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“Italian GP: Vandoorne turns it on”

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© McLaren-Honda Racing

McLaren racer Stoffel Vandoorne may have retired at the end of lap 33 of the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday, but the Belgian racer impressed many with his performance at Monza.

On paper, the 2017 was a disaster for McLaren. Another race and another pair of retirements for the Honda-powered team, with neither Stoffel Vandoorne nor Fernando Alonso making it to the end of the race.

Curiously, however, it was Vandoorne who carried the flag for the Woking-based McLaren’s. It helped initially that Vandoorne got his MCL32 into Q3 during Saturday’s lengthy qualifying session, although Alonso’s soft run in Q2 opened the door slightly for the Belgian.
With a 35-place grid penalty coming for the Spaniard, it made little sense to impede his teammate, as he explained on Saturday evening. ‘We needed to keep an eye on Stoffel’s position too, as we didn’t want to be in Q3 with the wrong car,’ said the former champion. ‘We didn’t want to push too much in qualifying because there was no point – we’ll start last anyway, due to the penalty – so we just saved the tyres and used the engine in a lower power mode, but we still did a decent qualifying.’

At a circuit where it was feared McLaren’s pace would ultimately be destroyed, Vandoorne edged in car into the top ten and was elevated to 8th place once grid penalties for both Red Bull’s were taken into account. But this was a wet qualifying session and the race was expected to be dry.
Although not obvious at the time, but Vandoorne’s qualifying run was hampered somewhat. His final run was nixed by a developing engine problem, forcing McLaren to change to replace several elements of the power unit. Vandoorne said, ‘It’s a shame because I really think we could have pushed our way further up. We could have taken more time to find the limit and taken a few more risks, but we didn’t get that chance.’ This resulted in a grid penalty for the Belgian, dropping him an 18th place start, just ahead of Alonso.

And yet while running, Vandoorne’s pace was not ultimately destroyed. From his lowly grid spot, the 25-year-old emerged from the usual turn one melee ahead of Jolyon Palmer (Renault) and Pascal Wehrlein (Sauber), before the other Sauber of Marcus Ericsson dropped behind on the next tour and a pitting Max Verstappen (Red Bull) brought Vandoorne to 14th by the end of lap three.
Thereafter Vandoorne sat in behind Carlos Sainz in the Toro Rosso and maintained a solid pace in the early-1’28s. Alonso was there too; however when Vandoorne passed Sainz on lap six, Alonso could do nothing but sit under the rear wing of his young Spanish rival, until the Toro Rosso racer pitted on lap 15. By this time, Alonso was beginning to suffered gearbox sensor issues and Vandoorne was already eleven seconds up the road.

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© McLaren-Honda Racing

At this stage, those ahead of Vandoorne were making stops and clearing the way for the Belgian to climb to 9th position on lap 20, at which point the speed of the McLaren began to ebb away. Fights with Kevin Magnussen (Haas), Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) and Nico Hulkenberg (Renault), Vandoorne appeared potent force and appeared quite able to keep with the midfield pack.
Peeling into the pits, Magnussen and Hulkenberg would soon depart the battle, but on this relatively low degradation surface, Vandoorne was able to keep in the early 1’27s, aided by a dropping fuel count, although getting passed Kvyat proved a little too tricky. At this stage, the only drivers quicker than Vandoorne were the leading pack and those on fresh Pirelli’s, but towards the mid-point of the race, the McLaren’s pace began to fade. ‘It’s a similar issue to yesterday, and it’s a shame because we changed the engine overnight for a brand new one today. To have another problem in a race which was going very well is obviously frustrating.’

Passed by both Williams’ of Lance Stroll and Felipe Massa, Vandoorne was beginning to struggle to hang on and eventually pitted at the end of lap 33, but despite the non-finish, it was a very positive performance by the Belgian. ‘From my side, it had actually been a really positive weekend in terms of my driving and the performance I’ve put in – it’s been very strong. The last few races have been very strong for me, in fact. It’s just such a shame to finish with another retirement, and not have any reward for all of that. And we’ve had another issue today, but we have to move on.
‘I guess it’s possible I’ll have another grid drop in Singapore, although we don’t yet know exactly what the issue was today, despite it looking like a similar problem. We’ll have to wait and see.’

McLaren’s Racing Director, Eric Boullier, was certainly very pleased with Vandoorne’s run while it lasted. ‘His performance all weekend has been stellar, and this afternoon he was running in the top ten for the duration of his race – at one point as high as seventh from 18th on the grid.’
However when addressing the technical issues suffered by Vandoorne over the weekend, Boullier was less forgiving. ‘It’s both frustrating and a huge shame that once again engine reliability issues have meant that he was not only forced to waste the opportunity to start the race in eighth place on the grid, but that all the hard work he would ultimately put in to make progress through the pack and aim for points would be rendered pointless.
‘For the whole team – who have all worked so hard to give us a fighting chance on this most challenging of tracks – it’s an utterly frustrating and disappointing way to end our Italian Grand Prix weekend and the European season.’

Alonso, meanwhile, carried on and although largely uneventful, he would have a brief tussle with Palmer, prompting some exasperated radio messages from the Spaniard. His day would also end prematurely and Also eventually retired from a distant 15th place with three laps remaining – although there may a touch of strategy at play with this.

The Grand Prix circus visits the streets of Singapore for a race around Marina Bay. With a high number of twisty sections and relatively few straights, this may be venue that plays well for McLaren, but when it comes down to it, it may still only be for minor points. But for Vandoorne, it will also be another opportunity to display his growing confidence and untapped skill.

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© McLaren-Honda Racing

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“F1: Hamilton claims pole position record at Monza”

Mercedes racer Lewis Hamilton claimed a record 69th pole position in Formula One at a damp and dreary Monza this evening.

In a session that stretched to over three hours-and-forty minutes following numerous rain delays, Hamilton secured the top spot with a best of 1:35.554s – a lap some 1.1s faster than the next quickest driver Max Verstappen.

Verstappen’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo recorded the 3rd quickest time; however as both Red Bull’s are taking severe grid penalties, 4th fastest qualifier Lance Stroll will start on the front row alongside Hamilton.

After a lull, rain return for the final part of qualifying prompting a move to full wets for much of the top ten. Both Mercedes’ and both Ferrari’s started on intermediate weather tyres, but returned to the pits immediately to make a switch to wets.

Hamilton was nothing if not consistent in Q3. With each quicker lap, the Briton jumped to the top of the timings, swapping regularly with Verstappen and Ricciardo, while Stroll and Force India’s Esteban Ocon ran the leading trio close.

Verstappen set his stall out in the opening minutes and where Hamilton would set a 1:37.227s, Ricciardo responded by going one-tenth quicker, before the Mercedes man took another two-tenths off of his time.

After a final switch to wet tyres, Verstappen recorded a 1:36.762s, but Ricciardo could only go one-tenth slower to sit just behind his teammate. Hamilton meanwhile hooked up a spectacular final half-a-lap, as conditions began to dry.
A 30.7s left the Mercedes racer level with Verstappen through sector one, but gained four tenths on the Dutchman through the Lesmo’s. Hamilton then went one step further and was eight-tenths quicker than Verstappen in the final sector, gifting the Briton a huge margin as he crossed the line.

Ricciardo was three-tenths quicker than his teammate in the final sector, but lost a similar amount to Verstappen in the middle of the lap. The difference between the pair came down Ricciardo losing a tenth through the Rettifilo chicane, leaving the Australian just shy of Verstappen.

Stroll and Ocon did excellently to set the 4th and 5th best times respectively, while Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas recorded a disappointing 6th. The Ferrari’s of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel ended the session a downbeat 7th and 8th, while Felipe Massa (Williams) and Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) closed out the top ten.

Sergio Perez missed out on Q3 by just 0.002s, when he fell short of teammate Ocon. The Mexican headed Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg by half-a-second, while McLaren’s Fernando Alonso could do no better than 13th. Toro Rosso suffered a dreadful session, as they could only take the 14th and 15th slots, before penalties drop them to the rear of the grid.

Kevin Magnussen the best of the Haas duo, after teammate Romain Grosjean crashed at the start Q1. Following this, the opening part of qualifying was red flagged as the Frenchman aquaplaned on the start-finish straight, pitching Grosjean into the barrier on the outside of the straight.
The Frenchman’s now out-of-control machine then crossed the sodden circuit, eventually finishing on the inside of the Rettifilo chicane. With several other drivers, including Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes), Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) and Renault pair Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer all missing the chicane at the Rettifilo, it was decided to bring out the red flag.
Before spinning, Grosjean had set a time of 1:43.355, but was audibly ruffled by the conditions on track, calling the session ‘dangerous’, adding that ‘it was stupid to run [qualifying].’ With rain coming down hard, there followed a two-and-a-half hour gap before conditions were deemed safe enough to continue.

Beyond Magnussen, Jolyon Palmer (Renault) qualified 17th, ahead of the Sauber duo Marcus Eriksson and Pascal Wehrlein.

“F1: Kerb extension laid at Parabolica”

Following a lengthy drivers meeting yesterday, an additional kerb has been added to the exit of Parabolica for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix.

With drivers using the excess run-off at Parabolica to obtain a better drive onto the start-finish straight, it was agreed to add an additional kerb to dissuade competitors from going too far off track during sessions.

© FIA.

© FIA.

© FIA.

“F1: Rain renders meaningless FP3 session”

Williams duo Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll topped a wet and meaningless FP3 session at Monza this morning.

With the track sodden following several hours of constant rainfall, only seven drivers set times, with the rest of the field completing installation laps before returning to the pits.

Thanks to the cool conditions and with no end to the rain in sight, it is likely that qualifying will also be run under very wet conditions.

“F1: Red Bull cut a lonely pace, ahead of busy race”

MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 01: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB13 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 1, 2017 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

On paper, Red Bull’s pace in yesterday’s free practice sessions at Monza looks set to cast the Milton Keynes team into a lonely battle for 5th and 6th.

But a range of penalties – due to mechanical maladies – means Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen may have far more interesting races than originally expected.

Come tomorrow’s Italian Grand Prix, it is likely that Ricciardo and Verstappen will take up positions on the final two rows of the grid.

The habit of penalising drivers who utilise more than four elements of their power unit struck Red Bull, rendering Ricciardo’s and Verstappen’s efforts rather mute – although for pairing, there is still something to look forward to, as the Australian Ricciardo relates. ‘Even though I’ve got the penalty I’m actually excited for tomorrow and the race on Sunday, knowing we’ll start at the back we have a chance to have a fun race. Of course it’s disappointing knowing that the chance of a Monza podium is unlikely, but the chance of a fun race is there.’

Alas there is an issue for the duo – and that is an oft-ineffectual Renault power unit, that is down on power (compared to Mercedes and Ferrari at least) and unreasonably frail should your name be ‘Verstappen’. Red Bull’s Class A chassis design – a given for the most part – is clearly an effective machine on circuits where medium-to-high speed cornering is a premium, but there is little of that at Monza. ‘It is hard for us on this track with the long straights, which we have to combine with a very low-downforce setting,’ Verstappen explains. ‘We just try to make the best of it. We will start the race a bit further back with the penalties but hopefully I can enjoy overtaking a good number of cars on Sunday.’

MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 01: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB13 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 1, 2017 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

But they knew that long beforehand and while the collective penalties for Red Bull comes to 35 places (20 for Ricciardo and 15 for Verstappen), it makes sense to sacrifice grid position for a race where potential and expectation is already at a minimum. ‘It makes sense to take the penalties here as this track is already not that good for us, Singapore is better for our car so we don’t want to risk anything there,’ continues the young Dutchman.
Ricciardo adds. ‘I expected this a few races ago so at least I was prepared, however I’m excited for the chance to pass a few people on Sunday.’

Ricciardo was keen to emphasise that the RB13 is relatively competitive and only requires minor adjustments, but with a dry race expected, Red Bull will do well to collect take points home from Monza.

© Red Bull Content Pool.

“F1: Mercedes dominate Friday sessions at Monza”

Großer Preis von Italien 2017, Freitag – Steve Etherington. © Daimler AG

Mercedes dominated the free practice time sheets at Monza on Friday, but on hot and fiercely humid day, it was easy to see Ferrari prowl.

Instability seemed to be the word of the day for many drivers. For some, it was an issue cured as the day aged; for those with more sensitive machinery, there was little hope for sympathetic drivability.

Of course, those toward the front of the order enjoyed the best of things – that is not a shock – inherent stability and performance is often what gets a good team to the front whatever the whether.

And “whatever the weather” was a saying latched to the tongues of many in the paddock all through Friday. Through the build-up, the weather forecast looked – and felt – truly wretched.

Yet beyond a light sprinkling in the latter stages of FP1, the day remained very dry, as Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas explained. ‘It was nice that it stayed dry today. All the forecasts said that the rain could affect the running and we could have limited running before qualifying and the race in the dry. But we got our full plan done. In FP1 we were actually ahead of the plan because we were still worried about the weather.’
This was a story that was repeated up and down the paddock. Eventually it wasn’t until just after the final support series action of the day that the rain came, and it is only then that one is reminded that Monza rain can be ferocious.

The kind of downpour that belatedly arrived would have brought out red flags – especially in modern motorsport, where risk and peril is measured on a scale against court-ruled damages.

Meanwhile, back to Valtteri. Having set the fastest time of the day in FP2, the Finn was delighted that his weekend was back on track following a stumble in the opening session. ‘Initially in FP1 we went slightly in the wrong direction with the set-up, but we managed to change it around for FP2 and the car felt a lot better.’ Although this is only practice and that the real meat comes on Saturday and Sunday, Bottas is keen to avoid a repeat of Spa, where anonymity cast him adrift of teammate Lewis Hamilton and championship leader Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari).

Hamilton, meanwhile, was one of the few that enjoyed clean Friday running, so while he may have dropped to 2nd in FP2, Hamilton has been around long enough to know that this is only the small game. ‘It’s been a good day, a clean day,’ he said. ‘We got the running done, we got through our programme with no problems. The car seems nicely balanced here. We just have some work to do to eke out a little bit more performance.’ Like at Spa, the Briton knows rivals Ferrari are close, as the demons of Silverstone was washed away.

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© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER FERRARI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

But Monza is not Spa or Silverstone. It’s ‘lonnnnnng straight; tight chicane; lonnnnnnng curving right-hander; tight chicane; short chute-fast right-short chute-fast right; lonnnnnnnng straight; fast chicane; lonnnnnnnng straight; lonnnnnnng curving right-hander; lonnnnnng straight’ format renders it a very different prospect to almost anything on the calendar today.
This will be, as is common in modern Formula One, the fastest race of the year.

Yet despite closing up on the Mercedes in FP2, Vettel was… unconvinced about Ferrari’s potential, with the German complaining of a lack of stability and balance in the low downforce SF70H machine. ‘Today has been a mixed day and I hope tomorrow is going to be better,’ Vettel said. ‘This afternoon for the first part of the session we mostly used Soft tires, but I am not entirely happy because we had a mixed run with a lot of traffic and the Virtual Safety Car period. Overall, we should have enough data to go through now. If we can improve a couple of things tomorrow, then it should be better.’

And Ferrari do need to be better. Whereas it is generally accepted that Ferrari have shown more muscle at medium-to-slower layouts, Mercedes have been the strongest on faster layouts like Monza, as Vettel admits. ‘Mercedes has been strong here during the last couple of years but we focus on ourselves. We try to improve the car because there’s still a little bit missing and then we’ll start from there.’

While it will be necessary to score high where one is strongest, this championship will likely be decided by a team’s performance at their weakest tracks.
A victory on merit for Vettel and Ferrari at Monza would not only extend his championship lead, but also strike a blow against Mercedes on a layout where they are perceived strongest.

Großer Preis von Italien 2017, Freitag – Steve Etherington. © Daimler AG

FP1 Classification. © FOM

FP2 Classification. © FOM

“The Most Interesting of Times”

This weekend’s Formula One Grand Prix in the Royal Park of Monza will no doubt be an interesting one for followers of the sport.

With Mercedes racer Lewis Hamilton chasing down Sebastian Vettel and his Ferrari, this is the race upon which the 2017 world championship may well spin.

There will be much talk about Mercedes’ decision to introduce their final engine specification of the year, just as the FIA tighten the rules regarding oil burning in the combustion chamber, but that is a discussion for a different time. All that can be said is that the silver-and-turquoise team have played a canny hand, which may deliver the crown.

This Grand Prix will also mark the first time since the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that I have covered Formula One on site. There was no intention for this gap to go for such a long time – indeed, I fully expected to be in Sepang in 2015, but for various reasons, that fell through. It has taken thirty-three months, and I am looking forward to seeing what has changed.

When last in F1, Bernie Ecclestone was still running the show and while materially, very little has changed under the stewardship of Liberty Media – they are very limited in what can be done until various contracts come up for renegotiation – I will be keen to find out if the atmosphere has changed.

Following a rather trying situation with a publisher of very questionable repute come the end of 2014, if it had not been for the help of the wonderful Sam Collins and Andrew Cotton at Racecar Engineering Magazine, it is quite likely that I may have had no choice, but to throw in the towel two years ago.
In the meantime, there has been support from and work with the likes of Kate Walker, Kevin Turner at Autosport and a later foray into televised motorsport commentary with Dave Richardson and Chris Hartley on ITR’s DTM and Formula 3 package. In another turn, I will be making my Super GT commentary debut in October for the series’ penultimate round – alas not from Thailand; that would be too much to ask.
For this, I can only thank all of the above.

