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

Ferrari och Alonso vann i regnet i Malaysia

Efter ett mycket spännande lopp, som avbröts tillfälligt på grund av regn, vann Alonso på Sepang. Än mer överraskande är att Sergio Perez i en Sauber bärgade andraplatsen. Nu lär ryktena om att han ska ta över Massas plats i den andra Ferrarin mitt i säsongen inte avta, inte minst som Massa slutade på en 15:e plats.

Efter två tävlingar leder Alonso VM. Helt otroligt med hänsyn till att Ferraris nya bil inte alls är konkurrenskraftig än. Ferrari har en hel del nya uppdateringar med sig till nästa GP om tre veckor i Kina. Vi får hoppas att det hjälper.

Alonso snabbast sista dagen i Jerez

Igår fredag var sista dagen för F1-stallens tester i Jerez. Alonso var snabbast i sin Ferrari. Det var också den näst snabbast tiden (efter Lotus!) under hela testveckan.

Så här blev resultaten i fredags:
1. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, 1:18.877, 39 varv
2. Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso, 1:19.597, 80 varv
3. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, 1:19.606, 50 varv
4. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, 1:19.640, 86 varv
5. Romain Grosjean, Lotus, 1:19.729, 95 varv
6. Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber, 1:19.834, 76 varv
7. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, 1:19.977, 90 varv
8. Bruno Senna, Williams, 1:20.132, 125 varv
9. Jarno Trulli, Caterham, 1:22.198, 117 varv

Och så här blev det för alla fyra testdagar:
1. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes*, 1:17.613, 174 varv
2. Romain Grosjean, Lotus, 1:18.419, 212 varv
3. Michael Schumacher, Mercedes*, 1:18.561, 173 varv
4. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, 1:18.877, 106 varv
5. Mark Webber, Red Bull, 1:19.184, 150 varv
6. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, 1:19.297, 146 varv
7. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, 1:19.464, 166 varv
8. Daniel Ricciardo, Toro Rosso, 1:19.587, 157 varv
9. Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso, 1:19.597, 159 varv
10. Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus, 1:19.670, 190 varv
11. Sergio Perez, Sauber, 1:19.770, 154 varv
12. Paul di Resta, Force India, 1:19.772, 170 varv
13. Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber, 1:19.834, 182 varv
14. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, 1:19.977, 90 varv
15. Bruno Senna, Williams, 1:20.132, 250 varv
16. Jules Bianchi, Force India, 1:20.221, 48 varv
17. Felipe Massa, Ferrari, 1:20.454, 164 varv
18. Jenson Button, McLaren, 1:20.688, 135 varv
19. Pastor Maldonado, Williams, 1:21.197, 122 varv
20. Heikki Kovalainen, Caterham, 1:21.518, 157 varv
21. Pedro de la Rosa, HRT*, 1:22.128, 108 varv
22. Jarno Trulli, Caterham, 1:22.198, 117 varv
23. Giedo van der Garde, Caterham, 1:23.324, 74 varv
* 2011-års bil