Formula 1 Viewing Figures Contradict Fan Criticisms

A press release on the 18th January 2019 from Formula 1 Media announced that the TV and Digital audience has grown for the second consecutive year. With a reach of 490.2 million unique viewers throughout the 2018 season, the figures re-enforce Formula 1’s position as a powerhouse in motorsport.

The press release documents Formula 1’s increased popularity in Brazil, Germany and Italy which is hardly surprising given that the competition between Mercedes and Ferrari has become even tighter in the past few seasons. It also acknowledges a growth in social media platforms, increasing by a whopping 53.7% since 2017, which must come as excellent news to Formula 1’s owners Liberty Media, who put themselves in the driving seat in 2017.

News of an increase in viewing figures comes as a surprise to some, and indeed some journalists have been quick to fill in what F1 have been careful to omit. Reuters Formula 1 correspondent Alan Baldwin took to Twitter to discuss these findings, putting the growing figures to a change of measurement. According to Baldwin, F1 took the decision to change the duration of viewing time, lowering it from 15 consecutive minutes to the industry ‘standard’ of 3 minutes, which many believe could have potentially over inflated TV viewing figures.

The reported increase is almost a direct juxtaposition to the opinions of commentators, ex-drivers and fans who have frequently suggested the formula is no longer as appealing as it once was, expressing a desire to see more exciting racing and greater competition among the teams.

Ferrari Media

In a recent interview, ex-driver and Sky F1 commentator Martin Brundle expressed his own concerns about whether F1 was really doing enough to encourage competition and further interest in the sport: ‘We’re on a little Formula One island spending a lot of money to run 20 cars, and the drawbridge is up and I don’t see anybody waiting on the other side to come on’.

So why is there a disconnect between fans and commentators, and F1 bosses, and what could be done to bring down that metaphorical drawbridge?

The biggest issue for fans is the lack of real variety and competition in the sport. Upon hearing the news of a change in measurement, fans joked that it only took three minutes from the start of the race to figure out who was likely to win. If you’re a fan of Lewis Hamilton, it has been an excellent few years for you. However, others have grown tired of a very similar looking line-up each week, and are looking for change.

Some are of the belief that Formula 1 should take inspiration from their American cousins in the NTT IndyCar series, providing each team with a uniform car to develop each year as opposed to allowing teams to spend exorbitant amounts on existing cars. Teams such as Toro Rosso, Sauber and Force India are often seen running old technology in their cars, immediately putting them on the back foot when attempting to compete with teams like Mercedes and Ferrari. If IndyCar is anything to go by, giving each team the same car should create much more variety on the podium, and healthy and fair competition between the drivers.

Ferrari Media

Budget is also a huge issue in Formula 1. In the past ten years, fans have waved goodbye to a total of six teams who have failed to keep their cars on the grid due to a lack of results and racking up debts that cannot be settled without closure or repossession. Formula 1 favours the teams who can afford to invest large sums, and punishes those who cannot, so should this too be subject to a change?

Capping the amount a team can spend on their cars could give the smaller teams a greater opportunity to ‘catch-up’ not only on the grid, but in terms of the changes they can make on the car. Investing endless sums of money into finding a winning formula is bound to result in success at some point, take Mercedes as an example, but it also automatically relegates the smaller teams to the back of the grid, instead of challenging the big names and keeping the racing exciting.

In reality, getting the bigger more influential teams such as Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and McLaren to agree to these changes would be like having the turkeys vote in favour of Christmas. Indeed, if the F1 viewing figures continue to grow as they seem to be, Formula 1 bosses will probably argue there is no need to make such drastic reformations. Only time will tell.

 

 

Featured image – 2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Sunday / Steve Etherington

Lance Stroll: Force India confirm Canadian’s signing

Image courtesy of Racing Point F1 team.

Force India have today confirmed the signing of 20-year-old Canadian racer Lance Stroll from Williams.

After two years with the British team, Stroll has joined the Indian Constructor to replace Frenchman Esteban Ocon, who will be Mercedes’ reserve driver next year following his ousting from the team.

Force India was taken over by Lance Stroll’s father, Lawrence, in the summer after previous owner and founder Vijay Mallya was forced to sell the team following legal and financial troubles surrounding him.

As a result, Stroll has been handed a drive by his father to partner Sergio Perez, who is also a pay driver bringing a lot of money into the team, which has officially left Ocon without a drive for 2019, as he does not bring any sponsorship money into the team.

