‘It’s the same, but different’: Red Bull Launch the RB16B ahead of the 2021 F1 season

After much speculation, the day finally came for Red Bull to unveil the RB16B, ahead of the 2021 season. The announcement was delivered with as much fanfare a virtual launch can muster, hammering home what we all expected; it’s the same, but different. 

Red Bull have made themselves the talk of the off-season, after signing Sergio Perez to replace Alex Albon, who is now a reserve and test driver in the team, and the more recent announcement to take over their contract with Honda, and begin developing their own power units from 2022 onwards. 

Some fans were a little disappointed to see the standard livery that has remained largely unchanged for a number of years, and Red Bull have made no secret of the fact that there has been a lot of carryover from the 2020 car, due to the deferral of the change in regulations. 

Image courtesy of Red Bull

In spite of that, the team are keen to emphasise that the real changes have taken place beneath the surface. ‘For it’s final season in F1, Honda is introducing a new power unit’ amongst other changes. 

Though it’s difficult to determine the extent of these changes from a carefully positioned press photo, it looks like there may be some change to the side-pods on the car, which in turn would mean greater downforce on the car.    

Image courtesy of Red Bull

The RB16B ‘aims to carry the momentum of 2020 into the new season in a bid to fight for this years title’. The team feel confident this will help them take the fight to the as-yet unchallenged Mercedes, who have remained the dominant team in F1 for the past 7 seasons. 

It will be all eyes on Silverstone tomorrow, when Max and Checo take to the track in the RB16B for the first time for a day of filming.

Will we see a shakedown livery? Do we have a new contender for the championship title, or will it just turn out to be the same, but different for another year running? 

We don’t have too long to wait!

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

At just 103 days, the winter break between 2020 and 2021 is one of the shortest, certainly in modern history in Formula One. In actual fact, it was set to be shorter still, but with the postponement of the Australian Grand Prix, the new season will kick off in Bahrain, but what can we expect from this year?

Well, in truth, this year will probably be a case of “same, but different”, as regulations set in place for 2021 mean that the 2020 cars have been carried over to this year, and only aero parts and PUs are eligible to be changed. Fundamentally, though, the cars must remain the same, and the chassis will be identical to last year, so do not expect any massive jumps in performance.

This means to say that Mercedes should still be top dogs, Red Bull should be a close second, and the midfield will still be as intense as it was throughout the entirety of the 17 races last year.

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

But while substantial increases or otherwise in performance is too much to expect, little nuggets of gold may just help swing the tide a little as someone, somehow, looks to topple Mercedes’ absolute brilliance at the front.

Sergio Perez, surprise winner of the crazy Sakhir Grand prix last season, will make his highly-anticipated Red Bull debut having replaced the hapless Alex Albon. The discussion has been raging as to whether he will be able to beat their current titan Max Verstappen, and whether the Mexican truly does have the pace to compete at the front and spur Red Bull into serious Constructors’ Championship contention. It is widely expected that, if Perez is dominated by Verstappen the way Albon and Pierre Gasly were, it is a case of the car being geared to the Dutchman, as opposed to a lack of pace from Max’s team mates.

264 points separated Mercedes and Red Bull last year, so it will be fascinating to see if Red Bull’s third driver pairing in as many years will be able to close the gap and make life a little more uncomfortable for the imperious champions.

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

Speaking of whom, newly-crowned champion Lewis Hamilton has finally put pen to paper on a new contract with the German team, in a deal that takes him to the end of the 2021 season.

Reasons for just the one-season extension have been speculated about; who knows if it could be down to the impending salary cap, or whether it is because Hamilton feels as though he only has one year left with the Silver Arrows, and in Formula One as a whole?

This would make sense. Hamilton is set to win his eighth championship this season, beating Michael Schumacher’s remarkable seven in the process.  The sport could certainly do with having Hamilton around next year, and we are likely set to see one of the most historical moments in the history of Formula One.

His team mate Valtteri Bottas could well be going into his last year with the Silver Arrows, but conversely to Hamilton, his future may not be in his own hands. In spite of a second-placed finish in the championship last season, Bottas’ overall performance has occasionally left something to be desired, and he will need to show stronger title credentials this year if he is to remain a part of the team in 2022.

A large part of this equation is the impressive progress of George Russell who, with a good performance in the Williams in 2021, could find himself in line for a drive next season. Particularly after Russell’s magnificent pace last year in the Sakhir Grand Prix alongside Bottas, this season will be a monumental one for both of them.

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

Further down, Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo are definitely ones to watch as they make their debuts for Ferrari and McLaren respectively. Ferrari acquired the services of Sainz after Sebastian Vettel’s departure for Aston Martin, while Australian Daniel Ricciardo left Renault for McLaren, replacing Spaniard Sainz. Ferrari’s new engine and aero parts for this season could lift them further into the midfield battle, and above the abysmal eighth place they managed last season with Vettel and Leclerc. Vettel meanwhile, with his new team and new haircut to boot, will attempt to make his presence felt in his new adventure with the new Aston Martin team, who take over from Racing Point this year.

Just as exciting as the German’s new venture, Fernando Alonso makes his comeback in 2021 in the Alpine team that has replaced Renault for this year, and after two seasons out, expectation is high. Frenchman Esteban Ocon, who managed his first podium last season in Sakhir, gets a real test of his ability by going up against a driver who, as well as being a two-time champion, is widely regarded as one of the quickest and most skilled drivers in F1’s rich history.

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

Alonso, though, comes back probably feeling a fair bit older than he did when he left. He raced against Jos Verstappen and Michael Schumacher during his first 18-year spell in the sport, and he is now about to race against their sons.

While Max had already become a fixture towards the end of Alonso’s first tenure, Michael’s son Mick will now be on the same grid as one of his father’s greatest rivals, as two generations collide.

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

Schumacher claimed glory in the F2 championship last season with Prema, and he arrives in Formula One with one of Ferrari’s junior teams: Haas. The American outfit enter this year will a new driver lineup; the departing Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen are replaced by Schumacher and car number nine.

