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

(Image: Creative Commons)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then came 2017…

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

Then it all unfolded into chaos, beginning in Singapore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 was a defining season for Vettel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2020-05-13 at 17.02.51

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vettel’s Ferrari departure opens door to 2021 driver market

(Image: @ScuderiaFerrari)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valterri Bottas is extremely interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persona 5 Royal_20200413232914

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2020-04-22 at 17.50.19Screen Shot 2020-04-22 at 17.50.38

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.

Screen Shot 2020-04-22 at 17.07.25Screen Shot 2020-04-22 at 17.09.32

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.

Screen Shot 2020-04-22 at 18.01.11

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.

Screen Shot 2020-04-22 at 17.29.33

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).

Screen Shot 2020-04-22 at 18.01.42

Screen Shot 2020-04-22 at 20.47.56

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.

joker_trueend.jpg

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then comes the events after dealing with Maruki.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For reference:

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

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

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

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

The new True Ending… Why?

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

What?

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

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

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

What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persona 5 Royal_20200414221243

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next…the soundtrack, right…

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

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

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

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

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

This is not an issue in P5R.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assessing the F1 2019 season

Feature image: @F1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 did not start well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best driver: Carlos Sainz

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

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

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

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

Best victory: Max Verstappen – Austria

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

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

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

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

Best rookie: Lando Norris

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

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

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

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

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

Most improved: Valterri Bottas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shoutout to Daniil Kvyat too for his comeback season.

Best race: Brazilian Grand Prix

It had to be, didn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprise of the season: McLaren’s resurgence

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

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

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

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

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

Biggest disappointment: Ferrari

Sigh…

Where to even begin?

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

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

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

This…did not happen.

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Delight, Danger and Devastation of Motorsport

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

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

His name is Anthoine Hubert.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was the same for Hubert.

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

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

Fast forward to Monaco and the sprint race in May…

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

Except there was pressure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little did I know… Little did anyone know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was new to me.

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

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

Mark Webber’s somersault accident at Valencia 2010:

To Fernando Alonso’s roll in Australia 2016:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the lows are as low as they come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest in peace, Anthoine Hubert.

Assessing Alex Albon’s Red Bull Debut

Feature image: @RedBullRacing

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

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

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

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

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

Thankfully, there is something to talk about…

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

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

Let’s start with qualifying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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