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“Is Nikita Mazepin Good Enough for F1? Well, That’s Complicated…”

Few drivers have courted as much controversy on their promotion to Formula One as Nikita Mazepin.

The Haas racer debuted in F1 with a desperately poor personal reputation, but does this correlate with his on-track analysis? The answer is rather complicated.

Even beyond that, questions are raised, such as, “When is any driver good enough for Formula One and how does one truly make that assessment?”

It is important to maintain a distinction between those in Formula One who are ‘racing drivers’ {note 1} and those who are merely ‘drivers of an F1 car’.

Those who fall in the former category are obvious: Lewis Hamilton, Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Jim Clark for example (and a whole host of others).

The latter are a far more interesting bunch. These are the drivers who are reasonably capable of competently piloting a Formula One car and – maybe – on occasion will achieve respectable results. However, their level of talent is so unmemorable, so unremarkable, that their appearances in F1 would quickly become an almost impossible tiebreaker in a regional pub quiz.

The drivers are often the Diniz’s, the Modena’s, the Latifi’s, the Ericsson’s, the van der Garde’s, the Bernoldi’s of this world – all drivers in this bracket are solid competitors, but all are limited to some degree. They are perfect examples of the Peter Principle in its fullest effect, where they have also reached their level of incompetence, but they are not so incompetent that they are an embarrassment to themselves or their team, nor are they a danger to others.
Generally, they were decent enough to occasionally pick up podiums and maybe wins along the route to F1, but would do so without ever truly distinguishing themselves.

Underpinning the level of performance is the ability to spend, probably moreso today than in previous years given the sums involved. Several years ago, I asked the boss of one of Britain’s most successful junior team’s just how much a season in one of his Formula 3 cars would cost and he bluntly replied, “How fast do you want to go?”

Alas, some have more money than others; others have more money than everyone and those with the most disposable income often use it to easily dispose of the obstacles others fight hard against.
Whether the amount spent extends to influencing the personnel that work with drivers is another question entirely, but many teams will have first engineers, second engineers, third engineers (and so on) and these structures flow through various aspects of each company.

Anyone who tells you that a championship is even and fair because all the cars are the same is either a liar, a fool or a salesperson.

It’s often forgotten that the superlicence points system, introduced in 2015, was developed to stop future Max Verstappen’s jumping from karting to Formula One within the space of sixteen months.
Deliberately or not, it has had to effect of killing off championships that were seen as rivals to FIA sanctioned categories. It has also driven up the price of competing on the ladder, particularly with the best teams, as key seats in key championships become ever more valuable.
When one has the highest income, those best seats become swiftly available, sometimes with the option of shareholding if one sees opportunities to go from the lowest rung to Formula 2 with the same company. Of course, those with the deepest pockets can also make special efforts to buy teams outright or even create new ones, while recruiting the best staff in the process.

We may never truly know how much these practices skewer the outcome of races, championships and, ultimately, the application of superlicence points, but to ignore the effect how money is spent would ignore one of the greatest flaws in junior motorsport.

In recent years, many of these rejigged categories have been sold as cost effective compared to what went before, but I fear this is a case of the truth being overtaken by the sales pitch.
Some of the numbers quoted to me by drivers looking at Formula 2 and Formula 3 are frankly eye-watering, but these flaws could probably be fixed if anyone wanted to fix them. There just needs to be a desire.

Of course, all things connected to the superlicence points system is made irrelevant by the very fact that depth of talent within every championship changes constantly, as drivers either progress move to other forms of motorsport or leave racing altogether.
Far more important than the points awarded for winning a title is this question, “Who did you beat?”
Several years ago, I remember congratulating Jordan King upon winning the British F3 Championship. He simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “Who cares,” acknowledging that it was valuable seat time, but given the perceived low level of competition, the title did not amount to much. Sometimes the fight is tough, sometimes less so, but it always fluctuates, and this alone should render the superlicence points system as pointless.

There are those who will argue that the superlicence points system does much to stop under-qualified drivers from getting to Formula One, but I am not convinced that this enters into the conversation today.
For one, the kind of desperate day-to-day debt that eventually killed off the likes of Forti, Arrows, Pacific, HRT is not currently present in F1. There is debt in F1 and plenty of it, but the days where bringing in a stop gap driver with £500,000 for three Grand Prix in order to keep the lights on are long gone.

Realistically, when a team was doing those kinds of deals with drivers, permanent closure was not far away. For now, we will not be seeing Deletraz’s, Yamamoto’s, Lavaggi’s, et al in Formula One.

When teams in Formula One talk of debt nowadays, the numbers are often in the multi-millions and no amount of short-term cash flow is going to fix that. Indeed, £500,000 in 2021 wouldn’t even get you a t-short and headphones at the back of the garage.
The teams in F1 that are currently struggling are in straits so dire that they need far more than a weekend warrior with an inflated wallet; they need significant investment, and this is where the likes of Mazepin come into play.

An argument was put to me recently that it makes no sense for teams in financial strife to bring in heavily under-qualified drivers in exchange for cash, for the lack of performance they would deliver could actually do harm the potential for significant investment or may even reduce the asking price for a team wishing to sell in totality.

Returning the original question, “Would Mazepin be in F1 with or without the superlicence points system?” The answer is probably ‘yes’. Haas need the money; Mazepin wanted a drive; all that’s left is to print the receipt.
Mazepin is relatively competent driver, but the chance of seeing him ascend the order are incredibly slim. He has spent much of his career showing wildly erratic form; he has won some races, taken some podiums and also has crashed out. He has displayed some very poor judgement on-and-off track too.

So, “When is any driver good enough for Formula One and how does one truly make that assessment?” A lot of this comes down to the relationship between the driver and engineers, for often they are the ones who will truly be able to offer a close assessment. They can tell you where their driver’s strengths are, but also – more importantly – where their weaknesses are, and what their plan for improvement is.

Looking at results on a Wikipedia page will tell you absolutely nothing about a driver and will tell you even less about the quality of a championship.

Mazepin could eventually become a solid-to-middling runner, or he could spin his way into infinity, as he did for much of his opening Grand Prix weekend.

Only now will we see if he has the ability to learn and develop, although his personality traits suggest that expansion of thought may be beyond him.

{note 1}
By ‘racing drivers’, I am using the distinction that these are drivers who have reached an exceptional level of quality and it is not a reference as to their perception as a ‘racer’ or otherwise.

“Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton Expand Diversity Foundation”

Reigning Formula One world champions Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have agreed to expand their joint commitment to improving the representation of minority ethnic groups in UK motorsport.

This expanded commitment is due to take the form of a joint charitable foundation, which is designed to support wider diversity in motorsport and nurture talent that would otherwise be overlooked.

Last June, in partnership with Royal Academy of Engineering, Hamilton, with Mercedes, launched The Hamilton Commission – a standalone piece of research designed to identify and improve the representation and progression of black and other minority groups in UK motorsport, while also providing actionable recommendations to overcome barriers to entry in the STEM sector.

Speaking of the expanding partnership, Hamilton commented, “I’m equally determined to continue the journey we started to make motorsport more diverse for future generations and I am grateful that Mercedes has been extremely supportive of my call to address this issue. I’m proud to say we are taking that effort further this year by launching a foundation dedicated to diversity and inclusion in the sport. I am inspired by all that we can build together and can’t wait to get back on the track in March.”

Toto Wolff, CEO and Team Principal of the Mercedes F1 team, chimed in, noting that this was the right time to “begin a longer-term project to take the next step in our shared commitment to greater diversity within our sport.”

Mercedes’ Non-Executive Chairman, Markus Schäfer, added that, “Lewis is a warm-hearted personality who cares deeply about the world around him and wants to make an impact. As a company, Mercedes-Benz shares this sense of responsibility and is proud to commit to a new, joint foundation to improve diversity in motorsport. Opening the sport to under-represented groups will be important for its development in the future and we’re determined to make a positive impact.”

