Trackside View / Word on the Beat


Red Bull’s RB14 and the art of balance

The Red Bull RB14 doesn’t seem to know that Suzuka’s Turn Four is a corner. Pretty much everyone is flat into it these days, but for the other cars there are consequences whereas this one goes through there apparently mass-less, like a cursor on a computer screen. Some other cars cannot quite get back over to the left-handed approach for Turn Five and are obliged to turn in from the middle of the track, others lift the throttle earlier in order to place themselves on a better line. But Verstappen and Ricciardo don’t need to show that courtesy – can just steer over to the ideal geometric approach without compromise.

The next most impressive car through here on this Friday morning, as the Ferraris are struggling with some understeer, is the Sauber. Charles Leclerc is hugely confident and hustling the Alfa-liveried machine as if it’s a kart. The Mercedes may be getting through here faster, but looks harder work, more demanding of Hamilton and Bottas. Into the right-handed Turn Five, it rotates quite suddenly, as if it’s about to snap into overseer – but it never does. As soon as the roll comes off the car, it snaps back into line, as if the sudden swinging around of the rear had been an illusion. It underlines the fact that there are some incredibly trick suspension geometries in F1, but visually it looks less supple here than at other places. This particular trick of vehicle dynamics is seen to best effect on slower corners than this. Here it has the effect of making even the big, long W09 look a little nervy, though doubtless Hamilton and Bottas have become used to trusting it.


Rumour and gossip from the F1 paddock

F2 champion elect at the time of writing, GEORGE RUSSELL has been confirmed as a WILLIAMS driver for 2019. It’s not yet clear who his team-mate will be. The arrest of ARTEM MARKELOV’S father seems to have stymied plans for the Russian F2 frontrunner to be there. Existing Russian Williams driver SERGEY SIROTKIN is still in contention, pending an agreed financial package, as is current third driver ROBERT KUBICA. CLAIRE WILLIAMS would ideally like to run ESTEBAN OCON as Lance Stroll’s replacement, but financial requirements might overrule that wish. Meanwhile, the RICH ENERGY drinks company – which had earlier bid to buy FORCE INDIA – is tipped as a Williams sponsor.

HONDA’S latest engine – as used by TORO ROSSO in Suzuka and Austin – is reckoned to be about 60BHP more powerful than the current RENAULT engine in the RED BULL…

At SUZUKA, after yet another FERRARI operational misjudgement led to SEBASTIAN VETTEL and KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN taking to a dry track on inters at the beginning of Q3, team boss MAURIZIO ARRIVABENE made a startling attack on his team, saying: “What happened today is totally unacceptable. I am very angry. It’s not the first time these mistakes have occurred… It is true that we are a young team, and we are probably missing an ‘old hand’, an experienced person capable of reading situations correctly and quickly.” This was said within the context of increasing internal tensions between Arrivabene and young technical director MATTIA BINOTTO, as outlined in last month’s issue.

VETTEL’S comments on ideas being discussed about changing the qualifying format for 2019. “Just wondering what we will discuss in 10 years’ time, whether we will be talking about Q9 and Q10… I think we need too much entertainment to be happy. “I think it would be nice to settle for something less. My preferred qualifying was back in the days when they had one hour and you could do what you want.”

RENAULT’S CYRIL ABITEBOUL revealed in Suzuka that the team tried to buy out CARLOS SAINZ’S RED BULL contract at around the time of the FRENCH GRAND PRIX in order to make a long-term deal with him, but that Red Bull’s blocking of that move ironically led Renault to take DANIEL RICCIARDO away for 2019. Continuing niggle between Abiteboul and Red Bull was also evident when the question of the number of Grands Prix in future was posed. With Abiteboul having gone on record favouring a reduction to 16 rather than the planned expansion, CHRISTIAN HORNER responded with: “Maybe Cyril’s just thinking about fewer engine penalties.” A day later Renault’s 2019 driver DANIEL RICCIARDO failed to get his Red Bull out of the pitlane in Q2 after his Renault engine broke…

SEBASTIAN VETTEL’S robust defence of LEWIS HAMILTON at Turn Three in SOCHI continued to niggle at Hamilton into the driver’s briefing at the following event in Suzuka – Hamilton was adamant that Vettel had moved twice in the braking zone, Vettel insisting he’d done nothing wrong. When Hamilton asked the other drivers if they thought Vettel’s was one move or two, the only one supporting Hamilton was… MAX VERSTAPPEN. Amid much hilarity Hamilton pointed out that, “The rule is only there because of you, Max!”