Author Archives: Shwuaib Malik

Formula 1 2021 Season Review: The greatest title fight ever?

I’ve just about caught my breath and had a chance to reflect on what was an unbelievable final race to an absolutely bonkers Formula 1 season. I will do my best to review the controversy and drama of Abu Dhabi, whilst also reflecting on the carnage that the other 21 races conjured up.

The Controversy

Latifi’s crash threw the race and the title battle into overdrive. Image: F1

Let’s start at the end and discuss the big and final talking point of the 2021 season – the final five laps of the Abu Dhabi GP. Sir Lewis Hamilton was undoubtedly on track to win his 8th world championship in dominant style before Nicholas Latifi’s crash brought out the Safety Car on Lap 54.

At this point, it didn’t look as if we’d get any more running due to the awkward area of the track where Latifi binned in, and the amount of debris on track. Red Bull rightly made use of a free pit-stop to pit both Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez onto soft tyres. Verstappen re-joined the track still in P2, but now with four lapped drivers between himself and Hamilton.

The message that was initially relayed was that the lapped cars would not be allowed to un-lap themselves. This was until Race Director, Michael Masi, decided half way into Lap 57 that four drivers were going to be allowed to overtake the safety car and un-lap themselves.

This call, from one individual, will go down as one of the most contentious decisions in the history of the sport. I don’t want to delve deep into analysing this decision, as there are many other things from the season worthy of mention in this season review. And you’ve probably heard a million different opinions already.

But what I will say is the biggest shame for me is that the championship was decided off-track by a contentious call. This was the one result I was hoping wouldn’t happen. Despite not being a Hamilton fan, it felt hollow and unjust. It is so disappointing that the immediate aftermath and likely, the longer-term reflection on the 2021 season will be focused on a decision by the FIA. That’s the bit I’m struggling to take.

The entire F1 fan base should be reflecting on how lucky we’ve been to see two fantastic drivers engage in a relentless, season-long duel filled with on track battles and brilliant races. And still, it’s difficult to do this when one driver has been unfairly robbed of a championship because the sport’s governing body didn’t follow their own rules.

The Stewards and FIA

Race director Michael Masi has been heavily criticised for his conduct in 2021

I think Abu Dhabi highlighted just how much of a mess the sport is in at the moment in terms of the consistent application of the rules. Albeit particularly poor in 2021, the issue of poor stewarding and incompetency from the FIA isn’t exclusive to this year – its been a problem in recent seasons and unfortunately, it had a major impact in the championship decider.

If I can take one positive from all of this is that I think Masi will rightly lose his job in all the aftermath that is due to follow. Hopefully, we can arrive at a defined and clear system of rules that are consistently applied. Just like football, there will always be some element of subjectivity in the application of rules. But at present, it feels like the rules lead to too many opinionated decisions. And when you have stewards changing every race, this doubles the issue.

Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport. We need to know why it’s okay for some drivers to force another off the track and get away with it whilst others are penalised. There needs to be more consistency and clarity for both fans and more importantly the teams and drivers on what they can and cannot do.

The season

Hamilton and Verstappen were head and shoulders ahead of the chasing pack in 2021

Despite the shenanigans of the final race, I still feel lucky to have watched the 2021 season unfold. From the get-go in Bahrain, it looked like Red Bull had a car capable of taking the fight to Mercedes and a driver capable of ending Hamilton’s dominant reign.  

For me, the title fight had everything – two brilliant drivers, two operationally excellent teams, on-track battles, strategy dilemmas, collisions, off-track antics and close, hard racing.

Looking back, I can’t actually think of many bad races. Even tracks like Sochi and Paul Richard which have traditionally been poor, served up absolute crackers in 2021. Not to forget as well – Bahrain, Budapest, Baku, Silverstone, and others which were an absolute pleasure to watch.

Behind the top two (usually very far behind), the rest of the pack played their part in putting on a brilliant season of racing. Watching Lando Norris get amongst the big boys particularly in the first half of the season was great. Carlos Sainz also impressed, surprisingly beating his teammate Charles Leclerc in the driver’s standings.

Pierre Gasly is also worthy of a mention for another impressive season at Alpha Tauri. And it was great to see Alonso back on the grid, putting in consistent strong performances to prove he’s still got it.

The future

Despite the events of the last week, I think Formula 1 in many ways is in a great place at the moment. The sport will have inevitably lost some fans after Abu Dhabi, but it has also gained many in 2021. It needs to ensure it hangs onto these by creating defined rules and consistently applying these fairly in races.

Looking ahead to next season, weirdly, I hope the big regulation changes don’t spice things up too much. The pessimist in me is worried that Mercedes will turn up in Bahrain half a second clear of the pack just like 2014. And the optimist believes Red Bull will produce a car that is a worthy challenger again. If the latter transpires, we’re in for another barnstormer in 2022 and I cannot wait.

Formula 1 2021 Season Preview – Will Mercedes Finally be Beaten?

Here we are again. We’ve gotten through the long winter and are not long away from lights out for another season. All going well, we will have our longest season in F1 history; 23 races in the space of 37 weeks with an unordinary season opener in Bahrain, the return of Imola and Portimao from 2020, Zandvoort returning to the calendar after 36 years and Saudi Arabia featuring for the first time ever.