As as aside, it was also revealed that Hamilton has signed a one-year extension with Mercedes, as he looks to claim an eighth Formula One title – an achievement that would take him beyond the seven won by Michael Schumacher between 1994 and 2004.

“Finding Interest Amidst the Dust”

January is both an interesting and infuriating time to be a motorsport writer. On one hand, the lack of action and the continued slow drip feed on news means there is often precious little to report or discuss.

It goes some way to understanding why so many publications publish retrospective copy, list-articles, predictive pieces and “what if” speculative drivel. It is what it is, and eyeballs are needed, so why the hell not?

Truth be told, unless you bathe in the sea of rallying and ultra-hardcore endurance racing, January represents a month where there is precious little news to get too terribly excited about. For most championships, teams at this time are busy building the stories and timelines that are soon to come, particularly for the livery launches.

That’s not to say there is nothing to report, but rather the morsels of news that do appear are often not very interesting. In essence, January announcements are the kind of things that could often be covered in single paragraphs. It’s easy: headline – breif opening paragraph – a four-line story. Ta-dah!

I jest of course. Slightly.

Of course, the cleverer sources will occasionally drop a positive major story in this period of relative quiet, as one may be guaranteed plenty of extended coverage. The announcement of Davide Brivio’s move from the Suzuki MotoGP team to become Racing director of the recently renamed Alpine F1 squad to replace Cyril Abiteboul raised some eyebrows.

And yet, Abiteboul’s move to become Head of Car Performance with the Alpine brand – alongside his role as his Team Principal position – sent signals that maybe his long-term path lay in the grander corporate machinations of Alpine. What really surprised was the news of Abiteboul leaving the manufacturer altogether, with Laurent Rossi slotting into what was due to be Abiteboul’s position.
This was a story that got the column inches it deserved.

Naturally, January is also the month where you really don’t want negative headlines to emerge for precisely the same reason as above; with no other stories to detract, bad tales linger like bad smells.

But not every bad story is a negative one. The postponement of the Australian and Chinese Grands Prix were unfortunate, but given the sprawling COVID-19 pandemic, these postponements can be forgiven with relative ease. After all, in days like these, it is better to tiptoe with caution than it is to stumble haphazardly over a cliff.

If one wants an example of a negative story, one only needs to look to the embarrassing tales emerging from the Australian Open tennis tournament, as players and their partners openly lament the nature of their lockdown on social media channels.
It showed a relatively small percentage of players and entourage behaving and complaining like spoilt brats from the verandas of a five-star hotel. Whether one agrees with the players or not, it was a bad look and utterly misjudged the tone of the situation in the State of Victoria.

Had I been the Head of Communications of the Australian Open, it is likely that my hair would have been ripped out in frustration, although it entirely plausible that I may have become Malcolm Tucker to their Ben Swain or Nicola Murray.
The tournament has not yet begun, and the news is all negative. This could have been the time where the ATP and WTA delivered a feast of enjoyment and hope; where positivity could have been matched by charitable tokens at a time when people are living through an incredibly difficult and tragic time. Instead, the tournament has only dumped self-entitled faeces on the mat. Well done. People tend not to like that.

Thankfully Formula One has not yet dropped a giant news turd, but there is always time. Trust me, there is always time.

“Conor Daly: The best part about Indycar right now is that we put on a great show.”

Conor Daly has spent much of his Indycar career securing temporary drives and moving from team-to-team where needs met.

World in Motorsport spoke with Daly during a fast-paced season that saw him switch back-and-forth between two squads, secure his first Indycar pole and several top ten’s in his first full season in the sport since 2017.

Inconsistent. If there was one word to describe the nature of Conor Daly’s career up until now, it might probably be inconsistent.

That’s not a criticism of his performances, but rather an acknowledgement of the path his racing career has taken so far.

“It’s crazy man, crazy. It’s tough, because I’ve never had the luxury of controlling my own destiny,” admits Daly. It is not a subject that the 28-year-old shies away from, but where the younger Daly may have allowed frustrated to overcome him, the current, more mature man is rather phlegmatic and is better for it. “Some drivers, when they have sponsorship support, they can control their own destinies and they know what they have got and where they can go with that. I haven’t really had that luxury ever.”

Making his Indycar series debut back in 2013, while simultaneously competing in the GP3 Series, Daly has never truly enjoyed the stable environment necessary to allow his career to flourish.
He stayed in Europe the following year, but a disastrous campaign with the woefully underfunded and underprepared Venezuela GP Lazarus team finally ended his Formula One ambition and Daly returned to the US in 2015. In that time, he has driven for seven teams, including two separate stints with AJ Foyt Racing, Dale Coyne Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsport respectively.

Such is the epileptic nature of Daly’s Indycar career, the Indianapolis native has only twice enjoyed full-season agreements (2016 with Dale Coyne and 2017 with Foyt). “It’s definitely tough to make sure you are absolutely performing at your highest level in times where you might know two days before you get into a car that you are going to race it, but that’s sort of what I ended up getting used to and that’s how I’ve lived my life over the last few years.”

He has also taken in stints at Harding Racing, Andretti Autosport and latterly Carlin Motorsport and Ed Carpenter Racing, with confirmation of some of the drives have come at very short notice; however, he does take some positives from his experience so far. “It feels like it’s helped me get up to speed quicker. I’ll be able to use some of what I’ve learned over the past couple of years and hopefully be full-time for a long time to come.”

Daly’s part-time relationship with Carlin began in 2019, when the team’s eponymous owner asked the American to fill in for Max Chilton when it came to the series’ oval races, with the latter having stepped away, but Daly is keen to emphasise that a large dose of luck played into his hands. “Last year only having the Indy 500 on my schedule, Trevor Carlin had made me aware, even before the Indy 500, that Max Chilton might not be interested in competing on the ovals anymore.” A free agent, Daly stepped into Chilton’s vacant seat, securing a best finish of 6th at Gateway.
There is a previous relationship between driver and team, with Daly having raced for Carlin in GP3 in 2011. The respect between them is clear cut, with Daly praising the Englishman and his team. “I really like Trevor, he is a great team owner, they’ve got a great team there.”

Despite the uncertainty that has followed his path, Daly has latterly found consistency on the sponsorship side of his career, particularly with US Airforce – a partnership which is now in its third season. “Every year, it’s been a bigger investment into the series, the sport and myself, so the numbers they’re getting out of it when it comes to return [on investment] is good.” Although this partnership is proving fruitful for all parties, growing it beyond its present is a difficult task given the current economic climate at a time when motorsport is far from being a primary sport in the United States.
Daly concedes that the biggest challenge is to get people who don’t know enough about racing to really take it seriously. “[Its about getting] around that first wall of, ‘Well, this racing, it’s good, but we’ve got an NBA team, or NFL team, we’re fine.’” Although confirming that the series still lacks mainstream awareness and appeal, Daly sounds confident, telling World in Motorsport that the key is about, “trying to figure out what [partners] want and what they need.”

There is little doubt that the reunification of the Indycar Series in 2008 has helped the cause for drivers and teams a great deal. With a sense of balance and certainty, confidence has returned to the series, although audience attention for Indycar is a long way from its peak during the CART days of the early-90s. “The best part about Indycar right now is the product is not the problem. We know that we put on a great show. We need to make sure that more people are aware that Indycar is happening and that it is a great product. The series has done a great job formatting the rules, formatting the aerodynamic rules and how the cars work to make that a great product,” enthuses Daly.

