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“Discussions and Bonding in Departures”

Sometimes more than race circuits, airport departures are the places where tired minds meet, professional bonds created and tales told when race weekends draw to a close. These environs, so often misunderstood and underused, are where the most intriguing stories are woven.

Often in the European Formula 3 Championship, it would not be unusual for large portions of the paddock (in this case, the British-based contingent) to reconvene in varied groups in departures on the Sunday evening of a race weekend, all having devised different routes to the airport, yet still somehow arriving at the same time.

As all wait for the (inevitably delayed) last flight back to Heathrow / Gatwick / Stansted / Luton / etc (take your pick), it becomes oddly comforting to find solid portions of a paddock throw down a long weekend and breathe a little, just enough to pull thoughts into some sort of relatable order. There will be those relaxed bodies, happy with collected silverware, victories, podiums and points and most likely kicking back with a drink of some kind, as they wait to get back to home, partners, children and the inevitable school run.

Naturally there are others who have endured more trying meetings; they’re often twinned with baggier eyes, that have probably sank in the mire of set-up loss and crash damage. In the case of the latter, the race weekend is sometimes the last thing that paddock folk want to talk about, for they have just lived through unfulfilled potential and have little desire to repeat the details.

It reminds me of when Måns Grenhagen drove for Van Amersfoort in 2013. Although touched with occasional speed, Måns crashed a lot and frightened numerous marshals, but nothing came close to his thunderous crash in the wet at Monza, when the Swede became airborne after ramming the rear of Jordan King, before landing on top of Will Buller’s car and settling into a series of barrel rolls.
Grenhagen jumped unharmed from his destroyed Dallara F313 and wandered away from the scene. Running down to the paddock afterward to see how he was, I was surprised to see an upbeat Grenhagen chewing on some fruit and grinning wildly, while one of his mechanics – already bored by the regularity with which the car needed to be repaired – looked on at his driver disapprovingly. In my years in various paddocks, so rarely have I seen such a withering stare. Grenhagen, meanwhile, smiled wildly and prodded me, saying, “Hey man, do you think I will be big on You Tube now?” “Hmmmm…” I thought. “Yes Måns, you’ll be huge…”
By the fourth round, Grenhagen had finally received a race ban when in the opening race at Brands Hatch, he arrived into a double-waved yellow flag zone at full-tilt and with locked, screeching tyres, scattering marshals who were attempting to recover a stricken car from the gravel trap. By the time the series met at Norisring in June, Grenhagen was history.

Back in Departures, there can be much talk about the sessions, the races and incidents therein and developments that have occurred within the team or on the car and particularly if a notable incident occurred. A key moment took place in the lounge at Vienna Airport last September, when the Lando Norris / Ralf Aron crash was relayed over and over again across various smartphones, viewed by drivers, parents and team personnel alike, all of whom huddled over the tiny screens, offering up comments, debate and discussion.

Of course, drivers do like to talk about racing and their competitors and are often quite knowledgeable about other categories of motorsport. For many it’s because they love the sport passionately and take part in lengthy discussions about all that is developing around them. On these occasions, you discover just many racers speak longingly of disciplines such as rallying or endurance racing, although Formula One is not necessarily as big a topic as one might imagine, almost as if that desire to reach the pinnacle of single-seater racing stutters the tongue.

There are, of course, far more mundane subjects up for discussion, such as upcoming geography tests or some foreign language lesson that is coming via the classroom or (more likely) private tutors the following morning. One must not forget that at Formula 3 level, several of these competitors, ranging between sixteen-to-eighteen years – are still to finish secondary school; not that it’s too high on the agenda for drivers. Parents might think differently though.

Occasionally when talking to engineers or team bosses, this is where one is told that “x driver is a real talent”, “y driver is good in this condition” or that s/he “works well under these circumstances”. It’s also where one is sometimes told “z driver is just shit…” The amount of times I have been told the latter…
Engineers hate having their time wasted and when placed with drivers of minimal talent, it can leave team members rather beleaguered and demotivated. Everyone wants to engineer and run a champion; a race winner and podium scorer presents chance and opportunity, while a regular points scorer often offers a platform on which elements can built. A driver whose best pace is 16th is less likely to instil confidence.

Amidst the competition between drivers, engineers and team principals have often been relatively open about the technical developments proudly fashioned onto a respective chassis. That talk has all but gone away now, with nearly every category outside of Formula One cloaked under the shroud of spec formula technical regulations, with thoughts of innovation drowned out by shouts of lowering costs and equal equipment.
If only such a thing worked. I have yet to see a genuinely cost effective single-make series that properly levelled playing fields. Those with endless bags of money always restrict such evenness.

As of next year, the specification formula under F1 becomes official as a single-chassis, single-engine International F3 replaces the GP3 Series and while numerous chassis and engine options will be available for regional F3 categories globally, each region will be bound to choose a single chassis and engine.
This ensures the new Formula 3 will be a reflection of Formula 4, albeit with more bells, whistles and horsepower. The engineers I spoke to were quite vocal about their disappointment in this development, sensing the long term damage that may come due to the trap of exclusivity.

“Thoughts on Henry Hope-Frost”

I am not going to pretend that I knew Henry Hope-Frost in any great way, although we did meet on quite a number of occasions, either at a race track somewhere or at the NEC in Birmingham, particularly during my earlier years in motorsport.

Henry was always a patient, funny and charming. He possessed an infectious vibrancy, especially when it came to cars and racing in general.
During a time earlier in this decade when I was struggling to get things started, he was happy to offer advice and encouraged me to keep pressing on. It was always genuine, never forced or practiced.

In later years, I bumped into him far less frequently, as I concentrated on international racing and consider that a great shame, as his was always humoured and informed company, even if only for a few moments at a time.

My thoughts and condolences naturally go to Henry’s wife Charlotte, three children and the rest of his extended family. They have lost a beloved husband and father, while motorsport has lost a gentleman.

#Fever

“Thoughts on WRC All Live”

Sebastien Ogier (FRA) and Julien Ingrassia (FRA) perform during FIA World Rally Championship 2018 in Monte Carlo, Monaco on 28.01.2018

The début of WRC All Live at last week’s 86th Rally de Monte Carlo showcased a championship willing to take risks with its coverage.

It may have been shaky at times, but it worked and is a step in the right direction.

—-

After a time, there was a notable groan, or a slight sinking in the voice or breath from Becs Williams – lead commentator for WRC Live.

These deep breaths came relatively regularly during the first running of Monte Carlo Rally’s famed Sisteron stage – run in reverse for the first time since the early-80s – when the onboard cameras chopped and slipped froze, before eventually cutting to a rendering of the stage tracking map.

If it was frustrating in the studio, it was equally as frustrating for the viewer and yet at the back of one’s mind, it didn’t matter as much as it should or could have. The future – it seems – is finally here.

