Not Verstappen for Anyone

This morning Toro Rosso have announced that 16 year old Max Verstappen will drive for the team next year in place of Jean-Eric Vergne. The Frenchman has raced for 3 season with STR but has struggled in qualifying but has shown himself to be a master in wet conditions, however last season saw him passed over for his team mate for a drive in the main team.

It again is a surprise pick from STR who promoted GP3 champion Danil Kyvatt to its ranks this year over Carlos Sainz Jr who remains a reserve driver at Caterham (and a junior Red Bull driver). Furthermore Verstappen wil lbe one of the least experienced drivers ever to take the grid and the youngest at 17 years old when the 2015 season kicks off. Max has claimed the Euro F3 title but in this day and age the series sits behind GP3,GP2 and Renualt World Series 3.5 in pedigree so he will have a lot of learning to do.

It remains to be seen what will happen to Jean-Eric but the Frenchman might struggle to obtain much in the way of a budget. He has been hurt by his lack of qualifying speed but his ability come Sunday might make him a viable option for some of the seams. He joins Alguersuari (the current youngest driver), Sebastian Buemi, Sebastian Bourdais and Scott Speed on the Toro Rosso scrap heap. (Antonio Luizzi also drove for the team but continued his F1 career afterwards with Force India and HRT completing another 42 races)

Outside of F1 Jean-Eric may look to other series which I will detail in an upcoming post.

Max Verstappen

The F1 Rookies of 2014

With Formula 1 having its largest rule shake up in decades we expected many of the teams to retain their drivers for this season, however the silly season produced a game of musical chairs that left only Mercedes and Marussia with the same drivers as in 2013. The movement was prompted by the retirement of Mark Webber and Ferrari finally losing patience with Felipe Massa and hiring Raikkonen from cash strapped Lotus to try and improve their constructors standing. That said there are still 3 fresh new faces to follow this year over the 19 race calendar:

Kevin Magnussen

Kevin Magnussen the 2012 Formula Renault 3.5 series champion replaces Sergio Perez at McLaren to be the first rookie at McLaren since a certain Hamilton quietly joined in 2008. The Dane is the son of former F1 driver Jan Magnussen and has looked like he could certainly improve on his father’s career tally of 1 point. In testing the youngster has impressed many watching by jumping in the car and getting on with it, he could well prove to be a World Champion but its early days and the pressure is most certainly off.

However he has build a solid junior career and been with McLaren for a few years in their junior programme. He battled hard with fellow McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne (who finished 2nd and will race in GP2 this year) and Red Bull youngester Antonio Felix Da Costa (3rd) to claim the championship and has been richly rewarded. There were strong rumours that McLaren had tried to place him in a smaller team for this season but failed to find him a drive leading to them to dispose of Sergio Perez after a year and go for the young Dane in the main team. He will need to prove himself and quick to make sure he stays at Woking.

Daniil Kyvat

Many eyebrows (and spell checkers) were raised when Toro Rosso announced that Russian GP3 driver Daniil Kyvat would be joining the Red Bull junior team to replace the recently promoted Daniel Ricciardo. He was chosen over Antonio Felix Da Costa who was loosing his battle to beat the McLaren young drivers in Formula Renault 3.5 and Carlos Sainz Jr who was also racing in GP3. Both men had more experience but the decision may yet be vindicated as after his signing the Russian 19 year old romped home to the GP3 title in his rookie year taking pole, win and fastest lap in the last two feature races of the year and followed it up with solid drives in F1 tests/practices.

The more you look into the Russian you realise that he is a super talent and stands to do better than any of his country men before him in the premier class of motorsport but will he fall foul of the Red Bull curse? While the Red Bull young drivers program is a shining example of what to do to bring on young drivers the real question has always been is it the time to do it? The 19 year old has only had 4 seasons of open wheel racing under his belt none of which has been in a category that people consider to be the rung below F1 (E.G. GP2 or FR 3.5).

There’s great potential but I wonder if it will be a bit too much of an ask for him to jump from GP3 straight to F1, while Valterri Bottas did it he was nurtured by Williams with plenty of test outings. Kvyatt had just got his super license by Brazil last year.

