Thanks for the fantastic response to this series of Q&A sessions with James Allen during F1’s enforced summer shutdown.
Today James tackles readers’ burning questions about the maximum number of races F1 can stage in a season, Kimi Raikkonen’s role at Ferrari, F1 driver fitness, new F1 teams and possible driver moves for 2019.
Uday Motwani: “Hi James. How would you predict the 2019 grid when it comes to Ricciardo, Verstappen, Perez and Ocon?
Wow, crystal ball time! So many different factors at play here involving bigger names currently higher up the grid that need to move their chess pieces for some of these guys to get an opening.
One of Ricciardo and Verstappen will still be at Red Bull in 2019. Not being privvy to the length of contract for each it’s hard to say when the opportunity to move may come. Red Bull may have the fastest car in 2018, but the engine remains the issue as it is out of their control. One would expect the Renault to be close to the Mercedes and Ferrari next season, so that may be the team to beat. Ferrari are more interested in Verstappen than Mercedes, in my perception.
Perez, well it’s now or never. He’s a much more complete driver now than when he was at McLaren. He is still trying to get over that year in terms of his stock in F1, but everyone can see how consistently he is driving this year. Then again he’s getting his collar felt by a 20 year old rookie, Ocon. If he doesn’t get a Renault seat for 2018 then he may have missed his chance.
Ocon belongs to Mercedes and you can see a strong Mercedes presence in the Force India garage and offices around him. He’s their boy and he will stay at Force India until the main Mercedes team is ready to take him. That could be 2019 depending on who they have lined up as their star driver then. Ocon’s roadblock is Bottas.
C: “If the calendar were to be expanded, then what is the maximum number of Grand Prix you believe that the teams could logistically/physically manage per season?”
Good question, C and one I have discussed with many F1 team managers and sporting directors. They say that over 21 you have to start rotating staff as it’s too much travel and work for the existing staff structures. For mechanics it is very physical and they have problems retaining staff already as it is. Young lads come in for two or three years and then leave to do something else having ticked ‘F1 mechanic’ off their bucket list, as it’s really hard work.
Engineers get very tired too, but they are harder to rotate for continuity reasons.
But if it were made clear that from 2020 onwards there was going to be 25 races, then teams have a couple of years to restructure the way they operate and they could accommodate that. Remember there are only 40 hours of F1 racing action as it is, so F1 does need to create more opportunities, albeit many fans would struggle to follow 25 races a season.
Dave: “Hi James, I’m curious about the Ferrari situation regarding Raikkonen. Is it written into his contract that he’s no 2? At Hungary, was he unable to pass Vettel or did he not try?
Surely a more ruthless driver (like Alonso) would have overruled the teams decision to call him in a lap after Vettel and took matters in his own hands and won the race?
Whilst I understand Ferrari’s strategy of pulling fully behind Vettel, it’s a little frustrating, as a fan of the sport, to watch a multi millionaire, seemingly content to cruise around and finish second, keeping young talent out of the sport.
It is not written in his contract that he is number 2. Rather it is written that both drivers have to accept the instructions of the team from time to time when necessary. Raikkonen knows the ropes at Ferrari and he doesn’t make a fuss about things. As he’s a world champion and a tough guy, people don’t question him like they did with Irvine, Massa or Barrichello in that role.
But at the end of the day Ferrari is after the drivers’ championship as a primary goal and history shows you that they do what they think is necessary to achieve that sometimes. Hungary was a really strong example as Vettel had a problem and Raikkonen was hooked up that weekend and would have easily won the race if he’d been allowed a strategy to get ahead.
But he was able to say that it was his fault as he made a mistake in qualifying that gave Vettel the grid advantage so it wasn’t his weekend. I understand that it’s frustrating as a fan, but it’s another layer of complexity and intrigue in the F1 story and as for keeping a young driver out of the seat, Ferrari is very conservative when it comes to that and only once in recent years has had a young driver (Massa) who was there to understudy and take over from the master (Schumacher). That didn’t work out ultimately as he couldn’t match Alonso when he got there and slipped back to number 2.
