After much speculation, the day finally came for Red Bull to unveil the RB16B, ahead of the 2021 season. The announcement was delivered with as much fanfare a virtual launch can muster, hammering home what we all expected; it’s the same, but different.
Red Bull have made themselves the talk of the off-season, after signing Sergio Perez to replace Alex Albon, who is now a reserve and test driver in the team, and the more recent announcement to take over their contract with Honda, and begin developing their own power units from 2022 onwards.
Some fans were a little disappointed to see the standard livery that has remained largely unchanged for a number of years, and Red Bull have made no secret of the fact that there has been a lot of carryover from the 2020 car, due to the deferral of the change in regulations.
Image courtesy of Red Bull
In spite of that, the team are keen to emphasise that the real changes have taken place beneath the surface. ‘For it’s final season in F1, Honda is introducing a new power unit’ amongst other changes.
Though it’s difficult to determine the extent of these changes from a carefully positioned press photo, it looks like there may be some change to the side-pods on the car, which in turn would mean greater downforce on the car.
Image courtesy of Red Bull
The RB16B ‘aims to carry the momentum of 2020 into the new season in a bid to fight for this years title’. The team feel confident this will help them take the fight to the as-yet unchallenged Mercedes, who have remained the dominant team in F1 for the past 7 seasons.
It will be all eyes on Silverstone tomorrow, when Max and Checo take to the track in the RB16B for the first time for a day of filming.
Will we see a shakedown livery? Do we have a new contender for the championship title, or will it just turn out to be the same, but different for another year running?
At just 103 days, the winter break between 2020 and 2021 is one of the shortest, certainly in modern history in Formula One. In actual fact, it was set to be shorter still, but with the postponement of the Australian Grand Prix, the new season will kick off in Bahrain, but what can we expect from this year?
Well, in truth, this year will probably be a case of “same, but different”, as regulations set in place for 2021 mean that the 2020 cars have been carried over to this year, and only aero parts and PUs are eligible to be changed. Fundamentally, though, the cars must remain the same, and the chassis will be identical to last year, so do not expect any massive jumps in performance.
This means to say that Mercedes should still be top dogs, Red Bull should be a close second, and the midfield will still be as intense as it was throughout the entirety of the 17 races last year.
But while substantial increases or otherwise in performance is too much to expect, little nuggets of gold may just help swing the tide a little as someone, somehow, looks to topple Mercedes’ absolute brilliance at the front.
Sergio Perez, surprise winner of the crazy Sakhir Grand prix last season, will make his highly-anticipated Red Bull debut having replaced the hapless Alex Albon. The discussion has been raging as to whether he will be able to beat their current titan Max Verstappen, and whether the Mexican truly does have the pace to compete at the front and spur Red Bull into serious Constructors’ Championship contention. It is widely expected that, if Perez is dominated by Verstappen the way Albon and Pierre Gasly were, it is a case of the car being geared to the Dutchman, as opposed to a lack of pace from Max’s team mates.
264 points separated Mercedes and Red Bull last year, so it will be fascinating to see if Red Bull’s third driver pairing in as many years will be able to close the gap and make life a little more uncomfortable for the imperious champions.
Speaking of whom, newly-crowned champion Lewis Hamilton has finally put pen to paper on a new contract with the German team, in a deal that takes him to the end of the 2021 season.
Reasons for just the one-season extension have been speculated about; who knows if it could be down to the impending salary cap, or whether it is because Hamilton feels as though he only has one year left with the Silver Arrows, and in Formula One as a whole?
This would make sense. Hamilton is set to win his eighth championship this season, beating Michael Schumacher’s remarkable seven in the process. The sport could certainly do with having Hamilton around next year, and we are likely set to see one of the most historical moments in the history of Formula One.
His team mate Valtteri Bottas could well be going into his last year with the Silver Arrows, but conversely to Hamilton, his future may not be in his own hands. In spite of a second-placed finish in the championship last season, Bottas’ overall performance has occasionally left something to be desired, and he will need to show stronger title credentials this year if he is to remain a part of the team in 2022.
A large part of this equation is the impressive progress of George Russell who, with a good performance in the Williams in 2021, could find himself in line for a drive next season. Particularly after Russell’s magnificent pace last year in the Sakhir Grand Prix alongside Bottas, this season will be a monumental one for both of them.