Marcus Ericsson

Caterham is host to the final rookie of 2014, 23 year old Swedish driver Marcus Ericsson who was spotted when racing karts at 9 years old. The Swede wasn’t on any ones radar until Brazil when it popped up that he was talking to Caterham that weekend in the paddock. Ericsson has had average GP2 results with 2 feature wins (Germany 2013 & Belgium 2012) along with a sprint victory (Valencia 2010). His championship standings over the past 4 years show a steady improvement – 17th, 10th, 8th and 6th suggesting he possibly reached GP2 a little too early in his career. However a feature win in Spa aside there is very little to pick Ericsson out from the crowd so one would have to assume (and Caterham have alluded to it) that he brings with him a decent wad of cash.

He’s up against another driver who didn’t have a fantastic GP2 career in Kamui Kobayashi (Although he did win the 08/09 GP2 Asia Series), however the Japanese racer has shown that he has what it takes to overtake in F1 and is a strong fan favourite who has won his place on the grid through gutsy performances after Toyota pulled out leaving him without backing in 2010.

Unfortunately we’ve seen far too much of this driver selection over the past few years in F1, drivers with middling GP2 results but large wallets snapped up by teams to help fund them (and its always been so but just very so over the past few years). But at least this season Caterham have paired him with an established and popular name on the grid – hurrah!

Season in Review – Toro Rosso – Purpose Fulfilled

While Toro Rosso began the season with much chest pounding that they were aiming for 6th place in the constructors it was not to be, however after many years seemingly without purpose arguably they have fulfilled it this year. The team made aggressive hiring over the close season with the recruitment of Sauber’s technical director, James Key, however the car still was at the rear of the midfield battle. However it was still capable of being squeezed into Q3 by Daniel Ricciardo on a few occasions. Furthermore the team increased their points total from 2012 and moved up one place in the constructors, although much of that was down to Williams failures than their success.

Retaining their driver line-up from the previous season the car struggled with the fragile early season Pirelli’s and the pairing went relatively unnoticed until Mark Webber announced that he was retiring from the senior Red Bull team at the end of the year.  This meant there was an opportunity to move to the World Champions over in Milton Keynes and it was Daniel Ricciardo who delivered enough to be selected, mostly on his raw pace showings on Saturdays.

His team mate who will be retained alongside GP3 champion Danill Kyvat still struggles come Saturday and needs to sort out this flaw if he has ambitions of greater things, however for now Toro Rosso have produced their second Red Bull driver. There were factions inside the Red Bull organisation that wished to see Kimi Raikkonen in the team but they were drowned out in favour of using a current driver.

Interestingly the team have cut back their young driver program to only 3 drivers for the coming year alongside the two drivers in Toro Rosso. Depending on how well Ricciardo does it could be a long time before STR are required to blood any more serious contenders. Weirdly with the team so far away from the main team its difficult to use it train staff, while a switch to Renault power trains next year will allow them to borrow more Red Bull technology they still have develop a large portion themselves. Furthermore in 2014 we will see the return of in-season testing so the arguments for running two separate F1 teams is growing weaker by the minute.

Silly Season gets Russian Sillies Out of the Way

With the inaugural Russian Grand Prix next year around the winter Olympic park in Sochi, many who follow F1 expected to find a Russian on the grid for the following year. With funding much easier to find for a high profile race launch, this happened around the launch of the Indian Grand Prix which saw Karun Chandok and Narain Karthiekyan find money to fund their racing.

While it was likely that another Russian would make their way to the gird at some point we didn’t expect this one (at least not this year, he has a good Junior career thus far) and we also didn’t expect one in this team.

Scuderia Toro Rosso (The Red Bull Junior team) announced this morning that they will have Daniil Kvyat race in the space left by Daniel Ricciardo’s move to the full Red Bull team. The driver was somewhat an outside bet behind  Felix Da Costa and Carlos Sainz Jr to land the seat but his impressive maiden GP3 campaign (where he sits just 7 points behind the series leader with a round still to go) alongside successful adventures in F3 this season have lead to STR taking the plunge with the 19 year old.

The STR team are not short of cash and the Red Bull Drivers Program is one of the few out their that promote drivers based on talent, however you have to be flavour of the month when its time to make changes and the programme could certainly be described as ruthless. People did expect Russian money this season to land a spot or two towards the rear of the grid but Russia’s second F1 driver will arrive without a single Rouble making up the numbers for the seat, which only bodes well for his chances. But the timing will certainly raise a few eyebrows.

Daniil will follow in the footsteps of Valtteri Bottas who made the jump from GP3 straight to F1 with Willaims this season.

Williams Sign Mercedes as 2014 Takes Shape

The Williams F1 team have announced that they will be using Mercedes engines from 2014 replacing their current supplier Renault:

“Under the terms of the agreement, Williams will be supplied with a Mercedes-Benz Power Unit (Internal Combustion Engine plus Energy Recovery System) by Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains (HPP) based in Brixworth, UK. Williams will continue to manufacture its own transmission,”

This comes on the back of Toro Rosso switching to the new Renault power plant in 2014 amid concerns from many of the teams that engines and specifically the Renault are very expensive. The deal represents a low risk for the team as Mercedes will be looking for a good customer team to replace McLaren who will be moving to Honda power in 2015.

New Engine Lineup

Team – 2014 Engine – 2015 Enigne

  1. Red Bull – Renault (confirmed – Engine development partner – de-facto works team)
  2. Ferrari – Ferrari (Works team)
  3. McLaren – Mercedes (Customer) – Honda (Works)
  4. Lotus – Unknown, currently Renault but no deal has been signed and Renault already stated they have enough teams
  5. Mercedes – Mercedes (Works Team)
  6. Sauber – Ferrari – Team have publicly stated that they wish to continue with Ferrari but no deal is signed
  7. Force India – Mercedes (Customer) – 2014 onwards
  8. Williams – Mercedes (Customer)
  9. Toro Rosso – Renault (Customer)
  10. Caterham – Renault (Customer/Works) Team confirmed 2014 Renault supply and the two car companies have an alliance leading to possible cheap supply and/or partial works support
  11. Marussia – Unknown however Pat Symmonds suggested that they are chasing a Ferrari deal

Renault have publicly stated their desire to only supply 3 teams and with the 2 Red Bull teams leading the French manufactures attack along with Caterham and the global alliance they have in the road car department means they look to have their books full. Lotus appear to be the biggest losers so far as they appear to be left without a supplier currently (although all 3 current manufactures have committed to supplying the grid so they will get some sort of deal). Ferrari also appear to have a lack of Customers with only Sauber looking likely to continue to buy engines from Maranello. Marussia look likely to take one of those deals as Cosworth are not making a new V6 engine, furthermore Ferrari will need to sign a few long term deals to offset the cost of the new engine formula. Sauber are also rumoured to be close to signing a Honda power plant deal in 2015 that would significantly reduce their costs as Honda will need to look for a good Customer to continue on track development of the engine.

Martin Whitmarsh spoke of the “surprisingly open” regulations for the engines and with the lack of testing a good customer is now going to be increasingly important. Certain teams like Toro Rosso and Caterham will run the entire drive train from the works entry (Red Bull) while others such as Williams will make their own gearboxes and possibly energy recovery systems. I would expect to hear Lotus and Marussia announcing their deals within the coming weeks.

Game over all over again

Casey Stoner wrapped up the 2011 Moto GP championship at his home Grand Prix in Australia after Jorge Lornezo crashed in warm up and ruled himself out of the race and next week as well. There was further misery for Yamaha as Ben Spies couldn’t recover from his knock on the head and decided to sit the race out on saftey grounds after not being able to put together a lap on Sunday morning. His title means Casey was the first and last man to win a world title in the 880cc era and secures Honda a world championship in the formula, as next year we move to 1000cc bikes.

In other news Aoyama (former 250cc world champion) has confirmed hes moving to World Superbikes in a rather surprise move away from the Gresini Honda team, who while providing a factory spec bike to Simoncelli (who finished 2nd) couldn’t provide Aoyama with anything similar and he is currently in 10th place in the championship with a best finish of 4th. It leaves another spot open next year in a well respected team in a season where there will be a lot of new faces with the CRT bikes entering. Unfortunatly there is still no word on whether Suzuki are commited next year to running a bike, for the sake of top flight motorcycle racing I hope we do have 4 full manufactures next year and they all field quite a few bikes. It leaves 10 seats unaccounted for (plus whatever Suzuki run if anything) next year so we expect to see quite a bit of movement between Moto 2, Superbikes and Moto GP.

In F1 the Korean race provided a entertaining race that was won again by Sebastian Vettel despite McLarens pace all weekend, but there was positives for the Woking team with a pole position and Lewis Hamilton having a calm weekend to second place. There was some great battles down the field with a seasons best showing from Toro Rosso with a 7th and 9th position. In terms of the constructors it looks as though the battle for 6th place will be intense now as Toro Rosso have pulled themselves up to within 12 points of Force India and Sauber while Renault are probably too far ahead despite not scoring.