A Danish Pole in a Damp Brazil

Kevin Magnussen ends a Friday evening qualifying session on pole ahead of the Sprint tomorrow. Haas timed his Q3 run perfectly, getting out ahead of everyone else he was able to put in the fastest lap before a red flag and the pouring rain meant he will start at the front in Brazil.

As Q1 began the rain had stopped but the track was still damp, so everyone made their first runs on intermediate tyres. The battle for pole was expected to be between RedBull and Ferrari with Mercedes having issues with grip in FP1.

Hamilton improving during Q1. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

However, it wasn’t long before the track started to dry out, so the lap times kept tumbling down. Hamilton saw the first indication of this as he set the quickest in the final sector in the first runs of Q1 with Alonso going to P1 with 10 mins to go.

Gasly was the first to brave the slicks but sadly couldn’t make them work fast enough meaning his first lap was a bit cautious. However, he was able to build up some heat in the softs and put it at the top of the time sheets.

Seeing this, Ferrari brought Leclerc in for a stop, but the camera showed a shot of the Monegasque in the pit box with no tyres on. The mechanics scrambled out of the garage with what appeared to be new soft tyres. Just more strategic in-decision from Ferrari.

With two and a half minutes left of Q1, it was officially time for slicks, so every driver was on soft tyres trying to put in a decent time as there was a threat of rain still hanging in the air. Albon went with the improved times and was able to top the time sheets himself proving that Williams still has good pace.

As the chequered flag fell on Q1 Leclerc was down in the bottom five and was getting caught behind Tsunoda but was able to put in one final lap to make it into Q2. Ricciardo miss timed his last lap and crossed the line just seconds after the flag came out but luckily was safe after everyone else had finished their laps.

The biggest shock was both Alfa Romeo’s out in Q1, qualifying in P16 and P17 respectively. They were joined but Stroll, Schumacher, and Latifi.

Latifi not able to make it into Q2 again. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

Q2 began and this meant that DRS was now enabled as the track was declared dry so an improvement in lap times was to be expected. Starting as they ended in Q1, Mercedes, RedBull and Ferrari came out on scrubbed tyres compared to all the other teams which had new tyres.

After a message from Russell, when many drivers were reporting rain around the back of the circuit, Mercedes changed both drivers to new tyres as they were in the bottom five. Luckily for the team, the call paid off and both drivers were able to massively improve meaning they were P3 and P4 when the rain began to come down harder with four minutes to go.

However, in the final couple of minutes, the harder rain may have eased off with every driver improving their times before the end of the session. It all seemed to go back to normality just for a session as it stayed dry. Out in Q2 were Albon, Gasly, Vettel, Ricciardo, and Stroll.

Gasly out in Q2 after a strong Q1 performance. Image courtesy of RedBull content pool

Q3 started and the sky had gotten darker, but importantly it was still dry. Ferrari decided to split the strategy by going out on inters with rain potentially on its way in a matter of minutes.

This would be a terrible decision by Ferrari as Leclerc didn’t come in immediately so had to do a lap on the intermediates before coming in for soft tyres. This was also an issue for Perez, who had gotten stuck behind Leclerc going slower n the incorrect tyres.

Whilst we were all consumed by the Leclerc, Ferrari drama Russell ended up beaching himself at turn 4. He locked up and skipped across the gravel, managing to stay out of the barrier but buried himself while avoiding a major incident. This then brought out the red flag.

Magnussen was on provisional pole as the session was stopped to recover the Mercedes. This opened up the very real possibility of the Dane starting at the front of an open-wheeled series for the first time since 2013 in formula Renault 3.5. With the rain coming down and light fading the fans waited with bated breath to see what might happen.

Q3 was restarted but by this point, the rain had begun to come down hard and with a wet track improvements to lap times seemed to be impossible. Perez came out for a sight lap and Hamilton scrubbed a set of intermediates for tomorrow’s Sprint, but the remainder of the cars stayed in the garage.

A very frustrated Leclerc went to talk to his team on the pit wall after a botched strategy means he will start in P10. Russell managed to save his position in P3 with Verstappen in P2, but all eyes were on the Haas garage as the time ticked down on Q3 and the team could start to celebrate their first-ever Formula 1 pole position.

It is a massive achievement for the team and for Magnussen who was understandably in shock when interviewed at the end of qualifying. The grid is a Haas sandwich with Schumacher starting in P20, but it is all set up to be a fascinating action-packed race over half distance before Sunday’s race.

