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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Feature Image Courtesy of Red Bull content Pool

Chris’ thoughts ahead of F1 2019

Following on from my colleague Dimitris’ thoughts last week, I thought would share my own.

 

Pierre Gasly will win a race this season

I feel that the Frenchman will take his first victory this season – he is an under-rated driver, and he had some outstanding performances last year, especially in Bahrain. Winning isn’t something that is new to him, as he won the final GP2 championship before it became F2. In 2019, Pierre will have the machinery to win like he did then.

 

Williams will be much closer to the midfield

Williams have been in F1 since 1977, and suffered one of their worst showings last year considering they scored the least points out of the ten teams in the sport. I have a feeling that with the lovely return story of Robert Kubica, and with George Russell being dubbed the next big British thing in F1, they will be in the mix a lot more. The cars are heading to a more simpler format which will also help designers at the squad in Oxfordshire. 

Glenn Dunbar/Williams F1
ref: Digital Image _31I9371

 

Bottas will finish sixth in the championship

Valtteri Bottas has been taking up a spot of rallying in the off-season, trying his hand at a new driving challenge. The Finn will once more be second best not only at the Silver Arrows squad in Brackley but across the top three teams. This could be his last season not only in the team but in the sport, especially with Russell and Ocon both around. That would lead to the question that would be on everyone’s lips in the off-season – who will Mercedes replace Bottas with?

 

Leclerc will be on the podium in Monaco 

The Monegasque driver has a woeful record in his home country, the principality of Monaco. In the three races across F2 and F1 he hasn’t seen the chequered flag, being involved in incidents both his and not his fault. It will change for Charles this year. Not only he will finish the race, but we will see him on the rostrum. On the back of this this we will see him find an extra few tenths in future races. Will he be a champion in the sport one day?

Ferrari Media

 

Ferrari will win Constructors Championship

I am unsure at this stage who will win the drivers’ championship of 2019 but feel Ferrari will be top of the pile when it comes to the constructors’. Mercedes are saying that they are building a whole new engine from scratch, and they might feel some teething problems. Their reliability in the hybrid era has been brilliant but things do change. Mercedes are very much behind Hamilton but Ferrari now have Vettel and Leclerc on board. I just think their partnership is stronger.

 

There are my thoughts on the 2019 season – only time will tell if I’m correct. 

 

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

Don’t Overlook Pierre Gasly in 2019

People are hyping Charles Leclerc saying that he will be right in the mix next year with him moving to Ferrari. But, most are forgetting Frenchman Pierre Gasly, who is joining Red Bull for 2019. Both Gasly and Leclerc got their first action in their new teams at the end of season test. 

Pierre made his entry into the Red Bull programme in 2014 when he joined Formula Renault 3.5 alongside Carlos Sainz, and in his debut season he finished runner up taking eight podiums, after which he moved up to GP2.

The Frenchman then had a solid 2015 season taking three podiums and four poles, showing the outright speed needed to carve a successful career in the higher echelons of motorsport. He just needed to show stability across the whole season, which he showed in 2016. He moved to the PREMA team where he partned Ferrari-backed Antonio Giovinazzi. This season Gasly was impeccable and won the championship, proving himself to be a feature race specialist with four victories. 

Gasly’s debut at Toro Rosso in Malaysia in 2017 was brilliant. He showed his speed with limited access to the car. He was only one tenth slower than Carlos Sainz in qualifying, incredible seeing as he had never raced in junior categories at Malaysia. He didn’t score any points but Toro Rosso were struggling for performance and reliability much more than this current season.

In 2018 Toro Rosso had a much better package, especially with them being the only team running the Honda power unit. He had some outstanding performances across 2018, with the main one that comes to mind being at the second round in Bahrain. He finished fourth, claiming the best result of a Honda-powered car since their re-entry into the sport, and also the best finish for Toro Rosso since Sebastian Vettel’s victory in 2008.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Still struggling with power early in the season at the less dependent tracks of Monaco and Hungary, Pierre nonetheless finished high in the field with solid points crucial to the team. Honda brought a big upgrade after the summer break, which showed when Gasly finished ninth in Belgium. One of his more overlooked drives happened at Mexico where he started last but finished ninth, overshadowed due to Verstappen winning and Hamilton taking his fifth world title. Across the season this showed the speed and passing characteristics required to battle at the front. 

Red Bull may have Verstappen who has shown his speed on multiple occasions at the front, but don’t rule out Gasly. He has multiple titles to his name and has shown speed in the midfield. If the Honda power unit shows improvement and Red Bull chassis continues to be one of, if not maybe the best, then Gasly could be very much so battling for victories. 