Stroll’s previous team Williams had already announced their driver line-up in the knowledge that Stroll was going to depart; young British driver George Russell and Polish driver Robert Kubica, who is returning to the sport 8 years after a horrific rally crash that severed his hand, will be racing for them next year.

When it was announced that Lawrence Stroll would take control of Force India, it was already generally known that Lance would be joining the team for 2019, and having completed the Pirelli tyre test in Abu Dhabi during the week, Stroll has today officially been announced.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Featured image – Racing Point Force India

2018 Singapore Grand Prix: One to forget for Force India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Force India continue their charge for Racing Points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Blink and you’ll miss it: the short-lived points battle for 9th

Despite having heard the news that (Racing Point) Force India’s points tally was to be reset to zero, I nonetheless did a double take when first confronted with the updated Constructors’ Championship standings. It might be a little sad to admit, but, while the Force India fan in me shook my head, the Williams fan in me got momentarily excited by the prospect of Williams being not-last for the first time in what felt like an age.

But could Williams hold on to the heady heights of 9th place? Only time would tell (rather quickly, as it turned out).

I would have thought that this surprise jump in the standings might have been a new source of motivation for Williams (except possibly for the presumably temporarily conflicted Lance Stroll, rumoured to be joining his father, Lawrence, at the pink team before the season is out). But, watching FP1, it all seemed to be business as usual, with relative anonymity from both drivers, with the exception of a spin from Sergey Sirotkin. Despite the odd moment when Stroll or Sirotkin leapt briefly up the timesheets, only to topple back down moments later, they ended the session in the now-familiar depths of 16th and 19th respectively. FP2 and FP3 were incident-free but similarly unimpressive for the team. Presumably there’s not much that motivation can do in such a terrible car.

Qualifying made clear that the points battle between Williams and Force India was likely to be over as soon as it began, with both Williams out in Q1, while the Force Indias achieved near-perfection, locking out the second row of the grid, with some excellent wet-weather laps.

Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium.
Sunday 26 August 2018.
Lance Stroll, Williams FW41, leads Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren MCL33.
Photo: Andy Hone/Williams F1
ref: Digital Image _ONY2925

Come race day, towards the rear of the field Sirotkin and Stroll took advantage of the first lap carnage that collected Alonso, Hulkenberg and Leclerc, with Sirotkin finally completing a lap in a points-paying position, despite receiving a clattering from Bottas amidst the chaos. His race continued on a positive note as he overtook Ericsson shortly after the restart, with the two switching positions multiple times thereafter (none of which, sadly, was shown on screen).

While it was ultimately yet another pointless outing for Williams, their pace seemed a little better than in previous races. It was a particular shame that Sirotkin’s race went under the radar, with his Williams only appearing on screen again when falling victim to the faster-paced Carlos Sainz. As such, we missed out on some feisty driving from Sirotkin, who found himself in close on-track battles throughout the race.

Meanwhile, much further forward, the Force India drivers made the most of their advantageous starting positions, with Esteban Ocon getting an impressive but perhaps slightly over-ambitious start, narrowly missing out on a run for the lead. In usual Sergio Perez style, he immediately seized the opportunity to capitalise on Ocon’s misfortune, slotting neatly into third place behind Vettel and Hamilton. He shone again later, holding a resurgent Bottas off in the closing stages for longer than might reasonably be expected. The Pink Panthers finished the race a solidly impressive 5th and 6th on a day when more would have been impossible, a result that was a world away from the uncertainty surrounding the team as they went into the weekend, when at times it was unclear if they would even make it to the grid.

Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas at the Belgian 2018 GP. Image courtesy of Racing Point Force India

So, that of course brought an end to the short-lived points battle between Williams and Force India, with Perez and Ocon gaining 18 points between them, to put the team comfortably ahead of Williams with their miserable 4 point total.

But with Force India now just one point shy of Sauber, there’s another battle on the horizon for the next race. Will Monza see them climb another rung on the ladder? Once again, time will tell, but expect Sauber to put up a bit more of a fight.

F1 driver market: Who will twist after Mercedes sticks?

Last weekend’s German Grand Prix opened with the unsurprising news that Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas would be remaining with Mercedes for the next year and beyond.