The World Rally Championship has for so many years been dogged by poor television or online coverage, while their rally live radio package has excelled. Those years in the doldrums has mostly been characterised by a variety of maladies, such as lack of investment or simple lack of interest. To a degree, the WRC has been a championship that no one quite knew what do with.

With time, the series has found a purpose again. The introduction of live stages a few years ago helped and while this form of coverage has existed in various forms before, rarely was it as polished.
Yet the creation of WRC All Live is something entirely different. Logistically, the project is deeply ambitious and shows a measure of courage and belief on behalf of WRC Promoter. Utilising onboards on each car, a helicopter feed and several stage cameras, directing a constant feed of the stages was always going to be a mammoth task, but the WRC All Live crew managed it – just about.

Come the Friday stages, the dropouts decreased – probably helped by more stable weather conditions – and the turning of the stages gave hosts Kiri Bloore and Jon Desborough more meat to play with, while Molly Pettit, Paul King and Julian Porter added much from the service park.
The exploitation of live pictures from the stages also lifted the commentary significantly. Rather than merely feed listeners information using just tracking maps and split times, Williams, Porter and Colin Clark were able to describe the scenes and situations in a more vibrant manner.

By Saturday, expanded sets of on-screen graphics told more of the story in stage; however if one did not have a live track map to hand, there was little indication as to where a driver was on stage. Losing the radio crew for the live television broadcast stages was a bit jarring, but it is nothing that a better lead-in couldn’t solve.

Was it perfect? Of course not. The expected dropouts and camera cuts were annoying, but hopefully these are merely teething problems and the relative lack of in depth WRC-2 or WRC-3 coverage often meant that the eleven car WRC covered the entirety of the twelve hour broadcasts over the Friday and Saturday.

These are small things however. For a first run, WRC All Live was very impressive and I – and many others – will be keen to see how this develops over the coming events and seasons.

Kris Meeke (GBR), Paul Nagle (IRL) perform during FIA World Rally Championship 2018 in Monte Carlo, Monaco on 27.01.2018

“2017 GP3 Series season review: All About George”


Photo: Zak Mauger/GP3 Series Media Service.

The GP3 Series offered something of a mixed bag in 2017, with a collection of truly wonderful performers and performances.

However, it was difficult to ignore the number of drivers who appeared to be desperately out of their depth.

Live European Formula 3, the GP3 Series has struggled for drivers and teams in recent seasons, but despite a shrinking field (averaging nineteen-to-twenty drivers) the series had plenty to offer up front.

Talented pilots, such as champion George Russell and ART Grand Prix teammates Jack Aitken and Nirei Fukuzumi showcased some superb skill, with the trio taking every ‘Race 1’ victory, apart from the final running in Abu Dhabi.

Despite this, ART Grand Prix were also in a different league – indeed the team have scored every Race 1 pole position since Spain 2016. There is no doubt that ART Grand Prix is a great team, but that level of dominance in a single-make formula is brutal and astonishing, although not completely unheard of.

Giuliano Alesi displayed a decent level of skill up front; taking three wins in the lesser-valued reverse grid ‘Race 2’ events, while Dorian Boccolacci, Alessio Lorandi, Arjun Maini and Raoul Hyman also took Sunday morning honours.

This season also introduced new high degradation tyres to the GP3 format, while the series also utilised DRS for the first time with mixed results – too effective in Barcelona, virtually non-existent at the Red Bull Ring for example.

After a move from F3 to GP3, Russell seemed a bit lost at the season opener in Barcelona, as he struggled to get his head around the GP3/16 Dallara and its new Pirelli tyres, but following a test in the gap between the opening two meetings, the Englishman was on a roll.
Following a win at the Red Bull Ring, Russell hammered home his championship challenge a week later in Silverstone, only for mechanical gremlins to slow his charge at the midway point in Hungary. However two wins and a 2nd place in the three races that followed did much to kill off the challenge from Aitken and Fukuzumi.

The title came in the penultimate round in Jerez, but rather than sit back and take points for the crown, he showed his ruthlessness to twice force his way past Aitken to seal the deal.
Russel scored 220 points out of a possible 384 and was still some 79 points ahead of the next-placed Aitken. That in fourteen races, he only finished outside of the top four on three occasions tels you everything you need to know about his season.

There were times when Aitken was excellent. His Race 1 win at Hungary was superb, whilst his battle with Fukuzumi in Spa and with Russell and Anthoine Hubert in Monza was astonishing in its cleanliness and briliance. Retiring from the season opener with a mechanical issue while in 2nd place killed his opening weekend.
On the other hand one can’t help but think that his sweeping collision on the Kemmel Straight during Spa Race 2 was clumsy; he lacked aggression against Russell in Jerez and endured an anonymous weekend in Abu Dhabi – all of these things helped to nullify his championship challenge.

After a solid debut season in the category last year, Fukuzumi stepped up his performances in 2017 and made his mark with a win and two podiums in the opening two rounds. Yet his title aspirations died almost as quickly with a non-score in Silverstone and a retirement in Hungary, followed by a non-start from pole in Monza. Victory in Jerez offered him an opportunity to take the runner-up spot from Aitken, but Fukuzumi fell short in the finale.

Hubert was the only ART Grand Prix driver to not win a race, but he still made it 4th in the standinsg through sheer will and consistency. The French driver is not the most monied of racer’s and performed well despite being 4th of the four at the French squad. If he can turn that consistency into race wins in 2018, he could be a good shout for title honours.

On paper, Alesi is recorded to have taken three GP3 wins in 2017, yet the fact that they were all reverse grid races takes a huge shine off of them. Of them all, his performance at Spa was a masterstroke – holding a quick pace out front, while maintaining enough tyre life to keep Russell at bay was wonderful to watch, but when these successes come about due to indifferent performances in qualifying and Race 1, then it is somewhat less impressive.

Boccolacci moved to GP3 having stepped back from F3 to Formula Renault 2.0 litres in 2016 and one wonders how much the French teen is taking in. The Trident racer may have won the reverse grid finale in Abu Dhabi in great style and will be remembered for his inspired pass on Aitken through Copse at Silverstone, but in Austria he was lost out when caught napping as the virtual sfaety car ended in Race 1 and then was involved in a supid and violent crash with Lorandi the following morning. His apparent struggles with making the Pirelli’s last often killed his pace three-quarters through Race 1, too often rendering his challenge mute.
Former Pau Grand Prix winner Lorandi, meanwhile, started the season well with three podiums in the opneing three rounds – and then dropped off the face of the earth for the next three meetings. The Italian took a smart reverse grid win at Jerez, only to dullen his reputation with a silly, misjudged collision with Stein Schothorst in Abu Dhabi.

Ryan Tveter (Trident) did well to score three reverse grid podiums to secure 8th in the series, but beyond that rarely looked like escaping the midfield mire, while Arjun Maini (Jenzer) scored a well crafted reverse grid win in Barcelona and then settled into the role of consistent low-points scorer until a late podium elevated his position somewhat. It is quite incredible that Maini didn’t get a black and orange flag at Monza when his rear wing was collapsing and spewing debris for several laps – how Maini did not pit of his own accord is beyond me.
It is difficult to class Niko Kari’s season. From a dire start to mid-season consistency to becoming the only non-ART Grand Prix driver to win a ‘Race 1’ in the season. Amidst this, he misjudged the VSC restart in Silverstone, stupidly took out Dan Ticktum in Jerez Race 2, before doing the same to teammate Schothorst in Abu Dhabi. His sole defensive ability and knowledge amounts to violently chopping across the front of rivals at the circuit, including squeezing a competitor off the road on the Kemmel Straight. Kari has speed, but he is also an accident waiting to happen and it was no surprise that Red Bull cut their ties with him.

Ticktum did very well in his few short appearances and in Abu Dhabi became DAMS sole podium scorer, despite a penalty. Kevin Jörg took a nice reverse grid podium at Silverstone, but rarely troubled the siginificant positions beyond that, while Raoul Hyman’s reverse grid win at the Red Bull Ring was a single high-point in what was a poor season for the South African.
Leo Pulcini drove superbly to take a podium in the opener in Barcelona, but then scored no points for the rest of the season, apart from two for setting the fastest lap in Hungary. The Italian was so unfortunate to lose 3rd place in Abu Dhabi Race 1 through a puncture, but other than that, the only time his presence was noted was when he crashed over and onto the top of Lorandi at Monza.

Beyond Pulcini, many of the remaining full-season entries were utterly anonymous. Bruno Baptista gets desperate when things aren’t going his way and his two accidents with DAMS teammate Tatiana Calderon at Spa and Abu Dhabi could have easily avoided by both. Amidst this, Baptista was lucky not to seriously injure his back when airborne at Red Bull Ring; had a wheel-to-wheel banging session with Kari at Silverstone, while his unwillingness to give places back to Maini and Kari after skipping a chicane in Abu Dhabi was dimwitted. Calderon had a pretty awful year, although the nadir came at both the Silverstone and Spa weekends.
Santino Ferrucci gave up the DAMS ghost after three meetings and moved (prematurely) to Formula 2, with Matthieu Vaxivière and Ticktum filling his seat.

Lastly, the inability of large portions of the field to handle racing at Monza was utterly shameful. For their petulant efforts Kari, Marcos Siebert and Schothorst should probably think about new careers after their respective performances in that round, while Juan Manuel Correa should have had his racing licence ripped up on the spot.

Photo: Zak Mauger/GP3 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _56I2189

“Evening Time at the Red Bull Ring”

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© Leigh O’Gorman

The drawing sun at the Red Bull Ring can be unwittingly pretty. As it pours over the distant hills and valleys and pirouettes the grandstand, a sullen dusk draws.

There’s still plenty of noise, however, as in the background, drills spin and tools clang, as teams prepare for the next day.

For this particular DTM Saturday, it was all a little quieter than usual. Mercedes and BMW had been thoroughly trounced and team orders at Audi ensured Mattias Ekstrom rose through the field to win with ease, with Jamie Green gifting his Swedish teammate the victory on the final lap.

There were precious few celebrations following this folly, but the sunset removed some of the ill-feeling of the day.

“Defining the Message”

It may seem obvious, but while working to dig out developing stories, a rather significant proportion of motorsport journalism revolves information fed to us through various press officers.

Much of this is quite mundane stuff and are for the most part session reports with quotes, the announcement of new sponsors or a declaration that one is joining a team/series for the following season.

In the case of a driver, the press release will, in theory, do its best to promote the qualifications of said racer, followed by an excitable quote that normally tells of how they have always wanted to tackle said series and are looking forward to the challenge ahead. All well and good. All well and expected, but in the grand scheme of things, these are rarely headline breaking stories, but still informative enough to bank either way.

For some drivers, there is precious little need to dig deep to outline their qualifications – Lando Norris’ record, for example, speaks for itself. When a press release from Ralph Boschung’s team arrived this morning (Friday, November 17th), I could only raise an eyebrow.
If one is to be brutally fair, Boschung is a solid, if unspectacular driver. He has score three points finishes so far in this year’s FIA Formula 2 Championship with Campos Racing and is 19th in points, but the Swiss driver split with the team following the penultimate round at Jerez. Realistically, I am unsure how much more is expected of Boschung – if he were to stay in Formula 2 for another season, he would potentially fare a little better, but it is unlike that Boschung will set the world alight and I doubt that will ever change to any great detail.

But… a press officer still needs to sell it and when you need to grab things to bolster your subject, you do so with gusto. If you are lucky, the journalist writing the story will knock a piece out without thinking anything about it – that is quite poor practice, but increasingly common at a time when all news counts all of the time and research merely is seconds lost to the clock.
According to the press release, “[Boschung had] an impressive maiden FIA Formula 2 Championship season – in which he scored a pole position and three points finishes…” As I have already referred to the points finishes already (two 8th‘s and a 9th), I will leave them at that; however I could only smile at the concept of his scoring a pole position.
In one sense, Boschung did just that. He scored a pole position at Baku in June… for the reverse grid Sprint Race. Having come home 8th on the Saturday, the top eight finishers were reversed for the next morning’s reverse grid race and thus Boschung “scored a pole position.” It’s clearly spin, but the one of the main jobs of a press release is to sell you as positive a story that’s possible.

But what happens when the message gets confused, lost in translation or only partially translated?

An important part of what a journalist does is decipher the conversations one enjoys with those within the paddock. For example, if I were to ask a leading member of the DTM paddock whether they feel the Super GT-based GT500 teams will have an advantage should the Class One regulations (aerodynamic, chassis and engine) be approved for the 2019 season, then he might say “no”, because the Class One regulations have not been enacted yet and therefore no one has the advantage, as the ruleset does not yet exist in competition.
Yet GT500 is running to Class One regulations – albeit a version of Class One regulations that have yet to be ratified – and has been since 2014.While the chassis regulations are relatively close to what DTM currently utilise, the GT500 manufacturers will have had five full seasons of running what many believe will be the make-up of the Class One engines, but it still is not Class One.
It could then be argued – rightly – that the question was wrong and in that one would be right (that the question is wrong). If one asked if the GT500 teams had an advantage due to their exploitation of the proposed GT500 framework regulations, then the answer from the DTM senior member might be different. Senior members of teams, particularly manufacturers, are media trained and will know how to deflect questions if needed, particularly if the question itself has a narrow definition.

