F1 Virtual Grand Prix Series to return

During last year’s extended off-season, F1 put on a set of Virtual Grand Prix races to sustain our appetite for racing whilst we couldn’t do that in real life. It ran between the weekend of what would have been the Bahrain Grand Prix to the weekend when the Canadian Grand Prix would have taken place, before F1 returned to real racing three weeks afterward.

The races were entertaining and there was hope we could see the Virtual Grand Prix return during the winter off-season. Well, now it’s back!

Starting at the end of this month, a run of three consecutive weeks will see more drivers, other notable sporting athletes and celebrities compete on the F1 game. The first race will take place on January 31st on the Red Bull Ring, the second on February 7th on Silverstone and the last round on February 14th on Interlagos.

Unlike the 2020 events which all ran as standalone races, all three events will keep a points tally and have a champion at the end of it. Had points been counted last year, Williams driver George Russell would have been the unofficial winner with four wins in the last four races, but this time a champion will officially be crowned.

For the three-race championship, the format has been given a little shake-up. Before the official race, the drivers of the F1 Esports series will take to the virtual track in a five-lap sprint which will essentially be a qualification race to determine the grid.

In support of last year’s Virtual Grand Prix events, the F1 Esports drivers such as eventual 2020 champion Jarno Opmeer, his predecessors David Tonizza and Brendon Leigh among the many other talented racers would compete in a Pro Exhibition race. Now they’ll be playing a much more direct part in the event itself, perhaps enticing more people to seek out the F1 Esports series when it returns for its fifth season later this year.

Enzo Bonito and David Tonizza, FDA (Scuderia Ferrari Media)

After the grid is determined, the usual crowd will take over and compete in a 50% distance race. All ten teams will battle for points and will nominate a charity for F1 to send a donation to after the three-race season ends, with all the drivers playing a part in getting the best possible result and earning their selected charity some money.

So who will compete? F1 says to keep your eyes on their social media channels for driver announcements in the upcoming weeks. Expect a fair amount of celebrities and other sporting athletes to compete alongside drivers both in F1 and from other categories.

13 of the 23 drivers from last season competed in at least one race in the first run of Virtual Grand Prix races: Lando Norris, Nicholas Latifi, Charles Leclerc, George Russell, Alexander Albon, Antonio Giovinazzi, Carlos Sainz, Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon, Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Pérez and even the super subs Pietro Fittipaldi and Nico Hülkenberg.

Expect that a few of these will take part. Despite being some of the first to commit to them, Norris and Leclerc are both currently recovering from COVID-19 and Norris has even stated he would be taking a step back from any committed sim racing events in the off-season.

Other notable drivers who competed include former drivers like Jenson Button, Anthony Davidson, Johnny Herbert and Stoffel Vandoorne, DTM driver Phillip Eng, F2 driver and Renault junior Guanyu Zhou, and many Ferrari Driver Academy members like Robert Shwartzman, Callum Ilott, Gianluca Petecof and Arthur Leclerc. BTCC driver Nicolas Hamilton even did a couple of races with his brother’s former team McLaren.

Many guest drivers from outside of motorsport drove during the first leg of Virtual Grand Prix races—some with more success than others—such as surfer Kai Lenny (pictured in the feature image above driving for Red Bull). Some standout performances from top athletes in other sports include Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and professional golfer Ian Poulter, who both also competed in many of Veloce Esports’ Not The GP races.

Some other popular additions to the grid would include YouTubers such as Jimmy Broadbent who did a few races with Racing Point, and also Tiametmarduk who competed in the last two Virtual GP events for McLaren after becoming their Esports team’s brand ambassador.

Ultimately, the Virtual Grand Prix races were an immense success even if they could have been conducted better. But with the lack of time to plan in advance and how the F1 schedule was changing all the time, we got the best we could. Now though, this three-race mini championship promises to provide us with some immense entertainment as we prepare for the 2021 F1 season.

Keep an eye out on F1’s social media channels to find out who will represent the 10 teams and expect to be able to watch the three events in the three successive weeks beginning on January 31st on F1’s official YouTube, Twitch and Facebook pages.

An optimistic future for new-look Alpine?

