Singapore GP preview: Mercedes favourites at Marina Bay

Formula One heads to the streets of Singapore, for the start of the final flyaway leg of 2019 under the lights at Marina Bay.

Ferrari and Charles Leclerc head to Singapore on the crest of two wins on the bounce at Spa and Monza. But compared to those two high-speed circuits, Ferrari’s low downforce package won’t be anywhere near as effective on the tight Marina Bay Street Circuit.

As has been the case for most of the 2019 season, Mercedes is expected to be the team to beat this weekend. It was in Singapore last year, where Lewis Hamilton took pole position and the race win, that Mercedes finally seemed to understand what was needed to conquer one of its few “bogey” circuits. And judging by the fact Mercedes has won every street race since, there’s every reason for them to be confident about their chances on Sunday.

Paul Ripke / Mercedes AMG

However, Mercedes does have one shadow looming over them this weekend—engine reliability. Since introducing their Spec 3 power unit at Spa three weeks ago, Mercedes have seen uncharacteristic failures in the customer cars of Sergio Perez’s Racing Point and Robert Kubica’s Williams. So far the works team has had no blowouts of its own, but after two demanding power tracks and with Singapore’s reputation for testing cars to their limit, there’s no room for complacency.

The other threat to Mercedes this weekend comes in the form of Max Verstappen and Red Bull. Verstappen has run well in in Singapore in recent years, qualifying second in 2017 and 2018 and finishing runner-up to Hamilton last year.

With the Red Bull-Honda package improving with every race, it would be no surprise to see Verstappen duelling with Hamilton for his third win of the season.

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

As always, the difficulty and unpredictability of Singapore will provide the midfield teams with plenty of opportunities to sneak away with big points hauls.

Renault took a double points finish at Marina Bay last year, but their RS19 has been much more at home on high speed and lower downforce tracks this year. Given their results from slower tracks like Monaco and Hungary, Renault will likely find themselves scrapping with or even behind the likes of McLaren, Alfa Romeo and Toro Rosso this weekend.

Haas will also be bracing themselves for another tough Grand Prix on Sunday. Although their prolonged dispute with former title sponsors Rich Energy has finally come to an end, their struggles with tyre degradation certainly have not. And in the heat of Singapore, there aren’t many worse problems to have.

However, Haas and Renault can both take some optimism from the fact that this is the Singapore Grand Prix. With tempers running high and the walls never far away, Singapore is the place where anything can happen.

Haas F1 Media

Leclerc fends off Mercedes duo to take Italian Grand Prix victory

Charles Leclerc has claimed his second ever win in F1 at this afternoon’s Italian Grand Prix, the first time a Ferrari driver has won at Monza since 2010.

The Mercedes pairing of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton finished second and third respectively, having pushed Leclerc for much of the race. Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg came home fourth and fifth.

The other Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, by comparison, faltered. Vettel span at the Ascari chicane on lap seven and collected the Racing Point of Lance Stroll as he rejoined. He received a ten-second stop/go penalty for ‘rejoining the track in an unsafe manner’, behind only disqualification in terms of harshness. He damaged his front wing and pitted twice on his way to a lowly P13 finish.

Leclerc started from pole position with Hamilton alongside him, and led into turn one despite Hamilton initially getting a better start.

Ferrari Media

The pair came into the pits on lap twenty and lap twenty-one respectively; Hamilton changed onto the soft tyres, while Leclerc went onto the hard compound.

On lap twenty-three, Hamilton attempted to pass Leclerc round the outside going into the Variante della Roggia chicane but was forced to take to the escape road, saying over the radio that Leclerc hadn’t given him a car’s width of room. Leclerc was given a black and white flag as a warning, but escaped a penalty.

Hamilton continued to pressure Leclerc, and on lap 36 Leclerc locked up going into the first chicane and cut across the kerbs. Though this allowed Hamilton to further close on him, the Ferrari driver successfully defended his position and maintained his lead. The stewards noted that Leclerc had failed to take the apex at turn two, but decided that no investigation was necessary.

At this stage in the race, Hamilton’s medium tyres were starting to fade and Bottas began to reel him in, his own tyres some seven laps fresher than Hamilton’s.

Wolfgang Wilhelm

Hamilton locked up and took to the escape road on lap 42, allowing Bottas to move up into P2 and chase down Leclerc. Though he then got to within DRS range of Leclerc, a couple of errors meant he was not able to make any attempts to pass for the lead.

Leclerc crossed the line just over eight tenths ahead of Bottas to take his second career victory, much to the joy of the Tifosi in the grandstands. The win moves him ahead of Vettel in the championship. Hamilton, meanwhile, pitted late on to chase the extra point for fastest lap. Bottas’s P2 finish means Hamilton’s championship lead has been shortened by two points.

Alex Albon finished in sixth ahead of Sergio Perez, with Max Verstappen coming from nineteenth on the grid to end up eighth. Antonio Giovinazzi and Lando Norris complete the top ten.

Bottas stays at Mercedes, Renault sign Ocon

Renault and Mercedes have kick-started the 2020 driver market by announcing their driver lineups for next year at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Mercedes made the first move by announcing on Thursday morning that they had exercised their option to keep Valtteri Bottas for a fourth consecutive season with the team.

Bottas said: “I am very happy and proud to be part of the team for a fourth season and wish to thank every team member and the board of Mercedes for their trust and belief in me.

“My performances have been getting better and better each year, and this is a great way to kick start the second half of 2019.”

Team boss Toto Wolff said he had resigned Bottas for “another season at least”, and praised his contribution to Mercedes’ successes since 2017 as “exemplary”.

LAT Images / Mercedes AMG

Shortly after, Renault announced that it had signed Esteban Ocon for 2020, with the Frenchman free to join the team after being denied a potential Mercedes drive by Bottas.

Ocon joins Renault on a multi-year deal and will replace Nico Hülkenberg, who will leave the French marque after three seasons.

Ocon had previously been part of the Renault stable as their test and reserve driver in 2016, when he took part in four free practice outings in the RS16. Before arriving in Formula One, he was also a member of the Enstone-based Lotus junior programme.

Renault F1 Media

Speaking about joining Renault, Ocon said: “First and foremost, I am very proud to become a Renault driver. I have grown up at Enstone, starting with Lotus in 2010 and then with Renault. I am very attached to this team and everyone who works there; they are the ones who opened the doors of top level motorsport for me.

“Secondly, I am pleased that a team with big ambitions has entrusted me with the opportunity to once again demonstrate my skills at the highest level of F1.”

Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul paid tribute to the departing Hülkenberg’s work at the team, calling him “a pillar” of Renault’s progress since rejoining F1 in 2016.

Speaking on Twitter, Hülkenberg called it “a pity” to be leaving Renault at the end of the season, and added that he is “confident” about being on the 2020 grid but has “nothing to announce at the moment”. He is widely tipped to join Haas, after Gunther Steiner confirmed on Thursday that Hülkenberg is on the American team’s shortlist to partner Kevin Magnussen.

Renault F1 Media

Alex Albon ‘keeping feet on the ground’ ahead of first race for Red Bull

Red Bull’s new signing Alex Albon says he will be ‘keeping [his] feet on the ground’ ahead of his first race for the team at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Albon has just twelve Grand Prix under his belt and while he is excited about the prospect of racing for one of the most competitive teams in F1, he is nonetheless aware that he has a lot still to learn.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

“Not many drivers get the chance to drive a car capable of winning a race so early in their F1 career, so it’s a great opportunity to be driving for Red Bull,” Albon said. “It’s a big step, a big difference, and the factory’s a lot closer to my house which is handy!

“We know what the car is capable of and we’ve seen what Max has been able to do this year. I want to see what it’s like compared to what I’m used to, but at the same time, I know this weekend is my first time in the car, I’m still learning and improving as a driver and there’s definitely more to come.

“I know one of the main differences will be the noise and attention that comes with the move but I’m keeping my feet on the ground. I’m just focused on the job I have to do for Spa, I’ll be doing a lot of listening and observing.”

The news of Albon’s promotion came after Pierre Gasly, who himself had moved from Toro Rosso to Red Bull at the beginning of 2019, struggled to match the performance of Max Verstappen. Despite assurances from both Christian Horner and Helmut Marko that his seat was safe for the time being, Gasly nonetheless finds himself back at the junior team for the second half of the season.

Albon made his first official trip to the Red Bull factory as one of their drivers on 26th August, two weeks after the announcement was made, for a seat and suit fitting.

“We’ve got as much simulator prep done as we can,” Albon said, “so now it’s about going through procedural things with the team and getting to know everyone. It should be good!

“This is a big step, but I feel I’ve been through these big jumps before and taken the opportunities – I’m not worried about that. I’m focused and ready to be as strong as possible for the second half of the year.”

 

[Featured image – Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool]

F1 makes its anticipated return: Belgian Grand Prix Preview

After a summer break that always feels like a lifetime, Formula One is back, and the circus this time arrives at the 7 kilometre Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest.

The summer has seen a couple of changes. Pierre Gasly, who has endured a horrible season at Red Bull alongside the imperious Max Verstappen, has been dropped by Red Bull axe-man Helmut Marko and placed back at Toro Rosso. His replacement is Anglo-Thai driver Alexander Albon, who moves up from the junior team having impressed in his rookie season alongside Daniil Kvyat—although the Russian, having scored a podium in Germany and more points this season than his younger team-mate, will feel as though he should have been with the Austrian team heading into Belgium.

Albon joins the team for a race at which they are not expected to pull off the spectacular heroics that Max Verstappen has displayed in the first half of the season. Spa is very much a power track, but the tricky, twisty middle sector will provide somewhat of an opportunity for the Bulls to make up time on Mercedes and Ferrari.

Lars Baron, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Speaking of them, Ferrari need to establish some kind of foothold in this season’s championship, having failed to win a race in the first half of the season, with Charles Leclerc falling agonisingly short of victory in Bahrain and Austria, and Sebastian Vettel losing the win in Canada due to a penalty. The prancing horses, who have thus far been cantering ponies, are generally better in a straight line than Mercedes this year, and this weekend is a great chance to grab that first win.

As for Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton certainly cannot be counted out of a win, and it is not as if the Mercedes is tremendously slower than the Ferrari on the straights. However, Hamilton will surely have one eye on the title with a 62 point lead over team-mate Valtteri Bottas, and may opt to play the long game.

Bottas is in a different boat. Following a blistering start to the season, winning in Australia and Azerbaijan, the Finn has fallen back, and has since started to show the cracks that we have seen in the last two seasons partnered with Hamilton. No wins since race four, a crash in Germany and a clumsy incident with his team mate in Hungary has left his future in doubt, with Esteban Ocon among a couple of names potentially being lined up to replace him next year. Bottas is running out of time in the harsh climate of Formula One, and he needs a strong result at Spa to kick off the second part of the season and salvage his future at Mercedes.

LAT Images / Mercedes AMG

Further back, Haas drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen both need strong weekends themselves. Several incidents between the two drivers have frustrated their demanding team boss Guenther Steiner, and neither of them currently have a safe seat for next season.

It was at this race 12 months ago where Racing Point, undergoing their transformation as Racing Point Force India, came close to a podium with Sergio Perez. A podium will not be expected this time, but points will certainly be the objective. So too will be the case for Renault’s drivers, who both failed to score points here last year after Nico Hulkenberg catapulted Fernando Alonso, and Daniel Ricciardo was caught up in the ensuing melee.

George Russell was hopeful that Williams were taking steps in the right direction following the last race in Budapest, but we should not expect them to be able to lift themselves off the bottom of the time sheets this time around.

