This weekend, Formula 1 is ripping around the Hungaroring, the final race before the series takes a four-week break. With this race, the series will have been in action for five out of the past six weekends, which for F1 is rough schedule. The sense in the garage is that the break is much needed so everyone can regroup and plot the rest of the season.
In that regard, Ferrari has seemingly taken over the press. Much of this aspect has to do with the passing of Sergio Marchionne, the former Ferrari head who moved on to lead its parent company, Fiat. Marchionne held sway over F1 negotiations and was often times considered the leader, from the team’s standpoint, in the garage. His latest focus had been to battle the upcoming rules implementation, set to take effect in 2021.
Many in the garage looked toward Marchionne for guidance, while some others played ‘nice’ and did their best not to cross him. Regardless of how others may have felt about him, his presence was obvious and influential. Thus his loss is one that seems to have brought out questions about the direction of Ferrari. Any consternation regarding the Prancing Horse is mere tabloid fodder. Marchionne had righted the proverbial ship with the Maranello team and there are already people in place to take over the roles he has vacated. But you wouldn’t know it.
Much of the headlines have focused on questions surrounding the team – and that seems laughable. For the first time in years, Ferrari has a car that is quite capable of winning the constructor’s championship (should they not go into a funk as they did last year after the summer break) and they look set to maintain their place at the front of the grid. Some have written or discussed, however, the situation in a way that makes it seem like Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen are now adrift and about to drive their cars off the end of Italy and into the Mediterranean. Where the story really seems to be is where leadership will emerge in the fight with Liberty Media.
That aspect may be up for grabs while the new leadership for Ferrari of John Elkann and Louis Camilleri, may seem peculiar, they have yet to play on the F1 stage. Perhaps this is where Mercedes or Red Bull or even the flailing but notable teams of McLaren and Williams step up, though the latter is unlikely.
Ferrari has always wanted to maintain their voice as the alpha, and while Marchionne’s passing may cause some wonderment as to whether they can preserve this position, it really isn’t a question at all. They’re still Ferrari.
Odds & Sods
– While Ferrari is facing their own questions, sort of, Force India is undergoing much bigger problems as they were forced into administration this weekend with a court ruling in London. The court action was said to have been brought by one of their drivers, Sergio Perez, as there is question as to whether he is owed $3.5 million.
A driver taking issue with their team is nothing new but other rumors swirl about the team, like there is a question as to whether Force India owes their engine supplier, Mercedes, £11.5 million. There is speculation that the team is in debt by a total of roughly £159 million – which makes one wonder how they were operating at all! Such a statement is the reason that Force India have noted that they will, in fact, be racing this weekend even with their financial troubles now coming to light.
Already there is curiosity as to where investment may come to keep the team alive. Announcements from the team have indicated they feel financing is imminent but the rumor mill is churning out a name like Lawrence Stroll, the Canadien billionaire, and father to Lance Stroll, as a potential buyer of the team.
Also in flux is the fact that Force India driver Esteban Ocon is believed to have a contract in place to join Renault next year, taking over for Carlos Sainz Jr. Should Stroll buy the team, Lance would be a shoe-in for the seat. In essence, the instability at Force India sets off a chain reaction of who-goes-where that should make Silly Season rather fun to watch.
– With Ferrari managing the headlines, and mid-level teams like McLaren and Force India messing about, the team that sits atop the grid, both in driver’s and constructor’s titles, Mercedes has earned little notice recently. Re-signing Valtteri Bottas came as little surprise. They took the top-two positions at the German GP. They’re holding steady, and yet any mention of them makes it seem like Mercedes is in peril.
This weekend has not started well for the Silver Arrows but it is almost conceivable that the won’t be racing for the pole in qualifying. Yes, the team has made uncharacteristic strategy gaffes, both in qualifying and practice. Yes, they have endured weekends where they seem lost. These elements show that the team can make errors like everyone else, but it’s laughable to think they are falling from the perch.
The Hungaroring opened in 1986 and has held the Hungarian Grand Prix since. The track was repaved for the 2016 and features 14 turns on its 2.72 layout. Teams are likely to use a higher downforce package on the course. Michael Schumacher once led all drivers with four wins but Lewis Hamilton has eclipsed the mark now having won the HGP five times. Though Mercedes has been dominant the last four years, they have won only once in that span as Vettel and Ferrari have earned two wins, while Ricciardo also took one. Vettel is the defending race winner. One interesting tidbit, no driver who has won this race has won the title in the same year going back to 2004.