Formula One heads to the streets of Singapore, for the start of the final flyaway leg of 2019 under the lights at Marina Bay.
Ferrari and Charles Leclerc head to Singapore on the crest of two wins on the bounce at Spa and Monza. But compared to those two high-speed circuits, Ferrari’s low downforce package won’t be anywhere near as effective on the tight Marina Bay Street Circuit.
As has been the case for most of the 2019 season, Mercedes is expected to be the team to beat this weekend. It was in Singapore last year, where Lewis Hamilton took pole position and the race win, that Mercedes finally seemed to understand what was needed to conquer one of its few “bogey” circuits. And judging by the fact Mercedes has won every street race since, there’s every reason for them to be confident about their chances on Sunday.
However, Mercedes does have one shadow looming over them this weekend—engine reliability. Since introducing their Spec 3 power unit at Spa three weeks ago, Mercedes have seen uncharacteristic failures in the customer cars of Sergio Perez’s Racing Point and Robert Kubica’s Williams. So far the works team has had no blowouts of its own, but after two demanding power tracks and with Singapore’s reputation for testing cars to their limit, there’s no room for complacency.
The other threat to Mercedes this weekend comes in the form of Max Verstappen and Red Bull. Verstappen has run well in in Singapore in recent years, qualifying second in 2017 and 2018 and finishing runner-up to Hamilton last year.
With the Red Bull-Honda package improving with every race, it would be no surprise to see Verstappen duelling with Hamilton for his third win of the season.
As always, the difficulty and unpredictability of Singapore will provide the midfield teams with plenty of opportunities to sneak away with big points hauls.
Renault took a double points finish at Marina Bay last year, but their RS19 has been much more at home on high speed and lower downforce tracks this year. Given their results from slower tracks like Monaco and Hungary, Renault will likely find themselves scrapping with or even behind the likes of McLaren, Alfa Romeo and Toro Rosso this weekend.
Haas will also be bracing themselves for another tough Grand Prix on Sunday. Although their prolonged dispute with former title sponsors Rich Energy has finally come to an end, their struggles with tyre degradation certainly have not. And in the heat of Singapore, there aren’t many worse problems to have.
However, Haas and Renault can both take some optimism from the fact that this is the Singapore Grand Prix. With tempers running high and the walls never far away, Singapore is the place where anything can happen.
Red Bull’s new signing Alex Albon says he will be ‘keeping [his] feet on the ground’ ahead of his first race for the team at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.
Albon has just twelve Grand Prix under his belt and while he is excited about the prospect of racing for one of the most competitive teams in F1, he is nonetheless aware that he has a lot still to learn.
“Not many drivers get the chance to drive a car capable of winning a race so early in their F1 career, so it’s a great opportunity to be driving for Red Bull,” Albon said. “It’s a big step, a big difference, and the factory’s a lot closer to my house which is handy!
“We know what the car is capable of and we’ve seen what Max has been able to do this year. I want to see what it’s like compared to what I’m used to, but at the same time, I know this weekend is my first time in the car, I’m still learning and improving as a driver and there’s definitely more to come.
“I know one of the main differences will be the noise and attention that comes with the move but I’m keeping my feet on the ground. I’m just focused on the job I have to do for Spa, I’ll be doing a lot of listening and observing.”
The news of Albon’s promotion came after Pierre Gasly, who himself had moved from Toro Rosso to Red Bull at the beginning of 2019, struggled to match the performance of Max Verstappen. Despite assurances from both Christian Horner and Helmut Marko that his seat was safe for the time being, Gasly nonetheless finds himself back at the junior team for the second half of the season.
Albon made his first official trip to the Red Bull factory as one of their drivers on 26th August, two weeks after the announcement was made, for a seat and suit fitting.
“We’ve got as much simulator prep done as we can,” Albon said, “so now it’s about going through procedural things with the team and getting to know everyone. It should be good!
“This is a big step, but I feel I’ve been through these big jumps before and taken the opportunities – I’m not worried about that. I’m focused and ready to be as strong as possible for the second half of the year.”
[Featured image – Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool]
After a summer break that always feels like a lifetime, Formula One is back, and the circus this time arrives at the 7 kilometre Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest.
The summer has seen a couple of changes. Pierre Gasly, who has endured a horrible season at Red Bull alongside the imperious Max Verstappen, has been dropped by Red Bull axe-man Helmut Marko and placed back at Toro Rosso. His replacement is Anglo-Thai driver Alexander Albon, who moves up from the junior team having impressed in his rookie season alongside Daniil Kvyat—although the Russian, having scored a podium in Germany and more points this season than his younger team-mate, will feel as though he should have been with the Austrian team heading into Belgium.
Albon joins the team for a race at which they are not expected to pull off the spectacular heroics that Max Verstappen has displayed in the first half of the season. Spa is very much a power track, but the tricky, twisty middle sector will provide somewhat of an opportunity for the Bulls to make up time on Mercedes and Ferrari.
Speaking of them, Ferrari need to establish some kind of foothold in this season’s championship, having failed to win a race in the first half of the season, with Charles Leclerc falling agonisingly short of victory in Bahrain and Austria, and Sebastian Vettel losing the win in Canada due to a penalty. The prancing horses, who have thus far been cantering ponies, are generally better in a straight line than Mercedes this year, and this weekend is a great chance to grab that first win.
As for Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton certainly cannot be counted out of a win, and it is not as if the Mercedes is tremendously slower than the Ferrari on the straights. However, Hamilton will surely have one eye on the title with a 62 point lead over team-mate Valtteri Bottas, and may opt to play the long game.
Bottas is in a different boat. Following a blistering start to the season, winning in Australia and Azerbaijan, the Finn has fallen back, and has since started to show the cracks that we have seen in the last two seasons partnered with Hamilton. No wins since race four, a crash in Germany and a clumsy incident with his team mate in Hungary has left his future in doubt, with Esteban Ocon among a couple of names potentially being lined up to replace him next year. Bottas is running out of time in the harsh climate of Formula One, and he needs a strong result at Spa to kick off the second part of the season and salvage his future at Mercedes.
Further back, Haas drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen both need strong weekends themselves. Several incidents between the two drivers have frustrated their demanding team boss Guenther Steiner, and neither of them currently have a safe seat for next season.
It was at this race 12 months ago where Racing Point, undergoing their transformation as Racing Point Force India, came close to a podium with Sergio Perez. A podium will not be expected this time, but points will certainly be the objective. So too will be the case for Renault’s drivers, who both failed to score points here last year after Nico Hulkenberg catapulted Fernando Alonso, and Daniel Ricciardo was caught up in the ensuing melee.
George Russell was hopeful that Williams were taking steps in the right direction following the last race in Budapest, but we should not expect them to be able to lift themselves off the bottom of the time sheets this time around.
Hamilton is back to defend his championship lead, Bottas and Ferrari need to bounce back, and Formula One is back, as is Eau Rouge, I mean Raidillon, oh forget it…
Follow full live text commentary of free practice, qualifying and the race on our Twitter account, @PitCrew_Online.
On Monday morning, Red Bull announced that it would be swapping Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon for the remaining races of the 2019 season.
The move was met with no small amount of surprise—not least because Christian Horner and Helmut Marko had both stated categorically that Gasly’s seat was safe for the rest of the year—as well as a great amount of debate over whether or not the decision was the right one to take.
For Red Bull themselves, at least, the switch is a definite win-win solution.
After the Hungarian Grand Prix, Horner lay the blame quite squarely on Gasly for Red Bull being 44 points behind Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship, despite being the only team other than Mercedes to win races this year. It was the first time Horner had publicly criticised Gasly’s performances, saying that the Frenchman “shouldn’t be racing Saubers and McLarens” in a car capable of victories and podiums.
Having seen little improvement from Gasly over the opening 12 races, it was clear that Red Bull needed something to change in order to outscore Ferrari by the end of the year. And with a buffer of 162 points back to fourth-placed McLaren, the team had nothing to lose in switching drivers. At the very worst Albon would be no improvement over Gasly, but Red Bull would still comfortably finish the season in the top three.
Looking beyond 2019, there is another clear benefit to trialling how Albon works within the senior Red Bull team—and in particular, how he works alongside Max Verstappen.
On paper, Albon is the ideal driver for Red Bull’s current situation. For starters, he’s undeniably quick. He ran Charles Leclerc hard for the 2016 GP3 title, was a consistent frontrunner in Formula 2, and last year was offered a seat with Nissan’s works Formula E squad.
But perhaps most importantly, Albon’s reputation is for a calm, mild-mannered team player—a driver unlikely to level public criticism at Honda should performance falter, or threaten Verstappen’s position as Red Bull’s top dog.
And with Verstappen’s contract expiring at the end of next year, creating the right environment with a teammate like Albon might be crucial in convincing the Dutchman to stay at Red Bull long-term.
As for Albon, however, moving to Red Bull now could go either way.
On the one hand, this is a remarkable stroke of good fortune. Just nine months ago Albon’s F1 chances looked to have all dried up and he was preparing for a career shift to Formula E—now, he’s driving a car that has every chance of making him Thailand’s first-ever Grand Prix winner.
But there’s absolutely no guarantee that Albon will succeed where Gasly hasn’t. Of Red Bull’s last three promotions from Toro Rosso, only Verstappen has so far managed to hang on to his seat. That will only increase the pressure on Albon to prove he can buck the trend, with only nine races in which to do so.
And if Albon fares no better than Gasly and Red Bull decide to drop him at the end of the year as well, then his meteoric F1 career could be over before it’s even truly begun.
On that note, it’s hard to find any benefit to this decision for Gasly himself. Although Red Bull will no doubt argue they want to give him the opportunity to recover his form away from the limelight at Toro Rosso, that will seem like a hollow sentiment given they said the same thing about Daniil Kvyat in 2016.
But even if Gasly does regroup and flourish away from the glare at the senior team, it will take something special to shake off the black mark of being dumped by a top team midway through a season.
Given Gasly’s racing record to date—GP2 and Formula Renault 2.0 champion, Super Formula title contender and near podium-finisher on his debut Formula E weekend—it would be a true shame if this instead becomes the defining moment in the 23-year-old’s career.
Lewis Hamilton has taken victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix, making best use of a free pit stop to chase down Max Verstappen and take the lead in the closing laps of a race that saw every driver outside the top four lapped.
Verstappen had retained his lead after the first pit stops and fended off an attacking Hamilton as the pair picked their way through traffic. Running wide when attempting an overtake at turn four, Hamilton dropped back and the gap to Verstappen stabilised around the one-and-a-half second mark.
With a sizeable gap to the Ferrari duo in P3 and P4, Mercedes made the decision to bring Hamilton in on lap 49 for what was a free stop, switching him onto the medium tyres. He emerged some 20 seconds behind Verstappen and set about chasing him down, being told by his team that Verstappen would be down to “zero rubber” by the end of the race.
Sure enough, Verstappen reported on lap 64 that his tyres were dead, and Hamilton closed at a rate of almost two seconds a lap to make a move round the outside of turn one and take the lead with just three laps to go.
With Verstappen reporting that he couldn’t make it to the end of the race, he made a free pit stop on lap 68 to switch to the soft tyres and chase the bonus point for fastest lap.
Sebastian Vettel finished a distant third, overtaking team-mate Leclerc on lap 68. Vettel ran a very long first stint and only came into the pits on lap 40 to change onto the soft tyres. By the time he had caught up to his team-mate, Leclerc’s hard tyres were some 40 laps old, and this allowed Vettel to dive down the inside going into turn one and take the final podium position. With the gap to Hamilton at over a minute, Ferrari will certainly be hoping that the long straights of Spa and Monza will allow them to claw back
Carlos Sainz finished in an impressive fifth place for the second race in a row, with Gasly and Raikkonen behind in sixth and seventh respectively.
The other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas took himself out of win and podium contention on the first lap. Lock-ups going into the first two corners allowed Hamilton to slip past and take second, and then contact with Leclerc damaged his front wing and forced him to pit. Dropped to plum last on the road, it was a long day for the Finn and he eventually reached the chequered flag in eighth place.
The top ten was completed by Lando Norris – who was hampered by a slow pit stop – and Alex Albon.
Hamilton’s victory means he heads into the summer break with a 62-point lead in the championship. Two bad races in a row means that Bottas is now just seven points ahead of Verstappen in P2, and you have to think that second is now firmly in Verstappen’s sights going into the next half of the season.
Hungary was the fourth good race in a row this season following Austria, Silverstone and Hockenheim, but can the trend continue when the F1 circus reconvenes at Spa at the end of the month?
Ask every driver in Formula 1, the home race is guaranteed to be their favourite. This was no exception for current World Champion Lewis Hamilton going in to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone this weekend, aiming to build on his lead over rivals Sebastian Vettel and team-mate Valterri Bottas.
It wasn’t an ideal start for Hamilton though, having qualified in P2 on Saturday afternoon after being pipped to the top spot by fellow Mercedes driver Bottas, with only 0.006s between the two laps. This time Hamilton didn’t simply have the luxury of building a lead from the start, he’d have to earn his keep and get past the fiery Finn before getting to the golden trophy.
Behind the two Mercedes’ drivers sat Charles Leclerc in P3, eager for another opportunity to be on the podium following a dramatic Austrian Grand Prix which saw him lose out on 1stplace to the ballsy Dutchman, Max Verstappen and Red Bull who coincidentally sat in P4, providing fans with a great deal of entertainment throughout the race.
It was a relatively clean start all round, however Haas’s week of drama continued as Kevin Magnussen and Roman Grosjean made contact in the first lap, which unfortunately forced both drivers to retire from the race. This unlucky accident resulted in Grosjean’s 5thretirement of the season, and no doubt, 2 pairs of thoroughly boxed ears from an extremely angry Gunter Steiner in the post-race briefing.
At the front of the grid, both Mercedes’ drivers had a good start, with Bottas’ managing to hold his team-mate at bay with some excellent defending. Bottas’ looked to be building a lead on Hamilton. This was all in vain as Antonio Giovannazi beached his Alfa Romeo in the gravel giving Hamilton the opportunity for a free pit stop. Unfortunately, Bottas wasn’t able to catch up with the Brit, who had been rewarded by opportunistic strategy from Mercedes engineers. This lead was held for the duration of the race, much to the joy of the hordes of Hamilton fans in the stands that day.
But we expected that.
Meanwhile, a little bit further down the track, some exciting racing was finally taking place.
Verstappen was keen to rub yet more salt in Leclerc’s wounds for another podium finish, providing fans with some clean, excellent racing for 13 laps, after which came an overtake that had fans (aka me) screaming at their TV’s in amazement. Both Leclerc and Verstappen came into the pits at the same time, putting enormous pressure on both Ferrari and Red Bull mechanics to get the tyres changed flawlessly and quicker than the other team.
Red Bull won the battle, but as soon as the mechanics had stopped cheering on Verstappen taking 3rdplace from Leclerc in the pitlane, the young Ferrari driver had re-gained the position emerging back on track. New tyres on a newly re-surfaced track caused Verstappen to run wide at turn four, leaving the door wide open for Leclerc to take back 3rdplace.
To pit or not to pit, that was the question once again for Leclerc’s strategists at Ferrari who were slow to bring their number two driver in to change his boots during the safety car. This cost the young Monégasque track position, coming out ahead of Verstappen who had also pitted and emerged in 6th.
The re-start was promising for Verstappen who managed to overtake Leclerc for a second time (on track this time), and push on towards his team-mate Pierre Gasly for 4thposition. Gasly honourably moved aside to allow Verstappen to charge after the other prancing horse, which he quickly met and began the battle for 3rdplace once again.
Verstappen overtaking Vettel going into Stowe could have been one of those moments that go down in fondly remembered Formula 1 history, unfortunately, the gods of racing weren’t happy to leave well enough alone. Almost immediately after Verstappen had gained the position, he had lost it once again after Vettel misjudged his braking and shunted the back of the Red Bull which caused them both to run off the track.
By some miracle, the only thing that was damaged was the two drivers’ egos, and the pair somehow managed to work their way out of the notoriously tricky gravel trap and back onto the track to continue with the race. Vettel was slapped with a 10-second time penalty for this incident, which adds to what has been a gut-wrenching season for the 4-time World Champion.
This weekend was not simply an opportunity for fans to bask in Hamilton’s never-ending glory, British fans were also able to say thank you to a F1 icon, Sir Frank Williams who was celebrating an astonishing 50 Years in Formula 1. Although Vettel’s mistake cost Ferrari important championship points, it also gave the Williams’ drivers the opportunity to not finish last for the first time this season. British driver George Russel finished 14thahead of his team-mate Robert Kubica in 15th, although it doesn’t seem like much of an achievement, it was a welcome change for the struggling team.
The racing wasn’t simply reserved for Ferrari and Red Bull, McLaren and Renault were also able to get stuck in. McLaren golden-boy Lando Norris made his intentions quite clear from the beginning, as payback for Ricciardo’s cheekiness in the driver’s conference at the start of the weekend.
The two battled it out wheel-to-wheel, quite literally from the start of the race, through Copse, Maggots and Becketts until Ricciardo eventually lost out to the youngster in the hair-raising battle. Norris’ spectacular driving ability was over-shadowed by McLaren’s poor strategy choice which eventually kept Norris out of the points, finishing in 11th; Ricciardo managed to score his first few points since Canada, finishing in 7thplace.
Following his win at Silverstone, Lewis Hamilton is able to go into the German Grand Prix with a 39-point lead on his main rivals, Valterri Bottas and Max Verstappen. That said, after this weekend, there’s quite clearly something special about a home race, and with Hockenheim just around the corner, perhaps this is where Vettel will start to make his comeback.
Featured Photo by Gareth Harford / LAT Images via Pirelli
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).
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.
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.
Beyoncé may have said “if you like it, then you should’ve put a ring on it”, but in motorsport we race the rings instead. Yes, it’s race weekend once again, as F1 is welcomed by the circuit previously known as the Österreichring!
It was known as such between 1969 and 1995, and then became known as the A1 Ring from 1996 to 2003. Finally, Dietrich Mateschitz bought the circuit and in 2008 started a reconstruction. From 2014, the newly-branded Red Bull Ring became host once again to a European round of the Formula One Championship.
The Red Bull Ring was originally 5.911km in length, with its weakness being its safety record and high speeds (second only to Silverstone during its Österreichring period). Something had to be done, and as such it was shortened to 4.326km in its guise as the A1 Ring, and again in 2016 to 4.318km.
Red Bull Ring sectors. Image courtesy of Pirelli.This weekend we head back to the Red Bull Rin after last week’s French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard, which was dominated by Mercedes with Hamilton and Bottas finishing 1-2.
Can I mention hot air? No, not the untruths one may hear, but instead air streams from the African continent. Tyres could again play a massive part in the race this weekend, with it predicted to be one of the hottest days in Europe so far, courtesy of very warm air streams. Last weekend in France saw temperatures hit 56°C, but this weekend could hit 60°C. That alone will shift the working windows of the tyres and also will vary between teams . With higher air temps we could also see the 2019 aero regulations cause some teams issues with heat distribution.
The Red Bull Ring, following its 2014 redesign, is one of the shortest tracks on the F1 calendar, with the current configuration’s lap record being a 1:06.957, set by Kimi Raikkonen in 2018. With four sharp turns (T1, T3, T7 and T8) and three DRS zones allowing overtaking, the race is not a foregone conclusion.
2019 has been a year of Mercedes dominance, with them having won all eight races so far – two for Valtteri Bottas and six for Lewis Hamilton.
Ferrari has had correlation issues in their fluid dynamics simulation to wind tunnel analysis, hence the testing of new front wing and floor assemblies at Paul Ricard. With that issue presumably sorted, can their car finally show its promise?
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won here in 2018, and he will be hoping for that to happen again this year to finally break the Mercedes strong-hold on the championship.
And if Verstappen, Vettel and Leclerc can’t mount a challenge? It will, yet again, be between the Mercedes boys of Hamilton and Bottas.
[Featured Image courtesy of Colombo Images/Scuderia Ferrari]
Daniel Ricciardo’s decision to exchange his Red Bull wings for a Renault Sport beret for 2019 surprised many. Ricciardo began his F1 career back in 2011, racing with Toro Rosso and Red Bull for nine years and showing his abilities with bold overtakes, clean racing, and a grin visible even when wearing a helmet.
Ricciardo’s decision to leave Red Bull was hard news for some. With two strong drivers in that team during the 2018 season, it was becoming increasingly difficult to say who, between Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, held the number one seat.
This isn’t, of course, the first time a talented driver has taken the decision to move to a less-successful team in the hope of making some big improvements. The most recent success story was, of course, Lewis Hamilton’s decision to leave McLaren for Mercedes in 2013. The rest, they say, is somewhat monotonous history.
But why did Ricciardo leave for Renault?
Although Renault have a rich and varied history in Formula 1, their success in recent years has been hit-and-miss. After a few years taking places in the middle of the grid, the decision to sign Nico Hulkenberg for the 2017 season allowed for Renault to become a slightly more permanent fixture in the top ten in qualifying.
Renault’s confidence seems to have been boosted a great deal by Ricciardo’s signing, describing Ricciardo and Hulkenberg as ‘one of the strongest – if not the strongest – driver line-ups on the grid’. The fact that the two Renault drivers are particularly talented is undeniable, which makes it a shame that Ricciardo’s first season with the team has lacked the strength they had initially hoped for.
It has been a slow start for all parties involved, riddled by technical faults, friendly fire and gearbox failures, which resulted in four DNFs so far this season. The Canadian Grand Prix proved to be a great opportunity for Renault, after Kevin Magnussen’s crash in Q2 kept Verstappen out of Q3 and opened the door for Ricciardo to qualify fourth, his best starting position since joining Renault.
