The news that leads off this week’s grand prix pertains to Sauber. The Alfa-Romeo Sauber team announced this week that Antonio Giovinazzi will be joining Kimi Raikkonen for the 2019 season. That means that the team will be starting, in essence, anew. Charles Leclerc, currently with the team, had already been announced to be moving to Ferrari, with Raikkonen replacing him, in what looks like a swap. Marcus Ericsson, who drives alongside Leclerc, is being shifted to a third/reserve driver role.
The Giovinazzi news comes as a bit of a surprise – though rumors had swarmed Ericsson as to whether he would be keeping the seat. Having Giovinazzi take over in and of itself is not a shock, but that Ericsson is being shifted out indicates that the Sauber team is going through a shift in identity.
The change is something that second-tier teams have been cognizant of for the past few years and has grown ever more apparent: that more teams are moving in the direction of the Red Bull-Toro Rosso arrangement, which basically acts in a manner like Parent-Child. Ferrari is not making such a relationship clear with Sauber, first by taking their protege Leclerc from the Sauber and promoting him but in doing so, also providing a soft landing spot for Raikkonen, a kind of ‘golden parachute’. Shifting Giovinazzi further cements the ties between the two as he is a Ferrari development driver and offers the young Italian a point of entry into F1.
What had begun as an engine supplier relationship has matriculated into one of Sauber being much dependent on the Prancing Horses. This situation looks to be the current future of F1 as larger teams turn those elsewhere on the grid into their satellites. While the current rules stipulate that each team need develop their own parts, it is one that has begun to be openly circumvented. These growing ties would seemingly go against the spirit of open competition that is supposed to be the backbone of the sport.
But whatever. Right? The whole world is one of large companies swallowing smaller ones. But in the world of F1, the question that manifests itself is: what will it create? Do the satellites become test teams? Are they for sorting out drivers? Do any of them dare challenge their parent organization, and if so, to what consequences?
The whole thing smacks of a paddock that may become so entwined that playing ‘nice’ and playing against rivals to the benefit of the parent organization is the normative outcome. This will be a difficult tact to reverse.
Odds & Sods
The music is coming to an end on this year’s silly-season-musical-chairs routine. Many of the big questions have been sorted with Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren, Renault, and Sauber setting their drivers. Force India seems to lack any driver as Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll look like locks and while Haas has been dragging their proverbial feet, the belief is that Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean are likely back. That really leaves Williams and Toro Rosso as the teams with the most uncertainty.
While Williams is looking for drivers who bring capital to help the struggling organization, Toro Rosso can be a little more free with their selections. Perhaps that is why TR has been rumored to be bringing back Daniil (Krash) Kvyat. In fact, by the time the cars take to the track, Kvyat should be sporting the familiar Toro Rosso duds. This marks an amazing return for a driver who once drove for TR, moved to Red Bull, then back to TR, got released and then became a development driver for Ferrari.
Most drivers, even at age 24 as is Kvyat, would be moving on to other opportunities, but Kvyat must have cat’s blood because he’s still around. As a driver like Stoffel Vandoorne may struggle to find a home after being let go by McLaren, even though he brings clout as a respected driver, Kvyat has evinced staggering wherewithal to remain in the sport. Toro Rosso must really like him… or those checks he can offer them. Pay drivers are a confusing aspect of all motorsports.
Russian Grand Prix
The Russian Grand Prix has been held a total of five times. The first two races ran in St. Petersburg in 1913 and 1914. And then nothing. It took one hundred years for Russia to set up another grand prix, with it coming to fruition in 2014, as the series ran on a track built on what was the complex for the Winter Olympics. Hence, some of the sights surrounding the Sochi Autodrom are the remaining stadia. The circuit is a flat track that features 19 turns and is a skosh over 3.6 miles in length. Lewis Hamilton won the inaugural event at the track and did so again in 2015, his then-teammate Nico Rosberg won in 2016, and Mercedes continued their winning ways with Valtteri Bottas winning last year. The race can be seen at 7:10 AM, EST on ESPN2.
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