F1’s best and worst mid-season replacements

Following the news earlier this week that Daniil Kvyat and Max Verstappen are to swap seats for the Spanish Grand Prix, let’s take a look back at some of Formula One’s best mid-season replacements of the last 25 years, along with some of the worst.

Michael Schumacher (Jordan and Benetton, 1991)

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He may be the most successful driver in Formula One history, but back in August 1991, Michael Schumacher was a relative unknown, partway through a World Sportscar Championship campaign as a Mercedes factory driver.

At the same time, Jordan driver Bertrand Gachot was busy securing himself a stretch behind bars by spraying CS gas into the face of a London taxi driver, leaving Eddie Jordan with a vacancy to fill ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix.

Schumacher duly got the call, and despite having never driven F1 machinery in anger, turned up at Spa and qualified a remarkable seventh, nearly a second ahead of teammate Andrea de Cesaris, who had been driving the car all season.

A clutch failure prevented Schumacher from taking the start, but he had caught the eye of Benetton, who promptly signed the future seven-time world champion before the next race at Monza.

There followed an impressive fifth place, ahead of triple world champion teammate Nelson Piquet, before a pair of sixth places in the next two races secured Schumacher a full-time contract with the Enstone team.

The rest, as they say, is history…

Mika Hakkinen (McLaren, 1993)

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Having started his Grand Prix career with two strong seasons at Lotus, Mika Hakkinen was supposed to race for McLaren from the start of 1993, but a last-minute decision by Ayrton Senna to race for the Woking squad and the signing of CART racer Michael Andretti left the Finn on the sidelines.

Fortunately for Hakkinen, Andretti never settled in Formula One, and with three races of the season remaining, the American was sent back across the pond to resume his career stateside. His departure gave Hakkinen his chance at the Portuguese Grand Prix, where he stunned the world by outqualifying the legendary Senna.

Hakkinen crashed out of the race the following day, but made amends by securing his maiden podium finish at the next round in Japan. The Finn had more than proved his worth at one of the sport’s most famous names.

He went onto race for McLaren for the next eight seasons, winning two world championships, 20 Grands Prix and securing 26 pole positions, earning his place among the sport’s greats.

Sebastian Vettel (Toro Rosso, 2007)

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A highly touted 19-year-old that was running away with the World Series by Renault crown, Sebastian Vettel had already impressed in a one-off cameo appearance for BMW Sauber in 2007, scoring a point for eighth place in Indianapolis in place of the injured Robert Kubica.

A member of the Red Bull Young Driver Programme, a permanent break came before that year’s Hungarian Grand Prix, when Scott Speed was ousted from the Toro Rosso outfit, reportedly after a physical altercation with team boss Franz Tost at the Nurburgring.

Vettel grabbed his opportunity with both hands, and was running in an astounding third place in torrential rain in Fuji when he crashed into Mark Webber behind the safety car, eliminating both. Undeterred by heartbreak in Japan, the youngster bounced back at the next race in China and made amends with a fine drive to fourth place.

A full-time contract for 2008 followed, where an exceptional maiden win at Monza more than justified his promotion to the main Red Bull outfit in 2009. After winning four straight championships between 2010 and 2013, a move to Ferrari followed two years later.

Robert Kubica (BMW Sauber, 2006)

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Robert Kubica’s debut at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix was initially billed as a one-off in place of the injured Jacques Villeneuve, but a strong drive to seventh place – a result that was later taken away from him due to a technical infringement – gave the Pole a seat for the remainder of the season.

A low-key 12th place finish in Turkey came next, before Kubica announced as a star of the future by scoring his maiden podium finish at Monza, in just his third Grand Prix.

No more points were to follow in 2006, but Kubica had done enough to earn a full season with the Hinwil squad the following year, where he would remain until BMW’s withdrawal from F1 in 2009, having won one Grand Prix and grabbed a best championship placing of fourth in 2008.

A move to Renault in 2010 followed, with three podium finishes in an underpowered car promising much for the future, but Kubica’s career was tragically cut short after a severe rally accident shortly before the 2011 season left him with serious injuries.

Mika Salo (BAR and Ferrari, 1999)

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Mika Salo had spent the latter part of the 1990s forging a reputation as a solid midfield runner, having enjoyed spells with Lotus, Tyrrell and Arrows. Without a permanent drive for 1999, Salo first found temporary solace at BAR when he replaced the injured Ricardo Zonta for three races. A seventh place finish at Imola proved to be the team’s best result in a wretched debut year.

Salo’s most notable opportunity that year came when he was drafted in to replace Michael Schumacher at Ferrari after the German suffered a broken leg in a crash at the British Grand Prix. Despite having never driven the car, Salo worked himself into the lead of his second race for the Scuderia at Hockenheim, and only missed out on the win when he was forced to concede to Eddie Irvine, who was fighting for the championship.

The rest of Salo’s six-race spell was less fruitful, but the Finn enjoyed a second podium finish when he took third place in front of the tifosi at Monza. Salo’s efforts at Maranello helped to earn him a full-time drive at Sauber in 2000.

And three that didn’t fare so well…

Luca Badoer (Ferrari, 2009)

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In his defence, the odds could not have been stacked further against Luca Badoer when he was called upon to replace the injured Felipe Massa at Ferrari in 2009.

Badoer had several seasons of F1 experience with the unfancied Scuderia Italia, Forti and Minardi teams, but his most recent Grand Prix had been in 1999 and the Italian had not raced in any meaningful championship in the intervening ten years. Added to that, the Ferrari tester was tasked with racing a car he had never driven, and which, fitted with the hybrid KERS system, was notoriously difficult to drive.

He was given the drive as a “thank you” for his service to the Scuderia after Massa’s intended replacement Michael Schumacher was declared unfit to race due to a neck injury, but Badoer did little to repay his long-time employers on the track. He qualified last in Valencia – having been fined four times for speeding in the pit lane in practice – and his most notable moment during the race came when he forgot to disengage his pit lane speed limiter after a stop and was overtaken by Romain Grosjean.

Badoer was given a second chance at Spa, but after he again qualified and finished the race last, this time almost a lap behind teammate and race winner Kimi Raikkonen, he was replaced by Giancarlo Fisichella, the man who had taken pole and finished second that day. To put Badoer’s struggles into context, Fisichella also failed to score a point in his five races.

Romain Grosjean (Renault, 2009)

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At 23, Romain Grosjean was embroiled in a fight with Nico Hulkenberg and Vitaly Petrov for the GP2 title when he was given his F1 break with Renault in 2009, in place of the sacked Nelson Piquet Jr.

The Frenchman made his debut in Valencia, the same race where Badoer began his temporary spell with Ferrari (above) but in his seven races, he struggled to match teammate Fernando Alonso and ended an unimpressive debut season without a point.

It was during this period that Piquet Jr, incensed by his firing, revealed all about his role in the Crashgate scandal at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix and left the Enstone outfit in tatters.

Renault sold the team at the end of 2009, and Grosjean found himself out of Formula One. Knocked back, he went on to rebuild his career in the junior categories over the next two seasons, culminating in him finally winning the GP2 title in 2011.

He earned a second chance at Enstone – now rebadged at Lotus – in 2012, where after a topsy-turvy campaign that saw a succession of first lap crashes and a one-race suspension, Grosjean is now regarded as one of the sport’s most consistent drivers.

Jacques Villeneuve (Renault, 2004)

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Jacques Villeneuve was riding the crest of the wave at the end of 1997, having clinched the world championship with Williams following a now-infamous showdown with Michael Schumacher.

That day at Jerez was as good as it was ever going to get for the French-Canadian, who after a winless 1998 with Williams, moved to the all-new BAR team the following year. Five years, and just two podium finishes later, Villeneuve walked out on the Brackley squad shortly before the end of 2003 and took a sabbatical from Formula One.

Villeneuve was given the chance to drive the last three races of 2004 with Renault after Jarno Trulli was sacked following a fall out with team principal Flavio Briatore, but finished outside the points on each occasion. In comparison, Fernando Alonso scored 14 points in the same car, and Villeneuve’s failure to perform had helped the team lose second place in the constructors’ championship, ironically to BAR.

Villeneuve would join Sauber in 2005 and remained with the team when it was bought out by BMW the following year. He was released partway through the season when Robert Kubica impressed in his absence at Hungary (above), ending his Grand Prix career.

Stephen D’Albiac

Daniil Kvyat an unfortunate victim of ruthless Red Bull regime

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Formula One can be a ruthless world, as Daniil Kvyat found out to his cost earlier this week.

