2020 Austrian GP Race Recap : Season Opener serves up a Race of Attrition!

2020 has been a challenging year. The Pandemic Covid-19 brought the entire world to a standstill with nations having to enforce lockdowns, instructing their populace to exercise social distancing and employ extensive sanitization measures. Sporting events had to be postponed or cancelled throughout the year and F1 was no exception. The sport attempted to kick-start the season in Australia in March but the event was called off on Friday morning after a couple of personnel in the paddock tested positive. Consequently, more racing events were cancelled or postponed and there was a possibility of a heavily truncated 2020 F1 season.

Thankfully the "curve flattened" in Europe ( from June ) and various sporting events announced dates for resumption in 2020. Formula One Management also drew up plans and the season would kick off at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria on the first weekend of July, with a calendar featuring 15 to 16 races. 

Unfortunately the first 8 races viz. Austrian & Styrian GPs, Hungarian GP, British GP, 70th Anniversary GP, Spanish GP, Belgian GP and the Italian GP would be closed-door events with a set of protocols in place to protect the well-being of the travelling F1 Fraternity.


Let us have a quick recap of the opening race weekend!


Friday and Saturday Free Practices saw the dominance of Mercedes powered cars with the Honda-powered Red Bulls trying their best to keep the Mercedes' works team honest. Ferrari suffered from a lack of straight-line speed while their customers - Haas and Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen had balance issues. Racing Point was a revelation, so was McLaren; Renault featured in the top 10 as well. Less than half a second separated P3 from P16, qualifying would be a closely contested affair!



Qualifying :

Q1 saw almost all drivers set lap times on soft tyres ( bar Albon who used a Medium set ). Magnussen, Russell, Giovinazzi, Raikkonen and Latifi were the casualties. Raikkonen complained about traffic on his final run. Ricciardo ran wide just ahead of him throwing up a lot of gravel onto the racing line compromising his times even further. Nevertheless, it was a day to forget for Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen.. a team which was 1.1 seconds quicker and in Q3 last year; back to the drawing board for them. 

Max Verstappen set a banker lap with a set of Medium tyres while his team-mate made a mistake on his first run but had the luxury of an extra set of soft tyres to set things right on the second. The Ferrari duo of Leclerc and Vettel struggled to keep up with their lap times; the former just scraping through in 10th while the latter ending up as the first big casualty of Q2. Gasly, Kvyat, Ocon, Grosjean were the others eliminated. Ocon had a lacklustre Saturday and was hoping to things around 24 hours later. Everyone barring Verstappen had set their fastest lap on the soft tyres. Red Bull's decision to have Max start the race on a medium set of tyres could prove pivotal in terms of strategy.

Mercedes AMG Petronas turned up their engines and went all out in Q3. They opened up a considerable gap to their immediate challengers ( Red Bull ) with Bottas getting provisional pole against Hamilton. Verstappen & Albon were P3 and P4, followed by Perez, Leclerc and Sainz. Norris, Stroll and Ricciardo opted for only one run in Q3. 

Bottas was on a flyer in his final run but ran wide and onto the gravel, bringing out yellow flags and compromising the times of the cars behind him. Lewis ( who was behind him ) set personal best sector times but couldn't beat his team-mate and had to settle for a front-row start. Verstappen qualified 3rd while Norris catapulted himself to 4th to split the Red Bulls. A great qualifying session for McLaren! Albon was 5th followed by Perez, Leclerc, Sainz, Stroll and Ricciardo.


Hamilton had ignored Yellow Flags on his final run in Q3 ( due to Bottas' offtrack excursion ) and got docked 3 places after Red Bull protested against the Stewards' decision to not penalize him earlier for the infringement. The penalty was dished out just an hour before the start of the race and the 6 times World Champion would have to start the race in 5th.



Race :

Red Bull had enjoyed a fair share of success at their home race with Max Verstappen winning the previous 2 editions and many experts believed the performance deficit would reduce with Verstappen starting on the more lasting set of medium tyres. Mercedes too had an ace up their sleeve, their much talked about DAS - Dual-Axis Steering System. They opted to use it only for the race. DAS is a device that appears to change the alignment (toe) of the front wheels. It is controlled by the driver by pulling and pushing on the steering column. 

More on that here: https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/article.das-explained-what-we-know-so-far-about-mercedes-trick-new-steering-system.4vgDQ6cc20xUfhdZGT0ejB.html

Red Bull Racing lodged an official protest over the legality of the system but their claims were rejected by the FIA.

Tyre choices were the same for everyone outside the top 10 ( Medium set ). The lap times around the circuit are pretty short so the timing of the pit stops had to be perfect for the front runners.

The 5 red lights went out and the 2020 season got underway with Bottas leading into the first turn from Verstappen and Norris. Norris tried to challenge Max but the Dutchman held firm. Hamilton too put extensive pressure on Albon but status quo was maintained. It was a clean getaway and a clean opening lap for all 20 drivers.

Bottas slowly pulled away from Verstappen while Albon breezed past Norris with DRS Assistance on lap 3. Norris was then passed by Hamilton a lap later and relegated to 5th. 

