Brazilian GP: Albon tops FP1 despite crashing out, as Ferrari lead FP2

FP1 – A Damp Day on Track

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – NOVEMBER 15: Alexander Albon of Thailand driving the (23) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB15 on track during practice for the F1 Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 15, 2019 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Red Bull’s Alex Albon set the fastest lap in FP1, before bringing out the red flag to end the session after crashing out on slicks in drying conditions.

He topped the session with a 1:16.142, set shortly before he hit the wall at Juncao, with Valtteri Bottas second with a 1:16.693 and Sebastian Vettel in third with a 1:17.041. However, the morning’s session looked unlikely to be representative as the session started off wet and dried out slowly, with slick tyres not being seen until the final five minutes of the session.

The adverse conditions led to limited running, with four drivers – including Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen – not setting timed laps. Nicholas Latifi took the place of Robert Kubica, the driver he is expected to replace at Williams in 2020, in his sixth FP1 session of the season.

The session got off to a slow and soggy start, with Carlos Sainz the only driver to set a lap time in the early stages, with Lewis Hamilton and then Charles Leclerc the first drivers to emerge on intermediates just over the half-way point in the session.

With five minutes remaining, a flurry of cars came out on slick tyres, with both Red Bulls suffering problems in the damp conditions, but several drivers found the conditions challenging. Verstappen and Daniil Kvyat both suffered spin, and the session was brought to an end when Alex Albon hit the barriers.

FP2 – Ferrari on Top

GP BRASILE F1/2019 – VENERDÌ 15/11/2019
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

By the time FP2 came around, conditions had improved, and despite reports of raindrops mid-session, the rain stayed away enough to avoid a switch to intermediates.

The two Ferraris topped the timesheets, with Sebastian Vettel in first with a 1:09.217. Leclerc, who has a ten place grid penalty owing to an ICE change this weekend, set a 1:09.238 in second. Verstappen was third, and the Mercedes cars of Bottas and Hamilton were fourth and fifth respectively.

The midfield battle looked as close as ever, with a little over four tenths of a second separating the Haas of Kevin Magnussen in sixth and the Racing Point of Lance Stroll in 17th.

The session was red flagged early on as Robert Kubica’s Williams hit the wall before he was even able to set a lap time, scattering debris all around and likely creating some headaches for Williams, who have been beset by a shortage of parts this season.

Verstappen set the early pace before being usurped by the Ferraris at the top of the table, while Valtteri Bottas created some hairy moments for both teammate Lewis Hamilton and the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, failing to move out of the way as they came past on flying laps. Bottas and Leclerc also had a close shave in the pit lane, but the stewards deemed an investigation unnecessary.

Pierre Gasly parked up with 20 minutes to go with a probable engine issue, his car exuding plumes of smoke. The other Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat brought out the red flag to end the session, with Kvyat coming to a stop in the same place as Albon in FP1. However, Kvyat’s incident was likely to be mechanical as his dash appeared to cut off, sending him off the track.

 

[Featured image – Scuderia Ferrari Press Office]

Why Red Bull’s misuse of Super Formula needs to end

A typhoon warning may have left the Suzuka circuit barren, but if thoughts were the metric to go by the minds of Pierre Gasly and Helmut Marko’s were anything but. They were only half-a-point away from the ultimate prize, after all.

Pierre had his own considerations, certainly about how he was staring down a double-barrel gun of success (were he to prevail, he’d be the first overseas champion since Andre Lotterer in 2011, first rookie since Ralf Schumacher in 1996 and first overall for both since the renaming from Formula Nippon in 2013), but Marko’s were likely about just what a blinder they’d played with their decision.

Opting not to fast-track Gasly into a Toro Rosso F1 seat after his 2016 GP2 title win, the time spent putting noses out of joint in Japan’s elite open-wheel series looked every inch a masterstroke. Red Bull and Honda’s relationship began to blossom and their next hopeful’s confidence was sky-high. It offered another nugget to chew on, too: did they need to bother with the de-facto ladder to F1 at all?

Two years on, it’s almost time for the Suzuka finale once again. There’s not been a Red Bull-backed entry in the renamed F2 full-time since Gasly, and yet three of their academy hopefuls have featured in Super Formula just this season. None of them have replicated anything like the silky form of their French predecessor, nor have they been given the chance.

The #15 Team Mugen car, one of two Red Bull-backed seats in the series, began the season in the hands of the controversial Dan Ticktum. Dan had only just graduated from European F3 the season before, and toiled in the Asian Series not long after, yet Red Bull saw the risk of placing their baby cub into the lion pit of sage ex-F1, DTM and WEC drivers as a worthwhile one.

Dutch Photo Agency/Red Bull Content Pool

Three races, three struggling endeavours and a solitary point later, allegations of Ticktum’s attitude hitting rock bottom and even acts of assault on a Mugen team member had the Brit packing his bags for the first flight out of both Japan and the Red Bull Junior Programme. It spelled disaster for a man the casino chips were placed on, but as luck would have it the energy drink colossus had snagged a promising IndyCar driver struggling for funds in Patricio O’Ward.

The new poster child of the Junior Programme, the dust was brushed off the seat of the #15 car and Pato was placed firmly inside, in an attempt to acclimatise the 20 year old Mexican into more traditional open-wheel racing alongside a crack of the F2 whip in Austria as a one-off. 

Three races, three growingly impressive efforts and three points later, Pato has now disembarked from the Red Bull train after just four months and four events raced under the Junior Programme’s tutelage. Bereft of expected Super Licence points, the jig was up. The #15 Team Mugen welcomes it’s third Red-Bull backed starlet in Estonian F3 graduate Juri Vips while Pato looks set to make up for lost time back in IndyCar for 2020.

Three. Drivers. Let’s evaluate the season: an F3 graduate, short (admittedly of his own fault) on confidence and recent career racing, was deemed a worthy competitor for Super Formula’s high calibre. Once his old habits and inexperience set ablaze his title chances, Red Bull replaced him with a similarly inexperienced prospect mid-season. Pato’s North American schooling was given all of three events to be repurposed before a short-term fast-tracking broke down, and now another F3 graduate is taking the mantle for the finale.

Aside from Red Bull’s other championship effort, Lucas Auer – an ex-DTM driver deemed unlikely to ever be in their future F1 plans – who sits third in the table, the Junior Programme’s 2019 trip east has been an unmitigated disaster. One driver was thrown into the deep end too soon, and the other was submerged in the waves even sooner, and was deemed little more than a vanity project the moment the plan A for him became an impossibility.

Dutch Photo Agency/Red Bull Content Pool

Gasly, like other F1-attached junior drives such as Stoffel Vandoorne, were able to not only survive but succeed in Super Formula because they were at the tail-end of their growth. Two GP2 champions, brimmed with open-wheel experience and virtually ready for the big time, they had the necessary time to grow stronger and wiser before they were unleashed on a series filled with stalwarts in the primes of their careers. F3 and inexperienced Indy graduates aren’t at such a level and either need to be given the time to acclimatise, or not be placed there at all.

Red Bull’s usage of Super Formula as an alternative to F2 has been one marred with underestimation of what it takes to succeed in the series, and drastically short-term ambitions for the drivers they deem fit to place in it. Ticktum’s warning signs were well apparent even before he made the leap, and yet Red Bull didn’t recognise the error they were making. Pato was beginning to adjust to a jarring challenge with aplomb, yet Red Bull have no desire to see his development through, and now Vips stands to be deemed fit for a 2020 Team Mugen seat despite his own premature stage of development.

In a way, it’s a sign of just how far Red Bull’s Junior Programme has fallen; what was once an environment in which talent aplenty flowed through the mains, and World Championships were wringed out of the system, is now a barren wasteland frequently topped up with drivers they’d deemed inadequate years ago or bundled into F1 without prior funding. Current Red Bull Racing duo, Max Verstappen and Alex Albon, are signs of this.