Coming just before the summer break, Mercedes’ announcement is set to kick-start what has so far been a slow-building driver market for 2019. Daniel Ricciardo is expected to remain with Red Bull, while the current paddock word is that Ferrari will hand Kimi Räikkönen another year’s extension.

But with the top teams entering a holding pattern, what does that mean for any potential moves elsewhere on the grid?

Sahara Force India F1 Team

Force India, Renault now key to the midfield

With the grid’s top six seats filling up, all eyes are turning now to Force India, Renault and Esteban Ocon.

Despite Force India holding an option on Ocon’s services, Mercedes has been trying to place their young Frenchman at Renault next year to safeguard his career against the financial and legal troubles plaguing Force India. It’s unclear whether this switch will still go ahead now that Force India is no longer facing a winding up order, but the consensus is that it’s still on the cards at least.

If Ocon does make the move it will be at the expense of Carlos Sainz, even though the Spaniard will be free to commit to Renault long-term once Ricciardo blocks off the final Red Bull seat.

Force India could have another vacancy to fill, with Sergio Pérez on the shopping list for Haas. If there is a seat free at the Silverstone-based team, Lance Stroll will be at the front of the queue to take it with help from his father’s backing. Stroll is also said to be keen on bringing Robert Kubica with him from Williams, to act as his benchmark and mentor, should both Force India seats open up.

Andrew Hone / Williams F1

Williams and McLaren fall into place

With Stroll almost certain to switch to Force India, that leaves an opening at Williams. And despite that seat being arguably the least attractive on the 2019 grid, Williams does still have a few options to fill it.

The first is Kubica (if there’s no room for him at Force India), who would provide Williams with a relatively consistent lineup as they try to escape their downward spiral. Mercedes junior George Russell is also in the frame, and would bring with him a discount on the team’s power units to offset the loss of Williams’ Stroll and Martini funding. (Russell also has the added perk of being Williams’ first full-time British driver since Jenson Button in 2000.)

McLaren will also be keeping an interested eye on the Force India/ Renault situation as they look to finalise their 2019 lineup over the summer break. Fernando Alonso looks likely to stay with the team for another year at least now that their IndyCar talk has cooled, although Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren future is far less certain.

Early season reports had Lando Norris as sure to replace Vandoorne for next year, but a midseason F2 slump has put Norris’ F1 promotion into doubt for now. Sainz’s contractual limbo has moved him into play for the second McLaren seat, arguably the most competitive option open to him if he is forced out of Renault. Kubica has also been touted as an outside contender.

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

Few options for Red Bull and Ferrari juniors

The deadlock at the top of the grid means that there isn’t much upward movement available for the likes of Pierre Gasly and Charles Leclerc. The latter has been linked to Grosjean’s Haas seat lately, but there seems little sense in Ferrari switching Leclerc from one midfield team to another for the sake of it—given his trajectory, it would be better to see how Leclerc develops in a sophomore year at Sauber.

Leclerc staying put rules out a Ferrari-backed Sauber placement for Antonio Giovinazzi—with one of the Scuderia’s juniors already in the team, Sauber is more likely to either keep Marcus Ericsson for a fifth season or pick up Vandoorne from McLaren.

As for Red Bull’s academy team, the likelihood of seeing a brand new face replacing Brendon Hartley is slim. Red Bull may want F3 protege Dan Ticktum in the car, but his lack of superlicence points is an obstacle the FIA won’t be willing to overlook—so too is the case for Honda juniors Nirei Fukuzumi and Tadasuke Makino.

Featured image by Steve Etherington, courtesy of Mercedes AMG

Is the end in sight for Force India’s troubles?

If you looked solely at Force India’s on-track results, you’d hardly believe there are any worries for the team at all. However, financial issues have been brewing for years, and they are now in need of a buyer to realistically stay afloat.

Many thought that the BWT deal – which was made at the start of 2017 and notably turned the car’s livery pink – was to be the beginning of the end of Force India’s financial worries. That turned out not to be the case, and now the likeable Silverstone-based team have found themselves on the brink of collapse with talks of them going into administration filling the German Grand Prix paddock.

Sahara Force India F1 Team

There is, however, a possible saviour for Force India amongst. Cue Lawrence Stroll. The Canadian billionaire famously bought son Lance’s way into Formula 1 with a multi-million dollar deal that saw the young driver placed at the then-midfield team of Williams. But, as Williams’ fortunes have since turned for the worse, the Stroll family are now looking for another team to throw their money at, in search of good results. Force India might just be that team.