It is not inconceivable that one will occasionally be sought out, in order to have a very deliberate conversation. Sometimes that conversation might start naturally; mostly though the party could also wait for you to merely open the subject, offering up the opportunity for them to get a view across and ultimately make a statement.
Recently during a meeting with two very senior members of the European Formula 3 paddock, I was informed that during a conference, a very senior individual in the Formula One community mentioned that “Formula 3 should be about entertainment and low costs” and that “driver development is not a key priority.” Upon contacting the office of the individual, his communications officer informed me that this comment was “made during a private chat and extrapolated out of its proper context, therefore […] cannot attribute it on the record…”
Not exactly the strongest of rebuttals admittedly. Alas the message from the Formula 3 personnel was delivered, digested and coded and my return query was – to a degree – responded too as well.
As a philosophical aside, this raises the question as to whether the very concept of junior categories in their original sense is now null and void, instead limiting the likes of Formula 3 to be merely support categories for your entertainment and drivers bish, bash, bosh and DRS-pass their way up reverse grid orders. This meeting in the paddock served to remind me of a rather tongue-in-cheek comment from a former colleague a few years ago as we pulled into the car park at Rockingham to cover a British F3 round. “If these championships were serious about driver development, then these races would be taking place on a Tuesday afternoon behind closed doors and without television cameras, followed by some sort of tuition…”

The conversation with Formula 3 members also turned to disappointing news that Formula 3 will officially become a spec category from 2019, when it more or less replaces GP3 in all but name and car. The pairing lamented how drivers are learning less and less in these junior categories, while Formula One continues to accelerate development at a rate never before witnessed. There were mentions of how the spec cars become more expensive due to the part restrictions placed in the regulations.
It was cited, for example, the cost of a new carbon fibre front wing, should even an endplate become damaged; the purchase of which could only be made from the manufacturer, as per the regulations. In theory, a new front wing could come to over £1,000, whereas the team have in their factory the people, tools and materials to construct the spare part for approximately one-quarter of the price, albeit from aluminium. Which as an aside, makes one question why the extremities of a Formula 3 car “need” to be constructed from carbon fibre at all?

Press releases, conversations and the deeper meanings of the messages are usually coded in some respect, and this is a hugely important pieces of journalism and storytelling and if one does not extrapolate, attempt to decipher the code or look through the epic bullshit, then one is merely spewing crap.

“F1: A five-star Hamilton victory, as Vettel blows it”

Großer Preis von Singapur 2017, Sonntag – Steve Etherington

Lewis Hamilton came through from 5th on the grid to win the Singapore Grand Prix yesterday, but it required some luck, skill and a start line crash that took out three of the top four qualifiers.

In a race peppered with safety car periods, Daniel Ricciardo drove well to score a podium in his ailing Red Bull, while Valtteri Bottas made it two Mercedes’ on the podium, with a quiet drive to 3rd.

‘What a day – I can’t believe it, I’m so happy! I came in today and I saw that I was raining and I knew that this balances everything out. I love racing in the rain, then everything unfolded in the beginning.’

That’s one way to put it. Realistically, Mercedes were nowhere for much of this weekend. Their pace was weak compared to the Ferrari’s and Red Bull’s – a facet fully exposed in qualifying – and yet a mistake by Ferrari poleman Sebastian Vettel initiated a start crash that took Vettel, his teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen out of the running instantly. But, oh, what a mistake!

With rain having fallen in the hour leading up to the green light, parts of the track were sodden, while other sections were merely wet, but liveable. Thankfully, there was no call for a safety car start, although Haas’ Romain Grosjean did get in a lively moan on the warm-up lap, but that is not completely unexpected.

As the lights counted up and flashed off, wheel spinning away from the line, Vettel saw Verstappen coming on the inside, but missed Raikkonen’s blistering start on the inside of both of them. ‘I had an average start and then I moved slightly to the left trying to defend my position from Max,’ said a disappointed Vettel.
Raikkonen’s ace start mixed with Vettel’s swerve to the left only served to squeeze the helpless Verstappen and the trio pinballed off of each other, with Verstappen and Raikkonen clashing and Vettel and taking another hit as the crash unfolded. The Finn was phlegmatic as always: ‘I don’t think I could have really done anything differently to avoid it, apart from doing a bad start and not being there,’ Raikkonen said flatly afterward. Had all gone to plan, it should have been a Ferrari 1-2 going into turn one.

Although one could point the finger of blame at Vettel, it was a racing incident and no additional sanction was declared or deserved. In the eyes of Ferrari and Vettel, Hamilton taking the lead was sanction enough.Verstappen, meanwhile, was a touch more blunt about the outcome. ‘My start was a little bit better than [Vettel’s] and I think he saw that so he tried to move to the left to squeeze me out of the line a bit but he did not know Kimi was on my other side.
‘I think it wasn’t the smartest move and you can’t make excuses for it when you are fighting for a world championship. Kimi had a great start and was alongside me very quickly, I didn’t try and defend that as I knew it would be a long race, he then started to squeeze me also, at which point there wasn’t a lot I could do.’

GP SINGAPORE F1/2017
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER FERRARI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

In the middle of all the start melee, McLaren racer Fernando Alonso had made a very good start and had jumped from 8th to 3rd, having missed much of the initial carnage, only to be pummelled by the spinning Raikkonen and Verstappen as he negotiated the first bend. ‘I wasn’t aware of what was happening on the inside,’ Alonso said. ‘All I know is that at Turn One some cars crashed and hit us. In that situation, you are just a passenger, there’s nothing you can do.’ Alonso continued for a time, but in the end eight laps was all he could muster, as damage to his ailing MCL32 ended his day prematurely.

Aside from the crash, a good start by Hamilton allowed him to jump the slow-moving Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) and when the recovering Vettel spun again on the straight exiting turn three – leaving Vettel facing oncoming traffic – the lead belonged to the Englishman as the safety car was called.
Such was the mesh of carbon fibre through the opening chicane, the field was brought through the pitlane until the restart on lap six and from there, it did not take much for Hamilton to draw away from Ricciardo. It was an element that surprised the Mercedes leader somewhat. ‘Starting on the Intermediates I thought it was going to be much closer pace-wise. These conditions give you the opportunity to really make a difference with your driving.’

The Red Bull’s had been expected to do well; however Ricciardo’s RB13 began losing oil pressure from the gearbox early doors, rendering his charge null and void. In theory, the slow start didn’t help Ricciardo’s cause, but the Australian was – for once – thankful for the poor getaway. ‘My start was quite slow off the line. In hindsight probably a good thing, because it allowed the chaos to unfold in front of me.’
The gap grew slowly – Ricciardo’s mechanical issues served to dampen Hamilton’s own handling issues at a Marina Bay circuit, with the lead growing to just 5.1s when the second safety car was called – this time for Daniil Kvyat, who planted his Toro Rosso in the barrier only a turn after passing Magnussen. ‘Unfortunately I made a mistake and missed a good opportunity of scoring a good result today. I managed to overtake Magnussen and straight after that I locked my front wheel and went straight into the wall…’
Ricciardo pitted, but Hamilton, his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso), Lance Stroll (Williams) and Grosjean all stayed out – all of whom having started on inters.
Interestingly, having run 3rd and 5th in the early running, both Renault’s of Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer decided to stay out an extra lap before swapping their wet Pirelli’s for intermediates. The delay dropped both to 5th and 7th respectively, with Bottas climbing to 3rd, ahead of the impressive Sainz (4th), with Sergio Perez (Force India) running 6th.

