Is Ferrari getting rid of the wrong driver at the end of the year?
After Lewis Hamilton narrowly missed out on the title in Austin, Texas, we take a look at some of the other talking points that emerged from the U.S. Grand Prix. Our panel of journalists this week consists of Nate Saunders, Maurice Hamilton, Kate Walker and Laurence Edmondson.
Sebastian Vettel made another mistake in Austin, while Kimi Raikkonen converted the pace of the car into an overdue victory. Is Ferrari replacing the wrong driver next year?
Saunders: Raikkonen has been performing well this year, but if one of them had to make way for Charles Leclerc, it has to be him. A more interesting question is whether Vettel will handle the pressure of Leclerc next season.
Hamilton: I think it’s easy to ask that question on the basis of what we saw on Sunday. If only Kimi could do that every time. He’s the perfect No. 2. Given the choice, I don’t think he could be bothered leading the team if he had Leclerc as a teammate. At 39, going on 40, Kimi is not the future for Ferrari. Even allowing for Vettel’s increasing number of mistakes under pressure, he’s their best bet — for now.
Walker: I don’t know if they’re replacing the wrong driver — I think Kimi has had his fill of life as a Ferrari driver and is looking forward to the Sauber adventure to come — but I do think that Seb is not proving himself worthy of his massive salary this season. If teams pay their drivers win bonuses, why can’t they tax them for screwing up? In terms of lost championship points and car repairs, Sebastian Vettel has been a $30 million man in addition to his salary. Seems fair that Ferrari should be able to claim a bit of that back, or negotiate a lower deal for next year.
Edmondson: I don’t think keeping Raikkonen would be the solution to Ferrari’s problems — one look at the drivers’ championship will tell you that — but perhaps they are regretting such a long contract with Vettel. When you consider that Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen and even Fernando Alonso would all jump at the chance to be the No.1 driver at the Scuderia, Vettel’s current form looks even worse.
Where does Max Verstappen’s Austin performance rate in terms of his career so far?
Saunders: It was impressive for the maturity and composure he showed. It’s also the first time in a while I can remember him going wheel to wheel with a rival and not coming to blows with them — although Lewis Hamilton was in a cautious mindset. I’d say it’s the best we’ve seen of him save for his two victories in 2017.
Hamilton: This is the thing about Max: One week we’re debating his fairly ruthless tactics and questioning his impetuousness, the next we’re rightly heaping praise on the sort of impressive and mature drive we saw on Sunday. It ranks up there as one of the best of many. But who knows what next week will hold when it comes to Max? The point is, he’s exciting and worth watching.
Walker: It was a good drive, and one that shows that Max is learning to be slightly more thoughtful on track while still delivering the sort of balls to the wall racing that’s exciting to watch. Max is growing up, and he’s honing his style, refining it, rather than changing it. It’s good to see.
Edmondson: Verstappen’s race on Sunday and his Singapore qualifying lap are two of the standout performances for me this year. You can’t ignore his mistakes earlier in the season, but right now he is right at the top of his game.
Vettel’s weekend was compromised by falling foul of F1’s red flag rules in practice, suffering similar punishments to Esteban Ocon in Japan and Daniel Ricciardo in Australia. Does the rule need to be reviewed?
Saunders: I applaud the stewards for consistency on this rule across the year, but it seems like some common sense could be applied to it. Vettel’s red flag was due to gravel being on the track rather than a car or marshal being in a dangerous spot.
Hamilton: I can’t comment on the suitability of the red flag minimum lap time because only the drivers and teams know how realistic that is. But it is what it is and needs to be adhered to, particularly under such potentially serious circumstances. More than a dozen drivers out at the same time managed it.
Walker: Nope. Red flag rules are there for a reason, and they need to be respected. I also heard speculation over the weekend that Seb had deliberately broken the rules so that he’d have an excuse for not taking the fight to Lewis during what everyone expected to be the championship weekend. Obviously things played out rather differently, but it was an interesting theory.
Edmondson: Although three drivers have been caught by the rule, a whole bunch more have been able to adhere to it. Perhaps some of the teams just need better warning systems on the dashboard to ensure the driver is absolutely clear what the target time is.
Is Fernando Alonso right to question the talent of some of his rivals at the back end of the grid? Or was his comment about “amateurs” more of what we have come to expect from the Spaniard?
Saunders: It’s getting rather tiresome now. I respect Alonso for his talent on the race track but won’t be sad to see the back of him.
Hamilton: Alonso is doing himself no favours with his stream of complaints — no matter how justified they may or may not be. At this stage in the sad end to his F1 career, the comments come across as the whingeing of a frustrated and bitter man. By all means go for it when you’re starting from the back with nothing to lose; but, with more than 300 Grands Prix experience, he ought to be aware this sort of thing can happen on the first lap.
Walker: Now that Alonso has checked out of F1 he’s not really being the best Fernando Alonso he could be. It’s understandable — he has basically spent the past decade being increasingly frustrated by the quality of the machinery he has been given, he has lashed out at every team that has hired him, and he doesn’t feel he has had the career rewards his considerable talent deserves. It must be incredibly frustrating. But Nando is making sure he leaves F1 with everyone knowing how disappointing it is and how it was utterly rubbish and he didn’t want it anyway. The artist formerly known as Teflonso is now something of a petulant brat.
Edmondson: I’ve heard drivers use worse words to describe their competitors in incidents that are less black and white. Watch the onboard video from Lance Stroll’s car and it looks amateurish to say the least. The stewards agreed, saying Stroll was “fully to blame for the incident” and giving him a drive-through penalty. I think Alonso was entitled to lash out and use the language he did.
Kevin Magnussen called F1 “Formula Fuelsaving” after his disqualification. Does F1 need to scale back its rule book to ensure less technical incidents matters end in the stewards room, or is this just part of the sport?
Saunders: These rules exist for a reason, of course, but how can F1 appeal to a more casual fan base when two drivers can be kicked out of one race for minor fuel infractions. It’s the third technical disqualification of the year and a hard thing to explain to the audience F1 is trying to reach. There must be some way to simplify things for 2021.
Hamilton: Whatever the rights and wrongs of this particular rule — and it wasn’t established just for the hell of it — the penalty comes across badly. Fans, particularly casual spectators who have enjoyed watching a driver race hard for an hour and a half, find it difficult to get their head around the same driver getting kicked out because he used too much fuel. It sounds daft to the layman and is one of the many things that need to be addressed for 2021 — if not sooner.
Walker: No, it’s part and parcel of the sport. It’s weird that the cars were affected for only parts of a lap, and it’s even weirder that after a million races without fuel flow issues we have two come along at once, but motor racing is a technical sport and technical infringements are as important to monitor as sporting ones. If any of the drivers don’t want to operate under F1 regulations they’re all free to do a Nando and find another category, opening up seats for the next generation of talent.
Edmondson: Magnussen was told by his engineer over and over again to save fuel, so it’s not like Haas just bumbled into this one. All the teams know the rules and all the teams know exactly how much fuel they have used. Yes, it’s not ideal to have drivers disqualified after the race for using 0.1kg more fuel than they were allowed, but if you start giving the teams an inch they will take a mile. And don’t think that increasing the fuel limit will in 2021 will change things — teams will always look to push to the limit and, very occasionally, they will get it wrong.
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