Formula 1 Viewing Figures Contradict Fan Criticisms

A press release on the 18th January 2019 from Formula 1 Media announced that the TV and Digital audience has grown for the second consecutive year. With a reach of 490.2 million unique viewers throughout the 2018 season, the figures re-enforce Formula 1’s position as a powerhouse in motorsport.

The press release documents Formula 1’s increased popularity in Brazil, Germany and Italy which is hardly surprising given that the competition between Mercedes and Ferrari has become even tighter in the past few seasons. It also acknowledges a growth in social media platforms, increasing by a whopping 53.7% since 2017, which must come as excellent news to Formula 1’s owners Liberty Media, who put themselves in the driving seat in 2017.

News of an increase in viewing figures comes as a surprise to some, and indeed some journalists have been quick to fill in what F1 have been careful to omit. Reuters Formula 1 correspondent Alan Baldwin took to Twitter to discuss these findings, putting the growing figures to a change of measurement. According to Baldwin, F1 took the decision to change the duration of viewing time, lowering it from 15 consecutive minutes to the industry ‘standard’ of 3 minutes, which many believe could have potentially over inflated TV viewing figures.

The reported increase is almost a direct juxtaposition to the opinions of commentators, ex-drivers and fans who have frequently suggested the formula is no longer as appealing as it once was, expressing a desire to see more exciting racing and greater competition among the teams.

Ferrari Media

In a recent interview, ex-driver and Sky F1 commentator Martin Brundle expressed his own concerns about whether F1 was really doing enough to encourage competition and further interest in the sport: ‘We’re on a little Formula One island spending a lot of money to run 20 cars, and the drawbridge is up and I don’t see anybody waiting on the other side to come on’.

So why is there a disconnect between fans and commentators, and F1 bosses, and what could be done to bring down that metaphorical drawbridge?

The biggest issue for fans is the lack of real variety and competition in the sport. Upon hearing the news of a change in measurement, fans joked that it only took three minutes from the start of the race to figure out who was likely to win. If you’re a fan of Lewis Hamilton, it has been an excellent few years for you. However, others have grown tired of a very similar looking line-up each week, and are looking for change.

Some are of the belief that Formula 1 should take inspiration from their American cousins in the NTT IndyCar series, providing each team with a uniform car to develop each year as opposed to allowing teams to spend exorbitant amounts on existing cars. Teams such as Toro Rosso, Sauber and Force India are often seen running old technology in their cars, immediately putting them on the back foot when attempting to compete with teams like Mercedes and Ferrari. If IndyCar is anything to go by, giving each team the same car should create much more variety on the podium, and healthy and fair competition between the drivers.

Ferrari Media

Budget is also a huge issue in Formula 1. In the past ten years, fans have waved goodbye to a total of six teams who have failed to keep their cars on the grid due to a lack of results and racking up debts that cannot be settled without closure or repossession. Formula 1 favours the teams who can afford to invest large sums, and punishes those who cannot, so should this too be subject to a change?

Capping the amount a team can spend on their cars could give the smaller teams a greater opportunity to ‘catch-up’ not only on the grid, but in terms of the changes they can make on the car. Investing endless sums of money into finding a winning formula is bound to result in success at some point, take Mercedes as an example, but it also automatically relegates the smaller teams to the back of the grid, instead of challenging the big names and keeping the racing exciting.

In reality, getting the bigger more influential teams such as Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and McLaren to agree to these changes would be like having the turkeys vote in favour of Christmas. Indeed, if the F1 viewing figures continue to grow as they seem to be, Formula 1 bosses will probably argue there is no need to make such drastic reformations. Only time will tell.

 

 

Featured image – 2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Sunday / Steve Etherington

Leclerc Impresses For Ferrari On Day Two Of Pirelli Tyre Tests

Young 21-year-old Monegasque Charles Leclerc has impressed on his first outing for Ferrari this week during day two of the Pirelli tyre tests in Abu Dhabi. With the 2016 GP3 title and 2017 Formula 2 championships already under his belt, it’s hard not to imagine this young talent becoming Formula One champion in the future.

