F1Weekly podcast # 776



Charles Leclerc enjoyed a successful first test as an official Ferrari driver as he closed the F1 2018 season on top in Abu Dhabi.

Leclerc will become the Scuderia’s second-youngest driver in history when he makes his race debut for the team next season, and he completed 135 laps on his first and final day in the 2018 car at the post-season test

The Monegasque driver, who had a superb rookie season at Sauber, was one of several drivers testing for his new team as Pirelli’s tyre compounds for next year were put to work.

Leclerc finished ahead of Pierre Gasly on the final track day of the 2018 season, with the Frenchman making his official bow for Red Bull as he prepares to replace Daniel Ricciardo.

Lance Stroll, not officially announced at Force India but in the car for the second day in a row, was third.

Play Podcast: 11-28-18f1weekly776.mp3



The giant-killing performances were what caught your attention first: hustling an uncompetitive Minardi around Suzuka to finish a barely credible 11th in 2001; seemingly appearing from nowhere to grab his first pole position (Malaysia 2003); and becoming the then-youngest-ever grand prix winner (Hungary, again in ’03, appropriately nabbing the honour from Bruce McLaren himself, who’d achieved in way back in 1959) in truly effortless fashion.

With his intent signified, his move to the Renault team gave him the firepower to fulfill his ambition.

Armed with 2005’s R25, the greatness that had been glimpsed in snatches was quickly and thoroughly refined. It was immediately apparent at that year’s San Marino Grand Prix, where his incredibly precise defence of the lead kept no less than keening, hungry world champion Michael Schumacher at bay. It was a performance marked by the skill of an old veteran rather than a hungry newcomer.

The trickle of victories quickly turned into a torrent: seven wins by the end of the season, but – just as important – a steady stream of podium positions (five runner-up spots and three third places) that cemented his ascent to the title. Underlining the point, his was a world crown won with the seasoned experience of a master, not that of a fresh-faced youngster feeling his way nervously toward his first championship.

He was crowned in Brazil, finishing third behind – presciently – two McLarens. Standing on the podium, his ear was turned by Ron Dennis, who quietly assured the Spaniard that his future surely lay in one of Woking’s silver cars.

A deal was quickly signed – but for 2007, leaving him to once again race for Renault in ’06. That season, the old enemy – Schumacher – was back in contention, and both he and his Ferrari team used every weapon in their sizeable armoury to peg back Fernando’s progress.

It made for a tense, nervy and paranoid season – but one where Fernando once again triumphed by playing the numbers game whenever he lacked the outright competitiveness to win. For the record, he still scored seven victories, and backed those up with seven further runner-up spots.

His 2006 title made him the sport’s then-youngest-ever double world champion.

Buoyed by this momentum, he quickly made his mark at McLaren in 2007, winning his second race for the marque and quickly re-establishing the team at the competitive vanguard after a disappointing ’06 season.

More victories followed – he led home an emotional McLaren one-two at Monaco, showcased his controlled aggression to snatch victory at the Nurburgring, and pummeled the opposition into submission at Monza. But his winning progress was matched by his rookie team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who also took four victories – and, at season’s end, the McLaren challenge wasn’t concerted enough to stem the singular charge of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who took the title by just one point at the final race in Brazil.

If the title near-miss was a blow, it wasn’t the most problematic issue in a season that was overshadowed by competitive rancour both on and off the track. The fallout was intense, both McLaren and Fernando parted company – the Spaniard returning to Renault for two largely uncompetitive seasons before joining Ferrari for 2010.

Fernando’s time at the Scuderia was a rollercoaster of highs and lows – he won his very first race in a red car, at the 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix, but went on to lose the title by the narrowest of margins after a strategic error cost him dearly at the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi.

In 2011, he scored a solitary victory at Silverstone, then wrestled a less-than-competitive Ferrari to three magnificent victories in 2012 as he spearheaded the charge to usurp world champion Sebastian Vettel. While Fernando gave his all, his brave campaign once again came undone at the final race.