No more than two weeks after a combative display earned him a podium finish in the Chinese Grand Prix, Kvyat finds himself demoted from his seat at Red Bull to Scuderia Toro Rosso, his crash-strewn performance at his home race in Sochi proving his last act at the energy drinks company’s premier outfit.

Kvyat’s unceremonious fall from grace paves the way for 18-year-old Max Verstappen to seize a chance at Red Bull that, while seemingly inevitable for 2017, comes surprisingly soon for anyone on the outside looking in.

Although Red Bull and its driver development programme chief Helmut Marko will say that there is a clear rationale behind making the switch at this stage of the season, one cannot help but think that this is a rash move, and one that is unduly harsh on the Russian.

Taken as a collective, Kvyat’s performances this season have not set the world alight. His podium in China – which nearly saw beat teammate Daniel Ricciardo by less than seven seconds despite the Australian’s puncture early in the race – aside, the 22-year-old has consistently found himself wanting in terms of speed, with early exits from qualifying in Melbourne and Bahrain an early cause for concern.

Following the race in Shanghai, for which his robust, yet fair, first corner move on Sebastian Vettel earned him his place in the headlines, the spotlight fell on the youngster as he prepared to take part in his home race. There unfolded disastrous first lap in which he hit Vettel twice, consequently ruined Ricciardo’s race and earned a stop-go penalty, restricting him to a 15th place finish in front of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

It would be naïve in the extreme to suggest that Kvyat’s performance in Sochi is the reason for his demotion to Toro Rosso. All drivers make mistakes, and even a regime as bloodthirsty in their dealings with young chargers as the Red Bull Young Driver Programme does not simply make changes off the back of one torrid afternoon.

But even a sub-standard start to the season does not justify Red Bull’s decision. With 17 races to go, there was ample time for Kvyat to raise his game and begin to perform to a consistent level. Let us not forget that he actually beat Ricciardo in the drivers’ standings and came out 7-6 ahead when both drivers made it to the chequered flag last season. Ricciardo may have suffered more than his fair share of misfortune in 2015, but Kvyat was, more often than not, there to capitalise when needed and with strong drives in Monaco, Hungary and Mexico, justified the faith Red Bull showed by signing him to replace Vettel.

If the Russian was deemed not good enough for the senior team, then why was the switch not made before the start of the season? Verstappen has begun 2016 strongly, but is yet to reach the astonishing heights of his debut campaign that may well have earned him a promotion in the off-season.

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Max Verstappen will make his debut for Red Bull at the Spanish Grand Prix

There is talk that Red Bull has moved quickly to prevent potential suitors in Mercedes and Ferrari from snatching Verstappen’s signature, but was the Dutch prodigy likely to sign elsewhere with the promise of a race seat at the senior team in 2017? It would seem far-fetched, given the regulation changes that are set to come into play, giving Red Bull the chance to close the gap to the front of the field.

As things stand, the chances of Mercedes replacing Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg are extremely slim, while even if Kimi Raikkonen were to leave Ferrari at the end of the season, it would have been an extraordinarily adventurous move for a team which has been extremely cautious when it comes to signing inexperienced drivers to bolster their title assault with a teenager.

While that would not have staved off the risk of Verstappen signing a pre-agreement with another team for 2018, it is difficult to imagine that his signing of a new deal at Red Bull until 2019 to coincide with his promotion hinged solely on him leaving Toro Rosso with immediate effect.

Other reasons given for the switch include the opportunity to better evaluate all four drivers within the Red Bull stable, and the increasing friction between Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr at Toro Rosso. Both seem plausible, but with the vast reserves of data available to all teams nowadays, does a worthwhile comparison between drivers really depend on them driving the same car?

Verstappen and Sainz Jr may be at loggerheads, but is a team marshalled by such experience in the form of Franz Tost and the recently arrived John Booth really unable to control the situation?

The fundamental reasons for the move are simple. Red Bull clearly see Verstappen as the future. That is why they went to such lengths to prevent him signing for Mercedes in 2014, by offering him a drive at Toro Rosso aged just 17. Kvyat, on the other hand, is clearly not seen as someone with world championship-winning potential.

Red Bull operates like a business. As Christian Horner stated in an interview at the Chinese Grand Prix: “We have a stable of four drivers and two are on loan at Toro Rosso. All the drivers are essentially on the same contract and we have the ability at any point in time to move things round should we so wish.”

