Outside Line: The Rapid Rise of W-Series

I’ll admit that when W-Series launched last year, I didn’t give it much thought. While I was by no means opposed to it, I was sceptical it could secure a long-term place in the motorsports landscape.

However, considering what they’ve achieved in the past twelve months – and particularly this past Friday – I’m much more of a believer.

Having already produced one legitimate talent in Jamie Chadwick, the series took another big step forward this week with the announcement it will be a support race for F1 at the US and Mexican Grands Prix. I mean, as a junior formula, you literally can’t get better exposure than that.

And sure, a cynic could say this has as much to do with the lack of road-racing categories present in those countries as it does W-Series making itself a legitimate option, but it’s nevertheless remarkable progress for a racing series one season into its existence.

Adding to the announcement’s credibility, W-Series CEO Catherine Bond-Muir confirmed in a conference call with journalists on Friday that they would be paying for their own shipping, so you’d have to say there’s at least some financial solidity even if Bond-Muir admitted they’re a few years away from turning a profit. In that respect I assume the new partnership with Rokit has helped – although like most of you, I still have no idea what Rokit actually does. Supposedly phones?

All that considering, I’d argue W-Series has been quite a success for so early in its history, with the caveat that it has much more it needs to do to be a true launching-pad for an underrepresented demographic in motorsport. Surviving as your own product is one thing, but if the goal is to get women both into motorsport and then through to the higher echelons, it’s got a long way still to go.

As things currently stand, there’s still no on-ramp for girls at the grass-roots level – although a karting series is apparently something Bond-Muir is considering – so the barriers to entry are the same as they ever were, even if more youngsters might be excited about the prospect of racing. On the other side, as impressive as the rise of Chadwick has been (and she would’ve had a lights-to-flag victory in Asian F3 race over the weekend were it not for a jump-start penalty), the 15 superlicense points she got for winning in 2019 puts her well short of the 40 needed to race in F1, and frankly, we don’t know if she, or any other woman is good enough to cut it at that level.

Still, whatever the answer to that question is, I like to think W-series is helping us get it. Obviously, it would be unreasonable to expect we’d have the female Lewis Hamilton (or even Marcus Ericsson) after one year of racing. For now, what they’ve done is enough – they just have to keep developing.


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Formula E Santiago: Guenther becomes youngest winner

BMW i Andretti Motorsport’s Max Guenther clinched a hard-earned victory in the scorching heat of Santiago after a fierce battle with DS Techeetah’s Antonio Felix da Costa.

Finishing in third was Poleman and Panasonic Jaguar Racing driver Mitch Evans. Here’s how it all unfolded.

Pulling away from Pole, Panasonic Jaguar Racing’s Mitch Evans led the way into the opening laps of the 2020 Antofagasta Minerals Santiago E-Prix followed by Mahindra Racing’s Pascal Wehrlein who passed BMW i Andretti Motorsport’s Max Guenther, now positioned in third.

Running clean for the opening laps, championship leader Sims came to a halt on track with a full-course yellow being called. After his car was retrieved, racing restarted with 37 minutes left on the clock.

Heading through Turn 10 and 11, Nissan e.dams’ Oliver Rowland made contact Envision Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird, damaging his front wing which broke away from the car. At the same time, Bird spun, loosing precious places and dropping to 19th.

Picking up ATTACK MODE, Max Guenther advanced on Rokit Venturi Racing’s Edoardo Mortara, using the extra power to blast past the Venturi driver and move into third. With Mortara in fourth and his teammate Felipe Massa in fifth, the two Venturi cars trailed the podium sitters, biding their time.

Heading into Turn 10 together, Massa was forced wide by his teammate, hitting the wall and dropping to seventh. Taking advantage of the situation, reigning champion and DS Techeetah driver Jean-Eric Vergne slipped past into fifth.

With 25 minutes left on the clock, Evans maintained the lead with Guenther now in second, Wehrlein in third. Still in ATTACK MODE, Guenther went for the lead slipping past Evans on the approach to Turn 9.

Despite starting from the back of the grid, Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler’s Lucas di Grassi moved up into 12th, two places off his teammate Daniel Abt.

With 14 minutes of the race left, Wehrlein slowed allowing Vergne to pass into third as well as his teammate Antonio Felix da Costa who now sat behind him in fourth.

With the two DS Techeetah drivers in third and fourth, reigning champion Vergne’s front left tyre started rubbing on the wing, leaving a trail of smoke behind him. Regardless, Vergne continued – now in sixth – before the wing broke off. With just seven minutes to go, Vergne pulled into the pits with his damaged car leaving his teammate battling on track for the top step of the podium.

Making a break for second, Da Costa passed Poleman Evans on the long Turn 8, now hunting Guenther for the win.

Holding out, Guenther maintained the lead with less than three minutes left on the clock. With both cars coming into Turn 10 together, Da Costa forced the BMW driver wide, passing on the inside and into first.

With less than a minute left, Guenther was back on the attack as Da Costa led the way. Both with the same level of energy, Guenther stormed past Da Costa going into Turn 9, regaining his hard-earned lead. Once around 10 and 11, the BMW driver clinched the win with Da Costa in second and Evans in third.


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Formula E attracting oil giants to the fold

Oil giants familiar to fans of fossil-fuelled Formula 1 are finding a new focus for their energies in the all-electric world of Formula E.

Shell, decades-long sponsors of F1 glamour team Ferrari, are partnering the Nissan and Mahindra Formula E outfits while branding for French giant Total features on the cars of champions DS Techeetah.

They will be racing again in Saturday’s ePrix in the Chilean capital Santiago.

“Most people looking at a Formula E car or indeed an electric road vehicle would think there´s no content from a company like ours,” Richard Tucker, General Manager of Shell Lubricants Technology, told Reuters.

“But there are still lubricants and coolants involved in that technology, and we want to be pioneering in that space.”

Formula E, a city-based series now in its sixth season and soon to acquire FIA world championship status, has become the series of choice for car manufacturers looking to promote electric vehicles and test the technology.

Germany’s big four of Porsche, Mercedes, BMW and Audi are competing alongside the likes of Jaguar, Nissan, Citroen’s DS brand, China’s Nio and Monaco-based Venturi.

“Electrification is the big topic within the whole auto industry so to be a credible part of that journey you want to be involved in many different aspects of it,” said Tucker.

For a company like Shell, keen to highlight an increasing investment in wind power, brand association is only a part of the equation.

Total also emphasises its involvement in solar energy on the Techeetah website.

Formula E, which started its season with races in the world’s biggest oil producer Saudi Arabia, presents itself as a vehicle for change as well as an important test laboratory for road car technology.

Tucker emphasised the interest for Shell in developing ‘E fluids’ from natural gas turned into liquid at the company’s plant in Qatar.

“If you charge your phone, you know that it gets a little bit warm. If you´re doing that on a big scale, particularly if you want to do it quickly for your car…, then you´ve got to take that heat away from the batteries,” said Tucker.

“There’s lots of variations on the theme but the one that we believe is a winner for the future is so-called immersion cooling, because the batteries are in direct contact with the liquid that is the heat-transfer medium for you.

“So we are developing a range of fluids for immersion or direct cooling.”

The electric motors require greases while lubricants need to show advanced anti-foaming properties because the gearbox is spinning so fast.

Formula E founder Alejandro Agag, who now spends most of his time on a planned new Extreme E series, said the oil companies were welcome.

“It is a big change. Those companies also have the key to make a big change because it´s not people who are in their home watching TV that are going to make the change,” he told Reuters recently.


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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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Could Alonso Return to Indy with Andretti?

Fernando Alonso, Michael Andretti

Fernando Alonso is reportedly negotiating with Michael Andretti for a return to the Indy 500.

In 2017, Alonso was charging for victory at the Brickyard in an Andretti-prepared McLaren entry when his Honda engine failed.

But last year, as McLaren went it alone without Andretti Autosport’s support, Alonso failed even to qualify.

So it is interesting that according to Spain’s AS newspaper, Alonso is back in talks with Andretti rather than McLaren.

That is despite the fact that McLaren will field two cars in the Indy 500 next year. McLaren supremo Zak Brown says it is possible Alonso will get a third car.

But citing ‘sources familiar with the negotiations’, AS correspondent Jesus Balseiro says Alonso is more interested in racing for Andretti next year.

“The deal is not done,” Balseiro said.

“The most important obstacle is that Andretti uses Honda engines,” he added, reminding readers of the “tumultuous past” of the Spanish driver and the Japanese marque.


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Irvine: I Think Ferrari Have to Focus on Leclerc

Former Ferrari driver Eddie Irvine has issued some harsh words for Sebastian Vettel, adding that it is time the Scuderia makes Charles Leclerc its number 1 driver.

Irvine said at the start of the year that he thinks Vettel would be “a sitting duck” now that Leclerc is his teammate.

“I thought Leclerc had a good chance of beating him because I don’t think Vettel is a worthy four-time world champion,” Irvine told Betway in Italy.

“I think he is a very good driver, but he makes a lot of mistakes and I never really thought he was that fast.

“We saw it with Daniel Ricciardo and we’re seeing it again now. Vettel got an amazing deal with Ferrari. I was surprised because it was at a stage where he was getting destroyed.

“I think Ferrari have to focus on Leclerc. We’ve seen this season Vettel not being sacrificed because he is a four-time world champion – they’ve lost wins because of it.”

Irvine, 53, knows Mattia Binotto well from his days at Ferrari, describing him as “smart” and “super calm”.

“But I think this is one of the difficult things that he has to get on top of, because I think Vettel can do damage to Leclerc’s chances of winning the title which I don’t think Bottas can do to Hamilton,” he said.

“The only guy who I think can race at the same level as Hamilton is Leclerc. Hamilton always destroys Vettel in a head to head.

“If you look at what Leclerc did to Hamilton in Monza, it was probably illegal but it was so perfectly done that it was hard to punish him for it. That’s why I am really interested to see Leclerc to head to head with Hamilton more often,” added Irvine.


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Ralf: I Think Lewis Can Beat Michael’s Records

Michael Schumacher could have his records beaten by Lewis Hamilton, according to the legendary German’s brother Ralf.

In Austin, Mercedes’ Hamilton put the lid on his sixth drivers’ title. Only Schumacher, with seven world championships, won more.

“Both of them achieved something incredible,” Ralf told Auto Bild.

“I think Lewis can break Michael’s records now,” the former F1 driver added.

Schumacher says Hamilton has “the best package” on the grid, but insists there is more to his success than that.

“He always gets the maximum from the opportunities,” Ralf said. “Everything fits together with him.

“He has the experience, he has a crazy natural talent, he knows when to attack and when to sit back, and he feels extremely comfortable in his team. He knows he is the absolute number 1.

“That creates trust and is very good for a driver. He probably doesn’t make many mistakes because of that,” Schumacher added.

As for Sebastian Vettel, Ralf thinks the Ferrari driver is simply feeling the pressure.

“You make mistakes when you feel the pressure like that,” said the German. “Look at Montreal. He sensed that Lewis was getting closer and lost his focus for a moment.

“Lewis and Mercedes are the best at dealing with pressure,” Schumacher added. “Toto Wolff has put all the right people around them.”


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Prost: 2021 Regs a Huge Step Forward

alain prost

Alain Prost, four time world champion and current advisor to Renault, says the 2021 regulations can be a “huge step forward” for Formula 1.

In the past days, rumours have suggested the embattled French team and carmaker could actually quit Formula 1 at the end of the season.

But Prost told L’Equipe he sees a lot of positives about the future.

“For the cars to follow one another, the so-called ‘dirty air’, it can be a huge step forward,” he said.

“I also see the cost cap and the redistribution of income as very positive, even if there are things you cannot change much like the weight of the cars. These are hybrid cars and there is the Halo and the larger wheels.”

What the F1 legend is more worried about are Liberty Media’s plans for as many as 25 grands prix per season.

“It wouldn’t fundamentally change the work of the drivers,” Prost said. “We did tests every week.

“But for the mechanics, the rest of the teams, 25 races really becomes difficult. In principle there is more income, but it is not obvious that it will attract more people, particularly young people, if there is so much work.

“And that may be costly if you have to set up double teams,” he warned.


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Verstappen: 2019 Went Well for Honda

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen has praised the improvement of engine suppliers Honda in a “year of learning” for the newly-forged partnership.

Earlier, it was rumoured the Dutchman was trying to get out of his 2020 contract. But now, he sounds upbeat about aiming for the championship next year.

“We have already achieved some good results, but we want to take the next step and try to go for the championship next year,” Verstappen said this week at a sponsor event.

“It was a year of learning with Honda this year and we made good progress. Everyone on the team is very motivated and wants to win.”

Team boss Christian Horner agrees, saying Red Bull-Honda’s current form is “a good sign” for 2020.

“The rules are staying relatively stable, so everything we have learned this year can go into 2020,” he said.

“We have always regarded 2019 as a transitional year, and it went well. We can only congratulate Honda on their progress. With a bit more luck, we could have won a few more times.

“Now we have to carry this momentum into next year. Mercedes is still the bar, but it feels like the field is coming together,” Horner added.


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Horner: Albon’s Development is Very Impressive

Red Bull’s Christian Horner has reiterated the team intends to “take our time” before confirming who will partner Max Verstappen in 2020, while heavily hinting it will be incumbent Alex Albon.

“After his accident and the front wing change, he was the fastest driver on the track,” Horner told Auto Motor und Sport, referring to the US GP in Austin.

“The way he fought his way through the field was phenomenal.”

Albon is now sixth in the drivers’ world championship, “even though he has only done seven races for us”, Horner added.

“His development is very impressive. I don’t think it will take much longer before he can drive right at the front.”

But for now, Red Bull says Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly are technically in the running to be promoted for 2020.

“We will not make any hasty decisions,” Horner said. “All the drivers are under contract, so we can take our time.”

McLaren driver Carlos Sainz, a former Verstappen teammate, says he doesn’t regret leaving the Red Bull programme and therefore his chance of securing the seat.

“It doesn’t matter who will be next to Verstappen next season, as he will remain the first driver,” the Spaniard told Sky Italia. “So it doesn’t affect me at all.”


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