DTM

Antonio Felix Da Costa: Proof F1 isn’t Always Right

Recent events have further reminded anyone who has carelessly forgotten that Antonio Felix Da Costa is a seriously quick young racing driver, and is living proof Formula One is not always right. The paddock deemed him not worthy of a seat at the top table of motorsport, he’s now proving them fatally wrong.

In the two years of 2012 and 2013 he set the junior single seater categories alight, with a very close third in the GP3 series being topped by an incredible partial campaign in the Renault World Series. On a grid that arguably bettered that years GP2 series, Da Costa finished an incredible fourth in the series, after missing the opening three rounds.

Replacing fellow Red Bull driver Lewis Williamson, he won four of the twelve races he competed in, he finished only 23 points behind eventual champion Robin Frijns. With a full campaign he surely would have won the championship at a canter. Completing a year unlike almost any other junior categories racing driver, Da Costa then went and won the highly prestigious Macau Grand Prix, a race graced with a winners list that reads like a who’s who of the F1 grid.

F1 Young Driver Tests - Abu Dhabi

Antonio Felix Da Costa in action for the dominant Red Bull team at the end of year young driver test in Abu Dhabi, sadly this would prove a fleeting outing just as the Portuguese driver was on the cusp of a full time F1 seat. Photo copyright Red Bull Racing/Getty Images. 

Alas, after being tipped by Red Bull for promotion to their junior Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 team for 2014, the wheels fell off in 2013. Much was expected of Da Costa but he underwhelmed as he was over matched by Kevin Magnussen and rookie Stoffel Vandoorne. Third in the standings and three wins were not enough to save him, with GP3 champion Kvyat being promoted in place of him, an offer to join BMW in the DTM his best option for 2014.

From this point onwards F1 began to leave him behind, focused on hyping the next wave of young drivers rising the ranks. Da Costa has made the transition to becoming a fully paid professional racing driver, but for some they would have foresaw him F1 this year, not the DTM.

The highly competitive German Touring Car Championship is a very tough series to master, therefore it should not be shocking Da Costa has struggled to adapt to the series and his BMW M4. He shows flashes of potential but has yet to string it together for an entire year, with one win in three years of the series and a best final finishing place of 11th in 2015.

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Da Costa accepted a factory BMW drive in the highly competitive German DTM touring car series, something he struggled to adjust too so far. Flashes of potential show he’s still the same driver who should have found a place in F1. Here he is in action in 2014. Photo copyright BMW AG.

Rising through the ranks it was clear Da Costa was a special driver. A karting series world championship runner up in 2006 first brought him to the attention of the motorsport world, before a move into cars for the 2008 season. Stepping right into the competitive Formula Renault categories, he focused on the Northern European Cup whilst team mate Valtteri Bottas fought it out for the Eurocup.

Best of the rest behind the more experienced Bottas was no disgrace for Da Costa in his first year, with flashes of good form carrying over into the partial Eurocup campaign for him. 2009 would be the year to go for it and emulate Bottas by claiming both the Eurocup and NEC Formula Renault titles, the two most prestigious of the formula itself.

A close third in the Eurocup was deemed slightly disappointing but not a career breaker, with a disqualification from the Nurburgring round for a technical issue in qualifying reining in a campaign just as he was closing in on the title. A dominant win in the NEC series was a good consolation prize and cemented his reputation as an up and coming young talent.

MOTORSPORT / WSR ARAGON 2009

Before F1 testing and the DTM was Formula Renault, where it all started for Da Costa. Victory in the NEC series and third in the Eurocup cemented his reputation as a rising star of the future. Photo copyright Renault Sport.

F3 was the next rung in the ladder, Da Costa acquitting himself well with the Motopark team. Three reverse grid wins and a solid rest of year put him seventh in the final standings, also claiming the prize for being the highest placed rookie in the series. A switch to the British Carlin team for the unofficial F3 World Cup in Macau also proved fruitful, a sixth place finish a great sign of things to come in the former Portuguese colony.

2011 proved tough as he adjusted to a switch into the GP3 category, with only one win and 13th in the final standings to show for it. A partial campaign in British F3 prepared him well for Macau, but sadly a retirement put paid to any chance of resurrecting his career on the world’s fastest street track.

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In case needed reminding of his talents in a single seater, Da Costa made a one-off return to F3 for the prestigious Macau Grand Prix. The F3 World Cup proved a commanding and popular victory in the former Portuguese colony.  This was a master class in how to win on the demanding streets of one of the worlds premier junior events, but by now the F1 paddock ad stopped watching. Photo copyright Motorsport.com

Victory on his return to the Macau Grand Prix proved a welcome fillip for him after a difficult year in the DTM, but he was quick to pour cold water on the idea this would re-ignite any F1 ambitions. He seems very comfortable and happy with his roles at BMW and in the emerging Formula E championship.