Day one of the testing, which was held on Tuesday, ended with teammate Sebastian Vettel at the top of the timesheets after sixty-nine laps on the 2018 hypersoft compound, setting an impressive time of 1m 36.812s in front of Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas, who set a 1m 37.231 on what Pirelli called ‘Compound 5’ – the softest tyre that will be on offer next year.

Over the course of day one, twelve drivers took to the Yas Marina circuit, including newbie for 2019 Lando Norris driving for McLaren and George Russell for Williams. It was also an opportunity for Polish driver Robert Kubica to get back into the car after his horrifying rally accident eight years ago. Kubica took over from George Russell during the afternoon stint.

Vettel struggled at the beginning of the day after a minor crash at turn one which brought out the red flag. However, he was able to set decent enough times throughout the long nine-hour session.

YAS MARINA CIRCUIT, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – NOVEMBER 27: Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo Sauber C37 during the Test Days at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2018 in Yas Marina Circuit, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Joe Portlock / LAT Images)

Kimi Raikkonen had a disappointing end to his first outing for Alfa Romeo Sauber after suffering a technical issue in the closing stages of the test. In his F1 test debut, Pietro Fittipaldi also ran into some issues when his Haas stopped on track early on in the session, this too bringing out the red flag.

Decent times were set by all on day one, Vettel topping the times from Bottas, Stroll, Verstappen and Perez, with Lando Norris an impressive sixth. Hulkenberg finished the day in seventh followed by Fittipaldi, Kubica and Russell. Raikkonen finished in eleventh place after his earlier struggles and Toro Rosso’s Sean Gelael finished last with a 1m 40.435s.

Day two of the testing brought many surprises, most impressive of all being Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who finished at the top of the timesheets after a whopping 135 laps on the new ‘Compound 5’. Leclerc’s fastest lap, a 1m36.450s, was quicker than the time Sebastian Vettel had set on the previous day, however Sebastian set his time on the 2018 compound.

(L to R): Lance Stroll (CDN) Racing Point Force India F1 Team with Bradley Joyce (GBR) Racing Point Force India F1 Race Engineer.
Formula One Testing, Tuesday 27th November 2018. Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Pierre Gasly, in his first outing for Red Bull Racing, finished the session on P2 setting a time of 1m37.916s, also on the new 2019 compound tyres. Lance Stroll who was testing for Force India slotted in third place, followed by Valtteri Bottas and new McLaren driver Carlos Sainz. In sixth place was Renault’s Artem Markelov, followed by George Russell and returning Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat. In ninth was Haas’ debutant test driver, F2’s Louis Deletraz, in tenth was Robert Kubica and in eleventh position was Sauber’s Antonio Giovinazzi.

The session was mainly incident free, however in the afternoon Giovinazzi caused the red flag to come out after his Sauber came to a halt in the tunnel exiting the pitlane.

This test in Abu Dhabi officially marks the end of the 2018 season, the next set of testing days being pre-season in Barcelona. Will Leclerc’s top form continue into the new season? Could we see the youngest Formula One champion ever be crowned? With just over one hundred days to go until lights out in Melbourne, we are eager to see what happens in 2019!

Ericsson considering IndyCar, Super Formula for 2019

Marcus Ericsson has said he is targeting a move to either IndyCar or Super Formula for 2019 following the loss of his Sauber Formula One race seat.

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

Ericsson will remain with Sauber next year as reserve driver and brand ambassador, but has said he is also looking to continue racing with a full-time drive in another single-seater category.

“I want to race at the highest level possible [next year] because I see myself coming back to Formula One in the future,” Ericsson said.

“To be able to come back to F1, I want to stay in single-seaters and fast cars. IndyCar is the best series to do that in.

“We’re talking to some teams there and I think it is a realistic target.”

Most of IndyCar’s 2019 drives have already been settled, although seats are still available at Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports, Carlin and Juncos Racing.

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

Ericsson has also admitted Japan’s Super Formula is “also an option”, and that he would be interested in contesting the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

But despite insisting on a single-seater programme for 2019 to keep him prepared for an F1 return, Ericsson said that Formula E is not high on his preferences:

“It is interesting in many aspects but to stay in F1-type of driving it’s maybe not the best one.

“FE is more of a career move. There are some other options that you can keep on the F1 radar [to] come back.”

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

Where will F1’s juniors be in 2019?