Hamilton is back to defend his championship lead, Bottas and Ferrari need to bounce back, and Formula One is back, as is Eau Rouge, I mean Raidillon, oh forget it…

Follow full live text commentary of free practice, qualifying and the race on our Twitter account, @PitCrew_Online.

Header image by Wolfgang Wilhelm / Mercedes AMG

The rights and wrongs of Red Bull’s Albon switch

On Monday morning, Red Bull announced that it would be swapping Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon for the remaining races of the 2019 season.

The move was met with no small amount of surprise—not least because Christian Horner and Helmut Marko had both stated categorically that Gasly’s seat was safe for the rest of the year—as well as a great amount of debate over whether or not the decision was the right one to take.

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

For Red Bull themselves, at least, the switch is a definite win-win solution.

After the Hungarian Grand Prix, Horner lay the blame quite squarely on Gasly for Red Bull being 44 points behind Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship, despite being the only team other than Mercedes to win races this year. It was the first time Horner had publicly criticised Gasly’s performances, saying that the Frenchman “shouldn’t be racing Saubers and McLarens” in a car capable of victories and podiums.

Having seen little improvement from Gasly over the opening 12 races, it was clear that Red Bull needed something to change in order to outscore Ferrari by the end of the year. And with a buffer of 162 points back to fourth-placed McLaren, the team had nothing to lose in switching drivers. At the very worst Albon would be no improvement over Gasly, but Red Bull would still comfortably finish the season in the top three.

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Looking beyond 2019, there is another clear benefit to trialling how Albon works within the senior Red Bull team—and in particular, how he works alongside Max Verstappen.

On paper, Albon is the ideal driver for Red Bull’s current situation. For starters, he’s undeniably quick. He ran Charles Leclerc hard for the 2016 GP3 title, was a consistent frontrunner in Formula 2, and last year was offered a seat with Nissan’s works Formula E squad.

But perhaps most importantly, Albon’s reputation is for a calm, mild-mannered team player—a driver unlikely to level public criticism at Honda should performance falter, or threaten Verstappen’s position as Red Bull’s top dog.

And with Verstappen’s contract expiring at the end of next year, creating the right environment with a teammate like Albon might be crucial in convincing the Dutchman to stay at Red Bull long-term.

Lars Baron, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

As for Albon, however, moving to Red Bull now could go either way.

On the one hand, this is a remarkable stroke of good fortune. Just nine months ago Albon’s F1 chances looked to have all dried up and he was preparing for a career shift to Formula E—now, he’s driving a car that has every chance of making him Thailand’s first-ever Grand Prix winner.

But there’s absolutely no guarantee that Albon will succeed where Gasly hasn’t. Of Red Bull’s last three promotions from Toro Rosso, only Verstappen has so far managed to hang on to his seat. That will only increase the pressure on Albon to prove he can buck the trend, with only nine races in which to do so.

And if Albon fares no better than Gasly and Red Bull decide to drop him at the end of the year as well, then his meteoric F1 career could be over before it’s even truly begun.

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

On that note, it’s hard to find any benefit to this decision for Gasly himself. Although Red Bull will no doubt argue they want to give him the opportunity to recover his form away from the limelight at Toro Rosso, that will seem like a hollow sentiment given they said the same thing about Daniil Kvyat in 2016.

But even if Gasly does regroup and flourish away from the glare at the senior team, it will take something special to shake off the black mark of being dumped by a top team midway through a season.

Given Gasly’s racing record to date—GP2 and Formula Renault 2.0 champion, Super Formula title contender and near podium-finisher on his debut Formula E weekend—it would be a true shame if this instead becomes the defining moment in the 23-year-old’s career.

Two GPs, one pole, one win – who in F1 has done it?

