In the paddock at Spa, Esteban Ocon’s dual relationship with Renault and Mercedes did raise a few eyebrows. Here’s more from our Paddock Diary:
- As F1 returned the stands started filling up, and tiny food trucks selling fries and burgers suddenly sprung up on the winding roads to Spa
- Romain Grosjean’s place in the Haas F1 seat remains uncertain with Nico Hulkenberg expected to take over (Read: Renault Dumping A Blessing For Nico Hulkenberg?)
- Ferrari dominated both the Free Practices giving hope to the Italian team of a first win of the season. They finally scored pole position and a race victory with Charles Leclerc
Friday at Belgian Grand Prix brought with it a fair share of excitement as the cars finally hit the track after a long summer break. The stands started filling up, and tiny food trucks selling fries and burgers suddenly sprung up on the winding roads to Spa through the Ardennes mountains. Interestingly, we saw hundreds of fans camping with tents in the rolling green meadows around the wide expanse of the race track.
The driver movements for 2020 indicate how competitive the sport is. In a 21 race calendar (2019), the first 12 races have decided the fate of drivers for next year. Yes, there is historic data teams have, but 2020’s decisions are largely based on 2019 form. #F1 #SillySeason
— Kunal Shah (@kunalashah) August 29, 2019
Grosjean thinking of life beyond F1?
The writing may well be on the wall for Romain Grosjean. The Frenchman has struggled with pace and consistency – and now does not have a confirmed contract for 2020 – although he insisted that he was “pretty confident” about retaining his seat at Haas. Even so, speculation is rife that Nico Hulkenberg will claim Grosjean’s seat at Haas. If Hulkenberg does take his seat, could Grosjean find refuge in Williams where Robert Kubica’s most certainly not going to get a renewal?
Grosjean evaluated his alternatives outside Formula 1, saying, “There are options in F1, and there are options also in other categories. Le Mans is one, there are other categories that I’m quite interested in. Formula E could be one, yes. It’s a nice championship, and obviously very, very different from Formula 1, but quite competitive and with some good constructors coming in which is always exciting, and maybe one or two others.” He flatly refused a future in Indycar though – saying that he was “too scared of ovals.”
Hamilton turns burger entrepreneur
Lewis Hamilton has been in the news lately for a very unusual reason. He launched his own plant-based burger chain called ‘Neat Burger’ in London. Hamilton hopes that the chain will “transform the way people see plant-based food.” We know that the Briton enjoys in dabbling in side pursuits off the track – especially on the creative side of things. Question is, what’s next? On a side note, burger jokes and puns have been flying around the paddock all week thanks to this launch. Our personal favourite: why didn’t Hamilton just call his chain – HAMburger!
Btw, is Gerhard Berger a partner in Hamilton’s new business?
How Tost welcomed Gasly back to Toro Rosso
We’ve been discussing Pierre Gasly’s demotion to Toro Rosso and what that means for various stakeholders. Just when we thought we’d heard it all, we got a fresh perspective from Franz Tost, the team principal of Toro Rosso. He shared with the media including Firstpost, “I don’t hope it’s a disappointment to return to Toro Rosso. Gasly is welcome with us. It was only a short time he was not with us. He came to my office, I said to him: “Ah, it looks like you were here yesterday.” Good to see that his humour is intact in a rather complicated scenario.
Brawn mulls different race formats in 2020
Ross Brawn shared his thoughts about using the stable regulations next year to maybe trial some different race formats ahead of 2021. He talked about shortening the weekend from an operational point of view for the teams and also restricting the amount of time the teams were at the circuit. He pondered, “Could we have two slightly shorter sessions on a Friday afternoon?” Racing Point’s Otmar Szafnauer revealed that the last time the teams met, they did discuss some formats on Saturday to maybe mix up the grids for Sunday. Further discussions on the matter are scheduled after Monza. Gunther Steiner of Haas added, “We need to look that by changing the format the costs don’t go up – that we do more and don’t get more out of it.” Let’s hope whatever Formula 1 attempts doesn’t go down the same route as the previously trialed elimination qualifying system in 2016.
Sergio Perez re-signs with Racing Point #F1 Team for the next 3 years. Woah! That’s a mid-field team that’s locked up it’s driver line-up well into the new era of the sport. Also an indication that Perez’s talent has limited taking elsewhere?#RacingPoint
— Kunal Shah (@kunalashah) August 30, 2019
Racing Point confirms Perez (as expected)
The least surprising driver announcement happened as well. Racing Point confirmed Sergio Perez for 2020. What was surprising though was that Perez signed a three year contract with Racing Point until 2022. He shared, “I have been impressed with the direction the team has taken over the last 12 months and that gives me confidence for the future. I believe the best times are still to come and I look forward to celebrating plenty of podiums in the years ahead.” The fact is that there is almost no vacancy for Perez at any of the front running teams and the former Ferrari junior and Mclaren driver may have to contend with never racing for a top team in Formula 1 again.
As for Racing Point, Perez is a stable and consistent option to retain – a driver who is bankable of solid points scoring performances every racing weekend. Given Stroll’s inconsistencies, Perez could be the team’s balancing factor.
Friday’s Free Practice sessions were dominated by the Ferrari drivers. Sebastian Vettel topped FP1, while Charles Leclerc claimed the honours in FP2. The hotter conditions and circuit characteristics seemed to have suited Ferrari’s package better. “I don’t expect to beat Ferrari but hopefully we can be closer to Mercedes” said Verstappen, while Bottas admitted that “Ferrari have been really strong today, really killing us on the straights.” Could Spa really be the venue of Ferrari’s first win of 2019? But first, let’s see who manages what in qualifying. Alexander Albon’s first day as a Red Bull driver was impressive, as he managed 4th and 10th in the timing sheets, prompting team boss Christian Horner to label his first day as “very encouraging.”
Ocon: At Renault, And At Mercedes?
Esteban Ocon’s multi-year appointment with Renault was confirmed on Thursday, but would he still continue to be a part of Mercedes’ driver program? The answer to this question had to be waited till Cyril Abiteboul’s appearance at the official press conference on Friday: “No. He’s (Ocon) a Renault driver, that’s very clear. Mercedes will have absolutely no right on him for the duration of his contract. So, small difference is that his management company happens to be a racing team, and that’s Mercedes – but it’s a slightly different setup from the setup we had with Carlos (Sainz) last year, where that was on loan and not under contract with Red Bull – but he (Ocon) will be a fully-fledged Renault driver,” explained Abiteboul.
However, the question in our minds is what Mercedes would do if Hamilton decides to depart or if Bottas requires to be replaced? Will Mercedes prove that a contract is a piece of paper after all?
Jehan’s First Pole Of 2019
Away from Spa, India’s brightest single-seater racing prospect, Jehan Daruvala, secured his first-ever pole position in the Formula 3 championship by clocking a lap 0.2 sec faster than his nearest rivals. As you read this post, Jehan would’ve completed his Race 1 of the weekend (held on Saturdays). So remember to check social media for updates on his race performance.
This post was first published on Firstpost and in the build up to the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix