Young Drivers

Williams knows the score, it’s time we did too

Photo Credit: Williams Martini Racing

Recent news has told us the fairytale of Robert Kubica’s return to a Formula 1 grid looks to be all but over after recent tests with the Williams team, Russia’s Sergey Sirotkin also tested the car in Abu Dhabi and the team has concluded the Russian was faster. While some of you may be upset by the decision that could see Kubica out of the running, Williams knows the score and it’s time we did too.

It may sound ridiculous that a team of Williams’ stature has to resort to the possibility of signing yet another rookie driver in what looks to be for financial reasons, which in reality is complete hogwash. To sign fast and experienced drivers, you need to show you can deliver the results for them to compete at a high level and as hard is it to admit, the Grove-based team just haven’t done that.

Their last title came at the hands of Jacques Villeneuve in 1997 and have only won a single race in 13 years with Pastor Maldonado at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix taking the only one since Juan Pablo Montoya’s last win for the team at Interlagos in 2004. When you think about it in that respect, it’s certainly a no-brainer Williams just cannot attract the type of great names from the past that lies in their trophy cabinets.

Having utilised the talents of Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa since 2010 in order to try and gain stability within the team having an experienced driver helping in the development of the car and the team, it could be time to abandon that ideology.

Paddy Lowe openly stated mid-season the design philosophy of the car would change for the FW41 into 2018 in order to climb back up the grid and it seemed that having an experienced driver could help with that. But with changes in the technical departments, maybe it’s time to change how they view a driver line-up too.

While Stroll had a very mixed bag of results and form in 2017, he did show glimpses of what he and the team were capable of, Should Sirotkin be the one to partner the 19-year old next season, it may not be the worst line-up imaginable. With a fresh perspective from both drivers and a solid leader technically in Paddy Lowe, maybe some youth and speed behind the wheel isn’t a bad way to change to look for a change of fortune.

Sirotkin may come with money from his backers at SMP racing, every driver brings some form of sponsorship/money with them to an F1 seat, that’s just how it works. The 22-year old has had relative success in the junior series but has shown he has pace in F1 machinery after Renault’s Alan Permane said he believes the young Russian deserves a shot at the top level.

On Kubica I admit, when I first got wind of his possible return to an F1 cockpit I was supremely excited, a man who impressed three world champions in Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and his new manager Nico Rosberg claim was one of the best they’ve ever raced, was going to get a chance that was never supposed to have been possible.

Having run for Renault at the test after the Hungarian Grand Prix, it all looked good on paper, but eventually the French team passed over on the Pole in favour of the youth in Carlos Sainz. A decision you certainly cannot blame them for, especially as they’re looking forward and working hard to return to the front of the grid in years to come.

Kubica’s pace at the Abu Dhabi test behind the wheel of Williams’ FW40 did look to be quick, but there always appeared to be question marks over his performance through the subtle comments the team did say after the two days of running.

With seven years out of the cockpit, it appears that despite the efforts made to make him comfortable in the car, the pace we were accustomed too from him just didn’t seem to materialise in order to get himself back on the grid. Despite everything the 32-year old should be enormously proud of himself to be able to drive an F1 car again at speed, having once been told he would never drive a racecar again.

There are opportunities for Kubica outside of F1 in sport cars, especially with the WEC LMP1 field growing after the departures of Audi and Porsche in recent seasons and the rapid growth of the IMSA series in the USA, there is plenty of room for him to still find a spot on a race track and continue his own journey, even if it is away from Williams and F1.

Advertisements

Jordan King Q&A

Thanks to Influence Associates I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Jordan King, driver for Racing Engineering in GP2 and Manor Racing development driver. 

Here’s what he had to say.

Recently Monza was looking like a good weekend for you; How do you feel the weekend went?

“Race 1 was a bit of a disaster as we were on for 3rd but with the safety car coming out at just the wrong time and not managing to pick up the leaders it meant I had to settle for 7th.