I’m all here for Formula One facts and stats. The more obscure they are, the better. So when Max Verstappen carved his name onto the walls of the sport’s history with his first career pole position – the 100th driver ever to achieve the feat – last Saturday at the Hungaroring, the cogs began to twirl in my brain and Literally Some Wikipedia pages were opened. 

One thing led to another, and before long on a dreary Thursday evening I pondered this (get ready, this is an obscure one with a capital O): who in F1 history has ever taken one World Championship pole position, and one win under similar rules, but without both being at the same Grand Prix weekend? As it turns out, only five drivers have done it. Here’s who they are.

1.  Robert Kubica – 2008 Bahrain GP pole, 2008 Canadian GP victory

I’ll start the list with the only driver currently on the F1 grid, and the only one still currently able to escape it. Serial comeback king, serial public denouncements at the hands of a controversial Canadian, it’s a shock to the system to think back on the titan Robert Kubica once was and realise those ‘serials’ don’t extend to his win tally – just a fateful encounter with that same Canadian’s homeland event in June 2008 prevents him from being in the winless zone.

And it’s a crying tragedy. It’s so easy to forget for most when George Russell is batting him around the park most weekends (oddly though, not in the actual Drivers’ standings – 1 point to 0 there), but Robert’s 2008 season with BMW Sauber was chilling to the bone; one of the best individual seasons there’s been in the 21st century. Keeping the title alive until the penultimate race in an F1.08 chassis that had its development cut short for that dismal ‘09 season, it could’ve been so much more than a single pole in Bahrain and that victory.

A career kicked into life by dislodging, of course, Jacques Villeneuve in the summer of 2006 looked set to hit new heights after a season spent racing at an even higher level than ‘08 with Renault, and a pre-contract with Ferrari agreed for 2012. But, in distressing circumstances, it was all cut short. A participation in the Ronda di Andora rally ended in a severe crash, with the barrier entering the cockpit of his Skoda Fabia. After many years spent regaining his fitness in the rallying scene, 2017 saw Robert finally grace the world of F1 again with a mid-season test under his old team, Renault. Then after a 2018 season spent testing with Williams, he capped off a remarkable comeback with a 2019 race seat.

Mark McArdle / Wikimedia Commons

 

2. Vittorio Brambilla – 1975 Swedish GP pole, 1975 Austrian GP win

The Monza Gorilla. That was the nickname Vittorio Brambilla went by, but rather saddeningly neither his pole nor his win was taken at the temple of speed, and his home city. South Africa would be the first event Vittorio would lay claim to being the fastest in – for the Saturday, at least. He’d hold onto the lead of the race until Lap 16, before first Carlos Reutemann sailed by and Vittorio was forced into a Lap 36 retirement when his transmission gave way.

Austria would be his chance, though after qualifying 8th it looked unlikely. Luckily for him, the race was storming – like literally, the weather was torrid. Vittorio blasted his way into 3rd through the spray, and by the time the GPDA called an end to the drenched event on Lap 29, he’d landed himself top spot. The oldest driver on the grid at age 37, his and March’s first win was a reality, and in typical Brambilla fashion he damaged the car after crossing the line. After his retirement from both Alfa Romeo and racing in 1980, he occasionally drove the Safety Car at Italian GP events, before dying of a heart attack at age 63 in 2001.

 

3. Heikki Kovalainen – 2008 British GP pole, 2008 Hungarian GP win

The poster boy for rapid rises and drastic falls, Heikki Kovalainen was on for a breakthrough season for the top in 2008 after a fine debut season with Renault the year before. That… didn’t happen, although McLaren deemed his input towards a second place in the Constructors’ Championship enough to stay, and he finds himself on this list of mine. Oh what joy that’ll bring to him.

Heikki’s solitary pole was taken on his teammate Lewis Hamilton’s home turf, and who could blame him for anticipating his first time on the top step? Again… didn’t happen. Lewis was in inspired form on Sunday, and took his first home win over a minute ahead of the next car. Heikki? He had a spin and finished 5th. It’d only be two races later until he was on that top step though, with the Hungaroring gifting him fortune at the expense of his teammate’s title rival Felipe Massa, who cruelly retired three laps from the end with an engine failure.

Heikki’s F1 career was in freefall from there on. One more podium at Monza – a race he was widely expected to win – preceded a tough sophomore season at Woking before he was cast to the scrapheap, where Team Lotus (later named Caterham) rescued him. In his three seasons there, not even a point was scored, although his efforts suggested he was still a handy driver on his day. After a two-race cameo in place of Kimi Raikkonen back at Enstone for the other Lotus in 2013, again scoreless, Heikki found success in Japan’s GT500 series – still competing, he won the 2016 title there for Lexus Team SARD. 

David Hunt / Wikimedia Commons

 

4. Jose Carlos Pace – 1975 South African GP pole, 1975 Brazilian GP win

The only driver on this list to have a Grand Prix circuit named after him, and oddly the second to achieve this two GP, one win, one pole feat solely during 1975 – much like Robert and Heikki in 2008 – Jose Carlos Pace instilled pride into the nation of Brazil with his racing exploits, alongside their biggest hope Emerson Fittipaldi. His peak was that fateful day in Interlagos, and he’s the first on this list to achieve his win before his pole.

The Interlagos circuit had only been on the calendar for two years heading into 1975, but both wins were taken by a Brazilian – Fittipaldi taking the chequered flag each time. Not this year, though. That honour was all Carlos’, with his compatriot instead finishing behind him to make it a Brazilian 1-2 on a wonderful day for the nation’s pride. The pole would instead come in the next race in South Africa, where braking problems consigned him to 4th in the race. Nonetheless, a star was born over those two events, and were it not for a fatal airplane accident in 1977 there’s every chance we could’ve been remembering him now as a World Champion.

 

5. Lorenzo Bandini – 1966 French GP pole, 1964 Austrian GP win

The list ends here, with the only driver to take his one pole and win over two different seasons. Lorenzo Bandini spent the first three years of his F1 career drifting between race seats and events on the sidelines, beginning with Ferrari in 1961 right until his Cooper and BRM adventures led to a full time drive with the Scuderia in 1964. That year was the first in which he’d achieve any great success, with 4th place in the Drivers’ standings secured and his first win taken in Austria, sandwiched between two 3rd place finishes in Germany and his home country.

He’d have to wait another two years before he ever led a grid away, but that time eventually came around. Leading the standings coming into the third race of 1966, Lorenzo planted his Ferrari on grid slot numero uno at the French GP, and this would be the peak of his F1 career. Forced to retire from the race, only two points would follow in his career before a horrific crash on the 82nd lap of the following year’s Monaco GP led to his death three days after due to the burns he’d suffered. Much like Carlos, Lorenzo had great potential and was robbed of the time to fulfil it with. 

Lothar Spurzem / Wikimedia Commons

 

[Featured image – Williams Racing]

Hungarian Grand Prix: Hamilton hunts down Verstappen to take victory

Lewis Hamilton has taken victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix, making best use of a free pit stop to chase down Max Verstappen and take the lead in the closing laps of a race that saw every driver outside the top four lapped.

Verstappen had retained his lead after the first pit stops and fended off an attacking Hamilton as the pair picked their way through traffic. Running wide when attempting an overtake at turn four, Hamilton dropped back and the gap to Verstappen stabilised around the one-and-a-half second mark.

With a sizeable gap to the Ferrari duo in P3 and P4, Mercedes made the decision to bring Hamilton in on lap 49 for what was a free stop, switching him onto the medium tyres. He emerged some 20 seconds behind Verstappen and set about chasing him down, being told by his team that Verstappen would be down to “zero rubber” by the end of the race.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Sure enough, Verstappen reported on lap 64 that his tyres were dead, and Hamilton closed at a rate of almost two seconds a lap to make a move round the outside of turn one and take the lead with just three laps to go.

