PREVIEW: 2020 Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix – Sochi Autodrom

On the back end of yet another exhilarating Formula One Grand Prix in Italy, we head to Sochi and round 10 of the 2020 F1 season in Russia. Mugello provided the fans with a gripping watch which saw Red Flags up to the third in the space of two races. Alex Albon achieved his first podium for the Red Bull Racing team and Racing Point left wondering if they will be able to get the upgrades on the car in time for Sochi after Lance Strolls off at Arrabiata corner, leaving the car with heavy terminal damage.

Being announced alongside Mugello on the 10th of July for this unprecedented season, Sochi will allow the teams to have a more familiar approach to the race with the knowledge that is shared from the past 6 races here. Mercedes’ dominance has earned them a win in every one of them and the team certainly look set to do the same this year. Valtteri Bottas also took his first win at the Autodrom in 2017 for the Silver Arrows and will want to turn the tides on his championship fight and take it to Lewis Hamilton in the hopes of reducing the gap of 55 points.

Bottas took his first win for Mercedes in Russia three years ago – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

Knowing how the season has panned out so far, it is safe to say that we could be in for another treat of a Grand Prix. The Renaults have proven their pace with near podium finishes and they now lie 5th in the championship, honing in on both the Racing Points and McLarens who sit fourth and third. Daniel Riccardo is still in high hopes of sealing a bet with Cyril Abiteboul which amusingly details that if he was to gain a podium before the end of the season, the Renaults chief principle will be getting a Tattoo of Riccardo’s choice.

The Streaming superstars of Lando Norris, Alex Albon, Charles Leclerc and George Russell have all surprised us this season in regards to performance and results. The remarkable efforts of Russell have gotten the Williams into Q2 five times this season and the famous ‘Last Lap Lando’ attacks have provided plenty of late drama. Will we see these drivers taking the headlines if any of them at the Autodrome this weekend?

George Russell has impressed again in 2020 for Williams – Courtesy of Williams media

After Lance Strolls suspected puncture incident at Mugello and the car hitting the wall causing excessive damage, Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer suggested the upgrade that was on the car had a couple to three-tenths improvement. Due to the damage of Lance Stroll’s car, by the race weekend, Lance may still only be the one with the upgrade. And with Russia being a tight circuit that is difficult for overtaking, the overall pace of a car is vital for the higher positions and to optimise strategy.

With the news of reshuffling and the potential of F2 drivers making the jump to Formula One next year, this could cause worry for some of the drivers. Which makes this race an important statement to keep them in the team. Pierre Gasly – following the frustration of ending his Tuscan Grand Prix no more than two corners in after winning previous – will want to return to his exceptional ways that may prow the eyes of Red Bull for a potential step-up or other teams. However, with the current situation at Red Bull Albon may have found the confidence back that he was looking for after his P3 finish last time out.

Alex Albon’s podium in Mugello was his first in F1 – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

The set tyre choices for the 2020 season being predominantly soft tyres may see teams opt for a more aggressive strategy for the 5.8 km circuit, and maybe even a two-stop strategy with the evident tyre degradation in the new Pirelli tyres. And with the weather set to be clear it should be a straight forward strategy come race day for the teams.

A healthy gap to the rest of the field sees Mercedes lead by an enormous 152 points in the constructors’ standings, which will be difficult to close for Red Bull especially with the trend of this season let alone the track itself. Taking a look down the field there is a close battle with Ferrari just 17 points shy of Renault and the Alpha Tauri a further 13 behind.

Hamilton is aiming to equal Michael Schumacher’s tally of 91 wins this weekend – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

The Crew from Netflix will be on Mercedes for this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix with the hopes to capture a moment in history no one would have called, as the reigning Champion Lewis Hamilton is tipped to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 wins.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Ferrari’s 1000th race – but hardly a celebration: Tuscan Grand Prix Preview

We did get an Italian team on the top step of the podium in Monza, and I would love to say it was not the Italian team we expected.

But in reality, no one was anticipating that there would be a Ferrari – or an Alpha Tauri –  winning in front of the Tifosi like they did last year, and no one would predict that this weekend either at Mugello.

But as the F1 circus rolls in towards the 5.2 kilometre Tuscan race track, Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly enters the weekend as the 109th different winner in F1 history following his tremendous and shock victory last Sunday at the temple of speed.

Pierre Gasly celebrates his momentous victory in Monza – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

For Ferrari, their 1000th race will be played out in front of the 10,000 spectators that will be permitted to enter the grandstands, but following the presence of the Netflix during what was a disastrous weekend for the Scuderia, they will probably be wishing they were not in attendance.