There are some unconfirmed reports going around in German press circles that this supposed buyout has already happened but, for now at least, there is no official word.

Before we fully jump on the Stroll buyout hype-train, there are some things to bear in mind. This is not by any means the first time there’s been a rumoured buyout of Force India – there have been countless stories over the years that have reported a deal having been completed, but that ultimately came to nothing. Force India are one of the most popular teams for potential buyers – with a car already full of sponsors, you can see why. Even so, given the history of misleading reports, any rumours should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Force India have been at the head of the ‘best of the rest’ battle for the whole of the hybrid era. While they only finished sixth in the constructors’ standings in 2014, they rose to fifth the following year, and then to fourth in 2016 where they remained in 2017. However, that position has become under threat in 2018 due to the bunching up of the midfield. Renault are currently in fourth, and Force India are currently behind them in fifth with 59 points, equal with Haas but ahead by virtue of Perez’ Azerbaijan podium. McLaren, though challenging in the initial stages of the season, are becoming less of a threat as the year goes on, with their own woes to deal with.

Sahara Force India F1 Team

Anyway, back to the buyout talks. One key and expected consequence of the Stroll buyout, if it does go ahead as reported, is that Lance will take one of the seats at Force India. This will leave either Esteban Ocon or Sergio Perez out of a seat. However, with Ocon’s rumoured move to Renault seemingly a done deal, it will be the Mexican driver who will remain with Force India, where he has been since 2014.

Lance Stroll already has one podium to his name (Azerbaijan 2017) and a front row start (Italy 2017) – he is undoubtedly talented but has been hampered by a vastly underperforming Williams car this year. A Force India seat would give Stroll a chance to build on the potential he showed last year and get back to being a regular points scorer, rather than finishing last, second to last or not at all.

Overall, the Stroll buyout of Force India could only be a good thing, because it keeps one of the most-loved F1 teams well-funded and on the grid, as well as giving a young driver the kind of opportunity he deserves in F1, given his junior career. It’s a win-win situation… as long as it actually goes through! If not, Force India’s future will continue to hang in the balance.

 

 

Featured image – Sahara Force India F1 Team

Austrian GP driver ratings

In Formula 1 anything can happen, and it usually does! That was what Murray Walker always said, and it did indeed happen at the Red Bull Ring this weekend. A very hot Sunday played havoc with the field, though some acclimatised better than others.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Max Verstappen: 9.5

This was a great weekend for Verstappen, as he continued his podium form and this time to the top step. Fortune favoured the brave on the first lap with a great move on Raikkonen. One of the first to pit under the Virtual Safety Car, Verstappen made his tyres last in the heat while others struggled with blistering. He is a driver known for his speed, but this weekend Verstappen proved he can drive calmly.

Kimi Raikkonen: 8

Austria was one of Raikkonen’s better races of the year. After a great start (marred slightly by running wide on the first lap) Raikkonen put in a tyre management drive reminiscent of his Lotus days to take a superb second place. With reports saying Leclerc is all set to join Ferrari next year, could this be the beginning of Raikkonen’s swan song?

Sebastian Vettel: 7

After this weekend sees Vettel leave Austria as the Championship leader, he won’t mind too much about the grid penalty he was given for impeding Carlos Sainz in qualifying. Vettel’s race started poorly on Sunday as he fell to 8th, but a good recovery drive put him on the podium. 

Haas F1 Media

Romain Grosjean: 8

The Frenchman finally sees the flag in the top ten! Grosjean was very impressive on Saturday when he outqualified a Red Bull, and was one of the better drivers on Sunday at keeping the tyres in good condition. A great result for him and especially Haas, as teammate Magnussen finished behind him in P5.

Kevin Magnussen: 8

Magnussen continued his impressive 2018 in Austria with a great haul of points in P5. Together with Grosjean, Magnussen’s points this weekend helped Haas back up their statement about being the fourth-best team. A great drive from Magnussen all weekend, evening if Grosjean had shaded him on race day. 

Esteban Ocon: 8

Ocon is a name being frequently mentioned in the drivers’ market as a hot talent, and he proved why in Austria. Starting in P11 he had the free choice of tyres, and used that well to finish P6. He had a fresher set of tyres later on than most which helped him too.

