The Formula One circus stays in the Styrian mountains as the Red Bull Ring plays host to the Austrian Grand Prix, just seven days after Max Verstappen claimed victory at the same circuit in the Styrian Grand Prix.
It would take a brave person to bet against Verstappen taking his third consecutive victory on Sunday, given his dominant performance last weekend. Sergio Perez will be hoping he can make it two Red Bulls on the podium, after coming within a second of Valtteri Bottas in the previous race.
A double podium is probably the best case scenario once again for Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton making a rare trip to the Brackley simulator in an aim to extract every last inch of performance out of his car. The quick turnaround means no upgrades for this race, and there are mixed messages from the Mercedes camp regarding how much more development we will see on their 2021 car.
The pace from the top two teams meant Ferrari and McLaren were once again left fighting for fifth. Although it was Lando Norris who won the midfield battle last weekend, Daniel Ricciardo was showing good pace before reliability troubles dropped him down the order. Ferrari will also be hoping for a smoother weekend from Charles Leclerc, who showed some inspired moves after being controversially involved in Pierre Gasly’s retirement.
AlphaTauri, Alpine and Aston Martin will look to pick up some of the lesser points once again, in what looks to be one of the tightest midfield battles for years. Strategy could well be key in this battle, as free air is hard to come by on the track with the shortest lap time of the year. Pirelli are also bringing softer tyres to the Austrian GP than they did at the Styrian round, which might lead to more action in the pitlane.
For George Russell, he will be hoping his pitlane action is much more conventional this weekend. A pneumatic leak cost him a shot at his first ever points for Williams, with the Brit admitting that there’s no guarantee he will be able to replicate that performance again this time around. His teammate will also be hoping for a better result, after being an innocent victim in last weekend’s lap one shenanigans.
Alfa Romeo will be hoping they can sneak a point, after just missing out with Kimi Raikkonen last time around. The intriguing battle between the Haas cars will also be one to watch, as Mick Schumacher and his teammate battle for inter-team supremacy, which must be a small ray of light in a very difficult debut season for both drivers.
It’s fair to say last week’s race was not a classic, but different tyres (and possibly different weather) could make the Austrian GP an entirely different beast indeed.
Back we come then to the scene of Lewis Hamilton’s 92nd Grand Prix victory in Formula One, and the seven-time champion seeks to use the energy of what has become a historic venue in the sport after just one race.
The theme of 2021 though, variably from Mercedes’ almost-unanswered dominance last year, has been the emergence of Max Verstappen as a genuine title contender.
With one win a piece, Hamilton is locked in a battle with Red Bull’s enigmatic Dutchman. A tricky, technical yet powerful circuit will be a test of both their skill and, almost as intriguingly, a test of Honda’s ability to challenge Mercedes this year.
Verstappen will also know that he has a team mate this year that can back him up. Sergio Perez out-qualified Verstappen by a slender margin last time out in Imola, but huge slices of misfortune in both of the opening two rounds have hindered the Mexican’s season thus far. There is no doubting, however, that he can be a huge help to Verstappen this weekend when strategies play out. Though in saying that, his hugely impressive pace will make him believe there are victories and title challenges on the cards for him behind the wheel of a Red Bull.
Part of the reason that strategies will be important is that it is difficult to overtake at Portimao; there are so many high-speed corners and few heavy braking zones – just ask Lance Stroll and Lando Norris how difficult it is to go side-by-side in Algarve.
This difficulty means that Valtteri Bottas, if he is to prove himself a useful backup to Hamilton and mount any sort of championship bid of his own, needs a big performance. His one-lap pace will need to be strong, as well as his race pace to hold off what will be an uber-competitive leading pack.
Bottas’ incident with Williams’ George Russell two weeks ago heated up what was already an intense rivalry for the Mercedes seat next season, although it is worth noting that Hamilton still does not have a contract beyond 2021.
Largely disappointing so far have been Alpine and Aston Martin. Fernando Alonso crashed before the start in Imola, compounding the French team’s tricky beginning to 2021. Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll were both put on the back foot through brake trouble before the race start; they are hoping for a trouble-free weekend in Portugal to give them the platform to succeed here. They still maintain that the current regulations adversely affect low-rake teams.
Title credentials are still to be established, rivalries are intensifying, and this weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix is set to be a huge one.
At just 103 days, the winter break between 2020 and 2021 is one of the shortest, certainly in modern history in Formula One. In actual fact, it was set to be shorter still, but with the postponement of the Australian Grand Prix, the new season will kick off in Bahrain, but what can we expect from this year?
Well, in truth, this year will probably be a case of “same, but different”, as regulations set in place for 2021 mean that the 2020 cars have been carried over to this year, and only aero parts and PUs are eligible to be changed. Fundamentally, though, the cars must remain the same, and the chassis will be identical to last year, so do not expect any massive jumps in performance.
This means to say that Mercedes should still be top dogs, Red Bull should be a close second, and the midfield will still be as intense as it was throughout the entirety of the 17 races last year.
But while substantial increases or otherwise in performance is too much to expect, little nuggets of gold may just help swing the tide a little as someone, somehow, looks to topple Mercedes’ absolute brilliance at the front.
Sergio Perez, surprise winner of the crazy Sakhir Grand prix last season, will make his highly-anticipated Red Bull debut having replaced the hapless Alex Albon. The discussion has been raging as to whether he will be able to beat their current titan Max Verstappen, and whether the Mexican truly does have the pace to compete at the front and spur Red Bull into serious Constructors’ Championship contention. It is widely expected that, if Perez is dominated by Verstappen the way Albon and Pierre Gasly were, it is a case of the car being geared to the Dutchman, as opposed to a lack of pace from Max’s team mates.
264 points separated Mercedes and Red Bull last year, so it will be fascinating to see if Red Bull’s third driver pairing in as many years will be able to close the gap and make life a little more uncomfortable for the imperious champions.
Speaking of whom, newly-crowned champion Lewis Hamilton has finally put pen to paper on a new contract with the German team, in a deal that takes him to the end of the 2021 season.
Reasons for just the one-season extension have been speculated about; who knows if it could be down to the impending salary cap, or whether it is because Hamilton feels as though he only has one year left with the Silver Arrows, and in Formula One as a whole?
This would make sense. Hamilton is set to win his eighth championship this season, beating Michael Schumacher’s remarkable seven in the process. The sport could certainly do with having Hamilton around next year, and we are likely set to see one of the most historical moments in the history of Formula One.
His team mate Valtteri Bottas could well be going into his last year with the Silver Arrows, but conversely to Hamilton, his future may not be in his own hands. In spite of a second-placed finish in the championship last season, Bottas’ overall performance has occasionally left something to be desired, and he will need to show stronger title credentials this year if he is to remain a part of the team in 2022.
A large part of this equation is the impressive progress of George Russell who, with a good performance in the Williams in 2021, could find himself in line for a drive next season. Particularly after Russell’s magnificent pace last year in the Sakhir Grand Prix alongside Bottas, this season will be a monumental one for both of them.
Further down, Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo are definitely ones to watch as they make their debuts for Ferrari and McLaren respectively. Ferrari acquired the services of Sainz after Sebastian Vettel’s departure for Aston Martin, while Australian Daniel Ricciardo left Renault for McLaren, replacing Spaniard Sainz. Ferrari’s new engine and aero parts for this season could lift them further into the midfield battle, and above the abysmal eighth place they managed last season with Vettel and Leclerc. Vettel meanwhile, with his new team and new haircut to boot, will attempt to make his presence felt in his new adventure with the new Aston Martin team, who take over from Racing Point this year.
Just as exciting as the German’s new venture, Fernando Alonso makes his comeback in 2021 in the Alpine team that has replaced Renault for this year, and after two seasons out, expectation is high. Frenchman Esteban Ocon, who managed his first podium last season in Sakhir, gets a real test of his ability by going up against a driver who, as well as being a two-time champion, is widely regarded as one of the quickest and most skilled drivers in F1’s rich history.
Alonso, though, comes back probably feeling a fair bit older than he did when he left. He raced against Jos Verstappen and Michael Schumacher during his first 18-year spell in the sport, and he is now about to race against their sons.
While Max had already become a fixture towards the end of Alonso’s first tenure, Michael’s son Mick will now be on the same grid as one of his father’s greatest rivals, as two generations collide.
Schumacher claimed glory in the F2 championship last season with Prema, and he arrives in Formula One with one of Ferrari’s junior teams: Haas. The American outfit enter this year will a new driver lineup; the departing Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen are replaced by Schumacher and car number nine.
As Lewis Hamilton seeks a record eighth championship, and Mercedes try to extend their record of Constructors’ championship successes, the 2021 season is a huge one for a lot of drivers, in what is the last year before the regulation changes in 2022.
What a race! In the jumbled up 2020 calendar that began in July at the Red Bull Ring, the last three races are a triple feast in the Middle East. Beginning with the traditional Bahrain circuit last weekend and ending the season at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi but that middle race would be another one at Bahrain. However it would be on the outer circuit which the F1 cars had been lapping at under a minute all through the weekend.
The lead up to the weekend was already packed with action, as Romain Grosjean’s horror crash from which he thankfully escaped with just a few burns meant that Haas drafted in reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi. Then the huge bombshell dropped that world champion Lewis Hamilton had tested positive for COVID-19 which meant Mercedes had to go looking for a replacement driver. That turned out to be George Russell who left a vacant seat at Williams, and that ended up being F2 racer Jack Aitken.
In qualifying, it was Bottas who just pipped Russell to pole by a microscopic margin. Max Verstappen qualified third and Charles Leclerc put in a mighty lap to drag that lacklustre Ferrari to fourth on the grid, and following him were Pérez, Kvyat, Ricciardo, Sainz, Gasly, Stroll, Ocon, Albon, Vettel, Giovinazzi, Magnussen, Latifi, Aitken, Räikkönen, and at the back were Norris and Fittipaldi who had taken grid penalties.
At the start, Russell immediately got away better than Bottas who had to hold off Verstappen’s advances, and struggled to get out the first few corners. His compatriot Räikkönen spun in the back of shot and thankfully no awful imagery to worry about like last week at the same corner. But Bottas’ eyes were on Verstappen, closing the door on him which left an open opportunity for Pérez to go past the Red Bull.
But it was Leclerc who got caught out trying to brake for the corner, smacked into the Racing Point and spun him round, leaving Verstappen with nowhere to go but into the wall and retirement along with Leclerc. Somehow, Pérez was able to continue and pitted, benefitting from the subsequent safety car and was able to rejoin the back of the pack in 18th.
At the front, Russell’s massive lead that he got at the start was eliminated, but he wasn’t done. The safety car period ended on lap six and Russell eased off whilst Bottas was under pressure from McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, who rose to third amid the first lap chaos. He went around the outside of Bottas into turn one, but going through the turn two and three complex, Sainz ran wide and that allowed the Merc right back through.
Whilst Russell was experiencing what it’s like to be in the lead in an F1 car, further down the order were two of his mates, Lando Norris and Alex Albon. Lap 20 and Albon made a move stick on Norris, who was then immediately overtaken by Pérez despite the Mexican being spun on the first lap. The following lap, Albon was then passed by Pérez at the same corner.
Back at the front with Russell, he already had a gap of over a second before the DRS was enabled. The Mercs began gapping Sainz, and it was a steady lead Russell held over Bottas which fluctuated as they negotiated lapped traffic. He extended that lead after he pitted, undercutting Bottas after he was left out for a further four laps, and the gap went to the highest it had been all race even in spite of a sensor scare.
Russell’s typical Williams teammate Nicholas Latifi pulled off and caused a Virtual Safety Car, and not much changed other than Bottas swiped into Russell’s lead. But Pérez was continuing his charge through the field, putting a move on teammate Lance Stroll going into turn four and then the following lap, on former Force India teammate Esteban Ocon. The Mexican was absolutely flying out there. He was now on course for a podium finish with his strategy completely played out.
However, Russell’s replacement at Williams Jack Aitken lost the car coming out of the last corner and clattered the tyre barrier, leaving his front wing on the track and he dove for the pits. A Virtual Safety Car was initially called, but that became a full Safety Car, and Mercedes felt the need to cover off Pérez. But man, did they mess up.
The two Mercs double stacked, Russell came in and they put on the tyres, all well and good. Then Bottas came in and there seemed to be some hesitation, and they sent him back out on the same tyres he pitted with, which was a bit odd as to why they did that. Then it became very apparent. Russell had been sent out on tyres which were intended for Bottas, so now he was bunched up behind the safety car with Pérez, Ocon and Stroll behind him and he was called back to the pits to change the tyres.
This was a huge mess-up on Mercedes’ part. Russell came back out in fifth behind Bottas who remained on his old set, but looked to have the best tyres out of everyone in the top five. Racing resumed and Russell was a man on a mission, making quick work of his teammate on the old set of tyres pulling off an immense outside move going through the long turn six, then passing Stroll and Ocon with the help of DRS. He then set to work catching Pérez who was a long way up the road.
Russell was eating into Pérez’s advantage lap after lap but yet again, disaster. Russell was called back to the pits AGAIN as he had a slow puncture and they put him on softs, whilst the other Mercedes of Bottas just went backwards as he was overtaken by Sainz, Ricciardo and Albon in very quick succession.
But up at the front, a man who for some reason doesn’t have a drive in 2021 guaranteed. Sergio Pérez took an incredible first win for both himself, and the team that he’s leaving after next week’s season finale. Esteban Ocon took second ahead of Lance Stroll, then it was Sainz, Ricciardo, Kvyat had also passed Bottas in the closing stages, Russell recovered to ninth ahead of Norris who scored the last point.
Russell finally got his long awaited first points finish as well as another for fastest lap, although it was little consolation for what was throughout the entire race looking set to be an incredible first win for the guy. He did absolutely incredibly all weekend, and it definitely will not be the last we hear from Russell, who may get a second stab at the cherry this weekend in Abu Dhabi providing Hamilton isn’t well enough to participate.
But it was Pérez who after 190 starts, finally took victory and became the first Mexican to win an F1 Grand Prix in 50 years. A win that was perhaps long overdue, especially if we harken back to Malaysia 2012 when he came very close in his Sauber to denying Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso a win that day. But better late than never, and hopefully Pérez is not out of F1 for long.
2020 is fast turning into every Nico Hulkenberg fan’s dream. Despite not having a full-time place on the grid for this year, he’s been able to put himself front and centre in the driver market for 2021 with his impressive stand-in drives for Racing Point.
Now, Hulkenberg has been named by Red Bull as one of their prime targets for next year if they decide to let the struggling Alex Albon go. But as popular a signing as Hulkenberg would be, would he actually be the solution Red Bull is looking for?
The big complication is that Hulkenberg isn’t the only driver in contention for the seat. With Red Bull openly looking at Sergio Perez too, it’s not as simple as whether Hulkenberg offers an improvement over Albon.
And when it’s Hulkenberg against Perez, the Mexican arguably has the edge in terms of the overall package he offers.
The most obvious setback for Hulkenberg against Perez is that Perez has scored eight podiums throughout his career, while Hulkenberg has the record for the most F1 starts without one. When one of Red Bull’s criticisms of Albon is his lack of regular top three finishes, taking Perez over Hulkenberg seems the more sensible bet on this count.
The fact that four of Perez’s podiums came when driving the same Force India machinery as Hulkenberg only swings things further in the Mexican’s favour. And speaking of their time together as teammates, Perez’s top three finishes helped him outscore Hulkenberg across the season two years to one.
And then there’s the financial elephant in the room. With his personal backing from Carlos Slim and Telmex, Perez is said to bring anything between €15 million and €20 million to a team.
While Red Bull isn’t exactly hard up for cash, a number like that will still factor into their thinking—especially when they’re going to lose their Aston Martin title sponsorship next year, and are considering a costly move to take over Honda’s engine IP when the Japanese manufacturer leaves F1 at the end of 2021.
So with Perez winning out in terms of top three finishes, year-long consistency and financial backing, is there any area where Hulkenberg can actually make a case for being the better choice?
Luckily, yes—in fact, there are two.
The first is qualifying pace. While Perez has the edge in terms of race craft, Hulkenberg is undoubtably the better qualifier. His Interlagos pole with Williams in 2010 springs to mind, but there are much more recent examples than that—specifically, his third on the grid at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix this year for Racing Point.
You don’t get any points on a Saturday in F1. But Hulkenberg’s qualifying record would go a long way to addressing Red Bull’s need for its second car to start higher up the grid on Sunday than Albon is currently achieving.
With Perez, a driver who traditionally focuses more on race setup so he can battle his way back through the field, Red Bull could potentially end up with the same situation they currently have with Albon.
Perhaps the biggest tick in Hulkenberg’s favour, however, is his fit within the team. Of course it’s impossible to say for sure how he’d gel with Max Verstappen and Red Bull without him being there. But historically Hulkenberg has had harmonious working relationships with all of his teammates—including Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz, both of whom famously clashed against Verstappen at Red Bull and Toro Rosso respectively.