Renault’s Formula 1 efforts will undergo a major shift in 2021, with a new driver lineup, core changes to the team, and most notably, a complete rebranding of its works squad as the Alpine F1 Team.

But after falling short of its target to be a regular race winner and even title contender by last year, the Enstone-based team has some soul-searching to do under its new guise. So are the changes planned going to be enough for Alpine to succeed where Renault couldn’t?

The drivers

Fernando Alonso, Renault (Renault Sport Media)

Fernando Alonso. Like him or loathe him, he’s back to spearhead Alpine’s first year in F1.

The two-time world champion was coaxed out of his sabbatical to replace the team’s former star driver Daniel Ricciardo, and Alpine will be hoping he brings some of the insight and inspiration they need to catch the likes of Mercedes and Red Bull.

The big question mark over Alonso’s return is of course the fact that he’s now been out of F1 for two years. He’s not exactly been resting easy in that time, having taken a WEC crown, two Le Mans victories and one at Daytona, and made headline-grabbing entries into the Indy 500 and Dakar Rally. On top of that, he also conducted an extensive testing programme with Renault throughout last year.

But two years out of Grand Prix racing is a long time, and it remains to be seen if Alonso can return at the same level he left the sport in 2018.

On the other side of the garage will be Esteban Ocon, returning for his second year with the Enstone team. Ocon had a rocky campaign in 2020 and spent much of the season getting back up to full racing speed after 18 months on the sidelines as Mercedes’ test and reserve driver.

But by the end of the year Ocon had closed his qualifying gap to Ricciardo and scored Renault’s best result of the season (and his own maiden podium) with second at the Sakhir Grand Prix. Had Ricciardo stayed with Alpine this year, it’s likely Ocon would have made it a much closer teammate battle as he did over his two years with Sergio Perez at Force India.

Alonso and Ocon are an uncertain lineup for Alpine’s first season, and it’s not a given that their potential and past form will equate to strong results in 2021. But if everything goes as Alpine are hoping, this could be a formidable driver pairing in the midfield battle and one with a lot of promise for the team’s near future.

The team

Cyril Abiteboul, Renault (Renault Sport Media)

One of the big headlines this month was that Cyril Abiteboul, Renault’s longtime team principal and CEO of the F1 operation, was stepping down from the team ahead of the new Alpine era.

It’s a move many have been calling for for some time now, as Abiteboul’s management has taken the lion’s share of blame for Renault’s failure to break out of the midfield. And whether or not that’s right, it is true that Abiteboul’s time in charge at Enstone was defined more by his engagement with the politics of F1 rather than the success of the team.

This is hopefully something that will change with Abiteboul’s replacements. Laurent Rossi, previously Renault’s Chief Strategy Officer, has already been announced as the new Alpine F1 CEO, while Executive Director Marcin Budkowski is tipped to take over as team principal.

Splitting Abiteboul’s role between these two is a sensible choice for Alpine. Rossi’s corporate strategy background makes him the ideal choice within the Renault group to lead the business side of Alpine’s rebranding. Meanwhile Budkowski, who has overseen the day-to-day operations at Enstone for years, will be free to focus on the sporting side of running an F1 team.

It might take longer than 2021 for the full effect of these changes to be felt. But as we’ve seen in the likes of Toto Wolff at Mercedes or Andreas Seidl and Zak Brown at McLaren, sometimes the right leadership structure at the right time can be just what a team needs to propel itself out of a stall.

The car

Alpine A521 (Alpine F1 Media)

The car is a mostly known quantity at least, as under the 2021 regulations Alpine’s A521 is essentially a carry-over of last year’s Renault R.S.20. And that bodes well for Alpine, as the R.S.20’s power and rear traction made it a formidable package at low-downforce circuits last year, as well as through low- and medium-speed corners in high-downforce configuration.

The A521 will be slightly different to the R.S.20, as its floor will be trimmed off in accordance with the rules to reduce the aerodynamic pressure on the tyres. How much of a difference this will make isn’t clear. Several teams have played up the impact of this floor tweak throughout 2020—but the same noises were also made about the front and rear wing changes in 2019, which hardly produced the tectonic shift that was billed.

However, it’s thought that the A521’s low rake philosophy—which was a new, Mercedes-inspired direction for last year—will mean that Alpine has less of a headache navigating the change than some of its rivals, at least in the early part of the season.

And so long as the overall design isn’t too unsettled by the revised floor, Alpine will definitely have a car quick enough to challenge for third in the constructors’ championship again.

Ultimately, we won’t know if Alpine is able to make that breakthrough that eluded Renault until the season gets underway. And even then, with the focus this year almost entirely on 2022’s aerodynamic overhaul, we might be kept waiting to see if the team can finally make good on its ambitions to be title contenders again.

But with the performance gains made last year, combined with a hungry driver lineup and some canny leadership changes, it’s looking like an optimistic future ahead for Enstone’s new Alpine era.

Esteban Ocon, Renault (Renault Sport Media)

Who is Jack Aitken?

With Pietro Fittipaldi filling in for Romain Grosjean in the Sakhir Grand Prix, nobody was expecting another change to the grid. However it was Lewis Hamilton’s positive COVID-19 result which meant his Mercedes seat was taken by Williams driver George Russell, whose own seat went to Jack Aitken.

So for those of you who were not aware of Aitken before last weekend, here is all you need to know about the latest British driver to reach F1.

First thing you should know, he’s actually British-Korean. Born to a Scottish father and Korean mother, he began karting in 2006 at Buckmore Park where he won the Summer Challenge club series aged 14 before moving into national and international karting championships.

Aitken made his first move into car racing in 2012. In the BARC Formula Renault winter series he took one win and just missed out on the championship by one point to future British GT champion Seb Morris. His main campaign was the InterSteps Championship, where he would finish third overall having taken 13 podiums across 23 races, two of those being wins.

In 2013 Aitken moved to the Northern European Formula Renault championship and was second to Matt Parry, the previous year’s InterSteps champion. That was followed by a move to the Formula Renault EuroCup for the following year in which he finished seventh in the championship, but it was all building up to what would be Aitken’s best year.

For 2015 Aitken would double up his Formula Renault campaign with assaults on the EuroCup and Alps championships, but to prepare for the season he went over to the States to compete in the Pro Mazda Winterfest. He battled for the championship with Malaysian driver Weiron Tan and pipped him to the title by a single point, which boded well for his dual Formula Renault campaign.

So it did! Moving to the Koiranen GP team that took Nyck de Vries to both the EuroCup and Alps championships the year before, Aitken racked up five wins in the EuroCup and four wins in the Alps series. He capped off his successful season by becoming a member of Renault’s F1 driver academy, and by sealing a drive in the F1-supporting GP3 Series with Arden.

While the 2016 GP3 championship was between now-F1 drivers Charles Leclerc and Alexander Albon in the leading ART team, Aitken did very well with a win and fifth in the standings. 2017 looked to be an even better year for Aitken as he took one of the ART seats. However, a new kid arrived who plays a big part in Aitken’s story.

That new kid was George Russell, who moved up from European F3 to take one of the other ART seats. The season was hard fought and ART occupied the first four places in the driver’s championship with Russell, Aitken and their teammates Nirei Fukuzumi and Anthoine Hubert.

However, Russell annihilated Aitken, taking four wins to Aitken’s one and finishing nearly 80 points clear. They both moved up to F2 the following season remaining with ART, but Russell dominated the championship there as well, over the likes of Lando Norris and Albon. Aitken did win the sprint race at Barcelona, but finishing only 11th in the championship coupled with Russell’s success did not do his reputation any good unfortunately.

For 2019, Aitken made the move to the unfancied Campos team. He began to repair some of the damage that had been done, taking the feature race win at Baku, a glorious victory on the Sunday morning of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and a further sprint win at Monza to finish the season fifth.

Jack Aitken, Campos. Image courtesy of FIA Formula 2.

He remained with Campos for 2020 but left the Renault academy, joining Williams as a reserve driver. He was thought to be one of the favourites for the F2 title this year, but the results have not been there for Jack.

However with Russell’s immediate call-up to Mercedes in Sakhir, Aitken’s F1 dream came true. It may have been short-lived, but he immediately made an impression by qualifying less than a tenth from Williams’ other full season driver Nicholas Latifi and outqualifying an F1 world champion in Kimi Räikkönen.

It may be unusual circumstances but Aitken can be pretty pleased with how he did. While it was Russell who starred in his Mercedes debut and nearly came away with a victory, Aitken has certainly done himself a lot of favours with how he performed over the Sakhir Grand Prix weekend.

The problem with finding the ideal F1 reserve driver

You’ve got to feel for Stoffel Vandoorne. The former McLaren driver has had several realistic chances to return to the Formula One grid this season in his capacity as Mercedes reserve driver, but each time he’s found himself overlooked in favour of an outside contender.

It’s no reflection on Vandoorne as a driver. Leaving aside his two demoralising years driving uncompetitive McLarens, Vandoorne has been a race-winner in almost every top flight series he’s contested.

The problem is more with the concept of F1 reserve drivers in general. Or rather, with the near impossibility of finding a reserve driver who truly fits the bill of what’s asked of them.

Stoffel Vandoorne, Mercedes F1 reserve driver (Courtesy of FIA Formula E)

When it comes to the ideal F1 reserve, the most important thing teams look for is someone whose experience is as recent as possible. F1 development stops for no one, so there’s little use in fielding a stand-in whose last Grand Prix was four or five seasons ago.

Secondly, they need to be quick if they’re going to fight for the results the team expects. But the problem here is that if a driver with that kind of talent finds themselves out of F1, it’s most commonly the case that they’re either moving on to another series or retiring at the end of their career, and therefore won’t be looking for a reserve role.

(There are of course exceptions to this. Nico Hulkenberg, for example, found himself without a drive for this year but that’s not for lack of talent. And Jenson Button stepped in to deputise for Fernando Alonso at McLaren in 2017 despite bowing out of F1 the previous year. But cases like this are extremely rare.)

The final problem with finding the ideal reserve is availability.

For a reserve driver to be quick they need to keep their qualifying and race craft sharp for whenever it’s needed, even if that’s away from F1 machinery.

But at the same time, they can’t spend so much time racing in other series’ that it clashes with F1 weekends—an increasingly large problem as the F1 calendar continues to swell year by year.

Red Bull is a good example of this, as they recently had to secure a super licence for Juri Vips to act as reserve for the Turkish Grand Prix, as their usual backups Sebastien Buemi and Sergio Sette Camara were both racing elsewhere.

Juri Vips, Red Bull reserve driver (Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool)

And that’s the reserve driver paradox. To be the ideal Grand Prix stand-in, one has to be fresh out of F1 and somehow keep that freshness year after year, be quick enough to compete with the current F1 grid despite being dropped from it, and keep race-sharp all year round while still being available 23 weekends out of 52 (and counting).

As a result, reserve drivers tend to be a compromise that’s not quite the best of any worlds. You have the likes of Paul di Resta, who was briefly named McLaren’s reserve this year despite not racing in F1 since 2013. Or you have Formula 2 drivers like Jack Aitken at Williams or Louis Deletraz at Haas, who race regularly on the F1 calendar but are completely unproven in a Grand Prix.

And then you have Ferrari, whose nominated reserve is Antonio Giovinazzi—somehow who has plenty of contemporary F1 experience and race-fitness, but comes with the added complication of currently driving for Alfa Romeo.

It’s all part of the reserve driver role. They’re the person a team relies on when one of their star drivers is sick or injured, but they’re often an imperfect solution at best. And so it’s not really a surprise that teams often search for a better alternative outside their pool if the need for a stand-in actually arises.

It’s a shame when that happens, especially for a driver like Vandoorne whose talent merits at least one more outing in a competitive F1 car. But when big points are on the line and a Hulkenberg or George Russell is available, it’s hard to fault the teams for taking advantage of that opportunity—even if it means their reserve driver spending Sunday playing Call of Duty.

 

The Problems With The Provisional F1 2021 Calendar

Earlier this week Liberty Media released the provisional calendar for the 2021 Formula One season. While there were minimal surprises, it raised some eyebrows about the integrity of the sport.

Many believe that the idea of racing in countries with less than ideal human rights records contradicts the mantra “We Race As One” that Formula One has been pushing so often this year. With races in Bahrain and China, as well as the new Saudi Arabia race, many believe that F1 should not be holding races, and thereby drawing in fans, in countries where seemingly dodgy political regimes can reap the economic rewards.

To counter that, some have argued that it isn’t fair to punish the inhabitants (for whom many will not have had a say in who runs their country) by not allowing any international sport to be held for them to see. Ultimately though, money talks and therefore Formula One is unlikely to avoid controversial venues if they have suitable funds.

Another issue some have raised is Liberty Media’s insistence on quantity over quality. Initial plans are for a 23-race season sometimes covering tracks that have famously struggled to produce exciting racing. F1 is entertainment as much as sport, and as a result fan enjoyment should be a top priority. If you were to ask F1 fans to create their dream race calendar, very few would have as many as 23 venues, and even fewer would include the likes of France and Spain.

By focusing on the number of races over the quality of the racing the track produces, some believe you run the risk of wearing the fans out. Yes, we love racing, but if you’re tuning in every weekend to watch very little of it, you’re going to get worn out and lose some love for the sport. This is all without mentioning the impact on the teams being away from their families for so long.

At the end of the day, Formula One is seen by the owners as a business over a form of entertainment and therefore Liberty Media are certain to want a race calendar that can maximise their profit. Fan opinion is just an aside.

Feature image courtesy of Racing Point F1 Media

F1 Throwback: Massa’s maiden triumph in Turkey

In its short tenure on the Formula 1 calendar, Turkey’s Istanbul Park circuit has helped create plenty of iconic moments. From Red Bull’s infamous clash in 2010 to the many incidents around the mighty Turn 8, it’s not hard to see why the Turkish Grand Prix is a fan-favourite return this year.

But for Felipe Massa, there’s one Istanbul Park moment that would surely spring to mind before any other—the end of the 2006 race, when he crossed the finish line to become a Formula 1 Grand Prix winner for the very first time.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

2006 was already set to be a big year for Massa. Having cut his teeth with Sauber, this was the year he was called up by Ferrari to replace countryman Rubens Barrichello as Michael Schumacher’s teammate.

Prior to Turkey, which was the 14th round of the 18-race season, Massa’s start to life at Ferrari had been mixed. His pace was clear by his four podiums, two fastest laps and qualifying results, but his scorecard was marred by spins and a first-lap collision with Christian Klien and Nico Rosberg in Melbourne.

With rumours swirling of Ferrari considering a Schumacher/ Kimi Raikkonen partnership for 2007, what Massa needed was a definitive result to close out the season. And that was exactly what he set up on Saturday in Istanbul, when Massa took advantage of several errors by Schumacher to take his first pole position by three tenths over his teammate.

Given Schumacher’s tight championship battle with Fernando Alonso and Massa’s team role as the German’s rear gunner, Schumacher was still considered the favourite on race day. But come lights out, Massa soaked up the pressure as Schumacher and Alonso bore down on him into Turn 1, and was able to bolt clear by almost a second by the end of the first lap.

Behind the leading trio, Giancarlo Fisichella spun his Renault at the first corner as he backed out of a move on Alonso, causing a chain reaction incident in the midfield. Raikkonen, Scott Speed, Nick Heidfield and Ralf Schumacher were all caught up and joined Fisichella in pitting for repairs, while Midland’s Tiago Monteiro retired on the spot.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

On lap 13 the safety car was deployed when Vitantonio Liuzzi spun and stalled his Toro Rosso at the exit of Turn 1, and Massa pitted together with Schumacher, Alonso and Jenson Button. But while Massa kept his position at the front, Alonso managed to jump Schumacher for second as Ferrari’s attempt to double-stack their stops held Schumacher up in the pits.

When the race resumed, Massa took advantage of his teammate’s battle with Alonso to restore his lead. As Alonso drove defensively to hold off his title rival, Massa continued to get further and further away from the pair and closer to his first victory.

But on the final lap there seemed to be a cruel final twist waiting for Massa before the finish line. As Schumacher closed to within a few tenths of Alonso and began all but pushing the Renault along, Massa drastically backed off the pace to the tune of several seconds compared to his teammate.

The understanding was that if Schumacher managed to retake second from Alonso, Massa was obliged to let Schumacher by for maximum championship points—at this late stage in the season, Alonso had a ten-point lead in the standings so a win would have put Schumacher level with four rounds remaining.

However, despite Schumacher’s best efforts he simply ran out of opportunities to pass Alonso, meaning Massa was free to push on to the line and take the victory with five and a half seconds still in hand.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Two weeks later at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, Ferrari announced that Schumacher would be leaving the team at the end of the year, and that Massa would stay on to partner Raikkonen. Massa closed out the 2006 season with two more pole positions, a second place at Japan, and a home win at Interlagos.

He would win twice again at Istanbul Park, in 2007 and 2008, and currently holds the record for the most wins at the circuit.

There are many moments that define Felipe Massa’s F1 career: the pain of losing the 2008 World Championship, the darkness of his 2009 crash in Budapest, and of course his emotional guard of honour after retiring from the 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix.

His maiden win is every bit as defining as what came after. A thoroughly deserving victory against two of the sport’s greatest drivers, Istanbul Park was a glimpse of the formidable talent Massa had to offer.

Why Hulkenberg would and wouldn’t be the right choice for Red Bull

2020 is fast turning into every Nico Hulkenberg fan’s dream. Despite not having a full-time place on the grid for this year, he’s been able to put himself front and centre in the driver market for 2021 with his impressive stand-in drives for Racing Point.

Now, Hulkenberg has been named by Red Bull as one of their prime targets for next year if they decide to let the struggling Alex Albon go. But as popular a signing as Hulkenberg would be, would he actually be the solution Red Bull is looking for?

Hulkenberg driving in the 2020 Eifel Grand Prix (Zak Mauger, Motorsport Images / Racing Point media)

The big complication is that Hulkenberg isn’t the only driver in contention for the seat. With Red Bull openly looking at Sergio Perez too, it’s not as simple as whether Hulkenberg offers an improvement over Albon.

And when it’s Hulkenberg against Perez, the Mexican arguably has the edge in terms of the overall package he offers.

The most obvious setback for Hulkenberg against Perez is that Perez has scored eight podiums throughout his career, while Hulkenberg has the record for the most F1 starts without one. When one of Red Bull’s criticisms of Albon is his lack of regular top three finishes, taking Perez over Hulkenberg seems the more sensible bet on this count.

The fact that four of Perez’s podiums came when driving the same Force India machinery as Hulkenberg only swings things further in the Mexican’s favour. And speaking of their time together as teammates, Perez’s top three finishes helped him outscore Hulkenberg across the season two years to one.

And then there’s the financial elephant in the room. With his personal backing from Carlos Slim and Telmex, Perez is said to bring anything between €15 million and €20 million to a team.

While Red Bull isn’t exactly hard up for cash, a number like that will still factor into their thinking—especially when they’re going to lose their Aston Martin title sponsorship next year, and are considering a costly move to take over Honda’s engine IP when the Japanese manufacturer leaves F1 at the end of 2021.

Perez celebrating P3 at the 2016 European Grand Prix (Force India F1 media)

So with Perez winning out in terms of top three finishes, year-long consistency and financial backing, is there any area where Hulkenberg can actually make a case for being the better choice?

Luckily, yes—in fact, there are two.

The first is qualifying pace. While Perez has the edge in terms of race craft, Hulkenberg is undoubtably the better qualifier. His Interlagos pole with Williams in 2010 springs to mind, but there are much more recent examples than that—specifically, his third on the grid at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix this year for Racing Point.

You don’t get any points on a Saturday in F1. But Hulkenberg’s qualifying record would go a long way to addressing Red Bull’s need for its second car to start higher up the grid on Sunday than Albon is currently achieving.

With Perez, a driver who traditionally focuses more on race setup so he can battle his way back through the field, Red Bull could potentially end up with the same situation they currently have with Albon.

Hulkenberg after qualifying third for the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix (Steven Tee, Motorsport Images / Racing Point media)

Perhaps the biggest tick in Hulkenberg’s favour, however, is his fit within the team. Of course it’s impossible to say for sure how he’d gel with Max Verstappen and Red Bull without him being there. But historically Hulkenberg has had harmonious working relationships with all of his teammates—including Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz, both of whom famously clashed against Verstappen at Red Bull and Toro Rosso respectively.

Hulkenberg’s demeanour and approach in the last few years suggests a driver comfortably assured of how good he is, regardless of what the F1 record shows, and this stands him in good stead as a potential teammate to Verstappen. He’s not trying to build a reputation within the sport, and so isn’t likely to trip up over the finer details of proving himself a match for Verstappen in the same way Albon and Pierre Gasly have.

By comparison, Perez has a history of friction with teammates, particularly when trying to assert himself against them. We saw this first in his on-track clashes with Jenson Button at McLaren in 2013, but more notably with Esteban Ocon during their two years together at Force India.

With Red Bull wanting a supportive rear-gunner for Verstappen, scenes like Perez squeezing Ocon into the wall in Singapore or refusing to let Ocon by for a podium shot in Canada aren’t going to count in his favour.

At the end of the day, you could make a case for both Hulkenberg and Perez being the best option for Red Bull. And that’s assuming Red Bull are going to replace Albon—at time of writing, there’s still every chance they could choose to keep him for another year.

With no clear right or wrong choice, the second Red Bull seat is the Schrödinger’s Cat of the driver market. We might as well assume it belongs to Albon, Hulkenberg and Perez for now, because we just won’t know for sure until the box is opened and we see whose name is on the contract.

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.

Eifel GP Qualifying: Bottas beats Hamilton to pole at Nurburgring as Hulkenberg makes a return

Valtteri Bottas absolutely smashed the competition from his teammate Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to take pole at Nurburgring on a chilly Saturday afternoon. With yesterday’s practice sessions washed out, the little running that did happen in FP3 suggested that there would be a close fight for pole and things exactly unfolded that way.

Mercedes’ 72nd front row lockout will certainly be a welcome result for them but missing out on pole here means Lewis Hamilton’s quest for the famous 91st win is still set to continue. Verstappen held provisional pole during the first run of Q3 but the Dutchman complained of lesser grip during the second run which ultimately saw him end up in P3.

It looked set to be an all-Red Bull second row after a decent qualifying run from Alex Albon but an amazing lap from Charles Leclerc saw the Monegasque driver finish P4, repeating a similar story from the previous races this season where he has been driving his red car to the limits, sometimes even over. Things were not that good for his teammate Vettel after his qualifying effort saw him finish only at P11 and miss out on Q3 by over three tenths of a second.

GP GERMANIA F1/2020 – SABATO 10/10/2020
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

It was another excellent qualifying session for Renault after Daniel Ricciardo overcame his bad first run in Q3 and managed to qualify at P6, just ahead of his teammate Ocon in P7.  This result in qualifying means that Renault will have a slight advantage going into the race, especially considering third place in the constructors championship seems to be anybody’s between McLaren, Racing Point and Renault.

Racing Point found themselves in a similar situation to Silverstone earlier this year with the team needing to call up Hulkenberg again, this time for Lance Stroll who has been taken sick and missed out on FP3 earlier. The German driver was luckily in Cologne and was readily available as a replacement. The outing proved quite tough for him after he could only finish last but nevertheless, a commendable effort. Sergio Perez in the other Racing Point finished 9th, splitting the McLarens with Norris in P8 and Sainz in P9.

Both the Alpha Tauri cars could not manage to get into Q3 which was slightly surprising given Gasly’s amazing form this year. They are set to start with Gasly in P12 and Kvyat in P13. A surprise entrant into the top 15 this year is Antonio Giovinazzi, who has finally managed to get into Q2 in his Alfa Romeo and will be starting in P14. His teammate Kimi Raikkonen will start his record-breaking 323rd Grand Prix , the most by any driver, in only P19.

Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean are set to line up 15th and 16th in their Ferrari-powered Haas cars after a flurry of deleted lap times for both drivers in their Q1 runs. Williams are set to line up with George Russell in P17 and Latifi in P18 with Russell, despite being unhappy with his lap, maintaining a 100% qualifying record versus his teammate.

A three-way fight for pole ensured a tight Saturday in the very cold temperatures of the Nurburgring and with conditions set to become more cooler and damper compared to today, a similar fight could pan out for the race win. A slight possibility of rain is also set to be in the mix for the race which can only make things that much unpredictable. Hamilton would be very eager to make it 91 wins on Schumacher’s home soil but his party might be spoiled by either his teammate or by Max Verstappen in the Red Bull, all pointing towards the prospect of a classic German Grand Prix.

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.