Austrian Grand Prix: Bottas Claims First Pole of the Year

Image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Valtteri Bottas has claimed his first pole position of the year, and leads a Mercedes 1-2 into tomorrow’s Austrian Grand Prix.

Of the big-hitters, only Bottas and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen had a truly clean session. Both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel made mistakes early on – at turn three and turn four respectively – and ended up relatively far back after the first Q3 runs had been completed. It took until the last couple of minutes for the pair to pull themselves back up the order – Hamilton ultimately qualified P2, and Vettel P3, with both pushing Kimi Raikkonen down into P4. Vettel was noted as being under investigation for allegedly impeding Carlos Sainz in Q2, but since Sainz did advance to Q3 it is uncertain whether Vettel will receive any penalty.

Red Bull had expected qualifying to be a struggle compared to Mercedes and Ferrari coming into the weekend. Max Verstappen may have qualified P5 but he was still two tenths behind Raikkonen, and Daniel Ricciardo ended up P7 behind the Haas of an impressive Romain Grosjean. Replays of team radio throughout the session indicated a certain amount of tension in the team, with Ricciardo frustrated that Verstappen did not follow orders to lead the Australian for a lap and give him a tow, as Ricciardo had done for Verstappen the lap before.

Kevin Magnussen and the two Renaults of Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg complete the top ten.

Further down the order, Charles Leclerc continues to impress in the Sauber. He qualified P13 but carries a five-place grid penalty due to his gearbox needing to be changed following a stoppage on track in FP3.

Force India’s Sergio Perez had a nightmare of a session. The Mexican complained of running out of battery during his first run and of getting stuck in traffic during his second. He failed to make it out of Q1 and starts P17.

It was also a frustrating session for McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley. Both were looking to pull themselves out of the drop-zone and into Q2, but encountered yellow flags on their flying laps when Charles Leclerc ran through the gravel trap in the final moments of Q1.

Both Mercedes and Red Bull will start tomorrow’s Grand Prix on the supersoft tyres, with all those around them starting on the ultras. Bottas will be hoping to convert pole position into a win, at the circuit where he claimed his second ever victory in 2017.

Austrian Grand Prix Grid

1. Valtteri Bottas – 1:03.130

2. Lewis Hamilton – 1:03.149

3. Sebastian Vettel – 1:03.464

4. Kimi Raikkonen – 1:03.660

5. Max Verstappen – 1:03.840

6. Romain Grosjean – 1:03.892

7. Daniel Ricciardo – 1:03.996

8. Kevin Magnussen – 1:04.051

9. Carlos Sainz – 1:04.725

10. Nico Hulkenberg – 1:05.019

11. Esteban Ocon – 1:04.845

12. Pierre Gasly 0 1:04.874

13. Fernando Alonso – 1:05.058

14. Lance Stroll – 1:05.286

15. Stoffel Vandoorne – 1:05.271

16. Sergio Perez – 1:05.279

17. Sergey Sirotkin – 1:05.322

18. Charles Leclerc – 1:04.979 *5-place penalty for gearbox change

19. Brendon Hartley 1:05.366

20. Marcus Ericsson – 1:05.479

 

Update – 17:30 – Sebastian Vettel has been given a three-place penalty by the stewards for impeding Carlos Sainz at turn one in Q2. The German will now start P6, promoting Kimi Raikkonen to P3, Max Verstappen to P4, and Romain Grosjean to P5.

Monaco GP: Red Bull out in front on Thursday

Red Bull got their Monaco Grand Prix weekend off to a strong start by locking out the top two positions in both Thursday practice sessions.

Daniel Ricciardo finished marginally ahead of Max Verstappen in each session, and staked his claim as the driver to beat this weekend by lowering the circuit’s unofficial lap record to 1:11.841s in FP2.

Steve Etherington/Mercedes AMG

On lap times alone, neither Mercedes nor Ferrari seemed to have an answer to the RB14 on Thursday. Championship protagonists Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel were Red Bull’s closest challengers in FP1 and FP2 respectively, but despite their best efforts on the hypersoft tyres neither came any nearer to the pace than a 1:12.4s.

Last year’s Monaco poleman Kimi Räikkönen could get no higher than fifth fastest in either session, and at best was seven tenths off Ricciardo in FP2, while Valtteri Bottas was the slowest of the top teams’ drivers, finishing seventh in the morning and sixth in the afternoon.

