After a ripping stint of racing that featured grand prix on three consecutive weekends, the sport of Formula 1 will enjoy a quick break before driving through a similar stint. The racing, thus far, is a mixture of things, as one might imagine.
With a pause in the action, now is a good time to run down some of the bigger storylines that surround the sport.
– The team that looks to have made the most gains is Racing Point, who enjoyed a fantastic finish at last weekend’s Hungarian GP. Embattled driver Lance Stroll managed to bring his 2019 Mercedes across the finish in fourth place. The car is really a 2020 Racing Point and will be addressed below, but Stroll’s fourth, coupled with a seventh from the previous week in Austria are his best set of races since he finished in the points for three races in a row in 2015 when he drove for Williams.
Stroll sits eighth in the drivers championship which is a mark that seems surprisingly good. His teammate Sergio Perez, however, is leaving him in the dust with finishes of sixth, sixth, and seventh to start the season and holds sixth in the drivers standings. The Mexican-born driver, who has been with the team in one name or another since 2014 when they called themselves Sahara Force India, has posted similar results before.
Yet both Stroll and Perez look poised to claim some podiums this season. The duo qualified behind the Mercedes pair for the Hungarian GP and the 2019 Mercedes they are driving is besting even the stable Red Bull team.
The joke that the team is driving the Mercedes car from last year is one that is earning some serious scrutiny as the team finished seventh in the standings last year. To jump AlphaTauri, Renault and McLaren after an off-season of work is one thing. But to leap Ferrari and challenge Red Bull is another and thing.
Sure, Ferrari may have lost their way after the offseason agreement with the FIA seemingly wiped away any gains they had made with their power unit but they are still Ferrari. Racing Point has filled the Ferrari vacuum with their presence and currently sit one point behind third-place McLaren.
Renault are not sitting in neutral as Racing Point makes their way to the front. They have lodged challenges to the Racing Point car, claiming that it is too close in resemblance to the 2019 constructors champion vehicle with a special emphasis on the similarity of the brake ducts between the 2019 Mercedes and the 2020 Racing Point.
Renault have alleged that, basically, Racing Point copied the car and likely had assistance in doing so. The rivalry between Renault and RP is enjoyable but the question that is of importance is: how will the FIA rule? And if the decision goes against RP, what kind of penalties will the team incur? Ross Brawn seems to think that RP has just done a better job at copying than others.
The result of this story will set precedent for other relationships on the grid, like Ferrari – Haas, or Red Bull – AlphaTauri. As teams set to try to budget more stringently under new governing guidelines, the concept of sharing becomes more vital both in the racing product but cutting costs.
– Let’s talk about the Prancing Pony for a second. Just what in the world is going on over at Maranello? After three races, Ferrari have scored just one podium between their two drivers and sit fifth in points.
The team has always featured delightful drama with colorful characters, often at the expense of their racing results, but they have suddenly taken a mighty step backward. The one podium they earned came more of the result of luck than it did performance or skill.
With a lame-duck driver in Sebastian Vettel on one side of the garage and the over-extended arrogance of Charles Leclerc on the other, the team has found little in the way of unity. Mattia Binotto, the man who took over as team principal last year, is looking increasingly like he is ill-equipped to handle the team.
While the team is unlikely to make a change at the top, that does not mean that such a decision should not be contemplated.
Choosing not to extend Vettel may be fine, but how the team elected to let him go, after scant discussions, put too much power on Leclerc and showed a short-sightedness in how to prepare for the 2020 season. Throw in the fact that the car looks terrible, both unstable and slow, and this year might end up being called a disaster.
But hey, Ferrari know their driver line-up for next year.
– Lewis Hamilton is already taking over once again and unless catastrophe strikes is poised to earn his seventh championship and eclipse Michael Schumacher’s win total. Yet Hamilton is more driven than ever and appears he might be taking anger along as a motivation.
Hamilton has been vocal since the Black Lives Matter protests took off in the US and has directed his ire toward F1 and their silence toward racism. His Instagram and Twitter posts have addressed these matters and he has supported NASCAR driver Darrell “Bubba” Wallace as he endured the wrath of NASCAR fans and the US President after one of his team members reported a garage pull-down rope fashioned into a noose in the team’s garage.
When the F1 season started, the sport offered a moment for the drivers to kneel at the front of the grid in solidarity with Hamilton in the fight to end racism. Most of 20 knelt, but six did not.
At the second race, the drivers again walked to the front of the grid wearing End Racism tshirts but some did not show and some did not kneel. But after the most recent event in Hungary, Hamilton has become bitter, believing that drivers representative Romain Grosjean has shown little interest in continuing the kneeling practice. Hamilton is charging Grosjean with moving on and believing that the work has been done.
Hamilton is sensing that his peers are not showing the same amount of conviction toward the idea of ending racism and accusing them of being in a privileged position.
As to what any of the other drivers may or may not have said to Hamilton is beyond speculation but one thing that is for certain is that Hamilton the situation just adds fuel to his drive this year. With a monster of a car, just go ahead and crown him champion already. He can kneel from P1 and really make a statement like the one he did after his Hungarian GP win when he raised his fist like Tommie Smith and Juan Carlos at the Mexico Olympics.