As Lewis Hamilton seeks a record eighth championship, and Mercedes try to extend their record of Constructors’ championship successes, the 2021 season is a huge one for a lot of drivers, in what is the last year before the regulation changes in 2022.

Red Bull announces feeder placements for Vips, Lawson, Daruvala

The Red Bull Junior Team announced a raft of feeder series’ placements for its drivers today, including seats in Formula 2 for Juri Vips, Liam Lawson and Jehan Daruvala.

Vips will return to the series full-time after making a stand-in appearance for Sean Gelael at DAMS last year, and will partner New Zealander Lawson at Hitech Grand Prix. Lawson graduates to F2 from Formula 3, where he also drove for Hitech and took three wins in his 2020 sophomore season to finish fifth in the standings.

Daruvala will remain with Carlin for his second F2 campaign. The Indian driver improved on a difficult start to his rookie year with a run of strong results in the last five rounds, which were capped off with his first podium and sprint race win in the Bahrain double header.

Jehan Daruvala, Carlin (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Red Bull also announced that three of its juniors will make their F3 debuts this year. Jonny Edgar and Jak Crawford, who finished first and second in the 2020 ADAC F4 championship, will race for Carlin and Hitech respectively. Honda-backed 2020 French F4 champion Ayumu Iwasa will also join Crawford at Hitech as a new member of the Red Bull Junior Team.

This follows Red Bull-supported Dennis Hauger being announced as one of Prema’s drivers at the end of last year.

Red Bull also added 13-year-old Swedish-British karter Arvid Lindblad to its junior team, following his championship victory in the 2020 OK Junior WSK Super Master Series.

Jonny Edgar, Red Bull Junior Team (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Cyril Abiteboul: Renault boss steps down from role

Ahead of Renault’s new identity as Alpine, and a reshuffle at the team, Cyril Abiteboul is leaving his role as team boss effective immediately.

Abiteboul’s journey as a team boss began in 2013 when he took charge of the doomed Caterham, having acted as Renault’s Deputy Director of Sport until 2012.

In 2015, he returned to this role and, having seen the Renault name return under Frederic Vassuer’s leadership, he took charge of the French outfit at the back end of 2016.

Under Abiteboul’s leadership, Renault managed a fourth-placed finish in 2018 – Courtesy of Renault F1 Media

Sandwiched in between these stages of his career has been the controversy with Red Bull. On various occasions between 2015 and 2018, he had several public fall-outs with Red Bull Principal Christian Horner. Red Bull’s struggles with Renault power in the hybrid era led to tensions between the two teams, and Horner’s complaints about the performance and reliability of the Power Unit began to irritate Abiteboul.

This relationship came to a head in 2018, when Red Bull announced they would no longer be using Renault engines for 2019 onwards, and would instead turn to Honda, who had supplied Toro Rosso that season to a degree of success.

power Unit Disputes led to a complete breakdown in the relationship between Red Bull and Renault in 2018 – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Renault endured a tough 2019, finishing fifth compared to fourth in 2018, and a long way behind McLaren.

A similar story rang true in 2020, but they were much closer to McLaren and Racing Point, fighting for third during much of the campaign, but ultimately finishing fifth again.

They also managed three podiums last year; Daniel Ricciardo finished third in Germany and Imola, while Esteban Ocon claimed a spectacular P2 in Sakhir, in what was Sergio Perez’s first win in Formula One. The Mexican has signed for Red Bull this year, replacing Alex Albon.

Daniel Ricciardo’s third at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was the second of three for Renault last year – Courtesy of Renault F1 Media

Abiteboul’s tenure will be remembered with a great deal of respect. He fearlessly led the team through thick and thin, and has laid the groundwork for Alpine to progress and achieve the success Renault once enjoyed. He enticed Ricciardo into his project, and having lured Fernando Alonso back to the team after the Australian’s departure, Abiteboul bows out with the team in a far better state than it was in when he arrived.

F1 2020: End of Season Awards

The 2020 season has come to a close – at 161 days, it was the shortest since 1966, condensing 17 races into that window which has in previous seasons taken nearer 300. The final race took place on the 13th December. The time has now come to reflect on some of the extraordinary achievements that were made and exceeded in times that happen in every hundred years. Most of these decisions were made by the public using @PitCrewOnline and Twitter Poll. 

We start with our first award, Qualifying Lap of Year, where you get to see the cars at the fastest! Our four options, place they qualified and resulting race are:

Hulkenberg P3 – 70th GP

Gasly P4 – Emilia Romagna GP

Stroll P1 – Turkish GP

Leclerc P4 – Sakhir GP

Winner: Hulkenberg – 62% of Public vote

This was his second consecutive race filling in for Sergio Perez after he tested positive for covid-19, although he couldn’t start the British Grand Prix due to a last minute problem with the car. Unlike the latter Bahrain rounds where the track changed to shortened Sakhir track, the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone had no changes from the British event. He qualified a fantastic P3, going faster than Verstappen; he was only beaten by the fastest car ahead of him in Mercedes. He ended Sunday in P7 so managed to score points, but the podium continues to elude him.

Nico Hulkenberg brilliantly deputised for Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll at various points of the season – Courtesy of Racing Point Media

The next award is: Best Start of the Year. the nominees are:

Max Verstappen – P7 to P3 – Hungarian GP

Kimi Raikonnen – P16 to P7 – Portuguese GP

Carlos Sainz – P7 to P2 – Portuguese GP

Sebastian Vettel  – P11 to P3 – Turkish GP

Winner: Kimi Raikkonen – 44% of Public vote

Kimi had a great start at Portimao, gaining 9 places on the opening lap; he even continued to rise to sixth place in the race for a further few laps before others tyres began to get temperature on the unique surface the track had. It narrowly beat Vettel’s start which received 33% of the vote at Turkey. 