Max never suffered rejection from the programme, but neither can it lay claim to truly nurturing him pre-F1 – he spent all of one week in it before being announced as a 2015 Toro Rosso race driver, and was already a made man by the time they inquired for his services – while Alex spent a solitary season with them in 2012 before being released. 

Toro Rosso now sees two drivers who were both ruled as unneeded at the A-team and sent to bide their time back in Faenza, with Daniil in particular even being dropped from the Red Bull lifeline for over a year in 2017 before, once again, the talent tank ran dry and an ex-employee’s services were required. Recent Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley is another example of such a scenario.

The Super Formula experiment is backfiring for Red Bull, and it’s of their own doing. Shunning a ready-made proving ground in F2 and treating the proud, developed Super Formula as a junior series without consideration for the culture shock it provides to drivers not yet properly developed has and will continue to be a disaster, and for every victim it creates there aren’t enough phone numbers in the exes list to realistically ring as last resorts. It had Pierre teetering on the edge of glory two years ago; it has the Junior Team on the brink of implosion now.

 

[Featured image – Sho Tamura / Red Bull Content Pool]

Singapore GP preview: Mercedes favourites at Marina Bay

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

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

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

Paul Ripke / Mercedes AMG

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

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

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

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

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

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

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

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

Haas F1 Media

F3 Italy: Tsunoda takes first win in sprint race

Honda and Red Bull junior Yuki Tsunoda took his first Formula 3 win during the wet-dry Monza sprint race, seeing off challenges from Liam Lawson and Jake Hughes.

Tsunoda made a rapid start from sixth on the grid and joined Hughes and Pedro Piquet in challenging reverse polesitter Fabio Scherer for the lead into Turn 1. Hughes emerged from the Rettifilo in the lead, with Tsunoda slotting into third behind Scherer after muscling past Piquet through the chicane.

By the end of the second lap, Tsunoda had already passed Scherer for second while the Swiss driver struggled in the wet conditions, and stayed tight to the back of race leader Hughes.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Tsunoda’s charge was hindered by a couple of mistakes, which dropped him over three seconds behind Hughes by lap 9 and forced Tsunoda to defend briefly from Scherer and fellow Red Bull junior Lawson.

But as the track dried out, Hughes struggled to keep his wet weather tyres cool and Tsunoda put in a series of quick laps to close back up to the front. Within five laps Tsunoda was already within a second of Hughes, and on lap 15 the Japanese driver swept around the outside of Hughes into Turn 1 to take the lead.

Hughes briefly retook the lead on lap 16 following a mistake from Tsunoda, but Tsunoda regained it the following lap with a dive to the inside of Turn 1.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

The battle for the remaining podium positions continued throughout the race. Scherer held onto third for a while but was unable to keep pace with Hughes and Tsunoda in front, which brought Lawson and Richard Verschoor onto his gearbox.

At the start of lap 10 Lawson forced Scherer into a mistake at the Rettifilo and moved into third. Richard Verschoor also took advantage of Scherer’s error to take fourth place shortly after, and put pressure on his MP Motorsport teammate Lawson for third, although Lawson managed to see off the challenge in the end.

Tsunoda and Hughes’ battle at the front allowed Lawson to draw up to the back of them. After Tsunoda saw off Hughes’ resurgence on lap 16, Lawson then managed to reel in the HWA driver and take away second place into Turn 1.

As the race entered its final phase Lawson looked as though he had the pace to challenge Tsunoda for the win, as he closed up to within a second of the Jenzer driver by lap 20. But Tsunoda responded to the challenge and opened the gap back up, and by the end of lap 22 he beat Lawson across the line by 1.5 seconds.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Hughes held onto third ahead of Verschoor, while Scherer dropped back through the order to finish seventh behind Piquet and Leo Pulcini. The final point went to championship leader Robert Shwartzman, after he beat ART’s Christian Lundgaard to eighth by 0.067s across the line.

