F1 2020 Lineup Prediction

Feature image: @MercedesAMGF1

With the Hungarian Grand Prix now in the rear-view mirror the F1 summer break is here, and while the action on-track will stop for a few weeks the action off of it will certainly ramp up.

During the break, teams are required to lock up the factories — so to speak — for a couple of these weeks, and it’s here where a lot of the movement for next year’s driver lineup will take place.

There’s a couple of seats already set for next season, such as Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen some of those with a contract in hand for 2020. McLaren are the only team so far who have both drivers confirmed for next year, with the team announcing recently that they would retain both Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris for 2020.

Speaking on Thursday ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix, Sergio Perez says he’s close to agreeing a new deal with Racing Point, and that’ll sure-up the Canadian outfit’s 2020 lineup with Perez and Lance Stroll.

The key to last year’s driver market turned out to be Daniel Ricciardo’s shock move to Renault, which pissed off Mercedes as it seemed Renault had to back-track on their agreement who appeared to have Ocon set to go in that second Renault seat. Red Bull had Carlos Sainz and Pierre Gasly to choose from, the Spaniard signed with McLaren shortly after, leaving Pierre Gasly to fill the Red Bull vacancy and created another one with his departure from Toro Rosso.

I thought the key to last year’s market may have been what Ferrari were going to do with Raikkonen’s seat, should they have decided to replace Raikkonen — which I was still surprised by when they ultimately did — and that that decision would snowball to Alfa Romeo (with the outgoing of Charles Leclerc), Haas (maybe taking on Leclerc?) and maybe Racing Point (if the Perez to Alfa Romeo rumours were to be believed)…

It could have gone in so many different directions but it ended up being just a straight swap in the end.

So, like last year, I’m going to attempt to predict the driver lineup for next year. Last year I had some good ones, like Carlos Sainz to McLaren (Gasly to Red Bull, by extension of Sainz going to McLaren), Kubica to Williams.

That said, I completely bombed on Toro Rosso’s lineup, as well as reading too much into Perez’s link to Alfa Romeo, was convinced Kimi Raikkonen was going to be retained by Ferrari and that Leclerc wouldn’t be promoted to Ferrari after one season. You win some, you lose some.

Once again this season, it looks like it’s going to be a top tier seat that’s going to dictate the market, and this year it’s Valterri Bottas’ Mercedes seat, for the sole reason that if Bottas departs, his seat is more than likely going to be filled by Esteban Ocon — a driver who is currently not on the grid, which always throws the cat amongst the pigeons for driver movement…a space has to be created somewhere.

So, let’s have a shot at this shall we? Here’s how I think the 2020 F1 grid will shape up and why…

Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton & Esteban Ocon

Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel & Charles Leclerc

Red Bull: Max Verstappen & Daniil Kvyat

Renault: Daniel Ricciardo & Nico Hulkenberg

Racing Point: Sergio Perez & Lance Stroll

Haas: Kevin Magnussen & Valterri Bottas

Alfa Romeo: Kimi Raikkonen & Antonio Giovinazzi

Toro Rosso: Pierre Gasly & Alex Albon

Williams: George Russell & Nicholas Latifi

Some bold stuff out there, but let’s go through it team-by-team.

Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton & Esteban Ocon

So, starting with Mercedes, I think they pull the trigger on Esteban Ocon and pair him alongside Lewis Hamilton, leaving Valterri Bottas with a home to find.

Things started well for Bottas this season with two wins in the first four races but things have unravelled somewhat since, including crashing out while trying to overtake Lance Stroll in a race it where Lewis Hamilton was outside the points.

Before that race, however, Toto Wolff had some interesting comments with regards their future lineup, saying their decision would be coming soon.

“For us, it’s not only about making the right decision for next year but it’s also about looking ahead and this is why we agreed we would take the decision in August going forward,” said Wolff.

“We want him (Valterri Bottas) to end the season before the shutdown in a good place and put in two solid performances in Hockenheim and Budapest, and then spend some time thinking about the driver line-up for 2020 and beyond,” Wolf added.

“It is pretty unusual to announce drivers in July. If you want to take all the time, you properly need to assess and you can even drag it into the winter like we have seen in some other teams and it was a standard in the past.

“As we all know it was an unfortunate situation last year that Esteban fell between the chairs. He could have chosen between two seats and in the end nothing came out.

“From our perspective everyone knows about his driving capabilities for Mercedes. Valtteri is showing some very strong performances and merits the seat but equally Esteban has shown that in the past and is a great addition to the team.

“He contributes a lot a lot behind closed doors, he drives the sim overnight on race weekends, he comes in here Saturday and gives us input and he is a great kid overall.

“Putting a Mercedes young driver in the car would be interesting as well. Having said that, there is interest for Esteban among other teams and we need to carefully make a decision for ourselves and with the other interested parties, not only for our own benefit but also for Esteban’s benefit.

“If it would be that we were taking a decision in favour of Valtteri it clearly also means that somebody else would continue to develop him [Ocon] and would mean we would lose our hand for a year or two or more on Esteban. These are the consequences of that decision.”

Those are…interesting comments.

Looking at those, I tend to think that Mercedes are probably leaning towards Ocon. Wolff mentioned the importance of both Hockenheim and Hungary and they ended up being two grand prix where Bottas didn’t perform. Hungary wasn’t really his fault but crashing out while chasing a Lance Stroll for a podium in Germany — on a day where title contender Hamilton was outside of the points — was a massive failing.

With Bottas saying that he has a ‘plan B’ in case Mercedes roll with Ocon, I think that highlights how serious this situation is and how seriously Bottas’ camp are taking this — they’d be foolish if they weren’t looking at their options (and we’ll touch on some soon).

Equally, if Mercedes retained Bottas instead, it honestly wouldn’t surprise me. Either way, it seems likely that Esteban Ocon will be in an F1 car next year whatever does/doesn’t happen at Mercedes.

If it isn’t in a Mercedes, there’s a few options for Ocon out there and we’ll go over those. I rebelled against the idea that Leclerc would replace Raikkonen but I’m not doing that this year with Ocon — so, naturally, Mercedes will retain Bottas just to spite me.

Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel & Charles Leclerc

Not much to say here.

There are some Vettel-Verstappen swap rumours out there but I don’t see it happening. What an awful year for the Scuderia after 2018… The Hungarian Grand Prix showed how far off they really are and how it’s fallen apart this year.

Red Bull Racing: Max Verstappen & Daniil Kvyat

Here’s where things get interesting, I’ll start with Verstappen…

Red Bull, with Honda, have done a good job giving Verstappen a car he can win some races with, and I expect that to only improve heading into the second half of the season. The Ferrari and Mercedes rumours will be out there, but I think for 2020 Verstappen will be at Red Bull.

Now then, the second driver spot…

I think everyone is in agreement that Gasly will be replaced at the end of the season. Helmut Marko has been fairly clear in that Red Bull will give Gasly the season and will not be replaced mid-season, so he has an opportunity to turn it around.

In the event he doesn’t turn it around, where do they go?

I covered this topic recently, and it’s a tough one…

The question is do they choose from within? Do they see this Gasly experiment as reason not to do the same thing with Alex Albon and promote him to the Red Bull seat after one good season in F1? Do they want to roll the dice with Kvyat again? These are legitimate questions and you can see why they wouldn’t be feasible for Red Bull.

If not, where do they go?

Do they go with Sebastian Buemi (which is an option I didn’t originally cover), who, I know is technically in their programme in that he does some of their demo-runs. I think, many people wouldn’t mind seeing Buemi F1 again, it seems like some people are coming around on that idea?

Do they go with someone like Nico Hulkenberg for a season or two as their younger drivers mature/continue to gain experience? I can’t imagine Mercedes will allow Esteban Ocon to join their rivals and I can’t imagine it suits Red Bull either…

But…if Mercedes decide on Ocon, and if none of the internal prospects at Red Bull make sense for them for 2020 (maybe wanting Alex Albon to gain a little more experience), why not Valterri Bottas?

Bottas would bring race-winning experience to the Austrian outfit and seems very easy-going — he brought some much needed stability to Mercedes after the fiery Hamilton-Rosberg years — which would be beneficial for a team like Red Bull, who know all about fiery driver lineups in the past.

Not only that, but in the event Verstappen leaves in 2021, it still leaves Red Bull with a solid driver to carry on. In terms of actual driver quality, it would probably be the best Red Bull could do for a driver for 2020, depending on how you feel about Nico Hulkenberg. And it doesn’t have to be a long-term thing either if Red Bull decide that Bottas is their best bet for 2020, but then again it kinda goes without saying that any driver moves are probably going to be made with the short-term in mind ahead of the 2021 season and regulations overhaul.

I originally had Bottas here at Red Bull and I was going to stick with it but I changed my mind last minute — I just don’t see it happening. I can’t see Red Bull doing it, I can’t see them going outside their walls.

So based on that, I’m going with Kvyat, just based on the fact that Red Bull will probably look to avoid a possible similar situation with Albon as what happened with Gasly this year.

Renault: Daniel Ricciardo & Nico Hulkenberg

I don’t see much changing here.

Daniel Ricciardo is under contract for next year, so it’s the second Renault seat where there could be an opening, with Hulkenberg coming to the end of his original deal with the French outfit.

Renault team principle Cyril Abiteboul was asked about Nico Hulkenberg’s chances at a seat for next season — here’s what he had to say.

“We have a two-year contract with Daniel.

“Nico’s contract, the initial term is coming to an end at the end of this year but there is some mechanism of options as has been commented on press which I’m not going to disclose in the details that can kick in, so it’s maybe that we continue our journey with Nico.

“Frankly, Nico has delivered for the team, clearly, and if you look at where we were when Nico joined us and where we are today, it’s crazy and the change to the team, to the buzz, and clearly the drivers are no stranger to that, it’s not just engineers.

“So I think we need to give credit to that but also we need to look at the options, like everyone is doing, like I’m sure Nico is doing.

“So, it’s a long answer to tell you that things are open for him and for us but there is also an option in place so that we can possibly continue our journey together.

“We will see, we’ll see probably after the summer break will be the right time to sit down, discuss it on the basis of fact and desire also.”

You can read into that what you will — and I’m sure if the option to sign Ocon for a year or two will be tempting — but I think Hulkenberg makes a lot of sense for them. Like Cyril has said, Hulkenberg has delivered for them and has helped transition from latter midfield to where they are now (including a fourth place finish in 2018) and it makes sense for them to continue.

Again, it doesn’t have to be long-term and it’s in Renault’s interest to keep their options open for the future — they have two impressive young drivers in their academy and both performing well in Formula 2: Chinese driver Guanyu Zhou and Frenchman Anthoine Hubert.

Zhou has been the best rookie this season and I think has a legit chance to win the Formula 2 championship next year, and I think Hubert is fantastic too. Renault have promising options but it’s probably a little soon for either right now in F1, and something short-term with Hulknberg makes sense for all parties — and unless Hulkenberg gets a Red Bull offer, I can’t imagine the German wants to go elsewhere.

McLaren: Carlos Sainz & Lando Norris

Nothing to say here — Norris has been great and Sainz is showing Red Bull why they should’ve given him the drive.

Fun lineup, on and off the track. Long may it continue.

Racing Point: Sergio Perez & Lance Stroll

Again nothing to say here other than Perez’s impending deal takes away one landing spot for Bottas should Mercedes choose not to retain him.

Stroll may be useless in qualifying but is now gaining the reputation of being able to make some of it up in the race.

They should be fun next year, the first car with the Lawrence Stroll money from Day 1 of their car development, having taken over mid-way through last season when the 2019 car would’ve already been in development.

Haas: Kevin Magnussen & Valterri Bottas

Right, now this is going to be interesting spot…

I don’t think it’s any secret that Haas aren’t exactly happy with the partnership of their drivers right now. The issue is that the driver who has consistently butted heads with other drivers is their better driver — Kevin Magnussen.

Romain Grosjean hasn’t really gotten into it too much with his former teammates but with Magnussen, it’s kind of hard to avoid and the pair have come to blows on multiple occasions this season (with Magnussen having come to blows with other drivers too).

Change is coming at Haas, and it’s going to be interesting which way they lean: performance or team chemistry? One suggests Magnusssen, Grosjean the other. Or, do they do away with both?

As graining as Magnussen can be, he has shown he can get the job done and scores the bulk of points for his team — I imagine he stays. Besides, it’s been Grosjean who has stuffed it more, the one who hasn’t been getting it done on track and I think his time in Formula 1 has run its course.

A replacement certainly isn’t easy to come by — there are a lot of candidates.

This would be a prime landing spot for Esteban Ocon should Mercedes choose to retain Bottas. Yes, they’re supplied by Ferrari but they have no bearing on their driver choices and do not have as close of a relationship than Alfa Romeo, who do employ a Ferrari academy driver.

When trying to predict these, you need to ask the question: ‘Who does it benefit? Does it benefit all parties involved?’

It seems to tick all the boxes. It’s a move that benefits Mercedes (they get Ocon back in F1), it benefits Haas (who get a quality driver) and it obviously benefits Ocon (who gets an F1 seat).

Again, it comes down to what Mercedes do, and Toto Wolff has said that they are open to Ocon joining other teams and ‘that there are offers out there’ for Ocon and Haas makes a ton of sense.

F2 championship leader Nyck de Vries is also an interesting option here. He has shown improvement this season and has had some very mature drives. He also comes without the baggage and politics of being an academy driver for an F1 team, having been released from the McLaren programme last year. The opportunity to sign a potential F2 champion without already being tied to an F1 team is a rarity these days, and Haas could get in the front door with de Vries at a time Dutch Mania is at an all-time high and the Dutch Grand Prix returning.

Haas also presents a possible — and most likely — opening for Valterri Bottas, if Mercedes give their seat to Ocon. It obviously benefits Haas (they get a race-winner) and it would be a benefit to Bottas too, who stays in F1. It would obviously be a step down from Mercedes but so long as Bottas has a seat for next season, that’s all that matters and if Haas can offer him that lifeline, even if it’s just for a year, that’s all he needs.

It’s a game of musical chairs that’s about to finish — you just need a seat for 2020 and your options for 2021 are much more plentiful with everyone lining their ducks for the 2021 overhaul — most contracts expire after 2020. If you don’t have a 2020 seat, it could be difficult to get back in for 2021. There’s going to be a ton of openings for 2021 that gives Bottas some choices, but in the meantime he certainly could do worse than Haas.

With Racing Point set to retain their lineup, McLaren retaining theirs, Red Bull an unlikely option, as well as Renault, Haas would probably end up being Bottas’ best option for 2020, so it makes sense for Bottas as a temporary stop-gap. It’s certainly more realistic than Red Bull.

This could also be a spot if Ocon actually ends up at Renault and Nico Hulkenberg is in need of a drive. The only awkward aspect would be Magnussen’s and Hulkenberg’s relationship which is, shall we say, a little tense.

Haas could also present an opportunity for Daniil Kvyat. If Kvyat isn’t considered for that Red Bull seat, it makes sense to think that he may not want to spend his entire career at Toro Rosso and that he may be ready — like his former teammate Carlos Sainz — for life outside of Red Bull. He has shown great maturation and his recent podium in Germany has highlighted that. Haas presents him with that opportunity. And Haas would do well to secure his services too.

Haas are certainly not short on options, it’s going to be a coveted seat.

Toro Rosso: Pierre Gasly & Alex Albon

Toro Rosso are in an interesting bind because their lineup isn’t in their control, and they have Pierre Gasly to thank for that.

Red Bull could go in so many directions for their seat and neither Albon or Kvyat have helped in that regard — in a good way.

Albon has surpassed all expectations so far for being a driver that was promoted mostly because Dan Ticktum failed to acquire a superlicence (in my opinion). Similarly, Kvyat has proven he belongs in F1 again after a year on the sidelines and is still only 25 years old with four full seasons of F1 experience.

Ultimately, I see Gasly being demoted and if he is, then I think Red Bull will ride with Kvyat again.

Alfa Romeo: Kimi Raikkonen & Antonio Giovinazzi

Nothing to say here, really. Raikkonen is contracted for next year and Giovinazzi has been performing better of late (though, Hungary was a shambles) and I expect that to continue into 2020.

Williams: George Russell & Nicholas Latifi

Everyone wanted Robert Kubica’s return to F1 to be a success story but it just hasn’t worked out.

While he has Williams’ sole point so far (by way of both Alfa Romeo’s being handed post-race penalties in Germany), he has been consistently been a long way off of Russell in qualifying and the race.

George Russell has been as good as you can expect in that Williams — his exploits in Hungary have only added to that perception — and I have no doubts he’ll still be with the Grove outfit next year.

As for their second seat, I fully expect that their junior driver and F2 title contender Nicholas Latifi to fill that seat. Not only has Latifi shown improvements in F2 but he also brings with him financial backing, which is obviously important for Williams right now. It just seems like a complete no brainer for Williams.


For me, a lot of all of this is based on what Mercedes do with Bottas/Ocon, so I’ll have another list in the event Bottas is retained by Mercedes.

Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton & Valterri Bottas

Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel & Charles Leclerc

Red Bull: Max Verstappen & Daniil Kvyat

Renault: Daniel Ricciardo & Nico Hulkenberg

Racing Point: Sergio Perez & Lance Stroll

Haas: Kevin Magnussen & Esteban Ocon

Alfa Romeo: Kimi Raikkonen & Antonio Giovinazzi

Toro Rosso: Pierre Gasly & Alex Albon

Williams: George Russell & Nicholas Latifi

With the summer break now here, expect the F1 circus to return at the end of the month with more than a few shocks, with that second Mercedes seat the main topic of discussion.

Bottas or Ocon? We shall see…

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F1 2019 Season Preview

Feature image: Twitter – @F1

It’s finally here, Formula 1 2019. It’s taken a long time to get here but we are here, the start of it all again.

And it promises to be a fascinating season in prospect, with the gap between the top three teams seemingly as tight as ever, if testing is to be believed (always a dangerous thing).

Let’s break this title down between the top three, the midfield and then those near the back. In the process, I’ll touch on the drivers and the such, before making a few predictions and the such.

We’ll have fun.

The Top Three

Everything in testing should be taken with (many) grains of salt but, listening and reading the thoughts of people — well-informed people — who were there at Barcelona and the experts that were there, it would seem that Ferrari are the early team to beat.

It’s tough to gauge Mercedes in testing because they generally stick to their own programme and tend not to really care about what anyone else is doing, but when you hear the quotes from the drivers being unhappy with the balance and Mercedes bringing a heavily revised car to Week 2 of testing and another revised car to Melbourne, it would seem to suggest they’re on the back-foot (something Lewis Hamilton reaffirmed on Thursday).

I do think Mercedes are closer than people think but if they haven’t fixed their balance issues, it’s going to be a difficult opening for them in Melbourne if they can’t get on top of that quickly.

Ferrari, in comparison, seemed pretty happy with testing — at least in Week 1, all smiles with Vettel and company, though, the second week wasn’t as good as the first, they still set the fastest lap in testing and, according to those who are in the know, Mercedes’ fastest lap of testing wasn’t a true reflection of the gap between the two teams — the lap times suggesting that things are closer than things would appear.

We’ll see what happens but the Scuderia look good.

Red Bull look really intriguing, they’re a team that could easily spring a surprise at Australia, and some think they could be right there with Mercedes.

It’s hard to say where they will fall, we didn’t really see their true pace during Test 2.

They always build good cars but have been left wanting in the power department since 2014. Now armed with Honda engines, they enjoyed good reliability (Pierre Gasly letting them down in Spain more so than Honda) and I think there’s some genuine optimism for the Red Bull outfit.

It’ll be one of two things for Red Bull — they’ll either spring the biggest surprise in the paddock if they can turn up quicker than Mercedes, or we’ll see how much sandbagging has actually taken place between Ferrari and Mercedes and Red Bull will, again, be a distant third.

We’ll see.

Out of the top three teams, only Mercedes retained their driver lineup of Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas.

Hamilton comes in as a five-time champion and coming off one of the most consistent seasons I’ve ever seen — I’d imagine he’s in a good place.

It’s a different story for Bottas, who — from race number one — I’d imagine will be under pressure. He’s technically out of contract at the end of this year and Esteban Ocon is lingering, waiting for a seat to present itself. F1’s infamous politics kept Ocon — a member of the Mercedes driver programme — out of a seat in 2019 but a repeat of last season for Bottas would surely result in a change of drivers for 2020.

Bottas was unlucky in many spots last year (Baku, France etc.) but he was poles apart from Hamilton when it counted. If he’s in the title hunt after seven, eight races, Mercedes will probably let them at it — as they’ve historically done when their two drivers have been in genuine contention for the title. But if Hamilton has a significant advantage — as he did last year — you can only see it swinging as it did last year with Mercedes giving their backing to Hamilton.

Bottas says he’s ready and raring to go but we’ll see how he responds in Australia — a track where, of course, he binned it in a major way in Q3.

At Ferrari, it’s a case of ‘out with the old, in with the new’ as Kimi Raikkonen makes way for Charles Leclerc.

Where Mercedes let their cars race — for the most part — Ferrari have held preference in terms of drivers for a while now: it’s Sebastian Vettel > teammate.

Ferrari have been back and forth in their comments about letting the two race and whether Leclerc is a number two or not… It’s all words at Ferrari but until we see it in action for sure, nothing that has been said matters — that’s the reality of it.

If Leclerc gets off to the dream start and beats his teammate in Australia and is ahead of Vettel in the standings, say, after Spain, it’ll make for a fascinating situation at Maranello.

I ultimately think that Vettel’s savviness and experience will edge Leclerc in his first season at Ferrari, and I think this year could prove a learning experience for Leclerc about what it means to be a Ferrari driver, what it means to win races and it means to have every mistake/inconsistency scrutinised.

It’s a pressure he’s never faced before.

That’s not to say he can’t be in the hunt and take it to Vettel — I’m sure he will at times. But over 21 races, everything would point toward Vettel edging Leclerc — experience, savviness and his position in the team, which matters massively at a team like Ferrari.

Their car looks incredibly promising but the issue with Ferrari is their development throughout the season. They had to go backwards to go forwards, shedding the upgrades they had placed on the car from Singapore onwards off at USA and boom, the car was back at the front.

Mercedes, in recent history, have been able to out-develop Ferrari over the course of the season, so if Ferrari have an advantage they need to maximise it in the first few rounds before Mercedes bring those upgrades. Ferrari having their upgrades actually work would also help…

Red Bull officially made Max Verstappen their number one driver as Daniel Ricciardo moves on to Renault. Pierre Gasly arrives from Toro Rosso very much as a number two driver.

I’m not a huge Gasly fan and I think he will struggle against Verstappen.

That pairing is going to be explosive and not in a good way. Danny Ric was great for Max and those two personalities got on well even after a clash or two, they could at least exist but if Max and Gasly come together, you’d fear the worst, and I think those two aren’t going to like each other and it’s not going to take long for that happen.

A personality clash waiting to happen.

Red Bull themselves are an interesting prospect. We have no idea what to expect other than they’ll probably be in the top three. After that, who knows? They do develop quite well historically, so if they’re close to Ferrari and Ferrari have another development disaster, it’s going to be interesting.

The Midfield

The midfield battle looks as tight as ever, and it’s hard to say who’s leading the way.

It’s very unpredictable.

McLaren went for some headline laps in testing, so it’s hard to say where they’re at whereas Racing Point’s car in testing is going to be very different to one we see at Australia — so it’s tough to say where those two teams will figure amongst the pack.

Haas had a mixed winter but whispers are they’re looking decent but I’d imagine the top two in the midfield will come between Renault and I think Alfa Romeo could be in the mix. Their front wing design is one that everyone is talking about and I think they could easily mix it up with Haas and maybe Renault but I’m a bit skeptical about that one.

Toro Rosso, I’d imagine, will be in the lower part of the midfield but there’s optimism for them after a strong testing. Perhaps they could be duking it out with McLaren, we’ll see.

Speakng of, McLaren is where arguably the most change has occurred as both Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne exit, and Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris come in. Sainz will be fine, he’ll do well. I don’t think there’s any need to worry there. It’s Norris where the unpredictability lies. I like Norris’ superstar potential. I think his ceiling is higher than George Russell’s but I think his floor is lower.

What I mean by that is I think there’s a greater potential for stardom in Norris but more chance of Norris being a bust. There’ll be ups and downs for Norris in his rookie season but I think he’ll be OK — I do expect Sainz to better him in his rookie season though.

Alfa Romeo have also changed their lineup, replacing the outgoing Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson with Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi — old and young. Raikkonen is a great addition and I think he’s going to enjoy a somewhat resurgent season, even though I thought he had a good season last year. But he’s free of Ferrari. Free of ‘number two status’, free of the awful strategies Ferrari put him on to help Vettel/hamper Mercedes. As a team leader, I think Raikkonen will have a strong season.

Giovinazzi is already under pressure due to his past. He filled in in 2017 for the injured Pascal Wehrlein and binned it on both occasions when it mattered, as well as binning it in Hungary too in a test with Haas. He’s got to build some consistency and I have no idea what to expect.

All change at Toro Rosso too, as Daniil Kvyat returns and Alex Albon is promoted from F2. I like Kvyat and I think he can have a bounce-back season but I think Albon has a tough season ahead and, with the exception of perhaps Lance Stroll, there’s a chance Albon is the worst driver on the grid — never even setting foot in an F1 car until testing.

Speaking of Lance Stroll, he joins the newly named Racing Point team alongside Perez. Perez should smoke him, I don’t believe in Stroll at all but let’s see. Their car is going to be interesting, let’s see where they’re at with this new car in Australia, again, vastly different from the one we saw in Spain.

Haas were one of the few teams to stick with their driver lineup, in fact, the only Haas and Mercedes are the only teams to retain their lineups in 2019 with Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen. Magnussen is in good shape but there’s a lot of pressure on Grosjean after his mixed 2018. He’s a good driver, for sure, but is prone to mistakes so if he can iron those out, he should have a good year because the car I think could be promising out of the box.

Renault are an intriguing prospect and I think boast one of the better lineups in Nico Hulkenburg and Daniel Ricciardo.

It’s going to be an interesting year for Hulkenburg.

Many thought (myself not included) that Sainz would come and slap Hulkenburg but it never happened, Nico acquitting himself very well in that battle, besting Sainz in the end. But Ricciardo will be a different beast. As long as he can match, even if he finishes a few point behind Ricciardo (reliability depending, of course), that’s a successful season for Hulk.

In terms of Renault themselves, even if they don’t start out fourth quickest, I thoroughly expect them to end fourth quickest. How close can they get to the top three? I think they’ll be closer but not close enough to compete for podiums on raw pace.

The Rear

Williams, I’m afraid, look a long way off everyone else after their disastrous start, missing the majority of the first test in Spain.

Robert Kubica returning to F1 is a great story but it’s probably not going to be a great year for him in terms of the machinery he has underneath him to work with — he already seemed fed up with the car in Spain in testing. It might be tough to measure Kubica’s season against rookie George Russell, given that Russell, well, is a rookie.

If Russell completely out-paces him, it’s going to be tough to say whether Russell is legit or if coming back to F1 was one step too many for Kubica, faced with physical limitations no other driver has to deal with after his rallying accident in 2011.

I’m hopeful Williams will be better than advertised but it’s not looking good. The car looks great in terms of its livery but in terms of performance… Yeah… Sorry.

Awards/Predictions

Let’s get into the fun stuff. Awards and predictions.

Driver’s Champion: Sebastian Vettel

Constructors’ Champion: Ferrari

Best of the Rest: Renault

Surprise of the Season: Alfa Romeo

Best Rookie: Lando Norris

Most Improved: Daniil Kvyat

Most Disappointment Driver: Pierre Gasly

Most Disappointing Team: Williams

Best Livery: Ferrari, their matte finish and the added black really stand out. What a gorgeous car.

Worst Livery: Racing Point. I like the pink but the blue they added is in the wrong places, and it just doesn’t look great.

Best Helmet:

The most important one of the lot. Here are the helmets, put together fantastically by Racefans.net:

racefansdotnet-f1-drivers-helmets-2019.jpg

Lewis Hamilton’s is great this year, Lando Norris’ is great too as is Charles Leclerc’s.

I’ll say Danny Ric though — just way off the beaten path but looks fantastic — the most wild one out there.

Worst Helmet: Pierre Gasly. Hands down. Awful. There’s 1000 better ways to incorporate the French flag in your helmet, Romain Grosjean does a good job if it but this is awful…


I can’t wait for it to all unfold.

F1 2019 promises to be the most exciting season in recent memory. May she live to the hype.

Let’s go.

Ricciardo to Renault and a 2019 lineup prediction

Image: Manuel Goria/Sutton Images via F1.com

We all knew the silly season was coming, but come on…

In what was expected to be a quiet week — with the F1 summer break upon us and the mid-season testing just finished with — Daniel Ricciardo and Renault blew everyone away on Friday afternoon when the rumours broke that the Red Bull driver had signed a contract with Renault for 2019 before the news was confirmed first by Red Bull (that he wouldn’t be with the team in 2019) and then by Renault who were obviously delighted to announce the deal.

This comes as a surprise for many reasons but mostly because, with Mercedes and Ferrari looking beyond Ricciardo for 2019, everything pointed to Danny Ric re-signing with the only F1 team he has considered home (I think that’s fair to say) — it really was a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’.

Heck, even Ricciardo himself gave a pretty strong indication that he would re-signing with Red Bull, telling reporters in Hungary that his extension with Red Bull “…will definitely be done by Spa,” and that “It’s just a little bit of fine tuning here and there…it’s all good.”

A pretty strong indication, you’d have to say.,,

It’s unclear right now (writing this the day the news dropped) what has caused this 180 turn but I have a few theories…

Firstly, I don’t think Red Bull’s decision to switch to Honda engines from 2019 onwards played that much of a role. Since Canada, where they brought a significant upgrade, that Honda engine has shown some solid competitiveness — how much worse, if at all, is it to Renaut’s engine now in terms of both pace and reliability? A lot more Red Bull-Renault engines seemed to have given up the ghost more than Toro Rosso-Hondas this season…

I do think finance has played a big part here. Being a works team, it’s no secret that Renault have a bit more disposable income at their discretion than a team like, say, Williams or Force India. I also think it’s no secret that Ricciardo is underpaid across the board, not only for what he delivers on track but off of it too — an extremely marketable (and fantastic) personality with the team itself and sponsors. We don’t know what the figures from the respective Red Bull and Renault offers were, but you’d have to imagine that the Renault offer was significantly more handsome than what Red Bull might have offered — who, it’s well documented and mentioned by team principal Christian Horner, already pay a handsome amount to Max Verstappen…

Speaking of Max Verstappen, I’m sure he played a part in this decision too. Not so much to do with Max himself (they seem to get on pretty well) but everything surrounding him — the hype, the attention (media and fans alike), Max’s growing position in the team (you can definitely sense small elements of Vettel-Webber) and possibly his salary compared to Danny Ric for all we know.

The reasons I’m sure will become a bit more clear when Ricciardo and the F1 circus arrives at Spa near the end of August but the fact of the matter is the Aussie will be donning yellow next season, leaving the team that have nurtured his 7-year Formula 1 career that started in the HRT at Silverstone in 2011…

I think it’s an extremely bold move to Ricciardo to make when he had a very safe option in Red Bull on the table. For sure, Renault have made gains in each season since their return to F1 in 2016 but they still have a long way to go if they want to be challenging Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari, and I don’t expect them to be challenging Red Bull next season either unless Renault make significant steps forward with their car and engine and Red Bull fall backwards with Honda power.

But there comes a time where every man has to make a change in his life, the bird must leave the nest at some stage in its life, and Ricciardo I think will do well with a new change of scenery — I’m just worried he’ll be fighting for P6’s, P7’s, P8’s next year instead of top 5 finishes, including race victories.

With this mega announcement, Renault have confirmed their driver lineup next year as Ricciardo joins Nico Hulkenburg, paving the way for what could be a lot of change down the paddock. The silly season had begun anyways but now it’s been ignited with jet propulsion.

And, really, it depends greatly on what Red Bull decide to do with their now vacant seat for 2019. A year ago, if this situation where Daniel Ricciardo leaves Red Bull had arisen, Carlos Sainz would’ve been the no-brainer to be his replacement. But it’s not that simple anymore.

Not only has Sainz, who has been in reported contract talks with McLaren, endured a difficult season at Renault (by his own standards) and has been outdriven by teammate Nico Hulkenburg, who many expected to trail the highly rated Spaniard, but the emergence of Toro Rosso starlet Pierre Gasly — who has performed brilliantly in his Toro Rosso this season, guiding his Honda-powered car to P4 in Bahrain and more recently P6 at Hungary — has thrown a spanner in the works when it comes to Sainz and Red Bull.

But more than that, according to RaceFans.net (article linked above), Red Bull’s advisor and head of young driver programme, Helmut Marko, is reportedly against the idea of reuniting former Toro Rosso teammates Max Verstappen and Sainz again at Red Bull. With Red Bull already nailing their colours to the mast that is Max Verstappen, that would be a problem for Carlos Sainz and Red Bull, so it would seem unlikely based on that and performance this season compared to Gasly (which may or may not be a factor), that Sainz will reunite with Verstappen…

Sainz has been discussing a possible deal with McLaren, who rate Sainz highly.

“We think Carlos is an excellent racecar driver,” McLaren chief Zak Brown said. “Of course Carlos is potentially on the market, I don’t know his exact situation at Renault and Red Bull but he’s certainly someone as you go down the shortlist of drivers that you’d consider putting in your car.

“If he was free, and if we had a seat, he would certainly be high up the list for a racing seat.”

If it ends up that it’s not Ricciardo for Sainz in a like-for-like swap, it blows the driver market wide open.

Firstly, it opens up the Red Bull seat to, more than likely as discussed, Pierre Gasly. I’d love to see Fernando Alonso in that Red Bull seat but that seems unlikely given how Red Bull normally promote from within — usually from their young driver programme — and possibly Alonso’s relationship with Honda (given how he often threw Honda under the bus during their three-years together) could also play a part.

If Gasly is promoted, that opens up a spot at Toro Rosso and there could be two spots open should they decide not to bring back Brendon Hartley. I still think, if Alonso stays and Sainz joins his fellow Spaniard at Woking, McLaren and Toro Rosso could come into an agreement to send Lando Norris to Toro Rosso for a season/until Fernando Alonso calls time on his stellar Formula 1 career — especially if Norris wins F2, with F2 rules preventing champions from returning to the series. It’s beneficial for everyone: Toro Rosso get a quality driver for a year or two and McLaren have their man in an F1 seat (though the complications there are obvious, it’s just a theory of mine) And after that, I think Toro Rosso are better off sticking with Hartley over test driver Sean Galael… And as for the Red Bull junior driver programme, I think they’re a year or two from promoting another one to Toro Rosso.

At McLaren, there could easily be two spots going there too if the team elect not bring Stoffel Vandoorne back and Fernando Alonso either moves on to another F1 team or retires from F1. Vandoorne has had a terrible season compared to Alonso and he’s definitely under pressure for his F1 future. If Alonso retired, his McLaren career might be safe, depending on what McLaren choose to do with junior driver — and current F2 championship leader — Lando Norris and if they sign Carlos Sainz in the process.

With the Renault lineup confirmed, the Esteban Ocon-Renault rumours disappear immediately, leaving Ocon likely to spend another season with Force India. The other seat at Force India is up for debate, with Sergio Perez rumoured to be heading to Haas and who knows what else will go down there with the recent administration. And where Lance Stroll/Lawrence Stroll potentially figure into things remains to be seen in the midst of the administration/potential new ownership process.

I think it’s at this point in the driver market where the Ricciardo-Renault news begins to have less of an effect when it comes to drives. The likes of Ferrari, Mercedes Williams, Haas and Sauber…

With regards Perez, he’s rumoured for a seat at Haas, who don’t have anything lined up for 2019, though it’s safe to assume Kevin Magnussen has done enough to secure a seat. I personally believe Charles Leclerc would be best suited for that Haas spot rather than a promotion straight to the best seat F1 might have to offer if Ferrari move on from Kimi Raikkonen. Romain Grosjean is certainly still quick enough to be in F1 but his consistency has been left wanting this season — involved in a number of accidents/incidents this season.

Perez has also been rumoured to return to the team that gave him his first seat in 2011: Sauber. I’d be surprised if it happened but upon thinking about further, you can talk yourself into it. I certainly don’t expect rising star Charles Leclerc to remain with the Swiss outfit and I think time will finally expire on Marcus Ericcson’s Formula 1 career now that Sauber are in the points hunt again. With that said, and with Leclerc surely moving on, I expect another Ferrari junior driver Antonio Giovinazzi to take his place. That 2nd spot next to Giovinazzi could end up being the lifeline of drivers such as maybe Stoffel Vandoorne, Romain Grosjean or even Kimi Raikkonen, whose name has been mentioned with Sauber…

At Williams, I’d imagine Sergey Sirotkin will remain but Lance Stroll’s spot is a bit more questionable with this Force India link. Force India, obviously, need the cash and Stroll offers that. If Stroll moves on, I’d expect Mercedes to use their connection with Williams to try push junior driver George Russell into an F1 seat at Grove. Junior driver Olly Rowland would be a good shout for the second drive as is test driver Robert Kubica.

For Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas were signed to deals at Hockenheim, so nothing doing there.

And, lastly, at Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel is secured for another season whereas Kimi Raikkonen’s seat is not guaranteed. Raikkonen has had a strong 2018 (certainly better than his 2017 season) and I think has done enough to earn one more season with the Scuderia. Charles Leclerc is the obvious replacement — and he will be one day — but I think it’s a year or two too soon for him. There’s a lot of pressures and expectations that comes with a Ferrari drive and I think the experience at Haas for a year or two would help round him out, improve as a driver and help iron out some of those little errors he makes at times that may not mean much in a Sauber but mean everything in a Ferrari — the difference between pole position and the second row. Plus, it’s not in Ferrari’s nature to promote young drivers to their seats, especially ones heading into just their second season — they just don’t do it. So for those reasons, I’d be very surprised if Ferrari actually went through with it — it would be incredibly un-Ferrari.

So, with all of that said, I’m going to (horribly) predict the F1 2019 grid.

Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton & Valterri Bottas

Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel & Kimi Raikkonen

Red Bull: Max Verstappen & Pierre Gasly

Renault: Daniel Ricciardo & Nico Hulkenburg

McLaren: Fernando Alonso & Carlos Sainz

Haas: Charles LeClerc & Kevin Magnussen

Force India: Esteban Ocon & Lance Stroll

Toro Rosso: Lando Norris & Brendan Hartley

Sauber: Sergio Perez & Antonio Giovinazzi

Williams: Sergey Sirotkin & Robert Kubica

Should be fun to see how wrong I am, but hey…always fun.

Australian Grand Prix Winners and Losers

Feature Image: Sutton Motorsport Images

As soon as it came, it went. Round one of the 2017 season is in the books and it’s Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari who stand victorious for the first time since Singapore 2015.

Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas joined Vettel on the podium while Kimi Raikkonen, Max Verstappen, Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez, Carlos Sainz, Daniil Kvyat and Esteban Ocon round off the points positions.

It wasn’t the most spectacular race and people are complaining about the new regulations limiting overtaking, but the thing is it’s always difficult to overtake at Albert Park. Before this year, there had been less than 50 overtakes in the last two years — it’s not a place, historically, where a lot of overtakes happen. So don’t blame the new regulations or make judgements too quickly on the new regulations. Let’s see what happens in China and Bahrain. We’ll know more then.

Winners

Honourable mentions:

Felipe Massa for his 6th place finish, the supersoft tyres and the drivers who selected the supersoft tyres for their second stints (most noticeably, Max Verstappen and Massa) Toro Rosso for a double points score, Antonio Giovinazzi, Daniil Kvyat for a great race that underlined his abilities (a possible 7th place taken away from him due to an engine issue that forced him to pit a second time) and, finally, Lance Stroll for showing solid pace and keeping his car in one piece (including some good evasive action in the first corner) before a brake disc failure forced him to retire.

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari and Formula One

It’s been a long time coming, and in the words of Sergio Marchionne (Ferrari CEO) “it’s about time”.

For Sebastian Vettel, it’s his 43rd race victory, his fourth for Ferrari and his first since Singapore 2015. Last year we kind of saw Vettel wonder in the wilderness but it’s good to see him back where he belongs at the sharp end of the grid.

“…It’s just the beginning and there’s still a lot of work going on. This is one of many steps and we have to enjoy what we do…”

 

— Sebastian Vettel

For Ferrari, this race confirms that their pace is truly, um, true, and now we can finally look forward to another team finally taking it to Mercedes. In fact, this is the first time Ferrari and a non-Mercedes driver have led both championships in the hybrid-era.

Ferrari’s decision to run longer than Mercedes in the first stint was an inspired one and it proved to be the turning point in the race (as well as getting a little luck with Hamilton feeding in behind Max Verstappen). But regardless of this, Vettel was catching Hamilton just before he pitted and was just managing his pace behind the Mercedes — they had an answer for anything Hamilton did/would’ve done. They were just the faster team today.

“…Ferrari played it very well – and they had the quicker car today…”

 

— Toto Wolff

This result was exactly what the sport needed and it’s going to be exciting to see these two teams go toe-to-toe for 20 rounds but, just as has been the approach all through testing, Ferrari aren’t getting carried away.

“…This is only the first race of the championship: there are still 19 to go and we must maintain a high level of concentration at every Grand Prix, avoiding distractions and, already as from today, we are looking ahead to the next Grand Prix in China.”

 

— Maurizio Arrivabene

Mercedes on the back foot after race one, a perfect way (from a neutral’s perspective) to start the season…

Valterri Bottas

Despite finishing in P3, Valterri Bottas can be proud of how close he finished behind his much more illustrious teammate, Lewis Hamilton. Though the final split was 1.3 seconds (due to Hamilton backing off at the end), Bottas whittled a six second gap to 2.3-ish seconds and it stayed that way for a good chunk of the second stint. Finishing a comfortable 11 seconds ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, Bottas did what he was supposed to do and kept Hamilton honest enough while he was at it.

“…once we stuck on the Softs I had a great feeling with the car. It was behaving really nicely and it felt really nice to drive. It’s a shame it was just a bit too late. But overall this race wasn’t a disaster. It’s good to start with a podium with a new team and every position is important for the Championship. There’s a long season ahead. I have my points and I’ll do better next time. I’m looking forward to China.”

 

— Valterri Bottas

A solid, solid weekend for Valterri Bottas.

Force India, Esteban Ocon and Bob Furnley’s trousers

A good weekend for the men in pink (that’s a little odd to say, now that I think about it…). A double points finish for Force India, Sergio Perez finishing 7th while Esteban Ocon scored the first point of his career with a 10th place finish, which he took with a great move on Fernando Alonso who he was racing for most of the race, however Alonso was beginning to struggle with a suspension issue that forced him to retire shortly after he was passed.

“Scoring my first point in Melbourne is a very nice reward after what has been quite a tough weekend. I spent almost the entire race fighting against Fernando [Alonso] because we were side-by-side for the first lap of the race. He was able to stay ahead and I had to chase him for the rest of the afternoon. It was a hard fight because Fernando is a tough opponent and it was so difficult to get close and overtake. Eventually I found a gap in the last few laps and took my chance going into turn one. It was a big moment for my race and took me into the points. I’m happy with the result and I feel I’ve learned a huge amount from my first race weekend with this team. I hope this is the first point of many this season.”

 

— Esteban Ocon

And, finally, Deputy Team Principal, Bob Furnley, was a popular man in the paddock this weekend largely thanks to his pink trousers, matching the car’s colour scheme since the team haven’t got the pink overalls yet in light of their new deal with BWT.

Those are just fantastic. Great effort, Bob.

Fernando Alonso

Were it not for a suspension failure, Fernando Alonso was, somehow, looking good for a world championship point. He kept the much, much superior Force India of Esteban Ocon behind him for a while. How?? I know Australia is a difficult place to overtake but even still, that’s an incredible achievement. In fact, Alonso described the race as one of the best he’s ever done.

“In terms of driving, I probably had one of my very best races today. I was able to drive the car at my maximum; I felt confident, and I enjoyed driving the car throughout the race – I was able to push…”

 

— Fernando Alonso

Despite this, Fernando went on to say that on a “normal circuit” McLaren should be “last and second last”, which was interesting hear him say despite how much he extracted from the car. In that case, I’ll take stab and say that Monaco and Singapore are going to be highlights of McLaren’s and Alonso’s season…

Losers

Honourable mentions:

Kimi Raikkonen (and how tricky setups can be), the ultrasoft tyre (which drivers were delighted to shed after the first stint) and Jolyon Palmer who just had a horrible weekend.

Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull

As if starting in 10th position after an accident in qualifying wasn’t bad enough for Danny Ric at his home grand prix, the Australian had to take a five-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox before his Red Bull found itself stuck in sixth gear on his lap heading to the grid. Ted Kravitz of Sky Sports F1 reporting that it was a sensor on the gear box that caused the issue. The Red Bull mechanics eventually got Ricciardo and the car back to garage and going, albeit from the pitlane and two laps down.

The home crowd saw 26 laps of Danny Ric before a fuel cell failure forced him to retire, rounding up a terrible weekend for the Aussie.

“Not the weekend I wanted at home. For all these things to happen at my home race that’s probably the most frustrating thing. We were on the back foot already after the crash in qualifying and then today we had an issue during the warm up lap followed by a second issue in the race. On both occasions the car just came to a stop so I couldn’t do anything else. But look, it’s the first race so hopefully we’ll move forward from this. Sure I’m disappointed now but it is what it is. I’ve been here before so I’ll wake up tomorrow and be motivated to get ready for China…”

 

— Daniel Ricciardo

Max Verstappen did the best job he could but Red Bull were, worryingly, finished almost half a minute behind race-winner Vettel. For a team who, behind Adrian Newey’s technical genius, had been expected to excel under the new regulations, they were very disappointing. Their testing issues/concerns were true after all.

“…Looking ahead to China I think we need to keep working hard on the car, race pace was good but you can still see we are not quick enough in certain situations.”

 

— Max Verstappen

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes

Uh-oh. There’s finally another team capable of taking victories away from Mercedes that aren’t caused by accidents or reliability issues.

Lewis Hamilton struggled with his ultrasoft tyres and he made the call to pit on lap 17 to exchange his ultrasofts for softs. Unfortunately for Hamilton, he popped right behind Max Verstappen on-track and he couldn’t get past despite his race engineer, Pete Bonnington, telling him it was “race critical” to get past him. Vettel, of course, emerged ahead of Hamilton after his pitstop and, from there, Vettel was always in full control.

“…I was struggling with grip from the get-go. Sebastian was able to always answer me in terms of lap time and just go quicker. Towards the end of the first stint I caught some traffic and that overheated the tyres. I struggled for grip to the point where I needed to come in, plus the gap was closing up and I was sliding around a lot. We made the call to pit, because otherwise I think Sebastian would have come past me anyway. After my stop I got caught in some traffic which was unfortunate but that’s motor racing.”

 

— Lewis Hamilton

For Mercedes, they were just second best on the day:

“Some races you win, some races you lose, and when the days come where another team has done a better job, you need to accept that with humility and recognise their performance. Today, Sebastian and Ferrari were well-deserved winners. From the early stages of the race, it was clear that Sebastian was very quick because Lewis wasn’t able to pull away. Sebastian came into the window where the undercut was possible and we had the feeling at that point that the tyres were not lasting. It was the team’s impression on the pit wall looking at the data and Lewis’ in the car, too. So that was when, with all the clear risks of coming out in traffic, we took the decision to come in. We were between a rock and a hard place, really, and we went for it. But Ferrari played it very well – and they had the quicker car today…”

 

— Toto Wolff

Mercedes aren’t in any major trouble right now but they are definitely behind in terms of pace. They were well beaten by Ferrari today and they know it. This is the first time in the Hybrid-era where Mercedes have started on the back foot, now we’ll see how what their response is in what appears to be their biggest challenge yet.

Haas

A day filled with so much promise ended in disaster for the Haas team. Romain Grosjean did a great job sticking his Haas on the third row on Saturday, but lost a position to Felipe Massa at the start of the race before retiring from 7th with a water leak.

“I suddenly lost a lot of power. I told the guys, then the next thing I knew I had to slow down the car. It’s a pretty disappointing result, but again, right now I’m hot and we’re all disappointed to lose a seventh-place position, but the car was there in qualifying in P6…I’m feeling it right now, but tomorrow I’m going to wake up thinking, you know what, we’ve got a great car, so no matter what, we’re going to be there this year.” 

 

— Romain Grosjean

Kevin Magnussen, meanwhile, had a rocky start to his Haas career, spinning Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson around in Turn 3 on the first lap, requiring him to make an unscheduled trip the pits. Magnussen’s race was already ruined by this point and he wouldn’t get the opportunity to finish the race, forced into retirement with a suspension failure.

“I had contact at turn three. I had Ericsson on the outside and I understeered into the side of him, which was unfortunate. I lost my front wing and damaged the car a little bit. We changed the front wing and then I went for a long test session to feel the car and learn a bit more about it, which was good. It feels good and the car is fast. That’s the really positive thing from this weekend. The car is there. We just have to make it finish and score points.”

 

— Kevin Magnussen

A disappointing end to a promising weekend for the Haas team but they’ll have more opportunities for points, their car does seem like one of the better ones out of the Williams, Renault, Force India, McLaren and Toro Rosso midfield scrap.

“Not the race we wished for, or we expected…The good thing we take out of here is that the car seems to be fast…”

 

— Guenther Steiner, Team Principal

Field spread

Qualifying highlighted an area of potential concern: the grid is as top-heavy now as it’s possibly ever been, certainly in the modern era. You look at the qualifying splits, there’s a huge drop-off after the Ferrari’s and Mercedes’ and even larger drop-offs after that.

The gap separating 1st and 9th is a whopping 2.4 seconds. That’s just a lot amount of time in F1 to be trailing by ,even if you were 20th on the grid let alone 9th/10th…

This concerning difference in pace was confirmed in the race. Max Verstappen finished almost half a minute behind Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari, while Felipe Massa — in 6th place — finished almost a minute behind Verstappen in 5th, and behind Massa everyone else was lapped, lapped in a race that lasted just 1 hour, 24 minutes. That’s quite concerning and FIA President Jean Todt was also concerned about the pace “discrepancy” between teams and has called for F1 to reduce its massive spending:

“There is too big a discrepancy (of pace) between the smallest and the biggest budget.”

 

— Jean Todt, FIA President

Bar reliability issues and incidents, it’s going to be hard to see any team other than Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull making the podium this season based on pure pace or even strategy, the gap is just so wide.

F1 2017 Reveal Thoughts

(Feature image source: @MercedesAMGF1)

In what is essentially, in NBA terms, media day for Formula 1 — just spread across a week rather than one day — teams have been unveiling their challengers for the 2017 Formula 1 season. And these haven’t been your standard car unveilings, the massive regulation changes have made each of these unveilings special, as teams hold high hope for a change of fortune under the new regulations. Well, every team except Mercedes that is, who hope to continue their dominance of the sport.

Today, I’m just going to run through each teams’ unveiling and sprinkle in a thought or two — perhaps a few quotes where possible — about each teams’ unveiling. We’ll go in chronological order (in terms of who unveiled/revealed their car first). And, when we’re done with that, we’ll give out a few awards.

Williams

Williams were actually the first team to give the world a glimpse at their 2017 challenger in a mini-reveal on February 17th.

And if you’re too lazy to click/watch the video:

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As always with the Martini brand, the car looks fantastic. There’s always a white car in F1, in some capacity, and Williams’ latest car (The FW40) is no exception. It looks gorgeous. However… I’m not a huge fan of shark fins, they just look bad but almost every car is running with them this season so…you can’t really knock any team for that.

There haven’t been any quotes that I can see accompanying this fine machine (officially launched on February 25th). I’m curious to hear what their expectations/goals for this season are, surely unhappy with a fifth place finish in the constructors standing behind Force India.

This sport is better when Williams are good, so I’m hoping that Felipe Massa and rookie Lance Stroll have a great machine underneath them to challenge for podiums.

Sauber

Sauber revealed images for their 2017 challenger, the C36, on February 20th. Sauber hope to re-establish themselves as challengers amongst the top 10, but neutrals will already be satisfied with Sauber’s C36 for one reason: It no longer looks like absolute crap.

Here’s Sauber’s 2016 car, the C35:

This is a flattering angle and it still looks horrible.

Sauber, in honour of its 25th year in F1 — to the relief of many — gave the C36 a livery shakeup:

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I love it. Love the change of blue, love the added gold and love the replacement of the yellow on the side-pods in favour of white. I won’t mind driving this car in F1 2017 The Game…

Sauber are running with Ferrari’s 2016 power unit and say the car was “redesigned from scratch” and that “there is not a single part that could adopted from its C35 predecessor”.

That has to be encouraging if you’re a Sauber fan. This car can’t be much worse than last year’s car.

To be honest, it doesn’t really bother me whether this car is good or not. I do hope Pascal Wehrlein makes Force India regret choosing Esteban Ocon over him and that’s about all I have to say about Sauber for this season. Great job on the new paint though.

Renault

Renault were the first team to physically reveal their car — the R.S.17 — at a gathering on February 21st. They, just like Sauber, also decided to change their livery (R.I.P. banana car).

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Man, this looks absolutely fantastic. Very reminiscent, of course, from Renault’s 2010 car and other Renault cars of the past.

The team have set pretty high expectations too, targeting a rise to fifth in the constructors standings having finished a lowly 9th last season.

“For 2017 our performance targets are clear. We want to take a definite, tangible step forward in performance and results. Fifth position in the Constructors’ Championship is our goal.”

— Jerome Stroll, Renault Sport President

That’s a bold target, basically targeting top 10 finishes almost every weekend. Behind Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer, Renault certainly have the driver talent to make that a reality.

Renault might be a few years away from returning to F1’s pinnacle, but it would be nice for them to be good this season. Maybe Nico Hulkenberg will finally get the podium finish he has been well overdue…

Force India

Perhaps the surprise of last season was how good Force India truly were. They beat Williams — quite comfortably in the end — to fourth place in the constructors standings. Did you ever think you’d see this day when Force India first took to the grid in 2008? That only Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari would be the only other teams to finish above Force India?  If you say yes…you’re a liar! No one saw this coming.

Force India revealed their new car, the VJM10, on February 22nd and they have very high targets, owner Vijay Mallya is targeting third in the constructors this season. In 2016, Force India finished 4th with 173 points. Ferrari, who finished 3rd, totalled 398 points, more than doubling Force India’s total. That’s a very big gap to make up, showing how confident and hopeful Mallya and Force India are for this car.

“We are dreaming big but we’re going to give it all we’ve got. All the data shows this is a cracker of a car.”

“We will always dream big – we have never ever had conversations, even in private, that we are not going to break into the top three.”

“If we did not dream big we would not have finished fourth in the championship last year. To be in the company of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari is a huge accomplishment in itself. That is certainly going to be our objective. We will give it our best shot.”

— Vijay Mallya

His first team driver, Sergio Perez (in what could potentially be his last season with the team), is very expectant too, believing Force India will be the surprise of the season.

“I expect a very big year for the team.”

“In none of the teams that I’ve been with in Formula 1 I’ve seen this level of confidence, organisation, everyone doing their jobs. We have plenty of reasons to be hoping for a great year. I think Force India will give a big surprise this year, I have a feeling we have done a tremendous job over the winter.”

“I think Force India will be the big surprise this year.”

“Last year we finished fourth, so I see no reason why we can’t improve that. As I said before, the base is very solid and there’s plenty of reasons to be hoping for that. That means a massive year for us…”

— Sergio Perez

Unfortunately, Force India have probably taken Sauber’s title of “Worst looking car” of the field with the VJM10. The team had adopted a black and silver base livery to go along with their streaks of green and orange.

Motor Racing - Formula One Testing - Test One - Day 1 -  Barcelona, Spain

Force India’s 2016 car, the VJM09 (Source: F1 Fanatic.com)

With the VJM10, however, the team have taken a, shall we say, different approach to the car’s visuals this season.

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A lot more silver and a lot less black and that, added to other changes such as the shark fin (which is sooo much more pronounced here than on any other car on the grid) and this bump in the nose, means that it’s just not an extremely pretty car to look at.

Despite that, I’m hugely excited for this car and what it could achieve (Force India are one of my favourite teams and eveything I hear makes me excited) but I’m not ecstatic about watching it from an aesthetical point of view.

Mercedes

The champions of the last three seasons launched the W08 on February 23rd and it looks absolutely fantastic. One of the best F1 cars I’ve ever seen. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

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2016 champion Nico Rosberg was also impressed by the W08.

Part of the reason why this car is so beautiful is that it’s shark fin isn’t nearly as pronounced as other teams’. I guess you could call it baby shark fin. Mercedes are the only team to run a smaller shark fin while everyone else went for the full great white shark scaled fins.

Mercedes have called this machine “a powerful beast”, which I would say is fairly damn accurate. Lewis Hamilton has said that this car “…is undoubtedly the most detailed car we have ever built as a team”. 

“The cars look so much better than they have in the past. I’m really hoping F1 is going to be super exciting this year for the fans and it will be a lot closer between the teams and that us drivers will be able to make more of a difference.”

— Lewis Hamilton

Mercedes are still the favourites to win it all this season and you can understand why. They obviously have huge expectations from themselves but aren’t getting too ahead of themselves. They know how things went in 2009, the last time the sport saw a huge overhaul in the regulations. The top powers the season prior, McLaren and Ferrari, were hopelessly off the pace to begin the year and didn’t accomplish much of anything that season, though the two teams picked up a few race wins.

If this car is as fast as it is beautiful…expect more Mercedes dominance.

Ferrari

Ferrari launched the SF70-H at Fiorano on February 24th, the team targeting a return to winning ways after a winless season in 2016.

It’s a big year for Ferrari. They had a lacklustre 2016 by their own standards, falling from the consensus second best team on the grid to the very clear third best, ousted by Red Bull time after time as the season went on. Makes you wonder if the team decided to just give up on 2016 and got a head start on the 2017 car…

Drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen have liked what they’ve seen and felt from the SF70-H and feel as though this is a step in the right direction.

“You can see it is a step forward and you can feel it is a step forward.”

“It is fun to drive. The car looks big and strong.”

“…the first impression is the right one. It was a good and a good start.”

— Sebastian Vettel

“It was just a first touch and the main work starts in Barcelona but so far so good.”

— Kimi Raikkonen

The car itself looks fantastic, Ferrari red is always very beautiful, as are the hints of white.

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You can see that the SF70-H has a strange little wing at the end of the shark fin, no other team boasts a feature quite like this. Are Ferrari onto something with this or has every other team not run with one for a reason?

The sport needs Ferrari to be competitive, hopefully the SF70-H can launch Ferrari into title contention.

McLaren

In what was probably the most anticipated reveal, McLaren unveiled the MCL32 on February 24th. As rumoured and teased, the car featured a whole lot of orange.

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I was unsure of the black on the sides, but seeing the car in the garage and on the track, I think it looks great.

In terms of performance and what the car could actually achieve, there’s a sense of curiosity about the paddock. McLaren are the only team running Honda powered engines (everyone else runs either Mercedes, Ferrari or Renault engines) and everyone is wondering about McLaren and Honda.

“It’s a big unknown for us what Honda will have done in terms of engine development because I am sure McLaren is capable of producing a very decent car, in particular with such a dramatic change to the aero regulations.”

“Then I think it will be interesting to see the mix. I expect Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, in no particular order – we should be fighting against Williams, Force India, Toro Rosso. The question is McLaren.”

—  Cyril Abiteboul, Renault Sport Racing Managing Director

You’d imagine that Honda will have put together a power unit that will enable McLaren to compete and run a little more with the likes of those Mercedes and Reanult engines. Will they eclipse those engine suppliers in terms of engine performance? Unlikely, but like Cyril said, no one really knows.

Team boss Eric Boullier is optimistic about the MCL32 and McLaren’s driver lineup:

“It’s the engineering detail on the MCL32 that really impresses me. The chassis is incredibly well realised, the power unit has been significantly developed and, in Fernando and Stoffel [Vandoorne], we have a hugely exciting driver pairing that’s already blending really well.”

“There’s a feeling around the factory that we’re about to turn the corner.”

— Eric Boullier

While Fernando Alonso has described the car as “spectacular”, he is remaining grounded about the team’s chances but believes that as the season progresses McLaren will too:

“We still think the start of the season will be a challenge – we can’t ignore the fact that we’re still coming from a significant step behind the current front-runners.”

“But I’d like to think we can target the second half of the year as a time when we’ll really be able to start making useful performance steps.”

“The aim is to look respectable this year – and I’d like to think we can achieve that.”

— Fernando Alonso

McLaren’s Chief Operating Officer, Jonathan Neale, acknowledges that McLaren aren’t likely to be running around at the front of the grid, but holds optimism that McLaren are headed in the right direction:

“The journey ahead isn’t going to be easy, and I’ve emphasised that to everyone. We’ve made progress in the past 12 months, but we’re not where we need to be and we expect on-track competition to be fierce. “

“Do I believe we’ll be back at the front this year? Realistically, probably not quite yet, no. But do I think we’ll continue to make meaningful improvement as a team? Absolutely.”

“And that’s our aim: to make progress by establishing the proper and correct, if sometimes difficult, changes that are needed to go forward. “

“We can’t predict where that will leave us – particularly on the eve of a new season of regulatory upheaval and uncertainty – but as a team we have many talented and driven individuals and we’re restless about continuing to do whatever is needed to make us competitive.”

— McLaren Chief Operating Officer, Jonathan Neale

Hopefully this car can defy expectations. The sport is much better when McLaren are challengers and the sport needs, arguably, the best driver on this entire grid, Fernando Alonso, to be in front running once again.

Red Bull

Red Bull don’t believe in superstition, they’re not afraid of a number.

The RB13 was unveiled on February 26th and many believe that this will be the car who will give Mercedes the best run for their money in 2017. But team principal Christian Horner acknowledges that Mercedes will still be the team to beat:

“We’ve been quite good with regulation changes before, but nothing can be taken for granted. Mercedes will be the favourites, but if we can narrow that gap down and put them under a bit of pressure it would be great for everyone.”

— Christian Horner

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Source: @RedBullRacing

This seems to be the only close up image of the RB13 as of Feb. 26th and it looks as though it’s pretty much the exact same car as last season only with a shark fin. Which is fine, because the RB12 was a very good-looking car and the RB13 is no different.

We’ll see in due time how lucky the RB13 will prove to be…

Haas

Haas are looking to follow-up their impressive debut season with another strong campaign behind their new challenger, the VF-17. A few leaked images suggested that Haas have dipped their car into a lot of grey paint and that was confirmed when they revealed images of their car on February 26th.

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The car looks great from the front, but I’m not sure about the grey from other angles… I thought this was all black, with the hints of red, originally and that would’ve been great but I’m not sure about the grey replacing the white of last year.

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Source: @HaasF1Team

That’s all I have to say about Haas’ car reveal. Missed opportunity to go with a black and red livery and it’s not as nice as last year’s car.

Toro Rosso

Toro Rosso were the final team to reveal their 2017 car, the STR12, on February 26th. They were believed to have changed their livery too and they certainly did, as it turned out. Quite extensively too.

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For reference, here is last year’s Toro Rosso, the STR11:

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This new design is very distinctive from all other Toro Rosso challengers, and Red Bull for that matter. It’ll probably grow on me as time goes on.

Of course — similar to pretty much all the other cars — the shark fin is present and, as always, it’ll be interesting to see how Toro Rosso stack up against parent team Red Bull, McLaren (Toro Rosso’s main rivals from last season) and Renault.

Awards

Best looking car: Mercedes

Worst looking car: Force India

Best new livery change: McLaren (honourable mention to Renault)

Worst new livery change: Haas

Testing begins in Barcelona on February 27th. Bring. The. New. Season. On.