2020 was Kimi Raikkonen’s second year with Alfa Romeo – Courtesy of Alfa Romeo Media

The Third award is: Overtake of the Year. We love wheel to wheel action – even better when DRS isn’t involved! Our options are:

Charles Leclerc on Lando Norris – outside of turn 4 – Austrian GP

Alex Albon on Lance Stroll – Outside of Copse – 70th Anniversary GP

Sergio Perez on Charles Leclerc – lap long battle – Eifel GP

George Russell on Valtteri Bottas – Sakhir GP

Winner: George Russell – 77% of Public vote

George Russell took his chance at the Sakhir Grand Prix with both hands but things out of his control prevented a maiden victory. He showed his skills and the pass on his team mate at the beginning of the final stint of the race after a calamitous safety car period for the team was one of these.

George Russell’s excellent performance at the Sakhir Grand Prix was undone by Mercedes’ blunders – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

Next is an award for Pit Crew of the Year, which didn’t need a poll; a much more statistical thought!

Red Bull

9 times this year they have broken the 2 second barrier, with their fastest time being 1.86 on two occasions – close to the world record 1.82 time. Another remarkable feat was replacing Verstappen’s front left suspension in record time after his error en route to the grid at Budapest which led to his fantastic start. They won the DHL Fastest pit stops with 555 points with Williams next to 264. They only failed to achieve the fastest pit stop at Spa and Monza. 

Red Bull’s remarkable work on the grid helped Max Verstappen onto the podium after his crash before the race – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

A bit of a hysterical award next! The Dyson Hoover Award

(Other hoover brands are available)

Valterri Bottas – For picking up bargeboards, and getting them stuck in his airflow which ruined his car’s downforce. He has also a habit of getting punctures of running over debris – Baku 2018 springs to mind.

Rookie of the Year!

Nicholas Lati… There was only one full time rookie this year? Nicholas Latifi! Solid job on his debut year. He nearly scored points in the inferior Williams at Imola where the unfortunate Russell made his one of his very few mistakes of the season in P11. Next season will be about cutting that deficit at the tracks we visited this year and spending time on the simulator; points in 2021 will be the target! Especially with Montreal looking likely to be one of our venues, Latifi will want better understanding and a better car for that event!

Nicholas Latifi’s first season was solid, but he will be hoping for a slightly stronger performance next year – Courtesy of Williams Media

Race of the Year!

Max Verstappen’s win – 70th Anniversary GP

Lewis Hamilton’s 92nd win – Portuguese GP

Lewis Hamilton secures 7th Title – Turkish GP

Sergio Perez wins after Mercedes fail – Sakhir GP

Winner: Sakhir GP – 38%

The Sakhir GP took it by just 3% over the title securing Turkish event. Sakhir had the action! The lap one drama took out the touted Verstappen and putting the unlikely victor Perez last! Mercedes were the creators of their own downfall, and what if Jack Aitken, technically driving Russell’s car, didn’t put it in the wall? People questioned the shortened Sakhir layout, but it was great. if anything, another DRS zone before the final corner would have been great.

A crazy Sakhir race saw Esteban Ocon earn his first ever podium – Courtesy of Renault Media

Driver of the Year!

The drivers to the left of the quarter final option were seeded in Championship order and then drawn at random against the other four randomly who had fantastic seasons in other cars. These were the agreed top 8 by Pit Crew census then each went to a 3 hour poll except for the final. That went for a 24 hour poll during Abu Dhabi weekend.

Quarter Finals

Sergio Perez (67%) – Pierre Gasly (33%)

Max Verstappen (52%) – Carlos Sainz (48%)

Lewis Hamilton (57%) – Charles Leclerc (43%)

Daniel Ricciardo (44%) – George Russell (56%)

Semi Finals

Sergio Perez (59%) – Max Verstappen (41%)

Lewis Hamilton (59%) – George Russell (41%)

Final

Sergio Perez (56%) – Lewis Hamilton (44%)

The public decided that Sergio Perez is the 2020 driver of the season! Congratulations to Checo! The season has come to a close, and some drivers are yet to be confirmed. Will our driver of the year get a call from the Red Bull hierarchy placing Albon on the sidelines for 2021? 

Sergio Perez has inexplicably been left without a seat for next year… so far – Courtesy of Racing Point Media

That is the Awards for 2020, with the calendar being arranged on short notice and bubbles being kept to with only a few positive cases it looks like F1 can call 2020 a success. Old friends of Imola and Turkey came to assist whilst Portugal and Mugello came to show what they could do. Vaccines look to be starting to be distributed to assist with the pandemic, so fingers crossed some normality resumes to the world of Motorsport and beyond.

Sergio Pérez takes maiden victory in astonishing Sakhir GP

What a race! In the jumbled up 2020 calendar that began in July at the Red Bull Ring, the last three races are a triple feast in the Middle East. Beginning with the traditional Bahrain circuit last weekend and ending the season at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi but that middle race would be another one at Bahrain. However it would be on the outer circuit which the F1 cars had been lapping at under a minute all through the weekend.

The lead up to the weekend was already packed with action, as Romain Grosjean’s horror crash from which he thankfully escaped with just a few burns meant that Haas drafted in reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi. Then the huge bombshell dropped that world champion Lewis Hamilton had tested positive for COVID-19 which meant Mercedes had to go looking for a replacement driver. That turned out to be George Russell who left a vacant seat at Williams, and that ended up being F2 racer Jack Aitken.

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

In qualifying, it was Bottas who just pipped Russell to pole by a microscopic margin. Max Verstappen qualified third and Charles Leclerc put in a mighty lap to drag that lacklustre Ferrari to fourth on the grid, and following him were Pérez, Kvyat, Ricciardo, Sainz, Gasly, Stroll, Ocon, Albon, Vettel, Giovinazzi, Magnussen, Latifi, Aitken, Räikkönen, and at the back were Norris and Fittipaldi who had taken grid penalties.

At the start, Russell immediately got away better than Bottas who had to hold off Verstappen’s advances, and struggled to get out the first few corners. His compatriot Räikkönen spun in the back of shot and thankfully no awful imagery to worry about like last week at the same corner. But Bottas’ eyes were on Verstappen, closing the door on him which left an open opportunity for Pérez to go past the Red Bull.

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

But it was Leclerc who got caught out trying to brake for the corner, smacked into the Racing Point and spun him round, leaving Verstappen with nowhere to go but into the wall and retirement along with Leclerc. Somehow, Pérez was able to continue and pitted, benefitting from the subsequent safety car and was able to rejoin the back of the pack in 18th.

At the front, Russell’s massive lead that he got at the start was eliminated, but he wasn’t done. The safety car period ended on lap six and Russell eased off whilst Bottas was under pressure from McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, who rose to third amid the first lap chaos. He went around the outside of Bottas into turn one, but going through the turn two and three complex, Sainz ran wide and that allowed the Merc right back through.

Whilst Russell was experiencing what it’s like to be in the lead in an F1 car, further down the order were two of his mates, Lando Norris and Alex Albon. Lap 20 and Albon made a move stick on Norris, who was then immediately overtaken by Pérez despite the Mexican being spun on the first lap. The following lap, Albon was then passed by Pérez at the same corner.

Back at the front with Russell, he already had a gap of over a second before the DRS was enabled. The Mercs began gapping Sainz, and it was a steady lead Russell held over Bottas which fluctuated as they negotiated lapped traffic. He extended that lead after he pitted, undercutting Bottas after he was left out for a further four laps, and the gap went to the highest it had been all race even in spite of a sensor scare.

Russell’s typical Williams teammate Nicholas Latifi pulled off and caused a Virtual Safety Car, and not much changed other than Bottas swiped into Russell’s lead. But Pérez was continuing his charge through the field, putting a move on teammate Lance Stroll going into turn four and then the following lap, on former Force India teammate Esteban Ocon. The Mexican was absolutely flying out there. He was now on course for a podium finish with his strategy completely played out.

However, Russell’s replacement at Williams Jack Aitken lost the car coming out of the last corner and clattered the tyre barrier, leaving his front wing on the track and he dove for the pits. A Virtual Safety Car was initially called, but that became a full Safety Car, and Mercedes felt the need to cover off Pérez. But man, did they mess up.

The two Mercs double stacked, Russell came in and they put on the tyres, all well and good. Then Bottas came in and there seemed to be some hesitation, and they sent him back out on the same tyres he pitted with, which was a bit odd as to why they did that. Then it became very apparent. Russell had been sent out on tyres which were intended for Bottas, so now he was bunched up behind the safety car with Pérez, Ocon and Stroll behind him and he was called back to the pits to change the tyres.

This was a huge mess-up on Mercedes’ part. Russell came back out in fifth behind Bottas who remained on his old set, but looked to have the best tyres out of everyone in the top five. Racing resumed and Russell was a man on a mission, making quick work of his teammate on the old set of tyres pulling off an immense outside move going through the long turn six, then passing Stroll and Ocon with the help of DRS. He then set to work catching Pérez who was a long way up the road.

Russell was eating into Pérez’s advantage lap after lap but yet again, disaster. Russell was called back to the pits AGAIN as he had a slow puncture and they put him on softs, whilst the other Mercedes of Bottas just went backwards as he was overtaken by Sainz, Ricciardo and Albon in very quick succession.

But up at the front, a man who for some reason doesn’t have a drive in 2021 guaranteed. Sergio Pérez took an incredible first win for both himself, and the team that he’s leaving after next week’s season finale. Esteban Ocon took second ahead of Lance Stroll, then it was Sainz, Ricciardo, Kvyat had also passed Bottas in the closing stages, Russell recovered to ninth ahead of Norris who scored the last point.

Russell finally got his long awaited first points finish as well as another for fastest lap, although it was little consolation for what was throughout the entire race looking set to be an incredible first win for the guy. He did absolutely incredibly all weekend, and it definitely will not be the last we hear from Russell, who may get a second stab at the cherry this weekend in Abu Dhabi providing Hamilton isn’t well enough to participate.

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

But it was Pérez who after 190 starts, finally took victory and became the first Mexican to win an F1 Grand Prix in 50 years. A win that was perhaps long overdue, especially if we harken back to Malaysia 2012 when he came very close in his Sauber to denying Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso a win that day. But better late than never, and hopefully Pérez is not out of F1 for long.

The problem with finding the ideal F1 reserve driver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The final problem with finding the ideal reserve is availability.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

PART 1 – THE GROSJEAN INCIDENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We sincerely wish him good health and a swift recovery.

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

PART 2 – THE RACE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RACE CLASSIFICATION

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

Feature Image Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Reminiscing over Lewis Hamilton’s seven Championships

After a stunning display of driving during a tricky Turkish Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton secured his seventh World Driver’s Championship.

Lewis Hamilton’s win in Turkey put him level with Michael Schumacher on seven championships – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

He now equals the legendary Michael Schumacher for championship wins, with many believing he will beat the record in the next few years. When Michael retired at the end of 2006 (and equally at the end of 2012 after his stint at Mercedes) it appears only he believed that his records could be broken. But just 8 years on from when Schumacher last raced in Formula 1, Lewis Hamilton has been able to match him. But how did Lewis win his championships? Let’s reminisce…

2008:

Lewis’ first championship came in just his second season in Formula One, following an incredible rookie campaign where he lost out on the championship to Kimi Raikkonen by just one point. Naturally for a rookie, you would assume the mistakes that cost him the 2007 title would affect him coming into the new season, but not so. He stormed to pole position at the Australian Grand Prix and subsequently took the chequered flag in a race that saw only 7 drivers finish – 6 after Rubens Barrichello was disqualified.

Hamilton’s quick start didn’t last long however,  as the next 4 races were dominated by Ferrari – Raikkonen and Felipe Massa winning alternately. Lewis achieved podium finishes in the Spanish and Turkish Grands Prix, but could not find a way past the prancing horses. Monaco followed, where Lewis took his first victory in the principality, despite a puncture sustained after making light contact with the barrier mid-race.

Lewis’ only retirement that season came due to a pit lane incident in Canada where he wiped both himself and Raikkonen out of the race, with Nico Rosberg needing a nose change.

Kimi Raikkonen’s wrecked Ferrari sits at the end of the pitlane after being wiped out by Hamilton – courtesy of Ferrari media

Perhaps Hamilton’s most famous victory that season (or even ever), came at Silverstone, where he charged through the lashing rain to lap the entire field bar 2nd and 3rd and finish a whopping one minute, eight seconds ahead of Nick Heidfeld in second. It was a race that saw many people give him the title “Rain Master”, and judging by his performance that day, he definitely deserved it.

Soon after came the controversy of Spa where Hamilton’s victory was stripped from him for leaving the track and gaining an advantage during a battle with Raikkonen. Kimi made slight contact with Lewis, causing the Brit to take to the run-off. Hamilton gave Kimi the position back, but received a 25 second time penalty after the race which saw him drop down to third; a decision that many saw as unfair.

Felipe Massa won the 2008 Belgian Grand Prix after controversy cost Hamilton the win – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

Following redemption in China, Lewis went into the final race in Brazil leading the championship by 7 points over Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. To win the championship Hamilton just needed to finish in 5th place or better, with Massa needing to win. Massa never really looked in doubt for the victory but after some rain started to fall in the closing laps, Hamilton lost fifth place to Sebastian Vettel. They battled hard and as Massa won the race the title looked to have slipped away. Until….”IS THAT GLOCK!?”.  Those imortalised words. The words that meant Lewis had won the championship. The words that stopped the premature celebrations in the Ferrari garage. Anybody who was watching that race (or have seen it since) will always remember the celebrations in the McLaren garage, the unfortunate incident between the Ferrari mechanic and the wall, and the crying Massa on top of the podium. It was a race, and a title battle, that has become the stuff of legends.

Hamilton’s last corner overtake cost a devastated felipe Massa the title in 2008 – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

It was a year in which Hamilton had made some mistakes, but had also had some incredible performances. His first title had gone down to the wire but in the end it would be difficult to say he didn’t deserve it. In just his second season in the sport, Lewis Hamilton was a world champion.

2014:

In the years between 2008 and 2014, Lewis Hamilton struggled to get a quick enough car beneath him to challenge for a title. Whilst he won a race in every single season, the Red Bull and the Brawn GP cars were just too quick week in week out to be able to chase his second drivers title.

Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull’s dominance snuffed out Hamilton’s hopes of winning another championship in his McLaren days – courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

But that would soon change in 2014. Now with Mercedes, who Hamilton joined in 2013, Lewis partnered Nico Rosberg in a team that absolutely nailed the new engine regulations. The car was far superior to anyone else’s and that set up a tense Hamilton vs Rosberg title scrap.

Rosberg took first blood in Australia, winning by a comfortable margin over second placed debutant Kevin Magnussen. Lewis was forced to retire due to an engine issue. Hamilton then won the next four races, the most notable of which was Bahrain. Rosberg and Hamilton battled lap after lap but ultimately it was Lewis who came out on top. It remains to this day one of the most exciting battles for the lead of the modern era.

In Hungary, Hamilton got off to a poor start, sustaining front wing damage after colliding with the wall. Throughout the rest of the race, Hamilton had a great drive to finish 3rd, despite running in last place after the initial crash. Ricciardo won that race after Rosberg was punished by a late safety car.

Daniel Ricciardo took advantage of Mercedes’ struggles for the second time in 2014 in Hungary – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Tensions between the two started to fray in the following race in Belgium, as Rosberg made contact with Hamilton’s tire as the pair went into Les Combes. Lewis suffered a puncture and was later forced to retire from the race as a result. Again, it was Daniel Ricciardo who was there to sweep up and take the victory.

Hamilton then won the next five races, one of which was the Japanese Grand Prix, where we tragically saw the sport lose one of its most exciting young talents in Jules Bianchi.

Going into the Abu Dhabi finale, both Rosberg and Hamilton could still win the championship. In order to win, Lewis needed to finish in the top two, owing to the fact that the 2014 Abu Dhabi grand prix was the only race in history to offer double the usual number of points. Hamilton took the lead into the first corner and never looked like losing it. Whilst his teammate suffered car issues that saw him finish outside the points, Lewis went untroubled as he secured his second drivers title.

Hamilton’s Abu Dhabi victory in 2014 secured his second world title – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

It had been a year of dominance for Mercedes and Hamilton, with the team winning 16 of the 19 races and Lewis winning an incredible 11 of them. When Lewis wasn’t winning, he either finished on the podium or never finished at all, which in itself is very impressive. In a season that brought the world the Hamilton – Rosberg rivalry, it was first blood to Lewis.

2015:

2015 saw Mercedes continue to dominate the sport as Hamilton could not be matched by his teammate. Lewis took victory in three of the opening five rounds, finishing second in those he failed to win.

Then came Monaco, and a rare blunder in strategy for Mercedes saw Hamilton lose the lead and second place to Rosberg and Sebatian Vettel respectively. Mercedes decided it would be a good idea to pit Lewis whilst the virtual safety car was deployed following Verstappen’s heavy crash with the barrier at Sainte Devote. But the German team had misjudged Hamilton’s gap to his teammate, allowing Nico (who had stayed out) to pass him and take the lead of the race. It was a race-losing mistake as Lewis failed to regain the positions he had lost.

An ill-timed pit stop for Hamilton gave Nico Rosberg the win in Monaco in 2015 – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

So far the championship battle had been tightly contested between Hamilton and Rosberg with the gap never being larger than 28 points. However, it was Lewis who came back from the summer break in better form, winning in both Spa and crucially Italy, where Rosberg was forced to retire. The gap between the pair was beginning to grow larger and larger.

