With Indy and Le Mans in the books and the F1 season about to kick into hyperdrive, it’s time for a pause to reflect on what we’ve seen and what we can look forward to.
Fernando Alonso– It’s official, Fernando Alonso is the LeBron James of racing. He’s universally regarded as the best in the business yet is hamstrung by a weak team that can’t get him to the top. His two championships in 17 years seem like a massive underachievement when considering his talent, much the same as Lebron’s 3 titles in 15 years. And just as LeBron reminds us of his brilliance annually by dragging his Cavs to the Finals each of the past four seasons, Alonso steps out of his day job and goes on to lead and contend in his maiden Indy 500 and then wins Le Mans outright in his first attempt. And now, like LeBron, the big news of the summer will be all about……….. The Decision!
Will McLaren really partner with Andretti Autosport to field a car for Fernando in the Indycar series? Fernando has been making it pretty clear that he’s bored stiff with the status quo of F1, so what better way to get the racing juices flowing again than changing his name to Freddy and coming to America for a year to mix it up with the Dixons and Powers of the world? It would be a coup for Indycar and fantastic for racing fans the world over. It’s a travesty that Alonso is currently driving his tail off for 7th place at best in F1, so let’s flip the script and get him over here slugging it out on the Phoenix oval, the Detroit motocross street track, and the classics like Road America and Long Beach. I have no doubt that he would grab a handful of wins in his first year and delight the North American audiences, but it’s the anticipation of seeing him react to getting Charlie Kimballed into the wall at a high rate of speed or finishing 13th after leading 40 laps due to unlucky yellow flag strategy that also has me intrigued. In 1994 Indycar had three former world champs in the field and people lined up at the gates waiting to get in, let’s hope that in 2019 we get another champ back into the series to help restore a little glory.
Max Verstappen– I’ll admit it, I thought this was the year that Max was going to break out and contend for the title with the flair of a young Nigel Mansell. The reality is Max still needs more time in the Red Bull finishing school. To quickly recap his year:
Australia – Off the pace 6th (+21 to D Ric in P4)
Bahrain – Crash in Q1. Made a great start from 15th but attempted an aggressive move on Lewis that led to a tire puncture and later had to retire.
China– Red Bull had him in a position to win late after taking fresh rubber but Max grew impatient and tried to overtake Lewis in a place where it wasn’t on. Danny Ric slipped by and went on to a brilliant win. To make matters worse, Max made a crazy lunge on Vettel that resulted in both cars spinning. Result P5.
Baku – The Baku Bamboozle! After spending much of the race trading paint and rubbing wheels with Danny Ric, Max tried to shut the door on his teammate with a double move into turn 1 that resulted in both cars out on the spot. It was an awful move that remarkably didn’t boil over into a civil war between teammates.
Spain – Workmanlike P3, +26 to the winner Lewis, but -24 to Danny Ric
Monaco – Incomprehensibly stuffed a potential race winning car in practice and couldn’t partake in qualifying. Started last, but drove sensibly to P9 while Danny Ric won the race.
Canada – Solid P3, +8 to winner Vettel and -12 to Danny Ric.
That recap reads like a rap sheet for the local juvenile delinquent causing mayhem in his neighborhood. Max is better than this! I’m intrigued that Red Bull didn’t allow his dad and entourage to attend Canada and he had his best race of the year. Is there a little rift growing there? My prediction is Max settles into the European season and reminds us why he’s the brightest young talent in the sport.
Other F1 Takeaways:
Over the first seven races we haven’t seen the wheel to wheel fighting among the Big 3 that I was hoping for because passing is next to impossible due to the aero package, but at least it’s now difficult to predict who will have the best car on the Thursday before the race weekend. To date it’s Ferrari 3 wins, Red Bull 2 and Mercedes 2 and I expect this ebb and flow to continue into the Summer break.
The second pack (Group B) has been ultra competitive as expected, but it’s disappointing to see them so far down the road from the Big 3. Last weekend in Canada Nico Hulkenberg won best of the rest but was lapped by Vettel. Renault appear to be separating themselves from the rest, but over the first 7 races McLaren, Force India, Haas and even Toro Rosso have all taken turns as the Group B top dogs.
Charles Leclerc has become very handy with three top 10’s over the past four races. It’s one thing to get lucky due to attrition and score big points when you’re a backmarker once, but to do it 3 times in a Sauber is impressive. Yes I’ll go on record and say that Bulseyeview was wrong in my assessment that the young Monegasque didn’t look impressive when I saw him drive in Austin last year. He’s on the books at Ferrari and should have Kimi worried that next year the Finn may find himself on a jet ski in the Med with a Marlboro dangling from his lips during the Monaco GP weekend.
