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Thoughts on the 70th Anniversary GP

Max Verstappen won the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix (Image: Pirelli)

Formula 1 celebrated its 70th anniversary on Sunday with a Grand Prix at Silverstone, scene of the first ever World Championship race in 1950. The race was won by Max Verstappen, with Lewis Hamilton second and Valtteri Bottas third.

The race was notable in many respects, a few of which I’ll cover here.

Max Verstappen and Red Bull shine

Until Sunday’s race, it seemed perfectly plausible that Mercedes could win every race in 2020. With 4 wins from the opening 4 rounds of the season, Mercedes had been challenged only by by their own reliability issues in Austria and Pirelli’s fragile tyres at the British Grand Prix.

That all changed on Sunday when Max Verstappen and Red Bull beat Mercedes fair and square. They were helped by warm conditions and softer compound tyres than had been used at the previous week’s race, But the win was in no way fortunate. The combination of Red Bull and Verstappen was simply faster than Mercedes and the win was richly deserved.

Mercedes are still the team to beat, but Red Bull have now firmly established themselves as challengers. Verstappen is 30 points behind Hamilton in the Driver’s Championship – while that’s a sizeable gap, it’s by no means insurmountable. If Red Bull can continue to make progress, Verstappen might even have a shot at the title.

Hamilton matches Schumacher’s podium record

Not long ago, it was thought that most of Michael Schumacher’s records would stand for many years to come, possibly even forever. Lewis Hamilton has had other ideas, and has been steadily rewriting the record books, in the process firmly establishing himself as one of the great racing drivers of all time.

On Sunday, Hamilton scored his 155th podium, matching Schumacher’s tally. Hamilton achieved the feat in his 255th F1 race, meaning he has stood on the podium in just over 60% of the races has entered. That’s an astonishing rate of success, even considering that Hamilton has always driven competitive cars in his F1 career.

It’s hard to imagine that Hamilton will not claim the podium record outright in the very near future, probably at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.

The next record in Hamilton’s sights will be Schumacher’s mammoth total of 91 Grand Prix victories. To understand just how massive that tally is, consider that it is just one short of the total wins of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost combined.

Hamilton currently sits second in the all-time win list on 87. With at least 7 races left in 2020, and probably more still to be scheduled, it is possible that Hamilton will become Formula One’s most successful driver by race victories this season.

Hulkenberg deserves a place in F1

On the Thursday before the British Grand Prix, Sergio Perez tested positive for Covid-19, which ruled him out of competing. That meant Racing Point were in a sudden mad dash to find a driver. Nico Hulkenberg came to the rescue, rushed to Silverstone and made it through all of the mandatory checks just in time to participate in FP1 on Friday. Despite having not driven an F1 car all season and not having driven the current Racing Point RP20 at all, Hulkenberg spent the weekend getting closer and closer to team-mate Lance Stroll’s lap times.

A failure on the car meant he was unable to take part in the race, a massive disappointment for him and the team.

But Hulkenberg’s work was rewarded the following weekend at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix when he qualified 3rd on the grid, faster than everybody except the two Mercedes drivers, and comprehensively beating team-mate Stroll. Some issues with tyre wear in the race meant Hulkenberg had to make an extra pit stop and he ended up finishing seventh, just 13 seconds behind Stroll.

It was a demonstration of Hulkenberg’s value to any Formula 1 team. After so smoothly slotting into Perez’s seat and delivering points for Racing Point, it seems likely that any team in need of a driver for 2021 will be knocking on Hulkenberg’s door.

Albon desperately needs a good result

Alexander Albon is in a pretty tough situation. He’s a young, quick, exciting driver in a good car, and while that sounds like a perfect combination, there’s one problem: his team-mate is Max Verstappen. Verstappen is arguably the quickest driver in the field, with the possible exception of Lewis Hamilton, and he is using every ounce of his speed to try to challenge Mercedes for race wins. In the process, Albon is being comprehensively overshadowed by Verstappen at just about every turn.

It’s a situation reminiscent of a young Michael Schumacher leaving his team-mates in his dust. Verstappen is world champion material and it will be difficult for anyone to match him in the same car. At last weekend’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, Verstappen won the race while Albon finished 39 seconds back in fifth place. That gap is largely a positive reflection on Vertappen rather than a negative one on Albon, but Albon might struggle to see it that way. He will not be happy until he at least matches his team-mate.

Albon so desperately needs a strong result. Can he finally stand on the podium at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix? It would provide him with a much-needed confidence boost.

Father-son world champions in F1

Nico Rosberg won the 2016 Formula 1 World Championship (Image: Daimler AG)

Nico Rosberg won the 2016 Formula 1 World Championship (Image: Daimler AG)

Like many occupations, motor racing tends to be a family affair. The children of professional racing drivers often become racing drivers themselves, to varying degrees of success. In very rare cases, both generations reach the pinnacle of their chosen racing categories. Let’s have a look at how this has happened in Formula 1.