They will argue that if Verstappen jumps into the senior team and is closer to the pace, or even at the same level as Kvyat to begin with, their decision will be the right one. But that does not make the timing, or manner of this switch seem fair.

Kvyat now has the opportunity to regroup and try to rebuild his Formula One career. The chance that he will race again for Red Bull is extremely limited, and with this now being his third season, it is difficult to imagine him remaining at Toro Rosso beyond the end of 2016, especially if Pierre Gasly performs well in GP2 and shows that he is good enough to drive in F1.

Good results over the rest of the year may put him in the frame for a Renault drive, albeit with competition from Esteban Ocon and Sergey Sirotkin, while Haas could be seen as another possibility, with Romain Grosjean possibly on the shopping lists of the big teams and Esteban Gutierrez having failed to live up to expectations so far this season. Otherwise, Kvyat’s place on the grid in 2017 may well come down to whether he can muster enough sponsorship to bag a drive with one of the other, and less well off, midfield runners.

It would be a huge shame if Kvyat were to find himself without a drive next year. He may not be on the level of the very best in the sport, but at just 22 he has time on his side and has the potential to at least be a very capable asset for one of the midfield teams for many years to come.

Red Bull’s sink-or-swim strategy has cost several drivers their Grand Prix careers in the past. Just ask Sebastien Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari and Jean-Eric Vergne to name but three. Let us hope that the name of Daniil Kvyat will not soon be added to that list.

Stephen D’Albiac

Driver Ratings: Russian Grand Prix

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Credit: Mercedes-Benz

Nico Rosberg extended his lead at the top of the drivers’ standings to 43 points after a seventh straight win at Russia, but whose driving most stood out in Sochi?

44) Lewis Hamilton (8/10)*** – Relegated to tenth after power unit gremlins in qualifying, Hamilton took advantage of the first lap chaos to climb to fifth before passing Massa, Raikkonen and Bottas on track. Water pressure problems denied him a shot at the win.

6) Nico Rosberg (8/10) – Yet again left with all of the cards in his favour as his rivals fell by the wayside, Rosberg took full advantage to record a fully deserved seventh win of the season and further extend his lead at the top of the standings.

5) Sebastian Vettel (N/A) – He may have been criticised for lampooning Daniil Kvyat following the Chinese Grand Prix, but Vettel would have had every right for deploying a similar tactic against the Red Bull driver in Sochi after the Ferrari was an innocent victim of the Russian’s first lap shenanigans.

7) Kimi Raikkonen (7/10) – Raikkonen is looking like a much improved driver compared to the last two years and the Finn delivered another impressive drive in Russia to comfortably beat countryman Bottas into the final podium place.

77) Valtteri Bottas (7/10) – After three ordinary races, Bottas finally showed what he was capable of in Sochi. Drove well to keep Hamilton at bay throughout the opening stint but ultimately his Williams just lacked the speed to clinch a podium spot.

19) Felipe Massa (6/10) – A solid if unspectacular drive from the Brazilian, who lacked a couple of tenths compared to his teammate throughout the weekend en route to fifth place.

3) Daniel Ricciardo (7/10) – Innocently knocked out of contention on lap one following his teammate’s collision with Vettel, Ricciardo fought back well with a damaged car and only missed out on a point as a result of a poor call by Red Bull to fit his car with medium tyres.

26) Daniil Kvyat (3/10) – A home Grand Prix to forget for Kvyat, who clumsily hit Vettel not once, but twice, in a dreadful first lap showing. The Russian limped home in a sorry 15th place after a day that will do little to convince Red Bull bosses that he is worth keeping ahead of Max Verstappen in 2017.

11) Sergio Perez (8/10) – After suffering a first lap puncture, Perez drove two extremely strong stints on soft tyres to claw his way back into contention and take his first points of the season. Only an equally impressive drive from Grosjean in the Haas stopped him finishing higher up.

27) Nico Hulkenberg (N/A) – Hulkenberg is yet to fully get going this season, a pattern that continued after he was an innocent victim of the first lap crash caused by Gutierrez.

20) Kevin Magnussen (9/10)* – An assured and consistent drive by Magnussen to take seventh place in a Renault lacking the grip or horsepower of many of this rivals. Undoubtedly the Dane’s best performance since his debut podium in Australia in 2014. Driver of the Day.

30) Jolyon Palmer (6/10) – After running in the points early on, Palmer slipped back as he struggled to match the speed of his rivals in superior machinery. A solid enough drive, but will have to up his game if he is to remain in Renault’s thinking beyond 2016.

33) Max Verstappen (8/10) – A strong start catapulted the Toro Rosso into a sixth place position that he would undoubtedly have held had his car not given up the ghost. A mature display that will only strengthen his case to be promoted to the Red Bull team next year.

55) Carlos Sainz Jr (5/10) – A disappointing drive for the Spaniard as he struggled to match Verstappen’s speed throughout. Lost any chance of a points finish when he earned a time penalty for a clumsy chop on Palmer.

12) Felipe Nasr (5/10) – Nasr looks a shadow of the driver that impressed in his rookie season, and after finally getting the upper hand on Ericsson in qualifying after reporting feeling happier with a new chassis, he flattered to deceive once more on Sunday.

9) Marcus Ericsson (6/10) – Sauber has been reduced to fighting with the Manors as a result of the team’s struggles so far this season, but Ericsson is doing all he can on the track, and once again beat Nasr in Russia despite having to make a first lap pit stop.

14) Fernando Alonso (9/10)** – Alonso showed that he is still up there with the very best after a storming drive to sixth place. Never looked like being threatened after he benefitted from the first lap chaos and set the fifth fastest lap after deciding to “have some fun” late on. McLaren’s best race since its reunion with Honda.

22) Jenson Button (6/10) – Sochi will be a case of what might have been for Button, who could finish no higher than tenth after spending much of the race stuck behind Sainz’s Toro Rosso.

94) Pascal Wehrlein (6/10) – Wehrlein enjoyed an eventful first half of the race as he was left slugging it out with the Saubers, before a problem in the pits that left him stationary for nearly half a minute consigned him to last place.

88) Rio Haryanto (N/A) – Blameless in the first lap collision that also ended Hulkenberg’s race, an early retirement meant we will never know whether the Indonesian could have joined teammate Wehrlein in taking the race to the Sauber drivers.

8) Romain Grosjean (8/10) – After a low key race in China, Grosjean was back on form in Sochi to climb into the points as a result of the opening lap melee and calmly held off Sergio Perez on much fresher tyres in the closing stages of the race to take a deserved eighth place.

21) Esteban Gutierrez (4/10) – The sister Haas endured a wretched afternoon as he caused the collision that ended the races of Hulkenberg and Haryanto, earning him a drive-through penalty that left him unable to recover to higher than 17th place.

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These scores will be added up throughout the season and will be used to calculate both mid-season and end of season driver rankings. To take into account individual performances, the driver of the day will receive an additional three points, the second best driver two points and the third best driver one bonus point. These are signifed by the number of asterisks next to their names.

After the Russian Grand Prix, my top five drivers of the season so far are as follows:
=1) Romain Grosjean (Haas-Ferrari) – 36 points
=1) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 36 points
3) Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull-Tag Heuer) – 32 points
4) Kevin Magnussen (Renault) – 30 points
=5) Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) – 22 points
=5) Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 22 points
=5) Pascal Wehrlein (Manor-Mercedes) – 22 points

Rosberg more than prepared for the title battle

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Credit: 163.com

Nico Rosberg could not have made a better start in his quest to emulate his father Keke and win the Formula One world championship.

So often in the shadow of Lewis Hamilton over the last couple of years, Rosberg is in the form of his life. Having won the final three races of last season, he has stormed clear of the opposition to take the first three chequered flags of this to give himself a commanding lead at the head of the championship.

Some question marks remain over whether Rosberg can last the distance in a 21-race title battle. His run of wins at the end of 2015 came in the aftermath of Hamilton’s third world championship, while the Englishman has yet to enjoy a clean race weekend so far this season as he has seen his teammate surge into the distance.

But to use Hamilton’s misfortune as a tool to explain Rosberg’s current form would be doing a great disservice to the German, whose accomplished performances in 2016 have been such that it would have been easy to see him achieve his 100 per cent start even had the other Mercedes not hit trouble.

It also goes without saying that Hamilton’s woes this season have, in part, been avoidable. First lap calamities in Australia and Bahrain were brought about by poor starts, while a decision to start from the pit lane in China instead of from the grid would have kept him safe from collision in the first corner, sparing the damage that surely prevented him from finishing higher than seventh.

A fightback from Hamilton as we head into the European season has to be seen as a given, but Rosberg has all of the cards in his favour as he seeks that elusive first crown.

He arrives in Sochi next week looking for a seventh straight win, a position only three others have found themselves in before, on top of his game, and driving a Mercedes that remains the car to beat this year, even if Ferrari and Red Bull have closed up somewhat.

Rosberg has been in a similar position before. In 2014, he led Hamilton for much of the campaign as the Englishman was hamstrung by unreliability, and by as much as 29 points following their now infamous collision at Spa. But back then, there was always the sense that Hamilton would reel him in.

Rosberg is a more mature figure than two years ago. The moment where he hurled his cap towards Hamilton in the podium room in Austin last October was mocked by some, brushed off as sour grapes by others, but appears to have been a turning point in the monentum between the Mercedes teammates. Since then, he has not been beaten to the line.

Before Rosberg and Hamilton were paired at the Silver Arrows in 2013, the only time the German had been beaten by a teammate over the course of a season was by Mark Webber in his rookie year of 2006, during which the then 20-year-old Williams driver had shown glimpses of his potential by setting fastest lap on his debut in Bahrain and then qualifying an astounding third in Malaysia in his second race.

He then brushed aside the experienced Alex Wurz in 2007 and then crushed Kazuki Nakajima in the following two seasons. It was during this time that Rosberg repeatedly took a Williams car that should have been mired in the midfield and mixed it with the frontrunners.

That his move to Mercedes in 2010 saw him beat Michael Schumacher – no mean feat, even if the legendary seven-time champion was past his prime – three times cemented his status as one of the sport’s top drivers, and one that, at some point during his career, deserved a tilt at the title.

He may not be able to match Hamilton at his peak, but he has proved that it only takes a slight blip in form or fortune from his adversary for him to emerge on top.

If, come the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi, Rosberg is crowned Formula One’s 33rd world champion, he will be more than worthy of the accolade.

Stephen D’Albiac

Haas producing a Formula One blueprint for others to follow

Haas, Grosjean: “Prima giornata di test positiva, auto bilanciata”

It is safe to say that Haas have raised many an eyebrow with their performances so far in what has been a blistering start to life in Formula One.

The introduction of Gene Haas’ operation to the grid has been helped in no small part by the acquisition of Romain Grosjean, whose calm and unflappable presence has spearheaded the American outfit’s challenge on the track.

If a controlled drive to sixth place in the season opener in Australia was eye-catching enough, then the Frenchman’s charge to fifth in Bahrain was outstanding. It means that, just three races into its existence, Haas has amassed 18 points, 16 more than the Manor team in its various guises has scored in more than six years.

The team may have endured a tough weekend in China, but the evidence of this season’s opening salvo suggests that Shanghai was just as likely to be a blip rather than a sign of them falling back down to earth with a bump.

As a result of a technical partnership with Ferrari, Haas is using power units and gearboxes courtesy of the Scuderia, and thanks to a loophole in the sporting regulations, were given unlimited use of the windtunnel at Maranello in 2015, before they officially became an F1 constructor.

With the added benefits of two years’ preparation time, healthy finances and racing pedigree from Haas’ NASCAR operation in America, it means that they have arrived in Formula One well prepared.

While some may be critical of Haas’ approach to the sport, their arrival on the grid this year has been a breath of fresh air.

After the debacle of 2010 in which three teams were given spots in Formula One and allowed to turn up wholly unprepared to compete at the top level of motorsport, it is reassuring to see that a team can set up its own operation from scratch and hit the ground running.

That it has done so with a helping hand from Ferrari should not be allowed to cloud the good work they have done. With a car built by Dallara, but designed by Haas engineers, and bases in North Carolina and Banbury which they will use to take more and more of their operation in-house as time goes on, they have come into Formula One with a unique blueprint and shown that it can be successful.

This is not a customer car built by Ferrari, it is merely an independent effort support by the Scuderias, and to be honest, if teams could enter Formula One with a chassis built by another team, with the proviso that within a set period of time they are producing their own challengers, would that really be a bad thing?

With a reputed budget of just $100m – by no means excessive in Formula One terms – the success of Haas has proved that it is still possible for a start-up operation to enter the sport and be competitive. If their fast start to life continues and Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez continue to deliver the goods, it increases the chances of others taking notice and being tempted to join the grid themselves.

Formula One has an entry limit of 26 cars, but the number of competitors has not been that high since 1995. If more people like Haas see the possible benefits of entering the series, who would be betting against a full grid a few years down the road?

