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.
Fernando Alonso is one of the top drivers in Formula 1 at present, perhaps ever. And yet he has not won the Drivers’ Championship since 2006. Why not? I think it’s largely the result of repeatedly being in the wrong team at the wrong time.
Consider Alonso’s career moves since starting in Formula 1. His career began in 2001 with Minardi, where he impressed enough in his first season to land a drive with Renault in 2003. Just a few years later, Alonso won back-to-back championships with Renault in 2005-2006. So far, so good.
For 2007, Alonso switched to McLaren. The car was competitive. Alonso was in form. There was just the quite significant problem of a rapidly deteriorating relationship between team and driver. Alonso never felt at home at McLaren-Mercedes, as it was then, and at the end of the season he and the team agreed to part ways. Alonso went back to Renault for 2008.
Unfortunately for Alonso, the 2008 Renault was nowhere near as good as that year’s McLaren. Alonso finished a distant fifth in the championship while Lewis Hamilton, in a car Alonso could have been driving, won the championship. Had Alonso stuck it out with McLaren, it is quite possible that the 2008 championship would have been his.
Another season with Renault followed, in which it became apparent that the car was simply not good enough. Alonso failed to win a single race in 2009, and at the end of the season made a high-profile switch to Ferrari.
From 2010 to 2013, Alonso gave his all for Ferrari, comfortably out-performing team-mate Felipe Massa and generally competing, to at least some degree, for the championship. But all four of those seasons were won by Sebastian Vettel for Red Bull.
And here is perhaps the most unfortunate of Alonso’s career decisions so far. When he left McLaren to return to Renault for 2008, there was another team rumoured to be interested in his services. That team was Red Bull.
Had he made the move to Red Bull, Alonso could quite conceivably have dominated Formula in the same manner that Vettel did. But it didn’t happen. Instead, Alonso went to Renault and struggled in an under-performing car.
Alonso’s final season for Ferrari, 2014, was another year of struggle with an inferior car. The Ferrari power unit was no match for that of Mercedes, and Alonso once again was not able to challenge for the championship.
In his most recent career move, Alonso made the switch from Ferrari to McLaren for 2015. The much anticipated reunion of McLaren and legendary engine supplier Honda was expected to provide Alonso with a way back to the top of the results sheets.
But again, it seems to not have worked out, although it’s still very early in the season. Alonso missed the first race in Australia due to a concussion from a heavy crash in testing, but in his absence, McLaren drivers Jenson Button and reserve Kevin Magnussen were well off the pace, as Honda struggled to provide the power required for the car to be competitive.
The McLarens occupied the back row of the grid in Australia, and look likely to be quite far down the order again for this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix. It promises to be a tough season for Alonso, unless Honda can get their act together quite quickly.
And here again, Alonso seems to have made the wrong move. Or at least he appears to have moved at the wrong time. A resurgent Ferrari are currently best-of-the-rest to Mercedes, ahead of Williams to the surprise of the entire F1 field. Sebastian Vettel, who moved from Red Bull to take Alonso’s place at Ferrari at the end of last year, is revelling in the pace of the car and scored his first podium for the team at his first attempt.
Will McLaren come good for Alonso? For the sake of Formula 1, one can only hope. It is a real pity that one of the true greats of the sport has had such poor luck with cars. Unfortunately, 2015 doesn’t look like being the year his fortunes will change.
Sebastian Vettel shocked the racing world this morning by announcing his retirement from Formula 1 with immediate effect. Vettel is looking forward to spending more time with his model train collection, a pleasure that his hectic Formula 1 schedule had made all but impossible for the past few years.
Speaking from his Thurgovia, Switzerland home today, Vettel expressed relief that he had finally come to this difficult decision, saying, “It’s such a weight off my shoulders. This whole domination thing… it’s not really me. I prefer to just have fun in my sport. Winning’s really not my main priority.
“It’s been hard for me in Formula 1. Although I come across as a ruthless perfectionist who will do anything to win a race, I’m really a softy at heart. I felt bad for all the other guys every time I beat them in the last four years. They wanted those championships so badly, but I was really just here for the free energy drinks.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was not surprised by Vettel’s decision. He praised the young German’s courage in taking such a selfless step, saying, “Seb’s just such a nice guy. He feels it’s time for Fernando [Alonso] to get that third title he’s wanted for so long, and he knows the only way that’s going to happen is if he [Vettel] isn’t there anymore.
“As for all of us at Red Bull, we fully support Seb’s retirement. Our projections for the 2014 season had us just beating Mercedes and Ferrari at the last race, but with Seb gone, it looks like we’re out of the fight now. It’s only fair, really. We’ve had enough success.”
Horner also suggested that Vettel may have patched up his relationship with Mark Webber, Vettel’s former team-mate at Red Bull. Webber confirmed the good news, describing the plans he and Vettel have for the future:
“Seb’s such a great guy. We had our problems in the past, but it was all because I didn’t understand Seb’s motivation. He didn’t want to beat me so comprehensively. All he really wanted was to make sure he earned as many free Red Bull drinks as possible. I didn’t know he got a crate for every lap he led for Red Bull. If I’d had that in my contract, I’d have driven a whole lot faster.
“Now that he’s decided to hang up his helmet, we’re going to spend some time together with our model trains. Between us, we’ve got a big enough collection to cover the Monte Carlo street circuit. We’re hoping to put it on show for this year’s Monaco Grand Prix, assuming Bernie [Ecclestone] will allow it.”
Ecclestone was not available for comment. He was too busy listening to the sound of V8 engines with a vacant grin on his face to answer questions about Formula 1.
11 Formula One teams head to Austin, Texas, this weekend for the United States Grand Prix. It’s the second running of the event at the Circuit of the Americas, which was purpose-built for Formula One.
The track is one of just five anti-clockwise circuits on the F1 calendar, the others being Singapore, Korea, Abu Dhabi and Brazil. The Circuit of the Americas consists of 20 corners, including some that are reminiscent of well known curves on other tracks – notably part of the first sector strong resembles the Maggots-Becketts-Chapel complex at Silverstone, and turns 16 to 18 are a mirror of the long, flat-out triple-apex turn 8 at Istanbul Park in Turkey.
Of the drivers racing this weekend, only Lewis Hamilton has ever won the United States Grand Prix. He won the last event held at Indianapolis in his rookie season of 2007 and won again last year when F1 returned to the US at the Circuit of the Americas. If Hamilton is to maintain his perfect record in the US (he has only raced there twice, and won both times), he will have to beat Sebastian Vettel, who is certainly the form man in Formula One after winning his fourth World Championship just a few weeks ago.
This weekend, for the first time since he returned to Formula One in 2012, Kimi Raikkonen will be absent from a Grand Prix. The Finn has elected to miss the final two races of 2013 in order to have surgery to alleviate pain in his back that has apparently troubled him since a heavy testing crash back in 2001.
Lotus have yet to announce the identity of Raikkonen’s replacement for these final two races. Nico Hulkenberg’s manager confirmed this week that Lotus had asked Hulkenberg to race for them, but Hulkenberg turned down the request as he is still committed to Sauber for the rest of the season.
Although Lotus have a full-time reserve in Davide Valsecchi, it looks increasingly unlikely that he will be asked to step in for Raikkonen. The strongest rumours at present are that Heikki Kovalainen will drive for Lotus in the USA and Brazil. The popular and highly-rated Finn has not raced in F1 this season, but has taken part in some Friday practice sessions for Caterham. Kovalainen previously raced for Lotus (when they were called Renault) in 2007, before moving on to McLaren, where he spent two seasons and scored his only F1 victory to date.
Pirelli are bringing their two hardest compounds – the hard and medium tyres – to this weekend’s race. Pirelli’s motorsport boss Paul Hembery explains the choice of tyres and what we can expect in terms of pit stops on Sunday:
“The hard and medium tyres are the best choice for the United States Grand Prix, because it’s a circuit that places several high-energy demands on the tyres, so you need the most durable compounds in the range. There are some fast corners and many rapid elevation changes as well: in that respect it’s a bit like Spa. When you have more energy going through the tyre, you have a bigger heat build-up – which is what increases wear and degradation.
“Now that we’re coming to the USA for the second time we have a better idea of what to expect, whereas last year – when we also nominated the hard and the medium – it was much more of a step into the unknown. This year’s compounds are softer, so we would expect around two pit stops in the race, depending also on the rate of track evolution. Even though it’s November we’re still likely to have warm weather, which obviously affects thermal degradation too.”
Circuit Length: 5.513 km
Race laps: 56
Race length: 308.405 km
Lap Record: 1:39.347 – Sebastian Vettel / Red Bull Racing (2012)
Race winner: Lewis Hamilton / McLaren
Pole position: Sebastian Vettel / Red Bull Racing – 1:35.657
Fastest lap: Sebastian Vettel / Red Bull Racing – 1:39.347
Accuweather.com is predicting a chance of rain on Saturday, which could result in a mixed-up qualifying session if the weather does intervene. Formula1.com, the official Formula 1 website, is showing a forecast of thunderstorms for Saturday. Friday and Sunday are expected to be dry.
The weekend should generally be warm, which will be good for racing and for race fans who will hopefully turn out in great numbers as they did last year.
If anyone other than Sebastian Vettel wins on Sunday, it will be an unlikely result. Vettel has won the last seven races in a row in commanding fashion, showing that he is in arguably the form of his career. At this point of the season, the Red Bull RB9 is easily the fastest car in the field, which makes it certain that Vettel and team-mate Mark Webber will be competitive this weekend. Vettel is the firm favourite to win in Texas on Sunday.
Qualifying could provide an interesting battle of the team-mates. In recent races, Mark Webber has found a bit of extra pace and has had two pole positions, including last time out in Abu Dhabi where he produced a stunning lap in qualfiying to relegate Vettel to second on the grid. With just two races left in his F1 career, Webber will be keen to end on a high note, and starting from pole position this weekend would certainly help his cause in that regard.
Sebastian Vettel secured his fourth consecutive World Drivers’ Championship last weekend in India, winning the race in commanding fashion and underlining just how dominant he is at this stage of his career. After the race, he celebrated by doing doughnuts on the start-finish straight. His celebrations earned him a reprimand from the stewards, who also fined his Red Bull team for the incident.
The rules of Formula One are clear – each driver must proceed directly to parc fermé after the race in order for the cars to be scrutineered in the condition that they were in when they finished the race. The purpose of that rule is simple – these cars run on the limits of weight restrictions and various other regulations and the rules are designed to stop the teams from, among other things, finding ways to add weight to the cars post-race.
And here’s why Vettel’s reprimand is ridiculous: his doughnuts after the race could not possibly have helped him in scrutineering. Spinning up the rear tyres as required for doughnuts heats them up and wears them down, which reduces the overall weight of the car. Additionally, revving the engine as required to do doughnuts burns fuel, which again reduces the weight of the car.
In Formula One, each car is required to provide a fuel sample after the race, and consequently each car must have a certain amount of fuel remaining when it reaches scrutineering. Vettel’s doughnuts, which would have reduced the amount of fuel he had in the car, could only have taken him closer to risking not having enough fuel for the required sample.
In short, by celebrating his fourth World Championship in the manner he chose, Vettel could not possibly have gained any advantage in post-race scrutineering. The problem then is not what Vettel did, but the rules themselves. They are intended to prevent post-race cheating, but they ended up punishing an action that was clearly not going to give Vettel or Red Bull any advantage.
Apart from the technical side of the rules and the offence, the reprimand showed the disregard that Formula One rule-makers have for the fans of the sport. Vettel’s post-race celebrations were very well received by an enthusiastic crowd in India. Formula One has been trying to build up a following in India, and what Vettel did can only have helped that cause. He engaged with the fans by sharing his moment of glory with them before he shared it with anyone else.
The FIA should be recognising the positive work Vettel has done in bringing F1 closer to the fans in India, rather than punishing him for breaking a rule in a manner that could not have given him an advantage anyway.