Upon the restart on lap 15, Hamilton again pulled away from Ricciardo, only this time the rate was less emphatic. With the track drying very slowly, the Mercedes runner made the best of the damp and greasy conditions and was almost immediately lapping in the 2’01s range while those behind remained in the 2’02s-2’04s range.
Building a gap to Ricciardo, Hamilton was giving the Formula One field a masterclass performance. Come the halfway mark, the three-time champion became the first man to break the two-minute barrier and repeated this feat a few more occasions when he stopped to change from inters to Pirelli’s ultra-soft tyres on lap 29. Ricciardo and Bottas had actually done the same on lap 28, while Sainz swapped over to super-softs on lap 27. Felipe Massa (Williams) and Kevin Magnussen (Haas) had got the ball rolling on lap 24, although arguably this was a touch early.
At first, Ricciardo made the best of the ultra-softs and took a modicum of time out of Hamilton’s lead. The only problem was, Hamilton was still over 9s down the road and it would require more than a tenth-or-two per lap to make any significant difference to the lead.

Only the race hit another bump in the road when Marcus Ericsson binned his unforgiving Sauber while entering the Anderson Bridge. The crash itself was minor, but the Swede’s awkward finishing position ensured a tow vehicle was required to move the Ferrari-powered Sauber.
For Ericsson, the incident was the result of a double-whammy, beginning on lap 27, when he pitted and changed to the Pirelli soft tyres – the slowest tyres on offer for the weekend. The stop was not a pretty one and Ericsson lost 20s in the pits, before stopping again four tours later to change to ultra-softs. ‘I was pushing hard to make up for lost time, and went a bit over the limit,’ said Ericsson, sheepishly adding,‘Unfortunately, that caused me to spin out of the race.’

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© Red Bull Content Pool

The final restart came on lap 42 and, as before, Hamilton eased himself away from Ricciardo, who was now under threat from a resurgent Bottas. The race leader was urged by the pitwall not to pull too much of a gap, lest he bring Ricciardo and Bottas with him and create a gap for them to fall into to allow for a late tyre change should another safety car period come to play. But it was not necessary.

Hamilton opened up the gap to Ricciardo again and was comfortable in doing so, building a 4.5s lead come the flag, securing his third consecutive win in the process. At a venue where the Anglo-German squad were expecting the worst, the race incredibly fell into Hamilton and Mercedes’ lap, gifting the Englishman a 28-point lead thanks to Vettel’s non-score. ‘We came to a track that was potentially our weakest circuit and we leave with a win like this and so many points – that’s a very fortunate scenario for us.
‘It was the first time for all of us driving here in the rain, so it was a massive challenge. But I love that when you have to rise to the toughest of challenges, that’s the most exciting part for me. Then it was all about staying focused and not making any mistakes.’
Despite this, one can’t help but wonder how much more Hamilton had available to him had he been under real pressure. From nowhere, he scored the fastest race lap – a 1:45.008s – three tours from the end, setting a time that was almost a second faster than what he had been registering up until that moment. Satisfied, he dropped back to his “normal” pace to the chequered flag.

For Ricciardo, the eighteen-points for 2nd place gave the Australian a welcome gap over Raikkonen in the Driver’s Championship, but considering the pace the Red Bull’s showed over Friday and Saturday, it was not difficult to understand if he were deflated. ‘Normally I’m happy with a podium; obviously it’s great. It’s more that we didn’t have the pace that we showed on Friday in the long run,’ said the Red Bull man. ‘Then in the first few laps I felt we were okay in the wet but then I felt we were a bit harsh on the tyres. Even when we pitted and had fresher tyres, we couldn’t really make an impact on Lewis.’
The subtle loss of oil pressure added another element to his race, but as Ricciardo noted, when it came to the rain, the playing field was levelled. ‘The rain made it all pretty hectic today. Everyone was in the same boat though and we hadn’t driven in the wet here before so it’s all about switching on early, being aware of the situation and trying to adapt as quick as you can. Of course I came here to win and really wanted it, but second place is great and I’m not going to complain about it.’

Großer Preis von Singapur 2017, Sonntag – Wolfgang Wilhelm

After a brief surge, Bottas fell backwards again in the later laps, but the Finn had more than enough of a gap ahead of Sainz to not worry too much about the Spaniard. It was a curious performance from Bottas, who appeared to be a geniune threat up until the summer break, but who has fallen by the wayside in the races since.
Scoring his 10th podium of the year, Bottas acknowledged that his Mercedes W08 felt better in the dry conditions that came later in the race, but the early wet laps were tricky. He was fortunate in one sense – a bad start was softened by the Vettel / Verstappen / Raikkonen clash, but from 6th on the grid, Bottas was passed by Hulkenbeg and Perez, while Palmer got by on the lap six restart. ‘Our approach today, it was all about damage-limitation. I think this was pretty good damage limitation today, so we can be quite happy about that.’
Staying rewarded Bottas, but beyond that, it was not a weekend to shout about.

One driver who had plenty to celebrate was Sainz. The Toro Rosso man ran 9th in the early laps, with a bold lap nine pass on Esteban Ocon gifting another position. There is some irony that it was the crash by teammate Kvyat that helped propel Sainz up the order – as with Bottas, staying out proved a worthwhile tactic that gained him four positions in one swoop. Thankfully for Sainz, such was the lack of heavy tyre degradation, he found ample grid against those behind, despite running on older rubber.
The move to supersofts meant his pace was slower than the chasing Perez; however Sainz had just enough speed to solidify the position and keep the Mexican at bay, to score his best finish in Formula One. ‘I have to say that the most difficult part of the race for me was the start of my stint on the supersoft – it was not easy at all! From then onwards it was all about defending from [Perez], who had been faster than us on Friday and also was on ultras! It was very difficult to keep him behind, looking in my mirrors the whole time, but in the end we did it!’
A very worthy effort.

Perez eventually came home 5th, just 2.6s shy of Sainz. It had a brilliant start by the Force India racer, who jumped from 12th to 4th amidst the festival of carbon fibre on the opening lap. Pitting at the second safety car period cost Perez positions to Bottas and Sainz, but the Mercedes-powered racer pressed hard thereafter, but could do nothing about Sainz ahead.
Perez’ 6th place became 5th when Hulkenberg pitted with an oil leak on lap 38 – an issue that would cause the Renault’s retirement nine laps later. Having run 3rd in the early laps, it was a great shame for Hulkenberg who finally like breaking his 128-race run without a podium – this result now makes the German the driver who has competed the most races without a podium in Formula One history. ‘It was a very disappointing race, you put in a lot of hard work throughout the weekend and then these things happen,’ a disappointed Hulkenberg said. ‘It’s not great but it is a technical sport and a team sport. Unfortunately we had some technical issues with the engine and we had to retire the car.’

Jolyon Palmer (GBR) Renault Sport F1 Team RS17.
Singapore Grand Prix, Sunday 17th September 2017. Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore.

There were celebrations on the other side of the garage when Jolyon Palmer – finally – picked up his first points of the season with a fine drive to 6th place. It is a good response from Palmer, whom was confirmed to be dropped by Renault last week. ‘I’m so happy, it’s been a long time coming but today everything fell into place. It was a tricky race with the drama at the start and the heavy rain but the circumstances put us in a good place to score some points,’ commented the clearly delighted Englishman.

Stoffel Vandoorne drove another excellent race to 7th place in the McLaren-Honda. The Belgian’s race was compromised slightly after he ran over debris on the first lap and then further still when he lost nine seconds during his second pitstop, costing him a place to Palmer.
Stroll secured four points for Williams with a solid drive to 8th place, despite starting a lowly 18th. Pre-race, Williams split their driver strategies with Stroll beginning on inters and Massa starting on wets – a strategy that worked best for the Canadian teen.
Romain Grosjean took 9th place for Haas. The French/Swiss racer enjoyed a brief battle with Stroll and later Ocon, the latter of whom would finish 10th to round out the point scorers.

Felipe Massa endured a poor day with three stops that hampered his race – he came home 11th. From wets, the Brazilian left it too long and stayed out until lap 17, before pitting for inters, only swap to new ultra-softs seven tours later. Massa stopped again for ultra-softs on lap 38, before taking his Williams machine home.
Massa finished just one place ahead of the final runner, Pascal Wehrlein (Sauber), who ended the Singapore Grand Prix two laps adrift of the winner. Like Massa, Wherlein started on wets, but inexplicably, was brought in for new wets on lap two and then left on aging rubber until lap 21. Thereafter he managed seven laps on interes, before pitting for ultra-softs on lap 28 and then doing the same again nine tours later.
On a day where some of the big names were taken clean out of the race, there is an opportunity for the midfield and lower runner to take some significant points, but strategic thinking needs to be pinpoint accurate. On Sunday, this did not come to pass for the Swiss squad.

The pre-race formbook said that Mercedes would take some punishment at Marina Bay, yet the opposite happened. Vettel’s startline implosion opened the door up for a dominant Hamilton run to the flag and instead of retaking the lead, the Ferrari racer dropped 28 points behind the Briton, while Mercedes opened up a 102 point lead in the Constructor’s Championship.
This was a disastrous day for Ferrari and the glum faces on TV said everything.

Großer Preis von Singapur 2017, Sonntag – Wolfgang Wilhelm

“F1: Hamilton takes championship lead with emphatic victory”

2017 Italian Grand Prix, Sunday - Steve Etherington

Mercedes racer Lewis Hamilton scored an emphatic victory at the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday, taking with it the championship lead over Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel.

Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas came home 2nd to make it a Mercedes 1-2 finish, while Vettel completed the podium.

‘This is obviously an incredibly exciting season; the last two races have been really strong for us as a team. The way things have come together in the second half of the season is exceptional.’ And so it was. The victory – the 59th of Lewis Hamilton’s Formula One career – was never in doubt.

Admittedly his start wasn’t perfect and it trapped fellow front row starter Lance Stroll (Williams) slightly, just enough to allow Force India’s Esteban Ocon through into 2nd, demoting Stroll to 3rd. But Hamilton himself was never under threat. As those behind squabbled for position, the Briton eased away and looked untroubled thereafter as he drew away.

It only took until the fourth tour for Bottas to climb to 2nd place, but the task was not completely straightforward. ‘The start was quite poor for me, just a lot of wheelspin.’ The Finn enjoyed a brief, but fantastic dual with Kimi Raikkonen having lost a spot to the Ferrari-man off the line. This culminated in a wonderful overtake by Bottas around the outside of Parabolica, before Raikkonen fought back, with Bottas solidifying the deal soon thereafter. He continued, ‘One of the Ferraris got ahead and I had to get him first, which was normally going to be the difficult part and the most important part for us today. But also then pretty quickly got to P2, which was good.’ Taking Stroll and Ocon was less stressful, but by this point Hamilton was already 3.3s up the road.

For a time, the Mercedes duo swapped fastest laps, showcasing their domination of the class, although one wonders just how far the power unit at the back of the W08 was truly pushed. Team boss Toto Wolff was keen to emphasise that his drivers were keeping it sensible. ‘We were looking at the damage matrix and were trying to find a sensible way of letting them race, while not damaging the engine,’ he said in the Mercedes motorhome after the race.
Hamilton had built a gap of 3.6s on lap, before Bottas pulled it back to 2.7s within a few tours, before Hamilton drew away again. The gap toed-and-froed and was never greater than 5.07s, although this only occurred as the leading pair lapped backmarkers for the first time.

The lead had stabilised at around 4.5s by the time Hamilton pitted on lap 32, to change from his super-soft Pirelli’s to the softs, with Bottas doing the same a lap later – it would be the only time in the race that lead swapped hands – but such was the smoothness of the Monza Autodrom, tyre degradation was not a factor. ‘The car felt fantastic, particularly on that first stint. As we had a bit of breathing room behind us, it was easier for us to extend the life of the tyres,’ said the race leader. With the stops out of the way, Bottas charged again, but this race was always going to be Hamilton’s.

The Mercedes duo ticked off the remaining twenty laps with relative ease; Hamilton securing the win ahead of Bottas by 4.4s, and securing twenty-five points and the championship lead in the process. It ensured the Briton also became the first back-to-back winner of the season. ‘Today the car was fantastic and really a dream to drive. I think it’s all just to do with the team pulling together and trying to maximizing everything on the car and Valtteri and myself really trying to do the best job we can with the car.’ Yet as the European leg of the season draws to a close, Hamilton knows the battle will be tougher in Singapore. ‘The fight will continue, the Ferrari’s have been really quick this season, especially on the high-downforce tracks. It will continue to be really close between us, so it will be ‘ beast mode’ all the way to the last chequered flag.’

Bottas, meanwhile, seemed quite happy to have finished 2nd, considering his early dramas with Raikkonen. Yet while describing the virtues of the W08 machine, one couldn’t help but sense a slight hesitation, as – maybe – deep down he knows his championship shot has gone. ‘The car was so well balanced today and so strong. For sure we were quick in a straight line, but this weekend also we were really quick in every corner of the track,’ noted Bottas. ‘I think we just found a different kind of stability this weekend that we haven’t found before. We had a perfect result; Lewis won, so well done for that, me 2nd is great for us, but now it’s whether we can learn from this weekend what we need to and be strong again in Singapore…’

2017 Italian Grand Prix, Sunday - Wolfgang Wilhelm

© Daimler AG

Where Hamilton pulled away from the start, the scene in his mirrors was far more tense. Following a slow start from the front row, Stroll dropped behind Ocon, before being swarmed by Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari). Stroll briefly held his own in 3rd place, only Bottas to slip by on lap three, with Vettel – having eased past Raikkonen – following two laps later.
Ocon, too, would succumb to Vettel’s charge, but despite the championship being very much on the line, the German was unconcerned about pressing his quick, but inexperienced rivals. ‘I knew that I had to get past quickly […], but I think Lance knew we had stronger pace, so he was quite fair,’ Vettel said of the Williams rookie; however the Ferrari man was conscious the Ocon would prove a more aggressive challenge, with Vettel passing on lap eight. ‘Esteban tried to cover a bit more but I had a very good run out of the last corner so for me it was clear I would get past and I just had to choose left or right and I just wanted to make sure, so that’s why I dived down the inside.’

By then, Vettel had already lost over 9s to the lead, but even then in clear air, the Ferrari’s pace fell well shy of the leading Mercedes’. Whereas Hamilton was clearing laps in the early 1’25s, Vettel was routinely some six-tenths or so slower and as the fuel diminished, the pace increased, but the gap in pace remained. And at their home event, Ferrari had no answer. It was only at the end of his tyre stint did Hamilton’s pace edge toward what Vettel was managing, but when the Scuderia brought Vettel to the pits on lap 31, Hamilton had already built a pitstop’s worth of an advantage.
The Ferrari situated was exasperated somewhat when Vettel had a slight off at the Rettifilo with twenty lap remaining, with Vettel claiming that he was struggling thereafter. ‘I went off in Turn 1 and I think something broke in the car. The left-hand side of the steering was a bit down and I couldn’t trust the car, especially on braking and it’s a braking track. So the last laps I don’t think they showed the pace we could have gone.’ But if one is to honest, the race was a distant ghost long before this… Vettel would eventually finished 36.3s behind Hamilton, at the most Ferrari of tracks. This was more a slaughter than mere defeat…

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© Ferrari F1 Media Site

If the Ferrari-man had nothing for the pair up the road, he certainly had to turn it on to keep Daniel Ricciardo at bay. Starting 16th due to power unit penalties, the Australian made quick work of the lower-midfield runner and had climbed to 12th place by lap four. In the following tours, he picked off Nico Hulkenberg (Renault), Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) and Kevin Magnussen (Haas), before settling into a catch-up game with Sergio Perez (Force India).
Interestingly Ricciardo simply had the better pace over his Mercedes-engined rival and drew to the back of Perez by lap 12 and passing the Mexican six tours later. He was doing the same to Williams’ Felipe Massa and Stroll, when both eventually removed themselves to the pits, gifting Ricciardo some precious free air and chasing Vettel.
This would be critical of course. Having started on Pirelli softs, the Red Bull racer was going for a long first stint and time in clear air clocking fast laps was time well spent. Solid points was a target, but with a change to super softs coming on lap 37, was a podium possible..? When Vettel did stop, Ricciardo kept up his charge, with laps remaining in the mid-1’25s, knowing that Vettel’s fresh tyre pace would be strong as well.
Once both had changed, the gap had extended to 17s, but then there was Vettel’s little off and over 3s went missing. Suddenly Ricciardo was catching quickly as Vettel’s pace fell away… ‘Some good overtakes in the race kept me excited and I had some real pace in the end. I could see Seb and the thought of a podium was tempting me, so I was obviously trying to catch him right up to the end.’

For each tour that passed, the Red Bull closed by just under a second and it was looking close, until Vettel raised the bar in the final four laps. Considering that Ricciardo had originally qualified 3rd before his penalty, one might think the Australian would be aggrieved with his final outcome, but he remained upbeat with 4th. ‘We couldn’t have done much more from where we started. Of course I wanted to be up there on the podium as it looked unreal, but I believe it will come next year. Today has been a really good boost for everyone.’

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© Ferrari F1 Media Site

Raikkonen concluded what could be bets described a s a quiet run to 5th. The Finn struggled for balance throughout the entire weekend and simply never looked at one with the Ferrari. ‘Most of the time we were lacking the grip and the pace. It was not an easy weekend, we were fighting in all conditions, in the dry and even more in the wet. This is something that we have to fix for these kinds of circuit.’

Ocon and Stroll expected to fall down the order and so fell to 6th and 7th respectively, with Massa and Perez just behind. It had been a feisty encounter for the Ocon/Stroll/Massa trio, who spent much of the event covered by less than 2s, although one wonders just how much Massa was really challenging his younger teammate.
There was tension late on when in an effort to keep the charging Perez at bay, Massa took some rather odd and aggressive lines into the Rettifilo and Roggia chicanes in order to create a roadblock and keep Perez in 9th. There were other dramas too – Massa and Perez also had minor contact early on, with Massa also clattering with Verstappen, as the Dutchman attempted to surge up the order. Perez then lost time with a slow pitstop, as did Stroll.
Verstappen rounded out the point-scorers, after he took Magnussen for 10th on lap 46. It was a trying day for the Red Bull man, who pitted for super softs on lap 3, after the clash with Massa gave him a puncture. Verstappen spent much of the first half of the race playing catch up at the back of the field, but began to make up time and positions when pitted for more super-softs on lap 27. Verstappen’s second-half push was impressive, as he took Romain Grosjean (Haas), Fernando Alonso (McLaren), Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso), Hulkenberg and Kvyat, before turning his attention to Magnussen.

GP ITALIA F1/2017

© Ferrari F1 Media Site

It made Magnussen the first of the non-scorers, after his almost race long fight with Kvyat and Hulkenberg came to naught. A difficult weekend for Toro Rosso was completed when Sainz could do no better than 14th, while Grosjean crossed the finish line in 15th. Wehrlein was the final finisher in 16th, although both Alonso and Marcus Ericsson were both classified, despite retiring in the final few tours.
Stoffel Vandoorne retired with a power unit issue on lap 33 after an impressive run and Jolyon Palmer was the first retiree on lap 29 with a transmission issue, but not before receiving a drive through penalty for taking an unfair track advantage when battling with Alonso early on.

The Italian Grand Prix was not a stellar one, but rather a pivotal one. Mercedes’ pace was ominous and if this advantage carries through to Singapore, then Ferrari and Vettel will find themselves in trouble very quickly. But then there’s Ferrari’s new engine…

2017 Italian Grand Prix, Sunday - Wolfgang Wilhelm

© Daimler AG

f1 result monza

FOM

“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

“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.

GP ITALIA F1/2017
© 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

2017-FIA-F3-06-Suer-2917

© 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.

“Vettel blurs the line in the sand”

Just like at an FIA GT World Championship qualifying race at Silverstone in 2011, Sebastian Vettel showed why hot-headedness, a racing car and hand gestures are not common or advised behaviour in top-level motorsport.

In the Silverstone situation, an angry Stefan Mücke (Young Driver Aston Martin) – recovering after a clash with JRM Nissan’s Richard Westbrook – drew alongside Westbrook on the Hangar Straight and was giving it all with his hands, when he lost control and smashed into the side of Westbrook.

