The 2018 Belgian Grand Prix was much anticipated. That the race would be organised at the historic and much-adored Spa Francorchamps was only one of the reasons. The ‘summer break’, which is Formula 1’s mandatory shutdown period, was anything but one. There were several announcements that were made during the summer break itself; Ricciardo, Alonso, Sainz and Gasly — all drivers choosing supposedly greener pastures for 2019.
The other big story during the summer break was Force India’s miraculous recovery. It was heartening to see all stakeholders of Formula 1 work together to find a solution to keep Force India in the sport and the business. The eventual outcome for the team and its new owners could be considered as a fair one. While they were docked all championship points earned yet (59 in total), they were allowed to retain their earnings from the previous year — a decision that will impact the future funding and cash flows for Force India and hence the development of their cars too.
Given Force India’s form yet and the cash injection from the new owners bringing their in-season car development program on track, one could safely bet that Force India wouldn’t finish the season at the bottom of the table. The team’s Sporting Director, Andy Stevenson, indicated that the 2018 Singapore Grand Prix would offer a true performance measure of the team’s development this season. Apart from the sporting comment, he was quick to point out that ownership changes every 10-11 years had become the norm for Jordan-Midland-Spykar-Force India team!
On the drivers’ front, the media sessions and press conferences of which Firstpost was a part, could have either been extremely interesting or dull. Given the repeated ‘corporate’ answers received from most drivers, voting on ‘dull’ (strictly from a news point of view) would have been an easy choice. Ricciardo’s answers (on whether he left Red Bull Racing because of Max Verstappen) were made interesting by the Sainz-Alonso banter exchanged in Spanish. As for Carlos Sainz Jr., we were almost surprised when he admitted that the opportunity to drive for Mclaren meant that he wasn’t disappointed at being overlooked by Red Bull Racing.
Our concern with the already public driver line-ups for 2019 is the fact that each of the top-three teams have a pairing that might not offer much inter-team rivalry (of course, Ferrari is yet to confirm their second driver). There is good chance that the number 2 driver (designated, or not) will end up supporting the team’s number 1 driver’s title challenge. But of course, this is assuming that Red Bull Racing-Honda will deliver a competitive package.
Fernando Alonso brought to surface the personality that every team in the paddock seems wary of. His public banter with Red Bull Racing’s Christian Horner seemed unwanted. Why such drama at this stage of his career and when he has decided to leave the sport towards the end of the season? If Alonso’s talent is one for the junior drivers to learn from, same goes for how the Spaniard has managed his career and relationships in the sport.
Mclaren chose to replace Fernando Alonso with Lando Norris in Friday’s Free Practice 1 session — a move that could be seen as a first in the team’s illustrious history. There are rumours that Norris could make his racing debut in Formula 1 at either Mclaren or Toro Rosso in 2019. Irrespective, Norris was quick to change his overalls and helmet after Free Practice 1 and jump into his Formula 2 car for his qualifying session.
The Formula 1 Paddock also had different mindsets on offer. On one hand, Fernando Alonso was talking about saving his Motorsport career, while on the other, Lewis Hamilton was talking about saving the planet! While Alonso’s decision to race elsewhere in 2019 might bring him more joy and reward, Hamilton was clear that his focus for the second half of the season would be to ensure that the pendulum doesn’t swing against his 24 points lead on title-rival Sebastian Vettel.
While most drivers we spoke to (Leclerc, Stroll and Ocon) are still unaware of their contract situation for 2019, there is good reason to believe that mid-season driver changes will actually happen in 2018. Lance Stroll will be itching to jump into the cockpit at Force India — but who would end up as his partner? Will the team retain Sergio Perez who has the capacity to deliver big results for the team and attracts sizeable backing from Mexican companies? Or will the team retain Esteban Ocon, Mercedes’ junior driver, with a view to build a stronger customer-manufacturer relationship with the World Champion team? Whichever way the ball rolls, it might end up in tears for at least one driver for no fault of their own nor for lack of performances.
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Updated Date: Aug 25, 2018 14:15:19 IST