Midweek Wrap: Double the Ferrari Drama, Mercedes Rumours Continue

The constructor’s championship may be decided, but for its two leading protagonists, the past seven days have seen them offer plenty to talk about.

Ferrari Civil War Heats Up Again: Either a waking nightmare or the gift that keeps on giving, depending on where you’re sitting, Ferrari’s season of misery continued in Brazil as Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc reignited their rivalry in the worst possible way, with an entirely avoidable collision that took them both out of the race.

Literally a day after the Scuderia celebrated their 90th anniversary, it’s hard to think of a worse possible way they could mark the milestone, but it also served as a timely reminder that allowing their drivers to battle simply isn’t the Ferrari way.

I mean sure, it’s great from a neutral’s perspective to see Vettel and Leclerc duke it out, and Mattia Binotto is at least publicly in support of the fight continuing, but when you consider the ethos this team has operated on throughout its history – from Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher, all the way back to Alberto Ascari – it would seem odd to let it continue into 2020.

Of course, that then raises the tough question of which driver should Mattia Binotto and co favour, especially considering neither is likely to take it well if they lose out.

As GP247 EIC Paul Velasco pointed out to me when we discussed this earlier in the week, back in the “old days” of F1, it was possible for drivers to come to “one year for me, one year for you” agreement over such a thing. In 1978, Ronnie Peterson and Mario Andretti had such an understanding at Lotus, with Ronnie knowing he was faster than Mario, but supporting his successful push for the driver’s championship under the condition the latter would return the favour in ’79. Unfortunately Ronnie was killed at the ’78 Italian GP before the plan could be completed, but with two drivers as capable as Vettel and Leclerc, it does offer something of a blueprint.

Then again, they might not go for it. There’s obviously no guarantee a car will be good enough two years running (the ’79 Lotus wasn’t), and with personal brands and legacies on the line, it would be a particularly tough sell in this day and age. Still, you could be sure the Ferrari of old would clamp stop this continuing regardless – I wonder if Binotto’s Scuderia is capable of doing the same.

… and so does the Engine Issue: A story that continues to simmer, as likely to erupt into full mania as it is to peter-out quietly, the legality of Ferrari’s power unit continues to be in question, with the latest chapter coming just a few hours ago.

Whereas after the quotes from Helmut Marko on the weekend seemed to indicate we would be waiting for Mercedes to lodge an official protest (which they haven’t), now Auto Motor und Sport is reporting the FIA has taken matters into their own hands and “confiscated” multiple Ferrari fuel systems for further examination.

Like everything else so far in this story, this could mean everything, or nothing. Certainly it would be bizarre if Ferrari have continued to ignore the FIA directives issued over the past couple of races regarding this matter – but if so, they it would seem they’re about to be caught out – or, it could just be a case of the governing body wanting to get a little more clarification. Either way though, it’s a distraction the Scuderia simply doesn’t need right now, and you have to wonder how it will impact their preparations for the 2020 seaosn.

Mercedes Quit Threat: Maybe it’s me just being in a state of denial, but I can’t believe that in the midst of the most dominant run this sport has ever seen, Mercedes are considering giving up their F1 team. Nevertheless, we were treated to a pretty crazy rumour over the weekend, with Roger Penske and Dmitry Mazepin reportedly lining up bids for the team.

Maybe if it was just Bernie Ecclestone talking his usual junk, I’d be less-inclined to take it seriously, but this was news which spread pretty fast through F1 circles, and I think that at the very least, the Silver Arrows are considering it. On the positive side, it was only last week Mercedes was trumpeting their relationship with F1, but this wouldn’t exactly be the first time a billion-dollar company put their profits ahead of sentiment.


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Midweek Wrap: Max Madness, Miami in Doubt, Haas in Trouble

On the eve of the USGP, the past week saw American-centric topics come to the forefront in F1, with the usual Max Verstappen hysteria thrown-in for good measure.

Max Sticks His Foot in It: What an eventful weekend for Max Verstappen – and not in a good way, either. Seemingly public enemy number one in Mexico, the criticism has been coming-in thick-and-fast both for his foolish refusal to lift-off under yellows in Saturday qualifying, and his coming-together with Lewis Hamilton on Sunday. A guy who before the summer break could seemingly do no wrong, now it seems like he can do no right.

At least in the case of the incident on Saturday, I think it’s fairly warranted. I mean, he already had pole for crying out loud, knowingly risks it by not slowing, and then smugly admits to it in the press conference – that was never going to go down well. Sunday is less troublesome, if only because the man leading the criticism is no angel himself, and certainly had a part to play in that particular incident.

However, through both cases, I think we’re seeing that the ‘Mad Max’ of yore is not completely gone, and I for one am not that surprised. He’s been in F1 – and indeed been a force in F1 – for long enough now that it’s easy to forget he’s still very young at 22, and while that doesn’t excuse his behaviour by any means, it’s also not that far removed from his more-prattish teenage years that we should expect him to have completely grown out of it. Having not been 22 that long ago myself, I know how immature you can still be at that age, and really, all the rest of us can do is keep on his case and hope he eventually does move past it.

Another US race DOA? It’s the market F1 has been trying to crack for years, and while I think most would agree CoTA has been a success, attempts to bring more GPs stateside have proven far less fruitful, with Miami seemingly headed in that direction.

Already subjected to delays with funding and finding an appropriate venue, the race is now being opposed by local residents who don’t want 1000HP monsters tearing up their local streets.

Whether or not their opposition actually proves successful, I think it highlights the biggest difficulty of hosting more races in the US, which is that the vast majority of the public either doesn’t know, or doesn’t understand the sport. To them it’s just a nuisance, and there’s no guarantee the necessary work and road closures will be made up for with increased tourist revenue.

Even if personally I would love a race in Miami (I’d be first in line for a press credential!) the better move for F1 and Liberty if they are serious about growing the sport in the US is to shelve this second-GP idea, take whatever funds they’ve set aside for it, and put it towards marketing the product. It’s all well and good to say “build it, and they will come”, but you have to have enough people to come in the first place.

Haas Wave the White Flag: Suffice to say, it’s been a rough year for Haas, and it seems like with three races remaining, they’ve essentially thrown in the towel.

Reading through the various statements from team personnel over the weekend, you could see the focus now is on just surviving until 2020 – indeed, Romain Grosjean said literally that – which is a sorry turn of events for a team that was not that long ago punching well above its weight class.

For his part, Guenther Steiner has been willing to take at least some of the blame, and yet while that’s better than some other team principals *cough* Cyril Abiteboul *cough*, I do wonder if his time at the helm might be coming to an end. As good as he is for a soundbyte, he also seems devoid of ways to stop the rot, and his decision to bring back both Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean further speaks to that. The last thing this sport needs is another Williams, yet I worry if things continue as they have in 2020, that’s exactly what we’ll end up with.


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Midweek Wrap: Lewis is OK, Max Splits Pundits, Mick to F1?

The calm before the storm of back-to-back races, the past seven days have been light on actual news, if not on newsworthy items.

Lewis Not Going Anywhere: A predictable end to last week’s saga, Lewis Hamilton took to Instagram last Friday to assure fans he wasn’t going anywhere.

At this point, there’s nothing much extra I can add. He cares about the environment, which is great, but he also leads a particularly environmentally unfriendly lifestyle, vegan or not. If Hamilton wants to really make a change, he should focus less on what Joe Public is doing, and more on the companies and brands that line his pockets – it’s them that do the real damage.

Verstappen a goat, or the GOAT? Holy overreactions, Batman! If you thought it was just us fans that got riled up about Max Verstappen, well… you thought wrong.

First Eddie Irvine comes out saying he’s not as good as Charles Leclerc, and then mere hours later, Jenson Button’s trumpeting him as the fastest driver ever.

While both statements come far too soon in the Dutchman’s career to hold much weight, it is nevertheless interesting that Irvine and Button chose to make them. Irvine, who won four races whilst driving for Ferrari, clearly still holds an affinity for the reds which is somewhat clouding his judgement – not to say Verstappen is undeniably better, but when you’re basing your reasoning on “a much lower error rate” despite costly mistakes in Baku, Monaco and Suzuka this year, it doesn’t quite hold weight.

On the other hand, it’s impossible for Button to compare Verstappen’s raw speed to someone like Senna (although it’s noteworthy that he rates him over his old teammate Hamilton), and just like Irvine’s argument, it doesn’t quite hold up when you consider the facts – more specifically, the fact that Verstappen has one career pole position.

Mick Wants to Move Up: 2019 has been a bit of an odd year for Mick Schumacher. Graduating to F2, the young German has had a spotty season at best, and yet, now here he is, declaring he’s ready for F1.

Here’s the thing though: I think he might actually be right. Even if his F2 campaign hasn’t yielded much in the way of results, he’s at least shown decent ability with his sprint win in Hungary and several other comeback drives through the field, and I don’t see how learning at (presumably) Alfa Romeo across from Kimi Raikkonen would be any less beneficial than squaring off with his current teammate, the chicken king, Sean Gelael.

Certainly age isn’t an issue – 20 is not that young these days in motorsport – and as Stoffel Vandoorne, Pierre Gasly, Jolyon Palmer and many others have shown, sticking it around in a lesser formulae until you nab a title doesn’t make you a F1-worthy driver. Additionally, Lando Norris told me in Germany he actually found driving a F1 car easier for his driving style – maybe the hard-charging Schumi junior will be similar. In any case, he either has enough there to develop, or he doesn’t, why not start finding out?

Alonso “Will Think About” F1 Return: Because apparently we can’t go a week in the F1 world without mentioning Fernando Alonso, here he is again, talking a potential F1 return, and as per usual, nothing is going to come of it.

To his credit, the man is doing a good job of literally moving-on to the next phase of his career, what with the Dakar Rally attempt and the like, but it seems some small part of him holds out hope one of the big-three will come calling. Speaking as someone who rates him very highly, I think that unfortunately, it might be time to rule-out that possibility.

Particularly with the emergence of Charles Leclerc this year, there is simply no place for Alonso to go. Where previously you could’ve speculated Sebastian Vettel’s (very unlikely) exit from the Scuderia would create space for him, now they have another alpha dog in the Monegasque, and ditto for Red Bull and Mercedes.

Even further down the grid, McLaren would be a tough sell, given both his history and their current partnership, who are as friendly with each other as they are quick on the track. Perhaps Renault is an option? Daniel Ricciardo would probably be a bit more accepting of his presence than other team leaders, but they just made a commitment to Esteban Ocon, and considering Alonso would probably want to wait until the French outfit is, y’know… good, he wouldn’t want to join before 2022 at the earliest, when he will be turning 41.

No, I think this is it for old Nando. I’m sure that won’t stop the stories from him and his mate Flavio still popping up, but he would need something crazy, like Lewis Hamilton retiring, to create a (very small) opening. The good news is he’s already proven there’s life in motorsport beyond F1 – here’s hoping he continues to live it.


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Midweek Wrap: Vettel Wins, KMag and RoGro, Hulk in for Kubica?

With Sebastian Vettel returning to the winners’ circle and a flurry of silly-season action, the past seven days saw plenty of action in the F1 world.

Singapore GP Aftermath: What a strange weekend. On Friday, it looked for all the world like Ferrari’s brief run at the top was over, with Mercedes and Red Bull back to the fore at a high-downforce track, yet come Saturday, the Reds had completely flipped the script and were just as strong as they’d been at Spa and Monza.

With that in mind, I’m having a hard time placing this race in its proper context. Did the Scuderia really just unlock the magic formula to their aero upgrades on Saturday? Or were Mercedes and Red Bull thrown completely off-course by their defective simulations? Or maybe it’s a combination of both? Right now, it’s very hard to tell, and that makes this weekend’s race in Sochi even more intriguing.

On a similar note, is this the turnaround Sebastian Vettel was looking for? He didn’t exactly outshine Charles Leclerc in taking the win at Marina Bay, but at the same time, confidence is a valuable commodity in this sport, and Vettel has been seemingly lacking it this season. Maybe that changes now – again, I guess we’ll find out in Sochi.

Haas Retain Grosjean and Magnussen: You may be able to make a decent case for Kevin Magnussen, but to see Haas re-sign Romain Grosjean for another season, particularly after incidents like this one is nothing short of an absolute shocker.

Either Guenther Steiner is the most forgiving man on the planet, or he needs to get checked for memory loss, because there is simply no way the Frenchman was the best option available. No, he’s not considered a slow driver, and he reportedly gives his engineers useful feedback, but how much does that count for when he keeps finding new ways to put his car in the wall? As Paul said last week, “if they were really serious they would have used this as an opportunity to really show their intent or at least maximise the obvious opportunities” and brought on someone like Alex Rossi or Nico Hulkenberg, to say nothing of the myriad other capable drivers.

Assuming Haas wants to actually challenge the likes of Renault and McLaren in 2020, it’s going to be awfully hard to do so with this lineup. In comparison, those teams each have two drivers with the quality to make it at the best teams on the grid, and you definitely can’t say that about Magnussen, let alone Grosjean.

Kubica Steps Out, Hulkenberg to Step In? Seemingly an inevitability given his sub-par performances this season, Robert Kubica made it known last Thursday that he was indeed leaving Williams at the end of the season.

One of those situations where you wonder if it was Kubica saying “you can’t fire me, I quit!”, there’s no getting around the disappointment of a former race-winning F1 driver coming back to the sport and looking like a shell of his former self, but it’s still a remarkable human story. No one would’ve blamed him if he’d been unable to return to any level of motorsport after his 2011 accident, so to make it back to the biggest stage of all is quite the testament to his resiliency. Here’s hoping he finds another series where he can thrive once more.

On the flip side, is this the lifeline Nico Hulkenberg needs? With the Haas door now shut, and Red Bull apparently not interested, it seems Williams is the only seat left on the grid for the German, although he’ll have to fend-off Nicholas Latifi and the gobs of cash he can provide. Unfortunately for Hulkenberg, with the current state of the nine-time former world champions, they might have to prioritise money over ability, and that means for the first time in a long time, he’ll be forced to look elsewhere.

 


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Midweek Wrap: Driver Market Heats Up, Seb v Charles, RIP Anthoine

A week that provided plenty of interesting stories in the F1 world, all of it was overshadowed by the tragic death of Anthoine Hubert.

Bottas Re-Signs with Mercedes, Ocon Confirmed at Renault: It was assumed as much in last week’s wrap, but on Thursday it became official, with Valtteri Bottas back at the Mercedes for 2020, with Esteban Ocon moving to Renault. Honestly I don’t feel there’s much I haven’t already said – it’s the safe option for the Silver Arrows, and as far as fallbacks go, things could’ve gone worse for Ocon.

That said, now the silly season rumours shift to Nico Hulkenberg, and where he might land. Will it be Red Bull, Haas, or somewhere else? I guess we’ll see…

First Cracks in Renault-McLaren Relationship? A customer team looking to Renault for answers after an engine failure costs them a result – hmm, for some reason I feel like we’ve been here before…

Out on the opening lap while his teammate lost a promising P5 due to failed power units, I don’t think anyone can blame Carlos Sainz for taking a little shot at the French manufacturer. Such happenings are never acceptable, but particularly considering this is year six of the V6-turbo era, and Renault are still having double-DNFs happen due to engine failures, it’s just embarrassing.

On a related note, it would certainly be remarkable if that Marca report turned out to be true, and the team opted for a return to Mercedes power. How different would the last five years had been had they never parted?

Ericsson to replace Giovinazzi? Suffice to say, Antonio Giovinazzi has not exactly set the world alight in his first full season in F1, and now the rumours have started that he could see it end prematurely should he not deliver a strong performance in Monza, with Marcus Ericsson set to replace him.

As disappointing as that would be for the young Italian, it would also make a lot of sense for Alfa Romeo. Ericsson is a known quantity who brings with him a decent chunk of cash, and while he’s not going to push Kimi Raikkonen, he’s also more likely to keep it out of the wall. Giovinazzi simply hasn’t contributed anything of significance in his 13 races so far – how likely is that to change with another eight?

Vettel the Number Two at Ferrari? A reaction that I think we all saw coming in the wake of Charles Leclerc’s victory in Belgium, the whole “is Seb Vettel still Ferrari’s number one driver?” discussion has been really kicked into overdrive. I’ll admit, I’ve done my part in the past to further that narrative, and yet while I’m certainly glad Vettel is being provided some competition, I still think it’s a tad premature.

The thing is, with the absolute disaster 2019 has been for the Scuderia in the championship standings, it’s also given them a fantastic opportunity post-summer break to let their drivers have a straight fight without the need for politicking. Right now, Leclerc is winning that battle, but there’s eight races still to go. Let’s see how Seb responds.

RIP Anthoine Hubert: There’s really nothing I want to add to what I said on Monday about this terrible tragedy, but as this is undoubtedly the story of the week, it would be remiss if I didn’t include it here. Our thoughts continue to be with the Hubert family, as well as Juan-Manuel Correa, who we wish a speedy recovery as he continues his recuperation in the UK.


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