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.

Ericsson considering IndyCar, Super Formula for 2019

Marcus Ericsson has said he is targeting a move to either IndyCar or Super Formula for 2019 following the loss of his Sauber Formula One race seat.

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

Ericsson will remain with Sauber next year as reserve driver and brand ambassador, but has said he is also looking to continue racing with a full-time drive in another single-seater category.

“I want to race at the highest level possible [next year] because I see myself coming back to Formula One in the future,” Ericsson said.

“To be able to come back to F1, I want to stay in single-seaters and fast cars. IndyCar is the best series to do that in.

“We’re talking to some teams there and I think it is a realistic target.”

Most of IndyCar’s 2019 drives have already been settled, although seats are still available at Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports, Carlin and Juncos Racing.

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

Ericsson has also admitted Japan’s Super Formula is “also an option”, and that he would be interested in contesting the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

But despite insisting on a single-seater programme for 2019 to keep him prepared for an F1 return, Ericsson said that Formula E is not high on his preferences:

“It is interesting in many aspects but to stay in F1-type of driving it’s maybe not the best one.

“FE is more of a career move. There are some other options that you can keep on the F1 radar [to] come back.”

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

Force India continue their charge for Racing Points

Sergio Perez in the pits for new tyres. Image courtesy of Racing Point Force India

Following on from an impressive debut (if you can call it that) for Racing Point Force India at Spa, I held high hopes that the team would continue their climb up the points ladder this week in Monza. While the Pink Panthers had no problem at all in cruising past Williams in the (largely non-existent) points battle in Belgium, would passing Sauber for 8th in the standings prove more challenging?

The weekend got off to a great start, with the pink team again showing their wet weather prowess in FP1, with Perez and Ocon taking full advantage of the conditions to finish P1 and P3 respectively. Who knew panthers (albeit pink ones) were so fond of the rain? Things settled down a little once the rain clouds dissipated, but Perez and Ocon were still impressive in the dry FP2 and FP3 sessions, placing “best of the rest” or close to it.

Their competition in the standings for this weekend, Sauber, faced a more difficult time, most spectacularly for Marcus Ericsson in FP2, who became the unfortunate passenger of a car that jerked violently to the left before rolling repeatedly as a result of his DRS failing to close. Luckily he escaped unscathed, but it didn’t look pretty, and forced the team to break curfew to fix the car during the night.

Although the pace was still looking good for Force India in qualifying, they looked to have made a costly mistake in Q1, deciding not to send Perez out for another run at the end of the session. Unbelievably, he found himself a single thousandth of a second on the wrong side of Romain Grosjean’s time, pushing him down to 16th and out. Ocon made it comfortably through, meanwhile, eventually ending up a respectable eighth on the grid. It looked likely, at this point, that while Ocon might have a shot at the coveted best of the rest spot, Perez might struggle to even reach the points.

On Sunday though, Perez charged through the field like a man possessed, wrestling his way to where he probably should have been if not for Saturday’s strategy oversight. By lap 10 he was in the points, and his charge continued impressively from there on. Ocon arguably had an easier ride, having started further forward, but both impressed in the race, finishing 7th and 8th on the road (more on that later).

Sauber meanwhile, continued to struggle without the straight-line speed required to excel at Monza, with Leclerc putting in a valiant effort but ultimately coming up short, and Ericsson having a tough time towards the back of the field. So while Perez and Ocon finished comfortably in the points, Sauber failed to score.

It doesn’t take a genius to do the maths: going into the weekend with a mere one point advantage over Force India, Sauber were now very solidly on the back foot, with Force India sailing on through to rise up to P8 in the standings.

However, the story doesn’t end there. After the race, the floor on the Romain Grosjean’s Haas was found to be illegal, and he was promptly disqualified, pushing Ocon and Perez up to P6 and P7 in the race results. Although Haas may yet appeal, if the decision stands, Force India stand to gain – not just points, either, but yet another position in the standings! Yes, after just two races as a “new“ team, Force India really do sit seventh in the Constructors’ table.

So, what’s next on the horizon? Sixth no longer seems impossible. Fifth might involve just a bit too much wishful thinking. But if there’s one thing for sure, it’s that I wouldn’t want to bet against them.

F1 driver market: Who will twist after Mercedes sticks?

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

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

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

Sahara Force India F1 Team

Force India, Renault now key to the midfield

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

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

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

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

Andrew Hone / Williams F1

Williams and McLaren fall into place

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

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

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

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

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

Few options for Red Bull and Ferrari juniors

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

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

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

Featured image by Steve Etherington, courtesy of Mercedes AMG

F1 2018: British Grand Prix Driver Ratings

Looking at the results, you wouldn’t have thought much happened during the British Grand Prix, but some action at the start and a couple of safety car periods spiced the race up. The final race of the triple-header in Europe saw Sebastian Vettel take the win.

The 2018 Formula One British GP winners; (left to right)Lewis 2nd, Seb winner and Kimi 3rd. Image courtesy of Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel – 9

There were pre-race doubts about Vettel’s fitness – he had tape put on his neck after FP3 – but the adrenaline kicked in and his start was beautiful, waving concerns away. All the action happened behind him. The safety cars late on in the race put him behind on the track but a great dive-bomb up the inside of Bottas sealed the win. Great victory as we head towards Germany next! 

 

Lewis Hamilton – 9

The Brit got a tardy start which he would come to regret, even if he ended the race in a position where he lost minimal amounts of points. There were some very interesting comments from him afterwards suggesting that tactics from Ferrari were what resulted in him being taken out, bringing back memories of Mexico 2017. Hamilton was the last car on track at the end of lap one, but like a knife through butter he carved his way through the field. A disappointing start, but if you look from lap two onwards it was a great race for him.

 

Kimi Raikkonen – 7

Raikkonen has finished on the podium at the last three races, but never on the top step. The Finn owned up to his coming-together with Hamilton, saying the incident at turn three was his fault and accepting the penalty handed to him. Team-mate Vettel stormed off into the distance, while Raikkonen couldn’t quite match Hamilton near the end of the race.

 

Valtteri Bottas – 8

The Mercedes team threw away the lead again today, deciding to keep Bottas out after the second safety car. Before that he was faster than Vettel, so on a level playing field Bottas could have beaten the German and taken the flag first. Much like in China and Baku, strategy from his team may have cost him the victory once again, even if it may have been tougher in Silverstone to remain in the lead. A great start made amends for a poor qualifying on Saturday, but he is clearly still playing second fiddle to Hamilton.

 

Daniel Ricciardo – 7

Silverstone turned out to be a track which highlighted the frailties of the Red Bull package. Roughly 80% of the track is spent at full throttle, and power isn’t exactly Red Bull’s strong point. Ricciardo was out qualified once again by Verstappen, with a DRS issue hampering his performance. He was great at defending against Raikkonen during the race but unfortunately the safety car came out at the wrong time for him, as he had already made a pit-stop two laps beforehand. The lack of speed along the straights prevented him from passing Bottas in the closing laps of the race.

 

Nico Hulkenburg – 8

Best of the rest and great haul of points for the German. Renault were the only team to use the hard tyre during the race, having worried about blistering on the other compounds, and the tactic worked brilliantly. Hulkenberg did supremely well to keep the pack behind him at the two safety car restarts.

 

Esteban Ocon – 7

Ocon is showing his worth a lot more this season compared to last, and provided a great result at for Force India at what is essentially the team’s home race, given that their factory is literally just over the road. Ocon made it through to the final part of qualifying, and kept the car in the top ten on Sunday. 

 

Fernando Alonso – 8

Alonso’s McLaren may lack pace on a Saturday but on a Sunday, in the hands of the Spaniard, it is one of the best in the midfield. He took advantage of the safety cars to pit for some fresh rubber, allowing him to get past Kevin Magnussen at the end. He may appear calm on the outside, but it isn’t hard to imagine that deep down all is still not well with the relationship between himself and McLaren.

Sebastian Vettel leads the 2018 British GP. Image courtesy of Ferrari

Kevin Magnussen – 7

Hampered by the first lap accident with his team-mate, Magnussen did well to score points considering the clash inflicted some damage to his car, which restricted his speed. He was one of few drivers not to pit under the safety car which pushed him down the order late on, but he managed to hold on to salvage some points.

 

Sergio Perez – 6

Much like Hamilton, Perez saw the field drive past him after contact on the first lap spun him at turn one. He recovered well and found himself in contention for the last point, which was ultimately claimed by Pierre Gasly Chafter a collision between the two near the end of the race. After the race, though, Gasly was awarded a five-second penalty for the incident, meaning Perez inherited P10 and the one point that comes with it.

 

Stoffel Vandoorne – 4

It was a quiet weekend in general for Vandoorne. He was a whopping 0.9 seconds slower than Alonso on Saturday, and with others making the decision to start the race from the pit-lane it meant he was the last on the grid. He finished the race in 12th, meaning he now hasn’t scored since Baku. Lando Norris in currently second in Formula 2 and is hotly tipped for a drive in F1 next year. It could well be this seat that he takes.

 

Lance Stroll – 5

Williams are currently the worst car on the grid, and unfortunately nothing put that more on show than Sunday’s race. Prior to the first safety car they were the only team to have been lapped, and Stroll made a mistake in qualifying which ended up his car being beached in the gravel.

 

Pierre Gasly – 7

Gasly had a good Sunday and initially finished tenth, a welcome result given that Toro Rosso been having a tough time of it recently. The Frenchman collided with Perez with a few laps to go, and a harsh time penalty given to him after the race pushed him down the field. Silverstone was a track which showed Honda’s deficit to the other manufacturers, but there are still promising signs and it was a far better day for Gasly than the results suggested.

 

Sergey Sirotkin – 5

Sirotkin, along with his team-mate, started the race from the pits after taking on new parts. Like Stroll, Sirotkin also made a mistake in qualifying, but managed to keep the car going and set a lap, albeit one that turned out to be the slowest of the session. Seeing the Williams team run plum last is such a shame to see.

 

Max Verstappen – 7

Verstappen may have been classified as a finisher, but a brake-by-wire issue ended his day late into the race. Ever-hungry, he was running in a solid podium position, but with the deficit of his Renault power-unit he was a sitting duck at the restarts. His defending to Raikkonen was brilliant.

 

Carlos Sainz – 5

A poor performance for Sainz both on Saturday and Sunday. A less-than-par qualifying session put him in the thick of the action, and he collided with Romain Grosjean. A weekend to forget for the Spaniard.

 

Romain Grosjean – 5

Will Austria be seen as a peak in Grosjean’s season? Three collisions in one weekend isn’t good enough. The first occurred in practice, with the second being the cardinal sin of hitting his team mate on the first lap. The third, a tangling with Sainz at Copse, ended his race. Grosjean should have lifted off the throttle, but he kept his foot buried, causing instability and ultimately the collision.

 

Marcus Ericcson – 6

Ericsson’s DRS didn’t close as he approached turn one during the race and he crashed heavily, bringing out the first safety car. The crash rounded out an unfortunate weekend for the Swede, after England took his country out of the World Cup the day before. He did, however, have great pace during qualifying and got through to Q2.

 

Charles Leclerc – 8

An unfortunate error in the pits for Sauber resulted in Leclerc’s rear tyre not being fitted properly and the team telling him to stop the car. He had made another Q3 appearance on Saturday and had been running seventh at the time of the error, which meant the loss of a potentially big haul of points.

 

Brendan Hartley – N/A

You can’t really comment on what a horrible weekend the Kiwi has had. The suspension failure on Saturday pretty much ended his weekend. He didn’t see any track action in qualifying, and a last minute problem starting from the pit lane resulted in retirement after one lap. None of it whatsoever was his fault.

Ferrari Media

There is now a two-week break before we head to Hockenheim in Germany, a track that we see appear every so often on the calendar. Vettel won on Hamilton’s home turf this weekend, but can Hamilton strike back with victory in Germany? Vettel hasn’t got a record like Hamilton at his home track, and has only won in Germany once in his Red Bull days. The summer break looms and, for drivers such as Grosjean and Vandoorne, the pressure increases.

Austrian GP driver ratings

In Formula 1 anything can happen, and it usually does! That was what Murray Walker always said, and it did indeed happen at the Red Bull Ring this weekend. A very hot Sunday played havoc with the field, though some acclimatised better than others.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Max Verstappen: 9.5

This was a great weekend for Verstappen, as he continued his podium form and this time to the top step. Fortune favoured the brave on the first lap with a great move on Raikkonen. One of the first to pit under the Virtual Safety Car, Verstappen made his tyres last in the heat while others struggled with blistering. He is a driver known for his speed, but this weekend Verstappen proved he can drive calmly.

Kimi Raikkonen: 8

Austria was one of Raikkonen’s better races of the year. After a great start (marred slightly by running wide on the first lap) Raikkonen put in a tyre management drive reminiscent of his Lotus days to take a superb second place. With reports saying Leclerc is all set to join Ferrari next year, could this be the beginning of Raikkonen’s swan song?

Sebastian Vettel: 7

After this weekend sees Vettel leave Austria as the Championship leader, he won’t mind too much about the grid penalty he was given for impeding Carlos Sainz in qualifying. Vettel’s race started poorly on Sunday as he fell to 8th, but a good recovery drive put him on the podium. 

Haas F1 Media

Romain Grosjean: 8

The Frenchman finally sees the flag in the top ten! Grosjean was very impressive on Saturday when he outqualified a Red Bull, and was one of the better drivers on Sunday at keeping the tyres in good condition. A great result for him and especially Haas, as teammate Magnussen finished behind him in P5.

Kevin Magnussen: 8

Magnussen continued his impressive 2018 in Austria with a great haul of points in P5. Together with Grosjean, Magnussen’s points this weekend helped Haas back up their statement about being the fourth-best team. A great drive from Magnussen all weekend, evening if Grosjean had shaded him on race day. 

Esteban Ocon: 8

Ocon is a name being frequently mentioned in the drivers’ market as a hot talent, and he proved why in Austria. Starting in P11 he had the free choice of tyres, and used that well to finish P6. He had a fresher set of tyres later on than most which helped him too.

Sergio Perez: 7

After dropping out of qualifying in Q1 it looked like Perez would struggle. But with grid penalties ahead of him, Perez started P15 and made up the most places of who took the grid to finish P7—his first points finish since Spain.

Steven Tee/McLaren

Fernando Alonso: 8

Alonso started from the pitlane on Sunday because his car was taken out of parc fermé for a change of front wing and MGU-K. He was on the radio early on calling for a new strategy to get out from behind Hartley’s Toro Rosso, and and an early pit stop allowed Alonso to come back through the field as he kept his tyres from blistering. A much better race for the 2018 Le Mans winner.

Charles Leclerc: 8

Through to Q2 again for the sixth weekend in a row, Leclerc’s Sauber showed great pace on Saturday. A gearbox penalty meant he dropped back to P17 on the grid, but a strong recovery brought him up into the points—and all on the weekend that his move to Ferrari for next year has reportedly been decided.

Marcus Ericsson: 7

Ericsson had a pretty poor Saturday as he said couldn’t find a gap on track in qualifying, but put that behind him to help Sauber to its first double points finish since China 2015. To sweeten the deal, Ericsson only had to wait seven races between his last points finish and this, as opposed to the two whole seasons before. The Sauber is being developed well.

Pierre Gasly: 7

Gasly’s tyres just gave up on him at the end of the race as he suffered from the blistering that affected most of the field. He was running a strong P8 with a few laps remaining but his tyres were past it. For a very power hungry track, Gasly qualified a fine P12 with the Honda power unit. His raw pace is noticeable. 

Renault Sport F1 Team

Carlos Sainz: 6

Sainz was only one of two drivers to finish further back from his grid place in Austria. He started P9 and actually got by Vettel for half a lap, but his two-stop strategy didn’t pan out and he dropped to P12 by the end of the race.

Sergey Sirotkin: 6

Out in Q1, Sirotkin struggled to get to grips with his car in the early part of the weekend. However it was a better Sunday from the Russian, as he finished P13 and ahead of his teammate.

Lance Stroll: 6

A great Saturday performance saw Stroll get into Q2 for the first time since Azerbaijan. On the first lap he was running as high as P12 and points were possible, but a ten-second penalty for ignoring blue flags resulted in him finishing P14. 

Stoffel Vandoorne: 4

Austria was another poor weekend by Vandoorne, with a Q1 exit on Saturday and a collision with Gasly on the first lap on Sunday. After pitting for a new front wing the Belgian was way down the order and off the pace. He retired lap 66 due to damage, and the pressure to defend his seat for next year is building.

Steve Etherington / Mercedes AMG F1

Lewis Hamilton: 7.5

With upgrades on his car Hamilton was the one to beat in the early part of the race. But when the VSC came out on lap 14 he didn’t pit like everyone else, and as a result lost the race lead. Hamilton then retired on lap 64 with a loss of fuel pressure—his first retirement since Malaysia 2016—and lost the lead of the championship to Vettel.

Brendon Hartley: 5

Hartley’s Sunday began with a 35-place grid penalty for changing his power unit, and ended when his gearbox failed on lap 57 and put him into retirement.

Daniel Ricciardo: 6

The Austrian Grand Prix may have been on Ricciardo’s 29th birthday, but sadly it ended in retirement. It was a sour start to the weekend with him being outqualified by Grosjean and an argument with his teammate over slipstreaming tactics. Ricciardo put a trademark late-braking move on Raikkonen early in the race but struggled with tyre blisters later, then retired due to a broken exhaust. He’ll be hoping for a stronger weekend in Silverstone.

