Williams

Initial Observations From F1 Pre-Season Testing

This week Formula One 2017 fired into life with the first pre-season test at the Barcelona circuit, the venue for the Spanish Grand Prix in May. After the initial launches of the new 2017 spec cars last week, many questioned whether the established order from years previous would be shaken by the new 2017 regulations?

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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.

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.

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.