F1 testing: Bottas fastest on day 2 despite more Mercedes problems

Valtteri Bottas ended the second day of pre-season testing in Bahrain with the fastest time, despite more mechanical problems afflicting Mercedes and their customer Aston Martin.

Bottas set his pacesetting lap of a 1:30.289s late in the afternoon session, on a run on the softest C5 tyres. However, Bottas lost a considerable amount of running earlier in the session due to an issue with his car’s floor, which compounded the gearbox problems that held him back yesterday.

Similar Mercedes gearbox issues stopped Sebastian Vettel from getting any meaningful running with Aston Martin. The German managed just six laps in the morning session before his car began a lengthy spell on jacks in the garage. Vettel did return to the track before the end of the session, but only recorded four more laps before handing over to Lance Stroll for the afternoon.

Courtesy of Aston Martin F1 Team

Lewis Hamilton also had a troubled day of testing for Mercedes. The defending champion drove in the morning but spun into the gravel towards the end of the session and brought out the red flag. He ended the day 15th fastest, only ahead of Vettel.

Not all the Mercedes-powered teams had problems today, however, with McLaren continuing the strong pace displayed yesterday. Daniel Ricciardo was one of the early pacesetters and topped the morning session, while Lando Norris was quickest for a while in the afternoon before ultimately ending the day fourth behind Bottas, Pierre Gasly and Stroll.

Alpine also had a solid day with Fernando Alonso at the wheel of the A521. The Spaniard was second-quickest behind Ricciardo in the morning session, and logged a total of 128 laps by the end of the day. He also completed a comprehensive run plan that included testing three different floor configurations and two different engine covers.

Courtesy of Alpine Racing Media

Following Esteban Ocon’s 129 laps from day one, Alpine are now leading the way in terms of combined mileage heading into the final day of testing. Meanwhile, all four Mercedes-powered teams have the fewest total laps, with Williams on 215 followed by McLaren (195), Aston Martin (177) and Mercedes themselves (162).

However, Nicholas Latifi did record the most laps of any driver on day two, with 132 for Williams.

Day 2 classification:

Pos. Driver Team Time Laps
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:30.289 58
2 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda +0.124 87
3 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes +0.171 70
4 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes +0.297 52
5 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +0.471 124
6 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +0.597 73
7 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes +1.383 132
8 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda +1.393 117
9 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes +1.926 52
10 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault +2.050 127
11 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda +2.395 57
12 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari +2.594 88
13 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +2.783 56
14 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari +2.812 76
15 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +3.110 58
16 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes +8.560 10

McLaren launches 2021 contender

McLaren have become the first F1 team to unveil their 2021 challenger in a launch held at their factory in Woking.

Externally, the MCL35M is quite similar to its 2020 predecessor, featuring the same orange and blue livery. The most notable difference is around the power unit with tighter bodywork and a narrower floor.

McLaren Media Centre

Speaking of the launch in a press release, CEO Zak Brown said, “After a challenging but rewarding 2020, we have firmly hit the reset button for this season as we continue on our path towards the front of the grid. This will be an even tougher season but we’re ready to meet the challenge. I want to pay tribute to Formula 1 and the FIA and our fellow teams in continuing to work hard for the benefit of our sport as we strive to bring exciting racing to fans around the world.”

McLaren’s driver line-up has partially changed for 2021. Lando Norris is staying on for a third season, while Daniel Ricciardo is now driving alongside him. He replaces Carlos Sainz, who has moved to Ferrari for this year.

Team Principal Andreas Seidl said, “Together, Lando and Daniel comprise one of the most competitive driver line-ups in the sport. With these two behind the wheel of the MCL35M, we know we’ll have a team that gives total commitment in the pursuit of on-track performance as we head into the 2021 season.”

After using a Renault power unit from 2018 to 2020, the 2021 McLaren features a Mercedes power unit. McLaren previously worked with Mercedes between 1995 and 2014, a partnership that yielded three drivers’ championships and one constructors’ championships.

McLaren Media Centre

Speaking of the partnership, Technical Director James Key said, “One of the key elements of the MCL35M design is the integration of the Mercedes-AMG power unit, which has taken a considerable effort from the team in Woking, as well as our colleagues at Mercedes. Despite our limited scope for installation in a homologated car, the team has done a fantastic job of optimising our design work.”

The MCL35M will run for the first time at Silverstone tomorrow as part of a filming day.

The fall of Michael Schumacher’s record? F1 2021 season preview

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.

Mercedes seek to win their eighth consecutive Constructors’ title this year – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

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.

After leaving Racing Point following seven years with the team, Sergio Perez arrives at Red Bull to replace the departing Alex Albon – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

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.

Depending on his 2021 performance, George Russell could well be in line for a 2022 drive with Mercedes – Courtesy of Williams Media

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.

Fernando Alonso returns to F1 this year after two years away from the sport – Courtesy of Renault Sport Media

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.

Ferrari Academy Driver Mick Schumacher makes his F1 debut with Haas this year – Courtesy of Ferrari F1 Media

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.

Why McLaren entering Formula E is no surprise

image courtesy of Formula E

Today, it was announced that McLaren will branch out of their already extensive motorsport catalogue, with the news that they have secured the option to enter the 2022-2023 Formula E season ahead of the launch of the Gen3 electric car. Although it’s uncertain yet as to what role they will take in participating, whether as a full manufacturer outfit or otherwise, the signs are clear that they intend to make a move into the rapidly growing electric series.

“We’ve been closely observing Formula E for some time and monitoring the series’ progress and future direction,” Chief Executive Officer Zak Brown said in a press release issued by Formula E earlier today. “The opportunity to take an option on an entry, together with the completion of the McLaren Applied supplier contract with the FIA at the end of Gen 2 gives us the necessary time to decide if Formula E is right for McLaren as a future competition platform,”

McLaren is no stranger to Formula E, having been a part of the spec car back in the series’ infancy. The first version of the electric car contained an electric motor, transmission and electronics all created by the Woking-based manufacturer. Despite the fact that there is more creative freedom within Formula E in terms of the powertrain and gearbox in latter seasons, McLaren Applied Technology has supplied all the batteries that power the cars since 2018 – allowing them for the first time to complete the entire race distance without the need for pit stops or car changes. With the contract expiring at the end of the 2021/2022 season, it comes as little surprise that McLaren would choose to branch out into one of the fastest growing series in motorsport, particularly as they have been at the heart of the action since the very beginning.

Their pledge to take an option with Formula E has particular significance, BMW and Audi have chosen to bow out of the series and McLaren may have sensed an opportunity to further their own prospects. With an already well established role within the NASCAR and IndyCar market in the United States, McLaren may have seen Formula E’s potential of bringing electric sustainability and racing to the heart of cities, particularly within places such as Jakarta and Seoul, lucrative markets which McLaren could potentially tap into. Mercedes and Audi have used their participation in Formula E with great effect, using it to promote their electric road cars and McLaren may well do the same – especially as they plan to launch their first hybrid road car in 2021, with the hopes of developing a roadworthy EV by 2025. McLaren as a motorsport constructor are now flourishing under Brown’s rule – a more relaxed approach than that of his predecessor Ron Dennis, and after several years of disappointment, are beginning to reap the benefits. It remains to be seen if McLaren will join Formula E in any capacity but the signs of them wanting to branch out beyond F1 are there.

Lights out on an extraordinary year: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Preview

What a year. 2020 was tipped by many to be one of the most exciting in modern times and, well they were not wrong.

This has been by far the most astonishing year any of us have ever witnessed, both on and off the track, and even the most ardent of optimists cannot deny that it has been a struggle for everyone.

However, you also have to appreciate the fruits that have come out of a very tough situation. We have seen amazing race tracks like Mugello, Imola, Istanbul, Portimao and the Nurburgring introduced to a revised calendar, which has been a real delight for us all.

The Eifel Grand Prix saw a welcome return to the Nurburgring – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

We went from 22 races to 17, and it all culminates this weekend at the Yas Marina Circuit for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. In a year that has been dim for many, the floodlights will shine a light of F1’s season finale.

The 5.5 kilometre track made its debut in F1 in 2009, closing out Jenson Buttonb’s title-winning year, and Brawn GP’s successor Mercedes arrive here having won every race in Abu Dhabi since 2014.

And this will fill them with hope, because a horrible race in Bahrain last weekend leaves them desiring a strong result to close out what has been an otherwise phenomenal year.

Following a devastating result in Sakhir, George Russell may get a shot at redemption this weekend – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

It is yet unclear whether newly-crowned seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, who contracted Coronavirus in the build-up to the Sakhir Grand Prix, will recover in time for this weekend. It therefore may be that George Russell returns to the car that he so nearly steered to victory in a stunning debut last race, only to be denied by not one, but two disasters.

Mercedes fitted team mate Valtteri Bottas’ tyres to race leader Russell’s car, forcing him to stop again and Bottas to stay out on dead tyres after a safety car. Having passed Bottas and made his way back up to second, Russell was baring down on Sergio Perez, only for a slow puncture to send him back to the pits. He would finish ninth, while Bottas ended up just one place better in eighth.

It was the aforementioned Perez that took his first ever F1 win, and the first ever for Racing point too. Following his devastating retirement last race that cost him a podium, he gave himself a great chance of securing fourth in the drivers’ standings this weekend, while Racing Point have now moved 10 points clear of McLaren in the battle for third in the Constructors’. Renault sit a further 12 points back.

Sergio Perez’s stunning victory was his first in F1, and Racing Point’s first as a team – Courtesy of Pirelli Media

It makes for an extremely intense finale in the context of the midfield battle, with all eyes firmly fixed on who will claim valuable positions in the drivers’ and constructors’ standings.

The gains will be valuable both financially and in terms of personal pride, and McLaren would be fully grateful of third following their cash flow issues at the start of 2020. As the race for third reaches a head, we eagerly anticipate this enormous battle between Racing Point and McLaren under the lights of Abu Dhabi.

Racing Point are locked in an intense battle with McLaren and Renault as we head to the final race – Courtesy of Racing Point Media

It has been a tough year for many, but hopefully F1 has helped make it that bit easier for you all, and we look forward to covering one last race for you before we gladly turn our backs on 2020.

Sergio Pérez takes maiden victory in astonishing Sakhir GP

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.

F2 driver Jack Aitken stepped in for Mercedes-bound George Russell this weekend – Courtesy of Williams Media

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.

After an intense qualifying, Russell pipped Bottas into the first corner – Courtesy of Mercedes media

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.

Esteban Ocon earned a thoroughly-well deserved podium – Courtesy of Renault Media

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.

The problem with finding the ideal F1 reserve driver

You’ve got to feel for Stoffel Vandoorne. The former McLaren driver has had several realistic chances to return to the Formula One grid this season in his capacity as Mercedes reserve driver, but each time he’s found himself overlooked in favour of an outside contender.

It’s no reflection on Vandoorne as a driver. Leaving aside his two demoralising years driving uncompetitive McLarens, Vandoorne has been a race-winner in almost every top flight series he’s contested.

The problem is more with the concept of F1 reserve drivers in general. Or rather, with the near impossibility of finding a reserve driver who truly fits the bill of what’s asked of them.

Stoffel Vandoorne, Mercedes F1 reserve driver (Courtesy of FIA Formula E)

When it comes to the ideal F1 reserve, the most important thing teams look for is someone whose experience is as recent as possible. F1 development stops for no one, so there’s little use in fielding a stand-in whose last Grand Prix was four or five seasons ago.

Secondly, they need to be quick if they’re going to fight for the results the team expects. But the problem here is that if a driver with that kind of talent finds themselves out of F1, it’s most commonly the case that they’re either moving on to another series or retiring at the end of their career, and therefore won’t be looking for a reserve role.

(There are of course exceptions to this. Nico Hulkenberg, for example, found himself without a drive for this year but that’s not for lack of talent. And Jenson Button stepped in to deputise for Fernando Alonso at McLaren in 2017 despite bowing out of F1 the previous year. But cases like this are extremely rare.)

The final problem with finding the ideal reserve is availability.

For a reserve driver to be quick they need to keep their qualifying and race craft sharp for whenever it’s needed, even if that’s away from F1 machinery.

But at the same time, they can’t spend so much time racing in other series’ that it clashes with F1 weekends—an increasingly large problem as the F1 calendar continues to swell year by year.

Red Bull is a good example of this, as they recently had to secure a super licence for Juri Vips to act as reserve for the Turkish Grand Prix, as their usual backups Sebastien Buemi and Sergio Sette Camara were both racing elsewhere.

Juri Vips, Red Bull reserve driver (Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool)

And that’s the reserve driver paradox. To be the ideal Grand Prix stand-in, one has to be fresh out of F1 and somehow keep that freshness year after year, be quick enough to compete with the current F1 grid despite being dropped from it, and keep race-sharp all year round while still being available 23 weekends out of 52 (and counting).

As a result, reserve drivers tend to be a compromise that’s not quite the best of any worlds. You have the likes of Paul di Resta, who was briefly named McLaren’s reserve this year despite not racing in F1 since 2013. Or you have Formula 2 drivers like Jack Aitken at Williams or Louis Deletraz at Haas, who race regularly on the F1 calendar but are completely unproven in a Grand Prix.

And then you have Ferrari, whose nominated reserve is Antonio Giovinazzi—somehow who has plenty of contemporary F1 experience and race-fitness, but comes with the added complication of currently driving for Alfa Romeo.

It’s all part of the reserve driver role. They’re the person a team relies on when one of their star drivers is sick or injured, but they’re often an imperfect solution at best. And so it’s not really a surprise that teams often search for a better alternative outside their pool if the need for a stand-in actually arises.

It’s a shame when that happens, especially for a driver like Vandoorne whose talent merits at least one more outing in a competitive F1 car. But when big points are on the line and a Hulkenberg or George Russell is available, it’s hard to fault the teams for taking advantage of that opportunity—even if it means their reserve driver spending Sunday playing Call of Duty.

 

Bahrain – but not quite how we know it: Sakhir Grand Prix Preview

After a heart-in-mouth opening lap last time out in Bahrain, F1 returns to Sakhir this weekend, but the track will look a little different.

Turning left immediately after turn four, the drivers will embark on an oval version that goes round to the end of the lap, with sub-one minute lap times anticipated.

Due to the freshness of the outer layout, there will be an odd and intriguing contrast between a rubbered-in track and a green circuit with very little grip.

However, the outer part is mainly full throttle and requires a lot of power, which is why more Mercedes dominance is expected.

Despite that, a track like this is reminiscent to other short circuits like Austria. Losing even the slightest time can be of extreme detriment, and it will prove incredibly difficult to re-gain that time once it is lost, particularly in qualifying.

But while we were all expecting the new layout to be the main talking point of this weekend, it is the miracle escape for Haas’ Romain Grosjean that will dominate race preparations, following a moment that shocked the sporting world.

Romain Grosjean’s injuries mean he will not be taking part this weekend – Courtesy of Haas Media

Grosjean turned across the track and hit the Alpha Tauri of Daniil Kvyat, before smashing into the barrier and splitting his car in two, as it burst into flames in the process.

Having been in the fire for half a minute, the Frenchman was somehow able to escape from the car and, with the help of the heroic marshals and Dr. Ian Roberts, got away with only minor burns to his hands and ankles.

But the FIA will doubtless be looking closely at how the barrier broke in the way it did, and why there was such an enormous fireball upon impact. However, the halo and the safety mechanisms within the car did their job, and all came together to save Grosjean’s life.

He will be replaced by young Brazilian driver Pietro Fittipaldi while he continues to recover, and going up against Danish driver Kevin Magnussen will be the Test and Reserve’s first test in the F1 scene.

Pietro Fittipaldi will make his debut this weekend – Courtesy of Haas Media

Meanwhile, the aforementioned Mercedes will be striving to further push home their advantage in what is a version of the track that suits them even better than the previous. Lewis Hamilton is aiming for his 96th career win, as he also aims to surpass Sebastian Vettel for wins in Bahrain.

His team mate Valtteri Bottas had yet more horrible misfortune early on in bahrain which cost him a place on the podium, with Red Bull taking full advantage. Max Verstappen took second, while Alex Albon took his second podium of the season and strengthened his chances of retaining his Red Bull seat next year.

Red Bull were buoyed by a double-podium last time in Bahrain – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

The Ferrari-powered teams will likely struggle more this weekend and, having only seen Charles Leclerc’s works Ferrari score a single point last time, this may be another weekend to forget for the Prancing Horses, Alfa Romeo and Haas.

Charles Leclerc brought home the only point for the Ferrari-based teams last weekend – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

Racing Point fell 17 points behind McLaren after the double non-finish last weekend. Lance Stroll found himself the wrong way up after Kvyat’s spear into turn eight, while a late and gut-wrenching engine failure for Sergio Perez cost him a podium. McLaren, meanwhile, scored points with both Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz. As a result, McLaren will come into this weekend knowing they can put themselves in a very strong position indeed going into the last race in Abu Dhabi as the battle for third intensifies.

McLaren are within touching distance of third in the Constructors’ Championship after the events of the Bahrain Grand Prix – Courtesy of McLaren Media

It is still Bahrain, but minus a large chunk of the track – and hopefully minus the heavy crashes too.

Feature Image Courtesy of Mercedes Media

Bahrain GP: Grosjean Escapes Inferno, Hamilton cruises to 95th win amid a tumultuous race.

PART 1 – THE GROSJEAN INCIDENT

Romain Grosjean was lucky to escape an incident that left the entire world stunned. After contact with Alpha Tauri’s Daniil Kvyat at turn 3, Romain veered uncontrollably off the track and sailed into the adjacent Armco barrier.

The impact, caught on the world feed, was horrendous. The Haas disappeared into the barrier, which was followed by eruption of flames akin to an explosion from an action movie. Quite simply, it was terrifying, and enough to instantly bring out the red flag.

What awaited was a very tense period in which the world waited in horror for any positive news regarding Romain’s condition. Fortunately, the Frenchman was seen leaping over the barrier from inside the inferno itself. It was a very nasty incident and a close escape.

On further inspection it could be seen that the car had split in two; the rear separated from the cockpit which had sailed through the barrier and lodged itself there as the flame began.

There are few mounting points that connect the cockpit to the rear of the car so the question on everyone’s lips was how this crash could have caused the car to split in two? Possible questions will be raised about the structural integrity of these connecting points.

In terms of the fire: It looks likely that it was the fuel collector that was punctured which holds two to three litres of fuel. The thought behind this is that if the entire capacity of the fuel tank has been compromised (equating to many kilograms of fuel) it would have been a much larger explosion.

What is even more apparent, is that the halo device surely saved Romain Grosjean’s life. Without it, there would have been nothing to protect Grosjean’s head from going into the barrier. I believe everyone at the Pit Crew would like to take a moment to praise the safety improvements made in Formula One over the last fifty years as well as the medical and emergency staff who swiftly attended and dealt with both Romain.

We await the official news on Romain Grosjean’s health, currently flown to a nearby hospital for evaluation. All things said, he seems to have escaped with relatively minor injuries including some broken ribs and minor burns.

We sincerely wish him good health and a swift recovery.

Romain Grosjean’s quick reactions and amazing work from the medics and marshals saw him escape the horrible accident. We all wish him a speedy recovery – Courtesy of Haas Media

PART 2 – THE RACE

Lewis Hamilton dominated unopposed from start to finish to take the 95th win of his career. He was joined on the podium by Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon who takes his second podium of the season.

Lewis Hamilton now has an incredible 95 wins in Formula One – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

It was a frenetic start which saw Sergio Perez get an amazing start the beat Valtteri Bottas off the line. Down the order Lando Norris picked up front wing damage from contact with Daniil Kvyat while the likes of George Russell lost places off the start. Of course, what followed was the Grosjean crash at turn three.

The following red flag lased between 45 and 60 minutes and we got back under way at 18:35 local time.

The restart classification took the order from the safety car line two, situated at the end of the pit lane. Notable changes included Perez in third, Bottas in fourth and Norris in seventh.

However, the drama did not end there as Lance Stroll’s Racing Point was flipped over on the restart, almost a carbon copy of the Esteban Gutierrez and Pastor Maldonado 2014 crash. This was caused by contact with Kvyat who received a penalty as a result and brought out a safety car.

The misery continued for Racing Point who looked assured for a podium through Sergio Perez who had been able to keep third place the entire race. Unfortunately, an engine failure on the final few laps brought Racing Point’s hopes for third place in the constructors’ crashing down.

McLaren went from zero to hero today with a magnificent double points finish. Lando Norris took advantage on the restart making his way past the likes of Esteban Ocon to finish in fourth. Likewise, it was an excellent day for Carlos Sainz who put on an overtaking masterclass from 15th to 5th. After being able to extend the stint on the softs, younger medium rubber helped Sainz overtake both Renaults, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, and Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly.

The latter will be left with mixed emotions today with Gasly doing an incredible stint on hard compound tyres to finish in 6th place. He was left compromised at the end of the race but was spared a late lunge from Valtteri Bottas due to a late safety car. Daniil Kvyat in contrast had a miserable day, unfortunately involved in both incidents with Grosjean and Stroll. He was able to make it back to 11th to end a very eventful day for the Russian.

Renault will be disappointed not to achieve more today with Daniel Ricciardo in 6th and Esteban Ocon in 8th. For the majority of the race it looked to be Ocon with the advantage. But as Ricciardo close the gap, the two fought which compromised them both against the likes of Carlos Sainz. Ricciardo was able to get past following the pit stops, helping the team to close the gap to Racing Point in the constructors.

Valtteri Bottas will be wanting the season to end as soon as possible. He lost position to Sergio Perez off the line and was then forced into an early tyre change due to a puncture. He attempted to extend the hards early in the race but was unable to make any sizable impact on fresh mediums. 8th place means he loses further ground to Verstappen in the drivers’ championship.

Two weeks on from Ferrari’s highs at Turkey, it was a return to normality today as the power demands of Bahrain severely hampered both cars. Charles Leclerc would finish in 10th with Sebastien Vettel in 13th. With similar power demands expected next weekend at Bahrain’s outer circuit, I expect there to be a similarly unspectacular performance.

Just one point for Charles Leclerc and none for Sebastian Vettel spelled a horrible evening for Ferrari – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

Williams may not have achieved that elusive championship point, but should take positives after Russell finished in 12th while Latifi in 14th. Indeed, Russell had to defend from a charging Sebastien Vettel to keep 12th, albeit with a sizable power advantage with the Mercedes PU.

George Russell contrived to fend off Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in the closing stages – Courtesy of Williams Media

Alfa Romeo and Haas rounded out the final classifications. Kimi Raikkonen in 14th, Giovinazzi 15th and Kevin Magnussen 16th. Giovinazzi had been running ahead of his teammate until deciding to pit under the Sergio Perez safety car which put him firmly behind.

RACE CLASSIFICATION

  1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 57 Laps
  2. Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing +1.254
  3. Alex Albon Red Bull Racing +8.005
  4. Lando Norris McLaren +11.337
  5. Carlos Sainz McLaren +11.787
  6. Pierre Gasly Alpha Tauri +11.942
  7. Daniel Ricciardo Renault +19.368
  8. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +19.680
  9. Esteban Ocon Renault +22.803
  10. Charles Leclerc Ferrari +1 Lap
  11. Daniil Kvyat Alpha Tauri +1 Lap
  12. George Russell Williams +1 Lap
  13. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari +1 Lap
  14. Nicholas Latifi Williams +1 Lap
  15. Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo +1 Lap
  16. Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo +1 Lap
  17. Kevin Magnussen Haas +1 Lap
  18. Sergio Perez Racing Point DNF
  19. Lance Stroll Racing Point DNF
  20. Romain Grosjean Haas DNF

Feature Image Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

The day Lewis Hamilton made his mark

Last weekend played host to the highly anticipated return of the Turkish Grand Prix. It was the first time since 2011 that F1 had raced at the fan favourite Istanbul Park circuit, and it definitely delivered on the promise.

An emotional Lewis Hamilton stands on the podium after winning his seventh world championship in Turkey – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

Whilst the race itself was very exciting, typically the result would make plenty of people say it was boring as Lewis Hamilton, in undoubtedly one of the best drives of his career, nursed intermediates in rapidly drying conditions for 52 laps on his way to his 94th victory. In the process, he equaled Michael Schumacher by wrapping up his seventh championship.

Only Michael Schumacher had won seven world titles before Hamilton achieved it last weekend – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

By half way through, Hamilton seemed to have absolutely no chance of winning the race yet somehow he passed Racing Point’s Sergio Pérez with about 20 laps to go and pulled out a lead of over 30 seconds. He claimed his seventh championship and levelled with the great Michael Schumacher at the Istanbul Park circuit is very fitting, considering the day the F1 world sat up and paid attention to the kid from Stevenage.

27th August 2006. A 21 year old Lewis is competing in the GP2 Series (what we know now as Formula 2) on the undercard to the Turkish Grand Prix, and he is locked in an intense championship battle with Nelson Piquet, Jr. Hamilton had just come off the back of a defeat to Piquet; the Brazilian had in the previous round at Budapest scored maximum points and had just done the same the day before, taking fastest lap by half a second. Hamilton was at real risk of losing the championship lead with only two races to go at Monza.

Hamilton had already made a real impression in his racing career up until that point. He had an endless amount of achievements in karting, and had won the championship in Formula Renault UK. He completely and utterly dominated in the F3 Euro Series in 2005, winning 15 out of 20 races – however things could have been much different.

Seeing the GP2 Series start up for 2005 from the remnants of European Formula 3000, Hamilton asked the higher ups at McLaren if he could make the step up to the category for that year. But the Woking-based team held their ground believing it best to continue with their mindset of having Lewis spend his first year in a junior championship, learning the ropes to then go for a title charge the following year. After much deliberation, McLaren decided to sever ties with Hamilton and the Brit had to go hunting for sponsors for the last two major events of the 2004 F3 season.

Hamilton did manage to sort sponsorship and after somehow winning the Bahrain SuperPrix F3 race after qualifying last and making his way through in both the qualifying race and main race, he reunited with McLaren and stuck to F3 for the following year. After dominating the championship, he then got his wish to go to GP2 and immediately hit the ground running.

In only his third event, Hamilton took a double victory at the Nürburgring which, when you consider the second race of the weekend’s starting order is the reverse of the previous race’s top eight finishers, is very impressive. He then took a win at Monaco and another double victory at Silverstone. He had been making a habit of pulling off some audacious manoeuvres and charges through the field.

But the momentum before the Sunday of the Turkish Grand Prix had swung in favour of Piquet. As a result, Hamilton had clearly realised that drastic measures were in order. He asked for his mechanics at his GP2 team, ART Grand Prix, (responsible in recent years for taking the likes of Charles Leclerc and George Russell to championship success in the lower formulae) to trim his car’s aerodynamics down to the bare minimum. It was the sort of setup you typically would expect at Monza.

The team thought Lewis had gone nuts in desperation to cling on to some hope of keeping his championship fight alive, knowing that he would most likely spin. They were definitely right to have that fear.

At the start of the race, Hamilton held his starting position of P7 and tried to challenge Piquet who had managed to pass him at the start, nearly coming to blows at turn seven. Lap two however was when the inevitable happened as Lewis took to the kerb at turn four and spun, dropping to P19. Most people would have accepted that it was over at that point. Everyone, it seems, but Hamilton.

Hamilton had found that limit and set to work trying to salvage whatever result he could. Immediately he passed Ernesto Viso at turn seven, interlocking his front left with Viso’s rear right in the process and then getting another free position when Fairuz Fauzy hit trouble. This was only the beginning.

It didn’t matter where. The turn nine chicane before the long flat out straight and kink; doing the up and under at the series of slow speed corners ending the lap; the blind crest at turn one; the outside of turn three which turned to the inside of turn four – you name it, Hamilton passed there. He had found that sweet spot where he could drive an undoubtedly nervous car on the edge and in around ten laps from when he spun, Hamilton was now in the top five and could see his rival Piquet up the road.

You have to realise, this was a field full of drivers who would go on to be very successful. Along with Hamilton and Piquet who would both end up in F1 in the following years, you also had other F1-bound talent like Timo Glock, Lucas di Grassi and Vitaly Petrov. Future sportscar drivers such as Nicolas Lapierre, Mike Conway and Gianmaria Bruni (who raced in F1 with Minardi in 2004), and even Lewis’ teammate Alexandre Prémat would go on to win last year’s Bathurst 1000 Supercars flagship race with Scott McLaughlin. These drivers were no slouches by any means.

With eight laps to go, Hamilton would pull off the divebomb to end all divebombs on Piquet into the hairpin near the end of the lap. Then the following lap, he tried to do the same to Timo Glock but he put up a good fight, which would not be entirely notable if it wasn’t for the fact that to this day, people are still out for Glock’s head as he supposedly couldn’t put up a good enough fight to deny Hamilton his first F1 championship in 2008.

Felipe Massa (left) was cruelly denied the championship in 2008 after Timo Glock, who raced in GP2 with Hamilton in 2006, was passed at the final corner by the Brit in Brazil – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

Glock’s defending from turn 13 up until about turn four meant Piquet got back through, but Hamilton pulled off another spectacular out-braking move at turn 13 and got around the outside of Piquet, even nudging Glock going around turn 14. Still finding himself behind the German, he set himself up heading onto the penultimate lap to finally pull off an overtake and solidify his position and was set for a podium finish after being as low as P19!

But was he done there? Yeah, right! Hamilton had only two drivers ahead of him, race leader Andreas Zuber and second place Adam Carroll. He set the fastest lap of the race heading into the last lap and caught Carroll by four tenths of a second in the first sector alone. Heading into the flat out section on the last lap, he ducked into Carroll’s slipstream and sent one up the inside of a defenceless Northern-Irishman. Zuber rounded the last corner to win but just under three seconds later, Lewis Hamilton crossed the line to finish second.

The F1 press room had been exploding with media standing up in amazement, along with the entire F1 paddock. Lewis Hamilton was probably only one or two laps away from actually winning, This race was an early indicator of Lewis’s race craft, but more importantly and perhaps way underrated, his intelligence and confidence to adapt his driving to suit the setup. This would only be the tip of the iceberg as to what was to come for the Brit.

Comparisons between Hamilton and greats such as Schumacher and Ayrton Senna are now stronger than ever – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

Hamilton would go on to wrap up the GP2 championship, and the rest, as we know, is history. For anyone who followed Hamilton throughout his junior career, his F1 success should come as no surprise. Fast forward to 14 years later, he’s now statistically speaking one of the greatest of all time, level on championships with the great Michael Schumacher. Yes he’s had the best car for a long time, but you don’t maintain this level of dominance for so long without being one of the best. Hamilton is well and truly up there with the likes of Senna and Schumacher, and deservedly so.

Feature Image Courtesy of F2 Media