Hulkenberg’s demeanour and approach in the last few years suggests a driver comfortably assured of how good he is, regardless of what the F1 record shows, and this stands him in good stead as a potential teammate to Verstappen. He’s not trying to build a reputation within the sport, and so isn’t likely to trip up over the finer details of proving himself a match for Verstappen in the same way Albon and Pierre Gasly have.
By comparison, Perez has a history of friction with teammates, particularly when trying to assert himself against them. We saw this first in his on-track clashes with Jenson Button at McLaren in 2013, but more notably with Esteban Ocon during their two years together at Force India.
With Red Bull wanting a supportive rear-gunner for Verstappen, scenes like Perez squeezing Ocon into the wall in Singapore or refusing to let Ocon by for a podium shot in Canada aren’t going to count in his favour.
At the end of the day, you could make a case for both Hulkenberg and Perez being the best option for Red Bull. And that’s assuming Red Bull are going to replace Albon—at time of writing, there’s still every chance they could choose to keep him for another year.
With no clear right or wrong choice, the second Red Bull seat is the Schrödinger’s Cat of the driver market. We might as well assume it belongs to Albon, Hulkenberg and Perez for now, because we just won’t know for sure until the box is opened and we see whose name is on the contract.
Over the Portuguese Grand Prix weekend, Max Verstappen was on the receiving end of some criticism after labelling Lance Stroll a “retard” and a “mongol” in which the two came together at the very fast first corner in practice. He was dismissive when pressed about it, and has since had a letter penned to him by the Mongol Identity Organisation requesting he apologise for his actions.
Now we have heard drivers say things in the heat of the moment. Infact Lando Norris during the race also had a run-in with Stroll at turn one in which he called him a few regrettable names in the wake of their clash, but apologised for saying them after the race. Though in Lando’s case, the words he referred to Stroll as may have been rude but not belittling.
We’ve all called someone a dickhead or a particular word beginning with C when frustrated with their actions, however Verstappen’s comments and his attitude afterwards cause some concern.
Firstly, I believe I’m not well versed enough to talk about his “mongol” comment, so I’m not talking about it not because I don’t think it’s important but I believe it wouldn’t be a good idea to talk about it when not completely able to understand the complexities. It’s better to not talk about something when you’re ignorant about it, than to try to talk about it and just ending up looking like so arrogant as to not know what you are talking about and trying to anyway.
I will however talk a lot about ableism and my own personal experiences being on the receiving end of comments like “retard”.
Full disclosure, I am on the autistic spectrum. Going through all my years in school, I always required extra support which was somewhat demoralising anyway but as a result of needing that extra support, I was always a target to mean spirited students. Of course, my experience isn’t exclusive to me and everyone regardless of the hands they’ve been dealt in life will have dealt with bullying in one form or another.
But in my personal experience, being part of a unit for kids with ‘special needs’ left me an open target to comments such as spacker and retard. These insults are derived from a place of believing someone is not of high intellect, and being at school when you’re the only one who needs support in class is already very demoralising.
So to then see people mock you by slapping their wrist with their tongue out when you are trying your best to fit in, it doesn’t matter what you did as to them, all you are is just some retard. Because of needing extra support, you are seen as lesser than them and will never be equal.
This is why when people use the word retard to describe someone doing an idiotic action, it further pushes this notion that the blatant accidental wrongdoings are associated as being the actions of someone who is mentally impaired. Now I could have chalked it up to a heat of the moment thing which we again have all been guilty of, but Verstappen’s dismissive attitude about it was very disappointing.
Now I’m not about censorship, and over the years I have appreciated Verstappen’s character and not being restrained by the overly monitored and polished media-friendly world. But I do draw the line when it comes to words that can fall back on others, because it’s not like a driver will say “piece of s***” and a toilet opens up somewhere in the world and some feces are going to pop out to say “I take issue with this!”.
The bigger issue comes about when you see people on social media who treat it like a non-issue and believe the “SNOWFLAKES ARE AT IT AGAIN!”. This is something that I really do take issue with, basic empathy is treated like an attempt to take away free speech and infringe on rights. It is seemingly born out of this need to be as far from “politically correct” as possible, but most of the time when it concerns you, people can change their tune. Even when confronted with the truth, some people seem so unwilling to concede that they were insensitive.
A couple of years ago, I would often misuse the word ‘triggered’, in line with the meme in which people get annoyed or angry about something. Someone told me that the word was insensitive because it mocks people who have post traumatic stress disorder. When these people are triggered, it represses awful memories that could really mess them up and they have to live with that.
