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

Who is Pietro Fittipaldi?

In the wake of Romain Grosjean’s awful crash at the start of the Bahrain Grand Prix, the Haas F1 team have announced that to allow him some time to recover, the second Haas seat alongside Kevin Magnussen will be filled in for at least the Sakhir Grand Prix by Pietro Fittipaldi. In light of this announcement, it would be a good time to talk you through the career of another chapter in the Fittipaldi F1 dynasty.

Injuries sustained in last weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix mean that Grosjean cannot take part in this weekend’s Sakhir Grand prix – Courtesy of Haas Media

So as you have already guessed, yes Pietro is related to 1972 and 1974 F1 world champion Emerson Fittipaldi. He began karting when he was eight years old in Florida having been born there, and went on to win three important championships between 2006 and 2010. He also racked up 37 wins, 63 podiums and 21 pole positions in that time.

He made the step up to car racing in the short-track NASCAR series, and his first taste of championship success came in 2011 when he won the individual track championship of the Hickory Motor Speedway, when he was aged only 15. At the end of 2012, he decided to make the trip across the Atlantic to Europe and have a crack at single-seaters.

He made his single-seater debut in the BARC Formula Renault championship, finishing 8th in the championship for 2013 and then for the following year he completely wiped the floor with the rest of the field, winning the championship by a huge margin. He also made a one-off appearance in the Formula Renault EuroCup series as well as a partial campaign in the Formula Renault Alps championship. Despite only doing four of the seven events, he still managed to finish a respectable ninth in the final standings.

For 2015, he stepped up to Euro F3 but endured a lowly year, scoring only 32 points and finishing 16th at the end of the season. His team Fortec Motorsports were not the force they once were in F3. Undeterred though, he stuck with Fortec and moved up to the Formula V8 3.5 Series for 2016.

The championship Pietro was entering was the phoenix rising out of the ashes of what was Formula Renault 3.5, just Renault had withdrawn their support for the series that was a strong alternative to GP2 (now Formula 2). It was a shell of its former self but still contained some notable talent, but it still didn’t help Pietro and he ended the season tenth. The following year however, he stuck to the series and moved to the Lotus-branded Charouz team for 2017.

The series made the step up in terms of new locations. Having only been racing in Europe the previous season, Formula V8 3.5 raced on the undercard to the FIA World Endurance Championship at the likes of the Mexican, US and Bahrain Grand Prix circuits. Grid numbers were dwindling however and the series was dying a slow death, but that didn’t take away what Pietro achieved that season.

Fittipaldi has impressed in the junior Formulae prior to his call-up this weekend in Sakhir – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

Battling to the last round, he went up against SMP Racing-backed Matevos Isaakyan and won the championship. So now Pietro would look to the following season as to what to compete in and logically the next step would be F2, however he opted for a heavy program in 2018. At least, he intended to.

Fittipaldi opted to compete in three different championships in 2018: Japanese Super Formula with Team LeMans, IndyCar with Dale Coyne Racing and the FIA World Endurance Championship with DragonSpeed. Some programs would have taken priority over others; the reason I say that is because it didn’t entirely pan out like that.

After doing a single event in IndyCar and Super Formula, Pietro was qualifying for the WEC 6 hours of Spa when his power steering seized going up Eau Rouge. He went straight into the tyre wall which resulted in a compound fracture of his lower left leg and broken right ankle. He required surgery and was out of action for a couple of months, but thankfully he was able to get back to competing in IndyCar for the last five races of the season.

For 2019, it was announced that Fittipaldi would become one of the test and reserve drivers for Haas F1 with the intention of getting some time in the car in Free Practice 1 sessions. Alongside that though, Fittipaldi was also confirmed to be competing in the DTM championship as one the Audi drivers, which didn’t yield much success but he still scored a respectable 22 points, and even a couple of fastest laps.

He didn’t remain in DTM for this year – I’m not entirely sure if he had a racing program for this year before the pandemic hit – but in any case he’s remained Haas’ reserve driver. Now, in the wake of Grosjean’s horror crash, Pietro Fittipaldi will make his F1 debut this weekend in the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix. It is unlikely we will see Pietro in F1 full time unfortunately unless he does what Kamui Kobayashi did and stun everyone enough in these last two races to earn a race drive. Though with pretty much all the seats taken, even that won’t mean he’ll earn one.

Fittipaldi, Haas’ test and reserve driver, will now make his Formula One Grand Prix debut

However it doesn’t mean he will be the last Fittipaldi in F1. Be on the look out for Pietro’s brother Enzo who is part of the Ferrari Driver Academy. He was Italian F4 champion in 2018, runner up in Formula Regional Europe last year and competed this year in FIA F3. Also Emerson Fittipaldi, Jr., who is part of the Sauber Junior Team and is competing in European karting. And yes.. he’s actually the uncle of Pietro and Enzo, despite being born in 2007.

Back to Pietro, don’t expect any miracles from him having never been in an F1 car in a race situation or tested extensively. However, any and all potential outcomes for Pietro can only be a win for him. Best of luck to him and of course, all our well wishes to Romain Grosjean and his family as he makes his recovery.

Battle of the Brazilians: who will be next to fly the flag in Formula 1?

Since the (final) departure of Felipe Massa at the end of the 2017 season, Formula 1 has been without a Brazilian driver for the first time since 1969. It goes without saying that Brazil has long had an important presence on the grid, and has produced some of the true legends of the sport. So, who will be the next Brazilian hope?

Two teams have recently announced Brazilian additions to their test and reserve driver lineups. McLaren have appointed F2 race winner (and Lando Norris’ current Carlin teammate) Sergio Sette Câmara, while IndyCar driver Pietro Fittipaldi will take on the role of test driver at Haas.

But of the two, who is more likely to find themselves in a race seat in Formula 1 in years to come? Let’s take a look at their prospects.

Careers so far

Pietro Fittipaldi (Dale Coyne Racing), IndyCar at Portland International Raceway. Joe Skibinski / IndyCar Media

2018 has been a difficult year for Fittipaldi. Plans for a packed season in IndyCar, Super Formula and the World Endurance Championship were put on hold by a leg-breaking crash during qualifying for the 6 Hours of Spa in May. However, he returned to IndyCar later in the year, scoring a best 9th place finish in Portland.

Prior to 2018, Fittipaldi was no stranger to variety, having tried his hand at everything from stock cars to endurance racing to European single seaters over the years. His results are a bit of a mixed bag on first glance, though there are some standout performances in there: in 2017 Fittipaldi won the World Series Formula V8 3.5 series, taking 10 out of 18 pole positions and 6 race wins.

Sergio Sette Camara (Carlin), FIA Formula 2 in Monza, Italy. Zak Mauger / FIA Formula 2

Sette Câmara, a former Red Bull junior, has twice been heartbreakingly close to victory at the Macau Grand Prix. In 2016 he led comfortably for much of the race but ultimately lost out to two-time winner Antonio Felix da Costa. The following year he led until the very last corner of the final lap, but found himself in the wall with the finish line in sight defending against Ferdinand Habsburg.

In F2 this year, Sette Câmara’s shown a lot of promise and taken eight podiums so far, although an unfortunate dose of bad luck has left him adrift from teammate Lando Norris in the standings.

The only cross point of reference between Fittipaldi and Sette Câmara is the 2015 Formula 3 season. Sette Câmara finished the higher of the two with 57.5 points to Fittipaldi’s 32, and displayed good defence and some handy starts as well as scoring two podiums.

Super Licence Points

Pietro Fittipaldi (Dale Coyne Racing), IndyCar at Gateway Motorsports Park. Matt Fraver / IndyCar Media

Of course, you can’t get into F1 these days if the numbers don’t add up, so it’s time to get the calculator out and see how these two would fare if they were after their super licence.

As it currently stands, neither driver is eligible to race in F1 next year. Due to his leg injuries benching him for much of this year, Fittipaldi has only 15 super licence points from his 2017 Formula V8 3.5 championship.

Sergio Sette Camara (Carlin), FIA Formula 2 in Sochi, Russia.
Zak Mauger, LAT Images / FIA Formula 2

Sette Câmara is currently 6th in the F2 standings which would give him 10 points. However, he ’s a mere two points behind Artem Markelov in 5th, and overtaking him at the last round in Abu Dhabi would give him 20 points.

If he manages to outscore Markelov this year, another 5th place in F2 next year would see Sette Câmara become eligible for a 2020 F1 seat. If he remains in 6th, he’ll need a top four finish next year.

Fittipaldi is yet to announce his racing plans for 2019, but he will need another 25 points to bridge the gap. It will be a challenge for him to get these next year, as he’d need a top 4 F2 finish, or possibly a championship win in the new International F3 series (although the points for this series have not yet been announced). Either seems unlikely as he would be a rookie in what would likely be a very competitive field.

The verdict

Age matters, or at least that’s been the trend of late in Formula 1. While at 22 Fittipaldi is hardly over the hill, he’s still got a long way to go before he is likely to collect the required super licence points and will likely be in his mid-twenties when that happens. (Fittipaldi’s younger brother Enzo may be a more likely prospect in years to come, having won the Italian F4 title this year as part of the Ferrari Driver Academy.)

Pietro Fittipaldi (Dale Coyne Racing), IndyCar at Sonoma Raceway. Chris Jones / IndyCar Media

Time is more on Sette Câmara’s side. At 20, he’s still younger than most of the 2019 F1 field (excepting only Norris and Stroll) and his F2 performances have already got the attention of McLaren.

If there’s one area Sette Câmara could do with improving, it’s race pace. Lacklustre race pace isn’t the sort of drawback that can be easily fixed, but perhaps working closely with an F1 team like McLaren can improve his skills in this area.

However, while Sette Câmara does seem the more likely of the two Brazilians to find himself in an F1 race seat in the future, empty seats are not easy to come by these days. With contractual musical chairs seeing plenty of talented drivers without race seats in 2019, it’s going to take some poor showings by current drivers for Sette Câmara to be rewarded with an opportunity.

Sergio Sette Camara (Carlin), FIA Formula 2 in Paul Ricard, France. Zak Mauger, LAT Images / FIA Formula 2