The Red Bull-Honda collaboration could become the new F1 powerhouse

Max Verstappen showcased that a Honda-powered Red Bull is capable of winning, even in the 9th race of their collaboration.

Honda is a colossal company, an immensely powerful player in the automotive industry, immune to the ‘group trend’ that other manufacturers have gone into. Since its return in F1, though, back in 2015, it has been hit year with multiple reliability problems, publicly blamed for the misfortunes of the McLaren collaboration, to the point that nobody thought it could be able to stand back on its feet and rise to the challenge in this hybrid era.

The move to Toro Rosso in 2018 was a crucial one for Honda and its F1 plans, because it gave them the opportunity to make a fresh start, with a team that has minimal aspirations, fighting for the best possible result in the midfield battles. McLaren is a team that is used to be a front-runner, Fernando Alonso is a driver who wants to be the protagonist, not a bystander, and that played a huge role in the McLaren-Honda relationship through that 3-year spell. Toro Rosso, on the other hand, have been just the sister team of Red Bull, the first step for young Red Bull Academy drivers to make their way into F1.

Now, Honda had its chance to make everything the way it wanted it to be. No pressure, no strings attached.

Effort and grind run in the Japanese people’s blood. Japan is known for its commitment to work hard, trying and succeeding. And Honda does represent that mindset in the best of ways.

When the Red Bull-Honda collaboration was announced during last year’s French Grand Prix, it became apparent almost immediately that this is not a project that could give a championship in its first year – not even in its second.

Even though RB had all the essential data regarding the Japanese power unit from Toro Rosso, it was crystal clear that this is a long-term relationship, planned out thoroughly, with patience and determination to succeed.

“When they came back into the sport they had a very tough time in the years that they were with McLaren,” said Christian Horner.

“They then moved to Toro Rosso last year and they had some time to get their house in order and start to progress.

“All we have seen is a real dedication and determination, and that is why having won that race, Tanabe-san went to collect the trophy for the constructor.

“After all the effort that they have put in, it is great to see Japan represented up there and Honda picking up the constructors’ trophy.”

This has always been the right path for Honda in this era of F1, with the complexity of the engines playing a big part in a team’s success. McLaren didn’t realise that when it mattered, and the rest is history. Red Bull did understand that time would be needed for Honda to make the difference and bring back the championship to Milton Keynes.

The Austrians have built a well-run organisation, where people understand their role in the company, and fully commit to the goal, whichever that is. It is no coincidence that, even during the adversity with Renault over the last 5 years, they were able to win races and fight for podiums consistently.

This is the case in 2019, too. Honda has started a new cooperation with a team that can really help them propel their growth and get the coveted land as soon as possible.

Winning in Austria, in their home race, with hundreds of thousands of Verstappen fans cheering for him, is really the stuff of dreams. It is certain that Red Bull targeted that race, and took all the necessary measures to be able to fight for the victory in Red Bull Ring – the first with Honda.

Verstappen himself stressed the importance of the timing of this win:

“I’m just very happy that it happened today and it just gives us a lot of confidence as well to the boys and maybe a few doubts are going away because of it.”

The Dutch driver is the noncontroversial leader of this outfit, and that’s very positive for them. Last time there was an alpha-dog in that team was the Sebastian Vettel era and they won 4 consecutive world titles.

They have a clear path if Max decides to continue believing in this team and this project, because he is a driver that can be the star of this sport for the next 15 years. He is a talented young driver, a proven winner, and having him as their leader, it just makes everything easier for them and their road to a title.

It is really fortunate for Red Bull (and Honda, subsequently) that Verstappen does support this collaboration, despite his comments about the power of the engine, or his surprise that he was able to win in Austria. He just puts pressure on them, but not in a negative way.

Having said that, it’s necessary to remember that this project is not short-term. It’s a five year planned out cooperation, and no one stops either side to extend that contract and 2021 is going to be their breakthrough year.

Even if the new regulations don’t provide many changes to the technical side of the sport, Red Bull and Honda understand that this is the best timing for their push to a championship-winning campaign. They will try their hardest to keep Verstappen, and if they do, they will have all the ingredients to get to that trophy.

Red Bull has that reputation of a team that can exploit every change in the regulations every time they change drastically (namely, 2009), and Honda will by then have an even better PU to provide to them, better suited to their needs.

F1 is all about long term commitments, plans that run through the next 4 or 5 seasons – it’s the only way a team can reach the top.

Honda understands that, Red Bull does, too. No one can guarantee that they will get their chip fast or easy, but they will be contending.

Canadian Grand Prix, Vettel re-takes the lead as Mercedes failed to deliver

This year, the Canadian grand prix had no surprises. It was a quiet Sunday evening for most of the drivers and especially for the top three.

Vettel’s flying lap on Saturday’s qualification session, was enough to give him the pole position and on Sunday, the German, lead the race for 70 consecutive laps. Bottas, who started second, had to defend his place, on the first lap from Max Verstappen.

The Dutch had a very good Q3 session on the previous day and managed to finish third and get a place on the podium in the Canadian Grand Prix. The only moment where he battled Bottas was at lights out, but the Finn defended very well his place and remained second.

Valtteri Bottas, finished second for the fourth time in seven races this season, he is the driver with the most second place finishes. The Finn, shows his skills this season and it won’t be long till he celebrates his first victory in 20018.

I have to admit that the race didn’t meet my expectations, but still some interesting conclusions can be made.

Ferrari dominated in a circuit which suits Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton won six times in ten attempts in Canada. The Silver Arrows won the last three Grand Prix in Montreal, but this time the team was not able to challenge Ferrari and Hamilton was struggling to stay close to Ricciardo for the fourth place. The British champion complained about the low power that the Mercedes’ engine delivered this week and lost the 14-point lead which he had in the drivers’ championship.

‘’There were lots of hesitations, engine dropping in power, so I thought the engine was going to blow.’’ Hamilton said.

Mercedes had to pit, Lewis, earlier that it was planned to remove some bodywork panels and reduce the engine temperature.

A very productive weekend for Renault, the yellows had the pleasure to see both drivers in the top-10 and they collected some crucial points for the team. Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz finished seventh and eighth respectively. Renault, is currently fourth in the constructors’ championship with 56 points, 16 points ahead of McLaren. The team, looks confident and they have a comfortable lead from McLaren, which is currently struggling to follow the pack.

Charles Leclerc, a young and ambitious driver, which many fans wanting him in Ferrari as soon as possible, finished once again in the points. The rookie driver from Monaco, is keep impressing us with his results. The sixth place in Baku, was not a firework, the Monegasque had to fight with Alonso for the tenth place in Canada. Fernando’s retirement allowed him to finish in the top-10 and score another point for Sauber, which has 12 in total and is ahead of Williams. Charles has 10 points in the championship so far and he is fourteenth, ahead of Vandoorne.

Williams, had another bad weekend. Last season, Stroll scored his first points in his home race, but this time the Canadian retired on the first lap, due to a collision with Brendon Hartley. His team-mate, finished seventeenth.

It was Sebastian Vettel’s 50th victory, a great achievement for the German driver.

There are still many races in the 2018 calendar, it is clear that the drivers’ championship will be a battle between Vettel and Hamilton, but Red Bull is a very capable team and will affect the final outcome of the year.

*Twitter @FP_Passion

Let the Show Begin, is F1 still boring?

A few months ago, almost everyone was complaining about the Halo. In Spain, where the first off-season test took place, the majority of the F1 fans didn’t like the design of the 2018 cars, especially because of the ‘Sayonara’ shape which is attached on the cockpit.

The next biggest issue that most of us had/have, is the lack of overtaking and suspense. Which I will agree, the past seasons were boring with zero suspense. We knew the winning team from the first race, except last season where Vettel was challenging Hamilton, our agony lasted until the British Grand Prix. The British champion returned to the winning mode and personally, I couldn’t see the Ferrari be able to stop the Silver Arrows.

This year, everything looks different. In Australia, Hamilton took the pole, but Ferrari copied their last year’s recipe and Vettel took the chequered flag. Two weeks later, in Bahrain, Sebastian Vettel drove from the pole till the final lap and scored his second consecutive victory.

Red Bull, which have faced several technical and non-technical issues this season, managed to do the impossible. Daniel Ricciardo, started the race from the fourth place, but after a thrilling race he took the chequered flag.

Lack of suspense

In Bahrain, Ferrari did not have an easy afternoon. Lewis Hamilton, had an impressive race, he managed to finish third from the ninth place, whilst his team-mate, was pushing Vettel, who decided to go for one stop strategy and finished the race on softs. Valtteri was close to Vettel, he had fresher tyres and a harder compound, in the final laps he was less than a second behind the German, but he couldn’t find the space and the speed to pass Vettel’s Ferrari. It was a thrilling race full of suspense and unpredictable until the chequered flag. After 57 laps, Sebastian Vettel finished first, 0.699s ahead of Valtteri Bottas.

The Battle between the Middle Teams

A dreaming start for the McLaren, in their first season with Renault powered engines. In Australia, Fernando Alonso finished fifth, between the two Red Bulls, while his team-mate, Stoffel Vandoorne finished ninth and scored two points for the McLaren. In Bahrain, both McLaren’s drivers finished in the points, Nando and Stoffel scored ten points combined. That was the second consecutive double point finish for McLaren. Fernando Alonso, didn’t stop the good performances in China. The Spaniard finished seventh ahead of Sebastian Vettel, including a great overtake on Vettel.

Renault looks that provides stable engines to McLaren, which is currently fourth in the constructor championship with 28 points. Fernando Alonso has scored 22 points so far, and he is in the sixth place, not far behind from Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen.

Another team, which had an impressive start been Haas, the American team impressed their fans in Australia with their competitiveness and their speed. Unfortunately, both drivers retired after a mistake during their pit-stops.

The two teams which have not met their fans’ expectations are the Force India and Williams. Force India has scored one point until now, they are ninth ahead of Williams which are at the bottom of the championship. Esteban Ocon, finished tenth in Bahrain and scored the only point for Sahara Force India so far.

Mercedes, the calm before the storm

Mercedes looks like the giant who is sleeping and everyone is trying not to wake him up. The Silver Arrows, have the speed and the pace to follow both Ferrari and Red Bull. Some poor strategic decisions cost them the victory in Australia. Bottas was chasing Vettel in Bahrain, but didn’t manage to pass him and in China Valtteri and Hamilton finished second and fourth respectively.

If the Halo makes the cars uglier but the championship more exciting and unpredictable, I would suggest to add more ‘Halos’ to the cars.

For me, the championship has not even started yet, next race takes place in Azerbaijan, which was one of the most unpredictable and emotional race of the 2017 season. Ferrari seems to have the upper hand, but both Mercedes and Red Bull are close and can easily challenge the Italians.

Let the show begin..!

Twitter – @FP_Passion

Mamma Mia, a Dramatic Finale in Bahrain

Sebastian Vettel secured his second consecutive victory of the season, after a dramatic finish in Bahrain Grand Prix. The German, four time world champion, withstands Bottas pressure on the final ten laps of the race and scored 25 points for Scuderia Ferrari.

Ferrari missed the chance to have two drivers on the podium, because an amateur mistake forced the Finn to stop his car and retire in the pit lane. The left-rear tyre hadn’t changed, Kimi pulled away, injured the leg of one of the mechanics and immediately Ferrari told him to stop his car. It was the second unsafe release from the Italians this weekend.

The mechanic was taken to the hospital, Ferrari confirmed a broken leg, a shinbone and fibula fracture.

Valtteri Bottas had a very good start, he placed his Mercedes between the two Ferraris and was trying to pressure Vettel for the first position. Lewis Hamilton, recovered from ninth place, which he started after a five place grid penalty, and finished third.

The British champion, passed three cars at the same time in one corner, a move that we will surely remember for many years.

Dramatic finale

With 10 laps to go, Bottas was second behind Sebastian Vettel, the gap between the two drivers was about six seconds. The Finn, had fresher set of tyres, he was on medium tyres, whilst Vettel informed by his team to change his strategy and go from two stops to one stop strategy. The German, pitted two laps earlier than the Finn, he was on the softs for 39 laps.

Mercedes assumed that Vettel will pit again, they informed Hamilton that when the German will re-join will be behind him. Ferrari took the risk to let Vettel on the track until the end of the race and Bottas received an order to push as hard as he could for the first place.

The gap between those two was dropping rapidly, Bottas entered DRS rang with two laps to go, he attempted to attack Vettel but he was not close enough.

Lewis Hamilton, was not able to be close to the two drivers, finished third 6.5 seconds behind Sebastian Vettel.

Disaster for Red Bull, a dreaming race for Gasly

Both Red Bull cars retired early in the race, Max Verstappen had an incident with Lewis Hamilton at the exit of Turn 1, after passing him, Max damaged his left-rear wheel, which caused a puncture. The Dutch, managed to go to the pits but retired a few meters after he re-joined the race.

Daniel Ricciardo retired shortly after Verstappen’s puncture, Daniel’s car shuts down at the exiting of Turn 8.

A race to remember for Pierre Gasly, the French finished fourth behind the Ferrari and the two Mercedes. Gasly, resisted Magnussen’s and Hulkenberg’s pressure, he secured a fantastic result for Toro Rosso at their second race with a Honda powered engine.

Second double points finish for McLaren, Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne finished seventh and eighth respectively.

Kevin Magnussen scored the first points for Haas with his fifth position in Bahrain. A good race for Ericsson and Sauber as well, Marcus finished ninth and scored two points for Sauber.

It looks that this season will be different than the others, not only because Ferrari won the first two races, but mainly because the middle teams are looking very competitive. Williams and Force India are not as strong as they used to be, whilst Haas, McLaren and Renault are looking quicker and able to fight between each other for the fourth place in the championship (if not the third!)

Next stop China in one week

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What goes around comes around

Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel are in party mode, after an unexpected victory in the first race of the 2018 season in Melbourne.

The German driver, qualified third, behind his team-mate and the 2017 world champion, Lewis Hamilton. The Italians took a risk and split the strategy between the drivers, Kimi Raikkonen pitted on lap 21, switched from ultrasofts to softs, Mercedes called Lewis Hamilton into the pits right after Kimi’s stop. Sebastian Vettel, remained on track for some extra laps, on the 25th lap Kevin Magnussen pitted from the fourth position, a few meters after Kevin re-joined the track, forced to step aside and park his car due to an error during the pit-stop.

A couple of laps later, Romain Grosjean pitted for a fresh set of supersofts tyres, but he copied his team-mate exact footsteps, Romain parked his car and retired from the race, for the same reason as Kevin Magnussen, loose wheels, after the pit-stop. The wheels on both cars were not being placed correctly before the nuts were tightened.

The only difference between Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, retirement, was the Grosjean’s car could not be easily recovered, hence the VSC deployed followed by a safety car.

During the VSC period, Sebastian Vettel pitted, that gave him a 10 second advantage over Lewis Hamilton. The German, re-join ahead of the Mercedes and he was leading the race. Hamilton pushed hard, after the SC, to catch and pass Vettel, the British champion was very close to Vettel’s Ferrari, but a small driving error cost him time and he also lost pace in the final laps of the race.

Sebastian Vettel celebrated a second consecutive victory in Australia and started the 2018 year with the same way he did in 2017.

A poor strategy, cost the chance to Red Bull to be competitive and score a podium in Australia. Both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen started the race on supersofts, Verstappen and Ricciardo qualified fourth and eighth respectively. A three place grid penalty was given to Daniel Ricciardo for failing to slow down for a red flag, during free practice.

The Dutch, was not quick enough to challenge the two Ferraris in the opening lap, at turn one on the tenth lap, Max spun his Red Bull and lost places. He was unable to recover, as he was also facing unbalance issues caused by the damaged floor on his car.

Daniel Ricciardo wanted to finish on the podium in his home race, after the retirement of the two Haas, the Australian was fourth behind Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn, had to defend his position as Daniel was on his tail for most of the time in the final laps of the Grand Prix.

At the end, Ricciardo finished fourth and Max Verstappen sixth, behind Fernando Alonso.

Double point finish for McLaren

For the first time since 2014, McLaren scored points in Melbourne. The fifth place that Alonso took matched his best ever result in three years with Honda power. McLaren, couldn’t imagine a better start, Alonso and Vandoorne scored 12 points combined in the opening race of the 2018 season.

Furthermore, Fernando Alonso had the pace to hold back a Red Bull and he finished ahead of Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes.

The outcome of the race affected by the VSC and Haas retirements, personally I was impressed with the pace the American team showed in the first laps of the Grand Prix and I would like to see them racing until the chequered flag.

It is still too early to judge, but I will take the risk to say that Asia will play a key role in the championship. If Ferrari has learnt from their mistakes, this year will be very interesting till the final chequered flag.

 

 

 

Malaysian Grand Prix Preview, Can Ferrari Bounce Back?

Sepang International Circuit, Sepang, Malaysia.
Thursday 28 September 2017.
World Copyright: Zak Mauger/LAT Images
ref: Digital Image _X0W6776

Formula One, is heading to Malaysia for the last time this weekend, as the government decided that the race is not profitable any more. Sepang International joined F1 in 1999, it was a part of Bernie Ecclestone’s plan to expand Formula 1 in countries around the world. Bernie’s idea has not worked very well so far Turkey and South Korea had the same fate with Malaysia and maybe more countries will follow.

Sebastian Vettel would like to say goodbye to the Malaysian Grand Prix with a victory, if the German wins it will be his fifth victory in Malaysia. Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso have won three times in Malaysia, whilst Kimi Raikkonen celebrated two victories in Sepang Circuit.

The leader in the drivers’ championship, Lewis Hamilton, has won only once, in 2014, since the track re-joined Formula 1 in 2007. Lewis is facing difficulties in Malaysia, but the Brit has the advantage of the 28 point gap, a finish ahead or close to Vettel will be positive for him.

2006 Malaysian Grand Prix – Wednesday Preview
Sepang, Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia. 15th March 2006
xxx
World Copyright: Glenn Dunbar/LAT Photographic 
ref: Digital Image YY8P1797.

This weekend a new driver will make his appearance on the grid, the French Pierre Gasly will replace Daniil Kvyat and he will be racing for Toro Rosso in the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Sepang International Circuit

Laps: 56

Circuit Length: 5.543 km

Race Length: 310.408 km

Lap Record: 1:34.223 (Juan Pablo Montoya – 2004)

Sepang is one of the most technical circuits in the calendar, designed by the German architect Hermann Tilke, it combines long high speed straights and tight twisting turns like turn number five and six.

High temperatures are the biggest challenge for the drivers, the average air temperature during the race is about 30 C which means that the temperature in the cockpit is around 50C and the drivers must race under these conditions for one hour and thirty-five minutes. Rain is expected in all sessions this weekend, which will be an extra challenge for the drivers.

Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) – “I am not worried, I am excited about making my debut in Sepang this weekend. I have worked hard to prepare for this and to get to F1. I am very happy to have this opportunity. I know it will be different to anything I’ve done before and the other drivers have been racing all season, so I will have a lot of things to get used to and learn about. It’s a super challenge and I can’t wait for it to start. I have raced in Sepang. It was last year, when I took pole position for the GP2 race, so clearly it’s a track I like. It is very tough with the high level of humidity but I am well prepared physically.”

Esteban Ocon (Force India) – “Sepang is such a beautiful track. I really love it. I enjoy chicanes and there are quite a few in Malaysia, with some nice combinations of fast and medium-speed corners. When you have a good car in qualifying, you can just feel the grip; it’s very enjoyable. On the other hand, it’s a very tough race because of the heat and humidity. The rain can play a big part – at least I am told! Last year everyone kept telling me that, but it was just mega sunny and warm all weekend. It’s sad we will be racing here for the last time because it’s such a cool track. I am going to miss it.”

Watch Max Verstappen talking about the fitness in Formula One, by Mobil 1 the Grid

Victor Archakis

Twitter @FP_Passion