 

Featured image – Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Five Things We Take Away From The Mexico Grand Prix

 

Max Verstappen the winner of the 2018 Mexico Grandprix. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

1 – Max sticks to his word

All season it has been said that Red Bull realistically have talked up winning at Monaco, Hungary and Singapore. But if you were to ask that question to Max Verstappen, he would say ‘and Mexico too.’ He wasn’t a happy man on Saturday though as another chance at pole position went begging. On Sunday it took great guts to be the latest braker into turn 1 and his kindness to his tyres took him to victory, like he has been saying all season. He had two sets of new red supersoft tyres compared to the rest of the field, who only had one, and he won by a clear 15 seconds – his fifth victory in F1, and second of the 2018 season.

 

Photo Credit: Suceria Ferrari

2 – Vettel is gracious in defeat

When David Coulthard was doing the pre-podium interviews it was great to see Sebastian Vettel go to Lewis Hamilton and congratulate him. The German knew where it all fell apart this season and didn’t want to discuss it at the time. A true sportsman as he probably wasn’t in high spirits and he wasn’t standing on the first position on the podium. After this he entered the Mercedes pit section and congratulated the team too. The German will look to build on this season and look  ahead to the challenges that 2019 hold. 

 

Credit: Mercedes-AMG Petronas

3 – Mercedes tyre wear haunts them

The tyres that the Silver Arrows cars used just fell apart, which resulted in Hamilton finishing a distant P4 and Bottas pitting 3 times before finishing a distant P5. They had great starts but it was easy for others to overtake them, and poor mistakes from both Hamilton and Bottas put them back to P4 and P5. An investigation will surely be had after the celebration of Hamilton’s 5th title, as they were the team that struggled the most with tyres and they are close to wrapping up another Constructor’s title.

 

 

4 – Superb Sauber

Sauber had to start on the ‘chewing gum’ tyres, the pink wall hypersofts, and still managed P7 and P9. They both made a ‘one stop’ strategy work, taking us back to the days of Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez doing it so well in the Sauber colours. They jumped Toro Rosso in the standings for P8, as Pierre Gasly had a solid Sunday, but more grid penalties only helped Sauber further. It was a great haul of points by the team considering they started on the hypersoft tyres. 

 

Daniel Ricciardo in Aston Martin RedBull Racing garage at the 2018 Mexico Granprix. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

5 – Ricciardo can’t wait for his new challenge to begin with Renault

“Just let Gasly drive it” was the quote from the Honey Badger in the media pen after his eighth retirement of the season and his second mechanical failure in a row. He probably feels that his 2018 car is cursed and hasn’t taste champagne since his victory in Monaco. His new chapter edges closer and most are unsure how close he will be to the podium in the future, considering that Nico Hulkenburg, as of yet, still hasn’t been there. 

Red Bull in talks with Honda

Red Bull to Honda, a gamble worth taking?

Formal talks between Red Bull and Honda started earlier this week for the possibility of the Japanese giants to supply the team for the 2019 season onwards. Informal talks where held prior to the hectic Azerbaijan Grand Prix between Red Bull’s Helmut Marko and Honda’s Masahi Yamamoto.

With Red Bull currently using Renault, and their junior team Toro Rosso using Honda they have the unique capability to review both power units. Red Bull have partnered Renault since the 2007 season. Success peaked with the Red Bull team winning four Driver and Constructors Championships in a row.  Since the 2014 season though when the complicated hybrids were introduced, the relationship has become very fractious publicly and it makes those years seem much longer ago than they were. Renault have had enough and multiple sources late last year said that they want to stop supplying the team.

Cyril Abiteboul from Renault Sport have made it clear to Red Bull they need to know the situation prior to the 15th May. This is the date when they have to provide information to the FIA for next season in regards to which teams they will supply engines too. They need to start organising the amount of parts they need, so Red Bull – Honda will have to conclude discussions pretty quickly. If nothing is completed by that set date Renault are forced to continue to supply Red Bull.

Fernando Alonso with the 2017 Mclaren Honda. Image courtesy of Mclaren

Red Bull’s interest has grown due to Honda coming on leaps and bounds since last season. Throughout pre-season testing they performed with far greater reliability and speed than previous seasons.. It seems from the performance of Toro Rosso thus far, McLaren may have made another mistake to add to their collection in recent years. All the power units are getting closer, its just that Mercedes have that so called party mode to exploit in qualifying. The unreliability of the Honda engine the in the McLaren of previous years wasn’t solely down to Honda, which McLaren, have confirmed since.

