This is the second part of my initial look at the Formula One grid after the first test of the 2017 season. As I mentioned yesterday this year has seen a seismic change with the rules as the cars have been given bigger tyres and more aggressive aero, with the intention of increasing lap times significantly. (more…)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Where Next For Kevin Magnussen?
5th October 2015. Kevin Magnussen was celebrating his 23rd birthday. But a good day very quickly turned into a very bad one when he checked his emails. He noticed one from McLaren team principal Ron Dennis’s personal assistant Justine Bowen. He was being told his services as McLaren F1 reserve driver would not be required in 2016 and his contract would therefore not be renewed. Even for the famously business orientated Dennis this seemed a very harsh move.
Magnussen had grew up and developed with the team since he joined their young driver programme in 2010, reaching the pinnacle with a second place in his debut for the team at the 2014 Australian Grand Prix. Magnussen showed well against experienced former world champion team mate Jenson Button. But then the big names became involved. Honda were partnering with McLaren from 2015 onwards, and very quickly Fernando Alonso fell out of love with Marco Mattiacci and Ferrari, rendering him suddenly on the market for 2015.
This brought about a scenario which seemed impossible in 2008. Fernando Alonso would reunite with Ron Dennis and McLaren. This seemed impossible after their very bitter and public falling out in their first spell together in 2007. But I guess times change and money talks in F1, all of this leaving Magnussen battling Button for the remaining race drive for 2015.
What followed was a very drawn out waiting game for both Magnussen and Button as months passed whilst McLaren tried to make their decision. Whilst it’s believed many in the team favoured the younger Magnussen, it appears at the last minute experience won out and the team announced their driver line up of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button in early December.
With very little time to find himself another drive in a competitive series, Magnussen had little other option than to accept the role of McLaren reserve driver for 2015, before finding a race seat for 2016. One thing was clear. Kevin Magnussen still wanted to race in 2015. He was in the advanced stages of securing a Indycar drive for the year so he could continue to race. Then Fernando Alonso got in his way again.
In the later stages of pre-season testing Alonso mysteriously crashed his McLaren-Honda, and whilst the initial assessment was not a serious one, it was quickly discovered Alonso had suffered a concussion and was unlikely to make the opening Australian Grand Prix several weeks later.
Magnussen was forced to end talks of an Indycar drive as he was called into action to replace Alonso in Australia. What followed was a hugely disappointing grand prix weekend where both McLaren drivers were plagued with issues surrounding the new Honda power plant. Magnussen qualified last and didn’t even start the race as his engine failed before the start to complete a miserable weekend for him and the team.
Fast forward nine months and Magnussen is now looking for a race deal in 2016 after largely being sat on the sidelines for 2015. He came close to joining the new Haas F1 team for 2016 but lost out to first choice Romain Grosjean, and has recently tested for World Endurance title winning Porsche 919 for the team.
Magnussen will surely be a driver high in demand for 2016 with his talents, it’s now whether he wishes to try and continue in single seater series such as Indycar/Super Formula or whether he changes tack and moves over to sportscars or GT racing.
Surely Magnussen will get another chance in F1 soon, he’s too talented to only have one season at the pinnacle of motorsport. Only forces beyond his control can stop him. Yet where does the young Dane go from here? He’s looking to bounce back in big way next year after being an after thought at McLaren this year. Add the extra fire surely provided by the process of his dismissal from the team and he will be looking to prove a point next year.
He was close to an Indycar drive this year, so could he cast his eye back to the series for next year. The only top line drive available appears to be the final Chip Ganassi Racing entry, a car he could seriously impress with next year. Should he take up this seat he would surely be a dark horse contender for race victories throughout the year.
For now another possibility that hasn’t been ruled out is joining the Super Formula series in Japan. It’s highly competitive with a top quality grid which would keep Magnussen race sharp as he looks towards a return to F1. Whilst it will make it harder to gain the attention of Formula One in Japan, the series would be every bit as good as Indycar for him right now. Whilst nothing has been mentioned and it seems unlikely, it cannot be ruled out.
Or could he be eyeing sportscars next year? The WEC is building in prestige and popularity every year, with an increasing influx of young single seater drivers making the move to become professional drivers. With the level of technology in the current leading LMP1 these prototypes are arguable more advanced than current F1 cars.
After testing the Porsche 919 Hybrid at Barcelona, he raved about the car calling it “the most advanced race car in the world”. Should the European Grand Prix in Baku remain clashing with the Le Mans 24 Hours, that would leave a seat available in the Porsche team for their warm up events and the 24 Hours itself. Porsche say their considering several drivers, could Magnussen be one of them?
He would make a big impact for the Porsche team and would likely prove very fast in the WEC next year. The series would also be the perfect shop window for him to try find a way back into F1 when he feels the time is right. Porsche won both the championship itself and the marquee Le Mans 24 Hours, an opportunity to make your debut for Porsche contending for victory would be a dream for Magnussen.
From here who knows where Kevin Magnussen will be racing in 2016. The only thing we know is that whatever he’s driving, he’ll be going flat out and racing at the front.
Where do you think Magnussen will be racing next year? Let me know in the comments section and thank you for reading.
Speculation Builds Around Jenson Button Again
For Jenson Button this recent speculation over his future with McLaren for next season must feel like a really bad case of deja vu. This time last year he faced the same mounting speculation over his future, which was not settled until early December. This time around he will be pleading with the McLaren team to make a decision as to his future a lot quicker than last year.
It seemed very much in the balance last winter as the McLaren team exhaustively deliberated who would be the best choice to partner the incoming superstar Fernando Alonso. With the new Honda engine package for this year, it was decided that the vast experience and great relationship Button has with Honda swung the drive in his favour. This forced promising rookie Kevin Magnussen into the reserve driver role for this year, however with Belgian protege Stoffel Vandoorne blitzing the GP2 field McLaren now has a serious driver logjam on it’s hands.
Whilst the team has the most high profile driver line up in F1 outside of AMG Mercedes and Ferrari, the McLaren pairing of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button will not be a cheap option for the team. This is becoming increasingly important as McLaren has struggled to return to race winning form since the end of 2012. McLaren team principal Eric Boullier commenting recently how the team’s struggles this year will hugely affect their future revenue streams.
The team are currently ninth in the F1 constructors standings, which will represent a drop of $15 million dollars compared to their fifth place finish last year. Their lack of results will also make it a lot harder to attract potential sponsors. This is something the team has struggled with since it lost title sponsor Vodafone at the end of 2013.
The McLaren-Honda car for this year, noticeably devoid of major sponsors once again. Photo credit thanks to McLaren.com and BBCsport.com .
Jenson Button reiterated his commitment to F1 last season when he took a pay cut to re-sign with the team for 2015 and 2016. Therefore it seems strange that speculation is still mounting recently as to his future when he has a contract in place for next year. Also Button will be kept up to date with any negotiations with Vandoorne as he co-manages the young Belgian driver.
With Fernando Alonso still the best overall driver in F1 McLaren are not going to drop him any time soon, this leaves Button on the hot seat should McLaren feel they need an injection of youth in their driver line up. Whilst this may prove to be an illogical move at this present time with Honda’s inexperience with these new, highly complex power units. Surely Honda will need the vast experience of both Alonso and Button to help in their mission to catch up on the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari who have several years head start on them in terms of these power units.
If Button is retained for next year this leaves McLaren with another issue. What can they do with Magnussen and Vandoorne? Magnussen showed good promise in his rookie year last year, and has a stellar junior single seater record. Magnussen has already stated earlier this year he cannot do another year of not racing and sitting on the sidelines. This will likely force McLaren to try and find him a drive with another F1 team, which will prove very difficult.
The team faces the same issue with the GP2 champion elect Stoffel Vandoorne. He has impressed in every junior racing category so far, and has exceeded McLaren’s expectations for him to win the title this year. He’s dominated the field with consistent podium placings, and he currently sitting a whopping 108 points ahead of fellow F1 hopeful Alex Rossi in 2nd. Surely Vandoorne will be in F1 next year, it’s simply a case of which team he will be driving for.
For McLaren they face a very tough decision over the coming months, as they have four legitimate F1 drivers yet only two seats to house them. With Fernando Alonso a cert for next year they now must decide if they are to honour Jenson Button’s contract for next year and retain his vast experience and speed. Or will they instead go with the young contender who appears destined for F1 in Stoffel Vandoorne. Kevin Magnussen is also waiting in the wings, although for McLaren, two of their drivers are likely to be disappointed by the time the new F1 season is rolling around next year.
Who should McLaren retain? Give your thoughts in the comment box below.
McLaren have best driver problem in F1
Whilst teams like AMG Mercedes try to work out how best to keep their drivers in line next year, and others like Red Bull and Ferrari adapt to new driver line up’s, McLaren currently have the best driver problem on the grid for the next few years. Whilst today’s announcement of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button will lead to questions as to how the two, and especially how Fernando Alonso and Ron Dennis can work together effectively after a tumultuous 2007 season. The team now has an extensive amount of experience which will greatly help the Honda engineers in their debut season, with two very quick young drivers waiting in the wings for the future.
