Prema’s Robert Shwartzman took his first Formula 2 win in the Styria feature race, taking advantage of a team radio problem for longtime race leader Yuki Tsunoda.
With the track drenched the race began after a lengthy delay with four laps behind the safety car. When the safety car pulled into the pits and the race began in earnest, polesitter Tsunoda got away from the pack cleanly and commanded the race in its early phase, building a gap over Guanyu Zhou with each lap. After two laps of racing the Carlin driver was 1.6s ahead, which increased to 5.5s by lap 21 as Zhou’s wet tyres started to overheat.
Zhou pitted on lap 21 along with Shwartzman. But when Carlin called Tsunoda in to cover the UNI-Virtuosi, he was unable to hear the message over team radio and stayed out for another three laps. All the while, Tsunoda’s pace compared to Zhou on the fresher tyres continued to drop off.
Tsunoda eventually came in on lap 26 after seeing the team’s pit board, but lost so much time on his older tyres that he lost the lead to Zhou and rejoined the track in a net third position.
Meanwhile, Shwartzman had been making progress through the field after initially losing a position to Christian Lundgaard on the second racing lap. On lap 14 he passed Luca Ghiotto for sixth, then took fifth from Jack Aitken on the following lap. When Lundgaard had a slow pit stop on lap 21, Shwartzman moved into fourth behind Tsunoda, Zhou and Callum Ilott.
Shwartzman demoted Ilott off the podium after both drivers had made their respective stops, and on fresher tyres he started reeling in Zhou with a series of fastest laps. On lap 27 Shwartzman passed Zhou for the lead of the race and began building up a gap as Tsunoda rejoined them after his own stop.
In the closing laps Zhou began to struggle with overheating tyres again and Tsunoda passed him for second on lap 30. With much younger tyres, Tsunoda then started eating into Shwartzman’s gap out front, reducing it by over two seconds across the next three laps.
But although he closed in to within half a second of Shwartzman, Tsunoda’s pace wasn’t enough to complete a move on the Prema in the final laps and Shwartzman held on to the victory. However, Tsunoda was able to earn another two points for setting the fastest lap.
Zhou continued to struggle and dropped back from the two leaders. He came under threat from Mick Schumacher in the closing laps, who had taken fourth from Ilott after starting ninth on the grid, but managed to defend his place on the podium and finish third.
Schumacher and Ilott finished fourth and fifth respectively, with Lundgaard and Marcus Armstrong behind them. Dan Ticktum finished eighth and took pole for Sunday’s reverse grid, and Aitken and Sean Gelael closed out the top ten.
Ferrari have announced that they have signed Mick Schumacher to their Driver Academy ahead of the 2019 season.
In a press statement, Schumacher said, “I am thrilled that Ferrari has entered into a partnership with me and [that] my next future in motorsport will be in red, being part of the Ferrari Driver Academy and also of the Scuderia Ferrari family.
“This is another step forward in the right direction, and I can only profit from the immense amount of expertise bundled there. Be sure I will make everything to extract whatever helps me achieve my dream [of] racing in Formula 1.
“It is more than obvious that Ferrari has a big place in my heart since I was born and also in the hearts of our family, so I am delighted on a personal level about this opportunity as well. At this stage it is, however, also time to say thank you to my family, friends and partners who supported me all along and helped me arrive at this point.”
Past alumni include Charles Leclerc, Sergio Perez, Lance Stroll, Antonio Giovinazzi and the late Jules Bianchi, who was the first driver to be signed to the program when it was formed back in 2009.
Schumacher joins the Academy on the back of his title-winning campaign in the Formula Three European Championship, where he won eight races and finished on the podium on six other occasions. He finished the season 57 points ahead of second-place Dan Ticktum.
New Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said that despite the more sentimental aspects of the signing, Schumacher had been picked first and foremost because of his racing talent.
“For someone like me who has known him from birth, there’s no doubt that welcoming Mick into Ferrari has a special emotional meaning,” he said, “but we have chosen him for his talent and the human and professional qualities that have already distinguished him despite his young age.”
Alongside his duties with the Academy in 2019, Schumacher will make his debut in FIA Formula 2, where he will compete with Prema Racing.
While it’s natural to remember Jules Bianchi around the Japanese Grand Prix, as Ferrari Week here at The Pit Crew Online falls near the second anniversary of his death it’s fitting to look back at the life and career of one of Maranello’s former rising stars.
