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.
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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

2020 F1 driver market preview

Now that the 2019 F1 Championship is nearing its summer break, the traditional driver market rumours have started coming in thick and fast. To help sort the bluff from the believable, we’ve identified five key hotspots in this year’s silly season.

Esteban Ocon

Mercedes AMG

Esteban Ocon is expected to be the driver market’s dominant figure this year. Although his chances of a 2020 Mercedes drive have been slashed by Valtteri Bottas’ run of improved form, there is no shortage of teams to which the Frenchman has been linked.

If Mercedes were to release Ocon as they did Pascal Wehrlein last year, then he could prove the keystone for the midfield shuffle. Renault and Haas especially are known to be interested in a free Ocon, and both teams have drivers out of contract.

Sebastian Vettel

Ferrari Media

Although Sebastian Vettel has a contract with Ferrari for 2020, his distance from the title, infamous disagreements with the stewards and the rise of Charles Leclerc have all left him openly questioning whether F1 is still the place he wants to be.

At the moment Vettel is still expected to at least see out his contract rather than walk away early. But if he does call time on his F1 career this season, the most likely candidate to take his seat is thought to be Bottas or Daniel Ricciardo.

Nico Hülkenberg

Renault Sport Media

Nico Hülkenberg might have scored more than half of Renault’s total points since he joined them in 2017, but that hasn’t stopped team reportedly eyeing up Ocon for his seat next year.

If Hülkenberg were to lose his Renault drive, his only alternative on the 2020 grid would be a sideways move to Haas, Racing Point or Alfa Romeo. However, after nine seasons mired in the midfield he may decide to take his considerable talent to a more competitive series—Formula E, perhaps, or returning to Le Mans with Aston Martin’s hypercar entry.

Romain Grosjean

Haas F1 Media

Romain Grosjean is another driver under pressure from Ocon, with one wild silly season story claiming Haas were even trying to swap the two Frenchmen around for this weekend’s German Grand Prix.

But while that particular rumour has come to nothing, it is true that Grosjean is facing a lot of competition for his seat—not just from Ocon, but also Hülkenberg, Sergio Pérez and now-Ferrari development driver Wehrlein. Whether Grosjean remains on the F1 grid at all next year remains to be seen, with his best option likely swapping seats with Pérez and joining Racing Point.

Nicholas Latifi

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

There isn’t much space for new young drivers on the 2020 grid, but Formula 2 frontrunner Nicholas Latifi already has his feet under the table with a Williams reserve role. If Williams and Robert Kubica decide to part company at the end of a frustrating year for both parties, Latifi is next in line to replace the Pole.

Latifi has also been linked with Racing Point, forming an all-Canadian lineup with Lance Stroll should Pérez move on to Haas. However, Ocon is a much more likely alternative at present, given his fruitful past relationship with the team and his friendship with Stroll.

F1 Winter Testing: Round-Up

Formula 1 Pre-Season testing got underway in Barcelona this morning with a healthy mix of old and new faces racking up the laps. Rookies Lando Norris and Alex Albon for McLaren and Toro Rosso were first out on track.

Albon had the marshals on their toes after causing the first red-flag of the session, one minute after lights went green. Albon’s Toro Rosso was sat in the gravel facing the wrong way after having lost it upon exiting Turn four, and after a 20-minute recovery from the marshals, we got back into the session.

Both Ferrari and Mercedes were keen to begin testing the harder tyres this morning, running the C1, starting at a slightly slower pace than the previous day. After Bottas’s morning test yesterday, it was the turn of Hamilton to set an early alarm, and by 8:20am he had set the first time of the day at 1:32s.

Ferrari’s new driver Charles Leclerc got in the seat for the first time, initially taking a steady approach to handling his new car by setting a 1:42. He picked up the pace pretty quickly after that though, going from the bottom to the top of the table by setting a more-than-respectable 1:19 and showing the world he can match the pace of his teammate Sebastian Vettel. Vettel has already gone on record in considering Leclerc a ‘full rival … He got the seat for a reason and I’ve got to take him very seriously’. With a personal best of 1:18.2 this morning, it’s difficult to view Leclerc in any other way.

