Hello, welcome to This Week, a week where the sport continues to assess where it is mid-season as we see the drivers off on holiday a chance to pause and reflect on the season so far as well as look ahead. Politics don’t stop though the debate about capital expenditure continues and the question about Red Bull winning every race.
For the first time, Christian Horner started to give hints about what it means to Red Bull to be dominant and what Mercedes’s domination meant. In this era of Red Bull domination are the rest of the grid looking at a ‘jail sentence’? can Red Bull really do that without losing a race in 2023…
Mercedes believe the return of the bouncing issues they had at Spa was a result of track characteristics and setup rather than the upgrades they brought to the W14. During the race, both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell complained about the ‘significant’ bouncing had returned.
Despite the team still being a long way behind Red Bull, the upgrades brought in recent races have brought them closer to the front. The issue wasn’t held by the fact that they had no dry running until the Grand Prix and being a sprint weekend their was one practice session before qualifying, making something of a gamble with their setup choice, which they were then stuck with for the remainder of the weekend.
Chief technical officer Mike Elliott said, “We definitely had an amount of bouncing [last] weekend, both drivers were telling us that and we could see it in the data. We could also see an amount of bouncing on the other cars and I think some of it is the nature of the circuit at Spa and in fact, we had huge amounts of bouncing last year as did most teams.”
We know since these regulations were introduced Mercedes had been the most affected by these bouncing issues, and there are certain circuits where this can pop up. This makes it more difficult for the team to find the right set-up or determine if it’s a circuit-unique issue.
Mercedes has opened a fifty-one-point advantage in second ahead of Aston Martin, while Hamilton has closed to within a point of third-placed Fernando Alonso in the drivers’ standings. They will be hoping to use this as a platform to challenge Red Bull for the championship next year.
Lewis Hamilton insists that the teams upgrades in Monaco have “progressed a lot,” despite the gap to Red Bull remaining. The team abandoned its zero-side pod concept early on and brought a big upgrade similar to Aston Martin and McLaren for Monaco.
With the upgrade fitted, Hamilton led a 2-3 result in the following Spanish GP. But Mercedes had also enjoyed a Barcelona boost in 2022 when George Russell held on to third place. Since then, Hamilton has scored a number of third places and took pole in Hungary after Max Verstappen lost time in Q3. But the ‘super times’ metric – which records each team’s fastest lap during a race weekend – indicates Mercedes has gone from a 0.504% (Monaco) deficit to Red Bull to 0.502% (Silverstone) and 0.866% (Spa).
This backs up the feeling I have had watching and looking at the timing screens in the last few races that despite other teams’ upgrades that Red Bull’s own upgrades have seen them keep that lead
Hamilton said, “I’ve been incredibly proud of everybody. Everyone has been working insanely hard. We’ve been making big steps. I think the biggest step we took was when we got to Monaco and the car has really progressed a lot since then. We have a better understanding of where to position the car. It’s been a lot more consistent – podiums, top-five finishes – which has been great.”
That is true as Verstappen was over half a minute ahead of the nearest non-Red Bull of Charles Leclerc. But the Mercedes remains in this ‘hit and miss’ window with the car, it range of operation is getting wider. They are I think looking to use the second of this year to put themselves in a position to challenge next for 2024.
The seven-time world champion added that he expected the competitive order behind Red Bull to still shuffle during the second half of the campaign.
He said: “I don’t know how much developing people will be doing in the second part of the season, but I think there will be movement. I don’t know what happened to Aston and how they’ve taken a step back. But I’m sure McLaren was really strong in the second phase.”
The team has also revealed that its drivers have been battling with “annoyingly dead” cars in the middle of corners this year as a consequence of its ongoing balance problems. As you may know, Mercedes had to change its design philosophy after abandoning its evolution from 2022 since then it’s been getting closer and closer to Red Bull.
While more downforce would not go amiss, its technical director James Allison says that a particular effort has been thrown at trying to improve the handling and balance of the W14. H1e says that the through-corner characteristic of its current challenger is far from ideal in providing its drivers with the confidence they need.
Wolff said, “We need to give the drivers a more reliable car and platform when it comes to the balance and feeling. It’s not about absolute downforce but it’s for them to know that the car is going to be stable when they turn into the corner. That isn’t the case for now”
Technical director James Allison still thinks that any improvements it finds back at the factory can still be applied to the current challenger. he said, “At this stage of the year the wind tunnel is heavily focused on 2024. Large chunks of the drawing office, vehicle dynamics, manufacturing for long-lead time production items are starting to gather their skirts.”
Mercedes’s bigger challenge is closing the gap to Red Bull, as I often say the final few tenths are the hardest to find.
Max Verstappen says he doesn’t see an easy solution for spray issues, but thinks approaching rain races “like NASCAR” would be a “shame”. Over the last month the death of Formula Regional racer Dilano van ‘t Hoff at Spa, with the lack of visibility in the rain a major factor in the multi-car collision and the shortened Sprint Race raised the issue once again.
Despite five formation laps behind the safety car in an attempt to clear standing water and reduce spray. Nevertheless, Alpine’s Pierre Gasly, who finished third, still found conditions unsafe to race because he “couldn’t see a thing” even with just two cars ahead of him.
There are no easy solutions to this and its one of the risks of open-wheel racing, but over the last decade since the death of Jules Bianchi, the FIA has been more cautious in wet conditions. Toto Wolff agreed with Verstappen that there is only so much that wheel covers can achieve to improve visibility but thinks different types of tarmac that change how water is dispersed could be worth looking into.
Saying “I think it’s a feature that we all think is good for safety and for racing, the closer you can follow also under the rain is positive.”
Christian Horner says that Red Bull’s dominance is ‘doubly satisfying’ after years of watching Mercedes crush all opposition, a period of time he likened to a ‘jail sentence’. At the halfway stage in the season, Red Bull are unbeaten with them on course to comfortably retain both the constructors’ championship and Max Verstappen’s drivers’ title.
Speaking on ESPN’s Unlapped podcast this week, Horner said the Mercedes years seemed to go on forever. Horner said of the Mercedes era, “Seven long years… that’s a long time. You get less for crimes! We had to wait to get back into a competitive position. We had to do a lot of watching of a lot of Mercedes winning and so on.”
“But we never lost sight of our target, we were still winning races every single year at circuits we could excel at. We never lost that target, it was just about putting the missing pieces into place. Then when we got a competitive power unit, bang, we were able to go toe to toe with Mercedes.”
Remember since 2009, Brawn/Mercedes or Red Bull has won every driver and constructors championship but for any team dominating is rewarding but its not good for the sport. Everyone in February was expecting Ferrari and Mercedes to be closer this year but that’s not happened, how Red Bull has done that in a cost cap era is impressive.
Michael Schumacher’s 2002 Australian Grand Prix-winning Ferrari F2001b is to be auctioned off later this month by RM Sotheby’s flagship Monterey auction from 16-19 August. a rare offering, Schumacher’s 2002 Australian Grand Prix-winning Ferrari F2001b will be available to purchase with Sotheby’s Sealed.
Chassis 215 is one of very few F1 chassis to have never finished outside the podium positions during its competition career, presenting a remarkable opportunity to acquire an outstanding machine of the modern era.
One of the most recent Schumacher Ferrari F1 cars to be sold, an F2003-GA, fetched $14.9m at a Sotheby’s auction last year – doubling the previous record for an F1 car, when an F2001 of his achieved $7.5m in 2017.
Schumacher used the F2001B for the first two grands prix of the 2002 season and said: “We would like to use the new car as soon as possible, but only if it is better than this one and reliable.” That season he would go on to win his fifth world championship.
Toyota’s motorsport division expects to continue working with McLaren in the near future, despite the imminent end of its wind tunnel deal. The team are imminently going to switch to using its own wind tunnel at its Woking base bringing to an end its use of Toyota’s facility in Cologne.
McLaren has been using the wind tunnel since 2010 and has been involved in the design of every car since. But while the change of wind tunnels means that McLaren will no longer use the Cologne facility, the Japanese manufacturer does not think that this is the end of the road for their partnership.
The relationship expanded greatly over the years beyond just the use of the wind tunnel, as it included making use of R&D and production capabilities too. McLaren also set up exclusive working areas at the Toyota factory, with separate data systems and links back to its Woking factory.
Toyota’s motorsport director Rob Leupen says the door remains open to McLaren and they have an open dialogue and are playing a constructive part in the process of integrating their new wind tunnel into their development programme. McLaren have described this year as a transitional phase, and I see the benefits for both sides, even if the Japanese manufacturer doesn’t want to be a engine manufacturer.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner says that Daniel Ricciardo has “met all expectations” on his comeback with his former team. Ricciardo, who was Red Bull’s third driver after his McLaren exit, was drafted in at Red Bull’s sister team to replace Nyck de Vries in Hungary.
In the two races before the summer break, he regained his competitive edge, outqualifying team-mate Yuki Tsunoda in Hungary and in Spa’s sprint shootout. A deleted laptime in Belgian Grand Prix qualifying cost him a shot at reaching Q2.
He also impressed the team by driving back to thirteenth in Hungary after dropping to the rear of the field by a start melee. But he couldn’t replicate that comeback in Belgium as the team could not find a way to get him out of traffic.
Horner said, “I think he met it. Seeing what he did at Silverstone in the tyre test, I think after that expectations changed and he met all expectations. What he’s brought to Alpha Tauri is a huge amount of experience and possibly some direction, obviously with the experience that he brings as a grand prix winner. He actually acquitted himself very, very well.”
Commenting on Ricciardo’s second race since his comeback at Spa, AlphaTauri’s technical director Jody Egginton said: “It was more difficult for Daniel, as he spent a good part of the race in traffic. We weren’t able to get him into free air to put together a strong sequence of laps, as he was able to do in Hungary to good effect. It was unfortunate. However, his strong performance in the Sprint race highlights we are making progress.”
I think he is doing a decent job and he only missed ten races, we know earlier this year he was described as ‘a different driver’ on his return to Red Bull. Ricciardo himself has been satisfied with how his comeback campaign has started given the limited time he has had in the car so far. He believes getting those two extra races in before the summer break will be an advantage for him when the 2023 season resumes at the end of August.
Guanyu Zhou says he hopes to have answers about his future with the team before the end of the summer break. Following a more difficult debut season he was given another season with the team, despite the team struggling for pace this season the Chinese driver has been more consistent and confident performances.
He is hoping that during the summer break, he can agree a new deal. Zhou said, “I want to have a clear picture before the summer ends, that’s for sure, and we have to see what to do to make everything happen on paper. My manager is discussing with the team, so we have to see.”
“I think things will come but it takes a bit of time to figure out. I feel reasonably happy with the scenario and also with the people I’ve been working for, so obviously very happy to continue for the future.” But Zhou says his priority is to stay with the team, he is matching his more experienced teammate Valtteri Bottas and that’s all you can really expect given where the performance of the car is, and the team are noticing it.
When asked by Motorsport.com if that target was set by the team or by himself, Zhou replied: “I think it’s a little bit of both. I want myself to be equal in terms of pace and then also the team expects me to do another step up compared to last year.”
“On the other side, there are some weaknesses I wanted to improve on from last year, which I think we’ve been making a step forward on. Apart from the points the rest has been a lot stronger.”
Logan Sargeant says he is still “not where I want to be” but is pleased with the progress he is making during his rookie season. The American has struggled sometimes to match his teammate Alex Albon as well as making a few rookie errors.
But in recent races, the American has made progress, most notably with finishing 13th in Austria and just outside the points in Silverstone, his best result so far. But the net result is that he’s currently still the only full-time driver not to have scored any points yet.
When asked to sum up his season in Belgium, Sargeant replied: “Ups and downs, [I’m] not where I want to be. Over the last few rounds, I feel like I’m much closer. I feel like I’ve seen really good progression as of late and that’s the most important thing. I need to clean some things up. I think, as a team collectively, we can clean some things up and that’s what we need to focus on going into the second part of the season.”
I think he has been doing a OK job, given it is his rookie season and we know that the team hasn’t got the easiest car to drive and lacks downforce compared to other cars. Sargeant has also admitted needing to make changes to his driving style which makes a difference.
His fellow ‘rookie’ Nyck de Vries has already been replaced by Daniel Ricciardo and he says he is not putting too much pressure on himself to try and match Albon, who has had an extremely strong season to date.
Asked by Motorsport.com when he considers his debut year to be successful, Sargeant said: “I don’t really have a set target. It comes back to feeling as if I’ve extracted everything on a weekend. We don’t always have a car to score points, so it just comes down to me feeling like I’ve done everything I could, gotten everything out of it, start stringing things together better.
Mercedes CEO and team principal Toto Wolff has suggested the push to help Williams get more freedom to spend on factory improvements collapsed because rivals jumped on a “bandwagon” to help themselves.
Last week the F1 Commission discussed a proposal to give teams some more room on the capital expenditure, this is things like building or modernisation of infrastructure, with one idea being a separate budget cap of around £28.2m over a four-year period is not enough to get where it wants to be.
The matter was discussed at last week’s F1 Commission meeting, where Vowles hoped that a deal could be reached to help the smaller squads make gains. a lack of agreement over what could be done, allied to some outfits seeing greater capex freedom for themselves, meant the discussions stalled. The matter is now set for further debate at F1’s Financial Advisory Committee.
Vowles expressed some frustration after the meeting that nothing had been agreed upon, even though he understood that teams all have to look after their own interests. he said “It’s unfortunate and it’s disappointing, frankly, that we’re in a situation where again, that meeting, I would argue, went round in circles if nothing else.”
This echoes what his Ferrari counterpart Fred Vassuer warned about last week, saying if approved it would create a ‘non-stop process’ of teams wanting more money. But despite the matter hitting a roadblock right now, Wolff is hopeful that a solution can be found to help Williams – as he thinks it not right that some squads are trying to capitalise on the situation.
Wolff said, “Why the Capex discussion came up is that a team, Williams, said their infrastructure is sub-par and they wouldn’t be able to catch up with trivial things like machine equipment, and up to the technical things like simulators. That was the starting point of all discussions.”
He also said that the number doubled effectively making the cap pointless in my view. The option of a case by case basis, was rejected because others saw opportunities to gain.
Later in the week, Vowels warned tha if approved and when they are built it could take a minimum of three years for the team to feel the benefits on track. Saying “The bare minimum you’re looking at is: get the infrastructure in place, plus a period of time of learning with it and trying to catch up to rivals that have been using it for 15 years.”
There has been rumours that the team has suffered from a culture problem in recent years, whereas Vowles’ previous employer Mercedes adheres to a ‘no-blame philosophy’. As such, Vowles is expected to apply a similar ethos to Williams. Although he expects this process to add to the recovery timelines.
Team principal Gunther Steiner thinks there are no quick fixes for the problems they have overheating their tyres, saying its needs to be addressed in a methodical manner. In several races this year the team has found its chances of scoring points derailed by its problems with degradation.
The car looks to be aggressive on its rubber, which is great for switching tyres on for single qualifying laps but is a big handicap to its drivers when it comes to management in the races.
Asked how much of the problems the team understood, Steiner said: “I think some of it we understand completely. But honestly, we only understand some of it. We are running too high temperature, but there could be something else.”
Steiner said that solving problems in F1 was always a long process, and there was hardly even an occasion where a team made one simple change and its situation improved dramatically. I don’t know why it has always seemed to me as if Haas has never had a consistent car across the grid, its been the case they start the season strongly then slip away.
Steiner said one of the key hurdles that the team had to overcome was accepting that there was something awry with its car design that was triggering the tyre problems. I agree there’s like this inbuilt weakness from when they enter the sport.