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The Paddock Weekends - 2019 Belgian GP - Day 1

The 2019 Belgian Grand Prix was a special Grand Prix. All the Grands Prix that I attended have been memorable but this year's Belgian GP was the beginning of a new experience - an experience of being a guest of the team in the Motorhome for the Entire Weekend. The weekend saw a beginning of a New Series on my Blog. 

The New Series is called "The Paddock Weekends". It was truly an amazing feeling to be the guest of the Alfa Romeo Racing F1 team for the entire weekend. I would get a Paddock Pass with my name on it, have access to their Motorhome, Garage and Podium Access post qualifying and the race. I would have to find a new spot to capture stills over the weekend ( no Paddock Club access ) which wasn't really an issue. Armed with my Sony RX 10 IV and Samsung Note 10+, I stepped out to live my childhood dream!

I stayed in Hasselt ( just like in 2017 ) and the drive to Spa Francorchamps was never more than an hour. Accompanying me were friends from UK Jane & Kaz!

This is the Friday Experience.


Enroute to the Circuit :

Some shots with the Samsung Note 10+ :


What an Elegant Race Pass!!


Friday Morning in the Paddock. Kimi Raikkonen walking in with the Alfa Romeo Team Manager Beat Zehnder :


The Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team Motorhome! The Chocolates served with Coffee were lovely. I was sharing the table with ANTONIO GIOVINAZZI! What an honour!


Sometime after settling in it was time for Free Practice 1 to begin. Kimi Raikkonen heading out with his trainer Mark Arnall :


I decided to get some shots of the Paddock while heading down to the Alfa Romeo Garage :


Waiting outside the Alfa Romeo Garage :


I got to the Garage and met a dear friend of Kimi!

Antii Pyrhonen, Team Manager for Red Bull IceOne Husqvarna Factory Team in Motocross & one of Kimi Raikkonen's closest friends :


A 40 minute stop in the garage and it was time to rush out and grab a spot to capture some stills.

Jos Verstappen, Max's father and ex-F1 Driver :


Shots from Free Practice 1 :


Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team during FP1 :


Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc were the Fastest in FP1. Kimi Raikkonen & Antonio Giovinazzi were P13 and P15 respectively.


The Paddock in Belgium is a two - tier one. The upper tier is used for Debriefs and Engineers' meets while the Lower Tier houses the various motorhomes of the teams.


Kimi Raikkonen, in deep conversation with his Father-in-law Mr. Kimmo Virtanen! The Iceman..so close!!


Time to walk around for some more selfies!

Cyril Abiteboul, Managing Director, Renault Sport F1 Racing Team :


Triple World Champion and F1 Legend, Sir Jackie Stewart!


Stoffel Vandoorne! Belgian Ex-F1 Racer now racing in Formula E :


Juan Pablo Montoya, another F1 legend!


Pietro Fittipaldi, grandson of Double World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi :


I decided to pay the F1 Village a visit and FP2 had already begun! It was nice to see the fans unwinding in front of the big screens in the Village.


Shots from FP2 :


Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team during FP2 :


Charles Leclerc was the fastest in FP2 from Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas. Kimi Raikkonen was P7 while Antonio Giovinazzi P16.

I headed back to the Paddock after FP2.


The Famous Media Pen!


Charles Leclerc, Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team!


Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team Reserve Driver and Indy Racer Marcus Ericsson :


Fredric Vasseur, Team Principal, Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team :


Toto Wolff, Team Principal, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :


The day was winding down. A lot of the personnel left for their hotels. I was busy in conversation with the near and dear ones of Kimi Raikkonen when I was invited to share a seat at his table..THIS...


Mr. Kimmo Virtanen, Minttu Raikkonen's Father and Kimi Raikkonen's Father-in-law :


Beat Zehnder, Team Manager for Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team :


Nico Hulkenberg, Renault Sport F1 Team :


Christian Horner, Team Principal, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing F1 Team :


James Allison, Technical Director, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Racing Team :


Jehan Daruwala, Indian Racer in F3 racing with Prema Racing Team :


Ottmar Szafnauer, CEO and Team Principal, Racing Point F1 Team :


James Vowles, Chief Strategist, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Racing Team :


Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :


George Russell, Rokit Williams Racing F1 Team :


Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :


Daniel Ricciardo, Renault Sport F1 Team :


Max Verstappen, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing F1 Team :


Alexander Albon, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing F1 Team :


Kimi Raikkonen! Yes its Kimi Raikkonen!! The Weekend is made! He now races with Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team :


Returning to our hotel in Hasselt :


It was an amazing Friday at Spa Francorchamps. The Alfa Romeo duo seemed quick and the weekend ahead promised to be a really positive one! 

I would like to thank Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team for the hospitality shown towards me over the weekend.

The Saturday experience follows next!

A Gallery of Memories - Part 19

The next post in the "Gallery of Memories" Series is from the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix. I was privileged to be a guest of Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team and had Paddock Access on all days.

Truly this was a special weekend! 


Antii Pyrhonen, Team Manager for Red Bull IceOne Husqvarna Factory Team in Motocross & one of Kimi Raikkonen's closest friends. Truly one of the nicest people you will ever meet in the Paddock 


Jos Verstappen :


Nico Hulkenberg, Renault Sport F1 Team :


Christian Horner, Team Principal, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing F1 Team :


James Allison, Technical Director, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Racing Team :


Jehan Daruwala, Indian Racer in F3 racing with Prema Racing Team :


Ottmar Szafnauer, CEO and Team Principal, Racing Point F1 Team :


James Vowles, Chief Strategist, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Racing Team :


George Russell, Rokit Williams Racing F1 Team :


Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :


Daniel Ricciardo, Renault Sport F1 Team :


Max Verstappen, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing F1 Team :


Alexander Albon, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing F1 Team :


Kimi Raikkonen! Yes its Kimi Raikkonen!! The Weekend is made!


Beat Zehnder, Team Manager for Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team :


Mr. Kimmo Virtanen, Minttu Raikkonen's Father and Kimi Raikkonen's Father-in-law :


Toto Wolff, Team Principal, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :


Fredric Vasseur, Team Principal, Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team :


Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team Reserve Driver and Indy Racer Marcus Ericsson :


Charles Leclerc, Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team!


Triple World Champion and F1 Legend, Sir Jackie Stewart!


Stoffel Vandoorne!


Juan Pablo Montoya, another F1 legend!


Pietro Fittipaldi, grandson of Double World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi :


Cyril Abiteboul, Managing Director, Renault Sport F1 Racing Team :


Dylan Pereira, Supercup Porsche Carrera Cup Racing Driver :


Masahi Yamamoto, Managing Director for Honda Racing in F1 :


Kimi Raikkonen's Race Engineer in Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team, Mr. Julien Simon-Chautemps :


Pierre Gasly, Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :


Sebastian Vettel! Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team!


Double World Champion in Formula E, ex F1 racer Jean-Eric Vergne :


Esteban Ocon, Reserve Driver for Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :


The fighter Robert Kubica, Rokit Williams F1 Racing Team :


Daniil Kvyat, Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :


Carlos Sainz Jr., McLaren Racing F1 Team :


Mark Webber and David Coulthard, highly successful Racers in F1 and beyond :


Heikki Kulta of Finnish Press :


Timo Glock, Ex-F1 and DTM Racer :


Brett Arnall, Mark Arnall's brother and my friend Kimi Raikkonen fan Jane Bleach 


A Big Thank You to Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team for their hospitality over the weekend!

This post is only a teaser to what follows..watch this space! Its the start of a new series in my Formula One Journeys!



The Driver Merry-Go-Round...Desperate Times call for Desperate Measures

The summer break is coming to an end and the second half of the F1 Season is due to kickoff in Spa ( Belgium ). The time for contract renewals for the drivers is nigh and the Paddock is abuzz with theories and rumours of who goes where. 

Which teams are certain of what they want in 2020? Which aren't? Will any rookies get a shot in 2020? 

Lets have a quick peek at how the teams could stack up..


First Up, Teams will both drives sealed...


Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

Sebastian Vettel and Charles LeClerc will continue their partnership in 2020. Its the right decision for Ferrari who are still playing catch-up with Mercedes in the Turbo Era. Hopefully the duo can help the team build a potent machine for 2020.


McLaren Racing F1 Team :

McLaren were the first to lock down their drivers for 2020. Carlos Sainz Jr and Lando Norris will continue with the Woking based Outfit. McLaren made the right call by not delaying this decision. Sainz is having one of his best years in F1 while Lando is slowly coming upto speed. Red Bull Racing which runs a driver program would be ruing the decision of letting Sainz go. Their options have dwindled after Ricciardo left for Renault and there was a possibility that Sainz could have been snatched up had McLaren not moved quickly; so credit to McLaren.



Teams with one spot available...


Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :

Lewis Hamilton continues with Mercedes for 2020 ( a no-brainer ) while Valtteri Bottas is out of contract. Mercedes has Esteban Ocon, their Protegee from the Driver Program waiting in the wings. The pressure is increasing on Bottas with every mediocre drive. The Finn started the season on a great note but his performances dipped and his seat is now under serious threat from Ocon. 
Will Mercedes bite the bullet and replace him with Ocon for 2020?

Bottas has been with the team since the last 3 years and enjoyed a great relationship with Hamilton. His performances were important in helping the team win the Constructors' too. Maintaining consistency like Lewis over the course of the season is what he lacks and if he can address that in the second half, he should be able to retain his seat. Esteban Ocon on the other hand is young, talented and Championship material. The fact that he has beaten Verstappen in the lower series speaks volumes about his abilities. However I believe Ocon's appointment might unsettle Lewis in the team. The team might end up having another Nico - Lewis situation and even jeopardize their Constructors' title fight.The flip side to this is by not offering Ocon a seat they would be wasting a talent in his prime. Ocon was also a part of the Renault Driver Program and there is a seat available there for 2020. Citing Renault's performances this year, it will be difficult for them to be on the sharp end of the grid. Would Ocon want another season in the midfield melee or opt to sit out another year if Mercedes do decide to persist with Bottas? Its a very difficult decision for the Frechman and sitting out of the sport for 2 seasons would mean premature closure to his F1 career. I do hope the best for him but I don't really see Mercedes taking the drastic step of not renewing Bottas for 2020. It would be better for Ocon to pursue a seat at Renault.


Aston Martin Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

Red Bull is enjoying a resurgence with Max Verstappen. Pierre Gasly, the "underperforming" team-mate has already been replaced by rookie Alexander Albon from the Belgian GPMax has a contract till the end of 2021 but the other seat is up for grabs and Albon has a golden chance to prove his worth in the second half of the season. Gasly, whose been demoted to Toro Rosso will feel a little hard done but according to Red Bull, he was given enough time to come upto speed. In a closely contested Constructors' Championship with Ferrari, Red Bull needs both drivers to be right up there and Gasly failed to deliver. Kvyat would have been a better replacement than Albon but the Russian has a history with the team and that was the hindrance in not being selected with the A Team. Albon should do well and I see him land the seat for 2020. However Red Bull will be ruing the decision of letting Sainz Jr go a couple of years back. 


Renault Sport F1 Team :

Renault acquired the services of Daniel Ricciardo which was a masterstroke for 2019. The Australian continues for 2020 while Nico Hulkenberg is due for a contract renewal. Will the renewal happen? I have my reservations. He currently holds the controversial record of the longest number of races without recording a podium. He has made mistakes when opportunities for a strong finish came knocking ( Germany ). Esteban Ocon who was a part of their Driver Program is also waiting in the wings. If Ocon is to land the seat ( latest reports suggesting that ), Hulkenberg could try for a team like Haas, though he isn't best buddies with Kevin Magnussen. The chances of him switching to another series like WEC or Formula E seem more likely. If Ocon doesn't land a drive with either Mercedes or Renault, it will be a great loss for F1. Unfortunately there are less than 20 spots available every year..and some have to be turned away.


Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team :

Kimi Raikkonen's contract runs out at the end of 2020 and he is doing a brilliant job of keeping Alfa Romeo in the midfield mix this year. Antonio Giovinazzi is going through a baptism of fire. The Italian has scored a solitary point and will have to produce some solid drives in the second half to land a drive for 2020. Antonio is being mentored by Kimi and there have been moments when he has shown snippets of what he is made of. Hopefully the team persist with him and give him another chance to establish himself as a solid consistent racer. They do have a Development program but it would be a horrendous decision to promote another racer, the others simply aren't ready.


Rokit Williams Racing F1 Team :

George Russell is confirmed for 2020. Robert Kubica is out of contract. Williams are consistently off the pace vs the rest. The recent rounds have seen them make progress and Kubica even grabbed the unlikely point in Germany. However over the course of this season, its Russell who has had the measure of Kubica. Williams is a team that needs money and Kubica with his considerable financial backing is one of the favourites to retain his seat. The only threat would come in the form of another driver with a similar financial clout. Williams is in a rebuilding phase so they might not be too keen to sport youngsters on the grid. Time will tell who bags that seat.


Teams with both seats up for grabs...


Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :

Toro Rosso has both seats up for grabs in 2020. Daniil Kvyat has been fantastic this year and retaining him should be a no-brainer. Gasly returns to Toro Rosso for the second half of 2019 and I believe he will be there in 2020 also. Red Bull's driver program is short on talent and I don't see any from their roster that deserves a F1 drive. Albon who has been promoted to the A team from Spa has a great chance of cementing himself as a solid number 2 to Max ( even become a race winner himself ). 


Sportpesa Racing Point F1 Team :

Racing Point hired the services of Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez for 2019. Lawrence Stroll, Lance's Father brought in a number of sponsorship deals ( some from Williams Racing ) and there is no doubt that he will ensure his son continues with the team for 2020. Sergio Perez, the faithful one has a great financial backing in Telmex and I don't see his seat being under threat either. Racing Point is in a rebuilding phase. The team will look to continue with the same pair to ensure their development isn't hampered both ontrack and off it.


Haas F1 Team :

Haas, the biggest underperformer of 2019 is going through a torrid time with its drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen. The duo locked horns ontrack in 2018 and had to be banned from racing each other to not jeopardize the team's chances. 2019 is a repeat. Romain's woes continue while Kevin Magnussen is as fiesty as ever. Haas might not renew Romain's contract for 2020 citing his poor performances over the past 2 years. Kevin should stay put but Haas has to look for a replacement for Romain and he mustn't be a rookie. Guenther Steiner, the team principal has made this clear in one of his recent interviews ( They do have Louis Deletraz & Pietro Fitipaldi waiting in the wings ) The only candidate that comes to mind then is Nico Hulkenberg, should he lose his seat at RenaultHowever its no secret that Magnussen and Hulkenberg aren't the best of mates; so it might be a case of "out of the frying pan into the fire". Haas have their hands full.


These are my predictions ( my views based on my assessment ) taking into consideration the information collected in the last few weeks. I might be completely wrong when the lineups are confirmed officially by the teams. 
Hulkenberg, Bottas, Grosjean and Gasly have the second half to prove their worth to their current employers or give better auditions to prospective drives..The clock is ticking and Desperate Times call for Desperate Measures...