Ferrari’s deficit to Red Bull was particularly surprising, given the Scuderia’s control of last year’s Monaco Grand Prix and the expectations that they would be in front again this weekend.

However, this does come with the caveat that Ferrari rarely shows its hand on the opening day of practice, and is likely to turn up the performance of the SF71H on Saturday.

Jerry Andre/Williams F1

Thursday’s running gave a confusing picture of how the midfield teams will line up this weekend.

Force India and Williams were surprising stars in the morning session, with Sergio Pérez and Sergey Sirotkin ending FP1 in eighth and tenth respectively, while Esteban Ocon was just bumped to eleventh in the closing stages.

But in the afternoon, despite all four of their drivers improving on their earlier times, the two Mercedes customer teams were kept out of the top ten by Renault and McLaren.

And although that restored some normality to the midfield order, one team was conspicuously absent from the best-of-the-rest battle: Haas.

Haas F1 Media

Apart from a late charge to ninth for Romain Grosjean in FP1, Haas spent most of Thursday struggling to get off the bottom of the timesheets—in FP2, they were indistinguishable from the Williams’ and Saubers.

In their absence, Toro Rosso quietly impressed. Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly were regular features in the top ten throughout the day—especially during the more representative second session—even if they did get bumped down to a best finish of eleventh by the end of play.

The STR12 also looked like one of the most comfortable cars around the Monte Carlo circuit, and its performance in the opening practice sessions should put Toro Rosso in a good position to pick up some more points if anyone else is caught out in front.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Monaco GP preview: all to prove for rebounding Ferrari

The Monaco Grand Prix—jewel in the crown of the F1 calendar, and the sixth round of the 2018 season.

It’s been a topsy-turvy season so far. Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel had the early advantage, winning the first two races on the trot and taking a firm hold on qualifying. But in the last two rounds in Baku and Barcelona, they have been pegged back by the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, who now leads the drivers’ championship by 17 points over Vettel.

Ferrari Media

That deficit means Monaco is a must-win race for Vettel. With the next few rounds from Canada through to Germany likely to favour Mercedes, he’ll need to come away with maximum points from Monte Carlo if he is to keep the title from slipping away during the European season as it did last year.

But although Monaco is expected to be another Ferrari track as it was in 2017, Vettel cannot afford to be complacent this weekend. His lost victories in China and Azerbaijan are proof enough that even with the quicker car, nothing is assured.

Perhaps most importantly, Vettel will have to make sure he avoids any more “red mist” moments if events in the race do turn against him. A clumsy attempt to retake the lead, like the one Vettel launched at Valtteri Bottas in Baku, will be much more costly here in Monaco than settling for second.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

With Monaco typically not suiting Mercedes, Vettel’s strongest challenge for the win this weekend is expected to come from Red Bull. The RB14 was quick through the twisting final sector in Barcelona—generally a reliable indicator of Monaco pace—and Hamilton has tipped it rather than the Ferrari as his biggest concern on Sunday:

“If you look at Daniel Ricciardo [in Spain] he was much quicker in the last sector, and the last sector is all about downforce,” the championship leader said. “They’re going to be rapid in Monaco, and very hard to beat.”

If Red Bull is as fast around Monte Carlo as Hamilton fears, then Ricciardo is almost certainly going to be a contender for the win. The Australian’s four Red Bull starts in Monaco have so far yielded three podiums, as well as his infamous pole and near-win in 2016.

The same cannot be said of Max Verstappen, however. The Dutchman has a far-from-stellar record around Monte Carlo, finishing there for the first time only last year after crashing out in 2015 and ’16. Verstappen will need to conquer whatever Monaco issues have been holding him back in the past if he is to stay on Ricciardo’s level this weekend.

Steven Tee/McLaren

Fernando Alonso has been upbeat about returning to race at the principality after missing last year’s event for the Indy 500, and understandably so: Monte Carlo has always been a strong venue for McLaren, and became a trusty source of points during their troubled Honda years.

However, qualifying is key in Monaco and so far in 2018 that has been McLaren’s weakness. The team will need to replicate last year’s Saturday performance, which saw Jenson Button and Stoffel Vandoorne qualify in the top ten, or they may find themselves too far back to challenge for more than a handful of points.

