principal, there is a chance, though, that Binotto is hiding his cards.

In total, Ferrari’s drivers, Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, completed 844 laps. Their main rival, Mercedes, did the most laps during the two pre-season tests, 903 for Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

Ferrari’s advantage, last year, was the straights, mainly because Scuderia, had one of the most powerful power units. After, the two weeks of testing, turns out that Ferrari lost that advantage, but improved their performance on slow corners.

Mattia Binotto asked if his team is hiding the true potential of their engine, but the Italian was clear about that.

“We are not hiding. That is our true performance.

“It’s difficult to split on the streets what is drag and what is power, but certainly we are down on speed compared to other competitors. That’s affected by one way from the drag and the other from the reliability programme that we have in place.”

Mercedes, still has the advantage and it looks that they will be unbeatable this season as well. It will be a challenging season for the Scuderia, Reb Bull will be also a strong opponent and the Italians have to prove that are still capable of designing fast cars that can deliver over the season.

 

Pictures courtesy of Pirelli F1

F1 2020 Season Preview

After a winter of anticipation and expectation heading into a new season, will the new decade bring in a new era for Formula One?

2021 will certainly deliver on that premise, but the big question heading into the 2020 season is just how competitive Red Bull and Ferrari will be as they try to finally knock the dominant Mercedes off their steep perch.

Testing gave us the sensation that 2020 will be largely the same as 2019, with Mercedes dominating the time-sheets and giving their rivals little to shout about. But truthfully, the focus has been almost exclusively on the battle further down.

At the Circuit de Catalunya for testing, Williams beat their, last year’s qualifying time by a second, while the midfield, asides from Haas, all solidly made it to the 1:16s. Haas, seldom aimed for qualifying runs, instead opting for runs largely on the C4 tyre but, inauspiciously for the American outfit, they only managed 649 laps over the six days in Barcelona.

Racing Point have essentially copied the Mercedes chassis, and they looked rapid as they attempt to recover back towards the top, accumulating experience and financial resources following the team’s takeover in 2018. McLaren’s Carlos Sainz even referred to the car as a “pink Mercedes.”

But the silver Mercedes, as they so often do, have made sure the headlines do not drift far away from Brackley heading into the new year.

Their controversial DAS system –  a steering device which pulls in the front wheels and reduces toe-out, making them quicker on the straights – has been known by the FIA since the end of last year, but has only been banned from 2021 onward. Mercedes were not as quick as Ferrari in the speed traps last year, but with the exquisite downforce possessed by their wonderful chassis, this is expected to be another imperious season for the six-time champions.

Ferrari’s chassis changes do not look as though they will be throwing the gauntlet down to Mercedes, while Red Bull’s change to the front nose, the sidepods, and the rear wing mean that they will be vying to topple the Scuderia in second in the Constructors’ championship.

In order to achieve that feat, however, Red Bull needs a second driver who is able to back up Max Verstappen. These were shoes which proved too big for Pierre Gasly to fill last year, while current driver Alex Albon, after half a season of learning and experience alongside the flying Dutchman, now needs to step up and display his capabilities of being a prominent part of Red Bull’s project towards returning to the top.

And, indeed, Albon simply could not be judged based on his first season in F1, at one of the biggest teams, and moving teams midway through the year. This is now the season of truth in a fledgling career.

We have already seen Verstappen’s innate and delightful ability to maximise car performance and take a slower car to the top of the timesheets, and a few more tenths in the Austrian team’s car, despite their deficit to Mercedes, could yet see the brilliant young star competing for the world championship.

But chassis and drivers have not been the only talk of the winter – even DAS has been dethroned as the talk of the town in the F1 paddock. The endemic that appeared last year over Ferrari’s 2019 PU has resurfaced, and this time it has been discovered that the FIA actually came to their settlement with the Scuderia last year, despite acknowledging the illegalities that lay within. This revelation has sparked numerous complaints and scathing press releases from rival teams, and it is a debate, and an arduous investigation, that will very probably rage on for much of the forthcoming season.

But looking at the aforementioned midfield tussle, just how close will it be?

Well, traditionally, testing has been very little to go by in terms of performance, but Racing Point, AlphaTauri – the rebranded Toro Rosso team – Renault, Williams and Alfa Romeo all made it past the 700-lap mark, while McLaren managed 804.

There were eight tenths between Renault, who had the fastest midfield lap, and Haas, who has the slowest. However, with the alternation between the C2, C3, C4 and C5 tyre, as well as vastly different set-ups and engine settings, it is so tough to judge just how close it is.

However, from the outset, it looks as though Haas’ struggles from last year are set to continue, while Renault and Williams may stage a resurgence back up the field. Those two have Esteban Ocon and Nicholas Latifi joining them respectively, and this could be a turnaround season for two historic teams who suffered a dreadful 2019.

At the start of a new decade and of a new season, is this the start of the changing of the guard in the pinnacle of motorsport? We will find out in just over two weeks when F1 heads to Australia for the opening round of the Formula One season.

(Pictures courtesy of Pirelli)

Bottas quickest on final day of pre-season testing

Valtteri Bottas finished top of the timesheets on the final day of pre-season testing, setting the second fastest lap time of the entire winter.

His best time of a 1m 16.196, set on the C5 tyre, put him only +0.073 ahead of Max Verstappen. Verstappen also set his fastest time on the C5 tyres, but his previous best lap – which was set on the medium C3 tyres – still put him a very respectable +0.188 behind Bottas.

Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo was only +0.007 behind Verstappen, with Charles Leclerc, who completed the most laps of anyone with 177, in fourth.

Lewis Hamilton rounded out the top five with 90 laps to his name, aiming to bounce back after his engine failure yesterday confined him to the garage for a significant chunk of time.

Esteban Ocon finished in sixth ahead of four drivers who each completed over 140 laps each: Sergio Perez (153 laps), Carlos Sainz (159 laps), George Russell (143 laps) and Daniil Kvyat (157 laps).

Romain Grosjean in eleventh was the last driver whose fastest lap fell within a second of Bottas’ time, with Kimi Raikkonen behind in twelfth.

Kevin Magnussen suffered a clutch-related issue that saw him stuck in his garage for a few hours. The problem was eventually rectified and he emerged on track for the final thirty minutes of running. He completed just 25 laps.

Alex Albon rounded out the timesheets, +1.607 away from Bottas and with 59 laps to his name.

The Australian Grand Prix is next on the agenda for the teams with the problem of the coronavirus hanging over everybody’s heads. It is scheduled to take place between the 13th and 15th of March.

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]