Sebastian Vettel: Possible Redemption?

So the worst kept secret in F1 is out. Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel will be moving to Racing Point for next season when it is rebranded as Aston Martin. It all was the result of Vettel’s departure from Ferrari who he has raced for since 2015, a partnership that he had hoped would have resulted in a fifth championship – but it wasn’t meant to be.

Vettel won four straight championships with Red Bull who housed him throughout his junior career, however nowadays you would be forgiven for doubting that this was the same driver. The Vettel of today has been so dejected, dare I say humbled by his lack of success with the Scuderia, and there’s a narrative these days that it’s all because of Ferrari. I however disagree with this notion, it’s not all one party’s fault the relationship has soured.

Sebastian Vettel celebrates his fourth and final championship with the Red Bull Team – courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Before I proceed, I feel the need to put forward my biases and perspective so everyone knows. I wasn’t a fan of Vettel back in his Red Bull domination days, and to an extent I’m still not a fan but even now, I do have some sympathy for him.

When he joined Ferrari, it was the beginning of the Mercedes dominance in the turbo hybrid era so Vettel had a mountain to climb. He had just come off the back of a winless final season with Red Bull in which he was shown up rather considerably by new Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who took three wins on his way to third in the championship.

He took the seat of departing Fernando Alonso, who had hoped to be Ferrari’s next champion and came very close but lost out to Vettel in 2010 and 2012, and lined up alongside Ferrari’s last champion Kimi Räikkönen. Vettel really surprised in his first season with the Scuderia, as he took three victories at Malaysia, Hungary and Singapore on his way to third in the championship.

Vettel enjoyed a positive first season with Ferrari – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

However unlike his teammate the previous season Daniel Ricciardo, Vettel took those victories on pure pace as opposed to benefiting from some misfortunes that befell both Mercedes cars. In fact from 2014-2016, it was Vettel’s three wins that were the only ones that were won not from misfortunes for Mercedes. Even with Merc’s dominance, Vettel came very close to denying Nico Rosberg runner-up in the championship that year.

2016 was a bit of a nothing year for Vettel, but with the regulation change coming into 2017 there was renewed hope for Vettel and Ferrari that they could take the battle to Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. At first it was very much hopeful, as Vettel and Hamilton traded places in the first two races and then the Ferrari driver began opening up a lead.

Despite a promising 2017 season, Vettel fell short of his fifth title, losing out to Lewis Hamilton – Courtesy of Ferrari media

Whilst the two drivers were relishing this opportunity to battle it out for the championship, it did all come to a head at Azerbaijan when Hamilton led Vettel under safety car conditions, Vettel didn’t anticipate Hamilton’s movement and ran into the back of him, assumed he brake tested him so he did the thing he believed was a good idea, drove alongside Hamilton and deliberately ran into him.

Then the infamous Singapore start collision caused by Seb moving over on Kimi and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen handed the momentum to Hamilton, and with Mercedes outdeveloping Ferrari, the 2017 title race was swiftly over. A rejuvenated Vettel went into 2018 feeling confident, and he took two wins from the first two races to open up an early lead. But before long, Vettel began making more and more errors.

He threw away a win at Baku when he locked his brake going into turn one on a safety car restart, locked up at the start at the French GP and clipping Bottas, thus ruining both their races. However it was Hockenheim that sealed Vettel’s fate, where he had a commanding lead and when some drizzle arrived and he lost it heading into the stadium section and burying it in the gravel and tyre barrier.

From then on, it came thick and fast. Monza lap one when he spun after touching Hamilton, Suzuka when he spun when trying to pass Verstappen heading into spoon, lap one at the US Grand Prix when he tapped Ricciardo and, you guessed it, spun. Couple that with Hamilton driving like a man possessed, Hamilton went from trailing Vettel in terms of championships 4-1 to then being 5-4 in his favour.

Meanwhile on the other side of both garages, their Finnish teammates were highlighting the difference between them.

Whilst Vettel had Räikkönen as his teammate, Hamilton had Valtteri Bottas. Both of them were playing supporting roles, but it was quickly becoming obvious that whilst Hamilton’s driving was warranting the lead driver status, Vettel clearly wasn’t doing enough to have his teammate hang back. This coincided with the meteoric rise of a Ferrari-backed driver from Monaco, called Charles Leclerc.

After winning titles in GP3 and Formula 2, Leclerc spent his rookie F1 campaign with Sauber and got the call-up to Ferrari for 2019. Clearly very highly rated by many, there was expectations that Leclerc could do what Ricciardo did in 2014 and wipe the floor with Seb. In a way, he kind of did.

As Leclerc looked set to take victory in only his second race for the team before a mechanical failure dropped him to third, Vettel had it difficult to hold him back initially and then spun again when passed by Hamilton later in the race. Vettel then got a penalty for skipping across the chicane at Canada and nearly colliding with Hamilton, which ultimately lost him the race and he protested after the race with an act of defiance switching of the first and second place boards.

