F2 Tuscany Report: The Great Dane

Another week, another weekend of drama in the ever twisting title tale of the most fiercely contested title battle for many seasons in Formula 2, this time — and for the first time — around the mighty Mugello.

Fringe contender Christian Lundgaard took a great pole position on Friday, giving him a great chance to make some inroads on the points leaders ahead of him as he looked to continue his good run of form.

While Lundgaard was the first to pit onto the hards, he was very much in control of proceedings at the front having to make many overtakes (on those who had yet to pit) to get back to P1. While we don’t know how the end of the race would have shaken out with the tyres, Lundgaard was in control before the safety car was deployed, where the race flipped on its head for Lundgaard as it brought the field close together again, undoing his work and, perhaps more worryingly, bringing those on softs close to the action.

The first safety car restart was well handled by Lundgaard but was overtaken by the Luca Ghiotto on the second safety car restart and was promptly overtaken by Nikita Mazepin on soft tyres. Lundgaard was then picked off by more soft-compound runners in the form of Felipe Drugovich, Louis Deletraz and Mick Schumacher, leaving Lundgaard to eventually finish the feature race in 6th place.

Safety cars can be cruel in F2 and this one definitely hurt Lundgaard, who was set to take the full 25 points on a day where Robert Shwartzman DNF’d, Mick Schumacher running outside of the top-10 and Tsunoda and Ilott obviously behind the ART driver.

However, he was able to make some sort of amends with one of the more dominant victories of the season as he finished 14 seconds ahead of Deletraz in the sprint race after a great start vaulted him past Juri Vips and Artem Markelov. By the time those with the pace passed Markelov, Lundgaard was clear and could control the race and his tyres.

The upshot of it is that Lundgaard is now very much in title contention, moving up to 3rd in the standings — 16 points adrift of Mick Schumacher with three rounds and six races to go.

Again, it’s worth mentioning that Lundgaard has seemingly no immediate route into F1 for 2021 with both Renault seats filled and Fernando Alonso already confirmed for 2022. Winning the F2 title would put him in an interesting spot as to where Lundgaard would drive in 2021 (since champions cannot return to F2) but let’s see what happens.

It was a weekend that began very nicely for Callum Ilott, who qualified 3rd while his main title rivals — Robert Shwartzman and Mick Schumacher — qualified 9th and 15th respectively.

However, Ilott’s start was poor, falling down to 7th place at the start. It was a bit of a slow-grind for Ilott to get through the field but he fought back up the order and was looking very good to increase his lead at the top of the championship, with Schumacher down the pack on the alternate strategy and Shwartzman running into bad luck and a DNF in the feature race.

The entire race flipped on its head when a safety car was deployed after Guliano Alesi’s car was unable to be recovered in the first sector after an engine failure (to which father Jean Alesi was less than enthused), giving the opportunity to those who had recently pitted onto the alternate strategy to close up to the hard runners, leaving them vulnerable.

The safety car restart was chaos and Ilott found himself in trouble, forced to pit and replace his front wing. We didn’t see what happened that required the wing to be replaced but he and Schumacher were running side-by-side after the restart, perhaps some contact happened there?

Regardless, it put Ilott well out of contention for the reverse grid — finishing 12th — but did well to fight back up the field to help his grid position for it, helped in that regard by the second safety car, required for the three-car collision between Guanyu Zhou, Mick Schumacher and Jack Aitken.

From P12 in the sprint race, Ilott did well to score some points on the weekend — sixth in the sprint race — and his pace throughout the weekend was clear to see. While his start in the feature race wasn’t great and left him with more work than he needed to do, he was very much one of the victims of the first safety car, sitting in fifth place when it was deployed having just been overtaken by Yuki Tsunoda.

Ilott can consider himself fortunate that the gap between himself and Mick Schumacher is just eight points heading to Sochi in a fortnight.

Speaking of the German…he can also consider himself very lucky this weekend.

An error in qualifying — one he was lucky to avoid stuffing it into the barrier again — meant he was on the back-foot with a damaged car and could only qualify 15th. He was one of the drivers who gambled on the alternate strategy, and while there was no safety car to be found while those at the front who pitted onto hards from softs fought through the field, there was eventually safety car to bring those new soft runners — like Schumacher — closer to the fray.

On the safety car restart, Schumacher can count himself lucky that he (a) wasn’t sent into the barrier after contact with the sandwiched Guanyu Zhou and (b) was largely unaffected/undamaged from the hit he sustained and could carry on.

After that, Schumacher was able to bring it home in P5 to pick up 10 unlikely points and the championship lead.

Schumacher extended his slender lead to eight points with a P4 in the sprint race to complete a successful weekend where his rivals dropped points in one fashion or another (other than Lundgaard, who wasn’t the most immediate threat heading into the weekend). An eight point lead isn’t much, but it’s a lead nevertheless. Schumacher has had the pace all season long, as well as the consistency. Now that he’s in front, can he see it out?

Moving on, what is there to say for Robert Shwartzman?

Qualifying in the P9-range isn’t anything too unusual for Shwartzman but while running ahead of Schumacher, Zhou and Deletraz on the alternate strategy, the Russian being forced into a DNF in the feature race was just about the worst thing that could have happened for his weekend.

His drive in the sprint race from the back was fantastic but his efforts went unrewarded, finishing P9 after being overtaken by Marino Sato on soft tyres after pitting under the VSC.

All of a sudden, Shwartzman is now on the outside looking in, suddenly dropping to fourth place in the standings but is still just 21 points behind Schumacher. Not impossible but he will have to beat the other three drivers in the process, starting in qualifying first and foremost — can’t contend for a title qualifying outside the top-5 as consistently as Shwartzman has. Not now, not when there’s this many contenders for the title now.

Speaking of another driver who has slid down in the standings, a rough weekend for Yuki Tsunoda.

Tsunoda was in P4 after the safety car restart and attacking Dan Ticktum for third, only to make contact with the DAMS driver before falling down the field as he, like many, was overtaken by those on softs before a five second penalty for the collision with Ticktum took him out of the top 10, finishing in 16th place.

In the sprint race, Tsunoda then damaged his wing after hitting the rear of Felipe Drugovich and was shown a black and orange flag, forcing him to pit and any hopes of points for Tsunoda disappeared.

Tsunoda is now in sixth in the standings on 123 points, now 38 points behind Schumacher. More importantly though than the title is the fact Tsunoda, I believe, needs fourth place in the standings for sufficient superlicence points and he’s now 17 points behind the man who holds that position: Robert Shwartzman.

Tsunoda has a legitimate shot at an Alpha Tauri seat for 2021 and he’ll need to find a way to stay out of trouble in these last three rounds and needs to show the pace everyone knows he’s capable of to get back to that P4. He was unlucky in terms of the timing of the safety car but hitting Ticktum wasn’t what he needed to do.

The man who jumped ahead of Tsunoda in the standings was feature race winner Nikita Mazepin. I don’t have a ton to say here but Mazepin got lucky with the safety car as he was one of the alternate strategy runners, made up a few positions in the first corner on the restart before jumping up to P3 and quickly took the lead after the second restart and there you go: a winner from P14 on the grid. Sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time, sometimes you’re not.

Mazepin then took his teammate, Luca Ghiotto, out in the sprint race and finished in a well-deserved 18th place and only served to further influence people to dislike him with a radio meltdown after he was boxed by Hitech after the collision with his teammate.

Mazepin sits 34 points behind Schumacher and is still on the fringes of contention ahead of his home grand prix.

Alright, quick-hitters…

  • A solid weekend for Luca Ghiotto: holding onto P2 on hards in the feature race was a fantastic showing…before being taken out by his teammate in the sprint race.
  • Gunayu Zhou can consider himself unlucky to be squeezed by Jack Aitken (who it seemed like just didn’t realise Zhou had a car on his right-hand side) and into retirement when Mazepin was behind him when the race restarted. However, Zhou’s drive from the back of the field to finish P5 in the sprint race.
  • Dan Ticktum was another driver who was screwed by the safety car in the feature race and then hit by Tsunoda to take him out of podium contention but cannot continue these radio tirades. They’re just embarrassing. That said, it was hilarious to hear Ticktum ask what he did to ‘deserve this bad luck’. HMMMMMMMMM. LET ME THINK ABOUT THAT FOR TWO SECONDS, HUH.
  • Finally, a weekend and long awaited points for Juri Vips finally came his way in Mugello, with the Estonian collecting the P3 trophy having just fallen short of snatching second away from Louis Deletraz.
  • Speaking of Deletraz, a double podium on the weekend means he’s now just one point behind Yuki Tsunoda and four points behind Nikita Mazepin. A quietly good season for Deletraz, who still chases a maiden victory in F2. He’s becoming the Nick Heidfeld of F2 (no disrespect there, I loved Nick Heidfeld).
  • Poor old Marcus Armstrong was relatively on pace this weekend and scored his first points since STYRIA. That’s how long ago it was.
  • We finally saw Artem Markelov at the front of an F2 grid again, sitting on pole position for the sprint race after his eighth place finish but could not hold on and found himself sliding down the field before being forced to pit with wing damage and finished last of all in the sprint race.

I think that covers it.

Mick Schumacher is the one who leads the way now but the chasing pack draws close. Too close to comfort and too close to have to wait another two weeks to see the next instalment of FIA Formula 2…

The title fight carries on…

F2 Italy Report: Schumacher’s Stars Align

As we move well into the second half of the 2020 Formula 2 season, each race becomes more and more decisive and important as the stakes for winning the F2 championship in 2020 become higher and higher, with a few seats surely in the offing in Formula 1 for 2021 for the victor.

The momentum the last few weeks has brought some competition towards the two title contenders for much of the season: Ferrari academy drivers Robert Shwartzman and Callum Ilott. Last weekend’s action in Belgium brought Honda’s Yuki Tsunoda, Mick Schumacher — another Ferrari academy driver — and Nikita Mazepin into the equation.

After a double podium at Spa, it was another weekend to remember for Mick Schumacher, won finally won his first race of the season and his first feature race win in Formula 2. He was slightly fortuitous from the point of view that Callum Ilott was in control before stalling during his one and only pitstop but Schumacher was set for a strong result after an absolutely mega-start from P7 (having crashed the car in qualifying) to rise to P2.

Ilott’s stall wasn’t the only thing that went right for Schumacher over the weekend.

Former title leader Robert Shwartzman’s poor qualifying (one of the many drivers who did not get a chance to set a lap time at the end of qualifying due to Schumacher’s crash bringing out the red flag) meant he started from 16th on the grid and ended up finishing in 9th place for the feature race as Schumacher won. The Russian would then finish behind Schumacher again in the sprint race, picking up fifth place but dropping more points to his teammate…

Yuki Tsunoda’s poor start left him with work to do but eventually finished the feature race in fourth. Unluckily for Tsunoda, he was struck by reliability issues in the sprint race, finishing multiple laps down in the end. Similar issues struck Nikita Mazepin during the feature race, and the Russian’s only point from the weekend came by way of Dan Ticktum’s disqualification in the sprint race.

All of these things lined up for Schumacher, with Ticktum’s disqualification from the race win, yes, bumping Callum Ilott to first but it also promoted Schumacher to third — his eighth podium of the season.

With another double podium weekend — and his fifth in a row, sixth in the last seven races — Schumacher has jumped ahead of Robert Shwartzman for second place and sits just six points behind Ilott with four more race weekends to go.

I wrote last week the only thing missing from Schumacher — who was a fringe contender after last weekend — was a feature race win. He’s got it, and now he’s very much a title contender.

Callum Ilott I’m sure will have mixed feelings on the weekend.

On the one sense, he can be happy that he leaves Monza with the title lead once again and I’m sure he’ll be happy to inherit the sprint race victory after Ticktum’s disqualification. However…he should have left Monza with both victories.

Ilott was unquestionably the quickest driver in the feature race on Saturday and, just like Spain, that race was his to win. However, a stall in the pits (which comes down usually to driver error) marred what should have been a lights-to-flag victory. It’s not the first time this season Ilott has stalled the car. Fortunately, it didn’t lead to retirement like it did at Silverstone while in a podium spot.

Ilott’s charge through the field at a track where it’s difficult to overtake in DRS/slipstream trains marked an excellent recovery drive where he finished 6th, giving him a chance to at least salvage some points from the sprint race (which he took).

While you could argue that Mick Schumacher has been as, if not, more consistent that Ilott now, I still think Ilott has been the fastest driver of the 2020 F2 grid. Driver error has cost him (as well some other events outside of his control) but Ilott is still right there.

Robert Shwartzman can similarly count himself fortunate he isn’t further behind in the standings, still just nine points behind Ilott, three behind Schumacher.

Qualifying was obviously a tough one for Shwartzman. Even though the Schumacher red flag didn’t help, qualifying hasn’t been a strong-suit for the Russian driver this season. While he did manage to pick up a few points in the feature race, he agonisingly slipped out of reverse-grid pole in the latter stages, unable to keep the alternate strategy runners behind.

All in all, to be just nine points away from the lead of the title despite a tough weekend, Shwartzman should be content enough heading to Mugello.

Certainly, he should be a lot more content than Yuki Tsunoda and Nikita Mazepin, who slid further away after technical woes (and Roy Nissany, in the case of Mazepin) cost them points this weekend. Tsunoda is still within touching distance — sitting 26 points behind Ilott — but Mazepin is now 47 points away, the momentum heading into this weekend now gone.

Guanyu Zhou can also be pretty peeved with how this weekend went. He had a brilliant feature race, recovering from 17th on the grid to finish 5th and was running well in the sprint race before being struck by the , seemingly, same issues that struck Tsunoda and Mazepin.

Christian Lundgaard enjoyed his best weekend in F2 in a number of weeks, the Dane taking two trophies home from Monza after finishing P3 in the feature race and P2 in the sprint race.

As a result, he vaulted ahead of both Zhou and Mazepin and isn’t completely out of the running for the title either — 33 points adrift of Ilott — but would very much on the outside fringes looking in. Not that it would do much for Lundgaard — nor any Renault academy driver — to win the F2 title this season…

Dan Ticktum drove an excellent, controlled sprint race but his victory was short-lived as he was disqualified after DAMS were unable to provide a fuel sample to the FIA after the race, with Ticktum having to stop on track after the chequered flag. Ticktum sounded pretty worried that he would lose his victory when Rachel Brooks interviewed him and his worries had solid foundation.

I’m sure Ticktum was annoyed at that and DAMS are also pretty annoyed with the FIA about the disqualification too

What else from the weekend…

Oh yes, Roy Nissany. So, there was a lot of Roy Nissany talk over the weekend since he featured (again) in FP1 for Williams. After that, Nissany qualified in P5 (certainly helped by the Schumacher red flag at the end), his best effort on Friday BY FAR.

Now, I wasn’t buying this for a minute. Having watched Roy Nissany in F2 in 2018 and this year, I’ve watched enough to know that… He. Is. Not. Good. So it was no surprise to me that he (a) caused an accident as he forced Mazepin off onto the gravel after the first chicane and (b) he finished absolutely no where (P19 in the feature race). Then, for good measure, Nissany whacked the back of Felipe Drugovich and the Brazilian was unable to keep the car going, forcing the MP into retirement.

Normal service is resumed, carry on…

The two pink HWA cars — piloted by Guilano Alesi and Artem Markelov — have been absolutely no where this year and it was only this weekend that I realised that the struggles of those two are probably more down to the car than the drivers themselves. There’s hardly been anything to separate them and it’s not a situation like Jack Aitken and Samaia, where Aitken is consistently much higher than his Campos teammate. But yeah, willing to give a free pass (to an extent) to Alesi and Markelov for their struggles this year. Anyone who has watched F2 knows this isn’t Artem Markelov.

Not a ton else to say really… Solid weekends for Luca Ghiotto, Louis Deletraz, Jehan Daruvala, and Juri Vips finally finished somewhere other than 11th (finishing P9 in the sprint race).

Just one last thing on the title race…

With three Ferrari drivers aiming for the F2 title — and the F2 title winner being unable to return to F2 the following year — the winner of this year’s F2 title should be the one to grab an Alfa Romeo seat. Schumacher will likely end up in it anyways and I think Shwartzman will end up in F1 at some point (the progression from winning in F3 to winning in F2 straightaway is usually followed with a quick rise to F1), this might be Ilott’s best chance — and he’s taking it to Schumacher and Shwartzman.

Whoever wins the title will fully deserve an F1 seat, and should get the F1 seat. Whether that’s how things actually work out remains to be seen…

Yuki Tsunoda has an ever increasing chance of a seat at Alpha Tauri but, per the Sky Sports broadcast, needs to finish fourth in the standings to acquire enough points for his superlicence — he’s currently in fourth with a 13 lead over Christian Lundgaard.

With all of these things on the line, it’s only going to make for a thrilling end to an amazing 2020 F2 season that has seen 10 different winners.

And it happens all again next week at Mugello. Should be fantastic…

F2 Belgian Grand Prix Report: No Longer a Party of Two

The Formula 2 title race took another twist across the weekend of the Belgian Grand Prix, one that saw Yuki Tsunoda and Robert Shwartzman claim crucial victories at the expense of a difficult weekend for championship contender Callum Ilott.

Ilott had struggled for much of the weekend and for the first time this season found himself down the order after qualifying, where he qualified 12th for the feature race. Ilott was unable to recover to reverse grid pole as he took 10th place and one singular point, and any hopes of a good result in the sprint race was taken away as he was punted by Yuki Tsunoda after Les Combes.

Ilott has been a very consistent performer all year (the most consistent, in fact) and it says a lot about this season of Formula 2 that the one weekend Ilott was off the pace, he’s overtaken in the standings. However, there’s a lot of season left for Ilott to get back on the top step of the podium and back on top of the standings, where he now trails Robert Shwartzman by just 10 points.

Speaking of the Russian driver, a solid haul of points returns him to the top of the standings once again — P5 in the feature race and a very straightforward sprint race victory. There’s not a whole lot to say about the feature race but Shwartzman benefitted from the collision between Roy Nissany and Dan Ticktum, who were contesting the lead of the race while Shwartzman sat behind in third.

Once Shwartzman got through, that was that. Ticktum’s pace deficit after the incident backed the pack up as the Russian driver just pulled away and never looked back. The stars truly did align for Shwartzman on the Sunday, between that incident, Ticktum holding everyone else up — allowing Shwartzman to drive away from the field — and Yuki Tsunoda taking Callum Ilott out of the race whilst finishing outside of the points himself after receiving a penalty for said accident.

His lead at the top of the standings is only 10 points but it’s the lead nevertheless. The only issue is now Shwartzman and Ilott aren’t the only title contenders anymore…

Which brings us nicely to the aforementioned Yuki Tsunoda…

Tsunoda was the pace-setter for much of the weekend but a slower pitstop than Nikita Mazepin put the Japanese driver behind the Russian. Tsunoda caught Mazepin late-on but couldn’t find a way past, with Mazepin firm in his defence of the lead. On the slow-down lap after the race, Mazepin was slammed with a 5-second penalty, promoting Tsunoda to the top-step of the podium.

We’ll talk about Mazepin later but Tsunoda deserved to win that feature race — he was the quickest driver across the weekend. Sadly for him, he couldn’t complete the weekend in the sprint race, punting the back of Callum Ilott on the opening lap and very much in the thick of the Tickum-Train, meaning he kept in that group without much chance to pull out the gap he needed to stay in the points once his penalty was applied when crossing the line.

Not sure why he wasn’t slapped with a grid penalty for the next race, 5-seconds seems far too lenient for knocking someone else out of the race but alas…

Sprint race aside, Tsunoda is now officially a title contender, sitting just 11 points adrift of Callum Ilott and 21 points off of Robert Shwartzman for the lead of the title. I remember writing earlier in the season that Tsunoda had the pace to be towards the front but his consistency was the problem — he picked up 24 points in Styria between his pole and 2nd place in the feature race but drew blanks in Austria as well as Budapest. However, since the Great Britain, Tsunoda has been consistently scoring, the consistency he needed.

Now, thanks to that, Tsunoda is very much in the title hunt with a quite a ways yet to go in this championship.

Another driver who has shown consistency from Great Britain is Nikita Mazepin.

Mazepin found himself at the sharp end for the feature race and jumped Tsunoda in the pits. His defence of first place was firm, too firm in the eyes of the stewards which saw him slapped with a 5-second penalty and the race victory he worked hard to hold onto taken away.

The common thinking, from everything you hear on team radio and what you see on the track to confirm this, is that not many feel very comfortable racing Mazepin. Yuki Tsunoda and Mick Schumacher weren’t too pleased with some of the driving from Mazepin, who many seem to label as dangerous. He’s a hard racer, sure, but a very boneheaded racer in some situations too.

Mazepin can be slightly ticked off for how his race win was taken away (it could’ve easily gone either way) but what was unacceptable was his behaviour afterwards. Yes, it’s fine to be mad but to act in the way he did with the position-board in parc-ferme, his interview after the race, his behaviour on the podium and almost walking away from the the afters where the podium finishers held up a French flag to honour Anthoine Hubert.

Mazepin was hit with a suspended 5-place grid drop for the board incident but there shouldn’t be anything suspended about it: that very nearly hit Yuki Tsunoda.

That being said, even with his 2nd place in the feature race, Mazepin is now a fringe title contender, sitting in 5th place in the standings 31 points behind Shwartzman — that’s not incredibly far and Mazepin has showed pace to win races.

However, Mazepin simply doesn’t have the maturity — on or off the track — for F1 right now, even if he is one of the most improved drivers in F2 this season. He does have the financial backing though, which is a little more worrying (in that money does find a way to get a drive in F1).

If Yuki Tsunoda is now a title contender, then Mick Schumacher has to be in the same conversation too.

A very solid weekend for Schumacher, whose love of this track is well documented. A double podium (3rd in the feature race after a great start, 2nd in the sprint race) for Schumacher launches him into contention, sitting in 4th place on 106 points, 5 behind Tsunoda, 16 behind Ilott and 26 behind Shwartzman.

Schumacher has shown pace all season long and can count himself very unlucky he isn’t leading the title itself after missing an opportunity in Austria in the feature race from the top-3 and a fire extinguisher putting out his hopes while running in P3 in Styria.

What’s missing for Schumacher however — the one thing those in front (and some behind) have — is a feature race victory: Schumacher needs to pick one up to have any hope of hanging in this title fight. If he can knock that monkey off of his back, then we’re talking.

Dan Ticktum did very well to make up for a lack of running on Friday after an inconclusive Covid test meant that he couldn’t run in practice. Of course, that wasn’t the talking point for the weekend with Ticktum, who collided with sprint race pole sitter Roy Nissany in the early exchanges of the sprint race. I thought Ticktum was through around the outside of Les Combes (a contentious overtaking spot across the weekend) and Nissany should have gotten out of it, but he didn’t, he made contact with Ticktum which forced Ticktum off of the track and when the Brit rejoined the track the curb spat him into Nissany, who ended up in the wall and out of the race.

Having to carry on with the damage, Ticktum did well to hold on for as long as he did (as Shwartzman, and then Schumacher and Zhou escaped up the road once Ticktum was overtaken) but could not prevent the train he created from overtaking him. Again, he did well to hold on for as long as he did but had nothing to show for it in the end.

Looking at some other drivers across the weekend, a solid weekend for Guanyu Zhou has lifted him to 92 points and 6th place in the standings, solid podium for the sprint race. Still a little disappointing on the season overall though, and like Schumacher, could do with a feature race win.

Louis Delatraz also enjoyed a solid weekend, and is putting together a decent season (as one should maybe expect for someone as experienced in F2 as him).

Artem Markelov finally scores his first point of the season in the sprint race, so congratulations to him.

Juri Vips made his F2 debut over the weekend in place of the injured Sean Galael and, despite starting at the back in the feature race and stalling on the grid in the sprint race, Vips was very impressive over the weekend.

…I think that about covers all I care to write about for F2 this weekend. It was an emotional one, given what happened last year. It was on the minds of everyone (which was another reason why Mazepin’s tirade after the feature race was so embarrassing on his behalf because there were clearly bigger things going on this weekend) and, honestly, I was scared watching the action live, hoping everyone would get through unscathed.

Thankfully, they did, and I’d call that a success over everything else.

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?

โ€œIโ€™m just not confident that theyโ€™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, letโ€™s get into the fun stuff. Awards and predictions for 2020. We can talk more about F1 2020

Driverโ€™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…

Constructorsโ€™ 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 thatโ€™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?ย 

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 theย 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.ย 

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…

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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 importantย 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.

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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.ย 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?ย 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 endingย  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 fiancรฉ 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.

Ferrariย 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.ย 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.

โ€œIโ€™ve been very impressed with Alexโ€™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,”ย 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.

โ€œIโ€™m very happy. P5 is an amazing result and weโ€™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 Iโ€™d finish the race fifth Iโ€™d be very happy, but Iโ€™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 couldnโ€™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 Iโ€™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 carโ€™s little tricks and adapting to it. I didnโ€™t really feel too much pressure coming into the weekend, I think the media thought I was going to, but Iโ€™ve enjoyed my week with the Team…”