Max Verstappen recovered from a poor start to take victory in Saturday’s sprint race at the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, overtaking Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc on the penultimate lap.
The reigning world champion was able to manage his tyres last better than Leclerc, closing back within DRS range in the final five laps. The Dutchman was able to get close enough to go around the outside into Tamburello on lap 20 to secure the eight points.
It was a poor getaway from Verstappen, who struggled with wheel spin and gear sync issues off the line, allowing the Monegasque driver to take the lead. Fernando Alonso also had a difficult start, dropping behind Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo on lap one.
At least Verstappen and Alonso had a chance to recover from their poor start however. Zhou Guanyu dropped behind Pierre Gasly in the first few corners, and collided with the Alpha Tauri trying to regain the position into Piratella. This sent the Chinese driver careering into the barriers, ending his race and bringing out the Safety Car.
After the Safety Car, Leclerc was able to extend his lead, stretching out to over two seconds ahead of Verstappen before the Red Bull was able to reel him in. The ‘number two’ cars of Carlos Sainz and Perez both had difficult qualifying sessions, and the sprint race provided a great opportunity to work their way back up the field. Perez set the fastest lap on his way up into third place, with Sainz snatching fourth from McLaren’s Lando Norris in the final few laps. Norris came home fifth, with a sixth place for Daniel Ricciardo continuing the good form seen by the Woking-based team in Melbourne.
The majority of the field chose to compete on the soft tyres, with a few drivers choosing the mediums. One of these was Kevin Magnussen, who had secured Haas’ best ever qualifying on Friday with fourth position. The Dane was unable to keep with the pace of those on the softs throughout the sprint however, securing one point for eighth place having been overtaken by Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas in the final stages of the race.
Alonso just missed out on points behind the Haas, with Mick Schumacher’s tenth place meaning the German will start higher than he ever has done before in a Formula One race on Sunday. After showing promise in FP2 earlier in the day, both Mercedes spent their day stuck in a DRS train, as George Russell came home in eleventh with Lewis Hamilton down in fourteenth place, meaning that there will be no Mercedes in the top 10 of the grid for a Grand Prix for the first time since the Suzuka in 2012.
Despite losing out to Verstappen at the end, Leclerc extends his lead in the championship to 40 points, with Carlos Sainz now in second. Red Bull also moved up to second in the championship, and find themselves 57 points behind Ferrari heading into Sunday’s race.
This weekend we see the return of the sprint race which had mixed reviews last year. However, they have been a few changes to the rules and couple of new hosts in an attempt to make the sprint race format work better for 2022.
The sprint race is still a 100km dash to the line with no mandatory stops. There are still only 3 races on the calendar which will host the event as sanction by the FIA because the teams are also getting to grips with the new regulations. This year Imola and Austria will join Brazil in hosting an event which allowed Hamilton his 25 place come back over last season.
There have been two major changes to note, the first is the points for the sprint race. In 2021, only the top 3 drivers would get points, with P1 getting the maximum of 3 points. For this year the top eight drivers will get points, with P1 getting a more desirable 8 points down to P8 who will get 1 point. This means that there is a maximum of 34 points available to the drivers in one weekend (win sprint race, Grand Prix and fastest lap).
The other thing which caused much confusion amongst fans was that the winning driver of the sprint was awarded pole for the weekend. This year, the FIA and Formula 1 have out their heads together and decided common sense means that pole is now to be awarded to the fastest driver in the qualifying session on Friday. They will start the sprint race on pole and the winner of the sprint will start the Grand Prix on pole. Much simpler.
Ferrari’s Home Ground – Part 1
This will be the third time in as many years we have had two Italian races on the calendar, and with Ferrari at the top with seemingly nothing to stop them, the tifosi definitely have something to shout about now. So is there anyone that can stop them?
Max Verstappen finally broke his ‘Italian curse’ at Imola last year but in 2022 his car appears to be less reliable despite its pace. This adds an element of unpredictability to the Red Bull race weekend, and at 46 points behind Leclerc, Verstappen will be looking to take advantage of the sprint race.
Sergio Perez is currently the most consistent Red Bull driver, picking up the podium at Albert Park last weekend. However, as the only definite second driver on the grid at the moment he will be used to help out Verstappen when his car is working properly.
A loss for Red Bull means a Mercedes gain as they have been there to pick up podiums when they became available. They are, however, still struggling to tame the porpoising enough to get the full potential out of the car. Mercedes did make some improvements in Albert Park though so they will be looking to capitalise on any positive developments they can make.