Another driver doing nothing to hurt his reputation is Esteban Ocon. He is currently holding a 5-2 advantage over Perez in qualifying on Saturday afternoons highlighted by a P6 on the grid in Monaco and a P8 in Canada. Whipping that pink special around Monaco to 6th on the grid has to be in the running for the Ayrton Senna “I’m in another dimension” Qualifying Award. Force India have been somewhat swallowed up by the midfield this year, but Ocon is going to make Mercedes think long and hard about how to handle the career of this rapid 22 year old.
Top 3 Drives of the Year:
- Danny Ric slicing through both Mercedes and Vettel to win China
- Danny Ric winning Monaco with a MGU-K failure
- Pierre Gasly finishing P4 in Bahrain, beating the likes of Hulkenberg and Alonso by over 30 seconds.
The silly season is upon us and Red Bull just kicked it into high gear with the announcement that they will sever their partnership with Renault and go with Honda for next season. Will this have any effect on Danny Ric returning? And will this give Red Bull the works advantage that they’ve been seeking? Stay tuned. With 4 titles in 12 years you can’t say that the partnership wasn’t successful, but Renault produced a clunker in 2014 when the turbo hybrids were introduced and they’ve been playing catch up since. One can only play “What If” over the thoughts of Red Bull having a Ferrari or Merc powerplant over the past 4.5 years.
Who’s on the Hotseat?
I think it’s safe to say that Brendon Hartley is officially on the hotseat. Is anyone surprised? With Marko and Tost presiding over the Red Bull driver program like headmasters at a military academy, any young kid that takes a check and slaps a Red Bull sticker on his visor is officially on the hot seat. It’s highly likely that Hartley will be gone before the years end but he can take solace knowing he’ll join some illustrious company with names such as Alguersuari, Bourdais, Buemi, Kvyat, Luizzi, Speed, and Vergne.
Romain Grosjean? Romain has had a combo of awful luck, terrible errors and a teammate who is getting on with it. The crash while in a nice points paying position under yellow in Baku has to go down as one of the most boneheaded moves of the decade. Lucky for Grosjean, most of the F2 kids seem a little too raw and Haas has 0.0 interest in putting an American in the seat.
Finally, anyone employed by Williams is on the hotseat.
Over on this side of the pond, the Indycar season has been solid week in and week out, but has been lacking in the barnburners we’ve grown accustomed to that can induce gnawing on a couch pillow. The new car looks great and the emergence of Rossi and Wickens joining Newgarden as the young guns of the series bodes well for the future. It’s funny though, early in the year it seemed that this new wave was about to take the series by storm, but look at the last 5 races:
Indy Road – Power – 37 yrs old
Indy 500 – Power
Detroit 1 – Dixon – 37
Detroit 2 – RHR – 37
Texas – Dixon
Throw in 39 year old Sebastian Bourdais’ win in St Pete’s and you have the venerable old guard still running the show. It must be the old man dad strength required to muscle these beasts around a bumpy track with no power steering that keeps these guys at the top of the game.
The championship appears to be headed to a showdown between Dixon and Rossi but as we know, momentum in the Indycar series can shift like the breeze.
Cool Thought – Waiting in the wings is American Colton Herta and Mexican Pato O’Ward. If I were running the show (wink wink), I’d pull a Bernie and move mountains to get both of these kids good rides next year and do whatever it takes to get McLaren into the series. I think we’ve seen this movie before but in case you need a refresher, here’s the premise:
You have this North American racing series and you cast a couple of winning Canadians, a handful of Americans young and old, a Mexican upstart and you pit them against well known drivers from the rest of the world, including a former world champ still at the peak of his game, and you will be looking at box office success.
Lastly, if you like great racing and a spectacular silly season, MotoGP is the place for you. We haven’t even reached July yet and a good portion of the grid has already signed contracts to ride elsewhere in 2019! This may take a while to recap but for those of you scoring at home, here are the moves so far that I can recall:
- Lorenzo out at Ducati and in at Honda to partner Marquez
- Pedrosa is looking for work
- Petrucci is in at Ducati to partner Dovi
- Yamaha- Keeping Rossi and Maverick
- Suzuki – Iannone out, Moto2 rider Joan Mir in to partner Rins
- KTM- Zarco joining Pol Espargaro
- Aprilla – Iannone landing on his feet to join A. Espargaro
- Tech3 is becoming a KTM satellite team
- And on and on it goes.
Look for Marquez to capture his 5th MotoGP title in 6 years and make a strong case for being considered the G.O.A.T!
Enjoy the summer and stay safe and cool out there.