F2 Report 70th Anniversary: A season-defining weekend?

Another week, another weekend of racing action at Silverstone, this time for the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix.

Last weekend was a weekend where Callum Ilott should have taken the lead of the championship from Robert Shwartzman, who would’ve been relieved (and lucky) to leave that Round 4 with the championship lead after posting a blank at Silverstone the first time around. However, a unforced error from Ilott while running in the podium places forced Ilott into a retirement…

Ilott righted the wrongs from last week as he took a dominant victory in the feature racing this time around — converting the victory from pole position — and was able to add a few more points in the sprint race too.

The upshot of it all (in a very successful weekend for Ilott) is that he now takes a 19 point lead of the championship, which officially (as of right now) reached the halfway point.

But it’s not a 19 point lead ahead of Robert Shwartzman — it’s Christian Lundgaard who he leads now. Such was the weekend (and last weekend too) that Shwartzman has dropped down to 3rd in the standings, 21 points adrift of Ilott now.

In a sense, Shwartzman only has himself to blame and in another sense he’s very unlucky.

Having led for most of the way during the sprint race, he was the victim of Mick Schumacher’s swipe into Brooklands, misjudging where his teammate was — 15 points (or, 12 at least) gone in the blink of an eye, and a 21 point deficit too.

That said, Shwartzman was, again, like last week, nowhere in qualifying and, thus, not in contention for a podium spot in the feature race (but, to be fair, was able to climb to reverse grid pole this time around).

I’m sure Shwartzman will be delighted to see the back of Silverstone, scoring a total of four points across four races while Ilott has scored 43 points, Lundgaard scored a very blessed 44 points and Mazepin — now only 14 points adrift of Shwartzman — also collected 44 points across the two Grand Prix weekends at Silverstone.

To win a title, you have to be able to perform anywhere and everywhere. Callum Ilott has shown the ability to do that so far. Unfortunately for Shwartzman, the track where he could not do that happened to host two Grand Prix weekends and four races… Ilott has been there or thereabouts every race so far.

Of the man who also jumped Shwartzman this weekend, a good weekend for Christian Lundgaard.

His place in the standings took a big hit after a tough weekend in Hungary but a strong feature race in which he took 2nd place means he takes the exact same position in the standings, just 19 points behind leader Ilott.

The sprint race was a weird one for him as he suffered from tyre issues and, eventually, a left-front puncture but a strong weekend from the Dane.

At this rate now, he’s probably moved himself ahead of, the slightly unlucky at times this season, Guanyu Zhou in the Renault academy. Lundgaard has enjoyed a much better season so far and, for what it’s worth, is 19 years old — 2 year younger than Zhou. If I was Renault, I’d explore the idea of sticking Lundgaard in that Renault for a testing session of some sort, get him some sort of experience in an F1 car.

Again, it’s a horrible time to be a Renault junior driver, given how limited opportunities have been for young drivers in their program to actually race for Renault now that Fernando Alonso has been confirmed for 2021 and 2022 and Esteban Ocon under contract for 2021.

Former Renault academy driver (by choice) Jack Aitken decided to show up for the 2020 F2 season after a double podium finish on the weekend, his first of the season. The sprint race podium a little fortunate after the Schumacher/Shwartzman incident dropped Shwartzman out of the points but even still… Aitken had qualified well last weekend but it just fell apart in the race. Not so this time.

What Aitken needs to do is follow this on next time out in Spain and not do what Luca Ghiotto has done where he’s had one good Grand Prix weekend on the season and hasn’t scored since (as he hasn’t done since Hungary).

Yuki Tsunoda took the sprint race victory but it’s fairer to say he inherited the sprint race victory after Schumacher and Shwartzman collided. To be fair to Tsunoda though, he was right there when that accident happened: he was part of the leading trio which were well clear of the rest of the field, they were in a class of their own on Sunday.

Tsunoda, on his day, is as quick as some of the front-runners but has shown inconsistency. If he can put together a run, he’d potentially make Red Bull’s decision (worth remembering Tsunoda is a Honda junior driver) in terms of their driver lineup for Alpha Tauri more difficult for 2021, with matters as unclear as they are between Alex Albon at Red Bull and then Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat at Alpha Tauri.

All Tsunoda has to do is stringing together performances similar to this.

Let’s do a general round-up: a few quick hitters.

Some great overtaking at Silverstone this weekend. Louis Delatraz with a number of moves at the exit of the Vale complex (very solid weekend for Delatraz overall), Guanyu Zhou had a great one in the sprint race (Zhou was strong in the sprint race)…some really good racing this weekend.

This overtake from Mazepin was very brave as the Russian continued his fine form.

Dan Ticktum still hasn’t learned a damn thing… It’s incredible.

An awful weekend for Ticktum, falling from a strong qualifying position of 4th to finish 15th in the feature race but fared better in the sprint race as he finished in 7th from 15th.

Marcus Armstrong started the season well but has really struggled of late and did so again over the weekend. Armstrong hasn’t scored a point since the Styrian sprint race: three race weekends now. Tough going, especially seeing the recent form of teammate Lundgaard.

We probably saw the best of Artem Markelov this weekend so far this season. Now, that isn’t saying much (considering his ‘best’ weekend so far consisted of an 11th place finish in the sprint race. Alas…

This was nice though.

So, Callum Ilott is the leader of the championship once again as we reach the “halfway” point.

Now, I don’t think we’re actually at the halfway mark of the season. Officially, yes, we are, but I imagine we’ll see confirmation of some races at Bahrain and Abu Dhabi once those venues are confirmed for F1 to finish the season.

Whatever the case, Robert Shwartzman has work to do… His, at one point, strong championship lead is well and truly gone.

F2 Great Britain Report: Hope and Pain

Just when things looked like they were going one way, the Formula 2 championship took a big swing at the British Grand Prix.

Championship leader Robert Shwartzman held a strong lead with seemingly no sign of letting up after his success at Hungary, but the Russian driver had a really tough time of it from the very beginning of the weekend, even from practice. Shwartzman just never looked comfortable and trailed his teammate and fellow Ferrari academy driver Mick Schumacher for much of the weekend.

Shwartzman’s feature race in Silverstone was the feature race I perhaps expected to unfold in Hungary for him when he started in 11th, only this time the tyre dilemma/alternate strategy couldn’t save Shwartzman at Silverstone. This time he couldn’t make it to reverse grid pole, finishing P14 in the feature race and P13 in the sprint race — a double non-points finish for the championship leader.

We’ll talk about it as we talk about other events from the weekend, but Shwartzman does still emerge from Silverstone in the lead of the championship despite scoring zero points during Round 4. All things considered, that can be considered the one positive for Shwartzman from the weekend.

Shwartman’s closest championship rival, Callum Ilott, was seemingly in prime contention to take a big slice out of Shwartman’s lead in the feature race — starting from P2 while Shwartman starting 18th — but an issue meant that he had to forfeit his front row starting slot for the pitlane. Somehow, Ilott recovered to finish in P5 in the feature race — a fantastic turnaround. Sure, who knows what was possible for Ilott had he started from the front row not but Ilott had seemingly turned a disaster into something, and gave himself a chance for the sprint race too.

However, during said sprint race, with Ilott running in a strong P2 he spun the car around and could not prevent the car from stalling and was forced to retire from the race.

Really disappointing for Ilott, who would’ve surely taken the lead of the championship had he managed to keep it pointing in the right direction. Had he been able to pull a strong result in that sprint race, it would have completed a remarkable recovery weekend from the debacle at the start of the sprint race — it would have been a champions weekend.

As disappointing as it was to see Ilott make a driver-error like that, he’s still in a great position after Shwartzman’s difficult weekend — trailing by just eight points. It could’ve been worse for Ilott, but it could’ve so much better. He could have left Silverstone with the championship lead.

Alas… Plenty of time left for Ilott.

Ilott wasn’t the only Virtuosi who lost a good result in the sprint race. Guanyu Zhou had driven a strong feature race to finish P2 and was running well in the sprint race too but a spin on the last lap pulled him down to 9th and out of the scoring. Had he held on, he could’ve found himself in 4th place in the standings, ahead of Nikita Mazepin and Dan Ticktum. Instead, Zhou finds himself down in 6th place.

Speaking of Nikita Mazepin, I haven’t been a fan of his. When he caused that incident in Russia, so soon after what happened in Spa…that was bad, really, really bad. The stupidity was incredible.

I thought Mazepin lucked his way somewhat into his maiden podium finish in Hungary, being one of the few drivers who benefitted with the — as it turned out — massively superior alternate strategy, and I still feel that was the case.

That said, Mazepin thoroughly earned his victory during the feature race at Silverstone — it was very much deserved and he controlled proceedings very maturely. Mazepin enjoyed a very strong weekend all around as he picked up a P5 in the sprint race and vaulted himself up to 4th in the standings having scored 57 of his 58 points in the last two rounds.

Mazepin is very much the driver in form in F2, and a return to Silverstone next week can only be a good thing for the Russian driver.

Dan Ticktum took the victory from reverse pole in the sprint race to take his tally for the season up to 57 points, one point behind Mazepin in 4th. Ticktum’s success in F2 this season has come more so through the sprint race this year than in the feature race: 37 of his 57 points have come in the sprint race this season. Still, Ticktum did well to deal with the pressure of Christian Lundgaard late on and he has been solid this season. A good time to shine with fellow Williams academy drivers Jack Aitken and Roy Nissany struggling this season.

Speaking of the aforementioned Renault junior driver, Lundgaard had a much better time at Silverstone — picking up 26 points on the weekend thanks to P4 and P2 finishes respectively — compared to Hungary where he went scoreless in both races in Budapest.

Having pit under the safety car during the sprint race, perhaps Lundgaard will be disappointed not to have taken victory away from Ticktum but with a difficult weekend for others around him, Lundgaard should be pretty happy with his points haul from the weekend. He’s very much back in the hunt.

Now going through some brief mentions, Mick Schumacher had a difficult weekend. He was running well in the feature race but sank like a stone late on and fell all the way down to 9th, missing out on reverse pole for the sprint race.

Louis Delatraz enjoyed a strong weekend as he picked up P6 and P3 respectively — he seems to be the top performer of F2’s more experienced group (your Luca Ghiotto’s, Nobaharu Matsushita’s etc.)

Jack Aitken had another weekend to forget. He was running well in the feature race after qualifying 6th but ended up finishing 13th in the feature race…

With Shwartzman’s difficulties, and even with Ilott’s error in the sprint race, the championship is very much open.

Ilott is obviously right back in the hunt and should another weekend like that for Shwartzman — and a weekend like Mazepin’s for any of the top-6, anyone can get right into the title hunt, and with Sochi now added to the equation we have a great season ahead.

Same track next week? Sure, let’s do it.

F1 2020 Hungarian Grand Prix Review: Bottas’ slip-up

Formula 1 completed its first triple-header of the year as Lewis Hamilton secured an easy victory at the Hungaroring on Sunday afternoon.

The race kind of fizzled out once the threat of rain passed, just before the halfway stage, but there was plenty of drama even before the start as Max Verstappen crashed on his way to the grid.

The Red Bull mechanics did a mega job to get Verstappen’s car fixed in time but it’s not the best look for a driver of the calibre — and in the wet too — of Verstappen to have an accident like that. Still, he made up for it by splitting the Mercedes duo on Sunday, finishing P2.

Speaking of Valterri Bottas… He did a good job on Saturday to be within a tenth of Hamilton at Hungary, you can’t ask for a ton more than that around a circuit that Hamilton has now won at eight times. However, a poor start for Bottas due to a sensor issue where he almost jumped the start before sliding down the top-10 meant that he was trying to make amends for it the whole race, finishing behind Verstappen as he ran out of laps to pass the Red Bull driver on fresher hards having pitted from mediums.

Qualifying behind Hamilton at Hungary, there’s nothing wrong with that — Bottas came close. But he can’t afford to have starts like that in the context of a championship bid. Granted, he only leaves Hungary only five points behind Hamilton but every point matters. His error not only cost him three points from 3rd to 2nd but with the gap Hamilton established, it allowed the Brit to make a stop near the end of the race and successfully nab the extra point for the fastest lap of the race.

Next comes two successive Grand Prix weekends at Silverstone. Bottas has shown he has the pace around Silverstone but wasn’t able to convert pole to victory last year. He’s going to have to do that at least once out of these next two weekends.

The other Red Bull of Alex Albon had struggled all weekend but a strong race from him helped ease some of the pressure on himself after a poor qualifying. He was involved in some fun battles with the Ferraris in the early exchanges and with Sebastian Vettel later on in the race.

The Red Bull was much better in race-trim than in qualifying but Albon can’t constantly fashion out these recovery drives each week: he has to do a better job in qualifying — not everyone is so lucky to get to P5 from P13 in Hungary. The conditions certainly helped.

Racing Point dropped back a little bit in the race but Lance Stroll capped off an excellent weekend with a very lonely P4 after out-qualifying his teammate Sergio Perez on Saturday. That’s exactly the kind of weekend Lance Stroll needs to put in to validate his place in a car that good. He’s given a lot of flak but Stroll did a great job over the weekend. Though, I don’t agree with his comments saying a podium was up for grabs. Bottas finished a loooong way ahead of Stroll in the end — he would’ve jumped Stroll even if Racing Point had responded straightaway.

Meanwhile, Perez’s poor start cost him a lot of places — he could’ve easily been where his teammate but getting stuck in traffic (especially in the crowd behind Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari) cost him a lot of time. P7 wasn’t too bad in the end for Perez but his start certainly cost him points.

To top it all off for Racing Point, Renault lodged another complaint against them — seems like this will be a season-long theme…

Ferrari had an interesting race…

Sebastian Vettel had a few offs — both cost him places to Alex Albon — but overall had a strong race in a much better weekend for Ferrari. As for Leclerc, Ferrari did him no favours with the strategy, switching him to softs after the track dried out and then hards with over half of the race to go, which left him in a tough spot later in the race en route to P11. He just had no pace at the end of the race — Kevin Magnussen was even able to extend a gap to Leclerc.

McLaren has a tough weekend. Lando Norris found himself on the back of a Renault seemingly all race long, Esteban Ocon for the most part. A poor start gave Norris too much to do. He showed some great race-craft in his fight against Charles Leclerc, that was fun to see.

Carlos Sainz did well to scoop two points in the end after Kevin Magnussen’s post-race penalty promoted the Spaniard to P9.

Supposedly there are upgrades to come for McLaren at Silverstone, so that should be fun.

Speaking of Haas, an inspired decision to pit both drivers after the formation lap for dry tyres. While Romain Grosjean dropped off and finished outside the points, Kevin Magnussen was lucky that Leclerc’s dead tyres kept Sainz behind long enough to prevent Sainz catching Magnussen on track and the gap was big enough to Leclerc that, post penalty, Haas got their first point of the year — a well earned point in a car obviously struggling for straight line speed.

Elsewhere, another strong drive for Daniel Ricciardo to finish in P8 and a tough weekend for Esteban Ocon, and a weekend from hell for Pierre Gasly, the sole retirement from the race.

All in all, it wasn’t the most entertaining Grand Prix — if the race had started an hour earlier maybe we would’ve had a more exciting race in wet conditions before the switch to dries. To be fair, I’ve seen worse Hungarian Grand Prix.

Again, you’d just wish for the action to be a little closer at the front. Mercedes enjoyed…a significant advantage, shall we say.

Still, the prospect of two races at Silverstone should be enough for everyone to be excited — it rarely disappoints.

F2 Hungary Report: Shwartzman takes charge

You could’ve looked in a number of different directions across the F2 grid after the first two Grand Prix weekends for potential contenders (you can catch up on that here).

However, as F2 departs Hungary for Silverstone for a back-to-back slog, a couple of drivers have taken big steps forwards, while others have taken a step back in the context of the championship.

Ferrari academy driver Robert Shwartzman led the way heading into the weekend despite a driver error forcing him into a DNF from the sprint race in Styria. He now leaves Hungary with a strong 18 point lead after taking victory in the feature race and P4 in the sprint race.

This was such a weird weekend in F2.

Firstly, practice running was ran in damp conditions and qualifying took on the same turn of fate. A red flag towards the end of qualy really helped the Virtuosi pair of Callum Ilott and Guanyu Zhou, who had set their times just before the flag and lined up first and third ahead of the feature race.

Things looked bad for Shwartzman, who lined up in P11 and behind many of his rivals, including main rival Ilott who obviously sat on pole position.

No one, however, could’ve predicted how the feature race would’ve unfolded.

The alternate strategy isn’t always one that works out in the feature race and you don’t see too many drivers opt for it, no matter their grid position. However, a few took the plunge, including Shwartzman: a gamble from P11, with a good chance of reverse grid pole.

A poor start from Zhou meant he was swallowed at the start whereas Shwartzman, on the medium tyre, vaulted into a quick P6, a fantastic return on the harder tyre off of the line. The race unfolded as you’d expect to start off: those on softs eventually peeled in to swap onto the mediums. Some, like Dan Ticktum, chose to do so at the first possible opportunity. Others, like Mick Schumacher, opted to go a little farther.

With limited running in dry conditions, the drivers who pitted from softs found out that the medium tyre just fell apart and those who started on the mediums seemed to fare far better, with Shwartzman leading the majority of the race on them. You don’t want to make a second stop in F2, which meant everyone just had to manage or limp onwards on their mediums, which made for a lot of ‘chop-and-change’ throughout the grid.

Once those who started on the mediums pitted for softs towards the end of the race, they just absolutely gobbled those on the old mediums. Once Shwartzman overtook Schumacher for the lead, he was five seconds clear within a lap and never looked back. The others on the alternate strategy like Nikita Mazepin, Jehan Daruvala and Felipe Drugovich scored some strong points (including a maiden podium for Mazepin) — it was clearly the much quicker race strategy as it turned out.

The Virtuosi pair sank like a stone in the race (P8 for Ilott, P10 for Zhou) but some of the more experienced heads had a better time of it this weekend, such as Luca Ghiotto and Louis Delatraz (and that’s generally speaking).

The sprint race also threw up a surprise.

Normally, it’s a race from lights-to-flag with no pitstops. Some took the plunge, using the knowledge of the tyres that they discovered from the feature race and fitted the soft tyres while others, like Luca Ghiotto, elected to stay out in hope they wouldn’t be caught and passed by those who stopped. Some were caught and passed but Ghiotto was able to just about hold on from the charging Ilott to take victory, who probably needed one more corner to take victory.

It was a weird weekend in general, one where the strategy dictated the final result more so than driver skill and overall pace (though, an element of that was obviously required when it came to tyre management) — a bit of a rarity in F2. With no disrespect to Nikita Mazepin, he’s never contending for a podium without extraordinary tyre circumstances like what we saw in the feature race, it was that much of a factor.

Shwartzman, though, was the star of the show, victor of his second straight feature race. Irregardless of how the tyres in feature race played out, his start on the harder medium tyre put him in a great position to be a factor from P11. The way the strategy played meant that it wasn’t even close, but victory would’ve been a possibility regardless after that point.

Ilott charged well during the sprint race but faded a bit in the weird feature race before being gobbled by all of those who chose the alternate strategy. He’ll be satisfied enough the gap isn’t larger to Shwartzman and has still shown great improvements from last year.

A tough weekend for Guanyu Zhou. A fortuitous P3 in qualifying after the red flag but he couldn’t convert that grid position and a poor start in the feature race stuck him in the pack. He had a chance of reverse grid pole but that was struck away late on as he was overtaken. After setting the pace in Austria, with how things have worked out, it seems he will not be a contending driver for the F2 title this year, and that’ll work out fine since there’s no way to jump to Renault in 2021 with Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso already confirmed.

The ART pair of Christian Lundgaard and Marcus Armstrong had a weekend to forget: zero points for either driver. Lundgaard was unlucky as a late reaction from Ghiotto cut the front tyre off of Lundgaard’s car in the feature race and that was it for his weekend from there, effectively.

Dan Ticktum had a rough weekend. Problems in the sprint race meant he didn’t finish, and he in particular really struggled with the mediums in the feature race and he also sank like a stone, finishing in P9. He’s had a strong season but he’s one of a few drivers who will be happy to see Hungary behind him. It was just a weekend to forget for all Williams academy drivers: Jack Aitken was just nowhere, and Roy Nissany ploughed into his teammate in the feature race on cold tyres.

Really strong weekend for Mick Schumacher: a double podium weekend at the track he took the sprint race victory last year. Schumacher was the quickest of the drivers who started from the softs and fitted the mediums in the feature race. Under different circumstances with the tyres, he probably wins that feature race, or finishes close with Shwartzman at the very least, but given the weirdness of it, he did well to finish P3 in the feature race. Schumacher has shown strong pace all season so far, he deserved a weekend where it came together.

Jehan Daruvala is worth a brief mention here too. He obviously benefitted massively from the alternate strategy in the feature race but he put three successive moves around the outside of the final corner, and that was very fun to watch. Alternate strategy or not, that’s an impressive feat.

Looking at the bigger championship picture…

Shwartzman and Ilott were able to pull away this weekend, and it says a lot about the weekend and how everyone else struggled when Lundgaard — who scored no points this weekend — was able to remain in P3 when all was said and done.

Right now, it’s Shwartzman’s and Ilott’s title to challenge for, and even though there are (right now) still 12 total races to run across six Grand Prix weekends, it’s hard to imagine anyone else bursting onto the scene to contend with the leading pair — especially given the fact the gap from Shwartzman to Lundgaard in third is 38 points.

Schumacher has shown he has pace across all weekends so far, but will obviously need slip ups from both Shwartzman and Ilott along the way to have any hope of contention, as well as no further mistakes from Schumacher himself: no more excursions like the one during the Austrian feature race.

Robert Shwartzman has been the class of the field so far, and is surely one step closer to Formula 1…

F1 2020 Styrian Grand Prix Review: Ferrari’s fumble, Norris shines again

Well, the Styrian Grand Prix was a little less eventful than last week’s Austrian Grand Prix but one that Lewis Hamilton converted pole to victory unchallenged, followed by teammate Valterri Bottas and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in third.

Not the most eventful race, it probably could’ve done with a safety car close to the end but alas… The last few laps provided some entertainment but all in all, the action at the front was a little lacking.

Mercedes were able to solve their sensor dramas that gave them a scare last week and with Valterri Bottas behind Hamilton on the starting grid, the outcome was always going to be that Hamilton would take the victory. Verstappen did his best but he was powerless to catch Hamilton and powerless to stop Bottas late in the race.

Valterri Bottas should be fairly happy with P2. He was disappointing in qualifying in the wet and no where near Hamilton on Saturday, starting P4 behind Sainz even. He did well to finish ahead of Verstappen and still leaves Austria with the lead of the championship. Next week is a big week: Hungary is Hamilton territory, and Bottas needs to find a way to defeat Hamilton there. It’s early, but it could be a defining moment in this year’s championship. No pressure, Valterri.

Mercedes were able to play the strategy well after Red Bull jumped on the fear of an undercut from Bottas, and Mercedes were able to just leave Bottas out and use that tyre advantage to gobble Verstappen later on. Verstappen did well to hold on for as long as he did against Bottas but little he could do in the end to keep the Mercedes behind. Even his attempt to set the fastest lap didn’t go to plan as he pitted onto softs, thwarted by Carlos Sainz. Still, good for Verstappen to get some points on the board.

Verstappen’s teammate, Alex Albon, did not have a good race. Sure, he finished in P4 but was lucky not to either get overtaken by Perez late on or hit off by Perez out of Turn 4. In addition, he was about 30 seconds behind Verstappen before Verstappen made his late pitstop onto the softs for a fastest lap run and that’s just not good enough — far, far too far behind Verstappen on such a short track. Whether he had an issue with his car, who knows, but Albon was way off in qualifying and way off in the race.

Red Bull, to be fair, weren’t that far off the pace for a large part of the race, so maybe Hungary will be a better source of joy for the Austrian outfit.

Let’s talk Ferrari…

After their pace was exposed last weekend when Sebastian Vettel was knocked out in Q2, Ferrari brought forward their planned upgrades for Hungary to Austria for the Styrian GP. With how wet Saturday was, it was hard to get a grasp on Ferrari’s pace and their upgrades, but it was even harder to get an idea for how their upgrades worked on Sunday as Charles Leclerc made contact with teammate Vettel heading up to Turn 3 in an ambitious move on the inside…

Leclerc has taken ownership for his part in it (often harsh on himself) but it was a pretty ambitious attempt on the part of Leclerc that ended in both Ferraris DNF-ing. Ferrari needed the data for those new parts and the fact that both cars ended up in the garage in the first five laps is not acceptable for them.

If this was Sebastian Vettel, there’d be an uproar, so it’s only fair that Leclerc take the heat for this — he has to be better. There’s never a good time to crash into your teammate but especially now for Ferrari…

Oh to be a fly on the wall in Maranello on Monday… They have serious problems.

Lando Norris, once again, shone as he picked up a handy P5 after a hectic few last laps after Lance Stroll’s dive-bomb on Ricciardo lost them both time to Norris, who overtook Ricciardo, then Stroll on the last lap before overtaking Perez into the last corner, the Mexican’s lack of front wing after contact with Albon almost costing him significant points.

Norris drove a strong race and will pick up the plaudits but he can definitely thank Lance Stroll for his part in it all — not sure if Norris gets both Ricciardo and Stroll if Stroll doesn’t lunge Ricciardo like that. He also now sits third in the championship, well on his way to surpassing his total from last year in a matter of races.

Carlos Sainz had a tough race. He was running strongly but a tough pitstop and tyre wear on the second stint meant he finished in a lowly P9 having started in P3. P5 was a possibility (Sainz was convinced of that) but it wasn’t meant to be… The results haven’t flattered Sainz so far and the gap between himself and Norris isn’t totally reflective of how close they are.

Speaking of the Racing Points, they can bemoan their lack of pace on Saturday in the wet as to why they didn’t maximise their Sunday. Had they qualified in the top-10 as they should have, who knows where they end up. They were much quicker this weekend than last, it seemed like. Perez did an admirable job from 17th but was a little sloppy in his overtake attempt of Albon, damaging his wing and costing himself P5. He can thank the shorter finish line of the Red Bull Ring for allowing him to keep P6 instead of falling to P8.

Lance Stroll had a decent enough race and got away with his dive-bomb on Ricciardo by avoiding a penalty but picked up some solid points nevertheless. He needs to continue to do that, especially if rumours of Sebastian Vettel floating around are to be believed.

Speaking of Ricciardo, Sunday was an example of why he earns the big bucks and why he has the reputation he has. He would’ve had P6, maybe even P5 with Perez’s foibles were it not for Stroll’s dive. He had every right to not be pleased with the overtake attempt and he wasn’t, really.

“Firstly he didn’t really get past, he forced both of us off the track,” Ricciardo said to Sky Sports F1 post-race. “I’ll always be critical of myself and I should have closed the door but I don’t think he was ever making the move so I think it was desperate.

“I think Lando was coming and I think he had to do something otherwise Lando was going to eat him up. I take the apex and we crash, so that is a frustrating end and we lost a position to Lando…”

I think he’s right to be pretty annoyed about the move and pretty annoyed the stewards didn’t do anything about it. Renault then decided to file a protest against the legality of the ‘Tracing Point,’ so we’ll see what happens with that…

Esteban Ocon can count himself unfortunate, he was running well before being forced into an early retirement with what was the same issue that forced Ricciardo to retire last week. Renault, be it engine or otherwise, have a reputation of unreliability so this only adds to that.

Daniil Kvyat picked up a solid point in P10 after a strong race, not much to say there just a solid drive from Kvyat.

Kimi Raikkonen had a strong drive to 11th as Alfa Romeo fared a little better this week compared to last week on pace. Haas also enjoyed a better weekend after a double-DNF last weekend.

George Russell will be pretty disappointed after his error on lap 1 basically put him out of any contention of anything after starting from his highest ever position.

…And I think that about covers it?

F1 now moves to Hungary, a very different track compared to the Red Bull Ring. Will Red Bull be closer to Mercedes next week?

Time shall tell…

Formula 2 Thoughts Post Austria/Styria: Ferrari’s Conundrum

I love Formula 2, and I’ve really enjoyed seeing drivers like Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris and George Russell excel in F2, make the leap to F1 and show their capabilities at the top level.

Formula 2 in 2019…the crop of drivers who could make a realistic leap to F1 wasn’t great. While there were some exciting rookies, none of the F2 grid really had the star potential to make the leap to F1 in the same vain as a Leclerc or a Lando Norris, and only runner-up Nicholas Latifi made the leap due to his connections with the Williams F1 team. Champion Nyck de Vries was left to look elsewhere to drive.

F2 in 2020 has a much more exciting crop of young drivers to get excited about and a number of them could end up making the leap to F1 in the next few years. Not only have the rookies from last year made a step forward (Callum Ilott, Guanyu Zhou, Mick Schumacher to name some) but the rookies coming in from Formula 3 have injected great excitement into this season, such as Robert Shwartzman, Christian Lundgaard etc.

Now that we’ve seen four races over the two weekends, we’ve kind of got a glimpse of the names we’re likely to see towards the sharp-end of the F2 grid this year.

But before we get into some of those conversations, let’s talk about with the returning crop of drivers from last season (and beyond).

New to F2 this season are the 18-inch wheels, set to debut in Formula 1 next season. Normally, experience counts in F2 and, unless you’re elite, rookies generally struggle in their first season compared to those who are returning.

Tyre management is a crucial part of Formula 2 and rookies struggle with this compared to the more experienced drivers who have had some experience. This gap between the rookies and the rest hasn’t been the case as much this season as everyone has to adjust to the new 18-inch wheels and it has allowed the rookies to hit the ground running and take the competition to rest a lot more so than previous years.

The rookies returning from last year — Ilott, Zhou, Schumacher in particular — have taken a step forward and have found themselves competing near the front of the field. That probably isn’t surprising.

What has been surprising is how far some of the more experienced F2 drivers have struggled: the guys who have been there for more than two seasons.

Louis Deletraz, Nobaharu Matsushita, Artem Markelov, Luca Ghiotto, Roy Nissany, Sean Geleal… These the drivers with the most F2 experience and yet, this year, they’ve been relatively no where near the front as they probably should be with their experience — they’re nearly all genuinely struggling.

I was excited for the return of one of the ballsier GP2/F2 drivers in its history in Artem Markelov and he has been absolutely no where.

I’ve also been a little disappointed by Jack Aitken so far this season. Having left the Renault academy and signing for Williams in a reserve role, I thought he would be closer to the front but hasn’t shown the pace of a front-runner, often having to defend from cars following him.

But let’s not dwell too long on those who don’t have the pace and focus on those that do.

Let’s start with the drivers returning from last year.

Guanyu Zhou, arguably, should be leading the championship but car troubles in the feature race of the Austrian Grand Prix weekend denied him a certain victory before finishing out of the points. He has since continued to show pace and has finished ahead of teammate Callum Ilott in both races of the Styrian Grand Prix weekend: a solid 3rd and 4th.

Ilott appears to be much improved from last year, and though he inherited a straightforward feature race victory at the Austrian Grand Prix, his pace has been strong. We’ll talk more about Ilott later.

Mick Schumacher has shown he has the pace to finish on the podium but a costly error in the feature race in Austria cost him a podium after he was contending for the race-win, followed by an unfortunate fire extinguisher malfunction that cost him while he was running 3rd in the sprint race in Styria. Mick has shown he has the pace but just needs to put together a full weekend to show his credentials.

Let’s move onto the rookies, who have made an instant splash in F2 in 2020.

Probably no better place to start than Robert Shwartzman, the driver leading the championship after four races. He’s been very consistent in his pace and took a stellar victory in rain-soaked Styrian Grand Prix feature race. The only blot on his copybook is that he should be leading by more, a driver-error on lap 1 coming out of turn 1 in the sprint race as he lost the rear of the car and was unable to get back going forced him into a self-inflicted DNF. We’ll talk more about Shwartzman soon but he has impressed thus far.

Christian Lundgaard has been a steady performer but showed great pace in the wet in Styria before taking victory in the sprint race in Styria. The Renault academy driver was one of the contenders for the F3 title last season and is currently a just five points behind F3 title rival Shwartzman.

Dan Ticktum is not a driver I particularly like (due to his past actions on the track, feel free to Google them) but the Brit has performed well, taking two podiums so far in F2 and sits in a strong fourth in the standings. Too bad this form wasn’t there in the old F3 where he lost the lead of the title to Schumacher, costing him his Superlicence and his all but certain drive with Toro Rosso for 2019…

Yuki Tsunoda showed great pace in the feature race of the Styrian Grand Prix and probably should’ve won had he not suffered radio issues. Would’ve been a nice way to make up for spinning his teammate, Jehan Daruvala, on lap 1 of the feature race in Austria but alas… Tsunoda is certainly a driver to monitor, we’ll talk about that more soon.

I think this season (as well as next season) of Formula 2 is a very important one.

I don’t think it’s groundbreaking to say that there could be a few seats in Formula 1 up for grabs in 2021, with a number of teams’ lineups yet to be confirmed. Williams could potentially have a seat available, Alfa Romeo may have an opening, Alpha Tauri may have an opening and Haas technically have two open seats (but haven’t wanted to fill it with a young driver as of yet).

2022 is its own conversation for another time but the sooner some of these drivers can lay down the groundwork this season, the better. Let’s stick with 2021.

Probably easier to break this down by driver academy, as all of these drivers we’ve talked about belong to an academy of some sort…

Let’s start with Renault, because this will be quick. While their two drivers — Zhou and Lundgaard — are impressing in F2 this season, their path to F1 is blocked for at least a year with Renault’s confirmed lineup of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso for 2021. Should Zhou or Lundgaard win the F2 title (and, thus, unable to return to F2), it would create a problem in terms of finding somewhere to drive for 2021 but they’re basically set for another season in F2 should neither win the title as there’s just no way forward to Renault, and I don’t think any other F1 team is going to help nurture Renault’s talent.

Red Bull/Honda have an interesting duo of Daruvala (Red Bull) and Tsunoda (Honda). Both have shown promising pace, and I wonder if their battle as teammates in the standings will become a shootout for a potential drive at Alpha Tauri. It depends a lot on what happens with Pierre Gasly/Alex Albon/Daniil Kvyat and if any of them leave the Red Bull program to join another team (such as Haas, potentially). At this early stage, Tsunoda has shown a little more and Tsunoda is the first potentially promising Honda driver who could make the leap to F1 (no offense, Matsushita). However, it’s very early for that kind of talk yet but it’s out there…

The real conundrum comes with the Ferrari academy drivers: Robert Shwartzman, Mick Schumacher, Callum Ilott and Marcus Armstrong. We haven’t really talked about Armstrong (he’s been solid in F2 so far, sitting in 5th place), or fellow Ferrari academy driver Guilano Alesi, but Alesi won’t be part of what we’re talking about here.

Whether a seat appears at Alpha Tauri remains to be seen, but I think it’s very possible an opening appears at Alfa Romeo, maybe even two.

Kimi Raikkonen obviously has a decision to make with what he wants to do post 2020 and Alfa Romeo/Ferrari have a choice with Antonio Giovinazzi. Gio has closed the gap to Raikkonen since the beginning of 2019 but the star potential sitting in Ferrari’s academy cannot be ignored and Gio — who turns 27 in December — is not immune from being replaced. No one owes him anything in Formula 1.

If there is a seat or two up for grabs at Alfa Romeo, the competition between Ferrari’s academy drivers becomes a lot more significant, and the Formula 2 standings may end up being the deciding factor in one potentially being selected. The fact that there are four Ferrari drivers who are amongst the front-runners so far means that the competition between these drivers may become very intense as they understand the stakes.

I think Mick Schumacher is still probably at the front of this queue right now — he probably always has been, he just needed to show some front-running pace to validate that. He has the name and he has F1 testing experience (and experience driving some older F1 cars belonging to his father too).

Right now, Robert Shwartzman is the obvious threat to Schumacher as he currently leads the F2 standings, and if he were to win the title and unable to return to F2, it puts Ferrari in a tough spot. Shwartzman appears to be legit and Schumacher needs to close the gap and eliminate some of these errors that have cost him so far.

Ilott was an underwhelming Ferrari junior at times last year but has taken a step forward so far this season, and that keeps all of the other Ferrari members on their toes. He’s seemingly a force to be reckoned with and is one of the quickest drivers on the F2 grid so far and an early contender for this F2 title. He may not be a favourite to land an F1 seat, but he can certainly give Ferrari a headache and that’s all he can do in his position.

Marcus Armstrong is certainly on the outside looking in, as is Alesi, but Armstrong has had some solid performances already in F2 and he has shown he has the pace, which will always give him a chance to contend near the front (whether it’s in the feature or sprint race with a strong starting position on the reverse grid). That said, he has a lot of work to do to put himself ahead of Schumacher, Ilott and Shwartzman.

Ferrari/Alfa Romeo certainly aren’t helped by having a straightforward option to choose from, should a seat open up at Alfa Romeo. Often in the races, three of the top six consist of Ferrari Academy drivers.

It’s going to be absolutely fascinating to watch that championship in its own right unfold as an opening in Formula 1 potentially presents itself.

Ferrari certainly has a lot to think about…

How the Alonso signing diminishes Renault junior academy

Image: @RenaultF1Team

The number of champions on the Formula 1 grid for the 2021 was in threat of diminishing to just Lewis Hamilton, with the futures of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen in Formula 1 currently unknown ahead of the 2021 season. However their futures are resolved, F1 will have more than one champion on the grid next season as Renault announced the return of two-time champion Fernando Alonso on Wednesday for the 2021 and 2022 seasons, replacing the outgoing Daniel Ricciardo, who is headed to Alonso’s former team at McLaren.

The return of Fernando Alonso is, overall, a win for Formula 1, who certainly let him down as he exited from the sport at the end of 2018, with no path to a top team on the grid.

A return to Renault, certainly in 2021, would appear to be a similar situation that Alonso left in 2018: a top-class driver toiling around in the midfield.

The new regulations that were originally due for 2021 were pushed back to 2022 amid the Coronavirus outbreak. That certainly didn’t help Alonso and his F1 comeback. Who knows what Renault’s potential pace is amongst F1’s rules reset but you can be fairly sure — barring a miracle — that Renault won’t be competing for victories in 2021 (happy to be proven wrong though).

Myself, I love Fernando Alonso. He’s not only my favourite driver of all time but I think he is the 2nd best driver of this century (after Michael Schumacher). He’s tenacious, relentless, just an incredible driver and knows how to drag the most out of an F1 car. There are few drivers who have the winning calibre of Alonso that could go through what he did from 2015-2018 in those awful McLarens and not just give up and go home.

I have mixed feelings about Alonso returning to F1.

I think for Renault, yes, he is definitely what they need in terms of driver who can deliver on the track and a driver who help drive and help direct development. The 2019 McLaren is one of the results of the season-long feedback Alonso would have given on the 2018 car. Renault need a similar driver direction to help them in the development of their car: they need to be where Racing Point and McLaren are right now. They’re close enough but they need to be there. Alonso can help them with that.

Like I said, Alonso is my favourite driver of all time. It’s great for F1 he’s back and I’ll sure be happy to see him on track again. But in another sense, I don’t want to see him back unless he has a chance to win races and championships.

Alonso has had a fantastic career where he, somehow, only achieved two world championships. Everyone will look back and wonder how on earth did a driver the calibre of Fernando Alonso only win two world titles, and none after 2006? It’s a shame it worked out that way, it’s a shame the first McLaren stint didn’t work out, it’s a shame Ferrari could never give Alonso the best car on the grid, or one quicker than Red Bull when it mattered the most. It’s a shame Honda grossly underestimated what it meant to develop a V6 hybrid power unit. It’s a shame Alonso didn’t win another F1 race after 2013. It’s a shame Ferrari gave him the worst Ferrari of this century in 2014 (2009 at least won a race).

It’s a shame, but that’s the story of Fernando Alonso’s career: he was a driver who didn’t get all of the breaks, didn’t end up in the right place at the right time after 2006. We don’t get what we deserve sometimes, and that, sadly, is the story of Alonso’s F1 career after 2006.

Now, it’s 2020 and next year when Alonso returns it’ll be 2021: 20 years down the road from when Alonso made his debut with Minardi in 2001. I love Alonso, but he’s had his time in F1. If he’s not winning races, maybe it’s better if he’s not there.

Many things have changed in F1 since 2001, and something that is a lot more prevalent in F1 now are driver academies/junior programs. A lot fo F1 teams have academy drivers, especially the top teams — this includes Renault.

Renault’s driver academy is quite extensive and they have two drivers in Formula 2 who are part of their academy: Guanyu Zhou and Christian Lundgaard. Add to that promising talent Oscar Piastri, who took victory in F3’s feature race over the weekend.

Renault’s usage of their driver academy has been very frustrating to watch. Almost every other team who has had academy drivers have given at least one driver a shot in Formula 1, even if it isn’t with their own team.

Mercedes didn’t have an opening for their academy drivers (who weren’t ready anyways) were able to get George Russell into a Williams and, before that, Esteban Ocon into a Force India for a full-time seat.

Before Charles Leclerc drove for Ferrari, he drove for Alfa Romeo for a year, and Antonio Giovinazzi currently drives for Alfa Romeo.

Lando Norris was a McLaren academy driver before replacing Stoffel Vandoorne — who himself was a McLaren junior driver waiting in the wings in 2016 — for 2019.

Nicholas Latifi was a Williams junior driver.

Red Bull’s history of academy drivers is obviously well documented (heck, they have an entire F1 team basically dedicated to that).

For as many academy drivers Renault have had, none of them have made the step to Formula 1 over the recent years like other teams have. And none have been as promising as Guanyu Zhou, who is set for a potential title challenge in this season’s F2 season — after standing out as the top rookie from last year — if last weekend’s showing at Austria is to be believed.

Christian Lundgaard is also a strong driver within the program, who has top-10 potential in F2 this season.

F2 is the final stepping stone for Formula 1, but obviously requires an opening to make that step. What step is there for these drivers to make that step with Renault?

Esteban Ocon is contracted to Renault for this current season and next season, 2021. Even after 2021, there’s no guarantee Ocon will land himself in a Mercedes. With Alonso on a two-year deal — unless Mercedes call-up Ocon after 2021 — there’s going to no space for a Renault junior driver to make the jump to the works team for at least two years.

Signing Alonso is a slap in the face to everyone who partakes in the Renault Junior Academy. It shows absolutely zero faith in any of the junior drivers.

Where’s the path for them? What confidence is there that they’ll make the jump to an F1 seat with Renault? Why do you think Jack Aitken left the Renault Academy for the Williams reserve role?

“I’m just not confident that they’re necessarily as invested in their junior driver academy as the junior drivers might hope,” said Aitken.

Aitken’s decision to leave Renault speaks volumes, and he’s so right. He has a much larger chance to be considered for an F1 drive at Williams, whenever George Russell leaves, than he ever would at Renault.

Aitken has been proved right by this decision taken by Renault. If you’re Christian Lundgaard or Guanyu Zhou, what are you to make of it all? How are they going to get to F1? Like Aitken, it’s going to have to be with another team.

I genuinely think, with a strong season, that Guanyu Zhou will be ready to make the leap to Formula 1 with Renault — he is the best academy driver they have had. And Renault have decided to pass him over.

I love Fernando Alonso, but he’s had his time. I understand Renault wanting to jump at the chance to sign Daniel Ricciardo: that’s absolutely fine. But with that opening for 2021 after Ricciardo’s exit, now was the time Renault showed some faith in their own academy, and the fact that they haven’t is a slap in the face to everyone involved and a slamming indictment of their own academy and all the time, money and effort invested into it…

For tomorrow, Alonso blocks the path for Renault’s younger drivers. For today? It’s exactly what Renault need to bring them forward…

F1 2020 Austrian Grand Prix Review: Albon’s big chance?

(Image: @F1)

F1 2020 returned with a bang in Austria, a race that was eventually won by Mercedes’ Valterri Bottas, following suit on his start from 2019 where he also took the first victory of the season.

The race was set to be a little uneventful as the Mercedes pair of Bottas and Lewis Hamilton — starting from 5th after a late protest by Red Bull over Hamilton’s qualifying investigation — just drove away from the field, their pace was what everyone feared.

However, the safety car would have a say on this race on multiple occasions and the one that blew the race open was the safety car deployed after George Russell and Romain Grosjean’s quick-fire retirements on lap 50/51. The Mercs were already having to back off of Austria’s notorious kerbs, with Mercedes fearing post-race that both cars might not make it to the end of the race.

With the field closing up, the Mercedes’ wouldn’t be able to take it easy: no more margin to manage after the safety car closed the field up. Added to that, a number of drivers behind Bottas and Hamilton made pitstops onto softer tyres while the Mercedes pair stayed out on the hards.

Sergio Perez’s older mediums wouldn’t pose a problem but the new softs put on Red Bull’s Alexander Albon made you wonder if they would put pressure on the leading duo.

Sure enough, Albon put instant pressure on Hamilton and his hard compound tyres, trying his luck around the outside of Turn 4. The result is as you know…

You could look at this incident with Hamilton from a few different perspectives.

In some ways, Albon could’ve maybe been more patient. The opportunity to pass Hamilton would’ve surely come again the next lap, if the opportunity wasn’t clear-cut when he tried, he could’ve waited. You could look at it that way.

On the other hand… Albon was through on the outside. His car was ahead of Hamilton’s and he left more than enough space for Hamilton, who definitely could have applied some more steering-lock heading into Turn 4 and had a lot more space to his right-hand side to utilise. I do think part of that from Hamilton’s side was some understeer but he didn’t do a lot to avoid hitting Albon either.

Some people thought a 5-second penalty wasn’t harsh enough, Toto Wolff thought it was too much (?). At the time, I actually thought the stewards would call it a racing incident but they slapped Hamilton with 5-seconds in the end, demoting him from 2nd to 4th.

I know it’s the first race, but how many other opportunities is Albon going to get this season to have a legitimate chance of nabbing a race win? Max Verstappen isn’t going to be out of every race, Red Bull aren’t going to have a tyre advantage like that over Mercedes at the same time the German outfit are nursing problems at that stage of the race. Was that his big chance to win a race?

Whether Albon would’ve gone on to win the race if he had passed Hamilton, that would appear to have been unlikely, as Albon would later retire from the race close to the end, with Red Bull suspecting a power unit failure. Honda’s initial assessment points to a ‘PU electrical fault’.

If that is indeed the case, maybe it didn’t matter that Albon collided with Hamilton from his point of view…

How much more cruel would it have been to overtake Hamilton, overtake Bottas and then suffer that suspected power unit failure? At least this way Lando Norris got a podium out of it by way of Hamilton’s penalty… It just wasn’t meant to be for Alex Albon on Sunday.

Moving onto of Hamilton, I think it was clear he had the pace advantage over Bottas in the race but his error in qualifying/not claiming pole position put him on the back-foot for the race and cost him. Added to that, with Mercedes managing their issues from running on the kerbs, I think they just wanted to keep a 1-2 finish (Mercedes say they didn’t impose team orders) and didn’t need a potential collision between their two drivers — I think Hamilton had the pace to attack Bottas and overtake him. If Hamilton can claim pole position next week, I think he would probably drive away from Bottas. He is going to need to next week.

Moving onto Bottas, this was basically as good of a start as he could have wished for. Max Verstappen was ruled out of the equation early and Hamilton already 13 points adrift after his penalty. It was a great victory and certainly not a straightforward one, nursing the issues from running over the kerbs and the numerous safety car restarts.

Things move fast (no pun intended) in F1 but if Bottas can follow this result with another victory next week, it puts him in a solid spot. Bottas’ title hopes fell apart pretty quickly after his victory in Baku last year, so to validate a serious title challenge, Bottas needs to do the same thing next week, and that’ll be a good start. If he can do that in Hungary too? Maybe we can talk then about Valterri Bottas as a serious title contender…

Disappointing day for Red Bull to say the least… The season isn’t long, this was the worst thing that could’ve happened to Max Verstappen out of the gate. Red Bull needed things to go their way, they did not need a double DNF in the first race. Things can only be better next week.

I think Racing Point will be pretty disappointed with how their race unfolded too. Retirement for Lance Stroll doesn’t help, and Perez’s potential podium went up in flames when he received a 5-second penalty for speeding in the pit-lane (before being overtaken by Lando Norris on fresher tyres). Their race pace was good but I think they’ll be disappointed with what McLaren were hiding all this time. I’m sure they would’ve thought a podium was possible on Sunday after Verstappen’s retirement.

Speaking of Norris, he did a mega-job in qualifying on Saturday and did the business again in the race. His battle with Sainz late on was one of huge importance: any longer held up in that battle and he doesn’t finish on the podium. How and where he pulled that last lap out of — the lap that brought him within Hamilton’s 5-second window and the fastest lap of the race — I have no idea, but his podium is an excellent result for F1 itself, not just Norris who drove a blinder. Everyone is delighted for him.

That leads us nicely into the red cars: the Ferraris.

Their race pace was a little better than what qualifying showed but they’re still closer to Racing Point and McLaren than Red Bull. Charels Leclerc somehow managed to pull his Ferrari past Norris and into what would become 2nd place — more than what Ferrari could have imagined was possible heading into Sunday’s race.

Sebastian Vettel, on the other hand, did not fare as well. As his teammate overtook Carlos Sainz, Vettel decided to send an overtake up at Turn 3, but was even spinning before he made contact with Sainz in his attempt to get out of it. His pace after that was pretty bad — I believe he was still behind the Williams of George Russell when the Williams retired on lap 51 and eventually finished in 10th behind Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon and Antonio Giovinazzi. I’m going to assume his car was damaged in some way but…not great for Vettel.

Looking at the rest of the grid, Pierre Gasly had a quiet, solid race in 7th. Alpha Tauri were running well in this race and Daniil Kvyat was unfortunate to suffer what looked like a tyre-blowout (turning out to be a suspension failure after making contact with Esteban Ocon) towards the end of the race. Ocon was fairly far from his teammate this weekend but can be happy enough with 8th place, as will Giovinazzi with 9th place — that Alfa Romeo is not great, neither was Kimi Raikkonen’s tyre escapade.

Haas, meanwhile, decided to hop into a time-machine, running into brake troubles in a double DNF.

Overall, a great race for F1 to return with and the ending was absolutely fantastic, though it has to be said the reason it turned into what it did was because of that safety car on lap 52, forcing the field to close up while Mercedes were dealing with their issues — without that, we probably would’ve had a dull race.

Hopefully next week won’t be a procession and that we can at least see Max Verstappen in the mix too.

F1 2020 Preview: Will Less Be More?

I wanted to write an F1 preview back in March before the Australian Grand Prix was supposed to take place, but it just didn’t feel right given everything that was happening. On some level, I guess I knew that the race would be cancelled, so I was also unmotivated to write then.

But I am now.

Formula 1 is back this weekend for the first round of not only the Austrian double-header but the F1 2020 season itself.

At the moment, there are just eight confirmed races: two at Austria, one at Hungary, two at Silverstone, one at Spain, one at Belgium and one in Italy in September. Obviously a far-cry from the 22 race calendar we were set to get but it’s a start.

I’m expecting a some races to be added from the originally planned calendar: I’m certain we’ll see Bahrain, Abu Dhabi at the tail-end of the season. Whether we get we’ll get one or two races at any of those races (or perhaps an alternate version of Bahrain), we’ll see, but I’m fairly confident we’ll see a few races in the Middle-East towards the end of the year.

After Monza? I really believe we’ll get some tracks that weren’t on the original 2020 calendar.

One of, at the very least, Mugello or Imola is going to happen, I’m almost certain about that based on the various rumours/reports out there. It seems Mugello is a little bit more certain than Imola for now.

We could one/both of those, Portugal has a few options and, of course, Hockenheim should absolutely be in the mix. Regardless, I’d be shocked if more European races weren’t added after Monza.

F1 has previously said they’re confident they can get a 15-ish race calendar together, and that’s absolutely fine — that’s more than enough for a solid season.

Newer F1 fans have been spoiled by a 19/20/21 race season, but in my first season watching F1 in 2002, there were only 17 races. In 2003 there were 16 races — 14/15 races isn’t a huge departure, that’s more than enough to have a good season, especially if the action is close.

With that said, what affect does a shorter calendar have on the F1 season? I think it has the potential to even things out a little bit and I think a title battle — drivers and constructors — has the potential to be a little closer.

Heck, looking back to the previous 4 years and the margin in the drivers standings by round, we’ll say, 12…

2019: 62 points (leader: Hamilton)

2018: 24 points (leader: Hamilton)

2017: 7 points (leader: Vettel)

2016: 19 points (leader: Hamilton)

Throw 2019 out the window for this, there was no title fight once Bottas stuffed it in the wall at Germany, but for the other three seasons the margin was less than 25 points.

If you compare the margin between 1st and 2nd after the final round in those years above:

2019: 87 points (winner: Hamilton)

2018: 88 points (winner: Hamilton)

2017: 46 points (winner: Hamilton)

2016: 5 points (winner: Rosberg)

You get the idea: the fight between first and second has been a lot closer by round 12 compared to the end of a 19/20 race season, so a shortened season perhaps gives us a good of chance as any for a close title fight.

Of course… If Mercedes begins 2020 as they did 2019 then this is all irrelevant. Red Bull and Ferrari need to be somewhat close out of the gates, or Mercedes suffer somehow.

From what we saw in testing (yes, yes, not much to go on), Mercedes seemed to hold an advantage but Red Bull looked impressive, but a lot of time has passed between now and then.

While factories underwent their mandatory shutdown, some teams will be bringing upgrades to Austria. Renault, for one, say their car is going very different to the one they brought to Australia. Ferrari are also, supposedly, bringing some upgrades too, as are Mercedes — most teams probably will. So…it’s going to be hard to say because we really had no idea when it came to relative/real pace was.

Red Bull have been a little slow to start seasons in the past and to have any hope of either Max Verstappen challenging for the title, or Red Bull for the constructors, they need to be close enough to Mercedes out of the gate. Red Bull are good at bringing the upgrades later in the season, but they won’t have the ‘later of the season’ to bring those upgrades that take them closer to the top stop of the podium by Round 15 or so… They have to get it right quickly.

The problem, of course, is that there’s little regulation turnover from 2019 to 2020 and Mercedes, realistically, could’ve started prepping for 2020 after Spain last year, whereas Red Bull don’t like to write-off seasons early, taking their development later in the season bring them close to the front to at least challenge for some victories late on.

Ferrari…I’m not expecting much and I’m not sure how many others are either. Frankly, if they’re ahead of Racing Mercedes then I think that’s good enough. So, naturally — now that I’ve said that — they’ll be at the front (I wish)…

Elsewhere, the coronavirus is obviously going to be a topic all season. Obviously, safety is paramount but I’m curious to see if we see the need for a reserve driver to fill in at any stage this season for a weekend. Of course, no one wants this to be the case and that everyone is safe… You never know, it could be a factor in the drivers title?

Anyways, let’s get to some more F1 2020 talking points with good ol’ awards and predictions.

Awards/Predictions

These are always hit and miss for me.

From last year’s predictions, I obviously got the Ferrari stuff very wrong (thanks guys) and Renault were definitely not best of the rest. I always believed in Lando Norris, so that worked out well and Pierre Gasly was indeed a giant disappointment at Red Bull.

Anyways, let’s get into the fun stuff. Awards and predictions for 2020. We can talk more about F1 2020

Driver’s Champion: Max Verstappen

Meh. I don’t feel great about this — it’s definitely a heart thing.

My head says Lewis Hamilton, my heart Max Verstappen. I expect Mercedes to be the ones to beat (and it could be by some margin), so I guess it depends how much you believe in ‘Bottas 3.0’ or whatever version we’re on. And Bottas has to go for it: this could be his last shot — he’s not going to have forever at Mercedes with George Russell waiting in the wings.

The talk during the winter and into the summer has been how Bottas is ready, so we’ll see. He made a step up last year, so it’s not out of the question he’s got another level in him. If it’s enough to beat Hamilton over a full season? I’d lean no. Is it enough to beat him over a shortened season? Now, that could be a lot more possible.

The saving grace potentially for Verstappen and Bottas is that shortened season, where reliability and/or driver error will be punished a lot more over a shorter season, could play a facotr, but the key for Verstappen is that Red Bull need to be close, at least quick enough, where Max can at least split the Mercedes.

We’ll see…

Constructors’ Champion: Mercedes

Whether Red Bull/Verstappen have the pace to challenge, we’ll see, but there’s no doubt that Mercedes have the better pairing to win the constructors title than Red Bull, and I don’t think that’s especially harsh to Albon. If he gets a podium out of the gate in Austria, maybe we can re-evaluate…

Albon has a lot to prove this year. Allowances were made last year because, well, it couldn’t have been worse than Gasly’s performances. He’ll be expected to perform and be close to Verstappen this year. If he can do that…things become very interesting.

Otherwise, I don’t see anything stopping Mercedes from a seventh consecutive title, and there’s not much else to say about it.

It is what it is.

Best of the Rest: Racing Mer… Point. Racing Point

This may not be especially close in terms of the pace difference between Racing Point and McLaren but perhaps a little closer in terms of the final points tally.

McLaren certainly have a better driver lineup than the boys in pink, so that might give them a chance, but Sergio Perez might be enough to keep Racing Point 4th — because you can be sure he’s going to deliver. Perez is just a solid force, he’s going to give it everything and get the most out of that car — he’s proved he can throughout his entire career.

Either way, I think everyone agrees that Racing Point’s pace will be legit, which means we’re about to find out how good of a Formula 1 driver Lance Stroll really is.

He built a bit of a reputation last year of a driver who is actually handy enough in the race, the problem is that Stroll is, arguably, the worst qualifier on the entire F1 grid — that has to change this year. He cannot be outside the top 10 while his teammate is 7th, or possibly higher. Arguably, starting outside the top 10 might help with strategy for his races but Stroll has to be closer to Perez this year.

If that car is legit, and Stroll is holding Racing Point back and costing them money…things might become interesting. Yes, yes Lawrence Stroll is there but there are more shareholders than just Lawrence Stroll.

Perez should be very excited for this season though, and next season too. This is right in his wheelhouse, and a podium appearance or two will not surprise me in the slightest and I think their outright pace advantage will propel them to P4.

Surprise of the Season: Sebastian Vettel

Vettel’s reputation has taken a hit in the last few years and many, myself included, have been pretty harsh on him for it (comes with the territory when you’re a 4x champion and driving for Ferrari).

Free of the pressure now that he’s on the way out, Vettel can just drive again and not worry about everything else that comes with being a Ferrari driver. I hope we see a more relaxed, free Sebastian Vettel and one back in his element and I think he’ll be right there, or higher, than Charles Leclerc.

Whether 2020 is Vettel’s last in F1 remains to be seen, but he can at least be free and I think a bounce-back year is definitely on the cards.

Alex Albon has solid potential here, and if Racing Point are actually quicker than Ferrari you can place them here too.

Best Rookie: N/A

Only one rookie in F1 this season and he’s a 25 year old who didn’t win the F2 title last year. Needless to say, I’m not massive on Nicholas Latifi but maybe he’ll be OK… I don’t expect him to be anywhere near George Russell though.

Most Improved: Lando Norris

I don’t really like the idea of putting a second year driver here (because you expect improvement from year 1 to year 2) but with Norris now heading into his second year and — as he’s talked about — free of the ‘jitters’ that come with being a rookie, I think he’s in for a great season.

He was very close to Carlos Sainz in terms of performance last year, and the standings weren’t a fair reflection of how close Norris was to Sainz last season. Don’t get me wrong, Sainz was definitely better last year, but Norris was close and often suffered from reliability more than Sainz. Norris just about out-qualified Sainz too over the season — his pace in qualifying is handy.

I think there’s a great chance Norris is ahead of Sainz this year, and it’s going to be very interesting when Norris outperforms Sainz the year before Sainz heads to Ferrari

Most Disappointing Driver: Lance Stroll

This will be a little harsh, and I’ve kind of explained the Racing Point thing already, but this is a big year for Stroll, especially if Racing Point’s top 4 pace is legit. He’s a good driver on the Sunday but needs to improve on the Saturday. If he’s about 40/50 points away from Perez — which is very possible — then I think this will be justified.

Other potential disappointments might include Carlos Sainz, but only from the perspective that he’s about to become a Ferrari driver and if he’s out-performed by Norris.

Most Disappointing Team: Ferrari

McLaren could be tempting to put in this spot, and Renault is always a great shout, but I can’t help but feel Ferrari will, once again, disappoint.

It’s not that anyone is expecting them to win — as was the case last year after 2019 testing — and I don’t even think people will peg them ahead of Red Bull either, but the fact that they’re not going to be at the front, and potentially closer to Racing Point than Red Bull, is going to be a massive disappointment. Having gone close in 2017 and 2018, things have gone backwards, and 2020 seems like (at this early stage) it’s going to go the same way.

Best Livery: TBD

I mean, I want to say Mercedes but until we see it on track, that’s to be decided.

Haas’ new livery this season is fantastic, as is Williams’.

Ferrari made some big steps too — red and black usually go perfectly, but with Ferrari…I don’t know. It just doesn’t work as well compared to red and white or just plain red (2018 style). Less black on that Ferrari this year helps.

Racing Point have helped themselves a lot too, now that SportPesa are out of the picture and with it the blue…

Plenty of excellent looking cars this year, to be fair.

Worst Livery: Red Bull

It’s not that it’s ugly, it’s just the same as it was back in 2016 — every team has changed their livery in some major way at least once since 2016, think it’s time Red Bull do too. They were well ahead on the matte-train, but when they’ve teased us with testing liveries that are better looking than their race livery, frustration builds…

Best Helmet: Lando Norris

This was tough.

For starters, here’s a handy list compiled by RaceFans of the 2020 helmets, so get yourself acquainted (and try to be mature).

Charles Leclerc, Alex Albon and Daniil Kvyat (definitely most improved on helmets) have great helmets, but I’m going to go with Lando Norris.

The colour combo of neon green and blue is fantastic, and the design around that is fantastic. Neon green probably shouldn’t work with orange…but Norris’ helmet just works somehow.

With Mercedes’ new black look, we can expect to see new designs by both Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas. Hamilton has had some great helmet designs/colours over the past few years, and I think he has big potential here too.

So, I’m excited for that but, for now, I’ll go with Lando Norris.

Worst Helmet: Carlos Sainz

Sorry, I love Carlos Sainz but it’s just too bland. There’s a large grey spot near the top which is just empty: it’s just grey, and grey is just so boring here. The Spanish flag design on the helmet is great but the rest just falls completely flat on its face — such a step down. It might look better when Sainz is in the car, but on its own? No.

Daniel Ricciardo’s 2020 helmet is also pretty disappointing too after a successful 2019 outing.


So, there’s a brief conversation about the F1 2020 season and some predictions before we get going. Regardless of how it shakes down, can we at least get some close battles near the front? I’m basically resigned to the fact Hamilton will equal Michael Schumacher this year with 7 world titles, but can he at least work for this one?

Midfield battle will be as fun as always — always a joy. Big seasons ahead for Alex Albon, Lance Stroll, Valterri Bottas, Antonio Giovinazzi and both Haas drivers.

We shall see… F1 2020 is certainly going to be a little different, but if the racing is close? I don’t think people will mind at all.

Black Lives Matter: My story, and how you can make a difference from where you’re at

Off the top, I want to say that I am not qualified to talk about any of what I’m going to talk about today. As these recent events — and their aftermath — have unfolded, the need to speak out has become necessary, so I’m going to share some of my story today and go from there. I hope you hear the heart behind it.

I grew up in the Irish countryside and went to a small countryside school. There were no black people in my class or in the school for that matter. I guess my first exposure to someone of a different skin colour would’ve been sports, footballers for the most part, whether it was through real life or in video games. Players like Michael Essien, Claude Makelele, Ronaldinho. As a kid, the different colour of their skin didn’t bother me or strike me as odd. They were just people, people who could also do incredible things with a ball.

Honestly, as a kid, I thought black people were the coolest. They had the best hairstyles, they had the cool music, they could wear the cool clothes, they spoke in a cool way, they were the fastest, the most athletically gifted — these were the things I thought as a kid.

Playing Grand Theft Auto San Andreas (admittedly, a little too young), the main protagonist you played as was Carl Johnson, a black man. CJ was the shit. He was awesome. Plus, I could give him the cool hairstyles, the cool clothes that I had conceived in my young imagination.

In short, I thought black people were so much cooler than white people as a kid. Still do, really.

It wasn’t until I started secondary school with a large populous where I saw the diversity in a place I would be attending frequently. The only black guy in our year happened to be in my class. His name was Samuel, and he was one the nicest kids I knew. I really liked him and we got on pretty well. He was a day student (I was a boarder) so our interactions were only in and around class, but I thought he was great.

I met a lot more black people of all ages as I started going to church when I was about 15 (2009 heading into 2010). People of all countries, all colours. I initially struggled to fit in with people, and people my age, but got to know a few people my age who happened to be black. We became really good friends, and I can say with ease that I spent more time with them than anyone else (other than the people in school, as in, when were actually in the school). Outside of school, I never really spent time with the people in school, nothing even came close to the time I spent with my friends from church. The hours we spent together had to be in the hundreds — we stayed at various houses, went on various adventures etc. Endless memories.

As we progressed through our later teens, we became brothers by bond.

I was often the only white guy in the group, the only white guy when we met friends of friends. But I never felt uncomfortable or out of place when I was with them: they are my brothers, they are family, and those friends of friends we’d occasionally see were always accepting of me — they didn’t say anything about my skin colour, or the fact I was very much out of place compared to everyone else. My friends helped me to understand the different things they did that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise (such as African dishes and traditions and the such), corrected me if I said something wrong, because there was a lot I didn’t know or understand about their background or upbringing.

I probably wanted to be black at some point in my teenage years (not that I knew what that meant at the time, of course). Their influence in my life was incredibly strong, in an extremely positive way.

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A Facebook profile picture from 2011

It’s 2020 now, and I still have my brothers: Matt and Ronn. Life may have taken us in all sorts of different directions over the years and while contact was sometimes lost on my end, the bonds we made were never lost.

We make time to see each other whenever possible in our busy lives, and they’re great times that I treasure as new memories are made and the bond further strengthened. They’re my brothers, and I love them.

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From 2015

I am incredibly lucky to know them, and incredibly lucky to have known and befriended many other black people as well.

It pains me that they, and people like them, have to live through this oppression, simply for the colour of their skin. It pains me they (generally speaking) don’t feel the same acceptance as I did when I was the only white guy in the group

This George Floyd situation hit me differently, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s a maturity on my end, but one that should’ve taken place sooner.

I also think part of it is because I’m so much more plugged into things that happen in America these days because the majority of my Twitter timeline (which I use for work) is of people from the States, and I work with people in the States and I write for an American website.

I think that’s definitely part of it, because even though these horrible things were happening throughout my teenage years and early adulthood, I didn’t really know about police brutality to black people (that, seemingly, only happens in America) only but a few years ago.

The situation bothered me, I struggled to sleep thinking about it and it was on my mind every day.

Meanwhile, people from all across the world made their stand, whether it was on social media or taking part in protests. Initially, I sat on the fence. I knew my silence for those first few days was wrong, but I didn’t believe I wasn’t qualified to talk about it. What am I going to say? I just didn’t know how to go about it.

This is what I eventually said to break silence.

But I didn’t know what else to do after this.

My fellow writer at Peachtree Hoops, Glen Willis, wrote about his ‘exhaustion and the challenge in confronting his own ego’, which goes into many aspects but also his place in all of this as a white man. There were parts that really spoke to me, questions to ask, and these were general things I had felt too.

How much speaking up is too little? How much is too much? How do I know if I am taking up space in the conversation that’s not mine to consume? Am I amplifying the right people and messages? Or am I taking over a part of the dialogue?

What does constructively showing up look like? How do I know if I am stepping into a place that is not mine to occupy?

Does it mean anything if my intent was to help? Because I know that I still have so much to learn, I know that I still function with a ton of ignorance. Does that prevent me from being able to join in the fight?

These are really good questions to ask, as a white man. It’s a difficult balance: you want to be part of it, as a white man, to acknowledge that, collectively, we have to be better, but at what point is it not about you? At what point do you, as a white person, back out and let others have their voice and their say?

How do I go about it? What can I do, as a white man living in Ireland living in a town near the countryside? 

There’s a great pressure to do and say something on social media, because if you don’t ‘you’re part of the problem’ and other such comments might be made. Silences are being noted during this time. People will remember. How do you let that challenge you but at the same time not be pressured into saying something for the sake of saying something? Because in this situation, that’s the wrong reason to say something: for the sake of saying something.

I love my brothers, I had to say something to show support. But what else is there that I can do after that?

I’m a white man living in Ireland, a place where, yes, racism happens (it exists everywhere across the world) but it’s certainly not a racist country by any means.

I asked my closest friends, Matt and Ronn (two of the wisest people I know), about the whole thing to try expand my horizons on the whole topic and seek their viewpoint as black men living in Ireland, and it was a really meaningful discussion. It was a critical learning experience to further my understanding of the whole conversation.

There was a Black Lives Matter protest in Dublin on June Bank Holiday Monday. Under normal circumstances, I would’ve liked to attend. But travel restrictions still exist (and I don’t drive), and I’m here in Carlow.

What can I do as a white man in all of this, what’s my role? How can I make a difference?

I posed this question to Ronn and one of the things he mentioned was understanding the limitations.

“For people to understand the struggles different people face. Understand that some of us don’t have certain privileges and have to work harder for things that a group of people can have way easier than most.”

I hadn’t actually thought about how there might be prejudices or preference when it comes to, say, job interviews or promotions, so this was really eye opening from that perspective. Not exclusive to employment of course, but it just helped me see things from another perspective.

We got further into the conversation and Matt chimed in, I want to share some of these and talk about some of them.

“I think when you see injustice and don’t speak out against it that can be deemed as siding with the injustice. But if you’re sitting in your flat in Carlow and someone unjustly kills a black man in Minnesota, it’s not necessarily on you to change America.

“Showing support is good but living out that support is better…”

“I think correcting discrimination whenever it comes up in my circle of influence, and raising my family to treat everyone as equals is the biggest thing. Circle of influence is key.”

After a follow up question I had about silence, Matt added, “I think there’s a difference between silence and the presence of injustice, and about silence about injustice in general. If silence about injustice in general was an issue, we’d all be guilty since we live in a greatly unjust world and most of us speak out about it very rarely.”

So much wisdom in those.

I’m a big advocate of the phrase “control what you can control.”

I can’t control when a black man is unnecessarily killed in America, I can’t control that I cannot attend a protest…there’s a lot I cannot control from where I am in all of this.

But, at the same time, there is plenty I can control/do.

I can control how I react when I hear racism — casual or otherwise. To correct them, to let them that this isn’t acceptable and that it’s absolutely not necessary. To correct people in my circle of influence if there is an understanding that is incorrect.

I can’t control that I can’t attend a protest happening further away than I can travel, but I can donate so that others are empowered to do so.

I can use my talents when it comes to forming and writing words, I can use my platform to share my story, my thoughts.

We all have a voice. Some of us are better at using it than others. I’m not a man who speaks a ton of words, by which I mean I’m not great at formulating words in person compared to what I can do when I type them out. I don’t have a great ability to convert those thoughts on paper into in-person speeches/public speaking, but I’m good at writing my thoughts down on ‘paper’ and posting them. That’s a talent I can use to make my voice heard.

If, like me, you don’t have the means to attend a protest, you can help others who do have the means by donating, that’s one thing you can do.

I felt helpless at first because I didn’t know how to help, but there’s a bunch you can do. You can donate, you can sign petitions, if you have black friends ask questions. Read. Learn. Listen.

One of the things I’m being challenged with is that ‘you have more of a reach than you may believe.’ Tap into that.

You can make a difference from where you’re at right now. You have a larger reach than you think…

 

 

As his potential F1 exit looms, what is Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari, F1 legacy?

(Image: Creative Commons)

The end of 2020 Formula 1 season will mark the end of Sebastian Vettel’s six year partnership with Scuderia Ferrari, having joined from Red Bull at the end of the 2014 season.

Life at Ferrari will go on, with Carlos Sainz being announced as Vettel’s replacement for 2021, and what Vettel decides to do now is unclear: whether he decides to begin a new challenge with another team, like Renault perhaps, or if he retires from the sport altogether (which is I think is the more likely outcome).

Should Vettel retire at the end of the 2020 campaign, it would wrap up a successful 14 season career in which the German won four world titles, 53 Grand Prix victories, 57 pole positions, 38 fastest laps and many other accolades.

All of that sounds great, but Vettel’s F1 career isn’t as straightforward the stats make it seem.

In many sporting careers of the greats in various sports, there’s the first phase and then the second phase, maybe a third phase if you make it that far — the latter phases being the ones people usually build narratives on, where reputations are made. Normally, good turns to great. Sometimes it doesn’t.

For example, LeBron James spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers before leaving for the Miami Heat, with whom he won his first two NBA titles that had eluded him so long in Cleveland, the first of which came in 2012. LeBron has since returned to Cleveland, won his third title and is proceeding to write what I imagine will be the final chapter with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Michael Jordan’s career could arguably be split into pre and post retirement (with a third if you want to count the Washington Wizards but shhh…).

For an example in Formula 1, Lewis Hamilton was a champion and a winner of many races before leaving McLaren for Mercedes for the 2013 season. Since then, Hamilton has won over 60 races with the Silver Arrows and is now a six-time Formula 1 world champion — the first phase being his McLaren years, the second phase being his Mercedes years.

For an example that goes in the other direction, Jacques Villeneuve’s career and Lewis Hamilton’s career over their first two years in F1 basically mirror each other: victories in rookie season, title contention in rookie season, champion in their second season. After that though, they differ greatly. It’s better not to talk about what happened to Villeneuve’s career after those first two years…

Sebastian Vettel’s career, similarly, can be broken into two phases: his time with Red Bull and his time at Ferrari, both of whom Vettel will have spent six seasons with.

Having made his debut the season before, Vettel burst onto to scene during the 2008 season where he became F1’s youngest ever winner at the time — in a Toro Rosso of all things. Vettel rose to Red Bull in 2009, where it didn’t take him long to bring home the Austrian outfit’s first piece of silverware. Omens marked well for 2010 as Red Bull ended the 2009 season as the fastest car on the grid. The pace carried through to the 2010 season and Vettel did enough to keep himself in contention for the title by the final round in Abu Dhabi, and by winning the Grand Prix Vettel became the youngest driver to win a world championship.

Vettel went to win another three titles in a row after his 2010 success, with the 2011 and 2013 titles coming as formalities, while 2012 saw an epic showdown against Fernando Alonso which went down to the wire. The 2013 season in particular was one of the more dominant seasons in F1 history as Vettel won the final nine races of the season, 13 in total.

Things got a little tougher for Vettel in the 2014 season — his final season with Red Bull and the first in the new turbo hybrid era — as he was out-performed by his new teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, in a season where Vettel failed to win a race compared to his teammate’s three victories, leaving Vettel with a winless season for the first time since his rookie season of 2007.

Nevertheless, as he left for Ferrari in 2015, Vettel’s reputation in the sport was extremely high. No one other than Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher had won more titles than Vettel, and only Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher had registered more career victories.

Vettel was the most successful driver on the Formula 1 grid, the one everyone wanted to beat, the crown everyone wanted after 2013.

Vettel’s time at Ferrari is difficult to quantify. His first few years were hard to measure, as Ferrari — and the entire F1 grid — played catch up to Mercedes.

In 2015, Vettel didn’t have much to lose — with Ferrari coming off of what was their worst season of the century — but everything to gain as he helped Ferrari return to winning ways in Malaysia, Ferrari’s first victory since 2013 and one of three in 2015. Ferrari took the fight to Mercedes on a few occasions but not near enough to compete for a title against the might of the Silver Arrows over the course of a full season.

2016 was where the frustrations appeared to seep through as Ferrari and Vettel suffered their second winless season in three years…

I’ve always compared Vettel’s 2016 to Hamilton’s 2011 — that one year in a great career where things just didn’t work, frustrations boiled and mistakes were made. It just wasn’t a relevant year in what was a successful career.

The season started OK for Ferrari but by the summer break they were slipping, and were soon overtaken by Red Bull for second. Again — more than ever — the field was a long way off of Mercedes, the German outfit winning 19 of the 21 races of the season… The two that got away? Spain (where the two Mercedes cars crashed into each other) and Malaysia (where Vettel spun Rosberg, who would’ve been there to pick up the pieces when Hamilton’s engine gave way while in the lead).

Vettel’s 2016 is mostly known for his meltdown in Mexico, when Max Verstappen refused to give Vettel the position he felt was owed after Verstappen missed his braking point and missed the first corner complex. Vettel then proceeded to throw a tirade over Verstappen over the radio and then towards race-director Charlie Whiting. People often forget about Vettel’s clumsy error in Malaysia in the same season, sending Nico Rosberg around in the wrong direction, while ending his own race.

But along with that, Vettel’s 2016 was a disappointment because it was arguably the worst car that he has driven as a member of a front-running team (that 2014 Red Bull was better than the 2016 Ferrari), and how he handled that season was disappointing. While others in the past, such as Fernando Alonso, have absolutely dragged the heels off of a car that underperformed (2014, for example) and I don’t think Vettel showed a similar quality when things got tough in 2016.

Some of Vettel’s fault’s at Ferrari during those first two years could be forgiven. A four-time champion, a driver who wasn’t in a title winning situation, a man out of his element so to speak. This is a driver who is used to competing for race wins, competing for titles.

Vettel couldn’t be properly judged as a Ferrari driver until the consistent opportunity to win races, and contend for a title, came to the fore.

Then came 2017…

With the new regulation changes, Ferrari were back at the front and this time took the fight to Mercedes, with Vettel leading the way as he took an early lead in the title fight. What people actually forget is that Vettel had a hold of the championship lead until Monza, where a dominant display from Mercedes on Ferrari’s home turf finally put Hamilton ahead of Vettel for the first time in 2017 — leading by just three points — despite Vettel’s meltdown in Azerbaijan, his recovery drive in Canada after contact with Max Verstappen and his puncture problems late on at Silverstone.

Then it all unfolded into chaos, beginning in Singapore.

During the 2017 season, Ferrari held a significant advantage at tracks where downforce mattered a little more, seeing success in Monaco and Hungary earlier in the season. Singapore was set to follow the same path as Vettel produced, arguably, one of his best qualifying laps in his career to stick his car on pole position.

Rain struck moments before the start of the race, a race where Mercedes were third best and in real trouble of finishing behind both Ferrari and Red Bull. The rest, as they say, is history — Vettel’s sluggish start paled in comparison to Verstappen, and even more so, to teammate Raikkonen. Determined to defend his lead, Vettel’s attempt to cut off Verstappen (while blind to his teammate’s incredible start on Verstappen’s inside) ended up in a collision that eliminating all three of them, allowing Hamilton to seize the lead, win the race and establish a 28 point lead over Vettel. On a track that had everything going in Ferrari’s favour and everything against Mercedes, the damage done on that day was devastatingly damaging.

Reliability issues struck both Ferraris in Malaysia (where Vettel began at the back of the grid but recovered well to take fourth place, before colliding with Lance Stroll on the cool-down lap in a bizarre incident) — a track where it looked like Ferrari would’ve had the pace to win — and again in Japan (in the infamous ‘spark plug’ incident), this time forcing Vettel to retire as Hamilton took victory once again.

When Vettel lined up on pole position at Singapore, he trailed by just three points and was all but certain to take the lead of the championship once again. By the end of the Japanese Grand Prix — three races after Monza — Vettel’s championship bid lay in tatters, now trailing by 59 points to Hamilton and only 13 points ahead of third placed Valterri Bottas.

Hamilton would wrap up title number four, to equal Vettel, two races later in Mexico (a weekend, to Vettel’s credit, where he absolutely stole pole position away from Max Verstappen with a mega lapbefore making contact with Hamilton on the first lap).

The error Vettel made at Singapore was critical and who knows how much further the title fight could’ve been carried had things gone a little differently at that race, but I ultimately think 2017 was a case of Mercedes’ reliability outlasting Ferrari’s over the course of a season more so than Hamilton outlasting Vettel. Ferrari and Mercedes to-ed and fro-ed for superiority for much of the season but once Mercedes gained the edge over Ferrari, they never looked back — the better car won in 2017, but Vettel showed some signs of fragility on track during his first title quest in a Ferrari.

…Which is exactly what set up Vettel’s 2018 to be the most defining of his Ferrari career.

You could make a fair case as to the Ferrari being a closely matched car to the Mercedes in 2017 (and it was outright stronger at multiple tracks) but there was no doubt that the 2018 Ferrari was better than the Mercedes out of the box, and for a large chunk of the season, giving Vettel another shot at title contention with Ferrari

Vettel made multiple, key mistakes across the 2018 season as he and Hamilton both bid for a fifth world title.

In France, he out-braked himself and collided with Valterri Bottas on the opening lap, costing himself points as he finished fifth while Hamilton romped to victory. Multiple spins after contact occurred in Japan, USA and Italy (with Hamilton) cost him, but what proved most costly of all was the error he made in the changing conditions in Germany, a race he was leading before he skidded embarrassingly into the barrier in another race that Hamilton ended up winning (from P14, no less) and the Brit ended on the right side of a, at least, 43 point swing as Vettel crashed out from the lead.

While that was a devastating blow to Vettel psychologically I’m sure, Vettel still only trailed by 17 points after his victory at Belgium but those mistakes at Italy, Japan, USA and a poor result in Brazil (a weekend where he also broke the weigh-bridge) meant that he fell short in his title campaign, with Hamilton again sealing the deal in Mexico.

2018 was a significant season in many ways for Vettel. It not only represented Vettel’s failure in a title campaign for a second season — this one more glaring as the reliability issues that plagued Ferrari in 2017 weren’t present.

2018 was a defining season for Vettel.

First is the matter of Lewis Hamilton. Vettel and Hamilton both made their debuts in 2007 and their careers are largely similar in that they’ve both spent the majority of their careers in top-tier cars with race-winning potential. They’re both very successful drivers who have had very successful careers. They also entered 2018 with four titles apiece, so it really was a showdown season for the two in terms of their legacies versus one another as they competed for title number five. Vettel’s second successive loss in a direct title fight to Hamilton gives the Brit the authority over the German.

Secondly, Vettel’s machinery was equal, if not, better than Hamilton’s for most of the season. Granted, Ferrari’s upgrades fell flat on their face after Belgium (which they took away by USA) but Vettel had everything he needed to win the 2018 title. Ultimately, it came down to the driver. Hamilton was near faultless in 2018 while Vettel’s 2018 was error-ridden. Hamilton emerged victorious and took title number five.

Vettel’s reputation took a hit in 2018, and between the issues of 2017 (such as Baku and Singapore) and 2018 — and how Vettel performed in a title-competing sense — some people began to question Vettel’s legacy.

2019 only complicated matters, furthering the damage done in 2018.

Vettel picked up on his old ways as he found himself, again, facing the wrong way after contact with Hamilton in Bahrain while his new, younger, teammate, Charles Leclerc, took pole position and would’ve taken victory were it not for a spark plug issue. In Canada, Vettel made a mistake when being pursued by Hamilton, opening the door for the FIA to hand the German a (very unfair) penalty which cost him the race. Next came the British Grand Prix, where Vettel — one year on after taking a brilliant victory — made contact with Verstappen after the Dutchman had overtaken him into Stowe. Vettel was found to be at fault for the incident. Then came Russia, where Vettel reneged on the deal to swap positions with teammate Leclerc after giving Vettel the slipstream to take the lead, before retiring with an engine problem. Once again, Vettel found himself facing the wrong way at the Italian Grand Prix where he spun on his own at the Ascari chicane before rejoining in a matter unbefitting for a driver of Vettel’s calibre, making slight contact with Lance Stroll — forcing the Canadian into a spin — before finishing in a lowly 13th. And to cap it all off, Vettel was, in my opinion, at fault for the collision between himself and Charles Leclerc in Brazil, which would result in the two drivers subsequently retiring. 

While 2019 had some positive Vettel moments — such as his victory at Singapore (which, to be fair, you can say Ferrari engineered after they refused to pit Leclerc immediately after Vettel, allowing Vettel to undercut Leclerc, giving Vettel the victory) and he should have had a victory to his name in Canada — there was more bad than good for Vettel in 2019, and that’s how it’s largely been for Vettel over the past three years.

The one thing you could forgive Vettel for in 2019 is that he never had the car to challenge for the title, unlike 2017 and 2018.

Now comes the announcement where Vettel and Ferrari part ways, giving the accomplished German one more season in red to see out on a high (whenever the season gets underway).

Whether Vettel continues in F1 remains to be seen, but with the closing chapter of his time in red now approaching, we can now evaluate Vettel’s time with Ferrari, where he stands in terms of past drivers and, then, his overall legacy in Formula 1.

The official F1 social media accounts posted Vettel’s stats with the Scuderia, reflecting a successful stint in red:

In terms of where that places Vettel in Ferrari history: 3rd in race wins (one off of Niki Lauda for second), 5th in pole positions, 3rd in podiums (one off of Rubens Barrichello for second) and tied for 4th with Felipe Massa for fastest laps.

One of the questions that has been posed is where Vettel ranks as a Ferrari driver. From looking at the stats, the drivers that feature in similar areas/ranking in Ferrari history to Vettel are Fernando Alonso, Rubens Barrichello, Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen.

I don’t think there’s any need for Michael Schumacher’s nor Niki Lauda’s name to appear here in such a conversation — those are one and two in Ferrari history without a doubt.

Let’s lay out a table, shall we? See where Vettel ranks amongst that group of Ferrari drivers…

Screen Shot 2020-05-13 at 17.02.51

This is the company Vettel is keeping, this is who he should be compared with in terms of a Ferrari career. The stats are of course impressive, especially with a season to go, but there a number of other factors to consider…

You look at that table and there is one very important fact to establish… With the exception of 2020, where Vettel will be basically equal with Leclerc in terms of status, Vettel was the undisputed number one in the team, something that Rubens Barrichello never was, nor was Kimi Raikkonen for his second stint at Ferrari, nor was Felipe Massa at any point, really, in his Ferrari career (with the exception, perhaps, of 2009, which Massa only got to complete half of).

Massa brought himself into the fold, giving Ferrari a reason not to make him a dedicated number two from 2007 to 2009 — it worked out well as Ferrari won back-to-back constructors world titles in 2007 and 2008.

So, in many ways, comparing Vettel with Barrichello, Massa and even Raikkonen isn’t going to be fair to those three — they didn’t get the treatment benefit of the treatment Vettel did while at Ferrari.

Fernando Alonso, on the other hand, did. So, perhaps Vettel’s fairest Ferrari comparison is to the man he who filled the vacant Ferrari seat from 2015 to now (worth noting that it was Alonso who wanted out of Ferrari, and Vettel then filled the seat. Common misconception).

Alonso’s greatest Ferrari “failure” was that he couldn’t bring a title back to Maranello… Vettel has the same failure, and more…

When you look at the machinery of the opposition, sure, the gap from Alonso to the Red Bull’s/McLaren’s wasn’t as large as the gap from the Ferrari to the Mercedes that Vettel had to deal with (more so for the 2015/2016 seasons) but the bottom line is for those two seasons in 2017 and 2018, Vettel legitimately had the equipment he needed to mount a serious title challenge, with the 2017 Ferrari being on par with the Mercedes for most of the season and the 2018 Ferrari marginally quicker than the Mercedes for over half of the season.

The bottom line is that Alonso never had the quickest car on the grid during his time with Ferrari and constantly dragged his machinery above what it should have been able to deliver. He didn’t have the luxury of having the quickest car. Vettel did, and did less with it.

Alonso led heading into the title showdown in 2010 but the Red Bull was easily a better car than that Ferrari, the double DNF of the Red Bulls in Korea giving Alonso a shot. I don’t think Ferrari had any right to win any Grand Prix in 2011 (they finished 3rd in the constructors and weren’t really close to second placed McLaren), yet Alonso dragged Ferrari to a victory at Silverstone. Felipe Massa was a good driver but he couldn’t achieve a single podium in 2011 — Alonso achieved 10, including five 2nd place finishes.

In 2012, Alonso somehow managed to win in Malaysia when that car just should not have been able to do it, holding off the charge of the quicker Sergio Perez. He won three races in 2012 yet was in contention for the title until the very end, despite being an innocent bystander by Romain Grosjean carnage that was Spa 2012. The last of those three victories in 2012 came in Germany, 10 races before the season finale in in Brazil…and Alonso was still in contention.

Vettel did far less with far better equipment than Alonso did at Ferrari. Despite having a slower car, Alonso made it to the season finale with a chance to take the title on two occasions. Vettel did not make it to the season finale in contention, and I think that was telling. When push came to shove, and Vettel found himself in a car that could actually contend, he folded under the pressure — Baku, Singapore, France, Italy (x2), USA, Japan, Germany, to name a few…

Before he joined Ferrari, Alonso had already proved he could drag more out of a machine than it should be capable of, and he continued to do so during and after his stint at Ferrari, including the awful 2014 Ferrari and the fair share of terrible McLarens.

There’s no evidence that Vettel did that with his, at times, troublesome machinery in his post-Red Bull career.

When the going got tough in 2016, Vettel struggled too. Two retirements in the final four races for Raikkonen allowed Vettel to finally overtake his teammate in the drivers standings, and Raikkonen was a clear number two. When Red Bull and Mercedes were on top in 2019, Vettel produced a lacklustre season compared to his much more inexperienced teammate Leclerc. In those difficult two seasons with new teammates, Vettel was outperformed by both Ricciardo and Leclerc.

Based on those factors — and looking past the stats somewhat — I don’t think you can rank Vettel’s Ferrari career higher than Alonso’s, which means placing Vettel elsewhere.

You can cross Kimi Raikkonen off of that last too, he’s still the last person to win a driver’s title with Ferrari…that matters significantly, especially in lieu of the fact no titles came by way of both Alonso and Vettel. Raikkonen also won two constructors titles.

Both Raikkonen and Felipe Massa found themselves in title contention by the final round of a season, Vettel has not. So, while Vettel has a few more victories in red, Massa and Raikkonen have that over Vettel.

But you do have to draw the line at some point.

While Raikkonen has won a title with Ferrari and Massa may as well have, Vettel is a better driver then both them (as much as I love prime Raikkonen) and has more victories than both of them. Only for the fact Raikkonen has a title, I think you can slip Vettel in between Raikkonen and Massa/Barrichello in terms of a Ferrari career.

Fifth, basically. I’m putting Vettel fifth, behind Schumacher, Lauda, Raikkonen and Alonso in terms of his career at Ferrari. Schumacher and Lauda are obvious, Raikkonen because he has a drivers title and Alonso because he at least came damn close on two occasions despite his machinery being every reason for him not to be in those situations (more so 2012 than 2010), something Vettel did not do.

That’s where I think a fair ranking for Vettel’s Ferrari career looks like, what about Vettel’s F1 career as a whole, assuming this is to be his final season?

Vettel’s career is one you can very clearly split in two: Red Bull and Ferrari.

His Red Bull years were obviously very successful, but I think the reasoning as to why as become a little clearer now that we’ve seen Vettel in other, non Adrian Newey, machinery and title contending machinery that wasn’t a Red Bull.

Maybe the reason Vettel won those four titles in a row had less to do with him and maybe more the machinery he was in, who it was designed by, how much of advantage it truly had over other cars and who his teammate was. I don’t think there is any doubt that Red Bull had the best Formula 1 car on the grid from the mid-section of 2009 through to the conclusion of the 2013 season.

Nico Rosberg, thankfully for the sake of competitiveness, showed that though a car is dominant, you can at least still fight your teammate for a world title. Things at Red Bull…were a little different.

Once Vettel emerged as a race winner with Red Bull, it was clear that he was the future, that he would be the team leader and Mark Webber would fill in as the number two. Webber wasn’t having this, and forced Red Bull to reconsider as the Aussie thrust himself into contention for the 2010 title. While he had a shot at the title, Webber found himself in the same boat as Alonso in the season finale at Abu Dhabi: tucked up. However, Webber’s accident at Korea proved to be more decisive than being stuck in a queue behind Vitaly Petrov’s Renault in Abu Dhabi.

That title went to Vettel, and Webber’s approach after the 2010 season changed. In his book, Aussie Grit, Webber talks about how he wasn’t the same after the 2010 season, that his approach for 2011 wasn’t the same. While he wrote that he was ready for the 2012 season (compared to 2011), ultimately Webber finished a lowly 6th place as his teammate took home title number three. In 2013, Vettel won 13 races while Webber won none, finishing third in the standings behind Alonso and Vettel.

Webber, I don’t think, was the same driver he was after the heartbreak of 2010 and having come so close, not to mention his accident in 2009. Added to that, the issues within the team, Webber’s unhappiness about how the team had revolved around Vettel from 2010, the Helmut Marko factor (all of these are discussed in Webber’s fantastic book) and, naturally, Vettel moving into his prime and Webber moving out of his from 2011 onwards before retiring at the end of 2013… There wasn’t much challenge for Vettel for the title from within Red Bull from 2011 onwards. I loved Mark Webber but that was the reality: Vettel defeated him.

Vettel’s 2013 was absolutely dominant, no one could touch him. It’s one of the most successful seasons in F1’s history. But it does say something that your teammate, while enjoying an equally winning machine, didn’t register one win to his teammate’s 12. That’s a reflection on Webber, but also a little bit on Vettel’s achievements too — it has to be. Perhaps if there had been a more competitive teammate…maybe all wouldn’t have been as it seemed during those 2011-2013 seasons. I’m not saying Vettel doesn’t win in 2011 or 2013, but perhaps maybe not 2012. It’s certainly closer than it was.

It’s been pretty telling that on the two occasions when a new driver joins a team that Vettel has been established at for a few years — even if that driver has been designated before the start of the season as a backup to Vettel (as was made clear with Leclerc last season before the 2019 season began) — they’ve immediately taken the fight to him…and beaten him.

Webber and Raikkonen — who, it’s worth pointing out, were past their primes in their time as teammates to Vettel (Webber from 2011 onwards) — became clear number two drivers to Vettel. Ricciardo and Leclerc didn’t allow it to happen.

Vettel’s, seemingly, inability to drag the heels off of his struggling Ferraris raises questions. If you put Fernando Alonso or Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg or Jenson Button in those 2011-2013 Red Bulls alongside Vettel…what could they have done? Do they beat him? Perhaps not. Is the gap closer to Vettel than it was with Webber? I think that’s pretty likely. Are they still in a title fight with a Ferrari that had no business to do so in 2012 by the final round? I genuinely believe no, they probably wouldn’t be.

Vettel’s disappointing spell at Ferrari not only tainted his career as a whole but it’s arguable that they’ve also tainted his achievements at Red Bull. Had he had a teammate that pushed him from 2011 to 2013, is he a four-time champion? I don’t think so… Because Vettel just hasn’t shown the same qualities at Ferrari than he did at Red Bull. How important were those others factors at Red Bull?

During the 2018 season, I questioned whether Vettel’s failed title challenges against Lewis Hamilton would damage his legacy. With the end for Vettel’s F1 career now seemingly in sight, the answer would definitely lean toward ‘yes’. With history repeating itself with Charles Leclerc as it did Daniel Ricciardo? That only complicates things further, and not in a good way.

I need to add to everything I’ve said with this: Sebastian Vettel is a great driver. He is definitely one of the greats of this century and F1 history. He’s in that tier alongside Hamilton and Alonso as the greatest of his generation. He is one of the best qualifiers in F1 history (there have been often times even during his Ferrari stint where his car should not have been on pole) and his pace has been relentless at times. He is a deserving Formula 1 champion. He doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone, and that’s one reason I’m sure retiring would be easy for him.

It’s easy to forget Germany’s F1 success pre-Schumacher… There’s not a ton. Vettel picked up the torch that Schumacher left — the torch that Alonso, Raikkonen, Hamilton and Button passed around — and held it, ushering in the next phase of F1 dominance after Schumacher. And Vettel wanted to do the same with Ferrari but, for a multitude of reasons, it didn’t come to pass…

I honestly think Vettel’s failings at Ferrari has been damaging to his reputation. I find it hard to believe people will hold Vettel in the same esteem, knowing how the second phase of his career unfolded and how Hamilton beat him… When the playing field was evened in 2017 and (heck, went in his favour) 2018, when things got tough in 2016 and 2019, the four-time champion only showed flashes of his old self while Hamilton excelled.

When the dust settles, I do think those, like myself, whose view of Vettel has been damaged in these last few years, will look at Vettel a little kinder than we are right now. Recency bias is strong. When the dust settles, he’ll still be a four-time world champion who dominated the latter stages of the V8 era, a driver who at times was unrelenting in his dominance, even if the second half of his career failed to match the first. We might remember a little more fondly the driver who would gun for the fastest lap when he just didn’t need to, the radio messages from Rocky telling him to slow down.

A title with Ferrari would’ve cemented his status as one of the all-time greats but it wasn’t to be for Vettel and Ferrari. And so the next era for Scuderia Ferrari begins, as they continue their search for their first drivers title since 2007… For Sebastian Vettel, time will tell…

Vettel’s Ferrari departure opens door to 2021 driver market

(Image: @ScuderiaFerrari)

F1 2020 isn’t even in action and the driver market is already hitting its pinnacle as it was announced on Tuesday — after reports surfaced late on Monday night — that Ferrari and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel would end their partnership at the end of the 2020 season…whenever that may be.

Vettel and Ferrari had been talking about a new contract for a while now but those talks yielded no fruit, with Ferrari effectively made the decision to build with Charles Leclerc, signing him to a multi-year contract in December leaving Vettel’s future as the team’s number one option in doubt as he entered the final year of his contract.

Leclerc appeared to challenge, if not, usurp Vettel’s number one status in the team as the Monegasque driver basically outperformed Vettel in nearly all facets last season, Leclerc’s first with the Scuderia. Many drew parallels from when Daniel Ricciardo joined Red Bull in 2014 and outperformed Vettel — the reigning four-time world champion — in his first season. Vettel then left Red Bull at the end of 2014 to join the Scuderia as Ricciardo rose, and many believed the same situation would arise again with Leclerc.

But all of that aside, it leaves a very, very coveted seat open for grabs. Unlike the previous instance where a seat was up for grabs, that seat very clearly belonged to Charles Leclerc, the reigning F2 champion and the rookie was turning everyone’s heads in his first season in Formula 1 with Sauber.

This time, however, there’s no starlet in the waiting for Ferrari.

Antonio Giovinazzi was better than his placement in last year’s standings showed, but he’s not ready — or possibly talented enough — to take on that Scuderia drive. Other Ferrari academy drivers include Giuliano Alesi but more notably, Mick Schumacher and current F3 champion Robert Shwartzman.

Shwartzman I think will be a contender for the F2 title this season but you don’t go from F2 straight to a drive with the Scuderia, and while Schumacher has experience in an F1 car, it’s only from a testing point of view and it would appear unlikely that Ferrari would promote an F2 driver straight to Maranello.

So, this leaves Ferrari looking almost certainly at an external hire and basically everyone not under a Mercedes driver affiliation (George Russell, basically) or a current Red Bull should be queuing up and phoning until Mattia Binotto is sick.

The name coming to the fore at these very early stages — according to the reporting out there — is McLaren’s Carlos Sainz. The other name out there is Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, but Sainz appears to be ahead at this early stage.

I think Daniel Ricciardo would rip your arm off and jump at the chance of a Ferrari seat and get out of his Renault mistake. Carlos Sainz is in a bit of a trickier situation.

McLaren is a feel-good story right now. They had a great 2019 where they were best of the rest and did it with a refreshing, fun and gutty duo of Sainz and rookie Lando Norris. They’re a team clearly on the up, and that’s before the new regulations — now set to be introduced in 2022 — and, perhaps more importantly for the near future, a Mercedes power unit from 2021.

Ferrari is ultimately Ferrari and an offer from the Italian outfit is usually too much to turn down no matter what your situation, but it spoke volumes when Fernando Alonso got out of his contract two years early to leave, believing that he could not win a title at Ferrari — can you blame him, after the atrocity that was the 2014 car, the worse Ferrari since the early 90’s at least?

If Sainz truly believes in the McLaren project (and there’s a lot of reasons to do so right now), would he leave what is a great situation to be in, and do so easily? There’s a fun dynamic at McLaren now, that does not exist at Ferrari. Being a Ferrari driver comes with so much more than just driving the famous red car. I think it’s fair to say Sebastian Vettel didn’t cope with that as well as drivers like Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher. I’m not saying Sainz wouldn’t, but it’s something to consider when joining Ferrari. Added to that, Sainz is only 25 years old. I’m sure there’s time in his career for a shot at a top seat, if that doesn’t transpire with McLaren.

I just don’t think it’s a straightforward yes from Sainz to leave for Ferrari, there’s a lot to consider.

There’s a lot less to consider from Daniel Ricciardo’s side.

Firstly, Ricciardo is 30 years old which means and has been part of F1’s grid since 2011 which, sadly, means he more than likely has less time remaining in F1 than he has already been a part of. He has less time to aim for a world title than Sainz does. Danny Ric a proven race-winner with a killer instinct who has tasted success and is incredibly keen for more. His ambitious switch to Renault simply hasn’t worked so far, and I don’t think 2020 is going to be the year Renault make that jump, which means another year of watching Ricciardo toil in the midfield — where he doesn’t belong. Most importantly, I think Ricciardo knows that fact too: that he shouldn’t be in the midfield. He’d take your arm for a chance to swap that situation for one with Ferrari — I have absolutely no doubt about that.

There’s no doubting his ability to drive and there’s no doubt that he would be deserving of a drive with Ferrari. Added to that, he has a fantastic personality that I think would be different to anything Ferrari have had, and I don’t think the pressure would get to him as easily as it would others. He has hunted and has been hunted for race wins, Ricciardo knows how to deal with the pressure.

Added to that, according to RaceFans.net, Ferrari have an option on Ricciardo, signed last winter. That doesn’t mean he’s a lock but that’s very interesting.

It comes down to who do Ferrari seek first, and if it’s Sainz, does Sainz turn them down? Because I absolutely believe Ricciardo does not.

What about other drivers? Well, the the majority of drivers on the grid are out of contract at the end of this year (what a bad time for Sergio Perez to lock himself into a contract, unless it has an out), so they’re in the correct position for that Ferrari seat in that their contract expires at the end of the season, and there’s still no telling what happens at Mercedes with their drivers, who are both out of contract at the end of the year.

This Hamilton to Ferrari talk, I don’t think it’s going to happen — and the reporting out there seems to say the same thing right now.

Valterri Bottas is extremely interesting.

He would be, without doubt, the most disappointing choice to the sport if he ended up in that Ferrari seat. I think it’d be a shame for the sport if Bottas ends up in a Ferrari. That’s harsh, I get it, but I think it’s true. But you can see why Ferrari would think about it…

Bottas has already proven himself capable as a number 2 driver, he can pick up some victories, easy to get along with and is a good team player. Now, Bottas may say he has higher aspirations than a number 2 driver and that may be true, but you’re not turning down an offer from Ferrari if it comes, especially if Mercedes don’t offer an extension, and with someone like George Russell waiting in the wings for a Mercedes drive. That’s going to happen at some point. If Mercedes decide that time is 2021, Bottas is left in a tough spot. And if an offer from Ferrari comes, you’re going there with the knowledge that you are behind Charles Leclerc in the pecking order, until you give them a reason not to. Again, I don’t care who you are and what your aspirations are: you’re taking a drive from Ferrari if it’s offered to you, and if you don’t…I hope I’m you’re not close to me in the event of a shipwreck, because your balls are going to force you to sink to the bottom of the ocean and I don’t want to drown.

There’s a few options outside of F1, but I don’t see Fernando Alonso nor Nico Hulkenburg being seriously considered for Ferrari. Unless Ferrari decide they want something short-term next to Leclerc while they get a look at either Shwartzman or Schumacher in F1 (maybe in a Haas or Alfa Romeo possibly?) but I don’t see that happening.

It’s something to think about though, because if you sign Carlos Sainz, that’s a longer-term thing. Ricciardo, not so much and obviously Alonso/Hulkenberg/Bottas not as much of a long-term thing as Sainz. And if Sainz performs and help bring success, they may end up blocking a route for one of their drivers to break into the senior team if Shwartzman or Schumacher show that potential — it could leave them trapped in a similar way that George Russell could end up if Bottas continues to perform.

Kimi Raikkonen would be an absolutely hilarious choice, if they went back to him for a third spell. They obviously know what they have in Raikkonen but I don’t see it happening. Would be absolutely amazing though.

I think that effectively covers Ferraris options, now let’s turn to what Sebastian Vettel does and it largely revolves around one question: does he want to continue in Formula 1?

If the answer is no, then that settles that. If the answer is yes, then things are a little more complicated.

According to the reporting out there at this time, Mercedes aren’t interested in Vettel and Red Bull won’t pair Max Verstappen and Vettel together — that’s an obvious given for both monetary reasons and, well, everything else. Those two wouldn’t be good teammates, as fun as it would be for everyone else. So, I think it’s fair to rule out Mercedes and Red Bull.

It may come down to which driver ends up taking that Ferrari seat, whether it’s Sainz or Ricciardo.

It’s fair to say Vettel has less years in front of him in his F1 career than he has behind him, but he can stick around for a number of years if he so chooses. Renault…I wouldn’t like to see for Vettel — I’m not sure Vettel would be interested in that. McLaren would be a fascinating opportunity. If Sainz left, I’m sure McLaren would love to have a four-time champion in their ranks and if their fortunes continue to rise, they could find themselves back at the sharp-end in a few years and that would be Vettel’s ticket back to the front-end of the grid, which is the only thing that would interest him at this stage.

I would imagine that Vettel feels that he has nothing left to prove in F1 as a four-time world champion and as someone who has won over 50 Grand Prix. He’s also a family man and a pretty private person, and I can see him leaving this circus behind and leaving F1 at the end of this season — I think that’s what’s going to happen. It’d be sad to lose Vettel from the paddock, he’s got a good personality and on his day, he’s up there. I would love to see him at McLaren though. He could change the entire narrative of his post-Red Bull career if he could lead McLaren back to the front of the grid.

Should Sainz accept an offer and Vettel retire, I imagine Ricciardo will whizz his way to McLaren fairly quickly and that leaves a spot at Renault, whether that’s Fernando Alonso or perhaps Nico Hulkenberg, or maybe Guanyu Zhou — it’s about time Renault showed some faith in their young driver academy.

Whatever direction Ferrari end up taking, the sharp-end of the F1 grid is losing one of its star players of the last decade in Vettel. Is it finally someone else’s turn?

The Enhanced Story Arc, Relationship Dynamic of Goro Akechi in Persona 5 Royal

Spoilers for Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal ahead, so fair warning…

Goro Akechi was one of the most fascinating characters of the original Persona 5 story.

On the surface, he is a charming, extremely intelligent, courageous, pancake loving young man whose talent is abundantly clear, but deep down harbours an incredibly vicious and unstable side, shaped by the events, relationships and people missing in his life that saw him navigate life without his father, who abandoned him, and his mother, who committed suicide when Akechi was young, before then passing through the hands of foster homes.

Akechi’s traumatic childhood saw him build a desire to exact the vicious revenge he desired, and once he awakened to his Persona and the Metaverse, he used it to aid the rise of politician — and father — Masayoshi Shido to the position of Prime Minister with the intention of informing Shido that he was his bastard child who he abandoned, before using that information to ruin Shido.

Akechi’s goal was within his grasp before falling at the 5-yard line of his end-goal when he was defeated by the Phantom Thieves after revealing his real nature and his identity as the True Culprit.

Despite being responsible for the mental shutdowns and the murder of, well, who even knows how many, Akechi found some redemption as he sacrificed himself to save the Phantom Thieves aboard Shido’s ship, allowing the Phantom Thieves to escape their plight and change Shido’s heart.

Once Shido’s heart was changed, the Yaldabaoth arc unfolds and once Sae-san approaches you after the final battle and talks about the Shido case, you’re reminded of the cold fact that Goro Akechi — the only other person who could testify against Shido’s crimes — is missing. Of course, you know what Sae-san does not, that Akechi is gone, and it’s just an empty feeling. It’s a similar feeling when you see all the confidants you maxed out during the Yaldabaoth fight and, again, Akechi is the sole exception…

It was a sad end for a character that perhaps wasn’t truly evil at heart in the end, and his absence at the end of the game/credits (which is a scroll of the Phantom Thieves and their moments in animated cutscenes) is one you certainly note. It’s harsh seeing his absence, knowing what we know.

That is a basic synopsis of Goro Akechi from Persona 5.

The events of P5R have only added to this incredible character, as well as offering redemption for an extremely popular character who many felt met an unjust fate.

Firstly, Akechi becomes a confidant you actually spend time with instead of his confidant arc being strengthened automatically through interaction in required scenes. This means that instead of spending time with another confidant, you have to choose to spend it with Akechi.

I was a little skeptical of this confidant arc because I didn’t really want to spend time with someone I knew was ultimately going to try shoot my face, but I went with it because you obviously have a grasp of the relationship between the two from P5.

You learn more about Akechi himself, a little more of his backstory and his ferocious competitive side that even has you duking it out to near death alone in Mementos as a competition of strength.

Persona 5 Royal_20200413232914

But you also spend meaningful time, such as conversations over coffee and at the jazz club and discover that Akechi and Joker aren’t so different. You also learn of Akechi’s jealousy of Joker’s natural ability, his ability to be deal with adversity (he says “hatred” but I really don’t believe it to that extent), among other things, which sets the table really well for their eventual confrontation aboard Shido’s ship.

P5R makes a very intentional effort to expand on the relationship between Joker and Akehci, something that’s eluded to in the animation but taken to another level in P5R.

Even though Akechi says he hates Joker, you can sense a strong respect for someone with immense talent, but ultimately someone Akechi can relate to as a person, which is something Akechi has been missing in his lonely life. Sadly, his desire to make Shido suffer and his hatred for Shido is stronger than his respect of Joker, which is why he follows through on a plan that, he believed, killed Joker.

Persona 5 Royal_20200414224337After which, when Shido ponders if there’s an immediate need to take out the remaining Phantom Thieves. Akechi dismisses this, effectively labelling the remaining Phantom Thieves as ‘spineless’ without Joker’s guidance.

It seems Akechi’s negative view of the Phantom Thieves members outside of Joker carries through to the Maruki arc, and perhaps are even further validated as they fell under the influence of Maruki’s reality. The did eventually show up, but I think Akechi’s overall opinion of the Phantom Thieves still isn’t the highest.

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Their opinion of Akechi, however, is only strengthened when they discover that he fought Maruki even though it meant he would disappear from the true reality (but we’ll get to that).

As the Maruki arc begins on December 24th, Goro Akechi stands in the gap for Joker and agrees to testify against Shido in place of Joker, to the shock of everyone considering the fact that, well, he should be dead. Of course, we find out that this is due to Maruki’s reality, creating a reality for Joker where Akechi is alive and one where neither are criminals.

During the Maruki arc you do, once again, get to play as Akechi and use his Persona, only this time it’s not as Robin Hood, but Loki — THIS IS AWESOME. To be able to use Loki in battle and to witness Akechi’s true nature and power, without having to hide his deception, is really, really flipping cool. Severe Almighty damage to all foes? Hell yes.

As evidenced by his decision to explore Maruki’s Palace in his dark attire, Akechi no longer cares about hiding his true self, and his maniacal, ruthless nature shines through a lot more in the Maruki arc, now that he no longer has to hide his ulterior motives. He’s also a lot more direct, to the point in his conversations (though, he does crack a few jokes in the Phantom Thieves Den), impatient to get the job done and shows little hesitation to resort to extreme violence to get that done if that’s what it requires, as he attempts to shoot Maruki during the final battle while having to remove himself from the equation as Joker and Sumire square-off in Maruki’s Palace.

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His ‘Showdown’ move with Joker is especially satisfying but also has significant meaning.

Joker’s and Akechi’s fates have been intertwined, as Wild Cards — one who would incite the masses and chosen to reset the world (Akechi) and one to oppose who would rebel to keep things as they are (Joker). There are many aspects of both similarities and opposites that the two of them share, but that’s the main one.

In their Showdown move, you see the words “Prodigal Sons” in the background but the one that stood out to me was ‘Two sides, same coin,” referring to how they’re pulled from the same thread of fate (Yaldabaoth) but are very different in their own way. Another way you can look at it is that they are the same, yet completely different. It just continues to highlight the fact that Joker and Akechi were linked by fate and, even after Yaldabaoth’s demise, are still linked. Possibly forever.

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Akechi and Joker are among the only ones who can see through Maruki’s reality and both vow to work together to help return life to the way it should be. But while they can see that things aren’t as they should, they still live in a reality where dreams are reality, which begs the question: what dreams do Joker and Akechi have? What did Maruki show for them in his attempt to convince them to accept his offer?

I think both of their wishes involve each other: for Joker, I believe it’s not just that he’s still living with Sojiro and in Tokyo but also that Akechi is alive. For Akechi, I believe it’s that he and Joker can live as friends without criminal records and is part of the group of friends that is the Phantom Thieves, a place where Akechi is accepted and loved as he always wanted — alluding perhaps to the life that Akechi referenced aboard Shido’s ship, on which Akechi wishes he had met Joker before he awakened to his Persona.

Neither, however, are swayed by this reality and know in their heart that what they’re living in is a fabrication. Akechi is absolute in his refusal to live in such a reality.

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Akechi made it clear that teaming up with Joker made sense in order to overcome their common problem and foe, but he was fully aware that there were obviously trust issues from his past deception. His intentions as to what he would do when the Maruki business was behind him were unclear, and some part of me still believed he would turn again and try to kill Joker again (I’m not sure why, seeing as Shido had been taken care of). But, as we find out, it goes so much deeper than that.

Akechi discovered that with the collapse of Maruki’s Palace, the events from the real December 24th would be where the true reality resumes… A reality that, of course, he doesn’t exist in anymore…

You have the choice to either save Akechi’s life by accepting Maruki’s reality (though, this goes strongly against Akechi’s wishes) or show a similar resolve by agreeing to go through with the plan, even it means that Akechi will no longer be part of reality, having made his ultimate choice aboard Shido’s ship.

Maruki made it known to Joker that the dream he made reality for him is one where Akechi continued to exist, as friends, sensing Joker’s regret of the happenings that occurred on Shido’s ship (which is the one moment in the anime where Joker really lets his emotions get the better of him).

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Despite knowing that he would disappear from reality if they went through with the plan, Akechi is resolute in his decision to oppose Maruki’s reality when it would’ve clearly been in his interest to embrace it…to live again. Instead, Akechi’s resolve is absolute, refusing to live in a false reality under someone else’s manipulation again even if it means he will no longer exist in reality…

“That’s the path I chose.”

It’s incredibly moving to see Akechi’s resolve amidst the obvious consequences of what ending Maruki’s schemes would mean for him: which is the end of his life also. It also highlights the fact Akechi does not regret standing in the gap for the Phantom Thieves in their quest to bring down Shido, even at a cost to his life, as he turns down Maruki’s ‘do-over’ in life.

Despite Joker’s initial protests, Akechi insists that, of all times, he isn’t shown mercy by Joker. Joker agrees to carry the plan through.

Sadly, after the battle with Maruki, Joker doesn’t get to say goodbye to Akechi — or any scene of the sort — once the Palace collapses, which I think was a missed opportunity by Atlas. Alas, you’re left to deal with the reality that Akechi, once again, is gone, choosing once again to look at the bigger picture at the expense of his own self-interest, his life, as he chose fight to return the world to its reality, even if it meant he would no longer be part of that reality.

As you say goodbye on your final day before returning home, if you visit the jazz club, Joker reflects on this as a place of memory that he shared with Akechi, and ponders on their unresolved duel and the fact Akechi is no longer present and won’t be able to come return to the jazz club with him.

Just like the original Persona 5, it’s still a little harsh that Akechi doesn’t appear alongside the Phantom Thieves in the credits scroll, but seeing as he’s responsible for the murder of a lot of people and ultimately — as Akechi knew it — followed through on a plan to deceive, betray and murder Joker, it makes sense as to why he isn’t glorified too much at the end. Still, with the events of P5R, I believed he would’ve earned his spot in the final credits a little more in P5R than P5.

However, there’s something regarding the P5R ending when it comes to Akechi that is worth talking about, and it involves Joker too.

There appears to be two different ending scenes of the True Ending, whose beginning and ending are the same but differs in the middle. One is titled “A New Road,” the other, “Promises” (you can view these in the Phantom Thieves Den).

In “A New Road,” Joker is seated inside the train and receives an alert on his phone. When he looks at it, there seems to be a sad expression on his face — one seemingly of regret, which is incredibly rare for Joker, who is calmness personified and doesn’t let on much on the outside. It’s certainly an alert that has Joker reflecting on something that clearly bothers him. The train departs and Joker sees his Phantom Thieves attire in his reflection, takes off his glasses, pull down the blind and end-scene.

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Given the absence of Akechi in this particular scene, I think that’s where Joker’s thoughts lie. I don’t think it has to do with leaving Tokyo or his friends behind, since the majority of them are going their separate ways for the next year anyways, but Joker’s regret of Akechi’s fate and how events unfolded are made a bit more known in P5R.

My guess is that “A New Road” is an alternate True Ending with all of the necessary conditions (i.e. reaching Rank 9 with Maruki by November 18th, max out Yoshizawa to Rank 5 by December 18th) minus reaching out Akechi to Rank 8 prior to November 18th.

In “Promises,” it begins in the same way: Joker is seated on the train, he receives an alert but this time there is no sad expression found on his face. In its place, two men in black suits and a coat that matches that of Akechi walk by Joker’s window. Joker looks at his phone and seems content enough, before glancing out the window just as the three men have walked out of sight and the rest of the scene unfolds in the same way as it did in “A New Road” — Joker sees the reflection and closes the blind. The obvious implication and main takeaway is that Goro Akechi does appear to be alive after all, while the other scene would imply the opposite (given his absence).

I think the fact the cinematic is called “Promises”, the fact it doesn’t have Joker’s expression of, seemingly, regret and the fact Goro Akechi would appear to exist in this cinematic and not in “A New Road,” leads me to believe the difference between the two alludes to the Akechi-connection in both, and the cinematic being titled “Promises” I think refers to the one they made to each other, the one that the two see each other again to make good on their promise.

P5R has been very intentional about furthering the connection and the relationship between Joker and Akechi. What P5R did for Akechi only added to his incredible character and his complex, layered relationship with Joker, and even Joker’s own relationship with Akechi. Joker’s feelings of Akechi, unsaid or not, are clearer to read and understand in P5R, perhaps reflective in an added scene as Joker lays in bed the day of Akechi’s death and ponders it in his head.

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There would appear to be some hope for Joker’s unresolved promises with Akechi, as it it seems pretty clear that Akechi is indeed still alive, as the ending cinematic would suggest.

If there’s a sequel to be had for P5R, I imagine we’ll see Goro Akechi again…

 

Dreams and Reality: An Overview of Persona 5 Royal

The original Persona 5 was such an incredible experience to me, so much so that I labelled it my favourite game of all time — a pretty large claim for someone who has been playing games for almost 20 years now. I wrote that over a year ago now and I still stand by it, so I guess it wasn’t just a spur of the moment emotion.

However, not long after that experience, Persona 5 Royal (which I’ll refer to as P5R from here onwards, and the original Persona 5 as ‘P5’) was announced and I was obviously very excited — the idea of more content for the game that had already (excuse the pun) stolen my heart was obviously a very exciting one.

The only unfortunate side of that announcement was that it wouldn’t release in Europe until late March — effectively, April — a lifetime compared to the October release Japan was getting…

I scrambled (way too late, admittedly) to find a special copy of P5R to order, eventually pre-ordered the Phantom Thieves Edition with all the fancy shwag and all I had to do was wait… Eventually, the end of March arrived and it was a sweet, sweet moment when she arrived.

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Prior to this, I’ve played through P5 three times, the most recent of those around Christmas time, so I’d be somewhat fresh of the game but not too fresh for the April release. I wanted to be able to tell the little things that might be different between P5 and P5R.

I have a notebook for almost everything, including a miscellaneous notebook for, well, exactly that. As I played through P5R, I took notes on basically my thoughts on the new things, maybe things I hadn’t realised or something I wanted to remember — whatever. Many pages, and many hours later, I have beaten P5R and now that it is conquered, I wanted to write about.

So that’s what’s happening today. This is mostly a story and character introspective, so those thoughts will come first and the gameplay stuff will come later.

Obviously this should go without saying, but there are spoilers for not only the original P5 but P5R too, so fair warning. I’ll probably add some of my favourite screen shots from the game’s cinematics along the way, these also contain spoilers. If you do not want to be spoiled…STOP, now.

So, I guess the major thing that was being pushed for P5R, the major addition, was the introduction of a new Persona user, whose name is Kasumi Yoshizawa.

It’s implied from the E3 Trailer that while she’s a Persona user, she doesn’t seem to agree with the Phantom Thieves, certainly, she didn’t belong to them (which makes her different to most Persona users in Persona 5) — that was the impression I got at the time. It was confirmed very quickly in the escape from the casino that Kasumi was not a member of the Phantom Thieves, as she aides in your escape in an added scene (which was a good introduction to her).

Her ‘anti’-Phantom Thieves stance isn’t so much of a thing in the actual game itself but the point remains in that Yoshizawa is not a member of the Phantom Thieves. In fact, her role in this game is not what you would have expected heading into P5R.

I guess, in retrospect, the early Kasumi appearance was not really an outlier of what was to come. Sure, she pops up every now during the story and then but she’s not as much of a feature in this game as, say, the size of her character on the cover-art would suggest.

Let’s talk about the story, which is the main thing I kept coming back to once I had finished my 121 hour playthrough.

I’d say 90% of the core story is largely the same — Akechi, Shido, Yaldabaoth, and obviously everything before that, all pretty much the same. That’s a good thing because the story of the original P5 was absolutely brilliant. My thoughts I wrote about the story from P5 still absolutely stand.

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However, the most extreme changes from P5 to P5R’s story comes once you defeat the final boss of P5, Yaldabaoth, and are lingering in Shibuya on Christmas Eve evening — which is about 100 hours in in P5R.

Instead of turning yourself in on Christmas morning as was the case in P5, Goro Akechi, who was presumed dead, conveniently arrives and says that he will turn himself in, leaving Joker to celebrate Christmas with the Phantom Thieves.

Then on New Year’s, things get weird and you obviously learn that Dr. Maruki, yep, the handsome counsellor who you thought pretty much nothing of — on the same day as you defeated Yaldabaoth — was successful in his endeavour to realise a reality where everyone’s dream came true, and the added third term to P5R has you infiltrate Maruki’s Palace with the idea to steal his heart and return reality to what it once was, what it should be.

Maruki is the final arc of the story, and while ensuring the true reality is restored is obviously important, I still think the Yaldabaoth arc should have been the final arc of the main story — it’s still the bigger threat. I think Atlas tried to top Yaldabaoth in some way by making sure that the Maruki arc showdown was as ‘epic’ (they sure went for it) and ‘important’ as Yaldabaoth’s, but it just isn’t. It really just isn’t.

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As the fake-reality ending showed, life would’ve still carried on on had Joker agreed to Maruki’s reality. It’s actually eery how happy that ending actually is for it not being the True Ending.

With Yaldabaoth, it’s life or death of not just the Phantom Thieves, but of everything, and since he was the one pulling the strings for basically 100 hours of the game (not to mention years in the lives of Goro Akechi and Joker), I still see him as the main antagonist of Persona 5 and his defeat should be the final player input in P5, not the 12 or so hours that Maruki is the target.

This should’ve been a post-game episode, perhaps similar to the Delta Emerald post-game adventure of Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, for example — something that shouldn’t negate the real victory after beating your main goal but a collective problem to tackle afterwards. I’m struggling to think of other examples, but you get the idea…

The Maruki arc should not have been part of the main story itself but something after the main credits. I understand the issue with that, so the obvious question spawns: how else do you handle it?

I think the Maruki arc should’ve come either before or after Okumura, so that it wouldn’t interfere with obviously the aftermath of Sae-san’s Palace, which obviously leads directly into the Shido arc which, in turn, leads directly into Yaldabaoth. Everything that has taken place leads to Yaldabaoth. Everything. This is not the case for Maruki — he shouldn’t have been the endgame.

I understand that’s basically impossible, because of how it has to do with the fact that Mementos and the real world are still fused and Maruki is able to take advantage of that, and happens to do so when Yaldabaoth falls (not that he knew anything about that, of course).

The Maruki arc, for me, lasted about 13 hours from when I last saved before fighting Yaldabaoth, which is far too long to finish the game after what I view as the true evil of P5 and P5R, again, as much as they seemingly tried to make the endgame of the Maruki arc more significant as Yaldabaoth… It just isn’t.

Heck, even Shido feels like a lifetime ago when it’s all said and done. Shido was the main antagonist right until hour 95 out of 100, we’ll say, and it’s a quick turnaround from the end of his arc to the Yaldabaoth arc. Between the confession and all of the events that unfold on Christmas Eve, that’s only a matter of days. That’s nothing, so you don’t feel too far removed from the Shido arc when the game is finished. This no longer applies in P5R.

Then comes the events after dealing with Maruki.

As you near the end of the arc, you learn that the day you defeat Yaldabaoth is the same day where the “actualisation” occurs, starting at the moment the previously deceased Goro Akechi reappears and reality would pick up from there, since in true reality he wouldn’t have been able to bail Joker out of having to turn himself in because, well, sadly, Akechi is no longer here in the true reality…

I had been hoping that the calendar would return to Christmas Eve, the moment that Sae-san asked you to turn yourself in and then the original ending of P5 (plus the added bits that were possible, like White Day) would play out from there: you turn yourself into the police on Christmas Day and the rest of the Phantom Thieves would rally around their incarcerated leader and spur themselves and others into action to have him released.

That would’ve been something I would’ve truly been happy with, minus the long gap between defeating Yaldabaoth and the actual ending of the game. As soon as I found out that moment reality would begin again would be from that point on Christmas Eve, I had hope that would take place.

That’d make the most sense for everyone, right?

You’d tie up loose ends with Yoshizawa later as you would other confidants (since she’s not a member of the Phantom Thieves, they come first), you assumed Maruki would be dead (which I wouldn’t have been upset with), Akechi is still this villain who got his opportunity at redemption (twice now) and dies a hero, you’d get out of jail in January (since the third term didn’t technically happen in reality) and the animated sequences from P5 wouldn’t go to waste/be retconned.

No. Instead of any of that, it’s still February and the reality is that Joker has been in jail from Christmas Day — imprisoned now for months that this stage. The scene were the remaining Phantom Thieves are resolute in their determination to free their leader on New Year’s Eve is completely absent and the gravity of Joker turning himself in is lost compared to the original — that’s a huge moment in the story.

The whole idea throughout the entire game was that he avoided another criminal charge or anything that would end up with him going to juvie, and he took the bullet for the team by taking sole responsibility to protect his teammates. That moment, that recognition of sacrifice and the immediate aftermath of that sacrifice as the other members discover what Joker did, is basically absent in P5R — it doesn’t carry the same weight that it should.

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Next comes probably the worst bit of all, the True Ending animation.

In the P5 True Ending, instead of Joker getting back on the train home as he had expected to, the members of the Phantom Thieves — who are basically family at this stage — drive Joker home (after stealing a spark plug from, I’m assuming, police officials, who had been tailing them, to repair their stricken van). They drive away, leaving the officials stranded as they hit the open road, with various hijinks before the credits sequence rolls.

It’s a beautiful moment that leads into a beautiful ending credits song and sequence. After the incredibly emotional sequence plays, the ending cinematic closes with Joker opening the sun-roof, standing up to the point his torso is outside and he basks in the on-rushing air, the sunlight and the freedom he and the Phantom Thieves worked so hard to attain, as the music from the game’s menu cutscene plays, bringing everything full circle.

The theme of the final cinematic in the original was: ‘Who cares what others think, we’re free to choose our own path, our own destiny. This is our life’. It’s extremely beautiful and moving. When I finished the original, the ending was so satisfying, it was the right way to end a truly epic journey with the most amazing characters.

The new True Ending… Why?

So, in this ending, the officials in the black car are still surveying you as they did in P5 but there’s a a lot more concern given to them this time. Then, Maruki — in his first appearance since trying to kill you and punching your face repeatedly before his Palace collapsed — pulls up in a taxi to take Joker to the train station while the rest of the Phantom Thieves act as decoys in the van by driving maniacally to throw the officials off the scent?

What?

Then when they arrive at the station, Maruki and Joker call it even (which makes some sense seeing as it’s easy to forget that the end result was not just returning reality but changing Maruki’s heart) before the Phantom Thieves just pull up, hastily say goodbye and drive off? OK? Then Joker bumps into Yoshizawa at the train station (sure, OK) before getting on the train with Morgana, who, surprise, was in his bag and not fixing the van like in the original.

What? They actually didn’t drive him back and their intention in this old van was to simply drop him to the train station?

Finally, after a credits song which lacks in comparison to the original plays, the final scene sees Joker arrive at some station and we see the famous coat that Goro Akechi wore, indicating that he is more than likely alive (somehow), as Joker reflects in his train window’s reflection, seeing his Phantom Thieves attire before taking his glasses off and pulling down the blinds. The end.

What?

I’ve had some time to think about this because I was pretty conflicted seeing it for the first time.

I guess it all had to do with expectations. I expected the original ending because it was basically perfect and I hadn’t anticipated the possibility that they would ever change it. I also had the credits song stuck in my head and I had gone months intentionally without listening to it so it’d be ready for this moment and the emotions, as they have in every other playthrough, would come. I embraced the end of an incredible journey each time it came.

So, to not have that ending and receive a worse ending than the original was disappointing, that was an unmet expectation. Does that make the True Ending itself bad? I wouldn’t say bad, but it just sorely lacks because the other ending from P5 exists.

What was so wrong with the original ending that required this much deviation? This ending only creates more questions than it does anything else. Did they have to make a different end because a sequel to P5 (Persona 5 Scramble) exists, or that a P5R sequel will eventually come? It was just a bit unsatisfactory. The one part I enjoyed of it were the scenes during the credit scroll as the rest of the Phantom Thieves prepare for the next stage of their lives, with most of them going their separate ways (which is a vast departure from the original ending, which is why P5 Scramble is not a sequel to P5R). Poor Yusuke…

If there ends up being a sequel to P5R, then I think I can forgive them a little more for this ending. To be fair, I’ll probably have a kinder view of this ending the second time around, now that I know what to expect. I will, however, take solace that Persona 5 Scramble is a sequel to P5 and not P5R. Now, if only we could get an English version of that game…

I’m trying not to let the ending bother me too much because other than the ending  being slightly disappointing, P5R is absolutely brilliant. It is incredible. Even Maruki’s actual Palace, his story, Yoshizawa’s story, they’re all fantastic. Atlus stumbled just at the end after a near flawless race.

Again, my issue with the Maruki arc isn’t the arc itself but that I don’t agree on the placement of Maruki’s arc in the context of the main-game itself (it should either come before Yaldabaoth or as a post-game adventure). Maruki’s arc could’ve been, almost, absolutely fine — better than that, even — had time just gone back to Christmas Eve and the original ending gone from there. The fact that it’s as different as it is leads me to believe there’s going to be sequel, but even then it seems strange to have two sequels, two separate timelines between the sequel to P5 and P5R.

For all that I dislike with how the Maruki arc was handled in terms of its placement, there were a lot of things to like with the Maruki episode, where the main new characters come to the fore and the majority of the new content for P5R.

You spend a bit of time with Maruki throughout the main story and see his interactions with the other Phantom Thieves in their counselling sessions (which ended up being far more important than I think you could possibly imagine), and you spend a little more time with Yoshizawa throughout the first 100 hours than you do with Maruki, but the majority of their screen time comes during the Maruki arc.

Again, a little strange for Yoshizawa that the majority of her material, so to speak, ends up here, 100 hours later, but alas…

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Despite awakening to her Persona before Okumura’s death, Yoshizawa only forms her contract with her Persona and joins the group during the Maruki arc but is still not a member of the Phantom Thieves even then, that much made clear.

And because she wasn’t a member but is a character that’s obviously been given quite a bit of attention to and is obviously important to final arc, I was afraid that they may shoe-horn her alongside the Phantom Thieves in to the major events after, such as the final cinematic scene, like she was one of them.

She wasn’t one of them, and I’m glad they didn’t force her to be.

I’m happy she wasn’t there in that van because she wasn’t part of the main story, the main struggle, really. She wasn’t a Phantom Thief, she didn’t have to deal with Akechi’s betrayal, she had nothing to do with Shido (though, not entirely her fault on that one) and she’s absolutely no where to be seen on the Day of Destiny (Christmas Eve/Yaldabaoth) to support the Phantom Thieves in their moment of absolute need. Where even was she? At least with Maruki, we know where he was that day and why he wasn’t on the ground cheering for the Phantom Thieves to pull through.

I like Yoshizawa, I do. But she had no place to be side-by-side with the Phantom Thieves at the ending — like, the majority of your involvement came in the last 12 hours of the 120…You’re not really a part of this. That might sound harsh but that’s the truth. She’s not a Phantom Thief. She has her own role, her own story but she’s not ‘one of the gang’ and I’m glad she had he separate thing with Joker to end, but not as the Phantom Thieves.

Kasumi’s story, or rather, Sumire as you find out, was excellently handled.

The twist that she was the sister that survived and that real Kasumi was the one that died to save her was a twist I didn’t expect, and the animation of the event itself was pretty stirring, especially seeing Kasumi lie dead in the street and blood on the street.

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The reasoning for Sumire wanting to live life as Kasumi is understandable. That’s a lot of guilt, shame and grief to live with so young but to run away from it and her defiance to refuse to accept reality — and her identity — was ultimately wrong. Pain is a part of life, as cruel as it can be. Sadly, the only way is forward. Nothing could bring back Kasumi. Even if she wanted to be her, Sumire was always running from reality and the path forward. She may have believed she was Kasumi, but there was no future for her as Kasumi. The reality is that as much as she trained, she wasn’t as good as Kasumi was — she wouldn’t have been able to get the results Kasumi did. She’s Sumire Yoshizawa, and this is the focus of her Confidant arc from 6-10, now that she accepts the truth.

Maruki himself is a fascinating character. You would’ve learned some of his past through his confidant arc but obviously a lot more is discovered here. You learn the root of his distortion and the key moments of how this fake-reality all came to be. The Treasure turning about to be an extract from the incident that killed Rumi’s parents and caused Rumi to effectively show no life in hospital was touching, as is his sacrifice in order to secure her health, even at the expense of his fiancé to be, Rumi, having no memory of Maruki.

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Maruki’s intentions behind his distortion of reality is understandable. A reality where dreams are reality with no sadness, no strife. Sounds great, in theory. However, his decision to run away from his own past is wrong and refusal to accept the hand life dealt him and the decision to impose a false reality among people against their choice — as happy as it makes them — is wrong, and that’s the motivation to stop him, at least for me. Life is about acceptance and finding a way forward, even though it’s not seldom fair.

In addition to that, it would have negated everything the Phantom Thieves fought for up to this point. They risked their lives to face Yaldabaoth so that people would have control over their lives, as they have control over theirs. This is not control.

Though his distortion is strong, Maruki certainly not an evil man.

I imagine a lot of people were conflicted about Maruki’s reality — it’s excellently thought out and rationalised, truly. The idea of a reality where there is no pain, only happiness is one that many would surely jump at — I’m sure some people had no problem accepting his deal. And you’re tasked to wrestle what is right, not just for you but the friends you love. The choice is ultimately yours to make, there is a choice.

The ending where Maruki’s reality becomes irreversible, on the surface, is a happy ending as people live out their dreams but you know that it’s not the right one, as indicated by the music (which is a really great song) and the credits sequence. It’s almost worth considering following through on, given my issues with the True Ending. But ultimately, you know it’s a false happiness imposed against the will of people.

Getting to see each Phantom Thief live life as they dreamed was moving though. All of them are significant in their own way but I think the ones most moving to me, personally, were Futaba and Haru, more Haru than anyone else.

For Futaba, she had the family she always wanted — Wakaba, Sojiro and Joker — and spent her time happily doing life with them. Knowing what we know from the story, it’s obviously incredibly sad seeing Futaba have a glimpse of a life with her mother and Sojiro knowing that it was taken away.

Haru was moving to me because she spends with her dad, Kunikazu Okumura, who of course is killed in the main story. Not only is he alive here, but Okumura converses with Haru as his beloved daughter, looking out for her, concerning themselves about some personal and business matters together as father and daughter, which of course was the complete opposite of how it was in reality.

Seeing glimpses of their lives as they wished for, I’m sure it does raise a hint of hesitation about whether the true reality should be restored, or this alternate reality should exist, with people living happily in the dreams Maruki has woven.

Joker’s reality is a little different. He can obviously still see through the lies but I think his reality would’ve been one where he continued living in Yongen with Sojiro but I think, most importantly, his dream would be that Goro Akechi is still alive.

Clearly, Joker has regrets about how things ended with Akechi, reflecting in his bed the day Akechi was killed about their unresolved duel and how Akechi would’ve hated for things to end like that (though, I personally think that duel took place when they went with all their strength in a fight of life and death, in a fight that, unknowingly, was a fight for the future of the world. Though, I guess the argument would be that it was the Phantom Thieves vs. Akechi, not Joker vs. Akechi).

As for Akechi himself, I’m really not sure. I imagine his dream would perhaps be the alternate timeline he wished for, that Joker and himself could be friends (as he eluded to aboard Shido’s ship, which, speaking of, it was cool to see how the Akechi confidant arc was tied nicely into the conversation on the ship), instead of the events that ended up unfolding in the events of Persona 5 where he was destined to walk down the path he did, set up by Yaldabaoth. That Akechi was loved and had a place to belong, as he sorely desired in his life but never received.

But it wasn’t reality, and even though people are happy, it isn’t true happiness — it masquerades the pain of the past which, as sad as it is, shapes people into who they are, for better or for worse.

Part of what makes the Phantom Thieves who they are is the fact they faced the truth of their situation because they could no longer run from the truth and decided to act, and they grew from their adversity with the resolve that they’d never go back to their old selves (this was particularly a theme for Ann, Makoto and Haru).

To Joker and Akechi, they know the truth that things aren’t as they should be and made the resolve to fix it. After Joker’s conversations with his teammates, they all feel uneasy about their reality and how it doesn’t quite add up and meet up, where they discover the truth for themselves as they exit Maruki’s reality.

The ending arc of P5R kind of paints the rest of the Phantom Thieves in a somewhat poor light.

When Akechi believes he has killed Joker, in his conversation with Shido after the event, he dismisses the idea of killing the remaining Phantom Thieves immediately and labels them as, not in these words exactly, spineless — that without Joker, they are nothing and won’t exact revenge for their fallen leader.

It’s true that, many times, Joker saves the Phantom Thieves time and time again, be it with his actions (Makoto, in Futaba’s Palace), his words (the Velvet Room Prisons) or his sheer determination and resolve (Shido, to name one). It was disappointing to see, again, that the Phantom Thieves had to be bailed out by their leader for their part in allowing Maruki’s distortion to become reality, especially given the fact that the New Year’s Eve scene where the Phantom Thieves resolve to free their leader is missing from P5R.

Now, they do make up for the fact somewhat as they — and Akechi — all take the brunt of Adam Kadmon’s, effectively, killing blow which allowed Joker to climb and put an end to Maruki’s fight — some points clawed back there.

I have a bunch of thoughts regarding Akechi himself, his relationship with Joker, the ending and other thoughts of what Atlas did with Akechi in Persona 5 R, you can read those here.

Anyways, circling back, some final thoughts on the Maruki arc, more so from a gameplay perspective…

It was great. It was also really fun to use incredibly high levelled Personas as your roared through the 70’s and into the 80’s (and I was on hard mode and finished on 84, I’m sure you could easily reach the 90’s on a lower difficulty). One of the things I always wanted to do was to actually use the very high levelled Personas that you acquired on the ascent to Yaldabaoth but were never useful because, well, the ending fight was literally right there, so it nice to run through a Palace with some of those Personas, as well as the ones you can acquire in Maruki’s Palace, which in itself was very enjoyable despite its length.

Going back to Mementos after you believed it to be erased, and back to the Hall of Grail, where the Holy Grail once stood, where Yaldabaoth emerged, was incredibly weird after everything. Though I enjoy the fact you return to an area where the Holy Grail once stood, and with it, the place where an epic battle took place, I’m not huge on returning to Mementos as a whole. Added to that, another 16 floors to climb to progress the story? Meh…

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The Maruki arc is very good, really. Music, ambience, characters, themes, motives… So many elements at play, so many emotions invoked. I just don’t agree with how it stacks versus Yaldabaoth and how it is tied into the main story.

Let’s, briefly, talk gameplay and quality of life changes that I really enjoyed in P5R as a whole, which helped broaden the entire experience, because as good as the Maruki arc is, it only accounts for 12 or so hours of the 120 that P5R provided me.

Basically everything that was tweaked for P5R was either well needed or a great addition.

One of the things you had to be conscious of was your ammunition in a Palace — once you had spent your lot of bullets, that was it for the most part. However, in P5R your ammo is replenished after every battle…you just have less bullets overall. That’s a fair trade-off. I’d take less bullets overall if I can have them for every battle. Hurts a little for boss fights but in terms of navigating a Palace, that’s fair.

The fact that you can Baton Pass from basically the get-go is fantastic. Sure, it obviously matters less after Kamoshida’s Palace but if you have a new party member for a Palace, they obviously weren’t going to have Baton Pass available to them until you can start their confidant arc, which is after the Palace they join you. So to be able to do that was an extremely welcome addition.

Let’s stick with the Palaces… I feel like I learn something new to help me progress either more efficiently and/or quickly, but I feel like it was easier to KO Palace’s on the first day (if possible, obviously for some that isn’t possible due to plot). This is pretty easy in New Game+ but I wasn’t expecting it for a new playthrough — it felt like the Palaces in general were a little less tedious (hello, barracks section from Okumura’s Palace).

As well as that, with the introduction of, let’s call them abilities for the sake of keeping it simple, SP isn’t run through as much — replenished bullets after fight also helps in this regard — making it easier to extend Palace exploration. Throw in the small amount of SP you recover from the new Will Seeds…it all adds up.

Speaking of the Will Seeds, I love their addition. I love their eery, echoing voices in the room you collect the seed as they whisper their words of distortion, and the items these eventually turn into are basically useful even at the end of the game, with the exception of Kamoshida’s Crystal of Lust. It’s fantastic in the early game, and for a lot of the game, but basically once you reach, I’d say, Sae-san, the health recovered just isn’t enough anymore, even if the attack boost is nice. They’re basically all extremely useful, though, I think I only used the one from Futaba’s Palace once — it’s probably best used for mini-bosses that aim for party status affliction (if you’re able to remember what those are heading in).

All of the Palace bosses in the game had some sort of makeover to their fight, some more drastic than others.

With Kamoshida, the extra phase involving Mishima, Shiho and the volleyball really added to the fact that the actions of Kamoshida didn’t extend just to the Phantom Thieves but others too. It also made the fight a bit more difficult, only because I had to babysit Morgana, but alas…

Madarame’s new phase is basically a Baton Pass phase, hitting each weakness before saving the final pass for a sizeable blow at Madarame.

I don’t want to go over every single one because some changes aren’t that major (such as Kaneshiro and Sae-san) but the one battles whose dynamic was changed and absolutely beat my ass was the Okumura fight, which they completely changed the dynamic of from start to the end — it’s similar to the Madarame fight in some ways where you need to defeat all the pieces at once, only infinitely more annoying.

So many of the other additions to the original story are fantastic. The extra scenes (such as the Summer Festival), the extra phonecalls after visiting your confidants, spending time with the twins…they all add to the amazing story and the depth of the characters.

The addition of the Phantom Thieves Den was fantastic: a place to relax, put on whatever track you have encountered thus far, watch whatever cinematic you want from an arc, look at some of the many visual elements of the game (the added photos throughout the game taken are great to look at), decorate your den as you saw fit — from Personas, bosses, locations, dungeon themes etc. — to be able to roam around as other characters (who didn’t enjoy just running around as Morgana the cat?) and perhaps play a bit of Tycoon. Oh, and when it’s all said and done, you can even roam around as the mice from Shido’s Palace. That is absolutely fantastic.

A home away from home, one you can decorate to your own end. Great addition.

The added location of Kichijoji adds quite a few things, such as a location to sell sooty equipment for a good price, some overpowered items that increase elemental attacks by 50%, the jazz club but best of all is the Penguin Club, a.k.a daaaaaarts! Darts is great fun, and the idea to have levels for baton pass ranking is a nice bonus too — extra attack and a very small amount of HP and SP recovery is a nice bonus too. Never got to play billiards, sadly. Maybe in New Game+… Oh, speaking of added areas, the aquarium is a nice addition too. Aquariums are awesome.

Speaking of battles, I’ve talked about Joker and Akechi’s showtime move…these new showtime moves are pretty damn cool, really loved these. My favourite ones both are both of Yusuke’s and Ryuji’s — not only with each other, but Yusuke with Ann, and Ryuji and Makoto. But Yusuke and Ryuji’s together was my favourite — I still laugh at it when I see it.

One of the things added to the Maruki arc is the introduction of third-stage Personas belonging to the Phantom Thieves (if you have maxed the confidant), which are a combination of the previous two.

My favourite of these were Ryuji (it’s exactly what you want it to be), Makoto and Futaba. Morgana’s is pretty cool too, but I wasn’t huge on Yusuke’s (Susano-o was so much better) and not massive on Ann’s and Haru’s. But it was very cool to use these and some of their ridiculously overpowered abilities — in fact, Ann’s party-wide Concentrate saved my ass in the never-ending Azathoth/Maruki fight. Again, being level 80+ and using severe and colossal damaging moves was really enjoyable.

What’s next…the soundtrack, right…

I mean, the P5 soundtrack was already a master to behold but P5R has topped that, and then some.

The new tracks added for the Maruki arc — and P5R as a whole — are incredible. The Palace theme, the deep theme for the Twilight Corridor, the boss battle itself and the awesome track on heist-day: “I Believe”.

I love “Life Will Change” (more so the instrumental version) but I think I might prefer “I Believe: more. That’s saying something. The one thing I will give the Maruki arc over the Yaldabaoth arc is that the final boss theme is better — possibly much better.

Again, 90% of the soundtrack is the same as the original — which is obviously a fantastic thing.

The main gripe I could see people having with the original soundtrack is how repetitive the main battle theme (“Last Surprise”) and the Mementos theme could get.

This is not an issue in P5R.

They added a new song for an ambush (“Take Over”) while using Last Surprise for non-ambush fights. Take Over (which is the majority of fights that you’re going to be taking part in) is fantastic, a much better song than Last Surprise, which does get going eventually but not all battles take a long time.

As for Mementos, the music differs in certain areas as you continue to progress downwards and these songs are also fantastic — helps break up Mementos exploration, because it can really drag on at times.

Speaking of breaking things up, fights can obviously get repetitive but the introduction of showdowns as well as ‘disaster’ shadows helps break up the battles somewhat. It’s a J-RPG, if you can’t deal with battles, you’re playing the wrong game.

Let’s see, what other notes do I have. Morgana’s still a bitch, check.

Oh yeah, one thing that was sorely missing in P5 was voice-overs for the entirety of the dialogue as the Phantom Thieves, minus Joker, are in the Velvet Room prison — this is made right in P5R, as well as on the final day as you say goodbye to your maxed confidants. Not that it was a massive detracting factor from the first game but a nice addition to P5R.

Overall, Persona 5 Royal was an incredible experience. Same amazing characters and, for the most part, same amazing story…but more. And more Persona 5, already my favourite game of all time, is a wonderful thing.

On the whole, taking everything into account, I don’t think P5R has displaced P5 at the top of my list (the issues with regard the ending and the placement of the Maruki arc are the contributing factors), but it’s still brilliant.

The ending left me a little disappointed, personally, because I absolutely loved the original ending and there was really no need to alter it as much as they did, and I still don’t like how Yaldabaoth isn’t the final boss of the story — it’s a battle between life and death of everything against the antagonist who pulled every single string… He really should be the final boss, and the last descent in Mementos to its depths should’ve been the final dungeon, the final Palace: the Public’s Palace. Mementos was a question mark the whole time in P5 and the final descent down to its depths was chilling, but brilliant. Maruki’s Palace, as great as it was, just didn’t have that same gravity as the Mementos Depths.

But those won’t take away too much from an incredible 120 hours — Persona 5 Royal is still a fantastic game.

Thank you, Persona 5, for stealing my heart once again.

Assessing the F1 2019 season

Feature image: @F1

It came and it went: the 2019 Formula 1 season has come to a close, and it’s a season where Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes both won a sixth world title as the British driver and German outfit continued their partnership and dominance of the hybrid-era.

F1 saw an unfortunate throw-back to the beginning of the hybrid-era as it was a two-horse race between the two Mercedes drivers — Lewis Hamilton and teammate Valterri Bottas — after it became evident very quickly that Mercedes were just a cut above the rest of the field. Though Red Bull and Ferrari made strides during the season to get back in contention to win races, they came too late and, thus, the title was left between Hamilton and Bottas to contest.

By the time Hamilton took victory in France — his sixth win of the season in just eight races (Mercedes victors of the opening eight races) — the nearest non-Mercedes challenger in the form of Sebastian Vettel was already 76 points adrift.

With Ferrari out of the picture for the title, realistically, at that stage, it was Hamilton vs. Bottas, and though Bottas enjoyed a significantly better 2019 compared to 2018, Hamilton was always going to be the favourite in that duel.

And, thus, there were your 2019 drivers and constructors title winners.

While the title fight was a formality for much of the season, the 2019 season should be remembered for much more than number six for Hamilton and Mercedes, though, the F1 season didn’t start very well.

2018 was a great season. The Ferrari vs. Mercedes duel was enjoyable but there were a number of legitimately great races — the bonkers nature of Baku, the nail-biting US Grand Prix, the rain-filled drama at the German Grand Prix to name a few.

2019 did not start well.

With, perhaps, the exception of Canada, the first eight races of this season — as a whole — were bad. Mercedes were dominant, and in the few races they seemed to be second best, some circumstance found a way to sneak in and ensure they won (see: Bahrain and Canada).

That Canadian Grand Prix was especially contentious after Vettel’s victory was taken away, and it painted F1 in a very poor light.

After one of the worst races of the season in the form of the French Grand Prix came, the Austrian Grand Prix followed. It was a weekend where F1 desperately needed a good show off of the heels of a poor first eight races where Mercedes and Hamilton were already running rampant, and not in an entertaining way.

Fortunately, F1 got the race it needed as Max Verstappen claimed a brilliant win in Austria ahead of Charles Leclerc. And more and more entertaining races came.

Though the title race was effectively over when Bottas stuffed it in the wall in Germany, the season as a whole was very enjoyable from Austria onwards, capped off with a madness-filled Brazilian Grand Prix that saw Max Verstappen exact revenge for 2018 and saw Pierre Gasly and Carlos Sainz (eventually) take the other podium spots.

Perhaps this was fitting, as Gasly and Sainz were two of the season’s main talking points — one starting the season in Red Bull, the other leaving the Red Bull nest for McLaren.

Gasly…was awful at Red Bull and no one should have been surprised when the announcement came that he and Toro Rosso rookie Alex Albon would be swapping seats after the summer break. In the end, both drivers did well to end their respective seasons at Toro Rosso and Red Bull, Gasly’s mid-season turnaround obviously highlighted by that P2 in Brazil.

Following Brazil came the underwhelming Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in which Lewis Hamilton cruised to victory to close the curtain on an enjoyable 2019 season.

Now that it’s all said and done, let’s do a few end-of-season awards and use those to talk further about the season itself.

Best driver: Carlos Sainz

Yes, Lewis Hamilton was the champion. Yes, Max Verstappen was brilliant this season but, for me, Carlos Sainz was the driver of the year.

He became the first driver not in a Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull to finish inside the top six since 2015 and the first driver since 2014 that finished inside the top six in a car that did not finish in the top three in constructors standings (Fernando Alonso did it for Ferrari in 2014). A five-race stretch (beginning from France, ending in Hungary) of P6, P8, P6, P5 and P5 helped send Sainz on his way to a very well deserved P6 in the standings in a year he emerged as the ‘Smooth Operator’.

Highlighted by a podium in Brazil, Sainz was not only one of the most enjoyable talents on the track but his off-track humour and relationship with Lando Norris meant that Sainz was an entertaining watch on and off the track.

Sainz displayed his fighting spirit to the very end as he overtook Nico Hulkenberg on the last lap to sneak into the points and guarantee himself P6 in the standings — a truly remarkable achievement.

Best victory: Max Verstappen – Austria

There’s a bunch of races you could put in this spot (Leclerc’s Italian victory in front of the Tifosi, Bottas’ charge in USA etc.) but what better victory than Verstappen’s first of the season and Honda’s first victory in the hybrid-era?

Starting P2 behind Charles Leclerc, Verstappen stumbled off of the line and was behind his teammate Gasly and in P9 by the time the first lap came to an end. Verstappen made his way back towards the top six and was in fourth place to begin lap 50, where he dispatched Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari to return to the top-3.

After that, Verstappen hunted down and overtook Valterri Bottas for P2 on lap 56, leaving the Dutchman to chase the leading Leclerc. The tension rose, as Leclerc was chasing his first race-win but Verstappen — lap by lap — was hunting him down. Verstappen did indeed catch Leclerc and had his first attempt to overtake him on lap 68 of 71 but Leclerc fought off Verstappen well. However, he could not prevent the mist from descending as one lap later, Verstappen muscled his way by Leclerc and went on to take a memorable victory at the Red Bull Ring.

Overtaking, tension for the win and a remarkable comeback made this Austrian Grand Prix one to remember.

Best rookie: Lando Norris

Personally, I ranked Norris to be the best of the rookie trio entering F1 from F2, so it was no surprise to me that Norris performed well. That said, I expected Carlos Sainz to comprehensively have the better of Norris and that wasn’t always the case.

While Sainz did finish with nearly double the amount of points that Norris did (both suffered DNF’s when in strong point-paying positions, but Norris seemed to be a little more unlucky in that department), the battle between the two was much closer than one would have envisioned heading into the season. And with Sainz arguably the driver of the season, their closeness only highlights the excellent job done by Norris across the season.

Norris ramped up his aggression as the season progressed but let his guard down at times, highlighted by Sergio Perez’s last lap overtake in Abu Dhabi, a situation where Norris, really, should’ve been able to see that through.

Norris also prevailed in the qualifying battle between himself and Sainz, edging the Spaniard 11-10 in the final race of the season, having almost thrown his significant advantage away.

His inexperience showed at times but he now forms a fascinating and fun pairing alongside Sainz, one everyone will have their eyes on next season.

Most improved: Valterri Bottas

Valterri Bottas was a joke, in the eyes of many, heading into 2019.

Having gone winless in 2018 (harshly denied victory in Russia), Bottas began 2019 with a bang with a dominant performance in Australia and furthering his early title credentials with a redemption victory in Azerbaijan, with the internet dubbing this new, bearded, porridge version of Bottas ‘Bottas 2.0′.

While Bottas dropped off after those highs — and returned to the old Bottas at times — he stepped up his game near the end of the season with victory in Japan and a very impressive victory in USA. His fight-back against Lewis Hamilton in Silverstone down the inside of Copse was inspiring, as he showed increased boldness in his wheel-to-wheel combat this season.

Adding to that, Bottas’ qualifying performances in 2019 were vastly improved compared to 2018. Impressive pole positions at Spain and Silverstone, Bottas really stepped his game up against Lewis Hamilton in qualifying in 2019. He may not have won the qualifying battle, but he certainly closed the margin between himself and the six-time champion, taking five pole positions on the season — the same as Hamilton.

While he had the benefit of enjoying the grid’s best car, Bottas certainly upped his game all across the board, and you certainly couldn’t fault him for his effort at times, even it ended with him in the barriers, such as Germany (probably Bottas’ worst moment of 2019) and the final moments of qualifying in Mexico.

Whether we get ‘Bottas 2.77’ as Valterri himself claims he needs to be in 2020, we’ll find out but heading into 2020, he’s certainly taken his reputation a long way forward from where it was this time 365 days ago.

Shoutout to Daniil Kvyat too for his comeback season.

Best race: Brazilian Grand Prix

It had to be, didn’t it?

Overtakes galore, Verstappen vs. Hamilton, multiple safety cars, a collision between the two Ferraris, drama after safety car restart and two surprise podium finishers.

Brazil has produced some mad races in the past but 2019 may have been the most bonkers grand prix in recent memory.

Anytime you get to see Verstappen and Hamilton go wheel-to-wheel, you should appreciate those moments — there really is a Alonso/Raikkonen vs. Schumacher feel to it, the new guard taking it to old guard (and it’s the same when Leclerc races Hamilton). To see the two jostle for the lead, back-and-forth, was incredibly entertaining.

Verstappen’s revenge for the win he should’ve had in 2018 was sweet, and in the end convincing, as Mercedes elected not to pit Hamilton after the safety car, whereas Red Bull pitted Verstappen. Hamilton ended up getting involved in a scrap with Alex Albon, making contact with the Red Bull and earning himself an eventual penalty, leaving Albon searching for that first podium in 2020 and handing Carlos Sainz his first F1 podium finish having started from the back of the grid, highlighting the nature of this race and how well Sainz drove (his overtake on Perez into T1 could’ve easily ended in contact but it was a great overtake).

The collision between the two Ferraris was incredible — truly amazing how such minimal contact could have such a catastrophic effect on both cars, both being forced to retire. It’s absolutely Vettel’s fault but who could’ve imagined how much damaged could’ve been caused for minimal contact?

And last but not least was Pierre Gasly’s drag race with Lewis Hamilton for, at the time, was second place (before Hamilton’s penalty) — signifying Honda’s progression with their engine as they won out over Mercedes heading to the line.

A mad race, and a race that’ll live in the memory of all-time Brazilian Grand Prix for years to come — and that’s saying something coming from Interlagos, home of many a-great grand prix.

Best overtake: Carlos Sainz on Nico Hulkenberg, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

You can go in a few different directions for this — you can argue, contextually, what the best overtake was (e.g. Max Verstappen’s overtake on Charles Leclerc for the win in Austria) or in terms of technicality, what overtake was simply the best regardless of context.

There’s also some overtakes that I just personally really loved, such as Valterri Bottas’ move on Lewis Hamilton into Copse and Kimi Raikkonen’s move on Kevin Magnussen in Germany, where he could’ve easily just conceded T1 to Vettel but chooses to sweep in and turns defense into attack, passing Magnussen into T2.

The one I’m going for though is the one that ultimately gave Carlos Sainz P6 in the championship after a last-lap overtake on Nico Hulkenberg in Abu Dhabi:

The last lap of the last race of the season for the last point to seal P6 in the standings to cap off an almost race-long battle between McLaren and Renault — brilliant.

Honestly, you could go in several different directions and it’s all about personal preference, but I’m going for this one.

Surprise of the season: McLaren’s resurgence

Switching from Honda to Renault engines in 2018 didn’t solve a ton of problems for McLaren in 2018.

Sure, they started the season off well but by the time the Spanish Grand Prix arrived, they were already heading backwards and by the time the French Grand Prix arrived, Q1 exits became a pattern for the rest of the season.

Armed with a fresh driver lineup in 2019 and a restructuring of sorts, McLaren enjoyed their best season in hybrid-era, finishing in fourth as ‘best of the rest’ behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, and ahead of the works Renault team.

The question many people had after the early start to the season was ‘could McLaren keep this up?’ and bar a few races (such as Monza), they were generally the best of the midfield, ultimately reflected in their 54 point margin between themselves and 5th placed Renault.

F1 is better when McLaren is good and while they aren’t genuine contenders for podiums on pure pace, they’ve taken strong steps in the right direction to do that. Whether that comes in 2020, we’ll see, but a hugely impressive 2019 for the Woking outfit.

Biggest disappointment: Ferrari

Sigh…

Where to even begin?

It all seemed to be going so well, as Ferrari appeared to be the clear front-runner as teams emerged from preseason testing but, once again, were no where to be found in Australia. Now, that isn’t necessarily something new — they were behind Mercedes heading into Australia 2018 but managed to squeak home a victory thanks to a VSC and then went on to have a strong opening to 2018 where they were quicker than Mercedes at various stages.

And it seemed like this was repeating in 2019 — having been no where in Australia, Ferrari struck back in Bahrain through Charles Leclerc, who took his first pole position in the desert.

Ferrari should have had their first win of the season in Bahrain but it wasn’t meant to be, as technical issues prevented Leclerc from taking his maiden F1 victory. As disappointing as it was to see a victory just fall into Mercedes’ lap, you assumed — now that Ferrari had shown the pace many expected from testing — that the Scuderia would come back another day.

This…did not happen.

Ferrari continued to underperform as Mercedes ran away with both titles and by the time the French Grand Prix came and went, both titles were, effectively, already heading back to Brackley.

Eventually, Ferrari made steps with their car to bring them closer to the front but it wasn’t until the Belgian Grand Prix where Ferrari finally notched their first win of the season and would only take two more victories to their tally on the season in Singapore and, memorably, in Monza.

Now, to be fair, they should’ve already had two victories on the season by then at Bahrain and Canada, but they were still far too far away from Mercedes and while the season of Charles Leclerc can be considered a success, Ferrari’s season as a whole can only be seen as a failure. And the less said about Sebastian Vettel’s season the better: it just wasn’t good.

Shoutout to Renault, who were thoroughly underwhelming this year too and were a close contender for most disappointing after effectively beginning their season at Monaco. And shoutout to Haas for inexplicably retaining Romain Grosjean at the expense of Nico Hulkenberg.

Pierre Gasly’s tenure at Red Bull is probably the runner-up, however… The less said about it the better…

 

The Delight, Danger and Devastation of Motorsport

Shock, utter shock. Sadness, unbelievable sadness. Denial, absolute denial.

These were some of the emotions I felt over the weekend as I watched the man who had become the driver I most actively rooted for killed in a tragic accident at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium on Saturday August 31st.

His name is Anthoine Hubert.


The weekend of the Belgian Grand Prix was a really exciting weekend in prospect.

Formula 1 was returning from its annual summer break and the weekend was littered with breaking news to begin the weekend — Esteban Ocon’s return to F1 with Renault for 2020 was announced, Nico Hulkenberg was left looking for a new drive, Valterri Bottas’ Mercedes extension was announced… These were just some of the breaking items, not to mention it was the weekend that marked Alex Albon’s debut with Red Bull, his promotion from sister-team Toro Rosso announced during the break.

Ferrari looked impressive — as expected — throughout the weekend and secured a front-row lockout in qualifying on Saturday, with Charles Leclerc leading the way ahead of teammate Sebastian Vettel.

With how Formula 1 is these days, anytime Mercedes aren’t at the front is a win for the sport, so the prospect of Ferrari finally ending their 2019 win drought and possibly taking a victory away from Mercedes was an exciting one for many — just what F1 needed on its return.

But Formula 1 wasn’t the only thing to return from a summer absence — Formula 2 (Formula 1’s feeder/junior series) was also making its comeback.

For me, Formula 2 is a much better spectacle than Formula 1 and the F2 races are sometimes absolutely bonkers. I can’t count how many good races I’ve enjoyed watching Formula 2.

It’s great fun and I’d recommend it to anybody.

I started watching Formula 2 back in 2017, the year one Charles Leclerc made his name and absolutely dominated on his way to the title and to Formula 1 — it reminded me of when Michael Schumacher was racing in 2002-2004 in that Leclerc was just a step above the rest of the competition. No one came close.

In addition to just watching out of enjoyment, it’s also a great opportunity to see drivers emerge, the drivers that will eventually proceed to Formula 1. Of course, not every driver from F2 makes the cut but quite a number of drivers make the step-up these days, such as Leclerc, Lando Norris, George Russell and Alex Albon in recent years.

In fact, out of the current Formula 1 grid, pretty much half of the grid, has spent at least some time in the junior formula — either when it was formerly known as GP2 or F2 as it’s known as now: Lewis Hamilton, Charles Leclerc, Pierre Gasly, Lando Norris, George Russell, Alex Albon, Romain Grosjean, Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez all spent time in GP2/F2.

So, not only is F2 fun to watch but it’s also rewarding in terms of gathering information about potential future Formula 1 drivers.

With a trio of the F2 class of 2018 — champion George Russell, Lando Norris and Alex Albon — making the leap from F2 to F1 in 2019, the question, as it is pretty much every year, is who is next? Who’s the next one?

The 2019 F2 series has provided a ton of excitement and there’s a number of drivers to keep an eye on, such as F2 veterans Nyck de Vries, Nicholas Latifi (who I would say is an absolute shoe-in for Williams’ 2020 seat), Guanyu Zhou, Jack Aitken and of course Mick Schumacher.

But before all of the action on track began… I follow the official F2 account on Instagram, and throughout the winter, announcements of drivers confirmed for the 2019 came coming. One in particular caught my attention instantly: a young Frenchman who won the final GP3 title (before coming Formula 3) who carried — what I thought — an uncanny resemblance to my younger brother. His name was Anthoine Hubert, and he drew my liking immediately.

It doesn’t take much for me to take to a driver.

When I first started watching F1 in 2002, Felipe Massa was one driver I gravitated to straightaway. It had nothing to do with his ability but, at the time, his helmet — I loved his green helmet. Of course in time, Massa improved and became one of the best drivers on the grid (and should have won the title in 2008 but that’s for another time) but that’s all I needed to start rooting for him. And that never wavered across his 16 year career.

It was the same for Hubert.

The more I watched Hubert then on track and in media sessions, Facebook/Instagram live sessions, it became very easy to like him — more than a resemblance he carried with my family.

Heading into the season though, every bit of me wanted to root for Mick Schumacher more than any F2 driver this year. I had watched Schumacher win the title in the old F3, and he’s obviously the son of the greatest to ever do it (and Mick is obviously easy to like for his own personality). But yet, I found myself rooting for Hubert more.

Fast forward to Monaco and the sprint race in May…

Hubert found himself on reverse-pole position for the race that is the most difficult to overtake at… So no pressure then to convert pole to victory.

Except there was pressure.

Formula 2 is not easy and the cars are difficult to adjust to, meaning rookies — generally speaking, there are exceptions — struggle. In the race, Hubert found himself under pressure from an experienced F2 driver in Louis Delatraz. It was a tense race, I felt nervous, just praying that Hubert could bring it home. It was an unbelievably close finish but Hubert withstood the pressure to take home the victory. A very mature drive.

I was so happy. And then seeing Hubert celebrate afterwards was just as incredible.

Then came the French Grand Prix, and again, Hubert took reverse-pole and followed with a memorable victory at his home grand prix. To see all of those French flags wave in the stands after he took the flag — even though it wasn’t for an F1 driver — was incredible to see. I was a little emotional seeing it.

Hubert was firmly establishing himself as one of the better rookies in Formula 2, and I really believed he was going to build on these two victories and perhaps launch a proper title fight next year.

His future was looking up, and he was also part of the Renault driver programme, and given his matching nationality, it seemed like a perfect future marriage into Formula 1.

But Hubert’s luck began to turn for the worse at venues such as Hungary and Britain, and then in qualifying in Belgium where a red flag ruined a lap where he was set for a large improvement — the end result is that Hubert would be further down the grid than he should have been.

Hubert usually posts snippets like these onto his Instagram stories. I replied on the morning of the now ill-fated day where he lost his life, basically saying I hoped his luck would turn around.

Little did I know… Little did anyone know.

As an aside, I write about basketball for one of my jobs. I’ve been to NBA arenas and I’ve been inside NBA locker-rooms. I know how to be professional, which means I don’t — generally speaking — interact with players on social media. But for Hubert I made an exception, and I sent replies to his stories at various points in the season, which he saw and acknowledged.

So anyways, excitement. F2 is back, and back at one of F1’s iconic tracks at Spa.

As usual, I’m tracking the progress of Hubert and then a massive crash at Radillon occurs on lap 2. It was immediately horrific looking — Hubert’s car (though I didn’t know it was him at the time) was torn in half with another car skidding upside down — and the broadcast made the decision very early on that no replays would be shown. So, the red flag was waved and the race stopped. Anxiously, I scanned cars as they filed into the pitlane to see which cars were present, trying to see who was involved. To my worry, I didn’t see the pink, number 19 car of Hubert and I began to get nervous.

When it was figured that the main two cars involved in the horrific crash were Juan Manuel Correa and Hubert, I became very worried.

Rule of thumb: when the broadcast elects not to show a replay of a crash, that’s a very bad sign. A worse sign than that? The quick decision to announce that the race would not be restarted.

So, the anxious wait continued. I tried working on some stuff to try take my mind off of it, then another view from a camera track-side posted on social media showed the extent of incident. It didn’t look good…

But…hope. I had hope everything would be OK.

But a few hours later came the news that I had so dreaded… Anthoine Hubert was dead.

Shock. Disbelief. I couldn’t believe it. And then came the overwhelming sadness and the realisation of the fate my favourite young driver had suffered. 22 years old, chasing a dream, destined for the pinnacle of motorsport… A life dedicated to racing, to the dream. And it was all over. I had watched live as my favourite driver had his life cut far too short. A driver whose career I was so excited to watch unfold… Gone.

I was crushed. And I beat myself over the fact I was. I didn’t know Anthoine but I was crushed at his loss. I didn’t want to eat, I barely slept. I kept seeing the crash in my head, wondering what it must have been like inside the cockpit. It’s burned inside my head. I was distraught. I couldn’t believe it. And it sounds so silly, I know… I didn’t even know him. But I can’t control how I feel, and this is how I felt.

I asked myself if this is how people felt when Ayrton Senna died on the day of his accident… I had kind of dipped out of F1 when Jules Bianchi had his accident in 2014, before he passing away in 2015, so I wasn’t as close to that incident as some other people.

This was new to me.

I’ve seen so many incredibly bad accidents in F1 over the years and they all walked away just fine.

From Robert Kubica’s horror crash at Canada in 2007:

Mark Webber’s somersault accident at Valencia 2010:

To Fernando Alonso’s roll in Australia 2016:

These are just some of the massive accidents I’ve seen in my time watching Formula 1.

All of these guys walked away from these accidents (though, Kubica missed a race but was very much alive). F1 safety has come such a long a way and I think everyone just got used to the driver walking away. It’s a testament to the safety of the sport.

But Hubert didn’t walk away. And I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Why… Why did this have to be the exception?

The FIBA Basketball World Cup is currently ongoing at the time of writing this. Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum injured his ankle during the USA’s narrow win over Turkey, prompting this response from Bill Simmons.

The way it came across was as if it was the worse possible outcome ever. I couldn’t help but laugh seeing that after what happened over the weekend. It’s so incomparable, so laughable. Hubert’s crash had put things in perspective. At least Tatum was alive…

People are divided on motorsport. Sure, maybe the athletic feats aren’t as incredible as some other sports (they are still very much athletes) but there’s a much greater sacrifice they make. Every single time they sit inside the cockpit they risk their lives, they face the danger that it could be their last ever day on this earth, that they might never see their family again. It’s the sacrifice that they’re willing to take. It’s the sacrifice that separates them from us.

There’s a quote from Ernest Hemmingway which I think sums it up.

“There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.”

Everyone can go play football or basketball or tennis… All you need is a field, a hoop…whatever. In professional sports (mostly football and basketball) there’s hundreds, even thousands of jobs out there.

But in Formula 1, there’s only 20 seats. Only 20 people in the entire world can say they are a Formula 1 driver. Only these guys can do what they do, only they can make the choice to potentially forfeit their life in the relentless pursuit of speed, competition and success. This places a certain reverence over what they do, because there such a risk involved.

Motorsport is incredible and I love it. Formula 1 cars are pieces of engineering brilliance, always have been. As a kid, seeing them tear at 200 miles per hour, on the edge, fighting for every inch of track available, for every millisecond, for every point they can grab… They’re fighter pilots, heros in a do-or-die game where if they don’t perform, their career is over and they may never get another shot at the top. So they put their lives on the line.

The highs of motorsport are immense. Seeing Fernando Alonso win his two F1 titles, Kimi Raikkonen coming from behind to win the title in 2007, seeing Raikkonen win a race again in 2018… Seeing Nico Rosberg beat Lewis Hamilton to the 2016 title… Truly great moments in the sports history. Elation.

But the lows are as low as they come.

Saturday, August 31st was a heavy, heavy reminder that the lowest point of motor racing means that someone dies, something very other few sports have the grave price of admission, which puts motorsport a cut above the rest.

Yes, ACL injuries suck, Achilles injuries suck and you get the rare compound fractures and these all absolutely suck from career standpoint. But when you weigh that against the loss of life, and a life that was infectious in positivity, energy, potential, determination, there is no comparison.

We get so caught up in the potential of a driver and what his future looks like we forget about today… George Russell is probably going to drive a Mercedes Formula 1 car someday, but right now he’s still at Williams, even though we talk about his career as a Mercedes driver and what might look like…

We get so caught up in the future that we forget today, and that there’s a race today, and there are drivers that may not not even be in Formula 1 yet but talk as though it’s already going to happen. That your life — in the race you race today — could end today…

It’s a heavy reality but one every single racing driver accepts when they step into their car and pull that visor down. This is their life and the life of their choosing. The life that they love.

It might take a while before F2 will be fun for me again. It might be a while before I look at Spa the same way…I may never look at that track the same way.

That track, like Imola, like Hockenheim among others, has claimed a life… There’s such a heaviness to that. Maybe not for others, but certainly for me. As the overgrowth in Hockenheim runs wild where the old track ran into the woods once upon a time, I know the ghost (so to speak) of Jim Clark lurks, and his memorial lies. I feel the heaviness of that armco that Ayrton Senna collided with at the Tamburello corner at Imola, San Marino.

And now, at the top of the red river at Spa…

I feel immense sadness. I still, in some ways, just can’t believe what actually happened. Seeing the accident live and happen there and then… I can’t escape that. A friend told me to remember the best image of Anthoine, and when he said it I thought of the celebrations of Anthoine as he got on of his car and raised his arms upright above his head, tilting his head back slightly looking toward the sky. That’s how I want to remember Anthoine, not for the final moments.

The show must go on, F1 and F2 will carry on. Life carries on, with one less star in the sky to shine.

I may not enjoy motorsport itself for a while. Seeing the drivers out there, chasing/fulfilling their dreams will be a constant reminder of the likely opportunity Hubert had taken away from him. But none of that is comparable to the fact his life was taken away while doing what he loved. And maybe, in that sense, he was luckier than most of those whose lives are cut short far too soon…

Rest in peace, Anthoine Hubert.

Assessing Alex Albon’s Red Bull Debut

Feature image: @RedBullRacing

The 2019 Belgian Grand Prix will go down as one of the more bittersweet weekends in Formula 1’s illustrious history.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took his first (of many, you would imagine), long awaited and popular Formula 1 victory a day after his friend and Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert lost his life after an accident during the feature race of the feeder series on Saturday.

So much happened during this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix: Valterri Bottas’ Mercedes extension announcement, Esteban Ocon’s 2020 Formula 1 return with Renault at Nico Hulkenberg’s expense, Sergio Perez signing (what I personally think from a team perspective) surprising three-year deal, and none of it ultimately matters.

But while the F2 sprint race was cancelled out of respect, the F1 circus had to go on and it went on with a heavy heart.

Being honest, it was a brutal weekend and I honestly just wanted to write something to try take my mind off of what happened.

Thankfully, there is something to talk about…

This weekend marked Alex Albon’s Red Bull debut, which was the big talking point heading into the weekend after replacing Pierre Gasly after a poor run in his Red Bull career.

In these circumstances, I’m not going to say this is a good time to evaluate Albon’s weekend but I’m going to do it anyways because this weekend — as traumatic as it was — could be the first step towards one more seat on the F1 grid being filled.

Let’s start with qualifying.

One of Gasly’s big issues at Red Bull was the qualifying margin to teammate Max Verstappen (nearly half a second), not to mention he was out-qualified 11-1, and that one victory on Saturday for Gasly was at Canada where there was a red-flag situation.

Given Albon’s penalty situation, Red Bull decided not to push him into Q3, so we didn’t get a chance this weekend to see how Albon may have fared against Verstappen in Q3. Monza next week doesn’t offer Red Bull a ton of hope against Mercedes and Ferrari but it’ll be the first instance of Albon having a proper run at Verstappen in qualifying. It won’t be until Singapore — a track Red Bull should go well at — where we get a real sense with Albon in qualifying against the rest of the top six cars.

On Sunday, Albon was tasked with a tall order from P17 on the grid after taking a compliment of penalties for new engine components. It wasn’t most electrifying start for Albon on the medium tyres, his first stint spent largely in a DRS train and was unable didn’t really move the needle. In fact, losing positions to Hulkenberg and Giovinazzi at various points in the first stint.

But with the pitstops came some separation amongst the field and opportunities would arise in the second stint when Albon pitted for the softs.

With the field a little more spread out now and not in one giant DRS train spanning from Kevin Magnussen — and with the Red Bull now being on better rubber — Albon really impressed during the second stint, making multiple overtakes to climb through the field after emerging in P15 after his stop and into the points and eventually finished in P5 to complete a very impressive debut for Red Bull on a difficult afternoon for everyone involved.

One of the criticisms with Gasly’s performances at Red Bull was his lack of willingness to overtake but Albon showed no such fear as he went for the jugular with moves on Lance Stroll into the Bus-Stop chicane and then on Daniel Ricciardo through the No-Name corner. Granted, Ricciardo was on ancient tyres from his Lap 1 adventures and Albon on fresher softs but even still, that’s not a frequent overtaking spot at all, especially around the outside of it.

And then came the last-lap battle with Sergio Perez.

To reach Perez in the first place in the way he did was impressive but then when it came to overtaking him… He had a go firstly at the Bus-Stop chicane which didn’t work out and when Perez intentionally went wide and begged, not invited, begged Albon to go through so that Perez would be the one with the DRS heading up the Kemmel Straight instead of Albon — so that Perez could attack rather than defend — Albon was savvy to it and refused to overtake Perez out of La Source, before taking to the grass up the Kemmel Straight with DRS to seize what would end up being fifth place (and his best finish in F1) after Lando Norris’ last-lap heartbreak.

It was a great end to Albon’s race, in which he displayed determination, good race-craft, wits and ultimately pace to overcome a difficult start where there wasn’t a ton he could do to progress in the DRS train.

“I’ve been very impressed with Alex’s performance all weekend and he put in a great recovery drive from 17th on the grid to finish fifth in his first race with us,” said team principal Christian Horner. “He was pretty cautious during the first half of the race as he felt his way into the Grand Prix, but things started to come alive for him on the softer compound tyre and he put in some great overtakes…”

In what looked like it was going to be a throwaway weekend of sorts for Albon, he salvaged 10 points out of it — the maximum that would’ve possible from where he began the race.

All-in-all, a great debut for Albon, who is still learning the ins-and-outs with his new car.

“I’m very happy. P5 is an amazing result and we’ve got off to a great start,” said Albon post-race. “I had some good fun out there and I enjoyed this race a lot. I started off the weekend very nervous and if you had told me I’d finish the race fifth I’d be very happy, but I’m a bit more relaxed now.

“It was actually a difficult race and in the first stint I struggled with grip in the dirty air and couldn’t overtake anyone. But then once we pitted for the soft tyres, the car came alive and I was like – now we can do something! The last lap was really good, I had a good fight with Sergio where we were both on the grass and it made for some good racing.

“There are definitely some areas I need to improve on and over the next few days I’ll get my head down, do some homework and address them for Monza. I will sit down with the Team and understand why I struggled at the start, but I am still finding out the car’s little tricks and adapting to it. I didn’t really feel too much pressure coming into the weekend, I think the media thought I was going to, but I’ve enjoyed my week with the Team…”

Will history repeat with Red Bull’s Gasly-Albon switch?

Feature image: @ToroRosso

Formula 1 news has been pretty quiet as the one week mark passed on the summer break but that all changed on Monday morning as Red Bull announced that Toro Rosso’s Alex Albon will be making the jump to Red Bull while Pierre Gasly will return to Toro Rosso for the remainder of the season.

The news shouldn’t be surprising given how poor Gasly has been this season, but ultimately it is, it is a surprise.

Everything that had come out of the Red Bull camp — comments made at various times and various publications from both team principal Christian Horner and advisor Helmut Marko — said that Pierre Gasly would be given until the end of the season to try and turn things around, that they wouldn’t switch their driver lineup mid-season.

Comments like that aren’t thrown around for the sake of saying it and people don’t just ‘lie’ like that — it’s unprofessional and in poor taste, so I believe they were genuine at the time they were made.

But circumstances change, and I think there are a few reasons why Red Bull have decided — in spite of making those comments — that to ultimately make the switch mid-season.

The first one is the constructors championship.

It’s no secret that Red Bull have made a step recently, taking two wins in the last four races before the break at Austria and Germany, while almost taking victory at Hungary were it not for a masterclass strategy call from Mercedes. With their improvements and results through Verstappen, Red Bull are within striking distance of Ferrari in the constructors standings — sitting just 44 (blessed) points behind the Scuderia.

In all reality, Red Bull should already be ahead of Ferrari. While Verstappen has been in the form of his life and dragging that Red Bull probably further than it should, Gasly has severely let down Red Bull by scoring just 63 points to Verstappen’s 181 — just a hair over 25% of Red Bull’s total points so far this season.

With second place now a realistic target for the second half of the season, it makes sense for Red Bull to make this move, now that they are within touching distance of Ferrari and their car seems like it’s the next best after Mercedes (though, there are some power circuits coming up for Ferrari such as Spa where they have a chance to be closer).

The second reason was kind of highlighted by the Hungarian Grand Prix and some of the comments Christian Horner made after the race with regard being able to ‘protect’ Verstappen.

In the past, Mercedes have been able to use both of their cars to mix up strategies and force Ferrari into doing something that isn’t in their comfort zone. An example of this was last year’s Italian Grand Prix, where Mercedes were able to use both Hamilton and Bottas to engineer a Mercedes win from the sole Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, a race where Lewis Hamilton’s tyres outlasted Raikkonen’s.

In Hungary, there was nothing and no one to protect Verstappen from anything Mercedes wanted to do and with Gasly being no where in that race, Verstappen was left exposed.

Let’s talk about Gasly very briefly… He forced Red Bull’s hands with this one — he’s just been awful, sitting on 63 points in the standings and only five ahead of Carlos Sainz in a McLaren. Gasly has been no where near Verstappen in qualifying or in the race all season long, and the one time he finished ahead of Verstappen was Silverstone when Verstappen was rear-ended by Vettel. This move was coming, one way or another.

Gasly now enters a very dangerous part of his career back at Toro Rosso, because now he’s fighting to show he still belongs in Formula 1. How he handles this situation and how he responds to it on the track are going to be incredibly key to his F1 future because Red Bull have shown that they are not afraid to cut ties with their drivers — whether it’s academy drivers (Dan Ticktum) or F1 drivers (Daniil Kvyat).

Unlike Kvyat’s situation, there’s no driver, really, in the Red Bull academy waiting for an F1 seat as Gasly was in 2017 when Red Bull moved on from Kvyat. Pato O’Ward is too raw yet and unless Red Bull want to thank their engine partner Honda by promoting their junior driver, Nobaharu Matsushita, from F2 then who is going to take Gasly’s Toro Rosso seat for 2020? (And for a disclaimer, sorry, I don’t really believe in Sean Galael)

The only other driver I can think of would be Sebastian Buemi, and that’s not a big of a reach as you may think. You remember Brendon Hartley after all, right?

So, in that regard, Gasly should be safe for 2020, because as bad as he has been this season, he’s still better than any other option Red Bull have outside of F1.

Let’s talk about the switch from the opposite perspective… Red Bull ultimately went with Alex Albon for the remainder of 2019 and not Daniil Kvyat.

Firstly, I get it, I understand why.

Gasly may have been able to turn it around before the season ended but 12 races is a large enough sample size to read between temporary struggles and who he is this season, and things weren’t getting better near the summer break to warrant Red Bull waiting to see if a corner had been turned.

It’s a great decision by Red Bull — harsh as it may be — to give up on Gasly this season and start getting their ducks in a line for 2020.

Regardless if they kept Gasly for the rest of the season, Red Bull had a big decision to make with their second driver seat and it was probably going to involve them replacing Gasly anyways. You can understand why they may have shown hesitation promoting Alex Albon to a full-time seat for 2020, given how this Gasly experience just ended. But with Red Bull promoting Albon for the last nine races — with no guarantee for 2020 — they can get an eye in with Albon in that Red Bull seat and see what’s what, and this will only help in their decision making process for 2020.

And look, let’s get this out there. Albon has been impressive this season and deserves this shot in his own right — he’s been so much better than anyone, including Toro Rosso and Red Bull, could’ve ever imagined. For someone who, I still think, was a stopgap for Toro Rosso because Dan Ticktum failed to acquire his superlicence. And I said prior to the season he was probably the worst F2 driver coming up this year (and I still think that’s the case) but the gap is considerably smaller than I thought it would be.

But as is the case with Red Bull, they’ve opted for upside in their decision making rather than who is the better driver right now.

They lost out on a better driver in Carlos Sainz and got caught up in the potential of Gasly. Had they had Sainz from the beginning, none of these headaches would be bothering Red Bull… But alas…

Are Red Bull about to go down the same path and make the same possible mistake again by choosing Albon over Kvyat for these remaining nine races?

I think Kvyat is a better driver than Albon right now and I think he’s unlucky not to have been chosen for that seat for the remainder of the season.

I know, I know… People will say Kvyat had his chance etc. etc. but the reality is he’s not the same driver now than he was then: he’s better (not that he was ever bad to begin with) and I think deserves a second chance at Red Bull, I think he’s going to feel hard-done by that he wasn’t chosen and Albon was.

In their indecision last year, Red Bull lost Sainz to McLaren and while there aren’t as many open seats this year as there were last year, there’s a chance the same could happen this year with Kvyat.

Like Sainz, I’m sure Kvyat is ready for life outside of Red Bull and there’s a potential opening, maybe even two, at Haas. If Kvyat feels undervalued by Red Bull in light of this decision, Haas — or another team — can make their pitch and secure Kvyat, and that would take that option off of the table for Red Bull for 2020.

And if Albon, like Gasly, underperforms, where would Red Bull look for 2020 in the event Kvyat doesn’t want to wait for Red Bull to make their mind up, now that they’ve shown possible preference to Albon going forward by giving him this shot?

At first, I wasn’t sure Red Bull made the right decision but having thought about it, I think they’ve made the right decision for their team long-term by giving Albon this Red Bull trial, as much as I think Kvyat should’ve had it. And while they risk losing Kvyat in the process, I think Albon will impress enough to earn a 2020 seat.

For Kvyat, the worst case scenario is he’s at Toro Rosso next year again, but that isn’t awful because, most importantly, he’d still have a seat for 2020 before the absolute circus that’s going to be the 2021 driver market, where Kvyat has a chance at another seat. Best case for Kvyat, Albon flunks his test and Kvyat is promoted.

Once again, Red Bull are banking on upside (Albon) instead of experience and, right now, the better driver (Kvyat). What Red Bull are doing is risky but Albon surely can’t do any worse than what Gasly was doing and I think there’s more chance this move succeeds than fails — despite Albon’s limited experience — even if it means losing Kvyat.

It’s a risk worth taking.

 

F1 2020 Lineup Prediction

Feature image: @MercedesAMGF1

With the Hungarian Grand Prix now in the rear-view mirror the F1 summer break is here, and while the action on-track will stop for a few weeks the action off of it will certainly ramp up.

During the break, teams are required to lock up the factories — so to speak — for a couple of these weeks, and it’s here where a lot of the movement for next year’s driver lineup will take place.

There’s a couple of seats already set for next season, such as Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen some of those with a contract in hand for 2020. McLaren are the only team so far who have both drivers confirmed for next year, with the team announcing recently that they would retain both Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris for 2020.

Speaking on Thursday ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix, Sergio Perez says he’s close to agreeing a new deal with Racing Point, and that’ll sure-up the Canadian outfit’s 2020 lineup with Perez and Lance Stroll.

The key to last year’s driver market turned out to be Daniel Ricciardo’s shock move to Renault, which pissed off Mercedes as it seemed Renault had to back-track on their agreement who appeared to have Ocon set to go in that second Renault seat. Red Bull had Carlos Sainz and Pierre Gasly to choose from, the Spaniard signed with McLaren shortly after, leaving Pierre Gasly to fill the Red Bull vacancy and created another one with his departure from Toro Rosso.

I thought the key to last year’s market may have been what Ferrari were going to do with Raikkonen’s seat, should they have decided to replace Raikkonen — which I was still surprised by when they ultimately did — and that that decision would snowball to Alfa Romeo (with the outgoing of Charles Leclerc), Haas (maybe taking on Leclerc?) and maybe Racing Point (if the Perez to Alfa Romeo rumours were to be believed)…

It could have gone in so many different directions but it ended up being just a straight swap in the end.

So, like last year, I’m going to attempt to predict the driver lineup for next year. Last year I had some good ones, like Carlos Sainz to McLaren (Gasly to Red Bull, by extension of Sainz going to McLaren), Kubica to Williams.

That said, I completely bombed on Toro Rosso’s lineup, as well as reading too much into Perez’s link to Alfa Romeo, was convinced Kimi Raikkonen was going to be retained by Ferrari and that Leclerc wouldn’t be promoted to Ferrari after one season. You win some, you lose some.

Once again this season, it looks like it’s going to be a top tier seat that’s going to dictate the market, and this year it’s Valterri Bottas’ Mercedes seat, for the sole reason that if Bottas departs, his seat is more than likely going to be filled by Esteban Ocon — a driver who is currently not on the grid, which always throws the cat amongst the pigeons for driver movement…a space has to be created somewhere.

So, let’s have a shot at this shall we? Here’s how I think the 2020 F1 grid will shape up and why…

Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton & Esteban Ocon

Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel & Charles Leclerc

Red Bull: Max Verstappen & Daniil Kvyat

Renault: Daniel Ricciardo & Nico Hulkenberg

Racing Point: Sergio Perez & Lance Stroll

Haas: Kevin Magnussen & Valterri Bottas

Alfa Romeo: Kimi Raikkonen & Antonio Giovinazzi

Toro Rosso: Pierre Gasly & Alex Albon

Williams: George Russell & Nicholas Latifi

Some bold stuff out there, but let’s go through it team-by-team.

Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton & Esteban Ocon

So, starting with Mercedes, I think they pull the trigger on Esteban Ocon and pair him alongside Lewis Hamilton, leaving Valterri Bottas with a home to find.

Things started well for Bottas this season with two wins in the first four races but things have unravelled somewhat since, including crashing out while trying to overtake Lance Stroll in a race it where Lewis Hamilton was outside the points.

Before that race, however, Toto Wolff had some interesting comments with regards their future lineup, saying their decision would be coming soon.

“For us, it’s not only about making the right decision for next year but it’s also about looking ahead and this is why we agreed we would take the decision in August going forward,” said Wolff.

“We want him (Valterri Bottas) to end the season before the shutdown in a good place and put in two solid performances in Hockenheim and Budapest, and then spend some time thinking about the driver line-up for 2020 and beyond,” Wolf added.

“It is pretty unusual to announce drivers in July. If you want to take all the time, you properly need to assess and you can even drag it into the winter like we have seen in some other teams and it was a standard in the past.

“As we all know it was an unfortunate situation last year that Esteban fell between the chairs. He could have chosen between two seats and in the end nothing came out.

“From our perspective everyone knows about his driving capabilities for Mercedes. Valtteri is showing some very strong performances and merits the seat but equally Esteban has shown that in the past and is a great addition to the team.

“He contributes a lot a lot behind closed doors, he drives the sim overnight on race weekends, he comes in here Saturday and gives us input and he is a great kid overall.

“Putting a Mercedes young driver in the car would be interesting as well. Having said that, there is interest for Esteban among other teams and we need to carefully make a decision for ourselves and with the other interested parties, not only for our own benefit but also for Esteban’s benefit.

“If it would be that we were taking a decision in favour of Valtteri it clearly also means that somebody else would continue to develop him [Ocon] and would mean we would lose our hand for a year or two or more on Esteban. These are the consequences of that decision.”

Those are…interesting comments.

Looking at those, I tend to think that Mercedes are probably leaning towards Ocon. Wolff mentioned the importance of both Hockenheim and Hungary and they ended up being two grand prix where Bottas didn’t perform. Hungary wasn’t really his fault but crashing out while chasing a Lance Stroll for a podium in Germany — on a day where title contender Hamilton was outside of the points — was a massive failing.

With Bottas saying that he has a ‘plan B’ in case Mercedes roll with Ocon, I think that highlights how serious this situation is and how seriously Bottas’ camp are taking this — they’d be foolish if they weren’t looking at their options (and we’ll touch on some soon).

Equally, if Mercedes retained Bottas instead, it honestly wouldn’t surprise me. Either way, it seems likely that Esteban Ocon will be in an F1 car next year whatever does/doesn’t happen at Mercedes.

If it isn’t in a Mercedes, there’s a few options for Ocon out there and we’ll go over those. I rebelled against the idea that Leclerc would replace Raikkonen but I’m not doing that this year with Ocon — so, naturally, Mercedes will retain Bottas just to spite me.

Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel & Charles Leclerc

Not much to say here.

There are some Vettel-Verstappen swap rumours out there but I don’t see it happening. What an awful year for the Scuderia after 2018… The Hungarian Grand Prix showed how far off they really are and how it’s fallen apart this year.

Red Bull Racing: Max Verstappen & Daniil Kvyat

Here’s where things get interesting, I’ll start with Verstappen…

Red Bull, with Honda, have done a good job giving Verstappen a car he can win some races with, and I expect that to only improve heading into the second half of the season. The Ferrari and Mercedes rumours will be out there, but I think for 2020 Verstappen will be at Red Bull.

Now then, the second driver spot…

I think everyone is in agreement that Gasly will be replaced at the end of the season. Helmut Marko has been fairly clear in that Red Bull will give Gasly the season and will not be replaced mid-season, so he has an opportunity to turn it around.

In the event he doesn’t turn it around, where do they go?

I covered this topic recently, and it’s a tough one…

The question is do they choose from within? Do they see this Gasly experiment as reason not to do the same thing with Alex Albon and promote him to the Red Bull seat after one good season in F1? Do they want to roll the dice with Kvyat again? These are legitimate questions and you can see why they wouldn’t be feasible for Red Bull.

If not, where do they go?

Do they go with Sebastian Buemi (which is an option I didn’t originally cover), who, I know is technically in their programme in that he does some of their demo-runs. I think, many people wouldn’t mind seeing Buemi F1 again, it seems like some people are coming around on that idea?

Do they go with someone like Nico Hulkenberg for a season or two as their younger drivers mature/continue to gain experience? I can’t imagine Mercedes will allow Esteban Ocon to join their rivals and I can’t imagine it suits Red Bull either…

But…if Mercedes decide on Ocon, and if none of the internal prospects at Red Bull make sense for them for 2020 (maybe wanting Alex Albon to gain a little more experience), why not Valterri Bottas?

Bottas would bring race-winning experience to the Austrian outfit and seems very easy-going — he brought some much needed stability to Mercedes after the fiery Hamilton-Rosberg years — which would be beneficial for a team like Red Bull, who know all about fiery driver lineups in the past.

Not only that, but in the event Verstappen leaves in 2021, it still leaves Red Bull with a solid driver to carry on. In terms of actual driver quality, it would probably be the best Red Bull could do for a driver for 2020, depending on how you feel about Nico Hulkenberg. And it doesn’t have to be a long-term thing either if Red Bull decide that Bottas is their best bet for 2020, but then again it kinda goes without saying that any driver moves are probably going to be made with the short-term in mind ahead of the 2021 season and regulations overhaul.

I originally had Bottas here at Red Bull and I was going to stick with it but I changed my mind last minute — I just don’t see it happening. I can’t see Red Bull doing it, I can’t see them going outside their walls.

So based on that, I’m going with Kvyat, just based on the fact that Red Bull will probably look to avoid a possible similar situation with Albon as what happened with Gasly this year.

Renault: Daniel Ricciardo & Nico Hulkenberg

I don’t see much changing here.

Daniel Ricciardo is under contract for next year, so it’s the second Renault seat where there could be an opening, with Hulkenberg coming to the end of his original deal with the French outfit.

Renault team principle Cyril Abiteboul was asked about Nico Hulkenberg’s chances at a seat for next season — here’s what he had to say.

“We have a two-year contract with Daniel.

“Nico’s contract, the initial term is coming to an end at the end of this year but there is some mechanism of options as has been commented on press which I’m not going to disclose in the details that can kick in, so it’s maybe that we continue our journey with Nico.

“Frankly, Nico has delivered for the team, clearly, and if you look at where we were when Nico joined us and where we are today, it’s crazy and the change to the team, to the buzz, and clearly the drivers are no stranger to that, it’s not just engineers.

“So I think we need to give credit to that but also we need to look at the options, like everyone is doing, like I’m sure Nico is doing.

“So, it’s a long answer to tell you that things are open for him and for us but there is also an option in place so that we can possibly continue our journey together.

“We will see, we’ll see probably after the summer break will be the right time to sit down, discuss it on the basis of fact and desire also.”

You can read into that what you will — and I’m sure if the option to sign Ocon for a year or two will be tempting — but I think Hulkenberg makes a lot of sense for them. Like Cyril has said, Hulkenberg has delivered for them and has helped transition from latter midfield to where they are now (including a fourth place finish in 2018) and it makes sense for them to continue.

Again, it doesn’t have to be long-term and it’s in Renault’s interest to keep their options open for the future — they have two impressive young drivers in their academy and both performing well in Formula 2: Chinese driver Guanyu Zhou and Frenchman Anthoine Hubert.

Zhou has been the best rookie this season and I think has a legit chance to win the Formula 2 championship next year, and I think Hubert is fantastic too. Renault have promising options but it’s probably a little soon for either right now in F1, and something short-term with Hulknberg makes sense for all parties — and unless Hulkenberg gets a Red Bull offer, I can’t imagine the German wants to go elsewhere.

McLaren: Carlos Sainz & Lando Norris

Nothing to say here — Norris has been great and Sainz is showing Red Bull why they should’ve given him the drive.

Fun lineup, on and off the track. Long may it continue.

Racing Point: Sergio Perez & Lance Stroll

Again nothing to say here other than Perez’s impending deal takes away one landing spot for Bottas should Mercedes choose not to retain him.

Stroll may be useless in qualifying but is now gaining the reputation of being able to make some of it up in the race.

They should be fun next year, the first car with the Lawrence Stroll money from Day 1 of their car development, having taken over mid-way through last season when the 2019 car would’ve already been in development.

Haas: Kevin Magnussen & Valterri Bottas

Right, now this is going to be interesting spot…

I don’t think it’s any secret that Haas aren’t exactly happy with the partnership of their drivers right now. The issue is that the driver who has consistently butted heads with other drivers is their better driver — Kevin Magnussen.

Romain Grosjean hasn’t really gotten into it too much with his former teammates but with Magnussen, it’s kind of hard to avoid and the pair have come to blows on multiple occasions this season (with Magnussen having come to blows with other drivers too).

Change is coming at Haas, and it’s going to be interesting which way they lean: performance or team chemistry? One suggests Magnusssen, Grosjean the other. Or, do they do away with both?

As graining as Magnussen can be, he has shown he can get the job done and scores the bulk of points for his team — I imagine he stays. Besides, it’s been Grosjean who has stuffed it more, the one who hasn’t been getting it done on track and I think his time in Formula 1 has run its course.

A replacement certainly isn’t easy to come by — there are a lot of candidates.

This would be a prime landing spot for Esteban Ocon should Mercedes choose to retain Bottas. Yes, they’re supplied by Ferrari but they have no bearing on their driver choices and do not have as close of a relationship than Alfa Romeo, who do employ a Ferrari academy driver.

When trying to predict these, you need to ask the question: ‘Who does it benefit? Does it benefit all parties involved?’

It seems to tick all the boxes. It’s a move that benefits Mercedes (they get Ocon back in F1), it benefits Haas (who get a quality driver) and it obviously benefits Ocon (who gets an F1 seat).

Again, it comes down to what Mercedes do, and Toto Wolff has said that they are open to Ocon joining other teams and ‘that there are offers out there’ for Ocon and Haas makes a ton of sense.

F2 championship leader Nyck de Vries is also an interesting option here. He has shown improvement this season and has had some very mature drives. He also comes without the baggage and politics of being an academy driver for an F1 team, having been released from the McLaren programme last year. The opportunity to sign a potential F2 champion without already being tied to an F1 team is a rarity these days, and Haas could get in the front door with de Vries at a time Dutch Mania is at an all-time high and the Dutch Grand Prix returning.

Haas also presents a possible — and most likely — opening for Valterri Bottas, if Mercedes give their seat to Ocon. It obviously benefits Haas (they get a race-winner) and it would be a benefit to Bottas too, who stays in F1. It would obviously be a step down from Mercedes but so long as Bottas has a seat for next season, that’s all that matters and if Haas can offer him that lifeline, even if it’s just for a year, that’s all he needs.

It’s a game of musical chairs that’s about to finish — you just need a seat for 2020 and your options for 2021 are much more plentiful with everyone lining their ducks for the 2021 overhaul — most contracts expire after 2020. If you don’t have a 2020 seat, it could be difficult to get back in for 2021. There’s going to be a ton of openings for 2021 that gives Bottas some choices, but in the meantime he certainly could do worse than Haas.

With Racing Point set to retain their lineup, McLaren retaining theirs, Red Bull an unlikely option, as well as Renault, Haas would probably end up being Bottas’ best option for 2020, so it makes sense for Bottas as a temporary stop-gap. It’s certainly more realistic than Red Bull.

This could also be a spot if Ocon actually ends up at Renault and Nico Hulkenberg is in need of a drive. The only awkward aspect would be Magnussen’s and Hulkenberg’s relationship which is, shall we say, a little tense.

Haas could also present an opportunity for Daniil Kvyat. If Kvyat isn’t considered for that Red Bull seat, it makes sense to think that he may not want to spend his entire career at Toro Rosso and that he may be ready — like his former teammate Carlos Sainz — for life outside of Red Bull. He has shown great maturation and his recent podium in Germany has highlighted that. Haas presents him with that opportunity. And Haas would do well to secure his services too.

Haas are certainly not short on options, it’s going to be a coveted seat.

Toro Rosso: Pierre Gasly & Alex Albon

Toro Rosso are in an interesting bind because their lineup isn’t in their control, and they have Pierre Gasly to thank for that.

Red Bull could go in so many directions for their seat and neither Albon or Kvyat have helped in that regard — in a good way.

Albon has surpassed all expectations so far for being a driver that was promoted mostly because Dan Ticktum failed to acquire a superlicence (in my opinion). Similarly, Kvyat has proven he belongs in F1 again after a year on the sidelines and is still only 25 years old with four full seasons of F1 experience.

Ultimately, I see Gasly being demoted and if he is, then I think Red Bull will ride with Kvyat again.

Alfa Romeo: Kimi Raikkonen & Antonio Giovinazzi

Nothing to say here, really. Raikkonen is contracted for next year and Giovinazzi has been performing better of late (though, Hungary was a shambles) and I expect that to continue into 2020.

Williams: George Russell & Nicholas Latifi

Everyone wanted Robert Kubica’s return to F1 to be a success story but it just hasn’t worked out.

While he has Williams’ sole point so far (by way of both Alfa Romeo’s being handed post-race penalties in Germany), he has been consistently been a long way off of Russell in qualifying and the race.

George Russell has been as good as you can expect in that Williams — his exploits in Hungary have only added to that perception — and I have no doubts he’ll still be with the Grove outfit next year.

As for their second seat, I fully expect that their junior driver and F2 title contender Nicholas Latifi to fill that seat. Not only has Latifi shown improvements in F2 but he also brings with him financial backing, which is obviously important for Williams right now. It just seems like a complete no brainer for Williams.


For me, a lot of all of this is based on what Mercedes do with Bottas/Ocon, so I’ll have another list in the event Bottas is retained by Mercedes.

Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton & Valterri Bottas

Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel & Charles Leclerc

Red Bull: Max Verstappen & Daniil Kvyat

Renault: Daniel Ricciardo & Nico Hulkenberg

Racing Point: Sergio Perez & Lance Stroll

Haas: Kevin Magnussen & Esteban Ocon

Alfa Romeo: Kimi Raikkonen & Antonio Giovinazzi

Toro Rosso: Pierre Gasly & Alex Albon

Williams: George Russell & Nicholas Latifi

With the summer break now here, expect the F1 circus to return at the end of the month with more than a few shocks, with that second Mercedes seat the main topic of discussion.

Bottas or Ocon? We shall see…

Assessing Max Verstappen’s 2019 title chances

Feature image: @RedBullRacing via Vladimir Rys 

Sunday’s race at Hockenheim for the 2019 German Grand Prix was utterly wild for a number of reasons — Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc crashing out, Lewis Hamilton crashing, Mercedes’ minute pitstop, Lance Stroll leading the race, Daniil Kvyat’s podium…these are just some of the occurrences that made the German Grand Prix a classic.

Ultimately, it was a race won by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, the 7th of his career, 2nd of the season and his second in three races, with his stunning victory at Austria not too far in the distant past.

After Lewis Hamilton’s horror show saw him finish outside of the points in 11th (promoted to 9th after post-race penalties to both Alfa Romeos) and Valterri Bottas’ crash, it leaves Verstappen 63 points off of Hamilton’s lead and just 22 points off of Bottas for P2.

With Red Bull making a clear step with their car in the recent races, Verstappen’s incredible run of form (finishing in the top five in every race since Belgium 2018), Honda’s gains, a track that possibly favours Red Bull over Mercedes in the form of Hungary coming up and Red Bull’s good track record of development in the second half of the season the question has to be asked…

Can Max Verstappen launch an unexpected title challenge?

Let’s start with Verstappen himself: he has been on a tear of form — and it’s a large sample size now.

Barring a reliability failure in Hungary and the problems in Silverstone in 2018, Verstappen has been on fire since effectively Canada last year after taking a lot of (in some cases, warranted) criticism after his shaky start to 2018 that featured accidents in Bahrain (colliding with Lewis Hamilton, resulting in eventual retirement), China (colliding with Sebastian Vettel), Azerbaijan (clashing with his teammate, resulting in a double DNF) and qualifying in Monaco.

In 2019 his hot form has continued.

Verstappen willed his Red Bull to an unlikely podium in Australia and has just driven the wheels off of his car all season — whether Pierre Gasly really is as bad as advertised or Verstappen has been performing above and beyond of what that Red Bull should be operating at (a combination of both, I suspect), Verstappen has been brilliant in 2019 so far. And you would already know he wouldn’t back down in a side-to-side confrontation with Lewis Hamilton. Whether he’d emerge on top is another thing, but Max isn’t afraid of anyone.

Honda deserve a lot of credit for their role in 2019 too. When push has come to shove and Verstappen has needed to make an overtake, he hasn’t been limited by his engine. And Honda have been reliable so far this season too, though, I’d have my reservations about being able to out-gun Mercedes in terms of reliability across a full season.

The F1 circus moves to Hungary as the first ‘half’ of the season comes to a close and F1 disbands for the remainder of the summer.

It’s early, but it should be a track that suits Red Bull and if Verstappen can claim another victory before the break, it would narrow Hamilton’s championship lead to at least 56 points (assuming he finishes 2nd in the race) and the momentum would be firmly with Verstappen and Red Bull — winners of three in the last four should they take top honours at Budapest.

It would also certainly see more people beginning to question if Verstappen could actually challenge Hamilton heading into the second half of the season.

Red Bull have been closing the gap and previous evidence would suggest that they could continue that trend after the break — their track record of development in the second half of the season is extensive.

Prior to the hybrid years, Red Bull outscored all of their opponents in the second half of the season, crucially doing so by 28 points over Ferrari in 2010 as Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull took maiden titles, and then convincingly in 2011 by 50 points over McLaren in 2011 to take them to back-to-back titles.

2012 was one of the best instances of Red Bull’s ruthless development taking over in the title race. They narrowly outscored Ferrari in 2012 by four points after the summer break but in the Vettel vs. Alonso title fight, Vettel took four consecutive wins at Singapore, Japan, Korea and India as Ferrari failed to keep pace with their development, their last victory of 2012 coming before the summer break at Germany. Ultimately, it was a title Vettel won by three points (but it’s also a title where you can get into the conversation of ‘If Romain Grosjean hadn’t torpedoed into T1 at Spa…’).

2013 saw Red Bull’s ruthlessness continue as they scored more points after the summer break (319) than they did heading into it (277) as Vettel won nine consecutive races to close out the season — in other words, winning every race after the summer break.

Since the hybrid era, things were a little different as everyone tried to find their feet as Mercedes romped to consecutive titles in 2014 and 2015.

Heading into 2016, initially, it was Ferrari who were second best after Mercedes, with Red Bull only taking second place in Germany (the last race before the summer break in 2016) after a double podium saw them overtake Ferrari and take a 14 point lead into the summer break. But after the break, Red Bull continued to progress and they soon left Ferrari behind in the standings, outscoring them 212 points to the Scuderia’s 156 points after the summer break to take second place in the constructors standings by a convincing 70 points in the end, in addition to picking up the two race wins Mercedes didn’t pick up that season in Spain and Malaysia.

Again, heading into 2017 Red Bull continued to make strong gains in the second half of the season. After Ferrari had (finally) produced a potential title-winning car and outscored Red Bull 318 points to 184 points by the summer break, Red Bull stepped up their game, didn’t give up on that year’s car and scored a very respectable 184 points to end the season, just 20 off of what Ferrari scored from the summer break (204). And if Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull hadn’t DNF’d in three of the last four races due to reliability, there’s a good chance Red Bull would’ve outscored Ferrari after the summer break. In addition, Ferrari only went on to win one race after the summer break (Vettel taking top step in Brazil) whereas Red Bull went on to take two convincing wins with Verstappen in Malaysia and Mexico.

2018 wasn’t what Red Bull wanted it to be, but they still closed the gap in the second half of the season compared to the first half — being outscored 112 points by Ferrari before the break, only being outscored by 40 in the second half of the season. Again, had Ricciardo not suffered five DNF’s in the second half of the season, who knows how much closer this could’ve been. Red Bull won one race after the summer break — again seeing convincing success in Mexico — compared to Ferraris two victories after the break.

The point of all of that is to illustrate that Red Bull have good history of development in the second half of the season, and if that trend continues, who knows how close they can get to Mercedes and, by extension, Verstappen to Hamilton.

Of course, it’s not Ferrari who Red Bull would be racing to a potential drivers title this season (Ferrari just being an illustration to compare post summer break form) but Mercedes.

Mercedes are as relentless with their later-season upgrades as Red Bull are, and when push came to shove last season, their upgrades worked, Ferrari’s did not and that was the difference in the championship last year. Their track record is well documented but so is Red Bull’s. In addition — and an advantage swinging towards Mercedes — Red Bull have done all of that with Renault in the past, they venture into unknown territory with Honda, so the reliability over the course of the second half of the season will be very interesting to monitor.

Ultimately, I think Hamilton is a little too far away for Verstappen to get ahold of this year.

It’s possible that Red Bull could bring Verstappen close to Hamilton, and they may steal a few victories, but Mercedes are still firmly the team to beat it’s going to take more than that ultimately for Verstappen to catch and pass the Englishman.

It’s going to take another race like the one we saw in Germany where Hamilton makes a mistake (good luck getting multiples of those in one season) and some Mercedes unreliability to give Verstappen his chance. In addition, Verstappen needs impeccable reliability from Red Bull and Honda, and that hasn’t always been in the case for either in the hybrid era. And even after that, if Verstappen emerges as a legitimate contender, Mercedes has Bottas to serve as rear gunner (who, I’m sure, will do whatever is asked amidst his uncertain Mercedes future) whereas Red Bull have no chance in that regard with Gasly.

P2 is much more attainable for Verstappen, and I have no doubts that he will nab that away from Valterri Bottas eventually. But in 2019, the title is asking a lot of Verstappen, Red Bull and Honda

How close can Red Bull and Max Vertappen get? We shall see, but the gains are there for all to see.

It’s not as farfetched as it would seem, but it begins at Hungary…