Renault will likely be McLaren’s biggest rival this weekend. The Enstone team overtook McLaren for fourth in the constructors’ standings in Spain and has every chance of increasing that gap come Sunday—especially as Carlos Sainz has finished in the points in every race he’s contested around the Monte Carlo circuit, even dating back to his Formula Renault 3.5 days.

Haas should also be quick enough to pose a threat to both Renault and McLaren, given the mechanical pointers the VF-18 takes from last year’s race-winning Ferrari. But even if the American team qualifies well on Saturday, their race is set to be much harder as Romain Grosjean comes to Monaco weighed down with a three-place grid penalty for his first lap collision in Barcelona.

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

Outside of the three “Group B” teams, there are a few wildcards who might scrape into the points on Sunday.

Toro Rosso has perhaps the most realistic chance. The Red Bull junior team’s high-downforce designs have served them well around Monaco in recent years, with points finishes in every year since 2015, and the lack of emphasis on engine power will help Honda close up to those in front.

If Toro Rosso is competitive in Monaco, that will please Brendon Hartley enormously, with the Kiwi in need of a good performance as rumours about his future continue to swirl.

Also in the mix with Toro Rosso is Sauber. The C37 has been a surprise points-scorer this season, and with an on-form Charles Leclerc looking to impress on home soil it would be unwise to bet against Sauber adding to their 11 points total in Monte Carlo.

And then there’s Force India and Williams. With Monaco’s downforce demands not suiting either team’s 2018 aero designs, both will be hoping some traditional Monte Carlo madness can bring them into the lower reaches of the top ten.

Glenn Dunbar/Williams F1

Barcelona test: Latifi pleased with “smooth” Force India debut

Force India’s new development driver Nicholas Latifi has said he is pleased with his first on-track outing for the team at the Barcelona in-season test, after completing a programme of 107 laps and finishing fifth fastest.

This was Latifi’s second experience of F1 testing, having performed a similar role for Renault last year, and his first with Force India after missing a scheduled pre-season testing day due to illness.

Sahara Force India F1 Team

“It was a very good first day on track with the team and I finally had the chance to put to practice a lot of the procedures and processes I had learnt in the simulator,” Latifi said.

“I am pleased with how the day went; we ran smoothly with no big dramas. We completed lots of laps and I couldn’t have asked for a better first day.

“I am glad I could help the team with their testing programme and I am looking forward to being back in the simulator with this new knowledge of how the car behaves on track.”

Sahara Force India F1 Team

Force India’s chief race engineer Tom McCullough called Latifi’s first outing with the team “a very solid performance”, saying that the Canadian “settled in well with the team from an operational point of view and was on top of the various switches and procedures straight away.”

Latifi is due to pilot the VJM11 again in “a number” of currently unspecified Friday practice sessions this year, and may return for the second in-season test in Budapest in July.

F1 testing: Raikkonen leads Alonso on final day

Kimi Räikkönen kept Ferrari on top for the final day of 2018 testing, leading by half a second from McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.

The Finn set his best time during the morning session, using hypersofts to post a 1:17.221s—just 0.039s slower than Sebastian Vettel’s record-breaking lap from Thursday.

Although Räikkönen’s focus turned to long runs in the afternoon as he notched up a total of 153 laps, his time was strong enough to remain fastest even as a flurry of hot laps came late in the session.

Steven Tee/LAT Images/McLaren Media

Fernando Alonso made the most ground on the leaderboard during that period, setting a pair of hypersoft-shod 1:17s that brought him within 0.563s of the Ferrari in the final 15 minutes.

The Spaniard did briefly top the leaderboard following that run with a 1:16.720s, but this time came by cutting the final chicane and as such was deleted.

As well as rising to second-quickest, Alonso’s afternoon was also spent recovering from yet another interrupted morning. After teammate Vandoorne logged 151 laps on Thursday, Alonso’s final session with the MCL33 was halted after just seven laps this morning, when a turbo problem prompted a five-hour engine change.

However, once that was completed Alonso had no further issues on track and ended the day with a respectable 93 laps.

Renault Sport F1 Team

Alonso’s P2 was the first in a trio of Renault-powered cars to slot in behind Räikkönen, as the French marque continued to show signs of improvements in its power unit performance.

Carlos Sainz’s works Renault was three tenths down on the McLaren in third. Like Alonso, he too was making up for lost track time in the final hours, following a gearbox problem that halted his RS18 after just four installation laps in the morning.

Fourth was Daniel Ricciardo, who set a supersoft lap of 1:18.327s—only three tenths off the hypersoft lap that put the Australian on top of Tuesday’s session.

LAT Images/Haas F1 Media

Romain Grosjean was fifth, putting in another strong showing of speed for Haas with a 1:18.412s. The Frenchman also posted the most laps of the day at 191.

Valtteri Bottas—who set his best time on the medium tyre—was the highest-placed Mercedes in sixth. Once again, the Silver Arrows split its day between Bottas and Lewis Hamilton, with the duo putting in a combined 201 laps on Friday to bring Mercedes’ testing total up to 1,040.

That’s 56 fewer than the team achieved during 2017 testing, but still leaves Mercedes comfortably top of this year’s mileage charts, setting 111 laps more than next-best Ferrari.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Slotting into third on the teams’ lap count was Toro Rosso-Honda, their total of 822 laps including the 156 logged by Brendon Hartley on Friday. The New Zealander was seventh-fastest in the end, one tenth down on Bottas and less than 0.020s quicker than Esteban Ocon’s Force India in eighth.

Charles Leclerc was ninth, and the first driver outside of the 1:18s. The reigning F2 champion’s final day was hampered when he span into the gravel trap in the morning—the delay limited Leclerc to 75 laps, the third-lowest total of the day.

Lewis Hamilton made a rare appearance towards the bottom of the leaderboard, as his 1:19.464s (good enough for fourth in the morning) tumbled down the order while his teammate drove the afternoon session.

The defending champion eventually settled in eleventh place, splitting the two Williams’ of Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll. During his morning in the FW41, Sirotkin recorded a century of laps to help Williams to fourth in overall testing mileage.

However, his teammate added only 27 laps of his own in the afternoon running, and with a best time of 1:19.954s Stroll made it the sixth time in eight days of testing that a Williams has been slowest.

Andrew Hone/Williams

F1 testing: Ricciardo breaks lap record; Renault nears 200 laps

Daniel Ricciardo lowered the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya’s unofficial lap record during Wednesday’s testing session, setting a time of 1:18.047s on the new hypersoft tyre.

The Australian’s lap was more than three tenths faster than the previous record set by Felipe Massa during testing in 2008, and nearly six tenths below last year’s fastest testing time, set by Kimi Räikkönen.

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were close behind the Red Bull. Their best flying laps, both set on the ultrasoft tyre, were four and five tenths adrift of Ricciardo respectively, but still comfortably within the 1:18s.

These times came as teams focused on performance runs during the morning session, the result being that many of Wednesday’s laps were among the quickest of 2018 testing so far.

Steve Etherington/Mercedes AMG F1

Fourth fastest was Sebastian Vettel. The German was given an unexpected extra session on Wednesday morning as teammate Kimi Räikkönen was unwell, but opted to concentrate on long runs rather than challenge Red Bull and Mercedes on the hypersoft—however, he did manage to lap within a second of third-placed Bottas despite running on the soft compound tyre at the time.

Three tenths behind Vettel came Brendon Hartley and Fernando Alonso, both setting closely-matched 1:19.8s on the ultrasofts. Alonso had looked set to enjoy McLaren’s first trouble-free day of testing so far when he ran among the pacesetters during the morning and notched up 47 laps early on.

However, an oil leak before midday resulted in an engine change that cost Alonso over six hours of track time—the Spaniard was only able to fit in another 15 minutes of running at the end of the day, bringing his Wednesday lap count up to 57.

Steven Tee/LAT Images/Pirelli Media

Carlos Sainz was seventh fastest, being the first driver above 1:20s and the only one of the day to set his time on the medium tyre.

Although Sainz’s best lap was ultimately two seconds off Ricciardo’s benchmark, he did contribute to Renault leading the way in terms of mileage on Wednesday. The Spaniard logged 88 rounds of the Barcelona track during his morning in the RS18, before teammate Nico Hülkenberg added a further 102 after lunch.

Their combined 190 laps puts Renault second so far in the number of testing laps completed per team, with 602 to Mercedes’s 658.

Renault Sport F1 Team

Romain Grosjean was eighth-fastest on a 1:20.237s. Haas ended the session with the second-lowest lap total when an oil leak on Grosjean’s car limited him to 78 laps across the day.

Räikkönen, who recovered to run in the afternoon, and Hülkenberg, were the lowest-placed manufacturer drivers in ninth and eleventh respectively, split by the Williams of Lance Stroll.

