Scuderia Toro Rosso

Are The New Generation On The Cusp Of An F1 Revolution

Despite last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix the month of August is usually a quiet one for the Formula One community. The three week summer break and subsequent dearth of on-track action usually means it’s rumours and talk of the following year which create the headlines. In this forward thinking vain I initially started this article several weeks ago, before life got in the way for several weeks.

In recent weeks the speculation has been centered on the futures of both Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso, two of the three oldest drivers on the F1 grid at 37 and 36 respectively. Don’t let this fool you however. The current top order of Formula One is on the verge of a major generational shift. Both Raikkonen and Alonso are former world champions, along with 32 year-old Lewis Hamilton and 30 year-old Sebastian Vettel.

Five years from now Raikkonen and Alonso will have retired, and it will be unclear at what competitive level both Hamilton and Vettel will be at age 37 and 35 respectively. It’s likely that young contenders right now such as Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo, Carlos Sainz Jr and Stoffel Vandoorne will be entering their prime, but who will be pushing them at the front?

A special talent such as Max Verstappen has already reached this point at the tender age of 19. Esteban Ocon has impressed this season in his sophomore F1 campaign and at age 20 has plenty of time on his side. Williams rookie Lance Stroll is only 18 yet has already proved his doubters wrong. Pascal Wehrlein is highly rated by Mercedes at 22.

These are the next generation that are currently already in F1, but just who are the young talents looking to smash through the F1 glass ceiling? Ferrari has been grooming current FIA F2 championship leader Charles Leclerc since the beginning of 2016, and looks a perfect replacement for Raikkonen in the coming years. Mercedes have this season taken on young Brit George Russell, who currently leads the GP3 championship and could take over seamlessly from Hamilton at the front running team.

Red Bull currently have two of the best young drivers on the grid in Ricciardo and Verstappen, and have a well known driver programme that has produced an abundance of very talented young drivers.  Reigning FIA F2 champions Pierre Gasly is the latest driver deserving of an F1 shot with Red Bull, likely with it’s junior Scuderia Toro Rosso team.

Renault have two of the top contenders in F2 and GP3 in Oliver Rowland and Jack Aitken, and McLaren have the very promising Lando Norris on their books. At the present moment it appears that Leclerc and Norris have the highest profile amongst the F1 paddock. Leclerc has impressed at every stage of his career and has some F1 experience both with Ferrari and Haas.

Norris is currently taking the FIA European F3 championship by storm in his rookie campaign, leading the championship after seven of ten rounds. He also massively impressed in the Pirelli tyre test, posting the second fastest time behind only Sebastian Vettel.

In the coming seasons it will remain to be seen how many of the young drivers mentioned will reach F1, as unfortunately other factors sometimes determine if a talented driver reaches the pinnacle of the sport. What happens in the future no one can ever accurately predict 100%, however do not be surprised at all to see the F1 grid filled with many of the young drivers mentioned in this article. I may well be wrong,but at the present moment these are the brightest young talents in the F1 community.

Any thoughts on this article or any of the drivers involved? Please feel free to let me know in the comments section below. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and I hope you enjoyed the article. 

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Initial Observations From F1 Pre-Season Testing Part 2

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.

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.

f3-macau-gp-2016-antonio-felix-da-costa-carlin-dallara-volkswagen

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!

 

Hamilton takes wet pole from Vettel

Lewis Hamilton mastered the wet but drying conditions in the final Q3 session to claim pole by the narrowest of margins over the resurgent Sebastien Vettel and Ferrari. Nico Rosberg will be slightly disappointed with third although this still leaves him in a good position for the race tomorrow.

Q1 began with increasingly darkening skies as everyone worried as to when the thunderstorm clouds surrounding the circuit would finally envelop it. Everyone was quick to get out on track once the session began, all hoping to get in a banker lap time in case the rain began to fall.

Lewis Hamilton was top of the times after everyone’s first laps, with a 1m39.269 enough to oust Rosberg by 0.105 of a second. From here things began to follow a more regular Q1 pattern, with the front runners returning to the pits whilst the rest fought it out to make it into Q2. Of those eliminated at the end of Q1 it was the two Manor-Marussia entries that ended the session at the back of the field.

Brit Will Stevens wasn’t able to get out on track with an electrical problem, whilst Spanish rookie team mate Roberto Merhi was 19th, with a time just outside the 107% rule. Despite both being outside the cut off time to race, it appears they may well be able to race with the ultimate decision coming from the race stewards. The team will be hoping they can make their 2015 debut this weekend after not being able to run in Australia.