A brake failure for Sebastian Vettel and an enormous crash for Charles Leclerc followed on from a horrible qualifying performance for them in Monza. However, the slightly more downforce-orientated nature of the Mugello circuit compared to Monza may soften the blow to the Ferrari team that have been battered and bruised thus far by the car’s terrible lack of performance.

The Italian Grand Prix was a home race to forget for Ferrari – Courtesy of Ferrari Press Office

Mercedes, meanwhile, were dealt their first real blow of the 2020 season, as a polemic pitstop penalty for Lewis Hamilton cost him any chance of a victory, while team mate Valtteri Bottas continued his frustrating run of form by finishing fifth and failing to capitalise on the red flag and penalty drama. A win at what is a very technical and tricky race track would do his confidence a world of good, even if his world championship hopes seem to have dissipated.

Racing point and McLaren enter the weekend on almost as big a high as Alpha Tauri, following magnificent podium finishes for Lance Stroll in third and Carlos Sainz in second, but the Spaniard did not hide his disappointment at not being able to snatch the win from Gasly at the end. The higher-downforce nature at Mugello will suit McLaren slightly better than Alpha Tauri and Racing Point, but it would probably need a race equally as eventful as Monza to earn them a podium.

Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll join Gasly on the podium in Monza – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

But having said that, Stroll and Lando Norris are tied for points for fourth place in the drivers’ championship. They find themselves both ahead of Red Bull’s Alex Albon, who failed to score last weekend and is under pressure from the driver he replaced at the senior team last year – Pierre Gasly.

The Frenchman will be fully aware he is back in with a shout of being promoted once again for next season, and there will now be much anticipation as F1 heads to the first of the new tracks hurriedly introduced in the wake of the pandemic-affected 2020 season.

Following the second win for Alpha Tauri in the Italian Grand Prix, a second Italian chance beckons as Ferrari prepare for their 1000th race.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of Red Bull content Pool

Racing Point Appeal Withdrawn as “Reverse Engineering” Banned

image courtesy of Racing Point

Racing Point have decided to withdraw their appeal against their fifteen point reduction today after the teams agreed to a new regulation. The soon to be rebranded team incurred a fifteen point deduction earlier on in the season as a result of their break ducts being too similar to that of last year’s Mercedes.

Racing Point had caused a lot of controversy at the beginning of the season as they arrived at testing with a car that looked to be a carbon copy of the W10. A lot of teams questioned the legality of the pink team’s car with Renault lodging an official protest. The FIA deemed that whilst Racing Point hadn’t broken any technical regulations, they had broken some ambiguous sporting ones and were docked points as a result.

image courtesy of Racing Point

Team Co-Owner Lawrence Stroll fiercely defended the team and they lodged an appeal to the FIA which they have now withdrawn following clarification banning such cars from 2021 onwards. In a statement, Racing Point said “We welcome the resolution… and we’re pleased the FIA has provided much-needed clarification.” Later adding “we have decided to withdraw our appeal in the wider interests of the sport….This issue has been a distraction for us and the other teams”.

As a result of the withdrawal, Racing Point will keep their fifteen point deduction which has had little effect, with the team sitting just 2 points off of third placed McLaren in the constructors championship. However, with Ferrari currently maintaining they intend to appeal for a harsher penalty, this issue seems far from settled and could go on for some time.

Belgian Blockbuster in the wet? 2020 Belgian Grand Prix Preview

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

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

www.sutton-images.com | Fernando Alonso, McLaren MCL33 crashes and gets airborne at the start of the race at Formula One World Championship, Rd13, Belgian Grand Prix, Race, Spa Francorchamps, Belgium, Sunday 26 August 2018.
BEST IMAGE

And if previous form is anything to go by, we could be in for a fascinating race. The last eight F1 races at Spa have seen seven different winners – Jenson Button, Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc. Mercedes power has claimed five of the last 10 races, with Renault and Ferrari power taking the flag in the other five.

2016 Belgian Grand Prix, Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Back where it all began: 70th anniversary Grand Prix Preview

70 years ago, the Formula One world championship was established and the sport embarked on the 1950 season – it would start at Silverstone.

The once-derelict wartime airbase has since brought countless F1 seasons to life with some extraordinary British Grand Prix races, and this last weekend was absolutely no exception.

After a last-lap puncture, Lewis Hamilton claimed his seventh win at the 5.8 Kilometre circuit in the most ridiculous of circumstances, following similar issues for team mate Valtteri Bottas and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, which would see them both finish outside of the points.

2020 British Grand Prix,Sunday – LAT Images

At the track where it all started back in 1950, it was a crazy finish last time out, and we will hopefully get to see another cracking Grand Prix in Northamptonshire for the 70th anniversary Grand Prix this weekend.

Of course a prominent question regarding the race will be tyre options; will Pirelli opt to switch to harder compounds for more durability or stick with the exciting lack of longevity that exists within the softer tyres? While it is not certain, it is believed that Alpha Tauri driver Daniil Kvyat’s crash was also due to a tyre failure. His team mate Pierre Gasly, meanwhile, seeks to build on an emotive points finish last time. He almost ironically out-qualified and out-raced the man who replaced him at Red Bull last season – Alex Albon.

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 02: Pierre Gasly of France driving the (10) Scuderia AlphaTauri AT01 Honda leads Alexander Albon of Thailand driving the (23) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB16 on track during the F1 Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on August 02, 2020 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // AP-24TQ5F39D1W11 // Usage for editorial use only //

The tyres fell into a long list of talking points in the British Grand Prix. These included Alex Albon’s late charge into the points, criticism of Romain Grosjean’s antics, and a return for Nico Hulkenberg that was over before it began.

Mercedes will want to claim a remarkable eighth win since 2010 in Silverstone, and Lewis Hamilton will be eager to take the 21st win from pole in Silverstone, having just claimed the 20th last time out.

This race will hopefully give us the chance to see some more midfield excitement too. Following an excellent fight between Renault, Racing Point and McLaren in the last race, there should be an array of entertainment on show in this race, particularly if Ferrari can find some pace and provide Red Bull with more of a challenge than they managed just previously. Having said that, Charles Leclerc’s impressive podium will have been a satisfying achievement following another challenging weekend.

GP GRAN BRETAGNA F1/2020 – DOMENICA 02/08/2020 credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Further behind, Romain Grosjean, who came under fire for his truculent defence following one of the safety car periods, seeks his first points in Silverstone for eight years.

Alfa Romeo know that their battle with Haas and Williams at the back is becoming perennial and synonymous with what is becoming a tiresome season, particularly for the Swiss and American outfits, while Williams display somewhat of a resurgence compared to 2019.

Red Bull, who will hopefully be staying hydrated between now and the weekend, know that tyre issues like last weekend could provide them with the leverage to go on and win the race.

2019 British Grand Prix, Sunday – Steve Etherington

In a weekend when we will hopefully get to see Nico Hulkenberg race this time, Formula One celebrates 70 years of exhilarating racing – but will it be Mercedes celebrating again in Silverstone?

 

Feature image Courtesy of Mercedes Media Database

Hulk is back – The German driver impresses on his F1 return with Racing Point

With news that Sergio Perez had tested positive for COVID-19 breaking on Thursday evening, Racing Point had a decision to make as to who would come in and effectively replace him for at least this weekend’s British Grand Prix and even possibly for the 70th anniversary race weekend the next week. Well, it was all to perfect for a certain German driver who’s last race came some 243 days ago.

After losing his seat at Renault at the end of last season, Nico Hulkenberg was most likely wondering how he could get himself back in a seat. However, what he probably wasn’t expecting was how it would come about and how much earlier an opportunity for him to return to the grid would arise. With that said, news broke hours before the start of Free Practice 1 that Racing Point had opted to replace Checo with Nico, who had already spent three-quarters of an hour of Friday morning in the Racing Point simulator ahead of his scheduled return.

With 177 Grand Prix’s to his name, it absolutely makes sense for both Nico and the Pink Panthers for him to take the drive, replacing his former Force India teammate and he did not disappoint!

Glen Dunbarr / Racing Point F1 Team

Free Practice 1:

Nico’s initial lap of the historic Silverstone track was slightly delayed due to the fact we were still awaiting the result of his own COVID test, however, it wasn’t too long of a wait and before you knew it, Nico was taking to the track in the RP20 and was actually the first out.

After a couple of bedding in laps and a could of stops into the pits, Nico went on to complete an impressive 24 laps and subsequently posted a best lap time of 1:28.592 which was good enough to see him end FP1 in 9th just +1.170 behind the fastest man of the session – Max Verstappen (1:27.422).

What was more impressive was the fact that while he was just over one second off Verstappen, Nico was only +0.591 off his teammate Lance Stroll, who ended up finishing the first session third fastest posting a 1:28.004 (+0.582 behind Verstappen).

Post FP1 thoughts had you thinking that given Nico hasn’t taken to the track whatsoever this season let alone jumping into a car which has a serious chance of challenging this weekend, he could only get fast. Excitement building for FP2? Absolutely.