Sebastian Vettel finally made it past Ricciardo to get into points-scoring position on lap 7. Hamilton, on the other hand, overtook Albon on lap 9 and started eating into the lead that the duo at the front had built. 

Disaster struck Max Verstappen on Lap 12. The Dutchman slowed down and rapidly lost places while trying to run through a series of settings on his dash to restore power to his Honda unit. He complained about the car going into anti-stall after every mode change. He limped back into the pits, the team put on a set of hard tyres, even performed a Steering Wheel change at the stop but the problem seemed terminal. He climbed out of the car and into retirement on lap 14, visibly frustrated. 

The Mercedes duo now had a free run at the front and it seemed that they were destined for a 1-2; the order though was debatable as Lewis continued to chip away at Bottas' lead. Lap 18 saw more drama with Lance Stroll who was running in 8th started suffering from sensor issues on his engine and lost positions to Vettel and Gasly in the space of 2 laps. He would eventually drive back to his garage at the end of lap 21, a sad end after a promising Saturday. Bottas and Hamilton were notified about the sensor failure and instructed to take utmost care of the car. Daniel Ricciardo too suffered a retirement, cooling issues on his power unit to blame. ( Lap 18 ). Grosjean had a quick trip across the gravel at turn 5 while Kimi Raikkonen passed his team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi to take over 13th in his pursuit of Magnussen and Ocon. The Finn pitted for a set of Hard Tyres on Lap 25 to undercut both.

Magnussen suffered a front brake failure while defending from Ocon on lap 26 ( Turn 1 ) bringing out the Safety Car. A slew of pit stops followed a lap later with everyone opting for the Hard Compound tyres. Perez and Norris were neck and neck out of their respective pit boxes but the Racing Point driver avoided the fast lane thus escaping from an unsafe release investigation. 

Racing resumed on Lap 31 with Sainz challenging Leclerc for P6 going into Turn 3. The Spaniard was on the outside and had to give up on the move to make the corner but Sebastian Vettel who was behind him went for a late and unrealistic lunge, locked up, got spun around and suffered damage besides being relegated to 15th place! The stewards deemed the incident as "no action necessary".

Perez went past Norris on lap 34 while the Mercedes started building up a gap again. Grosjean was served a black and white flag for exceeding track limits on multiple occasions, the warning adding insult to injury to an already under-performing Haas driver.

The fight at the front was pretty tense with Hamilton staying within DRS Range but not getting too close to avoid the dirty air from the Mercedes in front. He was also very vocal about the strategy employed by the team and wanted the right of passage since he believed he could go quicker. Both drivers were once again warned about their sensor issues - engine and gearbox and instructed to avoid using the kerbs as much as possible. These instructions didn't stop being issued and eventually, the Chief Strategist James Vowles came on the radio to warn them that the levels were "critical" ( Lap 47 ). Meanwhile, Vettel was stuck behind Raikkonen in 14th who eventually went past Russell on lap 45, the Finn losing positions due to the timing of the Safety car earlier. 

Bottas, Hamilton, Albon, Perez, Norris, Leclerc, Sainz, Gasly, Kvyat and Ocon were the top 10 at the end of Lap 48. 

2 Laps later, Grosjean suffered a brake failure like his team-mate and was forced to retire while the Williams of George Russell suffered a sensor issue and ground to a halt on Lap 51. This caused another safety car to be deployed and barring the Mercedes duo and Perez, everyone else pitted for a set of fresh tyres for the final stint of the race. The Renault of Ocon and Alfa Romeo of Giovinazzi jumped Kvyat after the round of pit stops, both moving up into points-scoring positions. Perez also gained track position on Albon.

The battle at the front was now an intriguing one with the Mercedes' drivers on a used set of Hard Tyres, Perez on a used set of Mediums and the rest of the pack on brand new sets of tyres ( some on softs, some on mediums ).

The safety car pulled into the pits on lap 54 and Albon went about reclaiming 3rd place from Perez in full earnest. 2 corners into the restart and the safety car had to be redeployed! This time it was Kimi Raikkonen who had stalled on the start-finish straight minus the right front wheel! Replays showed that the wheel had gotten undone when the Finn went over the penultimate turn at the restart! He would be the 7th retirement of the Race, a cross-threaded wheel nut to blame! His team-mate Giovinazzi ran wide on Turn 1 ( at the restart ) and was relegated to P13.

The cars then had to pass through the pits while the stricken Alfa Romeo was cleared off the start-finish straight. Albon who had earlier challenged Perez for P3 was allowed to take up that position after replays showed that he was already ahead of Perez ( under racing conditions on Lap 54 ) before the Safety Car was deployed for the third time. He now at a great chance of a podium, possibly a win!

The safety car pulled into the pits on Lap 61 and Bottas had a great restart but Lewis came under intense pressure from Albon at turn 3. The battle continued on the run into turn 4 and Albon was forced to take the outside line. There was contact between the duo and Albon was sent into a spin! Albon didn't mince his words over the radio! Perez, Norris and Leclerc now completed the top 5 while the remaining Red Bull rejoined in 13th and last! 

