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2019 F1 Mid Season Review - The Runaway Favourite

Its 12 races down and 9 to go in the 2019 F1 Season. This isn't the midpoint of the season but the sport is enjoying its Summer Break and it gives us ample time to unwind and take stock of whats gone by and whats in store.  

The second half of the season is a fortnight away and we shall also enter a phase where resources of some will get strained and grid penalties will start to become a common feature.


Lets have a quick look of how the teams have fared going into the break.


Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :

Mercedes, can they ever put a foot wrong? Yes Germany, their home race and their 200th in F1 was a fiasco but put that aside and its very difficult to find faults with the team. Lewis Hamilton looks set to lift his 6th title sooner than expected while Valtteri Bottas who started a season on a strong note is gone into a lean patch, a patch that could jeopardize his chances of retaining his seat for 2020. Lewis leads the Championship with 250 points, 62 points clear of his team-mate who is in 2nd. Lewis is on 8 wins to Bottas' 2. He started strong but Lewis flexed his muscles and started pulling away from the Spanish GP. Valtteri had a great chance of reducing the deficit in Germany but a driving error put him into the wall and retirement from the race. The Finn will now be looking over his shoulder and has only a 7 point buffer to Max. He cannot afford mediocre drives. There is a lot riding on the second half of the season ( his seat included ). I do hope he has a good second half.

Mercedes are in a league of their own. Their greatest strength ( besides the car ) has been the strategic calls from the pit wall. They are a comfortable 150 points ahead of Ferrari. Their car has been more reliable too. There aren't many tracks in the second half which would make life difficult for them. Constructors' Championship is theirs already!


Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

Ferrari has had a horrid first half of the season. They were the fastest car in the Pre-season tests and even had the fastest car in straight line. However they are yet to win a race this season! They came close with Charles LeClerc in Bahrain and Sebastian Vettel in Canada but fell short, reliability in the first case, controversy in the second. Their Achilles heel has been cornering speed and the lack of downforce. There still are some power circuits left on the calendar so we could see some wins coming their way but the team has gone down the wrong path of development. Sebastian Vettel was given preference but Charles LeClerc showed he is equally capable of being number 1 in the team. Vettel is going through a resurgence of sorts and should be stronger in the 2nd half of the year. He enjoys a 24 point cushion to LeClerc and has finished all races in the points with 6 podiums. Charles rookie errors in Monaco and Germany cost him dearhad he kept it clean he would have won in Germany. He is quick but needs to stop overdriving. Baku is another example. He will come around eventually but Ferrari's shot at glory is done and dusted. The Mercs will have to self-destruct at multiple races to bring Ferrari back into contention. 

Ferrari's focus should be to win a couple of races in the 2nd half of the year and keep Red Bull off their backs. They also need to shift focus to development for 2020 and 21. Shambolic calls on Race Strategies have cost them time and again. The lesson is to stick to their plans and not be unnerved or unsettled by what their competitors are doing around them. A lot has to be mended for the glory days to return. 


Aston Martin Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

Red Bull Racing lost a great driver in Daniel Ricciardo to Renault. Pierre Gasly got promoted to partner Max Verstappen for 2019 and he has been nowhere near the performance level of Max. Red Bull has run out of patience and demoted him to Toro Rosso from the Belgian GP while Alexander Albon has inherited the seat ( more on that later ). Max Verstappen's performances have given Honda enough reasons to celebrate. He won in Austria & Germany besides finishing on the Podium in Australia, Spain and Hungary. Max also grabbed his maiden pole in Hungary and would have won but for a strategic masterplan from Mercedes. He sits in 3rd with 181 points, breathing down Valtteri Bottas' neck. He should be able to finish 2nd in the championship with the momentum he has going into the break. Gasly is languishing in 6th place in the standings with just 63 points to his name and no podiums. 4th was the best he could conjure at the British GP. 

Red Bull Racing are on the up and the general consensus is that they are the 2nd best team on the grid. Red Bull's resurgence in the past few races means that Ferrari's P2 in the Constructors is under serious threat. Its imperative for Red Bull to ensure that both sides of the garage have optimum equipment and can produce optimum results. Finishing P2 would give them a major boost for 2020. Gasly scored only a third of the points so far and Red Bull can't afford to have mediocre days, specially when his team-mate is producing stellar drives week in week out. Patience is something that teams don't have in abundance, such is the nature of the sport. Gasly was unable to deliver what was asked of him and as cruel as it may sound, I believe the team did what was in their best interests. I am skeptical about the replacement though. I personally feel that Kvyat was a safer bet than Albon ( no disrespect to him ). Albon is a rookie and he could end up making rookie errors while pushing too hard. Honda is due to bring upgrades in the second half and there is a possibility of Red Bull copping penalties. This is a golden opportunity for Red Bull to beat Ferrari to P2.


McLaren Racing F1 Team :

McLaren promoted their Protegee Lando Norris from F2 while Carlos Sainz Jr came in to replace his childhood hero Fernando Alonso. Its really amazing to see McLaren in P4 going into the summer break. The Turbo Era has been tough on them and even with an unreliable Renault engine, they are doing a fine job. Carlos has been more consistent of the two with 8 points finishes to Lando's 4. Carlos sits P7 in the Championship ( leading the B Championship as folks in the media like to call it ) while Lando is 10th. Carlos has been one of the top performers on the grid. Lando is going from strength to strength in his rookie season and will be a force to reckon with in the coming races. 

I believe McLaren won't be able to better P4 by the end of the year. Toro Rosso in P5 aren't really a threat inspite of their strong performances going into the break. McLaren however must aim to reduce the pace deficit to the front runners to improve their chances for 2020 and also for a podium at one of the races in the second half of the season. They aren't there yet but they will be..soon enough!


Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :

Toro Rosso in in fine form in 2019. The Honda Customer team and Red Bull's B Team is sitting 5th in the Constructors Championship with 43 points, 4 Points clear of Renault Sport F1 Team. Its amazing to see two Honda Powered teams in the top 6. The Japanese manufacturer has been at the receiving end of a lot of criticism and this is like a redemption of sorts. There will be penalties due when performance upgrades are brought in but the issue of reliability seems addressed. 

Daniil Kvyat leads the intra-team battle in 9th with 27 points. The best result was the podium ( 3rd ) in Germany! It was nice to see an unlikely podium for Toro Rosso, a great drive by the Russian after returning to the team this year. Alexander Albon is 15th with 5 points finishes and 6th being his best in Germany. Albon has now been promoted to Red Bull with Gasly making his way back to Toro Rosso. The majority are unhappy with the decision as they believe Kvyat should have been the ideal replacement for Gasly. The Top Brass at Red Bull share a different opinion and I hope they haven't made an error with this decision. Gasly will need a couple of races to settle into the team so the onus will be on Kvyat to carry them forward and if possible retain 5th. Their biggest challenge is staying ahead of Renault and Red Bull will cherish this if the same is accomplished. The Toro Rosso has a great package and once again they have shown that they are no pushovers.


Renault Sport F1 Team :

Its disheartening to see, Renault, a works team languishing in 6th in the Constructors. They finished 2018 in 4th and the team would have hoped to be closer to Red Bull if not beating them. 2019 seems to be anything but that. Daniel Ricciardo was signed in from Red Bull ( a prize catch ) to partner Nico Hulkenberg. Both are talented drivers, the former a multi-race winner but retirements and mechanical failures are affecting their performances. Daniel is on 22 points and 11th in the Championship while Nico is 14th in the Championship with 17 points. Many experts believe that Daniel will be regretting his decision to leave Red Bull. Citing the current situation it seems they are right but Renault is a works team and are bringing in a lot of capable people to overturn this rut.

Renault's best shot is at P5 by the end of the season. McLaren seem clear favourites to retain P4. Renault must iron out their reliability issues and aero performance over the summer break if they are to make any headway into the points deficit. I don't see them go better than P5 or P6 at the races in the 2nd half of the season ( unless we have a chaotic race like Germany ). Mediocre performances in F1 can cause a lot of damage to a brand and it shall be interesting to see how patient Renault is willing to be in their quest to be the best again. The clock is ticking....they better get their act together and fast.


Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team :

Alfa Romeo made a return to F1 in 2019, acquiring the majority stake in Sauber F1 Team. The acquisition led to better R&D facilities, hiring new staff and the results are starting to show on the racetrack. Kimi Raikkonen returned to the team he started his F1 career with in 2001. Antonio Giovinazzi was roped in as well for 2019.Antonio has scored just a solitary point for the team ( Austria ), the Italian struggling to make it work. Hopefully he is able to turn things around in the second half. He has the talent and needs to gain confidence by scoring more points at the races. He has a great mentor in Kimi and I wish the best for him. 

Kimi is a transformed racer at Alfa. He is enjoying his time racing in the midfield, free from politics that existed at Ferrari and living his life to the full with his family. He sits 8th in the Championship with 31 points, having scored almost all the points for the team. His best finish is P7 but will be looking to improve on that in the 2nd half. As a fan, I am so glad to see Kimi racing unhindered and showcasing his skill and racecraft.

Alfa is a great team with a capable set of people. The upgrades are coming in at a steady pace and bringing the desired results. Pit Stops and Strategy calls are hurting the team and if they can iron those out, even finishing P5 is a possibility. The Ferrari engine at the back is an ideal weapon for attack or defense in straight line and we have seen many instances of these this year. Alfa trail Renault and Toro Rosso by 7 and 11 points respectively and a lot can change in just one weekend. Keep an eye out for those Red and White Stallions!



Sportpesa Racing Point F1 Team :

Racing Point is an old team in new colours and new ownership in 2019. Sergio Perez was joined by Lance Stroll for this yearThe team currently sits in 8th, on 31 points, 5 clear of Haas F1 Team. Stroll is currently leading the intra-team battle with 18 points to Perez' 13. Stroll's best finish was P4 in Germany, a strategic masterstroke by the team in variable conditions. His drive to P9 at his home race in Canada was a memorable one too. Perez' scored his maximum with P6 in Baku followed by 8th and 10th in China and Bahrain respectively. His form has waned a little and the summer break will be a good time for him to rest and recuperate. The team is hot on the heels of Alfa Romeo, only a point separating the 2 teams. Unlike last year, financially they are in safe hands and that might prove to be decisive in this midfield melee. If they keep this development curve alive then snatching 7th or even 6th place in Constructors is a possibility. 


Haas F1 Team :

Haas F1 is going through a tough year in F1. They are struggling to make the car work and the tussle offtrack with their Title Sponsor Rich Energy was an unwelcome hassle . Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen aren't the best of friends and the former seems to be under immense pressure fighting for his seat. Kevin Magnussen has amassed 18 points to Grosjean's 8 and its pretty evident that the latter needs to arrest this decline. Romain has finished in the points in 3 races with 7th being his best result in Germany. He needs to stop making mistakes and build on his confidence..finishing in points will follow. Kevin's best finish was P6 in the season opener in Australia followed by points finishes in 7th and 8th in Spain & Germany respectively. Kevin's crash in Canada during qualifying was one of his rare mistakes. He needs to stay consistent if Haas has to have any chance of moving up the order. In a mid-field where the competition is intense, its the fine margins that decide who comes out on top and who doesn't. The Team is aware of this and needs the duo to follow the same vein of thought. I see them being banned from racing each other in the second half. Beating Racing Point in 8th seems to be the only realistic target for them. 


Rokit Williams F1 Racing Team :

Williams was the 3rd best team on the grid in 2014. One Bad Decision sent them into a downward spiral and the team have never been able to reverse this. George Russell teamed up with Robert Kubica after Lance Stroll's switch to Racing Point F1 Team at the start of 2019. Stroll's switch also caused a heavy financial blow. Russell and Kubica have struggled to even keep up with the rest of the field, lapping 3 to 4 seconds slower than the others at certain tracks. The more recent rounds offer a ray of hope but the possibility of finishing better than last at the end of the year seems bleak. Russell has performed better over the first half of the year but its Kubica who has bagged the team's only point after finishing 10th in the chaotic German Grand Prix. Russell is a star in the making and I hope he has a car to showcase his talent.


The titles seem decided at the summer break. Such has been the dominance of the Three Pointed Star. However there is a lot to play for in the midfield and this season has seen one of the tightest battles. Who will be the best of the rest? It still is difficult to predict. One thing is certain though, Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton are the Runaway Favourites!

2018 F1 Mid Season Review - The Contenders, The Wingmen & The Also-Rans

12 Races done, 9 to go and we are already in the Summer Break. The 2018 F1 Season has flown by!

This season is the longest in the Calendar with 21 rounds and there will be a lot to fight for in the 2nd half. We shall also be entering into a phase where grid penalties will become a common feature and resources for many will get strained.


How is 2018 treating teams and drivers? Lets have a quick peek :


Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :

Mercedes, the kings of the Turbo Era are nervously looking over their shoulder in 2018. Clearly this is the toughest battle they have faced. Unlike the years gone by, they have been unable to break free from the Prancing Horse and the limits of their cars are being tested. One slip up and the contenders are ready to pounce. They are also aware that inspite of being the fastest, they aren't the best car on the grid. Lack of composure in the dirty air of the car in front, faster tyre degradation are 2 major challenges faced by them this year.  They had a slow start to the year but the team gained momentum from Baku. They currently lead the Constructors' battle by a slender 10 points but with 43 points up for grabs every weekend, the lead can disappear with one bad race. 

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas have had their fair share of ups and downs this season. Bottas is yet to win a race and suffered some bad luck with retirements in Baku and Austria ( while leading ) and being tagged by Vettel in France. However he is 4th in the Championship with 132 points, 14 points behind Kimi in 3rd. Lewis leads the Championship ( after playing catch-up for most of the first half ) with 5 wins to his name ( Baku, Spain, France, Germany, Hungary ). He has a sizeable lead of 24 points over Vettel, the latter's DNF in Germany costing him big time. Lewis must maximize results in Belgium and Italy before the fly-aways commence and the F1 circus heads to circuits which aren't the kindest to a Mercedes. Bottas, although in contention, is already being considered a wingman for Lewis' title charge. 

Can Mercedes hold onto both titles in 2018? I highly doubt. 


Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

Ferrari, a team that has been playing catch up in the Turbo era is slowly turning the tables on Mercedes. Clearly the most balanced, kindest on tyres and very close to a Merc in outright pace, Ferrari have the car and the tools for making this THE YEAR. Only 10 points separate them from Mercedes and its turning out to be one of the most closely contested fights in recent history. A lot of credit goes to the duo of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, the latter more so. Kimi got learner over the winter, faster and is enjoying having a more aggresive front-end to his car and that is bringing home the results. He looks hungrier than ever is really enjoying life in F1. Vettel on the other hand is the well-oiled German Machine that never stops being consistent. 

Sebastian Vettel sits 2nd in the Championship with 189 points, trailing Hamilton by 24 while Kimi Raikkonen is 3rd with 146 to his name. Vettel has had 4 wins ( Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Britain ), two 2nd places and one 3rd place, total of 7 podiums. 

Kimi Raikkonen is yet to win a race in 2018 but has 8 podiums, one more than Seb's. The Botched pit-stop in Bahrain and the PU failure in Spain cost the Iceman valuable points and podium finishes which would have brought him closer to his team-mate's tally of 189. He is still running the earlier-spec engine and should finally receive an upgraded unit in Belgium ( confirmed to me by a Ferrari Insider ). Qualifying still remains his Achilles heel and this is one major reason why a win still eludes him. However this is the best year since his return to the team and his 3rd strongest season overall ( both stints at Ferrari combined )

Vettel on the other hand had a very strong start to the year but his drives have not been flawless. The Big Mistake came in Germany when he aquaplaned in changing conditions knocking him out of the race and handing Lewis a big win in the grander scheme of things. The lock-up in Baku at the safety car restart, coming together in France with Bottas and the unfortunate tag by Max in China have added to the "points lost" tally. 

Ferrari have two world champions racing for them vs Mercedes' one. Their combined experience is better than the Merc duo. Ferrari should win the Constructors' Title in 2018 in my opinion...but then anything can happen in the world of motorsport! This definitely is Ferrari's Title to lose.

  

Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

Red Bull predicted at the start of 2018 that it will be difficult to stay in touch with the Mercedes and the Ferraris. The Constructors' table does suggest that but Red Bull have enjoyed their moments of glory in the first half of 2018. Daniel Ricciardo's win in China was exploiting the conditions on offer and applying a master strategy. His win in Monaco ( a track suited to Red Bull ) was a memorable one, redemption for the debacle in 2016. Many argue that Max would have won in the Principality. He was a step ahead of everyone but a crash in qualifying blew his chances and probably denied the team the chance of a famous 1-2. Come Austria, Red Bull's home race and Max took an unexpected win. Austria is a power circuit where the lack of top end grunt in the Tag Heuer branded Renault Power Unit is massively exposed and the what would have been damage limitation for the team turned into ecstasy. Retirements and PU failures have cost the team badly. Both drivers have 4 retirements each to their name, retirements from podium positions in the race, costing the team valuable points in the Constructors. Daniel Ricciardo is 5th in the Championship with 118 points while Max is 6th with 105. Ricciardo has 2 wins to his name while Max has 1 win and 3 podiums. It seems like Red Bull will finish P3 again in the Championship. They have enough breathing space from Renault and trail Ferrari by a massive 112 points. A lot can change in the final 9 rounds with Singapore being the major points scoring opportunity for Red Bull but giving Ferrari a run for P2 is highly unlikely.


Renault Sport F1 Team :

Renault, who made a return to F1 as a full works team in 2016 is making a steady climb up the ladder. 4th in the standings at the summer break is a massive achievement. They have already bettered their tally of a meagre 57 points in 2017 before the summer break this year. The Facilities in Oxfordshire are expanding, personnel being hired and updates to the car coming at the pivotal moments. Nico Hulkenberg and loanee Carlos Sainz Jr. offer a great combination of youth and speed to the team. Hulkenberg leads the Intra-team battle with 52 points on the board while Sainz Jr has 30. Will Renault be able to better their current position by the end of the year? No. The gap ahead is still large and there is a lot of work to do but they will definitely extend their lead to the chasers by the end of the year. The challenge has just begun for Renault Sport F1, to challenge those in the big league is no mean task but the recruitment of Daniel Ricciardo for 2019 is a step in the right direction!


Haas F1 Team :

Haas F1, the strongest Ferrari customer team on the grid is improving each weekend. Haas' improvement curve since their entry into the sport is really inspiring. Working closely with the Ferrari Power units, the chassis is very balanced and performs pretty well at most circuits. The only thing eluding them is a podium, which I still think is at least an year away. Kevin Magnussen has borne the responsibility of scoring the chunk of the points. He is currently 8th in the Drivers' Championship with 45 points, his best finish being 5th in Bahrain and Austria. Romain Grosjean is having a torrid time with crashes and DNFs ( thanks to a ghost version of Marcus Ericsson :P ). He has amassed only 21 points, scoring in 3 of the last 4 rounds of going into the summer break. 4th in Austria was his best finish, a drive which showed that the Frenchman has it in him and he just needs to keep it clean. The mid-table battle between Haas, Force India and McLaren is very intense and its imperative for both drivers to finish races in the points consistently. A non-finish for both and the tables can turn drastically. Haas don't have the resources of a McLaren but they know to invest wisely. I believe they will eventually come out on top in this 3 way bout.


Sahara Force India F1 Team :

Force India is going through some really testing times. One of the creditors went to the court for dissolution of the team and the team is destined to go into administration until the new owners take charge. Their challenger on track isn't having the best outing either. The team is currently 6th in the standings, 2 places lower than their best position in the recent years. Renault and Haas have jumped them, although overtaking Haas by the end of the year should still be an achievable task. A 3rd place by Perez in Baku brought some joy to the team but both Perez and Ocon have scored 59 points combined, too few going into the summer break. Perez leads his team-mate by a point with Ocon finishing in the points on 6 occasions compared to Perez's 5. The lack of funding is hurting the team bad and I doubt they might finish 6th by the end of the year. Anything lower than 4th is a disaster but that is the reality and the team must ride the tide and hope for fortunes to change in 2019.  Astonishingly, Force India remains the most successful Mercedes Customer Team on the grid.


McLaren F1 Team :

McLaren switched to Renault power for 2018 and hoped for a better outing. Its been anything but that. The experts always believed that McLaren had an excellent chassis but their design flaws have been exposed this year. One can argue that its only their first year with Renault and every team needs time to completely adjust to a new engine manufacturer. Fernando Alonso is digging deep to bring home the results and after a strong start to the year, is now struggling to keep McLaren in the fight. Stoffel Vandoorne seems to be struggling with multiple issues and is nowhere near the level of racing he has been. Alonso sits 9th in the Standings with 44 points while Vandoorne is in 16th with just 8 points. Fernando is one driver who will give his 110 % week in week out and is unbeatable when it comes to race wit. Vandoorne must drive better to save his seat, a shame if he was to lose his. Eric Boullier, the Racing Director at McLaren resigned during the triple header and that didn't help matters. McLaren needs to start afresh, begin from scratch and have the right people in the right positions with the legitimate authority to make some tough decisions. 2018 is a good lesson for the team but they still have time to turn things around. Force India is only 7 points ahead and with the issues they face off-track and on it, McLaren must capitalize on every opportunity to put pressure on them in the races and steal P6 off them. Its a long road ahead and we have seen many stories being re-written, so all is not lost for the Woking based outfit. 


Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :

Toro Rosso made the big leap from Renault to Honda for 2018, practically becoming the guinea pig for feasibility and amalgamation with a Red Bull Chassis for 2019. Pierre Gasly and Brendan Hartley drive for the men in blue and both had their share of retirements and incidents. Gasly is the better performer of the two with 26 points in the championship and 3 finishes in the points. ( 4th being his best ). Hartley on the other hand scored two 10th places in Baku and Germany. His F1 career is under serious scrutiny and the WEC World Champion is finding it difficult to establish himself in the sport. The Duo need to be on the top of their game and hope that the Honda Power Unit at the back doesn't let up ( like it has in the first half ) to ensure they keep the Saubers at bay. Gasly's aim will be to impress the bosses in the A team and make a strong case for himself to be seen as an ideal fit for the outgoing Daniel Ricciardo, a move that has put the cat amongst the pigeons ( will explore this in the Driver Markets post ). Toro Rosso are known for having a balanced chassis and this might prove to be the winning card in their quest to stay P8 in the Championship.


Alfa-Romeo Sauber F1 Team :

Sauber sits 9th in the Standings with 18 points to their name. Charles Leclerc, the Scuderia Ferrari Academy Driver has led the charge with 5 points finishes, 6th in Baku his best result; while Marcus Ericsson finished in the points only thrice with 9th being his best finish in Bahrain and Germany. Its a closely contested battle with Scuderia Toro Rosso who have 10 more than them and ideally, Sauber should have been ahead but mistakes and reliability issues in the recent rounds hit them hard. On the financial side, they are in better waters thanks to Alfa-Romeo and will have enough resources to give Toro Rosso a serious headache. Charles Leclerc is making a name for himself in the paddock while Marcus Ericsson's credentials are being questioned. The Swede needs to pull up his socks in the second half else his financial backing wont be able to get him a drive in 2019.


Williams Martini F1 Racing Team :

Williams is going through a very tough phase in their history. The Team has gone backwards and seem a bit lost in their quest to close up on competitors. Incidents, Non-finishes and a single points finish to show for their efforts leaves them languishing in 10th and last in the Constructors' table. Lance Stroll managed the best finish for the team in Baku with 8th, a stark contrast from the podium they bagged the year before.They claimed to have identified the source of their problems but amends can only be made in 2019. Williams are destined to finish last in 2018 and also bound to lose their title sponsor in Martini at the end of the year. Williams will only be able to score if misfortunes hit the cars closest to them.The Future looks grim and we hope for the best for one of the most decorated teams of F1.


The title battle is wide open this year and all 4 drivers ( Mercedes and Ferrari ) are in contention for the crown...which begs the question : Will the teams allow Bottas and Raikkonen to challenge Hamilton and Vettel respectively? Parity between team-mates is claimed by both team but what happens on-track is contrary to claims. We are nearing that stage of the season when its wise to choose the real contenders for the crown; at this stage its a tough call to make since the Finns are not too far in terms of points. However one bad race or non-finish will seal them as the number 2 in their respective team. Their jobs will be reduced to Mere Wingmen, snippets of which were showed in Germany and Hungary.

Mercedes and Ferrari are in a class of their own. They are the True Contenders for the crown. Red Bull can only capitalize on the mistakes made up front and they have exploited it on a few occasions. The rest of the field will continue to contend amongst themselves to be the best of the rest.


A lot is still at stake...I can't wait for Round 2 of the Bout!


2017 F1 Mid Season Review - There Can Only Be One..

2017 turned a page in the turbo era of F1. Bigger tyres, more downforce, faster lap times and the good emanating out of new ownership of the sport prove that F1 is slowly making its way back to the glory days. 2017 has brought a sense of freshness to the sport and the teams have embraced the challenges with aplomb. New Partnerships were created and New Rivalries were born. The Mid-Season Break is ongoing but the work carries on in the respective team factories. So how good have the contenders been up until the halfway point of the season?

Lets have a quick peek.


Mercedes AMG F1 Team :

Mercedes, the undisputed champions of the Turbo Era are tipped to retain the crown for both the Drivers' as well as the Constructors' but unlike the years gone by, the competitors have posed a bigger threat than they ever have before. Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas are having to play catch-up with Sebastian Vettel. Mercedes' lead in the Constructors' is a slender 39 points and they have been outclassed in a few races this year. Lewis Hamilton is P2 in the Championship, 14 points adrift with 4 wins and 2 podiums to his name. Valtteri Bottas is P3 with 169 points with 2 wins and 6 podiums.

Its advantage Lewis in the intra-team battle according to me. Lewis knows how the team functions and has shown time and again why he is a 3 time world champion. The Team will look to him to aid their defense of the world title. Valtteri Bottas on the other hand is a revelation and surprised one as he settled into his new team fairly quickly. Bottas is keeping Lewis honest in this title fight. The team must ensure that a healthy environment is maintained between the 2 garages. Mercedes maintained a fair fight on the track and delivered on their promise so far. They still have the fastest car on the grid but an unsettled one as well when stuck behind another car. 


Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

Ferrari persisted with Sebastian Vettel & Kimi Raikkonen for 2017 and they have upped their game this year. Sebastian Vettel has been leading the charge and is currently the leader in the Drivers' Championship with 202 points with 4 wins to his name ( Australia, Bahrain, Monaco & Hungary ) and four 2nd place finishes. Kimi Raikkonen was the slow starter again and had many issues hampering his progress, both on the mechanical and the strategic fronts. The Iceman's performances improved in the races going into the break. Kimi Raikkonen is P5 in the Championship with 4 podium finishes to his name.

The Gap between Mercedes and Ferrari is 39 points. Momentum is with the Prancing Horse. Mercedes are definitely looking nervously over their shoulders. I wish to quote Ferrari Team Principal Maurizio Arrivabene : At Ferrari, there is no holiday. We have to stay humble and keep pushing. Unquote.

Sebastian Vettel is the favourite for the driver's title. Kimi Raikkonen is providing the perfect support role. Mathematically Kimi isn't out of the title race but realises its best to not jeopardize team chances by unsettling his team-mate in races ( inspite of being faster ). Kimi had the chance to win 2 races, one in Monaco and the other in Hungary but the team chose otherwise. Once again the Finn has shown that he is a team man and a class act. Ferrari will always be indebted to him


Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

Red Bull had a strong 2016 and had hopes to replicate it in 2017. However Ferrari arrived a lot stronger and currently maintain a healthy lead over them. Red Bull are unbeatable when it comes to chassis design and aerodynamics. However the Renault Power Tag Heuer branded Power Unit continues to be their Achilles' Heel. Daniel Ricciardo sits P4 in the Drivers' Standings with 117 Points and 1 victory to his name. ( Azerbaijan ). Max Verstappen has been very unfortunate with issues in his car causing him to retire from strong finishing positions in 4 Races. Verstappen's  best finish was P3 in China. Max is P6 in the championship with 67 points.

Red Bull must ensure that both cars reach the Chequered Flag. They don't face an immediate threat from Force India but if they plan to dethrone Ferrari by the end of the season reliability will be the key. Red Bull top brass will be thoroughly displeased if they are unable to bag P2 in the Championship. Realistically, its a far fetched dream. The Development curve must not stop and Red Bull must aim to carry their progress into 2018 to be closer to the fastest teams on the grid.


Sahara Force India F1 Team :

Force India continue to be a revelation in 2017. They are right up there with the big boys fighting wheel to wheel and causing some upsets along the way as well. An accomplished power unit in Mercedes alongwith a capable chassis has ensured that Force India is the strongest customer team on the grid. They are well ahead of Williams in the Constructors but considerably behind Red Bull so improving to P3 at the end of 2017 seems uncertain. Barring Monaco, the team has always scored points. Sergio Perez leads the team-mate battle with 56 points to his name and P4 being his best finish ( Spain ). Esteban Ocon isn't far behind with 45 points, Spain his best result ( 5th ). Team Livery also is a talking point - eye-catching pink coloured cars on the grid. Driver Race Suits were similar and this invited some healthy banter with other teams over social media.

P4 would be a great finish and for a team with financial constraints like Force India, they can be extremely proud of what they have achieved so far.


Williams Martini Racing F1 Team :

Williams started well in 2014 with the New Turbo Engines suiting their cars well. However they have gone backwards since and sit 5th in the standings in the mid season break. Felipe Massa returned from retirement to take up Valtteri Bottas' place who left for Mercedes AMG F1. Lance Stroll, the rookie joined forces with him. Williams have underachieved in the first half of 2017. Lance Stroll's 3rd Place in Baku Azerbaijan was a surprise but Massa has been the more consistent of the two. His experience has been vital in keeping the team in 5th, albeit just 2 points ahead of the fast charging Toro Rossos. Massa's best finishes came in Australia and Bahrain ( 6th ) alongwith points finishes in 4 other races. Stroll is on 18 points scoring in 2 other races barring his podium. Its early days for the Canadian but in a demanding sport like F1, its vital to find your feet quickly.

The biggest advantage for Williams is the Mercedes Power Unit and there are still some power circuits left on the calendar so holding onto P5 shouldn't be an issue for the team. 


Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :

Toro Rosso, the final step before a Red Bull Driver Program protegee steps into the A Team prove time and again that a team operating on a small budget can still perform well with the right chassis and personnel. Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. continued their alliance going into 2017. The quest to impress the bosses has token a toll on Kvyat. Incidents, accidents, retirements have marred the Russian's performances and he must pray for a strong second half to retain his seat. Carlos Sainz Jr. is in a league of his own outclassing his team-mate and bringing home majority of the points. He sits 9th in the Drivers' Standings with 35 points while Kvyat has managed only 4 and is 17th currently.

Toro Rosso will have the backing of Red Bull for the rest of the season but as much as they have to stay focused to hunt down Williams who are 2 points ahead they have to keep an eye out for those behind as well. Renault and McLaren will be forces to reckon with by the end of the year. Its imperative for the team to "make hay while the sun shines"


Haas F1 Team :

Haas F1 fielded Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen for 2017 and they deserve credit for the start provided in 2017. Haas impressed one and all since their arrival in F1 and at half-way point in 2017 they lead 2 works' teams! Grosjean has 18 points to Magnussen's 11 and unlike the teams below them, both drivers have scored points whenever presented with an opportunity. Haas is powered by Ferrari so the unit is potent enough for strong results. However the Chassis needs improvements and the team will improve with experience.

They are 10 points off Toro Rosso and it will be a close battle up until the end of the season. Toro Rosso wont be an easy team to beat but the mid-field battle is about to get fiesty in the second half of the season as Haas are no slouches.


Renault Sport F1 Team :

Renault returned as a factory team in 2016 with an elaborate road map. They made their intentions clear by acquiring the services of the talented Nico Hulkenberg and the German has been a great investment. He has scored all the points for the team this season, the tally of which stands at 26, seemingly safe from McLaren Honda. Nico's best results were 6th in Spain and Great Britain. Renault is improving the performance of its power unit and I predict P6 for them at the end of the year. Like McLaren the chassis is pretty competent and Renault have the privilege of pumping in more money unlike their immediate competitors. Another concern for the team is the performance of Jolyon Palmer. The Former GP2 Champion is yet to score a Championship Point and is fairly off the pace in comparison to Hulkenberg. He missed being in the points on 3 occasions and he must start bringing home the desired results to aid his own career as well as the team's chances in moving up the order.

Renault has the money, the tools, the personnel, the facilities to improve race by race and as a fan I definitely believe that they will soon be fighting at the sharp end of the grid. Priority though is to have a strong second half in 2017.


McLaren Honda F1 Team :

McLaren in the second year of its partnership with Honda still languishes in ninth in the Constructors' Standings. The Chassis has been brilliant but Power Unit Issues have cost them at many races. The past few rounds promise a change of fortune and as claimed by Honda, the unit should be powerful enough to beat a Renault. Will this turn out to be true? Highly doubt it. Fernando Alonso is ahead in the intra-team battle with 10 points on the board to Stoffel Vandoorne's one. Both achieved their best result in Hungary, a circuit where power isn't the deciding factor for a strong result.

Mclaren cannot afford to be P9 by the end of the season and Honda must get its act together to ensure they don't lose sponsors and vital financial benefits of finishing higher up in the pecking order. Fernando Alonso is another asset they cannot afford to lose. I believe he is the best driver on the grid with race craft second to none. Reliability with performance will lead to stronger results to make a strong case for the Spaniard to stay put.


Sauber F1 Team :

Sauber F1 currently stands 10th and last in the Constructors' Standings. They have managed only 5 points till now and are still adrift of McLaren by 6 points. Sauber went through a change of leadership with Monisha Kaltenborn leaving the team and Frederic Vasseur taking over the reins. Its hard to see them move up from the back of the grid ( due to cash constraints ). Pascal Wehrlein has impressed again bagging all the points for the team. Marcus Ericsson needs to pull his socks up and capitalize on finishing in the points whenever the opportunity arises. Antonio Giovinazzi stepped in for Wehrlein for the first 2 races after the German's preparations for 2017 were halted with a crash in the Race of Champions. He finished 12th and retired in the next race.

Its difficult to see Sauber finish higher at the end of 2017.


The final leg of the race will resume from Belgium.  A lot of action, drama awaits us in the second half of the season. The Second Half will also see many drivers suffering grid drops as components are changed on cars and exceed the permitted number by the FIA. The Teams must wait for the opportune time for such changes to ensure Damage Limitation. These could make or break the contest in the Drivers' Championship.

5 contenders to the Drivers' crown. 2 for the Constructors' but There Can Only Be One!

Bring on Spa - Francorchamps!