Despite this promise, though, the race didn’t result in a podium finish. Ricciardo and Hulkenberg finished P6 and P7 respectively, which is respectable enough. However, Renault’s decision to keep Hulkenberg behind Ricciardo despite Hulkenberg being on fresher tyres seems to have caused a bit of disharmony in the garage.
According to team boss Cyril Abiteboul, Renault’s position in the Constructors Championship proved more important on this occasion.
“I wanted to make sure that the team’s back in the game, and the drivers will also be back in the game, their own game, from next week onwards,” he said.
Renault are currently 5th in the Constructors Championship, having jumped up from 8th thanks to their result in Canada. They now sit just two points behind McLaren, so it seems that the the temporary self-preservation tactic paid off.
Though Renault’s season has been a little slow to get started, Ricciardo’s optimism hasn’t waned.
“We’re realistic in our approach, but the team should be proud of this weekend [Canada],” he said. “They have that drive and determination to push on now and that’s really encouraging.”
As the Formula 1 train pushes on to Circuit Paul Ricard in France this weekend, it is hoped that Ricciardo and Renault’s fortune will continue on for their home race. Ricciardo’s move to Renault has allowed for that little bit more variety and action in the middle of the pack, something that fans argue has been quite limited in recent seasons.
The iconic Monaco Grand Prix marked the sixthrace of the 2019 F1 season, and while the focus this week has been on the loss of F1 legend and Mercedes mentor Niki Lauda, the race around the streets of Monte Carlo finally brought a long-awaited challenge to reigning champion Lewis Hamilton, in the form of Max Verstappen and Red Bull.
Red Bull’s decision to kiss goodbye to their partnership with Renault in 2018 was hardly a surprise to the world of F1, after a number of seasons falling short of their dominant years with Sebastian Vettel. It was also hardly a surprise to find that fans were dubious about their subsequent contract with Honda, who famously struggled in their partnership with McLaren.
With Max Verstappen hungry to win his first championship, the move to a power unit that had been even less reliable than Renault seemed like very risky business, but is the risk beginning to pay off?
Rob Marshall, Red Bull’s chief engineering officer, certainly seems to think so, even if they are under no illusion they still have a way to go.
“We can see areas around the power-unit packaging-wise,” he said. “It’s just making different bits and moving a few things around. [Honda] are very open to our suggestions.”
The Red Bull and Toro Rosso drivers both felt the benefit of an upgrade brought to Baku, which was reflected in Verstappen’s solid performance. The same could not be said for his team mate Pierre Gasly, however, who was forced to retire on lap 40 out of 51 due to a loss of power.
In the run up to the Monaco Grand Prix, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, who has been highly critical of the suppliers in the past, expressed the teams delight in working with Honda this season.
“We are very happy with the progress that’s being made […] to have closed that gap [to the top 2 teams] and put that performance on the car is really encouraging,” he said.
Horner was under no illusion about still having work to do with the car generally but, aside from Gasly’s retirement in Baku, reliability hasn’t been as much of an issue for the team.
“Reliability compared to previous years has been fantastic, and performance is strong […] Now we have to try and focus on diminishing the gap further to Mercedes”.
Verstappen found enough pace to challenge Hamilton’s Mercedes, running in second position in Monaco from lap 11 after exiting the pit lane ahead of Bottas following an unsafe release. Though Verstappen finished in fourth place as a result of his five-second penalty, he is still positive about his race overall.
“Of course I would have liked to have been on the podium but if we look at the pace and performance, we were strong,” he said.
Pierre Gasly also had a respectable performance around the streets of Monaco, finishing fifth and also taking an extra point for fastest lap for the second time this season.
In terms of points and podiums, then, Red Bull is building a steady lead ahead of the other teams. After Monaco, Red Bull are on 110 points and are beginning to close the gap between themselves and Ferrari, who currently have 139 points. In the drivers’ championship, Verstappen is in fourth position with 78 points, behind Vettel with 82 points.
Pierre Gasly is in sixth position with 32 points behind Leclerc who has 57 points. Verstappen has also finished third twice so far this season – Monaco would have been another podium had it not been for the unfortunate penalty.
It almost goes without saying that Mercedes are the ones to beat, however with Red Bull’s newfound pace, it’s certainly an encouraging start for a team that were once the ones to beat.
[Featured image – Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool]