Mid-Season Report, Who will Rule Formula 1?

It’s this time of the season, where the drivers and the crews are taking their summer break and enjoying some days off with their families and friends.

For the fans, it’s a good point to see how the Formula One teams and drivers performed during the first half of the season. After eleven races Sebastian Vettel is leading in the drivers’ standings (202 pts) followed by the British champion Lewis Hamilton (188 pts), the gap between the two drivers is just 14 points, Mercedes and Ferrari are very close this season, that can be seen from their results and the points that the two teams have collected.

The Silver Arrows are first, on the constructors’ standings, by 39 points. As it seems the title will be a battle of two teams, but what about the drivers?  Will it be decided only between Vettel and Hamilton?

There is one driver who seems able to challenge the two champions, he will try to take advantage of their battle and slowly he will try to claim Formula One’s throne. That driver is Valtteri Bottas.

The Finn is third with 169 points, he is 19 points behind his team-mate and 33 points behind the leader, Sebastian Vettel. Bottas, have finished eight times on the podium and have won two races, his first victory was in Russia and his last one in Austria. It is a great achievement if you consider that it’s his debut season with Mercedes and that he is racing alongside a three-time champion who is fighting for his fourth title.

London, United Kingdom.
Wednesday 12 July 2017.
Carlos Sainz Jr, Toro Rosso STR12 Renault.
World Copyright: Glenn Dunbar/LAT Images
ref: Digital Image _X4I1034

Mercedes will face a challenge, Bottas is in a good form, Hamilton is desperately wanting to win this season, after last year’s defeat from his team-mate, now their team has to decide if they will let them race or if they will pull the card of number 1 and number 2 driver.

Red Bull Racing is far away from the two contenders, the Bulls are currently third, they have scored 184 points and most of these points were scored by Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian has finished five times on the podium and won in Azerbaijan. From the other hand, Daniel’s team-mate, Max Verstappen is not facing, the best moments of his Formula 1 career. The young driver finished third in China, and retired on five of the eleven races. It looks that Red Bull can secure the third place and focus one the following season, their only threat is Force India.

Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon are doing a good job this season, they have scored 101 points, 72 less of the points which Force India scored in 2016. They both look to be enjoying their season, Perez has finished in the points in nine of the eleven races, whilst Ocon failed to score point/s only in Monaco where he finished 12th.

Williams is not facing its best season so far, Felipe Massa returned from retirement, in order to give the chance to Bottas to move to Mercedes and try his luck in a better team, was it the right decision? The Brazilian finished sixth in the season premiere in Australia, in Bahrain he also finished in the same position, these were Massa’s two best finishes. Last season at the summer break, Felipe had 38 points, fifteen more points from those that he has now.

Baku City Circuit, Baku, Azerbaijan.
Sunday 25 June 2017.
World Copyright: Zak Mauger/LAT Images
ref: Digital Image _54I4953

From the other hand, his team-mate, Lance Stroll crashed or trashed (if you prefer) his Williams with every possible way he could think of. From the pre-season tests the young driver was not looking very “skilful”, his results confirmed that. The Canadian had four retirements in the first four races of the season and one more retirement in Monaco, five DNF in eleven races. He scored his first two points in Canada, where he finished 9th. In Azerbaijan, Lance achieved the unachievable, after a top drive he finished third. That was the only podium for Williams this season.

Toro Rosso is only two points behind Williams and chasing them for the fifth place in the constructors’ championship. A battle between Williams, Toro Rosso, Haas and Renault is expected for the fifth place. Last season, Williams secured easily the fifth place, but now they are struggling, these four teams are close to each other and all of them have at least one good drive to racing.

Romain Grosjean finished sixth Austria and scored eight valuable points for Haas, a one man show is a good slogan, which suits, to Renault as Nico Hulkenberg have scored all their points (26) so far. Toro Rosso is in an almost similar situation, Kvyat has scored just four points, whilst Sainz is doing all the hard work. Carlos, finished sixth in Monaco, that was his highest finish and until now he has 56 points, eleven less than Max Verstappen.

