Stoffel Vandoorne

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. 

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.

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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!

 

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.

Stoffel Vandoorne in action in a dominant GP2 year for the champion elect. Thanks to Motorsport.com for the high quality photo.

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.

http://www.motorsport.com/all/photo/main-gallery/yasuhisa-arai-head-of-honda-motorsport-jenson-button-kevin-magnussen-fernando-alonso-a/?a=459589
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.

http://www.motorsport.com/f1/photo/main-gallery/kevin-magnussen-mclaren-f1-192/?sz=9&s=-6&oft=821&id=1792681&i=806
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.

http://www.motorsport.com/f1/photo/main-gallery/stoffel-vandoorne-third-driver-mclaren-f1-team-33/?sz=9&s=-6&oft=424&id=1793457&i=416
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.