Indycar is still far from the peak it enjoyed in the early-90s, and although Daly had some sponsorship to play with over the 2019/2020 winter, he knew he was still somewhat short on backing to fulfil a full season schedule.
Following discussions with Carpenter Racing, the 28-year-old signed with Indiana-based team to compete on the series’ road and street courses, while the team boss took the seat for the six oval events. “Ed [Carpenter] had an idea of what he wanted to do and what he needed and the US Air Force fitted in perfectly with his number 20 car for the road and street courses and a third car for the Indy 500, so I found myself saying, ‘Alright, you know what, this is going to be great. This is going to be the majority of the season – it’s not the full season, but it’s going to be with a great team.”

However, as the beginning of the season drew in, Daly once again received a request from Carlin to fill in on the ovals, bringing a potentially awkward situation to the fore. Thankfully, it was a situation solved with relative ease. “I talked to Ed about it and said, ‘Hey look, this is an awkward conversation to have. I know driving for two teams in one season is not ideal’, but Ed was cool with it. Ed knows that I want to compete for Indycar championships, I want to compete every weekend, every day on track, I want to be there, and it just worked out perfectly. I’ve got to thank Trevor and Ed for letting me do that and the teams have been really nice.” While some would consider it a distraction, Daly does consider it an advantage to work with two teams simultaneously, learning from each entity with every event.

For Daly right now, he is clearly enjoying his current Indycar stint in the series. “I really enjoy what Indycar is doing and I hope as we continue here and get out of this pandemic, we will continue to expand the schedule and continue to get to new tracks and new places and hopefully some new countries as well and see what happens as we keep going.”
The work for 2021 started long ago, and Daly will be hoping to build on his 2020 season with another full campaign – whether that will be with one team or two remains to be seen.

For the full version of this discussion with Romain Grosjean, as well as conversations with Rubens Barrichello, Conor Daly and WRC’s Richard Millener, Yves Matton, Andrea Adamo and Colin Clark, check back for the next issue of World in Motorsport – coming soon.

“George Russell: The Art of Winning – In Spite of Losing”

George Russell may not have won the Sakhir Grand Prix on Sunday, but his efforts in replacing Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes may have formerly confirmed his potential.

It may have also gone a great distance to settling his driver from 2022 onward.

“Very quick, very tidy. Great potential.” As the 2015 European Formula 3 season got underway, that was my quick assessment of a then 17-year-old George Russell – before taking a race win in his first weekend in the category.

Admittedly, it was something of a false dawn {note 1}, but the potential was clear and following stints in GP3 and Formula 2, there was no surprise to see the Mercedes junior promoted to a Williams F1 seat last year.

So far in his F1 career, Russell has had two comparatively weak teammates in Robert Kubica and Nicholas Latifi, but his performances in the difficult FW42 and FW43 cars have been startling, but as with all great talents, a single turn was needed to genuinely propel Russell to the top.

It is genuinely unfortunate that Mercedes team leader Lewis Hamilton fell afoul of Coronavirus, but with the champion sidelined, the German squad offered Russell a significant opportunity that only a fool or the meek conservative would have turned down.

He displayed some potential during Friday’s free practice sessions, before Max Verstappen’s Red Bull briefly assumed the top spot at the close of FP3 and while Valtteri Bottas may have secured pole position in the second Mercedes, Russell’s charge to the lead at the race start not only signalled his intent for the Grand Prix, but also for 2022. That he brilliantly repeated that feat during a late race restart merely cemented his intentions.

What an incredible shame it was that a late race puncture stole the race victory from his grasp. Come the end of 87 laps, a recovery to 9th place would secure Russell’s first ever points in Formula One, but it was not the 25 he so dearly desired.
But tongues are now wagging. Mercedes are looking at a future beyond Hamilton and that future is not Bottas. For all his worth, Bottas’ reputation in recent seasons has been downgraded and where once it was believed he may push Hamilton very hard – and at times he has – Hamilton has merely extended himself further still, ensuring Bottas’ inter-team successes are rare.

As needs must, Russell must wait. Bottas signed on for 2021 several months back and while negotiations with Hamilton are still ongoing, the seven-time champion isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
So – unless there is some additional drama in the next few days – Russell will return to Williams and to the less stable FW43 machine and he will once again beat Latifi into submission.

Russell’s stock has raised significantly now and should another year with Williams be the price to pay for a top Mercedes seat in 2022, then it is critical that those around him work hard to keep his head in check and cap any frustrations that may inevitably come to the fore. From here on in, Russell’s biggest battle may be with himself.

{note 1}
Russell finished 6th in the standings in 2015 but did not manage to win again that season.

“Coming Soon – World in Motorsport: Volume 2”

Some of’s more eagle-eyed readers may have noticed a couple of new buttons at the top of the site’s drop-down options, including “cart”, “checkout”, “my account” and “shop”.

These have been included to take into account the release of World in Motorsport: Volume 2, which is looking like going on sale next month.

Following on from 2018’s WRC Special Edition, World in Motorsport: Volume 2 looks at the complexities behind psychology in motorsport and whether it is still considered a secretive taboo in what is still a world full of machismo and testosterone.

Coming in at just under 100 pages, readers can pick up World in Motorsport: Volume 2 as a glossy and delicate hardcopy magazine for £8 (UK postage £1; ROW £1.50), while digital pdf copies will retail at £4.

In this examination, World in Motorsport speaks first with Haas Formula One driver Romain Grosjean about his efforts to improve his racecraft through mind management, while Dr Faye Didymus (Sport and Exercise Scientist (BASES accredited), Leeds Beckett University), Dr Victor Thompson (Clinical Sports Psychologist, BScPsy, DipSpPsy, PGDipCBT, DClinPsy, CEBHyp) and Greg McColl (DHP Acc. Hyp, M.H.S, CNHC, NLP Master Practitioner & Master Practitioner Coach, Mental Health First Aid – Armed Forces) discuss the concept of sports psychology and its changing perception in modern sport.

Also former Ferrari race winner Rubens Barrichello talks about life after Formula One and how he is embracing time with his sons, while Red Bull’s Alexander Albon reveals his secrets about race preparation.

Finally, Indycar driver Conor Daly tells World in Motorsport about the trials and tribulations of sponsorship and consistency in difficult economies, and a specialist panel of Yves Matton (FIA), Andrea Adamo (Hyundai), Rich Millener (M-Sport) and Colin Clark (DirtFish) contemplate a post-COVID-19 life for the World Rally Championship.

All this and some other neat little features in World in Motorsport: Volume 2, available exclusively from and next month.

World in Motorsport: Volume 1 sample

“A Grand Portimão Cop-Out”

Of the drivers competing at this weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix, Lance Stroll, Antonio Giovinazzi, Charles Leclerc, George Russell and Alex Albon all raced there in F3 in early September 2015.

Yet despite the nods to it in various record books and websites, none of the above group managed to race on the Grand Prix layout that weekend in what proved an embarrassing solution to a solvable problem.

Nothing quite raises eyebrows like a mid-week announcement following the first day of a Formula 3 test session, mainly because there generally shouldn’t be one at all.

Indeed, the idea of any news at all emerging from testing is a novel one. Those reports are primarily reserved for the unusual or severe or in the case of Formula One, the need to rummage 500 words together from the pit of nothing.

This was slightly different. In 2015, a round of the European F3 Championship had to rescheduled and a new date was offered to the Algarve Circuit in Portimão.

A wonderful flowing track on the southern tip of Portugal, Portimão is something of a modern wonder – a 21st Century circuit layout that is interesting, challenging and often delivers some wonderful action.

As the track was a late addition to the calendar, the field was gifted an extra two test days in the week leading up to the event to enable drivers to gain further mileage prior to the beginning of the meeting.

However, the circuit provided a challenge that the assembled drivers failed to meet – the field could not keep to the track limits, particularly in the short chute that extends between the double right-handers from the exit of turn one at Primeira and the nameless turn two.

By not even coming close to properly using or respecting the track, the drivers achieved some extra speed into the flick that is turn three (Lagos).

