McLaren

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!

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The Growing Dilemma For Sebastian Vettel

Photo: Scuderia Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel; four time Formula One world champion and winner of 42 grand prix so far, will enter the final year of his contract with Ferrari heading into the 2017 season, one I feel that will be a pivotal moment in his near ten year career in Formula One so far. 

2016 has so far been a winless season for Ferrari and by their standards it’s been branded a failure. After the anticipation and aims set by Scuderia from winter testing they were clearly aiming for Mercedes to take them on in a straight fight for title, yet this hasn’t materialised and now they find themselves in a fight with Red Bull rather than the silver arrows.

After potential victories that were squandered earlier on in the season in Australia, Spain & Canada and first corner incidents between themselves in China and Belgium have really shown the struggles they have had so far.

Vettel moved to Ferrari in an attempt to emulate his hero Michael Schumacher and win further more grand prix and titles, but in the near two years with the team he has spent so far, just one pole position three victories so far have been the fruits of their efforts together. 

With massive regulation changes coming for 2017 and one final year left in his contract at the Scuderia despite an offer on the table to extend until 2020, Vettel has a lot to think about. It’s becoming ever more evident through his persona in interviews and body language that he is slowly getting fed up with being so close to victory but is always missing out, sometimes by the finest of margins.

Despite his goals to emulate his hero at the Scuderia will be a continued burning desire in his heart, the will to win burns harder and brighter. If Ferrari do not deliver in 2017 under the new regulations, could it just be possible for Vettel to leave Ferrari after just only three years? 

While I don’t think it’s possible to give a straight answer to that question, I do believe that it is a distinct possibility. 

Ferrari are failing to deliver outright performances that match the rhetoric they’ve been making. CEO of Ferrari Sergio Marchionne is demanding results happen fast. All of this including losing James Allison from the team will also effect the development moving forward despite their profuse attempts that it won’t be the case.

If Maranello don’t provide the car capable of victories for Vettel next year he could decide to depart the team. There is no visible disharmony at present, but who is to say that feelings behind closed doors might be different.

Vettel is clearly missing the success he once enjoyed at Red Bull as Lewis Hamilton did in his later years at McLaren but; For how long will Seb put up with the current efforts from Ferrari before he gets fed up and feels his future lies elsewhere?

That I feel is the biggest question of all.

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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.

2016 Belgian Grand Prix Review

Photo: Red Bull Racing

The hills, the forest, it calls to them. A sacred ribbon of tarmac that weaves it’s way through the forest of the Ardennes. Many drivers have conquered the legendary 7.004km Spa-Francorchamps circuit, come rain or shine. The weekend certainly saw the bright sunshine and the unusually hot conditions that made this a Belgian Grand Prix we won’t forget.

During the free practice sessions on Friday, the unfamiliar high temperatures were causing the drivers a great deal of problems in managing their Pirelli rubber through the high speed nature of the demanding Spa circuit, it was clear the race was never going to be straightforward from then on.

For qualifying while Lewis Hamilton was out of the running for pole position after his three power unit changes left him at the back of the grid with penalties, it was up to the Ferrari’s and Red Bull’s to challenge the other Mercedes of Nico Rosberg for the front row. It turned out that no one could, Rosberg had just enough in hand to keep pole position but not by much. 

Heading into Sunday with the hot tempretures not abating, it was clear that tyre strategies were going to play a great role in how the drivers and teams negotiated the 44 laps of the day. Rosberg, Ricciardo and both Ferrari’s were smart in Q2 to utilise a strategy of starting of the yellow marked soft tyres to start the race with in the hope it would benefit them at the start of the race.

As the lights went out Max Verstappen got a poor getaway and tried to repass Kimi Raikkonen on the inside of La Source, unfortunately both were pinched by Sebastian Vettel making his way around the outside of both drivers, this led to a three way collision that damaged all three cars.

With Vettel left stranded at La Source waiting for the rest of the field to pass, Verstappen fought side by side with Raikkonen down the hill to Eau Rouge. On the other hand Rosberg made a great getaway and missed out on all the shenanigans going on behind.

Unfortunately it didn’t end there, into Les Combes Manor’s Pascal Werhlein ended up in the back of Jenson Button’s McLaren ending both of their races, this is a shame considering both of their great efforts from qualifying, luckily Werhlein’s new team mate Esteban Ocon managed to avoid the debris.

Kimi Raikkonen pitted to change his broken front wing but in the process of his mechanics trying to fit a new one, the underside of the car kept trying to catch fire, thankfully they managed to put it out and get the wing on.

On Lap 6 the race took a turn, after making a great start both Renaults of Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen were running in the top ten and doing well, unfortunately on the exit of Radillion Magnussen lost the rear of his car and spun at high speed into the barrier, luckily he managed to hobble out of the car despite a noticeable limp. Thankfully after checks in the medical centre and more later at the local hospital, he only suffered a cut to his left ankle and should be fine to race in Monza next week. 

Unfortunately his R.S16 Renault was a total write off, the most concerning part of his accident as that the head rest that bolts to the inside of the cockpit came loose from it’s fixings and left the car with quite a bit of ease. The FIA are going to look into the incident to find out why it happened and to perhaps see if there is something that can be learned from it.

With the barriers needing repair a red flag was called, prior to this Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton had made their way through the pack to end up fourth and fifth respectively, not a bad effort from the back of the grid.

As the race got underway once more, Nico Rosberg had swapped to medium tyre and quickly made a break for it to escape the clutches Hulkenberg who was under immediate pressure from Ricciardo. It didn’t take him long to pass the Force India in front and try to hunt down Rosberg, however the Mercedes had the pace to eventually sprint away.

Jolyon Palmer suffered after the red flag due to high temperatures to his car much to his dismay, the British rookie really hasn’t enjoyed much luck in F1 since his arrival.

As the race wore on Verstappen and Raikkonen found themselves on the same piece of tarmac once again, this time with the Finn on the offensive, Verstappen makes a late defence move to protect his position much to the dismay of the 2007 world champion. Verstappen faced further criticisms when he ran Raikkonen and Sergio Perez off the road at Les Combes with defensive manoeuvres that led to him not even staying on the race track himself. 

At the final set of pit stops Hamilton was chasing Hulkenberg for third and passed him quite quickly leaving the German still without a podium finish from his 107 starts so far in Formula One.

Fernando Alonso managed to hold off the advances of both Williams and Raikkonen in latter stages of the race after a very impressive drive, with Honda having brought updates to the car, it certainly showed at Spa, however Monza will be the ultimate proving ground as to whether they’ve made true ground on their rivals.

Ultimately Hamilton only lost ten points in the title battle with his team mate and he’ll certainly be grateful for the race he had, while Rosberg will wondering what else he’ll have to 

Just nine points seperate them with eight races left to go, 1 dnf apiece, 6 pole positions and 6 victories between them, it could hardly be a closer run in, there is still plenty of action, speed and no doubt controversy yet to come.

Monza up next!

2016 Hungarian Grand Prix Review

Picture: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1

After a very lengthy, slippery & extremely soggy qualifying session on Saturday afternoon; thanks to a massive thundery downpour, we were left on Sunday with a bright hot summer’s day that beckoned 22 Formula One cars to get racing and do battle.

With the heating building prior to the start of the race and track tempretures exceeding 50C, it was clear looking after the tyres was going to be a key part of the afternoon ahead. 

Prior to the start of the race Felipe Massa’s Williams was having steering rack issues which almost left him out of the race, but luckily the Brazilian took his place on the grid after the mechanics managed to solve the problem and have him race prepared.

As the lights went out both Mercedes got very average starts, the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen were keen to pounce on any mistakes made by the Mercedes cars. Heading into turn one Hamilton had to defend from Ricciardo and took the lead, on the exit and into turn two Ricciardo tried to fight Hamilton back but eventually lost out to Rosberg and had to tuck into third.

Max Verstappen managed to keep ahead of the fast starting Ferrari’s of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen; but would soon face the pressure of the prancing horse later on. 

In the early laps Jenson Button had an issue with his brakes and hydraulic system, due to the pit communication rules he had to tour through the pits in order to solve the problem. Unfortunately his engineer told him over the radio some specific solutions he shouldn’t have done and this led to a drive through penalty for McLaren driver.

As the first pit stops cycled through, it was clear Mercedes could still make a gap to Red Bull and have that performance advantage, unfortunately for Max Verstappen after he made his stop he found himself fighting with Kimi Raikkonen for the remainder of the race. For the first part of the battle it meant having to attack Raikkonen as the Finn was running an alternate strategy starting on the yellow marked soft tyre.

At this stage of the race Hamilton was losing time to Rosberg and at first it was unclear why, it turns out that he was trying to nurse his power unit without taking too much out if it knowing he needs to make it last as long as possible. This did irk the team slightly by asking him to pick up the pace because of proximity of Ricciardo to Rosberg, this included a threat to stop his team mate first.

The second stops passed by and it was looking as if Renault’s Jolyon Palmer was going to score his first F1 points finish after a very unfortunate first half of the season, again his luck found him after spinning at turn four and the points opportunity slipped from his grasp, it’s still unknown if it was driver error or a electronics issue that caused the spin.

As the battle at the front was hotting up when Ricciardo made his second stop earlier than the Mercedes drivers and was storming towards them at a fast rate of knots, but it turned out Red Bull jumped the gun as Mercedes stopped nearly ten laps later.

When Raikkonen made his second stop, he managed to find himself behind Verstappen and led to a great battle between the two towards the end of the race.

Traffic is always an issue at the Hungaroring and this race was no exception, Hamilton found himself stuck behind the Haas of Esteban Guttierez for a fair amount of the lap at one point and Rosberg managed to close massively. As Hamilton passed the Mexican. The Brit did give him the international sign of approval; it’s a shame to see this happen but this is what can manifest when tensions run high at the highest level of sport.

The final laps proved frustrating for Raikkonen as he couldn’t utilise his fresher tyres to pass Verstappen, this led to many close calls and and unfortunate coming together in turn two and Raikkonen losing a significant portion of his front wing, this didn’t stop the battle mind you, it went down to the final corner in which Verstappen took the flag in fifth ahead of the Finn.

It wasn’t the most thrilling race we’ve all witnessed admittedly, however it still didn’t disappoint. Lewis Hamilton put on a measured and professional performance to take the lead in the championship in 2016, he also clocked up the 48th win of his career which leaves him three behind four time champion Alain Prost.

It’s just 5 days until the drivers back in their cars for the returning German Grand Prix at Hockenheim. So not very long for you all to get your next F1 fix!

Alonso Crashes in Barcelona Test

Today on the last day of the first test in Barcelona, Fernando Alonso’s McLaren left the circuit exiting turn 3 and hit the inside wall, he came to a rest just before Turn 4.

He was airlifted to hospital after his crash as his G-Meter sensor in the car had been activated. Fernando was conscious and talking with trackside doctors before his visit to the hospital. A further CT scan revealed he has suffered no injuries, but will spend a precautionary night in hospital.

Any driver has to go to hospital if this sensor is activated to ensure they are checked over after any crash.

McLaren had been experiencing MGU-K issues with the car prior to this accident, no official reports have been made public as to the cause of this crash, but Sebastian Vettel following Alonso on circuit said “The speed was slow – maybe 150kph,” “Then he turned right into the wall. It looked strange.”

We still await news on what caused the crash, but I’m sure you’ll all be glad that Fernando is doing well.

What Can We Expect From F1 In 2015?

wolff-hamilton-rosberg-abu-dhabi-2014

Now that we’ve entered 2015 it’s now time to look forward the coming season instead of looking back on the old, we have plenty to look forward to in the coming months.

Revival of McLaren-Honda

alonso-button-mclaren-2014

In 2013 McLaren announced that they would be re-uniting with legendary engine partners Honda, after their abrupt retreat from the sport at the end of 2008 it was hard to imagine them returning to the sport so soon, with the new hybrid engine regulations it seems that they’ve been tempted back into the fray of F1, It also appears that they are not coming back to just make up numbers on the grid. Honda have invested heavily into their new engine program as well as the McLaren team and have stated that they want to be winning upon their return, signing Fernando Alonso and keeping Jenson Button is the best line-up possible to do the job as well as I have said in a previous article. Honda wanted a big name signing to join the team and in bringing Fernando in certain has done that. We’ll have to see in winter testing if there are any signs of improvement from the Woking outfit.

Vettel’s move to Ferrari

Vettel-Ferrari

Towards the end of 2013 we found out Sebastian was leaving Red Bull Racing, his home since he was a young boy, it was confirmed nearer the end of the season that the poorest secret of all was that he was joining the Ferrari team alongside Kimi Raikkonen. With Ferrari in a massive state of rebuilding it would be hard pressed to imagine Ferrari fighting up the sharp end of the field, but with James Allison the chief designer finally developing the new car all the way through and massive restructurings in personnel with a new team principal in Maurizio Arrivabene and including poaching Jock Clear from Mercedes, Ferrari’s position on the grid this season will be a massive mystery, Sebastian’s idol was Michael Schumacher and he has said he would love to emulate him by helping rebuild Ferrari, question is. How long if at all will we see a Ferrari revival?

Continued Mercedes domination

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2014 saw Mercedes take the grid by storm in the all conquering W05, it was an engineering masterpiece that finally broke McLaren’s record of 15wins in a season, had Mercedes not have reliability issues they could have easily won all 19 races. It has been reported the Mercedes engine developers have said that they can find up to 60-100hp in the winter break for the new hybrid engines, this is an astonishing amount given the short time they have to achieve this. The W05 will also be evolved into the W06 this year, with any team always looking to improve the cars can the gap to them be closed down by anyone else or will the gap widen even more and leave Lewis and Nico to fight out the title once again?

Mexico’s Comeback On The Calendar

mexico-grand-prix-1992

In 2013 we heard rumblings that the sport may once again return the to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, in 2014 we finally had it confirmed, the last race we saw here was in 1992 (see picture above) with Nigel Mansell won it from Ricardo Patrese and Michael Schumacher following him up to the rostrum. The circuit is very fast and flowing but was renowned for being very bumpy, with some funds being invested into the circuit to bring up to modern standards. I’m also hoping that while improvements have been made, the circuit will keep it’s traits and give the drivers a great challenge when we arrive for the event in the autumn. With Sergio Perez being the only Mexican on the grid for the race as Esteban Guttierez was ousted from Sauber, I would like to hope that Ferrari will give Esteban a Friday outing but with it being a new circuit I doubt that it may happen. It’ll be great to get all nostalgic once we arrive ready to begin a new future in Central America.

Overview

With winter testing not very far away, like me I’m sure you’re all very keen for the action to get started once more, we can breathe a sigh of relief that the phallic noses are banned but we can also hold our breathe because the teams are only allowed to use 4 engines this season instead of 5 this means a huge undertaking for the engineers and designers, but it’s all part of the magical and wonderful world of F1 we all come back for time and time again.

69 days and counting until Australia.. Time is ticking!

@lilgodf1