Monday, 24 April 2017

Sochi Preview: F1's ugly duckling

There's always one, isn't there? That F1 venue people find particularly hard to love. No new thing either. Nivelles, Detroit and others have had periodic pariah status historically. More recently it was Valencia. Then it was the Mokpo venue in Korea. Now, dear reader, I give you Sochi in Russia.

The Sochi venue in Russia has been hard for F1 to love
By Липунов Г.А. - Own work, CC0, https://commons.
It has ugly duckling status for a number of reasons. The race was in many eyes tainted at source, even though Bernie Ecclestone's attempts to get a Russian/USSR round onto the calendar stretched back literally decades. A Grand Prix in the Soviet Union to be held on the streets of Moscow appeared on the provisional F1 calendar as long ago as 1983 indeed and several mooted options came and went in the years that followed.

Yet even by the time the race finally was penned to debut in 2014 - around the buildings and circular medals plaza of that year's Winter Olympics venue of Sochi - plenty thought we could nevertheless wait a little longer. Its very existence was controversial from several months out with unrest in Ukraine and Russia's alleged contribution to it dominating many headlines. Some thought too resultant sanctions would mean the race's money would run out.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Bahrain Grand Prix review for Motor Verso - Two out of three ain't bad

By Dave Jefferys -
26252296810/in/album-72157664943710804/, CC BY-SA
It was just like the season. It was captivating. It took us around the houses. But in the end it came back to the chief theme of Sebastian Vettel vs. Lewis Hamilton.

After qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix it looked like it might be different. But come the race the already-established tete-a-tete was soon back on. And that was only the beginning of the parallels with previous rounds of the fledgling 2017 campaign.

While after vanquishing Lewis and Merc once again, for Seb and Ferrari as the old song goes two out of three ain't bad.

I give my take on it all in my review of the Sakhir action for Motor Verso. You can have a read here:

Do check out the Motor Verso site too; you'll find motoring news, car reviews and features - the team on the site carry out week-long test drives of the latest cars - as well as photos and videos of the machines.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Discontinued Cars, by Select Car Leasing

Have you ever heard the phrase "they don't make them like they used to"? Well Select Car Leasing decided to run with that idea and create a piece surrounding some of the most unforgettable discontinued cars the automotive industry has ever seen.

In the infographic below they show you some of the best and worst cars to be discontinued, some that really did deserved to die and some that we miss awfully.

They also give you an insight into whether any of these iconic cars will ever return. You can take a look below.

Discontinued Cars
Discontinued Cars by SELECT CAR LEASING.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Inside Line F1 Podcast - Hamilton Finally Picks A Penalty For Driving Slowly

Lewis Hamilton has used 'driving slow' as a tactic in the past. Yes, it was at the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where he won the race, but lost the Drivers' Championship to Nico Rosberg. However, at the epic 2017 Bahrain Grand Prix, Hamilton was penalised for driving slow ahead of Daniel Ricciardo. The karma of the Motorsport world coming to bite Hamilton back?

Mercedes were outclassed by Ferrari in every department, tyre strategy being the most evident one. In fact, Mercedes had lost out to Red Bull Racing too. The reigning World Champion need to sharpen themselves to fight external competition after years of intra-team battles. As for Ferrari, someone needs to remind them that they've a second car too!

After the first three races, it is appearing that positions 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 10th are already blocked for a few drivers. This means there's fewer positions to fight for in the top 10. But for McLaren-Honda, after being bored of DNFs, they decided to lodge a DNS!

Finally, we welcome Turkey and their Turn 8 back to Formula 1, let's hope they get onto the calendar soon enough. We would also like to welcome back Jenson Button for his one-off appearance for McLaren at the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix. He's either bold or dumb to race in Monaco without any testing whatsoever. And of course, our best wishes and prayers to Billy Monger and his family. Tune in!

(Season 2017, Episode 15)

Subscribe to the Inside Line F1 Podcast on iTunes and audioBoom for your weekly dose of Formula 1 humour.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Firstpost Video - Bahrain Grand Prix Review

Here's the latest Firstpost Video Grand Prix Review. This time Mithila and Kunal from the Inside Line F1 Podcast review last weekend's excellent Bahrain race won by Sebastian Vettel. You can watch below:

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Bahrain GP Report - Returning to the theme

Come back to what you know, as the song went. F1 returned to already familiar themes in the Bahrain Grand Prix today. Valtteri Bottas's interloper performance to get pole position proved just that - again things distilled to the Sebastian Vettel versus Lewis Hamilton game for two players. And it was another thrilling one.

For the second time in three rounds, Sebastaian Vettel
and Ferrari got it right to win
Photo: Octane Photography
It was one of strategy, on the watch, not wheel-to-wheel. But no less gripping for that. And for the second time in three it was Ferrari and Seb that got it right to triumph. The Scuderia's calls were both aggressive and spot on - something that seemed a world away last season. Seb meanwhile was fast and immaculate in converting it all to a win under pressure. That bit is altogether less new.

There were echoes of previous rounds of the fledgling 2017 season everywhere in the Sakhir race. Just like round one in Australia, Vettel having been outpaced in qualifying looked the quickest thing in the race. Just as in Australia too - after vaulting Lewis at the first turn (something Seb aptly called "crucial"), later on the brakes - he apparently was happy to sit on the leading Mercedes's gearbox, this time that of Bottas, in the opening stint.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

New Motorsport Week article: Why F1’s current driver line-up could be the best ever

Photo: Octane Photography
This new F1 clearly is very new. Not least that - in something that for most of recent times was about as likely as a Dodo flying past the paddock lavatories - there is a feel-good factor around. Particularly following the superb China race.

In my latest for Motorsport Week I join in on it all, by pointing out something that already was very good about the sport - its high quality line-up of drivers. It might even be the best the sport has ever had...

You can read my take on it all via this link:

Sakhir Qualifying - Valtteri comes to the party

The story could have been achingly familiar. One in which thoughts of a challenge to the Mercedes were dashed. Just like happened at this track last year. And the year before. The Sakhir circuit is a place where Merc likes to snatch hope from its rivals - and of a few others - that it's about to be usurped.

In Bahrain qualifying Valtteri Bottas came to the party
Photo: Octane Photography
It did just that in qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix, but the story even so was not familiar. As for the first time since his promotion to the Brackley squad Valtteri Bottas stepped up. And stepped up all the way to pole position. His first ever.

Our tantalising Mercedes vs. Ferrari scrap, new for 2017, has from many viewpoints been distilled to Lewis Hamilton vs. Sebastian Vettel. On the basis of the opening two rounds one had good reason to think that way. But, despite some appearances, F1 can never be said to be altogether predictable. And in today's qualifying session the embattled Finn, still new in the Merc squad, in the nick of time reminded us that we can't be necessarily quite so reductive.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

New F1 Hub article: Is this the return of ‘real’ F1 racing?

Photo: Octane Photography
Just as Harold Wilson said of politics, a week is a long time in F1. Or rather an hour and a half on a Sunday is.

Following however many years of impenetrable murk and despair, then a distinctly mixed bag in the first race of the new formula in Australia, with the second race of it, in China last weekend, suddenly it seems we all agree that all is right with the sport.

In my debut feature article for F1 Hub I look back at an excellent Chinese Grand Prix and wonder if, and why, F1 might at last have got it right when it comes to the racing.

You can have a read of my take here:

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Bahrain GP Betting Preview - Flutter on Ferrari

F1 in 2017 has been a lot about Ferrari. It's of course had a strong start to the campaign - surprisingly so - and in China demonstrated it is the real deal in a real championship fight, by at least matching Mercedes on race pace at a track that in theory suited the silver team.

There are reasons to think Ferrari will be leading
Mercedes again in Bahrain
Photo: Octane Photography
Yet for the bookies old habits die hard it seems. They still have Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes as favourites to win out this weekend in Bahrain. But even over and above Ferrari's general form, as outlined in my race preview plenty about this one in Sakhir - hot temperatures, a premium on rear grip among many other things - could well mean it's Ferrari country. And you can get Sebastian Vettel to triumph in the race at a full 19/10. Tempting.

Despite all of this Mercedes, and especially Lewis Hamilton, has still had a qualifying talisman this year. Lewis to get his third pole from three in 2017 this weekend can be backed at evens.

And if you want to really follow through on your Lewis to start on pole/Seb to win the race theory, you can also get 5/2 on the Bahrain race winner starting second, and (if you have faith in Valtteri Bottas) 9/2 on the winner starting third.

Elsewhere, Kimi Raikkonen to get onto the podium in Bahrain looks good value at 6/5. Partly as the above considerations about Ferrari apply to him too, but also that Kimi has a good record at this track, and indeed has finished second in four of the last five Bahrain Grands Prix.

In terms of longer shot stuff, Felipe Massa to finish the race in the top three can be got at a stonking 70/1. This coming in would likely require some attrition ahead, but the Williams has looked strong on raw pace at least in 2017 (perhaps in Red Bull territory), the Sakhir track should suit the car plus Felipe is another who tends to go well here. The odds, given these, look generous.

Romain Grosjean at 6/1 to finish in the top six in Bahrain also looks a reasonable punt. He finished fifth here least year and the Haas has looked decent this season. Esteban Ocon is to do the same at 16/1 looks even more reasonable. Force India has a good Bahrain record, such as Sergio Perez finishing third in 2014.

All odds quoted in this article were accurate on the Oddschecker website at 2100 GMT on Wednesday 12 April 2017.

Inside Line F1 Podcast - Have Ferrari Forgotten Team Orders?

After the incredible Chinese Grand Prix, we wondered what most Ferrari fans would've wondered - why did Ferrari not ask Kimi Raikkonen to move over and let Sebastian Vettel pass? Could this strategic move have altered the race result? Did this 'no team order' strategy blunder cost Ferrari more than their tyre strategy for Vettel?

Frankly, we're happy that Ferrari let their drivers race. Yes, it's unusual, but it is something that Mercedes and Red Bull Racing have been doing since ages. Thank you, Ferrari. And since we're thanking people, thank you Max Verstappen for a fantastic charge up the grid.

The Chinese Grand Prix also confirmed two things: First, we're about to witness a closely contested season after many many many years! It'll be a Ferrari vs. Mercedes to start with and we're praying Red Bull Racing join the action too. Second, it'll be Vettel vs. Hamilton battle for the Drivers' Championship and Bottas vs. Raikkonen for the Constructors' Championship.

In this week's episode, our hosts look forward to the first double header racing weekend of the season. Yes, we'll be racing in Bahrain in a few days. Should Bernie Ecclestone buy Interlagos just to have some fun with the new boys running Formula 1? Could Fernando Alonso deflect to Williams in 2018? Bye-Bye Sepang and hello Nurburgring or Hockenheim? Okay, can we have both? Tune in!

Subscribe to the Inside Line F1 Podcast on iTunes and audioBoom for your weekly dose of Formula 1 humour.

(Season 2017, Episode 14)

Monday, 10 April 2017

Sakhir Preview: Ferrari the favourite?

Typical Tilke. It is a phrase that for better and worse has entered the modern F1 vocabulary, reflecting that over recent decades the architect Hermann of that ilk has been responsible almost exclusively for the sport's new and new-fangled circuits. And the Bahrain track that we visit this weekend embodies the phrase more than most.

Bahrain's Sakhir circuit is one of F1's
archetypal modern venues
By Dave Jefferys -
26252296810/in/album-72157664943710804/, CC BY-SA
Sakhir is indeed typical Tilke. Built from nothing on an open vast expanse (in this case, desert). All clean lines and gleaming architecture. And comes with a sense that every one of Bernie's numerous and haughty demands have been met.

Yet it has some of the typical Tilke flipside too. As with so many of these new circuits it represented a large geographical stride into a new world. Some agonise over the extent that F1's been turning its back on its core support, as well as over the motivations of its newer hosts. The Crown Prince of Bahrain has been known to justify the event more in terms of 'national branding' than sport. While as we know this particular round has had controversy attached for more weighty reasons still.

Chinese Grand Prix review for Motor Verso - Quality Street

Photo: Octane Photography
You know what they say about not judging a book by its cover. The result of the Chinese Grand Prix may have looked achingly familiar, like a return to normality, but it doesn't begin to tell the tale.

The tale instead is all about quality. Our high quality drivers' title fight does appear on China's evidence to be well and truly on. More broadly too after our post-Melbourne panic the sport might just, somehow, have got the quality of the racing right at last. The quality of the contemporary driver line up was already beyond question, and we saw plenty renewed evidence of that in Shanghai too.

I give my take on all of the goings on in China in my latest Motor Verso race review. You can read it here:

Do check out the Motor Verso site too; you'll find motoring news, car reviews and features - the team on the site carry out week-long test drives of the latest cars - as well as photos and videos of the machines.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Mithila and Kunal from Inside Line F1 Podcast review the Chinese Grand Prix on Firstpost

As mentioned, Mithila and Kunal from the Inside Line F1 Podcasts we share on Talking about F1 have started to feature in videos on Firstpost, a leading news website in India, reviewing latest F1 goings-on.

And hot off the press is their review of today's thrilling Chinese Grand Prix. You can watch that latest episode of Firstpost Pole Position below:

Chinese GP Report - Chinese new year

It may look regulation. Lewis Hamilton today claimed victory in the Chinese Grand Prix. His fifth at this track and Mercedes's fourth in a row here. It was a 'Grand Slam' for Lewis too - pole, win and leading every lap. But that's only the beginning of the tale - both of the race and of the new F1 we appear to have stretching ahead this season. It's an appropriate place to pay homage to a new year.

Lewis Hamilton took his fifth Chinese Grand Prix win
Photo: Octane Photography
The anticipated rain deluge didn't arrive for the Shanghai race but we did start on a damp track. Yet as early as the warm up lap it was clear that the intermediate tyres almost all were starting on wouldn't be needed for long. The track looked pretty much dry aside from on the pit straight, although it was deceptively perfidious as early slick switchers had problems staying on the straight and narrow.

The anticipated Lewis versus Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari battle at the front didn't really happen either. After Lewis led from the line the pair were decoupled early when Seb - alone among the leaders - dived in for dry weather tyres on lap two under an early virtual safety car deployment.

It looked briefly a masterstroke as Seb emerged with only a 17 second deficit to Lewis and all ahead - including Lewis of course - still were on inters and clearly required their own imminent change. However no sooner had this became clear Antonio Giovinazzi for the second time in two days changed things all around him (in more than one sense) by rearranging his Sauber on a pit straight wall. This brought out the safety car proper, which let Lewis pit and retain his lead, as well as all the other five ahead of Seb to also bolt on slicks and also stay ahead of the Ferrari. It left the German in a net as well as actual sixth place. The day, in this sense, was already framed.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Shanghai Qualifying - Significance below the surface

You might think you've seen this one before. But such thoughts can be deceptive. Sometimes the continuations can be just as significant as the variations. Perhaps more so.

Lewis Hamilton was magnificent in getting another pole
Photo: Octane Photography
On one level you could copy and paste most of what happened in the first qualifying session of the season, in Melbourne two weeks ago, and adequately cover quali hour number two in Shanghai today.

Lewis Hamilton took pole position for the Chinese Grand Prix by a couple of tenths, a lot like he did in Australia. This is significant enough in itself, not least as it's his sixth pole position on the bounce, a run only bettered in history by Ayrton Senna, as well as is the sixth straight pole at this track for Mercedes and Lewis's sixth overall here.

Yet greater significance herein is that while Lewis has had access to fine Mercedes machinery in recent times today's pole felt a lot like it was about him. His vital laps at the end were super smooth and ultra fast. And his personal contribution made the difference.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Inside Line F1 Podcast - Max Verstappen Doesn't Know Heel-Toe?

The fortnight gap between Australia and China does seem a little too long. But here we are! In this week's episode of the Inside Line F1 Podcast, Mithila and Kunal talk about the Ferrari vs. Mercedes battle that will resume at the Shanghai International Circuit. Will Ferrari's pace be further validated or will it prove that Australia was a flash in the pan?

Our hosts also discuss how and why Max Verstappen doesn't know of the ever-popular heel-toe concept that's used in racing ever since. Is it because the junior formula cars have moved to Formula 1-style paddle shift cars too?

Like always, we've got a few funny ones on McLaren, we decode the typical April Fool's jokes that were cracked on April Fool's Day, of course, we pick our favourite too. Hamilton's chosen to go solo for his physical training, while he's caught up with Alonso as the sport's 'most popular' driver in a survey - haven't the Dutch fans out-voted every other driver to give their favourite Max Verstappen in honour? Tune in for a few laughs and few insights as we excitedly wait for the 2017 Chinese Grand Prix.

Subscribe to the Inside Line F1 Podcast on iTunes and audioBoom for your weekly dose of Formula 1 humour.

(Season 2017, Episode 13)

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Chinese GP Betting Preview - Mercedes reign and Shanghai rain?

So, on the basis of Melbourne, we do have unpredictability in F1 after all. Which of course makes it much more fun, and more opportune perhaps, for the F1 gambler.

Is there value in backing a Mercedes bounce back?
Photo: Octane Photography
Hopefully you listened to my suggestion to get Sebastian Vettel for the Australian win at 7/2, as well as that Lewis Hamilton was more likely to be on top in qualifying and was available at 6/5 for the pole (admittedly I mentioned several other bets as well, but that's beside the point...)

Conversely though the shock Ferrari-Vettel triumph may tempt us to go full circle back to the usually haughty Mercedes for round two in China this weekend. As Australia's goings-on mean the Merc odds are longer than usual.

Think of it this way. Ferrari's Australian triumph might have been a one off. After all many think it goes peculiarly well at that track plus Mercedes might still have won with better strategy, or with Valtteri Bottas qualifying slightly quicker. And there may not be a better time to get value on the Silver Arrows.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Shanghai Preview: Big in China

Much about the Chinese Grand Prix visit feels big. Of all the typical Tilke venues to arrive in recent times this one still sets the standards for dimensions if nothing else. The gleaming futuristic architecture towers and stretches; the facilities' sparse siting makes you wonder if someone worried that the various buildings would have an argument with each other. Paddock occupants are sure they walk far further in the Shanghai weekend than in any other.

Much about the Chinese Grand Prix is big
By Drew - Starting Grid F1 Shanghai, CC BY 2.0, https://
Even the race's genesis is big. All geopolitics - it is a Government-backed Grand Prix in a country that might be termed a coming economy; a round that arrived in 2004 to a country while curious about the event also was almost completely uninitiated (to those more historically-minded, it shared a lot with Hungary's arrival in 1986). Then as now it appears more motivated by national promotion than of making a successful event per se.

Many of the typical Tilke track layout characteristics will be familiar too. A bit-of-everything layout; quick, medium and slow corners feature. A long straight - underlining the theme of vastness China's is reckoned to be about the longest in the sport - and a big stop at the end created with overtaking in mind. A trademark Tilke fast esses part elsewhere.

Friday, 31 March 2017

New Motorsport Week article: Can Ferrari stay on top in 2017?

Photo: Octane Photography
F1 ain't predictable, even though for the last three seasons it has felt a lot like it is.

And last Sunday in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix we got our latest reminder, with the Sebastian Vettel-Ferrari combination facing down Mercedes and winning, and doing so by little more than pure race pace. An outcome which, despite some advance pointers, not all that many were predicting. They certainly weren't used to it.

But with it comes a big question. Is Vettel's stunning Melbourne win the shape of things to come or will the Mercedes empire strike back?

For Motorsport Week I investigate. You can have a read of my take here:

Mithila and Kunal from Inside Line F1 Podcast review the Australian Grand Prix on Firstpost

You'll be aware that on Talking about F1 we share the excellent Inside Line F1 Podcasts every week. Mithila and Kunal from the show, not content with that, have debuted videos on Firstpost, a leading news website in India, reviewing latest F1 goings-on.

You can watch the post-Australian GP episode of Firstpost Pole Position below:

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Who is Lance Stroll? by Select Car Leasing

With the new F1 season now upon us Select Car Leasing has had an in-depth look at the season's only (full-time) rookie driver - Lance Stroll of Williams.

Already Stroll has divided F1 opinion for a few reasons, and the infographic below seeks to bring some clarity by looking at what he's done on-track to get his F1 gig, including how his karting record compares with those of established F1 hot shoes Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen.

Lance Stroll

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Inside Line F1 Podcast - Dear F1, Time To Make Our Races Longer

We've a split vote! The 2017 Australian Grand Prix entertained us, while it failed to entertain others. However, this was the shortest Formula 1 race in Australia, is it time for Formula 1 and the FIA to increase the total race distance? All this while the powers are wondering if there should be two races every weekend after all.

In this week's episode of the Inside Line F1 Podcast, Mithila and Kunal dissect the opening race of the season. They pick the funniest moments, which includes Rosberg's tweets and Verstappen's radio messages. Btw, do you know which Formula 1 driver is nicknamed 'Chilli'?

They also talk about Portugal's interest in hosting a non-championship race for Formula 1, the McLaren-Honda-Alonso saga (obviously), thank Pirelli for getting their Formula 1 tyre right and about the Vettel-Webber bromance on the podium in Melbourne. Tune in!

For your weekly dose of Formula 1 humour, remember to subscribe to us on iTunes and audioBoom.

(Season 2017, Episode 12)

Monday, 27 March 2017

Australian Grand Prix review for Motor Verso - The shock of the new

Photo: Octane Photography
So the new F1 is different after all. For a lot of the Australian Grand Prix weekend things looked rather like a film we'd seen before, up to Lewis Hamilton blasting off the line to lead early.

But then things changed, as Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari simply faced them down and won. Their pre-season hype was justified after all. And thus for the first time in a long time something other than a Merc is leading the F1 world championship. For the first time in about as long Mercedes was defeated in a race on pure pace rather than peculiarity. For the first time in a long time we have a multi-team fight for the world title. For now anyway.

I give my take on all of the Melbourne goings on in my first Motor Verso race review of the new campaign. You can read it here:

Do check out the Motor Verso site too; you'll find motoring news, car reviews and features - the team on the site carry out week-long test drives of the latest cars - as well as photos and videos of the machines.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Apex Race Manager 2017 - New racing sim and strategy game, and a competition to win a FREE upgrade pack

Are you an F1 fan that likes gaming? And are looking for something that's a bit different?

If either or both of these are the case, then you may be interested that Beermogul Games has created a unique racing strategy game, updated for the new 2017 season and cars: Apex Race Manager 2017.

In the game you get to establish a career of your own at motor sport's highest echelon, and after a very brief driving test you start at a back-of-grid team for the season-opening race in Australia.

As the laps of each race tick along you have to make decisions about your driving aggression, tyre strategy and fuel. As just like the real thing you can't burn things all at once - you have to judge when to attack and when to defend. You also can choose when to pit, what tyre compound to bolt on and what your strategy is.

Occasionally you'll have specific challenges too, such as reacting as quickly as possible to the red lights going out at the race start, changing all four wheels at your pit stops (again, as quickly as possible), and top-down driving challenges such as dodging backmarkers and negotiating hairpins.

As you gather prize money and points you also can invest in your set of wheels - such as in the aero, engineering and fuel consumption.

And if that wasn't enough you may on occasion - if your team mate is on your tail - have to decide whether to obey or ignore team orders...

It's all good fun, tricky to master and rather addictive. And it's available to download for free on iOS and Android.

And even better we have five PRO Packs to upgrade the game to give away FREE to Talking about F1 readers. PRO Packs add wet weather conditions, safety cars, and a driver/team editor - which means you can switch driver lineups while retaining their skill levels, so you can see how top drivers get on in backmarking teams...

To enter the competition to win one of five PRO Packs please give your email address (so we can get in touch as well as get the prize to you if you're a lucky winner) and answer the very simple question in the box below. Five winners of the upgrade pack will be chosen at random by me from the correct answers. Good luck!


Australian GP Report - Red Revival

"Quite mad in a positive way," was how Sebastian Vettel described it afterwards. It was that. One of those races in which you have to rub your eyes so to be sure that you know what's going on. As it's such a shift from what you were used to.

Against what we'd got used to, Vettel and Ferrari prevailed
over Hamilton and Mercedes
Photo: Octane Photography
Vettel won the Australian Grand Prix for Ferrari, ahead of the usually-imperious Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. And there was no unreliability, weather intervention, weird tyre behaviour or anything else unusual. He was plain quicker than his haughty Mercedes foe.

The placid new Merc recruit Valtteri Bottas summed it up. "The red guys were a bit too quick". Well one of them was anyway.

Plenty have noted that it's the first time since the start of the hybrid era that anything other than a Mercedes has led an F1 world championship. Impressive enough, yet the break from the norm is greater than that. Aside from the grand outlier of Singapore in 2015, and Malaysia earlier that year that owed more to tyres, you really have to dig back to find the last time Merc was beaten genuinely on pace like this. Perhaps you'd have to go before the start of its imperious march from the get-go of 2014. This new F1 is different after all.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Melbourne Qualifying - Plus ca change...

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Much is different about F1 in 2017; judging by testing it was supposed to look different at the sharp end on-track too. But things die hard in F1. The identity of the guy on pole for the Melbourne season-opener is of the very familiar sort.

Lewis Hamilton remained on top
Photo: Octane Photography
Lewis Hamilton - the perennial, and the guy who got pole position in the final four rounds of last campaign too - is on top still. Perhaps things are closer this year. Time certainly will tell on that one. But virtually all weekend around Albert Park Lewis has been a step ahead. And was when it mattered, as he took the top slot for tomorrow's grid with balmy comfort, by over a quarter of a second.

And he of course was buoyant. "It's been a fantastic weekend so far," Lewis said afterwards.

"I'm just incredibly proud of my team. This rule change has been huge and such a massive challenge for everyone. The guys have just worked so hard to make this car what it is today."

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Concept Cars De-Badged Quiz, by Select Car Leasing

Everyone loves a quiz, and Select Car Leasing has created one all about concept cars, which will challenge even for the most knowledgeable of motoring enthusiasts.

They've simply taken some concept cars and removed the badges. Can you guess which car manufacturer is behind each of these cars? It's time to find out! Click on the below to have a go - and whatever you do you should do better than me... (*cough cough* two out of ten *cough*)

You also can access the quiz on the Select Car Leasing website here:

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

2017 F1 Betting Preview - Flutter on Ferrari?

A new F1 season, and particularly one with a whole new lot of technical regulations, comes with plenty of potential for big change to what we've grown used to. So with it is there betting value for those minded to have a flutter? Quite possibly.

Is Ferrari where the betting value is?
Photo: Octane Photography
Many sober analyses from the pre-season testing just passed have the Ferrari all of a sudden ahead of everyone. OK, given false dawns are not unheard of down Maranello way we remain cautious, but even so 4/1 for Sebastian Vettel to take the drivers' world championship this year looks very tempting. As does his 7/2 available to win the race in Australia.

And what of the other Ferrari? There wasn't much to tell between Seb and Kimi Raikkonen last season especially as Kimi got his car handling to his liking in the latter part of that campaign. Plus if this year's Ferrari is indeed fine-handling it should play to his strengths. It is more of a long shot, but you can get the Finn at 10/1 to win the title and 8/1 to win in Australia, both of what look rather generous. As especially does that you can get 11/10 on Kimi to win more than 1.5 races this year.

In recent years though Ferrari has tended to be furthest off the Merc pace in qualifying, due to the latter being able to turn its engines up therein, so Seb's odds to take pole in Melbourne (10/3) may be less tempting. But what therein of new Mercedes charge Valtteri Bottas? A man whose quali skills are thought particularly strong? You'll get 21/5 for him to get the pole in Australia.

Lewis Hamilton's odds, given his usually rightful status as firm favourite, haven't always been the place to look in recent years to make a quick buck. Still the new uncertainty mentioned at the outset may conversely make it worthwhile this time - betting on Lewis to win the title (at 6/5), win the Melbourne race (5/4) and even to bag Melbourne pole (6/5) will get you double your stake back if they come in. The last one of the three looks the best value of them.

Melbourne races are known for frequent safety car periods, and indeed eight of the last 10 races there have featured at least one. And 5/4 for one safety car appearance this time, and 22/5 for two, appear tempting. The frequency of safety cars, as well as the reports of difficulty of overtaking, may also make it worth going for a long shot driver to finish in the top six.

And if you fancy a frivolous extreme long shot punt then why not go for the 40/1 available on Fernando Alonso to win a race this year. Yes, I know. But consider that a single, albeit maybe unlikely, change of Honda suddenly getting its engine right (yes, I know) will do rather a lot to make it a probability, and it might just be worth your while.

All odds quoted in this article were accurate on the Oddschecker website at 2200 GMT on Tuesday 21 March 2017.

Inside Line F1 Podcast - Will Bottas Make Us Miss Rosberg?

As we excitedly countdown to the 2017 Australian Grand Prix, we wonder if we'll be treated to an epic Formula 1 race or a Sunday morning snooze fest?

We're hoping for that a single team (read: Mercedes) doesn't dominate, but even if they do, will Valtteri Bottas be able to challenge Lewis Hamilton? Or will he make us miss Nico Rosberg? The pressure is on the Finn given that the Mercedes bosses have given him four races to prove himself. But will the fans be as patient?

And there's more to look forward to in Australia: is Ferrari vs. Mercedes possible? Will Red Bull Racing's RB13 look different than the one that appeared in pre-season testing? A pink Force India, an after effect of Holi? The rookies: Esteban Ocon and even Lance Stroll, Daniel Ricciardo's new party trick, Mercedes' finger hole clutch paddle and finally, a 'Fittest Driver of the Day' award?

For your weekly dose of Formula 1 humour, remember to subscribe to us on iTunes and audioBoom.

Tune in!

(Season 2017, Episode 11)

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Enter the Vital F1 Prediction competition (and pit your wits against me)

You may know that one of the websites I write for is It has plenty on it for F1 fans - news, a discussion forum and comment articles among other things. And it has a prediction competition, back for the new season, that you can enter.

Photo: Octane Photography
For every Grand Prix you pick two drivers to score points for you depending on where they finish in real life. In some races it's the relatively straightforward matter of predicting who'll finish first and second, but in others it gets more tricky as you have to try to predict who'll finish in a precise positions further down the order, such as P5 and P6... It's all free too.

If you'd like to sign up, or find out more, here is the link:

And, if it helps encourage you to take part, you'll get to pit your wits against me, as I'll be taking part in the game too (as 'Talking about F1' - duuuh).

Hope you're able to take part. It's good fun.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Melbourne Preview: The confirmation

The opening race weekend of an F1 season is exciting. Really. As no matter what else is happening in the formula the first gathering, and particularly its qualifying session, will pretty much every time have most in the paddock and many beyond on tenterhooks.

The opening race gathering of the season will
answer many questions
Photo: Octane Photography
As it is a confirmation. After however many weeks and months of work, clues and no little speculation, this impending season-opening weekend in Melbourne will be the latest F1 equivalent of at last getting your exam results.

To borrow from Clive James, who himself was harnessing the celebrated Hollywood-ism of William Goldman, "at the start of the season, nobody knows anything". Granted, even with pre-season testing's myriad mysteries - and even then that no one will have stood still between the end of testing and this first gathering - teams love to create the impression that they know what's going on. That they have incredibly accurate models and intelligence to channel pre-season into a competitive order. And from the various analyses that spring up as well as the more general mood music, the rest of us get a broad sense of it too before it's all done in anger.

But it is not until the actual hour of qualifying that it is nailed down. The chat fizzles away. The stopwatch suddenly will be very hard to deny.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Talking about F1 2017 Team-by-Team Season Preview

Now with the season-opening Australian Grand Prix but a week away there are plenty of F1 season previews around. And Talking about F1 is not one to be left out. As you will have likely noticed I've written a preview for all ten competing F1 teams in 2017 and their drivers over the past couple of weeks.

All of my team/driver previews are collated in one place - by clicking on the '2017 Team and Driver Guide' tab above you can explore my view on the prospects of every driver and team on this season's grid. You therefore have no excuse at all for not being clued up before the cars hit the track in Australia.

F1 2017 Season Preview: Sauber - On the Longbow road back

It makes sense that two F1 teams subject to the same F1 circumstances will have similar F1 struggles. And so it is with Sauber when assessed alongside the next team up in last year's constructors' table Renault. As with Team Enstone, Sauber had been mighty once (though in the Swiss team's case mainly so in its BMW guise) but more lately under non-manufacturer owners had rather been in a state of drift, desperately lacking investment.

Photo: Octane Photography
In fact in Sauber's case it had more visible manifestations, with its 2016 car essentially a re-hash of the 2015 one. Which in turn was a re-hash of the 2014 one. Certainly its aero looked conspicuously behind the times. In-year development was near non-existent. Plenty of talented individuals left. Its very survival was in genuine and immediate doubt.

But like Renault too a takeover has at least got it moving forward, in Sauber's case this was by Swiss-based investment company Longbow Finance mid last year. And after it, long held off development was turned into actual new parts, and there was at least a mini-upturn in competitiveness. Though it was only amid rainy Brazil's chaos that it guaranteed it wouldn't be bottom on the constructors' pile, as Felipe Nasr bagged two points for ninth.

And it's continued into this year as the C36 was launched. "We can see that they've really started to develop a proper 2017 car, they've thought about the regulations," noted an observing Craig Scarborough at the time. And in another indirect consequence of Nasr's Interlagos tour de force F1 is down to ten teams (as missing on the constructors' cash broke Manor), assuring Sauber constructors' placing payments for the foreseeable future.

More of a note of worry comes from its engine for this campaign, which is a year-old unit from Ferrari (albeit one from the end of 2016, so it'll be an upgrade on what Sauber had last year). Team principal Monisha Kaltenborn said it was a conscious choice, in that it allowed the team to develop its chassis sooner as it knew what it had to build around. Maybe so, but we all can recall the problems Toro Rosso had in a similar situation last season, particularly as the campaign progressed. More specifically, Ferrari admitted it had to beef up its engine for the extra lateral forces this year, so one wonders what the implications will be for Sauber's long in the tooth version.

Sauber often has scored points early in a season while others flail. Use of a year-old engine, and its resultant reliability,  may help to perform this trick again. But there was little in testing to suggest that the team would be near the front of the queue to clean up if there is unreliability ahead. The smart money is that the Sauber was off the back of the midfield. Perhaps in the mix with the recalcitrant McLarens at the very back. Perhaps by itself at the very back. The car doesn't appear to have much wrong as such, it's just that it's behind the others. Not surprising, given everything - plus that a big reg change wouldn't be good news for a team of its size at the best of times.

As with Renault, while the slide has been addressed the road back is a long one. What lays ahead is likely a year of trying to re-achieve respectability while it re-staffs.

Marcus Ericsson - Car #9
Photo: Octane Photography
Marcus Ericsson isn't as bad as some like to assume, and certainly since his 2014 F1 debut at Caterham has made pretty consistent improvement. And last year at Sauber he built a little further on the bricks he'd assembled. While his then-team mate Felipe Nasr scored the team's only points of the year Ericsson was the more impressive in general, often being ahead - and sometimes far ahead - on Saturdays and Sundays. His season started and ended well, with China and Spain early on, and USA and especially Mexico (where he came through to P11 after having his nose knocked off on lap one) late on, likely his best showings. He did experience however a conspicuous mid-season slump wherein he both struggled in qualifying as well as - in an old bugbear - didn't always keep his tyres together well enough in race stints.

The team's saviour Longbow Finance is close to Ericsson's plentiful backers, so this as good as guarantees his job security for the next while but he demonstrated last season that there may be more to him than that. It could get better too, as Ericsson's junior formulae record was impressive until he started to encounter designed-to-degrade tyres (not only in F1 but in GP2 before that), which as intimated he often struggles with. This year the tyres are reckoned to be much more durable.

One way or another this season, alongside the young hot shoe Pascal Wehrlein, should tell us a lot about Marcus Ericsson.

Pascal Wehrlein - Car #94
Photo: Octane Photography
A young man in a hurry - and one who has just been irked. Missing out on the vacant Mercedes race drive (and the Force India one before that) for this campaign clearly grates with Mercedes protege Pascal Wehrlein. So he'll be even more keen than usual to prove a point. It may just add up to something spectacular. Even in a Sauber.

Certainly from his public pronouncements he is not one to underestimate his own abilities. It is a trait that may serve him well, but a good few theorised that his being overlooked for the promotions mentioned for 2017 owed as much to an abrasive personality as any lack of experience or talent.

But there is plenty of talent there, and he showed it plenty in 2016 in his freshman F1 season at Manor. He managed to get the tail-end machine into Q2 on no fewer than five occasions and he got close a few other times too. While in Austria he likely would have gone one better to Q3 had Manor brought more qualifying tyres - he missed out narrowly on the top ten on much slower rubber than those around him. He also was consistent both between and within races, was unafraid to mix it with other cars and didn't make a massive amount of errors (though there were some dotted around). And his fighting drive to a point in Austria, chasing down some haughty opponents late on, was his best of the bunch.

There wasn't much in the debit column, though he sometimes struggled with tyre temperature, didn't impress in the wet in Britain or Brazil (indeed in Interlagos team mate Esteban Ocon seriously left him behind) while early in the campaign he was out-qualified by Rio Haryanto in the other Manor rather more often than anyone anticipated. Now though it's about proving wrong those who blew him out.

Friday, 17 March 2017

New Motorsport Week article: F1's engine conundrum - what will power the future of the sport?

Photo: Octane Photography
Everything is up for grabs it seems since Liberty established its power over F1. Not surprising given its clear mandate for change, and that most in and around the sport are rather hankering for said change.

And it applies, fervently, to the debate over the future of F1's engines, even though that one theoretically is set until 2020. But things are bringing it into immediate focus, and it sits in close proximity to a core question of what F1 wants to be - pleasing the road car industry or pleasing itself? And could it please the road car industry of the near future even if it wanted to?

In my latest for Motorsport Week I outline the key considerations. You can read my piece here:

Thursday, 16 March 2017

F1 2017 Season Preview: Renault - On the long road back

Autosport's headline got it right: this is "Renault's real first year back". Just over a year ago the French concern returned to find a hollowed out Enstone squad, desperately lacking in investment. Thus it started rebuilding - which in this game never is the work of a moment. The headcount had eroded to 475. Now it is up at 575 with the target to return it its peak level of 650. The rebuilding at the Enstone facility is literal too.

Photo: Octane Photography
Yet as noted if Renault is on the journey all the way back to the top, 2017 will be the proper first step. The team's husk qualities was reflected in last year's car which was essentially a patch-up - the team had been in an effective holding pattern for six months waiting for the takeover to be finalised, and when the takeover arrived it was late. Unsurprisingly technical focus was then switched to 2017 early.

But even so and even with the fine heritage of the Renault-Enstone coupling there were broader doubts. Discontented murmurs were heard last year about its management - the odd approach to hiring drivers for 2017 was taken as a case in point - and a few doubted Renault's overall commitment as well. There was friction too between racing director Frederic Vasseur and Renault Sport MD Cyril Abiteboul. The former - unable to run things how he pleased - left in the close season, and the departure met with general paddock incredulity (including from is new driver Nico Hulkenberg reportedly). A few wondered if instead it should have been Abiteboul pointed towards the exit.

Still what the team came up with amid all of this looked pretty good. The RS17 launched for this season contained lots of nice aero detail and impressive packaging. And, when it ran at least, it looked pretty good in testing too. "Out of the bunch of cars behind the big-three teams, the Renault looks as good as any of them," reckoned Gary Anderson.

And he thought it had potential. "The fundamentals are there and with a bit of confidence and good development work, Renault will see a reward."

It also has improved its ride quality, the big weakness of last year. Jolyon Palmer added of the car generally after the first test that "it's a pleasant surprise at the moment,".

But as outlined this was when it was running. Like all Renault power unit runners it had plenty of problems (mainly with the energy recovery system) costing plenty of mileage. Only Toro Rosso and McLaren completed fewer pre-season laps. Still, while the French unit has been problematic it has had a clear performance step-up as well. Plus Renault sounds confident of a swift solution to the woes.

The Renault squad had a few problems all of its own though, such as losing an entire morning in the first test waiting on new brake ducts being sent after problems. It got auxiliary bad news the day after when it was told its rear wing was illegal, as it can't be mounted on DRS actuator.

But the optimism lived on. "I think Renault is better placed than last year," noted Hulkenberg. "The team moved closer to the midfield." He added some caution though. "Points will be difficult as I think four teams are clearly in front."

The RS17 won't be pulling up trees, instead it's likely to be in the midfield scrap, perhaps towards the bottom part of it. Certainly the team's aim expressed in the launch of getting fifth in the constructors' table seems at the extreme end of optimism. But the consensus is that Renault's forward step has been greater than almost any other.

Nico Hulkenberg - Car #27
Photo: Octane Photography
It seems a recurring feature of the modern F1 age - Nico Hulkenberg is yet another who plenty rate as high as they come, but whose talent is squandered in sub-standard equipment. And he is another who in this context has rolled the dice - throwing his lot for this year in with the theoretical potential of the works Renault squad.

In the past few years however - loosely since he returned to Force India - it's fair to say that Hulkenberg's only shown his best in fits and starts. In continued that way initially in 2016 too as in the early rounds he looked a shadow. The season ended though with him appearing right back at the top of his mighty game. Some reckoned his Renault switch being confirmed resulted in him finding his urge of old. But in fact his upturn could be traced to before that, perhaps even was pinpointed at the car's major upgrade in the Spanish round. In Monaco he qualified a superb fifth indeed and might have at last broken his F1 podium duck had he got the pit stop timing that his team mate got. In Austria he reminded us of his excellent wet-to-dry track confidence by bagging a front row start.

We've long known about Hulkenberg's tremendous raw speed but many attribute his rather tepid results of recent years to the notorious delicate Pirelli tyres - and that the aggressive Hulk seems unwilling as much as unable to adapt to them. Some said that in late 2016 he'd finally started to learn from his team mate Sergio Perez on how to get the best out of the rubber. And given that this year's tyres are of the much more durable sort, combined with his works team move, it may mean that things are swinging his way at last.

Jolyon Palmer - Car #30
Photo: Octane Photography
Jolyon Palmer could hardly have asked for a more fiery F1 baptism - a difficult and under-performing car and a Renault team that from an early stage didn't conceal its shortage of faith in him. Palmer indeed appeared out of his depth in the early rounds of 2016, and several crashes at Monaco was his extreme low point.

He did knuckle down however and eventually got to grips with things, with the man himself identifying improved technical understanding as key to this and particularly the post-British Grand Prix test as his breakthrough. A better run in Hungary when he looked good to break his points duck was spoiled by a half-spin. Then he got into Q2 in five of the final nine rounds, scored his only point in Malaysia, and generally was the lead Renault pilot. It perhaps reflected what he has tended to do throughout his motorsport career, which is taking a little while to get up to pace in a new series.

Ordinarily it still would have been too late for a reprieve in merciless F1, and Palmer's eventual Renault retention for this campaign owed much to that several others turned the drive down. It's up to him now to take advantage of that fortune - he wouldn't be the first in the sport's history to have a fine career after such a sliding doors moment. And it's worth reflecting that another trend from his past is that he does much better in year two in a formula than in year one.

Inside Line F1 Podcast - McLaren Is The Fan Favourite For 2017

As we near the start of the 2017 Formula 1 Season, Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull Racing are busy trading the 'favourites' tag with each other. In this week's episode of the Inside Line F1 Podcast, Mithila and Kunal tell you that despite their lack of pace and reliability, McLaren-Honda are definitely the fan favourite for 2017.

The million dollar questions staring at Formula 1 right now are: Will Mercedes unleash more pace? Will McLaren-Honda be able to go the full race distance? Also, does Daniel Ricciardo have a new party trick for 2017? Because we know that Max Verstappen does.

Liberty Media have re-branded GP2 to F2, but with F3 already there, what will they brand GP3 to? And we were most glad when they admitted that traditional races in Europe are key to Formula 1's future. The new owners of the sport seem to be making the right noises (again). Is this why Bernie Ecclestone chose to not stay on?

Along with iTunes and audioBoom, we're also now available on Google Play Podcasts. Pick your platform and subscribe for your weekly dose of Formula 1 humour.

Tune in!

(Season 2017, Episode 10)

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

F1 2017 Season Preview: Haas - Tearing up the rule book

Last season Haas tore up the F1 rule book. Debutant squads these days are supposed to be comically bad, barely clinging on at the back of the pack; perhaps living a hand to mouth existence.

Photo: Octane Photography
Not so Haas, which was right in the mix right from the get-go. It scored a whole 29 points (including sixth place in its first race) and ended up eighth of 11 in the constructors' table.

Some curmudgeons muttered however that by their estimation Haas had torn up the rule book in a more literal sense also. Certainly it stretched its wording in a way that shocked a few, particularly in the 'listed parts' regulations and the minimum in-house components required to be an F1 constructor. It outsourced build of the chassis as well as the design and manufacture of its listed parts to Dallara on a contract basis, as well as sourced many non-listed parts from its effective A team Ferrari. Haas also as a non-competing team in its preparation year was then unbound by restrictions on windtunnel and CFD running, and used Ferrari facilities which only increased the grumbling, although an FIA visit declared everything kosher. Still, in more ways than one Haas was no ordinary debutant.

There were teething problems of course. After a fine start - scoring in the three of the opening four rounds - the squad fell away a little. Sometimes it flailed amid the myriad requirements of being a modern F1 team, and there was also internal squabbling and staff departures. Most noticeable to the rest of us were its problems with brakes that lingered notoriously (and much to its drivers audible chagrin) for much of the season. Most suspected a more established squad would have sorted it a lot more quickly.

Not for nothing many predicted a more difficult sophomore year for Haas in 2017, including because this time it'd be subject to the same restrictions as everyone else. But the team appears at least to have maintained its level, with the consensus that its is a neat and compliant machine that is somewhere within the crowded midfield peleton. Karun Chandhok reckoned it looked driveable and "ahead of the likes of Sauber and McLaren, and genuinely in the [midfield] fight".

A few spotted more evidence on it of Ferrari technical collaboration, particularly in the bargeboard and turning vanes. It also is benefitting from an improved and ultra-reliable Ferrari power unit. Team principal Gunther Steiner said in testing that "the engine and gearbox here, we had almost a flawless test with the same engine - we never changed engine...They [Ferrari] have done a fantastic job in my opinion."

There was a sensor problem on the final day, and Steiner spoke of a car struggling for low speed grip. He also admitted that the brake problems that coloured so much of its debut campaign weren't entirely solved, and indeed repeated brake locking from the car was seen.

But he reminded us too of what should be Haas's bottom line: "A lot of people promised us that the second year is going to be harder than the first one," he noted at testing's conclusion, "but I think again we came here prepared...and we did what we said to everybody we will do - have a good second year, hopefully better than the first one."

Romain Grosjean - Car #8
Photo: Octane Photography
How quickly we forget in F1. The argument still stands - there are those who rate Romain Grosjean as high as they come; perhaps as the quickest of everyone. Not hyperbole - Pirelli has cornering data that backs the contention. We also can think back to the final weeks of the 2013 season when he was a routine, and high-quality, contender at the sharp end. And yet today the Franco-Swiss is another whose talent is squandered by poor equipment and a sport with a very exclusive number of plumb drives.

It was amid these considerations, and knowing that the Renault squad he was at would take a time to rebuild, that Grosjean last year rolled the dice by joining Haas, with the hope of getting into Ferrari's eye-line. And initially it looked a masterstroke as he scored in three of the first four and showed his range of skills in so doing - such as by holding off faster rivals in Australia and then going on the attack in Bahrain. But in line with his team's fortunes it got a lot tougher, the car's handling often was evil and the chronic brake problem was particularly regrettable for Grosjean as it curtailed perhaps his greatest skill of carrying vast speed into corners. And we all heard his frequent radio frustrations. Still even in this tough spell a highly impressive Suzuka weekend reminded us of his acute talent.

It was a pity too, as outside the heat of the moment he was a soul of patience and fully recognised the need to keep morale up via being positive. Those close to the situation said he had his shoulder fully behind the Haas effort. One hopes for more than one reason that things finally come right for Grosjean before too long.

Kevin Magnussen - Car #20
Photo: Octane Photography
Now in his third F1 team in three full seasons in the sport, Kevin Magnussen's peripatetic existence continues, this time at Haas.

Such F1 nomadism isn't often a good sign (remember Andrea de Cesaris?), yet Magnussen already at 24 years old has been maltreated more than most. At McLaren of course he was dumped rather unsympathetically (and the decision was stretched out over a calendar year near enough while the Dane was left in limbo). He got an unlikely reprieve, and a rare stroke of luck, by getting a Renault drive at the last minute for 2016 when Pastor Maldonado's cheques didn't clear. Yet even so he couldn't shake his ill-starred tendencies. The car was a late patch-up job and the Renault team appeared to lose faith in him early. Word emerged from Enstone that he wasn't committed or disciplined enough and erred too often - a lot like it had when he was at Woking. As the year entered its final part his team mate Jolyon Palmer got ahead of him consistently.

He gets another chance though, and his repeated reprieves may owe something to that he apparently brings more sponsor cash than he likes to let on outwardly. Yet we should not forget the raw driving potential that got him his McLaren gig in the first place, plus Magnussen firmly denies the Enstone criticisms (and points out not unreasonably that the team tried to retain his services for this season). And now at Haas in a more tight and sympathetic environment - the backing of Gene Haas and Gunther Steiner seems strong - and with the opportunity to put roots down he now perhaps has his best chance to finally make good on it all. Certainly the man himself thinks so. "It's a different feeling coming to a team that wants's motivating," he noted recently. "Hopefully I have found a team that I can stay with for longer than one year and grow together."

Sunday, 12 March 2017

F1 2017 Season Preview: Toro Rosso - In good company

The new Toro Rosso for this year turned plenty of heads, and not merely because of the rather nifty new colour scheme based on Red Bull's cola brand. Its Mercedes resemblance was clear, in general shape and in its intricacies that were right from the sort that the far better resourced Brackley squad came up with. There were many direct similarities, such as the front suspension raised for aero benefit. Craig Scarborough called the STR12 "an absolute jewel of a car".

Photo: Octane Photography
"On the one hand we were sort of pleased to see someone else has done a similar thing," said the Faenza team's highly-rated technical head James Key of the similarities to the Mercedes W08, "but on the other we were disappointed that we weren't the only team to think of something." Still, if any other team's going to be up on your level then right now you'd pick Merc...

It shouldn't shock us too much either. Toro Rosso under Key's direction has been producing aerodynamically-fine chassis for a number of years now (albeit ones let down on occasion in other areas such as reliability and preparation). It produced a fine chassis last season too, to the point that some speculated about podium finishes in the early rounds. But the downside of having a year-old Ferrari engine (due to being left high and dry - and late - by its big brother team's spat with Renault) was foreseeable and foreseen. Not only was accepting the engine at such a late moment of the chassis's development problematic, the unit also stood still as the season progressed while all others around it improved.

This year it's nipped that one in the bud by returning to Renault, and Key recognises that the French concern has "turned a huge corner" on performance.

However the opening test was underwhelming for Toro Rosso, with some reliability problems meaning the STR12 clocked the lowest mileage of all (yep, lower even than McLaren) and it was lowest in the lap time ranking too. Its earlier filming day also was halted early by a Renault problem. But the sense of the car's latent promise lived on - "it looks good, it looks fast" opined team principal Franz Tost. It all meant Key described the opening gathering as "encouraging but frustrating".

The second test was perhaps tilted a bit more towards encouraging - Carlos Sainz set third fastest time on the final day while the car got more than double the mileage of the opening test - but the team still was frustrated by (usually Renault) problems curtailing running. Key admitted that with it all the car's not quite yet in its set-up window.

Still no one doubts the machine's potential; that even in the here and now it's in the thick of the midfield mix and perhaps could be near or at the front of it once all niggles are fixed. Tost said at the launch that he's "optimistic that Toro Rosso will be in the front part of this midfield" and that a best-ever fifth place in the constructors' championship is the target. Given everything that looks an achievable aim.

Daniil Kvyat - Car #26
Photo: Octane Photography
The Red Bull collective clearly sees something in Daniil Kvyat, given it skipped on its own notorious ruthless ways to retain his services for this season. Moreover such was a lot of his 2016 campaign that even a team boss from the extreme benevolent wing of F1 decision-making would have struggled to make a case to keep him on.

His season was for a time like one of those scenes of carnage that you felt you shouldn't look at but somehow couldn't quite avert your eyes from. He was dumped unceremoniously by the Red Bull big team after just four rounds to make way for the prodigious Max Verstappen (aided by Kvyat getting nowhere near Daniel Ricciardo on pace), and back at Toro Rosso the Russian appeared to be unravelling further. After Germany's qualifying he was so bewildered indeed that we feared genuinely for his well-being.

But the turning point was only a day away as he put in a much improved race performance in Hockenheim, and followed that up with a decent if not necessarily spectacular latter part of the season. And somehow it ended as an unlikely tale of salvation as outlined, even though the latest off the Red Bull conveyor belt Pierre Gasly was on the way to bagging the GP2 crown. On a certain level we can understand the decision to stick with Kvyat, as when he's good he's very good. But this perhaps is the crux - apparently Kvyat's is an ultra-aggressive style that requires everything underneath him to be just so to get the best out of it. Yet how often is everything just so? Entering year four of his F1 existence he needs to somehow find an ability to string together his highs with far greater regularity.

Carlos Sainz - Car #55
Photo: Octane Photography
One of things to be glad of about the last F1 season is that in it Carlos Sainz stepped out of Max Verstappen's shadow to get his own proper due. Some in the Toro Rosso team reckoned Sainz only really stepped up once Verstappen had left the team early that campaign. But that on the face of it seems harsh as for the year-and-a-bit they were paired there rarely was much if anything to choose between Sainz and the epoch-making Dutchman. Perhaps too it reflects that it was only as Max won ever more friends in a front-running drive that Sainz's ability - by way of comparison - was brought into its proper focus.

He scored on ten occasions in 2016 and made Q3 nine times, the latter showing there's nothing wrong with his raw pace. In many rounds he finished several places higher than he started; usually these were places higher than his car deserved. He likely would have got a podium appearance - only the team's second ever - in Monaco but for a botched pit stop. In Brazil he showed not for the first time that he's superb in the wet. He also in many rounds demonstrated Alonso-like on-track feistiness. Mistakes were few. All was achieved too in a car sliding inevitably from the pace as the season went on. Sainz, in keeping with his character, simply shrugged and reckoned the adversity made him a better pilot.

His lucid and sober ways ensure that he is one who seeks always to improve. Some even ended the year thinking him a champion of the future, and clearly Red Bull agrees there's something special that it needs to clutch tight, given the firm way it rebuffed various potential suitors of Sainz's last summer and kept him on at Toro Rosso for a third year. Certainly teams capable of winning championships - and not just Red Bull - could do infinitely worse than give him a drive.