While his final two seasons at Ferrari coincided with a dip in the Scuderia’s competitive fortunes, his period with the Maranello squad would repeatedly underline his credentials as the greatest, and most respected, driver in the sport. And while the record books won’t fully reflect his successes, history will tell us that Fernando Alonso stood a shoulder above his peers in terms of reputation and ability.

At McLaren Honda, he resolutely vowed to take the reunified giants back to the top step of the podium, while at the same time replicating the past successes of his favourite driver and his childhood idol, Ayrton Senna.

While he was unable to drive a McLaren Honda that did full service to his considerable talents, his drive and ambition remained undimmed. His races throughout 2016 and 2017, when given the merest sniff of an opportunity, were sublime.

For 2018, and armed with a Renault-powered McLaren MCL33, Fernando has the utter conviction that he can help return the McLaren name to the front of the Formula 1 grid.



Italian leads sprint race from lights to flag

Antonio Fuoco has closed the FIA Formula 2 Championship season with a strong win, his second of the season, in this afternoon’s Sprint Race at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, leading all race long for victory ahead of Lando Norris and Roberto Merhi.

The win was set up when the lights went down: poleman Merhi has a poor getaway while his fellow front row starter Fuoco had a great one, easily leading the Spaniard into turn 1 ahead of Nyck de Vries, Norris, new champion George Russell, Louis Delétraz, Luca Ghiotto and Dorian Boccolacci up the hill to the top of the circuit.

FIA Formula 2 Series – Round 12. Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Sunday 25 November 2018. Antonio Fuoco (ITA, Charouz Racing System), celebrates in Parc Ferm Photo: Zak Mauger/ FIA Formula 2. ref: Digital Image

Norris was soon moving forward, slicing up the inside of de Vries at the marina for P3, while further back Sean Gelael tagged Niko Kari and spun, leaving Tadasuke Makino nowhere to go: the pair were out on the spot and the VSC signs came out as the Finn limped back to the pits and retirement on the first lap.

The race was live again 2 laps later, with Delétraz making a lovely move inside Russell at the marina to move up to P5: Artem Markelov was looking for more too, easily dispatching Boccolacci: Russell soon repaid the favour to take his position back, while the Russian continued his forward momentum by dispatching Ghiotto on lap 7, just as Russell nicked another place by mugging de Vries at the marina for P4.

FIA Formula 2 Series – Round 12. Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.Saturday 24 November 2018. George Russell (GBR, ART Grand Prix), celebrates on the podium. Photo: Glenn Dunbar / FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image

Russell was soon closing on Norris and looking for a last F2 podium, but too many laps in his countryman’s slipstream meant his front tyres were soon unable to assist him, while further back Markelov has tyre troubles of his own, running wide all around the circuit and forcing him to look closely at his mirrors as Ghiotto started to come back at him.

Having held off his rival behind, Norris started to look at what he could find ahead of him, closing the gap to Merhi as the laps rolled down until he pounced on the final lap: the Spaniard locked up under pressure at turn 9 and simply didn’t have enough left to retake the position at the marina.

And at the flag it was Fuoco who took all the plaudits, controlling the pace for a strong 2nd victory of the season, with Norris delighting his team by stealing 2nd before almost blotting his copy book by losing control of his car as he waved to them on the pitwall, and Merhi bringing home a second podium of the weekend for Campos. Russell hung on for a lonely 4th, with de Vries following a few seconds back ahead of Delétraz, Markelov and Alexander Albon, who dispatched Ghiotto for the final point of the season in the closing laps of the race.

At the end of the 2018 season George Russell has been declared the FIA Formula 2 champion, with Lando Norris grabbing the vice-championship position ahead of Alexander Albon with today’s podium finish. In the teams’ title fight Carlin have claimed the honours in their debut F2 season, ahead of ART Grand Prix and DAMS.



