Bahrain GP: Grosjean Escapes Inferno, Hamilton cruises to 95th win amid a tumultuous race.

PART 1 – THE GROSJEAN INCIDENT

Romain Grosjean was lucky to escape an incident that left the entire world stunned. After contact with Alpha Tauri’s Daniil Kvyat at turn 3, Romain veered uncontrollably off the track and sailed into the adjacent Armco barrier.

The impact, caught on the world feed, was horrendous. The Haas disappeared into the barrier, which was followed by eruption of flames akin to an explosion from an action movie. Quite simply, it was terrifying, and enough to instantly bring out the red flag.

What awaited was a very tense period in which the world waited in horror for any positive news regarding Romain’s condition. Fortunately, the Frenchman was seen leaping over the barrier from inside the inferno itself. It was a very nasty incident and a close escape.

On further inspection it could be seen that the car had split in two; the rear separated from the cockpit which had sailed through the barrier and lodged itself there as the flame began.

There are few mounting points that connect the cockpit to the rear of the car so the question on everyone’s lips was how this crash could have caused the car to split in two? Possible questions will be raised about the structural integrity of these connecting points.

In terms of the fire: It looks likely that it was the fuel collector that was punctured which holds two to three litres of fuel. The thought behind this is that if the entire capacity of the fuel tank has been compromised (equating to many kilograms of fuel) it would have been a much larger explosion.

What is even more apparent, is that the halo device surely saved Romain Grosjean’s life. Without it, there would have been nothing to protect Grosjean’s head from going into the barrier. I believe everyone at the Pit Crew would like to take a moment to praise the safety improvements made in Formula One over the last fifty years as well as the medical and emergency staff who swiftly attended and dealt with both Romain.

We await the official news on Romain Grosjean’s health, currently flown to a nearby hospital for evaluation. All things said, he seems to have escaped with relatively minor injuries including some broken ribs and minor burns.

We sincerely wish him good health and a swift recovery.

Romain Grosjean’s quick reactions and amazing work from the medics and marshals saw him escape the horrible accident. We all wish him a speedy recovery – Courtesy of Haas Media

PART 2 – THE RACE

Lewis Hamilton dominated unopposed from start to finish to take the 95th win of his career. He was joined on the podium by Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon who takes his second podium of the season.

Lewis Hamilton now has an incredible 95 wins in Formula One – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

It was a frenetic start which saw Sergio Perez get an amazing start the beat Valtteri Bottas off the line. Down the order Lando Norris picked up front wing damage from contact with Daniil Kvyat while the likes of George Russell lost places off the start. Of course, what followed was the Grosjean crash at turn three.

The following red flag lased between 45 and 60 minutes and we got back under way at 18:35 local time.

The restart classification took the order from the safety car line two, situated at the end of the pit lane. Notable changes included Perez in third, Bottas in fourth and Norris in seventh.

However, the drama did not end there as Lance Stroll’s Racing Point was flipped over on the restart, almost a carbon copy of the Esteban Gutierrez and Pastor Maldonado 2014 crash. This was caused by contact with Kvyat who received a penalty as a result and brought out a safety car.

The misery continued for Racing Point who looked assured for a podium through Sergio Perez who had been able to keep third place the entire race. Unfortunately, an engine failure on the final few laps brought Racing Point’s hopes for third place in the constructors’ crashing down.

McLaren went from zero to hero today with a magnificent double points finish. Lando Norris took advantage on the restart making his way past the likes of Esteban Ocon to finish in fourth. Likewise, it was an excellent day for Carlos Sainz who put on an overtaking masterclass from 15th to 5th. After being able to extend the stint on the softs, younger medium rubber helped Sainz overtake both Renaults, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, and Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly.

The latter will be left with mixed emotions today with Gasly doing an incredible stint on hard compound tyres to finish in 6th place. He was left compromised at the end of the race but was spared a late lunge from Valtteri Bottas due to a late safety car. Daniil Kvyat in contrast had a miserable day, unfortunately involved in both incidents with Grosjean and Stroll. He was able to make it back to 11th to end a very eventful day for the Russian.

Renault will be disappointed not to achieve more today with Daniel Ricciardo in 6th and Esteban Ocon in 8th. For the majority of the race it looked to be Ocon with the advantage. But as Ricciardo close the gap, the two fought which compromised them both against the likes of Carlos Sainz. Ricciardo was able to get past following the pit stops, helping the team to close the gap to Racing Point in the constructors.

Valtteri Bottas will be wanting the season to end as soon as possible. He lost position to Sergio Perez off the line and was then forced into an early tyre change due to a puncture. He attempted to extend the hards early in the race but was unable to make any sizable impact on fresh mediums. 8th place means he loses further ground to Verstappen in the drivers’ championship.

Two weeks on from Ferrari’s highs at Turkey, it was a return to normality today as the power demands of Bahrain severely hampered both cars. Charles Leclerc would finish in 10th with Sebastien Vettel in 13th. With similar power demands expected next weekend at Bahrain’s outer circuit, I expect there to be a similarly unspectacular performance.

Just one point for Charles Leclerc and none for Sebastian Vettel spelled a horrible evening for Ferrari – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

Williams may not have achieved that elusive championship point, but should take positives after Russell finished in 12th while Latifi in 14th. Indeed, Russell had to defend from a charging Sebastien Vettel to keep 12th, albeit with a sizable power advantage with the Mercedes PU.

George Russell contrived to fend off Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in the closing stages – Courtesy of Williams Media

Alfa Romeo and Haas rounded out the final classifications. Kimi Raikkonen in 14th, Giovinazzi 15th and Kevin Magnussen 16th. Giovinazzi had been running ahead of his teammate until deciding to pit under the Sergio Perez safety car which put him firmly behind.

RACE CLASSIFICATION

  1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 57 Laps
  2. Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing +1.254
  3. Alex Albon Red Bull Racing +8.005
  4. Lando Norris McLaren +11.337
  5. Carlos Sainz McLaren +11.787
  6. Pierre Gasly Alpha Tauri +11.942
  7. Daniel Ricciardo Renault +19.368
  8. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +19.680
  9. Esteban Ocon Renault +22.803
  10. Charles Leclerc Ferrari +1 Lap
  11. Daniil Kvyat Alpha Tauri +1 Lap
  12. George Russell Williams +1 Lap
  13. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari +1 Lap
  14. Nicholas Latifi Williams +1 Lap
  15. Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo +1 Lap
  16. Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo +1 Lap
  17. Kevin Magnussen Haas +1 Lap
  18. Sergio Perez Racing Point DNF
  19. Lance Stroll Racing Point DNF
  20. Romain Grosjean Haas DNF

Feature Image Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

PREVIEW: 2020 Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix – Sochi Autodrom

On the back end of yet another exhilarating Formula One Grand Prix in Italy, we head to Sochi and round 10 of the 2020 F1 season in Russia. Mugello provided the fans with a gripping watch which saw Red Flags up to the third in the space of two races. Alex Albon achieved his first podium for the Red Bull Racing team and Racing Point left wondering if they will be able to get the upgrades on the car in time for Sochi after Lance Strolls off at Arrabiata corner, leaving the car with heavy terminal damage.

Being announced alongside Mugello on the 10th of July for this unprecedented season, Sochi will allow the teams to have a more familiar approach to the race with the knowledge that is shared from the past 6 races here. Mercedes’ dominance has earned them a win in every one of them and the team certainly look set to do the same this year. Valtteri Bottas also took his first win at the Autodrom in 2017 for the Silver Arrows and will want to turn the tides on his championship fight and take it to Lewis Hamilton in the hopes of reducing the gap of 55 points.

Bottas took his first win for Mercedes in Russia three years ago – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

Knowing how the season has panned out so far, it is safe to say that we could be in for another treat of a Grand Prix. The Renaults have proven their pace with near podium finishes and they now lie 5th in the championship, honing in on both the Racing Points and McLarens who sit fourth and third. Daniel Riccardo is still in high hopes of sealing a bet with Cyril Abiteboul which amusingly details that if he was to gain a podium before the end of the season, the Renaults chief principle will be getting a Tattoo of Riccardo’s choice.

The Streaming superstars of Lando Norris, Alex Albon, Charles Leclerc and George Russell have all surprised us this season in regards to performance and results. The remarkable efforts of Russell have gotten the Williams into Q2 five times this season and the famous ‘Last Lap Lando’ attacks have provided plenty of late drama. Will we see these drivers taking the headlines if any of them at the Autodrome this weekend?

George Russell has impressed again in 2020 for Williams – Courtesy of Williams media

After Lance Strolls suspected puncture incident at Mugello and the car hitting the wall causing excessive damage, Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer suggested the upgrade that was on the car had a couple to three-tenths improvement. Due to the damage of Lance Stroll’s car, by the race weekend, Lance may still only be the one with the upgrade. And with Russia being a tight circuit that is difficult for overtaking, the overall pace of a car is vital for the higher positions and to optimise strategy.

With the news of reshuffling and the potential of F2 drivers making the jump to Formula One next year, this could cause worry for some of the drivers. Which makes this race an important statement to keep them in the team. Pierre Gasly – following the frustration of ending his Tuscan Grand Prix no more than two corners in after winning previous – will want to return to his exceptional ways that may prow the eyes of Red Bull for a potential step-up or other teams. However, with the current situation at Red Bull Albon may have found the confidence back that he was looking for after his P3 finish last time out.

Alex Albon’s podium in Mugello was his first in F1 – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

The set tyre choices for the 2020 season being predominantly soft tyres may see teams opt for a more aggressive strategy for the 5.8 km circuit, and maybe even a two-stop strategy with the evident tyre degradation in the new Pirelli tyres. And with the weather set to be clear it should be a straight forward strategy come race day for the teams.

A healthy gap to the rest of the field sees Mercedes lead by an enormous 152 points in the constructors’ standings, which will be difficult to close for Red Bull especially with the trend of this season let alone the track itself. Taking a look down the field there is a close battle with Ferrari just 17 points shy of Renault and the Alpha Tauri a further 13 behind.

Hamilton is aiming to equal Michael Schumacher’s tally of 91 wins this weekend – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

The Crew from Netflix will be on Mercedes for this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix with the hopes to capture a moment in history no one would have called, as the reigning Champion Lewis Hamilton is tipped to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 wins.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of 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

Bottas takes blistering pole position in Spain

The clouds cleared and the sun came out as qualifying got underway at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain this afternoon.

Q1 got off to a rather quiet start until Nico Hulkenberg locked up his front-right tyre and ran into the barrier at turn four and over the barrier, losing his front wing. The German managed to rejoin the circuit, but had to limp his Renault back to the pits for repairs before he could set a competitive lap time.

Shortly after, British driver George Russell had a spin on the final chicane at turn 13 before rejoining the track.

At the end of Q1, the pack was led by Valtteri Bottas, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in P2 and Lewis Hamilton in P3. Rookie Lando Norris managed to finish the session in an impressive P6, and home-boy Carlos Sainz managed to finish Q1 in P8.

The five drivers who dropped out of Q1 were Hulkenberg and Stroll – who has dropped out of Q1 for nine consecutive races – followed by Giovanazzi, and both Williams’ of Russell and Kubica. Russell has a five place grid penalty for a new gearbox so will start P20 in tomorrow’s race.

LAT Images

In Q2, both Mercedes drivers set impressive pace at the start, with Hamilton setting a new track record of a 1:16.038. Vettel’s time, by comparison, was six tenths slower.

Ricciardo majorly impressed in Q2, slotting into P10. The Renault hasn’t shown great pace so far this weekend, and despite not having completed any qualifying runs in FP3, Ricciardo managed to set a very competitive time of 1:17.299, a positive outcome for Renault after Hulkenberg’s incident in Q1.

The session ended with Bottas in first with a 1:15.924, followed by teammate Lewis Hamilton and the the two Ferraris in P3 and P4.

Out at the end of Q2 was Lando Norris, Alex Albon, Carlos Sainz at what is his home race, Kimi Raikkonen, and Sergio Perez.

Bottas put in an extraordinary flying lap at the beginning of Q3, setting a blistering time of 1:15.406, six tenths quicker than Hamilton.

Leclerc didn’t set an initial lap-time, seemingly in a bid to set one single flying lap. Despite his best efforts, the Monegasque driver finished the session in P5.

LAT Images

Valtteri Bottas took pole position with his first lap time in Q3, with Hamilton in P2 followed by Vettel, Verstappen and Leclerc. Pierre Gasly, Grosjean, Magnussen, Kvyat and Ricciardo rounded out the top ten. Ricciardo, however, has a three-place grid penalty from the previous race so will start P13 on the grid.

It certainly looks like tomorrow’s race will be an interesting one under the sun in Barcelona. Will it be another Mercedes one-two, or will the Ferraris fight them for victory? Time will tell.

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]

Will it be the end for Williams Racing?

When it seemed like nothing else could go wrong for Williams after missing the first two days of pre-season testing, the team has just been beaten twice a week before the season kicks off in Australia. Despite the big effort they are putting in to find solutions, the end of what has been one of the most successful teams in Formula One history appears to be nearer than the turnaround they need to be fighting at the top again. After a terrible 2018 in which they was completely off the pace, the team claimed that they had identified the problem and it would be solved in the upcoming year. The truth is that we are already in 2019 and they have the slowest car on the grid and showing no signs of recovery in the near future.

The first troubles showed up quite early this year as the filming day planned at Silverstone got cancelled in order to ‘make the most of the time left before heading to Barcelona’, an inconvenience given that teams are only allowed 100km of running with special tyres, so the main purpose is to check every system to be ready to hit the track once the light goes green at Montmeló.

It was at this point that we realised they had suffered major setbacks. The car wasn’t ready, it wasn’t even in the circuit and their first laps wouldn’t take place until Wednesday afternoon. This was a complete disaster considering that private testing is forbidden nowadays. In addition to this, the legality of the mirrors and the front suspension has been questioned in the last few days. Some experts explain that the front suspension isn’t easy to redesign, so it may cause a new headache before Australia. Furthermore, Williams’ technical chief Paddy Lowe is taking a leave of absence which could lead into his departure after being pointed out as responsible for the team issues.

CIRCUIT DE BARCELONA-CATALUNYA, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 26: George Russell, Williams FW42 during the Barcelona February testing II at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on February 26, 2019 in Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Spain. (Photo by Zak Mauger / LAT Images)

For some, the two main reasons that have placed Williams on the edge are money and the team’s attitude, both discussed in the following lines. Despite the team denying that the delay was related to issues with external suppliers or a lack of financial resources, it is hard to believe what they stated because of their well-known struggles to keep going through the last few years. Even if they got ROKiT (a telecommunications company) as new title sponsor and Orlen (an oil refiner company and Kubica’s personal sponsor), these brands aren’t expected to match the vast amount of money brought by Lawrence Stroll (Lance’s father) and Martini which left the team at the end of last season.

Having said that, the horizon doesn’t look really promising due to the fact that when you have the slowest car, you want is to develop it as quickly as possible and you need a lot of money to do so. We may have a look back at the beginning of the hybrid era, when the Mercedes engine brought some success to Grove. At that moment, they even managed to afford a big upgrade of their wind tunnel aiming to fight on top again, but their work didn’t pay off and not much more has been said about what was described as a massive step forward in terms of development capability. Since then, they are in freefall praying for the budget cap to come in on time to save the team. Examples like this one make us realise how difficult it is to reach the top and how easy it is to go back to the midfield when you don’t spend the budget correctly or simply don’t have it.

Secondly, the team is missing a captain who steers the project in order to get out of the hole in which they are in. With Sir Frank Williams out of the picture, it is his daughter Claire who actually leads the squad. She seems tired or at least that is the impression given every time she faces the media. Claire has mentioned many times that she doesn’t want to be the person who ends’ Williams long history, but when there is no passion there is nothing to do.

Moreover, Robert Kubica’s attitude towards the team isn’t helping, for sure. The Polish driver, who is coming back to the sport after a long period recovering from the injuries suffered in a rally crash in 2011, has criticised his team harshly over the last days as a consequence of the poor pre-season done. ‘The car was too tired to continue’ and ‘I only know 20% of the things I should know before Australia’ were some of the comments made by Kubica. Most likely, he expected too much from a team which is suffering the worst streak in their history. On the contrary, George Russell is doing exactly what Williams needs: he is always encouraging his guys on social media and making positive statements when he talks to the media. It might sound useless, but the atmosphere you create around you is very important get good results.

Taking all this into account, I have to confess that I fear Williams could not make it to the end of the season as I feel they are digging their own grave. The large number of issues they are facing, added to the lack of leadership and the fact that they remain adamant in their idea of building the whole car on their own and refusing to buy some parts to manufacturers, could mean the end for a team that has been competing in the championship since 1977.

Featured image courtesy of  Glenn Dunbar / LAT Images

Problem-free start to second test “a huge relief” for Williams

Williams’ George Russell has described the first day of the second pre-season test as “a huge relief” for himself and for the team, completing all the planned running with no issues.

“It was a good day,” Russell said. “Our plan was to get as many laps on the board, make sure we had no issues and that’s exactly what we did. We have learnt so much about the car on lower fuel and higher fuel which gives us a good indication moving forward into the next few days.

“All in all, it was a huge relief to have a day like today and we completed our test plan as intended.”

Russell posted the ninth fastest time of the day using the C5 tyre – the softest compound available – and also completed 119 laps, the third most of the day.

George Russell (GBR) Williams Racing.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Tuesday 26th February 2019. Barcelona, Spain.

It comes after a less-than ideal first test for Williams, which saw delays with the production of parts for the car force the Grove-based team to miss the first two days of running.

Chief Technical Officer Paddy Lowe added, “It was a good day of testing with George driving the car. We completed 119 laps without any significant reliability issues, so we achieved the entire programme that we had planned from the start of the day.

“Well done to the team, a great job by everybody to get a car that can do the laps without incident to make a solid start to the second test.”

 

[Featured image – Williams F1]

Williams unveil new ROKiT-sponsored livery for 2019

Williams have revealed their all-new livery for their upcoming season and announced telecommunications company ROKiT as their new title sponsor, replacing previous sponsor Martini after their five-year partnership came to an end.

The livery, displayed on a 2018-spec car, features a white, blue and black colour scheme and sports the RoKit logo on the engine cover.

The announcement was made at an event at the team’s factory in Grove, Oxfordshire, ahead of the expected launch of the 2019 car before the start of pre-season testing on Monday.

Speaking at the event, deputy team principal Claire Williams said, “We are delighted to welcome ROKiT to our team as our title partner for the 2019 season and beyond. We share many similar values and aspirations with ROKiT; primarily putting engineering and innovation at the core of everything we do in our pursuit to be the best – the perfect platform from which to start a partnership.

ROKiT is on an exciting journey in their world of telecommunications, as we are at Williams as we build the team for a successful future. Taking that path together will make us both stronger in our endeavours and so I can’t wait to get started.”

Alongside the new livery, for 2019 Williams will also have an all-new driver line-up comprised of Robert Kubica and George Russell. The Australian Grand Prix will be something of a momentous occasion for both drivers – for Russell it will be his first ever start in F1, while for Kubica it will be his first race back in F1 since he suffered severe injuries in a rally crash back in 2011.

 

[Featured image – ROKiT Williams Racing]

Where will F1’s juniors be in 2019?

The 2018 driver market has been both kind and cruel to F1’s young drivers. On the one hand, Charles Leclerc, Pierre Gasly and Lando Norris have all secured dream promotions to Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren respectively.

But on the other hand, Esteban Ocon and Stoffel Vandoorne have both found their F1 careers on the rocks thanks to silly season developments, while rising stars like George Russell struggle to find any space on the grid.

As the final 2019 deals begin to fall into place, we look at which young drivers might yet find seats for Melbourne next year.

Antonio Giovinazzi

Ferrari Media

Despite becoming Italy’s first F1 driver in six years when he deputised for Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber last year, Antonio Giovinazzi has been unable to add to his two starts since being leapfrogged in Ferrari’s junior scheme by Charles Leclerc.

But with Leclerc moving from Sauber to Ferrari, Giovinazzi might finally get his shot at a full-time race seat. If Ferrari’s right to nominate one of Sauber’s drivers is to be believed, then Giovinazzi could be just an executive decision at Maranello away from joining the Swiss team’s lineup for next year.

Stoffel Vandoorne

Glenn Dunbar / McLaren Media

If Ferrari does insist on Sauber taking Giovinazzi, that will put pay to one of Stoffel Vandoorne’s best post-McLaren options.

Should Sauber be off the table, Vandoorne’s only real hope for 2019 is Toro Rosso. Honda is reportedly keen to bring Vandoorne into Toro Rosso having valued his feedback during their partnership with McLaren.

But even with Honda behind him, Vandoorne will have his work cut out convincing Helmut Marko that he has more potential than was shown in his two years with McLaren.

Pascal Wehrlein

Sauber F1 Team

Another potential obstacle in Vandoorne’s route to Toro Rosso is Pascal Wehrlein. The former Manor and Sauber driver is leaving the Mercedes family at the end of the year in a bid to open up more opportunities on the F1 grid, and is said to have a big fan in Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost.

It’s not the first time Wehrlein has been linked with Toro Rosso—he was touted as a potential mid-season replacement for Brendon Hartley earlier in the year. Those rumours may have come to nothing, but Wehrlein’s sudden appearance as a free agent in the driver market will surely give Red Bull and Toro Rosso something to consider.

Esteban Ocon

Racing Point Force India F1 Team

The details of Esteban Ocon’s plight to remain in F1 next year hardly need repeating by now. Currently his best chance of a 2019 race seat involves either Mercedes pressing customer team Williams to pick him over a more well-funded alternative, or breaking free from the Mercedes camp as Wehrlein has done and hoping that leads to a shot with Haas or Toro Rosso.

If neither avenue comes to fruition, then we’ll likely see Ocon take up a third driver role with the works Mercedes team—possibly dovetailing that with outings for the marque’s HWA-run Formula E team—before aiming to replace Valtteri Bottas in 2020.

Outside F1

Renault Sport F1 Team

If current drivers like Ocon and Vandoorne are struggling to stay in F1 next year, it’s doubtful anyone from the junior formulae will find space on the 2019 grid.

As the Formula 2 championship leader, Mercedes junior George Russell should be the best placed young driver to make the step up to F1. However, his position behind Ocon in the Mercedes hierarchy means that it’s unlikely he’ll be allowed to overtake the Frenchman and take an F1 drive at his expense.

On the other hand, F2 stalwart Artem Markelov may yet get his F1 break after five years in the feeder series. His Russian Time backing has seen him linked to Williams in recent weeks, and an FP1 run with Renault in Sochi will be the perfect chance to make his case when it counts.

Formula 3 title leader Dan Ticktum was being queued up to join Toro Rosso for next year, until the FIA pointed out that he was ineligible for a Super License. Ticktum will likely move to F2 for next year to complete his Super License, before stepping up to Toro Rosso in 2020.

David Pastanella / Red Bull Content Pool

F1 driver market: Who will twist after Mercedes sticks?

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

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

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

Sahara Force India F1 Team

Force India, Renault now key to the midfield

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

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

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

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

Andrew Hone / Williams F1

Williams and McLaren fall into place

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

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

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

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

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

Few options for Red Bull and Ferrari juniors

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

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

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

Featured image by Steve Etherington, courtesy of Mercedes AMG