A sense of uncertainty still lingers in the air, however. Firstly, whether every race will go ahead and secondly, whether we will see fans at races this year. Nobody can definitively answer either of those questions right now, but that doesn’t make me any less excited to see cars on the grid again.

Let’s look ahead to what we might expect from the 2021 season!

A championship fight?

Rather than discussing who might be in the mix for the championship, a better question to pose based on recent years is are we going to get a championship fight at all? Since the hybrid era began in 2014, Mercedes have won 103 of the 139 races that have taken place. That equates to almost 75%. Scary, I know.

Lewis Hamilton has won six of the last seven drivers’ championships

What’s perhaps more worrying for neutral F1 fans is that their dominance resumed last season after them facing pretty worthy competition from Ferrari in 2017, 2018 and parts of 2019 too. The Silver Arrows really stretched the gap out again to the next best team last season, which last season was Red Bull. And barring a few exceptions such as Turkey and Abu Dhabi, Red Bull didn’t have an answer on pure pace to Merc.

READ MORE: F1 2021 TESTING DAY 3: TSUNODA STARS AS VERSTAPPEN TOPS THE TIMES

Going back to the initial question then, I am pessimistic about the prospect of a championship battle in 2021. I have seen the same comments from fans this pre-season as the last six years, arguing this year will finally be the year Red Bull take the fight to Merc with a season-long competitive car. This has failed to happen in the past and I don’t see why it will be any different this year.

I really do hope I am proven wrong, but I feel it’s going to take something pretty special to knock Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton off the top spot.

The Midfield scrap

One of the most exciting things about last season was the Midfield battle which was closely contested between Renault, Racing Point and McLaren. And I’m expecting the scrap for third in the constructors championship to be just as close this season.

Even though Racing Point probably had the quicker package overall out of the three last season, McLaren arguably got more out of their car, with better strategy and statistically the most closely matched driver line-up on the grid.

McLaren and Racing Point duked it out for third in the constructors’ championship in 2020

I expect each team to be closely matched on pace again, and I think it will come down to strategy and the drivers. The tenacity of Fernando Alonso (who returns to the grid for Alpine) or the consistency of Daniel Ricciardo may just be the difference.

Another thing to consider is where do Ferrari fit into all this? I am uncertain as to whether we should expect Ferrari sitting comfortably in third in the constructors, whilst potentially challenging Red Bull or whether their car performance will leave them in the Midfield scrap.

Part of me wants to see them scrapping away with Alpine, McLaren and Aston Martin rather than being in no man’s land behind the top two teams. I’m looking forward to seeing how this one pans out.

And the rest…

That leaves us 4 teams, who we should probably expect to have a similar season to last.

AlphaTauri will be hoping to challenge those in front rather than looking behind, and rightly so. They’ve shown they can be quick, Monza and Imola proved that. I suspect they’ll be aiming for more consistency and having successful weekends more often.

AlphaTauri were very impressive in testing. Image: F1

I expect Haas, Williams and Alfa Romeo to continue to bring up the rear of the grid. Haas have publicly admitted they won’t be putting much effort in developing their 2021 car as they have decided to focus on the regulation changes in 2022.

I do hope these three teams can close the gap to those in front and give some talented drivers a chance to show what they’re about.

READ MORE: IS ESTEBAN OCON ABOUT TO GET THE “VANDOORNE TREATMENT”?

Ones to watch

The grid has had a bit of shake up and there are a few drivers in particular to watch out for.

Above all, is Sergio Perez who will drive for Red Bull in 2021. I sense a lot of anticipation on how the Mexican will fare against Max Verstappen and in a team where the second driver has really struggled the last two seasons.

Sergio Perez has the unenviable task of being Verstappen’s teammate in 2021

There have been a lot of different opinions on why Gasly and Albon flopped- pressure, car built around Verstappen, not ready for a big seat and Verstappen making them look bad. In reality, its probably a combination of all of these. It will be interesting to see how an established and experienced driver copes in a toxic team and “cursed” seat.

Sebastian Vettel is another to watch closely. I personally am eager to see whether his move to Aston will help him get his mojo back and whether the Vettel of old will return. I’m really glad he didn’t decide to end his career on such a low and hope we can at least see him bow out of F1 happy.

READ MORE: FORMULA 1’S 5 MOST ICONIC ENGINES EVER

I wonder how Carlos Sainz will do going into a team with a very talented driver as their Number 1 and into a car which may not have the performance to get podiums. Sainz’s mental strength and resilience will be tested but if he can settle into the team, I can see him doing well at Ferrari over the years.

Not long to go now until we get answers to some of these questions and see what F1 2021 has in store for us!

Grid Talk Podcast

Want more content to preview the F1 2021 season?

Steph Wentworth hosted panellists Owain Medford, Steve Jackson and YouTuber Lucas Raycevik in Grid Talk’s review of the F1 2021 Car reveals:

Formula 1 2020 season review – The Strangest Season Ever

In my 13 years of watching Formula 1, the 2020 season has to be one of the strangest I’ve ever seen. 13 podium sitters, 2 new race winners, tracks holding their first-ever F1 race and a driver walking away from an accident that seemed impossible to walk away from. One thing did remain the same though – Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton’s utter dominance in the hybrid era.