Further down, Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo are definitely ones to watch as they make their debuts for Ferrari and McLaren respectively. Ferrari acquired the services of Sainz after Sebastian Vettel’s departure for Aston Martin, while Australian Daniel Ricciardo left Renault for McLaren, replacing Spaniard Sainz. Ferrari’s new engine and aero parts for this season could lift them further into the midfield battle, and above the abysmal eighth place they managed last season with Vettel and Leclerc. Vettel meanwhile, with his new team and new haircut to boot, will attempt to make his presence felt in his new adventure with the new Aston Martin team, who take over from Racing Point this year.
Just as exciting as the German’s new venture, Fernando Alonso makes his comeback in 2021 in the Alpine team that has replaced Renault for this year, and after two seasons out, expectation is high. Frenchman Esteban Ocon, who managed his first podium last season in Sakhir, gets a real test of his ability by going up against a driver who, as well as being a two-time champion, is widely regarded as one of the quickest and most skilled drivers in F1’s rich history.
Alonso, though, comes back probably feeling a fair bit older than he did when he left. He raced against Jos Verstappen and Michael Schumacher during his first 18-year spell in the sport, and he is now about to race against their sons.
While Max had already become a fixture towards the end of Alonso’s first tenure, Michael’s son Mick will now be on the same grid as one of his father’s greatest rivals, as two generations collide.
Schumacher claimed glory in the F2 championship last season with Prema, and he arrives in Formula One with one of Ferrari’s junior teams: Haas. The American outfit enter this year will a new driver lineup; the departing Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen are replaced by Schumacher and car number nine.
As Lewis Hamilton seeks a record eighth championship, and Mercedes try to extend their record of Constructors’ championship successes, the 2021 season is a huge one for a lot of drivers, in what is the last year before the regulation changes in 2022.
The 2020 season has come to a close – at 161 days, it was the shortest since 1966, condensing 17 races into that window which has in previous seasons taken nearer 300. The final race took place on the 13th December. The time has now come to reflect on some of the extraordinary achievements that were made and exceeded in times that happen in every hundred years. Most of these decisions were made by the public using @PitCrewOnline and Twitter Poll.
We start with our first award, Qualifying Lap of Year, where you get to see the cars at the fastest! Our four options, place they qualified and resulting race are:
Hulkenberg P3 – 70th GP
Gasly P4 – Emilia Romagna GP
Stroll P1 – Turkish GP
Leclerc P4 – Sakhir GP
Winner: Hulkenberg – 62% of Public vote
This was his second consecutive race filling in for Sergio Perez after he tested positive for covid-19, although he couldn’t start the British Grand Prix due to a last minute problem with the car. Unlike the latter Bahrain rounds where the track changed to shortened Sakhir track, the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone had no changes from the British event. He qualified a fantastic P3, going faster than Verstappen; he was only beaten by the fastest car ahead of him in Mercedes. He ended Sunday in P7 so managed to score points, but the podium continues to elude him.
The next award is: Best Start of the Year. the nominees are:
Max Verstappen – P7 to P3 – Hungarian GP
Kimi Raikonnen – P16 to P7 – Portuguese GP
Carlos Sainz – P7 to P2 – Portuguese GP
Sebastian Vettel – P11 to P3 – Turkish GP
Winner: Kimi Raikkonen – 44% of Public vote
Kimi had a great start at Portimao, gaining 9 places on the opening lap; he even continued to rise to sixth place in the race for a further few laps before others tyres began to get temperature on the unique surface the track had. It narrowly beat Vettel’s start which received 33% of the vote at Turkey.
The Third award is: Overtake of the Year. We love wheel to wheel action – even better when DRS isn’t involved! Our options are:
Charles Leclerc on Lando Norris – outside of turn 4 – Austrian GP
Alex Albon on Lance Stroll – Outside of Copse – 70th Anniversary GP
Sergio Perez on Charles Leclerc – lap long battle – Eifel GP
George Russell on Valtteri Bottas – Sakhir GP
Winner: George Russell – 77% of Public vote
George Russell took his chance at the Sakhir Grand Prix with both hands but things out of his control prevented a maiden victory. He showed his skills and the pass on his team mate at the beginning of the final stint of the race after a calamitous safety car period for the team was one of these.
Next is an award for Pit Crew of the Year, which didn’t need a poll; a much more statistical thought!
9 times this year they have broken the 2 second barrier, with their fastest time being 1.86 on two occasions – close to the world record 1.82 time. Another remarkable feat was replacing Verstappen’s front left suspension in record time after his error en route to the grid at Budapest which led to his fantastic start. They won the DHL Fastest pit stops with 555 points with Williams next to 264. They only failed to achieve the fastest pit stop at Spa and Monza.
A bit of a hysterical award next! The Dyson Hoover Award
(Other hoover brands are available)
Valterri Bottas – For picking up bargeboards, and getting them stuck in his airflow which ruined his car’s downforce. He has also a habit of getting punctures of running over debris – Baku 2018 springs to mind.
Rookie of the Year!
Nicholas Lati… There was only one full time rookie this year? Nicholas Latifi! Solid job on his debut year. He nearly scored points in the inferior Williams at Imola where the unfortunate Russell made his one of his very few mistakes of the season in P11. Next season will be about cutting that deficit at the tracks we visited this year and spending time on the simulator; points in 2021 will be the target! Especially with Montreal looking likely to be one of our venues, Latifi will want better understanding and a better car for that event!
Race of the Year!
Max Verstappen’s win – 70th Anniversary GP
Lewis Hamilton’s 92nd win – Portuguese GP
Lewis Hamilton secures 7th Title – Turkish GP
Sergio Perez wins after Mercedes fail – Sakhir GP
Winner: Sakhir GP – 38%
The Sakhir GP took it by just 3% over the title securing Turkish event. Sakhir had the action! The lap one drama took out the touted Verstappen and putting the unlikely victor Perez last! Mercedes were the creators of their own downfall, and what if Jack Aitken, technically driving Russell’s car, didn’t put it in the wall? People questioned the shortened Sakhir layout, but it was great. if anything, another DRS zone before the final corner would have been great.
Driver of the Year!
The drivers to the left of the quarter final option were seeded in Championship order and then drawn at random against the other four randomly who had fantastic seasons in other cars. These were the agreed top 8 by Pit Crew census then each went to a 3 hour poll except for the final. That went for a 24 hour poll during Abu Dhabi weekend.
Sergio Perez (67%) – Pierre Gasly (33%)
Max Verstappen (52%) – Carlos Sainz (48%)
Lewis Hamilton (57%) – Charles Leclerc (43%)
Daniel Ricciardo (44%) – George Russell (56%)
Sergio Perez (59%) – Max Verstappen (41%)
Lewis Hamilton (59%) – George Russell (41%)
Sergio Perez (56%) – Lewis Hamilton (44%)
The public decided that Sergio Perez is the 2020 driver of the season! Congratulations to Checo! The season has come to a close, and some drivers are yet to be confirmed. Will our driver of the year get a call from the Red Bull hierarchy placing Albon on the sidelines for 2021?
That is the Awards for 2020, with the calendar being arranged on short notice and bubbles being kept to with only a few positive cases it looks like F1 can call 2020 a success. Old friends of Imola and Turkey came to assist whilst Portugal and Mugello came to show what they could do. Vaccines look to be starting to be distributed to assist with the pandemic, so fingers crossed some normality resumes to the world of Motorsport and beyond.
What a year. 2020 was tipped by many to be one of the most exciting in modern times and, well they were not wrong.
This has been by far the most astonishing year any of us have ever witnessed, both on and off the track, and even the most ardent of optimists cannot deny that it has been a struggle for everyone.
However, you also have to appreciate the fruits that have come out of a very tough situation. We have seen amazing race tracks like Mugello, Imola, Istanbul, Portimao and the Nurburgring introduced to a revised calendar, which has been a real delight for us all.
We went from 22 races to 17, and it all culminates this weekend at the Yas Marina Circuit for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. In a year that has been dim for many, the floodlights will shine a light of F1’s season finale.
The 5.5 kilometre track made its debut in F1 in 2009, closing out Jenson Buttonb’s title-winning year, and Brawn GP’s successor Mercedes arrive here having won every race in Abu Dhabi since 2014.
And this will fill them with hope, because a horrible race in Bahrain last weekend leaves them desiring a strong result to close out what has been an otherwise phenomenal year.
It is yet unclear whether newly-crowned seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, who contracted Coronavirus in the build-up to the Sakhir Grand Prix, will recover in time for this weekend. It therefore may be that George Russell returns to the car that he so nearly steered to victory in a stunning debut last race, only to be denied by not one, but two disasters.
Mercedes fitted team mate Valtteri Bottas’ tyres to race leader Russell’s car, forcing him to stop again and Bottas to stay out on dead tyres after a safety car. Having passed Bottas and made his way back up to second, Russell was baring down on Sergio Perez, only for a slow puncture to send him back to the pits. He would finish ninth, while Bottas ended up just one place better in eighth.
It was the aforementioned Perez that took his first ever F1 win, and the first ever for Racing point too. Following his devastating retirement last race that cost him a podium, he gave himself a great chance of securing fourth in the drivers’ standings this weekend, while Racing Point have now moved 10 points clear of McLaren in the battle for third in the Constructors’. Renault sit a further 12 points back.
It makes for an extremely intense finale in the context of the midfield battle, with all eyes firmly fixed on who will claim valuable positions in the drivers’ and constructors’ standings.
The gains will be valuable both financially and in terms of personal pride, and McLaren would be fully grateful of third following their cash flow issues at the start of 2020. As the race for third reaches a head, we eagerly anticipate this enormous battle between Racing Point and McLaren under the lights of Abu Dhabi.
It has been a tough year for many, but hopefully F1 has helped make it that bit easier for you all, and we look forward to covering one last race for you before we gladly turn our backs on 2020.
What a race! In the jumbled up 2020 calendar that began in July at the Red Bull Ring, the last three races are a triple feast in the Middle East. Beginning with the traditional Bahrain circuit last weekend and ending the season at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi but that middle race would be another one at Bahrain. However it would be on the outer circuit which the F1 cars had been lapping at under a minute all through the weekend.
The lead up to the weekend was already packed with action, as Romain Grosjean’s horror crash from which he thankfully escaped with just a few burns meant that Haas drafted in reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi. Then the huge bombshell dropped that world champion Lewis Hamilton had tested positive for COVID-19 which meant Mercedes had to go looking for a replacement driver. That turned out to be George Russell who left a vacant seat at Williams, and that ended up being F2 racer Jack Aitken.
In qualifying, it was Bottas who just pipped Russell to pole by a microscopic margin. Max Verstappen qualified third and Charles Leclerc put in a mighty lap to drag that lacklustre Ferrari to fourth on the grid, and following him were Pérez, Kvyat, Ricciardo, Sainz, Gasly, Stroll, Ocon, Albon, Vettel, Giovinazzi, Magnussen, Latifi, Aitken, Räikkönen, and at the back were Norris and Fittipaldi who had taken grid penalties.
At the start, Russell immediately got away better than Bottas who had to hold off Verstappen’s advances, and struggled to get out the first few corners. His compatriot Räikkönen spun in the back of shot and thankfully no awful imagery to worry about like last week at the same corner. But Bottas’ eyes were on Verstappen, closing the door on him which left an open opportunity for Pérez to go past the Red Bull.
But it was Leclerc who got caught out trying to brake for the corner, smacked into the Racing Point and spun him round, leaving Verstappen with nowhere to go but into the wall and retirement along with Leclerc. Somehow, Pérez was able to continue and pitted, benefitting from the subsequent safety car and was able to rejoin the back of the pack in 18th.
At the front, Russell’s massive lead that he got at the start was eliminated, but he wasn’t done. The safety car period ended on lap six and Russell eased off whilst Bottas was under pressure from McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, who rose to third amid the first lap chaos. He went around the outside of Bottas into turn one, but going through the turn two and three complex, Sainz ran wide and that allowed the Merc right back through.
Whilst Russell was experiencing what it’s like to be in the lead in an F1 car, further down the order were two of his mates, Lando Norris and Alex Albon. Lap 20 and Albon made a move stick on Norris, who was then immediately overtaken by Pérez despite the Mexican being spun on the first lap. The following lap, Albon was then passed by Pérez at the same corner.
Back at the front with Russell, he already had a gap of over a second before the DRS was enabled. The Mercs began gapping Sainz, and it was a steady lead Russell held over Bottas which fluctuated as they negotiated lapped traffic. He extended that lead after he pitted, undercutting Bottas after he was left out for a further four laps, and the gap went to the highest it had been all race even in spite of a sensor scare.
Russell’s typical Williams teammate Nicholas Latifi pulled off and caused a Virtual Safety Car, and not much changed other than Bottas swiped into Russell’s lead. But Pérez was continuing his charge through the field, putting a move on teammate Lance Stroll going into turn four and then the following lap, on former Force India teammate Esteban Ocon. The Mexican was absolutely flying out there. He was now on course for a podium finish with his strategy completely played out.
However, Russell’s replacement at Williams Jack Aitken lost the car coming out of the last corner and clattered the tyre barrier, leaving his front wing on the track and he dove for the pits. A Virtual Safety Car was initially called, but that became a full Safety Car, and Mercedes felt the need to cover off Pérez. But man, did they mess up.
The two Mercs double stacked, Russell came in and they put on the tyres, all well and good. Then Bottas came in and there seemed to be some hesitation, and they sent him back out on the same tyres he pitted with, which was a bit odd as to why they did that. Then it became very apparent. Russell had been sent out on tyres which were intended for Bottas, so now he was bunched up behind the safety car with Pérez, Ocon and Stroll behind him and he was called back to the pits to change the tyres.
