F1: A dramatic end to a strange season!


Those of us who thought the last races of the year would be boring after Lewis made everything clear early November, well, we were wrong. Very wrong. Combining the drama we could have done without (Grosjean), the excitement with the oh so tragic end (Russell) and the final (well, almost) confirmation of drivers and teams for next season, this is probably the most dramatic season end in many years. But let’s start from the beginning, after my last F1 update that I posted early November and that you can read here.

Some very scary moments in Bahrain – look at what remains of the back of the car…

Starting with what we could all have done without is obviously Grosjean’s terrible crash in the first of two Bahrain races two weeks ago. Honestly I think many of us thought anything like this was impossible in modern F1, but at the same time it was also great to see how all the protective measures implemented worked wonderfully – with exception of the barrier that cut his car in half and caused the fire… Among recent safety equipment is the halo that wasn’t really acclaimed when it came. Now, Grosjean said himself that without it he would have been dead. You could add that had everything the drivers wear, from feet to head, been done in another material than Nomex, which withstands 800 degrees C for up to 35 seconds, he would also not be alive, or at least badly burnt, given it took him 28 seconds to get out of the fire… It’s unbelievable that he made it basically without being hurt. We won’t see Grosjean in F1 next year and it’s great it all ended on a dramatic but in the end positive note.

In the week after the first Bahrain race, we then learnt that Lewis had tested positive for Covid and that Mercedes would replace him with George Russell (Williams) for the second Bahrain race. I described George as the big British hope for when the day Lewis retires in my previous F1 post (link same as above), but hope is one thing. The reality is that so far he has never scored a point in F1, in the improving-but-still-too-slow Williams car. Oh how things were to change over the weekend….

If Bottas thought it would be easier racing Russell than Hamilton, he was wrong…

First, Russell set the fastest time in the free training on Friday, which he followed up with qualifying second to Bottas on the grid on Saturday. In the race he then passed Bottas in the first corner and led the race without any problems for the coming 60 or so laps (out of 87), until Mercedes (yes, Mercedes!) manages to screw up a pit stop so badly that he had to come in for a second one, and then for a third one after a puncture. After the first pit stop he was quickly back in the lead. After the second he was back in fifth, but needed only 2-3 laps to for second place (this included overtaking Bottas in a way that didn’t make the Finn look particularly good), After the third stop he came out 15th and by now, even the very calm George was swearing over the intercom. With six laps left, and did however still manage to finish 8th. It goes without saying that he was devastated, but also that anyone who saw the race realized that this was certainly not the end of it for George. Should Lewis not re-sign with Mercedes, which he still hasn’t confirmed, I’m willing to bet a face mask that Mercedes arranges for George’s contract with Williams to be cancelled. If not, he is a very likely successor to Lewis the day the 36-year old quits, which may well be after an 8th title in 2021.

It wasn’t to be this time, but I don’t think this is the last we’ll see of Russell in the Merc dress!

With Russell having the roller-coaster of his life that he could have done without, the one positive thing was that it allowed Sergio Perez to claim his first F1 victory, and few have been more well-deserved. Perez incredibly still doesn’t have a seat confirmed for next year, and how Aston Martin (as the team will be called next season) could put Sebastian Vettel before Perez beats me, but I’ve written enough of that before.

Most of the drivers are by now confirmed for next season, and the most notable is of course that Mick Schumacher will take one of the two Haas seats. Mick is Michael’s son, he looks like a perfect mix of his father and his uncle Ralph, and he didn’t get here just on having a famous name (although that never hurts). He won the FIA F3 European Championship in 2018 and the Formula 2 Championship in 2020 and has so far accumulated three wins in 11 podiums. There will obviously be huge pressure on the 21-year old Mick and everyone will always and constantly compare him to his father, and you can only hope he’s able to handle it. He will certainly also have to answer questions around the current state of his father of which we know very little, certainly not a good sign.

Ferrari has a a very excciting line-up with Sainz Jr next to Leclerc – as long as the car starts performing again….

Next to Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen is the other noteworthy driver who won’t be returning next year, going over the pond to race in the US IMSA Sports Car Series. After Daniel Ricciardo’s decision to move to McLaren, Renault (which will be called Alpine next year) looks forward to the F1 return of Fernando Alonso which promises to be interesting. And McLaren could be a better move than expected for Ricciardo given the team just signed a GBP 185m deal with American sports group MSP Sports Capital, who clearly have their eyes set on race wins next year. Again, it would be a great shame not seeing Sergio Perez in 2021, and late November Perez said he will take a sabbatical unless he’s offered the second Red Bull seat next to Verstappen. If you ask me that’s a very clear choice given Albon seen over the last two years has been a huge disappointment. He’s picked up somewhat in the last three races after Christian Horner gave him an ultimatum, but he’s still miles away from Max Verstappen. Perez on the other hand has consistently delivered over and above what anyone expected and to me is clearly the better driver. Unfortunately I don’t think anyone plans to ask me, so we’ll see what happens in the coming weeks.

And so the strangest season in memory came to an end this afternoon in Abu Dhabi. Lewis was back, meaning Russell was back in the back of the field in his Williams. Lewis said he didn’t feel 100% which was probably true given he “only” qualified in third and finished the very undramatic race in the same place, after Bottas in second and Max Verstappen in first. Max had started on pole for the first time this season and this was his second win. He is by now a clear number 2 behind Lewis and will most probably be an even bigger threat to the latter in 2021!