Alpine’s have been really solid so far this season, and if it weren’t for a bit of luck in Melbourne then Alonso may have had a closer fight to Verstappen as his car gets faster. McLaren also took a big jump in Australia. They were competing for the last few positions in rounds one and two, but they finished P5 and P6 respectively at Melbourne.
It will be an interesting weekend with the return of the sprint under the new regulations, as well as improvements for teams up and down the paddock as they start to get used to the 2022 cars.
Qualifying starts 4pm GMT on Friday, the Sprint is 3:30pm GMT on Saturday and the Race starts 2pm GMT on Sunday.
Verstappen wins a good race in Jeddah after a safety car meant Perez dropped positions behind both Ferrari’s.
We started off today one car down with Haas deciding to run only 1 car after Mick Schumacher’s crash in qualifying. Schumacher is ok but they were worried that if he had another crash they wouldn’t have enough parts to go to Australia with.
Just when we thought we would get a 19 car grid Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari had an issue with an hour to go. Fortunately for him they fixed problem and he made to the grid. However, whist on the way to the grid to join Sainz, Tsunoda stopped on track with an engine issue therefore having to miss the start of the race.
Lights out and everyone managed to get away clean. Verstappen got a great start getting down the inside of turn 1 to then sweep around the outside of Sainz at turn 2, putting him in P3. Zhou seemingly had the same problem as Bottas last week with a poor start meaning several drivers past him and into turn 1 he was late on the brakes, tapping the back wheel of Ricciardo but coming out worse off.
Lap 4 and the alpines were locked in a battle between themselves. Alonso had DRS down the main straight, but Ocon made a late defensive move to stay in front. Only a few laps later Alonso did get past but that was not the end of it.
Ocon tried again on lap 8 but had to use the runoff at turn 1 and 2 to keep the place. This meant he had to give the position back he tried 1 more time on lap 12 when Ocon went too deep again, and Alonso stayed ahead.
All the battles at alpine mean that Bottas had closed the gap. When Ocon was told to hold position, he backed off meaning Bottas then had DRS down the main straight into lap 14 and made an easy overtake into turn 1.
At this point Hamilton had made it past Norris into P11, making up 3 places in 6 laps. He was quickly gaining places and on the hard tyre he appeared to be going for a 1 stop strategy.
Lap 16 and Leclerc starts the pit stops with a radio call, but the strategy was do the opposite of Red Bull. Ferrari came into the pit and Red Bull reacted bringing Perez in. Leclerc stayed out and Ferrari seemed to have successfully bluffed Red Bull into a stop.
Just as Perez came out of the pits Latifi crashed into the barriers and a virtual safety car was initially deployed, playing into Ferrari and Leclerc hands. He now had an almost free stop, coming out of the pit lane still leading the race. However, Verstappen had also stayed out meaning he had to pit during the safety car, gaining places to come out P2.
A full safety car was then deployed when Sainz came into the pits. As he left however Perez was coming down the main straight. Sainz looked as if he got to the safety car line first but Perez closed the door on him to stay in P3.
The lights went out on the safety car to indicate it was going in on lap 20. As it pulled away from Leclerc he was controlling the pack but Verstappen kept moving alongside Leclerc in an attempt to force him to make an error or go early.
On the restart though Verstappen couldn’t keep up with the Ferrari staying in P2. Carlos gained the place back on Perez with but radio messages revealed Perez was told to give the place back to avoid a penalty.
Lap 23 and Hamilton gets past the Haas of Magnussen at the final corner but with DRS down the main straight he got back past. The next lap and this time Hamilton closed the gap but backed off into the final corner to get the DRS down the main straight and late on the brakes overtook into turn 1.
Hulkenburg was holding his own after the restart however he began to drop back rapidly with Ricciardo, Norris and Gasly passing him on the main straight on laps 27, 28 and 29.
Lap 35 and Alonso was now battle the Haas. He got DRS down the mains straight making a simple pass into turn 1 however it didn’t stick with Magnussen making back past just 1 lap later. This battle quickly turned into a problem for Alonso though when on lap 38 he started moving slowly on track. He reported no power with an alarm on his wheel to say cool the car. The engine had overheated.
Almost simultaneously Ricciardo stopped on track just in front of the pit lane entry when he lost drive coming out of the last corner. Just as that news was being shown Bottas was retired from the race but had made it back to the garage.
The pit lane entry was eventually closed but Magnussen and Hulkenburg had managed to get in and change his tyres before the message. Hamilton just missed the pit lane as the virtual safety car was deployed so couldn’t change his tyres. Hoping that it would end as he came round to the pits again Mercedes were on the radio but unfortunately for Hamilton he had to wait another lap, when he was round the other side of the track and the VSC had ended.