Valtteri Bottas: 9

Bottas seems to love the Red Bull Ring, and pole and the win last year gave him huge confidence into this year’s event. He managed to get pole again this year but didn’t get as good a start as he got in 2017 and lost the lead to Hamilton in Turn 1. A great double overtake on the first lap saw Bottas recover to P2, although luck wasn’t on his side as the seemingly ever-reliable Mercedes broke again with a hydraulics failure. Two mechanical DNF’s for the Silver Arrows.

Nico Hulkenburg: 6

The first failure of the race came to Hulkenberg, a massive engine failure with smoke and lots of fire. Hulkenberg was in place for reasonable points but lost power on the straight. He had great pace in qualifying and got through to Q3 but reliability caught him this weekend.

F1 Season Preview: Make or Break

After 2017, there are several drivers and teams facing a critical 2018—one which could have serious implications for their future in F1. Here we’ll look at those who are under the most pressure for 2018, why they have to perform and the potential consequences if they don’t.

Valtteri Bottas

Wolfgang Wilhelm/Mercedes AMG F1

Replacing the out-going world champion with just three months to go until the start of the season was always going to be a challenge. However, the majority of the F1 paddock expected more from Bottas in 2017. While he seemed able to be around the pace of Hamilton in the first half of the season, his form soon deteriorated with Bottas being cast adrift by both Hamilton and Vettel.

As such, Bottas needs to deliver a stunning performance in 2018 to keep his seat for 2019. We’re not just talking about one race though—he needs to consistently be on the pace of Hamilton throughout the season, which is a hard ask for anyone.

If he doesn’t perform as Mercedes expect, either Ricciardo or Ocon will be quick to snap up his seat—leaving Bottas out of a top drive and potentially out of F1 altogether.

Kimi Raikkonen

Foto Studio Colombo/Ferrari Media

After years and years of the “will Raikkonen be retained” saga, it seems that Ferrari’s patience for the Finn is waning. Ferrari President Sergio Marchionne has stated that 2018 is Raikkonen’s last chance to rediscover his form—if he doesn’t, he will be replaced.

While he was once a world champion and still is a brilliant driver, Raikkonen’s consistency been missing since he returned to F1 in 2012, and even when he’s at the top of his game he’s still no match for Vettel. He’ll have to pull off a miracle to stand any chance at retaining his seat for 2019.

Should Raikkonen not miraculously rediscover his form, Ferrari have a long line of drivers knocking at their door. They’re unlikely to take Grosjean or Perez but instead either Ricciardo or their very promising youngster, Charles Leclerc. Whoever they chose, Ferrari aren’t short of talented replacements if Kimi isn’t up to scratch.

Sergio Perez

Sahara Force India F1 Team

Perez is generally considered to be a midfield driver in a midfield team. He’s undoubtedly talented, but seems to be lacking that extra something that would put him up with the champions. This became more apparent in 2017 when Ocon started consistently beating him throughout the second half of the season.

If, like everyone is anticipating, Ocon takes the next step in 2018, Perez will likely be left far behind and that could seriously compromise his 2019 options. He’s been holding out for a Ferrari drive since who knows when, but with every year that passes, that seems more and more unlikely—if Ferrari wanted him, they’d have taken him by now.

He should be able to keep his seat at Force India for 2019 with his only other serious option being Renault if Sainz were to be called up to Red Bull. Any progression up the grid looks unlikely for the now 28-year-old Mexican.

Romain Grosjean

Haas F1 Media

The successes of 2016 with Haas have long been forgotten for Grosjean, and that supposed Ferrari promotion looks further away than ever. Over 2017, the Frenchman gained a reputation for moaning and was often beaten, quite comprehensively, by teammate Magnussen.

With decent performances becoming distance memories, Grosjean hasn’t been having the best of times of it lately. He needs to rediscover his consistency of the later Lotus years to keep his seat at Haas and remain in F1.

Admittedly, Haas don’t have that many options to replace Grosjean. Ferrari may push them into taking one of their junior drivers but really, Haas need experience and that is one thing Grosjean has going for him. Regardless of that, improvement is needed from the Frenchman in 2018.

Nico Hulkenberg

Renault Sport F1 Media

Hulkenberg has been the nearly-man of F1 for years. He holds the record for the most F1 races without a podium but you’ll struggle to find anyone who doubts his talents. With Renault on the rise, that podium could come in the next year or two. However Hulkenberg has a more pressing issue: Carlos Sainz.

The highly-regarded Red Bull junior driver switched to Renault in the closing races of the 2017 season, with Hulkenberg seeming to have the measure of Sainz. The German has to beat or at least strongly challenge Sainz if he’s to maintain his perceived ranking in the F1 paddock.

His F1 career isn’t on the line in 2018 as he has a long-term Renault deal in place. But he still needs to show that he can go up against Sainz to ensure his fundamental place at Renault in years to come.

Marcus Ericsson

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

If anyone’s career is on the line in 2018, its Ericsson’s. He controversially kept his Sauber seat, despite Ferrari pushing for Antonio Giovinazzi to get the drive, by virtue of having lots of money from his backers that are mysteriously linked to the team’s owners…

The funds cannot hide the fact that Ericsson hasn’t scored a point in F1 since 2015 while all his teammates have. With F2 champion Leclerc in the other seat for 2018, Ericsson is going to have to massively up his game if he’s to avoid getting shown up by the promising youngster.

Ferrari want Sauber to become their effective ‘B-team’, so Ericsson will likely lose his seat to one of the Ferrari juniors in 2019—and it will be hard for Ericsson to find a seat at another team, even with all his money.

Williams

Steven Tee/LAT Images/Pirelli Media

The season hasn’t even started and Williams are already facing a lot of criticism for hiring Sergey Sirotkin over Robert Kubica, Daniil Kvyat and Pascal Wehrlein with Sirotkin being brandished a ‘pay driver’. This means that for 2018 Williams will have a 19-year old in his second season of F1 and a rookie who’s failed to produce any convincing results in years.

That already sounds like a recipe for disaster—and when you consider the highly competitive nature of the midfield, the outcome doesn’t look good for Williams.

Fifth in the championship isn’t going to happen with McLaren and Renault on the rise and most expect Williams to sink further down the standings. This could put them in danger of losing sponsorship and without a star driver, it’s hard to see who’s going to bring the results in. Maybe basing driver decisions on bank accounts rather than talent wasn’t such a good idea.

McLaren

Andy Hone/McLaren

For McLaren, 2018 will be a test of all that they have said over the last three seasons while they were with Honda. Throughout those years, McLaren claimed to have the best chassis so, on equal footing with Red Bull and Renault, that will be put to the test.

Their last win came in 2012 and last podium in 2014, if there was ever a time that McLaren needed to deliver, for the sake of all involved, it’s in 2018. Alonso may have signed a multi-year deal but he won’t hang around forever, he wants that third title but has interests elsewhere if that fails to materialise in the coming years.

If they’re not winning, or at least on the podium, in 2018 they probably won’t be until the engine regulation change in 2020. It’s paramount that they get the Renault transition right as they need to be frontrunners again—four winless seasons is four too many for a team like McLaren, they better not make it five.

Sauber bringing key aero update to Spa

Sauber will be completing its second major upgrades package of the season this weekend in Belgium, in a bid to offset its year-old Ferrari engine deficit.

Sauber F1 Team

The update—a new floor—will form the second part of a significant aerodynamic upgrade that began at the last round in Hungary, where new bodywork and an improved cooling system were fitted to the C36.

The is the first major update to the car since Sauber revised its floor, sidepods, brake ducts and bodywork during the race weekends in Spain—where Pascal Wehrlein scored the team’s first points of the season—and Monaco.

It is hoped that the completed second package will help Sauber to counteract the shortfall in power of their 2016 Ferrari power units, particularly with the Belgian Grand Prix and the following race at Monza providing some of the most engine-dependant racing on the F1 calendar.

Sauber F1 Team

Speaking about the upgrade to Autosport at the Hungarian Grand Prix, Marcus Ericsson said, “Hopefully this next update will work a bit better than the upgrade we got [in May] as it didn’t really give us the jump we had hoped.

“When we got the car working, like in Silverstone in the race, we could keep similar pace to the Haas cars, and Vandoorne wasn’t much faster. We are not too bad, when we get our car together.”

Nevertheless, the team will be wary of expecting too much from the new parts this weekend—especially as at the chassis-specialist Hungaroring, the first instalment of Sauber’s new aero package saw Wehrlein and Ericsson qualify on the final two rows of the grid, and finish the race two laps down and last of those still running at the flag.

It is likely this will be Sauber’s final big push to improve the competitiveness of the C36, before it turns its attentions fully to constructing next year’s challenger.