With Verstappen reporting that he couldn’t make it to the end of the race, he made a free pit stop on lap 68 to switch to the soft tyres and chase the bonus point for fastest lap.

Sebastian Vettel finished a distant third, overtaking team-mate Leclerc on lap 68. Vettel ran a very long first stint and only came into the pits on lap 40 to change onto the soft tyres. By the time he had caught up to his team-mate, Leclerc’s hard tyres were some 40 laps old, and this allowed Vettel to dive down the inside going into turn one and take the final podium position. With the gap to Hamilton at over a minute, Ferrari will certainly be hoping that the long straights of Spa and Monza will allow them to claw back

Carlos Sainz finished in an impressive fifth place for the second race in a row, with Gasly and Raikkonen behind in sixth and seventh respectively.

The other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas took himself out of win and podium contention on the first lap. Lock-ups going into the first two corners allowed Hamilton to slip past and take second, and then contact with Leclerc damaged his front wing and forced him to pit. Dropped to plum last on the road, it was a long day for the Finn and he eventually reached the chequered flag in eighth place.

LAT Images

The top ten was completed by Lando Norris – who was hampered by a slow pit stop – and Alex Albon.

Hamilton’s victory means he heads into the summer break with a 62-point lead in the championship. Two bad races in a row means that Bottas is now just seven points ahead of Verstappen in P2, and you have to think that second is now firmly in Verstappen’s sights going into the next half of the season.

Hungary was the fourth good race in a row this season following Austria, Silverstone and Hockenheim, but can the trend continue when the F1 circus reconvenes at Spa at the end of the month?

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]

2019 Hungarian Grand Prix Preview: Can Hungary follow in Germany’s footsteps?

After an absolute stonker of a race in Germany and two enticing races before that in Austria and Britain, it would, unfortunately, be difficult to say the same drama awaits F1 when it arrives at the 4.3-kilometre-long Hungaroring circuit in Budapest for this year’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

What’s more, the absence of any threat of rain across the weekend allows for the conclusion to be drawn that a track not designed for close-quarter racing will not toss up the same exhilarating drama we have seen in recent weeks.

However, we always live in hope. This season has been a bit of a slow burner, so we can only plead to the racing gods that Hockenheim was not the abrupt culmination of what has been a superb run of entertaining races.

Mercedes enter this weekend with a point to prove. Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton both became familiar with the barriers in Germany, with the former crashing out and the latter ending up very lucky to score points. That was their home race, their celebration of 125 years of motorsport, and their 200th race in Formula One, so it probably goes without saying that Toto Wolff’s boys need a strong weekend in Hungary.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The positive for them is that not only do they get a shot at redemption straight away in the second part of a double-header, but they also travel to a circuit that – if technical form is anything to go by this season- should suit them over their main rivals Ferrari.

That leads us to two drivers who had very contrasting races last time out. Sebastian Vettel produced a scintillating performance to recover from 20th on the grid to a 2nd placed finish, while Charles Leclerc, who had one eye on a victory, soon had both eyes on the Mercedes sponsored barrier and the end of his race. While Ferrari can take advantage of the opening two straights in Hungary, the rest of the track is down to technical driving ability and aerodynamic efficiency, neither of which have been entirely consistent for Ferrari in what has been a frustrating season for them. They are yet to win a race as the first half of the season before the summer break begins to draw to a close.

Let’s not forget, though, that Ferrari may not be fighting for a win, and perhaps not even a podium, this time round. The Hungaroring is a track that will suit the Red Bull down to the ground, and Max Verstappen, fresh from his win in Germany, will be firmly focused on adding an eighth to his tally.

Further down the order, Renault will try and get both cars to the line this time after Daniel Ricciardo’s mechanical failure and Nico Hulkenberg’s crash last time out. They are embroiled in a closely contested midfield battle with the likes of Toro Rosso and Racing Point, who saw Kvyat score a sensational podium and Lance Stroll take fourth after a brilliant strategy call in Germany.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Haas desperately need to get the bottom of their race pace issues, so Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen not running into each other this time would be welcomed by boss Guenther Steiner.