Race 2 didn’t go well at all I really struggled with pace and tyre wear and it was really difficult to find out why in the debrief as there wasn’t a clear reason why the tyres well apart”

With just Abu Dhabi left, do you feel you had a shot at the title prior to Malaysia?

“Well after Malaysia unfortunately the title is out of reach now which is very annoying with me being so competitive but I can still get a top 3 so I’ll be pushing as hard as I can.”

You tested for Manor at the Silverstone test, how was the experience?

“They were both amazing experiences and really did put a smile on my face from ear to ear, it was a dream come true to drive an F1 but I still feel like there is more I can do and more to the dream.”

Do you feel confident that you have a shot at a Manor seat for 2017?

“I feel confident that I have shown I am capable to be in an F1 car in 2017 but to get a seat is the million dollar question I don’t have the answer to yet.”

What is your favourite race of the year so far?

“It is a toss-up between a few. Austria was special as it was my first win in GP2, Silverstone was special as I won at my home GP, Spa was great as it was the perfect race for our strategy ok I didn’t win but still finished 2nd.”

As a fellow racer, Do you feel Max Verstappen’s critics are right in their comments after his Spa performance?

“I think the T1 incident wasn’t his fault not at all, so he shouldn’t be getting any criticism for lap one turn one but as the race went on he defended his position by running other drivers along with himself off the track which I think is too far, it is dangerous if you can’t make the corners yourself while defending a position then that can’t be right surely? 

As you leave the other driver no room or option to stay on the track.”

The Final Push

Photo: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1

With the european season is now over as Formula One begins it’s final third of the season, teams will be preparing for the final push, the onslaught of seven more races from the bright night lights of Singapore right through to the heat of the desert for the grand finale in Abu Dhabi.

Just two points now separate title protagonists Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in the championship standings, the closest it’s been for a very long time. Both drivers will be looking across the garage at each other knowing that one mistake, one reliability issue or one clash could end their respective title bids, but do not expect they’ll give each other any quarter to claim the grand prize.

The fight behind the warring silver arrows couldn’t more alive, Red Bull have really pushed on in 2016 by taking on the mught of Ferrari and beating them. With Max Verstappen taking victory in Spain ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo’s pole position and near Monaco victory, Ferrari still have not managed to record neither a victory or pole position through major inconsistancies much Sebastian Vettel’s dismay.

The fight for second place will get more intense as each race gets crossed off the list, despite the big prize being out of reach, pride is on the line for both Red Bull and Ferrari. Neither will back down without a fight with just 11 points between them, so don’t expect niceties, expect a dogfight to the bitter end.

Same could be said for the fight for fourth place in the constructors between Williams and Force India, both teams are  performing valiantly for their much more smaller outfits compared to those ahead of them. There is no telling who may come out on top of this fight with them both being so evenly matched. Just three points lie between the two privateers, so every position & overtake matters greatly.

McLaren-Honda recently pinched sixth place from Toro Rosso and with their recent upgrades taking to great effect with both chassis and their power unit. Despite Jenson Button’s recently announced sabbatical and the always fired up Fernando Alonso relishing a fight, it could be a tall order for the junior Red Bull squad to take it back. With no power upgrades available to them and just chassis improvements the only weapon in their arsenal, it’ll no doubt make their efforts more tricky.

The criticism that Renault have faced all season for their results has been quite unfounded, the car was what was leftover from the very underfunded and deeply in debt Lotus team last season. With only six points to their name so far in 2016, it may seem from the outset they’ve had very poor season for a manufacturer, but don’t be fooled, with both Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen always pushing to prove their critics wrong, I’d be wary of what the results that could be possible. 

Locked in a fight for that coveted tenth place in the constructors standings, Manor and Sauber are pushing like crazy to beat each other. Manor hold the high ground having scored a crucial single point with Pascal Wehrlein in Austria, while the swiss outfit have struggled all season long with financial woes that have hampered much of their intended progress, there are still seven races that could throw a surprise result in either teams favour, so don’t the fight isn’t over yet. 

