F1 pit stop: racing until the end!

It’s high time to do a quick pitstop and check the status of the F1 season as we’re around 3/4 in. The short answer to that is that it’s tighter and more open than it’s been in many, many years, which is of course really exciting. Since my last update from July after the Austrian GP that you can read here if you missed, it, we’ve had another seven races counting the one today in Turkey, and on these we’ve had no less than five different winners. That’s right, even though the title will go to either Hamilton or Verstappen, we’ve reached a stage where more teams and drivers fight for individual wins, and that’s of course exactly the way it should be!

Esteban Ocon won the Hungarian GP

As mentioned this summer, this is partly driven by the fact that next season will see radical changes to the cars, something I will come back to in the coming weeks, but which means that development efforts on this season’s cars have stopped or at least been heavily reduced. Small tweaks are certainly still done, but somehow the mid-sized teams seem more successful doing so than the large ones. It does however have the positive consequence of more open racing, and that will most probably remain the case until the end of the season.

In my last post from July, Red Bull had won the last five races and Max Verstappen had won four of those. I therefore stated that if Mercedes didn’t wake up rather quickly the season risked being over and indeed, Mercedes did wake up however, and I guess no one really expected less. Starting in Silverstone, traditional a track favorable to Mercedes, it was a 1st and 3rd position for Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, and Lewis than moved on to win in Russia as well, finishing on the podium of most other races. Bottas then also won today’s race in Turkey, but with the two Red Bulls on the podium as well. That allowed Max to move ahead of Lewis again in the standings so it’s pretty clear that this will go down to the wire and for the first time in a long time, Lewis is seriously challenged for the world title.

He’s got the smile and momentum back!

So what about those other teams? Well, McLaren has only become more competitive, partly that goes for Renault as well, Aston Martin is somehow also part of the mix, at least when conditions become a bit unpredictable, and what George Russell delivers in an improving but still inferior Williams car continues to impress. Lando Norris (Mc Laren) is currently fourth in the standings betwen Valtteri (third) and Perez (fifth), but should really have been third as there is really no excuse for him not winning one of the best races so far, that in Sotchi two weeks ago. He led the whole race and when the rain came with a few laps to go, he refused to follow team orders to come in and switch tyres and ended up in the sand with two laps to go. That’s a real rookie mistake but it’s one that shouldn’t have happened.

This is when you should have come in, Lando…

The other big news in the last weeks is of course that Valtteri Bottas is leaving Mercedes at the end of the season, and that George Russell is taking over his seat. This was widely expected but it was nice to see it being done in an amicable way, with Valtteri departing not directly but rather at the end of the season. He will then go to Alfa Romeo Racing, taking over retiring Kimi’s seat, and that Russell replaces him is of course no surprise. What George has managed to do with the under-performing Williams car this season is simply sensational, and of course we also remember when he replaced Lewis during a race at the height of Covid and was very close to winning it. For him, this is a terrific chance of showing how good he really is. For Valtteri it’s obviously quite a large step in the wrong direction, and thus probably one towards retirement.

My guess is that Russell will make life tougher for Lewis than Valtteri did.

A final thing to note in this more competitive field than we’ve had in many years is how close many teams’ drivers are. Sainz and Leclerc (Ferrari) are sixth and seventh in the standings with half a point between them. Alonso and Ocon (Alpine) and Vettel and Stroll (Aston Martin) follow, next to each other, and even though Lando is ahead of his team mate Ricciardo and Max is a head of Sergio Perez, the distance is getting smaller. I guess the way to read this is that we have a season of very good drivers, in most cases getting as much of their cars as is possible – and that’s exactly how it should be!

F1 pit stop – the future looks orange!

We’re nine rounds into the F1 season 2021 and it’s time to check the temperature and see where things stand before we move into the mid-season with the British GP in two weeks, the Hungarian at the end of the month and then the Belgian at the end of August. I dare say that even those who find F1 predictable and boring have something to cheer about this year, because so far, predictable is certainly something this season is not. Before moving into the action, let me just note that at the start of the season I wrote that if we were lucky, we may see spectatcors return to some of the races this year. Gladly that is now the case, and it’s great to see!

The Dutch fans didn’t miss Max’s win in Austria!

Going back to where we left off, in my last update I put up the question whether Max (Verstappen, Red Bull) was going to catch up with Lewis (Hamilton, Mercedes) and I believe we have the answer. Not only has he caught up with Lewis but he has in fact clearly passed him, just as Red Bull has passed Mercedes to become the team to beat in the line-up. The most recent five races have all been won by Red Bull with Max winning four and Sergio (Perez) one. But it gets even worse from Mercedes’s perspective, since Lewis has only been on two podiums in those same five races, clinching second place in France and in the first of two Austrian GP’s. Perez has meanwhile also found his footing and is ahead of Bottas, so currently there is little doubt that Red Bull and Max are favourites for this year’s constructor and driver’s title. The die-hard Mercedes optimists will note that Silverstone in two weeks is a typical Mercedes track and they’re right about that, making it a pretty decisive one: if Red Bull beats Mercedes in Silverstone, that’s probably it. If they don’t, my bet is that that’s it anyway.

Lewis is only ahead of Max outside of the track these days

Behind the two top teams, McLaren and Lando Norris’s progress is no less suprising. Lando drives like there’s no tomorrow and he does so in a fast car that is now very close to the two top teams. Daniel (Ricciardo) was apparently right in his call to join McLaren rather than stay at Renault, but he needs to up his game considerably to keep up with Lando who’s clearly emerging as the team’s first driver. He’s finished P3 three times this year and it’s probably only a question of time before he wins his first race. Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz are doing what they can in their Ferraris which are faster than last year but still inferior not only to Red Bull and Mercedes, but currently also to McLaren. With only two points between them, the two Ferraristi are no doubt the most balanced driver pair on the grid!

The mid-field sees roughly the same teams as earlier, except for McLaren. Aston Martin where Seb Vettel has found his footing which is very nice to see, but the car, although improving, isn’t really there yet. AlphaTauri, where Pierre Gasly continues to deliver strongly but Yuki Tsunoda, although having the speed, seems to have great difficulty in avoiding crossing white lines and getting penalties. Alpine is there as well with notably Fernando Alonso showing his routine, but the car is less performing than last year. Pretty much the same in other words but with Gasly’s continued strong performance and Seb finding the speed again standing out as positives.

In reality, Lando’s car is mostly far ahead of Ricciardo’s

Finally there’s not much to report on from the back of the field. Kimi (Räikkönen) and Antonio (Giovinazzi) can hope to take a point here and there in their Alfa Romeos if some of the top cars have problems, and George Russell will certainly do so in the coming races as it’s truly amazing how he manages to get every last hp out of the Williams car. By the way, speculation as to whether he will replace Bottas at Mercedes before the end of the season doesn’t go away. Finally, whilst Haas remain very much last in the line-up, at least Mazepin seems to have found some stability and stopped endangering other drivers in every race. Mick Schumacher beats him in most races, but he can’t work wonders either in a car that is nowhere close to where it was a couple of years ago.

If you’re thinking that Mercedes will never let Red Bull win the title this season without a fight, that would certainly be true in a normal year, but in view of the very big changes that will hit the F1 circus next season and that we’ll come back to in a separate post in the coming months, Mercedes as well as other teams have officially stated that they will not develop their 2021 cars any further. It’s therefore difficult to imagine that something could happen that fundamentally changes the outcome this year, and that would mean that we’ll see a new world champion, one who for the first time ever is from the Netherlands and whose name is Max Verstappen!

F1: same same but (not very) different

Four races into the new F1 season and it’s time to make a first pit stop and see what’s happened so far. Any unexpected positive surprises, any upsets, or for that matter any disappointments? So far the four races have taken place in Bahrain, Italy, Portugal and today in Barcelona, Spain, and we now have a two-week break before race number five, the most traditional of them all in Monaco on 23 May. The executive summary so far would go something like same same (as last season) and so far not very different, but if you read on I’ve done my best to add a bit more colour to that.

What is very similar to last season is the two top teams. No changes neither here, nor in the respective top drivers – Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. After Lewis’s win today in Barcelona, Mercedes have an 29-point lead in the constructors’ championship, with Lewis leading the drivers’ by 14 points ahead of Max. The difference is smaller than last year however, with Max pretty much breathing down Lewis’s neck, as shown by the podiums so far where he’s been on all, and winning in Italy. Behind the two, Bottas isn’t surprising on the upside any more than last year, continuing to play the role of the good soldier, but also to show that he’s slower than both Lewis and Max. Red Bull newcomer Sergio Perez on the other hand is off to a promising start (already far better than his predecessor Albon was at any point during his time), and it will be interesting to see if with a few more races under his belt, he can challenge the top duo, or become the natural number three on the podium.

