The problem with finding the ideal F1 reserve driver

You’ve got to feel for Stoffel Vandoorne. The former McLaren driver has had several realistic chances to return to the Formula One grid this season in his capacity as Mercedes reserve driver, but each time he’s found himself overlooked in favour of an outside contender.

It’s no reflection on Vandoorne as a driver. Leaving aside his two demoralising years driving uncompetitive McLarens, Vandoorne has been a race-winner in almost every top flight series he’s contested.

The problem is more with the concept of F1 reserve drivers in general. Or rather, with the near impossibility of finding a reserve driver who truly fits the bill of what’s asked of them.

Stoffel Vandoorne, Mercedes F1 reserve driver (Courtesy of FIA Formula E)

When it comes to the ideal F1 reserve, the most important thing teams look for is someone whose experience is as recent as possible. F1 development stops for no one, so there’s little use in fielding a stand-in whose last Grand Prix was four or five seasons ago.

Secondly, they need to be quick if they’re going to fight for the results the team expects. But the problem here is that if a driver with that kind of talent finds themselves out of F1, it’s most commonly the case that they’re either moving on to another series or retiring at the end of their career, and therefore won’t be looking for a reserve role.

(There are of course exceptions to this. Nico Hulkenberg, for example, found himself without a drive for this year but that’s not for lack of talent. And Jenson Button stepped in to deputise for Fernando Alonso at McLaren in 2017 despite bowing out of F1 the previous year. But cases like this are extremely rare.)

The final problem with finding the ideal reserve is availability.

For a reserve driver to be quick they need to keep their qualifying and race craft sharp for whenever it’s needed, even if that’s away from F1 machinery.

But at the same time, they can’t spend so much time racing in other series’ that it clashes with F1 weekends—an increasingly large problem as the F1 calendar continues to swell year by year.

Red Bull is a good example of this, as they recently had to secure a super licence for Juri Vips to act as reserve for the Turkish Grand Prix, as their usual backups Sebastien Buemi and Sergio Sette Camara were both racing elsewhere.

Juri Vips, Red Bull reserve driver (Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool)

And that’s the reserve driver paradox. To be the ideal Grand Prix stand-in, one has to be fresh out of F1 and somehow keep that freshness year after year, be quick enough to compete with the current F1 grid despite being dropped from it, and keep race-sharp all year round while still being available 23 weekends out of 52 (and counting).

As a result, reserve drivers tend to be a compromise that’s not quite the best of any worlds. You have the likes of Paul di Resta, who was briefly named McLaren’s reserve this year despite not racing in F1 since 2013. Or you have Formula 2 drivers like Jack Aitken at Williams or Louis Deletraz at Haas, who race regularly on the F1 calendar but are completely unproven in a Grand Prix.

And then you have Ferrari, whose nominated reserve is Antonio Giovinazzi—somehow who has plenty of contemporary F1 experience and race-fitness, but comes with the added complication of currently driving for Alfa Romeo.

It’s all part of the reserve driver role. They’re the person a team relies on when one of their star drivers is sick or injured, but they’re often an imperfect solution at best. And so it’s not really a surprise that teams often search for a better alternative outside their pool if the need for a stand-in actually arises.

It’s a shame when that happens, especially for a driver like Vandoorne whose talent merits at least one more outing in a competitive F1 car. But when big points are on the line and a Hulkenberg or George Russell is available, it’s hard to fault the teams for taking advantage of that opportunity—even if it means their reserve driver spending Sunday playing Call of Duty.

 

Bahrain GP: Grosjean Escapes Inferno, Hamilton cruises to 95th win amid a tumultuous race.

PART 1 – THE GROSJEAN INCIDENT

Romain Grosjean was lucky to escape an incident that left the entire world stunned. After contact with Alpha Tauri’s Daniil Kvyat at turn 3, Romain veered uncontrollably off the track and sailed into the adjacent Armco barrier.

The impact, caught on the world feed, was horrendous. The Haas disappeared into the barrier, which was followed by eruption of flames akin to an explosion from an action movie. Quite simply, it was terrifying, and enough to instantly bring out the red flag.

What awaited was a very tense period in which the world waited in horror for any positive news regarding Romain’s condition. Fortunately, the Frenchman was seen leaping over the barrier from inside the inferno itself. It was a very nasty incident and a close escape.

On further inspection it could be seen that the car had split in two; the rear separated from the cockpit which had sailed through the barrier and lodged itself there as the flame began.

There are few mounting points that connect the cockpit to the rear of the car so the question on everyone’s lips was how this crash could have caused the car to split in two? Possible questions will be raised about the structural integrity of these connecting points.

In terms of the fire: It looks likely that it was the fuel collector that was punctured which holds two to three litres of fuel. The thought behind this is that if the entire capacity of the fuel tank has been compromised (equating to many kilograms of fuel) it would have been a much larger explosion.

What is even more apparent, is that the halo device surely saved Romain Grosjean’s life. Without it, there would have been nothing to protect Grosjean’s head from going into the barrier. I believe everyone at the Pit Crew would like to take a moment to praise the safety improvements made in Formula One over the last fifty years as well as the medical and emergency staff who swiftly attended and dealt with both Romain.

We await the official news on Romain Grosjean’s health, currently flown to a nearby hospital for evaluation. All things said, he seems to have escaped with relatively minor injuries including some broken ribs and minor burns.

We sincerely wish him good health and a swift recovery.

Romain Grosjean’s quick reactions and amazing work from the medics and marshals saw him escape the horrible accident. We all wish him a speedy recovery – Courtesy of Haas Media

PART 2 – THE RACE

Lewis Hamilton dominated unopposed from start to finish to take the 95th win of his career. He was joined on the podium by Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon who takes his second podium of the season.

Lewis Hamilton now has an incredible 95 wins in Formula One – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

It was a frenetic start which saw Sergio Perez get an amazing start the beat Valtteri Bottas off the line. Down the order Lando Norris picked up front wing damage from contact with Daniil Kvyat while the likes of George Russell lost places off the start. Of course, what followed was the Grosjean crash at turn three.

The following red flag lased between 45 and 60 minutes and we got back under way at 18:35 local time.

The restart classification took the order from the safety car line two, situated at the end of the pit lane. Notable changes included Perez in third, Bottas in fourth and Norris in seventh.

However, the drama did not end there as Lance Stroll’s Racing Point was flipped over on the restart, almost a carbon copy of the Esteban Gutierrez and Pastor Maldonado 2014 crash. This was caused by contact with Kvyat who received a penalty as a result and brought out a safety car.

The misery continued for Racing Point who looked assured for a podium through Sergio Perez who had been able to keep third place the entire race. Unfortunately, an engine failure on the final few laps brought Racing Point’s hopes for third place in the constructors’ crashing down.

McLaren went from zero to hero today with a magnificent double points finish. Lando Norris took advantage on the restart making his way past the likes of Esteban Ocon to finish in fourth. Likewise, it was an excellent day for Carlos Sainz who put on an overtaking masterclass from 15th to 5th. After being able to extend the stint on the softs, younger medium rubber helped Sainz overtake both Renaults, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, and Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly.

The latter will be left with mixed emotions today with Gasly doing an incredible stint on hard compound tyres to finish in 6th place. He was left compromised at the end of the race but was spared a late lunge from Valtteri Bottas due to a late safety car. Daniil Kvyat in contrast had a miserable day, unfortunately involved in both incidents with Grosjean and Stroll. He was able to make it back to 11th to end a very eventful day for the Russian.

Renault will be disappointed not to achieve more today with Daniel Ricciardo in 6th and Esteban Ocon in 8th. For the majority of the race it looked to be Ocon with the advantage. But as Ricciardo close the gap, the two fought which compromised them both against the likes of Carlos Sainz. Ricciardo was able to get past following the pit stops, helping the team to close the gap to Racing Point in the constructors.

Valtteri Bottas will be wanting the season to end as soon as possible. He lost position to Sergio Perez off the line and was then forced into an early tyre change due to a puncture. He attempted to extend the hards early in the race but was unable to make any sizable impact on fresh mediums. 8th place means he loses further ground to Verstappen in the drivers’ championship.

Two weeks on from Ferrari’s highs at Turkey, it was a return to normality today as the power demands of Bahrain severely hampered both cars. Charles Leclerc would finish in 10th with Sebastien Vettel in 13th. With similar power demands expected next weekend at Bahrain’s outer circuit, I expect there to be a similarly unspectacular performance.

Just one point for Charles Leclerc and none for Sebastian Vettel spelled a horrible evening for Ferrari – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

Williams may not have achieved that elusive championship point, but should take positives after Russell finished in 12th while Latifi in 14th. Indeed, Russell had to defend from a charging Sebastien Vettel to keep 12th, albeit with a sizable power advantage with the Mercedes PU.

George Russell contrived to fend off Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in the closing stages – Courtesy of Williams Media

Alfa Romeo and Haas rounded out the final classifications. Kimi Raikkonen in 14th, Giovinazzi 15th and Kevin Magnussen 16th. Giovinazzi had been running ahead of his teammate until deciding to pit under the Sergio Perez safety car which put him firmly behind.

RACE CLASSIFICATION

  1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 57 Laps
  2. Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing +1.254
  3. Alex Albon Red Bull Racing +8.005
  4. Lando Norris McLaren +11.337
  5. Carlos Sainz McLaren +11.787
  6. Pierre Gasly Alpha Tauri +11.942
  7. Daniel Ricciardo Renault +19.368
  8. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +19.680
  9. Esteban Ocon Renault +22.803
  10. Charles Leclerc Ferrari +1 Lap
  11. Daniil Kvyat Alpha Tauri +1 Lap
  12. George Russell Williams +1 Lap
  13. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari +1 Lap
  14. Nicholas Latifi Williams +1 Lap
  15. Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo +1 Lap
  16. Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo +1 Lap
  17. Kevin Magnussen Haas +1 Lap
  18. Sergio Perez Racing Point DNF
  19. Lance Stroll Racing Point DNF
  20. Romain Grosjean Haas DNF

Feature Image Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

What are the Formula One Teams doing to Reduce their Environmental Impact?

Climate change is undeniably one of the biggest issue facing our planet today, with every sector of society having a responsibility to help tackle greenhouse gas emissions. Motorsport is no different. For Formula One, being the pinnacle comes with huge pressure to stay up to date with modern technologies, and gives them a duty to lead the way in tackling climate change. So what are the F1 teams and the FIA doing to provide a shining example to other categories?

Below is my assessment of each team and F1 as a whole based on emissions both at and away from the track, covering areas from transportation, to the impact of the food served in the factories.

Steve Etherington / Mercedes AMG

Mercedes:

In recent years Mercedes has been the figurehead of F1, achieving 6 (soon to be 7) constructors titles in a row. This on-track success and ambition refuses to be outdone by their sustainability ambitions. In 2018, Mercedes calculated that they released 20,000 tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere. By 2022, they aim to have halved this to 10,000 tonnes. Being an F1 team means that there are certain to be some emissions that simply can’t be avoided. Mercedes claim that they will use gold-standard offsetting to help eliminate the impact of these (carbon offsetting is investing or taking part in projects that have a positive impact on the environment).

Mercedes’ high-tech Brackley factory already uses renewably sourced energy to power all its operations from the wind tunnel to the data simulation centre. However, the Brixworth Technology Centre (where they develop their engines) uses at least fifty percent renewable energy, using solar panels and an on site Combined Cooling, Heating and Power (CCHP) Plant (a plant that uses an efficient gas engine to generate electricity for cooling heating and power. This is renewable so long as the gas fuel is a renewable gas such as hydrogen, biogas, syngas, or biomethane. Mercedes provided no information as to the gas used although as they count this as a renewable source of energy, you would assume they do use one of the gasses mentioned above). For any outsourced energy, Mercedes have committed to switching to 100% renewably sourced energy over the course of 2020.

The food industry is one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions, from flatulent cattle to transporting spices across the globe. In Mercedes cafeterias, they claim that they will eliminate the use of all single-use plastics. However, what they fail to mention is how much red meat is consumed, which being one of the most polluting food sources on the planet, is important to try and reduce where possible.

Nothing can seem to separate Mercedes from the top on track, but off track they are also leaders, aiming to be carbon neutral by the end of 2020.  On the whole, they have some very impressive ambitions and are already putting in place measures to achieve them.

Grade: A

Ferrari:

Ferrari are often seen as the F1 traditionalists. However, this perception is not necessarily justified when it comes to sustainability. 87% of the energy used at Maranello is generated by their trigeneration (also known as CCHP, like Mercedes has) plant, with 95% of the remaining energy sourced from certified renewable sources. Ferrari’s team headquarters comply with the New Zero Energy Building Protocol (this means the energy they use is approximately equal to the renewable energy they create). Maranello, along with Mugello, also has the 2016 ISO 14001:2015 certificate, which is a certification that shows they abide by the ISO standards.

Across their European fleet, Ferrari succeeded in reducing their CO2 emissions by 35% compared to 2007 levels, despite growing significantly as a business in that time. By the end of 2020, they hope to have reduced this by a further 15% compared to 2014 levels.

Ferrari provided no information about catering operations.

It appears that Ferrari are moving with the times, recognising the importance of being more sustainable, whilst also trying to continue growing as a company. At times, this leads to some concerning decisions, but largely, Ferrari are looking to move in the right direction.

Grade: B

Red Bull, Racing Point, Haas and Alpha Tauri:

Disappointingly, a number of teams provided absolutely no information on their sustainability goals and failed to respond when questioned. As a result, Red Bull, Racing Point, Haas, and Alpha Tauri can’t be assessed and all receive the same grade.

Grade: U

Steven Tee, Motorsport Images / Courtesy of McLaren Media Centre

McLaren:

On a more positive note, McLaren’s sustainability is one of the best in the sport. In 2011, it was announced that McLaren were the first ever Formula One team to go carbon neutral, receiving the FIA Sustainability Accreditation Award in 2013, with them being awarded the highest honours of the FIA Environmental Certification framework every two years since (most recently in February 2020).  McLaren also work with the Carbon Trust to make sure their facilities comply with the ISO 14001, which requires them to have an effective environmental management system.

By changing all Halogen Bulbs to LEDs , McLaren save 13,000 KwH of electricity each year, greatly reducing the amount of energy they require. The team also utilise the lake outside the MTC to help control the temperature and reduce the need for cooling towers. 100,000 trees and shrubs have also been planted around the factory.

McLaren have made sustainability an integral part of their company and have achieved some very impressive, and very pleasing environmental goals as a result.

Grade: A*

Renault:

Renault are one of the most iconic teams within Formula One, mainly thanks to their success in 2005, and 2006 with Fernando Alonso. However, their sustainability goals certainly aren’t iconic.

When it was announced in 2019, Renault welcomed Formula 1’s aim to be Carbon Neutral by 2030, whilst also announcing their own Social and Sustainable Impact Program. Since then, they have not expanded on what this program entails, nor do they have any more information on their own environmental impact available online. Accepting Formula 1’s Carbon Neutrality plans should be the bare minimum, but at least they have come out and made a statement regarding it.

Grade: E

Xavi Bonilla / Alfa Romeo Press

Alfa Romeo:

Alfa Romeo has to be one of the biggest surprises of all the Formula One teams. Since 2011, the Sauber Group has known its entire carbon footprint and fully compensated for it! In 2014, they struck up a partnership with Carbon Connect AG that allows them to calculate its annual carbon emissions, whilst also supporting reforestation projects in South America.

When broken down, over 80% of the teams’ overall emissions are caused by the transportation of equipment to and from the races, whilst fuel for tests and races account for just less than 1%. Energy and electricity make up 4.5% of all the teams carbon emissions. Alfa Romeo offsets all of this.

At the company headquarters in Hinwil, the car park is roofed by 2200 square meters of solar system that provides enough electricity to power 44 homes cleanly. ABB will also install a state-of-the-art fast-charging system for the increasing number of electric car using employees. They intend to power this station with the solar power they already generate.

Whilst Alfa Romeo make no mention of their catering facilities, you can’t overlook their amazing achievement of fully compensating for their annual carbon emissions since 2011.

Grade: A*

Williams:

The last team to cover, Williams, are by no means the least. Recording and reporting their carbon footprint on a regular basis, Williams were the first sports and entertainment company in the world to join the Carbon Disclosure Project. This has allowed them to identify areas in which to improve, and set, and assess targets based on them. As a result, Williams’ Carbon Footprint has decreased by 18% in just two years.

Clearly, Williams are showing some positive signs of progression and appear to be taking the issue of sustainability very seriously.

Grade: C

Formula One:

Formula One has a responsibility to ensure that all the teams involved are on the path to a sustainable future. Collectively, F1 aims to ensure all events are sustainable by 2025. This will see the elimination of single use plastics and all waste being either reused, recycled, or composted. F1 will also provide fans incentives and opportunities to reach the races in a greener way.

By 2030, F1 aims to have a net-zero carbon footprint. They plan to do this by: ensuring they use ultra-efficient logistics, having 100% renewably powered offices, facilities, and factories for all teams to have a net-zero footprint.

In an entire race season, approximately 256,000 tonnes of CO2 is generated. 45% of this comes from logistics, whilst 27.7% is from business travel. A further 19.3% of this Carbon is from facilities and factories, whilst 0.7% comes from the power units themselves. The remaining 7.3% comes from event logistics which includes support races, broadcasting, Paddock Club operations etc. They aim to have reduced all of this to net-zero by 2030.

Formula One itself has some ambitious, yet achievable targets that ensures that it, and all the teams involved, will be sustainable and have a minimal impact on our environment at a time where we all have a duty to look after our planet.

Grade: A*

In summary, McLaren and Alfa Romeo are leaders of minimising environmental impact, Formula One has some impressive and promising targets for all its teams, but there is a disappointing lack of information from certain other teams. Reducing our environmental impact is crucial to ensuring our planet survives for centuries after we’ve gone and it’s vital we act now whilst it is still in our control.

The race that was…the 2013 German Grand Prix

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.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes (Wolfgang Wilhelm / Mercedes AMG)

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.

Mark Webber, Red Bull (Lars Baron, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool)

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).

Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean (Lotus) (Lars Baron, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool)

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.

PREVIEW: 2020 Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix – Sochi Autodrom

On the back end of yet another exhilarating Formula One Grand Prix in Italy, we head to Sochi and round 10 of the 2020 F1 season in Russia. Mugello provided the fans with a gripping watch which saw Red Flags up to the third in the space of two races. Alex Albon achieved his first podium for the Red Bull Racing team and Racing Point left wondering if they will be able to get the upgrades on the car in time for Sochi after Lance Strolls off at Arrabiata corner, leaving the car with heavy terminal damage.

Being announced alongside Mugello on the 10th of July for this unprecedented season, Sochi will allow the teams to have a more familiar approach to the race with the knowledge that is shared from the past 6 races here. Mercedes’ dominance has earned them a win in every one of them and the team certainly look set to do the same this year. Valtteri Bottas also took his first win at the Autodrom in 2017 for the Silver Arrows and will want to turn the tides on his championship fight and take it to Lewis Hamilton in the hopes of reducing the gap of 55 points.

Bottas took his first win for Mercedes in Russia three years ago – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

Knowing how the season has panned out so far, it is safe to say that we could be in for another treat of a Grand Prix. The Renaults have proven their pace with near podium finishes and they now lie 5th in the championship, honing in on both the Racing Points and McLarens who sit fourth and third. Daniel Riccardo is still in high hopes of sealing a bet with Cyril Abiteboul which amusingly details that if he was to gain a podium before the end of the season, the Renaults chief principle will be getting a Tattoo of Riccardo’s choice.

The Streaming superstars of Lando Norris, Alex Albon, Charles Leclerc and George Russell have all surprised us this season in regards to performance and results. The remarkable efforts of Russell have gotten the Williams into Q2 five times this season and the famous ‘Last Lap Lando’ attacks have provided plenty of late drama. Will we see these drivers taking the headlines if any of them at the Autodrome this weekend?

George Russell has impressed again in 2020 for Williams – Courtesy of Williams media

After Lance Strolls suspected puncture incident at Mugello and the car hitting the wall causing excessive damage, Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer suggested the upgrade that was on the car had a couple to three-tenths improvement. Due to the damage of Lance Stroll’s car, by the race weekend, Lance may still only be the one with the upgrade. And with Russia being a tight circuit that is difficult for overtaking, the overall pace of a car is vital for the higher positions and to optimise strategy.

With the news of reshuffling and the potential of F2 drivers making the jump to Formula One next year, this could cause worry for some of the drivers. Which makes this race an important statement to keep them in the team. Pierre Gasly – following the frustration of ending his Tuscan Grand Prix no more than two corners in after winning previous – will want to return to his exceptional ways that may prow the eyes of Red Bull for a potential step-up or other teams. However, with the current situation at Red Bull Albon may have found the confidence back that he was looking for after his P3 finish last time out.

Alex Albon’s podium in Mugello was his first in F1 – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

The set tyre choices for the 2020 season being predominantly soft tyres may see teams opt for a more aggressive strategy for the 5.8 km circuit, and maybe even a two-stop strategy with the evident tyre degradation in the new Pirelli tyres. And with the weather set to be clear it should be a straight forward strategy come race day for the teams.

A healthy gap to the rest of the field sees Mercedes lead by an enormous 152 points in the constructors’ standings, which will be difficult to close for Red Bull especially with the trend of this season let alone the track itself. Taking a look down the field there is a close battle with Ferrari just 17 points shy of Renault and the Alpha Tauri a further 13 behind.

Hamilton is aiming to equal Michael Schumacher’s tally of 91 wins this weekend – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

The Crew from Netflix will be on Mercedes for this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix with the hopes to capture a moment in history no one would have called, as the reigning Champion Lewis Hamilton is tipped to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 wins.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

2020 F1 Esports Series season preview

The 2020 F1 Esports Series is almost upon us, and with it the official confirmation of who will race for all ten of the teams. Here’s your guide to who’ll be competing and what’s new ahead of the fourth F1 Esports season.

While drivers will be competing for individual honours, the teams will all be competing for a bigger share of the now $750,000 prize pool. Each team will consist of three drivers who will all take varying parts in the twelve race season between October and December.

In the annual F1 Esports Pro Draft which took place on August 27th, each of the ten teams must pick at least one driver who had qualified through the game, and the teams went in reverse championship order from the previous season.

Haas: Floris Wijers (NED), Cedric Thomé (FRA) and Simon Weigang (GER)

Haas have finished second-to-last and last in their first two seasons of competing, and will want to change that in 2020. Floris Wijers was their 2019 Pro Draft pick and Cedric Thomé raced last season for Renault which resulted in a victory on the Canadian GP circuit.

Simon Weigang is their Pro Draft pick for this year, he also raced last season for Renault. Wijers impressed in the first Pro Exhibition race earlier this year, and the two former Renault drivers are undoubtedly quick. Haas will want to lift themselves from the tail end of the virtual grid and finally now may be the time they do.

AlphaTauri: Joni Törmälä (FIN), Patrik Holzmann (GER) and Manuel Biancolilla (ITA)

After previously finishing runner-up in the team’s championship to Mercedes in 2018 primarily thanks to the efforts of Frederik Rasmussen, the cool-headed Dane’s move to Red Bull meant that the then-named Toro Rosso team didn’t fair brilliantly. They however have stuck to their guns with Patrik Holzmann and redrafting Manuel Biancolilla, and have also inherited Joni Törmälä from Red Bull.

Törmälä was part of the Red Bull team’s championship winning effort last season so he will be the one to watch in their B-Team now as he will be undoubtedly the one leading the charge for AlphaTauri. Whilst it may be seen as a demotion, they are all in equal cars so he will have every opportunity to prove Red Bull wrong for not having him in their main team.

Mercedes: Brendon Leigh (GBR), Bono Huis (NED) and Bardia Boroumand (IRN)

After dominating in 2018, two-time champion Brendon Leigh failed to win a race and Mercedes struggled after losing Dani Bereznay to Alfa Romeo. This seemed to coincide also with Leigh making the transition to real-life racing in the BRSCC National Formula Ford 1600 championship, where he finished fourth in his first race. However he proved in the Pro Exhibition race on the Chinese GP circuit that he’s not lost any commitment to Esports, and this season he has some very strong teammates.

Former McLaren driver Bono Huis joined Mercedes this year after finishing a respectable 7th in last year’s F1 Esports season. Joining them is the highly-rated Bardia Boroumand who starred in his stint in the Pro Exhibition races for Alfa Romeo, notably when he took pole for the race in support of the Virtual Spanish Grand Prix. Mercedes have a strong bunch of drivers to help them get back to winning ways.

BWT Racing Point: Lucas Blakeley (GBR), Daniele Haddad (ITA) and Shanaka Clay (GBR)

Lucas Blakely (Formula 1 esports)

After being drafted in 2019, Scottish driver Lucas Blakeley’s star power has only risen as he went from doing four races last year where he got a best of second at Suzuka, to being able to hold off the reigning champion David Tonizza in the Monaco Pro Exhibition race for an incredible win. Blakeley and Racing Point scored the most points for driver and team across all those races and he could upset the established order this season.

Alongside Blakeley is the reliable Daniele Haddad (who you’ll recognise as being the voice in Jimmy Broadbent’s ears during the Virtual Grand Prix races) and also Shanaka Clay, who really impressed when he won the Canada Pro Exhibition race in very tricky conditions. Clay being a former karting rival of Lando Norris and George Russell, and being only his second race when he won, will have some spring in his step come the start of the season.

McLaren Shadow: James Baldwin (GBR), Dani Moreno (ESP) and Matthias Cologon (FRA)

With an all-new line-up, McLaren Shadow will be putting their faith in a relatively inexperienced set of drivers. First up is World’s Fastest Gamer James Baldwin, who raced a few times for Alfa Romeo in the Pro Exhibition races. He will be doubling up his efforts in the F1 Esports Series with competing in the British GT for Jenson Button’s team, of which he’s already won a race, taken a few pole positions and is in contention for the championship.

Baldwin’s teammates are relatively unknown quantities. Moreno impressed in some Play-Off qualification races, and Cologon was in the Pro Draft in 2019 though he wasn’t picked, but McLaren see something beyond their inexperience in the F1 Esports Series. So while it may be a gamble, it could very well pay off.

Williams: Alvaro Carreton (ESP), Salih Saltunç (GBR) and Michael Romanidis (GRC)

Having been with Williams since the beginning, Alvaro Carreton has improved massively over the years to the point that he could challenge for the odd win or two so Williams were not wanting to let him go that easily. Michael Romanidis started racing for Williams this year in the Pro Exhibition races and also competed for them in the Le Mans 24 Virtual.

Saltunç joins from Alfa Romeo where was overshadowed by Dani Bereznay and will be looking to remind people why he was the only driver in 2018 other than Bereznay and Rasmussen to win a race over the dominant Brendon Leigh. A very highly rated driver, maybe a move to Williams was exactly what he needs.

Renault Vitality: Nicolas Longuet (FRA), Fabrizio Donoso Delgado (CHL) and Caspar Jansen (NED)

Having lost their star Jarno Opmeer, Renault quickly snapped up the services of former Red Bull driver Nicolas Longuet who only raced one time last season and got a podium finish out of it. He’s also joined by 2017 runner-up Fabrizio Donoso Delgado who sat out 2019 and will be hoping to remind everyone why he was the one who came close to denying Brendon Leigh the inaugural championship.

Renault’s final pick is Caspar Jansen, who has been performing very well in league racing and will undoubtedly benefit from Donoso’s experience to get him performing well in the Esports series too. A varied but balanced line-up at Renault that they think will help them hold onto or even improve on fourth in last year’s team championship standings.

Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen: Dani Bereznay (HUN), Jarno Opmeer (NED) and Dominik Hofmann (GER)

When it was announced in the run-up to the Virtual Azerbaijan Grand Prix that Opmeer had signed for Alfa Romeo, I immediately said that Alfa would be the favourite for the team championship and I stand by that. Opmeer was fourth and Bereznay third in last year’s F1 Esports series and are both utter machines, I was concerned that whoever would be Alfa’s Pro Draft pick may get the short end of the stick.

Nevertheless, the highly-rated Dominik Hofmann is also very rapid so it’s odd to think he’s only been picked up now. It’s going to be interesting to see the dynamic within the team, as both Opmeer and Bereznay are capable of fighting for the championship though Hofmann will also be racing at some point. But like team manager Jamie MacLaurin stated on the Pro Draft broadcast, it’s a good problem to have.

FDA Hublot: David Tonizza (ITA), Enzo Bonito (ITA) and Filip Prešnajder (SVK)

Enzo Bonito and David Tonizza, FDA (Scuderia Ferrari Media)

Now onto Ferrari’s Esports team, having joined the virtual racing party a year later than everyone else and drafting the eventual champion in David Tonizza. The teams championship however eluded them as Tonizza was the only one amongst the three Ferrari drivers to score points.

To fix that, Ferrari have now signed former McLaren driver Enzo Bonito, and together both Tonizza and Bonito have been doing the Pro Exhibition races, competing together in the SRO GT E-Sports Series and even shared a Ferrari GTE car with Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi in the Le Mans 24 Virtual.

As for their Pro Draft pick, Slovakian Filip Prešnajder was the one they went for after he impressed them with his speed in the play-off races on his gaming platform.

Red Bull: Frederik Rasmussen (DNK), Marcel Kiefer (GER) and Tino Naukarrinen (FIN)

The ever calm and cool character that is Frederik Rasmussen was third in 2018 and fell short of the championship last year, so it’s probably fair to say that the championship this year would be the most fitting result. He is joined by former Racing Point driver Marcel Kiefer, who won a race during the F1 Esports last year at Silverstone, and also won in the Pro Exhibition race around Interlagos.

Then we have Tino Naukarrinen, who was drafted after departing from Williams. All three drivers are proven quantities within the F1 Esports world and are very much capable of collecting very valuable points for Red Bull in their effort to retain the team’s championship.

What else is new?

After the outcry of the community to up the race length, the upcoming season will have races that are 35% distance of an F1 race (upwards of 25% from previous seasons) and will also have full knockout-style qualifying that will also be broadcast this year.

There will be four events with three races each so twelve races overall. Held on Wednesdays and Thursdays, the first event will take place on October 14-15 with races at the Bahrain, Vietnam and Chinese Grand Prix circuits.

The second batch of races will be on the Zandvoort, Montreal and Red Bull Ring circuits on November 4-5, followed by races at Silverstone, Spa and Monza on November 18-19. Then finally on December 9-10 will be Suzuka, Mexico City and São Paulo which will round off the fourth season.

You will be able to watch the F1 Esports drivers racing on F1’s official YouTube, Twitch and Facebook pages as well as your appropriate TV channels.

(Featured image courtesy of F1 2020 game by Codemasters)

F2 Styria: Lundgaard beats Ticktum to dominant sprint race win

Christian Lundgaard took victory in the Styria sprint race, taking the lead early and going on to command throughout.

Lundgaard started the race in third behind reverse polesitter Dan Ticktum and ART teammate Marcus Armstrong, but passed Armstrong for second at the start. He stuck with Ticktum through the opening few laps and on lap 4 passed the DAMS on the inside of Turn 3 to take the lead.

Once in front, Lundgaard continued pushing and opened up a two second gap over Ticktum by lap 8—this increased by another second by lap 12. Ticktum responded in the middle phase of the race to take a few tenths out of Lundgaard, but a series of lock ups allowed the gap to open back up to 3.2s by lap 22.

Lundgaard began to ease off towards the end of the race as his tyres degraded, but by this point Ticktum’s own tyres were also running out of grip and the DAMS was unable to close the gap. By the chequered flag Lundgaard took the win with 2.3s in hand over Ticktum, as well as two extra points for setting the fastest lap earlier in the race.

Dan Ticktum, DAMS (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Armstrong was unable to keep up with Lundgaard and Ticktum up front, and on lap 12 he was passed for third by Mick Schumacher into Turn 3. However, Armstrong regained the position two laps later when Schumacher’s fire extinguisher went off in his cockpit, forcing the German to retire. Armstrong held on to the position until the end of the race to take his second podium of the season.

UNI-Virtuosi ran a quiet race behind the top three. Guanyu Zhou passed teammate Callum Ilott at the start and was promoted to fourth after Schumacher’s retirement.

In the final laps Ilott closed up to the back of Zhou and looked to have the pace on his tyres to pass his teammate. But the pair caught up with Armstrong on the last lap which gave Zhou DRS to defend and keep Ilott behind in fifth.

Jack Aitken finished sixth ahead of Sean Gelael, while Nikita Mazepin picked up his first point of the season in eighth. Saturday’s feature race protagonists Robert Shwartzman and Yuki Tsunoda both retired, the Prema spinning out at the start and the Carlin stopping with a clutch issue.

At the end of round 2, Shwartzman holds a narrow five-point lead in the drivers’ championship over Lundgaard and Ilott, who are level on 43 points. Ticktum is fourth and Armstrong fifth.

In the teams’ standings, ART maintain their lead with 77 points, seven ahead of UNI-Virtuosi and 15 ahead of Prema.

Formula 2 returns next weekend in support of the Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix.

Marcus Armstrong, ART (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

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

Robert Kubica: The season started very hard

In 2019, Robert Kubica returned to racing in Formula 1. The 34-year-old Pole was the main star of this year’s edition of Verva Street Racing in Gdynia, Poland.

“I am glad that I am here and I am part of this event and I can once again present myself in an F1 car, although in compromised conditions,” Kubica said about the event.

“I think that for fans this is a great opportunity and I hope that I encourage new fans to watch motorsport and instil a passion for this sport into them.”

Before returning to F1, Kubica was to be the driver of the ByKolles team, which competes in WEC in the LMP1 class. The Pole gave up being part of the team, which cancelled his starts in this series. He commented his chances to start in the legendary 24-hour Le Mans race were as follows:

“My adventure [with ByKolles] ended quite early, actually before it began. At the moment I am focusing on my work and I don’t know what will happen in the future. I think the situation, where I was in three years ago and now where I am, is completely different.”

Robert Kubica during Verva Street Racing 2019
Photo Credit: Julia Paradowska/ThePitCrewOnline

The 2019 season hasn’t been the most successful for Williams so far. The team from Grove for a long time was the only team which hasn’t scored a point during the first half of the season. After the rainy German Grand Prix and a penalty on both Alfa Romeo drivers, one point appeared on Williams’ account.

“I think the season started very hard,” Kubica said. I think that there were a lot of problems not only when it comes to the performance of the car, but also other problems that unfortunately disturbed the racing process and I think that it had the biggest influence of later driving and the result .

“The most emotional race so far was definitely in Australia, because it was the first race after a really long break, and when it comes to driving, I think the coolest ride was on the streets of Monaco.”

This week F1 returns after the summer break and the 13th race of the 2019 season will take place at Spa-Francorchamps. There are a lot of rumours about the future of 34-year-old Williams driver. When Kubica was asked about being in F1 in 2020, he answered:

“We will see.”