So, rather than drive home the serious nature of managing track limits, the Clerk of the Course decided to utilise an alternative layout for just F3 that weekend. Instead of longer run into turn one, the first turn was introduced a couple of hundred metres earlier, leading to a double chicane in the form of a quick right-left-right, before drivers came to turn three.

Alas, the pro-am GT field from the (then) Blancpain Sprint Series managed the original layout perfectly well, so they decided to keep using it. However, that required the first corner to be altered between every session, as corner boards were moved and later moved back, plastic bollards were placed to remind the F3 competitors of an upcoming corner, before marshals settled at their new post {note 1}.

One wonders if it made any difference in the end. Following the 2nd race of the weekend, Prema Powerteam’s Jake Dennis informed me that following the layout change, track limits were then not going to be monitored on the exit of the new T1/2/3 Primeira chicane, thereby rendering the process an utterly pointless exercise.

The allowance offered some of the same additional pace that the original track cutting allowed, giving drivers an easier exit from Lagos toward the Torre Vip hairpin, before the switchback on the curved back straight.

Apart from the fact that F3 was/is a learning category, the changing of the layout to accommodate the competitors was an absolute cop-out and the only low during an eventful weekend. This was a solvable problem, but changing the layout to accommodate troubled young drivers set a very poor precedent.

{note 1}

It reached a special ridiculousness during the final race of the weekend when, following a botched overtaking move on Alessio Lorandi, Sam MacLeod decided upon an adventurous detour.

Going side-by-side into the new turn one, MacLeod – on the outside of corner entry – banged wheels with MacLeod, then decided to take the original turn one, but got that wrong and ran into several plastic bollards, dislodging a front wing suspension column in the process. Despite this, MacLeod kept his foot down through the original layout, overtook Lorandi on the now-disused section of circuit and decided to keep the position.

The moment prompted some criticism from me while on commentary duties, noting that MacLeod had got the corner utterly wrong, but had not even attempted to correct the error. It was a criticism that got me benched from commentating for the next race.

“Motorsport Diaries, Ep 14 – Super Formula notes from Sportland SUGO”

My thoughts and notes on the 3rd round of the 2020 Super Formula season from SUGO. Also some spiel about returning and departing drivers ahead of next month’s 4th round at Autopolis.

“The First Time”

Just over twenty years ago, I attended my first Grand Prix as a fan with my Dad and some family friends. Although a long-time home viewer, to actually go to a Grand Prix was, until then, a luxury beyond me.

A rare precious trip and at the age of 18 and a first break abroad, the sheer size of the event grabbed my attention with both hands.

The first thing I discovered about flying abroad is that Ryanair’s flights to Brussels do not quite go to Brussels – they fly to Charleroi, some 60km south of the Belgian capital.

In the same way, one who flies to London does not necessarily have Luton in mind, Charleroi is not Brussels. The distance is not significant by any stretch, but it does still dampen the immediate feelings upon arrival.

Thinking back, Charleroi Airport in those days – I have not returned deliberately – shared much of the charm held by Frankfurt Hahn Airport, in that neither destination has any.

There is tarmac, there is grass, there is a shabby arrival’s building and a border control guard on their lunchbreak sucking the life out of a cigarette, which is in turn sucking the life out of them.

As can be expected with Ryanair, divine luxury was not an option on an airline whose planes contain seats manufactured with recycled spinal trauma and whose headrests enjoy the supple, soft feel of broken milk bottles. In later years as a travelling journalist, it became customary to spend a little bit more cash on different airlines, if only to preserve one’s bodily integrity. One hopes soon to one be in a position where travelling to races is an option once again, but alas…

Following a pleasant drive from Charleroi Airport heading east toward deep sectors of trees and hills, the clouds above began to pull together, drawing heavy pockets of rain in their wake.

As the pockets emptied, a distinct lack of forethought made itself known given the absence of a packed coat – the Irish person’s inability to properly prepare for rain – despite or because of our wealth of experience of the stuff – can surely only be based on the guts of unfounded optimism.

We were Irish and hardy boys though – nowadays still the former, less the latter. The 2000 European Grand Prix, hosted then at the Nürburgring, was a mostly wet affair and seeking some protection, I speedily made my way to the first stall available and planted 20DM on the counter.

There was no need for translation – the rain had long since rippled through my hair and was staining my clothes, while the cold turned my rounded dimples into sharpened wrinkles. For the right price, the trader pulled out a light rain jacket from the rear of his stall.

At the time, the Schumacher and Ferrari train was gathering pace and within five months, the German maestro would have claimed the first of five titles with the Scuderia. For now, he was “merely” a multiple race winner, albeit one looking more and more likely to break the Mika Hakkinen/McLaren machine.

Such was Schumacher’s growing popularity with race-going fans, the cheap red Ferrari jackets had already been cleared from their hangers, but at this point, I was caring less and less about the colours of the thread.

With a whisp, the market man produced a yellow rain jacket and gladly took my money. Initially thinking that it might be Jordan Grand Prix, the packaging was ripped off and binned to reveal a bright luminous yellow Ferrari jacket. The zip of the jacket broke soon after, but other than that, it did the job.

Positioned at the exit of the hairpin, our seats were in an uncovered stand – always brutal at the Nürburgring – and as we made our way to our positions from the top of the stand, we passed a number of delicately groomed moustaches and windswept bleached mullets, all of which had survived the Cold War.

It took another moment to realise that the hairpin stand was red. Deeply red. And I was wearing luminous yellow. So bright was my jacket that if I wanted, I could probably be found in the dark. If I were to re-watch the race now, it would not be a surprise if my yellow frame could be found on screen.

With each pace upon the greyed dirty concrete steps, many red heads turned to gaze, and many mouths bluntly grunted stunted words. To each head, I busily flashed the Ferrari insignia on the breast of the jacket, and the grunt turned to nods of approval complete with hat tips of alcohol. This continued for three days.

As the competition turned, David Coulthard claimed pole position, but was taken by Hakkinen off the line. When a dry start turned to a downpour early on, Schumacher took charge in the inclement conditions to pass Hakkinen and go on to claim a very popular victory.

Despite the conditions, there was something oddly processional about the event. Punctured by a delicate charm, wet races can be exciting and entertaining events, particularly if ever changing conditions present themselves, but from the point the rain arrived on Sunday, the positions settled as competitors fought hard just to get to the chequered flag.

Throughout the weekend, we stayed in a village called Bitburg, situated about an hour’s drive from the circuit – even on race day. It was pretty close to nowhere, but it did have a tiny train station at a junction called Bitburg-Erdorf and while there was not much in the way of restaurants or other eateries in Bitburg, one could easily catch the hourly train to Trier.

Alas, Bitburg did have several small, comfortable bars, owned and run by men who wore only blue and/or red chequered shirts with faded jeans and exclusively served the beer Bitburger. To get food required a train; to get beer required a short walk.

“F1: The More You Do, The More You Understand, The More You See – Grosjean”

Throughout his career, Romain Grosjean has proved an enigmatic racer, whose profile has been dominated incidents intertwined with undoubted speed.

Recently World in Motorsport spoke to the Haas driver about the moments that have defined his career and how mind management has allowed him to keep his feet on the ground.

It has not been the easiest of season’s for Romain Grosjean. At the time of talking – just prior to the Russian Grand Prix – the Haas racer had yet to score a point – a statistic finally rectified at this weekend’s Eifel Grand Prix.

And yet, Grosjean is phlegmatic about his situation. Initially he appears at ease with himself and yet, one can identify a level of frustration simmers below the surface.

It is a frustration that has on occasion boiled over on team radio during race weekends, but over the course of the past eight years, Grosjean has worked hard to counter these frustrations, with the help of sport psychologists.