Hamilton then took victory in Japan and Russia, the latter proving to be very costly for Rosberg after he was again forced to retire from the race. This allowed Lewis to go into the race in the USA able to wrap up the title by outscoring Vettel by nine points and Rosberg by two. Rosberg started on pole with Lewis alongside. However, it was the brit who led into turn one after he got off of the line better and was able to hang Rosberg out to dry at the first corner. Hamilton lost the lead to Ricciardo later on in the race but was able to gain it back during the pit stops. Lewis went on to win followed by Rosberg and then Vettel, after a race-costing error by his team mate.

Hamilton took advantage of a crucial Rosberg mistake to win his third title in the USA in 2015 – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

With only three races to go, Hamilton could no longer be caught in the drivers championship and thus he was crowned champion. It would be Hamilton’s last victory of the season with Rosberg gaining momentum going into the following season.

The 2015 Formula One World Championship had by no means been a classic, but Lewis was able to capitalise on Rosberg’s unfortunate set of circumstances to take what turned out to be a dominant championship victory. Ferrari had just started to emerge as challengers, but nobody could match the consistency of both Hamilton and Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton was now a three-time world champion.

2017:

Following a challenging season in 2016, Hamilton went into 2017 with a fresh face in the other Mercedes. Reigning champion Nico Rosberg decided to leave the sport on a high following his one and only title win. It would be Williams’ Valtteri Bottas who would partner Lewis for the 2017 season. But could he prove a close match for Hamilton?

Nico Rosberg won his sole championship in 2016 following an intense finale in Abu Dhabi – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

In short: no.  Lewis did not have the championship all his own way, however. After a disappointing 2016, which saw them fail to improve on the promising results of 2015, it was Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari who would prove to be Hamilton’s closest competition. Vettel started the season strongly taking 3 victories and 3 second place finishes in the first 6 races, whilst Hamilton was only able to achieve 4 podium finishes in that time. By this time, Vettel led the championship by 25 points.

Tensions between Vettel and Hamilton were beginning to boil over however, as an incident under the safety car in Azerbaijan saw Lewis and Sebastian both fail to finish on the podium. Hamilton was leading when the safety car was called out with Vettel right behind him. Coming out of Turn 15, Vettel accelerated a lot more than Hamilton, subsequently causing the German to run into the back of him. Vettel wrongly believed that Lewis had brake-checked him and came alongside the Mercedes driver and drove into him. Sebastian was later given a ten second stop/go penalty for this incident. Whilst Vettel served his penalty, Hamilton’s head restraint started to come loose and he was forced to pit on safety grounds to fix it. Lewis eventually finished behind Sebastian with Daniel Ricciardo winning the race, despite dropping to the back of the field on Lap 1. It would be one of the most exciting races of 2017.

Despite a penalty for a moment of road rage, Vettel still managed to finish ahead of Hamilton in Baku in 2017 – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

Silverstone has always been a special place for Lewis, and that proved to be so in 2017. Lewis himself had a comfortable lead throughout the entire race, but his luck really played out when both Ferraris suffered punctures. Vettel’s puncture came at the worst possible time for him, as he had to crawl almost the entire way around the track on 3 wheels. With Lewis winning the race and Sebastian finishing seventh, the gap in championship was down to just a single point in Vettel’s favour.

Lewis, however, is famous for coming alive in the second half of seasons and 2017 was no different. Victories in Belgium and Italy preceded a victory in the infamous 2017 Singapore Grand Prix. Hamilton started a lot lower down the order than expected, but rain before the race had started to cause some intrigue. The drivers arrived in their grid slots at the end of the formation lap and the lights started to turn on. As they turned out, Vettel moved over to the left-hand side of the track in order to cover off Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Unbeknownst to Vettel however, his teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, had made an even better start and was on the other side of Verstappen. Three cars tried to be in one place at the same time and all three crashed out of the race, allowing Hamilton to take the lead; something he would not go on to lose.

A dramatic collision off the line saw Vettel, Raikkonen and Max Verstappen retire from the race in Singapore in 2017 – Courtesy of LAT Images

Victory in Japan and then the USA saw Hamilton place one hand on the championship, especially after Vettel retired in Japan following a spark plug problem. Lewis went into the Mexican Grand Prix just needing to fail to be outscored by Vettel by 16 points to have an unattainable lead over the rest of the field. However, it would not be as simple as it appears. Following a long run off the line into the first corner, Vettel, Verstappen and Hamilton were all jostling for the lead into Turn 1. Then, disaster struck, as contact with Verstappen caused Vettel to puncture Lewis’ rear tire as he himself sustained significant wing damage. Both came into the pits at the end of the first lap and the rest of the race became a reconnaissance mission. Vettel was able to climb his way back to fourth position, whilst Lewis could only finish P9. This, though, was enough to secure Lewis the championship.

Hamilton’s ninth-placed finish was enough to earn him his fourth world championship at the Mexican Grand Prix in 2017 – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

The 2017 season gave birth to the Vettel-Hamilton rivalry; something that was much needed for the sport to be entertaining. Lewis’ new teammate Valtteri Bottas proved to be an excellent number two driver, but just couldn’t match Hamilton across the entire season and so, had it not been for Vettel and Ferrari, we would have been in for a very uninteresting season. It was a season in which the championship was neck and neck for large portions but, in the end, it was Lewis who was able to match Sebastian on 4 world drivers championship titles.

2018:

Many saw the 2018 season as the “race to five championships” as Hamilton and Vettel looked to renew their rivalry coming into the new campaign. As with the season prior, Ferrari looked to be on par with Hamilton and Mercedes, and it’s safe to say Bottas did not.

Vettel started the season strongly, taking victory in the first two rounds in Australia and Bahrain to immediately put him in the lead of the championship. Hamilton bounced back in Azerbaijan, though, after he capitalised on an unfortunate incident that gave teammate Bottas (who was winning at the time) a puncture and caused him to retire. It was believed that the puncture was caused by some debris that had not been removed following the safety car restart. The victory moved Hamilton into the lead of the championship by just four points over Vettel.

Race winner Hamilton consoles Valtteri Bottas after a penultimate lap puncture cost the Finn victory at the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

The championship swung again in Austria, where both Hamilton and Bottas suffered from engine and gearbox troubles and were both forced to retire from the race. With Vettel finishing in 3rd, he retook the championship lead by a single point. This was then extended to eight points the following race as Vettel took the victory at Silverstone – Hamilton’s “back yard”.

It was ultimately Lewis who had the last laugh though as a very tricky race in Germany saw Vettel crash in changing conditions and Hamilton win. After an issue in Qualifying 1 prevented him from completing the rest of qualifying, Lewis started from 14th place on the grid. The race began and Vettel was comfortably leading the way, whilst Lewis slowly climbed up the order. Then the rain started  to fall. In the wet conditions, race leader Vettel locked up his brakes and got buried in the gravel trap. He was out. In order to retrieve Vettel’s stricken car, the stewards brought out a safety car and Bottas, who had inherited the race lead, was pitted.

The team, however, were not ready for him and the resulting chaos meant he was stationary for twenty seconds. A miscommunication with his engineer also saw Hamilton begin to come into the pits but change his mind, causing him to allegedly cross the white line. He then took the victory but was summoned to the stewards for the pit lane incident. Hamilton was not given a penalty, a decision which many saw as controversial. This was the turning point in the championship.

Hamilton claimed victory in a remarkable and dramatic German grand prix in 2018 – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

Lewis went on to win five of the next six races, whilst Vettel continued to struggle under the pressure. The gap between the pair had grown to 70 points heading into the Mexican Grand Prix and all Hamilton had to do to claim his 5th world drivers championship was fail to be outscored by Vettel by 21 points. The race itself was largely uneventful as Hamilton sought to secure his position (4th) and thereby the championship. Lewis now had an unattainable lead over second place Vettel and the championship was sealed with two races to go.

When you look back on the 2018 season, you can’t help but think that Vettel’s unforced error in Germany affected him greatly. From that point forward, Hamilton and Mercedes were streaks ahead of the rest and only Bottas had a chance at challenging him. For the second season in a row Bottas failed to do so. Lewis had had an incredibly consistent year, rarely finishing off of the podium. He was the deserved champion, and Juan Manuel Fangio’s number of titles had just been equaled.

For the second consecutive year, Hamilton claimed the championship in Mexico in 2018 – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

2019:

It’s fair to say Mercedes hadn’t truly dominated the sport for a couple of seasons; they took it upon themselves to put that right. The opening five races were 1-2s for the German team as Hamilton won 3 and Bottas won 2. In order for the viewers to have a championship battle to watch, Bottas needed to step up his game from 2018. And to his credit, he did.

Despite Bottas’ uptake in form, it was still not quick enough to cause Lewis too many problems, with the Brit having won 7 of the 10 completed races heading into Germany. But Germany 2019 was an uncharacteristic race for Lewis to say the least. The race eventually started in heavy rain after several formation laps, then the chaos started.

The tricky conditions saw drivers were unable to keep the car in a straight line, spinning off and crashing constantly. On Lap 22, Leclerc was a victim of the slippery track and got beached into the gravel. Hamilton joined him that same lap, making contact with the wall, but unlike Leclerc was able to get out of the gravel trap. Lewis needed to pit but in doing so crossed the same white line he allegedly crossed at the same track the year prior.

Panic ensued in the Mercedes garage as they were not expecting Lewis and did not have the tries or a new front wing ready. To top it off, Lewis received a penalty for crossing the white line. Later on in the race, Hamilton spun at turn one; this time just avoiding the barriers. His teammate also spun there, but was not so lucky. In a race where Bottas could have capitalised on Hamilton’s errors, the Finn went home empty handed as Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took the victory. By this stage the gap in the championship was 41 points.

Max Verstappen won a phenomenal German Grand Prix after a disastrous day for Mercedes – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

After the summer break, Ferrari  – who had looked good on one lap pace all season – were finally able to take three victories in a row, the first being the tough weekend in Belgium which had seen the loss of rising star Anthoine Hubert in the F2 Feature Race. Ferrari’s pace wouldn’t last long though as Hamilton won in Russia, and then again in Mexico, sandwiching a Bottas victory in Japan. Going into the US Grand Prix, Bottas needed to outscore Lewis by 22 points to prevent him from taking the title. The weekend started well for the Finn as he took pole with Lewis down in fifth. Bottas went on to win the race, but with Lewis finishing second, the championship had been sealed.

Despite Bottas’ victory, Hamilton’s second placed finish sealed his sixth world title – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

With the Mercedes being as dominant as they were at the start of the season, the responsibility of having a championship battle rested solely on Bottas’ shoulders.  Whilst his performances were much improved, he could not match Lewis’ consistency and some impressive drives made branded him a deserved winner. Lewis Hamilton was by now a six time world champion. Roll on 2020!

2020:

How else can you describe 2020 other than “it was 2020”? A season that was hotly tipped to be incredible ground to a halt before it even got started in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After a considerable time away from the track, the season did eventually start with a new-look race calendar in Austria.

When the teams arrived in Austria, it was Mercedes yet again who dominated the field. The main challengers from prior seasons, Ferrari, had endured a woeful time developing the car and they had become the fifth and occasionally even sixth fastest team. The only team that could challenge Mercedes would be Red Bull, whose car was not fast enough to be a true title contender. Yet again, a title battle rested on Bottas’ shoulders.

Bottas started the season the stronger of the two Mercedes drivers, winning a crazy first race which saw just 11 finishers. Hamilton crossed the line in second place but was dropped down to fourth after he received a penalty for causing a collision with Alex Albon.