Next up were the two McLaren’s, with Jenson Button out qualifying Fernando Alonso in 17th and 18th. Whilst this wasn’t the positions the team were hoping for, they are encouraged by their step up this weekend, the team seemingly finding 0.8 of a second since the opening Australian GP. The final driver eliminated in Q1 was Australian GP hero Felipe Nasr, who struggled on his final lap and starts 16th.

On to Q2 and once again the grid filed out very early on in the session, with the threat of rain becoming very real now. Everyone was able to set one banker lap before the light rain started at the back edge of the circuit. From here it was all downhill as the downpour started in earnest. It appears across the world that Malaysia has the strongest downpours, with the track instantly soaked by the onslaught of heavy rain. With this the drivers retreated to the pits, bringing an end to the track running in Q2.

Kimi Raikkonen was the highest profile casualty with his Ferrari held up on his hot lap by Marcus Ericsson on his own timed lap, leaving the Finn 11th. Pastor Maldonado was 12th for Lotus, whilst the two Sahara-Force India’s of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez 13th and 14th respectively. Completing the top 15 is rookie Carlos Sainz in his Scuderia Toro Rosso. He will likely be slightly disappointed with this as he looked confident in the dry Q1 session, and looked likely to make Q3 before the rainfall.

After a 30 minute delay whilst the Safety Car assessed the track conditions, the final twelve minute Q3 shootout for pole got underway, with the majority of the ten remaining cars heading out with intermediate tyres on. The field were all once again out early as they hoped to dry the track for optimal performance later on in the session. As with seemingly the rest of the qualifying session Hamilton was fastest after their first timed runs, with a scintillating 1m49.834 lap time a huge 1.232 seconds quicker than team mate Nico Rosberg in second.

From here they all returned to the pits, preparing themselves for the crucial final run to decide the grid. The end of the session was slightly anti-climatic as both Hamilton nor Rosberg were able to improve their times on their final laps. This opened the door for an inspired Sebastien Vettel to claim second on the grid, only 0.074 from snatching a very unlikely pole for the resurgent Ferrari team.

Rosberg will surely be disappointed with third on the grid, showing the level of dominance the team has enjoyed over the past year or so. Daniel Ricciardo will be pleased with fourth after a difficult opening race for the Red Bull team, with team mate Daniil Kvyat right behind him in fifth. Max Verstappen belied his lack of experience with a very impressive qualifying session, culminating with sixth in tricky conditions. Whilst other more experienced drivers struggled he delivered for the Scuderia Toro Rosso team.

Felipe Massa was seventh for Williams, a disappointing return from qualifying as the team were hampered by their decision to start the session on full wet tyres instead of intermediates. They always looked to be chasing time and will be hoping tomorrow’s race is dry so they can show their full potential in the race. Romain Grosjean will be happy to be eighth as the Lotus team still adjusts to their new Mercedes engine.

The final row of the top ten is completed by Valtteri Bottas, returning after missing the Australian GP with a back injury he aggravated in qualifying. Marcus Ericsson starts in the top ten for the first time with tenth, showing Sauber will be competing for points in tomorrow’s race.

This qualifying session has provided some interesting story lines going into tomorrow’s race in Malaysia, with an earlier starting time reducing the chance of rain returning during the Grand Prix tomorrow. It will be interesting to see if Sebastien Vettel will be able to seriously challenge the AMG Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Rosberg, although if Hamilton carries on his current momentum this weekend he looks almost unstoppable on track. There will be plenty to keep you tuned in tomorrow in the Malaysian GP.

Indycar rumour mill round-up

This week has already seen some interesting rumours develop relating to potential driver moves concerning the Indycar series. The American open wheel championship has become increasingly popular with drivers over the past few years, with plenty of European drivers now turning their back on the exorbitant costs needed to simply get close to Formula One, yet many of these racers spurn the well supported World Endurance Championship as they want to remain racing single seaters. This leaves the Indycar series as the only alternative prominent single seater championship outside of F1 or the junior categories such as GP2 or Formula Renault 3.5 series.

After Carlin announced earlier this week that they would be joining the rejuvenated Indy Lights series next year, with a view to moving up to the Indycar series in the future, this shows the increasingly appeal of Indycar to the European racing community. Firstly whilst it’s not a particularly new rumour it does seem Daniel Abt is looking to move away from GP2 for next year and join the Indycar grid for next year.

He tested for the Andretti Autosport team in late October at Barber Motorsports Park and Abt was quoted as saying about the test “I had a fantastic day with plenty of fun and learned a lot. I didn’t do this test out of boredom, but would like to explore options for next year. The test was a cool experience that definitely whets my appetite for more.” Whilst Abt has current commitments with the new Formula E series, it does appear Abt is keen to change his direction and leave GP2 for the Indycar series next year.

Another former GP2 rival could be joining him stateside, as the American Conor Daly has switched his attentions back to his homeland after running into budget problems during his second year of GP2 this year. Whilst this once again isn’t a revelation it does show how the series is attracting top line American talent not just European drivers for the series, and Daly would need less acclimatization as he finished the 2013 Indy 500 in 22nd position in a one-off deal for the iconic race.

Another top line American driver that is looking to join the Indycar grid in 2015 is Alex Rossi, formerly the Caterham and Marussia reserve driver seems to have given up on F1 after coming very close this year to making his race debut with the Marussia team. Rossi was set to make his debut at this years Belgian Grand Prix in place of Max Chilton, however Chilton was re-installed at the last minute. Rossi has now switched his attention to the Indycar series for next year. Rossi has spent the last few months talking with prospective teams, and hopes to announce a deal with a competitive team in the next few weeks and into the new year.

British racer and GP3 runner up Dean Stoneman is another driver looking to switch from Europe to the American open wheel racing scene, and hopes to secure himself a Indycar test this winter in preparation for a move stateside. Whilst Stoneman himself feels ready to join the Indycar series, he has also stated if needed to he will join the feeder Indy Lights series first to gain experience of the american road circuits and the ovals. Whilst nothing is concrete at the moment, it seems plenty of Indycar and Indy Lights teams will be interested in him joining them next year. Could a potential link up with British team Carlin work out for Stoneman next year?

The final and most exciting potential rumour surrounding the Indycar series recently has been the news former Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Jean Eric Vergne is very interested in joining the series, as his next move after being replaced in F1 for next year. The Frenchman has stated he very much is looking at the Indycar series and it seems likely he will have a string of offers to join the series next year. Whilst Vergne may take a season or two to learn the American ovals and road courses, once he gets comfortable Vergne would be a formidable competitor for anyone in the series. Nothing is planned at the moment in terms of tests or significant talks with teams, although it seems likely Vergne’s next stage of his career would be stateside.

What now for Jean Eric Vergne?

First of all, Jean Eric Vergne deserves to be on the grid at the next years Australian Grand Prix. Vergne has shown more than enough potential and results over the past three seasons to warrant a place on the grid in 2015. Vergne has simply become a casualty of the ruthless Red Bull young driver scheme.

Whilst Red Bull have backed him from a young age and gave him a shot in F1 for three seasons, if you don’t show the necessary progress you will quickly be replaced with the next young hot shoe product from the Red Bull line up. With the news last Friday that Red Bull junior F1 team Scuderia Toro Rosso would replace Vergne with their latest prospect Carlos Sainz Jr. For now it seems Vergne has few options to remain in F1 next year, so what options does he have to remain racing next year?

The most likely option it seems for Vergne to remain within Formula One next year appears to be with the Williams team. Rumors began during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend as Vergne was spotted spending a fair amount of time in the Williams hospitality area. Whilst both Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa are confirmed to 2015 their reserve driver role is vacant as Felipe Nasr joins Sauber for next year. If this move comes to fruition it’s likely Vergne will get some Free Practice runs next year, and would be well placed to impress as Williams will be looking to replace Felipe Massa in several years time.

It seems the Williams role seems the most likely option to stay in F1 next year, with the only other likely reserve driver role would be with the Red Bull team, although this is unlikely to interest Vergne as there will be very little chance of being promoted to a race drive.

Vergne can be heartened by the thought that he will likely find plenty of offers from other disciplines of motorsport, and can take heart from the example of fellow Red Bull refugee Sebastien Buemi. Vergne was one of the drivers who replaced Buemi at Toro Rosso for the 2012 season, and Buemi became the Red Bull reserve driver before rebuilding his career with Toyota in the World Endurance Championship, where he has shown his tremendous speed to claim the drivers title in the WEC alongside Anthony Davidson.

The World Endurance Championship is growing in significance every year with Nissan joining Audi, Porsche and Toyota in competing for wins next year. Vergne would be able to retain a reserve driver role in F1 with a WEC campaign with a manufacture or privateer team.

Another option for Vergne could be the new Formula E championship. The series has a prestigious line up of drivers and teams and is growing with every race in it’s debut season and would be an attractive option for next year. Formula E would be another series which could inter link with his reserve driver commitments should he find a drive within F1.

Other much less likely options would be for Vergne to swap F1 for Indycar, with his single seater skills would be clearly evident as he would likely become a household name in the series. Vergne once adjusted to the Dallara DW12 Indycar could become a multiple series champion such is his skill. Another option could be a top line career in GT racing with prominent series such as the Blancpain Endurance Series or GT classes within the WEC would be a great chance to rebuild his career after F1.

From here it’s not known where Jean Eric Vergne will be racing in 2015, with several options for him it’s up to him and his agent to decide which is his best option for next year. For me the best option would be a reserve driver role in F1 to keep his face known within the F1 community, with a sportscar campaign the perfect chance to show his considerable talent such as Sebastien Buemi has done this year. It would be a shame if Vergne isn’t racing at all next year, as he’s shown in his 3 years at Toro Rosso he deserves to remain at the top line of motorsport, where his talents belong.

Red Bull have dilemma with Toro Rosso seat

Since the shock announcement of Sebastien Vettel last month that he was leaving Red Bull at the end of the season, and the immediate response of Red Bull to announce Daniil Kvyat as his replacement, many have been speculating as to who will take the second Scuderia Toro Rosso seat for next season.

With the headline making rookie Max Verstappen joining for next season, it now seems Red Bull have a straight choice of four drivers to partner him at the Red Bull junior team next season. The ultimate aim of the team has always been to promote young Red Bull talent to the main team and therefore suggests Carlos Sainz Jr will be the favourite to take the seat.

The young Spaniard and son of rallying legend Carlos Sainz has impressed this season to take the prestigious Formula Renault 3.5 series and was a shoe in for a Toro Rosso seat before Verstappen stole his thunder this Summer. Now with Kvyat moving up he has a second chance at a Toro Rosso and it would be difficult to see him moving anywhere higher other than F1. He has impressed in testing with Red Bull and Toro Rosso, and his talent deserves an F1 seat with this being his perfect chance.

Sainz Jr in action earlier this year in the Renualt World Series

The next most likely driver to keep his drive would be the Frenchman Jean Eric Vergne. It looked as if he would be turfed out of F1 after the Verstappen announcement, although he is another to be given a second chance with the Kvyat announcement. Vergne is a quick driver who more than matched ex-team mate Daniel Ricciardo during the races during their two seasons together at Scuderia Toro Rosso.

Vergne is more than deserving of a place in F1, and his main plus for him right now is the experience he can provide to both the team and Verstappen next year in comparison with another rookie like Sainz Jr.

The other two contenders are still being considered, although it does seem from here that both Pierre Gasly and Alex Lynn still have some rungs of the single seater ladder to climb before they reach F1.

Firstly Gasly was hugely impressive in his rookie year in the Renault World series, as the reigning Formula Renault Eurocup champion ended the year well to claim a distant 2nd in the standings behind fellow countrymen Sainz Jr. From here it appears the most likely move for Gasly is to move to GP2 for next year, something he completed a part season in this year for the Caterham team. A deal with the reigning champion DAMS team seems right now the most likely option for Gasly next year, with his talent meaning he will be an immediate title contender next year.

Pierre Gasly racing for Caterham in GP2 this season. Credit goes to GP2 media service for the photo.

The final and most unlikely contender to get a promotion to F1 is the impressive young Brit Alex Lynn. The GP3 champion elect has an impressive junior racing CV including a Macau GP F3 win and numerous titles in British junior racing. He has done everything asked of him this season for Red Bull, although it seems his most likely option right now is to step up to either the Renault World Series or GP2, also at this time it is unclear which series or team he will race with next season.

A time frame for when the announcement will be made has yet to be announced, although for both Red Bull and the driver they choose, the sooner the better as this gives them plenty of preparation time for the coming 2015 F1 season.

At this moment it seems a straight decision between Sainz or Vergne, although Gasly and Lynn could be outside contenders for a role with the team next season. Whichever driver they choose, Red Bull will have picked a very fast young driver, with plenty more queuing up behind him for the moment they falter.