Force India, Sauber and Williams occupied the bottom spaces on the leaderboard with Esteban Ocon, Charles Leclerc and Sergey Sirotkin.

But although the three midfield teams were an average of three seconds off Red Bull’s pace, they were all much higher on the day’s lap charts. Leclerc’s 160 and Ocon’s 130 were beaten only by Ricciardo in terms of laps done by an individual driver, while Stroll and Sirotkin recorded 143 for Williams between them.

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

F1 testing: McLaren troubles continue into second week

McLaren suffered another day of limited mileage on Tuesday as F1 testing resumed in Barcelona, finishing the day bottom of the lap charts and with the second-slowest time.

After minor mechanical faults cost the team valuable track time last week, McLaren was left again on the back foot when Stoffel Vandoorne’s MCL33 broke down twice in the morning with a pair of battery failures shutting down his Renault engine.

And although McLaren seemed to resolve those issues in time for the afternoon, Vandoorne was not out for long before this session was also cut short—this time, owing to a hydraulics problem.

In total, Vandoorne completed just 38 laps across the whole of Tuesday, and finished last-but-one on the timesheets with a best of 1:21.946s.

Ferrari Media

While McLaren struggled, their rivals took advantage of the prime conditions in Barcelona to embark on the long run programmes traditionally seen in the second week.

Sebastian Vettel recorded the most individual mileage of the day with 171 laps, as well as ending the day fastest by two tenths from Valtteri Bottas.

However, Mercedes ran the furthest of any team on Tuesday, surpassing Ferrari by six laps by combining Bottas’s 86 laps in the morning with Lewis Hamilton’s afternoon total of 91.

Max Verstappen—who split Bottas and Hamilton to be third fastest—lost running in the final hour of the afternoon when his Red Bull stopped on track, but nevertheless logged 130 laps to be Vettel’s closest challenger.

Sauber, Renault and Williams also broached the 100-lap mark (the latter two teams splitting running between both of their drivers), while Haas and Force India came close with 96 and 93 laps respectively.

Sahara Force India F1 Team

In an unexpected turn, Toro Rosso and Honda endured the first difficult day of their new partnership on Tuesday. After accomplishing a respectable 53 laps in the morning session with Pierre Gasly at the wheel, an unknown issue kept the STR13 confined to the garage for most of the afternoon, with Gasly adding only a single lap to his total after lunch.

But despite those troubles, Gasly still managed to end the day fifth fastest and best of the rest with a 1:20.973s, putting the Frenchman less than six tenths off Vettel’s benchmark.

Kevin Magnussen was sixth and the last of Tuesday’s drivers to be within a second of the pace. He finished ahead of Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg and Carlos Sainz, who were separated by just 0.023s despite setting their laps on different tyre compounds.

Sergey Sirotkin enjoyed more profitable running than his first week of F1 testing, and was the highest-placed Williams in ninth. Two tenths separated the Russian from Sergio Pérez in tenth and Marcus Ericsson—who notched up 120 laps for Sauber—in eleventh.

Lance Stroll was Tuesday’s slowest runner behind McLaren’s Vandoorne, even though his 1:22.937s was set on the hypersoft tyre. However, with the Canadian making it to 86 laps despite sharing his day with Sirotkin, it’s likely Stroll’s programme was focused more on distance than outright pace.

Andy Hone/Williams F1

Force India unveils VJM11 in Barcelona

Force India became one of the last teams to launch its challenger for the 2018 F1 season, pulling the covers off the VJM11 in the pitlane ahead of Barcelona testing.

Sahara Force India F1 Team

Overall, the VJM11 doesn’t deviate much from last year’s design, which netted the team fourth place in the 2017 Constructors’ Championship. The VJM10’s stepped nose section and elongated thumb-tip nose, unique on last year’s grid, have remained for 2018.

The most striking visual difference between last year and this comes from the car’s livery—still built around the “pink panther” scheme of sponsor BWT, Force India has added to the VJM11 with sections of white on the nose, cockpit and rear wing.

Sahara Force India F1 Team

But although the VJM11 shows no drastic departures from last year’s philosophy, Force India’s technical director Andy Green said the addition of the Halo meant the team couldn’t simply carry over last year’s chassis as planned:

“From an aerodynamic perspective, the work [on integrating the Halo] is still ongoing. It’s not designed to be an aerodynamic device. It doesn’t do us any favours in that department.”