Mercedes-Benz – Class of the field

It was arguably Mercedes’ most dominant season since 2016. Unfortunately, this did result in some races which were completely one-sided and difficult to watch. On the other hand, when Mercedes weren’t at their best and usually, when they made a mistake, this resulted in some fantastic races.

Lewis Hamilton won 11 of the 16 races he competed in 2020, leading some to brand the sport as predictable

Faltering Ferrari allows more podium sitters

I don’t think anybody was truly expecting Ferrari to be as bad as they ended up being this season, but what that did result in was the opportunity for many drivers and teams to capitalise when one of the standard three podium sitters this season – Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas ran into an issue of any kind.

Sergio Perez was one of two shock winners in 2020

Notably in Monza and Sakhir, when the safety car was deployed, Mercedes made crucial errors which cost them races they were banked on to win. From a fan’s perspective, this was brilliant as it gave us our first winner from outside the top three teams since 2013.

Watching Pierre Gasly cross the line to take his first win in Formula 1 was unbelievable considering the dominance of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari teams since 2014.

READ MORE: F1 2021 REGULATION CHANGES: EXPLAINED

I’d forgotten what it felt like for a complete surprise winner, but at a time when the sport was going through a pretty bad phase, Gasly’s win in Monza really was a brilliant result not just for him and his team, but for Formula 1.

Not too long after, Sergio Perez claimed his first win in the sport after 190 races and capped off what has been surely his best season in Formula 1 which has rightfully earnt him a seat at Red Bull Racing next year.

Tumultuous Time at Red Bull

I won’t go too much into Red Bull’s young driver programme and the teams interesting decisions over the last few years in terms of driver signups. But in short, I don’t think Alex Albon did enough to keep his red bull seat, something that not many can argue against.

That isn’t to suggest though that I don’t feel at least a bit for him. I personally think Red Bull have made some bad decisions in the past few years which have hampered a few drivers’ careers. Including putting Albon into a high-pressure seat when he clearly wasn’t ready.

That aside, I am really intrigued to see what Checo can do in a Red Bull next season alongside one of the best drivers on the grid.

READ MORE: IN THE PIT LANE – F1 SEEING DOLLAR SIGNS

I have a feeling Max will comfortably beat Perez over the course of the season, but I assume what Red Bull will expect from the consistent Mexican is him to be at the front during races to give them strategic options against the two Mercedes. As good as Verstappen may be, it’s hard for him to do much when it’s 2 vs 1.

If Perez performs poorly, this will indicate that there is something wrong with the team or the car rather than the driver. Sergio has proven over his career that he is one of the best drivers out there.

What could 2021 bring?

I sensed a lot of excitement and optimism after Verstappen’s dominant win in Abu Dhabi and hopes that 2021 can finally be the season Red Bull take the fight to Mercedes. But haven’t we said the exact same thing for the past 5 to 6 years? Why is 2021 going to be any different?

Verstappen has ended the season well, but can he and his team carry it into 2021?

Considering there are not any major regulation changes for next year, I am keeping my hopes very low for any real challenge for the Silver Arrows in 2021. Another argument is that now Red Bull have two very good drivers so they should be able to beat Mercedes.

Wasn’t that the case when they had Ricciardo though? They weren’t able to mount a credible challenge back then.

READ MORE: IN THE PIT LANE – FORMULA 1’S CONFLICT OF INTERESTS

I am a little more optimistic that Ferrari can at least get back to 3rd in the Constructors’ Championship after what was surely just a one-off bad season for the Scuderia. You would think a team with the amount of resources they have would be able to find a way back to where they should be on the grid.

One of my drivers of the season was Charles Leclerc, who carried his car way higher up the pecking order than it should’ve been on many occasions.

READ MORE: IN THE PIT LANE – SAFETY DOESN’T HAPPEN BY ACCIDENT

As for his teammate, I suspect Sebastian Vettel was the happiest to see the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi after what has been a horrid season for the 4-time world champion. Coupled with his poor race performances, his relationship with Ferrari has deteriorated so significantly over the course of his five years there.

I hope he goes to Aston Martin and performs like the Sebastian Vettel who we are used to watching.

Carlos Sainz, Daniel Ricciardo and Pierre Gasly also deserve recognition for their brilliant performance this season. It will be exciting to see what Ricciardo can bring to a McLaren team on the up and how Sainz can fit into a Ferrari team which has become increasingly focused around Charles Leclerc.

The strangest season ever

When I said at the start of this review that this season has been very strange, what I meant was how topsy-turvy it has been. We have had fantastic and sometimes crazy races such as Austria, the 70th anniversary Grand Prix, Turkey and Sakhir.

Pierre Gasly’s shock win in Italy epitomised the season.

When a race was bad, though, it was often very bad. At one point, it looked as if we potentially weren’t going to have a 2020 Formula 1 season, but in the end, we got a real calendar shake up with with tracks like Imola, Mugello, and Portimao all featuring.

I hope we can see some of these tracks on the calendar in the future but realistically, I don’t think we should expect to see some of these appear again.

READ MORE: F1 BLAST FROM THE PAST: KOBAYASHI STUNS ON DEBUT

Out of all the surprises this season, including a Racing Point and AlphaTauri winning a race, the biggest surprise for me this season was seeing Romain Grosjean survive what has to be the worst accident I can remember in Formula 1.