After Verstappen’s impressive performance yesterday, Red Bull’s number two driver Pierre Gasly took to the wheel for the first time at just after 8:30am, sharing the track with Alfa Romeo’s number two, Antonio Giovinazzi. Gasly put in a steady first lap on C3 tyres with a 1:37.5, before picking up the pace and putting in a 1:22, and a 1:21 shortly after. Giovinazzi puts in a 1:24 and continues to improve, achieving a 1:20 after 22 laps.

Like Hamilton, Ricciardo was also back in the driver’s seat this morning following yesterday’s afternoon session. Ricciardo’s Renault matched the pace of Red Bull and Gasly lap after lap, as both cars achieved a respectable 1:21s.

Meanwhile, it looked to be yet another slow start for Racing Point this morning after yesterday’s arguably disappointing session. The team managed to rack up a meagre 30 test laps across the whole day. Performance Engineering Director Tom McCullough summarised the day; ‘We had some teething problems, which caused us some downtime across the day, and a small oil leak, but nothing overly concerning’.

McCullough explained the teams aim for today’s session, focusing on aero data collection and giving Lance Stroll an opportunity to experience his new car, however by 8:50am, Stroll had only managed two installation laps. By 9:05am, Stroll had achieved his first timed lap, managing a 1:29 on C3 tyres. His pace improved quite quickly with a 1:21.6, coming second on the timing sheets over Hamilton’s 1:24.6. Stroll surpassed his teammates efforts yesterday, completing 45 laps before lunchtime.

Perhaps a little dubious to appear on track too early this morning, Kevin Magnussen and Haas finally ventured out to do an installation lap on intermediate tyres, before returning to the pits. Magnussen was back on track after 35 minutes in the garage, putting in his first flying lap of 1:23.4. He continued to build on this by following it with a 1:21.9, and a 1:21.6 moving ahead of Albon’s Toro Rosso.

Magnussen spent a further 20 minutes in the garage; the Haas social media team describing it as an ‘extended stay’, offering no indication of why the team have put in so few laps this morning.

Ricciardo’s Renault decided to spice up the morning by parting ways with its rear wing while using DRS, causing him to spin off track and into the gravel. Miraculously he managed to get the car out without causing a second red-flag in the session.

The lunch break came and went with some teams opting for a driver change, namely Mercedes and Renault. Bottas was the first man on track, followed closely by Charles Leclerc for Ferrari. Leclerc was the first man to break the 100-lap benchmark, followed by rookie Alex Albon for Toro Rosso.

Nico Hulkenberg settled down to test his Renault for a race distance and continued to knock out lap times in the 1:20s. Hulkenberg didn’t manage to top the timesheets, however Renault seem to have found consistent timing and distance of greater value than fastest car on track. He did eventually break free of the monotony and started pushing the car just a little bit, managing a personal best of 1:20.3 which put him in 8thposition.

Pierre Gasly spun out going in to turn 12 with only an hour and a half left on the clock. Though the damage didn’t look overly disastrous, it was a sorry end to Gasly’s otherwise smooth and steady session.

Pietro Fittipaldi took to the wheel in place of Kevin Magnussen who was forced to retire from the race early due to a seat-fit issue, which could explain the frequent ‘extended stays’ K-Mag was having in the morning session. Fittipaldi managed a total of 13 laps before the end of the session.

Sadly, we heard very little from Williams today. It is thought they will be arriving with the car very early tomorrow morning, with a view to joining in the testing tomorrow lunchtime.

McLaren are continuing to play the come-back kid by coming second only to Ferrari on the timing sheet. It’s an extremely positive start for the team, but ultimately Ferrari stole the show once again, taking fastest lap for the second day in a row (a 1:18.2) along with a healthy distance on track. With 157 laps under his belt, Leclerc has taken thorough advantage of his opportunity to get used to his new car.Image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Testing continues tomorrow.

F1 Winter Testing: Day One Round-Up

Barcelona enjoyed the dulcet tones of multiple V6 engines today, as the first session of winter testing finally got under way.

Alfa Romeo were awake bright and early to reveal their car and livery – becoming the final team to do so – before Kimi Raikkonen took it out for a quick spin (literally), getting stuck in the gravel in the first 15 minutes of the session.

Red Bull’s social media team were also up early do a second ‘reveal’, showing off the traditional matte livery they have used over the past four years and disappointing fans that had grown fond of the shakedown livery they had initially debuted.

Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari began taking the challenge to Mercedes early doors, putting in an impressive number of laps and topping the timing sheet with an eyebrow-raising 1m18. The same success could not be said of Ferrari’s sub-team Haas; Romain Grosjean was forced to pull over on track, causing a red flag after a couple of successful installation laps due to fuel pressure loss. At least Haas’s mechanics weren’t short of work to do!

At the lunchtime break, Vettel remained at the top of the timesheets with a 1m18 and an impressive 72 laps. Just behind him was Perez in the Racing Point car with a 1m19, and Bottas with a 1m20. While Ferrari seemed keen to display their might early on, Mercedes clearly felt no pressure to respond so early in the session.

Ferrari Media

The session recommenced at 2pm and although some teams chose to test with the same driver, others decided to make the swap and we saw five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton take the wheel for the first time since the shakedown at Silverstone last Friday.

Hamilton put in a healthy number of laps, most of them running in the 1m20 range, once again feeling absolutely no pressure to be topping the timing sheets just yet.

There was a slightly hair-raising moment for McLaren when Carlos Sainz’s car stopped at the end of the pit lane causing the third red flag of the day. McLaren were quick to redeem themselves though, managing to run an impressive 119 laps, staying comfortably in the 1m20s, and even managing to come second to Vettel’s Ferrari with a respectable 1:18.5. It’s an optimistic start for a team that has suffered a great deal of disappointment in previous seasons.

On the theme of disappointment, more sad news came from the Williams garage. After being unable to complete a planned shake-down on Saturday, and announcing they would not be taking part in today’s testing, a further announcement came after lunch confirming they would not be able to take part in testing until Wednesday ‘at the earliest’.

Deputy team boss Claire Williams described the delay as ‘extremely disappointing’, and indeed with Robert Kubica taking a seat this season after an eight-year hiatus from F1, it is disappointing to delay his anticipated return even further.

Daniel Ricciardo made his debut for Renault this afternoon after his teammate Nico Hulkenberg had a positive morning, describing the car as “the best I’ve seen at Renault”, which is a promising hint for what is to come. Both commentators and fans are slowly getting used to seeing Danny in a black and yellow race suit, this didn’t faze Danny who put in a respectable 44 laps, making Renault one of five teams that have surpassed the 100-lap milestone today.

Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Renault Sport F1 Team RS19.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Monday 18th February 2019. Barcelona, Spain.

There was an interesting moment in the last hour of the session between Hamilton and Kvyat in the Toro Rosso, as Kvyat pushed Hamilton to work to overtake him. After a couple of laps and pointing out the nose of the Mercedes car, Hamilton was forced to back off as he was unable to complete the manoeuvre, which begs the question: do the front-wing changes help or hinder Mercedes performance?

Kimi Raikkonen was his usual charismatic self before completing 114 laps in the freshly unveiled Alfa Romeo car, going into the test with the aim of getting a ‘more real picture of the car’, but with the unintentional aim of causing the final red-flag of the day, one minute before the end of the session.

Today was unquestionably Ferrari’s day with Vettel putting in a whopping 169 laps and remaining quickest throughout the whole session with a 1:18.1. Second came Carlos Sainz in the McLaren with a 1:18.5 and Grosjean with a 1:19.1 in spite of only completing 65 laps before stopping on track earlier in the session.

Overall though, the theme for today was getting a feel for the car and putting the laps in; no exciting racing just yet, but it’s a promising start for the 2019 season.

 

[Featured image – Dan Istitene/Getty Images]