Scintillating speed and painful memories – Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Preview

The Emilia Romagna region in Bologna plays host to round number 13 of the 2020 championship this weekend, as F1 makes a welcome return to Imola.

Having last appeared on the Formula One calendar 14 years ago, the 4.9 kilometre rollercoaster of a circuit has undergone several incarnations in its 40-year F1 history, for some reasons more pertinent than others.

Michel Schumacher won the last race here in 2006 – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

The deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger in the same weekend in 1994 rocked the world of racing, and left us with indelible and painful memories that, in many ways, have helped shape F1 into what it is today.

Having said that, we have seen plenty of other reasons to remember this track, and the high-speed, flowing and alluring nature of the track is certainly one of them. Michael Schumacher’s various different pole position laps are ample example of that.

And with this current generation of Formula one cars, which will of course be replaced at the end of next season, this track will surely provide all the thrills and spills we have already witnessed over the course of the 2020 season.

Surprise podiums and race winners have joined surprise additions to the calendar this season, and Imola was certainly one of said surprises. Last week in Portimao was a one-off race that we were left extremely grateful for.

Lewis Hamilton won a thrilling Portuguese Grand prix last time out – Courtesy of Mercedes media

Off the back of an outstanding weekend at the Algarve, Imola has a fair bit to live up to, and how Lewis Hamilton would love to take his 93rd win and claim victory at the 29th circuit in his career.

But not only is this a different track – it is a different weekend. If I may cast your minds back to when this race was announced in July, it was confirmed that it would be a two-day weekend, and here is how it will work.

There will be one practice session on Saturday morning, and as such the drivers will have 10 sets of slick tyres available as opposed to the 13 they are accustomed to. Qualifying and the race will go ahead as usual, but there will be a larger gap between practice and qualifying to allow for consultation between the teams and the FIA to consider any suggested changes.

Will this have any bearing on performance? Probably not, but it will be a test of adaptability to slightly different racing conditions for the drivers, and this may provide more shock results, such as McLaren and Renault podiums, and who can forget Pierre Gasly’s remarkable win in Monza a few weeks ago?

Pierre gasly’s remarkable win in Monza was the first of his career – courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

And speaking of the Frenchman, he has this week signed a new contract for 2021 with his Alpha Tauri team, who also completed some pre-season testing at this track prior to the season’s start.

As for who is really expected to perform well though, it is rather interesting. Imola has a decent amount of straights, but the highly technical corners and chicanes littered around the place provide plenty of banana skins for the drivers to negotiate around, and this will provide the opportunity for Red Bull to close up to Mercedes.

Couple that with the fact that Ferrari, McLaren, Renault Racing Point are all showing marvellous signs of rapid improvement, this weekend could provide a mega battle for the podium, if not for the win.

Racing Point and Ferrari have joined McLaren and Renault in showing impressive improvement lately – courtesy of racing Point media

That top spot, however, is expected to be taken by Lewis Hamilton, and at the scene of the tragic accident that claimed his hero Senna, a 93rd win here would be on of the most personally significant of his career.

What are the Formula One Teams doing to Reduce their Environmental Impact?

Climate change is undeniably one of the biggest issue facing our planet today, with every sector of society having a responsibility to help tackle greenhouse gas emissions. Motorsport is no different. For Formula One, being the pinnacle comes with huge pressure to stay up to date with modern technologies, and gives them a duty to lead the way in tackling climate change. So what are the F1 teams and the FIA doing to provide a shining example to other categories?

Below is my assessment of each team and F1 as a whole based on emissions both at and away from the track, covering areas from transportation, to the impact of the food served in the factories.

Steve Etherington / Mercedes AMG

Mercedes:

In recent years Mercedes has been the figurehead of F1, achieving 6 (soon to be 7) constructors titles in a row. This on-track success and ambition refuses to be outdone by their sustainability ambitions. In 2018, Mercedes calculated that they released 20,000 tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere. By 2022, they aim to have halved this to 10,000 tonnes. Being an F1 team means that there are certain to be some emissions that simply can’t be avoided. Mercedes claim that they will use gold-standard offsetting to help eliminate the impact of these (carbon offsetting is investing or taking part in projects that have a positive impact on the environment).

Mercedes’ high-tech Brackley factory already uses renewably sourced energy to power all its operations from the wind tunnel to the data simulation centre. However, the Brixworth Technology Centre (where they develop their engines) uses at least fifty percent renewable energy, using solar panels and an on site Combined Cooling, Heating and Power (CCHP) Plant (a plant that uses an efficient gas engine to generate electricity for cooling heating and power. This is renewable so long as the gas fuel is a renewable gas such as hydrogen, biogas, syngas, or biomethane. Mercedes provided no information as to the gas used although as they count this as a renewable source of energy, you would assume they do use one of the gasses mentioned above). For any outsourced energy, Mercedes have committed to switching to 100% renewably sourced energy over the course of 2020.

The food industry is one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions, from flatulent cattle to transporting spices across the globe. In Mercedes cafeterias, they claim that they will eliminate the use of all single-use plastics. However, what they fail to mention is how much red meat is consumed, which being one of the most polluting food sources on the planet, is important to try and reduce where possible.

Nothing can seem to separate Mercedes from the top on track, but off track they are also leaders, aiming to be carbon neutral by the end of 2020.  On the whole, they have some very impressive ambitions and are already putting in place measures to achieve them.

Grade: A

Ferrari:

Ferrari are often seen as the F1 traditionalists. However, this perception is not necessarily justified when it comes to sustainability. 87% of the energy used at Maranello is generated by their trigeneration (also known as CCHP, like Mercedes has) plant, with 95% of the remaining energy sourced from certified renewable sources. Ferrari’s team headquarters comply with the New Zero Energy Building Protocol (this means the energy they use is approximately equal to the renewable energy they create). Maranello, along with Mugello, also has the 2016 ISO 14001:2015 certificate, which is a certification that shows they abide by the ISO standards.