Stephen D’Albiac

 

New generation of F1 power units really coming of age

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It would have been scarcely when several damaged Formula One cars exited the first corner of the Chinese Grand Prix earlier this morning, but Sunday’s race marked just the third time this century that a whole field of cars made it to the chequered flag.

Barring the infamous Indianapolis 2005 debacle, the only two other occasions on which this has happened since 1961 was at Monza in 2005 and Valencia in 2011, and both prior examples of bulletproof reliability came under regulations that had been in force for many years.

That, just over two years into the current hybrid era, we have seen a race in which all 22 cars that started a Grand Prix finished it, is a glowing testament to the work done by all of the teams to improve the reliability of this generation of power units.

Considering that just two years ago, there were serious concerns raised over whether anyone would finish the Australian Grand Prix after numerous teams reported difficulties completing more than a few laps with what was then completely new technology.

While those fears were quickly laid to rest as 14 cars made it to the finish that day in Melbourne – with just four retirements from power unit-related trouble – the engine manufacturers quickly set about making the powerplants more reliable. They were successful, to the extent that by the end of 2014, it was becoming increasingly common to see just one or two mechanical retirements per race.

All of this had been achieved with a reduction in the number of power units that each driver could use throughout the season from eight to five – somewhat counter-intuitive given the scale of the changes that had occurred – and in the midst of a new era of efficiency that saw drivers making to the end of Grands Prix on just 100kg of fuel.

In total, the unit of power unit-related retirements from races in 2014 was 29, but in 2015, this dropped to just 19, of which seven affected newcomers Honda.

The golden figure of 100 per cent reliability was nearly reached on two occasions last season, with only Felipe Nasr’s late retirement in Japan and Pastor Maldonado’s early exit from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix following a collision with Fernando Alonso preventing everyone from making it to the end.

It would only be a few more months before we saw a race in which everybody saw the chequered flag.

This increase in reliability comes amidst a huge increase in horsepower from the V8 era that now sees engines capable of producing more than 900bhp in qualifying trim, while Mercedes have reportedly achieved more than 50 per cent thermal efficiency in their 2016 power unit. To compare, the 2013 normally aspirated eight cylinder engines were said to achieve 29 per cent.

The cars remain some way off the lap times achieved by the gold standard of 2004 in race trim, but in the right conditions they are now breaking lap records in qualifying, with Lewis Hamilton’s pole lap in Bahrain the fastest ever seen at the Sakhir circuit.

As time goes on, these speeds will only climb further still, calling into question why there is a need for the mooted plans to make cars several seconds quicker in 2017 through increasing the amount of aerodynamic and mechanical grip.

All the time, the gap between the power units is closing. Ferrari has made clear steps towards the all-conquering Mercedes, while Renault has promised significant performance gains later in the season and Honda now has a power unit that, while not yet in the same league as the others, at least looks like it belongs on the Formula One grid.

This has resulted in close racing throughout the field and this year has mixed up the pecking order to contribute to a trio of fine races.

These power units have been unfairly derided since they were introduced in 2014. Now, with ever growing speed and reliability, they appear to be really coming of age.

Stephen D’Albiac

Driver Ratings: Chinese Grand Prix

Nico Rosberg

Credit: Associated Press

A thrilling Chinese Grand Prix saw several drivers fight back through the field after a number of early setbacks, but up front it was a serene afternoon for Nico Rosberg as he kept out of trouble to take his third straight win in 2016.

But whose performances stood out most in Shanghai?

44) Lewis Hamilton (7/10) – Strong fightback from Hamilton after losing his front wing in the first lap melee. Could have finished higher up with a better strategy call, but the world champion would have taken seventh after turn one.

6) Nico Rosberg (9/10)* – Driver of the Day.A simply dominant race by Rosberg to notch up his sixth win in the row. Never looked back once Ricciardo was out of the way and finished in a different postcode to the rest. At this rate, it’s going to be tough for Hamilton to catch him in the championship race.

5) Sebastian Vettel (7/10) – Not entirely blameless in the first corner crash that left Raikkonen in trouble, but fought back strongly after a front wing change to take a deserved second place finish.

7) Kimi Raikkonen (8/10)*** – An innocent victim at the start, Raikkonen was given a lifeline by the early safety car but worked his way back through the field with a different strategy to the other frontrunners and thoroughly deserved his fifth place.