Final Session Times:

Free Practice 2:

FP2 got underway and Nico took his time in the garage before heading out to put an initial lap time of 1:29.906 for 13th with almost 20 minutes of the session gone. The following lap, Nico got himself into the top 10 with a much more improved 1:29.041 (9th), pace was starting to gather for the 32-year-old German.

With just under an hour of practice left, Nico saw teammate Stroll set a session fastest 1:27.274 during a qualifying simulation run. Nico’s answer? Well, it was 1:27.910 to go 5th fastest and move to within +0.636 of Stroll.

With just three quarters of an hour left in the session though, Red Bull’s Alex Albon went off the track at Stow in a big way after losing the rear end and spinning in barriers. The session was red flagged and all car’s returned to the pits for around 15 minutes.

With restart of the session and around 30 minutes to go, Nico went on to complete a further 25 laps and ultimately ended up in P7 at the checkered flag. As for his teammate Stroll, well.. he ended up being the fastest man of the session with his before mentioned lap of 1:27.274 which was +0.090 fastest than second quickest Alex Albon, who after his crash at Stow, didn’t return for the rest of the session.

Final Session Times:

 

What Nico Had To Say:

“The 24 hours has been a bit special. Crazy and wild. 16:30pm yesterday afternoon I got the call took a plane here and then seat fitted until 2am last night. Then into the simulator at 8am for an hour with a bit of prep work. It was a short night, but all worthwhile.”

Mark Sutton / Racing Point F1 Team

Overall Assessment:

Nico’s return to the track after 243 days was a very impressive one giving the circumstances. With as much notice as he had, I don’t think you could have asked much more from him. Yes, we all know that the car he was in control of could and should have been up with Stroll’s timing but let’s be honest, 24 hours on from being told he was coming in, Nico did an excellent job in staying within six hundred tenths of his teammate.

The rest of the weekend will now be an opportunity for Nico to repay Racing Point’s trust in giving him to replace Checo. You can well imagine that with the data collected from his laps today and the debriefing to follow, Nico’s confidence will have grown massively and could show not only in tomorrow’s FP3 but also in what is expected to be a much cooler Qualifying.

It’s fair to say that despite the circumstances that surround his return, it’s great to see the man that they call Hulk back in a Formula One car. Welcome back, Nico!

2021 – Return of the 4 Red Bulls?

One of the main talking points of the current 2020 season is Racing Point – nicknamed the Pink Mercedes. Subsequently, Renault have raised concerns about the legality of their car to the stewards. We are awaiting a decision upon the review of the brake ducts as Racing Point have handed over their current car’s ducts and Mercedes are due to sample a pair from the 2019 car – the Mercedes W10. The stewards are investigating all of this, but unfortunately there is no timescale presently so every race Renault can continue to protest a result or any team if they are unhappy with the result. It is much easier to copy external aerodynamics from images and videos such as wings and floor designs but internal details are much harder which is why brake ducts were the focal point. If their brake ducts are passed clear and are very similar, what stops Red Bull giving their junior team Alpha Tauri their old designs to base next year’s car, similar to what they did prior to 2010? Will 2021 be the return of four Red Bulls to the grid?

Sergio Perez, Racing Point RP20

Scuderia Toro Rosso, now Alpa Tauri, entered the Formula One grid when Red Bull bought the beloved backmarkers Minardi. Their first car, the STR1, was near enough a carbon copy of the 2005 RB1 whilst Red Bull moved onto the RB2. This preceded the arrival of one of the greatest designers in the history of the sport – Adrian Newey. He moved over from McLaren for 2007 to embark on a new challenge. Controversy ensued that season when the RB3 and STR2 were both designed on the same chassis by Newey. Williams and Spyker felt this was against the concorde agreement, very much on the terms to what Renault are going to the stewards for this season. The FIA classed this is as legal for a customer chassis but the Toro Rosso team then managed the car throughout the season.

GEPA pictures/Red Bull Content Pool // 1329476893572-1682678767 // Usage for editorial use only //

The cars remained identical until 2009. Ironically Toro Rosso was the first Red Bull branded car to win an F1 race in Monza in 2008. Sebastian Vettel, as a result, earned a drive for the Red Bull team alongside Mark Webber. In 2010 Toro Rosso built its first car, the STR5, from scratch as duel-designs had been banned. Adrian Newey and Red Bull Technology had no say on this car due to differing engine suppliers. Since transmission assistance and suspension assistance were introduced in 2013 and 2018 respectively, Red Bull have once again been able to aid their second team. This arrangement is very similar to Haas’ relationship with Ferrari.