In the history of motor racing, it’s not all that unusual for multiple members of the same family to race in Formula 1 (examples include Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve; Emerson, Wilson Jr and Christian Fittipaldi; Jody and Ian Scheckter; Michael and Ralf Schumacher; Jos and Max Verstappen) . Winning the World Championship, however, is a much more elite affair, so much so that only twice has a World Champion been related to a previous World Champion. In both cases,  the relationship was a that of son-father.

The first son of a World Champion to win the title himself was Damon Hill, in 1996. Damon is the son of double World Champion Graham Hill, who won the title in 1962 for BRM and 1968 for Lotus. While Damon was certainly exposed to racing from a very young age due to his father’s career, it was by no means a given that he would find success in Formula 1. Having started his racing career on motorcycles, Damon only started racing racing cars from 1983, when he was already 23 years old.

Damon Hill made his F1 debut for Brabham at the 1992 Spanish Grand Prix. At the time, he was 31 years old, which even then was unusually old for a driver to break into Formula 1. In the same season, he was a test driver for Williams, who signed him for a race seat in 1993 when Riccardo Patrese moved to Benetton. Hill won 3 races in 1993, providing his team-mate and eventual champion Alain Prost with a stronger challenge than expected.

In 1994, Damon remained with Williams to partner Ayrton Senna, and would no doubt have expected to spend the season as Senna’s number two. Tragically, Senna was killed at the San Marino Grand Prix, and Hill inherited the role of team leader and challenger to championship leader Michael Schumacher.

Schumacher would go on to take the title in 1994 and 1995, with Hill second in both seasons. 1996, however, was Hill’s year, and he fended off a strong challenge from Williams team-mate Jacques Villeneuve to realise his dream of becoming Formula 1 World Champion. In doing so, he became the first son of a World Champion to win the title.

For a while, it seemed that the Hill family might have a chance of producing a third-generation champion. Damon’s son Josh raced single seaters for a few years, progressing as high as the European Formula 3 Championship in 2013, but decided to retire from racing that season.

Nico Rosberg became only the second son of a World Champion to win the title himself when he beat Lewis Hamilton to the 2016 crown just a few weeks ago. Nico is the son of Keke Rosberg, who won the title for Williams in 1982.

Success at F1 level was a long time coming for Nico Rosberg. He made his debut for Williams in 2006, but had to wait until the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix, his 111th Grand Prix start, to take his first win in Formula 1. It was worth the wait, however, as the younger Rosberg would go on to win 23 races and eventually the 2016 World Championship.

Nico Rosberg owes his F1 success to a significant extent to the dominance of the Mercedes team over the past few seasons. That’s not to minimise his achievement – the vast majority of F1 championships have been won in the fastest car. However, being at Mercedes has also brought the challenge of being team-mate to Lewis Hamilton.

Rosberg finished runner-up to Hamilton in 2014 and 2015 before finally besting his illustrious team-mate in 2016. Such was the dominance of the Mercedes team, though, it could easily have been Rosberg who topped the standings in all three seasons. His defeat of Hamilton in 2016 was testament to Rosberg’s determination and consistency. Never before in the history of F1 has a driver beaten his own triple-World Champion team-mate to the title.

In winning the 2016 World Championship, Rosberg became only the second son of a World Champion to win the title. His shock retirement from F1 immediately after securing the crown means there are no drivers currently in Formula 1 who can repeat the achievement – assuming they continue to race in 2016, Max Verstappen, Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer are all the sons of former F1 drivers, but none of their fathers won the World Championship.

Who will be next?

In the junior ranks of single seater racing, no name is currently attracting more attention than Mick Schumacher. The son of seven-time Formula 1 World Champion Michael Schumacher, Mick is 17 years old and looks likely to make his Formula 3 debut in 2017.

Mick Schumacher seems to be more than just a young driver with a famous name. In 2016, he competed in Italian Formula 4 and German Formula 4 and finished runner-up in both championships, with a combined total of 10 wins and 8 pole positions.

The young Schumacher is currently racing in the 2016–17 MRF Challenge Formula 2000 Championship, which takes place from November 2016 to February 2017. He is fourth in the championship, with  2 victories.

Rumours over the last couple of years have linked Mick Schumacher with the junior programs of the Ferrari and Mercedes Formula 1 teams. Given the close ties both F1 teams have to the Schumacher family, it seems possible that Mick could be under consideration for a Formula 1 drive in the future, assuming that he continues to impress as he makes his way through the junior ranks.

Hamilton closing in on pole records

Lewis Hamilton (pictured in Canada) has dominated qualifying in 2015 (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Lewis Hamilton (pictured in Canada) has dominated qualifying in 2015 (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Lewis Hamilton is the reigning Formula 1 World Champion. He is leading the 2015 Drivers’ Championship and is the favourite to be this year’s champion too. One of the reasons for his current dominance is his qualifying performance. Hamilton has qualified in pole position for nine out of the first ten races of the season. That performance is remarkable, and could lead to Hamilton breaking some records in the not too distant future.

What’s perhaps most impressive about Hamilton’s qualifying record in 2015 is how much he has improved since 2014. Last season, Nico Rosberg had team-mate Hamilton soundly beaten in terms of pole positions over the season, taking 11 poles to Hamilton’s seven. In 2014 so far, Rosberg has just one pole position (in Spain), while Hamilton has had the top spot on the grid for every other race.

The record for most pole positions in a season is currently held by Sebastian Vettel, who was on pole an astonishing 15 times out of 19 races in 2011. Hamilton will need another seven pole positions this season to beat Vettel’s record. After this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix, there are nine races left in 2015. If Hamilton keeps up his Saturday dominance, there is a distinct possibility that Vettel’s record could be under threat.

Given the dominance of the Mercedes team since the start of 2014, it looks like Hamilton is set to have many more pole positions over the next season or two. And that puts a more significant milestone within reach – Michael Schumacher’s record of 68 career pole positions.

Hamilton is currently on 47 career pole positions (up to and including the 2015 Hungarian Grand Prix), 21 shy of Schumacher’s record. There are not enough races left in 2015 for Hamilton to challenge the record this season, but it could be within reach as soon as the end of 2016 if Mercedes can produce another dominant car for next year.

At just 30 years old, Hamilton still has potentially quite a long career in Formula 1 ahead of him. Even if he finds himself in less than dominant cars for a few seasons, it is still likely that he will ultimately beat Schumacher’s qualifying record.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that Sebastian Vettel (currently on 45 pole positions) will get there first.

Mercedes W05 to show support for Schumi

Mercedes W05 with a message of support for Michael Schumacher (Image: Mercedes AMG F1)

Mercedes W05 with a message of support for Michael Schumacher (Image: Mercedes AMG F1)

The Mercedes AMG F1 team has revealed that its 2014 car, the W05, will display a message of support for Michael Schumacher during the first pre-season test that begins tomorrow in Jerez, Spain.

Schumacher was injured in a skiing accident on 29 December. The retired seven-time World Champion remains in an artificial coma after undergoing surgery in the hours and days following his accident. It is not yet known to what extent Schumacher might recover or when such a recovery can be expected to take place.

Following his total domination of Formula One with Ferrari, Schumacher retired in 2006 before making a comeback with Mercedes in 2010. Although the comeback did not yield the results that were targeted, Schumacher became very much a part of the team and was held in high esteem and affection by his fellow team members. The message shown on the W05 during the coming test is an indication that they, like the rest of the racing community, are anxious for positive news from Schumacher’s doctors.

Mercedes are not the only team to be showing support for Schumacher. Messages of support have been sent by all of the teams to the family, and Ferrari have rallied behind Schumacher’s family, showing their support with personal communication and public shows of solidarity.

Race of Champions cancelled

Race of Champions

Race of Champions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 2013 Race of Champions has been cancelled, the organisers announced today. The ROC was scheduled to take place in Bangkok Thailand on December 14-15.

The following statement appeared on the Race of Champions website today:

“The Sports Authority of Thailand and the organisers of the 2013 Race Of Champions have announced that the event cannot take place as planned on December 14-15 due to the current political situation in Bangkok.

“Our thoughts are with the Thai people during this difficult period and we wish that a peaceful solution will soon be found. The Race Of Champions has been held all over the world for 25 consecutive years and we are currently looking at options of repeating the success of last year’s event in Bangkok on another date.

“Fans who have already purchased tickets for this year’s Race Of Champions should contact Thai Ticket Major or their ticketing agent for further information on refunds.”

The Race of Champions has become a major event on the motorsport calendar, pitting some of the best drivers in the world from various motorsport disciplines against each other in equal machinery. Among those scheduled to appear at the now-cancelled 2013 event were 7-time Formula 1 World Champion Michael Schumacher, former Grand Prix winner David Coulthard, 4-time Australian V8 supercar champion Jamie Whincup, recently crowned World Rally Champion Sébastien Ogier and motorcycle racing legend Mick Doohan.

It’s not yet clear if it will be possible for the 2013 Race of Champions to be moved to a later date. Issues of politics and location aside, many of the drivers involved are already preparing for the start of their respective 2014 seasons, which limits their availability.

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