Home is where the heart is for Red Bull – Austrian GP preview

The Formula One circus stays in the Styrian mountains as the Red Bull Ring plays host to the Austrian Grand Prix, just seven days after Max Verstappen claimed victory at the same circuit in the Styrian Grand Prix.

It would take a brave person to bet against Verstappen taking his third consecutive victory on Sunday, given his dominant performance last weekend. Sergio Perez will be hoping he can make it two Red Bulls on the podium, after coming within a second of Valtteri Bottas in the previous race.

A double podium is probably the best case scenario once again for Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton making a rare trip to the Brackley simulator in an aim to extract every last inch of performance out of his car. The quick turnaround means no upgrades for this race, and there are mixed messages from the Mercedes camp regarding how much more development we will see on their 2021 car.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes (LAT Images / Mercedes AMG F1)

The pace from the top two teams meant Ferrari and McLaren were once again left fighting for fifth. Although it was Lando Norris who won the midfield battle last weekend, Daniel Ricciardo was showing good pace before reliability troubles dropped him down the order. Ferrari will also be hoping for a smoother weekend from Charles Leclerc, who showed some inspired moves after being controversially involved in Pierre Gasly’s retirement.

AlphaTauri, Alpine and Aston Martin will look to pick up some of the lesser points once again, in what looks to be one of the tightest midfield battles for years. Strategy could well be key in this battle, as free air is hard to come by on the track with the shortest lap time of the year. Pirelli are also bringing softer tyres to the Austrian GP than they did at the Styrian round, which might lead to more action in the pitlane.

For George Russell, he will be hoping his pitlane action is much more conventional this weekend. A pneumatic leak cost him a shot at his first ever points for Williams, with the Brit admitting that there’s no guarantee he will be able to replicate that performance again this time around. His teammate will also be hoping for a better result, after being an innocent victim in last weekend’s lap one shenanigans.

 

Alfa Romeo will be hoping they can sneak a point, after just missing out with Kimi Raikkonen last time around. The intriguing battle between the Haas cars will also be one to watch, as Mick Schumacher and his teammate battle for inter-team supremacy, which must be a small ray of light in a very difficult debut season for both drivers.

It’s fair to say last week’s race was not a classic, but different tyres (and possibly different weather) could make the Austrian GP an entirely different beast indeed.

 

Is Experience the Best Teacher?

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix was definitely a race that was missed during 2020. A street circuit which often produces some exciting racing, testing overall straight line speed but allows for overtaking whilst testing the driver’s abilities to be calculated and precise enough to thread the car through the high walls of the circuit.

image courtesy of Getty images/ Red Bull content pool

Experience in an Formula 1 car is often key at tricky circuits like this, which shone through during this race, which did not disappoint. This week it seemed to be all about the older drivers putting in some epic performances which we know they are very capable of. They did give the young guns a run for their money, but it didn’t work out for all of them. Most drivers had solid races at Baku, but the skill of some of the experienced drivers was evident during the race, meaning they were able to maximise on what was a crazy race.

Perez is well known for his experience in an F1 car. Racing since 2011 in F1, he has learned a few things to keep in the mix when it counts, and this race was a clear example of that. In the early stages of the race he was able to keep up with Verstappen whilst keeping the 7 time world champion behind him under constant pressure. He managed his tyres well, showing pace in them during the pitstops, and had it not been for a slow pitstop he may have come out in front of his teammate. During the red flag restart, it would have been easy to get caught up with Hamilton going straight on down into turn 1 if he hadn’t backed out of the move. Even though in his F1 career he has very rarely been at the front, he handled the pressure absolutely perfectly to come out on top with a very deserved win.

Clearly full of confidence after a fantastic performance in Monaco, Sebastian Vettel had an incredible race and a solid weekend all round. Had it not been for the red flag at the end of Q2, he was looking at an almost certain top 10 qualifying, adding to the excellent qualifying from the previous race. After qualifying P11, finishing in P2 was absolutely deserved, and he showed his pace in the Aston Martin early on. During the first round of pitstops he gained the lead by default as the front runners changed their tyres earlier than expected. Vettel was able to manage the soft tyres whilst still pulling a gap on his rivals to then come out P7 after his pitstop. On the safety car restart he showed his experience again, navigating his way past Leclerc without contact despite getting very close. Vettel has gotten used to the new car very quickly, showing he has enough trust to make moves during both the restarts. A resurgence from him is definitely what the fans wanted after a not so great year with Ferrari in 2020.

Alonso had a highly anticipated return to F1 at the beginning of the season, however so far he hasn’t been so successful, being out qualified and finishing behind his teammate Ocon on Sunday. This could be down to getting used to F1 again after his time away from the series, along with getting used to a new car with a relatively new team under new management. Watching his on board camera from the restart after the red flag, he clearly showed why he is a double world champion. Starting on the grid in P10, he made up for places to finish P6 by the end of the 2 lap sprint. What is striking about his on board though, is the skill involved. He had the inside line into turn 1 but was being squeezed by Sainz, who also had Ricciardo on the outside. Alonso did not make contact with the wall or the other cars during any of this. He then demonstrated his race craft by waiting for the right moment on the same lap to overtake Tsunoda. This created an epic finish for him, the likes of which we were used to seeing before.