Paid work in motorsport can be pretty hard to find and it has pleased me no end that those that have worked with me in the past two-and-a-half years have been fair and I hope that the work supplied has been well received by readers.

This weekend, I will be working with Crash.net to bring coverage of the Italian Grand Prix; hopefully it will an interesting and exciting event – although not too exciting, as a plane home needs to be caught on Sunday night.
These events allow me to earn a reasonable extra amount of extra income – just enough to put money aside for a house deposit in London (!) and make reporting my tax return irritating, but very necessary. Still work needs to be done and I will be back in the office for the daily job at 8am Monday morning.

FIA EUROPEAN FORMULA 3 TECH UPDATE

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© Thomas Suer / FIA European F3 Championship

This piece was initially written in May for a run in a print magazine; however unfortunately was not published at the time. While things have moved on slightly as teams have gathered greater understanding of the aero updates, much of it is still relevant and worthwhile.
Without wishing to get too far ahead, I may soon be able to tell you more about the new-for-2018 Formula 2 car and engine package.

FIA EUROPEAN FORMULA 3 TECH UPDATE (May 2017)
Since our last Formula 3 technical update, there have been numerous sweeping changes to the F3 regulations. As budgets have risen to approximately €700,000-750,000 per season for a top drive (not including the Macau Grand Prix), teams have either struggled to find drivers or have simply resigned altogether.
With the aim of cutting costs, the FIA have outlawed individual windtunnel testing by teams, with the chassis manufacturer completing aero development work and delivering performance updates to the teams. The first result of this update came earlier this year in testing, when Dallara delivered a new package, which included a front wing with new endplates and outer front wing flaps; a new rear wing with an adjusted profile endplates and a new floor and diffuser designed to increase downforce and reduce drag. This has also increased the weight of the car by 15kg.
According to front-running one team principal, ‘the new floor has eased the instability at the rear of the car that the previous version had, making it easier to accelerate out of corners.’ The team boss also felt that this should help the field close up, as the new stability allows “lesser able” competitors find to get on the throttle much quicker on corner exit, with reduced risk of the back end stepping out.

There have also been safety modifications to the Dallara F317. The nose box has been pushed slightly back and the nose itself lowered to prevent cars getting airborne, while the front impact structure has been updated, resulting in an increase of the impact energy absorption by about 25 per cent. In line with Formula One safety regulations, additional secondary U-shaped intrusion panels have been added to the sides and bottom area on the front of the car.
The survival cell of the monocoque has been fitted with additional padding to protect drivers’ legs and wheel tethers have been upgraded to sustain forces of up to 6kJ instead of 4kJ, to further minimise the risk of wheels getting detached from the chassis in case of a crash. There will also now be data sharing between the teams, as the series aims to equalise opportunities for drivers in a category that has been won by a Prema Powerteam pilot every year since 2011.

According to Prema Powerteam racer Callum Ilott, the car which already had a reasonable amount of downforce now has even more. Ilott added, ‘the front wing is more efficient – this is noticeable – particularly this is coming from the end plates, while the new diffuser has improved the car.’
The teenager also noted that the weight increase of the car exaggerates the handling, amplifying the feel of oversteer. Ilott concluded by saying, ‘these are very small changes though – it doesn’t feel like a step change in handling. The effect overall on the car in the feeling is small but it has had the effect of closing the gap between all the teams at this point in the season.’

While the modifications are impressive, there have been some quiet criticisms regarding the cost of the complete update package, with comments that any savings made by windtunnel ban have been largely negated by the additional spend on the performance and safety update kit. The aforementioned team boss told me of a round figure of €45,000 or higher for the new kits, depending on how much a given F3 car needed to be updated. Personnel limits have also been placed on the teams, although it is believed that this likely mostly affected the likes of Hitech GP and to a lesser extent van Amersfoort Racing.
The European Championship has been reduced to five teams running nineteen drivers (as of the season opener at Silverstone) and while there have been rumours that British teams Fortec and T-Sport would re-enter should the right driver with the right budget appear, it is still the smallest field since the European Championship’s rebirth earlier this decade. Alas as it stands, both teams are currently stuck with cars in 2016 chassis configuration in their factory’s.

FIA Formula 3 European Championship 2017, round 4, Hungaroring (HUN)

© Thomas Suer / FIA European F3 Championship

“A Misunderstood Question”

‘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.