Alonso returning to McLaren for next year would have been laughed at before the 2014 season, however this shows how crazy a season it was as Alonso managed to escape a Ferrari team in transition, with a return to McLaren providing promise of potential wins and further championships for the 33 year old Spaniard. His return to a McLaren team once again spearheaded by disciplinarian Ron Dennis will be an interesting sub-plot to the 2015 season, however both have matured and changed since 2007 therefore a return to the days of a broken relationship between the two is unlikely to occur.
As for Jenson Button, he was forced to sit on the sidelines and wait for an extraordinary amount of time as McLaren deliberated over whether to retain his experience for a crucial first year for the new Honda engine next year, or whether to start planning for the future by placing promising rookie Kevin Magnussen alongside Alonso. This morning McLaren finally announced their decision to retain Jenson Button, although it appears he’s been forced to take a pay cut for next year and it’s rumored the team have signed him to a one year deal.
All smiling faces at today’s announcement as Alonso and Button are confirmed at McLaren-Honda next year.
Whilst both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button will be thrilled everything is finally confirmed, meaning they can now fully focus on the 2015 season and the beginning of a new works partnership with Honda, McLaren will also be rubbing their hands with glee over both their current plans extending into the future. For the next few seasons, the team arguably has the best driver line up in F1 with three world championships and 27 years of F1 experience between them going into the 2015 season. This experience and competitive determination will greatly benefit the development of the new Honda turbo next year.
Going into the future with a driver line up comprising 33 year old Fernando Alonso and 34 year old Jenson Button, McLaren have clearly been forced to plan for the future when these two incredible drivers decide to retire from Formula One. This is the brilliant problem McLaren have as they already have two very quick young drivers on their books who could adequately carry on the McLaren-Honda project in the future.
Kevin Magnussen in action for McLaren during the season ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last month.
Kevin Magnussen had an impressive debut season in F1 this year, and whilst we rightly feel hard done by that he’s not on the grid next year, will be aware of the wider implications and the opportunity he has at McLaren if he stays in his current position for a year or two more. Alongside Magnussen McLaren also supports the highly promising young Belgian driver Stoffel Vandoorne. Whilst that name won’t mean anything to the majority of casual F1 fans, Vandoorne has impressed in every category he’s raced in, including a hugely impressive 2nd in the standings during his debut year of GP2 racing this year. A second season in GP2 looks the most likely option for him with his objective surely to dominate and win the title. From here a reserve driver role with McLaren is likely until either Alonso or Button is replaced by Vandoorne to partner Magnussen.
Stoffel Vandoorne in action for McLaren-Honda during the post season test in Abu Dhabi last month.
For all concerned it seems today’s driver announcement is the start of a new, successful era as firstly McLaren and Honda both benefit in the short and long term. The experience Alonso and Button will bring will be invaluable, whilst the team has two quick young drivers to replace them when the timings right. For Alonso and Button it gives them fresh hope about a revival at McLaren after two unsuccessful year with the promise of wins and championships enough to keep both motivated.
Finally for Magnussen and Vandoorne it gives them hope regarding the potential of the team they are both likely to drive for in the next few years. Both will miss the development phase of the project and will likely both come in when the team is ultra competitive. Put simply, with today’s press announcement, McLaren may have just revealed it’s plans for F1 success for the next 10-15 years. The 2015 season will now be even more eagerly anticipated.
Photo credit goes to :
Announcement photo – Photo credit goes to http://www.Mclaren.com with extra credit going to http://www.Motorsport.com also.
Kevin Magnussen photo – Photo credit goes to XPB images, with special credit going to http://www.Motorsport.com.
Stoffel Vandoorne photo – Photo credit goes to XPB images, with extra credit going to http://www.Motorsport.com also.
Alonso saga finally coming to a close
Ever since Fernando Alonso publicly made disparaging comments about his Ferrari car after the 2013 Hungarian Grand Prix, speculation has abounded as to his future with the fabled Ferrari team. Whilst Alonso had previously commented on his wish to remain at Ferrari for the rest of his career, and had signed a long term deal tying him to the team until the end of 2016, it appeared increasingly likely he could leave the team as their cars failed to provide with championship opportunities.
At age 33 and coming closer to the end of his career, Alonso was increasingly motivated to add more world titles to his two already from his years at Renault in 2005-2006. Alonso should have won the 2010 world title in his first season with Ferrari, although a strategic error in the final race in Abu Dhabi meant he was stuck behind the Renault of Vitaly Petrov, and was forced to watch Sebastien Vettel steal his first world title from him.
From here 2011 was a lean year as Ferrari struggled and Red Bull dominated, although 2012 saw Alonso wring every last ounce of performance from his once again poor Ferrari car, to take the championship title fight into the final race in Brazil. Despite leading the title fight for a majority of the year, Alonso once again was beaten by Vettel at the final race for the title.
In 2013 Ferrari once again struggled with a poor car as Red Bull and Sebastien Vettel once again dominated, something Alonso grew increasingly frustrated with. After his response from a reporter asking what he would like for his upcoming birthday in the aftermath of the Hungarian Grand Prix, Alonso sarcastically responded with “someone else’s car.” These were ill timed comments from Alonso as there were persistent rumours at this time that Alonso and his manager were talking to Red Bull about potentially him joining the team to replace his great friend Mark Webber for 2014.
From here Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo warned Alonso about his F1 conduct with regards to his comments, with a statement from this time stating “There is a need to close ranks, without giving in to rash outbursts that, while understandable in the immediate aftermath of a bad result, are no use to anyone. That was a reference to the latest comments from Fernando Alonso, which did not go down well with Montezemolo, nor with anyone in the team.All the great champions who have driven for Ferrari have always been asked to put the interests of the team above their own.”
After the prospect of an unlikely Red Bull move was quashed after Daniel Ricciardo was announced as their new driver, it seemed Alonso was stuck with Ferrari until the foreseeable future. This was not entirely a bad thing however, as many tipped Ferrari to benefit most from new 2014 regulation which saw a switch to turbo V6 power. The fact Ferrari would be the only team other than AMG Mercedes producing both their own cars and engines, which suggested they would have an advantage with the design of their 2014 car and engine.
After a mixed testing period, once the season started it quickly became apparent AMG Mercedes would be dominant as the Mercedes engine was clearly the most powerful, with some even suggesting an 60-80bhp advantage over the Ferrari powerplant. It was also apparent the AMG Mercedes and Red Bull chassis were much better than the Ferrari F14T. Alonso once again performed heroics to drag the car onto the podium with a 3rd at the Chinese Grand Prix, it was clear however Alonso would once again miss out on the world title in 2014 as the two AMG Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg dominated the season.
Heads began to roll at Ferrari as team principal Stefano Domenicalli resigned after the Bahrain Grand Prix, to be replaced by the CEO of Ferrari North America, Marco Mattiacci. Despite having very little racing experience Di Montezemolo felt his success with Ferrari North America could help provide a fresh impetus to Ferrari. It was clear now that the relationship between Alonso and Di Montezemolo was strained. As the season wore on and Alonso struggled it also became clear Mattiacci felt Alonso could be deemed expendable as his frustrations and lack of commitment to Ferrari increased.
This therefore provided a very unlikely initial rumour which quickly grew much larger. Honda were to join F1 in 2015 with McLaren, and it soon became clear Honda would provide an open chequebook to sign a top line driver. Whilst Sebastien Vettel laughed off the rumours, it soon became clear Alonso was seriously considering the offer. The news that long term Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo was to leave the team at the Italian GP did little to persuade Alonso to stay.
This ongoing saga reached critical mass at the 2014 Japanese GP, where it became apparent in the build up to the weekend that Alonso and Ferrari had reached an agreement to terminate his contract after the 2014 season. In the next few days the bombshell was announced that Sebastien Vettel was to leave Red Bull, with their team principal Christian Horner letting the cat out the bag by announcing he was to join Ferrari. This development left Alonso in a weakened position as it now became obvious his only options for 2015 were to either join McLaren or take a sabbatical.
After brief talk of Alonso potentially taking a year off and desperately trying to get himself into an AMG Mercedes seat for 2016 was shot down by the team, it became clear Alonso would likely sign for McLaren. Whilst the team has struggled in the past two years, and also Alonso’s turbulent season with the team in 2007, it appears fresh impetus from Honda will give Alonso a greater chance to be competitive and add the world titles his craves to his resume. McLaren with Honda will likely by Grand Prix winners within two years, whilst Ferrari are talking of several years of re-building before becoming dominant again.
This is why Alonso was so keen to leave the team, as sticking around for several years of re-building will not leave him enough time to win any more world titles. This optimism is something McLaren can provide with their’s and Honda’s winning pedigree. An official announcement on Alonso’s move to McLaren is likely to come later this month, with the next big decision for the team being whether to retain either experienced Brit and key ally of Honda Jenson Button or the team’s young rookie Kevin Magnussen. Plenty of people in the paddock with be relieved when all the confirmations are revealed, as Alonso looks forward to developing the McLaren-Honda package in 2015.
Photo credits go to :
Alonso 2013 Hungarian GP – http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2013/07/28/alonso-faces-investigation-over-drs-breach/
Alonso 2012 Brazilian GP – http://www.motorauthority.com/news/1080651_vettel-picks-up-third-f1-world-champion-after-brazilian-gp
Alonso Di Montezemolo photo – http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2014/09/06/hamilton-ends-pole-position-wait-monza/gp-italia-f12014-23/