If Ferrari puts Leclerc in there for 2019 one hopes it would be on the basis of understudy to take over the top role as he looks to be in that class, based on what we are seeing in F2 this year. But you can only really judge that once he’s in F1 against the best of the best.
Michael Quinn: “Should F1 do whatever it takes to get 2-3 new teams on the grid? Customer cars for five years? Seems we are missing out on some talented drivers not getting a spot. I worry we are heading down a path where its 3-4 manufacturer teams up front, with their “second” team making up the rest, and not much variety for anything else.”
No I don’t think it should, Michael. When the FIA under Max Mosley tried to do that in 2010 it was a failure. Caterham, Marussia (Manor) and HRT (remember them?) came and went contributing very little to the F1 story or the show. Their collapse left hundreds out of work, some lives went off track and so on. I think that 10 teams seems to be accepted as the right number, especially if we are going to have to move them around the world more with an expanded calendar.
Yes it’s a shame that the young drivers struggle to find a berth, but that is more about shaping up the junior categories so the one or two who really deserve to graduate to F1 are able to make that move. If Ross Brawn can get hold of cost control in F1 then drivers who come up will be the elite, rather than those with cash. There’s a lot of work to be done..
Marko: “1) All current drivers are physical very well prepared, but in your opinion, who is the fittest driver on the grid and can you compare him for example with Michael Schumacher in his best days? 2) Today, drivers are feeling more G-force in the corners, especially this year, but was it harder to drive an F1 car 25-30 years ago when there was no power steering?”
Love the handle! It’s very hard to say today as we never get to see them compared in a physical assessment and they all do broadly the same training; over half of them are looked after by Hintsa Performance under Dr Luke Bennett. I haven’t asked Luke how they stack up physically today compared to the Schumacher era, but I would say they had to be fitter back then as F1 was a series of sprints between refuelling stops in a lighter car with higher G forces.
Yes I think it was harder in the sense of physical strength before power steering and if you remember even Senna needed quite a bit of work to get the strength to drive F1 and struggled with it to start with.
Julio C: “You said on one of your responses “we now have new leaders, new thinking and a once in a generation chance to get it back on track with well considered rules, fairly applied. Let’s hope they take that chance.”
What are the chances that big teams are going to allow these changes? I’ve got in mind what Toto Wolff said: “I don’t want to be on Chase Carey’s shoes”…?”
The next two years will be absolutely fascinating, Julio. I can already see little skirmishes on the fringes as Mercedes and Ferrari test the ground and resolve of the new management and Red Bull and Christian Horner especially were very aligned with Bernie Ecclestone, so they are wary of the new management.
I suspect that all three teams will still be in F1 in 2021 because Carey and Liberty CEO Greg Maffei are numbers guys and top level operators and they will find a way to keep their star names in the sport. If you look at how Liberty finance their acquisitions they are always very complex and there will be a magic formula that allows the top teams to have their status reflected while at the same time giving the midfield a chance to survive and make money from F1.
It looks almost as complex as negotiating Brexit, because you also have all these other layers involved like the rules, the budget controls and so on, all wrapped up in the one discussion.
But at the end of the day, F1 is an unrivalled platform in terms of reach and the new things Liberty has been doing have increased that reach on a social media level. They have a challenge on the TV reach as they seek to balance Pay TV revenue with free to air reach, however.
Hello: “James, in equal cars, pit crew,…etc. If you had to, which driver would your bet the house and life savings on to winning a championship against the other drivers?
Maybe an answer for the current generation and an answer for all the drivers since the start of F1.”
Ha! Fun question to end on. I notice you say a championship rather than just a race. That makes it much harder as there are so many variables to winning a championship. Prost would have to feature and historically Fangio didn’t miss too often, but I wasn’t there so I don’t know what F1 was like in the 1950s.
Of the current generation, you’d have to say Alonso would probably top the list as he is relentless and very consistent. He almost won a couple of championships against Red Bull and Vettel despite not having as fast a car.
Thanks for all your questions and comments, hope you have enjoyed this mini-series and we may look to do this again later in the year.