“Thoughts on Renault and Jolyon Palmer”

Jolyon Palmer has been on the receiving end of plenty of criticism in 2017, but would replacing him for the remainder of 2017 be in Renault’s best interests?

It wasn’t meant to be quite like this for Jolyon Palmer. Now in his 2nd season in Formula One with the works Renault team, the Englishman is rooted to the bottom of the standings, having not registered a point yet in 2017.

Meanwhile Palmer’s teammate, Nico Hülkenberg, has clocked up 26 scores amidst several impressive runs in the top ten. On the surface, Palmer has been wiped off the table this year and although Renault management have assured the Englishman that his seat is safe for the rest of 2017 – beyond that, Palmer’s future is weak. Palmer needed that reassurance to help bolster confidence, but with each non-score, the threat still lingers.
In the opening half of the year, there was so much comment regarding Palmer’s place in the Renault team, that it is likely to have provided a distraction. With potential suiters lining up to replace him at every Grand Prix, Palmer has been living close to the axe – a situation not helped by the re-emergence of Grand Prix winner Robert Kubica in recent months.

At the beginning of this season, team principal Cyril Abiteboul set a target for 5th in the Constructor’s Championship and following a disastrous season last year – Renault effectively inherited an under-developed 2015 Lotus – the French marque are slowly climbing up the order and currently sit 8th in the standings.
There is little doubt that Palmer – and to a lesser degree Hülkenberg – have been blighted by poor reliability this year, thanks mostly to an evolution of the Renault hybrid engine, which has been quicker but more likely to choke on itself. The nadir came at Silverstone, where for Palmer’s home Grand Prix, a car failure ensure he did not even take the start. Whatever one thinks of his performances, the continued loss of running in a number of practice sessions this year has hampered Palmer’s development.

Yet when he has run, the 2014 GP2 champion has still fallen short of expectations. In Hungary, Palmer qualified a reasonable 11th, but was eight-tenth shy of his teammate. It was a similar gap to Hülkenberg in Silverstone and Montreal, which extended to nine-tenths in Monaco. In Barcelona, Melbourne, Red Bull Ring, Shanghai and Sochi, Palmer never even made it out of Q1, while in Baku he never had an opportunity to run, thanks to a technical issue.

The highlight has been a visit to the top-ten shoot-out in Bahrain, but for both Renault’s, the French marque has struggled to maintain that pace during Grands Prix. That Hülkenberg has still managed to score 26 points is a testament to his heightened level of performance this year.
Yet while Palmer has not delivered close to Hülkenberg’s level, it would have been a mistake to replace the Briton mid-season. Renault’s late return to Formula One for the 2016 means the Enstone-based team is very much in rebuild-mode and at this time, stability – even if it is short-term – is a desirable commodity. But Palmer still needs to score and by providing some stability and putting rumours to bed, the Briton may return after the summer break more at ease.

Kubica’s recent evaluation at the Hungaroring was with 2018 in mind and in their reserve and young driver’s – Oliver Rowland, Nicholas Latifi and Sergei Sirotkin – Renault do not immediately possess an abundance of extraordinary talent that could leapfrog the team further up the table. Earlier this year, there were rumours that Carlos Sainz or Esteban Ocon could move over from Toro Rosso or Force India, but neither of those moves was ever truly on the cards.

At this stage Haas are only three points ahead in 7th, with Toro Rosso and Williams a further ten and thirteen in front respectively. With the (Renault-powered) Toro Rosso hitting something of a development wall and the Ferrari-partnered Haas’ inconsistency, it is not inconceivable that Renault may still snatch 6th as the season winds down and development funds continue to trickle in. Williams, with their Mercedes power unit package, may be more difficult to catch, and good results at fast circuits such as Spa-Francorchamps and Monza (amongst others) may take them beyond Renault’s still frail unit.
Would dropping Palmer for another competitor be enough to make up the deficit? It seems unlikely when one considers the most likely replacements on offer.

As Abiteboul stated at Silverstone, Palmer’s seat is safe for the rest of 2017, but beyond that it is difficult to see where he could end up. Realistically, Palmer is going to have a difficult time finding a race seat in Formula One come the end of this season and he could very well join the lost list of drivers who were good enough to drive Formula One cars, but not good enough to take them to the next level.

By favouring stability in the short term, Renault have made a smart decision for this year, but Palmer may not be starring in their future plans.

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