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

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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

Solving Formula One’s prize money problem

 

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Credit: Bleacher Report

Last week, Autosport revealed that Formula One teams had been awarded a prize pot of some $965m for their performances last season.

The money was given by Formula One Management (FOM) to the ten teams that competed in the 2015 world championship, with newcomers Haas not yet eligible for a share of the pot.

While the teams were all awarded some part of the cash for participating in the series, as well as for performance, a staggering $295m of prize money was awarded not on merit, but to a select few teams as a result of pre-signed agreements with Bernie Ecclestone.

It means that Ferrari – which benefits from a $35m constructors’ championship bonus as well as a controversial $70m payday for its status as Formula One’s most historic team – took home $192m for its 2015 efforts, while runaway champions Mercedes – which enjoys $74m in bonus payments – earned just $171m.

A further $74m in bonuses for Red Bull meant that the Austrian concern was given $144m, while Williams – which is entitled to just $10m in added payments and beat them to third place in the constructors’ standings – earned just $87m.

McLaren – which endured a wretched 2015 and placed a disastrous ninth – were the fifth most successful team in the earning stakes, with a generous $32m bonus handout netting the Woking outfit $82m.

Beneath McLaren are the teams not deemed eligible for these funds in the eyes of the sport’s elite. Force India earned $67m, while Lotus (now Renault) took home $64m. Toro Rosso was rewarded with a $57m piece of the pie, while Sauber benefitted to the tune of $57m. Manor, the only team not to score a point in 2015, earned $47m.

A full breakdown of the prize fund for 2015 can be seen here:

Pot 1 ($335m) Pot 2 ($335m) Pot 3 ($295m) Total Prize Money ($965m)
Ferrari $33.5m $53.5m $105m $192m
Mercedes $33.5m $63.5m $74m $171m
Red Bull $33.5m $36.5m $74m $144m
Williams $33.5m $43.5m $10m $87m
McLaren $33.5m $16.5m $32m $82m
Force India $33.5m $33.5m N/A $67m
Lotus $33.5m $30.5m N/A $64m
Toro Rosso $33.5m $23.5m N/A $57m
Sauber $33.5m $20.5m N/A $54m
Manor $33.5m $13.5m N/A $47m

Thanks to gift-wrapped bonus payments, what these figures create is a huge disparity between the teams fortunate enough to have been around long enough or been successful enough in the past, and those whose efforts have not been rewarded on the track.

That Formula One currently finds itself in a situation where teams at the back of the grid are struggling to make ends meet while the sport’s coffers are being divided in such an unfair manner is a damning indictment of those at the top.

Ferrari may be the longest serving and most successful team in Formula One history, but what gives a team that has won nothing in the way of championships since 2008 the right to a healthy bonus of more than $100m, while teams like Sauber and Manor earn nothing as they face a desperate struggle for survival?

Mercedes may be the team of the moment, and Red Bull, McLaren and Williams have certainly enjoyed many a day in the now firmly set suns of yesteryear, but in the here and now, prize money should be what it says on the tin. It needs to be distributed in a fair way, based on performance, and not as a note of thanks for their contributions to the sport.

That a team like Force India has produced such fine cars in the face of such a raw deal from the sport’s kingmakers is a glowing testament to the talents of their workforce back at Silverstone. With a fairer share of the prize pot, their potential to achieve would only be greater still.

A redistribution of funds

F1 Grand Prix of Italy

Credit: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Now, armed with a calculator and with my Bernie Ecclestone-styled wig firmly donned, I have devised an alternative prize pot with the aim of rewarding teams on performance rather than prestige.

To make this a fair experiment, I will be playing with the $965m that the teams were given in the real world, but I have changed the way in which it is handed out.

I have split the total prize fund into three distinct pots, the first two worth $432.5m apiece, with the third pot containing $100m.

Pot one will be given to teams for their participation in the sport, ensuring that, straight out of the box, everyone earns a nice starter of $43.25m.

Pot two is a tiered performance bonus, with Mercedes, as champions, earning 14.5 per cent, with Ferrari netting 13.5 per cent for coming second and so on until you get to Manor, which gets 5.5 per cent of the pot. This ensures that each team earns a minimum of $67.05m, more than Force India got in real life for finishing fifth.

This brings us to pot three, which is a pure $100m performance bonus, and is shared between teams based simply on how many points they scored in the previous season.

Mercedes finished with 703 points in 2015 – 36.6 per cent of those available, and therefore, they take away $36.6m, with Ferrari – who amassed 22.3 per cent of the possible points on offer – bagging $22.3m. This filters down to McLaren, which earned just 1.4 per cent of the points last season. Manor, which failed to score in 2015, gets nothing from this pot.

This leaves us with the following breakdown:

Pot 1 ($432.5m) Pot 2 ($432.5m) Pot 3 ($100m) Total Prize Money ($965m)
Mercedes $43.25m $62.7m $36.6m $142.55m
Ferrari $43.25m $58.4m $22.3m $123.95m
Williams $43.25m $54.1m $13.4m $110.75m
Red Bull $43.25m $49.7m $9.7m $102.65m
Force India $43.25m $45.4m $7.1m $95.75m
Lotus $43.25m $41.1m $4.1m $88.45m
Toro Rosso $43.25m $36.8m $3.5m $83.55m
Sauber $43.25m $32.4m $1.9m $77.55m
McLaren $43.25m $28.1m $1.4m $72.75m
Manor $43.25m $23.8m $0 $67.05m

As a result, the amount of prize money that each team earns reflects fairly their on-track performance during the 2015 season.

