Belgian Blockbuster in the wet? 2020 Belgian Grand Prix Preview

Formula One rolls into the luscious town of Francorchamps this week, the threat of rain looms for the upcoming weekend as we await the 76th Belgian Grand Prix.

At a remarkable seven kilometres, Spa boasts the shortest name and the longest track on the calendar – which this year has been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we all have reason to be extremely grateful to see Spa on the shortened and condensed list of races this year. It is one of the most challenging, exhausting and bravery-inciting circuits F1 has seen in its 70-year history – Charles Leclerc and Fernando Alonso can testify to that after flying car incidents into turn one in 2012 and 2018.

www.sutton-images.com | Fernando Alonso, McLaren MCL33 crashes and gets airborne at the start of the race at Formula One World Championship, Rd13, Belgian Grand Prix, Race, Spa Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday 26 August 2018.
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And if previous form is anything to go by, we could be in for a fascinating race. The last eight F1 races at Spa have seen seven different winners – Jenson Button, Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc. Mercedes power has claimed five of the last 10 races, with Renault and Ferrari power taking the flag in the other five.

2016 Belgian Grand Prix, Sunday

The clouds that promise an invigorating twist to the tail throughout all three days of running could provide Red Bull the opportunity to win their fourth race here, with Dutchman Max Verstappen seeking to once again throw a spanner in Mercedes’ almost flawless works and earn his second win of the season after the 70th anniversary Grand Prix in Silverstone.

And it is a good thing for Mercedes’ rivals that the ominous rain threat is there – because this track suits the Silver Arrow almost down to a tee.

With tremendously long full-throttle sections and a heavily reduced necessity for downforce, Mercedes would expect to have the superior car around this track. And they still may. Coupled with excellent proficiency in the car, they have a six-time world champion in Lewis Hamilton that has won four of the last five rain-affected races in F1 – Germany last year being the only exception. He was also the last driver to win a rain-affected race in Belgium back in 2010.

Racing Point, dubbed the pink Mercedes in the midst of the “copying” row, also know that if they can master the wet conditions, a podium finish may be on the cards for them – it would be their first since Sergio Perez in Baku two years ago.

The Ferrari powered cars would be grateful of some rain too this weekend. Ferrari, Haas and Alfa Romeo have all struggled immensely in the early part of the campaign, and some unpredictable weather conditions may just be the catalyst needed for a strong result for those teams – it seems outrageous saying this given that Ferrari won this race last year with Leclerc.

Charles Leclerc dedicates his 2019 win to friend Anthoine Hubert – who lost life earlier in the weekend – Ferrari Media

McLaren, who now have two podiums to their name in as many seasons, looked incredibly strong with Carlos Sainz in qualifying in Styria in the wet, and will undoubtedly sense an opportunity themselves.

As F1 returns to Spa, Charles Leclerc knows he may just need a sprinkle to claim a second consecutive win here – and while there will be no orange wall for Max Verstappen, it looks likely there will be a few walls of spray this weekend.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of Mark Thompson/Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Opinion: Is Verstappen costing Red Bull the Constructors Title?

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

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

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

2014 Canadian Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Albon isn’t in the same danger as Gasly was

There’s no denying Alex Albon’s first full season at Red Bull is so far falling short of expectations. Just sixth in the drivers’ championship and with two consecutive Q2 exits in the previous races, it’s also unsurprising that talk of him facing a midseason drop like Pierre Gasly’s last year has already begun.

On the face of it, the concern over Albon’s position at Red Bull does appear to be more than just speculation for speculation’s sake.

Much like Gasly last year, Albon has struggled to get to grips with his car over the opening races of the season, and more importantly doesn’t seem able to extract the most from it in the same way teammate Max Verstappen has. As a result, Albon has been behind Verstappen in every race they’ve both finished and only has half the points of his teammate.

Albon’s results have also been following a downward trend so far. After finishing fourth in the Styrian Grand Prix, Albon was fifth at the Hungaroring and then eighth at Silverstone last weekend. It’s easy to conclude from that record that Albon’s entering into a downward spiral, or a slump at the very least. That Gasly found himself in such a spiral last year was one of the key reasons Red Bull gave for moving him back to Toro Rosso, in the hopes of forcing a reset for the Frenchman.

Bryn Lennon, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

But although Gasly’s results were obviously a key factor in his demotion, more important were the reasons behind those results. In particular, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner cited Gasly’s hesitance in on-track battles, which often left him stuck behind midfield cars despite his own RB15’s pace advantage.

Albon, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have this problem. The British Grand Prix might have been his lowest result of the season so far, but his drive to eighth was a recovery negating an extra pit stop and a time penalty. Likewise, in Hungary he made up eight places to finish fifth after an early qualifying exit.

Admittedly, Albon’s racecraft does still need honing. The collision with Kevin Magnussen that earned him that penalty at Silverstone is the most recent example, not to mention his two race-ruining incidents with Lewis Hamilton in Brazil last year and Austria this year.

But despite this, Albon’s willingness to go for a move and not be daunted by it—particularly if that move is against a six-times world champion like Hamilton—is clearly something Red Bull values.

Bryn Lennon, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

It’s also worth noting that the context of of Albon’s year is very different to Gasly’s. Last year Red Bull had a car that could legitimately contest Mercedes for podiums, poles and wins, and the feeling was that they were losing out on big results because Gasly’s absence from the front of the field meant they were unable to fight the Silver Arrows strategically.

This year, despite Verstappen’s podiums the RB16 is not as close to Mercedes as its predecessor, and so Albon’s struggles aren’t costing Red Bull as much as Gasly’s. What’s more, with Ferrari so far off the pace compared to 2019, Red Bull is also not at risk of losing second place in the Constructors’ Championship.

On top of that, Red Bull had the perfect opportunity to perform a driver swap last year. The three week summer break not only provided Albon with a chance to get his head around the pressure associated with driving for the top team, but also gave Gasly enough time to accept the decision before facing the media at the next race weekend.

With no such break this year, Red Bull don’t have that convenient chance to swap drivers without the risk of it backfiring for the rest of the season. Hopefully, they’ll have learnt this from what happened to Daniil Kvyat after his sudden drop in 2016.

There’s no hiding the fact that Albon’s start to the 2020 season has so far fallen short of his and Red Bull’s expectations, and he needs an upturn in form over the coming races to get things back on track. But as for talk of him being demoted back to Toro Rosso, Albon’s performances on track and relationship with the team show a much different picture to Gasly’s time at Red Bull. For 2020 at least, Albon’s seat should be secure.

Bryn Lennon, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

2020 Styrian Grand Prix preview: second chance in Spielberg

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

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

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

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

Racing Point F1 Team

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

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

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

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

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

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

The decade that was: F1 in the 2010s

A lot can change in a decade. This time ten years ago, Jenson Button and Brawn were the reigning F1 champions, Fernando Alonso was preparing to take on the mantle of Ferrari’s title hopes, and a 12-year-old Max Verstappen was just about to step up to international karting.

As we approach the start of another new year and a new decade, we’ve taken a look back at what’s characterised F1 throughout the 2010s and how these last ten years might be remembered.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The decade of dominance

Let’s deal with the elephant in the room first. When people look back on F1 in the 2010s, they will see one headline figure: that Red Bull and Mercedes cleaned up every available title between them, and won 149 out of the decade’s 198 races. It’s the first time in F1’s history that two teams have had such a stranglehold on the sport—and hopefully the last.

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The decade of record-breaking

Sebastian Vettel, the youngest-ever World Champion. Lewis Hamilton, the most pole positions. Max Verstappen, the youngest-ever Grand Prix entrant and winner. Kimi Raikkonen, the fastest-ever F1 lap. Mercedes, the most consecutive Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships. The 2010s weren’t just about dominance, they were about excellence.

Mercedes AMG

The decade of comebacks

When Michael Schumacher came out of retirement to lead Mercedes in 2010, he probably had no idea he’d started a trend. Before long, Kimi Raikkonen was back in F1 with Lotus, Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan were brought out of the noughties, and Brendon Hartley, Daniil Kvyat and Alex Albon were all given second chances by Red Bull after being dropped from the junior team.

But of course, the biggest comebacks of all have to be Felipe Massa returning after being placed in an induced coma in 2009, and Robert Kubica stepping back into an F1 cockpit this year for the first time since his 2011 rally accident.

Pirelli F1 Media

The decade of rules changes

Fans of F1’s rulebook were treated to an absolute feast over the last ten seasons. After 2009’s massive aerodynamics shift, the tweaks, refinements and total overhauls kept on coming. DRS, stepped noses, the halo. V6 turbos, the virtual safety car, and the fastest lap point. And of course, knockout qualifying and 2014’s double points finale. Not all of them were popular, but they’ve certainly kept us on our toes over the years.

Foto Studio Colombo / Pirelli F1 Media

The decade of silly season

Lewis Hamilton leaving McLaren for Mercedes. Kimi Raikkonen returning to Ferrari, then to Sauber. Sebastian Vettel leaving Red Bull for Ferrari. Fernando Alonso rejoining McLaren. Nico Rosberg’s shock retirement. Red Bull’s midseason merry-go-rounds. F1’s driver market has never been tame, but the 2010s really set it alight.

Mark Sutton, LAT Images / Haas F1 Media

The decade F1 returned to the US

F1 has spent a lot of time since the disastrous 2005 US Grand Prix at Indianapolis trying to repair its relationship with the States. Things started going in the right direction with the return of the US Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas and Alexander Rossi’s brief F1 appearances with Manor in 2015. But now with Haas on the grid and Liberty Media in charge of the sport itself, F1’s standing in the US finally looks to be on the mend.

Foto Studio Colombo / Ferrari Media

The decade of farewells to old friends

Rubens Barrichello. Michael Schumacher. Mark Webber. Jenson Button. Nico Rosberg. Felipe Massa. Fernando Alonso. Robert Kubica. So many key figures of F1’s recent past hung up their helmets over the last ten years. Thank goodness we still have Kimi Raikkonen for another year at least.

What’s been your favourite moment from the last ten years of Formula One? Let us know in the comments below.

Brazilian GP: Albon tops FP1 despite crashing out, as Ferrari lead FP2

FP1 – A Damp Day on Track

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – NOVEMBER 15: Alexander Albon of Thailand driving the (23) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB15 on track during practice for the F1 Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 15, 2019 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Red Bull’s Alex Albon set the fastest lap in FP1, before bringing out the red flag to end the session after crashing out on slicks in drying conditions.

He topped the session with a 1:16.142, set shortly before he hit the wall at Juncao, with Valtteri Bottas second with a 1:16.693 and Sebastian Vettel in third with a 1:17.041. However, the morning’s session looked unlikely to be representative as the session started off wet and dried out slowly, with slick tyres not being seen until the final five minutes of the session.

The adverse conditions led to limited running, with four drivers – including Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen – not setting timed laps. Nicholas Latifi took the place of Robert Kubica, the driver he is expected to replace at Williams in 2020, in his sixth FP1 session of the season.

The session got off to a slow and soggy start, with Carlos Sainz the only driver to set a lap time in the early stages, with Lewis Hamilton and then Charles Leclerc the first drivers to emerge on intermediates just over the half-way point in the session.

With five minutes remaining, a flurry of cars came out on slick tyres, with both Red Bulls suffering problems in the damp conditions, but several drivers found the conditions challenging. Verstappen and Daniil Kvyat both suffered spin, and the session was brought to an end when Alex Albon hit the barriers.

FP2 – Ferrari on Top

GP BRASILE F1/2019 – VENERDÌ 15/11/2019
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

By the time FP2 came around, conditions had improved, and despite reports of raindrops mid-session, the rain stayed away enough to avoid a switch to intermediates.

The two Ferraris topped the timesheets, with Sebastian Vettel in first with a 1:09.217. Leclerc, who has a ten place grid penalty owing to an ICE change this weekend, set a 1:09.238 in second. Verstappen was third, and the Mercedes cars of Bottas and Hamilton were fourth and fifth respectively.

The midfield battle looked as close as ever, with a little over four tenths of a second separating the Haas of Kevin Magnussen in sixth and the Racing Point of Lance Stroll in 17th.

The session was red flagged early on as Robert Kubica’s Williams hit the wall before he was even able to set a lap time, scattering debris all around and likely creating some headaches for Williams, who have been beset by a shortage of parts this season.

Verstappen set the early pace before being usurped by the Ferraris at the top of the table, while Valtteri Bottas created some hairy moments for both teammate Lewis Hamilton and the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, failing to move out of the way as they came past on flying laps. Bottas and Leclerc also had a close shave in the pit lane, but the stewards deemed an investigation unnecessary.

Pierre Gasly parked up with 20 minutes to go with a probable engine issue, his car exuding plumes of smoke. The other Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat brought out the red flag to end the session, with Kvyat coming to a stop in the same place as Albon in FP1. However, Kvyat’s incident was likely to be mechanical as his dash appeared to cut off, sending him off the track.