Shwartzman leaves Monza with a 33-point lead over title rival and Prema teammate Jehan Daruvala, with 48 still remaining at the Sochi finale. Juri Vips and Marcus Armstrong, who both finished outside the points in both rounds this weekend, are no longer in contention for the title.

Tsunoda’s sprint race win and third place in the feature race move him up to eighth in the championship.

F3 Belgium: Armstrong untouchable in Spa sprint race

Prema Racing’s Marcus Armstrong took his second Formula 3 victory of 2019 at the sprint race in Belgium, as a fierce battle for the podium positions behind allowed him to cruise away in the lead.

Armstrong made a good start from reverse grid pole to cover off a challenge from Hitech’s Leo Pulcini, who started second on the grid. Pulcini then found himself sandwiched between Red Bull juniors Yuki Tsunoda and Juri Vips going into the La Source hairpin, where he made contact with Tsunoda trying to defend second. This forced Pulcini wide, where he in turn banged wheels with Vips on the outside of the corner and sent the Estonian driver onto the run off.

With Pulcini and Vips dropping back, Tsunoda assumed second place and ART’s Christian Lundgaard took third ahead of championship leader Robert Shwartzman. Pulcini initially filtered back into fifth between Shwartzman and Jehan Daruvala, but was passed by the final Prema into Les Combes on lap 3.

Meanwhile, Vips dropped back to eighth and immediately had to defend from Max Fewtrell’s ART. Fewtrell got the move done into the bus stop chicane at the end of lap 2, demoting Vips out of the sprint race points. Behind them, Logan Sargent got involved in his second incident of the weekend by spinning around MP Motorsport’s Liam Lawson.

Gareth Harford, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

On lap 4, the safety car was deployed after Simo Laaksonen lost control of his car at Blanchimont while fighting Alex Peroni and ended up deep in the barriers. The medical car was deployed to bring him to the medical centre for treatment, although initial reports are that Laaksonen is not badly injured.

The race resumed on lap 9 of 17, and the restart brought incidents throughout the field. Vips ran into the back of Fewtrell trying to retake eighth and broke off his front wing in the process, which left the Red Bull junior vulnerable to Fewtrell’s ART teammate David Beckmann. Vips shortly dropped to the back of the field, where he was joined by Jake Hughes and Devlin DeFrancesco, who collided going into Les Combes.

At the front, Armstrong opened up a lead of 1.4 seconds over Tsunoda at the restart. Tsunoda seemed to struggle during this second phase of the race, and within a few laps was under pressure from Lundgaard. The Dane closed up to within half a second, then on lap 14 dove down the inside of Tsunoda and took second place.

Gareth Harford, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

However, Tsunoda kept with Lundgaard and on the following lap tried to retake the position around the outside of Les Combes. Although that move was unsuccessful, Tsunoda managed to beat Lundgaard on the inside there on the following lap, after Lundgaard ran into his rev limiter defending down the Kemmel Straight.

Losing second to Tsunoda dropped Lundgaard back into the clutches of Shwartzman, who was only three tenths behind the ART. On the final lap and again at Les Combes, Shwartzman moved up the inside and took his seventh podium of the year, and second of the Spa weekend.

At the end of lap 17 Armstrong crossed the line with four seconds in hand over Tsunoda and Shwartzman. Lundgaard held on to fourth ahead of Daruvala, Saturday’s feature race winner Pedro Piquet took sixth place from Pulcini, and the final point went to Carlin’s Teppei Natori after Fewtrell retired from eighth with a puncture.

After the Spa weekend, Shwartzman’s championship lead has been extended to 23 points over Daruvala, who has moved up to second at the expense of Vips. Armstrong consolidated his fourth place over Lundgaard and is now only three points behind Vips.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Alex Albon ‘keeping feet on the ground’ ahead of first race for Red Bull

Red Bull’s new signing Alex Albon says he will be ‘keeping [his] feet on the ground’ ahead of his first race for the team at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Albon has just twelve Grand Prix under his belt and while he is excited about the prospect of racing for one of the most competitive teams in F1, he is nonetheless aware that he has a lot still to learn.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

“Not many drivers get the chance to drive a car capable of winning a race so early in their F1 career, so it’s a great opportunity to be driving for Red Bull,” Albon said. “It’s a big step, a big difference, and the factory’s a lot closer to my house which is handy!

“We know what the car is capable of and we’ve seen what Max has been able to do this year. I want to see what it’s like compared to what I’m used to, but at the same time, I know this weekend is my first time in the car, I’m still learning and improving as a driver and there’s definitely more to come.

“I know one of the main differences will be the noise and attention that comes with the move but I’m keeping my feet on the ground. I’m just focused on the job I have to do for Spa, I’ll be doing a lot of listening and observing.”

The news of Albon’s promotion came after Pierre Gasly, who himself had moved from Toro Rosso to Red Bull at the beginning of 2019, struggled to match the performance of Max Verstappen. Despite assurances from both Christian Horner and Helmut Marko that his seat was safe for the time being, Gasly nonetheless finds himself back at the junior team for the second half of the season.

Albon made his first official trip to the Red Bull factory as one of their drivers on 26th August, two weeks after the announcement was made, for a seat and suit fitting.

“We’ve got as much simulator prep done as we can,” Albon said, “so now it’s about going through procedural things with the team and getting to know everyone. It should be good!

“This is a big step, but I feel I’ve been through these big jumps before and taken the opportunities – I’m not worried about that. I’m focused and ready to be as strong as possible for the second half of the year.”

 

[Featured image – Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool]

F1 makes its anticipated return: Belgian Grand Prix Preview

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

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

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

Lars Baron, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

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

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

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

LAT Images / Mercedes AMG

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

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

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

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

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

Header image by Wolfgang Wilhelm / Mercedes AMG

Meet the 2019 Red Bull Junior Team

While Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon have grabbed the headlines this summer, there’s more to the Red Bull driver programme than just their Formula 1 stable. We take a look at each of their upcoming young talents, from karting all the way to the F1 feeder series’.

Juri Vips

Juri Vips celebrating victory at the Red Bull Ring (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Juri Vips is perhaps the closest Red Bull junior to Formula One right now. The 19-year-old Estonian joined the programme ahead of last year’s Macau Grand Prix, after becoming an F4 champion in 2017 and finishing fourth in the 2018 European F3 series. He is currently driving for Hitech in FIA F3, and is running second with two victories to his name.

Patricio O’Ward

Patricio OWard racing Super Formula at Motegi (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Red Bull’s newest signing is Patricio O’Ward, winner of the 2017 WeatherTech Sportscar and 2018 Indy Lights championships. O’Ward has had a mixed 2019 so far, racing a part-time IndyCar entry with Carlin after losing his initial Harding Steinbrenner Racing drive due to sponsorship issues. With Red Bull backing he has since made appearances in F2 for MP Motorsport and Super Formula with Team Mugen.

Yuki Tsunoda

Yuki Tsunoda driving for Jenzer at the Hungaroring (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

2018 Japanese F4 champion Yuki Tsunoda joined the Red Bull programme through his links with the Honda Formula Dream Project. Red Bull currently has the 19-year-old racing on the F1 support bill in FIA F3 with Jenzer Motorsport. Tsunoda is also driving for Team Motopark in the Euroformula Open series, where he is running fourth in the standings with one win.

Lucas Auer

Lucas Auer on his way to third at SUGO (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

24-year-old Austrian Lucas Auer is another one of Red Bull’s new 2019 signings. Auer has flirted with the pinnacle of motorsport already, having challenged for titles in Formula 3 and DTM and tested Force India’s F1 car in 2017. He has joined O’Ward in Super Formula for this year, and took his first podium of the series at Sportsland SUGO.

