Want a real twist to the story? The big story of 2019 could be Daniel Ricciardo bringing Renault their first win as a factory team since Fernando Alonso in 2008.
Obviously, we now know that Red Bull will indeed be Honda powered, but leaving this section in, even if out of date, shows some of the insight into that decision.
After Monaco, all eyes were on Mercedes to respond to the beatdown Red Bull and Ferrari put on them in the streets of Monte Carlo. Canada was a track they should have been untouchable on. It’s an unashamed power track and Mercedes still has the dominant engine in the field. Their mix of power, reliability, and packaging has been immensely tough to beat for the last few seasons, but Ferrari, Renault, and Honda are working their way closer to the tri-pointed star. But an F1 car is much more than just an engine, and Mercedes’ W09 chassis is also potent on the fast tracks. It can manage its tires well on fast, medium to low downforce circuits. Spain was a textbook example of this advantage with Hamilton beating even his own teammate by 20 seconds. Canada is a low downforce, high-speed track that should have been a Silver Arrow walk in the park.
And then word came down that Mercedes new engine wasn’t going to be ready in time for Montreal. Scheiße. Not only would Mercedes not have the power they needed to stay ahead of their title rivals, but they would likely have to detune their engines slightly to ensure they lasted the weekend! This essentially ruined any chance of Mercedes taking home an easy 1-2. There were flashes of brilliance, but for the most part, the Mercedes was third fiddle to Ferrari and Red Bull.
Red Bull was the next to shine, with Max Verstappen sweeping all three practice sessions. After humiliating himself at Monaco, Verstappen has to redeem himself, and redeem he did by putting in fast laps in all three practice sessions, and he didn’t even clip the Wall of Champions in the process. Red Bull looked to be ready to steamroll the field like they did at Monaco…until qualifying.
Ferrari struggled on Friday and spent all day and night trying to get their car to work. Using simulator time back in Maranello, the Scuderia made a breakthrough and come FP3, Vettel was nipping at Verstappen’s heels, losing out to the Red Bull by a mere 0.038 seconds. Vettel then banged out a record-setting lap to grab pole. Mercedes also turned on the Party Mode and were able to keep Red Bull off the front row. Vettel then turned in one of his signature RBR drives, pulling away at the start, getting out of DRS range, and then controlling the race, keeping a safe distance to the car behind, never allowing Valtteri Bottas to get too close, but not pushing too hard to make a mistake or hurt the car. This type of race is something Sebastian Vettel is an absolute master at and in many ways it is his greatest strength: give him the right set of tools and he is absolutely untouchable. It does mean that there’s a snowball’s chance in hell there’s going to be any passing for the lead, but it is rather impressive from an engineering/nerd standpoint. Sadly though, it means a 2-hour nap from the sporting standpoint.
In summation, Ferrari went into the weekend with no discernable advantage but was able to become the dominant car by working at every little detail until their car and strategy were unbeatable. Would things have been different if say, Verstappen was in 2nd instead of Bottas? Not a chance. Vettel proved this by banging out a series of fast laps at the end of the race, just to remind the field that he was in charge.
A lot gets made of the gap between the top three teams and the rest of the field, but it was never more pronounced than in Canada. Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull Racing weren’t just quicker than the others, they were in another universe. The six cars represented by those three teams were the only to finish on the lead lap. Everyone else finished one or more laps down. This also happened in Spain, though there were more DNFs. It really goes to show the type of advantage the top running teams have. That being said, the top three are still rather close. Source
The French Grand Prix is both new and old. Formula 1 has raced many, many times in France: fun fact, the French Grand Prix is the oldest Grand Prix, dating back to 1906. When the Formula 1 World Championship first appeared in 1951, the French Grand Prix was a part of the schedule (along with the Indianapolis 500 oddly enough), and it ran continuously through 2007, save for 1955 (the year of the horrific LeMans disaster). It was a genuine shame that the French Grand Prix fell off the calendar and it was one of the first signs that Bernie Ecclestone was abandoning F1’s European roots for far-flung destinations, sometimes in dictatorships, with no motorsport heritage. Losing the French GP was akin to losing North Wilkesboro in NASCAR, or Phoenix in IndyCar. Sure, the business reasons for leaving those tracks outweighed the sentimentality of those races, but they still signaled a major turning point for their respective series. While North Wilkesboro will likely never see a return to the NASCAR schedule, IndyCar did return to Phoenix and Formula 1 is returning to France! F1 hasn’t raced at the Circuit Paul Ricard in nearly 30 years and with no relevant data to work with, the engineers will be thrown a fresh challenge. It will also be a fresh challenge to the drivers, and new challenges seem to bring the action in F1. We’ll be back in another two weeks (hopefully on time for once) for more Formula 1 action!