Whilst at one stage he seemed destined for Formula One, Antonio Felix Da Costa is by no means a failure because he didn’t reach his goals. He can be very proud of his achievements in his career, and whilst some in the F1 paddock may have forgotten about him, victories such as his latest at Macau are reminders to the motorsport world of his talent, and that he is entirely worthy of a place in Formula One.

By Jordan Wilkins

Any thoughts on this article? Feel free to comment below and share your views, find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and a huge final thank you for reading!

 

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Susie Wolff a Role Model For Future Generations

Yesterday morning the motorsport world woke up to the news that Williams test driver Susie Wolff would retire from the sport at the end of the year. Whilst this may not seem that groundbreaking, the impact she can have on future generations of female racing drivers means her announcement is a big potential step forward for the sport.

Whilst throughout her career some may argue that her racing achievements do not merit her all this attention and scrutiny, but the very fact she was able to achieve what she did is noteworthy in itself. She is certainly not the first female racing driver and she won’t be the last, but she is one of several women drivers who can be a role model for future generations of young girls who dream of becoming racing drivers.

From an early age Susie Stoddart as she was then known had a deep passion for motorsport. She began go-karting early on and achieved some success as she was growing up. For four years in a row starting from 1996 to 1999 she was named the British female kart driver of the year, a good indicator of her talents early on. She was not just winning awards because of her gender however.

Susie Wolff began karting from an early age. Her she is aged eight. Photo copyright Susie Wolff.com .

She was both the Scottish Junior Intercontinental A and Junior Open Intercontinental A champion for 1997, before switching to the British Intercontinental A series for 1998. She finished 10th in the series, also finishing 11th overall in the European Intercontinental A series. For 1999 she moved up to the British Formula A series, finishing the year a respectable 13th. Whilst she struggled in the Formula A World Championship, finishing 34th, her progression and talent were clear to see.

2000 would be her final year in karting, whilst also managing to be her best year too. She improved to 10th in the British Formula A series, whilst also improving to 15th overall in the Formula A World Championship. Her achievements were recognized as she was awarded a prize for being the top female kart driver in the world.

From here on a progression to cars was inevitable, as she moved up to the competitive Formula Renault UK series, competing in the winter mini series initially. She joined the Motaworld team, although naturally her results were nothing groundbreaking as she acclimatized to the series.

For 2002 she made her debut in the full series, although with DFR racing she once again failed to post any notable results in a difficult season for her. 2003 would prove to be her breakthrough year, as she achieved her first podium in the series and finished the year 9th overall. She was nominated as a finalist for the prestigious BRDC McLaren/Autosport Young Driver of The Year Award, whilst also being recognized as the BRDC Rising Star of the year.

Wolff in action during her third and final Formula Renault UK campaign. Her she drives at Brands Hatch. Photo copyright Susie Wolff.com .

Stoddart returned to Formula Renault UK for her third year in 2004, joining the successful Comtec Racing team. She improved with three podiums during a year in which she finished 5th overall in the category. It was time to move up to British Formula Three for 2005, as she joined the established Alan Docking Racing team. Unfortunately for Stoddart her season was ruined by an ankle injury she suffered from the previous winter. She would only compete in the opening two round of the series. With her career momentum in the balance, her future looked precarious going into the 2006 season.

A rare shot of Susie in action during her injury plagued British F3 year in 2005. Photo copyright of SusieWolff.com .

Salvation would arrive from an unusual source for Stoddart, as she was signed by the Mucke Motorsport team to compete in the German DTM touring car championship. It was always going to be tough for Stoddart to make an impact in the series considering she was a rookie, and was driving a two year old spec Mercedes also. She managed to show some form with a strong ninth in the final round at the Hockenheimring.

Stoddart in action during one of her seven years in the DTM touring car series. Photo credit thanks to SusieWolff.com .

2007 was much a repeat of 2006 as Stoddart stayed with Mucke in a two year old car, with her best result a tenth at Mugello halfway through the season. With little progress in her first two years, Stoddart moved across to the Persson Motorsport team for 2008, although despite having former champion Gary Paffett as a team mate her best result was again a tenth, this time at the Norisring.

Wolff remained with Persson in 2009, and amazingly her best result all year was once again a tenth overall at both the Norisring once again and Oschersleben. After four difficult years in the highly competitive category, Stoddart would make a breakthrough in 2010. Once again with Persson she scored her first points in the series, with two seventh place finishes at the Eurospeedway Lausitz and Hockenheimring circuits. At the end of the year she was 13th overall in the category with four points.

Stoddart standing out in one of her DTM seasons. Photo sourced from SusieWolff.com .

After this breakthrough year Stoddart was expecting to step up again in her sixth year driving in the DTM. Unfortunately for Stoddart it would prove to be another frustrating year as she struggled as she had done before. Her best result was 11th at Valencia, leaving her unclassified at the end of the year with no points.

2012 would prove to be the now Susie Wolff’s seventh and final year in the DTM series, although she failed to go out with a bang. She once again struggled in a series where a tenth can decide the top six. Her best result would prove to be two 12th places, although by now her priorities had somewhat changed.

In early April 2012 it was announced that Wolff had joined the Williams F1 team as a development driver for them. Whilst some within the motorsport community questioned the team’s motives considering her husband Toto Wolff was a shareholder in the team, she would prove to everyone that she was ready to handle a Formula One car.

Wolff receiving instruction for her first F1 test with Williams in October 2012. Photo credit thanks to SusieWolff.com .

Wolff made her test debut for the Williams team at the Silverstone circuit in October 2012. She drove a 2011 Williams FW33-Cosworth and impressed the team with her driving. For 2013 attention increased on Wolff when she drove for the team at the mid-season young driver test. Her performance was scrutinized, as she finished the test 23rd overall from the combined times out of 33, although she was only a second off regular race driver Pastor Maldonado in the same car. It’s also very hard to read too much into testing times, considering they drove the car on different days.

It’s also worth considering that Wolff was not racing in 2013 at all, and besides her sole test run the previous October she had not driven a single seater since 2005. For Wolff her role within Williams stepped up in 2014, as it was announced she would compete in two practice sessions for the team across the year. This sparked a lot of media attention for both Wolff and the team.

Wolff showing her talents in the 2013 F1 mid-season F1 test at Silverstone. Photo credit goes to SusieWolff.com .

At her home British Grand Prix Wolff duly made history, as she became the first female driver to compete in an F1 weekend since Giovanna Amati over two decades before in 1992. Unfortunately for Wolff she was not able to fully enjoy her day as an engine failure ended her session after only four laps. Things went much more smoothly in her second practice run for the German Grand Prix.

After overcoming a first lap gearbox issue, Wolff was able to complete a good number of laps as she ended the session 15th overall, only just over two tenths of a second behind team mate Felipe Massa. This was a very impressive result for Wolff considering her lack of experience compared to Massa, an 11 time race winner in the sport.

At the end of 2014 Wolff’s efforts were rewarded by the team, as she was announced as the team’s test driver for the upcoming 2015 season. Her role increased with the team as she completed a day with the team in the second pre-season test in Barcelona, before she once again completed the opening free practice session for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Wolff steps out after one of her many practice runs for the Williams team. Photo sourced from SusieWolff.com .

Wolff ended the session 14th this time,only 0.9 of a second behind regular driver Massa. This was once again a noteworthy performance once again considering their relative experience in F1. Wolff would only have to wait a few months for her next run in the competitive Williams FW37-Mercedes, as she drove the opening day of the in-season test at Austria. After 39 laps in a rain affected day she finished ninth overall with a 1m13.248 lap time.

Whilst this was not necessarily was Wolff was hoping for, she had a chance to redeem herself with another free practice run for the upcoming British Grand Prix. Once the session had been completed Wolff would find herself 13th on the timesheets, with a time only 0.8 of a second behind Felipe Massa. Unfortunately for Wolff this would be the last time she would drive for the Williams team, as she announced her retirement from the sport only a few days ago.

Wolff leads team mate Felipe Massa during free practice one for this year’s Spanish GP. Photo sourced from SusieWolff.com .

The news of her retirement at age 32 has garnered a lot of press attention, now seems like a perfect time to look towards the future and to what her legacy can be for a future generation of female racing drivers. Whilst the results in her career may suggest that she is not possibly worthy of this role, the very fact she was able to establish herself a genuine F1 affiliated driver irrespective of her gender shows what she has achieved in the last few years.

Whilst she initially was questioned based on her relative merit for a role within F1, by the time of her announcement yesterday she was a fully fledged Williams test driver. Along with other female drivers such as Danica Patrick in Nascar, Pippa Mann in Indycar, Katherine Legge in Sportscar’s and Simona De Silvestro in Indycar have all greatly raised awareness of female racing drivers and have showed that they can be successful irrespective of their gender.

This wave of increased awareness of female drivers needs to continue, if the sport is to full shake it’s current tag as a male dominated sport. The seeds of change have been planted with the likes of Leena Gade, Audi sportscar race engineer, have shown that women can be just as successful in all aspects of motorsport as men. Wolff has already said she wants to work with the grassroots elements of the sport to promote female participation in sport.

For the likes of Wolff she has a great opportunity now to interact and help develop a wider female generation of racing drivers, therefore Wolff can act as a great role model for any future wannabe racing drivers. They can look of the example from the likes of Wolff and aspire to match or even surpass their achievements in the sport. The future could turn out to be very bright for the next few female generations of racing drivers.

