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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!