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“A Misunderstood Question”

August 11, 2017

‘What are your expectations for the season ahead?’ (or variations thereof).

It is a question that I despise and there are certainly better ways of asking it, but no matter what, it is a very clumsy query that make me curl up inside.

Season preview guides are often vacuous efforts, that recall past results and testing form mixed in with polite, but empty quotes from drivers keen to stick to directionless soundbites.

Rather than trying to get the driver to say s/he will win the title – they all want to do that and secretly believe that they can – the question should be more or less designed to try to get a driver to measure and discuss the competition and whom they think their rivals may be.
As an aside, these questions also open the window slightly to understanding the depth of the talent pool in any given championship.

For example, one might argue that despite the lower driver count this year, the European Formula 3 Championship possesses a nice pocket of talent, with Joel Eriksson, Maxi Günther and Lando Norris swapping race victories and podiums as they fight for the title.
Each one of those drivers is backed by a manufacturer – BMW, Mercedes and McLaren respectively – and they are delivering on that promise in a tight and aggressive campaign. On the outside of that Callum Ilott, who may need some luck to bring him back into the hunt, but he has performed well.

On the other hand, one could also examine the newly re-instated Formula Two Championship, currently led by the Ferrari-supported Charles Leclerc by a very healthy margin.
Beyond that, it thins out quickly. While RUSSIAN TIME’s Artem Markelov and DAMS duo Oliver Rowland and Nicholas Latifi – the latter also both Renault backed – are reasonably quick, they also have a habit of inconsistency.
Across from Leclerc, his Prema Powerteam stablemate, Antonio Fuoco, has been roundly beaten by the Monegasque driver, but that is of little surprise.
Underneath it all, Leclerc has the potential to be a very special driver, all the while much of the rest of top ten is filled out drivers who have been around for too long and achieving very little.

So if I were to ask Leclerc to measure the Formula Two field, I would (firstly) expect a very diplomatic non-answer, but it would not surprise me if the list of true challengers was very small. This is by no means a slight on Rowland, et al., but rather underlining that Leclerc has been in a different league.
Whereas Leclerc will almost certainly be in Formula One next year, I am not convinced anyone else in the Formula Two field possesses that quality. Lots of good quality drivers with professional careers ahead of them, but just not F1 talents…

Conversely, it is unlikely that anyone will care or notice who takes this year’s World Series Formula V8 3.5 crown, because the field is both poor and small.
On paper, the FV8 3.5 presents a thrilling battle with six title protagonists covered by less than one race win with only three rounds to go, but it is difficult to get excited when we are talking of Rene Binder, Alfonso Celis Jr., Pietro Fittioaldi, Matevos Isaakyan, Roy Nissany and Egor Orudzhev.
If one were to ask any of these drivers who their potential competitors were, the list may well be longer in order to compensate for the closer gauge of talent. The only surprise about FV8 3.5 is that Yu Kanamaru has not been more potent.

In the end, I suppose it is the concept of value that is in question. Is a hard fought Formula 3 title, in which the victor fends off numerous competitors more valuable than a Formula 2 crown where the winner pisses all over the field?
When initially I examined Formula 2 and Formula 3 this year, my expectations were thus: Leclerc would win the F2 Championship, the only question being by how much; I couldn’t decide the European F3 Championship victor between Günther, Eriksson and Ilott.
Admittedly, I expected Norris to win numerous races, but am very impressed with his performance – against tough opposition, he has at this stage delivered beyond what I thought he would.
GP3 is turning out almost as I thought, with Russell being chased by Jack Aitken, but it would not surprise me if Russell took the eventual honours. He may be just a little better in the long run. As an aside, it does surprise me somewhat that Anthoine Hubert and Nirei Fukuzumi are running them as close as they are.

The annoying aspect of both Formula Two and GP3 is the mere existence of partially reverse grid races, which should never exist at this level of motorsport. Designed to aid midfield drivers not necessarily good enough to do the job in the first instance, these gimmicks do have a habit of artificially boosting a competitor’s position in the standings {note 1}.
There is a skill to getting the feel and set-up of the car just right through practice and registering a best grid slot as possible in qualifying, before securing the best possible result in the race – only to be artificially ‘given’ 8th on the grid for Sunday morning’s points paying race. It brings to mind Stefano Coletti who over a period of several years won seven GP2 races – all of them from reverse grid situations.

And it matters because these elements affect championship positions, upon which superlicence points are collected and a possible Formula One race licence is awarded.
It is doubtful that when a driver is asked who his potential challengers are, s/he will be thinking of the racer who drove to 8th place on a Saturday afternoon…

{Note 1}
The closest example to my head in which a driver was propelled into a championship contention is when Felix Serralles found his way in the hunt for the 2012 British F3 title thanks to big scores in reverse grid races at Monza, Brands Hatch, Norisring, Silverstone and Donington.

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One Comment
  1. Spot on – to be honest, even from what is now a distance, only Leclerc and Norris of the current crop have any business being talked about as future GP stars. I’m still looking for a bookie willing to take a bet on Norris being an F1 World Champion some time in the next decade.

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