What are your thoughts on the career and potential legacy of the likes of Susie Wolff? Please feel free to give your comments below and thank you for reading.

Giedo van der Garde affair leaves bitter taste

Today the news finally became official, the ongoing and high profile dispute between the Sauber team and Dutch driver Giedo van der Garde came to a close with a statement from van der Garde announcing a settlement had been reached with the team. If you don’t follow F1 and don’t know the backstory to this dispute let me give you the key details.

Giedo van der Garde was the Sauber teams reserve driver last year, and in the middle of last year the team signed him to a race deal for this year. Van der Garde confirmed the rumors in his statement today, that his personal sponsors paid their fees for this year up front on the signing of his deal last year, in an effort to help the financially struggling team through the season.

van der Garde in action for the Sauber team in a free practice session for the Spanish Grand Prix last year. Photo credit goes to http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk and http://www.Sauberf1team.com

Therefore I expect van der Garde was suitably angry and confused when it was announced late last year in quick succession that the team had also signed Swede Marcus Ericsson and Brazilian rookie Felipe Nasr. It doesn’t take a math expert to know three F1 drivers can’t drive two cars, with van der Garde becoming the fall man for the team. This is where things turned ugly as van der Garde brought his case before the courts, first in Switzerland and then in Australia last week.

In both courts he won the case, with both courts ordering Sauber to give him a race seat for this season. When understandably Sauber began to baulk at this order in the build up to last weekend’s opening Australian Grand Prix, van der Garde went back to court to get a contempt of court order, effectively forcing Sauber to give him a drive or the teams assets would be seized by bailiffs and key team members could be arrested.

This sorry saga was fast becoming a soap opera, although thankfully before qualifying last Saturday common sense prevailed, with van der Garde announcing that both he and the team entered talks on a settlement, with van der Garde giving up his right to drive last weekend. Talks between the two parties quickly developed to the stage were at today, with van der Garde announcing that a settlement had been reached.

Whilst he did not disclose the specific details today, it’s believed he has been paid 15 million Euro’s to cancel his contract and allow the team to continue with Ericsson and Nasr. For the cash strapped team this is a huge sum to pay out, although is only fair considering the sponsor money paid to the team last year and compensation for canceling his contract.

The tone of van der Garde’s statement this morning was understandably downcast, as he stated “As a passionate race driver, I feel sad and am very disappointed. I have worked very hard my entire career, ever since starting with go-karts at the age of eight, to live my dream and become a successful Formula 1 driver. I had hoped at last to be able to show what I am capable of, driving a car for a respected midfield team in the 2015 season. This dream has been taken away from me and I know that my future in Formula 1 is probably over.”

It was remarkably refreshing this morning to read his statement, where for once in modern day Formula One a driver was honest about the situation to the media, a far cry from many modern drivers PR driven stance which would have yielded a statement with plenty “no comment” mantra’s, and frankly would have been more useful to the specialist media as toilet paper.

Van der Garde went on to add “There has been a lot of speculation in the media over the past week, so I want to set out clearly that my sponsors paid the sponsorship fee related to the 2015 season in its entirety to Sauber in the first half of 2014.This was simply in good faith and to help the team deal with its cash problems at the time. Effectively, it was my sponsor’s advanced payments that helped the team survive in 2014.”

He also added his thoughts on Sauber’s decision making on the matter “Sauber’s financial decision-making in this case is bizarre and makes no sense to me.I am not at liberty to discuss details, but Sauber paid significant compensation to avoid honouring the contract they had with me. Only in that respect can I be satisfied that my rights have finally been recognised and that at least some justice has been done.”

Whilst the move clearly rankles with van der Garde, it appears a part of him is glad this ordeal is over. Van der Garde suggests his chances of rebuilding an F1 career is over for him, a shame if true considering he impressed during his rookie season with Caterham in 2013. Despite van der Garde appearing not to pursue any F1 opportunities now, he also named some series he would like to compete in the future.”I would love to take part in the WEC and the Le Mans 24 Hours in an LMP1 car. Former Formula 1 drivers do very well in this series, We also have our eye on other series such as the DTM in 2016 and beyond.”

Whilst the future remains unclear for van der Garde in motorsport, he can at least take solace that he has gained a lot of respect amongst the motorsport community for his class and dignity throughout this whole sorry saga with Sauber. Van der Garde can hold his head high that he did nothing wrong in this matter, it’s Sauber who have come out of this matter with their reputation severely diminished. This also is a shame for what was previously one of F1’s highest teams in terms of class and dignity amongst the F1 paddock.

What are your thoughts on this matter? Please feel free to comment below all comments will be appreciated both good and bad.