Vettel’s dangerous re-join at last year’s Canadian Grand Prix earned him a race-costing penalty – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

At Silverstone, he locked up and slammed into the back of Max Verstappen just after he overtook Vettel after spending the majority of the race up until that point having a very close battle with Leclerc. Another spin at Monza was further compounded by Leclerc taking victories at the previous race at Spa, and then in front of the Tifosi, but even with Seb taking victory at Singapore the following round couldn’t shake the narrative that he was losing it.

It wasn’t helped when in Brazil, Vettel swiped at Leclerc putting them both out in an incident very similar to when he did the same at Istanbul back in 2010 to his then Red Bull teammate Mark Webber. In the end, Leclerc won the qualifying battle and despite Vettel being ahead in more races, he still finished behind Leclerc.

Ferrari endured a tumultuous 2019 season with among a tense inter-team rivalry between Vettel and Charles Leclerc

I am not just pointing these out to kick Vettel whilst he’s down, I took no pleasure in watching him make these errors which were becoming an all too common occurrence, prompting the meme ‘SBINALLA’ whenever he would mess up. Of course, before this delayed season began it was announced that Vettel’s Ferrari contract would not be renewed and he’d be replaced in 2021 by Carlos Sainz.

Since then, it’s been a narrative of “Vettel didn’t perform because Ferrari didn’t believe in him”. To that I say, well can you blame them? If a rookie kept making the mistakes Vettel was making, they would have probably been replaced. It’s a two-way system, Vettel made a lot of unforced errors which resulted in Ferrari losing faith, and now they don’t give him the belief that he needs.

Vettel will leave Ferrari having failed to win a championship with the team

Again I don’t take pleasure in saying this, even I’ve begun to feel sorry for the guy. However maybe the move to Aston Martin is just what he needs. A fresh start (which seemed to bode well for him in 2015), plus the current ‘Pink Mercedes’ which will be used again in 2021 could lend well to his driving style. The turbo hybrid cars don’t have as much rear downforce as pre-2014 cars due to the exhaust gases not being channeled under the car.

Vettel’s style could bode even better when the 2022 regulations roll around since they utilise ground effect. However by that point, maybe the likes of Verstappen, Leclerc and all the other young guns will be the benchmark.

I’m not writing him off completely, but Vettel has got a lot to be proud of in his career. Winning for Toro Rosso at Monza, winning four straight championships at Red Bull, and he could do very well with Aston Martin. But ultimately, just because he has done that in the past doesn’t mean his errors during his time at Ferrari can be overlooked.

I hope Vettel gets his mojo back and can bring a win or two for the team that started out as Jordan back in 1991, I hope he can prove to himself and everyone else that they are wrong.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of Ferrari Media

What could the future hold for Ferrari?

This weekend’s Tuscan Grand Prix at Mugello marks Ferrari’s 1000th race in the Formula One World Championship. They are the only team to have been competing since the very first season, and has amassed a religious-esque following from so many people around the world.

Ferrari right now are going through a rough patch in Formula One, and their current chairman John Elkann has gone on record saying that we shouldn’t expect Ferrari to be consistently near the front until the big regulation changes in 2022. This resulted from the supposed engine and oil-burn rule clarification that Ferrari were highly suspected as having breached last year, which now has led to them going from having the best engine to the worst.

Their performances this year have been at comedic levels of horrendous. Charles Leclerc has been dragging that car into getting results that it really should not be capable of.  It has been reminiscent to that of Fernando Alonso during his time at the Scuderia when he was able to somehow challenge for championships. On the other side of the garage is the departing Sebastian Vettel; the four-time champion is having a torrid final season with the Italian team that took his hero Michael Schumacher to five straight championships.

A lot of F1 fans seem to believe that Ferrari are deliberately trying to sabotage Vettel, and whilst even I as someone who didn’t enjoy Vettel’s time at the top with Red Bull can sympathise with him and see how dejected he looks, I think this idea that Ferrari are trying to sabotage him is utter clownery. The fact that so many fans are convinced of this, just makes every error that Ferrari make (which admittedly is a lot of the time) look fairly suspect.

GP ITALIA F1/2020 – GIOVEDI 03/09/2020
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

So what does the future hold for the Scuderia? Well Leclerc has a long-term contract so providing there isn’t any exit clause exercised, he should be there until 2024 and for at least the next two seasons he will be partnered up with Carlos Sainz. They are looking to restructure their management personnel and give current team principal Mattia Binotto a more focused role and more people coming in to take on more specific positions.

Ferrari have always been the diva of the F1 paddock. Knowing the pull they have to F1, they exercise their right to withdraw at any moment they don’t look to be getting their way, which has led to various pulling out threats over the years. They even claim a bigger chunk of the FOM prize money at the end of the year, for the privilege of F1 to have them there basically, yet they can’t spend that money to actually make a decent car.

