Albon promoted to Red Bull, Gasly demoted to Toro Rosso

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In the bombshell move of the summer, Red Bull have demoted the under-performing young driver Pierre Gasly, replacing him with 2018 Formula 2 runner-up Alex Albon.

Just weeks after scoring only their second podium in Formula 1, Toro Rosso has seen one of their drivers promoted into the “senior” team. But perhaps surprisingly it’s not Russian spearhead Daniil “Torpedo” Kvyat, but impressive rookie driver Albon who got the nod.

By the numbers

On just 63 points this season, Gasly was under threat from McLaren’s “Sunday expert” Carlos Sainz Jr. By contrast Verstappen has 181, scoring two wins amongst his five podiums this season.

Gasly’s lack of performance is costing the team big time, as they sit just 44 points behind Ferrari for P2 in the Constructors’ Championship.

Head-to-head, the Toro Rosso drivers of Albon and Kvyat have scored points on 6-5 occasions, favouring Kvyat.

Can Gasly come back?

Kvyat was brought into the senior Red Bull team as a replacement for the departing Sebastian Vettel. After struggling to match teammate Daniel Ricciardo, he was dropped to Toro Rosso. Then as Toro Rosso struggled to fill their ranks, he was in and out of the team with, seemingly, no certainty until this season.

It’s clear that Red Bull saw Gasly as the 2nd best driver in their pool, but it’s also clear that they’ve seen enough to believe he’s not yet ready for primetime. The problem is, it appears that once you slide down the snake you tend not to climb back up the ladder.

You’d have to think that only some strong performances for Toro Rosso combined with a series of disastrous races for Albon would be his only salvation.

Dutch GP at Zandvoort returns to F1 calendar after three decade hiatus

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This week’s worst keep secret has been officially confirmed — the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort is returning to the F1 schedule after a three-year deal was announced.

The popularity of young Dutch driver Max Verstappen, and his zealously loyal fanbase, will be celebrating the 2020 return of a race that has been long forgotten. The last race to be held at the seaside track was in 1985, with numerous upgrades and modifications required before the FIA could return.

From F1’s official announcement:

Situated not far from the vibrant city of Amsterdam, Zandvoort is a major beach resort in the Netherlands, known for its long beach bordered by magnificent coastal dunes separating the North Sea from the track. The Circuit of Zandvoort has a long history as a Formula 1 venue, and over the coming months, the facility will be rebuilt with help from Zandvoort town council and several other partners. The track and the infrastucture will be modified in order to meet the standards laid out by the FIA in order to host a Formula 1 World Championship event.

When the 2020 race takes place, it will be the 31st Dutch Grand Prix to count as a round of the World Championship. It was first held in 1952, when it was won by a Ferrari, driven by Alberto Ascari, who went on to win the world championship that year. Apart from the Italian, there were a further 19 winners, of which 12 were also world champions. Jim Clark holds the outright record with four wins to his name. The last Dutch Grand Prix took place in 1985 and will return next year as Formula 1 Heineken Dutch Grand Prix 2020.

If the Spanish Grand Prix fails to retain its place on the calendar, this will bring the number of races in 2020 to 22, with the addition of both the Dutch Grand Prix Vietnam Grand Prix.

However, the future of a number of races remains uncertain, with historic venues like Brazil and the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in doubt unless deals can be stuck with F1’s commercial rights holders.

Plans for a second United States Grand Prix to be held in Miami were cast into doubt, with the original plans being scrapped by the city. Stakeholders keen to see racing hit the Miami streets remain determined to proceed with the race at an alternative location, but with the momentum stalling it appears a new US race entrant won’t be appearing any time soon.

Bottas supreme in season opener

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Valtteri Bottas claimed a surprise victory in Australia, with Mercedes showing unexpected post-testing pace, while Max Verstappen edged out the Ferraris to round out the podium.

Despite claiming pole position, Lewis Hamilton made a poor start and fell to P2, before sustaining some damage to his floor that affected his overall pace. After an early pitstop from Ferrari, Hamilton was brought in to cover off a potential under-cut, but with a long second stint ahead of him the potential to challenge for the win quickly faded.

Ferrari seemed to be caught off-guard by Mercedes’ pace, mostly scrapping with each other more than those around them. At the first turn, Leclerc found himself on the outside of Vettel and ran wide, before recovering in the middle phase of the race to be on his teammate’s tail. After asking the team whether he should attack or hold position, he was instructed to fall back. This brings into question Ferrari’s claim that the two are “free to race”, considering team orders were imposed without the championship, or even a race victory, at stake.

Red Bull rounded out the podium with a strong showing from Max Verstappen, delivering Honda’s first F1 podium in 11 years. Pierre Gasly however disappointed during qualifying, being eliminated in Q1, and struggled to make his way through the midfield. Following a pitstop for Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat, it looked like Gasly might jump into the points after emerging ahead of the junior team driver. But a determined Kvyat reclaimed P10 and held off Gasly to claim the final points paying position, justify his reinstatement but causing headaches for Gasly.

Haas showed that their performance during testing was genuine, easily out-pacing their nearest rival Renault. Despite a retirement for Romain Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen delivered a strong haul of points.

Daniel Ricciardo in particular suffered from the home-race curse on debut for Renault. After being forced onto the grass at the start and bouncing over uneven ground, he emerged without a front wing. Pitting for a new nose left him at the rear of the field with almost no hope of points.

Despite the indignation upon it’s introduction, the battle for the Fastest Lap bonus point proved noteworthy. Max Verstappen claimed the Fastest Lap in the late phase of the race as he closed the gap to Hamilton ahead of him, but Bottas snatched the accolade with a blistering lap that denied all challengers any chance.

Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner admitted that they were considering pitting Gasly as a sacrifice in the attempt to deny the Mercedes drivers the bonus point. By claiming the Fastest Lap, Gasly would not have been eligible for the point as he didn’t finish within the top 10, but it would have robbed the front-runners. Ferrari also had a chance to pit Leclerc (and if they wanted to also Vettel) to try to claim the extra point, but decided against it, a decision they are reviewing post-race.

In what Bottas called his “best race ever”, he leaves with the odd stat of having the greatest points lead in F1 history over the next driver after round 1. Interestingly, 26 points isn’t the greatest number awarded in a race, that honour going to Lewis Hamilton who claimed all 50 points on offer when double points were available in Abu Dhabi for the final round of the 2014 season.

Bonus point will now be awarded for Fastest Lap

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Effective immediately, drivers that set the fastest lap of the race will be awarded a bonus point if they finish in the top 10.

Although Formula 1 has previously had a bonus point for fastest lap, few in the paddock were even alive when it was last awarded more than sixty years ago.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Drivers outside the top 10 are ineligible for the bonus point, and if they set the fastest time then no point(s) will be awarded.

  • Fastest driver and their constructor will both be awarded a point.

If the fastest lap points had been in play in 2007 and 2008 respectively, Hamilton would have claimed the title in ‘07, but would have lost to Massa in ‘08.

Seemingly a response to more innovative series like Formula E, rumours of the bonus point were met with mixed reaction amongst fans. Most notably, the concern that a bonus point adds little in terms of value, yet could end up deciding a championship in a close season.

Concerns that back-markers could pit late it the race, or even start the race light with the intention of chasing the point have been floated as a justification for eliminating the back-half of the grid.

Ross Brawn expands on the decision further on F1.com:

"Together with the FIA we have been committed to evaluating ideas and solutions that can improve the show whilst maintaining the integrity of our sport,” he said.

“We felt that the reintroduction, after sixty years, of a point for the driver of the fastest lap in the race goes in this direction. We have been considering this solution - which represents a response to detailed research carried out with thousands of our fans around the world – for a number of months.

“How many times have we heard the drivers on the radio ask the team about who holds the fastest lap? Now it will no longer be only a matter of record and prestige, but there will be a concrete motivation that will make the final part of the race even more interesting. Sometimes it is useful to remind ourselves of the heritage of our sport to move forward."

Strangely, discussion about bonus points has excluded awarding one for pole position, which features in the drivers’ unofficial “grand slam” (pole, win and fastest lap), and would avoid any peripheral issues that could disrupt the race.

In 2018 Valtteri Bottas claimed the DHL Fastest Lap trophy after speeding to 7 fastest laps from a possible twenty-one.

Mattia Binotto replaces Arrivabene as Ferrari team principal

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Tensions within Ferrari, particularly their failure to translate a performance advantage into championships, has cost Maurizio Arrivabene his job as team principal.

From Autosport:

“After four years of untiring commitment and dedication, Maurizio Arrivabene is leaving the team," read Ferrari's statement.

Ferrari would like to thank Maurizio for his valuable contribution to the team's increasing competitiveness over the past few years, and wish him the best for his future endeavours.”

Ferrari stalwart Binotto has been technical chief since 2016, when he stepped up to the role following the team's split with James Allison.

Binotto first joined Ferrari in 1995, originally as a test engine engineer, and then performed a similar role for the race team from 1997 to 2003.

It’s fair to say that Ferrari’s gains in recent years have come from their technical team, which will (at least for now) continue to be led by Binotto.

If they’ve been lacking in any area it’s been clarity of operations, strategy and driver management. All areas for which a team principal are directly accountable.

A blood letting at the very top of the chain will go at least some of the way toward relieving rumoured tensions between the team management and the technical chiefs. Our first glimpse into how this affects performance on track will come at winter testing in just a few weeks.