The 2018 driver market has been both kind and cruel to F1’s young drivers. On the one hand, Charles Leclerc, Pierre Gasly and Lando Norris have all secured dream promotions to Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren respectively.

But on the other hand, Esteban Ocon and Stoffel Vandoorne have both found their F1 careers on the rocks thanks to silly season developments, while rising stars like George Russell struggle to find any space on the grid.

As the final 2019 deals begin to fall into place, we look at which young drivers might yet find seats for Melbourne next year.

Antonio Giovinazzi

Ferrari Media

Despite becoming Italy’s first F1 driver in six years when he deputised for Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber last year, Antonio Giovinazzi has been unable to add to his two starts since being leapfrogged in Ferrari’s junior scheme by Charles Leclerc.

But with Leclerc moving from Sauber to Ferrari, Giovinazzi might finally get his shot at a full-time race seat. If Ferrari’s right to nominate one of Sauber’s drivers is to be believed, then Giovinazzi could be just an executive decision at Maranello away from joining the Swiss team’s lineup for next year.

Stoffel Vandoorne

Glenn Dunbar / McLaren Media

If Ferrari does insist on Sauber taking Giovinazzi, that will put pay to one of Stoffel Vandoorne’s best post-McLaren options.

Should Sauber be off the table, Vandoorne’s only real hope for 2019 is Toro Rosso. Honda is reportedly keen to bring Vandoorne into Toro Rosso having valued his feedback during their partnership with McLaren.

But even with Honda behind him, Vandoorne will have his work cut out convincing Helmut Marko that he has more potential than was shown in his two years with McLaren.

Pascal Wehrlein

Sauber F1 Team

Another potential obstacle in Vandoorne’s route to Toro Rosso is Pascal Wehrlein. The former Manor and Sauber driver is leaving the Mercedes family at the end of the year in a bid to open up more opportunities on the F1 grid, and is said to have a big fan in Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost.

It’s not the first time Wehrlein has been linked with Toro Rosso—he was touted as a potential mid-season replacement for Brendon Hartley earlier in the year. Those rumours may have come to nothing, but Wehrlein’s sudden appearance as a free agent in the driver market will surely give Red Bull and Toro Rosso something to consider.

Esteban Ocon

Racing Point Force India F1 Team

The details of Esteban Ocon’s plight to remain in F1 next year hardly need repeating by now. Currently his best chance of a 2019 race seat involves either Mercedes pressing customer team Williams to pick him over a more well-funded alternative, or breaking free from the Mercedes camp as Wehrlein has done and hoping that leads to a shot with Haas or Toro Rosso.

If neither avenue comes to fruition, then we’ll likely see Ocon take up a third driver role with the works Mercedes team—possibly dovetailing that with outings for the marque’s HWA-run Formula E team—before aiming to replace Valtteri Bottas in 2020.

Outside F1

Renault Sport F1 Team

If current drivers like Ocon and Vandoorne are struggling to stay in F1 next year, it’s doubtful anyone from the junior formulae will find space on the 2019 grid.

As the Formula 2 championship leader, Mercedes junior George Russell should be the best placed young driver to make the step up to F1. However, his position behind Ocon in the Mercedes hierarchy means that it’s unlikely he’ll be allowed to overtake the Frenchman and take an F1 drive at his expense.

On the other hand, F2 stalwart Artem Markelov may yet get his F1 break after five years in the feeder series. His Russian Time backing has seen him linked to Williams in recent weeks, and an FP1 run with Renault in Sochi will be the perfect chance to make his case when it counts.

Formula 3 title leader Dan Ticktum was being queued up to join Toro Rosso for next year, until the FIA pointed out that he was ineligible for a Super License. Ticktum will likely move to F2 for next year to complete his Super License, before stepping up to Toro Rosso in 2020.

David Pastanella / Red Bull Content Pool

Wehrlein to leave Mercedes after 2018

Mercedes-Benz has announced that it will part ways with Pascal Wehrlein at the end of the 2018 season.

The decision, which has been described by both parties as mutual, brings to an end a six-year partnership that included a record-breaking run in the DTM and Wehrlein’s Formula One debut with the Mercedes-engined Manor team.