Lewis is still in front, but the margin is getting smaller!

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F1 update: Lewis the Legend!

With four races left to go after today’s, it’s time to do a quick pit stop and look at what we’ve seen and can still expect to see in this year’s F1 season.

To start with the most deserving, a week ago Lewis Hamilton became truly legendary in beating Michael Schumacher’s record of F1 race wins. After today, Lewis now totals an incredible 93 wins, 9 of which so far this season. He also equals Schumacher’s record for the most wins with the same team (72), and today’s Hamilton-Bottas double means Mercedes clinched their 7th constructor world title. Lewis is Formula 1’s uncontested number 1, obviously helped by driving the car that is still relatively far ahead of the competition.

It’s good to be the king!

If Lewis is already the de facto world champion, it’s far more contested who will finish second and third – and who won’t. Valtteri Bottas is probably the ideal second driver with Mercedes eyes. He’s loyal to the team and occasionally manages to challenge Lewis, and so far this year has won two races. The question is however rather if what Max Verstappen (Red Bull) and Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) manage to achieve in inferior cars isn’t more impressive. Even though Ferrari is improving and Charles’s results is the only thing that may save Mattia Binotto’s job as team head, they are still far from Mercedes and Charles’s driving is the only thing making Ferrari look slightly better than the mid-field teams. Max on the other hand does a very good job of scoring podium finishes, including one race win this year, and is still in competition with Valtteri for second place in the championship. Red Bull and Max is also the only constellation that occasionally has managed to challenge Mercedes this season.

A good summary of Ferrari’s season so far…

Charles and Max’s relative success also make it very clear that driving skills still count and that it’s not all about the car. The last two races in Portugal and Italy were a good illustration of how far behind Leclerc Sebastian Vettel currently is, in spite of Ferrari confirming both drive identical cars. Seb had officially doubted this but also admitted that Charles is currently in another league. There is probably little hope of things improving before Seb leaves Ferrari for Racing Point / Aston Martin at the end of the season, and you have to wonder whether Racing Point don’t ask themselves whether switching Perez for Vettel was a wise move. I guess time will tell.

There’s equally little hope of Alex Albon retaining his seat in Red Bull. His oddds improved slightly last week when Pierre Gasly confirmed he’s staying with Red Bull’s little brother Alpha Tauri next year. This beats me as Alpha Tauri is Red Bull’s farm team and Pierre’s stellar performance this season with notably one race win stands in stark contrast to Albon’s total lack of results. Today in Italy, Albon then put what is probably the last nail in his coffin himself, when after a mediocre race he completely messed up the restart after the safety car phase with 7 laps to go, managing to lose the car and end up last. Before Portugal, team boss Christian Horner last had given Albon two races to start performing. The fact that he couldn’t and hasn’t been able to all season most probably means we’ll see another second driver at Red Bull next year.

“How the hell can Max be so fast??”

Behind Mercedes and the best half of Red Bull and Ferrari, the mid field is as competitive as ever with Racing Point, McLaren, Renault and Alpha Tauri all very close, and even Alfa Romeo Racing (ex Sauber) managing to pick up points here and there. Although he’s leaving at the end of the season, Daniel Ricciardo certainly doesn’t lack motivation and looks to be finishing his short spell with the Renault team in style, something that may have been really important when Renault decided to stay committed to F1. The team won’t have much time to regret Ricciardo though, as they will instead need to focus on Fernando Alonso returning to the team he won his two world titles with . With an improving car, it will be very interesting to see what an experienced driver like Alonso will be able to achieve.

Will Alonso be able to recreate the magic?

At the back of the field the most interesting is certainly the discussions around Williams, its new owners (the US investment company Dorilton), and whether George Russell will stay on as driver (apparently Nicolas Latifi has enough financial backing to be certain of his seat). Russell has done a fantastic season given what could be expected, notably reaching qualifying P2 on eight occasions (I know, but we’re talking about Williams here!) and also refers to the fact that he has a contract covering 2021. Then again so did Sergio Perez at Racing Point and that didn’t stop the team from firing him and hire Vettel instead. Perez is still looking for a new seat, and it’s not impossible that he kicks Russell out of Williams. Or maybe Perez could be the one replacing Albon at Red Bull?

The UK seems to have a promising successor to Lewis!

As for Haas, last years’ rock’n’roll team notably thanks to the Netflix documentary “Formula 1 – drive to survive” (watch it if you haven’t!) and the charismatic team boss Günther Steiner with his unique version of German English, it’s been a sad season. The team is nowhere to be seen and not even Steiner’s swearing seem to help anymore. Magnussen and Grosjean are both leaving the team next season, Gene Haas is however said to be committed to another season, so Haas will line up two new drivers in 2021. The rumours have it that one of those may be Michael Schumacher’s son Nic… It also means that both Magnussen and Grosjean could be competing for that second seat at Red Bull, both bringing as much experience as Perez.

With four races to go after today there’s thus still some excitement left, however rather off the track given we already know that Lewis will with very high certainty clinch his well-deserved seventh driver’s title soon, with a new record in the number of race wins! Just a small point though – Lewis doesn’t have a contract for next year, which is slightly strange given how late in the season we are. Most probably he’ll re-sign with Mercedes in the coming weeks, because he wouldn’t be retiring now that he’s beaten most records, would he?

A pit stop in Maranello!

This week the pictures will do most of the talking as we’re currently enjoying the last warm days of the year in lovely Tuscany. On the way here though, we did make a pit stop in Maranello and spent a few hours at the Ferrari museum, where you can admire a large amount of mostly red Ferrari beauties from different time periods and read up on your Ferrari knowledge.

Should you be in the region a visit is highly recommended, but be aware there is also a second museum a few kilometres away in Modena. I haven’t been there but have understood it’s smaller and more focused on the life of Enzo Ferrari than the cars (and especially the racing cars, which is the focus in Maranello). You can also buy combined tickets for both museums, but be aware that in Covid times, all tickets must be bought online in advance.

At the end of your visit you have the opportunity to try out your own skills in one of three F1 driving simulators. The feeling of slipping into the very tight space and gripping the wheel is a special one, simulator or not, and at least I didn’t feel the urge to be in the real thing. There is however also the opportunity to test drive various “standard” Ferraris both on nearby streets and the nearby Fiorano track, from various providers in immediate vicinity to the museum. Should you want to try that, make sure you have enough reserve on your card both for the rental itself, and for the carabinieri who could be seen in large numbers on surrounding roads…

In one of the “non-race” rooms, the Enzo sits next to a LaFerrari – difficult choice!
Ferrari’s long Le Mans tradition also receives the attention it deserves.
The F1 room well illustrates the increasing complexity of especially the aerodynamics on the F1 cars through the decades
Indeed – Forza Seb & Charles for the end of the last season together!

Vettel stays in F1

As was announced on Thursday, Sebastian Vettel has signed with Racing Point / Aston Martin (the team will be renamed next year) and will replace Sergio Perez as second (first?) driver alongside Lance Stroll in 2021. Vettel thus grabbed the last straw available to stay in F1 in a somewhat competitive team and proved this blog writer wrong. In my defence though, this wasn’t really an opening since Perez had a contract for 2021 and beyond, and had received no signals indicating the team wouldn’t respect it until he got a call from Lawrence Stroll on Wednesday…

You have to believe that Seb is still motivated and has the fire to go to a team that through Stroll has plenty of money and will no doubt be more entrepreneurial and open to Vettel’s inputs than Ferrari was in the last years. As for their chances, I still believe they are a couple of years away from more than occasionally climbing the podium, but I’d welcome Vettel proving me wrong again. It would certainly be nice to see him end is career on a podium rather than next to the track!

When you’re wrong I’ve learned to double down, so here goes: if things don’t turn around at Ferrari until the end of the season, I think Mattia Binotto will not return as team principal in 2021. There you go – let’s see if he proves me wrong as well…

Mid-season F1 update

With half of the strangest Formula 1 season in memory being completed, it’s time for a short update on where things stand. The strangeness obviously comes from the fact that all races are run without audience and that every driver has apparently been threatened with both this and that unless he puts on a mask the second he steps out of his car. I have no problem with masks, but given everyone in the F1 circus is tested on a regular basis, couldn’t they let the guys breathe some fresh air for a few seconds first?

Not sure this is advisable mask usage…

In terms of racing, the more things stay the same, the more they change. What is unchanged is obviously the Mercedes dominance, and within the team, Hamilton’s dominance over Bottas. Mercedes has won six of the seven races so far this season (the exception being the UK GP which Verstappen won) and of the six, Hamilton has won five. The team seems to be in good harmony and it’s very difficult to see another outcome than Mercedes clinching both the driver and constructor titles this year.

Bottas will have to fight for his second place in the rankings though, being threatened by Verstappen and Red Bull, the clear runner-up behind Mercedes. Verstappen has been on five podiums this year, three times as second and twice as third. The second Red Bull driver Alex Albon is nowhere to be seen, and half-way into the season when he was supposed to start delivering, he has been very far from doing so until now. Red Bull and Christian Horner aren’t really known for their patience, so the question is how long Albon has unless things start to happen soon.

A fairly typical race order this season

The team missing from every podium but two this year (Leclerc finishing second in the first race in Austria, and third in the UK) is obviously Ferrari, which increasingly looks like a team in complete disarray. Next to Vettel’s more or less consistent underperformance, Leclerc is now also dropping back, with the latest race in Spa being a complete low point. Vettel and Leclerc finished 12th and 13th after Vettel proved unable to overtake Räikkönen (Alfa Romeo Racing) in the last laps… Ferrari has lost the speed and if that wasn’t enough, team spirits seem to be at an all-time low. A nice example was when during the last race in Spa, Leclerc enquired about the pit strategy over the intercom and was told “we’ll explain it to you later”. Team principal Mattia Binotto is trying to buy himself some time by talking of until 2024 before the team recovers, but I’ll eat a face mask if Binotto is still team principal in 2024 if things don’t improve before then.

Not a happy bunch this year – but where are the masks?!?

On the positive side, it’s interesting to see how some of the middle-of-the-field teams are making progress, none more than McLaren and Lando Norris who so far this season is clearly ahead of the more experienced Carlos Sainz Jr., having so far scored as many points as Charles Leclerc. As we know Sainz is switching seats with Daniel Ricciardo at Renault at the end of the season, so again, motivation may play a role here. Renault is also clearly improving, as is Racing Point and especially Lance Stroll who has really started to deliver. No doubt that makes majority owner and Lance’s father Lawrence Stroll happy, and it also bodes well for the team’s rebirth under the name Aston Martin next season.

In the back of the field, the biggest news is no doubt that the Williams saga is coming to an end after 40 years. The team has been sold to the US private equity firm Dorilton Capital for GBP 136m and Frank William’s daughter Claire will step down as team principal after the Italian GP this weekend. It’s unclear who will take over her role or what the new owners will bring, or even if they retain the Williams name. After 40 years the Williams era comes to an end, and we should all remember the team in happier days!

With Williams (here in 2012, Frank to the right), F1 looses a legendary name!

Finally, Sebastian Vettel still doesn’t have a seat for next season and it looks increasingly probable that he will leave F1. The only possible remaining option that is being rumoured is Vettel joining Racing Point/Aston Martin, but speaking against that is obviously the fact that with Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll, the team has already signed up two drivers. I for one also doubt that Vettel would be motivated enough to join a team that although making progress, is still most probably a few years away from any podiums.

Update after Monza:

By the time you read this the Italian GP at Monza has taken place over the weekend and was to become the most dramatic one this season,with the most unexpected result. Having said that, nothing in the outcome changes the general assessment above. For the first time this year no Mercedes was on the podium, Hamilton having been penalized by a 10-second start and stop penalty that cost him the race, and Bottas being caught in traffic after a bad start, again proving the difficulty in overtaking at Monza. Both Ferraris crashed out in the first half of the race, having both qualified outside the top ten (and Vettel not even making it to Q2). Pierre Gasly in the AlphaTauri won his first F1 race ever, a great revenge for the talented Gasly who lost his seat at Red Bull to a certain Alex Albon and was degraded to AlphaTauri (previously Toro Rosso). Albon in the far superior Red Bull this time finished 15th, and Verstappen didn’t finish the race. Christian Horner has had better weekends and just maybe starts regretting letting Gasly go – as he should.

Pierre Gasly’s first, but probably not last F1 victory!

Will AMG save A(ston) M(artin)?

If Aston Martin were a cat, it would slowly but surely run out of lives. The car maker that has spoiled us with some of the most beautiful sports cars through history has declared bankruptcy no less than seven times. In 2018, an IPO was supposed to solve its financial problems but in the two years since, Aston has missed more earnings estimates than its had bankruptcies, leading to a stock price declining by 90%, The Gaydon-based company lost GBP 104m in 2019 and a further GBP 120m in Q1 2020, and now has total debt of around GBP 1bn. But as has emerged over the last weeks, there may be hope for Aston – yet again.

Not a very successful IPO…

That hope has three names. The first is Tobias Moers, the long-time and very successful AMG boss that will take over the helm at Aston after Andy Palmer’s five-year reign. Moers is credited with having taken AMG from a tuner among many to a very profitable division of Daimler, even if it’s been at the cost of some AMG brand dilution. That is also something Aston and Andy Palmer know something about, as under Palmer’s reign, the Aston symbol has through licensing deals appeared on everything from clothes to boats. To his credit is having kept Aston’s outgoing models running longer than anyone thought, but also having launched three new cars in as many years – the new Vantage, the DB11 and the DBS.

Moers has a reputation of being a real petrol head – and a man many are afraid of…

The second name that bodes well for Aston is its new shareholder and financier Lawrence Stroll, who has already injected GBP 540m in the company for a controlling stake. Stroll’s F1 team Racing Point will be renamed Aston Martin next year, it is Stroll who appointed Moers, no doubt also with the thought of developing the existing collaboration with Mercedes further, and Stroll certainly has a role in getting Aston’s other new major shareholder aboard, Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff. So for the future of F1 it looks quite solid – but what about the road cars?

It’s not just the colour that is debatable…

The volume car in the current line-up is of course the Vantage. The problem is that it doesn’t sell very well. Its looks have been debated and whatever you think of it, no one thinks it looks better than the car it replaces. That shows in the sales numbers and puts even more importance on the new DBX SUV being a success. It seems to be a car that has a lot going for it and it’s certainly in a segment that is growing strongly, so time will tell. Most people – me excluded – also seem to think it looks quite good, which would be a first among luxury SUV’s (see my thoughts on that topic here).

There is some irony in that just as was the case with Porsche 15 years ago, if Aston is to be saved, it’s by an SUV …

Can Moers as Aston’s new boss, Stroll as its new shareholder and an intensified collaboration with Mercedes, for example in Mercedes using Aston’s newly developed V6 engine, save Aston Martin, and is it then time to buy the stock? This isn’t the place for stock tips but the downside is obviously limited, and what should also be said is that neither Mercedes nor Lawrence Stroll have become successful by losing money, so there is indeed hope. Time will tell.

In other news it should be noted that a very strange F1 season started on Sunday with the Austrian GP. Face masks everywhere, obviously no audience, and overall quite a strange feeling. The race itself was also strange, with Bottas (Mercedes) winning ahead of Leclerc (Ferrari) and Lando Norris (McLaren), no doubt the surprise of the day but the result of no less than 9 cars retiring, and Hamilton (Mercedes) being penalized for having put Albon (Red Bull) in the sand. You would think the teams would have had enough time in the last months to solve really all technical issues, but apparently that’s not the case… Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) started outside of the top 10 and spun himself to the very end of the field after half the race, before finishing in 10th place. As we learnt last week Ferrari didn’t even offer him a contract for 2021 and as per the time of writing, no one else has either. I stand by my assessment from earlier this year (see here) that Vettel will leave F1 after the season.

The silver arrows are black this year, but can be expected to be at the front of the field.

F1 action off the track

In the absence of driving, the F1 circus has still managed to produce some entertainment these last weeks. Mid-May we learnt that Daniel Ricciardo is leaving Renault after only 12 months to join McLaren, and around a week before the real bombshell was dropped, namely that Sebastian Vettel is leaving Ferrari at the end of the season. He will be replaced by Carlos Sainz Jr., and will move on to…. Right. We don’t know, even three weeks after the announcement (and waiting for that piece of news has now made this post a bit old…).

To start with the less surprising news, Daniel Ricciardo leaves Renault after only one season, in a move that made Renault F1 principal Cyril Abiteboul frustrated and speak of a lack of trust. My guess is that Ricciardo is at least as frustrated by a car that last season failed to show any kind of progress over 2018, and you have to believe didn’t give any reason to think it would be better this year. Renault didn’t deliver on everything Ricciardo was promised when joining, and Cyril should thus stop complaining and work on getting his team to perform instead.

Didn’t have much to laugh about lately…

That of course assumes he still has a team, which is far from certain given Renault’s and France’s current status. The French state owns 15% of stumbling mother company Renault, which sacked 15.000 employees last week and has seen demand rock bottom in Covid times. It wouldn’t be a massive surprise that the French state pressures Renault to pull the plug on F1, making Ricciardo’s move look even wiser. Let’s be honest: Daniel should never have left Red Bull and joined Renault in the first place. But with McLaren, he’ll at least be driving for a team that seems to be on a roll, that has plenty of money from Lando Norris’s father Adam, who seems to be slightly more business-minded than the French state, and where next to Lando, he’ll probably have a first driver status.

The far larger surprise came a week earlier with Vettel announcing he’s leaving Ferrari at the end of the season (if we end up having one), when his contract comes to an end. Given it’s unclear where he’s going or if he’s leaving the sport altogether, this has led to loads of speculation as to his reasons. It’s unclear if he was offered more than a one-year extension and on what terms, some therefore claiming money played a role. A lot has also been focused on the lack of a cultural fit at Ferrari after Luca di Montezemolo left and was replaced by the not-very-FI-loving Sergio Macchione and his foot soldier Maurizio Arrivabene. There may be some truth to both points, but you have to believe Vettel is mainly in it for winning races, not for the money. And in terms of culture, the changes didn’t happen yesterday. Vettel has been driving under new management since 2015 and there didn’t seem to be any issues until he started making mistakes. And that was after a certain Charles Leclerc joined, and regularly drove faster – and better.

Not Seb’s prowdest moment

If there is indeed a cultural issue, it has no doubt been complicated by the Monegasque Leclerc, a true Southerner who is fluent in Italian, both language- and cultural-wise. Leclerc is also young enough not to have demands on anything but driving his car, which he does very well. But I doubt this is fundamentally about culture. My guess would be that it’s more related to Vettel sensing he’s losing his first driver status and as a four-time world champion, maybe just not having the energy to go for it again. He has nothing left to prove, which is also the reason he may be leaving the sport.

All good things come to an end sometime

If Vettel says on, his options are rather limited. That he would go to a smaller team with no chance of winning races doesn’t feel very likely. That basically limits it to one option, given Albon doesn’t seem to be at risk at Red Bull (and Verstappen most certainly isn’t). That would be to take the second seat at Mercedes next to Lewis, replacing Valtteri Bottas who’s been on rolling one-year contracts since joining the team in 2017. However, whether Mercedes would be prepared to open such a potential powder keg and whether Lewis Hamilton would agree to it is far from certain. It’s also highly doubtful whether Vettel, who could never challenge Lewis’s first driver status, would accept to play second fiddle to him.

The winner in all this is of course Carlos Sainz Jr, son of legendary rally driver Carlos Sainz, who did an excellent job at McLaren in 2019. By contracting him for 2021, Ferrari also completes the transition to the next generation of drivers. If Albon starts delivering, Red Bull can be said to have done the same thing, leaving Mercedes trailing behind – and making it even less probable they would engage an ageing Sebastian Vettel. The most likely option therefore seems to be that it’s “Tschüss, Seb” thanks for everything!

World champion for Red Bull in 2013 – Vettel’s really happy days!

What is up with Sebastian Vettel?

Sebastian (Seb) Vettel is a four-time F1 world champion and generally considered one of the very best drivers in history. Lately though, Seb has lost his mark and nowhere more so than in today’s Italian GP in Monza.