Romain Grosjean’s crash in Bahrain was a testament to the safety of modern F1 cars

It’s incredible to think how a driver could survive his car splitting in half and being able to climb out of his car after just experiencing a 52G impact. I think it was a stark reminder for everyone just how dangerous Formula 1 can be. But also, a reminder just how much has been done since Bianchi’s tragic death in 2015.

Overall, I really enjoyed the 2020 season. Even though it was lacking a title fight, which I hope we can see next year. But as I have finished previous season reviews, I just can’t see anybody stopping Lewis Hamilton from running away with it again.

WHO IS THE CURRENT BEST DRIVER IN F1?

The most common discussion I see fans having after each race is who they think is the best driver in Formula 1. Most of these conversations are prevented from progressing into meaningful and worthwhile discussions due to underlying bias and favouritism toward a particular driver.

Despite my passion for the sport, I don’t favour any driver or team. This puts me in a good position to come to a fair judgement because I won’t be influenced by preference for a certain driver. I am going to focus on facts and my observations of the drivers over the course of their F1 career.

LEWIS HAMILTON

Lewis Hamilton is on course to break all the records in the coming seasons

Let’s start with the most successful driver on the current F1 grid. Since his arrival in the sport back in 2007, Lewis Hamilton has won 6 world championships, securing 88 race wins along the way. He also holds the record for the most podiums (156) and most pole positions (92).

He has also fared pretty well against his teammates. In the 13 seasons he has completed, he has only been beaten by his teammate twice. In his debut season, he finished ahead of his reigning world champion teammate Fernando Alonso at McLaren in the championship standings.

However, Impressive statistics alone do not automatically make a particular sportsman ‘the best’ or even very good. Although, In Hamilton’s case, he has a lot more than just record-breaking stats going for him.

In the 256 races I have watched the Brit race since he joined F1, he has been nothing short of brilliant in the large majority of them. Right from the get-go, he proved how fast a driver he was. Over the years, he has become a more assured and complete racing driver. Even now, at the age of 35, I believe Hamilton is still getting better and better.

There are two things that have impressed me most. Firstly, is the fact he has managed to win a race in every season he has competed in. And secondly, the number of races he has won despite not necessarily having the best car. Those who say he only wins because he has the fastest car are clearly failing to remember his victories in seasons such as 2009, 2012 and 2013.

Hamilton is a very strong contender for the best driver on the grid.

MAX VERSTAPPEN

At only 22, Max Verstappen has established himself as one of the best F1 drivers in the sport

Even though his stats aren’t anywhere near as impressive as those of Lewis Hamilton, there are many reasons why Max Verstappen must be included in the discussion of the best driver on the current grid.

It was somewhat inevitable that Verstappen wasn’t going to be the complete package when he first joined the sport, he was only 17 after all. However, over the course of his career, he has matured massively and has earned the status of one of the best drivers on the grid, if not, the best.

Similarly to Hamilton, Verstappen has had the upper-hand over most of his teammates in F1. Arguably, he has beaten his teammates more comprehensively than the 6-time champ. Carlos Sainz was more than a match at Torro Rosso, and Daniel Ricciardo too throughout 2016 and 2017. Since mid-way through 2018 however, none of Max’s teammates have been able to get close.

For me, two of his victories in particular epitomise the Dutchman as a driver – Austria 2019 and the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix this season. In neither of these races did he outright have the best car. Through a persistent and relentless attitude, along with immense talent, though, he managed to come away and win both the races in question.

I have seen many comments in the past couple of months saying that if Verstappen was in a Mercedes, he would definitely beat Hamilton and win the world title. Whereas I don’t necessarily agree with this statement, I do somewhat understand where these people are coming from. I’m not saying he wouldn’t beat Lewis Hamilton in the same car. But I also don’t think it would be as straightforward as some fans are making it out.

Nonetheless, Max Verstappen is undoubtedly a fantastic driver. And there is certainly a fair argument to claim he’s the best on the grid.

CARLOS SAINZ

Sainz is a son of a WRC Champion and could become an F1 champion himself one day

Once very underrated, I feel Carlos Sainz is now recognised as one of the best drivers on the grid, and rightfully so. As mentioned, Sainz performed very well against Verstappen when they were teammates at Toro Rosso. And since then, has driven well at each team he has raced for.

You could say he has been a bit unfortunate to have only secured a contract with a top team after 5 seasons in the sport. But providing Ferrari get their act together in 2022, which I’m sure they will, I believe the Spaniard will give Leclerc a run for his money and will win races in the years to come.

It’s a shame that the teams aren’t more evenly balanced as it would be great to see Sainz, and other talented drivers for that matter, really show what they’re made of.

DANIEL RICCIARDO

Daniel Ricciardo could upset the order next year at McLaren

Even though Daniel Ricciardo is no longer in a race-winning car, I still firmly believe he is up there with the very best in Formula 1. During his 5 seasons at Red Bull, Ricciardo proved to us all how good of a driver he really is- comfortably beating Sebastian Vettel in his debut season with the team and then being part of one of the most exciting and closely matched driver partnerships this century.

Ricciardo has rightfully earned the reputation of being the best overtaker on the grid, characteristically pulling off late-braking maneuverers which sometimes never look on. He has also demonstrated his opportunistic edge by winning races where the opportunities arose.

