Racing Legends: Valentino Rossi

 

Credit: Getty Images

Whether it’s his infectious exuberance, his elaborate celebrations, his illustrious career, or his undeniable talent, it’s safe to say everyone has a reason to like Valentino Rossi aka. The G.O.A.T.

The Junior Years

It is amazing to think however, that his debut year in the 125cc class wasn’t magical. His talent though was clear. He pushed himself to new limits and in typical Rossi fashion, only took the one year to learn and the next year to win.

1997 was that year on the Aprilia, interrupting his Japanese rivals who were dominating the event, winning by 80 points over fellow racer Noboru Ueda.

It is also at this early start of his career that audiences first saw the iconic sun and moon design that has become Rossi’s signature motifs, albeit slight design changes throughout the years and where we first saw his showman side too, celebrating his victories. These celebrations would carry through as he progressed up the ranks, getting more elaborate and memorable.

The number 46 was now racing with the likes of Loris Capirossi and Tetsuya Harada. In 1998, Rossi moved up to the 250cc class and won five of fourteen races. Still with Aprilia and finishing an incredible second in the championship, only 23 points behind Capirossi.

True to form, he managed to turn second into first in 1999, winning both the race and the title at the Nelson Piquet Circuit at 20 years old, 48 points above Ukawa.

His celebrations that year included ones like the chicken, the angel riding pillion and of course the classic porta loo at the side of the track.

During this season he also managed to clinch Aprilia’s 100th GP win.

Credit: Getty Images

500’s

Moving to Honda in 2000 with renowned crew chief Jeremy Burgess, as a one-man team, Rossi again took one year to learn and one year to win. Rossi was now competing against names like: Kenny Roberts Jnr, Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa.

Although finding the transition hard from 250cc to 500cc racing bikes, it didn’t take the 21 year old long to win his first race at Donnington, in the top-class.

It was this year that the infamous feud between Rossi and Biaggi started to become apparent.

In only his first season, Rossi lost the title by only 49 points, behind Roberts.

Still riding the Honda, Valentino entered into his second year in the 500cc class in 2001, it was then that the iconic name The Doctor was founded. Overhearing at an airport the name ‘Doctor Rossi’ being announced, he thought the name sounded good, so adopted his own version. Previous names included: RossiFumi and Valentinik, but these understandably weren’t as catchy.

The Doctor secured his first pole in Welkom, became the first rider to win in all three classes at Brno and in the same year he won Honda’s 500th GP win. Rossi started to quickly rack up new records and had became a brand in his own right.

Credit: HRC Images

During this season the feud between The Doctor and The Roman Emperor (Biaggi) overflowed, making it highly entertaining for audiences around the world. While a scuffle happened off camera (at Catalunya – 2001), making all the wrong headlines and an official hand-shake took place to say sorry, their rivalry gained more momentum on the track.

At Suzuka 2001, Biaggi pushed out his elbow and nudged Rossi off track, this lead to Rossi passing him a lap later and putting his middle finger up to him. The rest of 2001 became a Honda / Yamaha dog-fight. This concluded with Rossi winning the last ever 500cc World Championship over Biaggi by a huge 106 points.

Then came a massive change to the premier class, as the two-stroke 500cc bikes were replaced with 990cc four-stroke machines.

MotoGP

After winning eleven races in 2002, including the first race of the season, Rossi had certainly become a household name and was furthering his conquest to earn the name G.O.A.T.

That year he raced among the usual faces: Barros, Biaggi, Gibernau and the late Daijiro Kato. Rossi won the title with four races left at Rio, leading once again, Max Biaggi. This time by a whopping 140 points.

Honda’s joy with Valentino was tempered in 2003 by the shock and sudden loss of fellow racer Kato, during the Suzuka race.

This year was also very strained for both the Honda team and Rossi, as Honda claimed it was mainly the bike that won the races and the rider was just the pilot. Even during those hard-times, Vale still managed to celebrate in the only way that he knew how. Memorably poking fun at Honda with the chain-gang gag.

Once again Rossi won this season over Gibernau by 80 points.

Credit: Getty Images

Then in 2004 came the biggest move. Rossi left his winning Repsol Honda team, risking everything, for the Yamaha M1, taking his crew chief with him.

Doubters said that Rossi couldn’t go ahead and win even one race on the Yamaha. They were proved severely wrong. Not only did he win races, he won the entire Championship again.

Welkom was welcome once more for The Doctor, after he won the opening race of the season against the likes of Hayden, Edwards and his main rival for the title Gibernau. The celebration that followed was clearly emotional for Rossi. He pulled over to the side of the track and after regaining his emotions embraced his M1.

There was plenty of on-the-track fights between the Italian and the Spaniard (Gibernau), which made for fantastic viewing.

To everyone’s surprise Rossi won the year 47 points clear of Gibernau. Collecting his fourth world title and sixth across all classes.

Jerez started off the 2005 championship, with a great battle between 15 and 46 after they collided on the last lap. However, during the race at Qatar, Rossi made a rare mistake and crashed. He blamed the Spaniard and ‘cursed’ him saying “he will never win another race”, this statement became oddly true.

Again with four races spare The Doctor secured his fifth title 147 points above Marco Melandri. Celebrating with ‘snow white and the seven dwarfs’.

Bad luck troubled Rossi throughout 2006, after a tyre failure, engine blow-ups and being knocked from his bike by Elias. Rossi heroically fought back during this season and going into the last race at Valencia he was eight points in front of the late American, Nicky Hayden. However, more bad luck plagued him and he fell, re-mounted and finished thirteenth. Hayden won his only title by five points.

2007 saw Rossi finish third in the championship, behind winner Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa, in second.

Many people were saying, is that the end of Rossi?

Motegi – 2008 saw Rossi silence the critics and he won his eighth career title, across all classes, finishing on the GP rostrum for the 150th time overtaking Agostini’s record total of wins in the top class.

Bitter complications with Yamaha made 2009 a hard year for Rossi and his team. Even though it was tough in the garage he still took victory, finishing third in Malaysia, for his ninth World Championship, 45 points above his team-mate Lorenzo.

2010 was much of the same, Rossi’s love story with his M1 Yamaha came to an end, finishing the championship in third he made another massive decision.

Credit: Ducati Corse

Hoping to emulate his success in 2004, Valentino joined Ducati. The dream of an all-Italian team in 2011 ended awfully however. It seemed the only person who could tame the Ducati was Casey Stoner. The Australian memorably said to Rossi “did you run out of talent?”, which led many people to think, perhaps he was right.

Finishing sixth in the championship in 2012 two years in a row, the Ducati dream was not to be for Valentino and he returned to Yamaha.

2013 – Present

Rossi sacked his Crew Chief Jeremy Burgess in order to find fresh motivation. Burgess admitted they “had been chasing rainbows”. Still winning plenty of races and narrowly missing out on a tenth championship in 2015 by 5 points, Valentino is still be able to break records and be at the sharp-end of the pack. Having not won a title in eleven years, Rossi fully admits that he races for the love of the sport and the passion to have fun.

Will that illusive tenth championship be granted in his new adventure with Petronas Yamaha in 2021? And will he secure his 200th podium finish?

Whatever the outcome, the yellow army still flock to watch and support their hero at every race.

The Eifel Grand Prix Preview

Following Valtteri Bottas’ much needed win at the Russian Grand Prix, Formula 1 heads to the Nurburgring, set to stage the ever anticipated 2020 Eifel Grand Prix.

LOOKING BACK

The German Grand Prix has played host to F1 under a variety of names which include the Luxembourg and European Grand Prix. This year the race was named after the towering Eifel mountain range that straddles the famous circuit and stretches between Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia and three nations in Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany.

The Eifel played host to the German GP up until 1976 on the longer Nordschleife configuration. The demanding 23-kilometre-long track was abandoned after the horrific crash involving Niki Lauda on the 1st August 1976 when his Ferrari 312 T2 clipped the earthy bank at Bergwerk corner, collided with the wall and burst into flames.  Lauda narrowly escaped the inferno with his life after quick and decisive actions by fellow drivers: Guy Edwards, Harald Ertl, Brett Lunger and Arturo Merzario who pulled him from the wreckage.

The most recent iteration of the race came in 2013, won by Sebastien Vettel in the Red Bull, a race where Romain Grosjean nearly claimed his first win in Formula One until an unfortunate safety car meant he had to settle for 3rd. No hard feelings Romain?

A safety car and a late Kimi Raikkonen pit stop denied Lotus the win in 2013, with Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel winning his home race – courtesy of Red Bull content pool

THE TRACK

The Nurburgring is a fast and flowing circuit.  The 15 corners and 5.5 kilometres of tarmac is expected to test the drivers and cars to their very limits. Expect plenty of overtaking into the heavy braking zones of Turn 1 and Turn 13, both preceded by long DRS Zones. The first sector of the lap provides a significant challenge due to its twisty nature while many liken the final right-hand corner as ‘Hungaroring-esque’.

Interestingly, this will be the first time seeing this current generation of V6 turbo hybrid, high downforce cars at this circuit. The big stops and sensitive traction zones will be great fun for the current crop that now have significantly swifter power delivery than their predecessors.

Expect wind, cold track temperatures and low levels of grip to play a factor. We have seen certain manufacturers such as McLaren make no secret that they have a sensitivity to wind, while getting heat into the harder compound tyres may prove tricky.

While not as technically demanding as the Hungaroring, cars with quick cornering speeds will be rewarded in sector two and three.

 

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR

Given that F1 has not visited the circuit in years, determining a winner would be difficult in any other circumstance. However, the W11 has looked strong at most circuits this year and would be expected to continue their dominance here this weekend.  Lewis Hamilton can make history by matching Michael Schumacher’s all time win record of 91 victories in Formula One to cement his legacy as one of the sport’s most successful drivers.

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

Further down the order, the fight for third in the constructors will be as tight and enthralling as we have seen all season. McLaren and Racing Point head into the weekend separated by two points while Renault are hot on their heels a further five points behind.

T​he Eifel Grand Prix will also be a historic one for a couple of young drivers currently in Formula 2. Championship leader Mick Schumacher will be rewarded an FP1 outing in the Alfa Romeo for his successes this season, including two victories and a plethora of podiums. It marks the first time a Schumacher will set foot in a Formula 1 car since his father Michael’s retirement in 2012. The Ferrari junior academy driver is touted for a full-time seat in 2021 allegedly alongside Kimi Raikkonen and will be looking to impress.

Mick Schumacher currently leads the F2 Championship – Courtesy of F1 Media

Additionally, championship hopeful Callum Illot will also be given an FP1 outing with Haas after rarely featuring outside the top two in the championship for most of the season. With Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen’s future in doubt, there is a big possibility that he could also be handed a full-time drive next year and will be one to watch closely.

Of course, following the news of Honda’s withdrawal from Formula One in 2022, expect media coverage to follow this news with fervent interest. Speculation is already happening as to what Red Bull’s options are in terms of their future engine supplier. Do they return to Renault? Will they build their own? Will this hamper their 2022 car development? And will this prompt the beginning of the end of the Red Bull – Verstappen love story?

This weekend’s race comes after the news that Honda will pull out of F at the end of next year – Courtesy of Red Bull content pool

Lastly, if weather forecasts are anything to go by in Formula One this year, disregard them entirely. However, rain could play a big part in this weekend with the Eifel Mountains particularly prone to cold and changeable conditions during this time of year. The weather forecast indicates there is strong possibility of rain across the entirety of the weekend which could shake qualifying up magnificently.

With all this in mind the Eifel Grand Prix should be a brilliant event. Make sure not to miss the race which is scheduled for 2:10pm local time, an hour earlier than usual. Set your reminders!

And as ever, ThePitCrewOnline will be here to keep you informed, entertained and up-to-date on all things Formula One throughout the weekend.

Honda to leave F1 at the end of 2021

Honda has announced that it will be withdrawing from Formula 1 as a power unit supplier at the end of the 2021 season.

The Japanese manufacturer stated its desire to realise “carbon neutrality by 2050” as its reason for withdrawing.

“Honda needs to funnel its corporate resources in research and development into the areas of future power unit and energy technologies,” a statement read, “including fuel cell vehicle (FCV) and battery EV (BEV) technologies, which will be the core of carbon-free technologies.”

Honda only returned to F1 back in 2015 as a supplier for McLaren. This relationship – which lasted until 2017 – was fraught with unreliability and performance issues.

They have, however, since made improvements. They joined forces with Alpha Tauri (then named Toro Rosso) in 2018 and Red Bull in 2019 and have powered them to a combined five race victories, making them the only power unit supplier to win races with more than one team since the start of the hybrid era in 2014.

Their withdrawal, though, now leaves both Red Bull and Alpha Tauri in something of a limbo and with not much time to find a new supplier.

If they are unable to find an alternative, then Renault are bound by the regulations to supply them. This is because Renault currently supply the least number of teams, with Mercedes and Ferrari already at the maximum permissible number of three.

However, Red Bull’s split from Renault in 2018 was acrimonious to say the least and it would no doubt be with great reluctance that both parties rekindle that relationship.

Honda’s withdrawal might also have implications for Japanese F2 racer Yuki Tsunoda. Tsunoda is a Honda-backed driver and there were rumours that he was set to be promoted to Alpha Tauri in the near future. However, with Honda now out of the picture that promotion is uncertain.

Red Bull have said that they “acknowledge” Honda’s decision, and have thanked the manufacturer for “its exceptional efforts as power unit supplier”.

IndyCar Mid-Ohio Preview

The NTT IndyCar Series returns this weekend for its fourth doubleheader with the Honda Indy 200 at Lexington’s Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The undulating twists and turns of the thirteen-corner, 2.2-mile road course has seen the circuit become one of the favourite locations on the calendar for drivers and fans alike.

What’s more, with just five races remaining, it’s up to the few remaining title challengers to step up this weekend if they wish to keep the championship alive.

Scott Dixon heads into this weekend on 416 points, a 96-point advantage over Josef Newgarden, with Patricio O’Ward and Takuma Sato realistically the remaining two contenders, albeit around 150 points behind.

Scott Dixon (Joe Skibinski / IndyCar Media)

Looking Back to 2019 Mid-Ohio and beyond.

The 2019 running was won by current championship leader Dixon in spectacular fashion. The New Zealander had rookie Felix Rosenqvist charging in the closing laps. In the final pass through turn two they had wheel contact. Both cars bobbled, but the drivers kept them straight, which led to a thrilling run to the chequered flag as Dixon drove with tires that had lost their effectiveness.

The margin of victory was 0.0934 seconds, the closest IndyCar finish at Mid-Ohio and third closest on a road course in IndyCar history.