Born in Nice in 1989, Bianchi arrived into a family that was already well-acquainted with motorsport. His grandfather Mauro raced GT cars in the 1960s and participated in three Grands Prix in 1961. His great-uncle Lucien drove in 19 Grands Prix between 1959 and 1968, scoring a handful of points, and achieved victory at Le Mans in 1968 alongside Pedro Rodriguez. Given his great-nephew’s affiliation with Ferrari, there’s a certain irony that Lucian’s Le Mans victory came behind the wheel of a Ford GT40, which broke Ferrari’s early 1960s string of Le Mans victories. Jules was not the first Bianchi to die in motorsport; Lucian was killed during testing at Le Mans in 1969. Jules’ father Philippe owned a karting circuit, providing a young Jules an early platform to begin honing his skills. At 15, Jules made the decision to pursue racing as a profession and at 17 signed a management contract with Nicolas Todt.
Looking back over Bianchi’s career, he seemed destined for Formula One. Having proved his skills in karting, placing first in multiple series in 2005 and 2006, Bianchi moved into the junior formulae. He made his single-seater debut in 2007, the final season of the French Formula Renault 2.0 series, driving for SG Formula. He secured a comfortable first place with 5 wins and 11 podiums, finishing 49 points ahead of the second place finisher Mathieu Arzeno.
2008 saw Bianchi move up to the Formula 3 Euro Series, driving for ART Grand Prix, where one of his teammates was Nico Hülkenberg. During his deubt season, he placed third overall with two wins and seven podiums for 47 points as well as placing first in the Masters of Formula 3. He continued competing with ART in 2009, his teammates including Valterri Bottas and Esteban Gutiérrez. That season Bianchi claimed the title, earning nine wins and twelve podiums and ending the season with 114 points.
2009 also saw the BBC and James Allen, among others, link Bianchi with a race seat at Ferrari due to Luca Badoer’s disappointing performance. Though this never materialized, December 2009 saw Bianchi become the first recruit to the Ferrari Driver Academy after the young drivers’ test at Jerez. Maranello clearly found Bianchi a worthy investment, and he was to remain a member until his death. The Ferrari Driver Academy still officially acknowledges that Jules was the most promising young driver that has participated in the program thus far.
Interviews during this period paint a picture of an affable young man, aggressive and ambitious on the track but aware that he’s still learning and maturing. He is quick to give credit to his influences, crediting his grandfather and manager for their help in his formation as a racing driver, as well as his fellow drivers for the self-management techniques he learned from them.
He progressed up the ladder to GP2 in 2010, again racing for ART Grand Prix. In his debut season Bianchi placed third in the championship with 52 points. Though he claimed three poles and was on the podium four times, he won no races this season.
For 2011, despite remaining third overall he improved his record by claiming one win and six podiums. He totaled 53 points in the 2011 season. Significantly, 2011 also saw Bianchi debut as a Formula One test driver for Ferrari, coming closer to a coveted race seat.
In 2012 Bianchi competed in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, driving for Tech 1 Racing. He placed second in the championship, with three wins and eight podiums, and a total of 185 points. He continued his Formula One testing career, this time on loan to Sahara Force India from Ferrari. During his tenure as Force India’s test and reserve driver, he participated in 9 Friday free practice sessions, gaining valuable track time.
Bianchi’s big break arrived in 2013. Though Force India selected Adrian Sutil to replace Nico Hülkenberg upon his departure to Sauber, another seat opened when Marussia driver Luiz Razia’s sponsors failed to meet their financial commitments to the team. Jules had finally achieved his race seat, opposite Max Chilton. Though Marussia ran solidly at the back of the field and Bianchi retired in Monaco, Germany, and Japan, he nonetheless finished ahead of his teammate in every remaining race other than India and finished the drivers’ championship in 19th place, 4 places above Chilton. Marussia finished 10th in the 2013 Constructors Championship, securing much-needed prize money.
2014 saw Bianchi continue opposite Chilton with Marussia. Despite an inauspicious beginning to the season, failing to complete 90% of the race distance in Australia and retiring in Malaysia due to brake failure on lap 8, Bianchi continued to outperform his teammate. In a major step forward for the team he brought in both his own and Marussia’s first points at Monaco. While good fortune in the form of a number of retirements doubtless contributed to his 9th place finish, and his own illegal serving of a 5-second penalty under the Safety Car cost him 8th place, Bianchi and Marussia were justifiably pleased with the results. Though forced to retire when Chilton collided with him in Canada, he finished ahead of his teammate for most of the season other than a retirement late in the Belgian Grand Prix due to a gearbox failure.
And then came Suzuka.
The category four Typhoon Phanfone brought significant rain to the Suzuka Circuit on Sunday October 5th, but due to the Russian Grand Prix being scheduled for the following week freight concerns prevented organizers from delaying the Grand Prix until the next day. Charlie Whiting suggested that the race start time be changed, but both the circuit owners and FIA opposed changing the both to allow spectators to arrive at the circuit and due to television coverage concerns. The race began under the Safety Car and was suspended after two laps, then restarted under the Safety Car 20 minutes later. Conditions slowly improved, but there was still significant standing water on the track and heavy rain again began to fall in lap 36.
Adrian Sutil lost control of his Sauber and crashed at Dunlop Curve on lap 40. One lap later, Bianchi lost control at the same place and slid partway under the crane that was recovering Sutil’s Sauber. Striking the crane at 123 km/h, the impact was forceful enough to jolt the crane off the ground and cause the Sauber to drop back to the ground. In the crash, Bianchi’s Marussia sustained massive damage on its left side and its roll bar was destroyed. Later analysis determined that the impact generated a peak of 254 g. Bianchi was unresponsive, and was determined to have suffered significant head injuries.
As the medical helicopter was unable to land at the designated hospital, Mie Prefectural General Medical Center in nearby Yokkaichi, Jules was transported instead by ambulance, arriving 32 minutes later. He was rushed into surgery to reduce the severe bruising to his head. His first visitors included Graeme Lowdon, Marussia’s CEO, team principal John Booth, Ferrari team principal Marco Mattiacci, and Bianchi’s fellow driver Felipe Massa. Bianchi’s parents, siblings, and a close friend arrived over subsequent days.
Bianchi’s management team also visited Bianchi in hospital. FIA Medical Commission president Gerard Salliant was also present, and Ferrari continued to show its support for Jules by requesting that Sapienza University of Rome neurosurgeon professor Allesandro Frati travel to Japan. Ferrari’s outgoing president Luca di Montezemolo further told the media that Bianchi was to be the third Ferrari driver should the then-possible shift to three-car teams become a reality.
The Bianchi family publicly expressed appreciation for the support Jules had received thus far, as well as confirming that Bianchi had suffered a diffuse axonal injury in the crash. At this time, Bianchi was in critical but stable condition.
Though Marussia originally entered their reserve driver Alexander Rossi, the team elected to only run Chilton in the Russian Grand Prix. As a show of support, the team prepared and had Bianchi’s car scrutineered at Sochi, but did not race it. Perhaps Marussia’s fate would have been different had they raced Rossi. Perhaps Marussia’s financial backer Andrei Cheglakov would have continued to fund the team had Rossi turned in a respectable performance, but the tribute was fitting, expressing the hope that Bianchi would recover and rejoin the team.
The Formula One community, indeed the entire motorsport community, rallied in support of Bianchi. The day after the crash, Fellow Frenchman Jean-Éric Vergne arranged for all the drivers to wear stickers proclaiming “Tous avec Jules #17”, and the Marussia team added #JB17 to their livery. The successor Manor team continued this through the 2015 season. The hashtag #ForzaJules proliferated across social media, and along with #JB17 was even made into stickers in the physical world. Fans across the world used these stickers to visibly express their support for Jules. Moments of silence, race win dedications, and other tributes flowed from the community.
The FIA conducted an investigation into the incident, determining that while there were many contributing factors there was no single root cause of the crash. While Bianchi clearly hadn’t slowed enough under the double waved yellow, ‘enough’ wasn’t clearly defined. Bianchi lost control less than two minutes after Sutil, and the recovery crane had almost cleared the barriers, so the double waved yellow was considered enough under accepted practices. The crane’s presence itself wasn’t considered unusual, even though Martin Brundle nearly collided with a similar crane 20 years previously. The brake-by-wire system’s failure to cut off the throttle wasn’t definitively determined to have played a significant role, as Bianchi’s pressing the brake and throttle together may have been within acceptable parameters. Given the forces involved in the crash, no reasonable changes to the chassis could have helped.
Sadly, all the hope and support proved to be in vain. Though Bianchi was removed from an induced coma in November 2014 and able to breathe on his own, and was subsequently moved to Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Nice, he did not regain consciousness. His supporters, his family chief among them, initially took hope from Michael Schumacher’s improvement after his skiing head injury, however slow, but over time this hope waned.
Just over two years ago, on 17 July 2015, Jules Bianchi died. He never regained consciousness. A moment of silence, with the Bianchi family present, was observed at the Hungarian Grand Prix on 26 July.
Bianchi’s legacy includes positive safety developments ranging from improved rules and procedures such as the Virtual Safety Car and changes to recovery procedures, to additional head protection, including informing the process that led to 2018’s Halo. With the support of Prince Albert of Monaco Jules’ father Philippe created the Jules Bianchi Foundation to provide funding for promising young drivers. The Jules Bianchi #17 Association was also created to support the Unité de Soins des Cérébro-Lésés(Unit for brain damage) at Hôpital l’Archet in Nice.
The Bianchi family additionally filed a lawsuit against the FIA, Marussia, and the Formula One Group in May 2016.
This July, we are left with the memory of a promising career cut short, and a young life extinguished before its time.
The Ferrari Driver Academy, while not boasting a history quite as illustrious as the junior programme of, say, Red Bull, can trace its history back to 2002. It unofficially began with Ferrari’s grooming of Felipe Massa as they readied him for a shot in a race seat, which he would eventually take in 2006. However, it wasn’t until 2010 that the academy was formally created, with the late Jules Bianchi becoming the FDA’s inaugural member. He is, to date, the only driver to make it to Formula 1 as part of the programme.
Currently, the Ferrari Driver Academy boasts six racers. Brazilian Enzo Fittipaldi (grandson of the two-time Formula 1 world champion) and New Zealand born Marcus Armstrong are both competing in Formula 4, and are new additions to the programme for 2017. Formula 2 driver Antonio Fuoco has been a member since 2013, and Chinese driver Guanyu Zhou (racing in the European Formula 3 championship) since 2014. Last year the FDA recruited Guiliano Alesi (son of former Formula 1 driver Jean Alesi), currently racing in GP3, and man of the moment Charles Leclerc, who is partnering Fuoco in Formula 2. It is interesting to note that all of these drivers are currently competing in their respective series with the junior outfit Prema Powerteam, with the exception of Alesi, but this may have more to do with the fact that Prema do not currently run a team in GP3.
With the vast resources of a legendary team such as Ferrari, and the apparent arrangement with a junior team as successful as Prema, the few drivers who are lucky enough to be a part of the Ferrari Driver Academy seem to be well placed to make a swift ascent to Formula 1, and eventually to a hallowed seat at Ferrari itself. But is this really the case?
The FDA’s track record would certainly suggest otherwise. Since the official creation of the Ferrari Driver Academy, only one driver has ever made it to Formula 1 as part of the system, and while it is almost certain that Bianchi would have earned himself a Ferrari seat, had it not been for his tragic and fatal accident, his is a lone and outlying example. The mission statement for the junior program quotes Enzo Ferrari – “I love to think that Ferrari can create drivers as much as cars” – but it is debatable whether the team itself has bought into this philosophy.
While it is undeniable that the FDA can equip a driver well for his journey up the single seater ladder, in terms of training both in and out of the car, even the drivers themselves seem to question whether the junior program can take them all the way. Current Formula 1 driver Lance Stroll was a member for five years, leaving the Ferrari Driver Academy in 2015 so he could join Williams’ junior team. To many it might have seemed like a step down, to move from a front runner such as Ferrari to a midfield team like Williams. But clearly the Canadian saw that better opportunities for progression lay elsewhere, and his promotion to Formula 1 proves that was exactly the case.
Unlike Red Bull, whose junior program is perhaps the most well established and successful, they do not have a de facto ‘B Team’ like the Austrian team do with Toro Rosso. However, Mercedes do not either, but they successfully managed to get two of their junior drivers; Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon, onto the 2017 grid. Maybe Ferrari feel secure in the knowledge that they will rarely have a problem filling their seats – a drive with the coveted Italian team is probably the most sought after in motorsport. But they would do well to prove that they have belief in their young protégées, and deploy the appropriate resources. Having successful drivers from their stable should be as treasured of an achievement as race wins.
So what can Ferrari do to make the most out of their driver academy? The most obvious is to take a chance on their young drivers. Ferrari is traditionally conservative in their driver choices, preferring to invest in known quantities than rookies. But this comes at the detriment of its own young drivers. While no one is suggesting they promote one of their drivers to a Ferrari seat immediately, to be seen actively pursuing a race seat for some of them would go a long way.
Although it is not something that is always within their control, if Ferrari could use one of the teams they supply engines to as a stepping stone to develop their young drivers, in a similar way to how Red Bull use Toro Rosso, then that would be ideal. Sauber, with the announcement that they will, after all, be using Ferrari engines in 2018, are well placed to do just this. Of course, it may not be the direction Sauber want their team to go in, but from Ferrari’s point of view, it is the perfect continuation of the FDA.
So have Ferrari taken steps to instil more confidence in their junior drivers? Evidence wouldn’t suggest so. And perhaps they haven’t needed to. Until 2017, none of their junior drivers were realistically in line for a F1 seat, let alone a seat at Ferrari. But signing up GP2 graduate Antonio Giovinazzi as their third driver for this year gave them someone who was in a position to step up. And now the unexpected dominance of 2016 GP3 champion Charles Leclerc has brought another figure into the frame
Suddenly Ferrari are faced with a dilemma they have never encountered before. They have two drivers whom, ideally, they should be finding race seats for. Both Leclerc and Giovinazzi have expressed their total faith in Ferrari to do what’s best for them. Yet there seems to be an unwillingness from Ferrari’s part to exert some influence in using the FDA to take their drivers all the way.
The future of Ferrari lies in such drivers, but it is the team itself that seems to fail to see that.