However, unlike many in motor racing’s top tier, the Frenchman is open to discussing the topic of sports psychology, seeing it not as a weakness, but as a method of self-improvement – from both a personal and sporting aspect. “So many examples out there and you see it from outside where some need help and there are some who are having help, but they don’t talk about it. It’s still a bit of a taboo, but for some people, they don’t want to talk about it, but if I have a fitness coach to get stronger, why wouldn’t I have a psychologist to get my head better? To me, it’s a simple as that.

“I think it helps you to become a better person. In life, we go through challenges and having kids is one of the most incredible experiences on Earth, but also one of the most challenging. Seeing a psychologist when I had my first, my second and my third kids always helped me as a man and also, in a way, as a sportsman.”

Given the full-on nature of Formula One, Grosjean admits that sometimes it can be difficult to separate his personal and professional lives and says that working with a psychologist has given him the focus and ability to find balance. “If things are going wrong at home when you come to a racetrack, it is very difficult to completely separate that. You need to make sure that one of the two lives, if you want, goes well.

“It’s not easy, but as I say, the more you do, the more you understand, the more you see the situation, the more you can position yourself, the more easy it is to reflect on a session. When you say, ‘Look guys, I haven’t done a good job – don’t worry about the car, it’s going to be fine, it’s just me, I didn’t drive well, because of this and that.’”

In the background, rumours regarding Grosjean’s future with the American team continue to swirl; rumours which have only accelerated as the discontent between the two parties has turned public. “For the third race in a row, [Grosjean was asked in a press conference] ‘What’s your future like?’ There aren’t many places left in Formula One and Haas wants to take their time… It’s always repetitive pressure and if you do Formula One, that’s your life.

“It puts you into a frustrating place and then you know you’re frustrated, so you just act a little bit differently and I understand what’s causes your brain to work and how to be in the right place.”

As with all sport the world over, the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has played havoc with Formula One’s schedules and has also necessitated racing in front of bare or even empty grandstands. Stating that without the fans, the atmosphere at races has been very different, the 34-year-old acknowledges that “something is missing,” particularly given the normally charged events that Grand Prix are.

Despite this, Grosjean is finding some calm amidst the surrounding storms, aided by an emptier Grand Prix paddock. “It’s different. There’s less media, less marketing to be done, less sponsors, so there’s more [time],” Grosjean says. “You get to the track, you do the engineers meeting, you do the driving, you debrief, you get some time to yourself to think about what you can do in the next sessions, rather than being thrown around, going to the Paddock Club with those guys, go to an autograph session, go see the media, come say ‘Hi’ to the guests and next thing you know, you’re off, you need to go driving now.

“In that aspect for drivers, I think it’s been quite positive that we actually have a little bit more time for ourselves.”

Having made his Formula One debut in 2009, when he replaced the fired Nelson Piquet Jr at Renault, Grosjean quickly found himself back on the sidelines, with his stint lasting only seven races. Come season end, the Frenchman was cast adrift, but understands now he was missing the maturity and help necessary to fully grasp what was developing around him. “I wish I would know in 2009 everything I know now,” he recalls. “I wasn’t ready to come to Formula One in 2009 and I was missing key people around me, which is really very important for young drivers to step in and have people that can help them.”

Thereafter, Grosjean competed in the FIA GT1 World Championship and the Le Mans 24 Hours with Matech competition, while simultaneously winning the Auto GP Series – despite only taking part in two-thirds of the races. In 2011, he won both the GP2 Series and GP2 Asia Series, before returning to Formula One a year later with Lotus.

Despite it being a controversial year for Grosjean, filled with accidents and incidents – one of which earned him a race ban for the that year’s Italian Grand Prix, Grosjean still looks upon the season with some positivity. “Since 2012 – everyone talks about those incidents, but [apart from that], it was a pretty good season. There aren’t many rookies that have come and scored podiums, p2 finishes, led Grands Prix, had a fastest lap in their first year.”

With it looking likely that both he and Magnussen may be replaced at Haas for 2021 – possibly with younger talent from the junior formulae – Grosjean has a message for those looking to jump into Formula One before they are truly ready. “I wish I had matured earlier. Even though you think you have won Formula 2… no, no, no, no, no, no… you’re not ready,” he ponders.

“It’s a big switch that you need to be ready to accept and probably I wasn’t so… let’s forget the first experience in Formula One,” states Grosjean firmly.

“I don’t think you know what’s coming.”

For the full version of this discussion with Romain Grosjean, as well as conversations with Rubens Barrichello, Conor Daly and WRC’s Richard Millener, Yves Matton, Andrea Adamo and Colin Clark, check back for the next issue of World in Motorsport – coming soon.

“Motorsport Diaries, Ep 12 – Super Formula at Okayama”

With the 2nd round of the 2020 Super Formula Championship from Okayama completed, I recorded some thoughts about events surrounding the race.

Also, I looked over the rule changes introduced at this round, included mandated tyre stops and also took a moment to consider the future of Red Bull junior driver Juri Vips.


“Ready. Steady…”

The set-up is not the most technical, but does still require some consideration of precision.

There are a number of elements of course – a reasonably speedy laptop helps, as does a good quality sound card with microphone and headset, while a clip-on webcam completes the connection.
All of this is, of course, relatively straightforward.

Tying it all together is this mobile lighting system, which – on the surface – puzzles me somewhat.

Switched on upon its stand, dials are adjusted, configured and reconfigured until someone on the other end of a Skype line gives me the thumbs up.
Remote coverage of live motor racing is far from ideal, but these are not ideal times, by any stretch.

Whether it actually looks good or not is, frankly, beyond me. Thereafter, it’s just the words from my head pouring out of my mouth, puncturing the images on screen.

And on this given Sunday, there were many words.
Many words.


© Leigh O'Gorman

“Super Formula: Tsukakoshi to replaces Calderón for Okayama”

Super Formula veteran Koudai Tsukakoshi is to replace Tatiana Calderón at Drago Racing for this weekend’s Super Formula round at Okayama.

With only four days until drivers are required to sign-on at Okayama, Calderón will not have time to sufficiently quarantine in order to take part in the event, allowing Tsukakoshi to claim his 82nd start in the series.

In a successful run at Le Mans for her inaugural 24-Hour Race, Calderón secured 9th in the LMP2 class (13th overall) in the Gibson-powered Richard Mille Racing entry, alongside Sophia Flörsch and Beitske Visser.

Calderón made her Super Formula debut at Motegi last month and enjoyed a respectable race, finishing 12th after keeping double-champion Naoki Yamamoto at bay in the final laps. It is expected that Calderón will return for the 3rd round at Sportland SUGO in mid-October.

“Super Formula: Race changes ahead for Okayama”

Tsukakoshi, meanwhile, is a race winner in Super Formula, having taken victory at Autopolis in 2012 on his way to finishing runner-up in the standings to Kazuki Nakajima; however, the 33-year-old has spent much of his time in the series collecting points semi-regularly in the lower end of the top ten.

Alongside teammate Bertrand Baguette, Tsukakoshi currently leads the Super GT Series, having taken two wins from the first four races.

“Super Formula: Race changes ahead for Okayama”

Following a tepid season opener at Motegi just over two weeks ago, it has been revealed that Super Formula are altering the race format for round 2 at Okayama.

Like the Motegi round, the Okayama event will enjoy two practice sessions through Saturday (Sept 26th), with qualifying and the race both continuing on Sunday (Sept 27th).

However, the race length has been extended from 168km to just under 189km (a maximum run time of 75 minutes in a two-hour window), with the race taking in 51 laps and falling some 60km short of a full-length Super Formula race.

Refuelling is still banned for the time being; however, the additional 20km could make life interesting for the drivers should they push hard.

Tyres could also be an issue. The opening round saw a mixture of two strategies, despite the shortened race distance. With all competitors now using the soft-compound Yokohama tyres by regulation, much of the field utilised a softly-softly approach to tyre usage at Motegi, punctuated by occasional quick stints.

It was a strategy that worked well for those at the front of the pack, but those in the midfield were clearly struggling toward the end of the race, particularly given how they spent significant portions of the race in traffic scrubbing grip away.

This harmed Yuhi Sekiguchi most of all, as the 25-year-old wore his right front significantly while defending against Nirei Fukuzumi (et al), before spinning out due to a puncture picked up while defending his 5th place.

On the other hand, Ukyo Sasahara and Tatiana Calderon both pitted for fresh tyres while running outside of the points. On a non-stop strategy, neither would have scored points, but pitting for fresh rubber allowed Sasahara to get within one second of 10th, while Calderon drove a steady race to 12th, before holding the charging Naoki Yamamoto at bay in the later laps.

A slightly longer event could see more drivers opt for a mid-race tyre stop if the pace advantage is there, although they will also be mindful of losing between 20-23 seconds in the pitlane against those who non-stop.

Given that for a time Sasahara was easily running 2-3 seconds per lap quicker than those ahead of him following his stop at Motegi, then drivers may be more inclined to investigate the option at Okayama.

But… this race is being held on September 27th and as such, the temperature will be quite a bit lower at Okayama than it was at Motegi at the end of August, where track temperatures of over 46C and an air temperature of 40C made conditions tough for tyre life. Temperatures for Okayama are expected to be approximately 12-15C lower, potentially resulting in a far less aggressive tyre fall off.

Meanwhile, Sasahara will continue to sit in for Jüri Vips at Team Mugen, until the latter can join the series at a later date, while Mitsunori Takaboshi will make his Super Formula debut with B-Max by Mototpark in place of Sergio Sette Camara.

Super Formula regulars Kamui Kobayashi, Kazuki Nakajima, Kenta Yamashita will be competing at Le Mans this weekend. The trio received special dispensation to only serve a 7-day quarantine prior to Motegi and the same looks to apply post-Le Mans.

B-Max by Motopark’s other full-time racer, Charles Milesi, will also be competing at Le Mans in the Graff LMP2 Oreca-Gibson; however he will not be in a position to travel to Japan following the great race.

“Some Super Licence Points Pointers”

A few weeks back, I received a query from a correspondent on Twitter, asking to clarify a few elements regarding the Super Licence Points system.

So, I did, I hope.

Formula One can be a forgetful business and it is incredibly rare that a driver returns to the top-level once they have departed.

Some go to race in other distant categories for good money, while others become pundits or commentators.

There are a few that maintain a presence in Formula One, as simulator/test drivers or reserve drivers (alongside other racing duties), although the use of reserve drivers is quite rare. As such, drivers have been known to let their Super Licences lapse, particularly given that they are only a requirement for Formula One Grand Prix weekends {note 1}.

In an e-mail correspondence with the FIA’s Safety Director, Adam Baker, it was confirmed that technically there is nothing in the regulations that would prevent a driver from renewing their Super Licence within every three-year period, in order to keep it live; however, it would be an expensive process.

For drivers competing in the 2020 Formula One World Championship, the basic fee for a Super Licence is $556,509 (USD) {note 2}, but those competing in other championships across the globe, such a cost would be an unnecessary and prohibitive expense

One point that often gets mixed up. It is often assumed that when a driver has amassed forty points, then they are automatically awarded a Super Licence; however, this is not the case, as it would be illogical and unnecessarily expensive for drivers who have no use for a Super Licence for the reasons noted above.

As an aside to this, when a driver has amassed the necessary number of points to obtain a Super Licence, then they can apply for the licence and hold it, even if they continue to race in junior formula thereafter.

For example, Mick Schumacher collected the necessary number of points to apply for a Super Licence at the end of 2018, when he won the European Formula 3 Championship.

Once a driver has that Super Licence but opts to stay in the junior ladder system, it does not matter what their achievements – or lack thereof – are come later contests. Once the licence is possessed, it is theirs to properly maintain.

Which – unfortunately for him – is where Esteban Gutierrez fell foul in August. During the run-up to the British Grand Prix, Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff told that regulations and circumstance blocked Gutierrez from obtaining a Super Licence in order to replace Racing Point’s Sergio Perez following his COVID-19 diagnosis {note 3}.

Wolff reasoned that, “There is a new rule this year that if you haven’t raced in a Formula 1 car in an official event for the last three years you need to have done the test of at least 300 kilometres.”

Technically Wolff was correct, but also not. For a start, this is not a new rule, but rather one that was refined and re-introduced back in 2016, so it is disappointing that neither Mercedes nor Gutierrez himself picked up on it, especially given Gutierrez is the team’s reserve driver – but more on that at another time.

Gutierrez could have reactivated his Super Licence; however, it is unlikely that the application would have been approved in time for the first race at Silverstone.

In the case of a driver change in the Championship for reasons of force majeure, the FIA state that they may accept applications up to 48 hours before the start of initial scrutineering for the competition; however, Gutierrez’ Super Licence had expired on December 31st, 2016.

Baker confirmed too that for Gutierrez’ licence to be reinstated, Racing Point would have had to arrange a test whereby Gutierrez would have to complete 300km at racing speeds in a representative F1 car over a maximum period of two days.

Generally complete applications for Super Licences must be received by the FIA at least 14 days before scrutineering for the first World Championship event in which the driver is to compete.

A quiet note regarding the calculation of Super Licence points – when calculating totals, it is necessary to collate points as allocated during the year’s positions are achieved. For example, a champion in Formula Renault Eurocup in 2017 would collect just 10 points; whereas in 2020 a driver in the same position would collect 18.

On the other hand, the FIA International Formula 3 Championship offers far fewer Super Licence points in 2020, than the European Championship did in 2017. Indeed, from 2017 to 2018, the FIA dropped the award for winning the European Championship from 40 points down to 30, ensuring Schumacher needed to beat Dan Ticktum to the title in order to be in a position to secure his full Super Licence.

Looking at the points table in 2020 and surmising that the same points were on offer two years will merely lead to incorrect totals.

Finally, Baker also acknowledged that while there is no officially published list of drivers who possess live Super Licences, it is not considered a confidential subject either. There has just been no need to publish a list of those who currently possess live licences.

{note 1}
Formula One is not the only category that applies Super Licence points concept – Formula E does as well. Drivers wishing to obtain an e-Licence must have either an International Grade B licence {note 4}, have made at least three starts in races counting toward the Formula E Championship in the previous year (or had ten starts within three years) or have collected 20 Super Licence Points over the previous three seasons.

{note 2}
For drivers already competing in Formula One and therefore renewing their Super Licences, as well as the initial $556,509 (USD) outlay, they have additional costs of $5,563 (USD) per championship point gained in the previous season for their respective constructor. The only exception is for World Champion driver Lewis Hamilton, who had to fork out an additional $6,677 (USD) per Constructor’s Championship point.

This means that following an ultra-successful campaign last year, Hamilton is likely to have forked out in the region of $3.314 million (USD) in order to secure his Super Licence for the 2020 season. This is generally paid in instalments, with the basic fee expected at the time of application and the rest of the monies transferred by December 10th.

{note 3} – Mercedes seek “another solution” for reserve driver after rules change blow for Gutierrez

{note 4}
An International Grade B licence is a racing licence required for drivers utilising cars with a weight-to-power ration of between 1 and 2 kg/hp.

“Boom Time – Where War Ends and Racing Begins”

The late-1940s was an incredible boom time for motorsport. The second World War had finally drawn to a close and motorsport – for years stifled in numerous territories due to conflict and / or strained resources – began to breathe once again.

Formula A regulations were drawn up in 1946 for 1.5 litre supercharged cars and 4.5 litre unsupercharged machines, with the category renamed to Formula One for the 1947 season. While these regulatory changes played into the hands of manufacturers that had cars available to slot into this formula, it did much to give a direction and purpose for the years ahead.