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal, Canada.
Friday 09 June 2017.
World Copyright: Andy Hone/LAT Images
ref: Digital Image _ONY2825

McLaren, is the team which impressed me the most in the last race before the summer break. Fernando, was ready for his holidays but he had only one obstacle to face, the Hungarian Grand Prix. The Spaniard, finished sixth in Hungary, scored eight points and then he took his yacht and visited Greece.

Pascal Wehrelin is trying to save Sauber from its disaster, but his results are not enough. Five points for Pascal, he finished eighth in Spain and tenth in Azerbaijan, his team-mate(s) is still trying to figure out if he is racing in Formula One or..

With nine races to go I am expecting a strong fight between Vettel Hamilton and Bottas, don’t underestimate the Finns!

Who will rule the Formula 1 Kingdom?

Have a nice holiday!

Victor Archakis

*Twitter: @FP_Passion

Analysis: Wehrlein’s future in jeopardy as Sauber exit nears

Bounced between backmarker teams, overlooked in the midfield, Pascal Wehrlein has not had the easiest progression in his F1 career. But, if recent reports about the Sauber team are to be believed, the German could already be about to drop off the grid entirely in this year’s round of contract negotiations.

Sauber F1 Team

When Sauber confirmed a multi-year extension of its Ferrari engine partnership at the Hungarian Grand Prix, the media wasted no time in speculating what that new agreement could mean for the team’s 2018 driver lineup. And not without good cause, either: Sauber’s new team principal Fred Vasseur confirmed that drivers “will be part of the discussions [with Ferrari]”, whilst Ferrari’s Sergio Marchionne called Sauber “a place to lay the foundations of the Scuderia Ferrari of tomorrow”.

As suggestions go, they don’t get more ominous than that for Pascal Wehrlein. The German may have scored all of Sauber’s 2017 points so far and be leading a 7-2 qualifying battle against his teammate, but there’s no denying that this renewed Ferrari alliance puts Wehrlein right to the back of the queue for a Sauber seat next year. It’s not just that Ferrari has two protégés ready for F1 debuts in Antonio Giovinazzi and Charles Leclerc—with Sauber set to receive contemporary Ferrari engines again, the last thing the Scuderia wants is for one of those engines to be powering a Mercedes employee.

That will leave Mercedes with a tough job over the summer, as it tries to find Wehrlein his third new cockpit in as many F1 seasons. But on a grid where opportunities are fast diminishing, could another setback now spell the end of Wehrlein’s still-fledging F1 career?

Sauber F1 Team

The problem Wehrlein faces with this year’s market is that all his potential avenues seem to be closing off before he’s even had a chance to explore them. Force India would have usually seemed like a natural berth for a castaway Mercedes junior, but (unless Kimi Räikkönen rejects his inbound Ferrari extension), the Silverstone team has no need to seek a replacement for Sergio Pérez or Esteban Ocon. And, let it not be forgotten, Force India has already turned down Wehrlein’s services once before, on the grounds of his reputed attitude problem.

There may at least be a vacancy advertised at Mercedes’ other customer team Williams, should Felipe Massa’s deal not be renewed for another year. But here again, Mercedes will be pitching Wehrlein to a team that has already said no before; in part due to Wehrlein’s inexperience, but also because Williams’ title sponsor Martini requires at least one driver over the age of 25 for promotional events (Wehrlein is only 22).

That leaves Wehrlein with precious few options for 2018. One—and perhaps his only within the F1 paddock—would be to return to where he started, on the bench as Mercedes’ third driver. Other reports have suggested the German might spend the year back in DTM, leading the Mercedes team’s final outing in the series, or perhaps laying the groundwork for Mercedes-Benz’ next venture by joining the Venturi Formula E team.

But whatever solution Wehrlein’s management finds, his prospects beyond next year look grim, as being frozen out from the 2018 market could make it that much harder to come back in 2019.

Mercedes-AMG Petronas

When Wehrlein made his F1 debut last year, he almost certainly would have had one eye on the driver market for 2019, when both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg came to the end of their Mercedes contracts. After finding his feet at Manor and then spending one or two seasons impressing in the midfield with Williams or Force India, Wehrlein would have come through the ranks as the perfect candidate to lead the Silver Arrows’ next lineup.

But that plan took several blows at the end of 2016, when first the Manor team folded and then Rosberg announced his shock retirement, and Wehrlein, instead of ascending to the fore, was moved sideways into Sauber. Now, with just one year until Hamilton potentially vacates the lead Mercedes cockpit, Wehrlein is facing a step back off the grid altogether.

A year on the sidelines could be all it takes for Wehrlein to drop off the radar entirely, right when he needs to be on Mercedes’ mind the most. Should Hamilton indeed leave an opening at the Silver Arrows for 2019, Wehrlein’s time out of the F1 spotlight will surely shuffle him down the list of priorities behind Daniel Ricciardo (the Australian’s contract expires next year with Hamilton’s) and Esteban Ocon, who already looks to have leapfrogged Wehrlein in the Mercedes line of succession.

And, regardless of Wehrlein’s talent behind the wheel, being passed over by the same teams for three seasons in a row will leave a sizeable dent in the young German’s reputation—indeed, in a sport as ruthless as Formula One, it could prove to be a death blow.

Sauber F1 Team

Analysis: is Bottas now a title contender?

When Valtteri Bottas crossed the finish line in Austria to take his second career Grand Prix win, the calls from F1’s pundits were all but unanimous—the unassuming Finn, not so long ago dismissed as Mercedes’ number two driver, was now firmly in contention for the 2017 Drivers’ Championship.

Steve Etherington / Mercedes-AMG Petronas

Statistically speaking, it’s a solid claim to make. At 35 points adrift in third, it would take a couple of perfect storms in Britain and Hungary for Bottas to assume the lead of the championship before the summer break; but the odds of him overcoming the fifteen-point gap to Lewis Hamilton in second between now and August are certainly far from negligible.

It’s worth remembering too that if Bottas were to rack up another victory at Silverstone next week, as well as making him the first back-to-back winner of 2017, that would also bring the Finn level with Hamilton’s and Sebastian Vettel’s respective win tallies this year. Looking over his other results, Bottas has also taken only one less podium than Vettel and one more than Hamilton this season, whilst his lowest finish of sixth in China is still one better than Hamilton’s seventh place in Monaco.

Furthermore, all that is in spite of Bottas being the only driver of this title trio to suffer a DNF so far this year, when his engine blew at the Spanish Grand Prix—and if we were to assume that that had not happened, and Bottas joined Hamilton and Vettel on the podium in third that day, then the Finn would now be level on points with his teammate.

Wolfgang Wilhelm / Mercedes-AMG Petronas

Of course, ifs and should-haves aren’t enough to win a championship, and if Bottas is to take the crown at the end of 2017 he will need to continue pushing beyond the base expectations of himself and his car. His triumphs in Sochi and Spielberg have displayed beyond doubt Bottas’ serene control at the front of the field, but he is only just beginning to show the kind of aggression necessary to assert himself as more than just the third-fastest man on track—something he will certainly need more of if he is to keep touch with Vettel and Hamilton across the season.

That is something that will only become more pronounced now that Bottas has been thrust into the title race spotlight. Up until Austria, the Finn has been able to profit from all the media attention being focused on Hamilton and Vettel, allowing Bottas to quietly rack up points in the background without being subjected to the pressures of a declared championship tilt. But now that his rivals are aware of the threat he poses, Bottas can no longer rely on the element of surprise and must come out of the shadows fighting.

Fortunately for Bottas, though, that should just be a case of doing what he’s always done, and doing it more. His two pole positions and near-level qualifying head-to-head with Hamilton are proof that he has more than enough speed to run his teammate hard on Saturday; and even if qualifying doesn’t go his way, the lightning starts he’s made all year (not to mention his stellar recovery from last to second in Baku) will ensure Bottas remains a looming presence in any polesitter’s mirrors.