Sergio Perez: 7

After dropping out of qualifying in Q1 it looked like Perez would struggle. But with grid penalties ahead of him, Perez started P15 and made up the most places of who took the grid to finish P7—his first points finish since Spain.

Steven Tee/McLaren

Fernando Alonso: 8

Alonso started from the pitlane on Sunday because his car was taken out of parc fermé for a change of front wing and MGU-K. He was on the radio early on calling for a new strategy to get out from behind Hartley’s Toro Rosso, and and an early pit stop allowed Alonso to come back through the field as he kept his tyres from blistering. A much better race for the 2018 Le Mans winner.

Charles Leclerc: 8

Through to Q2 again for the sixth weekend in a row, Leclerc’s Sauber showed great pace on Saturday. A gearbox penalty meant he dropped back to P17 on the grid, but a strong recovery brought him up into the points—and all on the weekend that his move to Ferrari for next year has reportedly been decided.

Marcus Ericsson: 7

Ericsson had a pretty poor Saturday as he said couldn’t find a gap on track in qualifying, but put that behind him to help Sauber to its first double points finish since China 2015. To sweeten the deal, Ericsson only had to wait seven races between his last points finish and this, as opposed to the two whole seasons before. The Sauber is being developed well.

Pierre Gasly: 7

Gasly’s tyres just gave up on him at the end of the race as he suffered from the blistering that affected most of the field. He was running a strong P8 with a few laps remaining but his tyres were past it. For a very power hungry track, Gasly qualified a fine P12 with the Honda power unit. His raw pace is noticeable. 

Renault Sport F1 Team

Carlos Sainz: 6

Sainz was only one of two drivers to finish further back from his grid place in Austria. He started P9 and actually got by Vettel for half a lap, but his two-stop strategy didn’t pan out and he dropped to P12 by the end of the race.

Sergey Sirotkin: 6

Out in Q1, Sirotkin struggled to get to grips with his car in the early part of the weekend. However it was a better Sunday from the Russian, as he finished P13 and ahead of his teammate.

Lance Stroll: 6

A great Saturday performance saw Stroll get into Q2 for the first time since Azerbaijan. On the first lap he was running as high as P12 and points were possible, but a ten-second penalty for ignoring blue flags resulted in him finishing P14. 

Stoffel Vandoorne: 4

Austria was another poor weekend by Vandoorne, with a Q1 exit on Saturday and a collision with Gasly on the first lap on Sunday. After pitting for a new front wing the Belgian was way down the order and off the pace. He retired lap 66 due to damage, and the pressure to defend his seat for next year is building.

Steve Etherington / Mercedes AMG F1

Lewis Hamilton: 7.5

With upgrades on his car Hamilton was the one to beat in the early part of the race. But when the VSC came out on lap 14 he didn’t pit like everyone else, and as a result lost the race lead. Hamilton then retired on lap 64 with a loss of fuel pressure—his first retirement since Malaysia 2016—and lost the lead of the championship to Vettel.

Brendon Hartley: 5

Hartley’s Sunday began with a 35-place grid penalty for changing his power unit, and ended when his gearbox failed on lap 57 and put him into retirement.

Daniel Ricciardo: 6

The Austrian Grand Prix may have been on Ricciardo’s 29th birthday, but sadly it ended in retirement. It was a sour start to the weekend with him being outqualified by Grosjean and an argument with his teammate over slipstreaming tactics. Ricciardo put a trademark late-braking move on Raikkonen early in the race but struggled with tyre blisters later, then retired due to a broken exhaust. He’ll be hoping for a stronger weekend in Silverstone.

Valtteri Bottas: 9

Bottas seems to love the Red Bull Ring, and pole and the win last year gave him huge confidence into this year’s event. He managed to get pole again this year but didn’t get as good a start as he got in 2017 and lost the lead to Hamilton in Turn 1. A great double overtake on the first lap saw Bottas recover to P2, although luck wasn’t on his side as the seemingly ever-reliable Mercedes broke again with a hydraulics failure. Two mechanical DNF’s for the Silver Arrows.

Nico Hulkenburg: 6

The first failure of the race came to Hulkenberg, a massive engine failure with smoke and lots of fire. Hulkenberg was in place for reasonable points but lost power on the straight. He had great pace in qualifying and got through to Q3 but reliability caught him this weekend.