Races Watched (2019 Week 13): F1 Bahrain

Week 13:  25-31 March 2019

Formula 1 – R2 – Bahrain Grand Prix

Okay I admit this was a fun race. I really wasn’t expecting it to be this good!

DRS & Overtaking

The addition of a 3rd DRS zone left me assuming it would be filled with simple push-button-to-pass overtakes down the main straight and those did happen, too many times.

But for the most part the strategy worked. The DRS zone at start/finish often brought a following car alongside the car in front leaving the drivers to sort it out at turn 1. If they swapped places, the passed car got DRS on the very next straight, giving an opportunity to get the place back. That worked really well. I like it when the chances are fair. Sometimes he got his place back, sometimes he didn’t, and often the cars were side by side into the next corner.

And that meant the opening 10 laps or so were fantastic! Drivers were able to stay with each other and attack each other yet still leaving it in the hands of the drivers to hit the apex first.

It worked less well when a trailing driver used DRS to get behind a car, then got another DRS activation on the next straight and sailed on past. Although, you could argue the trailing driver was being smarter and using the zones to his advantage, deliberately waiting for the second activation to prevent himself being passed back.

So I concede that DRS can improve the racing. The big caveat? I’d still prefer technical regulations allowing cars to race closely without needing a flappy wing to get them close. There is hope in the 2021 proposals. In the meantime, stick with the consecutive activations so each driver gets a fair use, or better still, simply let anyone in the zone use it.

Team by Team

Charles Leclerc was a revelation. Topped the times all weekend, seemingly laying down an early marker against Sebastian Vettel, yet never in a negative, combative way. Open, friendly, welcoming, taking it all in his stride as if he didn’t feel pressure. Until lap 47. A cylinder failed, initially reported as MGU-H, and he started to panic as he lost a comfortable lead and gradually dropped to 3rd. To be honest he was lucky the car was still running at all and lucky the Safety Car came out with 3 laps to go, which protected his podium finish from Verstappen. He kept his head in the end and brought the car home.

Was it the sign of a championship challenge? Of course not. Not yet. It was simply a good performance in a single weekend. Vettel might yet dominate the rest of the season. It did show Leclerc’s potential, showed he didn’t need time to settle in, showed that Ferrari had made the correct decision on drivers.

Vettel himself was very close to Leclerc on pace but he got boxed in on strategy midrace, falling to 3rd behind Hamilton. He was still quicker though, but when he tried to race his way through, he spun. Ferrari couldn’t believe it. I don’t think anybody could believe that again he spun the car in wheel-to-wheel racing. But it probably wasn’t his fault.

There were severe gusts of wind all day, the pre-race coverage from Sky really showed it, even if the in-race coverage from FOM probably didn’t. As Vettel crossed Hamilton’s car’s airflow and unsettled his own car it wouldn’t surprise me if he also caught one of those strong gusts.

The Mercedes weren’t quite there but had enough to fight the Ferraris in the early laps, Hamilton was close enough to catch Leclerc. Unfortunately the All New 2019 Bottas reverted back to 2018 Bottas and by lap 45 was some 15-20 seconds behind Hamilton.

Red Bull were in no-mans land. Well, Verstappen was. Gasly again mired in the field after another poor qualifying effort. At least he recovered to 8th, but that would’ve been 10th had it not been for Renault.

Renault in the closing stages were running 6th and 7th even though they ran divergent strategies, Ricciardo stayed out long, even leading for a bit, it didn’t work in the end, Hulkenberg who started near the back had got ahead of him. But then both retired on the spot at Turn 1 at the same time! Both with car problems, either mechanical or electrical. I’ve never seen that before, both team cars out in the same place with unrelated problems within seconds of each other. They’ll be back but these points were vital.

Something Lando Norris knows. He had a great day. Fell back early then raced his way through, putting solid moves on the likes of Kimi Raikkonen. 8th became 6th when the Renaults went out. A much better showing of speed for McLaren. Lots of potential at McLaren this year. They aren’t quite with the works team on speed, but they might beat them if they finish more races and are definitely hugely better than last year. Sainz suffered damage early, needed a new wing and ran at the back until retiring late on.

Alexander Albon also impressed with some good speed and overtakes including on Kvyat who’d otherwise done a decent job before being shunted into by Giovanazzi, who didn’t get a penalty for it for some reason.

Alfa Romeo had Raikkonen up there and he fought back after pit stops dropped him down. Giovanazzi as above hit Kvyat, other than that I don’t remember seeing him.

Haas qualified well but Magnussen had no race pace at all and Grosjean had damage by turn 2 of lap 1 after contact.

I didn’t see a lot of Racing Point other than Stroll’s car getting damaged in the contact with Grosjean, sparks everywhere. With a new front wing he still caught and passed the Williams pair but had no hope of more. I don’t think I saw Perez all race, he inherited the final point when the Renaults went out.

Williams again at the back. Kubica started on the mediums (everyone else on softs) yet I noticed he pitted first, perhaps he had a slow puncture? He and Russell raced each other all day. Positively, both cars finished the race and right now mileage and race finishes are the most important thing.

Points

Just the point for Fastest Lap in Melbourne keeps Bottas ahead of Hamilton. Verstappen sits a lucky third. The Ferraris surely retain a speed advantage into the next round at Shanghai and should close the points gap. There’s a very long way to go yet in 2019.

The rest of the field is tight as anything. Early season reliability trouble is having an effect. It has long been a truism of F1 that you can’t throw away points in the early races to poor reliability, they’re worth just as much as the season-closing races.

BAH TOTAL Driver Team
18 44 Valterri Bottas Mercedes
25 43 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
12 27 Max Verstappen Red Bull
16 FL 26 Charles Leclerc Ferrari
10 22 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
6 10 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo
8 Kevin Magnussen Haas
8 8 Lando Norris McLaren
6 Nico Hulkenberg Renault
4 4 Pierre Gasly Red Bull
2 Lance Stroll Racing Point
2 2 Alexander Albon Toro Rosso
1 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
1 1 Sergio Perez Racing Point

A lucky break for Mercedes but I think this just gives them a temporary advantage. Ferrari will be quicker at fast, open tracks which make up the bulk of the calendar.

BAH TOTAL Constructor
43 87 Mercedes
26 48 Ferrari
16 31 Red Bull Honda
6 10 Alfa Romeo Ferrari
8 Haas Ferrari
8 8 McLaren Renault
6 Renault
1 3 Racing Point Mercedes
2 3 Toro Rosso Honda
Williams Mercedes

Catch-Up

Nothing!

With the previous week off work (watching all that MotoGP), last week I was very busy and never got around to catching up with anything in the evenings. Over the weekend I was getting jobs done and visiting family for Mother’s Day.

Next Week

1st to 7th April

IndyCar is at Barber Motorsports Park. I need to watch the first two rounds and hope to do that by then, next week’s post may be an IndyCar Special. It helps that UK and US are back in sync with DST. Unlike the previous race I can actually get home for it.

This is likely to be the only live race I’ll see this weekend. I’m at an astronomy course on Saturday, then o Sunday I’m probably helping to put up a fence!

Your other viewing options include:

  • BTCC Brands Hatch on ITV4. I considered actually going to this one but other plans have cropped up, there are plenty of other chances though.
  • WTCR Marrakesh on both Eurosport and, amazingly enough, the BBC Red Button. Of all the series. Plenty of UK interest with Shedden, Huff and Priaulx.
  • World SBK at Aragon.
  • Supercars Australia in Tasmania.
  • Blancpain GT Asia at Sepang.

Races Watched (2019 Week 11): Hong Kong, Melbourne & MotoGP

A comment on some of the races I’ve been watching. A return to an occasional and hopefully now regular series with the Calendars all updated.

I usually catch one or two live races per weekend and spend time in the week catching up on other things. This time I didn’t see anything live – I had other plans – but I did focus on two events. I’ll be catching up with “Super Sebring” WEC & IMSA another time.

Week 11:  11-17 March 2019

Formula E – R5 – Hong Kong ePrix

A lot of cars in a narrow, tight space led to contact and red flags and safety cars. It wasn’t the cleanest race in the world.

At least it was close for the race lead. Bird and Lotterer went flat out all the way. Bird made a lot of stout attacks, Lotterer repelled them with a lot of stout defences. For the most part this was close, hard street racing. Possibly an argument that FE ought to have been a silhouette touring car series so they could have a bit of contact! These two were the class of the field and pulled away from the rest.

Sadly right near the end there was contact between them, which put Lotterer out. He was angry, he was right to be angry. He even dragged the damage car around until it went no further. There was obviously no malice involved, Bird didn’t plan to drive Lotterer out of the race, he just misjudged his braking – or his aim – and his car’s nose punctured Lotterer’s tyre. It was marginal, very marginal. But he took out the race leader and that’s a penalty. Sure enough, though it took several hours, Bird was later penalised enough time to lose the win.

That gave the win to street-specialist Edo Mortara, which leaves him tied with Lucas di Grassi for 3rd in points with the top four covered by 2 points. It also gave the Venturi team their first ever FE win.

Must mention Oliver Rowland who took the lead at the start and was fast until he hit the FCY limiter button accidentally around the tight hairpin, losing him many places.

A heck of a lot else happened, a mix of contact retirements and good old-fashioned reliability problems knocked some out of the race too. Some tight battles at the hairpin. I don’t have space to mention it all.

Attack Mode didn’t seem to do anything at this track, perhaps drivers lost a lot of time activating it.

Next up is a new race in Sanya, China on 23rd March. You’ll have seen it by the time this piece is published.

Highlights are embedded above or you can watch the full race HERE on YouTube.

Points Car Name Team
54 2 Sam Bird Virgin
53 64 Jerome d’Ambrosio Mahindra
52 11 Lucas di Grassi Audi Sport
52 48 Eduardo Mortara Venturi
47 28 Ant Felix da Costa BMW Andretti
43 4 Robin Frijns Virgin
34 66 Daniel Abt Audi Sport
34 20 Mitch Evans Jaguar
30 94 Pascal Wehrlein Mahindra
29 36 Andre Lotterer DS Techeetah

Formula 1 – R1 – Australian GP

As ever a promising build-up lead to a slightly underwhelming Australian Grand Prix. The track just isn’t very good for close racing with cars this fast. At least it was better than the turgid ‘race’ served up last year. The atmosphere looked as good as ever though and it seems a great relaxed place for a season opener.

Okay it was mostly because Giovanazzi stayed out on worn tyres too long, but passes were made. Like I said in the F1 Preview the middle of the pack is going to be something special this year, especially when we get to more open tracks. Norris in particular had a good debut though not the end result to show for it.

And Kvyat really showed up an underperforming Gasly, who shouldn’t have failed to make it out of Q1 qualifying thus totally screwing up his Sunday, at a track where you can hardly pass.

Bottas really laid down a marker, taking Hamilton at the first corner and going on to dominate the race. There was damage to Hamilton’s floor. But I got the feeling Hamilton, being older and wiser these days, decided to bank the points for 2nd. He still beat Vettel and Verstappen and he knows – he thinks – he can handle Bottas later. I also think this is the case, but I also think Bottas won’t quite be the pushover of last year.

Ricciardo screwed his day by driving on the grass and hitting an access road, very unlucky that was there, he’d probably have got away with it otherwise. I’m sure if he’d held to the edge of the tarmac Perez would’ve given him space but it’s all very tight.

I was surprised how seriously the teams took the new point for Fastest Lap. I thought the drivers would like it and the teams would reign them in, but Mercedes encouraged Bottas to go for it while leading. Interesting!

Summary:  Decent first third of the race, then fizzled out as the midfield traffic got in a line and couldn’t race, then it got a bit boring.

On to Bahrain on 31st March. It should be more representative for the rest of the year, both in pace and race-ability of the 2019 cars.

Points Car Driver Team
26 77 Valterri Bottas Mercedes
18 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
15 33 Max Verstappen Red Bull
12 5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
10 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari
8 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas
6 27 Nico Hulkenberg Renault
4 7 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo
2 18 Lance Stroll Racing Point
1 26 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso

Catch-Up

MotoGP

I’ve been been binge-watching recordings of last year’s MotoGP. I did a terrible job keeping up with it. After Jerez I stopped. I’m not sure why, since it is one of my favourite series. Maybe just overwhelmed with live stuff.

Anyway I made the choice to drop BT TV in favour of Sky (see my previous post), partly because I wasn’t using it to watch MotoGP live any more, which means I need to delete everything on my BT Youview box before Monday 25th March.

Of course after I made that decision the highlights rights got moved. Instead of BT Sport’s excellent highlights on Channel 5, we now get generic Dorna highlights on Quest. I haven’t seen it yet but reports suggest it isn’t as good. I have feelings of regret. However there is talk of a BT Sport deal on Sky coming this summer.

Due to the box filling up – the stupid series link recorded endless hours of free practice and started deleting old stuff and I didn’t notice – I had to go to the YouTube highlights for Le Mans, Mugello and Catalunya.

During this week I watched the following:

Assen, Sachsenring, Brno, Spielberg.

Assen’s Dutch GP (July) was magic, such a great race, really close all the way between Lorenzo and Marquez and then Rossi and Dovizioso rode their way through and Rins got in there too. This lot battling was just outstanding.

Sachsenring’s German GP (July) a bit less interesting, Dovi dropped back leaving Marquez to win with a gap over Rossi and Vinales, a slightly better result for Yamaha this time.

Brno’s Czech GP (August) was all about saving your tyres until the last few laps. That meant a big group circulated together but they weren’t going flat out, although it still looked pretty quick to me. When they pulled the pin it was Dovizioso on the Ducati and Marquez on the Honda, with Lorenzo on Ducati close behind, who made the gap. It would be Dovi, Lorenzo, Marquez to give the red team their second 1-2 of the year, Dovi’s 2nd win.

Spielberg’s Austrian GP (August) had a fun start with a big pack. Marquez pulled into a lead with the Ducatis chasing. This is a power track and the Ducatis have it, but the Honda isn’t far off. The was a duel. Marquez and Lorenzo trading blows with Dovi not able to stay with them. Another outstanding battle! Lorenzo took his 3rd win of the year.

And of course Silverstone (August) was cancelled due to torrential rain and a track that didn’t clear water.

Check out these short highlights videos. They aren’t like the F1 and FE videos, they don’t cover as much on track and the edits are a bit jarring, but if racing is most of all about the people, these clips get that across really well.

Next Week

Monday 18th to Sunday 24th March, I’ll be watching the rest of last year’s MotoGP and the Sanya E-Prix.

My plan is to publish these weekly recaps every Tuesday so you can expect this on the 26th, but they may jump around until I find the right day.

2019 Formula 1 Preview

Charlie Whiting

This season preview is dedicated to Charlie Whiting who died in Melbourne just before the race weekend. The ultimate poacher-turned-gamekeeper, a genuine and generous individual who will be missed.

Formula 1 In 2019

I really don’t know how to feel about this year.

On the one hand I’m excited for the competition. During testing I watched Will Buxton’s videos on the F1 YouTube channel, Marc Priestley’s F1 Elvis channel too, I was getting really amped up for season 2019 looking very competitive.

On the other hand I’m disappointed at the loss of free-to-air TV in the UK. Restricting fandom is detrimental to the long-term health of the championship in this country. Okay yes, we still have same-day highlights and live British GP on C4, as well as live radio coverage on BBC Radio 5 Live and the F1 app. But it won’t be the same. Not only will existing fans be priced out but the chance to develop young fans will essentially be restricted to households with Sky Sports F1.

On their side Sky have worked to lower the barrier to entry. The first two races will be simulcast on Sky One. There are offers available for Sky Sports F1 or the Sky Sports package as a whole during March 2019 which run for up to 2 years. I’ve taken one of them and it’ll be installed on the 25th.

And also maybe I’m just a little tired? The season is so long now. 21 races feels like hard work for a fan let alone someone working in it. But that’s a topic for another day.

Questions

There seem to be more questions this year! And that’s a great thing. F1 is dull when it is predictable and I’ve had enough of predictable F1. Maybe that’s why I grew tired.

Let’s look at some storylines for the year ahead. There are a lot of them and that’s why I think 2019 will be a really interesting season.

Long-Term

Liberty are continuing to develop their vision for 2021. This coming season will be when the various strands and threads come together. It’ll be fascinating to see what they come up with.

F1 has a lot of structural problems, not least the vastly unfair payment structure which created the two-tier F1 we have today of manufacturers and B-teams (plus McLaren and Williams) and the loss of so many other teams. The technical regulations will probably get the most media focus but the commercial settlement needs even more work.

And more immediately, how will the new front wings and enormous DRS race. or affect future plans?

Mercedes v Ferrari … v Red Bull?

You have to take testing with a pinch of salt, or a bag of sand, however Ferrari genuinely look like having a serious shot. F1 needs at least two competitive teams every year.

Ferrari have had a quick car for a couple of years, only to throw away title chances during the season with operational errors, driver errors, or simply falling behind in the developmental race. Or simply that Hamilton & Mercedes did a better job and never relented.

Charles Leclerc ought to be a challenge for Sebastian Vettel. Perhaps not at every race in the first year, but most of them. Will he be a help or a headache?

At Mercedes, how does Valterri Bottas rebound from a bad 2018? Another year overrun by Lewis Hamilton will surely see his seat go to Esteban Ocon – unless Hamilton retires and Ocon takes that seat. It didn’t help him that Hamilton in 2018 was at peak form, probably driving better than ever. From no.44’s perspective that bodes well for yet more wins and another title.

What of Red Bull? The Honda looks considerably improved after the work they and Toro Rosso put in last year. I think they’ll be ahead of where they were last year but not quite on terms with the silver and red cars.

If Max Verstappen makes overtakes like nobody else and can be a joy to watch. But if he continues to expect the world to revolve around him he may again lose points and it isn’t an endearing character trait. I expect Pierre Gasly to run him close and might even outscore him if Max gets into scrapes.

Midfield Craziness

It’s hard to call it the midfield now. You have the front three. At the other end the only ‘tailender’ now is Williams. And the other 6 teams are the midfield. You see why some last year called it ‘Class B’.

Last year if you removed Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull from the race you could rarely guess who would “win”. Renault, Haas and Force India / Racing Point all had the edge at different times.

I always pick a Best Of The Rest. Who does the best job behind the leading teams?

My bet is Renault. Serious investment in facilities in 2017 will bear fruit this season, this’ll be the first car developed in the new environment. Then add Daniel Ricciardo alongside Nico Hulkenberg. Nico knows the team, Dan has a point to prove after the Red Bull relationship went sour and will only be encouraged by the team, with the Red Bull / Renault breakdown in relations still very sore.

And of course the works team now has the senior Renault supply, no need to bow to the demands of a faster outfit. At least, that’s unless McLaren leap forward. They’ll definitely be ahead of last year and could ‘win’ Class B in some races. Will they be consistent? I’m not sure, they seem to still struggle tactically and if their pace is the same I still think Renault will emerge ahead for that reason. Carlos Sainz we know, he’ll be on it. How fast can Lando Norris settle in? If the car is fast, will Fernando Alonso step back in by summer?

Sauber has rebranded as Alfa Romeo Racing, though to honour history it should rightly be named Alfa Corse. Names aside, Fred Vasseur is working wonders where others failed. He’s got Ferrari on board and investing, even if it is only branding, but I imagine there’s more to it. Hence the swap with Leclerc to Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen as Alfa lead driver. I expect Alfa Romeo to be right up there challenging Renault and a half-step ahead of most of the rest. They are definitely a team to watch.

Kimi might’ve been in pre-retirement mode in past seasons but he came alive in 2018 and he lives for this breed of high-downforce car, expect the same again. Antonio Giovanazzi was hit or miss in sporadic outings in F1 but is worth watching, it’s interesting the media are talking about others and seemingly not Tonio. If F1 had a Rookie Of The Year I think he’d win it.

Toro Rosso is an interesting one. Fast car last year and more of the same will put them up there. Alex Albon is interesting rookie and the return of Dani Kvyat is incredible, I never thought he’d go near the Red Bull system ever again after last time.

I honestly don’t know where to place the next two.

Haas have potential yet keep making mistakes. Sometimes the team, sometimes the drivers. Often the drivers. They make a quick car – a lot of input from Ferrari, more than any other customer in F1 – but sometimes it looks hard to drive. Maybe the setup window was narrow, maybe that’s why they get into scrapes. If Grosjean and Magnussen can stay off the walls they should go well, but there’s a lot of competition, not scoring points will punish you harshly.

Racing Point (or SportPesa Racing) are obviously a quick outfit and they’ll be getting investment from Stroll Snr. It might not show until 2020, when factory upgrades take effect, but they’ll be able to continue developing the car this year. Sergio Perez arguably the senior driver but as he’s been outgunned financially by the Strolls, will his nose be put out of joint? He won’t be calling the shots. Lance Stroll continues to learn, still makes odd mistakes but he certainly has speed, I’m looking forward to seeing that speed unlocked.

Racing Point had a disruptive 2018 with the ownership change. That’s the only reason I’ve marked them down. I’ve marked them 9th in points but they are just as likely to finish 5th.

And finally Williams. And it will be Williams at the back unless something drastic changes. The car was late but that can be recoverable. Force India sometimes failed to arrive at testing, or ran a year-old car, yet were still competitive when they brought a new one. Williams ran just over half of testing and tailed the field throughout. The saving grace is they looked possibly closer than last year. But that’s no good when everyone else stepped forward as well and you’re 2 seconds off them.

I admire that they haven’t become a B-team the way Racing Point, Alfa, Toro Rosso and Haas are. Unfortunately those links with big-spending teams are why the B-teams are faster than Williams who don’t have the ability to spend to keep up.

In terms of management all is not well. Rumours of ongoing disagreements and emergence of a blame culture means the situation is very much not under control. A successful team is a happy team. A finger-pointing, back-biting team will always fail.

Robert Kubica is the comeback story of F1. To be able to race after suffering those injuries is a testament to his perseverance. I’m intrigued to find out whether he can manage a race distance competitively, something the car problems prevented him from doing in testing, which is a real worry. He’s always been tenacious and this year will be no different.

George Russell is the real deal. Even if he looks like an artificial life form, like Jude Law in the film AI: Artificial Intelligence. Once he adapts to life in F1 he’ll make the car go as fast as it will go. But how fast is that?

My Ranking

Mercedes
Ferrari
Red Bull Honda
Renault
Alfa Romeo
McLaren
Toro Rosso
Haas
Racing Point
Williams