Mercedes AMG

Mercedes motorsport chief Toto Wolff said: “Our junior programme has always been about supporting young talent and finding opportunities that are in the best interests of the drivers’ careers.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t offer Pascal a competitive drive for next year. In his best interests, we have therefore decided together with Pascal not to extend our agreement and to give him the best chance of securing an opportunity elsewhere that his talent merits.”

Wehrlein added: “I am very grateful for all the support Mercedes has offered me. Now it’s time to take the next step. I am looking for new challenges and opportunities and am currently talking to other teams about a cockpit for next season.”

Foto Studio Colombo / Pirelli Media

Wehrlein’s break came in 2014 when he became the DTM’s youngest ever race winner and was appointed third driver for the Mercedes F1 team. The following year he became the youngest ever DTM champion.

Wehrlein made his F1 debut in 2016 with Manor and scored his first championship point in Austria. The following year he moved to Sauber and took a further two points finishes, in Spain and Azerbaijan, but lost his seat for this year to Charles Leclerc following Sauber’s renewed Ferrari partnership.

Toto Wolff has been quoted recently as saying that Mercedes would be prepared to let its junior drivers go if doing so would help their careers, following his struggle to find Wehrlein’s former stablemate Esteban Ocon an F1 seat next year.

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

Charles to shake-up the harmony in Ferrari, can the Italians handle it?

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari SF-71H and Charles Leclerc (MON) Alfa Romeo Sauber C37 at Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Qualifying, Baku City Circuit, Baku, Azerbaijan, Saturday 28 April 2018.

An expected announcement followed by an unexpected move, published this week by Scuderia Ferrari. The Tifosi, released their 2019 driver line-up and presented Sebastian Vettel’s new team-mate, Charles Leclerc.

Kimi Raikkonen, will join Sauber for the next two years and will race alongside Marcus Ericsson.

“Signing Kimi Raikkonen as our driver represents an important pillar of our project, and brings us closer to our target of making significant progress as a team in the near future, Kimi’s undoubted talent and immense experience in Formula One will not only contribute to the development of our car, but will also accelerate the growth and development of our team as a whole. Together, we will start the 2019 season with a strong foundation, driven by the determination to fight for results that count.” said Sauber Team Principal Frederic Vasseur.

The Finn, surprised most of the fans with his move, from last week his fans in the media made it clear to Ferrari that they should keep Kimi for at least one more season. The Italians, had a different point of view, they chose a young talented driver to replace the flying Finn and have a strong driver line-up in 2019.

“Dreams do come true” posted Leclerc on twitter, the day that his move to Ferrari was published. Just a few years ago, when Vettel moved to Scuderia Ferrari, stated “the dream of a lifetime has come true”.

Next season, Ferrari will have one of the strongest driver line-up on the grid. Extra pressure on the shoulders on everyone in the team, especially if the Italians don’t manage to close the gap and beat Mercedes this season.

Even if nobody in Ferrari admits it, Vettel is the first and Raikkonen the second driver, there is a good relationship between the two drivers and each one knows exactly his role. From next season, the harmony in the team might be altered. Charles Leclerc, is a promising driver who has just started his Formula One career. From the other hand, Sebastian Vettel is a very experienced four-time world champion driver, who has to prove to the public that he can still race in high level.

Kimi has accepted his faith in Scuderia, and assisting Vettel as much as possible to win the championship. I don’t expect Charles to do the same.

“I’m not going to Ferrari to learn,I think I’ve had a very good season this year where I could learn most of it, and next year [my role] is to perform in a big team. I’m not saying I won’t learn anything anymore, because I have so much to learn still and I can still improve a lot in a lot of things. But definitely I will be a lot more ready than I was at the beginning of the year.” said Charles Leclerc.

The Monégasque, is not joining Ferrari just for the show and for the glory, he wants to add his name in Ferrari’s glorious history.

Are the Italians able to handle the situation?

Sebastian Vettel was the one who “ruled” in the team, but as he very well knows, if he don’t improve his current performance and win the championship, his seat at Ferrari will not be secure. Charles will grab any chance he can get and the German could live a déjà vu.

Kimi Raikkonen will enjoy the next two years in Formula One. The Finn, is going to race with much less pressure and with lower expectations. The fans will still be happy to watch him on the track and we will keep enjoying some great press conferences, like the one today!

“Q: And you’re still passionate about racing? The fire…

KR: No, I’m not actually. Just by pure head games for you guys I happened to sign and I’m going to spend two years there just not being happy.”

Ferrari is risking a lot with that move, they have chances to rule in the following seasons with a thrilling driver line-up but if their choice back fires…

Victor Archakis

Twitter: @FP_Passion

Force India continue their charge for Racing Points

Sergio Perez in the pits for new tyres. Image courtesy of Racing Point Force India

Following on from an impressive debut (if you can call it that) for Racing Point Force India at Spa, I held high hopes that the team would continue their climb up the points ladder this week in Monza. While the Pink Panthers had no problem at all in cruising past Williams in the (largely non-existent) points battle in Belgium, would passing Sauber for 8th in the standings prove more challenging?

The weekend got off to a great start, with the pink team again showing their wet weather prowess in FP1, with Perez and Ocon taking full advantage of the conditions to finish P1 and P3 respectively. Who knew panthers (albeit pink ones) were so fond of the rain? Things settled down a little once the rain clouds dissipated, but Perez and Ocon were still impressive in the dry FP2 and FP3 sessions, placing “best of the rest” or close to it.

Their competition in the standings for this weekend, Sauber, faced a more difficult time, most spectacularly for Marcus Ericsson in FP2, who became the unfortunate passenger of a car that jerked violently to the left before rolling repeatedly as a result of his DRS failing to close. Luckily he escaped unscathed, but it didn’t look pretty, and forced the team to break curfew to fix the car during the night.

Although the pace was still looking good for Force India in qualifying, they looked to have made a costly mistake in Q1, deciding not to send Perez out for another run at the end of the session. Unbelievably, he found himself a single thousandth of a second on the wrong side of Romain Grosjean’s time, pushing him down to 16th and out. Ocon made it comfortably through, meanwhile, eventually ending up a respectable eighth on the grid. It looked likely, at this point, that while Ocon might have a shot at the coveted best of the rest spot, Perez might struggle to even reach the points.

On Sunday though, Perez charged through the field like a man possessed, wrestling his way to where he probably should have been if not for Saturday’s strategy oversight. By lap 10 he was in the points, and his charge continued impressively from there on. Ocon arguably had an easier ride, having started further forward, but both impressed in the race, finishing 7th and 8th on the road (more on that later).

Sauber meanwhile, continued to struggle without the straight-line speed required to excel at Monza, with Leclerc putting in a valiant effort but ultimately coming up short, and Ericsson having a tough time towards the back of the field. So while Perez and Ocon finished comfortably in the points, Sauber failed to score.

It doesn’t take a genius to do the maths: going into the weekend with a mere one point advantage over Force India, Sauber were now very solidly on the back foot, with Force India sailing on through to rise up to P8 in the standings.

However, the story doesn’t end there. After the race, the floor on the Romain Grosjean’s Haas was found to be illegal, and he was promptly disqualified, pushing Ocon and Perez up to P6 and P7 in the race results. Although Haas may yet appeal, if the decision stands, Force India stand to gain – not just points, either, but yet another position in the standings! Yes, after just two races as a “new“ team, Force India really do sit seventh in the Constructors’ table.

So, what’s next on the horizon? Sixth no longer seems impossible. Fifth might involve just a bit too much wishful thinking. But if there’s one thing for sure, it’s that I wouldn’t want to bet against them.

F1 driver market: Who will twist after Mercedes sticks?

Last weekend’s German Grand Prix opened with the unsurprising news that Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas would be remaining with Mercedes for the next year and beyond.

Coming just before the summer break, Mercedes’ announcement is set to kick-start what has so far been a slow-building driver market for 2019. Daniel Ricciardo is expected to remain with Red Bull, while the current paddock word is that Ferrari will hand Kimi Räikkönen another year’s extension.

But with the top teams entering a holding pattern, what does that mean for any potential moves elsewhere on the grid?

Sahara Force India F1 Team

Force India, Renault now key to the midfield

With the grid’s top six seats filling up, all eyes are turning now to Force India, Renault and Esteban Ocon.

Despite Force India holding an option on Ocon’s services, Mercedes has been trying to place their young Frenchman at Renault next year to safeguard his career against the financial and legal troubles plaguing Force India. It’s unclear whether this switch will still go ahead now that Force India is no longer facing a winding up order, but the consensus is that it’s still on the cards at least.

If Ocon does make the move it will be at the expense of Carlos Sainz, even though the Spaniard will be free to commit to Renault long-term once Ricciardo blocks off the final Red Bull seat.

Force India could have another vacancy to fill, with Sergio Pérez on the shopping list for Haas. If there is a seat free at the Silverstone-based team, Lance Stroll will be at the front of the queue to take it with help from his father’s backing. Stroll is also said to be keen on bringing Robert Kubica with him from Williams, to act as his benchmark and mentor, should both Force India seats open up.

Andrew Hone / Williams F1

Williams and McLaren fall into place

With Stroll almost certain to switch to Force India, that leaves an opening at Williams. And despite that seat being arguably the least attractive on the 2019 grid, Williams does still have a few options to fill it.

The first is Kubica (if there’s no room for him at Force India), who would provide Williams with a relatively consistent lineup as they try to escape their downward spiral. Mercedes junior George Russell is also in the frame, and would bring with him a discount on the team’s power units to offset the loss of Williams’ Stroll and Martini funding. (Russell also has the added perk of being Williams’ first full-time British driver since Jenson Button in 2000.)

McLaren will also be keeping an interested eye on the Force India/ Renault situation as they look to finalise their 2019 lineup over the summer break. Fernando Alonso looks likely to stay with the team for another year at least now that their IndyCar talk has cooled, although Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren future is far less certain.

Early season reports had Lando Norris as sure to replace Vandoorne for next year, but a midseason F2 slump has put Norris’ F1 promotion into doubt for now. Sainz’s contractual limbo has moved him into play for the second McLaren seat, arguably the most competitive option open to him if he is forced out of Renault. Kubica has also been touted as an outside contender.

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

Few options for Red Bull and Ferrari juniors

The deadlock at the top of the grid means that there isn’t much upward movement available for the likes of Pierre Gasly and Charles Leclerc. The latter has been linked to Grosjean’s Haas seat lately, but there seems little sense in Ferrari switching Leclerc from one midfield team to another for the sake of it—given his trajectory, it would be better to see how Leclerc develops in a sophomore year at Sauber.

Leclerc staying put rules out a Ferrari-backed Sauber placement for Antonio Giovinazzi—with one of the Scuderia’s juniors already in the team, Sauber is more likely to either keep Marcus Ericsson for a fifth season or pick up Vandoorne from McLaren.

As for Red Bull’s academy team, the likelihood of seeing a brand new face replacing Brendon Hartley is slim. Red Bull may want F3 protege Dan Ticktum in the car, but his lack of superlicence points is an obstacle the FIA won’t be willing to overlook—so too is the case for Honda juniors Nirei Fukuzumi and Tadasuke Makino.

Featured image by Steve Etherington, courtesy of Mercedes AMG

Austrian GP driver ratings

In Formula 1 anything can happen, and it usually does! That was what Murray Walker always said, and it did indeed happen at the Red Bull Ring this weekend. A very hot Sunday played havoc with the field, though some acclimatised better than others.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Max Verstappen: 9.5

This was a great weekend for Verstappen, as he continued his podium form and this time to the top step. Fortune favoured the brave on the first lap with a great move on Raikkonen. One of the first to pit under the Virtual Safety Car, Verstappen made his tyres last in the heat while others struggled with blistering. He is a driver known for his speed, but this weekend Verstappen proved he can drive calmly.

Kimi Raikkonen: 8

Austria was one of Raikkonen’s better races of the year. After a great start (marred slightly by running wide on the first lap) Raikkonen put in a tyre management drive reminiscent of his Lotus days to take a superb second place. With reports saying Leclerc is all set to join Ferrari next year, could this be the beginning of Raikkonen’s swan song?

Sebastian Vettel: 7

After this weekend sees Vettel leave Austria as the Championship leader, he won’t mind too much about the grid penalty he was given for impeding Carlos Sainz in qualifying. Vettel’s race started poorly on Sunday as he fell to 8th, but a good recovery drive put him on the podium. 

Haas F1 Media

Romain Grosjean: 8

The Frenchman finally sees the flag in the top ten! Grosjean was very impressive on Saturday when he outqualified a Red Bull, and was one of the better drivers on Sunday at keeping the tyres in good condition. A great result for him and especially Haas, as teammate Magnussen finished behind him in P5.

Kevin Magnussen: 8

Magnussen continued his impressive 2018 in Austria with a great haul of points in P5. Together with Grosjean, Magnussen’s points this weekend helped Haas back up their statement about being the fourth-best team. A great drive from Magnussen all weekend, evening if Grosjean had shaded him on race day. 

Esteban Ocon: 8

Ocon is a name being frequently mentioned in the drivers’ market as a hot talent, and he proved why in Austria. Starting in P11 he had the free choice of tyres, and used that well to finish P6. He had a fresher set of tyres later on than most which helped him too.

Sergio Perez: 7

After dropping out of qualifying in Q1 it looked like Perez would struggle. But with grid penalties ahead of him, Perez started P15 and made up the most places of who took the grid to finish P7—his first points finish since Spain.

Steven Tee/McLaren

Fernando Alonso: 8

Alonso started from the pitlane on Sunday because his car was taken out of parc fermé for a change of front wing and MGU-K. He was on the radio early on calling for a new strategy to get out from behind Hartley’s Toro Rosso, and and an early pit stop allowed Alonso to come back through the field as he kept his tyres from blistering. A much better race for the 2018 Le Mans winner.

Charles Leclerc: 8

Through to Q2 again for the sixth weekend in a row, Leclerc’s Sauber showed great pace on Saturday. A gearbox penalty meant he dropped back to P17 on the grid, but a strong recovery brought him up into the points—and all on the weekend that his move to Ferrari for next year has reportedly been decided.

Marcus Ericsson: 7

Ericsson had a pretty poor Saturday as he said couldn’t find a gap on track in qualifying, but put that behind him to help Sauber to its first double points finish since China 2015. To sweeten the deal, Ericsson only had to wait seven races between his last points finish and this, as opposed to the two whole seasons before. The Sauber is being developed well.

Pierre Gasly: 7

Gasly’s tyres just gave up on him at the end of the race as he suffered from the blistering that affected most of the field. He was running a strong P8 with a few laps remaining but his tyres were past it. For a very power hungry track, Gasly qualified a fine P12 with the Honda power unit. His raw pace is noticeable. 

Renault Sport F1 Team

Carlos Sainz: 6

Sainz was only one of two drivers to finish further back from his grid place in Austria. He started P9 and actually got by Vettel for half a lap, but his two-stop strategy didn’t pan out and he dropped to P12 by the end of the race.

Sergey Sirotkin: 6

Out in Q1, Sirotkin struggled to get to grips with his car in the early part of the weekend. However it was a better Sunday from the Russian, as he finished P13 and ahead of his teammate.

Lance Stroll: 6

A great Saturday performance saw Stroll get into Q2 for the first time since Azerbaijan. On the first lap he was running as high as P12 and points were possible, but a ten-second penalty for ignoring blue flags resulted in him finishing P14. 

Stoffel Vandoorne: 4

Austria was another poor weekend by Vandoorne, with a Q1 exit on Saturday and a collision with Gasly on the first lap on Sunday. After pitting for a new front wing the Belgian was way down the order and off the pace. He retired lap 66 due to damage, and the pressure to defend his seat for next year is building.

Steve Etherington / Mercedes AMG F1

Lewis Hamilton: 7.5

With upgrades on his car Hamilton was the one to beat in the early part of the race. But when the VSC came out on lap 14 he didn’t pit like everyone else, and as a result lost the race lead. Hamilton then retired on lap 64 with a loss of fuel pressure—his first retirement since Malaysia 2016—and lost the lead of the championship to Vettel.

Brendon Hartley: 5

Hartley’s Sunday began with a 35-place grid penalty for changing his power unit, and ended when his gearbox failed on lap 57 and put him into retirement.

Daniel Ricciardo: 6

The Austrian Grand Prix may have been on Ricciardo’s 29th birthday, but sadly it ended in retirement. It was a sour start to the weekend with him being outqualified by Grosjean and an argument with his teammate over slipstreaming tactics. Ricciardo put a trademark late-braking move on Raikkonen early in the race but struggled with tyre blisters later, then retired due to a broken exhaust. He’ll be hoping for a stronger weekend in Silverstone.

Valtteri Bottas: 9

Bottas seems to love the Red Bull Ring, and pole and the win last year gave him huge confidence into this year’s event. He managed to get pole again this year but didn’t get as good a start as he got in 2017 and lost the lead to Hamilton in Turn 1. A great double overtake on the first lap saw Bottas recover to P2, although luck wasn’t on his side as the seemingly ever-reliable Mercedes broke again with a hydraulics failure. Two mechanical DNF’s for the Silver Arrows.

Nico Hulkenburg: 6

The first failure of the race came to Hulkenberg, a massive engine failure with smoke and lots of fire. Hulkenberg was in place for reasonable points but lost power on the straight. He had great pace in qualifying and got through to Q3 but reliability caught him this weekend.

Austrian Grand Prix: Bottas Claims First Pole of the Year

Image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Valtteri Bottas has claimed his first pole position of the year, and leads a Mercedes 1-2 into tomorrow’s Austrian Grand Prix.

Of the big-hitters, only Bottas and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen had a truly clean session. Both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel made mistakes early on – at turn three and turn four respectively – and ended up relatively far back after the first Q3 runs had been completed. It took until the last couple of minutes for the pair to pull themselves back up the order – Hamilton ultimately qualified P2, and Vettel P3, with both pushing Kimi Raikkonen down into P4. Vettel was noted as being under investigation for allegedly impeding Carlos Sainz in Q2, but since Sainz did advance to Q3 it is uncertain whether Vettel will receive any penalty.

Red Bull had expected qualifying to be a struggle compared to Mercedes and Ferrari coming into the weekend. Max Verstappen may have qualified P5 but he was still two tenths behind Raikkonen, and Daniel Ricciardo ended up P7 behind the Haas of an impressive Romain Grosjean. Replays of team radio throughout the session indicated a certain amount of tension in the team, with Ricciardo frustrated that Verstappen did not follow orders to lead the Australian for a lap and give him a tow, as Ricciardo had done for Verstappen the lap before.

Kevin Magnussen and the two Renaults of Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg complete the top ten.

Further down the order, Charles Leclerc continues to impress in the Sauber. He qualified P13 but carries a five-place grid penalty due to his gearbox needing to be changed following a stoppage on track in FP3.

Force India’s Sergio Perez had a nightmare of a session. The Mexican complained of running out of battery during his first run and of getting stuck in traffic during his second. He failed to make it out of Q1 and starts P17.

It was also a frustrating session for McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley. Both were looking to pull themselves out of the drop-zone and into Q2, but encountered yellow flags on their flying laps when Charles Leclerc ran through the gravel trap in the final moments of Q1.

Both Mercedes and Red Bull will start tomorrow’s Grand Prix on the supersoft tyres, with all those around them starting on the ultras. Bottas will be hoping to convert pole position into a win, at the circuit where he claimed his second ever victory in 2017.

Austrian Grand Prix Grid

1. Valtteri Bottas – 1:03.130

2. Lewis Hamilton – 1:03.149

3. Sebastian Vettel – 1:03.464

4. Kimi Raikkonen – 1:03.660

5. Max Verstappen – 1:03.840

6. Romain Grosjean – 1:03.892

7. Daniel Ricciardo – 1:03.996

8. Kevin Magnussen – 1:04.051

9. Carlos Sainz – 1:04.725

10. Nico Hulkenberg – 1:05.019

11. Esteban Ocon – 1:04.845

12. Pierre Gasly 0 1:04.874

13. Fernando Alonso – 1:05.058

14. Lance Stroll – 1:05.286

15. Stoffel Vandoorne – 1:05.271

16. Sergio Perez – 1:05.279

17. Sergey Sirotkin – 1:05.322

18. Charles Leclerc – 1:04.979 *5-place penalty for gearbox change

19. Brendon Hartley 1:05.366

20. Marcus Ericsson – 1:05.479

 

Update – 17:30 – Sebastian Vettel has been given a three-place penalty by the stewards for impeding Carlos Sainz at turn one in Q2. The German will now start P6, promoting Kimi Raikkonen to P3, Max Verstappen to P4, and Romain Grosjean to P5.