Liam Lawson

Liam Lawson in the FIA F3 paddock (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

New Zealander Liam Lawson joined Red Bull this year just a few days after his 17th birthday—and after securing the Toyota Racing Series title over Ferrari junior Marcus Armstrong. Lawson has continued to race Armstrong in FIA F3 this year, driving for MP Motorsport. He is also placed third in Euroformula Open with two victories to his name.

Jack Doohan

Jack Doohan at the Red Bull Ring (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Son of MotoGP legend Mick Doohan, Jack Doohan has joined fellow Red Bull juniors Lawson and Tsunoda in this year’s Euroformula Open Championship. He is currently seventh in the standings with two second places and six other points finishes. Doohan has also taken multiple victories driving for Hitech in Asian F3 this year.

Dennis Hauger

Dennis Hauger celebrating victory in ADAC F4 (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

After a successful Formula 4 debut last year, Red Bull has rewarded 16-year-old Dennis Hauger with a dual programme in Italian F4 and ADAC F4 for 2019. Driving for Van Amersfoort Racing in both series’, the Norwegian driver has taken six wins and seven pole positions altogether this year and is currently second in the Italian standings.

Jonny Edgar

Jonny Edgar driving in the Italian F4 Championship (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

15-year-old British driver Jonny Edgar has stepped up to his first season of racing cars this year, driving for Jenzer Motorsport in the Italian F4 Championship. He is currently 13th in the standings after six points finishes, the best of which so far is a fifth place at the Hungaroring. Like Hauger, he is also entered in the ADAC F4 series.

Harry Thompson

Harry Thompson in the 2018 WSK Final Cup (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Having only turned 15 earlier this month, Harry Thompson is the youngest current member of the Red Bull Junior Team. After being named FIA Karting Rookie of the Year in 2018, Thompson is continuing his karting career this year in both European and British championships.

The rights and wrongs of Red Bull’s Albon switch

On Monday morning, Red Bull announced that it would be swapping Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon for the remaining races of the 2019 season.

The move was met with no small amount of surprise—not least because Christian Horner and Helmut Marko had both stated categorically that Gasly’s seat was safe for the rest of the year—as well as a great amount of debate over whether or not the decision was the right one to take.

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

For Red Bull themselves, at least, the switch is a definite win-win solution.

After the Hungarian Grand Prix, Horner lay the blame quite squarely on Gasly for Red Bull being 44 points behind Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship, despite being the only team other than Mercedes to win races this year. It was the first time Horner had publicly criticised Gasly’s performances, saying that the Frenchman “shouldn’t be racing Saubers and McLarens” in a car capable of victories and podiums.

Having seen little improvement from Gasly over the opening 12 races, it was clear that Red Bull needed something to change in order to outscore Ferrari by the end of the year. And with a buffer of 162 points back to fourth-placed McLaren, the team had nothing to lose in switching drivers. At the very worst Albon would be no improvement over Gasly, but Red Bull would still comfortably finish the season in the top three.

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Looking beyond 2019, there is another clear benefit to trialling how Albon works within the senior Red Bull team—and in particular, how he works alongside Max Verstappen.

On paper, Albon is the ideal driver for Red Bull’s current situation. For starters, he’s undeniably quick. He ran Charles Leclerc hard for the 2016 GP3 title, was a consistent frontrunner in Formula 2, and last year was offered a seat with Nissan’s works Formula E squad.

But perhaps most importantly, Albon’s reputation is for a calm, mild-mannered team player—a driver unlikely to level public criticism at Honda should performance falter, or threaten Verstappen’s position as Red Bull’s top dog.

And with Verstappen’s contract expiring at the end of next year, creating the right environment with a teammate like Albon might be crucial in convincing the Dutchman to stay at Red Bull long-term.

Lars Baron, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

As for Albon, however, moving to Red Bull now could go either way.