77) Valtteri Bottas (6/10) – Another low key performance for Bottas, who was outperformed by Williams teammate Massa and faded in the closing stages as the Toro Rossos breezed past him.

19) Felipe Massa (8/10) – Running as high as second at one point in the early race chaos, Massa continued his impressive start to the season with a fine drive to sixth place. Did an exceptional job to fend off Hamilton in the closing stages.

3) Daniel Ricciardo (9/10)** – After taking the lead at the start, Ricciardo was desperately unlucky to suffer a puncture as Rosberg went past him. Showed characteristic determination to fight back to fourth and take more than ten seconds out of teammate Kvyat in the final stint.

26) Daniil Kvyat (7/10) – Unfairly blamed by Vettel for the collision between the Ferraris at the start, Kvyat took advantage of the chaos around him to keep out of trouble and take a deserved second career podium.

11) Sergio Perez (6/10) – A clean race for Perez, but he will be disappointed to leave Shanghai without a point after the Toro Rossos demoted him to 11th in the final stint.

27) Nico Hulkenberg (5/10) – Fastest lap is little consolation for Hulkenberg, whose poorly judged decision to hold up the pack as he pitted under the safety car earned him a penalty and ensured his thoroughly mediocre start to the campaign carries on.

20) Kevin Magnussen (6/10) – After an impressive qualifying which saw him beat teammate Palmer by nearly a second, the Dane was hamstrung by a hugely uncompetitive Renault and finished a lowly 17th.

30) Jolyon Palmer (4/10) – Palmer has struggled to reach the heights of his impressive debut in Melbourne, and suffered the ignominy of finishing the race 22nd and last. Work to do.

33) Max Verstappen (7/10) – Another strong race for the teenage Dutchman, whose eighth place finish was probably the maximum on a day in which bulletproof reliability ensured that no-one could benefit from the misfortune of others.

55) Carlos Sainz Jr (6/10) – After outqualifying Verstappen on Saturday, Sainz failed to match his Toro Rosso teammate in the race but enjoyed a solid afternoon to record his seconds points finish of the season.

12) Felipe Nasr (5/10) – Nasr has reported trouble with his Sauber chassis, and another completely forgettable race to 20th place – well behind teammate Ericsson – will do nothing to kickstart his campaign.

9) Marcus Ericsson (6/10) – In an uncompetitive car, Ericsson is quickly working his way into the team leader role at Sauber and another consistent drive will do him no harm.

47) Fernando Alonso (6/10) – Still work for McLaren to do to challenge the leading teams on the evidence of his race. Alonso ran as high as fourth after the safety car but spent the rest of the race looking in his mirrors as he slipped back to 12th.

22) Jenson Button (6/10) – Also hampered by a lack of pace that saw him fending off the challenges of others for most of the afternoon. McLaren have made a clear step forward from last year, but another big step is needed for the Woking squad to challenge.

93) Pascal Wehrlein (6/10) – Held his own in the top ten for several laps after not pitting during the safety car, and Wehrlein rebounded well from his qualifying crash to enjoy a trouble-free race.

88) Rio Haryanto (6/10) – Lacks the outright speed of Wehrlein, but the other Manor driver enjoyed a solid afternoon and beat the faster Renault of Palmer on merit.

8) Romain Grosjean (5/10) – After the fairytale of the opening two rounds, it was back to reality for Grosjean and Haas. The Frenchman suffered damage on the first lap and was overshadowed by teammate Gutierrez for the remainder of the afternoon.

21) Esteban Gutierrez (6/10) – The Mexican will be relieved to see the chequered flag for the first time this season, and with nobody else falling by the wayside, his 14th place finish was probably the best Haas could have hoped for during a weekend in which they struggled for speed.

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Credit: Associated Press

These scores will be added up throughout the season and will be used to calculate both mid-season and end of season driver rankings. To take into account individual performances, the driver of the day will receive an additional three points, the second best driver two points and the third best driver one bonus point. These are signifed by the number of asterisks next to their names.

After the Bahrain Grand Prix, my top five drivers of the season so far are as follows:
=1) Romain Grosjean (Haas-Ferrari) – 28 points
=2) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 28 points
3) Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull-Tag Heuer) – 25 points
4) Pascal Wehrlein (Manor-Mercedes) – 23 points
5) Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) – 22 points

Stephen D’Albiac