The way Verstappen annihilated Pierre Gasly in 2019 and the way he has held a considerable edge over Alex Albon is not only testament to Verstappen’s ability but also to Ricciardo. It proves how good of a job the Australian did at Red Bull as he was able to hold his own against arguably the best driver on the grid right now.

I hesitate to say that Daniel Ricciardo is the best driver on the grid, largely down to the fact that he was out-performed by Verstappen for two-thirds of the 2018 season. I know unreliability for the Aussie and a general favouritism towards Verstappen played a role in this. But I do feel the young Dutchman overall, is a better driver than his former teammate, just.

CHARLES LECLERC

Charles Leclerc has regularly out-performed his ailing Ferrari this season

Before moving onto my final verdict, I want to put one last driver into consideration who has burst onto the scene and already proven in just 2 seasons that he is a class driver.

Leclerc came into F1 with big expectations placed on his shoulders. He obliterated the field in F2 and was pinned as one of the stars of the future from the get-go. In what is now his third season in F1, he hasn’t just met expectations but has massively surpassed them.

I’m sure many predicted that Leclerc would end up in Ferrari one day. But I doubt anyone really believed he would be promoted to the Scuderia after just one season.

Since his promotion, he has delivered in a high-pressure seat. He convincingly beat Vettel in 2019 and gave Ferrari their first win in Monza since Fernando Alonso in 2010. Perhaps more impressively, he has managed to drag his car to two podiums this season and continues to prove he is a future world champion.

Is he currently the best driver in F1? I don’t think so. But having only raced on 48 occasions, I wouldn’t expect him to be. The Monegasque driver is a real talent and in my top 5, but he still has some way to go before he can be regarded as the best.

VERDICT

I highly rate each of the 5 drivers I have discussed in this article. Each of them has demonstrated their talent and race-craft in the varying time periods they have been in the sport. When deciding on the best current driver on the grid though, for me, it comes down to a choice of two- Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.

Both are extremely good drivers and will be regarded as two of the greats of the sport when they eventually retire. I feel Hamilton just pips it, but there really isn’t a lot in it between them. Although, I feel like you can argue a strong case for Verstappen as the best driver, and ultimately it will come down to subjective opinion.

Which leads on nicely to my final point which is that comparing drivers in Formula 1 is so very hard to do. Take football as an example- I feel its relatively easy to compare players as they generally have the same fundamental ‘equipment’ to demonstrate how good they are. The same cannot be said in F1, especially in the current era where car performance differs so significantly.

Unless every driver was in the same car, it’d be impossible to objectively claim that one driver is the best. I have watched every F1 race each of the above 5 drivers have competed in, and yet, my verdict still came down to a subjective opinion which is worth no more than any other individual.

Comparing F1 drivers on the same grid, and especially across generations, is something that we will never be able to do successfully nor accurately. I guess the fun of it lies exactly in that.

What We’ve learned from Formula 1 2020 so far

The start of the Formula 1 2020 season has been hectic to say the least. 6 races in 7 weeks with 2 triple-headers. The next race in Spa is not until next weekend, so now seems like a good time to catch a breath and reflect on what has been a very up-and-down season thus far.

Lewis Hamilton Is Still The Man To Beat

Despite the talk and speculation surrounding Red Bull and Valtteri Bottas prior to the season, Lewis Hamilton is firmly on route to match Michael Schumacher’s illustrious tally of 7 titles this year.

It’s a shame to say it so early, on but the driver’s championship is over. The constructor’s is too for that matter. After only 6 races, Hamilton has a whopping 37-point lead over his closest challenger, Max Verstappen, and a 43-point lead over Bottas.

Granted, Mercedes have comfortably had the best car this season, but Hamilton has still had to convert car performance into wins. He has done this effortlessly, with some really dominant victories.

This is arguably the most dominant Mercedes car since 2016, despite the Silver Arrows scoring only one 1-2 finish so far. No one is getting anywhere close to them in qualifying, and largely, the same is true for Sundays.

Instead of being mad at Mercedes though, which I know many fans are; maybe we should be asking questions of Red Bull and Ferrari who, in what is the 7th season of the turbo-hybrid era, are still not on the level of Mercedes.

Considering there have been no massive regulation changes in this period, and both teams’ significant budget, the fact they are both still miles away from delivering a championship winning car is poor.

Of course, it’s a shame we have been deprived of a true championship battle for years now. But I don’t think its right to blame Mercedes for this. Let’s hope the remainder of the calendar provides us with some good races, regardless of how insignificant their baring on the championship may be.

Max Verstappen Is The Real Deal

WHO WILL BE FORMULA 1’S NEXT NEW WORLD CHAMPION?

In the 70 year history of Formula 1, only 33 men have managed to achieve the top crown in the sport and win a driver’s championship. And only 3 of the current 20 drivers on the grid have won the prize they all dream of.

We are currently experiencing an era of Lewis Hamilton dominance with a period of Sebastian Vettel dominance prior to that. The achievements of these two drivers has meant that we have only seen 1 new world champion in the last decade. This got me thinking- who will be the sports next new champion, and when might this be? Instead of going through all the drivers, I’ve picked out 5 who could potentially be F1’s next new world champion.

MAX VERSTAPPEN

I’m going to start with the obvious contender. A driver who I’m sure many, including myself, believe will be a Formula 1 world champion one day.

When Max Verstappen first joined the sport back in 2015 at the age of 17, it was clear he had immense talent. He impressed in his rookie season at Toro Rosso before being given the Red Bull seat mid-way through 2016.

However, despite his speed and talent, Verstappen was far from the complete driver. He lacked consistently solid race craft, and often seemed like he was going to cause a collision.

This was the case right up until his 3rd season with Red Bull in 2018, where he really started to demonstrate maturity and proved he was the complete package.

Rightly so, this has led many to believe that it is a matter of time before the Dutchman clinches a drivers championship.

Even though I am a firm believer of this view, I do not think he will be F1’s next new world champion. Not because of his driving ability, but because of his car.

Red Bull have not made any significant improvements since 2014, and are still significantly behind Mercedes in terms of delivering a championship winning car.

We say at the start of every season that this could be the year Red Bull mount a credible title challenge, but unfortunately, this never actually comes to fruition.

No matter how good your driver is, if he hasn’t got the machinery, he won’t win a title.

CHARLES LECLERC

Leclerc’s two victories last season are a sign of things to come. Image: CNN

Another driver who many class as one of F1’s most talented young stars, and an inevitable champion in the future is Charles Leclerc.

Like Verstappen, Leclerc has proven he is the real deal. He demonstrated his strong potential at Sauber, and then beat 4 time world champion Sebastian Vettel convincingly in his first season at Ferrari in 2019.

Also similarly to Verstappen, the Monegasque driver is tied in with a team for the next few years that you wouldn’t bet to really challenge Mercedes for an entire season. On top of that, Leclerc has also got the issue of being part of a team that fundamentally lacks the ability to consistently make good strategy decisions.

So even if the Scuderia were able to deliver a championship-worthy car in 2021 lets say, I wouldn’t back them to then translate their car performance to race wins on a regular basis due to shambolic operations.

For this reason, I cannot see Leclerc winning a championship anytime in the near future.

DANIEL RICCIARDO

Ricciardo enjoyed much success at Red Bull but can he win again at McLaren? Image: DW

Unlike the two drivers above with their careers ahead of them, a driver who is running out of seasons to become a world champion is Daniel Ricciardo, who has recently turned 31.

Even though he has won races and proven he is a more than capable driver, Ricciardo has not yet been given the car to mount a season-long title challenge.

I’m hoping that McLaren, the team Ricciardo is joining next season, will be in a position to score podiums and even race wins with their incoming Mercedes engine. However, I’m more hopeful than realistically expecting this to be the case.

It’s a shame to have to say it as he’s one of the most likeable drivers on the grid, but I don’t think Ricciardo will ever win a championship, nevermind become the next new driver to do so.

VALTTERI BOTTAS

Bottas finished runner-up in last year’s championship. Image: Getty Images

With the Mercedes car in 2020 so far ahead of the competition, you’d surely say that if anyone is going to stop Lewis Hamilton from winning his record-matching 7th drivers championship this season, its Valtteri Bottas.

Bottas has rightfully earnt his status as one of the most consistent drivers on the grid. In fact, he proved this even prior to joining the Silver Arrows at Williams where he delivered strong results on a regular basis.

Whether Bottas will become a world champion boils down to the question, is he good enough to beat Hamilton consistently in races over the course of a season? I don’t think so.

The Finn has proven he can out-perform and out-score his teammate at particlar tracks but he has not been able to do this regularly enough and I don’t seen this changing. I believe Bottas will retire without a drivers crown to his name.

GEORGE RUSSELL

Russell’s Merceedes connections could be pivotal in his future in F1. Image: Sutton

Despite the fact that George Russell is not a race winner like the four other drivers discussed, and the fact that the young Brit has still not scored a point in F1, I believe the sports next new F1 world champion will be George Russell.

Russell, who joined the sport in 2019 after winning the F2 championship the previous season has shown how talented of a driver he is. He’s done this in a Williams car that was immensely inferior to any other car last season, and is still the worst car on the grid this season.

Aside from Russell’s incredible talent, the reason I believe he will be the next new champion is because of his ties with Mercedes. It’s looking as if Bottas will stay with Merc until the end of 2021, however I believe that a seat will open up for him in 2022.

I know there has been a lot of discussion about how the new regulations, now coming into effect in 2022, will shake up the grid. However, I feel you have to back Mercedes to come out on top of the new regs and once again deliver the best car.

If this happens, Russell will have a great shot of winning his first world championship, and becoming F1’s first new world champion since Nico Rosberg in 2016.

Of course, this depends on when Hamilton decides to call it a day. Whether that’s in 2022, 2023 or even later, I believe this will open the door for Russell to win a championship. It will then come down to whether he is good enough to make the most of the best car to claim the title. I for sure, believe he can.

Styrian Grand Prix 2020: Race Review

After a brilliant opening race of the season, a lot of fans, myself included, had high hopes for another exciting 71 laps at the Red Bull Ring.

However, the second race in Spielberg turned out to be the race that last week’s affair was shaping up to be. Had it not been for several mechanical failures resulting in safety cars, it could have very well been.

When Lewis Hamilton got to the first corner in the lead, I feared the race would turn into one of those Hamilton masterclasses. One of those where the six-time world champion would check-out and control the race upfront without a challenge.

Hamilton Styria 2020
Lewis Hamilton closed to within six wins of Michael Schumacher’s all-time record. Image: Sky Sports.

Unfortunately, from a spectators perspective, my fears came to fruition as the Brit cruised effortlessly to his 85th victory and cut the championship lead to 6 points.

The only man who really could have challenged Hamilton on Sunday was his teammate, Valtteri Bottas. But after qualifying 4th, Bottas found himself a decent margin behind the race leader despite clearing Carlos Sainz in 3rd fairly quickly.

Unlike Round 1, Mercedes weren’t having issues with their gearbox and were able to demonstrate their quick pace for the entirety of the race.

Despite Max Verstappen’s best attempts to win the race, he simply didn’t have the car performance to keep up with Hamilton. He was also in a perilous 2 vs 1 situation, sandwiched between the Mercedes who hand the upper hand from both a pace and strategic perspective.

He did well to keep 2nd place as long as he did, and I absolutely loved his move to re-overtake Bottas after the Finn got past him on 10 lap fresher tyres. I’m by no means an admirer of Max, far from it in fact, but its telling to think how many races have been improved by simply him being in them.

I was expecting Red Bull to try something different with their strategy as they so often do, when they know they don’t have the outright pace to beat the Merc’s. For example, starting on the Medium tyres, or pitting Verstappen onto fresh soft tyres 15 laps from the end to mount a late charge.

You could argue that Verstappen would have come off third best whatever they tried, and it’s a fair argument. But considering the size of the gap between the top 3 and the rest, what really did they have to lose?

Verstappen Styrian GP
Max Verstappen drove the wheels off his Red Bull but couldn’t beat either Mercedes in Styria. Image: Autosport.

Onto the midfield, and I don’t think there’s anywhere better to start than Lando Norris, arguably driver of the race for the second week running. McLaren were quick to give the call to Sainz to let Norris past to chase down Lance Stroll and Daniel Ricciardo ahead and it was the right decision.

The Brit pumped in some great laps to chase down to the two infront, pass them both and then also overtake a limping Sergio Perez just before the final corner of the last lap.

Sainz’s race was hampered with a very slow 7 second pit stop, which dropped him down the field. Its a shame for the Spaniard, as he would have surely been fighting further up the grid for more valuable points.

Racing Point were very quick once again, as Perez climbed all the way from 17th to 5th, and then managed to catch up to Albon in 4th. He drove brilliantly right up until his tangle with the Red Bull driver, which proved costly in the end as he suffered quite signicant front wing damage.

Somewhat surprisingly, Renault also showed strong race pace, especially with Ricciardo. This bodes well in terms of the midfield battle for the rest of the season, which you would think will be a close scrap between McLaren and Racing Point, and Renault with an outside shot of getting in the mix.

Styrian GP finish stroll ricciardo perez
Perez’ front wing damage caused chaos out of the final corner and a photo finish. Image: Medium.

And finally, Ferrari. Where do I even start? After another tough qualifying for the Scuderia, this time in wet conditions, Ferrari would have been eager to learn their pace in dry conditions, especially after they brought their upgrades forward one week.

However, Charles Leclerc’s clumsy manoeuvre meant that both cars were forced to retire early on as the young Monagasque driver collided with his teammate, Sebastian Vettel. It was genuinely the worst possible race for Ferrari, and they will now have to wait until Budapest to see how much, or if at all, their upgrades have improved their performance.

Mercedes proved this week that they are still well and truly the head of the field, and the team to beat in 2020. I know its early days still, but you’d think that if Verstappen wants to realistically win the championship, he needs to score maximum points at the Hungaroring this weekend, considering the 4 races after Budapest will more suit the Mercedes car.

I just hope that Red Bull can find some extra pace from somewhere and take the fight to the Silver Arrows. Or else, I feel like we’re in for another season of Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton dominance.

Grid Talk Podcast

Want more race reaction? George Howson, Louis Edwards, Mikael Kataja and Alex Booth stared in Grid Talk’s Styria 2020 review. Video and audio version of the show are linked below:

For the latest Grid Talk Podcast, check out our Podcast section here. For the full back catalogue of shows, check out the F1 Chronicle’s website here.

Austrian Grand Prix 2020 Race Review

After enduring the longest spell in Formula 1 history between races, we were thoroughly rewarded with what turned out to be a great race.

It wasn’t always heading that way though, when Max Verstappen retired on Lap 12 after sitting in a very handy 2nd place on a contra-strategy to the Mercedes’, I thought it would be a pretty dull race from then on in.

Whereas safety cars normally spice things up, the first of the three deployed on Sunday came at a time when a lot of cars were about to make their first stop anyway. It seemed as if it was going to be a mundane race from there on in with all cars bar Perez on the hard tyres to the end.

However, the race completely flipped on its head when the Safety Car was deployed on Lap 51, as it prompted some to make the switch to fresh tyres whilst others decided to stay out and maintain track position- the perfect recipe for an exciting end to the race.

All of a sudden, Merc’s comfortable lead over 3rd place had been eliminated. Not only was it more difficult manage their gearbox issues, but their chances of a 1-2 had taken a massive blow as Alex Albon was on fresher and two-grade softer tyres than Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

After overtaking Perez just before the third safety car of the race was deployed, Albon was in prime position to attack once the race resumed once again on Lap 61, and he didn’t wait in trying to get past the six-time world champion.

Hamilton Albon Austria 2020
Hamilton and Albon’s crash was the most controversial incident on Sunday. Image: F1 Technical

After rewatching the incident several times, I’m still finding it difficult to outright blame Hamilton. At the time, it seemed like an unfortunate racing incident to me but I do understand why the Brit received a 5-second penalty from the Stewards, which was probably more so because of the outcome.

I’ve heard many people say that Albon shouldn’t have tried to make the move where he did. He should have waited until the next lap or when DRS was enabled, where he would have been able to make a less risky move.

And yes, I agree, trying to go around the outside of Lewis Hamilton at Turn 4 was perhaps a touch naïve. At the same time, I find it hard to criticise Albon for doing what I want to see happen more often in F1 which is wheel-wheel racing and drivers attempting to make daring moves.

Albon went onto eventually retire due to an issue with his car, so there’s no real point in discussing if whether he would have overtaken Bottas too had he made the move on Hamilton stick.

Max Verstappen Austria 2020
Max Verstappen’s mechanical failure prevented the Dutchman from winning three-in-a-row in Austria. Image: Stadium Astro

Like his Red Bull teammate, Verstappen would have been gutted with his race, as he retired so early on. He will have surely fancied at his chances at a third successive Austrian GP win.

Personally, I think even without the safety cars, he would’ve been there or thereabouts challenging for the lead, and if he was in his teammates opportune shoes with 10 laps left and fresher tyres, you would have backed him to get the job done.

In what could’ve very well been 25 points for Verstappen, he heads into the second race stuck on zero. For his championship’s sake, he really needs a good points haul at the Styrian GP and then at Budapest too given the four races succeeding Hungary, (Silverstone, Spa and Monza) are all tracks where Mercedes are notoriously very strong at.

Norris podium Austria 2020
Lando Norris became the third-youngest man to stand on an F1 podium on Sunday. Image: ESPN

Lando Norris drove brilliantly to claim a very well deserved and popular maiden podium finish in Formula 1. When I interviewed the young Brit back in 2017, when he was 17 years of age and in the Formula 3 European Championship, I did not think that he would secure his first podium in F1 less than 3 years down the line.

Norris has really impressed since joining the sport last season, and it’s exciting to see what he can achieve in the coming years in a McLaren team that is on the up. His final lap was absolutely mega, and that alone deserved a podium finish for me.

I saw a stat after the race which said that no McLaren has ranked in the top three fastest laps at any race in the past two seasons which puts into perspective how impressive Norris’ achievement really was.

Leclerc Austria 2020
Charles Leclerc’s second place was arguably the most surprising result of the weekend. Image: Ferrari

Another driver who had a cracking race was Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari was way off the pace in qualifying and their race pace wasn’t a whole lot better, as Leclerc found himself struggling to get past Racing Points and McLaren’s for much of the race.

For Leclerc to end up 2nd though is quite remarkable, and is reminiscent of many of Alonso’s great drives for the Scuderia where he often managed to drag his inferior car way higher than it should have finished.

Leclerc’s overtake around the outside of Norris was impressive and his Danny Ric-esque move on Perez was outstanding and meant that for a team that has so often underachieved in races in years gone by, they massively overachieved on Sunday.

The opening 2 races were always going to be about damaged limitations for Ferrari before their supposedly big upgrade arriving in Budapest.

There was a danger that they could already be out of the championship fight by race 3, but if Leclerc can score decently again this weekend, they may head into Hungary not as far off in terms of points as they may have feared.

It will then come down to how much the upgrade improves their performance- given their pace in Austria, you’d think it needs to pretty substantial for them to mount any sort of credible challenge.

Like Red Bull, Racing Point will be disappointed they didn’t come away with more points as it looks like they have a very solid car this season. Not pitting Perez under the safety car was a crucial mistake, and even though 6th is still a respectable finish for the Mexican, it could’ve and should’ve been a lot better.

F1 Grand Prix of Austria
Valtteri Bottas did a brilliant job to win the race despite mechanical issues. Image: Formula 1

Despite not securing the 1-2 which they would have been expecting, Merc, I’m sure will be pleased with their 1-4 in Austria, especially considering the extent to the gearbox issues they were battling against during the race.

Williams will be disappointed not to have scored a point in what surely was one of their best chances this season given the Austrian GP was a race of attrition with only 11 finishers. It would’ve been great to see George Russell secure his first top 10 finish in F1, given his strong performance all weekend.

Without his mechanical failure, he very well could have walked away with a championship point.

If the coronavirus pandemic has benefitted F1 in anyway, its that we get to do that all over again in less than a weeks time, and frankly, I cannot wait!

Grid Talk Podcast

Want more race reaction? George Howson, Louis Edwards, Sam Thatcher and Alex Booth stared in Grid Talk’s Austria 2020 review. Video and audio version of the show are linked below:

For the latest Grid Talk Podcast, check out our Podcast section here. For the full back catalogue of shows, check out the F1 Chronicle’s website here.