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The Haters Guide to the 2019 F1 Summer Break - Part 1

FEATURE BY GUEST AUTHORS
12/08/2019

I start this mid-season report with an apology.

I ended my season preview with the words; "this season could be Hamilton and Mercedes' toughest challenge yet".

Whoops. Well, I was wrong - and I fear I may have oversold this season to you. But so, in my defence, did everyone else. Remember when this was going to be Ferrari's year? All expectations were that we'd be reliving the early 2000s, with the iconic combination of the German and Italian national anthems ringing out across race tracks worldwide.

But the reality is that by now Ferrari's title hopes are dead and have been for some time. Hamilton and Mercedes look almost certain to claim sixth titles, much to the shoulder-shrugging indifference of F1 fans everywhere.

It has felt like a long haul of 12 races to get to this point - but now seems as good a time as any to take stock of what has (or should that be, what hasn't?) been happening so far this season, starting with perennial strugglers Williams.

Williams

Williams are currently living in a nightmare they can't awake from. Much like a past-his-prime athlete struggling to accept his glory days are but a distant memory, they continues to limp along far behind everyone else. Tell younger fans of this sport that this team used to be winning championships, and they'd have to look on Wikipedia before believing you. Even that one-off win for Pastor Maldonado was seven years ago.

For the majority of the season so far, the most we've seen of either Williams is when they've been lapped with monotonous regularity. But that all changed in Germany. It looked unlikely that the team would score a single point this year, barring an Interlagos 2003 type race, and that is, sort of, what transpired.

Robert Kubica has been having a wretched season, where he has been considerably outperformed by team mate George Russell at most races. He probably started to wonder whether his comeback had been worth it - until Alfa Romeo's post-race penalties at Hockenheim handed him the most unlikely of points. One point is a poor reward for what he's gone through to return to the sport, but given it is doubtful that the team's form will improve much in the short term; it may prove to be the only highlight of the year.

For Russell, he faces the potential ignominy of being the only driver to not score points this year, unless another highly chaotic race takes place. It's a poor return for what has been a strong start to his F1 career by the reigning F2 champion, but he can take comfort from being inadvertently caught up in the comedy moment of the season in practice at Baku, at least.

A hapless marshal crashed a low-loader, carrying Russell's car, into a bridge shortly after the car had been wrecked by an errant drain cover which hadn't been fastened down securely. You could almost hear the Yakety Sax playing as hydraulic fluid then proceeded to leak all over the car. Rumours that the FW42's performance was actually improved while it was on the back of the aforementioned truck have never been officially confirmed.

2019 has been a truly awful season for Williams so far, and there's no sign of any light at the end of the tunnel just yet. But at least they can take a crumb of comfort from the fact that regardless of how bad things have been, it can't get any worse… surely?

Haas

Where to start with this sorry state of affairs?

Doing their best to rival Williams in the "disappointment of the year" category so far is Haas, a team that was expected to be performing much more strongly than a dismal ninth in the championship. During this troubled start to the season, drivers and team sponsor, Rich Energy, have been competing to see who can be the most unprofessional.

It's been a difficult one to call, between Grosjean and Magnussen's increasingly petulant radio moans, and Rich Energy's outlandish Twitter posts - which managed the amazing feat of making Donald Trump's look restrained.

Rich Energy has, to their credit, added some amusement value to what has otherwise been a fairly dull season up to this point. The first highlight was an online row with a company named Whyte Bikes, over allegations that RE had plagiarized their logo. This resulted in Haas being ordered to remove the contentious logo from their cars at the Canadian Grand Prix. Then, just a few races later, Rich Energy took to Twitter once more, to announce that their contract with Haas had been terminated due to the team's "poor performance".

More attentive readers will note that despite this, the Haas cars continue to carry the branding. In another twist, it turned out that this tweet had come from a "rogue individual" - reportedly William Storey, the company's eccentric CEO - and stakeholders were left to sort out the ensuing PR disaster.

How this company ever became a title sponsor to an F1 team is anyone's guess, given its rather mysterious background, not to mention that you've got a better chance of finding your local supermarket selling deep-fried tarantulas than their products. But, with the exit of Storey, and a change of name to "Lightning Volt", things should - mercifully - start quietening down.

It's easy to sympathize with Haas for having to deal with this debacle, which has had more twists and turns than a long running soap opera, particularly when you consider that they also have to put up with two of the whiniest drivers on the grid who seem unable to stop crashing into each other.

Romain Grosjean in particular is having another rotten season, having only scored a scant two points in the first 10 races and eight in total, compared with Magnussen's 18. Despite now being something of a veteran of F1, barely a race goes by without him taking to the radio to complain about another driver. Quite how anybody is supposed to overtake him to his approval remains one of the year's mysteries. Indeed, how Gunther Steiner hasn't permanently disabled Grosjean's team radio is another.

If they can solve their chronic lack of race pace, Haas should be capable of moving up in the second half of the season, so long as their drivers can momentarily stop running into each other. But if their performance doesn't improve, be ready to mute your TV whenever the team radio icon appears on screen.

Racing Point

This team has actually managed to score points, and in doing so has avoided a cheap gag at their still pitifully unimaginative name. But, if they scored a point for every time someone called them by their old name, they'd surely be ahead of Mercedes by now.

As expected, Sergio Perez is having a much quieter year of it so far now that he doesn't have that pesky Esteban Ocon guy causing him trouble. But even that hasn't been enough to cheer him up fully - earlier in the season he went on record as saying he may consider leaving the sport to race elsewhere, as he's that fed up of not having a chance of competing for podiums. There's no pleasing some folk, is there?

In some ways you can see where he's coming from, such is the competition disparity that currently exists in the sport. At least in F1 2019, you can live out crazy fantasies of Racing Point winning the championship with a driver line up of Hamilton and Verstappen.

The closest the real world came to emulating the virtual one was in Germany, where the often maligned Lance Stroll remarkably lead the race briefly, and looked like he was going to score his second ever podium finish - before ultimately finishing fourth. Perez's comment, meanwhile, rather came back to haunt him, as he was the first retiree from the race and was forced to watch his team mate's exploits from the side-lines.

Prior to Germany, this had been looking like a difficult season for both Racing Point and Stroll. A change in team hadn't changed the regularity with which he is eliminated in Q1 - usually alongside the two drivers from his old team.

The strong result at Hockenheim should at least give the team something to build on. But, as ever when a group of rich businessmen get involved with running an F1 team, there's the risk that they'll grow impatient and just vainly start throwing money around in the hope of improvement. How long do you give it before we start hearing about Stroll Sr investing in another more competitive team, I wonder?

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Max Noble, 13/08/2019 23:08

"...Good summary of the story so far... It is worth noting that Lewis’ big challenge is maintaining focus when the only drive to win is coming from within. He has the season (so far...) so under control it is a reminder of Michael at his utterly unbeatable best. You have a group of the World’s great drivers made to look like your Grandmother in the Aldi carpark as one driver simply makes it look all too easy.
My only regret is we will not see Lewis, Bottas, Max, Vettel, and Danni R. All swapping cars on the same track on the same day, so we can finally settle the “Car vs. Driver” argument... As it is one would conclude... Lewis is far better at pedaling than Bottas. Max is far better than any current Red Bull driver... while highlighting how good Danni is because Danni could beat him... while the Hulk is only just getting beaten by Danni so in fact is probably better than half the drivers on the grid... Pop them all in a Williams at Donnington in the wet and let the games commence... :-)"

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