Ricciardo to Renault and a 2019 lineup prediction

Image: Manuel Goria/Sutton Images via F1.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton & Valterri Bottas

Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel & Kimi Raikkonen

Red Bull: Max Verstappen & Pierre Gasly

Renault: Daniel Ricciardo & Nico Hulkenburg

McLaren: Fernando Alonso & Carlos Sainz

Haas: Charles LeClerc & Kevin Magnussen

Force India: Esteban Ocon & Lance Stroll

Toro Rosso: Lando Norris & Brendan Hartley

Sauber: Sergio Perez & Antonio Giovinazzi

Williams: Sergey Sirotkin & Robert Kubica

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

Spanish Grand Prix Winners and Losers

Feature image: Sutton Images

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

Mercedes’ strategists 

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Toto Wolff

Pascal Wehrlein and Sauber

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

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

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

— Monisha Kaltenborn, team principal

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

Force India

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

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

Great day for the men in pink.

The Kimi Raikkonen fan

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

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

Great stuff from Kimi and Ferrari.

Losers

Red Bull

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

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

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

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

McLaren and their fight against Sauber

Bad, bad day for McLaren.

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

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

Williams

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

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

Jolyon Palmer

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

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

F1 2017 Reveal Thoughts

(Feature image source: @MercedesAMGF1)

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

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

Williams

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

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

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

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

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

Sauber

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

Here’s Sauber’s 2016 car, the C35:

This is a flattering angle and it still looks horrible.

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

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

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

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

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

Renault

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

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

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

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

— Jerome Stroll, Renault Sport President

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

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

Force India

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

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

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

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

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

— Vijay Mallya

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

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

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

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

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

— Sergio Perez

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mercedes

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

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2016 champion Nico Rosberg was also impressed by the W08.

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

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

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

— Lewis Hamilton

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

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

Ferrari

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Sebastian Vettel

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

— Kimi Raikkonen

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

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

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

McLaren

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

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

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

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

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

—  Cyril Abiteboul, Renault Sport Racing Managing Director

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

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

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

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

— Eric Boullier

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

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

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

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

— Fernando Alonso

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

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

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

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

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

— McLaren Chief Operating Officer, Jonathan Neale

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

Red Bull

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

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

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

— Christian Horner

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Source: @RedBullRacing

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

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

Haas

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

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

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Source: @HaasF1Team

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

Toro Rosso

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

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

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

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

Awards

Best looking car: Mercedes

Worst looking car: Force India

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

Worst new livery change: Haas

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

How much longer for F1’s Golden Generation?

(Feature image: Sutton Images)

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

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

The up-and-comers/young pups/rookies 

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

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

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

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

Mid-tier veterans

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

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

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Felipe Massa: A Career in Exceeding Expectations

The year was 2002, the location was Melbourne Australia, the car was all shades of blue and the helmet was neon green. Inside the cockpit a young man from Säo Paulo Brazil prepared himself for his Formula One debut in Australia, the beginning of a 14 year career that would take him places he could never have imagined. His name was Felipe Massa.

Similar to Massa, 2002 was my F1 rookie year too — that was the year the love affection began. I didn’t know much about the sport, the teams or the drivers so I didn’t really know who to root for at first. But one of the things that helped me make up my mind when it came to a driver was his helmet. When I was younger drivers helmets were very important when choosing what drivers I liked. If you weren’t at least quick, you had to have a cool helmet otherwise it was a no from me. Silly I know, but hey, helmets needed to look cool you know?

But Felipe’s helmet was one that grabbed my attention — mainly because it’s so flipping bright. It’s hard to mistake him for anyone else.

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