Hulk is back – The German driver impresses on his F1 return with Racing Point

With news that Sergio Perez had tested positive for COVID-19 breaking on Thursday evening, Racing Point had a decision to make as to who would come in and effectively replace him for at least this weekend’s British Grand Prix and even possibly for the 70th anniversary race weekend the next week. Well, it was all to perfect for a certain German driver who’s last race came some 243 days ago.

After losing his seat at Renault at the end of last season, Nico Hulkenberg was most likely wondering how he could get himself back in a seat. However, what he probably wasn’t expecting was how it would come about and how much earlier an opportunity for him to return to the grid would arise. With that said, news broke hours before the start of Free Practice 1 that Racing Point had opted to replace Checo with Nico, who had already spent three-quarters of an hour of Friday morning in the Racing Point simulator ahead of his scheduled return.

With 177 Grand Prix’s to his name, it absolutely makes sense for both Nico and the Pink Panthers for him to take the drive, replacing his former Force India teammate and he did not disappoint!

Glen Dunbarr / Racing Point F1 Team

Free Practice 1:

Nico’s initial lap of the historic Silverstone track was slightly delayed due to the fact we were still awaiting the result of his own COVID test, however, it wasn’t too long of a wait and before you knew it, Nico was taking to the track in the RP20 and was actually the first out.

After a couple of bedding in laps and a could of stops into the pits, Nico went on to complete an impressive 24 laps and subsequently posted a best lap time of 1:28.592 which was good enough to see him end FP1 in 9th just +1.170 behind the fastest man of the session – Max Verstappen (1:27.422).

What was more impressive was the fact that while he was just over one second off Verstappen, Nico was only +0.591 off his teammate Lance Stroll, who ended up finishing the first session third fastest posting a 1:28.004 (+0.582 behind Verstappen).

Post FP1 thoughts had you thinking that given Nico hasn’t taken to the track whatsoever this season let alone jumping into a car which has a serious chance of challenging this weekend, he could only get fast. Excitement building for FP2? Absolutely.

Final Session Times:

Free Practice 2:

FP2 got underway and Nico took his time in the garage before heading out to put an initial lap time of 1:29.906 for 13th with almost 20 minutes of the session gone. The following lap, Nico got himself into the top 10 with a much more improved 1:29.041 (9th), pace was starting to gather for the 32-year-old German.

With just under an hour of practice left, Nico saw teammate Stroll set a session fastest 1:27.274 during a qualifying simulation run. Nico’s answer? Well, it was 1:27.910 to go 5th fastest and move to within +0.636 of Stroll.

With just three quarters of an hour left in the session though, Red Bull’s Alex Albon went off the track at Stow in a big way after losing the rear end and spinning in barriers. The session was red flagged and all car’s returned to the pits for around 15 minutes.

With restart of the session and around 30 minutes to go, Nico went on to complete a further 25 laps and ultimately ended up in P7 at the checkered flag. As for his teammate Stroll, well.. he ended up being the fastest man of the session with his before mentioned lap of 1:27.274 which was +0.090 fastest than second quickest Alex Albon, who after his crash at Stow, didn’t return for the rest of the session.

Final Session Times:

 

What Nico Had To Say:

“The 24 hours has been a bit special. Crazy and wild. 16:30pm yesterday afternoon I got the call took a plane here and then seat fitted until 2am last night. Then into the simulator at 8am for an hour with a bit of prep work. It was a short night, but all worthwhile.”

Mark Sutton / Racing Point F1 Team

Overall Assessment:

Nico’s return to the track after 243 days was a very impressive one giving the circumstances. With as much notice as he had, I don’t think you could have asked much more from him. Yes, we all know that the car he was in control of could and should have been up with Stroll’s timing but let’s be honest, 24 hours on from being told he was coming in, Nico did an excellent job in staying within six hundred tenths of his teammate.

The rest of the weekend will now be an opportunity for Nico to repay Racing Point’s trust in giving him to replace Checo. You can well imagine that with the data collected from his laps today and the debriefing to follow, Nico’s confidence will have grown massively and could show not only in tomorrow’s FP3 but also in what is expected to be a much cooler Qualifying.

It’s fair to say that despite the circumstances that surround his return, it’s great to see the man that they call Hulk back in a Formula One car. Welcome back, Nico!

2020 Styrian Grand Prix preview: second chance in Spielberg

Another week, another visit to Austria’s Red Bull Ring—this time for the Formula 1 Styrian Grand Prix.

Last week’s Austrian Grand Prix was a terrific opening round to the 2020 season. Valtteri Bottas landed an early blow in the title fight with Lewis Hamilton, Lando Norris earned his maiden podium with a last-gasp effort, and there was plenty of close-quarters racing throughout.

Last week’s result was also largely unexpected, thanks to incidents and reliability issues almost halving the field by the chequered flag. That means we could get a very different result again this weekend, if the teams and drivers don’t have half as much trouble keeping their cars on track.

One of the teams that’s sure to factor more in the Styrian Grand Prix is Red Bull. It was clear last time out in Austria that they were Mercedes’ closest challengers, but technical problems for both Max Verstappen and Alex Albon led to a double DNF instead. Both drivers will be going into this weekend pushing hard to make up for that, with Albon especially motivated after coming so close to his first F1 podium.

Racing Point F1 Team

Racing Point will also be hoping for a much better result this time out. The RP20 showed more evidence of its considerable pace in practice and qualifying, but a technical DNF for Lance Stroll and a penalty dropping Sergio Perez behind both McLarens in P6 left a lot still on the table for the team. Provided everything goes to plan for them this weekend, Racing Point should be able to finish ahead of their midfield rivals and take away a decent haul of points.

However, there will be several teams hoping for a repeat of last Sunday’s attrition. Alpha Tauri and Alfa Romeo both managed to score points last time out, with Pierre Gasly in P7 and Antonio Giovinazzi in P9, but on pace alone neither team looked that close to the top ten throughout the weekend.

And then there’s Ferrari. Although Charles Leclerc finished second in the opening race, that was very much a great result salvaged from a terrible outing. The SF1000 looked sluggish all weekend, never troubling Mercedes or Red Bull and qualifying behind McLaren and Racing Point. Add to that Sebastian Vettel’s spin after colliding with Carlos Sainz, and the result was a very sobering start to the season.

One glimmer of hope for the Scuderia was that the car looked much more responsive later in the race on the harder tyres, and the team will have hopefully learned something from last weekend’s pain that can be used to improve this weekend. If not, Leclerc and Vettel will likely find themselves scrapping away with the upper midfield rather than challenging for the podium.

The 2020 Styrian Grand Prix gets underway with free practice this Friday, with full coverage on our Twitter feed.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

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

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

2020 F1 driver market preview

Now that the 2019 F1 Championship is nearing its summer break, the traditional driver market rumours have started coming in thick and fast. To help sort the bluff from the believable, we’ve identified five key hotspots in this year’s silly season.

Esteban Ocon

Mercedes AMG

Esteban Ocon is expected to be the driver market’s dominant figure this year. Although his chances of a 2020 Mercedes drive have been slashed by Valtteri Bottas’ run of improved form, there is no shortage of teams to which the Frenchman has been linked.

If Mercedes were to release Ocon as they did Pascal Wehrlein last year, then he could prove the keystone for the midfield shuffle. Renault and Haas especially are known to be interested in a free Ocon, and both teams have drivers out of contract.

Sebastian Vettel

Ferrari Media

Although Sebastian Vettel has a contract with Ferrari for 2020, his distance from the title, infamous disagreements with the stewards and the rise of Charles Leclerc have all left him openly questioning whether F1 is still the place he wants to be.

At the moment Vettel is still expected to at least see out his contract rather than walk away early. But if he does call time on his F1 career this season, the most likely candidate to take his seat is thought to be Bottas or Daniel Ricciardo.

Nico Hülkenberg

Renault Sport Media

Nico Hülkenberg might have scored more than half of Renault’s total points since he joined them in 2017, but that hasn’t stopped team reportedly eyeing up Ocon for his seat next year.

If Hülkenberg were to lose his Renault drive, his only alternative on the 2020 grid would be a sideways move to Haas, Racing Point or Alfa Romeo. However, after nine seasons mired in the midfield he may decide to take his considerable talent to a more competitive series—Formula E, perhaps, or returning to Le Mans with Aston Martin’s hypercar entry.

Romain Grosjean

Haas F1 Media

Romain Grosjean is another driver under pressure from Ocon, with one wild silly season story claiming Haas were even trying to swap the two Frenchmen around for this weekend’s German Grand Prix.

But while that particular rumour has come to nothing, it is true that Grosjean is facing a lot of competition for his seat—not just from Ocon, but also Hülkenberg, Sergio Pérez and now-Ferrari development driver Wehrlein. Whether Grosjean remains on the F1 grid at all next year remains to be seen, with his best option likely swapping seats with Pérez and joining Racing Point.

Nicholas Latifi

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

There isn’t much space for new young drivers on the 2020 grid, but Formula 2 frontrunner Nicholas Latifi already has his feet under the table with a Williams reserve role. If Williams and Robert Kubica decide to part company at the end of a frustrating year for both parties, Latifi is next in line to replace the Pole.

Latifi has also been linked with Racing Point, forming an all-Canadian lineup with Lance Stroll should Pérez move on to Haas. However, Ocon is a much more likely alternative at present, given his fruitful past relationship with the team and his friendship with Stroll.

Racing Point unveils 2019 design at Canadian International Auto Show

Racing Point have revealed their 2019 livery, in a team launch held at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto.

Alongside the livery of their new car, the team also announced a title sponsorship deal with online sports betting platform SportPesa and the subsequent renaming of the team as SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team.

Water treatment company BWT remain as another major sponsor for the team, and as such their livery retains much of the bright pink that the team has run for the past couple of years, alongside streaks of SportsPesa blue along the engine cover and around the halo and rear wing.

SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team

Racing Point had been running in fourth in the constructors’ championship for much of the year as Force India before going into administration over the course of the summer break. They were bought out by a consortium led by Lawrence Stroll, father of 2019 driver Lance, and managed to remain on the grid, but forfeited their points tally and arrived at the Belgian Grand Prix back at square one. They ultimately recovered to finish seventh in the championship.

Speaking at the launch, team principal Otmar Szafnauer said: “After months of hard work behind-the-scenes it’s incredibly exciting to come to Canada and present our new identity. The long-term aim is to take this team to the very top of the sport.

“We are putting the building blocks in place and it’s important we take a good step forward in 2019 as we begin this new era. We want to be fighting for podiums on merit and aiming for a strong top four finish in the championship.”

 

2018 Singapore Grand Prix: One to forget for Force India

With their spirits high on the back of their impressive form in the last few races, Racing Point Force India looked as though they would continue their success this weekend in Singapore. When Perez and Ocon ran well in practice, and clocked impressive times in Saturday’s qualifying session, who could have known that the weekend would end as it did?

As the lights went out, it appeared – briefly – as though we might have an opening lap unusually free of incident. Unfortunately, a battle between the two Force India drivers soon put paid to that idea. You’ve no doubt seen the replays from every which angle by now but whether, as the stewards determined, you feel the collision that unfolded was a racing incident, or whether you feel there is blame to be placed (presumably on Perez), it was an incident that I think we can all agree should not have happened.

My own opinion is that while Ocon might have been a little plucky, there was no excuse for Perez not to have left him a bit more room. However, I also think there’s little point in dissecting the incident. It happened, it shouldn’t have happened, and that’s all that really matters.

Sergio Perez (MEX) Racing Point Force India F1 VJM11.
Singapore Grand Prix, Sunday 15th September 2018. Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore.

The incident left a despondent Ocon in the wall and out of the race, although what appeared to be one of his wheel rims continued on without its owner, finding a temporary new home on the front wing of Sergey Sirotkin’s Williams. Perez, meanwhile, escaped unscathed, running in seventh position until his pit stop.

The second moment of the race that Perez will surely rue came when he had been following Sirotkin (now sans extra wheel rim) for over ten laps. Clearly growing frustrated, Perez had taken to bizarre radio shout-outs to Charlie Whiting asking him to do something about the Russian driver who, for anyone watching, seemed to be defending hard but driving fairly. While Sirotkin was later involved in a questionable move with Brendon Hartley, which rightly earned him a penalty, there was little evidence that he’d acted unreasonably towards Perez.

Just as it seemed that Perez had finally managed to clear the Williams, he inexplicably turned left, spearing straight into his rival. In this second disastrous incident for Perez, it was near impossible to view it as anything other than wholly his fault. He finally finished the race in 16th, after serving a drive-through penalty for the collision, and will surely leave Singapore with a great deal to think about before the next race.

Sergio Perez (MEX) Racing Point Force India F1 VJM11.
Singapore Grand Prix, Sunday 15th September 2018. Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore.

Unfortunately, the events of this weekend’s race mean that Force India will have more to think about than their position in the standings. Instead, managing their drivers and minimising tensions between them will likely be a focus within the team. Despite not being unfamiliar with these sorts of problems between their drivers last season, until now it had seemed that such issues had been left behind in 2017.

But now, with their drivers once again not trusted to race each other, how will this impact their chances against not just each other, but the other teams? Only time will tell whether this new, undesirable twist in the tale of Racing Point Force India will continue to boil over, or whether they will be able to put it behind them for the good of the team.

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.

Otmar Szafnauer: “We need to keep up the momentum from Spa”

Racing Point Force India’s recently-promoted team principal Otmar Szafnauer has said he is keen for the team to keep things moving forward after their tumultuous summer break and the impressive performance from their two drivers at the Belgian Grand Prix.

“The last few weeks have been a period of transition for the team, but with the support of the Commercial Rights Holder, the FIA, and our fellow competitors we returned to competition in Spa,” Szafnauer said. “Getting some points on the board was the priority and to come away with fifth and six places was a wonderful reward for the entire team.”

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Racing Point Force India F1 VJM11 celebrates with the team at the end of the race.
Belgian Grand Prix, Sunday 26th August 2018. Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium.

The Silverstone-based team was put into administration over the summer break but, after a period of uncertainty, was saved by a consortium led by Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll, father of Williams’ Lance Stroll. The buy-out saw Force India forfeit all of the constructors’ championship points they had accumulated over the first half of the season and effectively enter the Belgian Grand Prix as a new team, rebranded as Racing Point Force India.

Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez started the race at Spa P3 and P4 after a rain-affected qualifying, and on the first lap there was a moment going into Les Combes where it looked like Ocon might have challenged Hamilton and Vettel for the lead. The Frenchman eventually finished the race in sixth, with Perez one position ahead of him in fifth, vaulting Force India ahead of Williams in the constructors’ championship and leaving them just one point behind Sauber already.

“The new ownership gives us a welcome injection of stability and investment,” Szafnauer added. “We retain a wonderful group of people working back at base and trackside, and with the off-track distractions now behind us we can concentrate on doing what we do best – building cars and going racing. Our performance level in Spa was a real credit to the entire team. The sight of Esteban and Sergio challenging for the lead on lap one is an image that we will cherish.

“We head to Monza determined to deliver more points. We need to keep up the momentum from Spa. Monza is all about top speed and stability on the brakes, and I think it will play to our strengths. Looking further ahead, we have more performance to introduce to the car over the next few events, hopefully starting from Singapore.”

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Racing Point Force India F1 VJM11.
Belgian Grand Prix, Sunday 26th August 2018. Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium.

 

Featured image – Esteban Ocon (FRA) Racing Point Force India F1 VJM11.
Belgian Grand Prix, Saturday 25th August 2018. Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium.

Blink and you’ll miss it: the short-lived points battle for 9th

Despite having heard the news that (Racing Point) Force India’s points tally was to be reset to zero, I nonetheless did a double take when first confronted with the updated Constructors’ Championship standings. It might be a little sad to admit, but, while the Force India fan in me shook my head, the Williams fan in me got momentarily excited by the prospect of Williams being not-last for the first time in what felt like an age.

But could Williams hold on to the heady heights of 9th place? Only time would tell (rather quickly, as it turned out).

I would have thought that this surprise jump in the standings might have been a new source of motivation for Williams (except possibly for the presumably temporarily conflicted Lance Stroll, rumoured to be joining his father, Lawrence, at the pink team before the season is out). But, watching FP1, it all seemed to be business as usual, with relative anonymity from both drivers, with the exception of a spin from Sergey Sirotkin. Despite the odd moment when Stroll or Sirotkin leapt briefly up the timesheets, only to topple back down moments later, they ended the session in the now-familiar depths of 16th and 19th respectively. FP2 and FP3 were incident-free but similarly unimpressive for the team. Presumably there’s not much that motivation can do in such a terrible car.

Qualifying made clear that the points battle between Williams and Force India was likely to be over as soon as it began, with both Williams out in Q1, while the Force Indias achieved near-perfection, locking out the second row of the grid, with some excellent wet-weather laps.

Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium.
Sunday 26 August 2018.
Lance Stroll, Williams FW41, leads Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren MCL33.
Photo: Andy Hone/Williams F1
ref: Digital Image _ONY2925

Come race day, towards the rear of the field Sirotkin and Stroll took advantage of the first lap carnage that collected Alonso, Hulkenberg and Leclerc, with Sirotkin finally completing a lap in a points-paying position, despite receiving a clattering from Bottas amidst the chaos. His race continued on a positive note as he overtook Ericsson shortly after the restart, with the two switching positions multiple times thereafter (none of which, sadly, was shown on screen).

While it was ultimately yet another pointless outing for Williams, their pace seemed a little better than in previous races. It was a particular shame that Sirotkin’s race went under the radar, with his Williams only appearing on screen again when falling victim to the faster-paced Carlos Sainz. As such, we missed out on some feisty driving from Sirotkin, who found himself in close on-track battles throughout the race.

Meanwhile, much further forward, the Force India drivers made the most of their advantageous starting positions, with Esteban Ocon getting an impressive but perhaps slightly over-ambitious start, narrowly missing out on a run for the lead. In usual Sergio Perez style, he immediately seized the opportunity to capitalise on Ocon’s misfortune, slotting neatly into third place behind Vettel and Hamilton. He shone again later, holding a resurgent Bottas off in the closing stages for longer than might reasonably be expected. The Pink Panthers finished the race a solidly impressive 5th and 6th on a day when more would have been impossible, a result that was a world away from the uncertainty surrounding the team as they went into the weekend, when at times it was unclear if they would even make it to the grid.

Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas at the Belgian 2018 GP. Image courtesy of Racing Point Force India

So, that of course brought an end to the short-lived points battle between Williams and Force India, with Perez and Ocon gaining 18 points between them, to put the team comfortably ahead of Williams with their miserable 4 point total.

But with Force India now just one point shy of Sauber, there’s another battle on the horizon for the next race. Will Monza see them climb another rung on the ladder? Once again, time will tell, but expect Sauber to put up a bit more of a fight.