Dixon and Chip Ganassi have proved a dominant force at Mid-Ohio in recent years. ‘Mr Mid-Ohio’ has a staggering six wins at the Sports Car Course, likewise Ganassi have won there 11 times, giving them a vast amount of confidence heading into the weekend.

Other drivers who have enjoyed success at the circuit have been Newgarden, Alexander Rossi and Simon Pagenaud with a win apiece. Alongside them, look out for likes of O’Ward, Jack Harvey, Oliver Askew and Rinus VeeKay who have all had relative success at the track in the junior categories.

Pato O’Ward (Joe Skibinski / IndyCar Media)

What should I look out for this weekend?

Dixon is the bookies favourite to win the IndyCar championship due to his commanding lead. However, the focus on this race will continue to be on his realistic championship rivals to see whether they can make a dent in that points deficit. Out of those only Newgarden has won here before, and he may be the most obvious challenge to the Kiwi.

O’Ward will be coming into the weekend following some magnificent but bittersweet performances having narrowly missed out on a handful of wins this season. The Mexican has been a consistent qualifier and regularly puts himself in the frame to challenge for the win. It’s often been strategic calls that have stripped those opportunities away. He’ll be looking to rectify that here to claim his maiden IndyCar win.

Sato, perhaps coming down from his second Indy 500 win, was in the fight arguably in both races last time out at Gateway. He’s somehow found a run of form that’s put him in his highest championship spot in his career. Although challenging Dixon in the standings is a tough order, to compete well against the likes of two-time champion Newgarden and up-and-coming superstar O’Ward will be all the incentive Sato needs to prove that experience sometimes trumps youth.

Another driver with something to prove this weekend will be Andretti’s Rossi. His crushing performance in the 2018 running race saw him and the team take a dominant victory from pole with an incredible tyre strategy. Rossi has demonstrated that he has the speed and his team have the strategies to come out on top in Mid-Ohio and he’ll be determined to do so again to try and draw himself closer to the top five in the championship, after a season plagued by bad luck.

Rinus VeeKay (Joe Skibinski / IndyCar Media)

In terms of the battle for the coveted ‘Rookie of the Year’ title, VeeKay currently leads that fight, 13th in the standings on 181 points. His closest rivals are Alex Palou on 160 and Askew on 155. All three drivers have enjoyed a mixed bag of success and rotten luck, showing promising qualifying and race pace. VeeKay certainly has the momentum coming into the weekend and will be looking to replicate the win he had at the circuit during his time in the Pro Mazda Championship.

Just a mention about Colton Herta. What a season he’s been having. I wrote about his incredible qualifying performances during my preview for Gateway and touted him as someone to watch out for. He then went on to finish in fourth and sixth across both races of the doubleheader putting him in fifth place in the championship on 250 points. In only his sophomore year in IndyCar he’s certainly proved that he’s a superstar in the making, and now has the consistency to mount a title challenge in the future. I wouldn’t put it past Herta to do something similarly impressive this weekend to try and break into the top four.

Dale Coyne Racing‘s Santino Ferrucci is also on an impressive run of form. A fellow sophomore and a young American ‘hot-shot’, he is easily, like-for-like Colton Herta’s closest rival. After an amazing fourth at the Indy 500, followed by a top ten finish last time out at Gateway, Ferrucci is making somewhat of a name for himself. It wasn’t too long ago that he enjoyed a run of three top ten finishes between IMS and Iowa. He’ll be hoping to draw on his prior experience of racing single-seaters in Europe to try and get a similarly strong result on the Mid-Ohio road course this weekend so that he can impress further.

Finally, keep an eye on Meyer Shank Racing‘s Jack Harvey, aiming to continue what has so far been relatively strong season so far for the British driver. He’s shown glimpses of brilliances with three consecutive top ten finishes (IOWA 1, IOWA 2, INDY) and a strong showing at Gateway before an unfortunate timing with the caution ruined a race where he’d been running in the top 5. He’s currently 14th in the standings, which is by far the highest he has ever been during his time in IndyCar. This weekend he has an opportunity to push for 11th in the standings as Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marcus Ericsson, VeeKay and Harvey are all separated by just 3 points.

IndyCar at Mid-Ohio will be shown live on Sky Sports F1 with qualifying set for 7:30pm (GMT) on Saturday followed by the race at around 8:30pm (GMT) on Sunday.

Takuma Sato seizes second Indy 500 win

image Courtesy Of IndyCar

Takuma Sato seizes a second Indianapolis 500 victory from Scott Dixon during the closing stages of the race.

Dixon, who had led over one hundred and ten laps at The Brickyard was overtaken by the Japanese driver after the final round of pit stops and looked unstoppable as he continued to build over a second gap to the five-time IndyCar world champion.

Lapped traffic caused late drama as Sato lost a good amount of aerodynamic performance in dirty air. However, both Sato and Dixon cleared the troublesome backmarkers and It was looking to be a shootout finish.

That was until Specer Pigot brought out the final caution with less than five laps to go with a terrifying side on collision with the pit entry wall. Spencer was relatively unhurt by the incident and will go for medical check-ups immediately as a precaution.image Courtesy Of IndCar

Race officials refused to bring out the red flag, which had it been used would have given us a last-dash race to finish under an enthralling restart. Instead, Takuma Sato cruised to the finish line behind the safety car to be only the twentieth driver to take multiple Indy 500 victories, his first since 2017.

Dixon, was quick on his radio to suggest a red flag should be thrown, knowing his only chance of victory could have been snatched from him in that moment:

“Are they going red?” Dixon asked. “They’ve got to go red. There’s no way they can clean that up.”

Graham Rahal, Sato’s teammate at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, was closing in on the top two during the closing stages of the race only to cross the line in third.

Unfortunately for pole sitter, Marco Andretti, it was a day to forget as he rarely posed a threat to the front runners, tumbling down to thirteenth place. The search for another Andretti winner at 500 goes on.

For Arrow McLaren SP driver Patricio O’Ward he will take the coveted fastest rookie award crossing the line in seventh with a magnificent performance that saw him briefly leading the race. However, his performance will be bittersweet given circumstances of fellow teammates Oliver Askew and Fernando Alonso.

Following a caution caused by Dalton Kellet, a restart saw Conor Daly drop a wheel onto the concrete apron through turn four and fired his Ed Carpenter Chevrolet into the wall. Oliver Askew drove into the ensuing smokescreen and took avoiding action but lost control making heavy contact with both the wall and Daly.

image Courtesy Of IndCar

For two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso, it was also a troublesome day where he struggled constantly with balance and clutch issues. He rarely appeared inside the top twenty eventually finishing in twenty first, crushing his dreams of taking the triple-crown on what may be his final attempt as he goes to race with the Renault F1 team for the next two years. However, he can take some solace that after two attempts, he has finally crossed the line to finish, what he may come to call ‘The Hardest Spectacle in the World’.

In this incident-filled race, there was eight non-finishers with James Davison, Marcus Ericsson, Oliver Askew, Conor Daly, Dalton Kellet, Alex Palou, Alex Rossi and Spencer Pigot all failing to cross the finish line.

Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi was running with frontrunners Dixon and Sato for the majority of the race. Indeed, it was Dixon and Rossi who were working together to pull away from the rest of the field during the second quarter of the race.

However, it was not to be for the 2017 Indy 500 winner, after an issue in the pits with a slow right rear caused Rossi to be released dangerously into the path of Takuma Sato. A subsequent investigation handed a penalty to Rossi sending him painfully to the back of the grid.

Clearly angered by the punishment, Rossi went straight on the attack making up five positions on the first lap of racing but his chances of victory quickly went from slim to zero as he became the latest retiree.

Losing the rear at turn two, Rossi slid the majority of the way down the wall on the back straight. In four previous Indy 500 entries, Rossi had a record of one victory and no finish lower than seventh. Now, he can add a DNF to that list.

Pit stops are always an opportunity for errors, but for Rinus VeeKay it was a constant early source of problems. The rookie Dutchman first stalled in a stop, but at the next stop earned a stop-go penalty for hitting team personnel – locking his brakes and sliding into the mechanics while entering for a stop.

However, the pivotal moment of the race may have come at lap 122, which saw Spanish rookie Alex Palou embrace the barrier at turn one, a similar incident to Marcus Ericsson 98 laps previously. The caution came at the wrong time to enable drivers to make it to the flag on one more fuel stop, but all drivers save for Felix Rosenqvist pitted for fresh tyres and none other than Sato and Dixon were at the head of this train, giving them an straight race to the finish.

Other noteworthy performances were of Santino Ferucci who finished in a magnificent fifth after a late charge saw him overtake defending IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden. In addition, credit should be given to young star Colton Herta in eight and Britain’s Jack Harvey in ninth.

In the war between the engine manufacturers it was Honda that dominated with eight out of the top finishers. James Hinchliffe in seventh and Colton Herta in eight were the only Chevrolet powered cars in the top ten.

Top Ten Official Classification:

  1. Takuma Sato – Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
  2. Scott Dixon – Chip Ganassi Racing
  3. Graham Rahal – Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
  4. Santino Ferucci – Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan
  5. Josef Newgarden – Team Pesnke
  6. Patricio O Ward – Arrow McLaren SP
  7. James Hinchliffe – Andretti Autosport
  8. Colton Herta – Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport
  9. Jack Harvey – Meyer Shank Racing
  10. Ryan Hunter-Reay – Andretti Autosport

Opinion: Is Verstappen costing Red Bull the Constructors Title?

Taking over from Stewart Grand Prix in 2005, Red Bull Racing have been one of F1’s front running teams for over a decade. However, despite having a winning car since 2009, their last constructors’ (and drivers’) title was in 2013 – seven years ago.

Vettel-Webber 2009 Abu-Dhabi 02 // Paul-Henri Cahier/Red Bull Content Pool // SI201412034496 // Usage for editorial use only //

In part, that is due to the Turbo Hybrid Era and the rise of Mercedes’ subsequent rise. The change of engine regulations after 2013 saw Mercedes dominate the sport, with Red Bull’s Renault engine unable to consistently match the German outfit. Yet, in recent years, separate issues have arisen within Red Bull Racing that makes them look less and less likely to win another constructors’ championship.

2014 Canadian Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

As soon as Max Verstappen joined F1 in 2015, it was clear that he was Red Bull’s golden boy and, in the eyes of many, he had the talent to deserve it. It wasn’t long before he was promoted to the team in place of Daniil Kvyat, partnering Daniel Ricciardo. With Verstappen and Ricciardo at the wheel, they appeared to have one of the strongest line-ups on the grid and if they could just have a competitive engine, they’d be able to grab the title.

But their relationship with Renault was quickly diminishing and it was announced they would run the Honda engine from 2019 onwards. Paired with Red Bull’s increasing focus on Verstappen, Honda’s unsuccessful recent record in F1 did little to persuade Ricciardo to stay. He left for Renault.  Red Bull were now in a predicament, who should they sign as a replacement? The promising, but inexperienced Frenchman, Pierre Gasly, was who they went with.

However, this was where those big issues started to rise to the surface. With only one “star driver” in the team, Red Bull decided to mould the team around Verstappen. They designed the car to suit him, told his teammate to use his setups, and allegedly gave him the new upgrades first. If Fernando Alonso taught us anything, it’s that this model is rarely successful, and somewhat unsurprisingly, Gasly wasn’t on the pace. He was dropped after just 12 races in 2019.

MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 28: Pierre Gasly of France and Red Bull Racing talks with race engineer Mike Lugg in the garage during day three of F1 Winter Testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 28, 2019 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI201902280252 // Usage for editorial use only //

Alex Albon, Gasly’s replacement, started off his Red Bull career closer to Verstappen, but since the start of the 2020 season he has also been too far away from his teammate. He was even allegedly used as a test dummy for the Hard tyres in the recent Spanish Grand Prix. Gasly was GP2 (now F2) Champion in 2016, and Albon finished third in F2 in 2018, just marginally behind the highly rated Lando Norris and George Russell, so how can it be that these two drivers seemingly forgot how to drive overnight? Answer: They didn’t.

With Red Bull giving sole focus on superstar Verstappen, they will struggle to find someone who can be quick enough to support him. In order to be competitive, drivers need attention from their team. and currently Red Bull are stuck in a cycle whereby: the more they focus on Verstappen, the worse their other driver does, thus the more they focus on Verstappen etc. One of the biggest factors of Red Bull’s failure to win the constructors title is the toxic nature of how they treat their drivers. Max Verstappen is undoubtedly exceptional, but the team focusing just on him is costing them a chance at fighting for the championship. Unless they can find a driver who happens to suit a car that is built around Verstappen, Red Bull will not win the team’s title for the foreseeable future.

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO – MAY 27: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer on track during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 27, 2018 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI201805290325 // Usage for editorial use only //

At the moment, Mercedes have a dominant car, and in order to win, Red Bull need to improve theirs, but it is next to impossible to succeed as a team with just one car. They are the only team looking anywhere near likely to challenge Mercedes, but whilst they only pay attention to Verstappen, I fear Mercedes’ dominance will continue for some time.

Feature Image Courtesy of Peter Fox/ Getty Images/ Red Bull Content Pool

Six Of The Best: BSB Nuggets

As the countdown to the 2020 Bennett’s British Superbike Season ticks towards the series roaring into life at Donington Park on August 7th, here are a few fun facts about the series’ history for you to wow your mates with down the pub when taking in a (socially distanced) cold one.  Each fact is relevant to its numerical position in the list.

1. The Birth Of The Championship 

The British Superbike Championship (BSB) can trace its origins back to 1988 at the start of the Superbike racing boom, which coincided with the inaugural World Superbike Championship season.

The first BSB season was contested under Formula TT rules with race number one taking place in May 1988 at the Carnaby track on the site of a former RAF base near Bridlington in East Yorkshire. The first race winner was Darren Dixon who piloted his Suzuki RG500 all the way to the first championship title later in the year.

Dixon went on to become a star in the field of sidecar racing, winning the World Sidecar Championship in 1995 and 1996. Dixon’s son Jake came second in the 2018 BSB Championship and now competes in Moto2.

2. Always The Bridesmaid 

Fact number two refers to the second position in the BSB Championship achieved by Chris ‘Stalker’ Walker four years on the trot between 1997 and 2000.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking of these second placed finishes came at the climax of the 2000 season. With just three laps remaining in the final race, Walker led the pack only for his engine to fail on him. Despite trying desperately to reignite his machine, the mechanical problem allowed title rival Neil Hodgson to overtake Walker not just in the race but overall in the championship.

3. Niall’s Treble Triumph 

They say three is the magic number and it certainly was for Niall Mackenzie who became the most dominant rider of the 1990s, taking the BSB title three years in a row in 1996, 1997 and 1998.

Riding on the spectacular Cadbury’s Boost Yamaha team—run by former Grand Prix rider Rob McElnea—Mackenzie racked up 14 wins over the course of the 1997 season. This record was only bettered by Leon Camier with 19 during his dominant 2009 title win, and only Shane Byrne has won more BSB titles than the super Scot.

The Mackenzie name lives on as Niall’s sons Tarran and Taylor both now compete in the BSB and Superstock championships respectively.

4. Champions From Afar 

Over the course of British Superbike history, there have been four riders from outside the UK and Ireland who have finished the season top of the pile.

The first was Australian Troy Bayliss who piloted his GSE Ducati 996 to the 1999 title before going on to win a hat-trick of championships in World Superbikes. Spaniard Gregorio Lavilla only got his ride aboard the Airwaves Ducati 999 just days before the start of the 2005 season as a substitute for the injured James Haydon, but ended the season as champion after surprising many and holding off the challenge of the Honda riders and team-mate Leon Haslam.

Ryuichi Kiyonari became the first Japanese rider to claim the BSB title when he prevailed at the end of the dramatic 2006 championship decider at Brands Hatch. ‘Kiyo’ repeated the feat in 2007 and then after a spell in World Superbikes returned in 2010 to make it a hat-trick of titles all aboard the HM Plant Honda CBR1000RR FireBlade.

The most recent foreigner to win the British championship was Australian King of the Cadwell Park Mountain Josh Brookes who won his first (and to date only) BSB crown aboard the Milwaukee Yamaha R1 in 2015.

5. Rockin’ All Over The World 

Five British Superbike riders (including two former champions) have gone on to win the World Superbike crown after making the move from the domestic series.

As mentioned earlier, Troy Bayliss won the British title in 1999 before going on to add the World crown on three occasions in 2001, 2008 and 2009. Lancashire rider Neil Hodgson capitalised on Chris Walker’s dramatic engine failure in the final race of the 2000 season to win the BSB title aboard the GSE Ducati 996 (same bike ridden by Bayliss the previous year) and then conquered the world in 2003.

James Toseland rode the Paul Bird-backed Vimto Honda VTR1000 during the 2000 BSB season before moving up to the World Championship, winning the global crown on two occasions in 2004 and aboard the HannSpree Ten Kate Honda in 2007.

In the same year that Toseland bagged his second World Championship, Tom Sykes made his BSB debut aboard the Stobart Vent-Axia Honda FireBlade. After a year with Rizla Suzuki in 2008, Sykes made the step up to WSBK with Yamaha Moto Italia. Four years after making his World Championship debut in 2013, Sykes won his maiden title aboard the Kawasaki Racing Team ZX-10R.

Perhaps the most successful rider to have won the WSBK title after making his debut in BSB is none other than Jonathan Rea. After making his bow aboard the Red Bull Honda FireBlade in 2006 and then eventually stepping up to the factory HM Plant Honda team for 2007, finishing second in the championship behind team-mate Ryuichi Kiyonari, Rea made the move to World Supersport for 2008. After eventually making the step up to the WSBK Championship in 2009, Rea went on to record five successive World Championships between 2015 and 2019, becoming the most successful rider in the history of the series.

6. Shakey’s Supremacy 

We couldn’t mention this number without making reference to the six British Superbike titles won by the most successful rider in the championship’s history, Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne.

Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne At BSB Oulton Park 2017. Image courtesy of Ducati

The first of Byrne’s titles came aboard the Monstermob Ducati 998 in 2003 before spells in World Superbikes and Moto GP. After returning to the British series in 2006 with Rizla Suzuki and Stobart Vent-Axia Honda in 2007, another ride aboard a Ducati (this time the 1098) yielded his second championship in 2008.

Following another brief stint in the World Superbike Championship and then a return to BSB with HM Plant Honda, Byrne reunited with former team boss Paul Bird in 2012 and netted his third British title the same year aboard the Rapid Solicitors Kawasaki, repeating the trick in 2014. After the PBM team switched to a factory backed BeWiser Ducati Panigale 1199, Byrne notched another two back to back titles in 2016 and 2017.

Another rider will have to go a long way to depose Shane Byrne’s place in the BSB history books.

Those are our top six facts from BSB history. We look forward to seeing what the 2020 season can add to that when we hit Donington Park on August 7th.

Featured Image courtesy of Ducati

2020 Styrian Grand Prix preview: second chance in Spielberg

Another week, another visit to Austria’s Red Bull Ring—this time for the Formula 1 Styrian Grand Prix.

Last week’s Austrian Grand Prix was a terrific opening round to the 2020 season. Valtteri Bottas landed an early blow in the title fight with Lewis Hamilton, Lando Norris earned his maiden podium with a last-gasp effort, and there was plenty of close-quarters racing throughout.

Last week’s result was also largely unexpected, thanks to incidents and reliability issues almost halving the field by the chequered flag. That means we could get a very different result again this weekend, if the teams and drivers don’t have half as much trouble keeping their cars on track.

One of the teams that’s sure to factor more in the Styrian Grand Prix is Red Bull. It was clear last time out in Austria that they were Mercedes’ closest challengers, but technical problems for both Max Verstappen and Alex Albon led to a double DNF instead. Both drivers will be going into this weekend pushing hard to make up for that, with Albon especially motivated after coming so close to his first F1 podium.

Racing Point F1 Team

Racing Point will also be hoping for a much better result this time out. The RP20 showed more evidence of its considerable pace in practice and qualifying, but a technical DNF for Lance Stroll and a penalty dropping Sergio Perez behind both McLarens in P6 left a lot still on the table for the team. Provided everything goes to plan for them this weekend, Racing Point should be able to finish ahead of their midfield rivals and take away a decent haul of points.

However, there will be several teams hoping for a repeat of last Sunday’s attrition. Alpha Tauri and Alfa Romeo both managed to score points last time out, with Pierre Gasly in P7 and Antonio Giovinazzi in P9, but on pace alone neither team looked that close to the top ten throughout the weekend.

And then there’s Ferrari. Although Charles Leclerc finished second in the opening race, that was very much a great result salvaged from a terrible outing. The SF1000 looked sluggish all weekend, never troubling Mercedes or Red Bull and qualifying behind McLaren and Racing Point. Add to that Sebastian Vettel’s spin after colliding with Carlos Sainz, and the result was a very sobering start to the season.

One glimmer of hope for the Scuderia was that the car looked much more responsive later in the race on the harder tyres, and the team will have hopefully learned something from last weekend’s pain that can be used to improve this weekend. If not, Leclerc and Vettel will likely find themselves scrapping away with the upper midfield rather than challenging for the podium.

The 2020 Styrian Grand Prix gets underway with free practice this Friday, with full coverage on our Twitter feed.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

F2 Russia preview: title in De Vries’ hands

The 2019 Formula 2 Championship could be decided at this weekend’s penultimate round in Sochi, Russia, as points leader Nyck de Vries has his first chance to wrap up the title.

De Vries has been the runaway title leader this year, having amassed three wins, seven further podiums and four pole positions, and finishing in the points in every race bar one. This has put the ART driver on 225 points going into the penultimate round at the Sochi Autodrom, 59 clear of nearest rival Nicholas Latifi.

Mathematically speaking, there are still four drivers that can take the title away from De Vries: Latifi, Luca Ghiotto, Jack Aitken and Sergio Sette Camara. But such is the gulf between De Vries and his challengers, that if those four fail to score even in the feature race, De Vries can wrap up the title by finishing anywhere in the top five—or as low as seventh, if he also secures the four points for pole position.

But while it’s unlikely that all four of De Vries’ rivals will finish outside the top ten in Saturday’s feature race, they can’t afford to squander any opportunities this weekend as at least one of them needs to outscore De Vries by 12 points or more to take the fight down to the wire in Abu Dhabi.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

With the top five focusing on the championship this weekend, those drivers sitting just behind them in the standings will be hoping that preoccupation will give them a chance to steal some major results before the end of the season.

Nobuharu Matsushita currently sits sixth in the championship, out of title contention on 116 points. The Honda junior driver said earlier in the year that his goal was to finish in the top four in the standings, to earn him the necessary superlicence points to graduate to F1 with Toro Rosso.

But although he has two feature race wins to his name this year, Matsushita is still 37 points adrift of fourth-placed Aitken—perfectly achievable with 96 points still up for grabs, but a tall order given Aitken’s form this year.

And as if Matsushita’s goal of fourth place wasn’t already far enough away, he may yet drop another place in the standings this weekend with Renault junior driver Guanyu Zhou only one point behind him in eighth.

Zhou, who recently tested Renault’s 2017-spec F1 car, has been F2’s standout rookie this year, accumulating four third-place finishes and a pole position at Silverstone. However his maiden win at this level still eludes him, and he will be hungrier than ever to claim it this weekend and tee himself up as a 2020 title contender.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

BWT Arden and the Sauber Junior Team by Charouz will once again field full entries this weekend, after both entered just one car each at Monza following the tragic loss of Anthoine Hubert and injury of Juan Manuel Correa at Spa last month.

GP2 and F2 veteran Artem Markelov has been brought in to take over Arden’s second car alongside Tatiana Calderon. He will carry the number 22, as Hubert’s number 19 has been officially retired for the rest of the season.

Meanwhile, Sauber have signed Matevos Isaakyan to fill Correa’s place for the final two rounds. The 21-year-old drove for SMP in the World Endurance Championship last year, and finished runner-up in the 2017 Formula V8 3.5 series. Together with Markelov and ART’s Nikita Mazepin, Isaakyan will make it three Russians on the grid for their home event.

Last week, Correa’s family issued an update on his condition that said he had been removed from his induced coma and no longer needed an ECMO machine to assist his breathing. However, he remains in a serious condition in intensive care and is awaiting major surgery to his right leg, which is being delayed until his lungs are capable of withstanding the operation.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

Singapore GP preview: Mercedes favourites at Marina Bay

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

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

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

Paul Ripke / Mercedes AMG

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

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

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

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

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

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

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

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

Haas F1 Media