As the VSC ended Verstappen seemed to have gained on Leclerc so the gap was much tighter. On lap 42 Verstappen had DRS into the final corner and took the lead but Leclerc could fight back on the main straight using DRS himself and took the lead again into turn 1.
Verstappen the went too deep and locked up on the inside line into the final corner on the following lap meaning Leclerc could sweep around the outside. This time even though Verstappen had DRS down the main straight it wasn’t enough to keep up with the Ferrari.
At the end of lap 46 Verstappen had learnt to have patience into the final corner and backed out of an overtake to make sure he had DRS this time. He made the move stick into turn 1 but his challenge now was to hold off the Ferrari which had been stronger in sector 1 all race.
Leclerc did close the gap on lap 48 and lined up a move but double waved yellows into turn 1 meant that but couldn’t overtake. Albon and Stroll came together when Albon tried to overtake stroll down the inside. Albon received a grid penalty in Australia for this.
This saved Verstappen from a move, but they were racing all the way to the line. Leclerc lined up a move at the final corner on the final lap, but sadly for him, he wasn’t close enough. Verstappen took with win with Leclerc in P2 and Sainz in P3.
Hamilton wins the inaugural Qatar GP with Verstappen in P2 to bring the gap down in the championship. Alonso back on the podium since Hungry 2014 with a very solid performance. Tyre drama in the closing stages of the race meant the one stop strategy didn’t work for most that tried it, Russell, Latifi and Bottas suffering from punctures.
After another night waiting for the stewards to make a decision, Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas got a 5 place and 3 place penalty respectively. This meant that Verstappen would start P7, Bottas P6 but importantly Gasly started on the front row with Alonso starting P3. All set to add to the drama of the 2021 Formula 1 championship!
Lights out and Hamilton immediately covered the inside from a very quick Alonso and Gasly. Verstappen made up 3 places in the first few corners with Alonso making a great move down the inside of Gasly. Bottas meanwhile had an awful start, losing 5 places in the first lap. Vettel was another driver who lost 7 places after a going very wide in turn 1.
Lap 3 and the call came through from Verstappen that he was “stuck” behind Gasly. Told to let Verstappen past, Gasly went wide in the final corner on lap 4, allowing Verstappen to get through. Just 1 lap later Verstappen made an easy DRS move past Alonso, meaning normal business was resumed by lap 5 with Hamilton P1 and Verstappen P2.
Perez making good progress 10 laps in, resulting in Toto Wolff encouraging Bottas to overtake the cars in front because he hadn’t gained any places since the start. Lance Stroll went wide in 2nd to last corner, allowing Bottas to gain DRS. However, the battle was between Stroll, Bottas and Tsunoda with the Japanese driver in front at the start of the main straight but behind both drivers by the end. It was 1 lap later that Bottas managed to get past Stroll.
It seems encouragement is all Bottas needed, making up a further 2 places by lap 15. The race was now on between Perez and Bottas for the final podium place. With a full pitstop over P3 and flying out front, it looked like this would be Hamilton’s race to lose. Verstappen appeared to be struggling with damage and couldn’t keep up with Lewis.
Lap 18 and Verstappen was the first to pit. Hoping that the new set of hard tyres would help him close the gap. Mercedes immediately responded stopping Hamilton for hard tyres, comfortably coming out ahead of the RedBull. With a pitstop over P3 both drivers came back out in their own positions. RedBull then pitted Perez in an attempt to get Bottas to stop as well. However, Mercedes strategist’s saw more opportunities for Bottas with a one stop strategy so left him out for a longer stint on the mediums.
A lock up from Leclerc into turn 1 on lap 27 meant that Alonso could overtake on the inside, but Perez attempted to go through on the outside, ending up on the green tarmac. Into turns 2 and 3 Perez had the inside line and managed to get past Leclerc. Just 2 laps later Alonso was within his sights, pulling an almost identical move to get past the 2-time champion. Alonso did fight back but Perez had the pace to get through drama free.
Lap 34 and disaster for Mercedes as Bottas got a front left puncture halfway around the circuit on his way back to the pit he sprinkled gravel onto the track. A replacement nose and new hard tyres he made it back out in P14. Pirelli said before the race that the mediums would do about 30 laps, Bottas completed 33 before the tyre began to delaminate. This had major consequences in the constructor’s championship with the gap only 5 points.
The call of vibrations were coming through from both front runners on lap 40. 2 laps later and RedBull pit Verstappen for medium tyres who had over a 50 second gap to his teammate who pitted the following lap. Mercedes responded again putting scrubbed mediums on Hamilton’s car, who maintained the 8.5 second gap comfortably coming out ahead of Verstappen.