Steve Etherington / Mercedes-AMG Petronas

What’s more, Bottas has proven time and again that he has the focus and mental strength needed to take on a full title challenge—even against opponents as intimidating as a three- and a four-time world champion. His level head has been one of the Finn’s defining attributes ever since winning the 2011 GP3 title at the first attempt; it was particularly evident in 2014 when, partnering a reborn Felipe Massa in a podium-worthy Williams, Bottas dove his way to an outstanding fourth in the final standings. So far, the only visible dent to his determination came under the frenzy of Ferrari speculation in 2015, but from the way Bottas has settled into his new Mercedes seat despite the rumours surrounding it would suggest that he has learnt from that episode.

His grounded nature should stand the Finn in good stead as he wades into the Hamilton–Vettel battle. He will have seen first-hand how unsettled his opponents can be by the championship’s many twists and turns, and know that when that happens (as it undoubtably did in Austria) he has only to drive a solid weekend to take full advantage. If they didn’t already, Hamilton and Vettel will now have their hands full making sure their own turbulent duel doesn’t leave Bottas with an open goal.

Steve Etherington / Mercedes-AMG Petronas

Make no mistake, Bottas faces a considerably tall order if he is to wrest this 2017 Championship away from Vettel and Hamilton. No amount of comparisons to Kimi Räikkönen in 2007 will guarantee Bottas comes out on top after Abu Dhabi—as ever, all that counts is what happens on track this year.

But if the Finn can drive home his current momentum with another victory or two before the flyaways in Asia and the Americas, there’s no reason why he can’t push his rivals all the way to the final round. Whether he quite has what it takes to beat two of modern F1’s biggest stars across the ultimate finish line is another matter—but when it comes to his talent, composure and performances so far this season, there’s no denying that Valtteri Bottas is well and truly in this title fight.

Mercedes AMG: from Tyrrell to titles

The Mercedes AMG F1 Team is now the dominant force in Formula 1 after returning to the sport from which it had been absent for over half a century. How did they get there? The team has only seemed to have been in existence since 2010, but this is only a small part of a long story stretching back to the Tyrrell team. And to the Mercedes partnership with Peter Sauber and his fledgling outfit.

The Tyrrell Formula One team, established in 1970 by Ken Tyrrell, had its greatest period when Jackie Stewart drove the team to three Drivers’ crowns and one Constructors’ trophy. They were also the team that brought us the six wheeled Tyrrell P34, a car that was so radical it was banned almost immediately and now is part of Formula 1 folklore. Unfortunately they never really reached those heights again and became also-rans, eventually selling out to the BAR tobacco company.

In 1993 after partnering Sauber to success in other motor racing categories including Le Mans, Mercedes—using their Ilmor badge—supplied the Sauber F1 team with engines. In 1994 Mercedes made it official and the team became Sauber-Mercedes with the 3.5 Litre V10 C13 (all Peter Sauber cars are badged “C” after his wife Christine) At the end of the traumatic ’94 season Mercedes, tempted by an offer from Ron Dennis, moved on to  McLaren, where they went on to win three Drivers’ crowns: two for Mika Häkkinen from 1998–99 and Lewis Hamilton in 2008, and a Constructors’ trophy in 1998.

In 1999 British American Tobacco came into the sport as BAR (British American racing) with a big budget and even bigger ambitions, running the Supertec engine, the rebadged and once all-conquering Renault power plant.

In their first year and with the reigning world champion Jacques Villeneuve, and despite a move to Honda power, the project was doomed to failure, and after only six years and no wins, tobacco advertising was banned from F1 and BAR sold out to Honda in 2006.

Honda with Jenson Button as lead driver looked a much more promising prospect. They brought in Ross Brawn in 2007 from the dominant Scuderia Ferrari; a man with a proven track record of building winning teams.