Briton slices through hectic feature for win and title
George Russell claimed the 2018 FIA Formula 2 Championship drivers’ title with his seventh victory of the season in an eventful feature race tonight at the Yas Marina Circuit, losing and then regaining the lead while turmoil reigned behind as he sailed to victory by three seconds over Artem Markelov and Luca Ghiotto.
It was the first night start of the season for the grid, bringing with it pressure of starting in the unknown: Russell made a poor getaway from pole, allowing a fast starting Nyck de Vries to grab the lead at turn one from the championship leader and Markelov, but there was chaos behind as DAMS duo Alexander Albon and Nicholas Latifi stalled, along with Sergio Sette Câmara.
FIA Formula 2 Series – Round 12. Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Saturday 24 November 2018. George Russell (GBR, ART Grand Prix), celebrates on the podium. Photo: Glenn Dunbar / FIA Formula 2. ref: Digital Image
Arjun Maini was unable to get around the Canadian and the pair had an enormous impact, with Nirei Fukuzumi being tagged as he went around the stricken cars: with 5 vehicles in various states of undress on the front straight there was no choice but to release the safety car, with the remainder of the field coming through the pits each time around, including the restarted Albon and Sette Câmara, for 5 laps as the marshals cleared a path for them.
When the race went live Russell was pushing de Vries all around the circuit, with Markelov in hot pursuit: both drivers ran heavily over the kerbs in their efforts to gain ground on the man ahead until the Briton headed into the pits on lap 9: an incredible out lap allowed him to blow past de Vries as he exited the pits, and a record-equalling victory was on the cards.
Markelov came in next time around, slotting in right behind de Vries on his return, handing the lead on the road to Ghiotto, one of the few to risk the alternate tyre strategy from P16 on the grid. The Italian had a 24 second lead but the rest of the field were closing, cutting 5 seconds in 6 laps before the gap started to reverse, stretch back out to 24 seconds over the next 6 laps and handing Ghiotto an unexpected opportunity at victory.
Unfortunately for the Italian he ran too deep at the marina chicane just before his stop, picking up a 5 second time penalty for gaining an advantage and undoing his good work: he served it before his team swapped tyres on lap 26, and re-emerged in P5 on fresh rubber. He made short work of Lando Norris and was soon storming after de Vries, who had been unable to contain a charging Markelov a few laps earlier.
On the penultimate lap Ghiotto blew past de Vries at the marina, but ran out of time to improve his podium position: Russell cruised to the win, equalling the F1 feeder record of 7 wins held jointly by Stoffel Vandoorne and Charles Leclerc, by 3s ahead of Markelov, who was almost 5s to the good over Ghiotto at the flag. De Vries was disappointed with P4 ahead of Norris, with Louis Deletraz a second ahead of teammate Antonio Fuoco after he mugged Roberto Merhi for 7th on the final lap, and Tadasuke Makino and Jack Aitken rounding out the points in the final feature race of the season.



Italian soars to 2nd win, Frenchman celebrates on podium

Leonardo Pulcini claimed his second victory of the season in fine style in this afternoon’s Race 1 at Yas Marina Circuit, fighting off an early challenge before powering all the way to the flag for a popular win, but most eyes were focussed a little further back as Anthoine Hubert did everything he needed to claim the final GP3 Series drivers’ title before easing off at the end to finish on the podium behind David Beckmann.

GP3 Series – Round 9.Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Saturday 24 November 2018. Leonardo Pulcini (ITA, Campos Racing) Photo: Joe Portlock / GP3 Series Media Service. ref: Digital Image

Temperatures were soaring as the lights went out, with poleman and title challenger Nikita Mazepin unable to match Pulcini’s glorious getaway: the Russian cut straight across to cover the challenge, and although Hubert made a strong start he was in no position to risk a move at turn 1 and fell into line behind the front row starters but ahead of Callum Ilott, who mugged teammate Jake Hughes at the first corner, Beckmann and Ryan Tveter.

Pulcini knew he had an advantage, and he played it almost immediately: the Italian outdragged Mazepin on the long back straight for the lead, with Beckmann copying the move on Hughes for P5. The Russian was not finished though, knowing that he needed victory to keep his title hopes alive, and he pushed Pulcini before outbraking for the lead at the marina on lap 4, but a slightly wide line at the hotel complex on the next lap allowed the Italian back into P1.

GP3 Series – Round 9. Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Saturday 24 November 2018. David Beckmann (DEU, Trident), Leonardo Pulcini (ITA, Campos Racing), Anthoine Hubert (FRA, ART Grand Prix) Photo: Zak Mauger / GP3 Series Media Service. ref: Digital Image

Mazepin tried the marina move once again on lap 6, but Pulcini was alert to the danger: the Russian went too deep and ran off, but in his hurry to restart the battle he missed the bollard around which he needed to rejoin the track, and the subsequent 10 second time penalty effectively ended his title run.

If the move meant that the front runners could focus on preserving their cars and tyres, further back there was more action to be had: Beckmann run through Ilott at the marina for P4 on lap 9, while Giuliano Alesi started his progression up the points by claiming Tveter’s scalp behind him, while a lap later Hughes repaid his teammate by outbraking Ilott for P5. Beckmann and Hughes squabbled over P4 for a few laps before the German could finally pull away and focus on the target ahead in the closing laps.

With the title in his pocket Hubert had no reason to fight too hard for P3, particularly as it was coming back to him at the end of the race, and gave way to Beckmann at the marina chicane on the final lap, but up front Pulcini was greeted by the flag some 8.6 seconds ahead of the German and the 2018 GP3 Champion, with Ilott hanging on for 4th and Mazepin, who was 2nd on the road before his penalty, was handed P5 ahead of a charging Alesi, who mugged Hughes on the penultimate lap, with Juan Manuel Correa surviving a late squabble for P8 and tomorrow’s pole with Simo Laaksonen and Tatiana Calderon.



Nikita Mazepin has set sail on his championship fightback with a fine pole position in this afternoon’s GP3 Series qualifying session at the Yas Marina Circuit, grabbing P1 as the chequered flag dropped to deny title rival Anthoine Hubert a vital chance to pull away in the points: the Frenchman will line up behind his teammate and Leonardo Pulcini in P3 on tomorrow’s grid.

The Russian stopped the clocks at 1:54.885, less than a tenth ahead of his closest rival, but more importantly for him the lap meant that the title fight closes to just 27 points, with 44 on offer for the remainder of this final race weekend of 2018.
With temperatures increasing from this morning’s free practice session, this afternoon’s qualifying was white hot from the start. Callum Ilott led his ART teammates and the rest of the field out when the lights went green, with Mazepin, Hubert and Jake Hughes swapping the top spot between them as the times tumbled.

MONTMELO, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 26: Nikita Mazepin of Russia and Force India, Esteban Ocon of France and Force India and Sergio Perez of Mexico and Force India pose for a photo at the launch of the Force India VJM11 during day one of F1 Winter Testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 26, 2018 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Patrik Lundin/Getty Images)

Hubert led the way as the entire field returned to the pits for fresh rubber and new ideas, setting the fastest times in the first two sectors in the process. With 8 minutes remaining the pack emerged looking refreshed, and soon recommenced battle for the top spot. Richard Verschoor and then Hubert and then Pulcini briefly sat on the top of the pile, and with one minute remaining the Dutchman led his rivals on track for the one remaining lap.

As the chequered flag dropped Verschoor didn’t have enough for P1, then Pulcini got one hand on pole until Mazepin crossed the line just behind him: when Hubert and Ilott were unable to improve enough the Russian pumped his fist with joy as he toured back to the paddock. Hughes had done just enough to usurp Ilott in P4, with Trident drivers David Beckmann, Giuliano Alesi and Ryan Tveter filling out the top 10 ahead of Simo Laaksonen and Juan Manuel Correa. With 16 drivers within a second of pole there was little in the fight today, which promises to promote the one to come in Race 1 tomorrow.