 

[Featured image – Scuderia Ferrari Press Office]

Mexican Grand Prix stewards have set a dangerous precedent

When Valtteri Bottas crashed heavily at the end qualifying for the Mexican Grand Prix, his fellow drivers all slowed down when passing the incident and the subsequent double-waved yellow flags. That is, all but one.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull’s boisterous,  energetic, and head-strong superstar, did not lift, and went on to set a fastest final sector and improve on his provisional pole time.

This was a clear breach, not just of regulations, but also his safety, Bottas’ safety, and the safety of the marshals who needed to recover the stricken Mercedes.

Verstappen would have got away with it, but he was caught out by… himself. The post-qualifying press conference featured a moment which could only be described as absolutely bizarre. When asked about his failure to slow under yellow flags, Verstappen said, “It’s qualifying and, yeah, you go for it. But like I said before, if they want to delete the lap, then delete the lap.”

(Photo by Will Taylor-Medhurst/Getty Images)

The comments were completely devoid of consideration, and showed a complete obliviousness to the fact that he was admitting to a very dangerous breach of the sporting regulations, ultimately landing himself in trouble.

Following the press conference, the stewards decided to open an investigation into how Verstappen went quicker after Bottas’ crash, when his rivals all slowed down. He was then awarded a three-place grid penalty, and will instead start the race from fourth, with Charles Leclerc now on pole for the seventh time this season. Sebastian Vettel is promoted to second, giving Ferrari a front-row lock-out.

Verstappen’s mistake can be forgiven. Nobody was hurt, and in a roundabout way, he was aware that what he had done was wrong, and he appeared to accept that punishment would be coming his way. After all, he is a young racing driver, and consideration and evaluation of risk can be easily skewed when adrenaline is high, particularly during a qualifying run.

The real issue lies deeper. And this is where the blood boils.

It took Verstappen admitting his error in the press conference for the stewards to do anything about it, even after it was clear he set a purple final sector time following Bottas’ crash. It was clear, obvious and blatant that he had not slowed for the yellow flags. The stewards also had data from his car available to them, but either chose to not look at it or, even more outlandishly, see the data and opt not to award a penalty.

(Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)

Either way, whatever actions they had endeavoured to take – or not take as the case may be – they, at first, decided to not award a penalty for a clear breach of regulations. This was a farce. They made themselves look foolish, and it was frankly an embarrassment for the sport.

But more than that, it was a breach of duty of care from the stewards to be so dismissive of the fact that a driver on track had risked the safety of so many people.

Their initial actions, or lack thereof, displayed a complete disregard for safety, and a serious lack of awareness of the precedent they are setting for the future. It was a statement that any driver can now go flat out through yellow flags after a serious incident, risk hitting someone on the way, and get away with it so long as they make sure they keep their mouth shut about the incident afterwards.

And it is very clear that F1 has somehow not learned its lesson from past cases, like that of Jules Bianchi in 2014, who tragically lost his life after failing to slow for yellow flags following a crash at Suzuka. Despite this, with no due diligence whatsoever, the stewards still saw fit to not act on a driver failing to slow for an incident when they know what the impact can be, and a precedent has now been set for the future –  it is a dangerous one.

It was a further example of stewards at a Grand Prix refusing to do their job, not only as rule enforcers, but as responsible adults charged with ensuring the safety of everyone involved at the event, and this is unacceptable.

If the stewards are not willing to act appropriately, and if they are happy to allow someone to endanger lives, then it shows an immaturity that cannot be condoned, especially at an event where the risks that come with motor-racing are so high.

It resonates with me that, not only have the stewards this weekend shown themselves to be unfit for the job of rule enforcers, but they are also evidently cannot be trusted with making sure that drivers in the future are completely aware that actions such as Verstappen’s cannot be tolerated.

Instead, F1 is left in a position where drivers are at risk of being uncontrolled by FIA regulations, which is why the events of yesterday’s qualifying are more significant, and dangerous, than many in the sport are making it out to be.

 

[Featured image – Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images]

Singapore GP preview: Mercedes favourites at Marina Bay

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

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

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

Paul Ripke / Mercedes AMG

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

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

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

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

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

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

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

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

Haas F1 Media

Alex Albon ‘keeping feet on the ground’ ahead of first race for Red Bull

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.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

“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]

F1 makes its anticipated return: Belgian Grand Prix Preview

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.

Lars Baron, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

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.

LAT Images / Mercedes AMG

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…

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Header image by Wolfgang Wilhelm / Mercedes AMG