Across their European fleet, Ferrari succeeded in reducing their CO2 emissions by 35% compared to 2007 levels, despite growing significantly as a business in that time. By the end of 2020, they hope to have reduced this by a further 15% compared to 2014 levels.

Ferrari provided no information about catering operations.

It appears that Ferrari are moving with the times, recognising the importance of being more sustainable, whilst also trying to continue growing as a company. At times, this leads to some concerning decisions, but largely, Ferrari are looking to move in the right direction.

Grade: B

Red Bull, Racing Point, Haas and Alpha Tauri:

Disappointingly, a number of teams provided absolutely no information on their sustainability goals and failed to respond when questioned. As a result, Red Bull, Racing Point, Haas, and Alpha Tauri can’t be assessed and all receive the same grade.

Grade: U

Steven Tee, Motorsport Images / Courtesy of McLaren Media Centre

McLaren:

On a more positive note, McLaren’s sustainability is one of the best in the sport. In 2011, it was announced that McLaren were the first ever Formula One team to go carbon neutral, receiving the FIA Sustainability Accreditation Award in 2013, with them being awarded the highest honours of the FIA Environmental Certification framework every two years since (most recently in February 2020).  McLaren also work with the Carbon Trust to make sure their facilities comply with the ISO 14001, which requires them to have an effective environmental management system.

By changing all Halogen Bulbs to LEDs , McLaren save 13,000 KwH of electricity each year, greatly reducing the amount of energy they require. The team also utilise the lake outside the MTC to help control the temperature and reduce the need for cooling towers. 100,000 trees and shrubs have also been planted around the factory.

McLaren have made sustainability an integral part of their company and have achieved some very impressive, and very pleasing environmental goals as a result.

Grade: A*

Renault:

Renault are one of the most iconic teams within Formula One, mainly thanks to their success in 2005, and 2006 with Fernando Alonso. However, their sustainability goals certainly aren’t iconic.

When it was announced in 2019, Renault welcomed Formula 1’s aim to be Carbon Neutral by 2030, whilst also announcing their own Social and Sustainable Impact Program. Since then, they have not expanded on what this program entails, nor do they have any more information on their own environmental impact available online. Accepting Formula 1’s Carbon Neutrality plans should be the bare minimum, but at least they have come out and made a statement regarding it.

Grade: E

Xavi Bonilla / Alfa Romeo Press

Alfa Romeo:

Alfa Romeo has to be one of the biggest surprises of all the Formula One teams. Since 2011, the Sauber Group has known its entire carbon footprint and fully compensated for it! In 2014, they struck up a partnership with Carbon Connect AG that allows them to calculate its annual carbon emissions, whilst also supporting reforestation projects in South America.

When broken down, over 80% of the teams’ overall emissions are caused by the transportation of equipment to and from the races, whilst fuel for tests and races account for just less than 1%. Energy and electricity make up 4.5% of all the teams carbon emissions. Alfa Romeo offsets all of this.

At the company headquarters in Hinwil, the car park is roofed by 2200 square meters of solar system that provides enough electricity to power 44 homes cleanly. ABB will also install a state-of-the-art fast-charging system for the increasing number of electric car using employees. They intend to power this station with the solar power they already generate.

Whilst Alfa Romeo make no mention of their catering facilities, you can’t overlook their amazing achievement of fully compensating for their annual carbon emissions since 2011.

Grade: A*

Williams:

The last team to cover, Williams, are by no means the least. Recording and reporting their carbon footprint on a regular basis, Williams were the first sports and entertainment company in the world to join the Carbon Disclosure Project. This has allowed them to identify areas in which to improve, and set, and assess targets based on them. As a result, Williams’ Carbon Footprint has decreased by 18% in just two years.

Clearly, Williams are showing some positive signs of progression and appear to be taking the issue of sustainability very seriously.

Grade: C

Formula One:

Formula One has a responsibility to ensure that all the teams involved are on the path to a sustainable future. Collectively, F1 aims to ensure all events are sustainable by 2025. This will see the elimination of single use plastics and all waste being either reused, recycled, or composted. F1 will also provide fans incentives and opportunities to reach the races in a greener way.

By 2030, F1 aims to have a net-zero carbon footprint. They plan to do this by: ensuring they use ultra-efficient logistics, having 100% renewably powered offices, facilities, and factories for all teams to have a net-zero footprint.

In an entire race season, approximately 256,000 tonnes of CO2 is generated. 45% of this comes from logistics, whilst 27.7% is from business travel. A further 19.3% of this Carbon is from facilities and factories, whilst 0.7% comes from the power units themselves. The remaining 7.3% comes from event logistics which includes support races, broadcasting, Paddock Club operations etc. They aim to have reduced all of this to net-zero by 2030.

Formula One itself has some ambitious, yet achievable targets that ensures that it, and all the teams involved, will be sustainable and have a minimal impact on our environment at a time where we all have a duty to look after our planet.

Grade: A*

In summary, McLaren and Alfa Romeo are leaders of minimising environmental impact, Formula One has some impressive and promising targets for all its teams, but there is a disappointing lack of information from certain other teams. Reducing our environmental impact is crucial to ensuring our planet survives for centuries after we’ve gone and it’s vital we act now whilst it is still in our control.

The race that was…the 2013 German Grand Prix

This weekend Formula One heads to the mighty Nurburgring for the 2020 Eifel Grand Prix. As it’s been seven years since F1 last raced at the Ring, we’re throwing things back to its most recent visit—the 2013 German Grand Prix.

Taking a quick glance down the grid, 2013 doesn’t look too far removed from present-day F1. There are seven drivers from 2013 that are still racing in F1 today: Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo, Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez (or eight, if you include Racing Point stand-in Nico Hulkenberg).

Of those that aren’t, Fernando Alonso will be returning next year, and it wasn’t that long since we last saw the likes of Felipe Massa, Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg either.

But of those seven drivers still in F1 today, only Hamilton at Mercedes is still with the same team as in 2013. Back then, Vettel was still the reigning champion at Red Bull-Renault, while his future Ferrari teammate Raikkonen was in the second year of his F1 comeback partnering Grosjean at Lotus.

Meanwhile, Bottas was a rookie at Williams, Perez was enduring his ill-fated McLaren season, and Ricciardo was still cutting his teeth in a Ferrari-powered Toro Rosso before his Red Bull break a year later.

As for F1’s current crop of drivers, the likes of Carlos Sainz, Esteban Ocon and Alex Albon were all racing in Formula Renault categories in 2013. As for Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris and George Russell, they were all still in karts.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes (Wolfgang Wilhelm / Mercedes AMG)

One thing that will be familiar for today’s F1 viewers is that the 2013 German Grand Prix started with Hamilton on pole for Mercedes. However, the Mercedes W04 was a far cry from the juggernauts that its turbo-hybrid successors would be.

The W04 was undoubtedly fast, and between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg had taken six of the season’s nine pole positions at that time. But a common theme of 2013 was Mercedes qualifying well only to struggle with tyre temperatures early on in the race and fall back through the field.

And that’s exactly what happened at the Nurburgring, as Vettel and Mark Webber (starting from second and third respectively) both got the jump on Hamilton into Turn 1. Meanwhile, Hamilton dropped back behind Grosjean and Raikkonen, whose James Allison-designed Lotuses were famously very gentle on their Pirelli tyres compared to the Mercedes.

With Vettel and Webber’s pace out front, Red Bull looked set for another 1–2 finish. But that fell apart when Webber came in to change tyres on lap 14 and left his pitbox with his right-rear not properly attached.

As Webber got away, the wheel detached and bounced down the pitlane—it hit FOM cameraman Paul Allen, who suffered a broken shoulder and cracked ribs and was taken to nearby Koblenz hospital for treatment. Allen later recovered fully and Red Bull were given a €30,000 fine for the incident.

Mark Webber, Red Bull (Lars Baron, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool)

Webber was able to rejoin the race, as he stopped just outside his pitbox and was promptly wheeled back and fitted with new tyres. But when he returned to the track he was a lap down on Vettel, while Grosjean and Raikkonen were closing in after setting multiple fastest laps.

On lap 23 the safety car was deployed when Jules Bianchi had to stop his Marussia with an engine fire. This allowed Webber to get back onto the lead lap. But after making initial progress when the race resumed, Webber then got stuck behind Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez for ten laps, and was forced to make another stop after eating through his tyres trying to get by.

Raikkonen took the lead of the race on lap 41 when Vettel and Grosjean both made their third stops, and Lotus extended his stint until lap 49. This left Raikkonen with much fresher soft tyres for the final laps of the race and gave him the best chance of hunting down Vettel for the win. With this and the championship in mind (Raikkonen was then third in the standings behind Vettel and Alonso), Lotus instructed Grosjean to let the quicker Raikkonen by for second.

But despite his pace, Raikkonen was unable to stop Vettel taking his first home Grand Prix victory. The win was also the 30th of Vettel’s career, making him only the sixth driver in F1 history at the time to score more than 30 wins (the others being Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Fernando Alonso and Nigel Mansell).

Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean (Lotus) (Lars Baron, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool)

Raikkonen finished second and Grosjean third ahead of Alonso. Hamilton’s race stabilised in fifth, while Webber recovered to seventh between the McLarens of Button and Perez. Rosberg and Hulkenberg rounded out the points for Mercedes and Sauber respectively. Williams had looked set to finish in the points in what was their 600th Grand Prix, only for wheel gun problems in the pit stops to drop Pastor Maldonado and Bottas down to 15th and 16th place respectively.

The 2013 German Grand Prix was an enthralling race, but it was also a fascinating look back at F1’s recent history. It shows a Sebastian Vettel at his peak en route to a fourth consecutive World Championship. It shows the early signs of the Mercedes success to come, back when Lewis Hamilton only had one title and 21 wins to his name.

But more importantly for F1 today, it shows that the Nurburgring can provide some excellent racing and drama throughout the field, which can only bode well for the Eifel Grand Prix on Sunday.

Sebastian Vettel: Possible Redemption?

So the worst kept secret in F1 is out. Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel will be moving to Racing Point for next season when it is rebranded as Aston Martin. It all was the result of Vettel’s departure from Ferrari who he has raced for since 2015, a partnership that he had hoped would have resulted in a fifth championship – but it wasn’t meant to be.

Vettel won four straight championships with Red Bull who housed him throughout his junior career, however nowadays you would be forgiven for doubting that this was the same driver. The Vettel of today has been so dejected, dare I say humbled by his lack of success with the Scuderia, and there’s a narrative these days that it’s all because of Ferrari. I however disagree with this notion, it’s not all one party’s fault the relationship has soured.

Sebastian Vettel celebrates his fourth and final championship with the Red Bull Team – courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Before I proceed, I feel the need to put forward my biases and perspective so everyone knows. I wasn’t a fan of Vettel back in his Red Bull domination days, and to an extent I’m still not a fan but even now, I do have some sympathy for him.

When he joined Ferrari, it was the beginning of the Mercedes dominance in the turbo hybrid era so Vettel had a mountain to climb. He had just come off the back of a winless final season with Red Bull in which he was shown up rather considerably by new Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who took three wins on his way to third in the championship.

He took the seat of departing Fernando Alonso, who had hoped to be Ferrari’s next champion and came very close but lost out to Vettel in 2010 and 2012, and lined up alongside Ferrari’s last champion Kimi Räikkönen. Vettel really surprised in his first season with the Scuderia, as he took three victories at Malaysia, Hungary and Singapore on his way to third in the championship.

Vettel enjoyed a positive first season with Ferrari – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

However unlike his teammate the previous season Daniel Ricciardo, Vettel took those victories on pure pace as opposed to benefiting from some misfortunes that befell both Mercedes cars. In fact from 2014-2016, it was Vettel’s three wins that were the only ones that were won not from misfortunes for Mercedes. Even with Merc’s dominance, Vettel came very close to denying Nico Rosberg runner-up in the championship that year.

2016 was a bit of a nothing year for Vettel, but with the regulation change coming into 2017 there was renewed hope for Vettel and Ferrari that they could take the battle to Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. At first it was very much hopeful, as Vettel and Hamilton traded places in the first two races and then the Ferrari driver began opening up a lead.

Despite a promising 2017 season, Vettel fell short of his fifth title, losing out to Lewis Hamilton – Courtesy of Ferrari media

Whilst the two drivers were relishing this opportunity to battle it out for the championship, it did all come to a head at Azerbaijan when Hamilton led Vettel under safety car conditions, Vettel didn’t anticipate Hamilton’s movement and ran into the back of him, assumed he brake tested him so he did the thing he believed was a good idea, drove alongside Hamilton and deliberately ran into him.

Then the infamous Singapore start collision caused by Seb moving over on Kimi and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen handed the momentum to Hamilton, and with Mercedes outdeveloping Ferrari, the 2017 title race was swiftly over. A rejuvenated Vettel went into 2018 feeling confident, and he took two wins from the first two races to open up an early lead. But before long, Vettel began making more and more errors.

He threw away a win at Baku when he locked his brake going into turn one on a safety car restart, locked up at the start at the French GP and clipping Bottas, thus ruining both their races. However it was Hockenheim that sealed Vettel’s fate, where he had a commanding lead and when some drizzle arrived and he lost it heading into the stadium section and burying it in the gravel and tyre barrier.

From then on, it came thick and fast. Monza lap one when he spun after touching Hamilton, Suzuka when he spun when trying to pass Verstappen heading into spoon, lap one at the US Grand Prix when he tapped Ricciardo and, you guessed it, spun. Couple that with Hamilton driving like a man possessed, Hamilton went from trailing Vettel in terms of championships 4-1 to then being 5-4 in his favour.

Meanwhile on the other side of both garages, their Finnish teammates were highlighting the difference between them.

Whilst Vettel had Räikkönen as his teammate, Hamilton had Valtteri Bottas. Both of them were playing supporting roles, but it was quickly becoming obvious that whilst Hamilton’s driving was warranting the lead driver status, Vettel clearly wasn’t doing enough to have his teammate hang back. This coincided with the meteoric rise of a Ferrari-backed driver from Monaco, called Charles Leclerc.

After winning titles in GP3 and Formula 2, Leclerc spent his rookie F1 campaign with Sauber and got the call-up to Ferrari for 2019. Clearly very highly rated by many, there was expectations that Leclerc could do what Ricciardo did in 2014 and wipe the floor with Seb. In a way, he kind of did.

As Leclerc looked set to take victory in only his second race for the team before a mechanical failure dropped him to third, Vettel had it difficult to hold him back initially and then spun again when passed by Hamilton later in the race. Vettel then got a penalty for skipping across the chicane at Canada and nearly colliding with Hamilton, which ultimately lost him the race and he protested after the race with an act of defiance switching of the first and second place boards.

Vettel’s dangerous re-join at last year’s Canadian Grand Prix earned him a race-costing penalty – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

At Silverstone, he locked up and slammed into the back of Max Verstappen just after he overtook Vettel after spending the majority of the race up until that point having a very close battle with Leclerc. Another spin at Monza was further compounded by Leclerc taking victories at the previous race at Spa, and then in front of the Tifosi, but even with Seb taking victory at Singapore the following round couldn’t shake the narrative that he was losing it.

It wasn’t helped when in Brazil, Vettel swiped at Leclerc putting them both out in an incident very similar to when he did the same at Istanbul back in 2010 to his then Red Bull teammate Mark Webber. In the end, Leclerc won the qualifying battle and despite Vettel being ahead in more races, he still finished behind Leclerc.

Ferrari endured a tumultuous 2019 season with among a tense inter-team rivalry between Vettel and Charles Leclerc

I am not just pointing these out to kick Vettel whilst he’s down, I took no pleasure in watching him make these errors which were becoming an all too common occurrence, prompting the meme ‘SBINALLA’ whenever he would mess up. Of course, before this delayed season began it was announced that Vettel’s Ferrari contract would not be renewed and he’d be replaced in 2021 by Carlos Sainz.

Since then, it’s been a narrative of “Vettel didn’t perform because Ferrari didn’t believe in him”. To that I say, well can you blame them? If a rookie kept making the mistakes Vettel was making, they would have probably been replaced. It’s a two-way system, Vettel made a lot of unforced errors which resulted in Ferrari losing faith, and now they don’t give him the belief that he needs.

Vettel will leave Ferrari having failed to win a championship with the team

Again I don’t take pleasure in saying this, even I’ve begun to feel sorry for the guy. However maybe the move to Aston Martin is just what he needs. A fresh start (which seemed to bode well for him in 2015), plus the current ‘Pink Mercedes’ which will be used again in 2021 could lend well to his driving style. The turbo hybrid cars don’t have as much rear downforce as pre-2014 cars due to the exhaust gases not being channeled under the car.

Vettel’s style could bode even better when the 2022 regulations roll around since they utilise ground effect. However by that point, maybe the likes of Verstappen, Leclerc and all the other young guns will be the benchmark.

I’m not writing him off completely, but Vettel has got a lot to be proud of in his career. Winning for Toro Rosso at Monza, winning four straight championships at Red Bull, and he could do very well with Aston Martin. But ultimately, just because he has done that in the past doesn’t mean his errors during his time at Ferrari can be overlooked.

I hope Vettel gets his mojo back and can bring a win or two for the team that started out as Jordan back in 1991, I hope he can prove to himself and everyone else that they are wrong.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of Ferrari Media

F2 Mugello preview: Ferrari juniors on top in Ferrari’s backyard

Formula 2 returns this weekend for round nine of the championship, in support of the Tuscan Grand Prix at Mugello.

Mugello is set to be a special weekend for F1, being Ferrari’s record 1,000th Grand Prix and taking place at a circuit they own. But while the Scuderia is currently suffering through one of its worst seasons in F1 to date, its academy drivers Callum Ilott, Mick Schumacher and Robert Shwartzman will give them plenty to be proud of as they enter the weekend first, second and third in the F2 championship respectively.

Callum Ilott, UNI-Virtuosi (Photo by Bryn Lennon / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Monza proved a particularly happy hunting ground for the Ferrari academy, with Schumacher taking his first win and eighth podium of the season in the two races. But it was Ilott who came away with a seven-point lead in the standings, having taken pole for the feature race and inheriting the sprint race win from the disqualified Dan Ticktum.

Trying to predict whether they’ll have the same form at Mugello is tricky. Shwartzman and Schumacher both have competitive experience of the track, but nothing more recent than their last Italian F4 campaigns in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

However, the Prema team they drive for has spent many a race weekend at the circuit over the years. They’ll have plenty of knowledge to draw on, and arguably have the best chance of giving their drivers a winning car.

And speaking of winning cars, Schumacher will have an opportunity this weekend to drive one of the very best, as he will take his father’s Ferrari F2004 around the track in a very special demonstration run.

Mick Schumacher driving the Ferrari F2004 at Hockenheim in 2019 (Scuderia Ferrari Press Office)

As well as Schumacher and Shwartzman, five other drivers on the current F2 grid have experience of Mugello: Guanyu Zhou, Luca Ghiotto, Marcus Armstrong, Marino Sato, and DAMS stand-in Juri Vips.

Armstrong and Vips have the most recent experience, having raced there in the 2017 Italian F4 championship. Both had strong results that year: across the two rounds raced at Mugello, the two drivers collected five poles, three wins and five further podiums between them.

Of course, results in 2017 Italian F4 don’t guarantee results in 2020 F2. But Armstrong and Vips will both be hoping their prior knowledge of the trick will give them some edge at least over their rivals.

After a strong start to the year with two podiums at the Red Bull Ring, Armstrong has yet to finish in the points again since. As another one of Ferrari’s juniors, he needs to get back to the kind of form he showed in F3 last year if he wants the FDA’s focus for a 2021 F2 title campaign. Armstrong still has four rounds of the season left to recover from his 14th position in the standings, and there’s no better place for him to start than on Ferrari’s home turf.

Marcus Armstrong, ART (Scuderia Ferrari Press Office)

As for Vips, Mugello may mark his final opportunity to score points in F2 this year as Sean Gelael is currently marked to return to DAMS from Sochi onwards.

Vips has enjoyed an impressive debut so far, having challenged for points in each of the four races he’s contested despite being parachuted into the series with little to no preparation.

However, the Estonian must be frustrated that for all his efforts, he’s finished just on the wrong side of the top ten each time. In fact, his average finishing position from the last two rounds is 10.5, so it’s not as if Vips needs a gargantuan upshift in form to break into the points.

It’s not yet been announced whether Vips is targeting a full-time F2 campaign next year, or if he will try to contest Super Formula again instead. But whichever route Red Bull chose for him, capping off his first run in F2 with a couple of points will be an excellent way to make the most of what’s been a challenging year for him.

Juri Vips, DAMS (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Ferrari’s 1000th race – but hardly a celebration: Tuscan Grand Prix Preview

We did get an Italian team on the top step of the podium in Monza, and I would love to say it was not the Italian team we expected.

But in reality, no one was anticipating that there would be a Ferrari – or an Alpha Tauri –  winning in front of the Tifosi like they did last year, and no one would predict that this weekend either at Mugello.

But as the F1 circus rolls in towards the 5.2 kilometre Tuscan race track, Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly enters the weekend as the 109th different winner in F1 history following his tremendous and shock victory last Sunday at the temple of speed.

Pierre Gasly celebrates his momentous victory in Monza – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

For Ferrari, their 1000th race will be played out in front of the 10,000 spectators that will be permitted to enter the grandstands, but following the presence of the Netflix during what was a disastrous weekend for the Scuderia, they will probably be wishing they were not in attendance.

A brake failure for Sebastian Vettel and an enormous crash for Charles Leclerc followed on from a horrible qualifying performance for them in Monza. However, the slightly more downforce-orientated nature of the Mugello circuit compared to Monza may soften the blow to the Ferrari team that have been battered and bruised thus far by the car’s terrible lack of performance.

The Italian Grand Prix was a home race to forget for Ferrari – Courtesy of Ferrari Press Office

Mercedes, meanwhile, were dealt their first real blow of the 2020 season, as a polemic pitstop penalty for Lewis Hamilton cost him any chance of a victory, while team mate Valtteri Bottas continued his frustrating run of form by finishing fifth and failing to capitalise on the red flag and penalty drama. A win at what is a very technical and tricky race track would do his confidence a world of good, even if his world championship hopes seem to have dissipated.

Racing point and McLaren enter the weekend on almost as big a high as Alpha Tauri, following magnificent podium finishes for Lance Stroll in third and Carlos Sainz in second, but the Spaniard did not hide his disappointment at not being able to snatch the win from Gasly at the end. The higher-downforce nature at Mugello will suit McLaren slightly better than Alpha Tauri and Racing Point, but it would probably need a race equally as eventful as Monza to earn them a podium.

Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll join Gasly on the podium in Monza – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

But having said that, Stroll and Lando Norris are tied for points for fourth place in the drivers’ championship. They find themselves both ahead of Red Bull’s Alex Albon, who failed to score last weekend and is under pressure from the driver he replaced at the senior team last year – Pierre Gasly.

The Frenchman will be fully aware he is back in with a shout of being promoted once again for next season, and there will now be much anticipation as F1 heads to the first of the new tracks hurriedly introduced in the wake of the pandemic-affected 2020 season.

Following the second win for Alpha Tauri in the Italian Grand Prix, a second Italian chance beckons as Ferrari prepare for their 1000th race.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of Red Bull content Pool

What could the future hold for Ferrari?

This weekend’s Tuscan Grand Prix at Mugello marks Ferrari’s 1000th race in the Formula One World Championship. They are the only team to have been competing since the very first season, and has amassed a religious-esque following from so many people around the world.

Ferrari right now are going through a rough patch in Formula One, and their current chairman John Elkann has gone on record saying that we shouldn’t expect Ferrari to be consistently near the front until the big regulation changes in 2022. This resulted from the supposed engine and oil-burn rule clarification that Ferrari were highly suspected as having breached last year, which now has led to them going from having the best engine to the worst.

Their performances this year have been at comedic levels of horrendous. Charles Leclerc has been dragging that car into getting results that it really should not be capable of.  It has been reminiscent to that of Fernando Alonso during his time at the Scuderia when he was able to somehow challenge for championships. On the other side of the garage is the departing Sebastian Vettel; the four-time champion is having a torrid final season with the Italian team that took his hero Michael Schumacher to five straight championships.

A lot of F1 fans seem to believe that Ferrari are deliberately trying to sabotage Vettel, and whilst even I as someone who didn’t enjoy Vettel’s time at the top with Red Bull can sympathise with him and see how dejected he looks, I think this idea that Ferrari are trying to sabotage him is utter clownery. The fact that so many fans are convinced of this, just makes every error that Ferrari make (which admittedly is a lot of the time) look fairly suspect.

GP ITALIA F1/2020 – GIOVEDI 03/09/2020
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

So what does the future hold for the Scuderia? Well Leclerc has a long-term contract so providing there isn’t any exit clause exercised, he should be there until 2024 and for at least the next two seasons he will be partnered up with Carlos Sainz. They are looking to restructure their management personnel and give current team principal Mattia Binotto a more focused role and more people coming in to take on more specific positions.

Ferrari have always been the diva of the F1 paddock. Knowing the pull they have to F1, they exercise their right to withdraw at any moment they don’t look to be getting their way, which has led to various pulling out threats over the years. They even claim a bigger chunk of the FOM prize money at the end of the year, for the privilege of F1 to have them there basically, yet they can’t spend that money to actually make a decent car.

GP BELGIO F1/2020 – VENERDÌ 28/08/2020
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nevertheless, since we are on the topic of money, F1 is bringing in a $145,000,000 budget cap for next season. Now I have no doubt that Ferrari will overspend and threaten to leave if they are punished for it, but perhaps the upcoming budget cap could possibly result in Ferrari diversifying their race program. Back in the day, it was typical to see Ferrari in other various forms of competition.

Right now, Ferrari do have teams in sportscar racing competing with their 488 GTE and GT3 cars in various illustrious endurance races and championships. However there are plans very soon for the FIA World Endurance Championship to adopt a set of regulations that will allow for manufacturers to compete with race versions of some of their top line supercars in the top class replacing the dying LMP1 formula. There is a bit of time to further clarify the rules but we’ve seen interest in the form of Toyota, Aston Martin among others.

I’d love to see the likes of McLaren racing the Senna, and as unlikely as it may be, Mercedes with their One hypercar, Porsche with the 918, and maybe Ferrari with the LaFerrari? Although by that point, perhaps the LaFerrari will have been replaced. In any case, seeing some of these F1 teams and drivers going off to do Le Mans in their spare time would be amazing. Of course if we look back to 2015, then-Force India F1 driver Nico Hülkenberg raced at Le Mans with Porsche and took overall victory!

Then there’s even mumblings that suggest Ferrari may join McLaren in putting in a full IndyCar effort. Considering their chairman is American, it would be perfect to race there and also when Enzo Ferrari himself stated he’d love to get a victory at the Indy 500. But of course, they have to get their F1 program back on track before they consider touching anything else.

Since we are talking about Ferrari’s future, let’s look to their other affiliated drivers. First up is current Alfa Romeo F1 driver Antonio Giovinazzi, who became part of Ferrari following his successful season in GP2 in 2016 when he just missed out on the championship to his Prema teammate and new F1 race winner Pierre Gasly.

Giovinazzi was leapfrogged to the 2018 Sauber drive by now-Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc and admittedly, for good reason. He had been out of a race seat for a while, though he did impress when he was called to race for the Swiss outfit in the first two races of 2017 when main driver Pascal Wehrlein injured his back at the Race of Champions. Albeit Antonio did wreck quite heavily a couple of times at the second race in China, but you can put that down to having very little time to prepare.

I felt like he did impress last season for the newly rebranded Alfa Romeo alongside longtime F1 veteran and 2007 champion Kimi Räikkönen, however he’s certainly having to step it up for this year. I feel like he is doing so in a sub-par Alfa, but he has to step it up if he doesn’t want his ‘paid for by Ferrari’ seat at Alfa Romeo to go to one of the many impressive juniors in F2.

Ferrari have five academy drivers in F2. Mick Schumacher, Robert Shwartzman, Callum Ilott, Marcus Armstrong and Giuliano Alesi, and it’s the first three who are immediately impressing. New Zealander Armstrong was FIA F3 runner-up to Shwartzman but unlike the Russian, hasn’t hit the ground running in F2 but like Schumacher, may be even more impressive next year. Alesi on the other hand, the son of Ferrari F1 race winner Jean Alesi who had to sell of his beloved Ferrari F40 to get Giuliano a drive with the new HWA outfit, and probably won’t be in F2 next year judging by his lack of results.

Mick Schumacher, Prema (Courtesy of Ferrari Media)

So Giovinazzi’s direct competition comes in the form of British driver Ilott, SMP Racing-backed Robert Shwartzman and also Mick Schumacher, the son of Ferrari’s most famous driver Michael Schumacher. They are trading places in the top three right now and could all end up in F1 perhaps with the likes of both of Ferrari powered teams Alfa Romeo and Haas.

Looking at FIA F3, Enzo Fittipaldi (grandson of Emerson) has only had a few points finishes but has proven himself capable of great results with being the Italian F4 champion in 2018 and runner-up in Formula Regional Europe last year. Speaking of Formula Regional, there’s the Brazilian Gianluca Petecof going toe-to-toe with Arthur Leclerc, younger brother to Charles.

Leclerc Arthur, F3 Tatuus 318 A.R. #14, Prema Powerteam

In Italian F4, Ferrari acquired the services of first year car racing driver Dino Beganovic from Sweden who has already picked up a pole. You may have seen him competing in the first Virtual Grand Prix with Robert Shwartzman, and also did a little race with Lando Norris in the #ChallengeLando livestream on the F1 game.

That segues on nicely to the final few Ferrari drivers. Last year was their first foray into Esports, and in the F1 Esports pro draft, they had first pickings and selected Italian driver David Tonizza which ended up being a masterstroke as he ended up winning the championship. However their other two drivers didn’t score points and they lost the team’s championship to Red Bull.

So to rectify this, they signed former McLaren Shadow driver Enzo Bonito who, alongside Tonizza, competed in the F1 Esports Pro Exhibition races, the SRO GT E-Sports Series Silver category championship and even the Le Mans 24 Virtual with Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi. Then in this year’s pro draft, Ferrari – or officially known in Esports as FDA Hublot – signed Slovakian driver Filip Prešnajder.

Ferrari are not short of talent in the driver department, and they undoubtedly will always be a presence within motorsport for years to come. They have an uphill battle, and hopefully one day we will see Ferrari back where they belong.

 

Feature Image courtesy of Ferrari Media

Italian GP qualifying: Hamilton takes 94th career pole as Sainz impresses

Lewis Hamilton took his 94th career pole and his seventh at Monza on Saturday afternoon after pipping Bottas in a very close fight. The English driver took pole by 0.069 seconds after putting in a mega lap in the second stint of Q3. He now has 68 poles with Mercedes alone which equals Michael Schumacher’s all-time career poles.

2020 Italian Grand Prix, Saturday – LAT Images

Carlos Sainz put in the biggest performance in qualifying after driving a mega lap to put his McLaren in third place on the grid. His luck seems to have at least turned around for qualifying, and whether it will turn around for the race is yet to be seen. His teammate Lando Norris put the other McLaren on the third row in sixth after a very good effort.

Carlos Sainz, McLaren MCL35

In what was an unusual happening, Max Verstappen failed to make it to the second row on a Saturday after what seems to be an effect of FIA’s decision of not using higher engine modes for qualifying. The Dutchman will be starting on the third row in fifth and will have some work to do for a podium place unlike the last few races where it was a very straightforward affair. His teammate Alex Albon is set to start from ninth position after yet another underwhelming qualifying.

Sergio Perez put in another stellar qualifying performance after putting himself on the second row alongside Carlos Sainz in fourth. The Mexican will be keen to make great use of the track position to challenge for the podium considering how well the Racing Point handles itself around Monza and the threat of Max Verstappen is not at its highest around this place. His teammate Lance Stroll will be lining up alongside Daniel Ricciardo on the fourth row in eighth place. Pierre Gasly made it to Q3 yet again continuing his impressive form but failed to make any inroads into the session and will have to settle for 10th place on the grid.

It was a Q3 without the drama of last year where eight of ten cars failed to make it to the starting line before the flag because all the teams decided to come out and register lap times with more than 5 minutes to go in the session. It was however not a session without drama as Q1 was quite a hassle after everyone was tripping over each other to put in a quick lap and take advantage of the slipstream.

It all started off when the Alfa Romeo cars tried to overtake everyone in front of them on the outlap which ended up in compromising everybody’s laps. At the front of it all, Esteban Ocon was racing Kimi Raikkonen towards the first chicane, trying to cover the inside while George Russell had to try and stay away from there to not compromise his own lap. This turned into a chain reaction when Vettel had his lap compromised as well thanks to the events unfolding infront of him. In the frantic second stint of Q1, both the Williams, Vettel in the Ferrari, Giovinazzi in Alfa Romeo and Grosjean in the Haas were all knocked out, with some of them quite vocal on the team radio expressing their anguish at how things went about.

GP ITALIA F1/2020 – VENERDÌ 04/09/2020
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Q2 did not serve up any similar sort of drama apart from the continuation of woes of the home team Ferrari. The Tifosi would not be minding not being in the grandstands after yet another disastrous Saturday saw them qualify with Leclerc in 13th and Vettel in 17th. An exhausted Leclerc was out on the radio at the end of Q2 saying this was the best he could do and it was evident with the kind of lap he put in. The pace just doesn’t seem to be there for the Italy-based team and they will not have much to hope for the race tomorrow.

Esteban Ocon has been called to the stewards for his Q1 antics where he blocked Raikkonen and the rest and it has to be seen whether there will be any action taken. As of now he lines up 12th on the grid alongside Danil Kvyat in the Alpha Tauri in 11th.

George Russell (GBR) Williams Racing FW43.
Italian Grand Prix, Saturday 5th September 2020. Monza Italy.

George Russell will not be making it into Q2 after a good run following the drama in Q1 and will be lining up on the last row in 19th next to his teammate Nicolas Latifi in 20th in what will be the last race as team principal for Claire Williams. Both the Haas cars will line up with Magnussen in 15th and Grosjean in 16th.

With Mercedes clear of the field, it is very clear who will have the biggest advantage in terms of winning the race but the fight for podium is set to be interesting considering McLaren and Racing Point seem to have a better car compared to Red Bull Honda at least in qualifying. The midfield battle is set to be intriguing as well considering Renault will start further behind compared to their expected positions, which should give us an exciting Grand Prix to look forward to.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of  Steve Etherington/Mercedes Media

Mercedes to dominate at Monza? 2020 Italian Grand Prix Preview

As Formula One heads to the temple of speed at the 5.7 kilometre Monza circuit, the question on everyone’s lips is not really whether Mercedes will be the dominant force over the course of the weekend.

Instead, we are left wondering just how massive the advantage will be for the Silver Arrows as they seek to continue their astonishingly impressive start to the 2020 season.

2020 Belgian Grand Prix, Friday – Steve Etherington

Despite the extended 2020 lay-off due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Mercedes have very much picked up where they left off at the end of 2019, winning six of the first seven races. And the power-dominated track – the quickest in the calendar – will very much play into the hands of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

Unlike last weekend at Spa, there does not appear to be any threat of rain. However, despite the forecast, hopes of a damp race in Belgium were dampened by a lack of dampness, as Mercedes took a one two for the first time in six races in Belgium, extending their lead at the top of the tree.

2020 Belgian Grand Prix, Sunday – Steve Etherington

A potential surprise in Italy though would very much include Renault. Their top speed at Belgium aided Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon to a fourth and fifth placed finish respectively, giving them an assured feeling going into this weekend at Monza, where a podium could beckon. It would be the Frenchman’s first ever podium in Formula One, while Daniel Ricciardo would be looking for his first podium since the Monaco Grand Prix in 2018, where he won.

Daniel Ricciardo could claim his first podium in 44 races this weekend

Conspicuous in their absence thus far in this preview have been Ferrari. Spa was nothing short of a disaster for the Scuderia. The powerful nature of the track in Francorchamps was always going to affect the struggling Ferrari power unit adversely, but no one really expected them to be so far from the points pace-wise. Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc were both knocked out in Q2 last Saturday, and Vettel beat his team mate to a lowly thirteenth position in the race. If the affect of the straight line speed in the Ardennes Forest worked against them, Monza will be a travesty. Haas and Alfa Romeo – both Ferrari powered teams – competed with the works team, and Kimi Raikkonen’s pass on former team mate Vettel was the epitome of just how far Ferrari have fallen. It is easy to forget that Charles Leclerc won this race last season.

GP ITALIA F1/2019 – DOMENICA 08/09/2019
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Racing Point, meanwhile, seemed to struggle more than expected at Spa, meaning it will be intriguing to see how their car performs at a track that, in theory, should really suit their car and the Mercedes engine that goes with it. Pierre Gasly’s pass in the Alpha Tauri on Racing Point’s Sergio Perez through Eau Rouge was the pick of the bunch last time out. Another strong performance from the Frenchman at his team’s home race could push him further into contention to take the Red Bull seat back away from the struggling Alex Albon.

Alex Albon hopes to improve on a tough start to the 2020 season

It looks as though Mercedes will be raiding the home of Ferrari once more, as the temple of speed welcomes F1 for round eight of the 2020 season.

 

Feature Image courtesy of Glenn Dunbar/LAT Images

Ranking the F1 chances of F2’s top five hopefuls

This year the Formula 2 grid is full of drivers from F1 junior academies, with the top spots in the standings locked out by proteges from Ferrari, Red Bull and Renault.

With plenty of 2021 F1 seats still up for grabs, we’re taking a look at the chances of these young hopefuls stepping up to the top tier next season.

Yuki Tsunoda, Carlin (Dan Istitene / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

1. Yuki Tsunoda

Of all the young academy drivers on the 2020 F2 grid, joint Red Bull/ Honda talent Yuki Tsunoda looks the most likely to join F1 next year. Not only is he already racking up wins, poles and podiums in an impressive debut season, but Alpha Tauri boss Franz Tost has said it’s only a matter of time before Tsunoda is promoted to the team.

At almost 40 points adrift of the championship leader Callum Ilott, Tsunoda is an outside contender for the F2 title at best. But given Red Bull’s comments, so long as he can remain within the top four of the standings to secure the necessary super licence points, it seems almost a sure bet that Tsunoda will be a 2021 Alpha Tauri driver.

Robert Shwartzman, Prema (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

2. Robert Shwartzman

If Tsunoda is the most likely F2 driver to get an F1 promotion for next year, then Ferrari protege Robert Shwartzman isn’t far behind. After a dominant run to last year’s F3 title, Shwartzman immediately staked his claim to this year’s F2 crown with two wins early in the campaign.

Shwartzman may have lost the F2 lead to fellow Ferrari junior Callum Ilott, but that doesn’t seem to have harmed the Russian’s status as the FDA’s golden boy. And as well as his formidable talent, Shwartzman comes with additional backing from SMP Racing, which would be an excellent sweetener for Alfa Romeo should he be lined up to replace Antonio Giovinazzi.

Mick Schumacher, Prema (Courtesy of Ferrari Media)

3. Mick Schumacher

Ahead of the season Mick Schumacher was touted as one of the favourites for the F2 title. But although he’s scored more points and podiums than he did in his 2019 debut, a mix of incidents and mistakes means Schumacher’s campaign is still without a win.

However, Schumacher’s chances of an F1 promotion still remain relatively high for two reasons. Firstly, because there’s still half the F2 season left to run, meaning he has another 12 races to break his winless run and move up from fifth in the standings. And secondly, because if he can get in a position to earn his super licence, there’s every chance Ferrari will want to take the opportunity at getting a Schumacher back into F1 as soon as possible.

Callum Ilott, UNI-Virtuosi (Dan Istitene / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

4. Callum Ilott

It may seem odd or even unfair putting Callum Ilott behind his fellow FDA members Shwartzman and Schumacher, considering he is currently leading both in the F2 standings and should therefore be Ferrari’s F1 priority. But although Ilott’s every bit their match on track, Shwartzman and Schumacher both have a certain extra “superstar” quality that has left Ilott somewhat in their shade.

However, being F2 champion brings plenty of its own superstar quality. If Ilott can see off Shwartzman in the second half of the season and take the crown himself, he’ll give Ferrari no choice but to take notice of him instead.

Christian Lundgaard, ART (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

5. Christian Lundgaard

As F2 debuts go, Christian Lundgaard’s has been excellent so far. With a win and two further podiums to his name, the Renault junior has not just performed well on his step up from F3, but is currently third in the championship behind Ilott and Shwartzman.

However, even if Lundgaard were to march forward in the rest of the year and snatch the F2 title, the chances of it leading to an F1 seat are very slim at best. Renault have none available, having signed Fernando Alonso to partner Esteban Ocon for the next two years. And with no customer team to place him at either, Lundgaard’s F1 hopes probably depend on waiting for a gap at the works team to open up in 2022.