The Stewards initiated an investigation into the incident ( on Lap 64 ). A rejuvenated Leclerc made an amazing move on Norris to take P4 on the same lap and also set the fastest lap of the race. 2 Laps later, on lap 66, he performed an amazing late braking manoeuvre into turn 3 to take P3 from Perez. The Ferrari had come alive! 

Lewis Hamilton was handed a 5 second time penalty for his collision with Albon which would effectively mean that Leclerc and possibly Perez could end up on the podium! ( More on that later )

Perez's hopes of a podium were dashed on Lap 68 after he was handed a time penalty of 5 seconds for speeding in the pit lane; to make matters worse, Lando Norris made a lunge down the inside at turn 3 a lap later, banging wheels and relegating him to P5. Lando now had the chance to reduce the deficit to Hamilton and possibly get a maiden podium finish! There was action at the back of the pack as well. Antonio Giovinazzi made up for the places he lost with overtakes that promoted him to P9, even fending off a charge by Vettel! Kvyat was the one going backwards in this tussle.

Bottas and Hamilton were given "full beans" to help the latter build a five-second buffer to the 4th placed man Norris. Hamilton set a couple of fastest laps and the team even pondered on a position switch to better his chances. 

There was more drama on Lap 69 with Albon pulling over to the side of the track after what seemed to be a power unit failure. One lap later, Daniil Kvyat suffered a Rear Right Suspension Failure to become the 9th and the final retirement of the race! 

It seemed that Lewis would still end up on the podium with Lando Norris being just outside the 5-second window on the penultimate lap. 

The young British driver had other plans! He punched in the fastest lap of the race on the final lap pipping his countryman to a well deserved maiden podium finish!!!

Bottas had driven a flawless race to win the first race of the 2020 F1 Season! Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris produced stunning drives to finish P2 and P3 respectively. Lewis Hamilton had to settle for P4 while Sainz, Perez, Gasly, Ocon, Giovinazzi and Vettel completed the top 10. Rookie Nicolas Latifi would take 11th, the final finisher of a retirement laden race!



Analysis of the Albon-Hamilton Incident :

Albon was on a brand new set of soft tyres while Lewis was on a set of old hard tyres. Albon got great traction out of Turn 2 and carried that momentum into Turn 3 and Turn 4. Lewis placed his car pretty well and the only way to pass was on the outside. The power deficit on the Honda meant that Albon couldn't pass Lewis on the 2 DRS straights and would have to make a move under braking. He was able to execute this and was ahead of Lewis at the exit of Turn 4. Lewis held his line but didn't go full lock on his steering ( personal opinion ); eventually, this angle would lead him to tangle with Albon, the rear of the Red Bull taking the hit and going into a spin.   

There is no place for niceties in the world of racing and Lewis is one tough customer. However, he was fighting a losing battle here and should have displayed better spacial awareness. Albon had run out of road.

In Lewis' defence, he was on a set of worn-out hard tyres so was lacking grip and traction coming out of the turn. Possibly, he couldn't have turned anymore and this caused the eventual contact. The universal rule in racing is that the car with track position should always have the right of way and Lewis was penalized for this breach. Thankfully the severity of the penalties have been reduced from this year and Lewis got a time penalty of only 5 seconds. Albon came off worse losing the chance of his maiden podium or even win, eventually retiring on lap 69. 


 Post-race investigation of  Kimi Raikkonen's retirement revealed that a wheel nut was cross-threaded in his pit stop and  Alfa Romeo were fined 5000 Euros for this. Tough day at the office for the most experienced man on the grid.


The season opener was a thriller!  Bottas began the season on the right note with Mercedes still being the fastest car on the grid but with chinks in their armour. Ferrari had a poor Saturday but Leclerc stepped up to the challenge and produced a stellar drive on the day that mattered. Vettel could have done likewise but for the incident; he will have another shot at it later this week. McLaren's resurgence was the talk of the paddock and Lando Norris deserved special praise for pushing right till the end and bagging his maiden podium. Sainz Jr. put in yet another consistent drive. The days of old were back for the Woking-based outfit.  Racing Point wasn't far behind and will have a say sooner rather than later.  Red Bull Racing would be hoping to have better reliability with their Honda units for Round 2 next week as they have the pace to challenge for a win. Renault's struggles seem to be far from over and they need to improve. Haas & Alfa Romeo are in a similar situation with their pace considerably slower to the times last year. Giovinazzi was the saving grace for Alfa. The Italian Stallion drove a great race to finish P9 and bring home a couple of points. Williams is improving and I believe that they shall be in the points soon.


The second race of the season will be on the same track the following weekend. Addressing reliability will be the main concern for all teams. We might be served another masterpiece in the hills of Styria!  


The F1 Season is truly underway!

The Driver Merry-Go-Round... Musical Chairs in a Lockdown!

The 2020 F1 Season which was due to commence in March got postponed in the light of the pandemic COVID-19 which has wreaked havoc across the world. The calendar has been modified with the mid-summer break being preponed and the FIA hoping to have 15 to 16 race weekends in 2020.

The entire F1 Fraternity is in a state of lockdown but can there ever be calm and stillness in the world of F1??

There is a lot of paddock chatter at the start of every season about drivers moving to different teams, contracts being extended and hints being dropped to the media over every race weekend. The picture becomes clearer only during the mid-summer break, the time around which I used to make the Driver lineup predictions for the upcoming season. 

There have been major updates about Driver Lineups for 2021 since the past week, 2 of the biggest announcements coming in today. 


The 3 Major Announcements this week :

Sebastian Vettel will leave Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team at the end of the 2020 season, Daniel Ricciardo signs for McLaren F1 Team with a multi-year deal while Carlos Sainz Jr. makes the jump into the Ferrari seat vacated by Vettel!



The onset of the pandemic meant that no team was able to show their true capability. The FIA also decided to postpone the Technical Regulation overhaul which was due in 2021 to 2022. This means that teams would majorly run the same cars in 2021 ( as they would in a truncated 2020 season ) with their customary upgrades coming in in-season. This also means that drivers who are switching seats will carry vital R&D information to their new teams and this could bring the grid closer and make 2021 even more exciting.  


Let us have a look at teams who have their lineups confirmed and those which still have drives available.


Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :

Mercedes have been the most successful team of the Turbo Era and the partnership of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas ( since 2017 ) ensured that supremacy is maintained. Both are out of contract for 2021 though and there are a lot of takers for the best seats on the grid. Lewis Hamilton, the 6 Time World Champion and Mercedes' Prized Asset was rumoured to have been offered a deal by Ferrari but all the speculation came to an end after the appointment of Carlos Sainz Jr. today. Hamilton is capable of winning more titles and hasn't lost his edge, so staying put is the logical decision. Mercedes should announce the renewal of his contract soon.

Bottas, who was earlier managed by Toto Wolff, the Team Principal and CEO of the team has been through a hat-trick of one-year contract extensions with the team. The availability of Sebastian Vettel for 2021 means that Bottas' chances of contract extension are again down to his performances in 2020 ( if we go racing ). The chances of losing his seat seem bleak ( for now ) but if his performances aren't up to the mark then the team might have to do a rethink and probably convince Vettel ( if he is contemplating retirement ).  

If Mercedes were to consider signing the 4-time world champion ( Vettel ), Bottas would be relegated to a team further down the grid. Renault F1 Team would be the best bet in that case since Mercedes' Esteban Ocon got the nod for a drive in 2020 thanks to the efforts of Toto Wolff ( who might manage Bottas again if he is on the way out ). A lot hinges on what transpires on track for the Finn.  


There is George Russell as well ( who is a part of the team's driver program ) but is contracted at Williams till the end of 2021. The 2018 F2 Champion is a fantastic driver but will need more grooming before he is ready for the big jump.



Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

Carlos Sainz Jr. comes in to replace Sebastian Vettel for 2021 and will partner Charles Leclerc. Charles Leclerc had a great maiden season at Ferrari beating his more experienced team-mate and a 4 time World Champion in Vettel. He is the future and the team hope to see him as Champion one day!

Vettel joined Ferrari in 2015 with the dream of winning a championship with them, just like his idol Michael Schumacher. 5 years have passed and the dream is yet to be fulfilled. 2020 will be his last chance if we do have any races. Pre-season tests weren't the most encouraging but a lot can change at races ( as seen in the past ). Vettel had a lot more on his plate during his time at Ferrari than at Red Bull. There were frequent changes in the top brass, strategy calls weren't at their best, there were mechanical failures and then there were rookie mistakes at pivotal moments by the driver himself. He had to do a lot more within the team than just racing and that can take a toll on any individual. Not much has changed as is evident from the results of 2019. Vettel also knows that he might not have preferential status ( which was never the case despite public admission by the team ) and decided against renewing his contract. It is interesting to note that he took this decision after spending just one season with Leclerc as team-mate which hints at the fact that all was not well between them ( similar to his only season with Ricciardo in Red Bull in 2014 ).

What next for Sebastian Vettel :

Vettel still has the will to win. He is one of the top drivers on the grid and with the right team of people around him, can easily bring home his 5th World Title. The only teams capable of giving him those setups are Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 and Red Bull Racing F1, his former employers. Going elsewhere doesn't make sense. Dr Helmut Marko has made it clear that Red Bull has no vacancy for Vettel. Mercedes AMG F1 have won 6 Constructors Championships in a row with their prized asset Lewis Hamilton winning 5 Champions in the Turbo Era! Valtteri Bottas in the other seat is out of contract at the end of 2020. 

Would Mercedes want to have 2 serious contenders for the title in each of their cars? It would be a dream lineup but such a move seems highly improbable since Hamilton will have a say in such a decision. It could lead to stressful times and even clashes, something that was a regular feature during the Hamilton-Rosberg partnership from 2014 to 2016. Bottas who joined in 2017 has done a fine job as a dutiful team-mate, keeping the best interests of the team always. He has had his fair share of wins but can't match the class of a Hamilton. Hamilton and Bottas share a great equation, so why change something that works? If Vettel was to move to Mercedes...then where would Bottas go? ( Renault probably )

I feel Sebastian Vettel will take a sabbatical from the sport. It would be really sad to not see a 4 time World Champion on the grid. I hope I am wrong.