In theory, the 1946 Turin Grand Prix was the first to run to “Formula One” regulations, but as the technical rulebook had not yet been ratified at this stage, the Turin Grand Prix is technically listed as a Formula Libre event, albeit one where 200,000 people reportedly attended.

The following February, four Formula One cars showed up for the Swedish Winter Grand Prix, but this event – run on ice for 20 laps – is often discounted as being a Formula One event, due to it being closer to ice-bound rallycross event than a road race.

And thus, April’s Pau Grand Prix has the label of “first Formula One race” thrust upon it, although that fact seemed to bring little fanfare with it.

Held over 110 laps, Nello Pagani was victorious in his Maserati, over the Delage driven by Pierre Levegh, with Pagani winning by two laps over his French rival. In a long and varied career, Pagani would go on to be the inaugural Motorcycle 125cc World Champion two years later.

In the coming years, the number of Grand Prix increased, while the various Grandes Épreuves – held in Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, France, Britain and Monaco – dominated interest from drivers, teams and fans alike, before the World Driver’s Championship made a somewhat inauspicious start at Silverstone in 1950.

It would be some time before the new Formula One machinery would find its way around the globe, with many Grand Prix still running to the Formula Libre concept for several years after Formula One had been drawn up.

Most of these Formula Libre events were made up a mixture of pre-war cars, that had been dusted off, repaired, repainted and carted around to races. These were still incredibly popular events, as showcased by the 1949 Australian Grand Prix, held at Leyburn Airfield in Queensland.

The track layout was less than exciting and comprised of three runway strips linked at its ends to loosely form a triangle. With only four corners, the circuit proved less than challenging for drivers; however, the incredibly long straights did force competitors to grit their teeth as their ageing machines peaked and strained under the forces.

That race was won by John Crouch behind the wheel of a Jean François-designed Delahaye 135MS, in what was the sole major victory of his career. Crouch won by just under five minutes from Ray ‘Laddie’ Gordon (MG), with Arthur Rizzo a further two-and-a-half minutes behind in his Riley Special.

On the other side of the coin, Les Johnson had entered the race at Leyburn, only for his following trailer to suffer issues on the way to the circuit. As a result, Johnson missed the race completely, showing up after the chequered flag, and while he arrived without a racing car, he did unload his road going machine, which had been crammed full of alcohol.

With the support races continuing on into the afternoon, Johnson proceeded to get very drunk and watched the events unfold from the sidelines.

“Motorsport Diaries: Episode 11 – Super Formula Returns”

Following a ten-month break, Japan’s Super Formula finally returned in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The race at Motegi was not a thriller than desired, but that was not the important story. That it was back, was.

For quite a long time, this race was very much a case of follow-the-leader. These kinds of events make for a difficult time in commentary and it is often when one most utilises the best of pre-race research.

Beyond the start, viewers had to wait until lap 16 for the first overtake of the race when Nirei Fukuzumi took Kamui Kobayashi for 6th place, as the latter began to struggle on his Yokohama tyres.

To be fair, the race did kind of become a tale of who could make the tyres last in what were some pretty extreme temperatures. With an air temperature measured at approximately 40C and a track temperature several degrees hotter still, the drivers had their work cut out to maintain tyre life.

And so, for the most part, the race became a story of tyre preservation. Portions of the race saw the collective field record laptimes in the 1’38” measure, after qualifying some seven seconds per lap quicker just three hours earlier.

That is something that can be worked on and given the acknowledgement of the fluidity of the Coronavirus pandemic, JRP – promoters of Super Formula – have left a window open to tweak the sporting regulations should they see fit.

The important aspect is that Super Formula is finally back. The numerous changes from last year were almost overshadowed by the air of uncertainty in recent weeks, but with strength in the organisation clear, the series still managed to present eighteen cars for the first race.

And that would have been nineteen had Teppei Natori not suffered from heat exhaustion after qualifying, forcing his withdrawal from the race itself.

There were some brilliant performances from the likes of Ryo Hirakawa, Kenta Yamashita and French/Argentine rookie Sacha Fenestraz, while Ukyo Sasahara also made a good impression as he replaced the absent Jüri Vips.

But a difficult weekend if you were behind the wheel of a Honda-powered machine. Honda only managed to get one car into Q3 and their highest finisher (Fukuzumi) was 5th. His late charge came to nothing, although the gap had much to do with the number of laps he had been stuck behind Sekiguchi.

Sam Collins and I commentated on the season opener for The Race and we will return for the 2nd Super Formula event at Okayama on September 27th.

For more of my thoughts on the first Super Formula race of 2020, check out Episode 11 of Motorsport Diaries and don’t forget to like, comment and subscribe for more of this in the future.

A Patreon page for TheMotorsportArchive will be officially launched soon, as plans for 2021 slowly, but surely come together.

“First of the Year, the First of Many”

Sunday morning saw the Japanese Super Formula season finally begin.

Alas, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rumble on, there were no visits to the studio for the race – this was a home conversion.

And beyond some minor technical setbacks, it all worked out rather well.

In the end, the race was not the most exciting, but one can accept that in motorsport from time-to-time, just as long as you know how to fix it by taking the right steps.

Chester enjoys the scene, as I ran through the final pre-broadcast checks.

For this show, it was important just to get on screen and get the race out to audiences everywhere and in that, it was a success.

Congratulations to The Race for their efforts and to Sam Collins for another excellent job in the commentary “box”.

There are still six more Super Formula rounds to go.
Let’s continue to nail it.

“F1: Bottas 3.0 Needs a Hamilton 1.0 Upgrade”

Lewis Hamilton barely had to look in his mirrors during the Spanish Grand Prix, such was his dominance.

Indeed, Sunday’s race is a reflection of how the 2020 Formula One season is developing – and never was that more clear-cut than at Mercedes.

“I was just in a daze out there, I didn’t even know it was the last lap in the end, that’s how in the zone I was. I can’t remember the last time I felt like that.”

Qualifying for Lewis Hamilton almost wasn’t perfect. Despite taking pole, a slower second run as the clock ran down saw him four-tenths adrift of his initial effort – that his Mercedes teammate and rival Valtteri Bottas also ran slower on his final ensured that Hamilton’s first timed Q3 lap was enough for his 92nd pole position. Well, I say “rival”. Perhaps one should rethink that, as Bottas is currently no rival for Hamilton.

Whereas the poleman got away cleanly, Bottas was slow away again and fell behind Max Verstappen (Red Bull) and Lance Stroll (Racing Point) in the early running. It would take five laps for Bottas to clear Stroll and slot back into 3rd position, but the Finn never truly got close to Verstappen.

Despite competing with a car that is not on par with the Mercedes, Bottas was always just a step behind the Honda-powered Red Bull and while the German manufacturer took hard lessons away from their Silverstone defeat seven days earlier, only Hamilton appeared able to convert those lessons.

The Austrian Grand Prix seems like an age ago. It was a well-judged win for Bottas, finishing ahead of Hamilton, until the latter received a penalty for his part in a clumsy challenge with the other Red Bull, driven – for now – by Alexander Albon.

All of the ramblings of “Bottas 3.0” made themselves apparent, almost as quickly as they had during “Bottas 2.0” – and yet, the impression is rarely so forward and the threat not so ominous. For all the talk of the challenge, Bottas’ additional push is often a limp endeavour.

This is not to take too much away from Bottas. He is a good driver, who since joining Mercedes in 2017 has won eight Grand Prix and taken 33 other podia, but he is up against a Hamilton who is driving on an entirely different plane.

Although not official by any measure, Bottas has almost certainly been cast in the roll of number two driver, buy virtue of his inability to match Hamilton’s level of performance across a season. Of late, Bottas – who turns 31 at the end of the month – has been also been consistently headed by Verstappen {note 1} and currently trails the young Dutch pilot.