Having come out in P7, Perez was back on the charge and Alonso was in the final podium position. 3 cars between Perez and Alonso with 10 laps to go, one being the other Alpine of Ocon. Alonso encouraging his teammate all the way to tell him to “defend like a lion”. However, the pace advantage of the RedBull was too much for the Alpine and Perez went around the outside of turn 1. The fight wasn’t over as in turns 5 and 6 Ocon came back but ran out of road and Perez made the move stick.
The tyres didn’t seem to be coping with the track. As Mercedes retired Bottas, Russell got a front left puncture after 31 laps with his hard tyres. Norris pitted just 1 lap before, the McLaren seeing the potential danger. Latifi went just 1 lap after Russell, front left tyre failure again. Unfortunately for Latifi it began to go on the main straight so decided to pull over on a service road around turn 10. This caused concern for Alonso who was on a 1 stop strategy and needed to complete 32 laps on his tyres. Alonso told to stay off the curbs.
Virtual safety car was deployed so that the marshals could recover the Williams of Latifi. Verstappen pitted for softs to try and retain fastest lap if he got the chance to go again. Despite the fact that the VSC ended halfway through the final lap, Verstappen maintain fastest lap to take that point away from Hamilton.
Hamilton won having led from start to finish, Verstappen finished P2, and Fernando Alonso finished P3 for the first time in 104 races! There are now 8 points between the championship rivals heading into the final race of the season. If Hamilton wins and takes fastest lap with Verstappen P2 in the next race they will be level on points for the finale.
Esteban Ocon took his first Formula 1 victory and the first for the Alpine team in a chaotic race at the Hungaroring, after multiple drivers were taken out at the first corner.
15 minutes before the race start, rain started to fall on the track. Adding to the anticipation, it started light but was due to continue for the first 30 minutes of the race and get heavier before mostly drying out by the end of the race. Intermediate tyres on to start, Lewis Hamilton indicating on the radio he was ready for the fight in the rain. Hamilton and Max Verstappen are both known for performing well in the wet, possibly a leveller but definitely exciting!
Lights out and all eyes turned to Verstappen and Hamilton. Both got a great launch, but Valtteri Bottas had an absolutely dreadful start with wheel spin from third. Lando Norris got in front of him off the line but was tapped by Bottas from behind who had missed his breaking point. Norris then crashed into Verstappen and Bottas hit Sergio Perez. Norris and Verstappen managed to carry on with significant damage, but Bottas and Perez were out.
Further back in turn 1, Lance Stroll tried to avoid some cars by heading towards the apex, but ended up on the grass and collected Charles Leclerc who hit and spun around Daniel Ricciardo. Unfortunately, that was the race over for Leclerc.
Ricciardo kept going and Stroll was able to keep driving after damage to the front of his car. A red flag was called to gather the debris left around turn 1. This allowed the Red Bull team to fix Verstappen’s car, potentially saving him from retirement. Norris and Stroll then had to retire due to the damage from the incident.
Hamilton was still in P1, but others had benefited from a high attrition first corner. Ocon and Sebastian Vettel were the biggest winners, starting P2 and P3 respectively. Yuki Tsunoda was in P5, Carlos Sainz P4 and the Williams’ were P6 and P8 whilst Verstappen had really lost out and started in P13. A fight from the back was on after quick recovery work by Red Bull. There was a standing re-start as the sun came out to a now quickly drying track, but the question then was slicks or inters?
Hamilton was the only one starting on the grid, so the race was in the pits with everyone coming in for slicks. George Russell came out on top, and with Hamilton pitting after it looked like Russell would lead the race, but Russell was told by the FIA to give back the places he’d taken in the pitlane. Mercedes didn’t come out well with Hamilton boxing after the restart and ending up last and importantly behind Verstappen. So, on lap 5 Ocon was leading the race, with Vettel P2 and Nicholas Latifi P3. Hamilton was catching Verstappen who still had damage, so the race was on!
Verstappen managed to get past Pierre Gasly but then became stuck behind Mick Schumacher for five laps before passing him with a daring move through Turns 1, 2, 3 and 4. They did touch but both were able to carry on. Meanwhile Hamilton was struggling behind Gasly, locking up a few times but both Gasly and Hamilton managed to pass Schumacher in the next two laps.
Hamilton stopped for hard tyres on lap 20 in an attempt to change the strategy and go longer. Red Bull and Verstappen responded so made the stop just one lap later. Ricciardo pitted at the same time as Verstappen, and he came out in front of the Red Bull. Hamilton was coming down the straight as the pair came out of the pits. Hamilton took advantage and got past not only Verstappen but also Ricciardo, putting a vital car between the Championship rivals.
On lap 32, Hamilton was the fastest car in the race passing Tsunoda into P5 with a fantastic move while Verstappen was still behind Ricciardo in P12. This move caused Ferrari and Sainz to react, and with enough gap Sainz pitted and came back out in P4 with fresh tyres ready to defend against Hamilton.
Meanwhile Schumacher was doing a great job in the Haas to keep 4 drivers behind him. However, after many laps of battling, Russell finally made it past Schumacher on lap 33 with a brave move on the outside of Turn 2. Schumacher then begun to lose places rapidly to Ricciardo and Verstappen on the next lap, very important for Verstappen in terms of the championship.
From the front, Vettel pitted with a slow stop but came out in P3, ahead of Sainz and Hamilton. Ocon told to push but Alpine appeared to have the advantage with both cars in the podium places fight. A good stop meant Ocon came out ahead of Vettel, but Vettel tried to fight it into Turn 4. Sadly for him nothing came of it and with only Fernando Alonso in front of Ocon it looked to be an Alpine win from lap 39.
It wasn’t over at the front though. Sainz and Hamilton in P3 and P4 were catching the leaders at a rapid pace. However, Hamilton pitted on lap 48 for the mediums. He came out behind Alonso, but this would mean he could push to the end of the race, with flashbacks to Hungary 2019 and Spain 2021. Vettel got closer to Ocon through the back markers in an attempt to pass him for the lead. On lap 50 the fight was not over with Vettel having DRS and the pressure piling on Ocon.
Verstappen finally made a move on Ricciardo for P10 on Lap 61 and the final points position. This could be an important point for the championship and impressive driving considering the significant damage still on his car from lap 1.
On lap 57 a brilliant battle between Hamilton and Alonso began, Alonso defending and making the Alpine the widest thing on the track. This epic battle continued for over 10 laps, but Hamilton was eventually close enough when Alonso made a rare mistake and locked up into Turn 1. This did create problems for Hamilton though, who was on a mission to get to the front. However, catching Sainz on older tyres in P3 meant that just two laps later, Hamilton was in the podium places, but the gap was too big for Hamilton to catch Vettel in P2.
Esteban Ocon won the Hungarian Grand Prix! The first win for him and a great turn around since a relatively poor run of form. Vettel was in P2 after a great drive from the restart. Sainz was P4 ahead of Alonso, Gasly sneaked in a fastest lap right at the end in P6, and Tsunoda was P7. Both Williams finished in the points with Latifi P8 and Russell P9, which is vital for the constructors and their first double points finish since 2018. Russell finally managed to get those illusive points in a Williams!
For the championship Hamilton gained points on Verstappen, who finished P10, and leads going into the summer break. This has been a real swing in momentum after the British Grand Prix in the favour of Mercedes and Hamilton. It is all to play for as the teams regroup and look to improve for Spa at the end of August.
Valtteri Bottas ended the second day of pre-season testing in Bahrain with the fastest time, despite more mechanical problems afflicting Mercedes and their customer Aston Martin.
Bottas set his pacesetting lap of a 1:30.289s late in the afternoon session, on a run on the softest C5 tyres. However, Bottas lost a considerable amount of running earlier in the session due to an issue with his car’s floor, which compounded the gearbox problems that held him back yesterday.
Similar Mercedes gearbox issues stopped Sebastian Vettel from getting any meaningful running with Aston Martin. The German managed just six laps in the morning session before his car began a lengthy spell on jacks in the garage. Vettel did return to the track before the end of the session, but only recorded four more laps before handing over to Lance Stroll for the afternoon.
Lewis Hamilton also had a troubled day of testing for Mercedes. The defending champion drove in the morning but spun into the gravel towards the end of the session and brought out the red flag. He ended the day 15th fastest, only ahead of Vettel.
Not all the Mercedes-powered teams had problems today, however, with McLaren continuing the strong pace displayed yesterday. Daniel Ricciardo was one of the early pacesetters and topped the morning session, while Lando Norris was quickest for a while in the afternoon before ultimately ending the day fourth behind Bottas, Pierre Gasly and Stroll.
Alpine also had a solid day with Fernando Alonso at the wheel of the A521. The Spaniard was second-quickest behind Ricciardo in the morning session, and logged a total of 128 laps by the end of the day. He also completed a comprehensive run plan that included testing three different floor configurations and two different engine covers.
Following Esteban Ocon’s 129 laps from day one, Alpine are now leading the way in terms of combined mileage heading into the final day of testing. Meanwhile, all four Mercedes-powered teams have the fewest total laps, with Williams on 215 followed by McLaren (195), Aston Martin (177) and Mercedes themselves (162).
However, Nicholas Latifi did record the most laps of any driver on day two, with 132 for Williams.
Alpine has unveiled its new contender for the 2021 season, the A521. The first car built by the newly rebranded team at Enstone.
Although a new name to F1, Alpine have been a part of motorsport since the 1950’s. After being bought out by Renault in 1973 they have developed a reputation as Renault’s ‘high performance’ brand. The Alpine name was used for Renault’s rallying and endurance endeavours, resulting in an Alpine-Renault World Rally Championship in 1973, and the 1978 Le Mans 24 Hours.
Alpine ceased production in 1995 but was revived in 2017, before the decision last year to elevate their long-forgotten brand to the pinnacle of motorsport.
During a virtual launch, the car was unveiled in a striking blue, white and red livery.
On the new livery, Laurent Rossi, Alpine CEO stressed the symbolism of French and British collaboration:
“This car identifies the Alpine identity. It’s livery conveys it’s values. The blue, white and red is a reference to both the French flag and Union Jack. Representing the soul of this multicultural team that merges flamboyant skills under one banner.”
At first glance, the A521 looks to have the trademark 2021 shrunken sidepods and more complex outboard vanes to the bargeboards – all because of the new floor and diffuser setup created by changes in the aerodynamic rules. The rear wing looks subtly different too with more complex endplates.
“We had to adapt, we had to innovate, but that’s what we do best.” said Marcin Budkowski, speaking on the new technical changes.
“This year’s car is an evolution of last years contender. […] we’ve worked and tried to improve every area that was left free to develop.”
“But also the FIA, to spice things up a bit, have changed the aerodynamic regulations that means we have lost a lot of performance which we’ve tried to recover.”
“Interestingly, they are in an area that normally doesn’t behave in the same way on track than our tool and simulations tell us. So it’s going to be very important to get the best collaboration between people at the factory and on track to develop the car aerodynamically and allow us to realise our ambitious development programme for the first few races.”
In addition, Renault will have a new and improved power unit, looking to maintain and improve it’s impressive position as one of F1’s most powerful units in terms of straight line speed.
On the team’s power unit, Laurent Rossi stated: “The delay in the technical (engine) regulations means we will be using an evolutions of our RE20A unit. There are a few developments with the power train and we have worked specifically for optimum performance and reliability.”
The team finished fifth in the constructors championship in 2021, with three podiums to there name, their first in almost a decade of racing.
With returning two-time champion Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon, they will be hoping to have similar success with what will be a formidable line-up with a mix of youth and proven championship winning pedigree.
“The team at Enstone are highly experienced and motivated” said Racing Director, Davide Brivio. “I’m very lucky to have two very excellent drivers.”
“The dynamic between Fernando and Esteban is going to be an interesting one, they can definitely benefit from each other. “
The Alpine A521 will make its first extended on-track appearance at the start of pre-season testing in Bahrain, which takes place from 12-14 March.
Renault’s Formula 1 efforts will undergo a major shift in 2021, with a new driver lineup, core changes to the team, and most notably, a complete rebranding of its works squad as the Alpine F1 Team.
But after falling short of its target to be a regular race winner and even title contender by last year, the Enstone-based team has some soul-searching to do under its new guise. So are the changes planned going to be enough for Alpine to succeed where Renault couldn’t?
Fernando Alonso. Like him or loathe him, he’s back to spearhead Alpine’s first year in F1.
The two-time world champion was coaxed out of his sabbatical to replace the team’s former star driver Daniel Ricciardo, and Alpine will be hoping he brings some of the insight and inspiration they need to catch the likes of Mercedes and Red Bull.
The big question mark over Alonso’s return is of course the fact that he’s now been out of F1 for two years. He’s not exactly been resting easy in that time, having taken a WEC crown, two Le Mans victories and one at Daytona, and made headline-grabbing entries into the Indy 500 and Dakar Rally. On top of that, he also conducted an extensive testing programme with Renault throughout last year.
But two years out of Grand Prix racing is a long time, and it remains to be seen if Alonso can return at the same level he left the sport in 2018.
On the other side of the garage will be Esteban Ocon, returning for his second year with the Enstone team. Ocon had a rocky campaign in 2020 and spent much of the season getting back up to full racing speed after 18 months on the sidelines as Mercedes’ test and reserve driver.
But by the end of the year Ocon had closed his qualifying gap to Ricciardo and scored Renault’s best result of the season (and his own maiden podium) with second at the Sakhir Grand Prix. Had Ricciardo stayed with Alpine this year, it’s likely Ocon would have made it a much closer teammate battle as he did over his two years with Sergio Perez at Force India.
Alonso and Ocon are an uncertain lineup for Alpine’s first season, and it’s not a given that their potential and past form will equate to strong results in 2021. But if everything goes as Alpine are hoping, this could be a formidable driver pairing in the midfield battle and one with a lot of promise for the team’s near future.
One of the big headlines this month was that Cyril Abiteboul, Renault’s longtime team principal and CEO of the F1 operation, was stepping down from the team ahead of the new Alpine era.
It’s a move many have been calling for for some time now, as Abiteboul’s management has taken the lion’s share of blame for Renault’s failure to break out of the midfield. And whether or not that’s right, it is true that Abiteboul’s time in charge at Enstone was defined more by his engagement with the politics of F1 rather than the success of the team.
This is hopefully something that will change with Abiteboul’s replacements. Laurent Rossi, previously Renault’s Chief Strategy Officer, has already been announced as the new Alpine F1 CEO, while Executive Director Marcin Budkowski is tipped to take over as team principal.
Splitting Abiteboul’s role between these two is a sensible choice for Alpine. Rossi’s corporate strategy background makes him the ideal choice within the Renault group to lead the business side of Alpine’s rebranding. Meanwhile Budkowski, who has overseen the day-to-day operations at Enstone for years, will be free to focus on the sporting side of running an F1 team.
Add to that a new Racing Director in Davide Brivio, who just led Suzuki and Joan Mir to double MotoGP title glory in 2020, and Alpine has the makings of a real heavyweight team at the top.
It might take longer than 2021 for the full effect of these changes to be felt. But as we’ve seen in the likes of Toto Wolff at Mercedes or Andreas Seidl and Zak Brown at McLaren, sometimes the right leadership structure at the right time can be just what a team needs to propel itself out of a stall.
The car is a mostly known quantity at least, as under the 2021 regulations Alpine’s A521 is essentially a carry-over of last year’s Renault R.S.20. And that bodes well for Alpine, as the R.S.20’s power and rear traction made it a formidable package at low-downforce circuits last year, as well as through low- and medium-speed corners in high-downforce configuration.
The A521 will be slightly different to the R.S.20, as its floor will be trimmed off in accordance with the rules to reduce the aerodynamic pressure on the tyres. How much of a difference this will make isn’t clear. Several teams have played up the impact of this floor tweak throughout 2020—but the same noises were also made about the front and rear wing changes in 2019, which hardly produced the tectonic shift that was billed.
However, it’s thought that the A521’s low rake philosophy—which was a new, Mercedes-inspired direction for last year—will mean that Alpine has less of a headache navigating the change than some of its rivals, at least in the early part of the season.
And so long as the overall design isn’t too unsettled by the revised floor, Alpine will definitely have a car quick enough to challenge for third in the constructors’ championship again.
Ultimately, we won’t know if Alpine is able to make that breakthrough that eluded Renault until the season gets underway. And even then, with the focus this year almost entirely on 2022’s aerodynamic overhaul, we might be kept waiting to see if the team can finally make good on its ambitions to be title contenders again.
But with the performance gains made last year, combined with a hungry driver lineup and some canny leadership changes, it’s looking like an optimistic future ahead for Enstone’s new Alpine era.
Ahead of Renault’s new identity as Alpine, and a reshuffle at the team, Cyril Abiteboul is leaving his role as team boss effective immediately.
Abiteboul’s journey as a team boss began in 2013 when he took charge of the doomed Caterham, having acted as Renault’s Deputy Director of Sport until 2012.
In 2015, he returned to this role and, having seen the Renault name return under Frederic Vassuer’s leadership, he took charge of the French outfit at the back end of 2016.
Sandwiched in between these stages of his career has been the controversy with Red Bull. On various occasions between 2015 and 2018, he had several public fall-outs with Red Bull Principal Christian Horner. Red Bull’s struggles with Renault power in the hybrid era led to tensions between the two teams, and Horner’s complaints about the performance and reliability of the Power Unit began to irritate Abiteboul.
This relationship came to a head in 2018, when Red Bull announced they would no longer be using Renault engines for 2019 onwards, and would instead turn to Honda, who had supplied Toro Rosso that season to a degree of success.
Renault endured a tough 2019, finishing fifth compared to fourth in 2018, and a long way behind McLaren.