Whereas Vettel’s Ferrari team mate Charles Leclerc drove brilliantly and won the race although arguably having an overall slower car than Mercedes (although Ferrari’s straight line top speed was amazing!), Seb himself not only ruined the day for himself, but did his best to do so for Lance Stroll as well, in a manoeuvre that was certainly not worthy his capabilities. Having gone off the track all by himself in a fast corner, he then regained the track in front of the nose of Stroll’s car, as he came rushing through the same corner. Luckily nothing happened but the resulting 10 second stop-and-go penalty meant the end of Seb’s day and he finished the race in the part of the result list no one looks at.

The problem is that this is not a one-off; Vettel has not won a single race this season and has mixed podium positions with rankings at the bottom of the list. He has started to lose out in qualifying to Leclerc, and also to make mistakes we’ve never seen him make before and at times, like today, showing bad judgement on a level very untypical of him.

Vettel crashing out of the lead in the German GP this year

Italy and Ferrari will be celebrating all night long and rightly so, as Leclerc leaves no doubt that he is currently Ferrari’s Nr 1 driver, also passing Vettel in the overall championship. The question is whether Vettel will be able to come back.

Lewis Hamilton finished third today behind Valtteri Bottas, but the championship is virtually already decided in his favour, also in view of the fact that Ferrari’s two last wins in Monza and Spa have been on circuits very well suited to them, which will not be the case going forward.

F1‘s new star is here!

Charles Leclerc, the 21-year old Monegasque who moved this season from Sauber to Ferrari, is no doubt the new star of F1. Having secured pole position in yesterday’s qualifying, the second youngest driver ever to do so (Seb Vettel being the youngest), he missed the start but only needed a few laps to overtake Vettel and actually making him look quite old. He then drove a perfect race until ten laps from the end when a partial engine breakdown made him lose speed and ending third, much thanks to the safety car in the last two laps. It really doesn’t matter though – Leclerc’s first win will come sooner rather than later.

Elsewhere we’re starting to see first signs of what could be an interesting season. Red Bull (Verstappen finishing 4th today and out of the podium for the first time in seven races) is the only team posing a challenge to Mercedes and Ferrari. Sauber successor Alfa Romeo Racing has good speed with Kimi Räikkönen finishing in the points this time as well. On the other hand Racing Point, ex-Force India, seem to have major issues, as does Renault, continuing the trend of engine failures from last year, this time hitting both cars in the same lap! it’s not fully clear what was behind Ricciardo’s move to Renault, but it doesn’t look like a very lucky one, at least not yet.

Preview of the 2019 F1 season

The 2019 F1 season starts this Sunday, as usual down under in Melbourne. The saddest piece of news is clearly that it will do so without one of the leading names in the F1 circus over the last decades, F1 race director Charlie Whiting, who passed away yesterday at the age of 66. RIP!

The very popular Charlie had been part of the F1 circus since the 70’s

Looking at teams, during my visit to the auto salon in Geneva earlier this month, I had the opportunity to chat to the technical team of the Mercedes AMG F1 team, who agreed on the top teams Mercedes-Ferrari-Red Bull probably dominating this season as well, but also saying that it’s very difficult to make out trends among the mid-sized teams. As per one of the technical heads, it is usually pretty easy to get some quite reliable indicators in pre-season testing, but this has not been the case this year, leaving even the top teams relatively clueless as to the capabilities of the mid-sized teams, hopefully setting the stage for an interesting season.

Alfa Romeo has retained Marcus Ericsson as third/reserve driver

In the team line-up, Force India has changed its name to Racing Point, thereby cutting ties with the team’s previous Indian owner Vijay Mallya. Sauber has officially been rebranded Alfa Romeo Racing, putting an end to the name Sauber that has been part of F1 since 1993.

Among the drivers, the following transfers and changes are the most noteworthy:

  • Charles Leclerc has joined Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari. the Monegasque youngster (21 years) drove for Sauber last year and is seen as perhaps the most promising young talent in the field. Kimi Räikkönen has thereby in fact switched seats with Leclerc, joining Alfa Romeo Racing alongside the Italian rookie Antonio Giovanazzi. This is obviously a (quite expected) move in the wrong direction for Kimi, who struggled to keep up with Vettel during most of last season.
  • Daniel Ricciardo has left Red Bull Racing and joined Nico Hulkenberg at Renault. It was no secret that Red Bull increasingly looked to Max Verstappen as the team’s first driver, but Ricciardo certainly had higher hopes than to join the struggling Renault team. Frenchman Pierre Gasly will join Verstappen at Red Bull, leaving no doubt as to who is the team’s first driver.
  • The Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll has taken his money from Williams to Racing Point, thereby ensuring a seat for his son Lance (and making Williams’ life even more difficult). The may be a bit harsh since Lance did actually achieve some interesting results last year, but he can’t get away from being the most obvious pay driver in the field.
  • Having first fought for his life, then to keep his right hand, and then to race again, Robert Kubica puts an end to a 7-year struggle by making a remarkable return to the scene this season, driving for Williams. At 34 years Kubica is a veteran who will no doubt struggle, together with the 19-year old English rookie George Russell, to get Williams into the points, as the team on paper is among the weakest in this year’s line-up
Few would have thought Kubica would ever return!

Finally there is a new Netflix documentary on the F1 circus based on the 2018 season that I recommend. It’s called Drive to Survive and you can check it out here. Tune in for a hopefully exciting race on Sunday morning!

Marcus Ericsson and Sauber score again!

Marcus Bahrain

Today’s GP in Bahrain was entertaining, as is almost always the case Bahrain, but especially so for Swiss and Swedish F1 fans, as Marcus Ericsson finished 9th, scoring two points for his Swiss Sauber team. Even better, he did not do so because of a mass crash, but rather as the Sauber car with its new partner Ferrari (in Alfa Romeo disguise) is actually becoming increasingly competitive, and at least on this circuit managed to keep the pace of the middle field of teams. This bodes well for the future. Before today, Marcus had a stint of 49 races without scoring a point (since Monza in 2015), hopefully it won’t take another 49 for him to score again!

The race was won by Vettel (but the way his 49th win by a funny coincidence) ahead of Bottas (who would probably have won had the race lasted another couple of laps) and Lewis Hamilton, who had started 9th due to a replaced gearbox.

Senna – the movie

If you haven’t done so yet (and I fully realize I may be close to the last petrol head in the world here), I can strongly recommend the movie “Senna” about the life and career of the greatest F1 driver of all times, from the early beginnings over his great successes and rivalry with Alain Prost until the bloody weekend at Imola in 1994 that cost him his life. You can access the movie on Youtube over the link below. A large part covers what I would call the golden age of F1, i.e. the last years of the truly mechanical era from 1988-1991.

To quote the great man: “if you see an opening and don’t go for it, your not a racing driver. If you’re happy with 2nd, 3rd or 4th place, you’re not a racing driver”. That’s how he saw it, and that’s how he drove – and it’s maybe something some of today’s driver should take note of.

Ayrton Senna will come back on this blog soon on another topic and in another section – so stay tuned!

F1 season start 2015 – all you need to know!

As one of the most reliable and best signs of the coming spring, the F1 season 2015 kicks off on 15 March in Melbourne, Australia. So what’s new and what’s to expect in F1 2015?

Starting on the mechanical side, none of the rather small changes for the 2015 season come even close to the radical change that took place in 2014. Unfortunately that probably means that the engine sound will tend to be the same as in 2014 as well. Chassis have also largely remained similar except for some added protection around the driver’s head following Jules Bianchi’s dreadful accident at the end of the 2014 season.

On the regulatory side, many will be pleased to note that the double points rule for the last race of the season will no longer be applied. We will also see the introduction in some  yellow flag phases of something called the virtual safety car, and this year in qualifying, 5 cars will be eliminated in Q1 and Q2 respectively, leaving 10 of the total 20 cars allowed for qualifying to Q 3.

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Button on McLaren and Hamilton on a very similar looking 2015 Mercedes – why change a good thing?

So what’s with the teams? That remains to be seen although pre-season testing gives reason to think that at least the start of the season will be as dominated by Mercedes as last season was. The MB driver line-up is unchanged with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, and both have done very well in testing. Behind Mercedes we will of course find the usual suspects, including Ferrari that by hiring Sebastian Vettel were behind the biggest transfer of the season (Kimi Räikkönen has kept the second seat), Red Bull with last season’s big surprise Daniel Ricciardo who will be joined by the upgraded ex-Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kwjat, and McLaren that has welcomed Fernando Alonso and kept Jenson Button. Looking at budgets it is also these teams that lead the pack, from the largest (Red Bull / EUR 425m) to the smallest (McLaren / EUR 230m).

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Vettel trying out his new car, and Ricciardo doing the same in a heavily masked Red Bull

Other teams this season include the middle pack with Lotus (Grosjean/Maldonado, EUR 160m) and Williams (Massa/Bottas, EUR 150m) and the ones that at least on paper will struggle to keep up: Sauber that have hired Swedish Marcus Ericsson alongside Brazilian Felipe Nasr (EUR 85m), Toro Rosso (Verstappen/Sainz jr., EUR 80m) and Force India (Perez/Hulkenberg, EUR 75m). Oh yes, and Marussia, who against all expectations are somehow still there but have yet to present a car but say they will run with an adapted -14 car in Melbourne and present the -15 car later this season. Pozjivem uvidim, as the Russians would say (those who live will see).

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From top left: Hulkenberg (Force India), Verstappen (Toro Rosso) and Marcus Ericsson on Sauber, that kindly even adapted the color of the car to him!

Will the Mercedes dominance continue in 2015? Will Sebastian Vettel adapt as well to life with Ferrari as Schumi did (albeit after a few years)? Which of the smaller teams will surprise on the upside? All those questions and many more will seek to be answered in the 2015 season starting next weekend!

World champion title will be decided this weekend in Abu Dhabi!

The final GP of the 2014 season takes place this Sunday in Abu Dhabi, and as many of you know the world champion title has not yet been decided. Lewis Hamilton holds a 17 point lead over his team “mate” Nico Rosberg (334 against 317) which would under normal circumstances be quite a safe margin. However for the first time the last race of the season will count double, meaning the winner goes home with 50 rather than the usual 25 ponits. This means that if Nico wins and Lewis finishes third or worse, Nico takes the title. Under any other scenario, Lewis does. Given the story this year has usually been Mercedes 1st and 2nd Lewis is certainly still the favourite, but it obviously ain’t over ’til it’s over.

The idea with double points has not gone down well with everyone, but it has at least ensured excitement up to the last race – which was probably the (only) point.

Good news for Marcus Ericsson as Mercedes wins another double in Austin

It was more of the same at the US GP in Austin yesterday, as Mercedes won their 8th double of the season and are now only one double away from equalizing the record set back in the days (1988 to be exact) by Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost for McLaren. As so often however it was Lewis Hamilton that had a bit more to give and now has a 24 point lead with three races left. Ricciardo finished third on Red Bull, again beating Vettel who came in 7th having started last, and spent most of the race complaining about the car to the pits. It definitely looks like he has mentally already left for Maranello!

Caterham and Marussia didn’t participate in the US (it seems the cash ran out), but last week still brought good news for Swedish Marcus Ericsson (currently on Caterham) who has secured a seat with Swiss Sauber for next season. Not that Sauber has made anyone happy this year either (it shares last place among the teams with Caterham…) but it’s one of F1’s oldest teams with lots of tradition, and the fact that they go for Ericsson and not a driver bringing lots of money also seems to indicate that financing for 2015 has been secured. Sauber is also known as an excellent team for young drivers to develop in (none more famous than Schumi of course), so fingers crossed for Marcus!

originalCheer up Marcus, things can only get better!

Mr Ferrari says arrividerci

A couple of weeks ago it became clear that Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, president of Ferrari since 1991, had lost the power battle against his boss and arch rival Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and will leave the company.

Montezemolo was hired by Enzo Ferrari as his PA in 1973, 41 years ago (!) and could well be described as the last Ferrari man of the old school and also the man that since 1991 led the company from close to bankruptcy through ist commercially most successful period in history. In his 23 years as CEO, Ferrari launched 19 new models and became F1 world champion six times under the F1 leadership of Jean Todt, Montezemolo’s most successful hire. He developed new businesses for Ferrari including personalized cars and Corse Clienti, where old racing cars were sold to (very wealthy!) clients. He was key to re-shaping Ferrari into the company it is today.

The lack of success in F1 since 2007 did however increasingly become a burden for Montezemolo and a good excuse for Marchionne to push him out. Marchionne already started the process a while ago when recruiting Marco Mattiacci as new F1 boss, who at the time claimed never having seen an F1 race and was as far from Montezemolo’s style as you can get.

Montezemolo leaves a very big pair (no doubt hand-sewn) Italian leather shoes to fill, as he himself moves on to try to achieve the same wonders with another Italian company close to bankruptcy – Alitalia. Ciao Luca, we wish you the best of luck, it seems you may need it…

British GP at Silverstone – or the day Felipe saved Kimi’s life!

There are different types of excitement in the sport we all love so much, but the kind of excitement we got yesterday in the first lap of the British GP at Silverstone is one we could definitely do without.

Kimi Räikkönen’s Ferrari came out a bit wide onto the Wellington straight after the start on the first lap, and he lost control of the car when it crossed back onto the tarmac. The car went into a spin, hit a wall on the right side of the track and was then thrown back onto the track just as the last cars on the grid came through. After a catastrophic start Felipe Massa came almost last onto the straight and saw Kimi’s car practically being thrown at him, just a few metres in front. Through experience, amazing reflexes and presence of mind, he hit the brakes and steered right, voluntarily causing the car to spin and thereby making sure only the tail hit Kimi’s car rather than driving straight into the side of him, as would otherwise have been the case. Whether he saved Kim’s life or just saved him from being badly injured doesn’t really matter, it was in any case a move that is worth high praise!

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When the race really got going an hour later, all looked pretty much the same as always this season, with Rosberg leading before Hamilton, but then Nico’s gearbox broke down in the 28th lap and Lewis took over the lead, holding onto it until the end. As a small consolation to Williams, having lost Massa’s car in the incident in the first lap, his teammate Valtterri Bottas finished second before Daniel Ricciardo on Red Bull in third. In the championship this means Nico’s lead over Lewis is now only 4 pts before the German GP at Hockenheim gets underway on 20 July!

Same same but different at Austria’s GP

With two Williams in the first row on the starting grid and Mercedes only qualifying as 3rd (Rosberg) and 9th (Hamilton), it looked like we were in for a somewhat different race yesterday as the F1 circus returned to Austria for the first time in 11 years. At the end though it looked pretty much as usual, With Rosberg winning before Hamilton, and Bottas (Williams) finishing 3rd.

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Rumors were that the issues with the Kinetics power system that has caused Mercedes problems in Montreal were still not fixed and that the team was therefore not running at full power. Perhaps that was the case in the qualifying but as the race started and we all could witness how Hamilton overtook five (!) cars in the first lap to claim 4th place, any such doubts were dissipated.

In terms of comeback Hamilton was thus the man of the day even though Rosberg was clearly the winner in many aspects as he both won the race and increased his championship lead. Probably just as important was also that he overtook his father Keke in F1 race wins, being now at 6 wins in his still young career… As for other teams Williams are looking better and better, Ferrari is at least relatively stable, whereas Red Bull still struggles big-time, with Vettel losing all power in the 2nd lap, then somehow regaining it, only to have to park his car around 30 laps later. Toro Rosso didn’t have a great day either and neither of the teams will be able to challenge Mercedes this season.