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.

Vettel’s Ferrari departure opens door to 2021 driver market

(Image: @ScuderiaFerrari)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valterri Bottas is extremely interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assessing the F1 2019 season

Feature image: @F1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 did not start well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best driver: Carlos Sainz

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

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

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

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

Best victory: Max Verstappen – Austria

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

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

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

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

Best rookie: Lando Norris

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

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

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

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

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

Most improved: Valterri Bottas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shoutout to Daniil Kvyat too for his comeback season.

Best race: Brazilian Grand Prix

It had to be, didn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprise of the season: McLaren’s resurgence

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

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

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

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

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

Biggest disappointment: Ferrari

Sigh…

Where to even begin?

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

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

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

This…did not happen.

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

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

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

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

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

 

F1 2020 Lineup Prediction

Feature image: @MercedesAMGF1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton & Esteban Ocon

Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel & Charles Leclerc

Red Bull: Max Verstappen & Daniil Kvyat

Renault: Daniel Ricciardo & Nico Hulkenberg

Racing Point: Sergio Perez & Lance Stroll

Haas: Kevin Magnussen & Valterri Bottas

Alfa Romeo: Kimi Raikkonen & Antonio Giovinazzi

Toro Rosso: Pierre Gasly & Alex Albon

Williams: George Russell & Nicholas Latifi

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

Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton & Esteban Ocon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those are…interesting comments.

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

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

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

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

Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel & Charles Leclerc

Not much to say here.

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

Red Bull Racing: Max Verstappen & Daniil Kvyat

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

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

Now then, the second driver spot…

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

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

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

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

If not, where do they go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Renault: Daniel Ricciardo & Nico Hulkenberg

I don’t see much changing here.

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

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

“We have a two-year contract with Daniel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McLaren: Carlos Sainz & Lando Norris

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

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

Racing Point: Sergio Perez & Lance Stroll

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

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

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

Haas: Kevin Magnussen & Valterri Bottas

Right, now this is going to be interesting spot…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toro Rosso: Pierre Gasly & Alex Albon

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

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

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

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

Alfa Romeo: Kimi Raikkonen & Antonio Giovinazzi

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

Williams: George Russell & Nicholas Latifi

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

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

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

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


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

Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton & Valterri Bottas

Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel & Charles Leclerc

Red Bull: Max Verstappen & Daniil Kvyat

Renault: Daniel Ricciardo & Nico Hulkenberg

Racing Point: Sergio Perez & Lance Stroll

Haas: Kevin Magnussen & Esteban Ocon

Alfa Romeo: Kimi Raikkonen & Antonio Giovinazzi

Toro Rosso: Pierre Gasly & Alex Albon

Williams: George Russell & Nicholas Latifi

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

Bottas or Ocon? We shall see…

Azerbaijan GP Winners and Losers

Feature image: Sutton Images via F1.com

Quotes: F1.com

Wow, wow, wow. What a race.

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

Losers

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

Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton

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

Vettel

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

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

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

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

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

Hamilton

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

Post race, the war of words ensued:

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

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

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

What if Lewis Hamilton’s headrest was secured properly?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so on…

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

Force India

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sauber

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

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

Winners

Lance Stroll

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

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

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

Star recovery drives from Ricciardo and Bottas

Daniel Ricciardo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valterri Bottas

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

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

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

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

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

McLaren-Honda

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

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

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

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

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

 

Spanish Grand Prix Winners and Losers

Feature image: Sutton Images

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

Mercedes’ strategists 

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Toto Wolff

Pascal Wehrlein and Sauber

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

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

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

— Monisha Kaltenborn, team principal

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

Force India

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

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

Great day for the men in pink.

The Kimi Raikkonen fan

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

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

Great stuff from Kimi and Ferrari.

Losers

Red Bull

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

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

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

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

McLaren and their fight against Sauber

Bad, bad day for McLaren.

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

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

Williams

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

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

Jolyon Palmer

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

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

Russian Grand Prix Winners and Losers

(Feature image: Sutton Images)

(Quotes: F1.com)

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

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Winners

Valterri Bottas

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

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

— Valterri Bottas

(A cracking trophy, by the way)

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

A great win for Bottas, fully deserved.

Force India

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

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

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

— Bob Fernely, deputy team principle

Lance Stroll

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

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

— Lance Stroll

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

Losers

Lewis Hamilton

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

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

— Lewis Hamilton

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

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

Fernando Alonso and McLaren-Honda

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

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

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

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

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

— Fernando Alonso

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

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

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

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

— Eric Boullier, McLaren-Honda racing director

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

Romain Grosjean and Jolyon Palmer

Sure, let’s lump both of these together.

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

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

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

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

— Guenther Steiner, Haas team principal

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

— Jolyon Palmer

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

Felipe Massa’s slow puncture

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

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

— Felipe Massa

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

Australian Grand Prix Winners and Losers

Feature Image: Sutton Motorsport Images

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

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

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

Winners

Honourable mentions:

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

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari and Formula One

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

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

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

 

— Sebastian Vettel

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

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

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

 

— Toto Wolff

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

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

 

— Maurizio Arrivabene

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

Valterri Bottas

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

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

 

— Valterri Bottas

A solid, solid weekend for Valterri Bottas.

Force India, Esteban Ocon and Bob Furnley’s trousers

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

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

 

— Esteban Ocon

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

Those are just fantastic. Great effort, Bob.

Fernando Alonso

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

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

 

— Fernando Alonso

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

Losers

Honourable mentions:

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

Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull

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

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

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

 

— Daniel Ricciardo

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

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

 

— Max Verstappen

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes

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

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

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

 

— Lewis Hamilton

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

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

 

— Toto Wolff

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

Haas

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

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

 

— Romain Grosjean

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

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

 

— Kevin Magnussen

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

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

 

— Guenther Steiner, Team Principal

Field spread

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

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

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

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

 

— Jean Todt, FIA President

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

Australian Grand Prix Qualifying Round-Up

(Feature image: Sutton Images)

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

What were some of the other storylines from qualifying?

Ferrari pace is true

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

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

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

— Kimi Raikkonen

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

Off goes Ricciardo, Red Bull off the pace

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

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

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

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

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

 Daniel Ricciardo

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

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

— Max Verstappen

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

— Christian Horner

Romain Grosjean pulls the rabbit from the hat, Magnussen struggles

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

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

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

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

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

— Kevin Magnussen

Some things don’t change between Perez and Hulkenburg

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

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

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

— Robert Furnley, Deputy Team Principle

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

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

— Jolyon Palmer

Giovinazzi almost embarrasses Ericsson

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

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

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

— Antonio Giovinazzi

Throw-Ins

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

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

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

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

— Stoffel Vandoorne

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

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

— Paddy Lowe, Chief Technical Officer

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

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

— James Key, Technical Director

Head-to-head qualifying

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

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

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

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

F1 2017 Season Preview & Predictions

Feature image: Sutton Images

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

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

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

Changes

Quite a few changes to note around the F1 paddock.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McLaren:

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Sauber:

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Renault:

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Toro Rosso:

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

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Haas:

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Force India:

(Better late than never)

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New regulations, more problems?

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

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

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

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

Predictions

Drivers champion: Lewis Hamilton

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

Constructors champion: Ferrari

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

Best driver of the rest: Sebastian Vettel

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

Best team of the rest: Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most improved driver: Jolyon Palmer

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

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

Most disappointing driver: Valterri Bottas

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

Most improved team: Renault

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

Most disappointing team: McLaren

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