Magnussen on pole for the Sprint. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

F1 Weekend Preview: Brazil Brings the Final 2022 Sprint

The penultimate round of the season takes us to São Paulo for the Brazilian Grand Prix where we see the final sprint race of 2022. For Verstappen this year there is no threat as both championships are sealed, but further down the grid, everything is to play for.

The Best of the Rest is Up for Grabs

Ricciardo putting in a good performance in Mexico. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

Alpine and McLaren have been locked in a battle all season for P4 in the constructor’s championship but in the last few races, with an improvement in Ricciardo’s performances and Alpine’s reliability problems, the gap has closed to just seven points.

McLaren will be doing everything in their power to get ahead of the French time in the last doubleheader and a sprint race may be what they need to gain extra points.

Behind them, Aston Martin sits just four points back from Alfa Romeo in P6 while Haas is clinging on to P8 by just one point from AlphaTauri. As we get into the last two rounds of the season every point for these teams will be crucial and reliability issues or driver errors could make the difference in the vital prize money awarded to each team.

Cautious Gasly

Another factor playing on the minds at AlphaTauri for the last two rounds will be the number of penalty points Gasly has gained. He now has 10 points, five of which were given in the last three rounds.

Gasly in Mexico. Image courtesy of RedBull Content Pool

In Japan he was penalised for speeding under red flag conditions, he was more than 10 car lengths behind the car in front of him during the safety car period in Austin and in Mexico, he was given another point for leaving the track and gaining and advantage in a battle with Lance Stroll.

The French driver is now only two points away from an automatic race ban so he will need to be weary in Brazil so he can compete in the last race at Abu Dhabi. Additionally, these points take a full year to be erased from his license, which means a potential race ban will hang over him until May 2023 at his new team, Alpine. Not an ideal start to a new season with a new team.

The 2023 Driver Line-up is Not Complete

The majority of the grid for next season has been decided, however, the future still seems uncertain for Hass and Riccardo as we are yet to have any official announcements for their plans next year.

Haas have not confirmed the driver taking the seat alongside Magnussen however the options look pretty clear. It appears a straight choice between Mick Schumacher and Nico Hulkenberg who both appear to be at a loose end for next season.

Schumacher’s Ferrari contract will run out at the end of the 2022 season and has not been renewed. Further to this, he has made a few driver errors over the last few years and Gunther Stainer has been candid and said that they cost the small team huge amounts of money in spare parts.

Is Hulkenberg a possibility for 2023? Image courtesy of Aston Martin F1 Media

Hulkenberg looks to be untied from the Aston Martin outfit as he was not mentioned in the Vandoorne announcement a few weeks ago. With experience, this could be a good fit for the Banbury-based team, but he hasn’t had a full-time drive since 2019 and could be expensive in terms of salary for Haas.

We are expecting confirmations before the end of the season so it is worth keeping an eye out for those.

F1 Race Weekend Preview: Mexico

Three rounds left to go, and both championships wrapped up but that doesn’t stop the action. Mexico is next with plenty of off-track drama to chat about before the on-track drama begins.

Haas vs Alpine vs RedBull vs The Stewards

During the US Grand Prix Alonso hit the back of Stroll after the Aston Martin made a late move down the back straight. This sent the front end of the Alpine into the air before brushing a barrier. Luckily for the Spaniard, he was able to get his car back to the pits for the team to change the tyres and front wing. However, it appeared his wing mirror was not attached properly and came off during the race.

Perez with his damaged wing. Image courtesy of RedBull Content Pool

The RedBull of Perez also had an issue with body parts falling off. After a first lap incident part of his front wing was flapping around for several laps before flying across the track. The team decided not to change his wing through the entire race because he would lose too much track position.

After the race, Haas protested against both RedBull and Alpine which led to a 30-second time penalty for Alonso, dropping him outside the points. Alpine has since contested the result and will be a part of a hearing, scheduled to take place today. The protest regarding Perez was seen as inadmissible by the stewards.

The problem actually lies with the stewards. They should have brought out the black and orange for both cars like they have done with Magnussen many times this season. This looks to be another case where the teams are coming out worst off from a decision which they should have made during the race by the stewards. This is likely to cause many rumours throughout the paddock.

Perez takes on his Home Race in a Championship Winning Car

Sergio Pérez celebrates after the Red Bull Racing Showrun in Mexico. Image courtesy of RedBull Content Pool

This year there is no doubt which team has been able to capitalise the most in races, and with both championships wrapped up, this may be Perez’s chance to be the first Mexican to win his home Grand Prix.

It has been no secret that Perez has had to play number two driver this year and last year, the difference now is that there is no need for the team to favour Verstappen to gain points for his championship. This means that Perez has everything behind him to win the race. However, performances have not been on his side lately.

Whilst overall he is still an extremely quick driver, he has struggled to keep up with his teammate as well as the Ferraris and often both Mercedes. He will be hoping for a turnaround in form so he can give the home crowd something to cheer about.

Qualifying is on Saturday at 9pm BST and the race starts at 8pm on Sunday.

Verstappen victorious in Imola sprint race

Max Verstappen recovered from a poor start to take victory in Saturday’s sprint race at the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, overtaking Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc on the penultimate lap.

The reigning world champion was able to manage his tyres last better than Leclerc, closing back within DRS range in the final five laps. The Dutchman was able to get close enough to go around the outside into Tamburello on lap 20 to secure the eight points.

It was a poor getaway from Verstappen, who struggled with wheel spin and gear sync issues off the line, allowing the Monegasque driver to take the lead. Fernando Alonso also had a difficult start, dropping behind Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo on lap one.

At least Verstappen and Alonso had a chance to recover from their poor start however. Zhou Guanyu dropped behind Pierre Gasly in the first few corners, and collided with the Alpha Tauri trying to regain the position into Piratella. This sent the Chinese driver careering into the barriers, ending his race and bringing out the Safety Car.

Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo (Germain Hazard, Royal Spark / Alfa Romeo Media)

After the Safety Car, Leclerc was able to extend his lead, stretching out to over two seconds ahead of Verstappen before the Red Bull was able to reel him in. The ‘number two’ cars of Carlos Sainz and Perez both had difficult qualifying sessions, and the sprint race provided a great opportunity to work their way back up the field. Perez set the fastest lap on his way up into third place, with Sainz snatching fourth from McLaren’s Lando Norris in the final few laps. Norris came home fifth, with a sixth place for Daniel Ricciardo continuing the good form seen by the Woking-based team in Melbourne.

The majority of the field chose to compete on the soft tyres, with a few drivers choosing the mediums. One of these was Kevin Magnussen, who had secured Haas’ best ever qualifying on Friday with fourth position. The Dane was unable to keep with the pace of those on the softs throughout the sprint however, securing one point for eighth place having been overtaken by Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas in the final stages of the race.

Alonso just missed out on points behind the Haas, with Mick Schumacher’s tenth place meaning the German will start higher than he ever has done before in a Formula One race on Sunday. After showing promise in FP2 earlier in the day, both Mercedes spent their day stuck in a DRS train, as George Russell came home in eleventh with Lewis Hamilton down in fourteenth place, meaning that there will be no Mercedes in the top 10 of the grid for a Grand Prix for the first time since the Suzuka in 2012.

Despite losing out to Verstappen at the end, Leclerc extends his lead in the championship to 40 points, with Carlos Sainz now in second. Red Bull also moved up to second in the championship, and find themselves 57 points behind Ferrari heading into Sunday’s race.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari (Scuderia Ferrari Press Office)

Charles wins the first race with final lap drama

Charles Leclerc wins from pole in an action filled final few laps of Bahrain. Red Bull had engine problems with Verstappen having to retire and Perez retiring in the last 2 laps of the race.

First race of the season and we had Leclerc on pole to defend against the reining world champion in P2. Most predicted a messy start with neither driver known for yielding. As they lined up on the grid we waited to see if Formula 1 could deliver on their promises of exciting racing.

Lights out and it’s a clean getaway for all the drivers. Verstappen tucked in behind Leclerc as they got very similar starts. Hamilton had a quick launch in the first phase, but Sainz was later on the brakes and kept P3. After a short battle with Perez, Hamilton moved up to P4.

Kevin Magnussen had a very quick start and made it up to P5, he was fighting Hamilton into turn 1 at the start of lap 2. However, just a few laps later he went deep into turn 1 with a lock up which opened up the door for Perez who was able to close the gap. A well fought battle to turn 4, where Perez made it through. Just 1 lap later he went deep again and left the door open for George Russell, meaning he was back down to P7.

The race start. Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Lap 10 and so far the new regulations were delivering with action up and down the grid. Perez had closed the gap to Hamilton, getting DRS down the back straight. Perez was just carrying more speed and swooped around the outside getting back into P4.

3 laps later Hamilton is the first to pit for new hard tyres. It was a very quick stop, but the tyres only had the blanket temperatures meaning they were too cold going into turn 1. Hamilton had no grip and went deep into turn 1 letting Zhou through. Once the tyres had warmed up though he was back past the following lap.

The undercut looks to be powerful here when Leclerc pitted just 1 lap after Verstappen with a 3 second advantage but came out only 0.3s ahead. Verstappen did stay behind but he was biding he time for the next lap.

Verstappen kept the gap within 1 second and got DRS down the main straight. Into turn 1 and Verstappen takes the inside line coming out in front of Leclerc. But Leclerc had good traction out of the corner keeping tight to Verstappen and crucially getting DRS on the way to turn 4. The Ferrari swoops around the outside to re-take the lead.

The battle didn’t end there when Verstappen tried again the following lap, but the story repeated itself. This time Leclerc took the inside line into turn 4 to take the lead. So, attempt number 3, Verstappen had DRS into turn 1 but he locked up causing him to go very deep and leaving the door wide open for Leclerc. The Ferrari then had the advantage, and the duel came to an end on lap 19.

3rd time unlucky for Max Verstappen. Image Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

McLaren meanwhile were having a terrible weekend. At the start of the race both dropped down to the back being the only drivers which started on the mediums. At lap 28 they were running P18 and P20. Norris then pitted for hard tyres, looking to go to the end.

Lap 34 and Verstappen has had enough of his soft tyres which had begun to where off after his battle with Leclerc. He pitted for mediums but was told to take it slightly easier on the out lap but still hoped the undercut would work. Ferrari reacted and pitted Leclerc for mediums. This time Verstappen was too far back which resulted in a frustrated message back to the team saying he would never take the outlap easy again.

10 laps later both Red Bulls are in the pits causing confusion amongst fans. However, Sainz came in and Hamilton follows for soft tyres. Verstappen constantly on the radio though with what appears to be an issue with the steering after the pitstop. He did stay out hoping he could cope with it for the rest of the race.

Just 11 laps from the end Gasly’s car overheats bringing out the safety car while they recover the car which was in flames. He got out the car safely, but it looks like it was an electrical issue. With that, in came Leclerc and almost all the rest of the grid for new softs apart from Mick Schumacher. The pack was bunched together, and the all the lapped cars could unlap themselves.

The safety car in and Leclerc bolts while Verstappen has to deal with his steering problems while Sainz pulls alongside into turn 1. Verstappen comes out ahead and the gaps begin to open up by turn 4. Mick Schumacher on the older tyres suffers and drops back from P10 to P13 in just 3 laps.

Lap 54, Verstappen has battery issues and Sainz passes him at turn 4. Only 1 corner later and Verstappen has to retire with terminal problems. Hamilton at this point was all over the back of Perez who was also reporting problems.

The final lap, Hamilton kept his car within DRS down the main straight. Perez was comfortably ahead turning into turn 1 but the engine had other ideas and cut out mid corner, causing him to spin and was out of the race.

After all that last lap drama Charles Leclerc came out on top, with Sainz P2 and Hamilton P3. Russell finished just behind his teammate which is more than they could have hoped for today. A special shoutout to Kevin Magnussen who finished P5 in the Haas.

The jury is still out on the new regulations, but reliability is key. Both Red Bulls and Gasly’s Alpha Tauri looked to have engine issues which they will need to get sorted to compete for the championship this year.

F1 Race Preview: Into the Desert

The 2022 season is finally here with a race at Bahrain to kick us off for the third year in a row. The anticipation is high with the new regulations, new tyres and optimism that the cars will be able to race much closer than last year.

Having been pushed back a year because of covid we finally get to see Formula 1’s big changes to produce more exciting racing. However, testing is over and the teams and drivers, hopefully, understand their cars a little better after all the changes and upgrades between Barcelona and Bahrain.

Mercedes will be looking to defend their constructors title with their new, slimmed down car very different to anything else on the grid. In Barcelona they didn’t blow everyone away despite putting in the fastest laps, but they seem to have improved in Bahrain. During testing Lewis Hamilton did say they might not be competing for wins, but we have heard that before?

Ferrari look to be very reliable and so far meeting the expectations of those that thought they were going to have a quick car this year. They looked to be one of the fastest teams in both testing sessions and have been very consistent and reliable throughout both tests.

Red Bull are there or thereabouts. They have had issues, but reigning world Champion Verstappen finished with the fastest lap of testing. Looking towards the year he will be looking to drag everything out of that car to defend his title.

McLaren look to be the other team which may be in the title fight after testing. They had a solid car in Barcelona, but reliability issues and a sick driver means they haven’t had the running they would like to go into the first race. Daniel Ricciardo should be back for FP1, provided he has a negative covid test.

Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press

Looking further back Aston Martin and Alpine are still very much looking towards the midfield with a hope for some podiums. Alfa Romeo and Williams look to be close to each other as will. They have been very close on times throughout testing so will be in a battle with each other all season.

Haas have been the surprise of testing. They were granted an extra hour at the end of day 2 and 3 in Bahrain to make up for their lack of running in the morning of day 1 because of flight delays. However, with the return of Kevin Magnussen, he went fastest at the end of day 2. Not to be left out Mick Schumacher was P2 by the end of day 3.

Testing times can never been taken as the definitive order, however it has been great to see how these cars might work in race conditions. We won’t completely know until Sunday afternoon if the new philosophy has worked but we are all excited to get racing again 92 days later.

The race on Sunday is 3pm GMT.

Ocon on top in a dramatic race at Hungary

Esteban Ocon took his first Formula 1 victory and the first for the Alpine team in a chaotic race at the Hungaroring, after multiple drivers were taken out at the first corner.

15 minutes before the race start, rain started to fall on the track. Adding to the anticipation, it started light but was due to continue for the first 30 minutes of the race and get heavier before mostly drying out by the end of the race. Intermediate tyres on to start, Lewis Hamilton indicating on the radio he was ready for the fight in the rain. Hamilton and Max Verstappen are both known for performing well in the wet, possibly a leveller but definitely exciting!

Lights out and all eyes turned to Verstappen and Hamilton. Both got a great launch, but Valtteri Bottas had an absolutely dreadful start with wheel spin from third. Lando Norris got in front of him off the line but was tapped by Bottas from behind who had missed his breaking point. Norris then crashed into Verstappen and Bottas hit Sergio Perez. Norris and Verstappen managed to carry on with significant damage, but Bottas and Perez were out.

Further back in turn 1, Lance Stroll tried to avoid some cars by heading towards the apex, but ended up on the grass and collected Charles Leclerc who hit and spun around Daniel Ricciardo. Unfortunately, that was the race over for Leclerc.

Ricciardo kept going and Stroll was able to keep driving after damage to the front of his car. A red flag was called to gather the debris left around turn 1. This allowed the Red Bull team to fix Verstappen’s car, potentially saving him from retirement. Norris and Stroll then had to retire due to the damage from the incident.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull (Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool)

Hamilton was still in P1, but others had benefited from a high attrition first corner. Ocon and Sebastian Vettel were the biggest winners, starting P2 and P3 respectively. Yuki Tsunoda was in P5, Carlos Sainz P4 and the Williams’ were P6 and P8 whilst Verstappen had really lost out and started in P13. A fight from the back was on after quick recovery work by Red Bull. There was a standing re-start as the sun came out to a now quickly drying track, but the question then was slicks or inters?

Hamilton was the only one starting on the grid, so the race was in the pits with everyone coming in for slicks. George Russell came out on top, and with Hamilton pitting after it looked like Russell would lead the race, but Russell was told by the FIA to give back the places he’d taken in the pitlane. Mercedes didn’t come out well with Hamilton boxing after the restart and ending up last and importantly behind Verstappen. So, on lap 5 Ocon was leading the race, with Vettel P2 and Nicholas Latifi P3. Hamilton was catching Verstappen who still had damage, so the race was on!

Verstappen managed to get past Pierre Gasly but then became stuck behind Mick Schumacher for five laps before passing him with a daring move through Turns 1, 2, 3 and 4. They did touch but both were able to carry on. Meanwhile Hamilton was struggling behind Gasly, locking up a few times but both Gasly and Hamilton managed to pass Schumacher in the next two laps.

Hamilton stopped for hard tyres on lap 20 in an attempt to change the strategy and go longer. Red Bull and Verstappen responded so made the stop just one lap later. Ricciardo pitted at the same time as Verstappen, and he came out in front of the Red Bull. Hamilton was coming down the straight as the pair came out of the pits. Hamilton took advantage and got past not only Verstappen but also Ricciardo, putting a vital car between the Championship rivals.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes (Wolfgang Wilhelm / Mercedes AMG)

On lap 32, Hamilton was the fastest car in the race passing Tsunoda into P5 with a fantastic move while Verstappen was still behind Ricciardo in P12. This move caused Ferrari and Sainz to react, and with enough gap Sainz pitted and came back out in P4 with fresh tyres ready to defend against Hamilton.

Meanwhile Schumacher was doing a great job in the Haas to keep 4 drivers behind him. However, after many laps of battling, Russell finally made it past Schumacher on lap 33 with a brave move on the outside of Turn 2. Schumacher then begun to lose places rapidly to Ricciardo and Verstappen on the next lap, very important for Verstappen in terms of the championship.

From the front, Vettel pitted with a slow stop but came out in P3, ahead of Sainz and Hamilton. Ocon told to push but Alpine appeared to have the advantage with both cars in the podium places fight. A good stop meant Ocon came out ahead of Vettel, but Vettel tried to fight it into Turn 4. Sadly for him nothing came of it and with only Fernando Alonso in front of Ocon it looked to be an Alpine win from lap 39.

It wasn’t over at the front though. Sainz and Hamilton in P3 and P4 were catching the leaders at a rapid pace. However, Hamilton pitted on lap 48 for the mediums. He came out behind Alonso, but this would mean he could push to the end of the race, with flashbacks to Hungary 2019 and Spain 2021. Vettel got closer to Ocon through the back markers in an attempt to pass him for the lead. On lap 50 the fight was not over with Vettel having DRS and the pressure piling on Ocon.

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin (Courtesy of Aston Martin media)

Verstappen finally made a move on Ricciardo for P10 on Lap 61 and the final points position. This could be an important point for the championship and impressive driving considering the significant damage still on his car from lap 1.

On lap 57 a brilliant battle between Hamilton and Alonso began, Alonso defending and making the Alpine the widest thing on the track. This epic battle continued for over 10 laps, but Hamilton was eventually close enough when Alonso made a rare mistake and locked up into Turn 1. This did create problems for Hamilton though, who was on a mission to get to the front. However, catching Sainz on older tyres in P3 meant that just two laps later, Hamilton was in the podium places, but the gap was too big for Hamilton to catch Vettel in P2.

Esteban Ocon won the Hungarian Grand Prix! The first win for him and a great turn around since a relatively poor run of form. Vettel was in P2 after a great drive from the restart. Sainz was P4 ahead of Alonso, Gasly sneaked in a fastest lap right at the end in P6, and Tsunoda was P7. Both Williams finished in the points with Latifi P8 and Russell P9, which is vital for the constructors and their first double points finish since 2018. Russell finally managed to get those illusive points in a Williams!

For the championship Hamilton gained points on Verstappen, who finished P10, and leads going into the summer break. This has been a real swing in momentum after the British Grand Prix in the favour of Mercedes and Hamilton. It is all to play for as the teams regroup and look to improve for Spa at the end of August.

Home is where the heart is for Red Bull – Austrian GP preview

The Formula One circus stays in the Styrian mountains as the Red Bull Ring plays host to the Austrian Grand Prix, just seven days after Max Verstappen claimed victory at the same circuit in the Styrian Grand Prix.

It would take a brave person to bet against Verstappen taking his third consecutive victory on Sunday, given his dominant performance last weekend. Sergio Perez will be hoping he can make it two Red Bulls on the podium, after coming within a second of Valtteri Bottas in the previous race.

A double podium is probably the best case scenario once again for Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton making a rare trip to the Brackley simulator in an aim to extract every last inch of performance out of his car. The quick turnaround means no upgrades for this race, and there are mixed messages from the Mercedes camp regarding how much more development we will see on their 2021 car.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes (LAT Images / Mercedes AMG F1)

The pace from the top two teams meant Ferrari and McLaren were once again left fighting for fifth. Although it was Lando Norris who won the midfield battle last weekend, Daniel Ricciardo was showing good pace before reliability troubles dropped him down the order. Ferrari will also be hoping for a smoother weekend from Charles Leclerc, who showed some inspired moves after being controversially involved in Pierre Gasly’s retirement.

AlphaTauri, Alpine and Aston Martin will look to pick up some of the lesser points once again, in what looks to be one of the tightest midfield battles for years. Strategy could well be key in this battle, as free air is hard to come by on the track with the shortest lap time of the year. Pirelli are also bringing softer tyres to the Austrian GP than they did at the Styrian round, which might lead to more action in the pitlane.

For George Russell, he will be hoping his pitlane action is much more conventional this weekend. A pneumatic leak cost him a shot at his first ever points for Williams, with the Brit admitting that there’s no guarantee he will be able to replicate that performance again this time around. His teammate will also be hoping for a better result, after being an innocent victim in last weekend’s lap one shenanigans.

 

Alfa Romeo will be hoping they can sneak a point, after just missing out with Kimi Raikkonen last time around. The intriguing battle between the Haas cars will also be one to watch, as Mick Schumacher and his teammate battle for inter-team supremacy, which must be a small ray of light in a very difficult debut season for both drivers.

It’s fair to say last week’s race was not a classic, but different tyres (and possibly different weather) could make the Austrian GP an entirely different beast indeed.

 

The fall of Michael Schumacher’s record? F1 2021 season preview

At just 103 days, the winter break between 2020 and 2021 is one of the shortest, certainly in modern history in Formula One. In actual fact, it was set to be shorter still, but with the postponement of the Australian Grand Prix, the new season will kick off in Bahrain, but what can we expect from this year?

Well, in truth, this year will probably be a case of “same, but different”, as regulations set in place for 2021 mean that the 2020 cars have been carried over to this year, and only aero parts and PUs are eligible to be changed. Fundamentally, though, the cars must remain the same, and the chassis will be identical to last year, so do not expect any massive jumps in performance.

This means to say that Mercedes should still be top dogs, Red Bull should be a close second, and the midfield will still be as intense as it was throughout the entirety of the 17 races last year.

Mercedes seek to win their eighth consecutive Constructors’ title this year – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

But while substantial increases or otherwise in performance is too much to expect, little nuggets of gold may just help swing the tide a little as someone, somehow, looks to topple Mercedes’ absolute brilliance at the front.

Sergio Perez, surprise winner of the crazy Sakhir Grand prix last season, will make his highly-anticipated Red Bull debut having replaced the hapless Alex Albon. The discussion has been raging as to whether he will be able to beat their current titan Max Verstappen, and whether the Mexican truly does have the pace to compete at the front and spur Red Bull into serious Constructors’ Championship contention. It is widely expected that, if Perez is dominated by Verstappen the way Albon and Pierre Gasly were, it is a case of the car being geared to the Dutchman, as opposed to a lack of pace from Max’s team mates.

264 points separated Mercedes and Red Bull last year, so it will be fascinating to see if Red Bull’s third driver pairing in as many years will be able to close the gap and make life a little more uncomfortable for the imperious champions.

After leaving Racing Point following seven years with the team, Sergio Perez arrives at Red Bull to replace the departing Alex Albon – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Speaking of whom, newly-crowned champion Lewis Hamilton has finally put pen to paper on a new contract with the German team, in a deal that takes him to the end of the 2021 season.

Reasons for just the one-season extension have been speculated about; who knows if it could be down to the impending salary cap, or whether it is because Hamilton feels as though he only has one year left with the Silver Arrows, and in Formula One as a whole?

This would make sense. Hamilton is set to win his eighth championship this season, beating Michael Schumacher’s remarkable seven in the process.  The sport could certainly do with having Hamilton around next year, and we are likely set to see one of the most historical moments in the history of Formula One.

His team mate Valtteri Bottas could well be going into his last year with the Silver Arrows, but conversely to Hamilton, his future may not be in his own hands. In spite of a second-placed finish in the championship last season, Bottas’ overall performance has occasionally left something to be desired, and he will need to show stronger title credentials this year if he is to remain a part of the team in 2022.

A large part of this equation is the impressive progress of George Russell who, with a good performance in the Williams in 2021, could find himself in line for a drive next season. Particularly after Russell’s magnificent pace last year in the Sakhir Grand Prix alongside Bottas, this season will be a monumental one for both of them.

Depending on his 2021 performance, George Russell could well be in line for a 2022 drive with Mercedes – Courtesy of Williams Media

Further down, Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo are definitely ones to watch as they make their debuts for Ferrari and McLaren respectively. Ferrari acquired the services of Sainz after Sebastian Vettel’s departure for Aston Martin, while Australian Daniel Ricciardo left Renault for McLaren, replacing Spaniard Sainz. Ferrari’s new engine and aero parts for this season could lift them further into the midfield battle, and above the abysmal eighth place they managed last season with Vettel and Leclerc. Vettel meanwhile, with his new team and new haircut to boot, will attempt to make his presence felt in his new adventure with the new Aston Martin team, who take over from Racing Point this year.

Just as exciting as the German’s new venture, Fernando Alonso makes his comeback in 2021 in the Alpine team that has replaced Renault for this year, and after two seasons out, expectation is high. Frenchman Esteban Ocon, who managed his first podium last season in Sakhir, gets a real test of his ability by going up against a driver who, as well as being a two-time champion, is widely regarded as one of the quickest and most skilled drivers in F1’s rich history.

Fernando Alonso returns to F1 this year after two years away from the sport – Courtesy of Renault Sport Media

Alonso, though, comes back probably feeling a fair bit older than he did when he left. He raced against Jos Verstappen and Michael Schumacher during his first 18-year spell in the sport, and he is now about to race against their sons.

While Max had already become a fixture towards the end of Alonso’s first tenure, Michael’s son Mick will now be on the same grid as one of his father’s greatest rivals, as two generations collide.

Ferrari Academy Driver Mick Schumacher makes his F1 debut with Haas this year – Courtesy of Ferrari F1 Media

Schumacher claimed glory in the F2 championship last season with Prema, and he arrives in Formula One with one of Ferrari’s junior teams: Haas. The American outfit enter this year will a new driver lineup; the departing Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen are replaced by Schumacher and car number nine.

As Lewis Hamilton seeks a record eighth championship, and Mercedes try to extend their record of Constructors’ championship successes, the 2021 season is a huge one for a lot of drivers, in what is the last year before the regulation changes in 2022.

Bahrain – but not quite how we know it: Sakhir Grand Prix Preview

After a heart-in-mouth opening lap last time out in Bahrain, F1 returns to Sakhir this weekend, but the track will look a little different.

Turning left immediately after turn four, the drivers will embark on an oval version that goes round to the end of the lap, with sub-one minute lap times anticipated.

Due to the freshness of the outer layout, there will be an odd and intriguing contrast between a rubbered-in track and a green circuit with very little grip.

However, the outer part is mainly full throttle and requires a lot of power, which is why more Mercedes dominance is expected.

Despite that, a track like this is reminiscent to other short circuits like Austria. Losing even the slightest time can be of extreme detriment, and it will prove incredibly difficult to re-gain that time once it is lost, particularly in qualifying.

But while we were all expecting the new layout to be the main talking point of this weekend, it is the miracle escape for Haas’ Romain Grosjean that will dominate race preparations, following a moment that shocked the sporting world.

Romain Grosjean’s injuries mean he will not be taking part this weekend – Courtesy of Haas Media

Grosjean turned across the track and hit the Alpha Tauri of Daniil Kvyat, before smashing into the barrier and splitting his car in two, as it burst into flames in the process.

Having been in the fire for half a minute, the Frenchman was somehow able to escape from the car and, with the help of the heroic marshals and Dr. Ian Roberts, got away with only minor burns to his hands and ankles.

But the FIA will doubtless be looking closely at how the barrier broke in the way it did, and why there was such an enormous fireball upon impact. However, the halo and the safety mechanisms within the car did their job, and all came together to save Grosjean’s life.

He will be replaced by young Brazilian driver Pietro Fittipaldi while he continues to recover, and going up against Danish driver Kevin Magnussen will be the Test and Reserve’s first test in the F1 scene.

Pietro Fittipaldi will make his debut this weekend – Courtesy of Haas Media

Meanwhile, the aforementioned Mercedes will be striving to further push home their advantage in what is a version of the track that suits them even better than the previous. Lewis Hamilton is aiming for his 96th career win, as he also aims to surpass Sebastian Vettel for wins in Bahrain.

His team mate Valtteri Bottas had yet more horrible misfortune early on in bahrain which cost him a place on the podium, with Red Bull taking full advantage. Max Verstappen took second, while Alex Albon took his second podium of the season and strengthened his chances of retaining his Red Bull seat next year.

Red Bull were buoyed by a double-podium last time in Bahrain – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

The Ferrari-powered teams will likely struggle more this weekend and, having only seen Charles Leclerc’s works Ferrari score a single point last time, this may be another weekend to forget for the Prancing Horses, Alfa Romeo and Haas.

Charles Leclerc brought home the only point for the Ferrari-based teams last weekend – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

Racing Point fell 17 points behind McLaren after the double non-finish last weekend. Lance Stroll found himself the wrong way up after Kvyat’s spear into turn eight, while a late and gut-wrenching engine failure for Sergio Perez cost him a podium. McLaren, meanwhile, scored points with both Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz. As a result, McLaren will come into this weekend knowing they can put themselves in a very strong position indeed going into the last race in Abu Dhabi as the battle for third intensifies.

McLaren are within touching distance of third in the Constructors’ Championship after the events of the Bahrain Grand Prix – Courtesy of McLaren Media

It is still Bahrain, but minus a large chunk of the track – and hopefully minus the heavy crashes too.

Feature Image Courtesy of Mercedes Media

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