This was a huge mess-up on Mercedes’ part. Russell came back out in fifth behind Bottas who remained on his old set, but looked to have the best tyres out of everyone in the top five. Racing resumed and Russell was a man on a mission, making quick work of his teammate on the old set of tyres pulling off an immense outside move going through the long turn six, then passing Stroll and Ocon with the help of DRS. He then set to work catching Pérez who was a long way up the road.
Russell was eating into Pérez’s advantage lap after lap but yet again, disaster. Russell was called back to the pits AGAIN as he had a slow puncture and they put him on softs, whilst the other Mercedes of Bottas just went backwards as he was overtaken by Sainz, Ricciardo and Albon in very quick succession.
But up at the front, a man who for some reason doesn’t have a drive in 2021 guaranteed. Sergio Pérez took an incredible first win for both himself, and the team that he’s leaving after next week’s season finale. Esteban Ocon took second ahead of Lance Stroll, then it was Sainz, Ricciardo, Kvyat had also passed Bottas in the closing stages, Russell recovered to ninth ahead of Norris who scored the last point.
Russell finally got his long awaited first points finish as well as another for fastest lap, although it was little consolation for what was throughout the entire race looking set to be an incredible first win for the guy. He did absolutely incredibly all weekend, and it definitely will not be the last we hear from Russell, who may get a second stab at the cherry this weekend in Abu Dhabi providing Hamilton isn’t well enough to participate.
But it was Pérez who after 190 starts, finally took victory and became the first Mexican to win an F1 Grand Prix in 50 years. A win that was perhaps long overdue, especially if we harken back to Malaysia 2012 when he came very close in his Sauber to denying Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso a win that day. But better late than never, and hopefully Pérez is not out of F1 for long.
After a heart-in-mouth opening lap last time out in Bahrain, F1 returns to Sakhir this weekend, but the track will look a little different.
Turning left immediately after turn four, the drivers will embark on an oval version that goes round to the end of the lap, with sub-one minute lap times anticipated.
Due to the freshness of the outer layout, there will be an odd and intriguing contrast between a rubbered-in track and a green circuit with very little grip.
However, the outer part is mainly full throttle and requires a lot of power, which is why more Mercedes dominance is expected.
Despite that, a track like this is reminiscent to other short circuits like Austria. Losing even the slightest time can be of extreme detriment, and it will prove incredibly difficult to re-gain that time once it is lost, particularly in qualifying.
But while we were all expecting the new layout to be the main talking point of this weekend, it is the miracle escape for Haas’ Romain Grosjean that will dominate race preparations, following a moment that shocked the sporting world.
Grosjean turned across the track and hit the Alpha Tauri of Daniil Kvyat, before smashing into the barrier and splitting his car in two, as it burst into flames in the process.
Having been in the fire for half a minute, the Frenchman was somehow able to escape from the car and, with the help of the heroic marshals and Dr. Ian Roberts, got away with only minor burns to his hands and ankles.
But the FIA will doubtless be looking closely at how the barrier broke in the way it did, and why there was such an enormous fireball upon impact. However, the halo and the safety mechanisms within the car did their job, and all came together to save Grosjean’s life.
He will be replaced by young Brazilian driver Pietro Fittipaldi while he continues to recover, and going up against Danish driver Kevin Magnussen will be the Test and Reserve’s first test in the F1 scene.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned Mercedes will be striving to further push home their advantage in what is a version of the track that suits them even better than the previous. Lewis Hamilton is aiming for his 96th career win, as he also aims to surpass Sebastian Vettel for wins in Bahrain.
His team mate Valtteri Bottas had yet more horrible misfortune early on in bahrain which cost him a place on the podium, with Red Bull taking full advantage. Max Verstappen took second, while Alex Albon took his second podium of the season and strengthened his chances of retaining his Red Bull seat next year.
The Ferrari-powered teams will likely struggle more this weekend and, having only seen Charles Leclerc’s works Ferrari score a single point last time, this may be another weekend to forget for the Prancing Horses, Alfa Romeo and Haas.
Racing Point fell 17 points behind McLaren after the double non-finish last weekend. Lance Stroll found himself the wrong way up after Kvyat’s spear into turn eight, while a late and gut-wrenching engine failure for Sergio Perez cost him a podium. McLaren, meanwhile, scored points with both Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz. As a result, McLaren will come into this weekend knowing they can put themselves in a very strong position indeed going into the last race in Abu Dhabi as the battle for third intensifies.
It is still Bahrain, but minus a large chunk of the track – and hopefully minus the heavy crashes too.
In a year that has not seen an awful lot of light either in Formula One or the outside world, darkness will soon descend on the 2020 season, with three night races in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi closing out the championship.
And whilst the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships have already once again been grabbed with authority by Mercedes, it is the battles further down that, true to form, promise to be as eccentric as ever as we head to Sakhir.
The 5.4 kilometre circuit has played host to 16 Formula one races since its inception in 2004, and was eventually rushed onto this year’s calendar after it had to miss out on its slot as the second race of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It will play host to two consecutive race weekends, but not quite as we know it. While this weekend utilises the accustomed track, the following weekend will see the vastly shortened version take its place, with sub-one minute lap times predicted.
Such pace will not be afforded in the first of the two meets in the desert, meaning that Mercedes’ dominance could possibly be kerbed slightly.
If we remember back to last year, Charles Leclerc all but had the win in the bag before engine issues cost him the victory, and would have cost him a podium had it not been for a late safety car.
But this performance from Ferrari is as much a concern this year as it was promising last year. The Prancing Horses were really the only team able to touch Mercedes that weekend, with Red Bull struggling find podium-earning pace.
And Ferrari have been woeful this year; their pace has picked up since the beginning of the season in Austria, but no wins and just three podiums are a damming indictment on what has been an extremely one-sided affair for the titles.
As a result, we should not anticipate much of a challenge for the win, and Valtteri Bottas in particular will be hoping this is the case following one of the most disastrous days of his career last time out in Turkey. To compound his non-points finish, he had to watch his team mate Lewis Hamilton beat him to the championship and claim his seventh title.
But it is the aforementioned midfield that will be catching the eye. Bahrain does seem to be able to promote some decent side-by side action down the main straight and up towards turn four, and drivers have shown plenty of times at this track that they are perfectly unafraid of an audacious overtaking attempt elsewhere too.
Sergio Perez’s phenomenal podium last time in Istanbul sees him an impressive fourth in the Drivers’ standings on exactly 100 points. He is three clear of Charles Leclerc, and you only have to count back another one point to find Daniel Ricciardo in fifth.
Istanbul certainly aided the shaking-up of the order, making for what will be a scintillating final three rounds of the season. The close racing in Sakhir will be an excellent catalyst for the showdown for what will now be a coveted fourth spot.
With eighteen points between third-placed Racing Point and fifth-placed Renault in the Constructors’ standings too, prepare for three weekends of thrills and spills as the championship reaches its last chapter.
2020 is fast turning into every Nico Hulkenberg fan’s dream. Despite not having a full-time place on the grid for this year, he’s been able to put himself front and centre in the driver market for 2021 with his impressive stand-in drives for Racing Point.
Now, Hulkenberg has been named by Red Bull as one of their prime targets for next year if they decide to let the struggling Alex Albon go. But as popular a signing as Hulkenberg would be, would he actually be the solution Red Bull is looking for?
The big complication is that Hulkenberg isn’t the only driver in contention for the seat. With Red Bull openly looking at Sergio Perez too, it’s not as simple as whether Hulkenberg offers an improvement over Albon.
And when it’s Hulkenberg against Perez, the Mexican arguably has the edge in terms of the overall package he offers.
The most obvious setback for Hulkenberg against Perez is that Perez has scored eight podiums throughout his career, while Hulkenberg has the record for the most F1 starts without one. When one of Red Bull’s criticisms of Albon is his lack of regular top three finishes, taking Perez over Hulkenberg seems the more sensible bet on this count.
The fact that four of Perez’s podiums came when driving the same Force India machinery as Hulkenberg only swings things further in the Mexican’s favour. And speaking of their time together as teammates, Perez’s top three finishes helped him outscore Hulkenberg across the season two years to one.
And then there’s the financial elephant in the room. With his personal backing from Carlos Slim and Telmex, Perez is said to bring anything between €15 million and €20 million to a team.
While Red Bull isn’t exactly hard up for cash, a number like that will still factor into their thinking—especially when they’re going to lose their Aston Martin title sponsorship next year, and are considering a costly move to take over Honda’s engine IP when the Japanese manufacturer leaves F1 at the end of 2021.
So with Perez winning out in terms of top three finishes, year-long consistency and financial backing, is there any area where Hulkenberg can actually make a case for being the better choice?
Luckily, yes—in fact, there are two.
The first is qualifying pace. While Perez has the edge in terms of race craft, Hulkenberg is undoubtably the better qualifier. His Interlagos pole with Williams in 2010 springs to mind, but there are much more recent examples than that—specifically, his third on the grid at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix this year for Racing Point.
You don’t get any points on a Saturday in F1. But Hulkenberg’s qualifying record would go a long way to addressing Red Bull’s need for its second car to start higher up the grid on Sunday than Albon is currently achieving.
With Perez, a driver who traditionally focuses more on race setup so he can battle his way back through the field, Red Bull could potentially end up with the same situation they currently have with Albon.
Perhaps the biggest tick in Hulkenberg’s favour, however, is his fit within the team. Of course it’s impossible to say for sure how he’d gel with Max Verstappen and Red Bull without him being there. But historically Hulkenberg has had harmonious working relationships with all of his teammates—including Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz, both of whom famously clashed against Verstappen at Red Bull and Toro Rosso respectively.
Hulkenberg’s demeanour and approach in the last few years suggests a driver comfortably assured of how good he is, regardless of what the F1 record shows, and this stands him in good stead as a potential teammate to Verstappen. He’s not trying to build a reputation within the sport, and so isn’t likely to trip up over the finer details of proving himself a match for Verstappen in the same way Albon and Pierre Gasly have.
By comparison, Perez has a history of friction with teammates, particularly when trying to assert himself against them. We saw this first in his on-track clashes with Jenson Button at McLaren in 2013, but more notably with Esteban Ocon during their two years together at Force India.
With Red Bull wanting a supportive rear-gunner for Verstappen, scenes like Perez squeezing Ocon into the wall in Singapore or refusing to let Ocon by for a podium shot in Canada aren’t going to count in his favour.
At the end of the day, you could make a case for both Hulkenberg and Perez being the best option for Red Bull. And that’s assuming Red Bull are going to replace Albon—at time of writing, there’s still every chance they could choose to keep him for another year.
With no clear right or wrong choice, the second Red Bull seat is the Schrödinger’s Cat of the driver market. We might as well assume it belongs to Albon, Hulkenberg and Perez for now, because we just won’t know for sure until the box is opened and we see whose name is on the contract.
This weekend Formula One heads to the mighty Nurburgring for the 2020 Eifel Grand Prix. As it’s been seven years since F1 last raced at the Ring, we’re throwing things back to its most recent visit—the 2013 German Grand Prix.
Taking a quick glance down the grid, 2013 doesn’t look too far removed from present-day F1. There are seven drivers from 2013 that are still racing in F1 today: Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo, Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez (or eight, if you include Racing Point stand-in Nico Hulkenberg).
Of those that aren’t, Fernando Alonso will be returning next year, and it wasn’t that long since we last saw the likes of Felipe Massa, Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg either.
But of those seven drivers still in F1 today, only Hamilton at Mercedes is still with the same team as in 2013. Back then, Vettel was still the reigning champion at Red Bull-Renault, while his future Ferrari teammate Raikkonen was in the second year of his F1 comeback partnering Grosjean at Lotus.
Meanwhile, Bottas was a rookie at Williams, Perez was enduring his ill-fated McLaren season, and Ricciardo was still cutting his teeth in a Ferrari-powered Toro Rosso before his Red Bull break a year later.
As for F1’s current crop of drivers, the likes of Carlos Sainz, Esteban Ocon and Alex Albon were all racing in Formula Renault categories in 2013. As for Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris and George Russell, they were all still in karts.
One thing that will be familiar for today’s F1 viewers is that the 2013 German Grand Prix started with Hamilton on pole for Mercedes. However, the Mercedes W04 was a far cry from the juggernauts that its turbo-hybrid successors would be.
The W04 was undoubtedly fast, and between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg had taken six of the season’s nine pole positions at that time. But a common theme of 2013 was Mercedes qualifying well only to struggle with tyre temperatures early on in the race and fall back through the field.
And that’s exactly what happened at the Nurburgring, as Vettel and Mark Webber (starting from second and third respectively) both got the jump on Hamilton into Turn 1. Meanwhile, Hamilton dropped back behind Grosjean and Raikkonen, whose James Allison-designed Lotuses were famously very gentle on their Pirelli tyres compared to the Mercedes.
With Vettel and Webber’s pace out front, Red Bull looked set for another 1–2 finish. But that fell apart when Webber came in to change tyres on lap 14 and left his pitbox with his right-rear not properly attached.
As Webber got away, the wheel detached and bounced down the pitlane—it hit FOM cameraman Paul Allen, who suffered a broken shoulder and cracked ribs and was taken to nearby Koblenz hospital for treatment. Allen later recovered fully and Red Bull were given a €30,000 fine for the incident.
Webber was able to rejoin the race, as he stopped just outside his pitbox and was promptly wheeled back and fitted with new tyres. But when he returned to the track he was a lap down on Vettel, while Grosjean and Raikkonen were closing in after setting multiple fastest laps.
On lap 23 the safety car was deployed when Jules Bianchi had to stop his Marussia with an engine fire. This allowed Webber to get back onto the lead lap. But after making initial progress when the race resumed, Webber then got stuck behind Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez for ten laps, and was forced to make another stop after eating through his tyres trying to get by.
Raikkonen took the lead of the race on lap 41 when Vettel and Grosjean both made their third stops, and Lotus extended his stint until lap 49. This left Raikkonen with much fresher soft tyres for the final laps of the race and gave him the best chance of hunting down Vettel for the win. With this and the championship in mind (Raikkonen was then third in the standings behind Vettel and Alonso), Lotus instructed Grosjean to let the quicker Raikkonen by for second.
But despite his pace, Raikkonen was unable to stop Vettel taking his first home Grand Prix victory. The win was also the 30th of Vettel’s career, making him only the sixth driver in F1 history at the time to score more than 30 wins (the others being Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Fernando Alonso and Nigel Mansell).
Raikkonen finished second and Grosjean third ahead of Alonso. Hamilton’s race stabilised in fifth, while Webber recovered to seventh between the McLarens of Button and Perez. Rosberg and Hulkenberg rounded out the points for Mercedes and Sauber respectively. Williams had looked set to finish in the points in what was their 600th Grand Prix, only for wheel gun problems in the pit stops to drop Pastor Maldonado and Bottas down to 15th and 16th place respectively.
The 2013 German Grand Prix was an enthralling race, but it was also a fascinating look back at F1’s recent history. It shows a Sebastian Vettel at his peak en route to a fourth consecutive World Championship. It shows the early signs of the Mercedes success to come, back when Lewis Hamilton only had one title and 21 wins to his name.
But more importantly for F1 today, it shows that the Nurburgring can provide some excellent racing and drama throughout the field, which can only bode well for the Eifel Grand Prix on Sunday.
Formula One rolls into the luscious town of Francorchamps this week, the threat of rain looms for the upcoming weekend as we await the 76th Belgian Grand Prix.
At a remarkable seven kilometres, Spa boasts the shortest name and the longest track on the calendar – which this year has been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we all have reason to be extremely grateful to see Spa on the shortened and condensed list of races this year. It is one of the most challenging, exhausting and bravery-inciting circuits F1 has seen in its 70-year history – Charles Leclerc and Fernando Alonso can testify to that after flying car incidents into turn one in 2012 and 2018.
And if previous form is anything to go by, we could be in for a fascinating race. The last eight F1 races at Spa have seen seven different winners – Jenson Button, Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc. Mercedes power has claimed five of the last 10 races, with Renault and Ferrari power taking the flag in the other five.
The clouds that promise an invigorating twist to the tail throughout all three days of running could provide Red Bull the opportunity to win their fourth race here, with Dutchman Max Verstappen seeking to once again throw a spanner in Mercedes’ almost flawless works and earn his second win of the season after the 70th anniversary Grand Prix in Silverstone.
And it is a good thing for Mercedes’ rivals that the ominous rain threat is there – because this track suits the Silver Arrow almost down to a tee.
With tremendously long full-throttle sections and a heavily reduced necessity for downforce, Mercedes would expect to have the superior car around this track. And they still may. Coupled with excellent proficiency in the car, they have a six-time world champion in Lewis Hamilton that has won four of the last five rain-affected races in F1 – Germany last year being the only exception. He was also the last driver to win a rain-affected race in Belgium back in 2010.
Racing Point, dubbed the pink Mercedes in the midst of the “copying” row, also know that if they can master the wet conditions, a podium finish may be on the cards for them – it would be their first since Sergio Perez in Baku two years ago.
The Ferrari powered cars would be grateful of some rain too this weekend. Ferrari, Haas and Alfa Romeo have all struggled immensely in the early part of the campaign, and some unpredictable weather conditions may just be the catalyst needed for a strong result for those teams – it seems outrageous saying this given that Ferrari won this race last year with Leclerc.
McLaren, who now have two podiums to their name in as many seasons, looked incredibly strong with Carlos Sainz in qualifying in Styria in the wet, and will undoubtedly sense an opportunity themselves.
As F1 returns to Spa, Charles Leclerc knows he may just need a sprinkle to claim a second consecutive win here – and while there will be no orange wall for Max Verstappen, it looks likely there will be a few walls of spray this weekend.
Feature Image Courtesy of Mark Thompson/Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool