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?

Spanish Grand Prix Winners and Losers

Feature image: Sutton Images

Lewis Hamilton netted his second win of the 2017 season in an entertaining Spanish Grand Prix ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in second and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo in third place.

Mercedes’ strategists 

The real reason Lewis Hamilton won this race was the strategy choices from the Mercedes pit wall. Their choice to get the harder compound of tyre out of the way proved to be an inspired one and it played right into their hands when a virtual safety car was deployed for the Vandoorne-Massa incident that saw the McLaren driver break his suspension.

With Ferrari choosing to run soft-soft-medium, it meant that Mercedes would be on the softer/faster compound to end the race while Vettel would be running the mediums in the final stint. It was looking as though Hamilton would have to make up 8-ish seconds in the final stint on the faster compound but that VSC — and Ferrari’s decision to not pit under it — closed the gap right up and the two were nip-and-tuck heading into the first two turns.

Though Vettel held the lead for the time being, on the slower compound he was always going to be challenged by Hamilton and on lap 44 Lewis made his move.

Even in the moment Vettel acknowledged there was nothing he could do about it and Hamilton saved his tyres very well from there on out, stretching the softs for 30 laps to finish the race.

It’s difficult to say whether Hamilton would’ve been able to catch and overtake Vettel in the absence of a virtual safety car but those strategic decisions — and Vettel being held up by Valterri Bottas after the first set of pitstops — played right into Hamilton’s hands, who closes the deficit to six points.

“…it was important for Lewis to stay close behind Sebastian – and then it was a question of undercutting or not. I think it was realistic for Ferrari to avoid the undercut and pit Sebastian. From that moment it was important to see how he moved through the traffic. We had hoped that [Red Bull’s Daniel] Riccardo would make Seb’s life quite difficult but Seb’s pace was just so much faster that he passed him quite easily – and then we were on the back foot! There was not a lot we could do so we tried to extend Lewis’s stint and hope that towards the end of the race he had a better tyre situation. Then we went on a remote strategy – putting the medium tyres on and keeping the softs for the end to be able to attack. Hopefully attack! And then the VSC (Virtual Safety Car) came and that forced us to rethink our strategy. Our strategy group opted now to do the opposite of what was planned: to pit at the very end of the VSC to make it impossible for Sebastian to react. Our timing was perfect! I take my hat off to James (Vowles, strategy chief) and his guys for that coup.

— Toto Wolff

Pascal Wehrlein and Sauber

It took until a manic and wet Round 20 of the 2016 season for Sauber team to score any points but some wonderful driving from Pascal Wehrlein and an inspired 1-stop strategy helped Sauber along to an eighth place finish (following the implementation of a 5-second penalty for being on the wrong side of the bollard heading into the pitlane) and their first points finish of the season in only Round 5.

Wehrlein himself was involved in a great scrap all race long with the quicker Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz and managed to keep him behind him, the 5-second penalty was the only thing that denied Wehrlein from P7.

“A great result for our team – with a perfect strategy behind it. Both drivers have put in a good performance. Pascal managed to have an excellent race, whereas Marcus also made the most out of the car. Today’s result proves that we are in the right direction and that there is definitely potential in our car. We are curious about what comes next in Monaco when further aero parts will be introduced.”

— Monisha Kaltenborn, team principal

Bigger picture stuff for Sauber: they’ve got themselves on the board while their biggest rivals McLaren (it’s incredibly sad to type those words…) haven’t looked like scoring at all this season and it’s unclear where and when they could score points. So that makes this result even more important for Sauber.

Force India

With the retirements of Kimi Raikkonen, Max Verstappen and Valeterri Bottas, as well as the problems suffered by Felipe Massa, the two Force India’s of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon strolled to a 4th and 5th place finish helped push Force India 43 points ahead of Williams in their battle for 4th place in the constructors while trailing Red Bull by only 19 points for 3rd place.

Shoutout to Esteban Ocon. He has been consistent all season long and 5th place is a new career-high finish for Ocon.

Great day for the men in pink.

The Kimi Raikkonen fan

This poor kid was devastated when his, presumably, favourite driver Kimi Raikkonen was forced to retire on lap 1 after he was hit by Bottas which forced him into Verstappen, forcing both Max and Kimi to retire.

However, there’s a happy ending to be had. Ferrari caught wind of this and arranged for the kid to come down to Ferrari and meet Kimi Raikkonen, much to the kid’s obvious delight.

Great stuff from Kimi and Ferrari.

Losers

Red Bull

This was it for Red Bull’s season in terms of challenging for the constructors title. Their upgrades had to bring them closer to the leading pair of Mercedes and Ferrari and the end result was that Daniel Ricciardo finished 1:15 behind Hamilton. As you can probably assume, that’s just not going to get it done.

Team principle Christian Horner has conceded that Red Bull are out of the running for this year’s title, saying “…Ferrari and Mercedes did a better job in interpreting the rules than we did…”

In the engine department, Ferrari and Mercedes continue to improve and control their own engine destiny while Red Bull — a customer of Renault — continue to play catch up…

‘Danny Ric’ did boost Red Bull’s spirits a bit with a 3rd place finish but only because both Raikkonen and Bottas retired…

McLaren and their fight against Sauber

Bad, bad day for McLaren.

With Sauber’s points finish, McLaren are now solely rooted to the bottom of the standings with seemingly no points finish in sight. Fernando Alonso finished 12th for his first finish of the season in a sightly improved McLaren, but finished behind both Saubers and could only muster 12th with three regular points scorers (Raikkonen, Bottas and Verstappen) all DNFing.

For Alonso, hopefully the car is better by the time he returns for the Canadian Grand Prix after his Indy 500 adventures.

Williams

An equally tough day for another former super power of F1. Following a puncture on lap 1, Felipe Massa’s race was ruined and Lance Stroll struggled all race long with other issues. Stroll finished 16 (the last of the classified runners) as he completely fell off near the end of the race.

In the constructors standing, Williams drop to 6th place and have fallen behind Toro Rosso now. This is what happens when only one driver is capable of scoring points…

Jolyon Palmer

After a rough start to the season, things didn’t really get better for Jolyon Palmer in Spain. While his teammate Nico Hulkenburg finished in 6th place, Palmer finished 15th place, 2 laps down.

I wouldn’t be surprised — by the time the Hungarian Grand Prix comes around — if Palmer isn’t relieved of his duties. Hulkenburg’s performances are showing what is possible from that car and Palmer has been way off compared to his more experienced teammate.

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.

Australian Grand Prix Qualifying Round-Up

(Feature image: Sutton Images)

Finally. All the sandbagging and mind games over which team is going to be faster than the other ended on Saturday as teams, for the first time, finally pushed these new 2017 cars to their full ability. In the end, it was Lewis Hamilton who took a record equalling sixth Australian Grand Prix pole position ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Valterri Bottas.

What were some of the other storylines from qualifying?

Ferrari pace is true

True to winter testing, the pace Ferrari showed has carried over to Melbourne, Sebastian Vettel managing to split the Mercedes at the top of the grid while Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the top four, albeit nine-tenths behind Hamilton. Raikkonen had been complaining about the balance of his car during qualifying but will have a great opportunity of a podium finish tomorrow.

“I made life complicated for myself right from the first session: I never managed to put all the sectors together and that cost me lap time. But the car feels strong and I just have to do better.

“Apart from that we have a really good package, it is a very special place here.”

— Kimi Raikkonen

Lewis Hamilton is also expecting a “real race” between the Ferrari’s tomorrow. Let’s hope so.

Off goes Ricciardo, Red Bull off the pace

The home crowd were to be left in disappointment after Australian native Daniel Ricciardo spun and crashed his Red Bull in Q3, bringing out the red flag.

As Martin Brundle mentioned in commentary, it’s very unusual for a car to have an accident at that part of the track (Turn 14).

One of the hopes with this regulation change is that these cars would be harder to drive and I think, given the other accidents that have happened this weekend, that’s been successful. These cars definitely have more of a bite to them, harder to save.

For Ricciardo, he’s obviously very disappointed and it remains to be seen if there’s a further penalty yet for him should he need to change that gearbox.

“That was a tough one today. I don’t crash into the barriers often and the last place I want to do that is at home. But I feel I crashed for the right reason, as I was basically pushing and trying to find the limit and these things happen, so let’s say I’m not disappointed by the approach, it was just more of a frustrating outcome, starting 10th instead of being under the top 5. I feel for the mechanics, because they’ve had a long week and now they’ve got a long night ahead of them. I knew the crowds would have also preferred to see me further up the grid and it would have been nice to put on a better performance than that but tomorrow is where the points are. It’s a chance to create a bigger headline if I have a good race so that’s what will motivate me to do better tomorrow. I made it a bit more difficult for myself but it’s going to be alright. To get a good start in the race will be the key. I saved a set of ultrasofts in Q2, I know that not everyone in front of me has, so maybe that gives me a chance.”

 Daniel Ricciardo

Red Bull, meanwhile are disappointingly off the pace. Everyone thought they had sandbagged testing and that added to the fact there were new parts going onto the car in Melbourne led everyone to believe that Red Bull would be contending at the top with Mercedes and Ferrari. But that wasn’t to be. The Red Bull is quite a bit off the pace, Max Verstappen’s quickest qualifying time was almost 1.3 seconds slower than Lewis Hamilton’s pole time. Verstappen, team boss Christian Horner and Red Bull aren’t too optimistic ahead of tomorrow’s race.

“Our best hope tomorrow is a clean start because we don’t have the pace to challenge the Ferraris and Mercedes. I’m realistic. So probably a very lonely race as behind me there is also quite a big gap.”

— Max Verstappen

“The pace at the sharp end is just a little bit too much for us at the moment.”

— Christian Horner

Romain Grosjean pulls the rabbit from the hat, Magnussen struggles

What a day for Romain Grosjean and Haas — sixth place, Haas’s best ever qualifying result. No one expected Haas to anywhere near that but Grosjean made the magic happen. He knew straightaway it was a great lap, as was the one that advanced him into Q3.

Grosjean’s teammate, Kevin Magnussen, on the other hand struggled and failed to advance from Q1, and will lineup 17th tomorrow which is a shame because the pace that Grosjean has showcased that car is capable of a points finish tomorrow.

“Went off the track in turn 12 on both of my laps – really annoyed with that. The car was there in qualifying. My lap was good until I went off. Both times my lap was good. I’m disappointed with that. We should’ve been a lot further up the grid. Now, I have to fight quite hard in the race. There’s still a lot that can happen and I will give it my best tomorrow.

“The good thing is the car looks competitive. Romain made it to Q3, which shows the potential of the car. I’m pretty sure I could’ve been very close to that if I hadn’t messed up and got off the track. I think I was just too keen to make up for my slow start to the weekend. I had a few places that I knew I had to sort out, and when you’re in qualifying trying to sort out things like that, it’s not optimal. It would’ve been nice to do that in practice, but that’s the situation I was in and I messed up by going off the track two times.

“I went for it and twice it went wrong. The first time I did it flat out to see where the limit was and I went off. The second time I asked for a little bit more front wing and I went a bit slower to get it right, but I didn’t get it right. It’s very annoying when you see how good the car is. I’m gutted not to be up there and give myself a better chance at some points.”

— Kevin Magnussen

Some things don’t change between Perez and Hulkenburg

You can’t separate these two can you? After forming a strong partnership in their four years as teammates, only .010 of a second separates Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenburg on the grid (Perez pipping Hulkenburg to 11th), despite the latter moving to Renault over the winter. Although, to be fair, Perez probably would’ve made it into Q3 were it not for an engine issue (engine hesitation as he described it) and his hot-lap being, slightly, compromised by Felipe Massa.

Outside of that, Force India’s pace was a little disappointing, Esteban Ocon qualifying 14th.

“The potential was certainly there for us to make Q3, but Sergio didn’t have the cleanest lap during his final run of Q2 and he missed the top ten by a whisker. Esteban is still finding his feet with the team and is on a very steep learning curve. He’s taken a very mature approach so far and is gradually building his confidence and speed with this car. He made good progress during the session and he knows there is more to come. It’s a long race tomorrow so let’s see what happens. Scoring points with both cars remains the objective.”

— Robert Furnley, Deputy Team Principle

Renault meanwhile, will be disappointed to have their cars so far apart, Jolyon Palmer starting from 19th on the grid (promoted from 20th on the count of Lance Stroll having to take a grid penalty for a gearbox change).

“Today really didn’t go to plan. I didn’t have any grip and I struggled with the brakes so we need to know what went wrong. Yesterday the car felt much better and was faster on the soft tyres, with a much higher fuel load, so there’s something not quite right. It’s been pretty far from the weekend I wanted to start the season so far, but let’s see what happens in the race.”

— Jolyon Palmer

Giovinazzi almost embarrasses Ericsson

Standing in for Pascal Wehrlein this weekend, Antonio Giovinazzi almost put his much more experienced teammate (for the weekend) Marcus Ericsson to shame. Were it not for a mistake in the final sector, Giovinazzi probably would’ve made it Q2 and ahead of Ericsson.

You’d imagine Giovinazzi will land a permanent F1 sear eventually but he can proud of the job he’s done so far this weekend.

“That is a special day for me kicking off my first Formula One Grand Prix weekend. I am really happy with my performance today, I was just a few tenths away from Q2. It will be a long race tomorrow; a lot can happen here in Melbourne. I will do my best to put in my maximum performance.”

— Antonio Giovinazzi

Throw-Ins

McLaren had an O.K. day. Fernando Alonso did everything he could to drag this car to 13th on the grid but Stoffel Vandoorne had fuel pressure issue and he qualified 18th in the end.

“I had a fuel pressure issue in Q1 and had to abort my first two runs as the engine was running low on power. That was a shame – because, after FP3, everything was heading in the right direction and I was feeling confident. But it’s always difficult when you only get one opportunity to set a time because you can’t take risks and have to make it really count.

“Still, we’ve made some good steps forward this weekend: Fernando and I both feel more comfortable in the car, and that confidence means we’re able to push it a little bit more.

“Obviously, we still have a lot of work to do, but we can take some positives from the potential we’ve shown so far this weekend, and I think we can have a good race tomorrow.”

— Stoffel Vandoorne

Mixed day also at Williams, Felipe Massa did a great job to stick his Williams in 7th position while Lance Stroll was on the back foot having crashed in FP3.

“Unfortunately it wasn’t a great day for Lance with his accident in FP3. It really set his whole day off to a bad start, from which it was difficult to recover. There was a lot of work needed on the car; we changed the entire back-end as well as most of the front suspension. The team worked very hard to get the car ready for qualifying but there was only time for him to get one run in the first session. Under huge pressure and with not very much practice in the car in any sort of qualifying format I think that Lance did a good job to get that time on the board. On Felipe’s side it was actually a very good day…”

— Paddy Lowe, Chief Technical Officer

At Toro Rosso, it was a solid day. Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat line up 8th and 9th tomorrow. Great opportunity for some points tomorrow.

“…It’s tomorrow that counts; we’ve got two cars ahead of us that we’d like to take on – we want to be the best of the rest behind the top three teams, so clearly we have a target there. Equally, we have people behind us that we know will be very competitive too, so we’re looking forward to an exciting and I suspect very close race tomorrow.”

— James Key, Technical Director

Head-to-head qualifying

This will be fun to track throughout the year, the inter-team battles.

Lewis Hamilton 1-0 Valterri Bottas
Sebatian Vettel 1-0 Kimi Raikkonen
Daniel Ricciardo 0-1 Max Verstappen
Felipe Massa 1-0 Lance Stroll
Sergio Perez 1-0 Esteban Ocon
Fernando Alonso 1-0 Stoffel Vandoorne
Carlos Sainz 1-0 Daniil Kvyat
Romain Grosjean 1-0 Kevin Magnussen
Nico Hulkenburg 1-0 Jolyon Palmer
Marcus Ericsson 1-0 Antonio Giovinazzi

Interesting that only Daniel Ricciardo was the only number one driver (as such) to be out-qualified by his teammate although we’ll never know if Ricciardo would’ve out-qualified Verstappen or not.

Qualifying always throws out the odd shock here and there, let’s hope for a good race tomorrow.

How much longer for F1’s Golden Generation?

(Feature image: Sutton Images)

The field of the 2017 Formula One grid is a mosh pit of multi-cultural and multi-generational drivers who all share the same goal: to win a Formula One World Championship. But, sadly, it’s a cutthroat industry. Formula One is a very selective sport, a revolving door of the world’s greatest racing talent. Yesterday’s potential is today’s performance and there’s no guarantee of a tomorrow for many young drivers who fight to make their name. Very few get to truly leave on their own terms.

It’s interesting to cast an eye up and down the grid and reflect where *insert driver name here* has come from and think about his career, or imagine what *insert driver name here* could accomplish in his career. Experience is so key in this sport and it comes in all sorts of different forms throughout the grid. In fact, when it comes to experience, you can place the field of the 2017 Formula One grid into three categories:

The up-and-comers/young pups/rookies 

(Drivers who have raced in F1 from 0-4 seasons)

These are drivers that are either brand new to the sport or are still learning/improving their craft. Others, meanwhile, are a little more established but are still learning what it takes to win/win consistently.

(Bracketed information represents what season said driver debuted and their current team)

Valtteri Bottas (2013, Mercedes)
Lance Stroll (Rookie, Williams)
Max Verstappen (2015, Red Bull)
Esteban Ocon (2016, Force India)
Stoffel Vandoorne (Rookie, McLaren)
Carlos Sainz (2015, Toro Rosso)
Daniil Kvyat (2014, Toro Rosso)
Kevin Magnussen (2014, Haas)
Jolyon Palmer (2016, Renault)
Marcus Ericsson (2014, Sauber)
Pascal Wehrlein (2016, Sauber)

Mid-tier veterans

(Drivers who have spent between 5 and 10 seasons on the grid)

These drivers have been around long enough to know how things work and have survived long enough to carve out a meaningful F1 career for themselves (very meaningful, as the case is for some).

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