Green further explained that the Halo causes “a significant downstream effect, especially around the rear wing area.

“It requires a lot of work to mitigate the issues that it causes. We’re still actively working on that, and I don’t think we’ll have a solution until Melbourne.”

Sahara Force India F1 Team

The Mercedes-powered VJM11 will have its track debut on Monday courtesy of Force India development driver Nikita Mazepin, before race drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Pérez take over for the rest of the week.

The team’s new reserve driver Nicholas Latifi was scheduled to drive on the final day of the test, but has had to stand down after being hospitalised by a serious infection earlier in the week.

F1 Season Preview: 5 things to watch

With the start of the F1 season nearly upon us, here are 5 things to watch out for in 2018.

McLaren-Renault

Glenn Dunbar/McLaren

After a dismal three-year marriage, McLaren-Honda finally divorced at the end of 2017 with McLaren going to Renault and Honda going to Toro Rosso.

Throughout the troubled times, McLaren claimed, time and time again, that they have one of the best chassis on the grid. So, with the Renault engine of the rise, McLaren’s word will be put to the test—can they challenge for podiums, wins or even the championship or will Alonso be left disappointed once more?

Alfa Romeo Sauber

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

Following the fallout over the short-lived Sauber-Honda deal, the Swiss team strengthened their partnership with Ferrari by becoming their effective ‘B-team’.

This means that, along with up-to-date engines, Sauber will be responsible for looking after some of Ferrari’s junior drivers. For 2018, they’ll have reigning F2 champion Charles Leclerc as a full-time driver and 2016 GP2-runner up Antonio Giovinazzi as their third driver. Mercedes have already said that the alliance could be “dangerous for them” with the Germans hinting that they may follow suit in the coming years.

The ‘Halo’

Steve Etherington/Mercedes AMG F1

Controversial as it is, we will see the halo raced for the first time in 2018. The FIA had to do something for this season as they had said a ‘frontal head protection device’ would be in place by 2018.

Some would say that it’s been rushed through the development process. Nevertheless, the FIA have allowed the teams some leeway with winglets and such like on the halo and the structure of it will be blended into the colour scheme of the car, so that it doesn’t stand out quite as much.

Softer tyres

Zak Mauger/LAT Images/Pirelli Media

Pirelli have admitted that they were too cautious with their tyre compounds in 2017, leading to widespread one-stop races and minimal degradation.

While they’re not going back to the days of super high-degradation tyres, the 2018 tyres will be softer. Along with the introduction of the Hyper-Soft, each compound will be a step softer; the Super-Soft will be like the old Ultra-Soft, the Soft will be like the old Super-Soft and so on. This should increase the variation in strategies, hopefully leading to more exciting and unpredictable racing.

The midfield

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

2017 involved an intense mid-field fight between Renault, Toro Rosso and Haas with the teams finishing within 10 points of each other.

A shake up is on the cards for 2018, however. The newly-powered McLaren and the works Renault team are both expected to rise above the rest of the midfield for fourth and fifth places in the championship which will make the midfield battle for sixth down to tenth. Force India should be as strong as ever and could give McLaren and Renault a run for their money while less is expected of Williams, given the standard of their drivers. The new Toro Rosso-Honda partnership has the potential to be very good, as does Alfa-Romeo Sauber, while Haas remains to be an unknown.

Latifi takes up Force India third driver role

Force India has signed Canadian F2 racer Nicholas Latifi as its new test and reserve driver for the 2018 F1 season.

Latifi’s role will comprise simulator work as well as participation in young driver tests and “a number of Friday practice sessions” throughout the year.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity,” Latifi said in a statement. “Sahara Force India is a team that has shown constant improvement for the last few years and I’m proud to become a part of one of the success stories of Formula One.

“I am eager to show the team what I can do and help them as they continue to close the gap to the front of the grid.”

Joe Portlock/FIA Formula 2

Force India team boss Vijay Mallya said of the appointment, “Nicholas joins us off the back of a strong season in F2 and strengthens our driver development programme. He will support our simulator programme and work with the team during a number of Friday practice sessions.”

Mallya added: “We have a long track record of bringing on young talented drivers and Nicholas will learn a huge amount as he gets embedded in the team, and looks forward to a career in Formula One.”

Latifi, who previously held a test driver role at Renault, took one race win and nine podiums to finish fifth in the 2017 F2 Championship.