While all of the teams have now converted their full focus to the new chassis regulations of the 2017 season that lies ahead, updates that were pre-planned are still filtering through. Despite this the pecking order we see won’t change dramatically if at all, what we will see is the gladiatorial clashes of that will keep us on the edge of our seats.

With still plenty to fight for regardless of their positions whether it’s the prized world title or the pride of a top ten finish, this season is far from over, I expect the final third of the season to showcase the best of what Formula One always has to offer. 

Let’s Race!

Jenson Button Takes Sabbatical For 2017, Could Return for 2018

Picture: McLaren-Honda

In a shock announcement in the McLaren motorhome on Saturday evening, Jenson Button has announced that will not be racing for McLaren-Honda in 2017.

It has long been a topic surrounding the 2009 world champion as to what will happen with his future and finally we have our answer. Button will play an ambassadorial role for the team during 2017, but does have a contract to race if it turns out Fernando Alonso retires at the of the 2017 season. 

Button said “I love McLaren-Honda – I firmly believe it’s made up of the best bunch of people I’ve ever worked with – and I have no intention of ever driving for another Formula 1 team. To be clear, I’m very definitely not retiring. I’m contracted for both 2017 and 2018, I intend to work hard on car-development, and I’m sure I’ll get behind the wheel of the new car at some point.”

Ron Dennis also added “As a race driver for our team these past seven seasons, he’s been superb, both on and off the track. And, as we’re seeing this season, he remains superb – not only fast and fit but also experienced and expert. He’ll start his 298th Grand Prix tomorrow; as such, he’s the most experienced driver on the grid. Having extended his contract to include 2017 and 2018, he’ll continue to be a senior, influential and committed member of the team, and will remain centrally involved in the development of our cars. He’ll also be available to race for us if circumstances require it.”

“On behalf of all at McLaren-Honda, I want to say how thrilled we are that Jenson has extended his contractual relationship with us. Moreover, I’m absolutely certain that the depth of his experience and the currency of his expertise will give us an advantage over our opposition next season.”

Button is a much loved member of the F1 paddock and adored by fans the world over and no doubt this will cause a big shock to many of his fans out there.

Button started his F1 career in 2000 driving for Williams and had a tough season during his rookie year but did score points on six occasions with the highest position of fourth at the rain affected German Grand Prix, most notable for having a disgruntled former Mercedes employee making his way onto the circuit and Rubens Barrichello’s teary-eyed maiden win. 

After leaving Williams to make way for Juan Pablo Montoya in 2001, Button headed to the Enstone based Benetton team for two seasons where the team was bought by Renault in 2002. Results didn’t really happen with the team although he showed great consistency in scoring regular points. 

In 2003 he moved over to BAR in the hope of better results although they did not appear that year, 2004 really came on leaps and bounds for Button and BAR Honda.

He came through to score his maiden podium in Malaysia that year and score a further seven more including more dramatic time once more in Hockenheim, after taking a ten place grid penalty, he made his way through the field and during the final third of the race, he had an issue with his helmet that meant he had to drive the majority of the time one handed so he wasn’t choked by his own helmet. 

After again less than desirable results in 2005 and Honda buying the BAR team in 2006. Button finally delivered his first win in Formula One at the Hungarian Grand Prix which was held in wet conditions, those images of his wide eyed moments in Parc Fermè are ones that won’t be forgotten.

While 2007 and 2008 will be years to forget for Button and Honda, the 2009 season will always be remembered for his fairytale championship story with Brawn Grand Prix, after all was thought lose in the winter of 2008 after Honda pulled the plug, Ross Brawn and Nick Fry helped buy and run the team and led them to championship glory. 

In 2010 he headed to McLaren in search of more wins and championships despite being paired up with Lewis Hamilton, over the three seasons they were paired together Button actually outscored Lewis Hamilton in terms of overall points and it really showed the world that 2009 was no fluke.

After Lewis Hamilton left the McLaren team, in 2014 the team had started to fall from grace and hadn’t delivered up the highest standards they have for Woking team, entering the Hybrid era this has only been emphasised after renewing their partnership with Honda.

Despite all the trials and tribulations that Button has faced in his career, it was done with dignity and courage to persevere with any challenge that was in his path, he will always be remembered as a very fast gentleman of the sport and a modern era rainmaster. 

Although he may not race for 2017, 2018 remains a possibility that we could still yet see him behind the wheel which no doubt remains to be a tantilizing possibility if it arises.

Waiting In The Wings

Photo: Red Bull Racing

At certain points in time there will always be those who are trying to go out with one last hurrah; to prove that they can really make the difference they’ve always claimed, while there are some who are very hungry to prove their worth; to show that they are the next generation of champions that will drive the road to glory.

In recent years the manufacturers & recently the privateer teams have followed the Red Bull & McLaren archetype of a modern young drivers programme. Sebastian Vettel & Lewis Hamilton are the cornerstones of proof at how this philosophy has worked.

Hamilton was backed by McLaren for much of his youth after they saw the potential had even as a younger teenager, this added with Lewis telling Ron Dennis that he wanted to drive for him one day. Vettel was also found at a young age by the Red Bull junior programme and this was long before they bought out Jaguar at the end of 2004.

In 2016 Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Renault have the most notable young driver programmes, while  Williams and Force India have signed drivers from other series to be reserve and development drivers for themselves. 

The Scuderia Toro Rosso team is part of Red Bull’s modern junior programme with former Formula One driver Dr Helmut Marko at the helm, he has a major say in who goes where within the Red Bull programme, this is something that no other team has adopted thus far, this is despite numerous talk that Haas F1 is a now a junior team for Ferrari and Manor Racing likewise for Mercedes. 

Teams have also been known to utilise their reserve or development drivers in other racing series to keep them race sharp which makes perfect sense, this is coupled with bringing them in the garage as well as meetings and briefings over the course of a Formula One weekend to help their understanding of the teams operations. 

What does this mean for those younger drivers?

With the extended life of some drivers in modern Formula One, it’s become an increasing common occurance that some drivers will stay beyond 10 or even 15 years in the sport, this is creating a back log of younger drivers that are being groomed and prepared for their Formula One journey.

Stoffel Vandoorne is the prime example of this back log, a McLaren junior driver that has had plenty of success in junior formula including his domination of the 2015 GP2 championship; which he nearly scored more than double the points of runner up Alexander Rossi.

With Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button still occupying seats at the team, it has left Vandoorne waiting in the wings for a seat to open up, to put it into perspective Alonso and Button have a combined total of nearly 600 grand prix starts between them, this is also arguably the most the experienced line up in the history of the sport.

With Kimi Raikkonen being kept on at Ferrari for yet another year into 2017, Alonso, Button and possibly Felipe Massa still being kept on in their respective teams, it means that those younger drivers are not being given the shots that perhaps they feel they deserve.

Some drivers like Pascal Wehrlein, Esteban Guttierez, and now most recently Esteban Ocon have been given a chance on the grid through their parent teams by way of a relationship to the other teams. Werhlein and Ocon being Mercedes junior drivers being the prime example has helped them secure seats at Manor through the power unit deal they have with Mercedes.

Can the situation be resolved?

Of course it can, but it relies on the teams top brass being bold enough to take the decision to take them on. It feels as if teams have pinned themselves into a comfort zone where they feel they must trust the drivers with years of experience in an attempt to garner as much information to move forward.

This practice while it may work is now proving to be a hinderance to the numerous amount of junior drivers eager to make their mark, many have fallen by the wayside over the years because of this and with now a bottle neck clearly forming behind the scenes, the time has come for a new generation of youth to prove they have what it takes at the highest level.