Is Valtteri Bottas's time at Mercedes finally up?
Valtteri Bottas has been the safe option for Mercedes as team-mate to Lewis Hamilton for years. Has the Red Bull title threat finally changed that?
On a charge
World Endurance Championship
The WEC got off to a great start at Silverstone, with Audi taking a close win over Porsche.
Audi’s 2014 season got off to a poor start with both cars retiring in the rain; after that, it couldn’t catch Toyota and Porsche increasingly stole ‘best of the rest’ honours as the year went on. And it was the car leading that charge – shared by Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb – that challenged the Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer Audi at the end of the race.
Such is the dominance that Audi has displayed over the last 15 years that seeing an R18 win doesn’t seem particularly special. But considering how average (by its own standards) its results were last year, this is a reminder that, whatever the standings looked like, Wolfgang Ullrich’s team is still the benchmark.
It’s worth noting that, when we asked which one you preferred – WEC or F1 – the response was swift and almost unanimous. As Mark Hughes put it in his Grand Prix report, there were ‘only two laps Hamilton had driven properly fast during the whole race’. As a spectacle, the WEC is coming into its own. It even made Silverstone look like a fun place to be, with heart-pounding, on-the-limit racing from lights to flag, something that is utterly impossible in F1 under the current regulations.
And you can watch it on TV for free, which is nice…
TCR International Series
You could be forgiven for not being aware of this series, given its fairly low profile compared to others, but this could be one of the first steps in what promises to be a worldwide revamp of touring car racing.
Shades of 1990, you might say. But with budget caps now a necessary part of racing’s business landscape, a Super Touring-esque formula could work, even with heavy manufacturer involvement. And with the current WTCC regs tipped to be renamed TCR1 and these cars inhabiting a competitive space somewhere below that, there’s already a ladder system. Every type of racing needs one these days and touring cars are no different – see 2012 Clio Cup champion Jack Goff at the top of the BTCC standings.
So what’s the racing like? Based on the two rounds we’ve seen so far – supporting F1 at Sepang and Shanghai – it’s got everything touring cars should have: close battles, frequent position changes and plenty of panel beating after each bout. The field’s a bit thin at the moment with around 15 cars, but there’s been a different winner in each race and eight drivers on the podium. For a tentative first season, that’s not bad, and if you’re worried about the quality of the drivers, former F1 driver and touring car ace Gianni Morbidelli leads the championship, with former Rebellion LMP1 driver Andrea Belicchi and rising star Pepe Oriola in the top five.
It’s too early to tell whether these ambitious plans will come to fruition, but touring car racing in Europe need a rethink. The WTCC has been dull too often to ignore and the BTCC’s Next Generation Touring Car regulations aretoo much of a departure from the norm for international use. We all know what went wrong in the ‘90s. Time to try again.
Here’s an interesting stat for you: 2015 marks the first time in F1 history that the same three drivers have been on the podium for the first three races of the season.
Even during the eras when individual teams walked all over the others, either poor reliability or rival usurpers put paid to that happening. There were close calls: Mansell, Patrese and Schumacher almost did it in 1992, but for Senna’s third place in South Africa. Schumacher, Coulthard and Barrichello nearly managed it nine years later, only for the Brazilian’s home race to end after two laps, promoting Nick Heidfeld. Then 2007’s big three nearly claimed the record, but Felipe Massa won in Bahrain. In each of those years, the three drivers involved finished 1-2-3 in the championship.
Rӓikkӧnen vs Hamilton vs Alonso was fun as far as F1 2000s-style went, but if one of your closest comparisons is to a season in which the champion scored double the points of the man in second, there’s a pretty massive problem. Yes, Ferrari are closer, but unless that equates to a regular challenge we’re in for a long year.
The headlines didn’t quite do IndyCar’s first New Orleans race justice. On the surface, James Hinchcliffe won in his second start for Sam Schmidt’s small outfit after a woeful 2014 with the Andretti powerhouse. Both driver and team used excellent forethought, rode their luck just enough and nailed every restart to beat Penske’s Hélio Castroneves to the flag. Englishman James Jakes finished third after a year on the sidelines and Simona de Silvestro bagged fourth in one of her limited appearances for Andretti. Fifth was last year’s feel-good story, Juan Pablo Montoya, who retained his championship lead. What’s not to like?
Pretty much everything else, according to the fans – social media exploded with comments of ‘worst IndyCar race ever!’ What could have been that bad?
First of all, the weather – or rather the way IndyCar dealt with it. Electrical storms on Saturday ensured that the final qualifying session was a write-off and IndyCar’s rules state that unless a session comes to its designated finish, the starting order is determined by the standings. So that put Montoya on pole, rather than Sébastien Bourdais or Tony Kanaan, the fastest drivers that day.
Montoya went on to lead the most laps on Sunday, although weather and six full-course cautions good for 26 laps (over half the race) spoiled his fun. The four that finished ahead of him were those that gambled with their tyres; full credit to them all, because that’s how you win races in changing conditions. But the use of full-course cautions instead of local yellows for one-car incidents really riled people up.
The worst race ever though? Perhaps someone who spent May 1973 in Indianapolis might be able to offer some perspective.
Names of note
This could be aimed at Ducati as much as its rider, but that’d be doing him a disservice. He’s gone on record saying he’s better than his record suggests and pole in Qatar followed by two second places is backing that up. While Rossi and Márquez have their ups and downs this season, Dovizioso could quietly and consistently mount a challenge.
It’s always fun when someone comes into motor racing from another discipline and succeeds. And as of Saturday, six-time Olympic gold medal cyclist Sir Chris Hoy is the winner of a car race. In the ELMS at Silverstone he drove his LMP3 Ginetta-Nissan to class victory with Charlie Robertson.
Petter Solberg and Liam Doran
Reigning World Rallycross Champion Solberg is teaming up with British favourite Doran for this season. It probably won’t make any difference to either’s pace, but race organisers might now have to deal with both volatile personalities at once, which is definitely worth televising.
Palmer opened his BRDC F4 season with a win at Oulton Park. He won twice last year as well, so he’ll be looking to take the title in 2015 if he wants to move up, but he’ll have plenty of advice from father Jonathan and brother Jolyon. Also of note was Harrison Newey, son of Adrian, who scored a podium, two fastest laps and sits fourth in the championship after three races. This is his first season out of karts.
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