Red Bull Racing

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.

2016 German Grand Prix Review

Photo: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1

Finally! Formula One returned to Hockenheim for the German Grand Prix. After last season the Nurburgring couldn’t afford to pay the fees for the race to be held there. 

It was safe to say that everyone was glad to be back even if attendance figures have been down in recent years, the turn one grandstands had been covered over because of the lack of ticket sales. However on race day the stadium section up to turn one was almost full which was great to see. 

In qualifying it was Nico Rosberg who stuck it on pole with an incredible lap after his first run in Q3 was hampered by an electrical glitch that affected his throttle capabilities, something that’s on the list of things you never want as a driver. Lewis Hamilton couldn’t quite make his final run count and both of the Red Bull’s were certainly a lot closer than first thought, this made race day a very appetising prospect.

On race day the tension was palpable with both Mercedes on the front row looking to get into turn one first. As the lights went out Rosberg got a shocking start after lighting up his rear tyres and fell back to fourth, Hamilton made the better get away into the lead. Verstappen managed to get past his team mate round the bold outside move into turn one also. 

Felipe Massa was unfortunately hit by Jolyon Palmer on the opening lap and left the Brazilian with a poor handling Williams before retiring on lap 36. Sergio Perez had a very poor start from starting ninth on the grid but fell to as low as 16th before climbing back through the field.

Back at the front of the field, Rosberg couldn’t find a way around Ricciardo and had to settle into the first part of the race to perhaps try a different strategy. 

With the supersoft tyres degrading fairly quickly, Verstappen and Rosberg were the first to blink on lap 11 and both bolted on more supersoft tyres to try and undercut their respective teammates up the road.

Ricciardo stopped a lap later to cover off the fast charging Rosberg and managed to maintain track position over the German. Hamilton stopped on lap 14 but wasn’t under threat after managing to create a big enough gap. 

Lap 29 proved to be a contentious one when Rosberg dived up the inside of Verstappen in an attempt to take third place, however he nearly didn’t make the corner and in the stewards eyes forced the young Dutch driver off the circuit, I personally felt it was a tough, bold but just on the limit move. The decision from stewards however to give Rosberg the five second penalty was more likely because of his precedent from his clash with Hamilton in Austria and not just because of the move itself.

The hard work Rosberg put in for that middle stint to pass and gap the Red Bull’s was put to waste when Rosberg served the penalty at his next pit stop, the Mercedes pit wall unfortunately timed his penalty wrong by accidentally waiting eight seconds instead of the five it was supposed to be. 

In the dying laps, the final points positions became a great watch as Williams gambled on keeping Valtteri Bottas out on severely old soft tyres trying to make a two stop strategy work, while Nico Hulkenberg made his three stop work in his favour to pass the Finn towards the end of the race.

Both McLarens had a tough end to the race, with the Honda power unit in the back proving that while the several upgrades have come in recent races; it is still very thirsty on fuel. Despite this fact while Fernando Alonso had to keep saving fuel and fell out of the points, but with the Williams of Bottas having hit the cliff of those Pirelli tyres, Jenson Button managed to gain eighth place by the chequered flag.

With the summer break now here and teams having to shut their factories for two complete weeks, their hardworking personnel can go home and enjoy time with families to refresh themselves for final nine races that lie ahead.

I don’t know about you? But I’m surely excited to see what the rest of this season has to offer, because one thing for sure is that this title battle is far from over!

SC