GEPA pictures/Red Bull Content Pool // 1329477258696-281002003 // Usage for editorial use only //

An interesting scenario now arises if Racing Point have managed to near enough copy the Mercedes car from last year. Can Alpha Tauri, within regulation, just get the base designs to build their AT02 car on their own chassis? They would not need to take hundreds of photos; owner Helmut Marko probably would get the prints to a certain extent within the rulings. The Red Bull for many seasons has been dubbed the best car on the grid aerodynamically and has cut the deficit to Mercedes around the less power sensitive tracks on the calendar such as Monaco and Hungary. Such circuits have more sectors with low to medium speed flowing corners. Red Bull took a gamble with Honda power and the Japanese manufacturer is beginning to find its footing in the hybrid era. Hopefully now at power tracks like Monza, we will start to see Red Bull competing once again.

Upon all of this would we see the return of four Red Bulls like the mid to late noughties when Toro Rosso entered the grid? A cost-cap has also been agreed for the future so this would assist both teams greatly. Red Bull could make a return in possibly passing on old designs if permitted and as a result Alpha Tauri would spend less on research and design. 

Feature Image Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

2020 Styrian Grand Prix preview: second chance in Spielberg

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

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

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

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

Racing Point F1 Team

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

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

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

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

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

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Singapore GP preview: Mercedes favourites at Marina Bay

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

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

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

Paul Ripke / Mercedes AMG

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

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

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

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

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

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

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

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

Haas F1 Media

F1 makes its anticipated return: Belgian Grand Prix Preview

After a summer break that always feels like a lifetime, Formula One is back, and the circus this time arrives at the 7 kilometre Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest.

The summer has seen a couple of changes. Pierre Gasly, who has endured a horrible season at Red Bull alongside the imperious Max Verstappen, has been dropped by Red Bull axe-man Helmut Marko and placed back at Toro Rosso. His replacement is Anglo-Thai driver Alexander Albon, who moves up from the junior team having impressed in his rookie season alongside Daniil Kvyat—although the Russian, having scored a podium in Germany and more points this season than his younger team-mate, will feel as though he should have been with the Austrian team heading into Belgium.

Albon joins the team for a race at which they are not expected to pull off the spectacular heroics that Max Verstappen has displayed in the first half of the season. Spa is very much a power track, but the tricky, twisty middle sector will provide somewhat of an opportunity for the Bulls to make up time on Mercedes and Ferrari.

Lars Baron, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Speaking of them, Ferrari need to establish some kind of foothold in this season’s championship, having failed to win a race in the first half of the season, with Charles Leclerc falling agonisingly short of victory in Bahrain and Austria, and Sebastian Vettel losing the win in Canada due to a penalty. The prancing horses, who have thus far been cantering ponies, are generally better in a straight line than Mercedes this year, and this weekend is a great chance to grab that first win.

As for Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton certainly cannot be counted out of a win, and it is not as if the Mercedes is tremendously slower than the Ferrari on the straights. However, Hamilton will surely have one eye on the title with a 62 point lead over team-mate Valtteri Bottas, and may opt to play the long game.

Bottas is in a different boat. Following a blistering start to the season, winning in Australia and Azerbaijan, the Finn has fallen back, and has since started to show the cracks that we have seen in the last two seasons partnered with Hamilton. No wins since race four, a crash in Germany and a clumsy incident with his team mate in Hungary has left his future in doubt, with Esteban Ocon among a couple of names potentially being lined up to replace him next year. Bottas is running out of time in the harsh climate of Formula One, and he needs a strong result at Spa to kick off the second part of the season and salvage his future at Mercedes.

LAT Images / Mercedes AMG

Further back, Haas drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen both need strong weekends themselves. Several incidents between the two drivers have frustrated their demanding team boss Guenther Steiner, and neither of them currently have a safe seat for next season.

It was at this race 12 months ago where Racing Point, undergoing their transformation as Racing Point Force India, came close to a podium with Sergio Perez. A podium will not be expected this time, but points will certainly be the objective. So too will be the case for Renault’s drivers, who both failed to score points here last year after Nico Hulkenberg catapulted Fernando Alonso, and Daniel Ricciardo was caught up in the ensuing melee.

George Russell was hopeful that Williams were taking steps in the right direction following the last race in Budapest, but we should not expect them to be able to lift themselves off the bottom of the time sheets this time around.

Hamilton is back to defend his championship lead, Bottas and Ferrari need to bounce back, and Formula One is back, as is Eau Rouge, I mean Raidillon, oh forget it…

Follow full live text commentary of free practice, qualifying and the race on our Twitter account, @PitCrew_Online.

Header image by Wolfgang Wilhelm / Mercedes AMG