While in real life, the difference between the amount of money awarded to the highest-earning team and the lowest was $145m. Under my system, this disparity falls to $75.5m. Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren all find themselves worse off, but the four richest teams in the sport aside, every other constructor benefits to the tune of at least $20m.

This boost in revenue would give the midfield teams more funds, which could be used to invest in better personnel and facilities, increasing the chances of added competition on the grid. Teams would be less likely to need to procure the services of pay drivers, opening up more room for the most talented youngsters to progress to Formula One.

At present, teams only begin to earn prize money at the end of their second season, and only the top ten in the championship benefit from the system. I would change both of these factors, which would allow the Haas team to immediately reap the fruits of their vast investment into the sport and prevent the risk of any one team being cut adrift as a result of a lack of money.

With a formula in place that rewards teams on current endeavours rather than past glories, the message would be simple: if you want more money, do your talking on the track.

Stephen D’Albiac

Maldonado out, Magnussen in: A refreshing change…

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A growing poison within Formula One in recent years has been the way in which able talents have been so readily cast aside for no other reason than the lack of contribution they have been able to make in the funding department.

Since 2010, no fewer than nine drivers, all of whom had proved themselves worthy of a place in the cutthroat world of Grand Prix racing, have been left unceremoniously dumped from the sport.

The sole reason? Simply that their pockets were not deep enough to satisfy a litany of teams who are struggling to survive in this age of rising costs, declining sponsorships and an ever-growing calendar.

Although some of these drivers list fell victim to the ruthless world that is the Red Bull Young Driver Programme, that the likes of Sebastien Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari and Jean-Eric Vergne were unable to find drives at other outfits after they were culled by Toro Rosso had little to do with performance.

Similarly, Kevin Magnussen did little at McLaren to show that he could not cut it in the pinnacle of motorsport.

And yet, of these ‘cast-offs’, only Nico Hulkenberg managed to get a proper second chance en route to becoming arguably the best racer on the grid currently plying his trade outside a top team.

Instead, the volume of money is only increasing when it comes to earning a place in the promised land. Forgetting Pastor Maldonado, and the likes of Marcus Ericsson, Esteban Gutierrez and Max Chilton – among others – can all claim to have bought their way onto the grid at one time or other at the expense of their more talented companions.

That is why the news that Maldonado is to be replaced at Renault by Magnussen comes as a welcome relief.

In five seasons of broken front wings, rebuilt cars and a permanent pass to the stewards room, only the odd flash of brilliance prevents the Venezuelan’s CV from amounting to nothing more than a high-speed dodgem.

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The sight of Pastor Maldonado in a barrier became an all-too common one during the Venezuelan’s five years in Formula One.

It is easy to look no further than the PDVSA petro-dollars that have funded Maldonado’s career and forget that he was more than deserving of a Formula One drive when he made his debut for Williams in 2011.

An inconsistent yet occasionally brilliant junior career that earned him a reputation as a specialist around the fabled streets of Monte Carlo and culminated in the GP2 Series crown of 2010 would have made Maldonado a candidate for graduation to the top tier, even without his grotesque level of backing.

His second season in 2012 that saw the still scarcely fathomable win in Spain and a number of top three qualifying performances showed that he had the speed to survive in Formula One, if not the temperament.

And that was always Maldonado’s problem. A driver who earns his staying power in Formula One on merit cuts out the silly collisions, reckless petulance and embarrassing prangs by the time he enters his second season, but far from honing his speed and developing into the well-rounded midfield runner that he had the potential to be, he became little more than an imitation of a Wacky Races character.

It was why his move from Williams to Lotus in 2014 was met with indignation by most, why a website charting his every collision in exquisitely humorous fashion continues to flourish, and why his continued presence in a team famous for its true racing spirit has become little more than a frustration.

But where one door closes, another one opens, and Maldonado’s demise now looks set to give Magnussen a refreshing opportunity to revitalise a stalled career.

Cut adrift at McLaren for the sole reason that Fernando Alonso became available, the Dane should have had teams queuing up to secure the signature of a man who bagged a remarkable second place on his Formula One debut and proved more than an able foil for Jenson Button.

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Kevin Magnussen spent 2015 on the sidelines through circumstance more than any lack of performance.

Yet until Maldonado’s funding dried up, he was left high and dry and faced with a switch to IndyCar or the World Endurance Championship just to get some racing under his belt.

Thankfully, the buyout of Lotus by Renault has turned the financial situation at Enstone into one of rude health, and means that placing a driver of Magnussen’s quality alongside Jolyon Palmer, himself a beneficiary of high value backing, is now a reality rather than a far flung dream.

Once the transition season of 2016 is done and Renault prepares its first fully-fledged manufacturer entry since 2010, one can only hope that a second opportunity for an established driver will arise at the team.

Although not a necessity, the prospect of a French driver delivering the goods at a French team would do Renault’s image across the Channel no harm. Of the talented cast-offs, Jean-Eric Vergne, a man who proved more than a match for Daniel Ricciardo at Toro Rosso, is another, like Magnussen, just crying out to be given a second opportunity.

Just imagine, a year down the line, the prospect of Renault signing Vergne to partner Magnussen, and in so doing securing one of the most exciting young driver line-ups on the grid.

If so, it would make a welcome, and refreshing change.

Stephen D’Albiac