So far in 2018 season it seemed all the reliability Honda had in pre-season was lost when Gasly had to retire his car due to a MGU-H problem at the Australian GP. They have had no major problems noted since then. 

Renault are not without their own faults this season. Two most major ones happened at Bahrain. Verstappen suffered from an unexpected power surge causing him to lose the rear end of the car. This made him a passenger as his car collided into the wall ending his qualifying. On the Sunday an energy store problem halted Ricciardo’s drive from a strong position. This ironically gave Gasly a boost up the order, to which he finished an outstanding 4th, after an amazing qualifying on Saturday. This was the best ever result for Honda powered car since their return to the sport.

The talks are ongoing. F1 has recently announced new aero rules have been  for 2019, so albeit 4 races into the season, preparations for the next season will start earlier than usual. The Spanish Grand Prix is when major upgrades are shown and we start to see what the 2018 prototype cars are really capable of. With the forthcoming 15th of May engine deadline falling a few days after the Spanish GP, we are likely to see announcement very soon, if not before the GP.

If Red Bull as expected do move to Honda power, only time will tell if this was the right choice. But do they have any other choice as they have burnt many bridges already in F1?

Featured image courtesy of Redbull content pool

Chinese Grand Prix Preview: It’s time for Mercedes to hit back against Vettel and Ferrari

Formula One rolls into Shanghai to complete the first back-to-back Grand Prix sequence of 2018.

In the Chinese year of the dog Sebastian Vettel has started like a greyhound with two wins from two race this season, while Mercedes are yet to show that their bark is as bad as their bite.

Valtteri Bottas missed the chance to pass Vettel on better tyres in the closing stages of the Bahrain Grand Prix after an error-strewn Australian Grand Prix, while a mixture of bad luck and reliability have hamstrung Lewis Hamilton in the early stages of this season.

Bottas will rue his missed chance in Bahrain

Ferrari have defied pre-season expectations that had them third in the Formula One pecking order after going in a different direction with car design including a longer wheelbase, a decision that appeared to have them playing catch up.

Last year in China, Hamilton got his title challenge underway with victory in a wet-dry race as Vettel got some overtaking done after serving a penalty for a jump start to ignite a title fight between Ferrari and Mercedes.

Ferrari have four wins in Shanghai from 14 races, although only one in the last 11 years courtesy of Fernando Alonso’s victory in 2013.

Mercedes have won five of the last six races in China with Lewis Hamilton claiming three of those.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool
Red Bull will be aching to get back on track after a disappointing start

But what of Red Bull? Their race pace is on or close to that of Ferrari and Mercedes if you believe Free Practice times.

Problem is, they cannot get their cars into position. Daniel Ricciardo was penalised in Australia and was another VSC beneficiary in Australia, while Max Verstappen spent a lot of time behind the Haas of Kevin Magnussen and then latterly McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.

The least said about their Bahrain Grand Prix, the better. Ricciardo did nothing wrong and retired after a couple of laps, Verstappen retired after contact with Lewis Hamilton after chucking his Red Bull at a wall in qualifying.

Pierre Gasly’s stunning weekend in Bahrain has raised Toro Rosso expectations

Toro Rosso say they expect to be quick based on Bahrain, where Pierre Gasly secured an amazing fourth place to change not only the expectations of the team but the perceptions of the Honda Power Unit.

Renault and McLaren also look to be strong contenders for points, with McLaren having four points finishes from two races to show plenty of improvement from a disastrous Honda partnership.

Alonso is a man reborn, while Stoffel Vandoorne has added consistency this season to the flashes of speed shown from the middle of last year.

 

Mamma Mia, a Dramatic Finale in Bahrain

Sebastian Vettel secured his second consecutive victory of the season, after a dramatic finish in Bahrain Grand Prix. The German, four time world champion, withstands Bottas pressure on the final ten laps of the race and scored 25 points for Scuderia Ferrari.

Ferrari missed the chance to have two drivers on the podium, because an amateur mistake forced the Finn to stop his car and retire in the pit lane. The left-rear tyre hadn’t changed, Kimi pulled away, injured the leg of one of the mechanics and immediately Ferrari told him to stop his car. It was the second unsafe release from the Italians this weekend.

The mechanic was taken to the hospital, Ferrari confirmed a broken leg, a shinbone and fibula fracture.

Valtteri Bottas had a very good start, he placed his Mercedes between the two Ferraris and was trying to pressure Vettel for the first position. Lewis Hamilton, recovered from ninth place, which he started after a five place grid penalty, and finished third.

The British champion, passed three cars at the same time in one corner, a move that we will surely remember for many years.

Dramatic finale

With 10 laps to go, Bottas was second behind Sebastian Vettel, the gap between the two drivers was about six seconds. The Finn, had fresher set of tyres, he was on medium tyres, whilst Vettel informed by his team to change his strategy and go from two stops to one stop strategy. The German, pitted two laps earlier than the Finn, he was on the softs for 39 laps.

Mercedes assumed that Vettel will pit again, they informed Hamilton that when the German will re-join will be behind him. Ferrari took the risk to let Vettel on the track until the end of the race and Bottas received an order to push as hard as he could for the first place.

The gap between those two was dropping rapidly, Bottas entered DRS rang with two laps to go, he attempted to attack Vettel but he was not close enough.

Lewis Hamilton, was not able to be close to the two drivers, finished third 6.5 seconds behind Sebastian Vettel.

Disaster for Red Bull, a dreaming race for Gasly

Both Red Bull cars retired early in the race, Max Verstappen had an incident with Lewis Hamilton at the exit of Turn 1, after passing him, Max damaged his left-rear wheel, which caused a puncture. The Dutch, managed to go to the pits but retired a few meters after he re-joined the race.

Daniel Ricciardo retired shortly after Verstappen’s puncture, Daniel’s car shuts down at the exiting of Turn 8.

A race to remember for Pierre Gasly, the French finished fourth behind the Ferrari and the two Mercedes. Gasly, resisted Magnussen’s and Hulkenberg’s pressure, he secured a fantastic result for Toro Rosso at their second race with a Honda powered engine.

Second double points finish for McLaren, Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne finished seventh and eighth respectively.

Kevin Magnussen scored the first points for Haas with his fifth position in Bahrain. A good race for Ericsson and Sauber as well, Marcus finished ninth and scored two points for Sauber.

It looks that this season will be different than the others, not only because Ferrari won the first two races, but mainly because the middle teams are looking very competitive. Williams and Force India are not as strong as they used to be, whilst Haas, McLaren and Renault are looking quicker and able to fight between each other for the fourth place in the championship (if not the third!)

Next stop China in one week

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Forget Toro Rosso – Daniil Kvyat’s F1 career is now on the line

Yesterday probably marked the beginning of the end for Daniil Kvyat.

Toro Rosso’s decision to drop him for the highly thought of Pierre Gasly is the Russian’s second such demotion in 18 months, after his bumper cars episodes with Sebastian Vettel at the start of 2016 saw him swapped for Max Verstappen.

Put bluntly, it is something that he has not recovered from.

Where Romain Grosjean flourished after criticism of his driving up until the middle of 2013 to mature into a driver often ahead of his car, Kvyat has floundered and only shown flashes of his 2014 form.

While teammate Carlos Sainz has been a consistent fixture in the points, Kvyat is languishing in 19th in the World Drivers’ Championship with just four compared to ninth-placed Sainz’s 48. In a midfield-team, that gap is huge.

Franz Tost explained that the decision was taken as a result of him not fulfilling his potential this year, and it’s not difficult to see his point.

Indeed Kvyat, like last year, hasn’t been a stranger to first-lap collisions as his greediness on the brakes sent him into Fernando Alonso and Max Verstappen, ending their races.

In the following race at the British Grand Prix, he and Sainz needlessly clashed on the opening lap in an incident that ended the Spaniard, who’s off to Renault for a year in 2018, retiring.

Perhaps it was cruel, if not deliberate, for Daniel Ricciardo to mention the nickname “Torpedo”, given to him by Vettel after the Chinese Grand Prix last year.

Where Red Bull were hammered for dropping him in 2016, this time around there will be far fewer public complaints.

Not that it would bother Dr. Helmut Marko, the man in charge of driver choices, in the slightest anyway.

Kvyat now finds himself at a crossroads.

Toro Rosso are fighting Williams for fifth in the Constructors’ Championship and are just seven points behind, and ten in front of Renault.

So the decision to demote him once again suggests that this time it is probably terminal, that he might have used his nine lives up at Red Bull.

How Kvyat reacts should he find himself with another chance at motorsport’s top table will determine his career path.

As for Gasly, a lot have tried and failed in going through the Red Bull Driver Academy. With Daniel Rcciardo’s contract up in 2019, he must prove that he’s no gamble.