Lews and Max fighting it out at a rainy Imola GP

So to use some hockey terminology (but with no respect for the fact that a hockey line always has three players…), if the first line is made up of Mercedes and Red Bull, the second is also relativeliy clear, at least so far in points, consisting of McLaren and Ferrari. For McLaren this is a continuation of the positive trend from last year, with Lando Norris so far ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, even clinching third place in Italy. Then again, Ricciardo was ahead of Norris today in Barcelona, so things may be turning more even. Over at Ferrari it’s a bit disappointing as the car doesn’t seem to have become more competitive than last year. So far newcomer Carlos Sainz Jr. is also well behind Charles Leclerc. Before the season I wrote that I saw Leclerc-Sainz as perhaps the best driver-duo of any team this year. I guess it’s too early to say, but Carlos Jr. needs to step up his game for that to come through. As for Ricciardo, it still remains to be seen whether his move away from an uncontested first seat at Renault to McLaren was the right one, but there is no doubt that McLaren is faster than Alpine (ex Renault).

Norris continues to deliver at McLaren!

The third line is quite crowded this season, regrouping Alpine, AlphaTauri, Aston Martin (ex Racing Point) and Alfa Romeo (and no, it’s not because they all start with an A…). Except for Aston Martin, the remaining three can be said to be roughly where they were last year, and again, with the established drivers so far ahead of the newcomers. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) shows that he hasn’t forgotten how to drive a car although he’s still behind Esteban Ocon who this year is faster than at any point previously. Yuki Tsunoda still needs to prove himself at AlphaTauri, and especially vs Pierre Gasly. The big disappointment so far is Aston Martin and within the team, unfortunately again Sebastian Vettel. The car seems far less competitive than last year (I’ll leave it open as to whether that’s because it’s no longer a copy of the Mercedes…), and Vettel is so far far well behind Lance Stroll and yet to score a point. Finally Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi are quite even at Alfa Romeo, which is pretty much where it was last year, meaning at the end of that third line.

That leaves Williams and Haas in the fourth line, which is a bit unfair to Williams who are so far clearly better and well on their way up if they keep progressing. Pretty much all of this is thanks to George Russell who continues to deliver as much as the car allows for, so far scoring 8 points. Haas on the other hand is even more disappointing than last year, something not even the talent Mick Schumacher clearly displays can change. The Haas is simply not competitive, but arguably the even bigger issue is the team’s second driver Nikita Mazepin who came as a condition for the Russian sponsor money from his billionaire father, and who is outright dangerous on track. The list of incidents so far has resulted in an equally long list of Instagram jokes on him and the new nickname Maze-spin, and his private behaviour isn’t making him any new friends either. Haas is in dire straits and in desperate need of sponsorship money, but this is of course the worst side of F1, when a team is forced to, and accepts taking on an unfit driver as part of the package. I really do hope things improve before something really bad happens, as Mazepin is a danger both to himself and others.

One of the funnier Mazepin jokes making the rounds on Insta…

There we go – we still have 19 races left this season so things can, and hopefully will still change around a bit. Will Verstappen be able to challenge Lewis for real this year? Will Perez become as fast as Max, and will Ricciardo prove that his move was the right one? Time will tell as we get further into the season, stay tuned!

The F1 season 2021 kicks off!

Next week on 28 March the 2021 F1 season kicks off in Bahrain, and it promises to be an interesting one! To start with the Covid part, the season was really supposed to start in Australia but the Melbourne GP has been postponed. In Bahrain, vaccinated and Covid-recovered will be allowed as audience, but it remains to be seen how many subsequent races will follow the same policy. At least for the first half of the season, my guess is that races will tend to be without audience, but perhaps that will improve as the season (and vaccinations!) progresses. Do remember however that the first races of last season were completely cancelled, so things are progressing, and even with empty stands there promises to be enough excitement on the track to compensate for a lack of spectators. So with one week to go, here’s a round-up of the teams and their drivers, and also a few words on where those went who left since last season.

Starting with the teams, we’ll have the same 10 this season as we did last, however with two of them having changed names and looks. Racing Point has changed both name and colour, going from the quite spectacular pink to a less flashy but more classy Aston Martin green as the team takes the Aston name, making it the first time in over half a century Aston Martin has its name on cars in F1. Renault on the other hand has decided to revive the Alpine name not only through the A110 street car, but also on the F1 track. Renault F1 has thus becomes Alpine with the colour changing from yellow to an Alpine blue with red elements. I’ve written about Alpine on a couple of occasions and in my first post on the A110 that you can find here if you missed it, I certainly didn’t count on the name having much of a future. As so often, I don’t mind having been wrong!

Moving on to the drivers, we’ll have three rookies and one comeback kid in 2021. Among the new entrants, none has a bigger pair of shoes to fill than Mick Schumacher, Michael’s son. Mick drives one of the Haas cars and Nikita Mazepin, an equally 22-year old Russian rookie the other. A student of the Ferrari Driving Academy, Mick also won the F2 championship lsat year and the F3 one in 2018, so there’s no doubt he brings more than a legendary name to the party. We’ll see during coming years if it’s enough to take him beyond the Ferrari academy into the actual team, and whether his career will be as successful as his father’s. The third new driver is Yuki Tsunoda in AlphaTauri, a 21-year old Japanese driver Red Bull has a lot of faith in, and who’s advanced from local racing in Japan to F1 in just four years. The comeback kid is of course none other than Fernando Alonso who return to Renault/Alpine, taking over Daniel Ricciardo’s seat. Alonso has notably won Le Mans since he left F1 two years ago and as he turns 40 this summer, it will be interesting to see how much fuel he has left in the tank!

Yuki Tsunoda to replace Daniil Kvyat at AlphaTauri F1 team ...
Red Bull believes strongly in young Yuki Tsunoda

As for the drivers who change teams, I find three of the moves especially interesting. The first is no doubt Carlos Sainz Jr. moving to Ferrari and teaming up with Charles Leclerc. This to me is probably the leading driver pair this year, in competition with Red Bull. However, it remains to be seen if Ferrari has found enough speed to allow them to compete. The second is Sebastian Vettel moving from Ferrari to Racing Point / Aston Martin. Seb turns 34 this year and has been on a downward slope for quite some time, so it will be very interesting to see if racing with Aston Martin will allow him to perform again. Finally, Sergio Perez was unsure of whether he would find a seat until the very last days of last season, when it was confirmed that he takes over after Alex Albon in Red Bull. I think this is extremely well deserved as Perez has always been a bit underrated, and whereas he won’t challenge Max Verstappen’s first-driver status in the team, I don’t think he will be far behind – if at all. The last and to me far less interesting move is Daniel Ricciardo’s move to McLaren. It was hard to comprehend when Ricciardo joined Renault and even harder to understand when he left them for McLaren, as Renault was getting better as last season progressed. Then again, maybe Ricciardo sees the same thing happening with McLaren, let’s hope he’s right in that case.

If the car is up to it, I’m sure Sainz will deliver!

So where did the drivers who left after last season go? Alex Albon is still with Red Bull as reserve and development driver and is set to race in the German Touring League DTM this year. Romain Grosjean (ex Haas) has moved to the US where he’ll be racing in the Indycar Series and perhaps compete against Kevin Magnussen (also ex Haas) who has also moved over the Atlantic, however not to Indycar but rather for IMSA, notably driving the Daytona 24hrs this year. Finally Daniil Kvyat (ex AlphaTauri) hasn’t gone anywhere at all, staying in F1 as reserve driver for Alpine in 2021.

So there we are, and by this time next week we’ll have a first idea of how far the different teams have come, even though the season will of course be a long one. Given how terribly bad I am at it I won’t even try to predict the outcome, but if Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari have somewhat comparable cars, I think we’re in for a really exciting season. It would be really great if Ferrari has found the way back to a winning concept, and I don’t think I’m the only one who look forward to see what Mick Schumacher will be able to achieve. Until next week, if you want to have a behind the scenes look back at last season, the third season of “F1 – Drive to survive” has just premiered on Netflix!

F1: Haas mit großem Interesse an Mick Schumacher - Eurosport
Schumacher Jr., racing for Haas in 2021

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!