Grand Prix are organic events and each incident and ill-considered moment has the power to unravel all the best laid plans, as he explained afterward. “I think with a different start, the end result would have been very different. On a track like this, where overtaking in the race is so difficult and track position is everything, your race becomes very tricky if you lose places.” From his sluggish start that cost him two positions off the line, Bottas had to push hard to get by Stroll and then catch Verstappen – a short series of events, that forced him to punish his Pirelli tyres far more than originally anticipated.

There was some small fortune. Exiting the pits after that first stop, Bottas maintained a small gap ahead of Stroll, who had not pitted and was on an extended run, but it mattered little in the greater picture. In that opening stint, Bottas had already lost an entire pitstop to Hamilton, while Verstappen’s slightly earlier stop gave the Dutch racer enough of an undercut to build a 2s gap to Bottas by the time the latter had emerged.

It was more of the same in the next stint. Verstappen pitted earlier (lap 41 to Bottas’ lap 48), but where the Red Bull man built a nice gap to the chasing Mercedes on fresher tyres, Bottas’ Pirelli’s were dying.

A change to a set of used softs yielded no favours and conceding that the runner-up spot was gone, Bottas stopped for a final set of new set of mediums with two laps remaining in order to bank the point for fastest lap. That may have been successful, but it was also a poor return when one considers how utterly dominant the Mercedes W11 has been. “Overall, it wasn’t the race I had hoped for,” Bottas added. “Sometimes that’s just the way it goes. We’ll analyse everything from the race and move onto the next one.”

Hamilton won with ease, lapping all but Verstappen and Bottas, but even they were in a completely different world. With six rounds completed, Hamilton leads the pack with 132 points from a possible 150 and is currently 37 ahead of Verstappen, with Bottas a further six adrift of the Red Bull.

If this is Bottas 3.0, then he needs to reconsider his upgrade. As it stands, the Finn is simply not on a level to beat Hamilton across a whole season and this does not look changing any time soon.

{note 1} If one is to be truly fair to Bottas, he was running 2nd at the British Grand Prix when his left front tyre gave way with two laps to go; however, given his pace in the laps leading up to that puncture, Verstappen may well have overtaken Bottas anyway.

“F1: Sublime Verstappen Conquers Mercedes”

Max Verstappen’s victory at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix yesterday was a masterclass of skill and pace over the normally dominant Mercedes.

It was a result that required skill, maturity, tyre preservation and no small dose of heat.

A key overtake for the lead, followed by six blistering laps of pace. On the surface, that’s all it took, but there was so much more to it. And yet, one cannot ignore the small portion at the midway point of the race, during which the nature of the race was turned on its head.

The temperature yesterday was hot and if two races at Silverstone on consecutive weekends has told us anything, it’s that the Mercedes W11 does not appreciate excess heat. It almost cost Mercedes a Grand Prix win last week – this week it finally did.

Max Verstappen had initially taken the lead of the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix on the 14th lap as the Mercedes duo of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton switched from the medium Pirelli tyres to the hard compounds, but whereas Verstappen made his Red Bull RB16 sing on his Hards-Medium-Hards strategy, both Hamilton and Bottas struggled.

This is not to say that the Mercedes pairing were in danger of falling further behind – they were not – but this was the first time their frailties cost them so significantly.

Verstappen was one of only five drivers to start on the hard Pirelli tyres, with the Mercedes’ both getting away on the mediums. Bottas initially led from pole, and while that was briefly threatened by Hamilton on the opening lap, the Finn looked the most comfortable in the opening stint. Edging away from Hamilton, this looked like the race that would kickstart Bottas’ championship challenge, and yet – Verstappen…

In the early laps, the mediums held the key pace, but fell away quickly. In terms of raw pace, the hard tyres were supposed to be approximately 0.6s slower, but would last much longer, as the chasing Red Bull driver would prove. As the lap-count slipped into double digits, the leading pair fell back toward a cool Verstappen, who was maintaining both solid pace and tyre life.

Bottas stopped on lap 13, with Hamilton doing the same one tour later. At that stage, the Finn held a 1.1s gap to Hamilton, with the Briton just 1.0s ahead of Verstappen – the Dutch racer, however, did not need to stop at all and stayed out until the end of lap 26. Throughout this, Verstappen pushed, but not so much as to destroy his Pirelli’s – this was aggression, albeit the softly, softly way. Meanwhile, both of the Mercedes machines began to tear through the harder Pirelli tyres.

These were, of course, the medium tyres from last weekend’s race. In an effort to differentiate between two Grand Prix at Silverstone, Pirelli designated softer rubber for this additional race, while also mandating the use of higher tyre pressures to held counter the excess wear and delaminations from seven days earlier. With track temperatures close to 50°c, the problems suffered by Mercedes at the British Grand Prix began to develop once again.

Verstappen, meanwhile, kept life in his hard tyres and then kept the mediums on for just six tours. Emerging from the pits after his first stop just behind Bottas, Verstappen drew in behind the Finn quickly and made a move around the outside of Luffield for the lead.

Pushing hard, Verstappen assumed a solid gap to Bottas and stopped again at the end of lap 32. Bottas joined him, with both switching to hards for the final stint, but Mercedes’ tyre problems remained, gifting Verstappen the advantage.

Hamilton stayed out and, for a time, looked as if he may be considering a one-stop strategy, but even that was beyond the great champion. Feeling the grip ebb away, Mercedes pulled Hamilton in for his final stop on lap 42, just as Red Bull gave Verstappen the order to push.

With Hamilton out of the way, Verstappen led with ease from Bottas, while the 2nd place man began to struggle on aging rubber. In the distance, Hamilton emerged in 4th behind the impressive Charles Leclerc, who had spent the afternoon battling the less impressive Ferrari.

From here, the race was an easy finish for Verstappen, who was calm enough to exchange quips with the pitwall in the final tours. In what was probably the finest drive of his career, Verstappen made strategy and the conditions work in a car that, in standard conditions, is no real challenge for the Mercedes. Indeed, not only was this Red Bull’s first win of the season, it was the first time anyone else looked even remotely close to them.

It is tempting to think that this may kick start a championship challenge for Verstappen, but as summer turns to autumn, it may be ambitious to think that these conditions will be replicated at many other races in this already crazy season.

Behind the winner, Bottas could only lose. On hard tyres nine laps older than Hamilton’s, the Finn’s pace was falling away. Hamilton made sluggish work of Leclerc, eventually taking the Monegasque racer on lap 44 and then drawing six seconds from Bottas only to pass his teammate on lap 50.

It was a strategy call from Mercedes that was an attempt to beat Verstappen but failed and ultimately cost Bottas a shot at beating Hamilton. Considering the form so far this season, it is hard to see Hamilton not taking the title and this race will surely represent a step in that direction.

Leclerc came home 4th, ahead of the second Red Bull of Alexander Albon (5th), while Lance Stroll headed his Racing Point teammate Nico Hulkenberg to 6th place – a downgrading considering Hulkenberg was running 5th until a late third stop dropped him behind his teammate.

Esteban Ocon headed the Renault charge coming home 8th, a long way ahead of the lapped Daniel Ricciardo (14th) – the latter of whom endured an embarrassing mid-race spin. Lando Norris (9th) was the first of the McLaren’s to finish, while his teammate Carlos Sainz (13th) lost out mid-race following a slow first stop. Daniil Kvyat (10th) closed out the points, beating AlphaTauri teammate Pierre Gasly (11th) to the finish line by less than a second.

Sebastian Vettel secured an anonymous 12th in his Ferrari. The four-time champion qualified poorly and hurt his day more by spinning by himself on the opening lap. Kimi Raikkonen (15th) was the first of the Alfa Romeo’s ahead of Romain Grosjean (16th, Haas), Antonio Giovinazzi (17th, Haas), while George Russell led the Williams duo in 18th, less than one second ahead of Nicholas Latifi.

Kevin Magnussen was the only retirement with the Haas driver pulling in nine laps from the end.

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