GP BELGIO F1/2020 – VENERDÌ 28/08/2020
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nevertheless, since we are on the topic of money, F1 is bringing in a $145,000,000 budget cap for next season. Now I have no doubt that Ferrari will overspend and threaten to leave if they are punished for it, but perhaps the upcoming budget cap could possibly result in Ferrari diversifying their race program. Back in the day, it was typical to see Ferrari in other various forms of competition.

Right now, Ferrari do have teams in sportscar racing competing with their 488 GTE and GT3 cars in various illustrious endurance races and championships. However there are plans very soon for the FIA World Endurance Championship to adopt a set of regulations that will allow for manufacturers to compete with race versions of some of their top line supercars in the top class replacing the dying LMP1 formula. There is a bit of time to further clarify the rules but we’ve seen interest in the form of Toyota, Aston Martin among others.

I’d love to see the likes of McLaren racing the Senna, and as unlikely as it may be, Mercedes with their One hypercar, Porsche with the 918, and maybe Ferrari with the LaFerrari? Although by that point, perhaps the LaFerrari will have been replaced. In any case, seeing some of these F1 teams and drivers going off to do Le Mans in their spare time would be amazing. Of course if we look back to 2015, then-Force India F1 driver Nico Hülkenberg raced at Le Mans with Porsche and took overall victory!

Then there’s even mumblings that suggest Ferrari may join McLaren in putting in a full IndyCar effort. Considering their chairman is American, it would be perfect to race there and also when Enzo Ferrari himself stated he’d love to get a victory at the Indy 500. But of course, they have to get their F1 program back on track before they consider touching anything else.

Since we are talking about Ferrari’s future, let’s look to their other affiliated drivers. First up is current Alfa Romeo F1 driver Antonio Giovinazzi, who became part of Ferrari following his successful season in GP2 in 2016 when he just missed out on the championship to his Prema teammate and new F1 race winner Pierre Gasly.

Giovinazzi was leapfrogged to the 2018 Sauber drive by now-Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc and admittedly, for good reason. He had been out of a race seat for a while, though he did impress when he was called to race for the Swiss outfit in the first two races of 2017 when main driver Pascal Wehrlein injured his back at the Race of Champions. Albeit Antonio did wreck quite heavily a couple of times at the second race in China, but you can put that down to having very little time to prepare.

I felt like he did impress last season for the newly rebranded Alfa Romeo alongside longtime F1 veteran and 2007 champion Kimi Räikkönen, however he’s certainly having to step it up for this year. I feel like he is doing so in a sub-par Alfa, but he has to step it up if he doesn’t want his ‘paid for by Ferrari’ seat at Alfa Romeo to go to one of the many impressive juniors in F2.

Ferrari have five academy drivers in F2. Mick Schumacher, Robert Shwartzman, Callum Ilott, Marcus Armstrong and Giuliano Alesi, and it’s the first three who are immediately impressing. New Zealander Armstrong was FIA F3 runner-up to Shwartzman but unlike the Russian, hasn’t hit the ground running in F2 but like Schumacher, may be even more impressive next year. Alesi on the other hand, the son of Ferrari F1 race winner Jean Alesi who had to sell of his beloved Ferrari F40 to get Giuliano a drive with the new HWA outfit, and probably won’t be in F2 next year judging by his lack of results.

Mick Schumacher, Prema (Courtesy of Ferrari Media)

So Giovinazzi’s direct competition comes in the form of British driver Ilott, SMP Racing-backed Robert Shwartzman and also Mick Schumacher, the son of Ferrari’s most famous driver Michael Schumacher. They are trading places in the top three right now and could all end up in F1 perhaps with the likes of both of Ferrari powered teams Alfa Romeo and Haas.

Looking at FIA F3, Enzo Fittipaldi (grandson of Emerson) has only had a few points finishes but has proven himself capable of great results with being the Italian F4 champion in 2018 and runner-up in Formula Regional Europe last year. Speaking of Formula Regional, there’s the Brazilian Gianluca Petecof going toe-to-toe with Arthur Leclerc, younger brother to Charles.

Leclerc Arthur, F3 Tatuus 318 A.R. #14, Prema Powerteam

In Italian F4, Ferrari acquired the services of first year car racing driver Dino Beganovic from Sweden who has already picked up a pole. You may have seen him competing in the first Virtual Grand Prix with Robert Shwartzman, and also did a little race with Lando Norris in the #ChallengeLando livestream on the F1 game.

That segues on nicely to the final few Ferrari drivers. Last year was their first foray into Esports, and in the F1 Esports pro draft, they had first pickings and selected Italian driver David Tonizza which ended up being a masterstroke as he ended up winning the championship. However their other two drivers didn’t score points and they lost the team’s championship to Red Bull.

So to rectify this, they signed former McLaren Shadow driver Enzo Bonito who, alongside Tonizza, competed in the F1 Esports Pro Exhibition races, the SRO GT E-Sports Series Silver category championship and even the Le Mans 24 Virtual with Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi. Then in this year’s pro draft, Ferrari – or officially known in Esports as FDA Hublot – signed Slovakian driver Filip Prešnajder.

Ferrari are not short of talent in the driver department, and they undoubtedly will always be a presence within motorsport for years to come. They have an uphill battle, and hopefully one day we will see Ferrari back where they belong.

 

Feature Image courtesy of Ferrari Media

Italian GP qualifying: Hamilton takes 94th career pole as Sainz impresses

Lewis Hamilton took his 94th career pole and his seventh at Monza on Saturday afternoon after pipping Bottas in a very close fight. The English driver took pole by 0.069 seconds after putting in a mega lap in the second stint of Q3. He now has 68 poles with Mercedes alone which equals Michael Schumacher’s all-time career poles.

2020 Italian Grand Prix, Saturday – LAT Images

Carlos Sainz put in the biggest performance in qualifying after driving a mega lap to put his McLaren in third place on the grid. His luck seems to have at least turned around for qualifying, and whether it will turn around for the race is yet to be seen. His teammate Lando Norris put the other McLaren on the third row in sixth after a very good effort.

Carlos Sainz, McLaren MCL35

In what was an unusual happening, Max Verstappen failed to make it to the second row on a Saturday after what seems to be an effect of FIA’s decision of not using higher engine modes for qualifying. The Dutchman will be starting on the third row in fifth and will have some work to do for a podium place unlike the last few races where it was a very straightforward affair. His teammate Alex Albon is set to start from ninth position after yet another underwhelming qualifying.

Sergio Perez put in another stellar qualifying performance after putting himself on the second row alongside Carlos Sainz in fourth. The Mexican will be keen to make great use of the track position to challenge for the podium considering how well the Racing Point handles itself around Monza and the threat of Max Verstappen is not at its highest around this place. His teammate Lance Stroll will be lining up alongside Daniel Ricciardo on the fourth row in eighth place. Pierre Gasly made it to Q3 yet again continuing his impressive form but failed to make any inroads into the session and will have to settle for 10th place on the grid.

It was a Q3 without the drama of last year where eight of ten cars failed to make it to the starting line before the flag because all the teams decided to come out and register lap times with more than 5 minutes to go in the session. It was however not a session without drama as Q1 was quite a hassle after everyone was tripping over each other to put in a quick lap and take advantage of the slipstream.

It all started off when the Alfa Romeo cars tried to overtake everyone in front of them on the outlap which ended up in compromising everybody’s laps. At the front of it all, Esteban Ocon was racing Kimi Raikkonen towards the first chicane, trying to cover the inside while George Russell had to try and stay away from there to not compromise his own lap. This turned into a chain reaction when Vettel had his lap compromised as well thanks to the events unfolding infront of him. In the frantic second stint of Q1, both the Williams, Vettel in the Ferrari, Giovinazzi in Alfa Romeo and Grosjean in the Haas were all knocked out, with some of them quite vocal on the team radio expressing their anguish at how things went about.

GP ITALIA F1/2020 – VENERDÌ 04/09/2020
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Q2 did not serve up any similar sort of drama apart from the continuation of woes of the home team Ferrari. The Tifosi would not be minding not being in the grandstands after yet another disastrous Saturday saw them qualify with Leclerc in 13th and Vettel in 17th. An exhausted Leclerc was out on the radio at the end of Q2 saying this was the best he could do and it was evident with the kind of lap he put in. The pace just doesn’t seem to be there for the Italy-based team and they will not have much to hope for the race tomorrow.

Esteban Ocon has been called to the stewards for his Q1 antics where he blocked Raikkonen and the rest and it has to be seen whether there will be any action taken. As of now he lines up 12th on the grid alongside Danil Kvyat in the Alpha Tauri in 11th.

George Russell (GBR) Williams Racing FW43.
Italian Grand Prix, Saturday 5th September 2020. Monza Italy.

George Russell will not be making it into Q2 after a good run following the drama in Q1 and will be lining up on the last row in 19th next to his teammate Nicolas Latifi in 20th in what will be the last race as team principal for Claire Williams. Both the Haas cars will line up with Magnussen in 15th and Grosjean in 16th.

With Mercedes clear of the field, it is very clear who will have the biggest advantage in terms of winning the race but the fight for podium is set to be interesting considering McLaren and Racing Point seem to have a better car compared to Red Bull Honda at least in qualifying. The midfield battle is set to be intriguing as well considering Renault will start further behind compared to their expected positions, which should give us an exciting Grand Prix to look forward to.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of  Steve Etherington/Mercedes Media

‘It was hard racing’ Hometown Heroes take the Austrian Grand Prix, eventually…

Looking out into the stands you could almost be forgiven for thinking the McLaren’s fans had taken over, but in Austria, a sea of orange can only mean one thing – Max Verstappen has come home (kind-of).