A similar story rang true in 2020, but they were much closer to McLaren and Racing Point, fighting for third during much of the campaign, but ultimately finishing fifth again.
They also managed three podiums last year; Daniel Ricciardo finished third in Germany and Imola, while Esteban Ocon claimed a spectacular P2 in Sakhir, in what was Sergio Perez’s first win in Formula One. The Mexican has signed for Red Bull this year, replacing Alex Albon.
Abiteboul’s tenure will be remembered with a great deal of respect. He fearlessly led the team through thick and thin, and has laid the groundwork for Alpine to progress and achieve the success Renault once enjoyed. He enticed Ricciardo into his project, and having lured Fernando Alonso back to the team after the Australian’s departure, Abiteboul bows out with the team in a far better state than it was in when he arrived.
In its short tenure on the Formula 1 calendar, Turkey’s Istanbul Park circuit has helped create plenty of iconic moments. From Red Bull’s infamous clash in 2010 to the many incidents around the mighty Turn 8, it’s not hard to see why the Turkish Grand Prix is a fan-favourite return this year.
But for Felipe Massa, there’s one Istanbul Park moment that would surely spring to mind before any other—the end of the 2006 race, when he crossed the finish line to become a Formula 1 Grand Prix winner for the very first time.
2006 was already set to be a big year for Massa. Having cut his teeth with Sauber, this was the year he was called up by Ferrari to replace countryman Rubens Barrichello as Michael Schumacher’s teammate.
Prior to Turkey, which was the 14th round of the 18-race season, Massa’s start to life at Ferrari had been mixed. His pace was clear by his four podiums, two fastest laps and qualifying results, but his scorecard was marred by spins and a first-lap collision with Christian Klien and Nico Rosberg in Melbourne.
With rumours swirling of Ferrari considering a Schumacher/ Kimi Raikkonen partnership for 2007, what Massa needed was a definitive result to close out the season. And that was exactly what he set up on Saturday in Istanbul, when Massa took advantage of several errors by Schumacher to take his first pole position by three tenths over his teammate.
Given Schumacher’s tight championship battle with Fernando Alonso and Massa’s team role as the German’s rear gunner, Schumacher was still considered the favourite on race day. But come lights out, Massa soaked up the pressure as Schumacher and Alonso bore down on him into Turn 1, and was able to bolt clear by almost a second by the end of the first lap.
Behind the leading trio, Giancarlo Fisichella spun his Renault at the first corner as he backed out of a move on Alonso, causing a chain reaction incident in the midfield. Raikkonen, Scott Speed, Nick Heidfield and Ralf Schumacher were all caught up and joined Fisichella in pitting for repairs, while Midland’s Tiago Monteiro retired on the spot.
On lap 13 the safety car was deployed when Vitantonio Liuzzi spun and stalled his Toro Rosso at the exit of Turn 1, and Massa pitted together with Schumacher, Alonso and Jenson Button. But while Massa kept his position at the front, Alonso managed to jump Schumacher for second as Ferrari’s attempt to double-stack their stops held Schumacher up in the pits.
When the race resumed, Massa took advantage of his teammate’s battle with Alonso to restore his lead. As Alonso drove defensively to hold off his title rival, Massa continued to get further and further away from the pair and closer to his first victory.
But on the final lap there seemed to be a cruel final twist waiting for Massa before the finish line. As Schumacher closed to within a few tenths of Alonso and began all but pushing the Renault along, Massa drastically backed off the pace to the tune of several seconds compared to his teammate.
The understanding was that if Schumacher managed to retake second from Alonso, Massa was obliged to let Schumacher by for maximum championship points—at this late stage in the season, Alonso had a ten-point lead in the standings so a win would have put Schumacher level with four rounds remaining.
However, despite Schumacher’s best efforts he simply ran out of opportunities to pass Alonso, meaning Massa was free to push on to the line and take the victory with five and a half seconds still in hand.
Two weeks later at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, Ferrari announced that Schumacher would be leaving the team at the end of the year, and that Massa would stay on to partner Raikkonen. Massa closed out the 2006 season with two more pole positions, a second place at Japan, and a home win at Interlagos.
He would win twice again at Istanbul Park, in 2007 and 2008, and currently holds the record for the most wins at the circuit.
There are many moments that define Felipe Massa’s F1 career: the pain of losing the 2008 World Championship, the darkness of his 2009 crash in Budapest, and of course his emotional guard of honour after retiring from the 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix.
His maiden win is every bit as defining as what came after. A thoroughly deserving victory against two of the sport’s greatest drivers, Istanbul Park was a glimpse of the formidable talent Massa had to offer.