The 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix was a modern classic. It had elements of soap opera, late-braking bravery, inter and intra-team anguish and plenty of unexpected heroes. The ’18 edition of the race was, as a result, in danger of being over-hyped.
In the end, the race lived up to the blockbuster billing with a finale that would have earned a ‘fresh’ rating from Rotten Tomatoes.
The F1 circus reconvened in Barcelona today, as 2017 testing fired back into life. The first week of pre-season testing offered a few clues with regards to the pecking order, yet this week promises to reveal far more as teams begin to show their hands by testing the true performance of their package.
Today was a tale of winners a losers. Ferrari, Williams and Red Bull all enjoyed excellent outings, while McLaren and Honda’s relationship has taken another sour turn, with the partnership now under “maximum” strain.
Here’s FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED on day five of pre-season testing…
After a sublime resurgence in 2016, Red Bull have been widely tipped as Mercedes’ biggest threat heading into the new era of the sport. Considering that F1 is once again becoming an aero formula, the theory is rather water-tight.
As such, anticipation for the launch of the RB13 has been steadily building all week. Red Bull and Toro Rosso being the final teams to unveil their 2017 challengers has ensured that launch week would end with a crescendo and springboard F1 into it’s first winter test.
The RB13’s online launch was incredibly atmospheric. A video that was chilling and thrilling in equal measure. It’s proved a hit with fans but if you look beyond the lights and special effects, it prompts far more questions than answers.
Being a part of the Red Bull driver programme is seen by many as the holy grail for young single-seater stars of the future. While the guidance of Dr Helmut Marko has proved crucial to both Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo, Marko’s School of Hard Knocks has ended many F1 careers prematurely. Daniil Kvyat’s recent demotion from Red Bull to Toro Rosso could eventually see the Russian added to the list of drivers axed from the programme at the final hurdle.
One element of the Verstappen and Kvyat seat switch which has been missed by many is the indirect effect it could have on Carlos Sainz Jr’s career. The Spaniard has been overlooked by the senior team on this occasion and as Jean Eric Vergne will testify, that doesn’t bode well.
Red Bull Racing know how to drop a bombshell. News that Sebastian Vettel was set to leave the team at the end of 2014 and be replaced by youngster Daniil Kvyat, certainly came as a surprise. The announcement that 18 year-old wonder-kid Max Verstappen is to replace Kvyat in the Red Bull senior outfit with immediate effect broke on Thursday morning, delivering an even greater level of surprise.
With Kvyat moving back to Toro Rosso – the junior squad in the unique Red Bull structure – some have deemed this as a demotion for the Russian. However, the story is as much about the excellence and market value of Red Bull’s teenage superstar.
Daniel Ricciardo certainly capitalised on home advantage last weekend, as he took his Red Bull RB12 to fourth position. However, being in Australia had no bearing on the power output of the TAG Heuer branded Renault powertrain, as Ricciardo was seemingly able to compete on the straights – something the team have been unable to do in this era of the sport.
Having finished just 24 seconds off the lead despite being on a decidedly compromised strategy, Red Bull seem set for a stronger 2016 campaign.
F1 is adept at shooting itself in the foot. Following a 2015 season admittedly lacking in intrigue, the winter has been filled by discussions regarding how to improve the sport. The F1 Commission unanimously voted for a new elimination qualifying format three weeks before the start of the season in an attempt to spice up the action on a Sunday.
With today’s qualifying session being the debut for this new idea, it is evident that a rethink is required. Missing a crescendo, void of surprises and short of laps, calling it a shambles would not be too far from the truth.