Now if I was anything like the people who are like “LOOK AT ALL THESE SNOWFLAKES WHO JUST WANT TO GET OFFENDED BY EVERYTHING”, I’d have dismissed this person and sent an obnoxious amount of laughing-crying emojis and called them oversensitive. But instead, I listened and have attempted to educate others on this, and now I’ve adopted the term ‘Rattled’ in place of triggered in the context of someone getting angry.
Though all these people on the internet who don’t want to be educated on this and continue to spout ignorant and insensitive stuff, it’s very discouraging and disappointing for people like Max Verstappen to feed into this negative loop. Max has fans who receive these hateful remarks, and by failing to recognise the influence he has, he’s further alienating the people who live this reality every day and only giving the hate-spouting “i BeLiEvE iN fReEdOm oF sPeEcH” nonsense brigade all the time more fuel to further their toxicity.
If Max Verstappen went a step further, if he had someone crash with him and he said over the radio in response to it “This guy is 100% autistic” then I’d never forgive him. I’d rip my Max Verstappen flag off my wall, which I don’t want to have to do because I do like Max but also because the flag is from my best friend Nadine who is from the Netherlands and I don’t want to have to get rid of something that she bought for me.
We aren’t trying to cancel anyone here, but these people who have this reach on people, they need to recognise that their words can have major influence. We all know the phrase about sticks and stones, about how words can never hurt us, I do disagree with this notion. Words have power, words can tell us when we aren’t valued at a base level, and that you are not important.
There are pitiful attempts to look like you’re playing both sides as to not alienate anyone, but sometimes you need to call a spade what it is, a spade. You may think you’re being all hard with a silent H, by not caring about human rights, mental health, believing this has just been a ‘political’ post, that I’m preaching, telling you what to think, that you don’t care about what others think or what value you have towards others, you are kidding yourself when you think this is a non-issue.
After a 24-year absence, Formula One is finally about to return to Portugal this weekend, as we gear up for round 12 of the 2020 season and the first ever at the Algarve circuit.
Having visited the country 16 times in the past on world championship level, F1 will be hosted by the 4.6 kilometre circuit as part of the new circuits hurriedly introduced to fill the gaps in the staggered Formula One calendar in 2020.
As a result, you could be forgiven for suggesting that Algarve has been on of the scarce positives to come out of the Coronavirus pandemic, along with multiple new and returning tracks that have added to a thus-far vibrant season of racing.
Perhaps said vibrance does not quite apply to the 2020 drivers’ and constructors’ title battles; Mercedes’ 10 wins and Lewis Hamilton’s impressive eight can testify to that, and the same rang true after a marvellous drive from the six-time champion earned him victory at the Nurburgring a fortnight ago.
Daniel Ricciardo’s mightily impressive podium for Renault, and Max Verstappen’s second place with the fastest lap followed Valtteri Bottas’ failure to finish, with the Finn admitting over the two-week break that he “needs a miracle” if he is to mount a serious challenge to his team mate Hamilton for the drivers’ title in 2020.
Renault’s result was a further example of just how tight the midfield battle is. McLaren, Racing Point and the occasional cameo from race-winning Alpha Tauri have made for an enticing season in the midfield over the opening rounds, with Renault power finally proving itself a serious contender for the top three in the Constructors’ battle this year.
What has been curtailed, however, is the usual three-way battle between Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari, with the Scuderia falling massively from any sort of grace performance-wise this season. The Portimao circuit may provide some relief to their issues though. While Portimao does feature a long home straight and a couple of braking zones in the first sector, there are lots of flowing parts of the track where, technically, there will be lots for the drivers themselves to do in order to find lap time. This is particularly the case into the double-right of turns 10 and 11. This should help somewhat to mitigate the time lost down the straight with Ferrari’s shocking power deficit and seemingly woeful chassis. Bear in mind though that Mattia Binotto is confident that new upgrades the Maranello outfit have brought to the car will further improve their chances of a strong result this weekend.
Conversely, the non-Ferrari powered teams will be excited for this weekend. Getting it right through the tricky technical sections, including the deceptive final corner, as well as having some decent performance down the straight could make for some surprise qualifying results, and a fiery battle for position during the Grand Prix.
Having just equalled the once-unbeatable Michael Schumacher race-win record, the first ever championship grand Prix at Algarve may be Lewis Hamilton’s time to become the first ever 92-time winner.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.