Max Verstappen, passing the Netherlands fans that are supporting him. Image courtesy of Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Verstappen put in a steady performance in FP1, but found himself involved in an unfortunate high-speed crash at turn 10 in FP2 which saw him lose the back end of the car and collide with the barrier. Thankfully, Verstappen was unhurt and the car was made ready in enough time for FP3 and the Qualifying session on Saturday afternoon.

Max and the team were optimistic in spite of the set-back; ‘Crashes can happen unfortunately, but maybe it’s a good thing because they’ll take the whole car apart and so a few new parts on it.’

Sure enough, as if by magic, Verstappen’s positivity, a lot of hard work overnight from the Red Bull engineers and a rare grid-penalty for Lewis Hamilton resulted in an excellent qualifying position for the Dutchman, starting 2ndon the grid, next to Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

It was an impressive run for Max who confessed after qualifying he had been dreading bringing the car to Austria; ‘Before we came here, I was not really looking forward to qualifying because I knew it was going to be hard.’

Sat at the front of the grid, the pressure was on for Max to make a good start to the Austrian Grand Prix. Unfortunately, after being sat for over half a minute, the RB15’s anti-stall system kicked in when it really mattered, setting him back to 7thplace before reaching turn one. Thankfully Verstappen’s determination and a huge amount of encouragement from the crowd saw the Red Bull flying through the pack in spite of the ropey start.

FIA Formula One World Championship 2019 Stop 9 – Spielberg, Austria
Photographer Credit:
Philip Platzer/Red Bull Content Pool

Speaking to Sky F1 after the race, Max said he was ‘extremely disappointed but I just kept pushing hard… I had to stay calm and get through them cleanly’. The RB15 sailed through the grid overtaking Valterri Bottas for second place on Lap 56 in spite of a hair-raising issue with an exhaust sensor, causing what Verstappen describe as a ‘loss of power’ over the team radio.

This was quickly forgotten about as Max pushed on to close what was a 5 second gap between himself and Leclerc’s Ferrari. By Lap 69 Verstappen was in a position to challenge Leclerc, which he quickly achieved in a controversial overtake at turn 4 which caused the two cars to bump tyres and push Leclerc into the run-off area.

The chequered flag fell in favour of Verstappen and Red Bull, much to the delight of the army of Dutch fans. This was quickly overshadowed by a furious Leclerc protesting the move, followed by a notice from the Stewards who put the ‘incident’ under investigation.

The Stewards decision to put the overtake under investigation exposes Formula 1 to yet more criticism, following their poor decision to give Vettel a 5-Second time penalty which ultimately handed Hamilton the race win in Canada. The fact that something like a driver running off the track or touching wheels, something we see on an almost weekly basis at the start of a race, suddenly warrants an investigation, shows the lack of consistency and a reluctance to allow actual racing to take place.

It took the FIA almost 3 hours to decide on something that should have gone down as good, close racing. Perhaps it says more about the lack of action in the sport in recent races, that when the stewards see something mildly exciting happening on track, they’ve forgotten how to deal with it.

There has been and continues to be an enormous push forwards in terms of safety in Formula 1, the most recent of which was the introduction of the halo in 2018 to further protect the drivers head in the car. The controversy about Vettel’s ‘unsafe re-entry’ in Canada and now the debate over Verstappen’s overtake in Austria clearly comes from a concern about safety, however in doing so, this hints at a fear from the FIA of allowing for racing and the minor racing incidents that go along with it. Clearly, the FIA need to re-evaluate and make allowances for true racing and entertainment.

The drama doesn’t seem to have dampened the spirits of Red Bull and Honda, who have seen their first win since 2006. Indeed, Max’s initial comment after getting out of his car hit the nail on the head; ‘It was hard racing. If it’s not allowed, what’s the point in racing in F1?’.

Whatever your thoughts on the winner, the Austrian Grand Prix has produced yet another talking point in Formula 1. It’s unfortunate that once again, real racing is overshadowed by the stewards.

But still, the best man took the win, eventually!

F1 Winter Testing: Round-Up

Formula 1 Pre-Season testing got underway in Barcelona this morning with a healthy mix of old and new faces racking up the laps. Rookies Lando Norris and Alex Albon for McLaren and Toro Rosso were first out on track.

Albon had the marshals on their toes after causing the first red-flag of the session, one minute after lights went green. Albon’s Toro Rosso was sat in the gravel facing the wrong way after having lost it upon exiting Turn four, and after a 20-minute recovery from the marshals, we got back into the session.

Both Ferrari and Mercedes were keen to begin testing the harder tyres this morning, running the C1, starting at a slightly slower pace than the previous day. After Bottas’s morning test yesterday, it was the turn of Hamilton to set an early alarm, and by 8:20am he had set the first time of the day at 1:32s.

Ferrari’s new driver Charles Leclerc got in the seat for the first time, initially taking a steady approach to handling his new car by setting a 1:42. He picked up the pace pretty quickly after that though, going from the bottom to the top of the table by setting a more-than-respectable 1:19 and showing the world he can match the pace of his teammate Sebastian Vettel. Vettel has already gone on record in considering Leclerc a ‘full rival … He got the seat for a reason and I’ve got to take him very seriously’. With a personal best of 1:18.2 this morning, it’s difficult to view Leclerc in any other way.

After Verstappen’s impressive performance yesterday, Red Bull’s number two driver Pierre Gasly took to the wheel for the first time at just after 8:30am, sharing the track with Alfa Romeo’s number two, Antonio Giovinazzi. Gasly put in a steady first lap on C3 tyres with a 1:37.5, before picking up the pace and putting in a 1:22, and a 1:21 shortly after. Giovinazzi puts in a 1:24 and continues to improve, achieving a 1:20 after 22 laps.

Like Hamilton, Ricciardo was also back in the driver’s seat this morning following yesterday’s afternoon session. Ricciardo’s Renault matched the pace of Red Bull and Gasly lap after lap, as both cars achieved a respectable 1:21s.

Meanwhile, it looked to be yet another slow start for Racing Point this morning after yesterday’s arguably disappointing session. The team managed to rack up a meagre 30 test laps across the whole day. Performance Engineering Director Tom McCullough summarised the day; ‘We had some teething problems, which caused us some downtime across the day, and a small oil leak, but nothing overly concerning’.

McCullough explained the teams aim for today’s session, focusing on aero data collection and giving Lance Stroll an opportunity to experience his new car, however by 8:50am, Stroll had only managed two installation laps. By 9:05am, Stroll had achieved his first timed lap, managing a 1:29 on C3 tyres. His pace improved quite quickly with a 1:21.6, coming second on the timing sheets over Hamilton’s 1:24.6. Stroll surpassed his teammates efforts yesterday, completing 45 laps before lunchtime.

Perhaps a little dubious to appear on track too early this morning, Kevin Magnussen and Haas finally ventured out to do an installation lap on intermediate tyres, before returning to the pits. Magnussen was back on track after 35 minutes in the garage, putting in his first flying lap of 1:23.4. He continued to build on this by following it with a 1:21.9, and a 1:21.6 moving ahead of Albon’s Toro Rosso.

Magnussen spent a further 20 minutes in the garage; the Haas social media team describing it as an ‘extended stay’, offering no indication of why the team have put in so few laps this morning.

Ricciardo’s Renault decided to spice up the morning by parting ways with its rear wing while using DRS, causing him to spin off track and into the gravel. Miraculously he managed to get the car out without causing a second red-flag in the session.

The lunch break came and went with some teams opting for a driver change, namely Mercedes and Renault. Bottas was the first man on track, followed closely by Charles Leclerc for Ferrari. Leclerc was the first man to break the 100-lap benchmark, followed by rookie Alex Albon for Toro Rosso.

Nico Hulkenberg settled down to test his Renault for a race distance and continued to knock out lap times in the 1:20s. Hulkenberg didn’t manage to top the timesheets, however Renault seem to have found consistent timing and distance of greater value than fastest car on track. He did eventually break free of the monotony and started pushing the car just a little bit, managing a personal best of 1:20.3 which put him in 8thposition.

Pierre Gasly spun out going in to turn 12 with only an hour and a half left on the clock. Though the damage didn’t look overly disastrous, it was a sorry end to Gasly’s otherwise smooth and steady session.

Pietro Fittipaldi took to the wheel in place of Kevin Magnussen who was forced to retire from the race early due to a seat-fit issue, which could explain the frequent ‘extended stays’ K-Mag was having in the morning session. Fittipaldi managed a total of 13 laps before the end of the session.

Sadly, we heard very little from Williams today. It is thought they will be arriving with the car very early tomorrow morning, with a view to joining in the testing tomorrow lunchtime.

McLaren are continuing to play the come-back kid by coming second only to Ferrari on the timing sheet. It’s an extremely positive start for the team, but ultimately Ferrari stole the show once again, taking fastest lap for the second day in a row (a 1:18.2) along with a healthy distance on track. With 157 laps under his belt, Leclerc has taken thorough advantage of his opportunity to get used to his new car.Image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Testing continues tomorrow.

Chris’ thoughts ahead of F1 2019

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

 

Pierre Gasly will win a race this season

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

 

Williams will be much closer to the midfield

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

Glenn Dunbar/Williams F1
ref: Digital Image _31I9371

 

Bottas will finish sixth in the championship

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

 

Leclerc will be on the podium in Monaco 

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

Ferrari Media

 

Ferrari will win Constructors Championship

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

 

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

 

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

Don’t Overlook Pierre Gasly in 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

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

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

 

Featured image – Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Five Things We Take Away From The Mexico Grand Prix

 

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

1 – Max sticks to his word

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

 

Photo Credit: Suceria Ferrari

2 – Vettel is gracious in defeat

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

 

Credit: Mercedes-AMG Petronas

3 – Mercedes tyre wear haunts them

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

 

 

4 – Superb Sauber

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

 

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

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

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

Charles to shake-up the harmony in Ferrari, can the Italians handle it?

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari SF-71H and Charles Leclerc (MON) Alfa Romeo Sauber C37 at Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Qualifying, Baku City Circuit, Baku, Azerbaijan, Saturday 28 April 2018.

An expected announcement followed by an unexpected move, published this week by Scuderia Ferrari. The Tifosi, released their 2019 driver line-up and presented Sebastian Vettel’s new team-mate, Charles Leclerc.

Kimi Raikkonen, will join Sauber for the next two years and will race alongside Marcus Ericsson.

“Signing Kimi Raikkonen as our driver represents an important pillar of our project, and brings us closer to our target of making significant progress as a team in the near future, Kimi’s undoubted talent and immense experience in Formula One will not only contribute to the development of our car, but will also accelerate the growth and development of our team as a whole. Together, we will start the 2019 season with a strong foundation, driven by the determination to fight for results that count.” said Sauber Team Principal Frederic Vasseur.

The Finn, surprised most of the fans with his move, from last week his fans in the media made it clear to Ferrari that they should keep Kimi for at least one more season. The Italians, had a different point of view, they chose a young talented driver to replace the flying Finn and have a strong driver line-up in 2019.

“Dreams do come true” posted Leclerc on twitter, the day that his move to Ferrari was published. Just a few years ago, when Vettel moved to Scuderia Ferrari, stated “the dream of a lifetime has come true”.

Next season, Ferrari will have one of the strongest driver line-up on the grid. Extra pressure on the shoulders on everyone in the team, especially if the Italians don’t manage to close the gap and beat Mercedes this season.

Even if nobody in Ferrari admits it, Vettel is the first and Raikkonen the second driver, there is a good relationship between the two drivers and each one knows exactly his role. From next season, the harmony in the team might be altered. Charles Leclerc, is a promising driver who has just started his Formula One career. From the other hand, Sebastian Vettel is a very experienced four-time world champion driver, who has to prove to the public that he can still race in high level.

Kimi has accepted his faith in Scuderia, and assisting Vettel as much as possible to win the championship. I don’t expect Charles to do the same.

“I’m not going to Ferrari to learn,I think I’ve had a very good season this year where I could learn most of it, and next year [my role] is to perform in a big team. I’m not saying I won’t learn anything anymore, because I have so much to learn still and I can still improve a lot in a lot of things. But definitely I will be a lot more ready than I was at the beginning of the year.” said Charles Leclerc.

The Monégasque, is not joining Ferrari just for the show and for the glory, he wants to add his name in Ferrari’s glorious history.

Are the Italians able to handle the situation?

Sebastian Vettel was the one who “ruled” in the team, but as he very well knows, if he don’t improve his current performance and win the championship, his seat at Ferrari will not be secure. Charles will grab any chance he can get and the German could live a déjà vu.

Kimi Raikkonen will enjoy the next two years in Formula One. The Finn, is going to race with much less pressure and with lower expectations. The fans will still be happy to watch him on the track and we will keep enjoying some great press conferences, like the one today!

“Q: And you’re still passionate about racing? The fire…

KR: No, I’m not actually. Just by pure head games for you guys I happened to sign and I’m going to spend two years there just not being happy.”

Ferrari is risking a lot with that move, they have chances to rule in the following seasons with a thrilling driver line-up but if their choice back fires…

Victor Archakis

Twitter: @FP_Passion

Monaco 2018 Driver Ratings

The principality of Monaco is the jewel in the crown of the Formula 1 season. It’s one of the triple crown of motorsport, the others being the Indianapolis 500 and Le Mans 24 Hours. The tight and twisty track leaves little room for error, giving a full punishment for hitting the wall, as some experienced this weekend, one in paticular. There was without a doubt a driver of the weekend no one can argue with that.

Ricciardo – 10

? courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Super from the Honeybadger, his best win without a doubt, the first time he has won a Grand Prix starting within the first two rows. He was fastest in all practice and qualifying sessions on Saturday. On Sunday he once again in a different league, he got off the line well, and pulled away from the field. The problems came with his engine many thought the curse had struck again but with a car much less power he kept his cool to win! Redemption from 2016, a great drive, his best win out of the seven wins. He led every lap of the race and without a doubt driver of the day!

Vettel – 8

A solid drive and took points off Hamilton. His start was great but Ricciardo just closed the gap so was unable to overtake. Kept Ricciardo within distance but does seem Ferrari are harder on their tyres. Coasted to second late on as he struggled to get back up to pace.

Hamilton – 7

An uneventful weekend for the Championship leader three points lost a damage limitation race leaving a 14 points gap between him and Vettel. Mercedes knew that this wasn’t a good track for them and felt they had the third fastest car. Hamilton nearly caught Vettel midway through the race but fell away late on. Good haul of points.

Raikkonen – 7

In the battle of the number two drivers Kimi won this time. He was close to getting ahead of Hamilton and Vettel in qualifying. At a stage all three were 0.005 apart, but others improved whilst he didn’t. The cool Finn kept it out the walls and helped Ferrari outscore Mercedes.

Bottas – 6

He was off pace all weekend and at one stage it was touch and go in Q2 whether he would get through as Mercedes tried a different strategy. He left it really late to get in to the shootout. Due to his choice of tyres he had better grip which allowed him to close the gap, he didn’t have a lunge to even test Raikkonen with his better traction. 

Ocon – 9

Best of the rest from the Frenchman, only 5 seconds behind Bottas. Force India tend to not be known for their downforce and more their top speed hence previous results at Baku. Great qualifying and racecraft, a seasoned veteran now.

Gasly – 8

Pierre continues to impress, technically still a rookie season as he only drove for a few races last year from Round 15 onwards. The Honda engines not as bad in previous years, especially Monaco hiding the disadvantage. He battled with Alonso and Hulkenburg whilst keeping it clean. A long stint on the hypersoft gave him this chance, an opportunistic driver.

Hulkenberg – 7

A points finish after his two DNF’s in Baku and Barcelona. Just what he needed, he may of been out qualified on Saturday but a strong drive on Sunday gave him what he more often than not achieves for his team, points!

Verstappen – 6

The Dutchman needs to learn that sometimes you don’t need to go 100%. This was costly for him over the weekend when clearly Red Bull had the fastest car. A crash in FP3 in the swimming pool section, identical to a crash in 2016 cost him action in qualifying. The car was not rebuilt in time after a deeper look and had to start last. Max was more like himself on Sunday from great overtakes to score points but feel he was thinking about race win prior to third practice. Disapointing once again, involved in a collision somehow in the last six Grand Prix weekends.

Sainz – 6

The Spaniard had an unimpressive Sunday and left the principality with only one point after qualifying so well. He did a great job to defend his position from Ericcson at the end. 

Ericcson – 7

A good race in the streets of Monaco for the Swede. Finished in a solid P11, and was right up Sainz’s gearbox for the final stages. Seems a Sunday driver more than a Saturday, made the most positions up besides Verstappen.

Perez – 5

Finished 47 seconds behind his team mate which would of dented his confidence within himself. He had great pace as got through to Q3 but only went backwards on Sunday. Great potential, left with nothing.

Magnussen – 5

Out performed his team mate in a poor weekend for the Haas team. Hopefully just a blip for the Dane, has raced well at upcoming tracks but no joy in Monaco. Rather little happened to comment.

Vandoorne – 5

Another performance where very little was seen of him. Finished the race behind his starting grid position. He did have the pace it seemed in practice but it fell away on Sunday.

Grosjean – 4

Romain was already in hot water as he carried a three place grid penalty over from Barcelona. Haas where of form and couldn’t get their car in the sweet spot, so much so they ran 19th and 20th for the early laps. Grosjean seems to be in a rut and this race did him no favours.

Sirotkin – 6

The result hides what a great early weekend he had. He blitzed his team mate and made Q2. He suffered from two punctures but seems to be finally getting to grips with the Williams.

Stroll – 5

Sirotkin made Stroll look silly as a whole this weekend. The Canadian qualified P18 and was nowhere to anyone in the race. Finished last of who took the chequered flag. Williams as a whole hope Canada, a more power influenced track will push them up the grid.

Leclerc – 7

His record at Monaco isn’t that hot, and it continues. He failed to finish in both Formula 2 races last year. A brake failure ended his day early as he collided with Hartley. He couldn’t avoid the incident so unlike Verstappen his rating wasn’t hindered by it. Once more made it into Q2 and qualified strongly.

Hartley – 6

A waste of such a good weekend for Toro Rosso and on this side of the garage. Seventh fastest in practice as he failed to get out of Q3. He collided on the first lap damaging his car. Taken out by Leclerc but the pressure continues to mount.

Alonso – 6

I wonder if Fernando would of liked to be in America once again rather than Monaco. A gearbox failure on the front straight whilst battling with Gasly late on ended his race. He was deep into the points and raced well. Not a fan of Monaco this year and had a few choice words to say to the media.

We go from the heavily downforce influenced track of Monaco to the more power influenced track of Montreal in Canada in 2 weeks time. Renault and Honda are bringing substantial upgrades to their engines which should help the teams that use them. 

The main questions are if this would help Red Bull still keep the top step of the podium or will Mercedes bounce back to the top?