What's in Store for Carlos Sainz Jr?

Carlos Sainz Jr. has worked hard to get a top drive. A product of the Red Bull Driver Program, he partnered Max Verstappen who was chosen over him for promotion to the A-Team ( in-season in 2016 ) by Red Bull. He stayed with Toro Rosso ( now Alpha Tauri ) until his switch in-season to Renault F1 in 2017 and then stayed with them for 2018. He did an exceptional job for McLaren F1 Team ( his employers in 2019 ), bagging a podium, a feat achieved by them after 2072 days and finishing 6th in the Drivers' Standings ( Best of the rest ) in a highly competitive year. He was termed as "hot property" and McLaren chased the others away by signing him on a multi-year deal till 2022. Ferrari would have paid a hefty amount to McLaren to fulfil the exit clause on his contract.

The Spanish Media is overjoyed with this news, evident from the series of tweets which were like a countdown to the official announcement of his appointment ( on  Movistar F1 Reporter Noemi di Miguel's Twitter Handle ). The Spaniard is following the footsteps of his hero and double world champion Fernando Alonso and I am sure he will be a handful at Ferrari! He needed the drive to show what he is truly capable of...THIS IS HIS CHANCE! We wish the best for Carlos Sainz Jr...

Ferrari will have relatively younger drivers in their lineup, something that goes against their tradition of having a mix of youth and experience. Hope they can develop a strong package for 2021 and beyond. 

Daniel Ricciardo was another contender for this seat ( equally worthy of it and a multiple race winner ) but I think he would have decided against it because Leclerc enjoys the same amount of attention that Verstappen does at Red Bull. He also saved himself from the politics that come with bagging a seat at Ferrari.   


McLaren F1 Team :

McLaren is on the move, they have been improving since their switch to Renault Power from 2018 and 2019 saw them finish in a strong position ( 4th ) in the Constructors' Standings. They will be powered by Mercedes Benz from 2021 onwards, the return of the iconic "McLaren Mercedes" Partnership - reminiscent of the days of Mika Hakkinen, David Coulthard and a young Kimi Raikkonen! The switch to Mercedes power was due to the new technical regulations but due to the postponement of the same, considerable amount of work will be required on their 2020/21 chassis to accommodate the 2021 spec Mercedes Unit. 


Lando Norris, the McLaren protegee will be partnered by Daniel Ricciardo who makes his way from Renault F1 Team in 2021. Norris had a decent rookie year but will need to iron out the mistakes to bring the team closer to the top and ensure he enjoys an upper hand in the intra-team battle.


Daniel Ricciardo switched to Renault F1 at the start of the 2019 season on a 2 year deal with the hope to be part of a Factory Works Team that can return to winning ways. 2019 wasn't smooth sailing for either with experts and fans questioning the reason behind such a move. His switch to McLaren coincides with the arrival of the reliable and multi championship-winning Mercedes engine in 2021. This could be the boost that the team needs to propel themselves to the sharp end of the grid. Daniel Ricciardo was the driver of choice to land the Ferrari Seat ( for most of us ) but this switch isn't such a bad deal after all. He might not be in a Championship winning car yet but will be able to bag podiums and an occasional win. Will 2022 be the same? That is another matter.

Ricciardo and Norris are great entertainers in the world of F1 and the prospect of having them as team-mates will add more fans to an already popular and well-known team!


 


Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

Red Bull Racing F1 had some tough decisions to make in 2019. Pierre Gasly who had landed the drive alongside Max Verstappen had to be demoted to Scuderia Toro Rosso ( now known as Scuderia Alpha Tauri ) mid-season due to inconsistent performances. Alexander Albon, a rookie got the nod and he didn't disappoint. His performances warranted him a drive in 2020 but come 2021, that seat is once again up for grabs! Max Verstappen is the team leader and his contract extension of 3 years indicate he wants to win Championships at Red Bull. The one who comes on board as his team-mate will need to be equally good if not better since both drivers need to score big in the team's quest to win the Constructors' title again. 


The Contenders - Alexander Albon, Daniil Kvyat & Pierre Gasly. The trio has had a stint with the A-Team and is aware of the standards that need to be set to remain in that seat. 

If we don't have any racing in 2020, then the seat by default should land with Albon. The young Thai Driver has impressed the bosses with his consistent drives and almost bagged a podium in Brazil but to be taken out by Hamilton on the penultimate lap last year. 

Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly ( after his demotion ) made a strong case for themselves in 2019, bagging a podium each. 2020 is the best chance to win back the trust of the top brass. Dr Helmut Marko, the head of the Red Bull Driver Program admitted that Kvyat was back in the reckoning for the Red Bull Seat after his performances in 2019 and Red Bull will take their time ( probably till the end of 2020 ) before making a decision. Dr Helmut Marko also shunned the possibility of Sebastian Vettel returning to Red Bull.


Albon is the favourite for 2021 ( according to me ).


 


Scuderia Alpha Tauri F1 Team :

Scuderia Alpha Tauri, Red Bull's "B" Team, has been a great launchpad for drivers of Red Bull's Driver Programme. The departures of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniel Ricciardo from the programme have seen their options dwindle. The most promising youngster in their ranks is the Estonian Juri Vips but he is still a year or two away from an F1 Drive. This leaves Red Bull with Alexander Albon, Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly. Albon stays in the A team for 2020 while the other two are retained by Alpha Tauri. 

The trio is in the reckoning for the Red Bull Seat for 2021, so the pair that misses out is likely to be retained by the team for 2021. Red Bull can look outside their program and rope in the services of the next F2 Champion ( if he isn't of any other programme ) or sign another capable F2 driver. Too early to make that call and we shall have a better picture once racing in 2020 kicks off.   


( Jehan Daruvala, the Indian Racer in F2 has also been recruited to the Red Bull Junior Team )



Renault Sport F1 Team :

Renault Sport F1 had a challenging 2019. They snapped up the services of Esteban Ocon (2-year contract ) after he was released by Mercedes. Daniel Ricciardo was also offered a long term contract but the talks fell apart and the Australian moved to McLaren F1. 


The empty Renault seat is now a hotbed for speculation. They aren't where they should be but as a works team have a lot of resources and manpower to turn things around. This will attract the attention of the extremely talented but currently on a sabbatical, Fernando Alonso. Alonso had 2 fantastic stints with Renault, winning back to back Championships in 2005 and 2006. He knows the team well, knows how they operate and has the skill set to help them diagnose issues and turn things around. His experience will be invaluable. He will also be a great mentor to a younger Ocon. 


Valtteri Bottas is another option if Mercedes were to release him in 2021. He would have a fair amount of experience and bring in vital knowledge which could help the team build a formidable challenger next year. We shall know soon. The team must weigh all their option before making any decision.


The recently released Nico Hulkenberg is also an option for the team. The German failed to capitalize whenever an opportunity arose and might not bring anything new to the table...so his chances of being re-signed are low.


Renault lost the services of F2 Driver Jack Aitken ( who was their reserve driver ) to Williams but they have a good pool of talented drivers who will eventually be F1 worthy soon. 




Racing Point F1 Team :

Sergio Perez, the faithful one, announced that he would be sticking with the team for another 3 years. Lance Stroll's contract is due for renewal at the end of 2020 but he is likely to stay put. His Billionaire Father Lawrence Stroll has invested heavily in the team after saving it from going into administration in 2018. His acquisition of the Aston Martin brand brings an added impetus. There is a new factory on the way in 2021 and the team will be rechristened as Aston Martin Racing F1, so long term plans are already in place. There have also been reports of Toto Wolff, the current team principal and CEO of Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 moving to the team since he holds a stake in Aston Martin. I see it as highly improbable. Mercedes will do everything to retain their winning combination.

On the Driver Front, it seems the pairing of Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll will stay. The team need continuity in this rebuilding phase and the duo offer a right mix of Experience and Youth.



Haas F1 Team :

Haas F1 persisted with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean for 2020. It was a big surprise to retain the duo because they don't get along and have brought a fair share of pain to the team with their on-track errors and tiffs. They need to improve their performances in 2020 to help the team come back up and make the bosses view the team's participation in the sport as a profitable and feasible venture. Both drivers are out of contract in 2020 and I see Grosjean being released by the team.  


Magnussen is feisty but is more consistent of the two which tips the scales in his favour. I see him being retained for 2021.


Nico Hulkenberg will be a great option for the team. The German was initially resistant to a move lower down the grid but was willing to bend to save his F1 Career last year. Haas had made their decision by then. They should consider him for 2021 though. He is quick and more dependable than their current lineup. His not-so-amicable interactions with Magnussen ( in the past ) will pose a hurdle should the team have such a pairing.   

I see Louis Deletraz ( a Renault protegee ) and Haas' test driver for 2020 as another contender for the seat. The promotion will hinge on his performances in F2 where he has been racing for the past 4 years and improving steadily. 



Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 Team :

Alfa Romeo is going through a massive rebuilding phase. Kimi Raikkonen provided them with a mini-revival of sorts in the first half of 2019 but the lack of updates sent them backwards in the second half. Antonio Giovinazzi, on the other hand, had a much better second half with performances improving with each passing race. The duo was retained for 2020 but come 2021, both seats will be up for grabs at this team.


Antonio Giovinazzi deserves a drive in 2021. One must remember that he hadn't raced competitively for 2 years and he will go from strength to strength in 2020. He has the skills to be in a top team and Scuderia Ferrari will be closely monitoring his progress..who knows he might eventually get the call up to partner Leclerc in the Prancing Horse!


Kimi Raikkonen, my hero, is in the twilight of his glorious career and 2020 is slated to be his last year in F1. We are yet to go racing in 2020 and the delay of the new regulations to 2022 might tempt him to stay on for another year at Alfa Romeo. The team that gave him his debut way back in 2002 have reiterated that he is free to race with them as long as he wants, his expertise being pivotal in their revival. He has also been mentoring his team-mate with regards to racing in F1.


There are a few talents from the Ferrari Drivers' Program waiting in the wings should a seat become available - Mick Schumacher, the son of the legendary Michael Schumacher has been fast-tracked into F2, Callum Illot ( who tested for the team last year ), Marcus Armstrong and the F3 Champion of 2019 Robert Schwartzman.




Rokit Williams F1 Racing Team :

Williams F1, one of the oldest teams of the sport have lost their way in the Turbo Era. There have been the slowest on the grid for quite some time but there are glimpses of hope from the results in the second half of 2019. George Russell, the 2018 F2 Champion is retained and contracted till the end of 2021 while Nicolas Latifi, the 2019 F2 Runner Up bagged the second seat for 2020. He brings a significant amount of funding with him, something desperately needed at the team and this will work in his favour for 2021.

If Mercedes were to exercise the option of hiring George Russell in 2021, then Williams has a considerable pool of talent from their programme to replace the Brit - Reserve Car Driver Jack Aitken, Dan Ticktum, Roy Nissany and even Jamie Chadwick who could bring the return of females into F1 after 43 years!



I think Nyck de Vries, the 2019 F2 Champion also deserves a special mention. The talented Dutchman who finally won the coveted title couldn't find a drive for 2020 ( quite unfortunate ) and is plying his trade in Formula E. I do hope that he is considered by some team and doesn't fade into oblivion like Davide Valsecchi, the 2012 GP2 Champion!

I would love to see him in the Black and Yellow of Renault F1 and if he does...then remember that you first read it here!


The 2020 F1 Season hasn't even kicked off and it feels like 2021 is already upon us. The news of Drivers with New Drives have made many of us forget that they still have a full season of racing left with their current teams! Time is flying by in 2020.

Such has been these lockdowns in the time of COVID-19.... and the F1 Fraternity have been playing Musical Chairs!

The Paddock Weekends - 2019 Japanese GP - Day 3 ( Day 2 called off )

Typhoon Hagibis had wrecked havoc in mainland Japan on Saturday. The Circuit organizers had decided to shift Qualifying to Sunday Morning while cancelling all events on Saturday ( and rightly so ). The storms lasted for the night but the sun came out in the morning! It was great to behold the morning sun on what promised to be a very very busy Race Day!

 

A Glorious Morning after a Stormy Saturday!


We had learnt our lesson and decided to use the Trains to make our way into Suzuka. The first leg of my journey consistent of a one stop Metro ride to Nagoya Central Station.

Taking the Metro to Nagoya Central Station :


The train ride to Shiroko Station and a 15 minute Taxi ride to Suzuka from there.


Shiroko to Suzuka :


The journey was fairly brisk and we reached the Paddock Gates at 9 in the morning. There were others from the F1 Fraternity making an entry with us!


The F1 Supremo, the CEO, Mr. Chase Carey :


Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Principal Toto Wolff :


Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :


Welcome to the Japanese GP Paddock!


Chocolate and Cappuccino to go with breakfast :


Post breakfast, I made my way down to the F1 Village to see what the stores had on offer.

The F1 Village, completely packed with passionate fans. It is pretty evident that Kimi Raikkonen is a big hit in Japan.


An hour of walking around and it was time to head to the Viewing Terrace for the start of Qualifying.

The view from the Terrace on Sunday Morning :


Shots from Q1 :


Charles Leclerc was the fastest in Q1 from Lewis Hamilton & Max Verstappen. Both the Alfa Romeos made it into Q2!


Returning to the Pits at the end of the session :


Q2 Underway :


Valtteri Bottas was the Fastest in Q2 from Lewis Hamilton and Alexander Albon! Antonio Giovinazzi qualified in P11 while Kimi Raikkonen finished in P13, both Alfa Romeo cars out in Q2 sadly.


Shots from Q3 :

Video Link for Start of Q3 :



Sebastian Vettel grabbed Pole position from Charles Leclerc and Valtteri Bottas, a great position to start for Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team!

Alfa Romeo would be disappointed to narrowly miss being in the top 10, but a free tyre choice should promise them a strong race!


The various levels of Access in the Paddock World of F1. Complex and confusing!


Post Qualifying, it was time for the Pit Lane Walk :

Shots from the Pit Lane Walk :


The Alfa Romeo Racing Garage getting prepped :



Lunch :


The Motorhome, a busy place. Everyone grabbing a quick bite before heading back to the garage to prepare for the race :


Grid Kids making their way down to the grid :


I found my vantage spot on the Terrace and it was time to get ready for the Grid Presentation and the Race Start!


The Starting Grid - a hub of activity before the Race Start :


The Drivers gathering for the National Anthem before the race :


The chariots being readied for their riders :

The Alfa Romeo crew getting the machines ready :


The Boys getting suited up for battle :


Time to get buckled in :


Final checks before the Formation Lap :


The Timer running down :


The Grid is cleared for the start of the Formation Lap :


Formation lap time!


Video Link To Start of the Formation Lap :



Cars forming up on the grid for the Race Start :


2019 Japanese GP Race Start ( Video Link ) :



Shots from the race :


Charles Leclerc Pit Stop ( Video Link ) :



Alex Albon Pit Stop ( Video Link ) :



Sebastian Vettel Pit Stop ( Video Link ) :



Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team battling in out in the race :


Valtteri Bottas reigned supreme in Japan. Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton finished P2 and P3 respectively. Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi finished P12 and P14, another weekend with no points for the the team..unable to break the rut!


The Paddock being packed up before the race ends. A common occurrence at a lot of race weekends.


I spent some time socializing with friends post race.

China is a short trip from Japan and it was amazing to meet the ICE ARMY from China! Fanatical Kimi Raikkonen supporters this lot!


Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team :


Making my way to the circuit exit :


Bye Bye Suzuka! You were awesome! Hope to be back here one day!


Back to Nagoya..will miss these views.


Kimi Raikkonen flag, Thank you for the gift Ice Army China :


The Collectibles from the Race Weekend! Mini helmets of Antonio Giovinazzi, Kimi Raikkonen, Charles Leclerc & Lewis Hamilton and the Scale model of Kimi Raikkonen's Alfa Romeo F1 Car C38.


It was yet another disappointing weekend for Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team. However we keep pushing and we will be back to better days soon! A Big Thank you to the team for their hospitality!

Japan has been an overwhelming experience. I am bowled over by the warmth & respect shown by the people. Words fall short to describe the passion that the fans have..they Live, Breathe F1. At every step you find fans with unique ways of expressing their love & support for the teams & drivers. 

God Bless this land abundantly!


I do hope that you enjoyed "The Paddock Weekends" series from 2019. There will be more of these in 2020. 

Thank you all for your support and love!


The Paddock Weekends - 2019 Japanese GP - Day 1

The Circuit of Suzuka has been one of the legendary circuits on the F1 Calendar. Visiting Suzuka was on my to-do list for long. I finally had the chance of visiting it in 2019. The Plans were made, albeit at a short notice. I flew into Tokyo, staying for the weekend in Nagoya. 

Unfortunately, due to Typhoon Hagibis which was due to hit Suzuka on the weekend, the organisers decided to not run any sessions on Saturday. The same was announced on Friday. Friday was going to be a busy day for the teams - Gathering data and locking down their facilities to survive the storm.


My Pass for the weekend :


We were driven to the Circuit on Friday. Big Mistake! We got stuck in traffic and missed about 20 minutes of Free Practice 1.

Enroute to the Circuit :


The makeshift Alfa Romeo Racing Motorhome for the weekend :


The Paddock on Friday Morning, usually calm and silent :


Beauties used in the Pirelli Hot Laps Experience, I was amazed at the rides on offer :


I soon found a spot in the Paddock Club and began clicking some stills from FP1.

Shots from Free Practice 1 :


Valtteri Bottas was the fastest in FP1 from Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. Antonio Giovinazzi suffered a Gearbox Failure and did only 4 laps in FP1. Kimi Raikkonen finished P12.


I made it back into the Paddock and it was time to meet some F1 Fraternity!

Mr. Sami Visa! Kimi Raikkonen's PR! He is such an amazing and humble guy! So blessed to meet him!



Takeo Yokoyama, Technical Manager for Repsol Honda Team in Moto GP. I had never imagined meeting him at a F1 race weekend; as a big Repsol Honda Fan, this was truly an honour!


Lunch is served :


The lunch complete, I made my way down to the Pit Lane for the only Pit Lane Walk of the Day.

Time for the Pit Lane Walk!


Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team was kind enough to invite me into their Garage during the Pit Lane Walk :


Fans dressed up as Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas enjoying their F1 weekend :


The Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Pit Box :


Sergei Sirotkin, Renault Sport F1 Team Reserve Driver :


Nico Hulkenberg, Renault Sport F1 Team :


Daniel Ricciardo, Renault Sport F1 Team :


It was then time for Free Practice 2!

Shots from Free Practice 2 :


Valtteri Bottas was the fastest in FP2 from Lewis Hamilton & Max Verstappen. Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi were P11 and P15 respectively.


The Paddock winding down after Free Practice 2, the post session formalities being carried out :


Cappuccino and Swiss Chocolate, an unbeatable combination :


Lance Stroll, Sportpesa Racing Point F1 Team :


Alex Albon, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing F1 Team :


Friday Evening was more like a Sunday evening, a lot was being packed up by the logistics team; sandbags were placed to weather the storm that was incoming. No one was sure of the damage the typhoon could leave in its wake, all they could do was to fortify and prepare.


Meeting some Japanese Super fans in the Paddock! The Duo had the best day of their lives, thanks to Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team who invited them to enjoy a whole day in the Paddock! I was really awed by their passion!


I made my way to the Taxi Stand to head back to the Train Station and came across this!

Proof that Kimi Raikkonen still tops the charts in Japan! His fan following knows no bounds!