F1 2020 Preview: Will Less Be More?

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

But I am now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019: 62 points (leader: Hamilton)

2018: 24 points (leader: Hamilton)

2017: 7 points (leader: Vettel)

2016: 19 points (leader: Hamilton)

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

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

2019: 87 points (winner: Hamilton)

2018: 88 points (winner: Hamilton)

2017: 46 points (winner: Hamilton)

2016: 5 points (winner: Rosberg)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awards/Predictions

These are always hit and miss for me.

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

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

Driver’s Champion: Max Verstappen

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

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

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

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

We’ll see…

Constructors’ Champion: Mercedes

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

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

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

It is what it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprise of the Season: Sebastian Vettel

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

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

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

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

Best Rookie: N/A

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

Most Improved: Lando Norris

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

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

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

Most Disappointing Driver: Lance Stroll

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

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

Most Disappointing Team: Ferrari

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

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

Best Livery: TBD

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

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

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

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

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

Worst Livery: Red Bull

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

Best Helmet: Lando Norris

This was tough.

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

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

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

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

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

Worst Helmet: Carlos Sainz

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

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


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

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

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

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

(Image: Creative Commons)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then came 2017…

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

Then it all unfolded into chaos, beginning in Singapore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 was a defining season for Vettel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2020-05-13 at 17.02.51

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vettel’s Ferrari departure opens door to 2021 driver market

(Image: @ScuderiaFerrari)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valterri Bottas is extremely interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assessing the F1 2019 season

Feature image: @F1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 did not start well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best driver: Carlos Sainz

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

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

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

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

Best victory: Max Verstappen – Austria

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

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

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

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

Best rookie: Lando Norris

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

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

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

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

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

Most improved: Valterri Bottas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shoutout to Daniil Kvyat too for his comeback season.

Best race: Brazilian Grand Prix

It had to be, didn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprise of the season: McLaren’s resurgence

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

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

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

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

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

Biggest disappointment: Ferrari

Sigh…

Where to even begin?

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

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

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

This…did not happen.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Assessing Max Verstappen’s 2019 title chances

Feature image: @RedBullRacing via Vladimir Rys 

Sunday’s race at Hockenheim for the 2019 German Grand Prix was utterly wild for a number of reasons — Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc crashing out, Lewis Hamilton crashing, Mercedes’ minute pitstop, Lance Stroll leading the race, Daniil Kvyat’s podium…these are just some of the occurrences that made the German Grand Prix a classic.

Ultimately, it was a race won by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, the 7th of his career, 2nd of the season and his second in three races, with his stunning victory at Austria not too far in the distant past.

After Lewis Hamilton’s horror show saw him finish outside of the points in 11th (promoted to 9th after post-race penalties to both Alfa Romeos) and Valterri Bottas’ crash, it leaves Verstappen 63 points off of Hamilton’s lead and just 22 points off of Bottas for P2.

With Red Bull making a clear step with their car in the recent races, Verstappen’s incredible run of form (finishing in the top five in every race since Belgium 2018), Honda’s gains, a track that possibly favours Red Bull over Mercedes in the form of Hungary coming up and Red Bull’s good track record of development in the second half of the season the question has to be asked…

Can Max Verstappen launch an unexpected title challenge?

Let’s start with Verstappen himself: he has been on a tear of form — and it’s a large sample size now.

Barring a reliability failure in Hungary and the problems in Silverstone in 2018, Verstappen has been on fire since effectively Canada last year after taking a lot of (in some cases, warranted) criticism after his shaky start to 2018 that featured accidents in Bahrain (colliding with Lewis Hamilton, resulting in eventual retirement), China (colliding with Sebastian Vettel), Azerbaijan (clashing with his teammate, resulting in a double DNF) and qualifying in Monaco.

In 2019 his hot form has continued.

Verstappen willed his Red Bull to an unlikely podium in Australia and has just driven the wheels off of his car all season — whether Pierre Gasly really is as bad as advertised or Verstappen has been performing above and beyond of what that Red Bull should be operating at (a combination of both, I suspect), Verstappen has been brilliant in 2019 so far. And you would already know he wouldn’t back down in a side-to-side confrontation with Lewis Hamilton. Whether he’d emerge on top is another thing, but Max isn’t afraid of anyone.

Honda deserve a lot of credit for their role in 2019 too. When push has come to shove and Verstappen has needed to make an overtake, he hasn’t been limited by his engine. And Honda have been reliable so far this season too, though, I’d have my reservations about being able to out-gun Mercedes in terms of reliability across a full season.

The F1 circus moves to Hungary as the first ‘half’ of the season comes to a close and F1 disbands for the remainder of the summer.

It’s early, but it should be a track that suits Red Bull and if Verstappen can claim another victory before the break, it would narrow Hamilton’s championship lead to at least 56 points (assuming he finishes 2nd in the race) and the momentum would be firmly with Verstappen and Red Bull — winners of three in the last four should they take top honours at Budapest.

It would also certainly see more people beginning to question if Verstappen could actually challenge Hamilton heading into the second half of the season.

Red Bull have been closing the gap and previous evidence would suggest that they could continue that trend after the break — their track record of development in the second half of the season is extensive.

Prior to the hybrid years, Red Bull outscored all of their opponents in the second half of the season, crucially doing so by 28 points over Ferrari in 2010 as Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull took maiden titles, and then convincingly in 2011 by 50 points over McLaren in 2011 to take them to back-to-back titles.

2012 was one of the best instances of Red Bull’s ruthless development taking over in the title race. They narrowly outscored Ferrari in 2012 by four points after the summer break but in the Vettel vs. Alonso title fight, Vettel took four consecutive wins at Singapore, Japan, Korea and India as Ferrari failed to keep pace with their development, their last victory of 2012 coming before the summer break at Germany. Ultimately, it was a title Vettel won by three points (but it’s also a title where you can get into the conversation of ‘If Romain Grosjean hadn’t torpedoed into T1 at Spa…’).

2013 saw Red Bull’s ruthlessness continue as they scored more points after the summer break (319) than they did heading into it (277) as Vettel won nine consecutive races to close out the season — in other words, winning every race after the summer break.

Since the hybrid era, things were a little different as everyone tried to find their feet as Mercedes romped to consecutive titles in 2014 and 2015.

Heading into 2016, initially, it was Ferrari who were second best after Mercedes, with Red Bull only taking second place in Germany (the last race before the summer break in 2016) after a double podium saw them overtake Ferrari and take a 14 point lead into the summer break. But after the break, Red Bull continued to progress and they soon left Ferrari behind in the standings, outscoring them 212 points to the Scuderia’s 156 points after the summer break to take second place in the constructors standings by a convincing 70 points in the end, in addition to picking up the two race wins Mercedes didn’t pick up that season in Spain and Malaysia.

Again, heading into 2017 Red Bull continued to make strong gains in the second half of the season. After Ferrari had (finally) produced a potential title-winning car and outscored Red Bull 318 points to 184 points by the summer break, Red Bull stepped up their game, didn’t give up on that year’s car and scored a very respectable 184 points to end the season, just 20 off of what Ferrari scored from the summer break (204). And if Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull hadn’t DNF’d in three of the last four races due to reliability, there’s a good chance Red Bull would’ve outscored Ferrari after the summer break. In addition, Ferrari only went on to win one race after the summer break (Vettel taking top step in Brazil) whereas Red Bull went on to take two convincing wins with Verstappen in Malaysia and Mexico.

2018 wasn’t what Red Bull wanted it to be, but they still closed the gap in the second half of the season compared to the first half — being outscored 112 points by Ferrari before the break, only being outscored by 40 in the second half of the season. Again, had Ricciardo not suffered five DNF’s in the second half of the season, who knows how much closer this could’ve been. Red Bull won one race after the summer break — again seeing convincing success in Mexico — compared to Ferraris two victories after the break.

The point of all of that is to illustrate that Red Bull have good history of development in the second half of the season, and if that trend continues, who knows how close they can get to Mercedes and, by extension, Verstappen to Hamilton.

Of course, it’s not Ferrari who Red Bull would be racing to a potential drivers title this season (Ferrari just being an illustration to compare post summer break form) but Mercedes.

Mercedes are as relentless with their later-season upgrades as Red Bull are, and when push came to shove last season, their upgrades worked, Ferrari’s did not and that was the difference in the championship last year. Their track record is well documented but so is Red Bull’s. In addition — and an advantage swinging towards Mercedes — Red Bull have done all of that with Renault in the past, they venture into unknown territory with Honda, so the reliability over the course of the second half of the season will be very interesting to monitor.

Ultimately, I think Hamilton is a little too far away for Verstappen to get ahold of this year.

It’s possible that Red Bull could bring Verstappen close to Hamilton, and they may steal a few victories, but Mercedes are still firmly the team to beat it’s going to take more than that ultimately for Verstappen to catch and pass the Englishman.

It’s going to take another race like the one we saw in Germany where Hamilton makes a mistake (good luck getting multiples of those in one season) and some Mercedes unreliability to give Verstappen his chance. In addition, Verstappen needs impeccable reliability from Red Bull and Honda, and that hasn’t always been in the case for either in the hybrid era. And even after that, if Verstappen emerges as a legitimate contender, Mercedes has Bottas to serve as rear gunner (who, I’m sure, will do whatever is asked amidst his uncertain Mercedes future) whereas Red Bull have no chance in that regard with Gasly.

P2 is much more attainable for Verstappen, and I have no doubts that he will nab that away from Valterri Bottas eventually. But in 2019, the title is asking a lot of Verstappen, Red Bull and Honda

How close can Red Bull and Max Vertappen get? We shall see, but the gains are there for all to see.

It’s not as farfetched as it would seem, but it begins at Hungary…

 

Is Sebastian Vettel’s legacy being altered amidst title fights with Lewis Hamilton?

Image: Manuel Goria/Sutton Images via F1.com

Sunday afternoon provided another exciting Grand Prix in 2018, as a tight affair between Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen was ultimately decided by tyre wear and Mercedes’ great tactics — positioning the yet-to-stop Valterri Bottas in front of Raikkonen to draw Hamilton close — with Hamilton emerging as the victor and extended his championship lead to 30 points over Sebastian Vettel.

For Hamilton’s title rival, Vettel, his P4 required a recovery drive after a spin on lap 1 following contact with Lewis Hamilton heading into the second chicane sent him to the back of the grid.

The stewards ultimately deemed this a racing incident, but really this is Vettel’s fault and he rightly bore the brunt of the outcome as he spun around. Hamilton left him more than enough room and Vettel should’ve gotten out of it — I just think Vettel didn’t want to accept that Hamilton had just brilliantly done him around the outside and expected Hamilton to just get out of the way? Like that was going to happen…

Whether Vettel had the pace to win in Monza, whether his presence up front may have actually helped Ferrari win the race we’ll never know, but what do we do know is that it was another crucial swing in the championship as Hamilton extended his lead to 30 points over his German rival.

Vettel and Hamilton have shared the grid since 2007 and have both enjoyed driving title-winning cars, but only in 2017 did the two finally share a title-contending car at the same time and lock horns together as the two title favourites (2010 doesn’t really count, that was a Vettel-Webber-Alonso title showdown. Hamilton was just on the fringes come showdown). In these two years where Formula 1’s selling point has been ‘Hamilton vs. Vettel’, what has become abundantly clear is the consistency of Hamilton across an entire season compared to Vettel, who has faltered under the pressure with the Italian Grand Prix proving to be another blot for the German’s copybook in his quest to become the first Ferrari champion since 2007.

With this latest knock in the German’s title challenge, the question that should be arising about now: is Vettel’s legacy going to be altered as a result of the outcomes of his two title battles against Lewis Hamilton?

Let’s go over it so far…

Vettel has enjoyed a glittering career in which he has won four titles and amassed over 50 grand prix victories.

He quickly rose from the ranks of Toro Rosso to replace the retiring David Coulthard at Red Bull in 2009 and continued his rise as one of Formula 1’s hottest new properties as he secured the first win for Red Bull in China.

In 2010 he went all the way as he won the title at the final Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi, pipping Fernando Alonso and teammate Mark Webber to the throne and claim the honour of youngest World Champion.

As Vettel made history, Red Bull had quickly developed a car that was the class of the field. By the end of 2009, it was the quickest car on the grid as Red Bull won the final three races of 2009.

In 2010, Ferrari and McLaren arrived with much improved cars from their 2009 counterparts — enabling Alonso, Hamilton and Jenson Button to win races — but the superiority eventually swung back to Red Bull, who won 9 of the 19 races in 2010.

By Abu Dhabi, the McLaren’s of Hamilton and Button had no chance of winning the title (Hamilton technically could have but it was never going to happen) and Alonso was sucking absolutely everything that Ferrari had to offer — it was clearly the worse car between itself and the Red Bull.

In 2011, Red Bull pressed their advantage right from the off as the Austrian outfit clearly had the best package right from the get-go as Vettel tore away to win five of the first six races. The respective packages from McLaren and Ferrari wasn’t up to snuff over the course of the season to contend with the Red Bulls, leaving Hamilton, Button and Alonso with no chance of contending for the title. The sister Red Bull in the hands of Mark Webber fared no better than Alonso, Button or Hamilton. By his own admission in his book, after his best title opportunity in 2010 slipped away, Webber admitted the “stuffing was knocked out of him”. He had prepared to retire after he had won the title but it didn’t happen, and Webber was on the decline in his career — no match for Vettel. In the end, it was a very easy title for Vettel to claim — which he did by round 15 of 19 in Japan — in what was easily the best car on the grid.

In 2012, again, the Red Bull proved to be the best car on the grid with Alonso, incredibly, willing his Ferrari to a title challenge despite winning just three races and winning none of them from Round 10 onwards — the infamous 2010 German Grand Prix where Ferrari enforced team orders, forcing Felipe Massa to move aside for Alonso. It took until the final round again but Vettel ultimately prevailed as he always should have given his machinery — his third world title coming a lot closer than it really should have.

And for the last of Vettel’s current four titles, 2013 was an absolute landslide as he won 12 races, including the last nine in a row, to win by 157 points over Alonso in second — the Red Bull as dominant as it’s ever been in the final year of the V8 era.

At the point of 2013, Vettel has had the dream career powered by a great car which had been the class of the field every year since the end of 2009.

Of course, Vettel’s unrelenting pace, in addition to a dream car, was unquestionable. His place as one of Formula 1’s finest drivers ever was, arguably, secured at the end of 2013 as he scured his fourth title in a row.

Anything that came after only cemented it…or did it?

Since 2014 began, Vettel hasn’t had everything his way. He went winless in 2014 as his teammate Daniel Ricciardo won three races before moving to Ferrari for the 2015 season, replacing Alonso. In his first two years with the Scuderia, Vettel didn’t have a title-winning car underneath him as Mercedes continued their domination in the V6 era.

In 2017, things changed.

After a regulation reshuffle, Ferrari finally produced a car in which the accomplished Vettel could finally mount a challenge to Lewis Hamilton’s and Mercedes’ throne, and so Vettel was thrust into the title fight.

When you’re in a title challenge, the microscope is incredibly fine. If there’s a fault in you it will be found out, especially when your opponent is Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes.

The 2017 Ferrari was equally as capable of winning the 2017 driver’s title as the Mercedes but its challenge was let down by two things. One was the Ferrari’s reliability, which gave up the ghost in Japan (forcing Vettel to retire in the early stages) and Malaysia, where Vettel was also forced to start from the back of the grid after an engine issue.

The second reason why Vettel’s title quest came up short was that Vettel cracked in key moments whereas Hamilton did not.

At Round No. 8 in Baku, Vettel saw red as he intentionally drove alongside and then into the side of Hamilton’s Mercedes after Vettel adjudged the Brit to brake-check him under the safety car, leading to some damage to Vettel’s front wing.

Vettel was handed a 10 second stop-go penalty for his actions, which ultimately cost him victory after Hamilton was forced to pit after his head-rest became loose, requiring a replacement. Vettel ultimately finished fourth ahead of Hamilton in fifth but needlessly threw away the victory, and 13 points were lost that day on account on his own recklessness…

Arguably the pinnacle moment of the entire 2017 season (certainly an iconic one) ,and the moment that the championship tide turned for good, came that Singapore.

Having stuck his Ferrari on pole, Vettel’s getaway off the line in the wet was slow, with both Max Verstappen and Raikkonen both enjoying much better starts. Raikkonen hugged the wall as he went to attack Verstappen while Vettel — with all the track to his right available to him — veered to the left to cover off his threats and pinched Verstappen in between the two Ferraris, which ended up in a massive crash and all three were forced to retire, but not before Vettel had a second off as he lost the back-end and made contact with the wall.

The stewards decided that this was a racing incident but, really, Verstappen isn’t making contact with Raikkonen until Vettel comes over, which left Verstappen between a rock and a hard place. But the ultimate backshot was that Hamilton ended up winning the race — at a track Mercedes were genuinely struggling and Ferrari thriving — and extended his championship lead from 3 points to 28 points.

It marked the beginning of the end of Vettel’s title challenge…

After the reliability issues of Malaysia and Japan, Hamilton beat Vettel to victory in USA and had the chance to clinch the title at the next round in Mexico.

Having qualified on pole, Vettel faced pressure from Verstappen heading into Turn 1. Verstappen hangs his car around the outside through Turn 1 and is left very little room by Vettel. The two make tyre-to-tyre contact before Turn 2, before Verstappen claims the corner and makes slight contact with Vettel’s wing as they head into Turn 3. Meanwhile, Hamilton switches back on Vettel heading into Turn 2 and gets himself ahead of his rival. Vettel then makes contact with Hamilton’s rear tyre, damaging his own wing and giving Hamilton a puncture. After being forced to pit, both cars fought through the field in recovery drives but it wasn’t enough for Vettel to deny Hamilton his fourth world title.

In the race that would decide the title, Vettel not only lost a position off the line, squeezed another car off of the track limits, he has also made contact with his main championship rival in an incident that probably could’ve been avoided. Some believe that Vettel knew exactly what he was doing when he made contact with Hamilton…

If it was intentional, it didn’t pay off as Hamilton secured his fourth world title and Vettel is left to reflect on what could’ve been…

Ultimately, Vettel had the machinery to beat Hamilton in 2017. Yes reliability played its part in Malaysia and Japan but the Ferrari had the potential to win the title on pace — those cars were incredibly close, with perhaps a slight edge going toward Mercedes ultimately in terms of performance but it was marginal.

But in the end, over the course of the 20-race season, Vettel made more mistakes than Hamilton. Hamilton — who is used to facing incredible pressure in intense title fights with Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg in particular — didn’t falter under the pressure, didn’t make mistakes as Vettel did and remained calm while Vettel made mistakes and lost his cool in Baku.

When the big moments came, Hamilton seized them and Vettel faltered.

While 2017 was a missed opportunity for Vettel and Ferrari, 2018 held a lot of promise, with Ferrari building on their 2017 resurgence.

Though Ferrari won the first two races, the general feeling was that Mercedes still held the quicker car but this advantage wouldn’t last for long as Ferrari made significant engine gains. The general feeling by Canada was that Ferrari now had the quicker car.

Heading into the French Grand Prix, Vettel led the championship by a single point after his win in Canada. The weekend not only represented F1’s first return to France in 10 years but the first major moment in terms of the championship.

Heading into Turn 1, Vettel — having qualified behind both Mercedes — locks up and makes contact with Valterri Bottas, resulting in a puncture for Bottas (as well as damage to the rear of the car and leaving him in last place for good measure) and a new wing required for Vettel. Hamilton would go on to secure an easy win, uncontested from his teammate and his title rival Vettel (who finished in 5th), and take the lead of the championship by 14 points.

A pretty major, unforced error from Vettel who received a five second penalty for the accident, ruined the race of Valterri Bottas and ruined his own race single-handedly, while handing the championship lead to Hamilton.

Vettel was handed a reprieve for his error in France as Hamilton suffered a mechanical fault in Austria while Vettel finished third, allowing Vettel to re-take the championship lead before extending it further to eight points in Britain after a brilliant victory at Silverstone.

The most pivotal moment of the season (at least as of right now) came in Germany…

Having absolutely smashed his way to pole position at his home grand prix (with a huge opportunity to extend his lead after a failure for Hamilton is qualifying meant he started from P14), Vettel comfortably led the first part of the race before making his pitstop on lap 26. Having got the jump on his teammate having stopped earlier, Kimi Raikkonen was ordered to move aside for Vettel as the rain loomed in the air. On Lap 44 the rain arrived and then on Lap 52, arguably the most important moment of the whole season arrived.

Leading the race, Vettel lost control as he made his way through the beginning of the stadium section and helplessly skidded into the gravel, into the barrier and out of the race, with German admitting afterwards he was on the brakes too late.

Vettel sounded extremely upset over team radio and sounded like a man who knew he had made a catastrophic error… An error that has probably cost him the world title…

It was the same conditions for everyone out there (though, perhaps a tad different for Pierre Gasly, who Toro Rosso incredibly sent out on full wets for a period) but ultimately it was only Vettel who fell victim to the conditions and retired as a result.

Meanwhile Hamilton (though in controversial circumstances after a shady excursion between the pitlane and the track) recovered to win the race and retake the championship lead by 17 points.

Even if Hamilton had finished 2nd behind Vettel in 1st, Vettel would’ve extended his lead to 15 points. Instead, it’s a DNF and Hamilton claims victory — a 32 point swing in favour of Hamilton. Instead of Vettel picking up the full 25 points and extending his lead into double figures, it’s Hamilton who takes the double-digit lead.

When the rain came again in Hungary on Saturday, it was Mercedes who triumphed over Ferrari, leaving Hamilton on pole on a track where track position is everything. With Vettel out-of-place in fourth, he did well to salvage second on race-day, but was powerless to prevent Hamilton from winning — as the German struggled behind the sister Merc of Bottas after a poor pitstop from Ferrari left him behind the Finn — and powerless to prevent Hamilton extending the championship lead to 24 points heading into the summer break.

With it all to do after the summer break, Vettel was able to strike-back in a statement win at Spa as Ferrari left Hamilton and Mercedes trailing in their dust, reducing the Hamilton’s gap to 17 points.

But just when momentum seemed to be with Vettel again, it slipped away.

Already disgruntled over how qualifying went at the Italian Grand Prix, Vettel — starting P2, ahead of Hamilton — was unable to get a move done on teammate Raikkonen heading into Turn 1. On the run down to the second chicane, Vettel is off the racing line on the left-hand side of the track as he tries to find a way by Raikkonen. Under braking, an opportunity opens for Hamilton around the outside. Hamilton’s overtake is delivered to perfection, clean around the outside whilst leaving Vettel fair space. But Vettel didn’t apply enough steering lock heading out of the corner, didn’t leave enough space for the second part of the chicane and makes contact with the Mercedes, spinning Vettel around and damaging part of his car.

The stewards, again, decided that this was a racing incident but, really, Vettel is to blame here. Hamilton left enough space and the move was done — that was Hamilton’s corner. Vettel could’ve avoided this incident if he had gotten out of it and applied more sterring lock instead of allowing his car to open up into Hamilton. Again, if Vettel expected Hamilton to get out of that move, he should’ve known better — he could’ve avoided this accident.

Hamilton would go on to win the race while Vettel finished fourth, the Brit extending his championship lead to what could be an insurmountable 30 points.

The error marks the third major error Vettel has made this season that has cost him significant points — France, Germany and now Italy. Against Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, such errors are punished and Hamilton has taken victory in each race Vettel has faltered in 2018.

Vettel isn’t out of this title race yet but it’s going to be extremely difficult to come back from here. Hamilton has, again, proven unshakable this season, and Vettel is going to have to hope Hamilton makes a mistake (which is very rare), or hope Mercedes’ bulletproof reliability is tested later in the year.

Again, in the key moments of the season, it’s Vettel who has made the mistakes and not Hamilton.

So, I come back to the question of which this piece is named after… Is Sebastian Vettel’s legacy being altered amidst his title fights with Lewis Hamilton?

Yes is the answer.

During his first four titles with Red Bull, and his battles squaring off against Fernando Alonso, Vettel clearly had the best car each and every time, he won the title. And that’s where things are different here. His car has been as good (2017) if not better (2018) than Hamilton’s.

In two title fights with equal cars this time around, there will be something said for Vettel’s inability to beat Hamilton over a season — that it was Vettel who made more mistakes over this two-year period than his title rival.

A huge knock some had on Vettel’s first four titles was ‘He had the best car, the best car by far’. There was no way to know for sure but what is for sure is that when Vettel has had more-or-less equal equipment than his title rival, he has fallen short.

Reliability issues near the end of 2017 were a factor for Vettel and Ferrari in their title quest but when people talk about 2017’s title and the key moments, Singapore and Baku (i.e. Vettel’s main errors) are the main talking points over the reliability issues in Malaysia or Japan. Japan was the exclamation point after the damage that Vettel had done in Singapore.

In 2018 so far, it’s actually been Hamilton who has been the recipient of reliability issues over Vettel, and Ferrari (marginally) have had the better car this year so far too. And yet, Hamilton is 30 points ahead…

It’s been Vettel’s errors/mistakes that have left him with everything to do with seven races to go and Hamilton’s consistency that has him in the ascendancy in the race for a fifth world title.

In two title battles with effectively equal cars, mistakes are going to define who wins the title and who doesn’t, and, consistently, it’s been Vettel who has slipped up and not Hamilton. It’s been Hamilton who has proven to be the more complete and consistent driver, not Vettel.

Hamilton and Vettel are two of the best drivers of their generation — entering Formula 1 at about the same time. Their careers will eventually end and they will draw comparisons for the rest of time, as two of the greatest drivers of their time. They’ve both enjoyed the best car in Formula 1 on their way to world championships — dominant cars at that — have taken many pole positions, many podiums, many wins and many world championships.

But, ultimately, in this two-year stretch where they’ve shared title winning cars and squared off for the world championship, it’s been Hamilton who has emerged on top and Vettel the one folding under pressure, Hamilton proving to be the model of consistency while Vettel continues to make mistakes.

And that is why Vettel’s legacy will be affected, unless he find away to overturn a 30 point deficit in the remaining seven races…

Azerbaijan GP Winners and Losers

Feature image: Sutton Images via F1.com

Quotes: F1.com

Wow, wow, wow. What a race.

Daniel Ricciardo, from 10th on the grid, won a crazy, crazy incident/controversy filled Azerbaijan Grand Prix ahead of Mercedes’ Valterri Bottas and Lance Stroll, who secured his first podium in F1.

Losers

Normally we start with the winners but given the weekend that was in it, we’ll start with the losers.

Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton

Oh boy, where to start with this one… Let’s start with ‘Red-5’.

Vettel

Red is colour of his car and red was what he saw when he was caught napping behind Lewis Hamilton behind the safety car. I initially thought that Hamilton had brake-checked Vettel but the FIA looked at the telemetry and found that Hamilton was consistent in his speed prior to restarts.

I think Vettel was clearly upset that he had damaged his front wing, how the damage could’ve been much more and that his race could’ve easily been ruined and decided to give Hamilton a piece of his mind.

Vettel didn’t understand, at the time, why he received a 10 second stop/go penalty for this moment of madness, but I honestly don’t think he realised what he actually did in the moment.

You can see from the onboard camera that when he pulled out from behind Hamilton to go alongside him he takes his hands off the wheel just as he’s about to pull alongside him. His hand doesn’t actually go back onto the steering wheel when he hits into Hamilton, so I don’t think it was pre-meditated just really careless and clumsy. But he would’ve obviously felt the significant contact, so he would’ve known he hit him…

A rush of blood to the head ultimately cost Vettel victory but he still managed to recover to fourth place ahead of Hamilton.

Hamilton

Hamilton’s race, on the other hand, was not affected by Vettel’s moment of madness but, of all things, a loose headrest which he forced him to pit from the lead to fit a new one and ensure it was secured properly. Of all things… Not an engine/gearbox/suspension element malfunctioning but an insecure headrest… Quite incredible, and it was the difference between catching Vettel in the championship standings to having the gap increase further (from 12 to 14 points).

Post race, the war of words ensued:

Toto Wolff has said that “the gloves are off” now, and you’d figure this ‘lovey-dovey’ stuff between Vettel and Hamilton would eventually end and this will surely do that. With the gloves off, the mind games will surely begin soon and the heated rivalry we’ve all wanted will surely take off.

The “Could’ve, would’ve, should’ve” races…

For many teams and many drivers, a huge ‘what-if’ will be placed upon this weekend. There’s so many of them.

What if Lewis Hamilton’s headrest was secured properly?

What if Max Verstappen’s engine hadn’t failed? Could he have challenged for the win?

What if Felipe Massa wasn’t forced to retire? Could he have challenged for the win?

What if Sergio Perez hadn’t collided with his teammate? Could he have won this race?

What if Kimi Raikkonen hadn’t picked up a puncture from the Ocon-Perez scrap? Could he have won this race?

What if Valterri Bottas hadn’t picked up a puncture and gone done a lap one lap 1?

What if Jolyon Palmer wasn’t forced to retire? Could he have scored some points?

And so on…

A weekend of many regrets and what-ifs for many drivers and teams…

Force India

Force India were a hot topic of discussion in Canada for not enforcing team orders and allowing Esteban Ocon ahead of Sergio Perez to challenge Daniel Ricciardo for a podium position before Sebastian Vettel inevitably caught them. With Perez insisting the team to let them race, he failed to pass Ricciardo and was caught and passed by Vettel, consigning Force India to a 5th and 6th placed finishes.

This weekend seemed to escalate the, perhaps, already existing tensions at Force India. With Perez and Ocon running in P4 and P5 after the first restart on lap 20, the two got quite punchy and Ocon didn’t really give Perez the space he should have and the result was a collision between the two.

While Ocon was able to recover thanks to the safety car/red flag, Perez’s race was utterly ruined, and with Massa, Hamilton and Vettel (who all ran into issues later in the race, literally in the case of some) the only drivers running in front of Perez at the time, there was a real sense of ‘what-if?’ with Perez and Force India.

They could’ve easily have had their first race victory and that was taken away from them.

These haven’t been the best two races for Force India. Sure, the points they’ve netted have been alright but it could’ve been so much more…

I would love to be a fly on the wall in that debrief room…

Sauber

Why are Sauber here? They scored a championship point, why are they losers? They’re losers because they botched a swap-job.

Marcus Ericsson was running P10 when Sauber switched Ericsson and Wehrlein to see if Pascal make a run at 9th placed Alonso, with Wehrlein to give the position back to Ericsson if he couldn’t. But with McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne fast approaching and on their tails by the end of the race, Sauber couldn’t manoeuvre the switch, meaning Wehrlein kept P10, much to the reported anger of Ericsson…

Winners

Lance Stroll

What a race for Lance Stroll but to be fair to him, he was on it the whole weekend. When everyone was going off the road in FP2, Stroll kept his nose clean and followed his first points finish with his first ever podium — finishing in P3, JUST behind Valterri Bottas who nicked P2 from Stroll right at the death.

Though Stroll was cruelly robbed right at the death, I don’t think he’ll ultimately care a bit.

“…Coming into this weekend I never thought I would be standing on the podium,” said an elated Stroll. “It’s an amazing feeling and, for me, a dream come true…”

Star recovery drives from Ricciardo and Bottas

Daniel Ricciardo

What an eventful race for Daniel Ricciardo. Having being forced to pit in the early stages in this race (due to a piece of debris clogging the brakes ducts which needed clearing), Ricciardo was sat — having started in P10 after his Q3 crash — in P17 with seemingly no chance of a podium, let alone a win. But he just kept at it and made his way through the field, avoiding the mayhem in front of him.

While Ricciardo was one of the many beneficiaries of the carnage happening in front of him, he launched himself into an unlikely podium position when he brilliantly launched past both Williams cars after the safety car restart.

Just as his defensive driving against his teammate Max Verstappen in Malaysia, this move also proved to be ultimately decisive and would help give Danny-Ric victory following the calamities between Hamilton and Vettel.

Having sat in P17 at one stage, this was one of the most unlikeliest victories in F1 for quite some time.

And it wouldn’t be a Daniel Ricciardo victory without…

A fifth career victory for ‘The Honey Badger’, and I wonder where this one ranks…

Valterri Bottas

When Valterri Bottas was forced to pit after the first lap with a puncture (after colliding with Kimi Raikkonen) he was a lap down with seemingly zero chance of any sort of points.

But due to the crazy nature of this race, Bottas was allowed to un-lap himself under the safety car and scythed his way through the field, benefitting from the multiple incidents in front of him: Max Verstappen’s retirement, the Force India scrap and Raikkonen’s subsequent puncture, Felipe Massa’s retirement, Sebatian Vettel’s 10 second stop/go and Lewis Hamilton’s unscheduled pitstop.

He passed Esteban Ocon on lap 40 (of 51) and set about hunting down the Williams of Lance Stroll. As we’ve seen already, he was ultimately successful in catching and passing the Williams, albeit right at the death.

From one lap down to P2…no doubt he had help but still a fantastic drive from Valterri Bottas.

“…for Valtteri, it just goes to show you can never give up”, said Mercedes boss Toto Wolff. “He did a sensational job from a lap down and it was the perfect finale to steal P2 on the line…”

McLaren-Honda

A half-winner/half-loser here for McLaren-Honda. Though Fernando Alonso secured McLaren’s first points of the year at a track they probably would never have expected, how many more points could this have been on another day?

Eric Boullier certainly wasn’t enthusiastic about McLaren’s first points of the season…

“I’m not smiling, I’m not excited, because it’s not the reason why I’m racing, and especially not racing with McLaren”, Boullier said via autosport.com

On a weekend where Fernando Alonso’s seemingly inevitable departure picked up much more traction, what do two measly points ultimately mean? Were McLaren really winners this weekend? Days like this only heighten the frustration.

They’re ultimately winners because they finally scored some points but deep down…

 

Canadian Grand Prix Winners and Losers

Feature image: Sutton Images

Quotes: F1.com

Lewis Hamilton converted his excellent pole into a flawless win in Round 7 of the 2017 Formula 1 ahead of his Mercedes teammate Valterri Bottas with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo rounding out the podium slots in what a thrilling race.

Winners

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes

If you had presented the weekend that eventually unfolded before Lewis Hamilton on Thursday, he would’ve taken both of your arms and your legs off of you.

Hamilton was certainly against the odds heading into the weekend — trailing by 25 points in the championship — and even by the end of practice session 3 where Vettel topped the timesheets Hamilton was facing a huge challenge.

But qualifying came around the corner and Hamilton produced one of the greatest qualifying laps I’ve ever seen to not just beat the competition but destroy them, equalling his hero Ayrton Senna’s tally of 65 pole positions in the process.

Max Verstappen’s mega start from P5 made life for Hamilton’s competition off of the line (Bottas and Vettel) difficult and they couldn’t mount a challenge on Hamilton off the start, instead having to go defensive. In an effort to sweep around Vettel’s outside, Verstappen clipped Vettel’s front wing which would eventually force the German to pit not long after the safety car (deployed for the Grosjean-Sainz-Massa incident) peeled back into the pit-lane, putting him well down the order.

Though Vettel managed to recover to P4, Hamilton was flawless out the front and never looked in any danger. We’ll never know how Ferrari’s true race pace compared to the Mercedes but Lewis Hamilton, I reckon, is fine with not knowing and he reduced the 25 point deficit to just 12 points.

“It’s been such an incredible weekend,” said Hamilton. “I just couldn’t be happier with how it’s gone and I’m so grateful for this result. We came away from Monaco and we were scratching our heads, but we pulled together and look what we achieved. We came here with a much better understanding of the car and we delivered a real blow to the Ferraris…”

For Mercedes, it was their first 1-2 finish of the season and Ferrari’s troubles meant that the Silver Arrows jumped back into 1st place in the constructors standings. It really was a perfect weekend for Toto Wolff and company.

“That feels absolutely great,” said Wolff. “We have finally taken a 1-2 finish and done so at a track that we expected would be difficult for us – and which certainly was for us last year…”

It’s great to have a championship contested between more than one team.

Lance Stroll

It looked like another weekend for Lance Stroll. Starting from P17, no one gave Lance much of a chance heading into the race but not only was he involved in some great scraps with drivers, Stroll also managed to drive a clean race and finish in P9 — picking up his first points finish of the season and indeed his young career.

“I am just happy for myself, for the team, for everyone,” Stroll said. “The balance of the car was good all race. I was in a flow. I knew we had good straight line speed in the Williams. I chose my overtakes at the right times, sometimes I could have done them a lap earlier, but it was a bit risky so I did it a lap later and stayed patient…”

Stroll was certainly patient, if not a little too tentative but his race-craft will improve with time. This was a huge weekend for him, potentially ground breaking for his career.

“…It’s a great story”, Williams chief technical officer Paddy Lowe remarked post-race. “Given the difficult start Lance has had to his Formula One career, this feels like a race win to us. It was an incredible drive. He showed some fantastic race-craft, great overtaking and he really earned those points today. From 17th on the grid up to ninth, including a battle with a double world champion, which he took in his stride. I think today’s result will boost his confidence going forward and will give him some real momentum…”

Esteban Ocon

We’ll touch on the whole Force India issue in full soon but although P6 wasn’t the result Esteban Ocon was hoping for, he won a lot of fans over for his great drive on Sunday and his continued consistency this season.

He drove a great race yesterday and continues to prove he’s the right man to be sat in that Force India seat. Though the standing don’t really reflect this, Ocon has definitely proved a stiff challenge to his much more experienced (and highly rated) teammate Sergio Perez and he stuck with Perez right until the end on a different strategy.

“…The battle between Sergio and Esteban was one of the stories of the race and showed how closely matched they are as teammates…”, Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernely said.

Though he was disappointed, Esteban conducted himself very well for a young driver where it would’ve been easy to still possibly angry, Ocon carries a nice smile on his face instead.

“My time will come.”

Sir Patrick Stewart

No explanation needed here.

Losers

Ferrari

Fairly obvious this one, wasn’t it?

I honestly believe Ferrari could’ve won this race and this was about the worst thing that could’ve happened this weekend: Mercedes score a 1-2 finish and they struggle — Vettel with that front wing and floor damage forcing him to pit early and Kimi’s brake issues late in the race resulting in 4th and 7th place finishes respectively.

“Unfortunately, our race was compromised right from the start, when Seb’s car was damaged so he was no longer able to give it his best shot”, said team principal Maurizio Arrivabene. “Initially, our data showed the damage was not too serious. It was only in the following laps that the wing broke, causing further damage to the turning vanes and the floor. As for Kimi, towards the end he had a problem with the braking system control…”

Ferrari also decided to pit both cars a second time (most other teams choosing to do a one-stop) and this would’ve been the correct call if it had been done a few laps earlier. It made sense to stop again, they would’ve just toiled behind the Red Bull and Force Indias struggling to overtake on extremely worn tyres (Vettel pitting for fresh tyres very early in the race when he changed his wing). Ferrari projected that they would be back onto the Ricciardo, Perez and Ocon train about eight laps from the end but it was probably about six/five laps. Though Vettel managed to dispatch both Perez and Ocon, he fell short of Ricciardo but would’ve easily overtaken him if he had one/two more laps.

Even though the race itself was a bit of a disaster for Ferrari, they’re still in a good position in both championships — they trail Mercedes by only eight points and Vettel still holds a 12 point lead.

Force India

Though they netted some nice points, I’m giving the ‘Boys in Pink’ a loser here.

The scenario here was very simple: Sergio Perez had more than enough time to try to overtake Ricciardo and he wasn’t getting it done. Ocon was on 13 lap younger tyres and unable to get by his teammate, who has DRS on Ricciardo. The Ferraris were coming and were going to cruise up to the back of them by the end of the race and will probably overtake them. One of the Force Indias simply had to get past Ricciardo or else the red monster behind them was going to eat them and cost them points.

Ocon did the right thing by radioing in, basically saying ‘Look, I think I can overtake Ricciardo but I need the opportunity’. The team gave Perez three laps to overtake Ricciardo and then would ask Perez to move over and let Ocon have a go. Perez and the team basically negotiated while the race was ongoing about the situation, and the end result was that Perez still couldn’t get by Ricciardo and both he and Ocon were overtaken by Vettel late on.

Could Ocon have actually overtaken Danny-Ric? We’ll never know but I think he could’ve. With DRS assistance on a Mercedes engine (versus a Renault engine), much fresher rubber and on the softer compound tyre I think he could’ve done it. He could’ve finished 3rd which would’ve been huge for the team. But instead they finished P5 and P6 and that should have been P6 and P7 were it not for Raikkonen’s brake problems.

Though Force India don’t imply team orders, this situation needed a firm and authoritative voice to tell Perez to move over and let Ocon by while they were still able to. That voice would’ve been Bob Fernley. In the end, it cost the Pink Panthers points and possibly a podium.

Ruined races/what could’ve been: Max Verstappen and Felipe Massa

Sports are generally a large “what could’ve been…” but both Max Verstappen and Felipe Massa were both left to wonder at what could’ve been in Montreal.

We’ll start with Verstappen.

Max had the start of dreams, jumping from P5 to P2 by the end of the second turn 2.

Verstappen was feisty on the restart and looked like he could’ve spoiled the Mercedes party but an engine store problem cut the engine out on lap 11 and Max was forced to retire, much to his displeasure.

“The way the race ended for me was very frustrating after such a good start”, said a disappointed Verstappen. “I think a podium was possible but once again we come away with nothing…”

If he wasn’t heading for P2, Verstappen was certainly set for P3 but instead handed it to his teammate.

For Felipe Massa, it was all over before it really began. Before the Ferraris had their issues or Verstappen retired, he was T-Boned heading into Turn 3 — a complete passenger in the Sainz-Grosjean incident.

Massa had shown great pace all weekend and I think he could’ve definitely been in the Ricciardo, Perez, Ocon hunt for a podium. But a rough start and lost positions meant that Massa was in a position where he could’ve been affected by something like this. Had he maintained his grid position he wouldn’t have been involved in this accident. Not to say you should expect something like this to happen…

“I’m so disappointed to be out after just three corners. I was a complete passenger in the collision,” said Massa. “I think Carlos was hit by somebody, but I was the only car that he hit. It’s a shame to finish the race like that, especially when the car has been so competitive all weekend and we could have scored a good amount of points.”

Either Massa or Verstappen could’ve been stood on that final rostrum spot but in the end it was neither…

McLaren-Honda

Things were looking good for McLaren Honda with two laps to go as Fernando Alonso held 10th place and was set for a point. But then…McLaren-Honda happened. Alonso’s engine failed just two laps from a point on a day where so many things fell into the laps of McLaren. Empty handed yet again due to another Honda failure.

Team principal Eric Boullier told it as it was after the race.

“For the first time this season, running in 10th place within spitting distance of the flag, we dared to hope…”

Hope is a dangerous thing, Eric, especially at McLaren-Honda…

“OK, what we were daring to hope for were hardly rich pickings: a solitary world championship point for Fernando, who had driven superbly all afternoon, as he’s driven superbly every race-day afternoon for the past two-and-a-half years. But, after so much toil and heartache, even that single point would have felt like a victory.

“And then came yet another gut-wrenching failure.

“It’s difficult to find the right words to express our disappointment, our frustration and, yes, our sadness. So I’ll say only this: it’s simply, and absolutely, not good enough.”

Even when the car was running it was just getting absolutely mugged on the straights. Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne are utterly helpless, just sitting ducks waiting to be overtaken.

There’s been a lot of chatter this weekend about this, now seemingly, inevitable split between McLaren and Honda and this week might have been the final nail in the coffin. It’s been an utter disaster and it simply can’t go on.

Alonso, however, boosted his ever-increasing popularity. After he stopped on the track, he wanted to give his gloves to the supporters in the grandstand. Then he ended up inside of it.

Alonso had driven another great race and, again, proved why he is one the best to have ever graced the F1 paddock. His awareness, how much he is able to process and figure out while travelling over 200 mph is something else. When radioed about his strategy, Alonso replied “You are not giving me useful information. I need the pace of Magnussen…”

He knows who he’s racing…

Later on, he noticed how Raikkonen wasn’t pulling away from him that quickly on the supersofts and how Vettel wasn’t catching him as quickly as he imagined, also on the supersofts and questioned whether the supersoft tyre was the right tyre to be on. The information he’s able to process while his mind is required to be constantly engage is incredible.

Toro Rosso

Not the best weekend for Toro Rosso. A squabble about teammate slipstreaming in qualifying was followed by a double DNF. Carlos Sainz did not see the Haas of Romain Grosjen on his inside and squeezed him somewhat before Grosjean — having to get back onto the track — touched the Toro Rosso which sent Sainz into a nasty spin which caught the unfortunate Massa and both headed into retirement.

“…I have to say I never saw the car there, it’s simply a dead angle in my mirrors so I never knew he was there”, said Sainz. “If I had realized I was there, of course I would’ve been more careful and left some space. Once we collided I was just a passenger, crashed into the wall and that was the end of my race unfortunately…”

For Kvyat, he had issues getting off the start line on the formation lap, didn’t recover to his 11th place on the grid in time, was handed a drive-through penalty before it was discovered that wasn’t the correct punishment and was then handed a 10 second time penalty in addition to the drive-through penalty he had already served.

Needless to say, he was not happy. In addition to some very colourful language over the team radio, Kvyat added “They should cancel this stupid rule. Who is this rule for? Are we taxi drivers here or Formula 1 drivers? I don’t understand this. It’s a circus, a stupid fucking circus. I will go and talk to Charlie. It’s annoying me, it’s really annoying me…”

A problem in the pits severely delayed the already angry Kvyat and he subsequently retired. It’s a shame, because Kvyat was running in P7 before having to serve his drive-through and then fought back into the points before his nightmare pit-stop.

Monaco Grand Prix Winners and Losers

Feature image: Sutton Images

Sebastian Vettel claimed his 3rd win of the season — and Ferrari’s first at Monaco in 16 years — on the streets of Monte Carlo, leading a Ferrari 1-2 ahead of Kimi Raikkonen with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo rounding out the podium places.

Winners

Sebastian Vettel’s title hunt

With Lewis Hamilton’s struggles in qualifying, this was a great opportunity to extend his championship and took full advantage of his rival’s struggles. Ferrari helped him out by seemingly giving Vettel the optimum strategy (the overcut) to jump his teammate in the pits and from there on out there was no way he was letting victory go. Vettel’s win extended the championship lead to a race wins worth: 25 points.

This advantage now means Vettel is firmly in the driving seat for the title as both himself and Hamilton had both exchanged blows to begin the season. With that in mind, how does Vettel — and indeed Hamilton — respond in Canada?

You could say it’s Vettel’s title to lose right now but there’s a long way to go.

Daniel Ricciardo

Danny-Ric was a frustrated figure after qualifying on Saturday. He was frustrated that he wasn’t dropped in clear space for his final run and he qualified 5th as a result, behind his teammate Max Verstappen.

But Sunday held different fortunes for the ‘Honey-Badger’.

With Verstappen attempting the undercut on 3rd placed Valterri Bottas forcing Mercedes to react and pit Bottas, Ricciardo pumped in some incredible laps, trading fastest laps with Sebastian Vettel, and these lifted Ricciardo not only above his teammate into 4th but ahead of Bottas into 3rd. From there, it was rudimentary for Ricciardo and he took home the final podium place.

Unlike last year where he looked like a miserable man despite finishing in 2nd place (a race he should’ve won), Danny-Ric was very happy with his 3rd place finish.

Great drive from Danny-Ric. Amidst all the stardom that surrounds his young teammate, Max Verstappen, he’s still proving he’s still top-dog at Red Bull.

Haas

A very nifty double-points finish for Haas with Romain Grosjean having a very quiet afternoon finishing 8th and Kevin Magnussen finishing 10th.

Magnussen was unlucky he was forced to pit due to some damage to one of his tyres after his first stop but got himself back into the points after Sergio Perez’s and Daniil Kvyat’s collision boosted his position two spots.

Not much else to say here, just a nice double-points finish for Haas, who now move level with Renault on 14 points for 7th place in the constructors standings.

“It’s the first time we’ve had two cars in the top-10, so that’s really good, especially in Monaco…”

Romain Grosjean

Carlos Sainz

How long will it be before Carlos Sainz is in a situation where he can fight for podiums/race wins? The guy is immensely talented and he proved it again on Sunday, holding down to the 6th place he secured in qualifying and taking his season tally to 25 points. That’s more than Felipe Massa and more than Esteban Ocon, both of whom drive faster cars.

You forget sometimes that Sainz is in a Toro Rosso, but to be fair that machine was well hooked up even in Thursday practice. Canada might be a tougher hunting ground for Sainz where the Renault engine in the back of that Toro Rosso might hamper him in comparison to the Mercedes powered engines in the back of the Force Indias and Williams’.

“What a result, what a perfect weekend! We need to enjoy this moment, because it’s not usual to achieve a faultless Grand Prix on the streets of Monaco – and this time we did! We put in good laps in practice, in yesterday’s qualifying session and, in today’s race, we were able to keep a World Champion in a faster car behind and finish P6 – it definitely feels so good! We’ve also been quicker than the rest of the midfield throughout the whole weekend and I’d like to thank the whole team for this, they gave me a very good car to drive! I really enjoyed today’s race – now it’s time to celebrate this well-deserved result with the team before starting to think about the Canadian GP, which is up next!”

— Carlos Sainz

Young drivers around Monaco

Normally the tight streets of Monaco claim the races of the younger drivers of the field due it’s ruthless nature and the sheer concentration it requires for 78 laps. Prior to this season, Max Verstappen had crashed out of both of his Monaco appearances and Jolyon Palmer crashed out last season. But this season the young drivers fared quite well in terms of not binning it in the wall.

Max Verstappen finished in 5th, Carlos Sainz finished in 6th and did a good job fending off Lewis Hamilton, Jolyon Palmer finished in 11th, Stoffel Vandoorne was running 10th before Perez, sort of, directed him into the barriers at Sainte Devote, Lance Stroll kept himself out of the wall (a cooked front left brake forcing him to retire late on), Pascal Wehrlein was sent sideways by Jenson Button and Esteban Ocon finished his 1st Monaco Grand Prix at the first attempt.

A good outing for the young’ns.

Jenson Button’s and Fernando Alonso’s pre-race radio exchange

JB came out of retirement for one race, to race in his former teammate’s place as the Spaniard competed in the Indy 500. Before the race, Alonso spoke to Jenson wishing him luck and JB’s response was hilarious.

Amazing.

Losers

Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen

The most talked about item from this race was Ferrari’s decision to pit Kimi Raikkonen before Vettel. This allowed him the optimum strategy around Monaco (the overcut) and to pound some super laps in before pitting him. The ultimate result was a seemingly perfect execution of the switch Ferrari wanted the German jumped the Finn after the only round of scheduled pitstops. It looked engineered, a ploy to get the Ferrari the team wanted in front…

This made it very clear that Ferrari have put all their chips on Vettel to win the title. It’s race 6-of-20. RACE SIX. It’s way too early to do this kind of thing…

Lewis Hamilton was also absolutely convinced that Ferrari knew what they were doing when they pitted Kimi first.

“On strategy that just doesn’t happen – the leading car, it’s very hard for him to get jumped by the second car unless the team decide to favour the other car. That’s very clear.”

— Lewis Hamilton

For Kimi himself, this officially labels him as the clear number two driver for the rest of the season and what does this mean for him going forward into next year? Is this it for Kimi in F1 after this season? I’m sure there’s a team who’ll sign him but I don’t think Kimi is interested in anything other than a Ferrari drive.

What should’ve been a wonderful day for Kimi and many F1 fans turned into stoic expressions.

Lewis Hamilton

Though Lewis Hamilton did a good job to limit the damage that was inevitably going to be done after his difficult qualifying by finishing 7th, he does however find himself now 25 points behind Vettel in the title race.

The good news for Hamilton is that there’s plenty of time to recover but it’s obviously never ideal to be down 25 points at any stage of the season. We’ve seen how he can seemingly just turn it on and romp away with 3/4 straight wins. He’s going to need to do that — or hope that Vettel slips up/breaks down — in order to catch up.

A lot of work to do for Lewis.

McLaren

If there was a weekend for McLaren to score points this was it. But they were already compromised even before the race started. Despite both McLaren’s qualifying in the top 10, both Button and Vandoorne started outside of it due to various penalties, Button starting from the pitlane.

Track position is everything at Monaco, and unfortunately for Button he was screwed from the start. He got tucked up behind Pascal Wehrlein for his entire race despite McLaren trying a different strategy to get Button in free air, and his frustration eventually got the better of him as JB tried to send one up the inside of the Sauber at Portier… Not exactly an overtaking spot and Wehrlein was un-sighted by the move, turned in for the corner, caught JB’s wheel and flipped over.

Not JB’s finest moment and he netted himself a three-place grid penalty for the next race… I somehow doubt that penalty will ever be applied… Joking aside, had he not had to deal with his various penalties, I’ve no doubt he would comfortably finished in the top 10 where he qualified.

As for Vandoorne, he was running well in P10 but stuffed it in the barrier after Perez’s dive down in Sainte Devote forced him to adjust his line out of turn one and, as is the case with Monaco, he ran out of space.

With the next two tracks (Canada and Baku) being power tracks, it’s hard to imagine — barring major upgrades — when McLaren will be in a position to contend for some points again in the near future.

“Sometimes you visit the Monte-Carlo casino and hit the jackpot; other times you walk away empty-handed. For us, this was just one of those unfortunate days when the luck didn’t go our way…”

— Eric Boullier

Force India

Rotten weekend for Force India. Perez’s race was ruined on lap 1 when he sustained some front wing damaged that forced him to eventually pit, sticking him behind the Williams of Lance Stroll. After recovering to the points positions, Perez was involved in two separate incidents with Vandoorne and Daniil Kvyat, the latter forcing the Russian to retire and the Mexican to pit again, placing him last of the finishing runners at 13th.

And the only punishment for Perez was a 10 second penalty, not a grid penalty for the next race which would’ve been well deserved.

For Esteban Ocon, he was compromised with his qualifying spot but found himself in more trouble when he was forced to make an unscheduled stop after suffering some damage to his tyre in the same way K-Magg did in the Haas — a loose manhole cover/track breakup in Sainte Devote.

He was near the back of the field for most of the race but did finish ahead of his teammate in the end, thanks to Perez’s adventures.

They have been double-points finishers for the first 5 races but that streak was abruptly broken on the streets of Monte Carlo.

“A day of unrealised potential on both sides of the garage. Sergio’s contact with Sainz on lap one proved very costly with the early pit stop to change the nose. For Esteban, it was always going to be difficult to battle through from P15 on the grid, but the race was coming to us until he picked up a puncture. It cost Esteban a handful of points and that was a real shame. So it was one of those days when things didn’t go our way – as can often be the case in Monaco. We will dust ourselves down and look to come back strongly in Montreal in two weeks’ time.”

— Bob Fernley

There’s something about Monaco…

Feature image: Sutton Images

The Principalities. The famous streets. The exotic life. A third of the ‘Triple Crown’. The jewel in the crown. The one they all want to win.

The Monaco Grand Prix.

There’s something so special about the Monaco Grand Prix. It’s unpredictable nature means anything can happen. Drama, action and excitement. The streets of Monte Carlo have it all…

Watch Mr. Monaco himself Graham Hill, a five time winner, describes a lap around Monaco. It’s a classic clip in F1 history from a classic driver.

This event can truly make the impossible possible. Under normal circumstances in 1992, there’s no way Nigel Mansell’s Williams would be denied but not in Monaco as Aryton Senna defiantly fended off Mansell — who pitted from the lead due to a tyre issue — for a memorable win.

Monaco is a marathon. 78 laps around the tight and twisty bends of Monte Carlo. It’s an endurance race and one of a kind. One lock up, one snap of over-steer, one lapse of concentration and it’s over. The streets of Monaco are cruel as Lance Stroll found out on Thursday practice.

That what it should mean to be an F1 driver. You’re on the edge and mistakes are punished severely. Sure, I like tracks like Bahrain but the run-off areas are the size of the deserts the tracks are built in. You can run wide and it’s no big deal. Not in Monaco…

If you simply finish the Monaco Grand Prix that’s an achievement in itself and if you finished you have a chance of scoring points. Monaco is where the Marussia team score their only points thanks to the late Jules Bianchi’s 9th place in 2014.

Monaco is where we see the race of some driver’s lives. In 2004 Jarno Trulli won his only F1 race on the famous streets of Monaco in a classic affair that saw Michael Schumacher get squeezed in the tunnel, under the safety car conditions, by Juan Pablo Montoya.

Fernando Alonso also crashed out of the race after attempting to overtake back-marker Ralf Schumacher around the outside in the tunnel.

This left Trulli to fend off Jenson Button for the final stint of the race and Jarno went on to win a classic.

Even in recent history Monaco has churned out great races.

2015 saw a controversial decision from the Mercedes team to pit race-leader Lewis Hamilton under the safety car to fit on the supersoft tyres, believing they had enough of a window to pit and rejoin in the lead. But Mercedes and Hamilton (who wanted to pit) miscalculated their margin and Hamilton rejoined behind Sebastian Vettel and teammate Nico Rosberg who went on to win the race.

A very wet affair 2016 saw one of the moments of the season occur as the Red Bull team called Daniel Ricciardo into the pits from the lead but didn’t have his tyres ready. Ricciardo lost valuable time in the pits and Hamilton got the jump on the Aussie. With track position being absolutely everything in Monaco and overtaking truly an art, Ricciardo couldn’t get past Hamilton and had to settle for second.

Monaco always springs some surprises. Let’s see what it springs this year.

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.

Russian Grand Prix Winners and Losers

(Feature image: Sutton Images)

(Quotes: F1.com)

After finally getting a brief taste of what life is like at the front of the pack in Bahrain, Valterri Bottas took his first grand prix victory at the 81st attempt at Sochi. Sebastian Vettel ran him close but ultimately finished 2nd ahead of his teammate Kimi Raikkonen in 3rd.

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Winners

Valterri Bottas

He was on the pace all weekend, out-qualified his much more illustrious teammate Lewis Hamilton and once he took the lead at the start (tucking in nicely behind the slipstream of Vettel and off he went), he was in a league of his own in that first stint, pulling away from the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel. And when things got tense at the end, when he was in uncharted waters, he held on, because it sure seemed — one Valterri had that one lockup — that Vettel (on fresher tyres) would reel him in and pass him, but Bottas held on for a memorable maiden win.

“It’s going to take a while to sink in. Normally I’m not that emotional but hearing the Finnish national anthem was very special for me. It’s all a bit surreal, the first win and hopefully the first of many. It was definitely one of my best races ever. The pressure from Sebastian wasn’t too bad; the main issue was with the lapped cars, trying to get past those. It was tricky to pass them without losing time. I also had a lockup with about 15 laps to go that hurt the pace, but it was manageable. I asked for a bit of radio silence just to get on it and focus. I’m sure this victory will give me lots of confidence going forward. I knew I could do these results, I always trusted my ability, but this result confirms it.”

— Valterri Bottas

(A cracking trophy, by the way)

The win not only gets that monkey off of his back (which would’ve only gotten larger as the season progressed) but it also puts Bottas on the outskirts of the title charge, 63 points compared the leader’s (Vettel) 86 points. As Nico Rosberg (and many others before him) would tell you, leads can disappear quickly.

A great win for Bottas, fully deserved.

Force India

Despite some criticism of the VJM-10 (with upgrades coming at Barcelona), Force India continue to finish ahead of their rivals. Another double points finish for the ‘Pink Panthers’, Perez finishing 6th and Ocon finishing in 7th.

To be fair, those finishes should’ve been 7th and 8th, a slow puncture forced Williams’ Felipe Massa to pit from 6th late on, handing Force India some extra points. Regardless, the extra points helps Force India (31 points) tighten their early grip on 4th place in the constructors standings ahead of Williams (18 points, all scored by Felipe Massa).

“…The 14 points scored strengthen our fourth place in the championship and are a nice reward for a weekend where we maximised all our opportunities…”

— Bob Fernely, deputy team principle

Lance Stroll

Lance Stroll finished a race, his first race finish in four attempts after he secured 11th place. Bar the first lap spin under the safety car, he kept his nose clean and brought the car home, even though he didn’t know exactly what to do when the race was over…

“It was so unfortunate. I had a really good start and think I was around P8 at one point, and then I got squeezed on the kerb, there wasn’t much grip and the car just got away from me. I knew I didn’t have any damage, but I fell to the back and it was just one of those things that happens. After that, it was a difficult first stint because I had that spin and then had to spin the car round to keep going, and I overheated the rears quite a bit so I had poor grip. But then I recovered a bit on the second stint and saw the chequered flag for the first time, which was nice. It was a bit disappointing with the spin, as I think it could have been quite a bit better, but we will take our first finish.”

— Lance Stroll

He has had his struggles (and they haven’t all been his fault, to be fair) so it was just good to see Stroll finish a race — should build his confidence going forward.

Losers

Lewis Hamilton

A very strange weekend for Lewis Hamilton, he just didn’t have the pace — which is unusual. Very unusual. He was half a second off the pace in qualifying (pretty much all of that time was lost in the final sector) and he dropped off in the race into nowhere, constantly radioing in issues with the cooling, he felt the car was overheating and had to drop back to cool it off.

“…For me it was a very tough weekend. I just wasn’t quick enough. I’ve never had cooling issues like that before but it meant I was out of the race from the get-go. I think I had the pace to fight with Kimi, but the car just kept overheating. Ultimately, if I had better pace then I would have been further up. At least I got some good points for the team. I’m just hopeful that I can pick up the pace at the next race.”

— Lewis Hamilton

As Lewis put it himself, he wasn’t quick enough. Even if he didn’t have the issues he had, whose to say he would’ve even been able to fight with the likes of Vettel and Bottas at the front? He was off the pace all weekend compared to his teammate, I don’t think he would’ve matched him this weekend.

The only saving grace for Lewis this weekend was that Vettel wasn’t able to score maximum points but did see the margin between himself and Sebastian increase to 13 points.

Fernando Alonso and McLaren-Honda

Flip sake… This can’t get any worse, can it? After Stoffel Vandoorne suffered a DNS (did not start) at Bahrain, Fernando suffered the same fate in Russia — an ERS issue meant that, for the first time since Indianapolis 2005 (the infamous Michelin tyre scandal), Fernando did not start the race.

“It’s tough, it’s frustrating – every weekend is the same.

“My power unit didn’t have the usual power during the formation lap, so my engineer told me to change some settings on the steering wheel. Unfortunately, that didn’t work and towards the end of the lap the engine shut down. My race was over before it started.

“Not being able to take part in the race today and not being able to finish any race so far this season is extremely tough.

“But Formula 1 is my life, so hopefully we can improve the situation soon.”

— Fernando Alonso

Racing director, Eric Boullier, also didn’t hide his disappointment:

“You cannot hide behind a result like this: finishing 14th is not why McLaren-Honda goes racing, and, believe me, we are working hard to make sure this level of performance doesn’t last for long.

“That said, it’s still extremely disappointing to run into reliability and performance issues during a race weekend – we must work together to pull ourselves out of this position.

“As for Fernando, I share his frustration – it’s not acceptable to start the second consecutive grand prix with only one car, and we need to address this shortcoming immediately. He is naturally disappointed, but things will get better.”

— Eric Boullier, McLaren-Honda racing director

I hope he’s right. I hope things will get better. This is beyond a joke and I can’t help but worry if this is steering Fernando closer to retirement/formula outside of F1.

Romain Grosjean and Jolyon Palmer

Sure, let’s lump both of these together.

Grosjean was caught out in qualifying by the two accidents at the end of Q1 and qualified P20 (started P19 once Vandoorne’s 15 place grid-penalty was applied) and Palmer spun on his final hot-lap in Q1 after his team stayed up after hours to change the chassis.

They say start as you mean to go on. I guess it was fitting then, given both of their weekend had gone up to that point, that they collided with each other on lap 1 and were forced into retirement.

Looking at the accident, I don’t think it was anyone’s fault but it summed up their disappointing weekends, for sure.

“The weekend ended how it started – badly. I think the best thing we can do is put it behind us and concentrate on Spain…”

— Guenther Steiner, Haas team principal

“I had a decent-enough start then heading down to Turn Two there was a Sauber on my outside then Romain made a very ambitious move over the kerbs on the inside from behind. There was no space for me to go because of the Sauber, so maybe Romain wasn’t aware of that, but he kept it in, hit me, then we were both out of the race. That was a shame for both of us really. I feel for my crew this weekend as they’ve worked so hard on the car, then we had such a short race. Now it’s reset, reload and look to Barcelona.”

— Jolyon Palmer

It hasn’t been easy-going for Jo, he needs a good result and he needs one quickly. Nico Hulkenburg is absolutely decimating him in the inter-team battle and some would say Jo was lucky to get the seat this season to begin with…

Felipe Massa’s slow puncture

Massa was running in a very handy 6th place and was having a great weekend having already split the Red Bull’s in qualifying but a slow puncture forced Massa to pit late and, as a result, he fell to 9th place.

“I’m disappointed, we were just unlucky with the tyres. I was really taking care of the car and the tyres, keeping the gaps in the right place, and we had a sixth position in our pocket today. It is unfortunate and painful for the team that we have lost good points, but we can’t do anything about it. The car felt good, it was consistent with a good pace, I had a good start and first lap. I was around eight seconds ahead of Perez, we were just unlucky…”

— Felipe Massa

As Felipe said, nothing you can do about it but it’s unfortunate. He was on for some good points…

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.

F1 2017 Season Preview & Predictions

Feature image: Sutton Images

It’s finally here. The most anticipated season of Formula One in recent memory is just around the corner.

The beautiful thing heading into this season is no one knows what to expect. Yes, we’ve had a taster in winter testing, so we have a fair idea who’s on the pace and who’s not but you can’t call what we saw in Barcelona definitive. Teams hold back/run heavier and new parts arrive in between/at the first grand prix. So you can expect some teams to slide up and down the order that we saw in testing when it comes to pace.

Can anyone halt the raging Silver Arrows from taking their fourth consecutive drivers and constructors titles?

Changes

Quite a few changes to note around the F1 paddock.

The most obvious/talked about changes are the regulation changes. In short, cars should fly much faster thanks to fatter tyres, a lower rear wing and a larger diffuser.

Nico Rosberg does not return to defend his crown after announcing his shock retirement just days after winning the title showdown in Abu Dhabi (some say his arse cheeks are still clenched, and I wouldn’t blame him to be fair). Mercedes filled the void he left with Williams’ Valterri Bottas.

Stoffel Vandoorne replaces the outgoing/retiring Jenson Button to partner Fernando Alonso to create what promises to be a very interesting driver lineup at McLaren-Honda. The last time Alonso was paired with a highly rated rookie/young driver (sorry, Nelson Piquet Jr.) was 2007 and we all know what happened then…

Other driver changes include the return of the retiring Felipe Massa, who was called upon as soon as the possibility of Williams losing Bottas to Mercedes was realistic. Massa joins paydriver and rookie Lance Stroll. The Canadian is going to have his hands full and, if winter testing was anything to go by, it could be a long year indeed…

Elsewhere, the Manor team will not be taking to the grid this year (the team went into administration in January) and its drivers, Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon were forced to look elsewhere for race seats. Ocon netted the much better gig of the two, landing a seat at Force India seat, vacated by Nico Hulkenburg who joined Renault. Wehrlein, meanwhile, signed for Sauber replacing Felipe Nasr. And, finally, Kevin Magnussen departed Renault and signed a three-year deal with Haas and he replaces Esteban Gutierrez.

Bernie Ecclestone is no longer calling the shots. F1’s new owners, the Liberty Group, are now in charge. Chase Carey is the man now, flanked by marketing guru Sean Bratches and the legendary Ross Brawn, formerly of Mercedes and Ferrari.

There are two changes to the F1 calendar. The German Grand Prix is knocked off the schedule due to financial issues while Baku, Azerbaijan are still hosting a race, however it will be called the Azerbaijan Grand Prix instead of the European Grand Prix as it was last year.

A number of key technical personnel swapped places during the. At Williams, Pat Symonds steps aside and he is replaced by Paddy Lowe, who was ousted from leaves Mercedes and rejoins his first team (1987-1993, his first stint with the team). At Mercedes, former Ferrari technical director James Allison joins the Silver Arrows after having left Ferrari last year.

There’s an interesting new rule brought in regarding wet-weather restarts following a safety car. When a safety car is called upon to begin a race, the fans lose the excitement of a wet-weather start. We all want to see it. Now we will. Once a wet track is deemed safe enough to race on at full speed — and no longer requires the safety car to guide them around — the safety car will peel into the pit lane and the cars will form up on the grid and will prepare for a standing start. We can all agree this is a much happier solution for the fans, who get to see a standing start in the wet no matter what.

There are quite a number of livery changes this season. Some good, some not so good.

McLaren:

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Sauber:

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Renault:

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Toro Rosso:

(Who have also switched their engine supplier from Ferrari to Renault)

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Haas:

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Force India:

(Better late than never)

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New regulations, more problems?

A lot of people are excited for the new regulations and hoping that they will create a more competitive race to the silverware. But could they actually reduce the number of overtakes?

To start, with the cars now being able to take more speeds into the corners meaning — in theory — that braking points should be even later than they are, meaning the overtaking car is going to have to use straight line speed — with the help of DRS — to position himself on the inside line in order to overtake into a corner, rather than dive-bomb right as the braking zone approaches. That could be an issue, not to mention that cars actually wider, since the tyres are wider.

The other issue is that no one really knows how well these cars follow each other on the track. In testing, Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes was trailing a Haas and Hamilton said he found it very difficult to follow the Haas.

I’m very concerned. Overtakes are such an important aspect of this sport. If these cars can’t overtake each other the races are not going to be fun, no matter how many teams are contending. Time will tell.

Predictions

Drivers champion: Lewis Hamilton

I really wanted to tip a Ferrari driver to win the title but I do think Mercedes have been holding back and, as such, still have the best car and I just don’t see Valterri Bottas besting Lewis Hamilton over the course of a season. I just can’t imagine any other driver winning the title other than Hamilton. I would love to be wrong, I really would but I guess we shall see…

Constructors champion: Ferrari

While I think Lewis Hamilton is going to have a great season, I do not predict the same for Valterri Bottas (shades of Heikki Kovalainen come to mind) and I think Ferrari have the better driver lineup to take advantage. If Mercedes are ahead, I do think Ferrari are going to be close and I expect Raikkonen and Vettel to better Bottas over the course of a season and, as such, take the constructors title.

Best driver of the rest: Sebastian Vettel

This is assuming that Ferrari haven’t lost all of their pace by the time the lights go out in Australia. Vettel has had a few frustrating seasons now and it’s easy to forget, in the midst of mediocrity, that he’s four-time champion. I think this is the season that he reminds every one of that fact. Whether he actually wins the championship is another thing, but people will be talking about Sebastian Vettel at the front of the grid this season.

Best team of the rest: Williams

When I say “best of the rest” when it comes to constructors, I’m talking about fourth place behind Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari. Even though Williams don’t have the strongest drive lineup, they showed some good pace in testing and Felipe Massa knows his way around. They may not finish fourth in the standings (on account of Lance Stroll probably crashing out of a few races), but I think they’ll have the fourth fastest car.

Best in-team fight: Daniel Ricciardo vs. Max Verstappen

These two have been pretty friendly toward each other but put them in a car that can compete for championships and it’s going to be a different story. These two have shown they don’t back down for anyone…there’s a fire in both of them and they won’t back down for each other that’s for sure. It would make for a great battle but it won’t happen if the car isn’t competing for titles.

Most one-sided in-team fight: Felipe Massa vs. Lance Stroll

Not much to say here. Massa is going to crush the inexperienced Stroll. The whole paydriver thing, added to a shaky winter testing showing, worries me greatly.

First driver to be replace this mid-season: Daniil Kvyat

If there was a driver who was going to be replaced mid-season, I would guess it would be Daniil Kvyat. When you look around the grid, Lance Stroll won’t be let go, he’s paying Williams too much money. Marcus Ericsson is also paying for his ride and Sauber need that money. The only other driver who could be in contention here if things don’t go well might be Renault’s Jolyon Palmer.

With Kvyat, he’s already on a bit of a slippery slope after last season’s unfortunate collapse and with Red Bull reserve driver, and 2017 GP2 Champion, Pierre Gasly waiting in the wings, the pressure is going to be on Kvyat all season.

Most improved driver: Jolyon Palmer

Palmer ended the 2016 season with a good set of results: 10th in Malaysia, 12th in Japan, 13th in the US and 14th in Mexico suffering just one retirement in the final seven races.

Some would consider it luck that it was he who Renault retained and I think Palmer will prove critics wrong this season in an improved Renault but he will have his work cut out going up against a much more experienced Nico Hulkenburg.

Most disappointing driver: Valterri Bottas

This isn’t to say Bottas won’t have a good season, but in comparison with Lewis Hamilton and what that Mercedes could achieve, I don’t think Bottas will be able to outperform expectations. In my opinion, it’ll be Bottas mixing it up with the Ferrari’s and Red Bull’s while Lewis Hamilton will be running away at the front. Again, shades of Heikki Kovalainen.

Most improved team: Renault

Having had time to develop their own car, rather than re-paint the 2015 Lotus, and having a bit of cash to inject into the new car you’d imagine that Renault will make a decent leap this season. You’d imagine they’ll be contenting for regular points finishes and with a driver like Nico Hulkenburg, you’d imagine that will come to be.

Most disappointing team: McLaren

We’ve had a glimpse of McLaren’s woefully poor pace in testing and, unless things have changed dramatically since winter testing, you’d imagine that McLaren are still going to be slow in Australia. Fernando Alonso will work his magic and Stoffel Vandoorne will impress a lot of people but it’s not going to be enough to hide McLaren’s disappointment on a season that promised to be full of hope and progress.

F1 2017 Winter Testing Winners and Losers

Feature image: Sutton Images

I never understood why they called this “winter testing” when it’s March but oh well…

Winter testing is over! The next time we’ll see F1 cars on the track is when the season kicks off in Albert Park in Australia. We’re close…so close.

With F1’s 2017 regulation changes, we had no idea who would set the pace in testing, as the regulation changes gave everyone a chance to change their fortunes. Now that testing is over, we have a clearer idea who’s performing as they should, who isn’t and who’s exceededing expectations. Which leads me to today’s topic: Who were the winners and losers of F1’s winter tests?

Winners

(Honourable mention: Williams for looking like the best of the rest. Valterri Bottas for not completely being outclassed by Lewis Hamilton)

Ferrari

The SF-70H looks like an incredible machine but Ferrari have been very intentional as to not get carried away nor state their expectations. They’ve been top of the timing sheets in winter testing in the past and their car didn’t deliver when it came time to go racing.  But it’s not just Ferrari, but Sebastian Vettel too.

Having been the pace setters throughout the two tests, Ferrari may have shown us a sneak-peak of what is to come on the final day as Kimi Raikkonen set an incredible lap time of 1:18.634 on supersoft tyres, not even the softest of the tyre compounds. A time too quick to ignore, even if it is testing.

No other team even came close to a sub 1:19 lap time, the closest coming in the form of Mercedes and Valterri Bottas, who set a time of 1:19.310 on day six of testing. Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton believe that Ferrari haven’t even shown their true pace as of yet:

“I think Ferrari are bluffing and that they are a lot quicker than they are showing.”

“They’re very close to us. It’s difficult right now to say exactly who is quicker. But they are very close, if not faster.”

— Lewis Hamilton

Mind games or genuine concern from Mercedes? Time will tell how Ferrari stack up against Mercedes on race-weekend but, make no mistake, this car could be something special…

Mercedes

Normally when there’s a regulations change, the top teams from the previous era (as such) have been known to struggle but there doesn’t seem to be any such concern with Mercedes who are still the team to beat, despite Ferrari’s pace.

Mercedes have focused on a lot of long runs and reliability, reliability was what dogged them — more so Lewis Hamilton — last season. Mercedes completed the most laps of any team: 1,096. That’s 140 more than Ferrari (who completed the second most testing laps) and 296 more than Williams (who completed the third most testing laps). But make no mistake, the Silver Arrows are still very quick, posting the second team quickest time behind Ferrari.

In light if Ferrari’s testing pace, Mercedes have been cautious and have said that they cannot be confident that they are still the fastest team:

“We are definitely not confident that we are in front. We are not relaxing, we are not in a comfortable situation at all. We do feel that the other teams have made good progress over the winter.”

“Ferrari are looking very strong, Red Bull can always surprise, and other teams can be strong. But Ferrari look solid, strong and fast – and who knows what people will bring to Melbourne.

“We should not underestimate them at all. We’re not saying we’re number one, we’re just working flat-out.”

— Valterri Bottas

Teammate Lewis Hamilton has not only praised Ferrari’s car but is also thinking of Red Bull, who he is expecting to show an improved outing in Australia:

“I don’t know if Red Bull have brought their upgrade package here but normally they bring it to the first race. I expect us to be having a real serious battle with both these teams.”

— Lewis Hamilton

To be fair, all of this talk from teams and drivers is probably 90% crap. It’s all mind games/teams not wanting to say that they’re the favourite and teams not — obviously — wanting to show their full hand at winter testing. The general feeling is that Mercedes have been running heavier than other teams throughout testing.

Mercedes are still the team to beat and show no signs of drifting away in their quest for a fourth straight title. They appear mightily quick…once again.

Losers

(Honourable mention: Lance Stroll for seeming like your standard pay driver)

McLaren Honda…but mostly Honda

What an absolute mess, what an absolute joke. So many people, including myself, were so excited for McLaren this year. We know they can produce a great chassis and people were expecting engine supplier Honda to, in year 3, finally show signs of producing a solid power unit that could possibly hang with Renault, Ferrari and Mercedes (oh, how foolish we were…). Added to that the unique opportunity given to McLaren to change their fortunes with the new regulation changes. A new lick of paint to boot…it seemed like this was the year McLaren could bounce back. But it has been all show and very, very little — if not, no — go.

It’s been failure after failure after failure for McLaren and Honda. Electrical issues, engine issues, fuel tank issues which Fernando Alonso described as “amateur problems”… And after all these problems the on-track product was just as bad. On a set of ultrasofts, McLaren could only post the ninth fastest lap out of the 10 teams with a 1:21.348. Only Sauber recorded a slower time, and only by three tenths of a second on supersofts…

This lack of progress, regression if anything, has obviously frustrated Fernando Alonso, who has pinned the blame to Honda.

“I don’t think we are too far back with the chassis, we have only one problem which is the power unit”

“There is no reliability and there is no power. We are 30kph down on the straight.”

— Fernando Alonso

Alonso expected a result “immediately”. What was McLaren’s response the next day?

Yep. Another problem, leading to a breakdown on the track.

McLaren’s “long-run” stints also don’t inspire much confidence — 11 laps… That was McLaren’s longest run. 11 flipping laps. They completed the least amount of total testing laps by far, 425. That’s 159 laps less than the team who ran the next fewest laps, Toro Rosso, 531 less than Ferrari and 671 less than Mercedes… Not good.

McLaren executive director, Zak Brown, has denied that the team are in a crisis:

“We have problems, clearly we have problems…but ‘crisis’ is a bit strong.”

— Zak Brown

If this isn’t a crisis…what is?? Regulation changes like this are supposed to help a team like McLaren go forward but, if winter testing has given any indication, McLaren have gone backwards… That sounds like a crisis to me.

Force India 

When the VJM10 was launched, owner Vijay Mallya described it as a “cracker of a car” and even targeted third place in the constructors standings, which would mean ousting one of Red Bull, Ferrari or Mercedes. Well…it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Force India at Barcelona.

Things seemed to just fine after week one of testing but Force India seem to have slipped a little bit as Test Two wound down. By the end of testing, Force India had set the 7th fastest team time, trailing Williams, Renault and Toro Rosso, as well as Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. There appear to be a few issues with the car, the following little passages from Sky Sports eludes to a weight problem:

But is all entirely well with the car? Perhaps not: the talk in the paddock was of a car that was overweight and overly sensitive. Plenty of work still to do.

Targeting third was a huge goal to set to begin with but Force India — who took the title of “best of the rest” in 2016 with their fourth placed finish in the constructors — if their pace in winter testing to be believed, are set to be slugging it out with the midfield unless they can sort their issues out or unleash anything they may have been holding back.

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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