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Episode 45

In the £30-35,000 price range, there’s a very interesting car-buying dilemma…

Buying A New Daily vs New Racing Car

In the £30-35,000 price range, there’s a very interesting car-buying dilemma…

Back in the spring time I wrote an article asking whether I really needed to buy a racing car, or whether my speed need would be met by just a track toy. You can read the article in full here, and if you’re yet to read it I won’t spoil it for you now. This week we’re travelling down a similar path, though. Should I buy a race car, or should I buy myself a new road car instead?

If, like me, you also like your road cars, you might be aware of a new hot hatch that is on its way from Japan. Over the last week or so, a wave of first-drive reviews have been released for the Toyota GR Yaris, and they’ve all been explicit in their assessments: it’s a ridiculously good car. A brainchild of Tommi Makinen Racing – the outfit in charge of producing Toyota’s factory WRC effort – the car is the first homologation-special rally car the world has seen for the best part of 15 years.

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I obviously have not driven the car yet myself, however I have been keeping a close eye on its development ever since it was first announced at the top of the year with a view to potentially owning one myself. As a result, I was relieved that Toyota hadn’t cocked up a recipe that, on paper, is special to say the least. In fact, what they’ve produced is quite the contrary.

By all accounts, the car is light, nimble, as powerful as it needs to be and, most importantly, oozes character. A car classed alongside the Ford Fiesta in terms of dimensions, yet similar to Golf GTIs and Hyundai i30s in potency, and a four-wheel drive system unlike any hatchback on the market, the car really has been made with true drivers in mind. Priced at less than £35,000, it really is an affordable performance vehicle.

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It’s the price, though, that creates my dilemma. More specifically it’s the available finance price where, over a 42-month period and with an £8,000 deposit, the GR Yaris is available at less than £300 a month with just a 1.9% APR, even in my spec choice of the Circuit Pack in black. If you take those finance terms of an £8,000 deposit and £300 a month over 42 months, though, you could finance yourself a rather different driving prospect: a Caterham Academy package.

For those of you not in the know, the Caterham Academy is an all-inclusive entry-level racing series here in the UK. For a base price of a hair under £30,000, you’re buying your very own road-legal racing car *and* a full season of entry fees into a novice-only competition that runs at seven of the best racing circuits in the country, including both Silverstone and Brands Hatch. There are a lot of other features within the Academy package, but I’ve already written a stand-alone article with everything you need to know, which you can read here.

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Back to this subject, then, and you can see the dilemma. For almost equal outlay I have the choice of potentially the best new drivers’ car in years or the beginning of my racing career. So, before I ask you wonderful readers for any advice you’ve got, let’s have a look at the pros and cons of each option from my perspective:

The pros of the Yaris are fairly self-explanatory. It’s a special car, something that hasn’t been built in recent memory nor is it likely we’ll see another. It’s something I can drive every day, at any time and in any conditions. In the long run it’s likely not to depreciate as much as other cars in its segment either, due to its limited numbers and pedigree.

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On the other hand, however, I’d be missing out on the sense of competition that you can only achieve from racing. Sure, I could take the Yaris to track days and I’m positive that they would be enjoyable experiences, but it’s not made specifically for that purpose, so it may not feel quite at home either.

In the Caterham corner, I’d finally be able to begin the racing career I’ve been yearning after. Extra costs that are associated with entry into motorsport – such as the ARDS test and licence – are all included in the initial cost, too, meaning all I’d have to spend on top is the cost of my racing uniform. Another plus point is the nature of the Santander finance deal Caterham have set up. When it comes to the Caterham motorsport ladder, small improvements are made to the cars each year in order to let you progress into the faster series, yet these modifications don’t adversely affect the finance package. Therefore, progression up the motorsport ladder is cheap and easy.

On the flip side, unfortunately, come with the associated hassle of owning a racing car on the day-to-day. The extra expense for storage, towing and other consumable costs need to be accounted for, along with the fact it would be my second car, not a direct replacement for my current vehicle as the Yaris would be.

As you can see, then, there’s a lot of deliberating still to do on my end before a final decision is made. What would help me, then, would be some outside opinions. If the choice was yours, would you buy the new sporty daily, or start a racing career? Let me know with a comment below! No, please do, I need all the help I can get.

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Race Watch 16

As we pass the halfway point of the 2020 World Rallycross season, it’s a pair of returning faces running the show. Question is, which will come out victorious in Latvia?

FIA World Rallycross:

Riga, Latvia

As we pass the halfway point of the 2020 World Rallycross season, it’s a pair of returning faces running the show. Question is, which will come out victorious in Latvia?

The FIA World Rallycross Championship was back this weekend, with a double event at Riga, Latvia. The season so far has very much been dominated by a pair of returning World Champions, with the 2016 champion Mattias Ekstrom filling in as a last-minute replacement for Janis Baumanis – who couldn’t compete due to budget issues, and the double World Champion Johan Kristoffersson returning to World Rallycross after competing in World Touring Cars in 2019.

Coming into the weekend the pair had taken victory at three of the four rounds, and the trend continued on Saturday, with Kristoffersson claiming his third win of the season – keeping his record of victory in every Saturday event so far. On Sundays, however, the story has been drastically different. Who will win round 6 of the FIA World Rallycross Championship, then? Let’s take a look.

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In Q1 it was Ekstrom that shot out of the blocks. After being placed on the back foot by having to choose his Q1 grid position last, he had the outside lane in Race 1. The veteran Swede didn’t let this phase him, though, as he had a perfect start and left Krisztian Szabo, Reinis Nitiss and Guerlain Chicherit to eat his dust. In Race 2 it was Robin Larsson – Ekstrom’s Audi S1 teammate – who won the heat, although his time was not quite as quick. Race 3 was Niclas Gronholm’s, although he was one second slower than Ekstrom and 0.2s off Larsson, which left him fifth overall. Third and fourth in Q1 went to Timmy Hansen and Kristoffersson respectively, with the older of the Hansen brothers beating the championship leader in the fourth heat.

That put the two Audis, Timmy Hansen, Kristoffersson and Gronholm all together in the final heat of Q2. Before then, the initial pace was set by Timur Timerzyanov in heat two, putting in a time of 3 minutes 24.030 seconds. This was eclipsed by Andreas Bakkerud in Race 3, who set a 3:23.769 – the benchmark time that would be chased by the leaders in the final heat. That heat saw Ekstrom make another good start, aided by Larsson of course, meaning Kristoffersson was once again on the back foot. The 2017/2018 champion was hassling his 2016 counterpart to an extent, however there was no way through and the pair settled into a rhythm that placed them first and second in the session standings. The gap in pace between the two masters and the rest of the field was significant, as they were the only drivers that made it into the 3:22’s.

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With an extremely abrasive track surface, it was imperative that drivers were as kind to their tyres as possible during the day, as they only had 12 new tyres for the whole day. With that in mind, Robin Larsson was on the back foot after his front-right suspension broke in Q2, and so had to strap a fresh set of boots on in order to cement a good semi-final grid position. As such, he promptly set a benchmark time of 3:22.361 in heat 1, and nobody could live with it. Race 3 was a quick heat, with the Hansen brothers maximising their strategy to set times that gave Timmy 3rd and Kevin 4th in the session. Second was Kristoffersson, who psychologically dealt a big blow to Ekstrom, finishing more than three seconds up the road, although Ekstrom was on those used tyres.

With the points added up from the three qualifying sessions, we had our top 12 set. Semi-Final 1 would see the Audi pair of Ekstrom and Larsson on row 1, Gronholm and Kevin Hansen on row 2, and Timerzyanov alongside Szabo on the back row. They would be competing for spots 1, 3 and 5 in the final, whilst semi-final 2 – competing for the even spots in the final – would see Kristoffersson and Timmy Hansen on the front row, Bakkerud and Timo Scheider on row 2, with Anton Marklund and Liam Doran bringing up the rear.

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Semi-final 1 saw Ekstrom check out at the front, whilst Larsson led the battle for second. Kevin Hansen lost out in the start to Gronholm, and so had to play the strategy game by taking the joker lap on the first tour. Gronholm responded on lap 3, and the pair emerged at the re-join side-by-side. Gronholm had the inside line, though, and took the position. In clear air Larsson was able to set a better pace, and so slotted back into second, behind Ekstrom and ahead of Gronholm.

For semi-final two, Kristoffersson copied Ekstrom. Back in the pack the race had scrappy moments, with Doran having a big moment at turn two on the first lap when four cars tried to occupy the same spot of tarmac. The big moment occurred between Timo Scheider and Andreas Bakkerud, however. Bakkerud managed to get up the inside of the German out of turn 3, but Scheider was having none of it and forced the Norwegian into the grass banking at 120kph. As a result, Bakkerud’s Megane was wrecked and Scheider took third place behind Kristoffersson and Hansen, but he was later disqualified for his error.

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This gave us a final of Ekstrom on pole with Kristoffersson alongside, Larsson and Timmy Hansen on the second row, with Gronholm in fifth and Kevin Hansen promoted due to Scheider’s DSQ. Once again, Ekstrom got the jump on Johan off the grid, and the pair checked out from the rest of the field. The fight for the final podium position was extremely tight, with Larsson, Gronholm and Timmy Hansen all jostling with each other at stages, but it was Robin Larsson who claimed third. Ahead, Kristoffersson was hassling Ekstrom, but couldn’t get past and was unable to use the joker strategy due to the proximity of the chasing pack, and as such the ‘retired’ Audi driver crossed the line first.

After Mattias Ekstrom’s second victory of the season, then, and Kristoffersson’s streak of Sunday ‘failures’ continuing, the championship gap has been cut to just 17 points. Niclas Gronholm is third with 117 points, 32 back from Ekstrom (149) and 49 off Johan (166). With the season now past the halfway mark, however, is there enough time for anyone to catch the most successful World Rallycross driver of all time? We’re going to have to wait nearly a month for the next event, with the championship heading to Catalunya on the 17th and 18th October for the last double-header.

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Race Watch 15

Following the best part of six months off, the WRC heads to a new event: Rally Estonia. In the homeland of the reigning World Champion, is it time for Tanak’s first win of the year?

World Rally Championship:

Rally Estonia 2020

Following the best part of six months off, the WRC heads to a new event: Rally Estonia. In the homeland of the reigning World Champion, is it time for Tanak’s first win of the year?

173 days after round three ended, the fourth World Rally Championship event begun, and my, was it a good one. The first Rally Estonia to be classed as a WRC event produced the fourth WRC winner in four rallies, proving the wide-open title race was unlikely to conclude any time soon. But what exactly happened?

Now, I won’t bore you with all the context of the championship etc going into this round, as I explained everything regarding the season so far in my previous #RacingGrind article (which you can read here). Therefore, the only important information needed to set the scene is that the majority of this rally’s running was not taking place on the Friday, in order to compress the event a little. This meant that Saturday’s bumper 10 stages took extra importance, with the road order taking championship order in the morning loop, before reverting to the standard reverse-standings road order for the afternoon.

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As such, Sebastien Ogier lead us off during the Friday night opening stage and Saturday morning loop.  He led well during the 1.28km Stage 1, too, setting the joint-fastest time alongside Esapekka Lappi. The times were very close-knit, however, as you would expect on such a short stage, with Ott Tanak, Craig Breen and Elfyn Evans all less than a second behind.

The Rally proper, then, began with an early start on Saturday, and it was Kalle Rovanpera who clearly got out of bed on the correct side, as he registered the fastest stage time, 1.3 seconds clear of Craig Breen. This gap also gave the young Finn the overall lead of the rally as well, with Breen’s Hyundai once again in second place, albeit just three tenths back. This lead didn’t last long, however. A rear-right puncture on the very next stage cost the Toyota driver around 25 seconds, dropping him into eighth overall. Ott Tanak had contrasting fortunes, however, as he won stage three by 5.6 seconds to – yes – Craig Breen. Elfyn Evans beat Neuville into third on the stage to ensure it wasn’t a Hyundai 1-2-3, whilst Ogier was fifth on the stage yet moved into fourth overall due to Rovanpera’s misfortune.

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Tanak and Breen continued their dual domination on stage four, with the Estonian beating the Irishman by just a tenth, with the third Hyundai of Neuville completing the stage with a good enough time to move him into a podium place overall. The Toyotas fought back on stage 5, however, with Ogier claiming the stage win from Rovanpera, albeit less than a second ahead of the local man Tanak, before Neuville rounded off his morning with a stage win of his own.

At lunch on Saturday, then, the overall standings had the three main Hyundais in the top three, with four Toyotas chasing. That’s right, four Toyotas, as the Japanese outfit’s Japanese development driver – Takamoto Katsuta – was having the WRC performance of his life. After six stages the 27-year-old, alongside co-driver Dan Barritt, was just 35 seconds off the lead. Even more impressively, he was less than 20 seconds behind the leading Yaris, piloted by a six-time World Champion.

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Saturday afternoon contained more Tanak dominance, with the reigning World Champion finishing second on stages 7, 9 and 11, and winning stage 8. The only ‘blemish’ was during stage 10, when he was a ‘lowly’ fifth, and a ‘massive’ four seconds off Breen’s pace. Breen also claimed stage 9, whilst stage wins for the Toyotas of Ogier (7) and Rovanpera (11) bookended the afternoon.

Whilst is was a productive afternoon for two of the Hyundai entrants, it was misery for the Rallye Monte Carlo winner Thierry Neuville. An off on stage seven ripped the rear-right wheel from its suspension, meaning a 1 minute 15 second delay in the stage, but more disappointingly withdrawal from the afternoon’s proceedings. As such, with his pointless Mexican outing (pointless as in point-less, rather than no point in him going) and now this, I’d say the Belgian’s 2020 title hunt is over.

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Other than the aforementioned, there wasn’t much movement in the overall classification during the afternoon, meaning the standings overnight were Tanak leading Breen by 11.7s, with Ogier a further 17.0s back. Fourth was kale Rovanpera, but he was hit by a 1-minute time penalty after his co-driver removed a radiator cover whilst in parc fermé conditions. As such Evans was fourth, Katsuta fifth and Rovanpera sixth.

It was a miserable rally for the M-Sport Ford Fiestas, as the cars were simply not on the pace. Esapekka Lappi, after his win on Friday’s stage 1, was the best-placed Fiesta, yet even he was 1 minute 40 seconds behind the lead, down in seventh overnight. They would be hoping for a better Sunday.

Sunday came, and with it some Toyota dominance. Well, relatively speaking. No single driver was significantly quicker, however there was a whitewash of stage victories. Evans took the opening round of the day, with Rovanpera less than half a second behind. Clearly the teenager was angered by his overnight penalty, as he went one better in stage 13, taking the stage victory by 2.1s from Tanak. Sebastien Ogier then got his fair share, setting the fastest times through stages 14 and 15, before Rovanpera swept up the remaining two stages.

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Rovanpera’s Sunday performance included a magical run in the final stage – the Wolf Power Stage, for which there are bonus World Championship points up for grabs. The No. 69 Toyota absolutely blitzed the stage, beating Elfyn Evans by 5.1 seconds. To put that into context, the winning margin was the second biggest seen on any stage all weekend, only eclipsed by Tanak’s 5.6 second gap to Craig Breen on stage 3. The third largest margin, for context, was 3.3 seconds, by Tanak over Rovanpera on stage 8, so it’s safe to say these drivers are pretty equally matched, in general.

Unfortunately, Rovanpera’s supreme pace couldn’t bump him up the classification, as the only position he gained was as a result of Katsuta having a horrendous roll on stage 13. Both Katsuta and Barritt were unharmed in the incident, however their Yaris certainly was. No overall classification movement occurred in the top 4, however, meaning Tanak registered his first victory of the season, making it four winners from four events in the WRC this year. Craig Breen showed fantastic pace to secure second, with Sebastien Ogier’s third extending his World Championship lead. The rest of the top 10 read Evans, Rovanpera, Suninen, Lappi, Greensmith, Oliver Solberg (in an R5 VW Polo) and Mads Ostberg (in an R5 Citroen C3).

In the Driver’s Championship, then, it’s Ogier still in command, extending his lead over Evans by a point. Ogier now sits on 79 points, with Evans 9 back on 70. Tanak’s victory pushes him onto 66 points and third in the standings, whilst Rovanpera now sits in fourth, albeit much further adrift with 55 points. As a result, I’d say this championship has become a three-horse battle between a six-time World Champion, the reigning World Champion, and a Welshman. Who’s my money on? It’s too close to call right now, but the picture may look a little clearer after the next event in Turkey, in just two weeks’ time.

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Race Watch 14

FIA World Rallycross is back, and with the 2016 and the 2017 & 2018 World Champions rejoining the grid, how will they fare after 18 months out?

World Rallycross:

Holjes, Sweden

FIA World Rallycross is back, and with the 2016 and the 2017 & 2018 World Champions rejoining the grid, how will they fare after 18 months out?

In a year of new and out of the ordinary, World Rallycross returned this week, and the results were very familiar to those who have watched the sport for a few years. After having no past or present World Champions on the grid in 2019, we were reunited with two stars of the recent past, and by the end of Sunday, we knew it.

In a first for World Rallycross, this weekend held two events. Rather than having two qualifying sessions on the Saturday before two more, semi-finals and the final on Sunday, we had three qualifying sessions, semi-finals and the final all on Saturday, before repeating the schedule for round two on the Sunday. Whilst this meant much more on-track action for the fans watching via the live coverage, it also meant that any crashes or reliability issues would be much more devastating. Unfortunately, this leaves too much to talk about in one #RaceWatch, but you can watch all the action yourself, completely free, on the WorldRX Youtube channel! Without further ado, here’s my account of round 1 of the 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship.

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Saturday. Rallycross is back! Yay! What’s more, we’ve got changeable conditions with torrential rain showers overnight, and more expected throughout the day. In Qualifying 1, the circuit evolved a lot as a result of the drying conditions, and so Johan Kristoffersson set the fastest time in his first competitive session since 2018. Behind the 2017 & 2018 World Champion, the 2016 Champion took second. Mattias Ekstrom, in his 2020-spec Audi S1, was pretty much keeping pace with his fellow Swede, which was very much a promising sign, as when the VW Polo R last ran in 2018, it was clearly the superior machine in the field.

Whilst Robin Larsson – Ekstrom’s teammate – and Anton Marklund also showed good pace, the real losers were the top two drivers from 2019. Timmy Hansen, starting his title defence, could only muster eighth – two places behind his brother, Andreas Bakkerud could only muster the fourteenth fastest time. Admittedly, the Norwegian is still in the process of adjusting to his new car, and he also had the worst grid slot in the worst race, however the Monster Energy RX Cartel driver would have been bitterly disappointed after topping the free practice times in the morning.

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Qualifying two, and it was Ekstrom who took the top spot from Marklund, with Kristoffersson sixth. Timmy Hansen improved to fifth in the session, however things went from bad to worse for the RX Cartel. Bakkerud only managed the thirteenth best time, whilst his teammate – Briton Liam Doran – had to withdraw from the day’s proceedings after his car caught fire after Q1. As I said, the single-day format meant the issue put the ‘British Bomb’ out of action for the rest of the event.

It was back to the top of the timing sheets for Kristoffersson in Q3, whilst it was a return to form for the reigning champ, with Timmy Hansen in second and his brother Kevin in third. Timmy’s 2019 rival Bakkerud was subjected to an early finish, however, as he once again delivered a sub-par qualifying which left him just thirteenth in the standings, and thus not making it into the semi-finals.

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Onto the semis, then, and they weren’t without controversy. Kristoffersson led home Niclas Gronholm – son of the two-time WRC Champion Marcus Gronholm – and Robin Larsson, however Larsson was subsequently handed a penalty for a bump-and-pass on Anton Marklund. On second thoughts, calling it a ‘bump’ is a little lenient, as it was more of a shunt in all honesty, leaving the rear of Marklund’s Renault Megane to bunny-hop it’s way over the finish due to the damage it received. Larsson’s penalty subsequently promoted Marklund himself into the final, meaning justice was eventually forthcoming with the correct three drivers proceeding to the final.

Semi-final two was much less controversial, as Ekstrom led Timmy Hansen across the line, with two-time DTM champion Timo Scheider completing the grid for the decider. This meant that last year’s Holjes winner – Sebastian Eriksson – missed out on an opportunity to defend his crown, whilst Kevin Hansen and Timur Timerzyanov also bowed out.

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A corker of an event fittingly ended with a corker of a final, as a dramatic start sent cars flying left, right and centre. The wet surface left little grip for the drivers, and after Gronholm stalled on the line, Marklund overcooked the first turn and clattered into Timmy Hansen whilst righting himself. As a result, Hansen’s Peugeot was sent into a full 180 spin. With this debacle also impeding Scheider, this left a two-horse race out front. Mattias Ekstrom did everything in his power to deny Kristoffersson a comeback victory – including taking his joker early to give himself clear air, alas it was unsuccessful, as the winningest driver in FIA World Rallycross notched another one into his tally.

Does he recreate his dominance on Sunday? Well, he doesn’t win all of the five races he competed in, but that’s all I’m letting on. You can have a watch online to find out yourself!

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Enjoyed reading this article? Let us know your thoughts with a comment below! All that’s needed is an email address, and don’t worry, there’ll be no junk mail!

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Race Watch 13

After the sixth race in seven weeks, the Spanish Grand Prix could have been interpreted as a little tired. But what exactly happened?

Formula One:

Spanish Grand Prix

After the sixth race in seven weeks, the Spanish Grand Prix could have been interpreted as a little tired. But what exactly happened?

As has been the norm over the past few years, the Spanish Grand Prix did not produce an instant classic of a race. A lights-to-flag victory was somewhat made interesting by a few midfield scraps, however, on the whole wheel-to-wheel combat was sparce. But what exactly happened? Let’s run through the highlights.

Lewis Hamilton is arguably the greatest driver of all time, and this weekend he took just one more step toward showing that in the record books. His victory this weekend gave the Briton his 156th trip to the podium, surpassing the seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher’s 155, and I personally feel that the sheer domination he showed in the race was a pretty fitting reflection of how he’s gone about his Formula 1 career, particularly since his move to Mercedes. After all, in today’s race, his teammate – in an identical car and having started on pole – was unable to match Verstappen’s pace early on, and failed to close him down toward the end despite booting on new softs. In complete contrast, Hamilton was able to control his pace at the front initially before cantering away from the lead Red Bull, ensuring a comfortable victory by a considerable margin.

2020 Spanish Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images
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Max Verstappen, the determined Dutchman in said leading Red Bull, has been demonstrating plenty of qualities often found in World Champion drivers, most notably when it comes to his radio communications. After having enough mental capacity to remind his race engineer to rehydrate and sanitise during last week’s 70th Anniversary GP, the 22-year old’s conversations this week were a little more heated, culminating in a rant more akin to what we have seen from Sebastian Vettel this term. In fairness to the driver, I would say the outburst was due, as Verstappen made a reasonable point in that he wasn’t as quick as Hamilton, and therefore the strategy shouldn’t revolve around the lead Merc, but you can understand the team wanting to cover Bottas, their closest threat.

It could be said that, instead of reminding Max how far away Hamilton was, the Red Bull strategists would have made better use of their time by devising a strategy that didn’t drop Alex Albon into traffic after his first stop. This effectively ruined the Thai driver’s race, as he couldn’t attack the Racing Point cars, but instead had to duel with Carlos Sainz throughout the race and finished behind Vettel’s one-stopping Ferrari also. Speaking of duelling, pretty much all of the entertainment to be had from this Spanish Grand Prix came from the ferocity of a few of the defensive moves. Charles Leclerc’s pre-retirement skirmish with Lando Norris comes to mind, as the Monegasque racer was met by robust defence from the Papaya McLaren ahead of him.

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It says a lot about a race when the highlights were a few almost-overtakes, so maybe it’s a blessing that this weekend brings with it a break from the on-track action. On track action for Formula One, at least, as the motorsport season is now very much in full flow. Over the next weekend we have BTCC at Oulton Park, DTM at the Lausitzring and the World Rallycross Championship kicks off at Holjes in Sweden, just to name a few. Therefore, there’s no reason for me to skip a week of #RaceWatch anymore. I’ll see you next week.

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Enjoyed reading this article? Let us know your thoughts with a comment below! All that’s needed is an email address, and don’t worry, there’ll be no junk mail!

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Race Watch 12

A bumper motorsport weekend saw the BTCC at Brands Hatch, Formula E hold the first four of their six-races-in-nine-days bumper event, and this: the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix

Formula One:

70th Anniversary Grand Prix

A bumper motorsport weekend saw the BTCC at Brands Hatch, Formula E hold the first four of their six-races-in-nine-days bumper event, and this: the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix

The first Grand Prix ever to not be named after a geographical location also produced a first non-Mercedes victor of the year, with Max Verstappen’s Red Bull first past the chequered flag. As predicted, the hotter temperatures and softer tyres in comparison to last week meant greater flexibility in strategy, and a more tactically intriguing race ensued. But what exactly happened? Let’s have a look at a few of the main talking points.

Charging Bull vs Tyre Troubles

The pair of Mercedes drivers faced crippling tyre blisters throughout the 70th Anniversary GP, whilst Verstappen, in stark contrast, was able to Max-imise (sorry) his strategy thanks to his exceptional tyre management. Red Bull rolled the dice on Saturday by sending Verstappen out on the hard tyre in the second part of qualifying – something nobody else attempted – and this laid the foundation for the dutchman to push in clear air whilst Bottas and Hamilton had to work their way through traffic after their first stops. This added variable meant the Mercs were unable to properly bed in their tyres at the start of their stint, and they paid the price for it.

The Red Bull was able to use the overcut strategy to move from third before the pit phase, to side-by-side for the lead upon re-joining from his box. A short, six-lap push on the medium tyres gave him track position, enabling him to switch back to the hards and nurse them to the finish. Bottas and Hamilton were both put on the medium-hard-hard strategy, with Bottas taking pretty equal stints, whereas Hamilton eked out his almost-shredded first set of hards in order to give himself fresh tyres with which to attack toward the end. This worked to an extent, after the Briton worked his way past his teammate, although Verstappen’s Red Bull was too far away.

Blisters were the bane of Mercedes’ race

One-Stop vs Two

Whilst the double stop strategy was the preferred option across the field, two drivers in particular managed to nail the single stop strategy. Starting eleventh, Frenchman Esteban Ocon managed to work his way into eighth at the flag, and earning four deserved points to move himself into the top 10 in the Drivers’ Championship.

More impressive, though, was Charles Leclerc. Having qualified eighth, the Monegasque racer was not expecting to take any forward strides in the race, yet after a mammoth stint on the hard tyres, the Ferrari crossed the line in the ‘best of the rest’ 4th place. If that wasn’t impressive enough, he was just ten seconds off a podium spot. On a day when some drivers had to stop for fresh tyres three times, these two men drove superbly to maximise their points hauls.

Mixed Fortunes For Bulls of Past & Present

Ironically, whilst one Ferrari and one Renault pulled off blinders, the other Ferrari and Renault both suffered from spins. For Sebastian Vettel, this has unfortunately become a bit of the norm, with a number of high-profile spins occurring over the last two seasons or so. This time, it was a big moment on the apex of the first corner on the first lap that he struggled to collect, although he and Carlos Sainz both did well not to tangle with each other. Daniel Ricciardo, also a former Red Bull racer, also spun whilst up the inside of Sainz’s McLaren – the car the Australian will take over next year.

In contrast, Alex Albon produced the sort of race that reminded us all why he was promoted to the Red Bull seat. After a couple of tough races in Hungary and Silverstone last week, Albon was back to his passing best. Moves were flying in left, right and centre, with passes around the outside of Raikkonen and Gasly at Copse particular highlights. Ninth in qualifying is still not quite at the level Christian Horner and Helmut Marko will be happy with, but the fightback will hopefully instil some confidence back into the Thai driver.

So, after the first – and presumably last – 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, we head off to sunny Spain, and the Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya for the final leg of this triple header set of weekends. Whilst the magnitude of Hamilton’s championship lead didn’t alter, his nearest challenger did, with the mercurial Max Verstappen now posing a bigger threat than Hamilton’s teammate. Whether this will make a difference to the team dynamic or if it’s too early for team orders at Mercedes, we’ll find out at the same time next week.

Race Watch 11

A week off should have given both teams and drivers a chance to relax, reset, and ensure their in the best possible condition to race, right?

Formula One:

British Grand Prix

A week off should have given both teams and drivers a chance to relax, reset, and ensure their in the best possible condition to race, right?

In all honesty, I’m not entirely sure what to make of this weekend’s race. On the one hand there was an incident-strewn opening and a mesmerising final few laps, yet for more than 35 of the 52 tours of the Silverstone circuit, nothing happened.

Of course, the drama around this race weekend kicked off on Thursday, with the news that the seemingly under-pressure Racing Point driver Sergio Perez had tested positive for COVID-19, and that the (rightly or wrongly) exiled Nico Hulkenberg was to take his seat. Now, I am fully aware that the professional Formula One driver that is Sergio Perez does not read these blogs, however I would still like to wish him all the best in his recovery, after all nobody wants to see another person ill of health.

The talk of the paddock, though, quickly shifted to whether the man holding the record for longest F1 career without a podium could finally break his duck. After all, here he was, substituting in to a competitive machine – one that some experts were claiming as the second fastest! The fairy-tale was not to be, unfortunately, because when it mattered the most, the engine would not start and so the German was unable to even begin his comeback.

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Elsewhere on the grid – before we get to the main talking point – Alex Albon once again had a difficult weekend, as the windy conditions in Northamptonshire once again exposed the technical issue that causes the Red Bull to be extremely unstable in the corners. A big crash at Stowe during Friday Practice would have dented the Anglo-Thai’s confidence, before another poor qualifying session ensued, failing to make Q3. A good comeback drive in the race however saw him finish in eighth place, aided by Bottas and Sainz dropping out of the points near the conclusion, although he would still have earned one point regardless.

Right then, let’s talk about tyres. After all, they were the sole reason behind the race dulling down initially, before ramping the drama up at the end. To start with, there was Kvyat’s right-rear suddenly losing all pressure on the entry to Maggots, resulting in a huge off and a safety car, during which time everybody except Grosjean pitted for the hard tyres, effectively killing off the strategy game.

Now, given a choice of all the places at which I would have a high-speed crash, Maggots would not be high up on my list. Feeling the car swapping ends in the first part of a flat-out pair of sweeping turns probably isn’t fun, and so it was understandable that Daniil wasn’t in the greatest mood after. I haven’t read any report into why his rear-right tyre lost pressure, but looking back at the incident, I wonder if it was a similar problem to that experienced by Bottas, Sainz and Hamilton later on in the proceedings.

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Speaking of which, three tyre failures that all occurred on the outermost wheel (i.e. the one that travels furthest over the course of a stint) would certainly indicate to me that the problem was wear related. The official word from Pirelli of ‘we’ll investigate, but it might be wear or it might be debris from Raikkonen’s front wing failure’ can be paraphrased as ‘we don’t want to talk about it right now, so here’s a theory that removes all guilt from us.’ All I know is that, in this modern era of near-perfect reliability, seeing a few components spontaneously combust certainly increases the fun, certainly when those at the front of the race are involved, and with the nature of these tyre failures, there were no huge safety concerns for those involved either.

Interestingly enough, the last time Pirelli came under fire on the tyre front also occurred at Silverstone, if my memory serves me correctly. After the 2013 British GP, Pirelli were at the centre of a crisis after no fewer than six high-speed tyre explosions, with one causing Lewis Hamilton to lose a ‘probable victory.’ Interestingly, following an analysis of the problem, one factor causing the failures was an aggressive use of the kerbs at Silverstone. Now, it would be interesting to find out if the kerbs have been changed in the seven years that have passed, or if they may have contributed to the problems seen this weekend.

All I do know is that, with warmer temperatures and softer tyres on offer next weekend, I severely doubt anyone will chance a one-stop strategy come this Sunday. Maybe we could even see a three-stop? One can dream.

***

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Race Watch 10

The third race of the Formula One season sees the first change of venue. With the new circuit challenges, which teams will be happier after Hungary than Austria?

Formula One:

Hungarian Grand Prix

The third race of the Formula One season sees the first change of venue. With the new circuit challenges, which teams will be happier after Hungary than Austria?

Welcome to Race Watch, a supplementary feature running alongside my blog designed for me to project any opinions that may have arisen from the motorsport events I viewed over the previous weekend.

***

After the season-opening double header at Austria, the F1 circus was, for the first time this season, back on the road. With a distance of just 265 miles, the road trip from Spielberg to Budapest is certainly not the most arduous for a Formula One paddock, and the teams would have been glad to be able to ease back into their duties, relatively speaking.

A change of venue therefore meant a change of track layout, bringing with it a whole new set of challenges for the cars. As a result, we are now much more able to judge the overall performance of each team, as opposed to data from purely one layout, which would have undoubtedly favoured some cars over others. So, considering the most interesting part of the Hungarian Grand Prix occurred before the start of the Hungarian Grand Prix, let’s instead look at which teams would have been happy with their pace this weekend, and which ones won’t be.

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Starting with the front of the grid, and it’s safe to say that the 2020 Mercedes is very much in a class of its own. The Hungaroring has historically suited Red Bull due to the circuit characteristics favouring a good chassis and high levels of downforce more so than pure engine power, and yet in qualifying the nearest opponent to the German marque was using its own machinery from last year.

Granted, as we come on to Red Bull themselves, they did have a bit of a shocker on Saturday. It seems increasingly likely that the Bull has a bit of a design flaw with its turn in, as changing the steering lock looks to be causing instability in the rear, hence their habit of spins. Whilst they’re streets clear of the rest of the field in terms of car performance, the distinct gap to the Silver (Black) Arrows puts them in a bit of a limbo situation.

Two teams that would have been happy with their pace showings this weekend will be Racing Point and Ferrari. Personally, my driver of the day was Lance Stroll, as he won the ‘best of the rest’ race at a canter. In race trim, he didn’t put a foot wrong, and quite rightly deserved his fifth place. For Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel’s sixth after a 5-6 in qualifying would probably be considered a pleasing weekend overall, especially in relation to last weekend. Charles Leclerc was a little unlucky with a poor tyre strategy hanging him out to dry a little, but he showed good fight whilst battling with Sainz in particular.

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For McLaren, just the two points from the weekend will be a stark return to reality after an outstanding first two races of the season. A double-Q3 showing once again ratified the underlying pace of the car, however the pitstop melee left the two drivers further down the field on a circuit with few overtaking spots. As mentioned previously, Sainz’s move on Leclerc for (what was at the time) the final points position showed astounding driving skill from the pair, whilst the soon-to-be-trademarked Last Lap Lando struck again, albeit his move on Ocon’s Renault was for an effectively meaningless thirteenth place.

Renault themselves had a fairly unremarkable race. Ricciardo quietly accumulated another points finish, whilst Ocon hasn’t quite yet found the pace of his teammate. A similar story is emerging from the Alpha Tauri team, as Pierre Gasly has comfortably held the performance advantage over Daniil Kvyat, although reliability issues have hindered the Frenchman from gaining the points to back that statement up.

Finally, to the rear of the grid. Seemingly, Haas pulled a strategy masterstroke by pulling their cars into the pits after the formation lap, with the team running both cars in the top five at one point. Naturally they were going to slip down the field, but Magnussen’s ninth on the road was encouraging. The post-race penalty dropped him down the tenth, but it’s still a point for the Dane. Alfa Romeo were understated this weekend. A poor qualifying left both drivers at the back of the grid, and a fairly non-eventful race occurred from there.

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Williams, however, had a stunner of a Saturday. Both cars into Q2, and Russell outqualifying a Red Bull is a fantastic achievement for the Grove outfit. On the flip side, the Williams race pace is not quite so encouraging. Both cars gradually slipped down the field, and Latifi ended up five laps down at the end having gained a puncture from an unsafe pit stop release, and a spin due to getting onto the grass on the entry to the turn 5 hairpin.

With a well-earned week off before everyone heads to Silverstone, the teams will be able to mull over their starts to the season. Who do you think will be best pleased after the first three races, and who do you expect to bring upgrade packages to Silverstone in two weeks? Let me know in the comments below.

***

Enjoyed reading this article? Let us know your thoughts with a comment below! All that’s needed is an email address, and don’t worry, there’ll be no junk mail!

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Finally, the inevitable social media plugs. Find and follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter (click the icons at the top)! Our socials are the best place to get all the latest #RacingGrind information, so check them out!

Race Watch 9

Two races in two weeks! Aren’t we spoilt! Nothing will be able to match the chaos of last week’s events, though, right? After all, this is Styria, not Austria!

Formula One:

Styrian Grand Prix

Two races in two weeks! Aren’t we spoilt! Nothing will be able to match the chaos of last week’s events, though, right? After all, this is Styria, not Austria!

SO, WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED AND WHAT DID I THINK OF IT?
MORE IMPORTANTLY, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THESE TOPICS?
LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW AND LET’S GET A DISCUSSION GOING!

Welcome to Race Watch, a supplementary feature running alongside my blog designed for me to project any opinions that may have arisen from the motorsport events I viewed over the previous weekend.

***

It seems as though Grands Prix (Prixs, Prixes, Pris?) in Austria conform to the old adage of London buses, doesn’t it? You wait for months for one to come along, and then you’re greeted with two back to back! Right, now that cliché’s in the open (someone had to make it, I’m taking one for the team), did the second Formula One race of the season give us any more of a representative idea of this years’ pecking order than last week? What were the main talking points from this weekend, and what did I personally make of them? More importantly, what were your thoughts? Do you agree with me, or do you think something different? Let me know in the comments below!

Now, unlike last week, I’m going to kick off this edition of Race Watch with qualifying. After all, what an experience that was, with the grid well and truly mixed up. Despite being widely regarded as running the third fastest car, the Racing Point drivers clearly hadn’t gotten round to copying the 2019 Mercedes’ wet setup yet. A disappointing qualifying for the soon-to-be Aston Martin team yielded starting positions of just 13th and 17th, with Sergio Perez very nearly being outqualified by both Williams cars!

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That being said, George Russell very much proved the underlying pace and talent he possesses, with a remarkable session that culminated with a 12th place grid slot for Sunday. Williams claim that the car had the potential to make it into Q3, but I’m sure that they were just fine having to ‘make do’ with a first Q2 outing since 2018. Unfortunately, his trip into the gravel early on in the race whilst fighting with Kevin Magnussen dropped him back down to the rear of the field, meaning we were unable to see just how long he could’ve stuck with the pack.

The final topic from Qualifying I wish to touch on is the sheer dominance of Lewis Hamilton’s pole lap. Now admittedly the 1.2 second gap to Verstappen wasn’t wholly accurate as the dutchman was due to match Lewis’ provisional pole time before he decided to Tokyo Drift the final corner, but even if the Red Bull had finished that lap, Hamilton showed he had another four tenths in the bag. One twitter user jokingly claimed that the lap was so special the Briton might be Jesus and, to be honest, that connection he had with the water did seem unworldly…

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Now then, onto the race proper. Sunday’s action was very much an ‘average’ Formula One race, rather than the absolute thriller of last weekend – although none of us really expected that to be topped so soon, right? Not to say this race was boring, however. Not at all.

To kick off proceedings we had on Ferrari flying over the yellow curb at turn 3 on the first lap, right into the rear wing of the other. A second race-ending collision between the pair in four races (because Brazil last year was somehow just 4 races ago!) certainly won’t help the downbeat morale of the red team, although Charles Leclerc’s immediate apology did at least negate any potential teammate squabbles in the paddock. There’s not really much personal opinion to add here, Vettel had nowhere to go and so you can’t attribute any blame towards him for the collision.

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Other than the Russell excursion into the gravel, there wasn’t much more on-track action to be had until the closing stages of the race, really. The running order switched about a bit as the Racing Point’s found their strong underlying pace from Friday, whilst a poor pitstop for Sainz dropped him out of contention for the ‘best of the rest’ win. Once Bottas and Verstappen locked horns for a lap and a half over second place, however, all hell broke loose.

Sergio Perez, having steadily progressed from near enough the back of the grid, had caught Alex Albon, and proceeded to attempt a Hamilton-esque manoeuvre to punt pass the Thai driver through turn 4. Alas, the Mexican didn’t have enough overlap to succeed, and only managed to break his own front wing. With the incident occurring on the penultimate lap, however, and with such a big gap to the group behind, the team left him out to safely secure fifth place.

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Meanwhile, Lance Stroll attempted the divebomb of the decade (considering we’re only two races in) on Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault, forcing the Aussie off the track whilst barely keeping himself within the white lines. This enabled Lando Norris, who had spent the last 10 or so laps creeping up on the pair, to pounce. Seizing the opportunity to power past Ricciardo, Stroll’s weaving meant Norris had to delay his attack on the Canadian until the final tour. His DRS-assisted pass on Stroll coming into turn 4 meant the McLaren driver had moved from eighth to sixth in effectively one lap, but he wasn’t done yet.

Perez’s limping vehicle was lapping considerably slower than the chasing McLaren-Racing Point-Renault group, so much so that they caught him in the final two turns. Norris got past the moving chicane just before the final corner in order to secure fifth, whilst Perez, Stroll and Danny Ric had a three-wide drag race to the line.

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With just a tenth and a half separating the trio after 71 laps, this provided a fitting culmination to a hugely successful two weeks of racing at the Red Bull Ring, with zero positive COVID-19 results from over 10,000 tests across the two weeks. The next test for F1 now, though, is whether that can be replicated whilst also moving the entire circus to a different country in just a few days.

The last thing I want to write about, is my personal driver of the day. Now this is a left-field choice, however I’ve chosen to give it to the operator of the three trophy boxes. Rumour has it they were operated by remote-control car, and so the driver had a thankless task to complete such a high-pressure role with so little practice, and thoroughly deserves recognition.

With that being said, it’s off to Hungary for next week. A track that, historically at least, doesn’t produce the most enticing racing, but something is still better than nothing, and I’ll still be writing all about it.

***

Enjoyed reading this article? Let us know your thoughts with a comment below! All that’s needed is an email address, and don’t worry, there’ll be no junk mail!

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Race Watch 8

F1 is back, and so is the drama. Here’s my ‘alternative’ view on all the big talking points from the Austrian GP

Formula One

Austrian Grand Prix

F1 is back, and so is the drama. Here’s my ‘alternative’ view on all the big talking points from the Austrian GP

SO, WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED AND WHAT DID I THINK OF IT?
MORE IMPORTANTLY, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THESE TOPICS?
LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW AND LET’S GET A DISCUSSION GOING!

Welcome to Race Watch, a supplementary feature running alongside my blog designed for me to project any opinions that may have arisen from the motorsport events I viewed over the previous weekend.

***

Considering the sheer number of changes that were necessary in order to bring the spectacle of Formula One to life in the current world we live in, and despite a chaotic race that will certainly be remembered for a long time, very little actually changed when it came to on-track performance. Considering this is being published many hours after the race has finished, this won’t be a traditional ‘review’ of what happened during the Austrian Grand Prix. No, instead this is about my own observational analysis of what happened. This is the return of my #RaceWatch series…

So, after an 8 month lay-off, the F1 season finally kicked off in Austral-, sorry, no, it was Austria. Despite such a long break, however, many of Formula One’s idiosyncrasies remained. In fact, it almost felt as if someone was playing bingo with F1’s running jokes. Not entirely sure what I’m talking about? Here’s the bingo card:

Race Watch 8: Formula One Austrian Grand Prix

Daniel Ricciardo breaking down:

Since his run to third in the Driver’s Championship in 2016, the sheer number of retirements that the ever-smiling Aussie has had is remarkable. Six non-finishes in 2017, eight in 2018 and a further four (five if you count the Japanese DQ) last year ranks as the most unclassified finishes by any driver on the grid over the last three years, and this weekend was no different. Overheating issues on this occasion meant a premature end after 17 laps for Ricciardo, who must be wishing away the days before he gets to jump into next year’s McLaren.

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Race Watch 8: Formula One Austrian Grand Prix

Romain Grosjean crashing on his own:

Fresh from his midweek comments claiming Lewis Hamilton’s reported $40m wages are ‘unacceptable’ and calling for a wage cap, the Swiss-born Frenchman once again subjected himself to an unforced error, after seemingly driving into the gravel after the exit of turn 4, sending his Haas into a pirouette. A driver who has proven in the past to be extremely quick, having 10 podium finishes to his name, it seems that as each season progresses more and more mistakes creep into his driving. Speaking of which…

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Race Watch 8: Formula One Austrian Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel spins:

A four-time world champion, the third most successful Ferrari driver of all time (in terms of race wins), and yet a man without a contract for 2021. Based on this weekend, you’d have a hard time explaining why Ferrari have made the wrong choice. Outpaced by both his teammate and the man replacing him all weekend, failed to make Q3 for the first time in his Ferrari career (when no external circumstances have been at play), and another unforced error that resulted in a spin. Unfortunately, it’s all going wrong for the German. At least he finished in the points, mind.

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Race Watch 8: Formula One Austrian Grand Prix

Haas having a shocker:

In all fairness, this weekend wasn’t totally horrendous for Guenther Steiner’s team. They weren’t both knocked out in Q1, after Grosjean managed to qualify 15th, and the drivers didn’t take each other out. Unfortunately, that’s about where the positives end. Comfortably the eighth fastest team, and a double DNF due to AWOL brakes meant another sub-par weekend for the American outfit.

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Race Watch 8: Formula One Austrian Grand Prix

Hamilton refusing to let Albon past:

Admittedly, whilst I personally am ecstatic about Norris’ podium, which came as a direct result of Hamilton’s penalty for spinning Albon into the turn 4 gravel, the penalty does seem a little harsh on the reigning World Champion. After all, looking back at the incident, Hamilton had full lock on his wheel and neither was he pressing the fast pedal, meaning that he physically couldn’t turn any more than he did. That being said, you can’t blame the Red Bull driver for the incident either. Alex was in front of Lewis, and was right on the edge of the circuit. In all honesty, this was pretty much the definition of a racing incident. Considering how much his pace seemed to have improved this weekend, Albon will certainly get his maiden podium soon. That wait will just have to continue for at least another week, though.

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Right then, what other talking points were there? Too many for me to go into depth, so to round up, here’s my ‘Single Sentence Summaries:’

Ferrari Engines: Not an ideal scenario when all three Ferrari-powered teams are more than half a second slower than their qualifying times at the same track last year.

Williams (I’m splitting this one into three parts): Big steps forward from last year are promising.

George Russell: Nearly making Q2 was very impressive, would almost certainly have scored his first points had he not broken down.

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Rookie Of The Year: Nicholas Latifi in the box seat for this award, with the qualifying deficit to his teammate suggesting he’s already showing equal pace to Robert Kubica, and an eleventh place finish.

Pink Mercs: Considering all of the pre-season hype, being outqualified by McLaren and just a sixth place out of eleven finishers is a poor weekend for Racing Point.

Lando Norris: After qualifying fourth on genuine pace and finishing with a maiden podium, the youngest driver on the grid could very easily finish the season as best of the rest in the Championship, assuming he’s able to perform consistently. Easily the best weekend he’s had in his albeit short F1 career to date.

Well, after that race I’m actually a little worried the Formula One season may have peaked too soon. There’s only one way to find out, though. The Austrian Grand Prix Pt 2 is the same time next week, and my stupid remarks will follow!

***

Enjoyed reading this article? Let us know your thoughts with a comment below! All that’s needed is an email address, and don’t worry, there’ll be no junk mail!

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