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

2018 F1 Team By Team Preview

Preview:  2018 FIA Formula 1 World Championship

f1 2018

A Year Of Changes

2018 will see many changes, not least in the presentation of Formula 1, as you can see with the logo above! New owners Liberty Media start their second season and are beginning to make an impact. It’ll take too long to go through it all so here are some bullet points:

  • Increased digital presence, including hiring journalist Will Buxton to present video content across platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
  • That new logo.
  • New theme music, which we’ll probably hear around the podium ceremony.
  • Increased promotion.
  • Change of race start times.

The cars are largely unchanged. The biggest change is the addition of the halo safety device. Opinion is divided of course. The aeroscreen or IndyCar windscreen seem much better options but those haven’t been tested fully – the halo is ready now. The FIA would be open to legal challenge if they had a system ready to go, didn’t install it, and someone got seriously hurt. Really they have no choice but to install it while developing alternatives.

Otherwise the cars still look badass. A 2018 car is basically a 2017 car with a halo and no “shark fin” engine cover. A 2018 car with a halo looks miles better than a 2012 car with those disproportionate front and rear wings. I’ll take a 2018 car every time.

Pirelli have introduced two new tyre specs, the “hypersoft” at one extreme and the “superhard” at the other. Yes, those really are the names. There are further restrictions on “oil burning” (feeding oil into the fuel mixture). And there are changes to the way penalties are awarded. Chain Bear F1 made a good video about it.

Continue reading “2018 F1 Team By Team Preview”

What To Look Forward To In 2017

There is a lot to look for in the 2017 motorsport season.

I felt something was missing in 2016. I don’t know what it was. Some sort of spark. Maybe it was me, maybe it was other events away from racing, or maybe motorsport just didn’t grab me as much as before – with the exception of IndyCar and MotoGP which were excellent. I didn’t invest as much time in keeping up with WEC and IMSA, something I’m doing over the winter break.

I think that should change this year.

Formula 1

New cars! Better looking cars. No more silly rear wings. Faster over a lap, faster through the corners. Hopefully they’ll look as fast and dramatic as the last time we had high downforce F1 cars, about a decade ago. The drivers are going to have to work hard.

With luck this will shake up the order. Some teams will get it wrong and will spend the year catching up. We’ll see them do it, much like we’ve seen McLaren-Honda get faster through the year over the last two years.

The downside? More downforce usually reduces overtaking opportunities. I wonder whether the larger rear wing will increase the effectiveness of the DRS. I would rather have no DRS – or have it and allow a driver to use it wherever he likes, no zones, no limits.

There should be good news with the tyres. Pirelli are charged with making tyres that allow a driver to push and not conserve so we might see some flat out racing again. Let’s hope they get it right.

How will Valterri Bottas fare at Mercedes alongside Lewis Hamilton? I’m excited to find out. I don’t think he’ll be a pushover. And Hamilton will want to fight after being defeated last year – I think he’ll win another title, but may again trip over himself in doing so.

How will Max Verstappen get on at his second season at the big Red Bull team and how will Dan Ricciardo react? Will Ferrari sink or swim, will Seb Vettel get fed up and move on? Will McLaren be back?

MotoGP

MotoGP is always fun at the front of the field. Even a dominant lead can be lost with a momentary lapse of concentration sending a rider to the floor.

Jorge Lorenzo moves to that hard-to-tame Ducati. Maverick Vinales replaces him at Yamaha alongside Valentino Rossi. Iannone across to Suzuki. I reckon the title fight will be between Marquez and Vinales. I’d love to see Pedrosa up front more often.

How will KTM get on in their first season? Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro, Tech3 teammates last year, both move there.

Formula E

I’m excited to see the races at New York and Montreal. I hope to see Jaguar improving through the year. Adam Carroll is vastly underrated and ought to have had a top works drive years ago.

I would like to see a greater energy allocation, more harvesting, as the cars are too energy-restricted. They did grant more allocation this season but they also lengthened the races which offset the benefit. If they’d given more energy for the same distance, everyone could’ve pushed harder in the race. It feels like the series is wasting the opportunity for good races while everyone is cruising around saving energy.

Sebastien Buemi leads after the two rounds held so far, but my tip is to keep watching Felix Rosenqvist.

IndyCar

Some of the best racing in the world will continue to be found in IndyCar. I fully expect the Indy 500 to be a highlight again.

Aero Kit competition is now frozen. In theory this means Honda are at a disadvantage, at least on road and street courses. A spec kit will appear in 2018.

Chip Ganassi Racing are moving back to Honda. With the might of CGR’s resources, joining Andretti’s, I suspect the Honda vs Chevy competition may become more equal.

AJ Foyt’s team go the other way to Chevy. Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly join. I’m starting to think Foyt will have a very good season! Takuma Sato goes the other way, to Andretti.

Josef Newgarden will have the most attention. His was the biggest move in the driver market, joining Team Penske to replace Juan Montoya. (JPM will still contest Indy). It took someone with the talent of Simon Pagenaud a full season to ‘bed in’ at Penske so I think we should go easy on Joe-New, at least this year.

As in 2016 I expect Pagenaud versus Power over the season, too close to call, but you must watch all of the races because really anything can happen from race to race!

World Endurance Championship

It’ll be very strange without Audi competing. Only five LMP1 cars:  2 x Porsche, 2 x Toyota, 1 x ByKolles CLM. We may see another Toyota at Le Mans and surely this is their year for the 24 Hours?

We saw great battles between two manufacturers in the past, Audi vs Peugeot, then Audi vs Toyota, so there’s every reason to think Toyota vs Porsche will be just as good.

All-new cars in LMP2. Which will be quickest? I’m sad they felt the need to restrict it to four chassis makers but I understand the budgetary reasons for it. Hopefully the cost savings will attract more entrants. Rebellion Racing step down from LMP1 with a hell of a driver line-up.

GTE Pro is a balance of performance (BoP) nightmare. Ford and Ferrari ahead last year but Porsche have a new car – and it is a mid-engined 911. Heresy! This could be the best fight in the field. And in 2018 we’ll see the brand new BMW.

GTE Am. Early yet but I’m not seeing a lot of takers. Perhaps it is time to replace it with GT3?

IMSA Sportscars

The story in the US is very different, IMSA is having a resurgence. The Prototype class will use the same brand new LMP2 cars as the WEC. In addition are the new Daytona Prototype international “DPi” cars, which take those LMP2 cars and add manufacturer engines and bespoke bodywork. It is a cost-effective way to bring in manufacturers and it has attracted Cadillac, Mazda and Nissan. It should be a fantastic year in the top class and it stars next week with the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

The GTLM class in IMSA, just like the ALMS before it, is top drawer. Often it is the best race among the 4 classes and it is usually better than the WEC equivalent (which runs to the same rules).

GTD will be numerically dominant with a lot of GT3 cars, no slouches themselves, including the new Acura (Honda) and Lexus. Worth checking out the entry list.

And the much-maligned PC class will finally be put out of its misery at the end of the year! It worked well when it started, but really ought to have been killed off a couple of years ago.

European Le Mans Series

The top class will have those new LMP2 cars which seem to be attracting a lot of attention in this series. LMP3 is also proving popular so there should be a lot of Prototypes in the ELMS again this year. I’d like to see a bigger GT field.

The supporting Michelin Le Mans Cup, featuring LMP3 and GT3 cars in a series of 2-hour races (1 hour at Le Mans before the big race), is also booming. This should be one of the hidden gems of 2017 so do look out for it, especially the LM24 support race.

World Rally Championship

New cars. Faster cars. Okay, some people are heralding them as the second coming of Group B – they are decidedly not that. They aren’t that extreme, with much less power than Gp.B, but with modern suspension, tyres, electronics and all the rest they will be very fast. It is good to see the WRC return to more advanced tech.

Citroen are back, Toyota are back, Hyundai continue and the M-Sport Fords look competitive.

My TV

One more reason this year will be good? I’ve upgraded from a 30″ standard definition TV to a 50″ Ultra HD TV. Wow what an upgrade! Even the size difference is remarkable, let alone the quality.

Okay there’s not much content in UHD, for motorsport basically it is only MotoGP, but I bet it’ll look damn good! (I think F1 is in UHD this year – but I don’t have Sky Sports). Certainly I will be enjoying a lot of stuff in ‘normal’ 1080 HD – and I can’t wait!

 

2016 IndyCar Series Preview

IndyCar racing is brilliant. It is some of the best racing in the world. It remains consistently good on a wide variety of tracks. I fully expect this to continue in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series!

If you aren’t watching because of some preconceived notion you picked up despite having watched it for yourself, do yourself a favour and watch it this year.

Okay, St Petersburg (race 1 this weekend) can often have a lot of safety car periods. That’s the nature of the track, just let this week pass by and judge the series over the course of a year.

Misgivings

Back in August and September I honestly though I’d not watch IndyCar any more. The death of Dan Wheldon a few years ago while a colossal shock and terribly, unbelievably sad, didn’t affect me in the way the death of Justin Wilson did. Although DW’s did affect me JW’s was even harder.

I hadn’t really been a fan of Dan. Nothing against him at all, not saying I was against him in anyway and he seemed a great guy, just that I had my favourites.

I was a fan of Justin Wilson. Had been since the Minardi and Jaguar days. His loss left me morose for a while. It was just so unspeakably sad.

To think we could’ve lost Hinchcliffe as well..

But I’ve been a fan of US single-seater / open-wheel racing since 2000. The racing is fantastic. It’s hard to give up.

And I know they are working on safety all the time. They are working on a solution to protect drivers from flying debris. That injury could’ve happened in any open-top race car including F1 – just ask Felipe Massa. It wasn’t anything inherently dangerous about IndyCar which killed Justin Wilson, it was just sheer damned bad luck. This isn’t necessarily the case with Wheldon’s accident, nor Hinch’s, nor even the accident that meant Dario Franchitti had to retire prematurely.

No, it’s a dangerous game but it is being improved all the time.

Competition

The cars are becoming less ‘spec’ as time goes on. Aero kit and engine competition has promoted development and added a new layer of interest. The better-funded teams have the advantage yet the other teams are still in with a shout. The well-funded teams held the advantage in the ‘spec’ era anyway – even with identical kit the teams with money will always be the best. We see this in GP2 and FR3.5 and other single-make series.

I’m glad there is engine competition and minor aero differences. It adds the possibility the pendulum might swing the other way. Chevy may have the advantage at the moment but that may not always be the case.

I do feel the cars have too many aero devices. You can have aero competition without having a hundred winglets on each car. They look ugly and wings ruin racing. But they’re fast though…

Races

The season was condensed last year, it’s good they spread it a little this year. A 7-month offseason followed by week after week of relentless racing just seems a little crazy. Start a little earlier, finish a little later, spread the same number of races out a little. You don’t want teams and drivers – and definitely not fans – suffering from race fatigue. This isn’t NASCAR and we don’t need a race every weekend.

As I say, the variety is tremendous:  short road courses, long road courses, bumpy street courses, short ovals, large ovals. You name it, they race well on it. Track variety is the name of the game in IndyCar and is one of the great strengths of the series.

The addition of Road America and Phoenix, two classic Indycar venues, can only be a positive! Even at the cost of Milwaukee and Fontana. I love both those races but you can’t sustain an event when nobody attends – or when the series schedules a race in California in mid-August. I really hope Phoenix and Elkhart Lake are as good as they were.

Boston is the latest addition to the revolving door of random street tracks. I’m less convinced on this one, so many street races have come and gone over the years. Only Long Beach and Toronto have ‘stuck’ as successful long-term events, add St Pete now. How many street courses failed in the last 20 years?

Drivers & Teams

Team Penske look almost unstoppable (especially at St Pete). Power, Montoya, Castroneves, Pagenaud. A hell of a line-up in their second year as a group. Part of me is surprised Helio hasn’t retired yet but he’s still fast enough for regular podiums. Montoya and Power should battle for the title and Pagenaud should come into his own this year.

Chip Ganassi is as strong as ever. Dixon is surely their lead charge. Kanaan is as Castroneves and not because of their shared nationality – sadly neither are in their fastest years any more. Kimball is improving all the time though possibly not quickly enough – would that change in one of the ‘primary’ cars? Chilton is the new boy from F1 after a year testing Nissan LMP1, his progress will fascinating and perhaps we’ll finally get a read on his real performance level.

Andretti Autosport is the other big team and should represent the primary Honda charge, but didn’t last year. Hunter-Reay never had the promo his championship and Indy wins deserved. Andretti conversely never really fulfilled his potential – I actually think he needs to race for someone else for a year or two. Munoz is very promising indeed and I think my early impressions of him were wrong.
AA linked up with Herta to run Alex Rossi, another ex Marussia/Manor F1 driver. Unlike Chilton, Rossi doesn’t seem to want to be there and is very obviously hoping to go back to F1.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan are running Graham Rahal along with a 3-race stint for Spencer Pigot, 2015 Indy Lights champion. Rahal was by far the best Honda runner last year and impressed me enormously. I’d mistakenly written him off prior to 2015. Something clicked for Graham and the team last year and I hope and expect that to continue.

KVSH are running one car this year but that is for Sebastien Bourdais. The focus on one car could backfire with a lack of data, or their full attention on one car could make for better results in the way it did for Rahal. He’ll rag the car as he always does.

Schmidt Peterson tend to do well with the budget they have. James Hinchcliffe is back, fully recovered after his terrible crash last year. Judging from test times and free practice at St Pete, he’s fully back on the pace which is incredible! His team-mate is the returning Mikhail Aleshin, who got in the wars in 2014, I’m sure he’ll continue to provide entertainment all season though he was good in the SMP Racing BR01 in the European Le Mans Series last year.

AJ Foyt retains Sato and Hawksworth and bolstered them on the technical side. I’d like to see a much better year for these guys. Let’s say of Sato what has been said already for over a decade: calm down and use your head!

Among the rest, Conor Daly is with the usually-underfunded Dale Coyne but I hope he can spring a few surprises. He is joined by Luca Filippi at round 1 and hopefully more races. Luca ought to have a solid drive somewhere and I hope this is the place to showcase his abilities. DCR sometimes to spread their smaller resources a little thin and that could compromise both drivers. But sometimes they work a small miracle.

I think that is all the full-season drivers. There are one-offs at Indy and elsewhere which I won’t bore you with now.

Predictions!

In general I see the championship again coming down to Montoya versus Power versus Dixon. I’d like to think Pagenaud will be in there as well. Perhaps Rahal and Hunter-Reay too.

Ultimately I think it’ll be Power’s year.

I think the racing will be excellent all season, as it usually is in IndyCar!

Even if the Penske and Ganassi cars jump ahead like they used to, the competition among them will be intense and that’s no bad thing. The racing is such that anyone else could influence the result. The midfield will be so jumbled and the odd surprise result still possible, that you can’t go into any race confidently predicting the outcome.

It’ll be a great season!

To honour Justin, it had better be!

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