Bottas’ victory in the first race in Austria has been one of the few highlights of the season for the Finn – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

Lewis bounced back in the following two races, however, taking victory in both the second race in Austria, and the Hungarian Grand Prix.

This saw Lewis enter the first race in Silverstone five points clear of Bottas in the championship standings. Hamilton started on pole at the British Grand Prix and looked comfortable in the lead for almost the entire race. However, in the dying laps, teammate Valtteri Bottas started complaining of vibrations on his tires. Soon after that, his front left tire became punctured and he dropped to the back of the pack as he made a pit stop. To add to the drama, on the final lap, Hamilton’s left front also blew out and he was forced to complete the race with only three inflated wheels, a la Lightning McQueen. Second placed Max Verstappen slowly closed the gap between him and Lewis, just falling short at the line as Lewis took an unprecedented victory.

Following a bizarre final few laps, Hamilton won the British Grand Prix this year – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

Further victories in Spain and Belgium meant Lewis went into the Italian Grand Prix 47 points clear of Max Verstappen, who had overtaken Bottas for 2nd in the championship. But the Italian Grand Prix proved tricky for Hamilton, who was only able to finish seventh, despite starting on pole. A rare loss of concentration meant Lewis came into the pits after it had closed and subsequently picked up a ten second stop/go penalty. Bottas, whose only issue that race was that he didn’t feel like being quick, failed to capitalise on Lewis’ error. Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly went on to take the victory – a very popular winner.

A pit lane blunder from Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes in Monza opened the door for a remarkable Pierre Gasly win – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Victories in four of the next five races meant Hamilton went into a slippery Turkish Grand Prix needing to avoid being outscored by Bottas by eight points to retain the title. Rain, paired with the resurfacing of the track, meant there was very little grip and we were in for a cracking grand prix. Racing Point’s Lance Stroll led from pole position and it looked as if we would have a new race winner.

However, after the first round of pit stops, Stroll dropped off in pace and Lewis was slowly starting to get quicker. As the track dried, Hamilton was one of the few drivers able to keep his car in a straight line and as his tires wore out, the wet weather intermediate tire became more like a very soft slick, allowing him to keep them in a good temperature window. The way he nursed the tires to the end of the race and took victory was extremely impressive. It was a race deserving of sealing his seventh title.

2020 has posed many challenges to the teams and drivers, but the ever-adaptable Lewis Hamilton showed us once again why he deserved to win the championship this season.

Hamilton will now be gunning for an eighth world championship and the title of the most successful driver in Formula One history – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

So, they are Lewis’ seven world championships to date. Throughout his career he has shown the world the sheer amount of talent he has. Yes, he has had the best car for almost all of his championships, but it is near impossible to win one without the best car, especially with the amount of races we see today. To suggest it is all the car is also naive. If it were all the car, how come Rosberg didn’t beat him more often? How come Bottas isn’t closer in pace? The truth is Hamilton is one of the sport’s all-time greatest drivers and thoroughly deserves to be a seven time world champion. Many believed Schumacher’s records would not be broken for a long time, but Hamilton has now matched him and could potentially beat him next year. He is one of the most successful drivers in the sport and still he rises!

2020 Turkish Grand Prix Preview

After a nine-year absence, Formula One will finally make its long-awaited return to Intercity Istanbul Park this weekend, as F1 gears up for the final four rounds of the championship.

With Mercedes having sealed a remarkable seventh-straight Constructors’ Championship in Imola last race, Lewis Hamilton has his sights set on a seventh drivers’ title, and could achieve such if he finishes within seven points of Bottas – so a P2 would seal the deal so long as the Finn does not take the fastest lap.

The Silver Arrows pair are now the only two drivers left who have a mathematical chance of winning the title, and Bottas’ efforts both for the team and his own championship gains have been praised by Hamilton. The championship leader has paid tribute to Bottas in the last week, saying that he “does not get the credit he deserves,” describing him as an “amazing team mate” both on and off the track.

Valtteri Bottas stands on the podium after winning the Russian Grand prix – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

Overall, the pair have blown away the competition from the excellent Max Verstappen and Red Bull, at the track where, last time a Formula One race was held, Sebastian Vettel won for the Milton Keynes-based outfit.

This was, of course, a time of the last great period of dominance in the sport, but Mercedes have since far surpassed that, and Vettel’s new employers Ferrari, who last won this race in 2008 with Felipe Massa, have flattered to deceive in a hugely underwhelming 2020.

Felipe Massa was the last Ferrari driver to win in Turkey 12 years ago – Courtesy of Ferrari media

Living fairly vicariously on their past successes, the Italian team’s performance improvement, particularly with Charles Leclerc, has not gone unnoticed, but they are now a world away even from the 2018 car that almost carried Vettel to title victory.

However, perhaps even more enticing is the incredibly engaging battle for fourth in the drivers’ championship and third in the constructors’. Two-time podium finisher this year Daniel Ricciardo leads Leclerc by 10 points, with a further 22 points covering the six positions between fifth and tenth.

Daniel Ricciardo’s two impressive podiums have put him in fourth in the championship – Courtesy of Renault Media

Holding that tenth spot is Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly, who sits just one point behind Alex Albon in the senior Red Bull team. The Thai-Brit will be more than aware that he has less than a handful of races left to impress Christian Horner and Helmut Marko enough to convince them to give him a drive in 2021. His unfortunate error of judgement the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix left him 118 points off Lewis Hamilton and 98 points behind team mate Verstappen.

This weekend very much has an end-of-season feel about it, as Mercedes look to build on their success, teams and drivers vie for best of the rest, and drivers set out to Istanbul with a point to prove for next year.

The 5.3 Kilometre Istanbul circuit has been one of the magnificent bi-products of the Coronavirus-hit season, and it is unlikely that we will see it on a Formula One calendar again after this year, so enjoy it!