Mücke was lucky. He was kicked out of the event and was reported to the DMSB (German motorsport governing body) for a possible ban on his licence; however this was not followed through. It was incident that captured eyeballs in the world of motorsport, but given GT racing’s small audience, it barely stretched beyond the specialised motor racing press.

But it was not a deliberate action, unlike Dan Ticktum’s ramming Ricky Collard at an MSA Formula round at Silverstone in 2015 or Pastor Maldonado’s swipe at Lewis Hamilton at Spa-Francorchamps some year’s earlier. This was more an act of utter stupidity by a very good and accomplished driver who should have known better and while it did not kill Mücke’s career, it certainly damaged his reputation in the eyes of many in the sport. Westbrook, for his part, emerged from his car, wagged his forefinger at Mücke and returned to the paddock…

Vettel’s action against then race-leader Hamilton during lap 19 of yesterday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix seemed to fall under a similar umbrella. Feeling aggrieved by Hamilton’s actions behind the safety car, Vettel decision to draw up alongside Hamilton and gesticulate with the Briton, resulting in a loss of control and a clash with the Mercedes was a stupid, misguided, indefensible, moronic, arse-about-ways error.
What Hamilton may or may not have done to provoke Vettel is completely irrelevant – Vettel’s act was inexcusable and comes at a time when he once again let his emotions get the better of his extraordinary talent and ability.

That the Ferrari man got away with just a ten-second stop/go penalty also reflected poorly upon the stewarding of this meeting – a penalty awarded for “dangerous driving”, yet the penalty itself was so soft as to be a cushion on a brick chair. There are protocols available that allow for drivers to receive a black and white flag and even a black flag if necessary and Vettel’s conduct fell in the latter category.
It seems inexplicable that Vettel was not excluded from the event and placed under referral, but that would potentially have harmed the championship show and we cannot allow that to happen, can we?

The incident and the resultant penalty blurred the line between acceptable behaviour and dangerous driving and in this, Vettel has been very fortunate.

“Thoughts on Pascal Wehrlein, the Norisring and Weird Regulations”

Pascal Wehrlein is a reasonably tall chap.

Maybe not overly so in the grand scheme of the human race, but in the realm of racing drivers, he is quite tall.

Upon meeting, he would stand not too far shy of my 6’1” frame, whereas a great many racers fall somewhere in the 5’6”-5’8” region. And this was before his hair got ‘bigger’, as is now the case at Sauber.

Associates of Pascal told me at the time that he was a huge Lewis Hamilton fan and had adopted Lewis-esque diamond-ish stud earrings that the then-McLaren driver had debuted around that time. All apparently though, because getting Pascal to talk about this – or anything else for that matter was bloody difficult; something that became abundantly clear at a very hot Norisring in 2012.

For the most part, I was still mainly covering British F3 that year, but the future of the series was looking very bleak and indeed, the original British F3 would finally collapse in 2014 with a paltry five drivers participating. In an effort to broaden my potential and build relationships, it seemed best to take on a couple of rounds of the Euro Series (the predecessor to the European Championship), which partnered with British F3 for a few rounds during the 2012 season.

As noted, Norisring was hot. Very hot. Very bloody hot, but upon leaving my London flat at 3.30am to make way to the Stansted Airport, the late-June weather was rather cool and so it seemed appropriate to throw on a jumper and pair of heavy black jeans to get me through the first leg of the weekend. It probably would have been a good idea to check the weather forecast ahead of me, as by the time I had arrived at Nuremberg, it was be 39°C and insides were beginning to melt and smell like cheap cheese.
The heat is made somewhat worse as the Norisring and the old structures around it were seemingly built from several tonnes of smooth and shiny concrete, the kind that loves to absorb here on a warm day and fry those who stand upon it.
Having just climbed out of their cars following Friday practice, Formula 3 Fortec racers Pipo Derani and Félix Serrallés looked me up and looked me down, with Derani first to comment: “what the hell are you doing in those clothes, man?” The red-and black striped jumped having this stage clung to skin was not budging for anything… Serrallés, meanwhile, gave me a pitying look and sniggered a little.

That year’s Norisring round is best remembered for a pair of collisions that saw Daniel Juncadella collide first with Wehrlein and then later with Raffaele Marciello, dropping Wehrlein to 7th, while ultimately ending Marciello’s race. In the aftermath, Juncadella was disqualified from the race for his actions.
However as Juncadella was disqualified for breaching sporting regulations, the race director had the option to merely scratch the Spaniard from the result, but actually promote anyone else in his place – something that would have been required had a technical infringement been spotted. This meant that the having come home as runner-up, Will Buller became the highest-placed finisher, yet was not promoted to the winning spot despite Juncadella’s exclusion. And so, the race had no winner [note 1]

Rounding the far side of the makeshift media centre in the large indoor hockey court a short while later, I received an eyes-to-the-sky look from photographer Stella-Maria Thomas, before Wehrlein emerged from a temporary race control cabin. “Oh, this will be load of fun”, I thought to myself, but attempts to speak to him didn’t really get me anywhere. For a moment, one would bumble through a question or two, like an injured athlete limply trying to hop a hurdle, but it was impossible to shake. The major problem being, at this point in his life, Pascal could not really speak much English. At all.
And as I tripped through a query relating to an incident that happened during the race, I could only see Pascal’s brow stress, as his eyes widened into a large open glare and I know that in his head, he was probably thinking, “Ich habe keine verdammte Idee, wovon du redest…“

Pascal is still very young of course – already a DTM champion and now in his 2nd season in Formula One – and it hurts my brain that he is still only 22-years-old. Although I have not seen Pascal since last year since a brief meeting at a press conference last year, the young man does seem to be maturing a touch, although it has been said that he does carry something of an arrogant touch from time-to-time.
A racing driver? Arrogant occasionally..? Nawwwwww……..

Note 1
The exclusion of a driver without promoting from below is not a new regulation by any stretch of the imagination, and in fact, goes back to the 1983 Brazilian Grand Prix. Following a botched pitstop, which included a fire, Williams’ Keke Rosberg finished 2nd in that year’s race at Rio, but was later excluded due to receiving a push-start in the pits – a decision that proved very controversial at the time.
While this rule large been forgotten, it still goes get dragged out on occasion by the DMSB (Germany’s moto racing governing body), but I have seen it used a few times at the Norisring, but nowhere else. A few years ago, DTM race winner Mathias Ekström was excluded when it was deemed his father had interfered with Ekström’s race suit in Parc Fermé by pouring water down his leg, while his son celebrated with mechanics.
A few years earlier, in a another Formula 3 round (this time the Euro Series), Stefano Coletti was excluded from the entire Norisring weekend after he punched race winner Jules Bianchi in the face, after Bianchi apparently insulted Coletti in the cool down area behind the podium.

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