Alas, once again the outfit was thrown into chaos and in 2008 with a worldwide recession Honda was unwilling to continue with its $300 million budget and announced its withdrawal from Formula 1. The team was eventually saved by a management buyout headed by Ross Brawn and Nick Fry and was renamed Brawn GP; and with help from up and down the pit lane, not least from Mercedes, they where able to run in the 2009 season. What followed was one of the greatest stories in Formula 1: a true rags to riches tale; a team on the brink of disappearing, turning into a World Championship-winning success

With the now-banned double diffuser (a clever reading of the rules to enhance the downforce effect of the rear diffuser) Brawn GP took the season by storm with Jenson Button winning six of the first seven races and winning the Drivers’ title—and along with Rubens Barrichello, landed the Constructors’ title for Brawn in their maiden and only year of competition. On the 16th of November 2009 it was announced that Daimler AG and Aabar investments had bought a 75.1% stake in Brawn GP and that they would race under the name Mercedes GP from 2010. They brought in an impressive driver pairing, bringing Michael Schumacher out of retirement to partner Nico Rosberg. After deciding to finally close the curtains on his record breaking career Schumacher was replaced with the last man to win a championship with a Mercedes engine, Lewis Hamilton.

The 2014 season had been as dominant as the Fangio–Moss days of the early 1950s. More success followed in 2015 with consecutive Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles for Lewis Hamilton followed by Nico Rosberg’s success in 2016.

This year looks like shaping up to be a battle royal between Hamilton’s Mercedes and Vettel’s Ferrari.

Mercedes have truly lived up to the legendary Silver Arrows team.

Will they conquer this term? I’m betting they will.

The Spark and the Fire

Mercedes is one of the most successful teams in Formula 1, during the recent years, they have won the constructor’s championship for three consecutive years and Lewis Hamilton celebrated his last two titles with the silver arrows, whilst Nico Rosberg won his one and only world title with Mercedes in 2016 (check out our article about Nico Rosberg).

The Silver Arrows made their appearance in 1930, where they won all the European championships after 1932. Their first official entry in Formula 1 was in 1954 which they were known as Mercedes-Benz. Juan Manuel Fangio signed a contract with Mercedes and moved from Maserati to the silver arrows in order to drive in Mercedes’ debus at the French Grand Prix in 1954. That season Fangio won three races and finished first on the drivers’ championship. The following season, Manuel Fangio repeated his success and with four victories and won his second consecutive championship with Mercedes-Benz. A terrible accident which took place at the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1955 led to the cancelation of the Grand Prixs and Mercedes retired from Formula One.

The miracle and the firework

Rubens Barrichello, Barcelona, Spain 2009. Author: Jose Mª Izquierdo Galiot

There is one specific year which I believe that most of the young and non-young fans will never forget, the year where a team dominated with almost zero financial support, with only the basic crew and with two very experienced drivers which both had a great “coach”. Of course you will know where I am referring to, the name of the team was Brawn GP and the two drivers where Jenson Button and the Brazilian Rubens Barrichello. The master behind the success was Ross Brawn, who believed in his team and led them to the top.

 

Brawn GP participated in 17 races, won eight Grands Prix, finished 15 times on the podium, took five pole positions and scored 172 points. The team became the first to achieve a 100% championship success rate.

Mercedes played a critical role in Brawn GP’s success as they were supporting them with engines.

That season indicated Mercedes’ return to Formula 1, on November 2009, Mercedes with Aabar Investments purchased the 75.1% of Brawn GP. Mercedes had the 45.1%, while Aabar the rest 30%. The next year the team renamed to Mercedes GP. According to reports Mercedes and Aabar paid £110m for the 75.1% and the remaining percentage remained to Ross Brawn in partnership with Nick Fry. Ross Brawn remained as team principal until the end of the 2013 season.

Michael Schumacher, Sepang International Circuit, Selangor, Malaysia 2011. Author: Morio

Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg were driving for Mercedes the first three years, they managed to get three poles and win three races. After Brawn’s departure the turbocharged engines returned to Formula 1, Mercedes had an advantage as Ross Brawn managed to improve the team’s power unit.

Mercedes dominated during the first three years of the new turbocharged engines, Lewis Hamilton replaced Michael Schumacher, and both he and Nico Rosberg secured 56 pole positions and won 51 of the 59 races. In all these years the two drivers have scored 2169 points combined.

This season, Mercedes is leading in the constructors’ championship by 24 points and Lewis Hamilton is second in the drivers’ standings, 14 points behind his main rival Sebastian Vettel.

Undoubtedly, Mercedes is one of the strongest teams on the grid, Ferrari looks able to challenge them, but it is still too early to make a prediction.