Williams and Robert Kubica scored their first point of the season in Germany, but we can unfortunately expect them to return to the back of the grid this weekend.

At a circuit where Mercedes need to get back on track and Ferrari need to finally get a long-awaited win, the ominous threat of Red Bull and Max Verstappen looms large as we head into the final race before the summer break.

 

[Featured image – Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool]

German Grand Prix: Can F1 really get rid of Hockenheim?

After 37 Grands Prix since 1970 and some absolute belters in recent years, there is still the almost inexplicable threat that Hockenheim may not be on the Formula One calendar next year.

A spectacular race on Sunday saw Lewis Hamilton crash and finish down in ninth, a podium for Daniil Kvyat in what is turning into a remarkable comeback, Sebastian Vettel finishing second having started from last at the track where it all went wrong for him in the 2018 season, and victory for Max Verstappen.

It was a day that encapsulated what F1 should be about: challenging conditions, hard racing, and drama, which was unrelenting during Sunday’s race.

It was not at all a glistening race for Mercedes, who celebrated their home race, 125 years of involvement in motorsport, and their 200th race last weekend. Hamilton hitting the Mercedes barrier right in front of Charles Leclerc’s stricken Ferrari acted as an agonising metaphor in what was a disastrous race for the German manufacturer. It was a race that they will, of course, come back from even stronger, having learned some invaluable lessons. Lessons of such magnitude must also be learned, to some degree, by Formula One.

2019 German Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

Many brilliant circuits in the history of Formula One have seen themselves land on the wrong side of that history, with once prestigious circuits having become derelict, undervalued, and largely inconsequential to motorsport since falling off the equally prestigious F1 calendar. However, as race organisers begin to lose their patience with F1’s high prices and lack of appeal to a mass audience, the calendar begins to lose its appeal to anyone at all.

Tracks like Turkey, the Nurburgring, Malaysia, Imola, and more are left miles away from hosting an F1 race, while circuits like the Circuit de Catalunya, the Sochi Autodrome and Paul Ricard – none of which have succeeded in captivating a global audience on race day – remain, perhaps erroneously in Formula One today.

Hockenheim kept its place on this year’s calendar due to financial backing from Mercedes, who also sponsored this year’s race, but the fear is that this short-term investment provides no real answer to the long-term, and ever-increasingly daunting question: where can the German Grand Prix find a home? Worryingly still, will it have a home at all in years to come?

There is a clause in its contract this year, as there was last year, to keep Hockenheim on the calendar if it receives a certain amount of investment. But, it is uncertain whether Hockenheim can really sustain the financial costs required to keep the race there. That is on top of a potential plea from F1 management to change the asphalt that both Charles Leclerc and Nico Hulkenberg took issue with after their crashes at turn 16.

Whether this clause is activated depends on Mercedes, and also on what F1 can do differently. In fairness to Liberty Media, Formula One is now starting to attract younger and more energetic and enthusiastic viewers, while still retaining the same niche audience that made the sport so popular before.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

However, times are changing, and F1 as a sport needs to change quickly too. Many race organisers have spoken out against the costs of hosting a Formula One race and this, with an ever-growing movement developing, is something F1 itself needs to learn from this weekend.

After all, while demanding high prices from tracks may bring the sport revenue, there is just one thing that money cannot cover: passion. We saw it in abundance in Hockenheim, Silverstone and Austria.

Our passion for motorsport comes not from money or greed, but from watching with a pure and unbridled love for racing, and it is for this exact reason that the drivers and teams work so hard to find every tenth of a second out on track. This passion for racing is far more complex than those with solely business-related interests can comprehend, and we must surely ask that F1 values the love of on-track drama over profit margins that have been killing the sport over recent years.

So can F1 afford to lose Hockenheim?

In a word? No.

 

[Featured image – Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool]