F1 2020 Hungarian Grand Prix Review: Bottas’ slip-up

Formula 1 completed its first triple-header of the year as Lewis Hamilton secured an easy victory at the Hungaroring on Sunday afternoon.

The race kind of fizzled out once the threat of rain passed, just before the halfway stage, but there was plenty of drama even before the start as Max Verstappen crashed on his way to the grid.

The Red Bull mechanics did a mega job to get Verstappen’s car fixed in time but it’s not the best look for a driver of the calibre — and in the wet too — of Verstappen to have an accident like that. Still, he made up for it by splitting the Mercedes duo on Sunday, finishing P2.

Speaking of Valterri Bottas… He did a good job on Saturday to be within a tenth of Hamilton at Hungary, you can’t ask for a ton more than that around a circuit that Hamilton has now won at eight times. However, a poor start for Bottas due to a sensor issue where he almost jumped the start before sliding down the top-10 meant that he was trying to make amends for it the whole race, finishing behind Verstappen as he ran out of laps to pass the Red Bull driver on fresher hards having pitted from mediums.

Qualifying behind Hamilton at Hungary, there’s nothing wrong with that — Bottas came close. But he can’t afford to have starts like that in the context of a championship bid. Granted, he only leaves Hungary only five points behind Hamilton but every point matters. His error not only cost him three points from 3rd to 2nd but with the gap Hamilton established, it allowed the Brit to make a stop near the end of the race and successfully nab the extra point for the fastest lap of the race.

Next comes two successive Grand Prix weekends at Silverstone. Bottas has shown he has the pace around Silverstone but wasn’t able to convert pole to victory last year. He’s going to have to do that at least once out of these next two weekends.

The other Red Bull of Alex Albon had struggled all weekend but a strong race from him helped ease some of the pressure on himself after a poor qualifying. He was involved in some fun battles with the Ferraris in the early exchanges and with Sebastian Vettel later on in the race.

The Red Bull was much better in race-trim than in qualifying but Albon can’t constantly fashion out these recovery drives each week: he has to do a better job in qualifying — not everyone is so lucky to get to P5 from P13 in Hungary. The conditions certainly helped.

Racing Point dropped back a little bit in the race but Lance Stroll capped off an excellent weekend with a very lonely P4 after out-qualifying his teammate Sergio Perez on Saturday. That’s exactly the kind of weekend Lance Stroll needs to put in to validate his place in a car that good. He’s given a lot of flak but Stroll did a great job over the weekend. Though, I don’t agree with his comments saying a podium was up for grabs. Bottas finished a loooong way ahead of Stroll in the end — he would’ve jumped Stroll even if Racing Point had responded straightaway.

Meanwhile, Perez’s poor start cost him a lot of places — he could’ve easily been where his teammate but getting stuck in traffic (especially in the crowd behind Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari) cost him a lot of time. P7 wasn’t too bad in the end for Perez but his start certainly cost him points.

To top it all off for Racing Point, Renault lodged another complaint against them — seems like this will be a season-long theme…

Ferrari had an interesting race…

Sebastian Vettel had a few offs — both cost him places to Alex Albon — but overall had a strong race in a much better weekend for Ferrari. As for Leclerc, Ferrari did him no favours with the strategy, switching him to softs after the track dried out and then hards with over half of the race to go, which left him in a tough spot later in the race en route to P11. He just had no pace at the end of the race — Kevin Magnussen was even able to extend a gap to Leclerc.

McLaren has a tough weekend. Lando Norris found himself on the back of a Renault seemingly all race long, Esteban Ocon for the most part. A poor start gave Norris too much to do. He showed some great race-craft in his fight against Charles Leclerc, that was fun to see.

Carlos Sainz did well to scoop two points in the end after Kevin Magnussen’s post-race penalty promoted the Spaniard to P9.

Supposedly there are upgrades to come for McLaren at Silverstone, so that should be fun.

Speaking of Haas, an inspired decision to pit both drivers after the formation lap for dry tyres. While Romain Grosjean dropped off and finished outside the points, Kevin Magnussen was lucky that Leclerc’s dead tyres kept Sainz behind long enough to prevent Sainz catching Magnussen on track and the gap was big enough to Leclerc that, post penalty, Haas got their first point of the year — a well earned point in a car obviously struggling for straight line speed.

Elsewhere, another strong drive for Daniel Ricciardo to finish in P8 and a tough weekend for Esteban Ocon, and a weekend from hell for Pierre Gasly, the sole retirement from the race.

All in all, it wasn’t the most entertaining Grand Prix — if the race had started an hour earlier maybe we would’ve had a more exciting race in wet conditions before the switch to dries. To be fair, I’ve seen worse Hungarian Grand Prix.

Again, you’d just wish for the action to be a little closer at the front. Mercedes enjoyed…a significant advantage, shall we say.

Still, the prospect of two races at Silverstone should be enough for everyone to be excited — it rarely disappoints.

F1 2020 Styrian Grand Prix Review: Ferrari’s fumble, Norris shines again

Well, the Styrian Grand Prix was a little less eventful than last week’s Austrian Grand Prix but one that Lewis Hamilton converted pole to victory unchallenged, followed by teammate Valterri Bottas and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in third.

Not the most eventful race, it probably could’ve done with a safety car close to the end but alas… The last few laps provided some entertainment but all in all, the action at the front was a little lacking.

Mercedes were able to solve their sensor dramas that gave them a scare last week and with Valterri Bottas behind Hamilton on the starting grid, the outcome was always going to be that Hamilton would take the victory. Verstappen did his best but he was powerless to catch Hamilton and powerless to stop Bottas late in the race.

Valterri Bottas should be fairly happy with P2. He was disappointing in qualifying in the wet and no where near Hamilton on Saturday, starting P4 behind Sainz even. He did well to finish ahead of Verstappen and still leaves Austria with the lead of the championship. Next week is a big week: Hungary is Hamilton territory, and Bottas needs to find a way to defeat Hamilton there. It’s early, but it could be a defining moment in this year’s championship. No pressure, Valterri.

Mercedes were able to play the strategy well after Red Bull jumped on the fear of an undercut from Bottas, and Mercedes were able to just leave Bottas out and use that tyre advantage to gobble Verstappen later on. Verstappen did well to hold on for as long as he did against Bottas but little he could do in the end to keep the Mercedes behind. Even his attempt to set the fastest lap didn’t go to plan as he pitted onto softs, thwarted by Carlos Sainz. Still, good for Verstappen to get some points on the board.

Verstappen’s teammate, Alex Albon, did not have a good race. Sure, he finished in P4 but was lucky not to either get overtaken by Perez late on or hit off by Perez out of Turn 4. In addition, he was about 30 seconds behind Verstappen before Verstappen made his late pitstop onto the softs for a fastest lap run and that’s just not good enough — far, far too far behind Verstappen on such a short track. Whether he had an issue with his car, who knows, but Albon was way off in qualifying and way off in the race.

Red Bull, to be fair, weren’t that far off the pace for a large part of the race, so maybe Hungary will be a better source of joy for the Austrian outfit.

Let’s talk Ferrari…

After their pace was exposed last weekend when Sebastian Vettel was knocked out in Q2, Ferrari brought forward their planned upgrades for Hungary to Austria for the Styrian GP. With how wet Saturday was, it was hard to get a grasp on Ferrari’s pace and their upgrades, but it was even harder to get an idea for how their upgrades worked on Sunday as Charles Leclerc made contact with teammate Vettel heading up to Turn 3 in an ambitious move on the inside…

Leclerc has taken ownership for his part in it (often harsh on himself) but it was a pretty ambitious attempt on the part of Leclerc that ended in both Ferraris DNF-ing. Ferrari needed the data for those new parts and the fact that both cars ended up in the garage in the first five laps is not acceptable for them.

If this was Sebastian Vettel, there’d be an uproar, so it’s only fair that Leclerc take the heat for this — he has to be better. There’s never a good time to crash into your teammate but especially now for Ferrari…

Oh to be a fly on the wall in Maranello on Monday… They have serious problems.

Lando Norris, once again, shone as he picked up a handy P5 after a hectic few last laps after Lance Stroll’s dive-bomb on Ricciardo lost them both time to Norris, who overtook Ricciardo, then Stroll on the last lap before overtaking Perez into the last corner, the Mexican’s lack of front wing after contact with Albon almost costing him significant points.

Norris drove a strong race and will pick up the plaudits but he can definitely thank Lance Stroll for his part in it all — not sure if Norris gets both Ricciardo and Stroll if Stroll doesn’t lunge Ricciardo like that. He also now sits third in the championship, well on his way to surpassing his total from last year in a matter of races.

Carlos Sainz had a tough race. He was running strongly but a tough pitstop and tyre wear on the second stint meant he finished in a lowly P9 having started in P3. P5 was a possibility (Sainz was convinced of that) but it wasn’t meant to be… The results haven’t flattered Sainz so far and the gap between himself and Norris isn’t totally reflective of how close they are.

Speaking of the Racing Points, they can bemoan their lack of pace on Saturday in the wet as to why they didn’t maximise their Sunday. Had they qualified in the top-10 as they should have, who knows where they end up. They were much quicker this weekend than last, it seemed like. Perez did an admirable job from 17th but was a little sloppy in his overtake attempt of Albon, damaging his wing and costing himself P5. He can thank the shorter finish line of the Red Bull Ring for allowing him to keep P6 instead of falling to P8.

Lance Stroll had a decent enough race and got away with his dive-bomb on Ricciardo by avoiding a penalty but picked up some solid points nevertheless. He needs to continue to do that, especially if rumours of Sebastian Vettel floating around are to be believed.

Speaking of Ricciardo, Sunday was an example of why he earns the big bucks and why he has the reputation he has. He would’ve had P6, maybe even P5 with Perez’s foibles were it not for Stroll’s dive. He had every right to not be pleased with the overtake attempt and he wasn’t, really.

“Firstly he didn’t really get past, he forced both of us off the track,” Ricciardo said to Sky Sports F1 post-race. “I’ll always be critical of myself and I should have closed the door but I don’t think he was ever making the move so I think it was desperate.

“I think Lando was coming and I think he had to do something otherwise Lando was going to eat him up. I take the apex and we crash, so that is a frustrating end and we lost a position to Lando…”

I think he’s right to be pretty annoyed about the move and pretty annoyed the stewards didn’t do anything about it. Renault then decided to file a protest against the legality of the ‘Tracing Point,’ so we’ll see what happens with that…

Esteban Ocon can count himself unfortunate, he was running well before being forced into an early retirement with what was the same issue that forced Ricciardo to retire last week. Renault, be it engine or otherwise, have a reputation of unreliability so this only adds to that.

Daniil Kvyat picked up a solid point in P10 after a strong race, not much to say there just a solid drive from Kvyat.

Kimi Raikkonen had a strong drive to 11th as Alfa Romeo fared a little better this week compared to last week on pace. Haas also enjoyed a better weekend after a double-DNF last weekend.

George Russell will be pretty disappointed after his error on lap 1 basically put him out of any contention of anything after starting from his highest ever position.

…And I think that about covers it?

F1 now moves to Hungary, a very different track compared to the Red Bull Ring. Will Red Bull be closer to Mercedes next week?

Time shall tell…

F1 2020 Austrian Grand Prix Review: Albon’s big chance?

(Image: @F1)

F1 2020 returned with a bang in Austria, a race that was eventually won by Mercedes’ Valterri Bottas, following suit on his start from 2019 where he also took the first victory of the season.

The race was set to be a little uneventful as the Mercedes pair of Bottas and Lewis Hamilton — starting from 5th after a late protest by Red Bull over Hamilton’s qualifying investigation — just drove away from the field, their pace was what everyone feared.

However, the safety car would have a say on this race on multiple occasions and the one that blew the race open was the safety car deployed after George Russell and Romain Grosjean’s quick-fire retirements on lap 50/51. The Mercs were already having to back off of Austria’s notorious kerbs, with Mercedes fearing post-race that both cars might not make it to the end of the race.

With the field closing up, the Mercedes’ wouldn’t be able to take it easy: no more margin to manage after the safety car closed the field up. Added to that, a number of drivers behind Bottas and Hamilton made pitstops onto softer tyres while the Mercedes pair stayed out on the hards.

Sergio Perez’s older mediums wouldn’t pose a problem but the new softs put on Red Bull’s Alexander Albon made you wonder if they would put pressure on the leading duo.

Sure enough, Albon put instant pressure on Hamilton and his hard compound tyres, trying his luck around the outside of Turn 4. The result is as you know…

You could look at this incident with Hamilton from a few different perspectives.

In some ways, Albon could’ve maybe been more patient. The opportunity to pass Hamilton would’ve surely come again the next lap, if the opportunity wasn’t clear-cut when he tried, he could’ve waited. You could look at it that way.

On the other hand… Albon was through on the outside. His car was ahead of Hamilton’s and he left more than enough space for Hamilton, who definitely could have applied some more steering-lock heading into Turn 4 and had a lot more space to his right-hand side to utilise. I do think part of that from Hamilton’s side was some understeer but he didn’t do a lot to avoid hitting Albon either.

Some people thought a 5-second penalty wasn’t harsh enough, Toto Wolff thought it was too much (?). At the time, I actually thought the stewards would call it a racing incident but they slapped Hamilton with 5-seconds in the end, demoting him from 2nd to 4th.

I know it’s the first race, but how many other opportunities is Albon going to get this season to have a legitimate chance of nabbing a race win? Max Verstappen isn’t going to be out of every race, Red Bull aren’t going to have a tyre advantage like that over Mercedes at the same time the German outfit are nursing problems at that stage of the race. Was that his big chance to win a race?

Whether Albon would’ve gone on to win the race if he had passed Hamilton, that would appear to have been unlikely, as Albon would later retire from the race close to the end, with Red Bull suspecting a power unit failure. Honda’s initial assessment points to a ‘PU electrical fault’.

If that is indeed the case, maybe it didn’t matter that Albon collided with Hamilton from his point of view…

How much more cruel would it have been to overtake Hamilton, overtake Bottas and then suffer that suspected power unit failure? At least this way Lando Norris got a podium out of it by way of Hamilton’s penalty… It just wasn’t meant to be for Alex Albon on Sunday.

Moving onto of Hamilton, I think it was clear he had the pace advantage over Bottas in the race but his error in qualifying/not claiming pole position put him on the back-foot for the race and cost him. Added to that, with Mercedes managing their issues from running on the kerbs, I think they just wanted to keep a 1-2 finish (Mercedes say they didn’t impose team orders) and didn’t need a potential collision between their two drivers — I think Hamilton had the pace to attack Bottas and overtake him. If Hamilton can claim pole position next week, I think he would probably drive away from Bottas. He is going to need to next week.

Moving onto Bottas, this was basically as good of a start as he could have wished for. Max Verstappen was ruled out of the equation early and Hamilton already 13 points adrift after his penalty. It was a great victory and certainly not a straightforward one, nursing the issues from running over the kerbs and the numerous safety car restarts.

Things move fast (no pun intended) in F1 but if Bottas can follow this result with another victory next week, it puts him in a solid spot. Bottas’ title hopes fell apart pretty quickly after his victory in Baku last year, so to validate a serious title challenge, Bottas needs to do the same thing next week, and that’ll be a good start. If he can do that in Hungary too? Maybe we can talk then about Valterri Bottas as a serious title contender…

Disappointing day for Red Bull to say the least… The season isn’t long, this was the worst thing that could’ve happened to Max Verstappen out of the gate. Red Bull needed things to go their way, they did not need a double DNF in the first race. Things can only be better next week.

I think Racing Point will be pretty disappointed with how their race unfolded too. Retirement for Lance Stroll doesn’t help, and Perez’s potential podium went up in flames when he received a 5-second penalty for speeding in the pit-lane (before being overtaken by Lando Norris on fresher tyres). Their race pace was good but I think they’ll be disappointed with what McLaren were hiding all this time. I’m sure they would’ve thought a podium was possible on Sunday after Verstappen’s retirement.

Speaking of Norris, he did a mega-job in qualifying on Saturday and did the business again in the race. His battle with Sainz late on was one of huge importance: any longer held up in that battle and he doesn’t finish on the podium. How and where he pulled that last lap out of — the lap that brought him within Hamilton’s 5-second window and the fastest lap of the race — I have no idea, but his podium is an excellent result for F1 itself, not just Norris who drove a blinder. Everyone is delighted for him.

That leads us nicely into the red cars: the Ferraris.

Their race pace was a little better than what qualifying showed but they’re still closer to Racing Point and McLaren than Red Bull. Charels Leclerc somehow managed to pull his Ferrari past Norris and into what would become 2nd place — more than what Ferrari could have imagined was possible heading into Sunday’s race.

Sebastian Vettel, on the other hand, did not fare as well. As his teammate overtook Carlos Sainz, Vettel decided to send an overtake up at Turn 3, but was even spinning before he made contact with Sainz in his attempt to get out of it. His pace after that was pretty bad — I believe he was still behind the Williams of George Russell when the Williams retired on lap 51 and eventually finished in 10th behind Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon and Antonio Giovinazzi. I’m going to assume his car was damaged in some way but…not great for Vettel.

Looking at the rest of the grid, Pierre Gasly had a quiet, solid race in 7th. Alpha Tauri were running well in this race and Daniil Kvyat was unfortunate to suffer what looked like a tyre-blowout (turning out to be a suspension failure after making contact with Esteban Ocon) towards the end of the race. Ocon was fairly far from his teammate this weekend but can be happy enough with 8th place, as will Giovinazzi with 9th place — that Alfa Romeo is not great, neither was Kimi Raikkonen’s tyre escapade.

Haas, meanwhile, decided to hop into a time-machine, running into brake troubles in a double DNF.

Overall, a great race for F1 to return with and the ending was absolutely fantastic, though it has to be said the reason it turned into what it did was because of that safety car on lap 52, forcing the field to close up while Mercedes were dealing with their issues — without that, we probably would’ve had a dull race.

Hopefully next week won’t be a procession and that we can at least see Max Verstappen in the mix too.

F1 2020 Preview: Will Less Be More?

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

But I am now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019: 62 points (leader: Hamilton)

2018: 24 points (leader: Hamilton)

2017: 7 points (leader: Vettel)

2016: 19 points (leader: Hamilton)

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

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

2019: 87 points (winner: Hamilton)

2018: 88 points (winner: Hamilton)

2017: 46 points (winner: Hamilton)

2016: 5 points (winner: Rosberg)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awards/Predictions

These are always hit and miss for me.

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

Anyways, 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.

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…

 

Red Bull’s Driver Conundrum – Today and Tomorrow

Image: @redbullracing

From 2016 to 2018, Red Bull has been been able to make a legitimate case to make when they say ‘We have the best driver lineup on the grid with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.’

Sure, perhaps for some Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in 2016 may have topped that fresh lineup — with Verstappen obviously joining Red Bull after Russia in 2016 — but certainly for 2017 and 2018 Red Bull certainly boasted the best driver lineup on the grid in Ricciardo and Verstappen.

But even when that partnership was beginning to come under threat in 2017 — when rumours of Verstappen possibly leaving came to the fore — Red Bull still had options available to them in the event Verstappen left.

Carlos Sainz was still part of the Red Bull programme driving for Toro Rosso at the time and the highly rated Pierre Gasly was a potential option down the road having won the final GP2 title in 2016 before it became F2.

But those fears were allayed as Verstappen penned a lucrative new deal to stay with Red Bull until the end of 2020. Red Bull enjoyed a solid 2017 season with Ricciardo triumphing amidst the madness of Azerbaijan but saw much more convincing victories in Malaysia and Mexico, both won by Verstappen.

The partnership again came under threat in 2018 as Ricciardo entered the final year of his contract, with possible openings at Mercedes and Ferrari in the offing amidst the uncertain futures of Valterri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen.

But similar to 2017, Red Bull were still in good shape should Ricciardo choose to leave.

Carlos Sainz had been loaned to Renault in 2017 as part of an agreement in the whole McLaren-Renault-Toro Rosso-Honda deal that saw McLaren ditch Honda for Renault, with Honda heading to Toro Rosso, Sainz heading to Renault for 2018 (which was eventually brought forward to the remainder of 2017).

It was made very clear at the time that Sainz — who was ready for something larger than Toro Rosso after nearly four seasons — was on loan from Red Bull, so the cards were still in Red Bull’s hands when it came to his future and provided an insurance policy should Ricciardo leave.

Sainz’s departure at Toro Rosso allowed Red Bull to finally bring Pierre Gasly to F1 in late 2017, and after some very average showings in the latter stages of 2017 Gasly turned heads with his 4th place finish in Bahrain in 2018 before enjoying a successful first full season in F1.

When the shock decision from Ricciardo to join Renault for 2019 was announced, Red Bull were still in a good place with both Sainz and Gasly to choose from as well as highly rated youngster Dan Ticktum waiting in the wings for a Toro Rosso drive — all three gave Red Bull the choice to choose from within their own programme, which is what Red Bull prefer to do and were always going to do for their 2019 vacancy (as fun as Fernando Alonso would’ve been in that car).

While Sainz had proven himself as an F1 mainstay in his first four seasons, Gasly had shown superstar potential in his first full season, regularly outperforming what his car was capable of and in some cases beyond that — finishing 4th in Bahrain, 7th in Monaco and 6th in Hungary to name a few.

While Sainz had more experience than Gasly, that was exactly what separated his case from Gasly’s for the Red Bull drive: experience, history.

Having entered F1 together back in 2015 with Toro Rosso, the whispers were that Helmut Marko was reluctant to pair Verstappen and Sainz together again at Red Bull after their difficulties as teammates at Toro Rosso — Sainz’s history playing to Gasly’s advantage — i.e. Gasly’s lack of history.

In the end, Red Bull chose Gasly for their 2019 vacancy.

A supposed (and I want to emphasise that word) clause in Sainz’s contract with Red Bull that stated that if Sainz was not racing with Red Bull by 2019, he would be free to choose his own team. With Red Bull wanting to block Sainz’s permanent move to Renault — the French outfit enduring very tense relations with Red Bull — it not only allowed Renault to sneak Ricciardo away from under Red Bull’s nose but left Sainz without a seat for 2019, Ricciardo replacing Sainz and Red Bull obviously choosing Gasly for its vacancy. This left Sainz free to pursue the vacant McLaren drive left by Alonso and with confirmation of that deal it freed Sainz from the Red Bull programme.

So, Sainz was gone but Red Bull had the promising Gasly to look forward to pairing with Max Verstappen in 2019 with new Honda engines and with Dan Ticktum coming along, things seemed to be progressing at Red Bull. There were no regrets, not from Red Bull and not from Sainz, who was indebted to Red Bull for his career.

But Red Bull suffered a minor setback.

Ticktum’s road to F1 was proving to be tricky, with the Englishman finding difficulty  acquiring a super licence, with matters not being helped after he intentionally took another driver out in a junior category race in 2015.

After recovering from that after being handed a two-year race-ban (with the second year being a suspended ban), Ticktum found himself leading the Formula 3 championship in 2018 but saw his title challenge slip into Mick Schumacher’s hands, with the German eventually winning the title and securing his road to Formula 2 at the expense of Ticktum’s hopes for a super licence.

It all ultimately meant that Red Bull turned to Alex Albon to fill one of their Toro Rosso vacancies for 2019, which seemed less than ideal to Red Bull at the time, who were very high on Ticktum and wanted him in an F1 car, their hopes of having him participate in mid-season testing in 2018 shot down by the FIA.

Still, plenty of reason for optimism ahead of 2019 despite that minor setback — new promising driver in Pierre Gasly, new Honda engines…

There were high hopes for 2019.

But things…haven’t gone according to plan.  Well, they have from Max Verstappen’s side.

While Red Bull are further from Ferrari and Mercedes than they would like to be, the Dutchman has consistently punched above his car’s weight and has been mixing it up with the Ferraris are more than a few occasions this season, recently taking a stunning victory at Austria.

Pierre Gasly…hasn’t enjoyed the same success.

Gasly has been consistently a long way off of Verstappen’s pace and has often found himself either eliminated in Q2 or Red Bull having to use the soft tyres (and probably their Q3 party modes in other instances I’m sure, which they would never admit) to advance to Q3 whenever the top two teams and Verstappen have used mediums to advance to Q3.

In the races themselves, again, Gasly has been nowhere — not only finishing behind his teammate in every race they have finished so far this season, but has found himself at times behind the likes of the McLaren’s, Renault’s, Sergio Perez and even Dany Kvyat’s Toro Rosso in Australia. Not all at once, mind you…he’s not that bad.

Now, to be fair, Gasly had a few good races — well, two, really, come to mind. He finished 5th at Monaco and was on course for a good result in Azerbaijan before retiring with a mechanical issue.

Most recently in Austria, Gasly looked like he was on the pace in practice, and though, it was only in practice, he showed signs maybe that this weekend was going to be the one where he could at least finish 6th again.

In other words, back where he always should’ve been.

But when it came to getting the job done in qualifying, with P5 up for grabs with Sebastian Vettel’s problems in Q3 and with everyone running on the same soft compound, Gasly qualified P9 — last in Q3 since Vettel never got to set a time — behind Lando Norris, both Alfas and Kevin Magnussen.

And when the race came and Verstappen’s awful start allowed Gasly to pass his teammate on lap 1. This was, of course, very temporary and Verstappen quickly re-passed him and then only went and won the race, lapping Gasly in the process in what was, emphatically, the worst result of Gasly’s disastrous season so far — a lap down behind the race-winner (that wasn’t a first for Gasly this season) but his teammate in the same breath.

Austria is a short track, mind you, but there is no excuse for such a result.

Why Gasly has struggled so much is hard to say but what’s easier and fair to say is that Gasly has, so far, failed to live up to expectations after his stellar 2018. In fact, there probably hasn’t been a disappointment bigger than Gasly (well, besides maybe Mercedes having dominating again at the front).

If this was 2016 and there was a Max Verstappen or a Carlos Sainz waiting in the wings at Toro Rosso, Gasly might have lost his seat already. It certainly took a run of form that wasn’t nearly as bad for Daniil Kvyat to lose his seat after four races, despite a podium at China. Though, to be fair, Kvyat already had a full season where he found himself behind his teammate too.

But between having no ready replacements at Toro Rosso — and Red Bull extending some grace — it seems Red Bull are going to continue with Gasly, at least for the moment and for 2019.

But should he continue on as he has all season so far and shows no sign of picking up the P6’s that he should be collecting at the very least (let alone ever hoping to challenge Verstappen), Gasly is going to leave Red Bull with no choice other than to replace him, whether it’s at the end of 2019 or a situation similar to Kvyat where a quick change occurs after a few races into 2020 should things not go to plan.

But the question would be ‘with who?’

Carlos Sainz is no longer an option, enjoying a fine season with McLaren so far (while enjoying some of the company perks along the way), having finished ahead of Gasly on multiple occasions this season despite the McLaren being slower than the Red Bull on outright pace.

Incidentally, can you imagine how Red Bull’s season would be going if Sainz was in that car instead of Gasly from the start? I’m not saying Sainz is banging through the field to take the win at Austria or beating Verstappen, but you’d imagine he’s certainly finishing 6th at the very, very least. With Verstappen ahead of both Ferraris in the championship standings after Austria, it begs the question how close could Red Bull be to Ferrari in the constructors standings if they had a competent driver in their second car?

Anyways, Sainz is no longer an option for Red Bull — the best option Red Bull would’ve had but they made their choice. Hindsight is 20-20 but alas…

Both Toro Rosso drivers are enjoying solid seasons — despite the car sliding back on the grid somewhat of late — but do Red Bull really roll the dice with Kvyat again? I like Kvyat but long term in the Red Bull? I’m not sure Red Bull goes down that road again.

Alex Albon has looked good in his rookie season — better than I think pretty anyone could have expected — but Red Bull are surely going to be wary with rushing into early promotions. In both previous examples their hands were forced as Kvyat and Gasly were probably promoted a little sooner than planned as both Vettel and Ricciardo surprised Red Bull with their exits.

Gasly has clearly shown he isn’t ready for the big-time right now, and him falling flat on his face so far can’t have inspired any confidence for Red Bull to just replace him with Albon after one season of experience. They could, but having seen how this Gasly experiment has gone so far, it surely doesn’t help decision making

I’m not saying Albon couldn’t go in to Red Bull after one season and perform, just that Red Bull will surely be wary, especially seeing Gasly just slide. So, perhaps Albon could be an option down the line if he continues to impress but perhaps not as soon as next season? If Gasly is kept for 2020 but replaced after a tough start, Albon would have similar experience as Verstappen did when he made his jump to Red Bull in 2016, which is an interesting thought.

Dan Ticktum’s future as a Red Bull driver has also seemingly gone down the drain as he was released from the Red Bull Driver Programme in late June, having lost his backing for his Super Formula drive where had been hoping to earn the final few points he needed for his super licence.

So, that avenue for the future is now seemingly gone with Ticktum’s place in the Red Bull programme seemingly now taken by Pato O’Ward — in addition to O’Ward taking over Ticktum’s Super Formula seat, who recently debuted in Formula 2 as a one-off and is making more and more noise within the Red Bull academy.

Red Bull had been keen to get Ticktum into F1 but after a poor start to his Super Formula season, maybe saw too much of a hurdle for him to acquire his super licence? Either way, they have to take a step backwards with driver readiness with, O’Ward seems to be a ways off of Formula 1 — we’ll see what his Formula 2 situation is later this season, if he participates any other events this season.

So, where do Red Bull go from here?

Their prospects from within maybe aren’t viable in short-term. Albon is probably the closest thing to being ready but maybe not as soon as 2020.

If Red Bull wanted to do go in a different route for the future, they could perhaps groom Nobahru Matsushita — Honda’s junior driver (aged 25) in Formula 2, recently taking a great race win in Austria — for a Toro Rosso drive, and maybe see how that goes? Certainly an interesting option — and that link now exists between Red Bull-Toro Rosso-Honda — but not one that solves Red Bull’s problems today…or for 2020.

Again with Kvyat, is that something Red Bull want to go with again? He’s only 25 years old with plenty of F1 experience, but do Red Bull roll the dice with him again?

Maybe Gasly can turn it around, whether it’s this year at Red Bull or back at Toro Rosso if he is sent back. For all Gasly’s faults this season, he’s still young. There’s always time to bounce-back, Daniil Kvyat is showing that — even after a year’s absence.

Red Bull’s best option both short and long-term was Carlos Sainz, and I would be hesitant to say he’ll come running back to the Red Bull family — he’s very happy at McLaren, and why wouldn’t he be, especially with McLaren back on the rise.

So, the options within perhaps don’t suit for 2020 and Red Bull, generally speaking, don’t hire drivers externally — it’s obviously happened at Toro Rosso with Brendon Hartley (who had some previous ties with Red Bull) and Kvyat technically wasn’t part of the Red Bull programme when he was signed for Toro Rosso for 2019, but generally speaking it doesn’t really happen.

Mark Webber was the probably the last instance, and even then he had some history — racing for Jaguar, which later became Red Bull.

But they might have to go the external route this time around. And if they are going the external route, it makes sense for them to hire a driver who is a bit more experienced, a bit more short term if they want to either wait a bit on Gasly to return to what Red Bull signed in the first place/Albon or O’Ward down the line.

Nico Hulkenberg fits the bill perfectly — even if it’s just for a year or two until Albon/Gasly are ready. No one doubts Hulk’s abilities and there wouldn’t be a single person who wouldn’t be happy to see him in a car that can finally deliver him that elusive podium.

Valterri Bottas — a race winner — wouldn’t be an awful choice either should Mercedes decide they need Esteban Ocon back in F1/should they want to move on from Bottas. Unlikely but interesting to throw out there. Throw in Checo Perez too as another unlikely possibility.

If Red Bull decided to go somewhere in between mid/long term, (possibly preparing for a Verstappen exit), Kevin Magnussen would be a really interesting choice. It provides Red Bull with a good option to go with Verstappen right now and also leaves them in a decent spot should Verstappen leave and they promote Albon/Gasly to replace him.

Again, it’s worth saying that none of these are likely because Red Bull do not like going outside their walls if they can avoid it for drivers but their need may force them to… And it’s going to be fascinating if they do, who do they select?

Whatever Red Bull decide to do, their choice has been so much harder for themselves because they got caught up in one year of Pierre Gasly and forgot about the consistent, steady and quality performances over the last four years from Carlos Sainz — with multiple teams.

Four years is a large sample size — Sainz proved he belonged in Formula 1, that he deserved to stay not because he was part of someone’s programme but because he’s a damn good racing driver.

But look, it’s obviously worth saying that Gasly is even half the driver Red Bull chose to promote last year, their choice will be justified and everything I’ve mentioned above completely pointless…but that just hasn’t materialised yet with Gasly.

Christian Horner has been on record saying that they want to support Gasly and that there won’t be a change this year but you can tell that patience is wearing thin, and that was before Austria.

What Red Bull do with their second driver is a problem for them to think about in the short term, their long term future may also extend to their first driver too — Max Verstappen.

If Verstappen leaves after 2020 — and Gasly doesn’t recover/become the driver Red Bull hired him to become — Red Bull are in real danger, for the first time probably since 2008, of not having an elite driver partnership and this is something they need to be thinking about right now and thinking about hard, because 2021 is not far away.

O’Ward might become something and be ready by 2021 — for Toro Rosso at the very least — but outside of him and Albon, what do Red Bull do if Verstappen leaves? What is their driver future long term? What was once a nice clear reflection is now a murky labyrinth.

What if Gasly never becomes the driver Red Bull envision him to be? What if Verstappen, a super competitive driver, decides that he’s sick of not competing for titles, swaps Red Bull for Mercedes or Ferrari? Is Red Bull’s long-term driver future dependant on Alex Albon becoming a far better F1 driver anyone everyone could have ever anticipated? That’s a question that Red Bull certainly won’t have asked themselves in early 2018, when they had both Ricciardo and Verstappen, Pierre Gasly on the rise and Dan Ticktum — spoiled with choices in the present and the future.

They may be celebrating a fantastic victory at Austria but Red Bull have a lot of questions to ask themselves when it comes to their driver lineup for 2020, and possibly beyond…

 

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.

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.