The oldest man on the grid did not want to miss out on the action, as is normal for Kimi Raikkonen. For him the highlight of the day was a skillful move on Bottas into turn 7, the slowest on the track, during the safety car restart. Raikkonen has shown throughout his time at Alfa Romeo that he still has plenty of talent to keep him in F1 and finishing in the points with moves like this are often the reason for this.

When talking about the experienced drivers on the grid, Lewis Hamilton is part of this conversation being extremely consistent and changing his style over time. However, the incident after the red flag restart was a rare mistake from him, the team revealing afterwards that he had flicked on the magic brake button whilst changing gears. This changed the brake bypass to mostly front end, meaning the car couldn’t stop before the turn. This admittedly makes the error an odd one because this has never happened before, despite the buttons position never really moving. They say it’s best to learn from your mistakes and Hamilton says they will grow as a team.

Overall, Mercedes had a terrible weekend. This is where the team experience came in, allowing them to try different set ups, strategy’s, and tactics to get the most out of a seemingly lacklustre performance from the car all weekend. By the end of Q3, the changes made to Hamilton’s car were successful with him managing to secure P2. Bottas on the other hand was arguably hampered by the red flag at the end of the session but suffered massively during the race. The Mercedes is not known for its great ability to pass other cars in the midfield, but with what appeared to be the quickest straight line speed and the power of the slipstream, a few DRS based moves into turn 1 were expected. Instead Bottas made his way backwards at the restarts and didn’t perform well. However, he did have a different rear wing to Hamilton, which the team confirmed as driver preference, this may have ultimately hampered him when trying to overtake.

Looking forward to the next couple of weeks, Mercedes will need to win in France to make up the points in the constructor’s championship after having lost more to the RedBulls this week. The outcome of the race could also have a huge impact on the Driver championship, with the front runners not gaining any points this week, it is massively important they maximise each race, as cancellations become more frequent and look to threaten the 23 race calendar. France is not known for amazing action over the last few years, but with the 2021 season we are having it could be unpredictable.

Class of 92: Portuguese Grand Prix Preview

Back we come then to the scene of Lewis Hamilton’s 92nd Grand Prix victory in Formula One, and the seven-time champion seeks to use the energy of what has become a historic venue in the sport after just one race.

The theme of 2021 though, variably from Mercedes’ almost-unanswered dominance last year, has been the emergence of Max Verstappen as a genuine title contender.

With one win a piece, Hamilton is locked in a battle with Red Bull’s enigmatic Dutchman. A tricky, technical yet powerful circuit will be a test of both their skill and, almost as intriguingly, a test of Honda’s ability to challenge Mercedes this year.

Verstappen will also know that he has a team mate this year that can back him up. Sergio Perez out-qualified Verstappen by a slender margin last time out in Imola, but huge slices of misfortune in both of the opening two rounds have hindered the Mexican’s season thus far. There is no doubting, however, that he can be a huge help to Verstappen this weekend when strategies play out. Though in saying that, his hugely impressive pace will make him believe there are victories and title challenges on the cards for him behind the wheel of a Red Bull.

Sergio Perez has thus far proven himself an extremely able performer for Red Bull – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Part of the reason that strategies will be important is that it is difficult to overtake at Portimao; there are so many high-speed corners and few heavy braking zones – just ask Lance Stroll and Lando Norris how difficult it is to go side-by-side in Algarve.

This difficulty means that Valtteri Bottas, if he is to prove himself a useful backup to Hamilton and mount any sort of championship bid of his own, needs a big performance. His one-lap pace will need to be strong, as well as his race pace to hold off what will be an uber-competitive leading pack.

Bottas’ incident with Williams’ George Russell two weeks ago heated up what was already an intense rivalry for the Mercedes seat next season, although it is worth noting that Hamilton still does not have a contract beyond 2021.

Bottas comes into this weekend needing a statement performance – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

Largely disappointing so far have been Alpine and Aston Martin. Fernando Alonso crashed before the start in Imola, compounding the French team’s tricky beginning to 2021. Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll were both put on the back foot through brake trouble before the race start; they are hoping for a trouble-free weekend in Portugal to give them the platform to succeed here. They still maintain that the current regulations adversely affect low-rake teams.

Title credentials are still to be established, rivalries are intensifying, and this weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix is set to be a huge one.

‘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 PĂ©rez 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, RÀikkönen, 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 RĂ€ikkönen 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 PĂ©rez 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, PĂ©rez 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 PĂ©rez despite the Mexican being spun on the first lap. The following lap, Albon was then passed by PĂ©rez 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 PĂ©rez 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 PĂ©rez. 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 PĂ©rez, 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 PĂ©rez who was a long way up the road.

Russell was eating into PĂ©rez’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 PĂ©rez 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 PĂ©rez 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 PĂ©rez 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.