On the one hand, this is a remarkable stroke of good fortune. Just nine months ago Albon’s F1 chances looked to have all dried up and he was preparing for a career shift to Formula E—now, he’s driving a car that has every chance of making him Thailand’s first-ever Grand Prix winner.

But there’s absolutely no guarantee that Albon will succeed where Gasly hasn’t. Of Red Bull’s last three promotions from Toro Rosso, only Verstappen has so far managed to hang on to his seat. That will only increase the pressure on Albon to prove he can buck the trend, with only nine races in which to do so.

And if Albon fares no better than Gasly and Red Bull decide to drop him at the end of the year as well, then his meteoric F1 career could be over before it’s even truly begun.

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

On that note, it’s hard to find any benefit to this decision for Gasly himself. Although Red Bull will no doubt argue they want to give him the opportunity to recover his form away from the limelight at Toro Rosso, that will seem like a hollow sentiment given they said the same thing about Daniil Kvyat in 2016.

But even if Gasly does regroup and flourish away from the glare at the senior team, it will take something special to shake off the black mark of being dumped by a top team midway through a season.

Given Gasly’s racing record to date—GP2 and Formula Renault 2.0 champion, Super Formula title contender and near podium-finisher on his debut Formula E weekend—it would be a true shame if this instead becomes the defining moment in the 23-year-old’s career.

Hungarian Grand Prix: Hamilton hunts down Verstappen to take victory

Lewis Hamilton has taken victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix, making best use of a free pit stop to chase down Max Verstappen and take the lead in the closing laps of a race that saw every driver outside the top four lapped.

Verstappen had retained his lead after the first pit stops and fended off an attacking Hamilton as the pair picked their way through traffic. Running wide when attempting an overtake at turn four, Hamilton dropped back and the gap to Verstappen stabilised around the one-and-a-half second mark.

With a sizeable gap to the Ferrari duo in P3 and P4, Mercedes made the decision to bring Hamilton in on lap 49 for what was a free stop, switching him onto the medium tyres. He emerged some 20 seconds behind Verstappen and set about chasing him down, being told by his team that Verstappen would be down to “zero rubber” by the end of the race.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Sure enough, Verstappen reported on lap 64 that his tyres were dead, and Hamilton closed at a rate of almost two seconds a lap to make a move round the outside of turn one and take the lead with just three laps to go.

With Verstappen reporting that he couldn’t make it to the end of the race, he made a free pit stop on lap 68 to switch to the soft tyres and chase the bonus point for fastest lap.

Sebastian Vettel finished a distant third, overtaking team-mate Leclerc on lap 68. Vettel ran a very long first stint and only came into the pits on lap 40 to change onto the soft tyres. By the time he had caught up to his team-mate, Leclerc’s hard tyres were some 40 laps old, and this allowed Vettel to dive down the inside going into turn one and take the final podium position. With the gap to Hamilton at over a minute, Ferrari will certainly be hoping that the long straights of Spa and Monza will allow them to claw back

Carlos Sainz finished in an impressive fifth place for the second race in a row, with Gasly and Raikkonen behind in sixth and seventh respectively.

The other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas took himself out of win and podium contention on the first lap. Lock-ups going into the first two corners allowed Hamilton to slip past and take second, and then contact with Leclerc damaged his front wing and forced him to pit. Dropped to plum last on the road, it was a long day for the Finn and he eventually reached the chequered flag in eighth place.

LAT Images

The top ten was completed by Lando Norris – who was hampered by a slow pit stop – and Alex Albon.

Hamilton’s victory means he heads into the summer break with a 62-point lead in the championship. Two bad races in a row means that Bottas is now just seven points ahead of Verstappen in P2, and you have to think that second is now firmly in Verstappen’s sights going into the next half of the season.

Hungary was the fourth good race in a row this season following Austria, Silverstone and Hockenheim, but can the trend continue when the F1 circus reconvenes at Spa at the end of the month?

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]