The recent Azerbaijan Grand Prix was certainly not the pinnacle of Max Verstappen's career. He wasn't as quick as teammate Daniel Ricciardo on Friday and qualified behind him on Saturday. Even on Sunday, although he spent a large portion of the race ahead of the Australian, there was no denying Ricciardo's pace. In the end it was that speed and Max's defence that cut short their Grand Prix.
Both drivers were blamed by the team, but in the end it was the Dutchman who came off worse in the media. He's been involved in at least one skirmish every race so far (to varying results) and is the only driver in the top three teams to still be behind a midfield competitor in the standings.
There is no doubting Verstappen's raw pace and his rugged driving style has made him a fan favourite. With Ricciardo rumoured to be off to pastures new next season, there's even suggestion the team are favouring him. But with 18 points from three rounds, is there a call for concern.
It's worth remembering, that Verstappen's grace into the Red Bull team came at the cost of another. Daniil Kvyat to be precise.
Like Verstappen, the Russian came into Toro Rosso off the back of a third-tier title (although in this case it was GP3) with much hype around him. Kvyat only scored 8 points in his opening season, made more note-worthy by the fact teammate Jean-Eric Vergne scored 22. Vergne though was in his third season and was expected to lead. By the end of the year it became apparent that the Frenchman was on his way out anyway, with more talent coming up from below.
With Sebastian Vettel off to Ferrari, Kvyat was thrown into the Red Bull Racing team in only his second season. Despite this he performed.
It was a slow start, sure, but by the middle of the campaign was a regular at the front, in a season where RBR was only the fourth best outfit. By the end of the year he'd picked up a maiden podium and had beaten Ricciardo on points.
The Australian was still more highly rated though. Beating Vettel had raised his stock enormously, with Helmut Marko & Dietrich Mateschitz happy to look past 2015. The same could not be said for Kvyat though and with only two spots available in the team, they were left with a tough problem as a certain Max Verstappen had burst onto the scene.
RBR's poor performance in 2015 had allowed Verstappen to appear closer on pace and at the start of 2016 Red Bull were all but searching for a way to maintain and promote the sports best young talent in a generation.
Kvyat had picked up the teams first podium of the year at China, but small mistakes seemed like a goldmine for the media who lambasted the Russian after colliding with Vettel at his home Grand Prix. This was the catalyst Red Bull needed and by the next round Verstappen was in the car at Kvyat's expense.
The Russian could have shrugged this off, but the remainder of the year almost spelt the end for him in F1 as Verstappen picked up a win in his first race with the team, finishing the year fifth and 8 points behind Vettel.
Now in the media spotlight, there was nowhere to hide and over the two years since then, he's struggled to show his class. A troubled start to 2017 saw him retire from more races he finished. Not all of them were his fault, but for the second season in a row he finished behind Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian has collected an equal number of wins while together, but has been a more consistent presence on the podium.
Even if you (rightfully) say Verstappen has not had the car to dominate or win races, you must beat your teammate.
Now entering his fourth season in the sport (third at Red Bull) Verstappen has been handed much criticism from the other drivers and the media for his actions and for the second year in a row, his retirements are costing RBR ground in the constructor's championship.
The major point to bring up is that no other driver currently has as much hype as the Dutchman, but sooner or later results do need to come first. Carlos Saniz Jr. had been convincingly beaten by Verstappen in their year together at Toro Rosso but since then has done all he's needed to keep on Red Bull's radar. He was clearly a class above Kvyat in the two years they had together and one of the top midfield drivers for two years in a row, with his drive at Singapore 2017 and Austin 2016 proving him to be a talent of the future.
2018 has started strongly as well. In Azerbaijan, he and teammate Nico Hulkenberg took the fight directly to RBR and was the only survivor of the quartet, picking up a respectable fifth place, putting him tenth in the standings. Not all results have gone his way this year, but Red Bull kept him as an 'affiliated driver' for a reason. To add, quotes like this from Max will not be good for the brand.
“Today was just really disappointing for the Team and we lost many points unnecessarily. I don’t think we need to speak about fault because at the end of the day we are racing for a team" - Max Verstappen
At this point, I'm sure many are desperate to point out the natural progression of the Red Bull Junior team and point to Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley. The Kiwi has been lackluster in F1 so far, picking up a single point, but Gasly surprised many with his march to fourth in Bahrain. Saying this, his relative inexperience, mixed with Red Bull's desire to challenge for second in the teams standings could lead them to simply import talent from other teams.
And here is the crux of the problem. While Kvyat was at the mercy of Verstappen's hype during his time at the team, Red Bull have all but given up on their Junior programme (their highest placed driver is in Euro F3) meaning kicking Verstappen will not guarantee their continuous stream of talent continues.
Neither Toro Rosso driver are in a position to challenge for the seat just yet and Renault may make breaking Sainz contract rather expensive so for Red Bull they're left with two hot-headed young talents and a commitment to uphold.
Verstappen is not unreplacable, but the standards he's facing at RBR are some of the lowest in the teams history. He can afford to make the mistakes and not rue the consequences.
After securing the Ginetta Junior rookie class crown last season, Kiern Jewiss will return to the ToCA package, moving to the F4 British Championship. The 15-year-old joins the Double R Racing squad after two successful tests.
Jewiss' signing has been on the cards for a few weeks now, becoming the man to beat in the last two test sessions at Brands Hatch Indy and Donington Park. He surprised everyone at Brands, ending the day 1.8sec in front of any other driver.
While the gap would decrease to 0.3sec by the end of yesterday's assessment, he undoubtably goes into the year as the championship favourite, with the first round on the 7th April.
Prior to his successful Ginetta Junior campaign with Douglas Motorsport, he was a notable name in the karting scene, winning the OK Junior class of the WSK Champions Cup in Adria, Italy. This was after he'd secured three national titles, including the Kartmasters British GP, the year before.
The Kent resident will have a lot to prove in his first season, calling this a right-direction for his career and is expected to benefit in F4's post-Carlin era.
“The F4 British Championship is a fantastic series and I can’t wait to be part of it. It’s hugely competitive and some great drivers have made their name here. I hope to do the same in my debut season.
“Double R have proved themselves as a top team, not just in F4 but across several championships. They were a front running team last year and the way testing has started this year it seems we’ll still be performing at the highest level.”
“Obviously I’m here to win so that’s the main goal, but to do that I need to develop and learn every time I get into the car. I don’t expect to walk into the championship and instantly be at my best, but I’m a quick learner and therefore aiming to perform at my optimum as quickly as I can.” - Kiern Jewiss.
Jewiss is also a member of Mark Blundell's sports agency, MB Partners.
“Kiern got his F4 career off to an incredible start during the official test at Brands Hatch last month. He was very impressive in difficult conditions and showed the speed we all know is there from his time in Ginetta Junior and karting.”
“I’ve no doubt he’ll be battling at the sharp end all season. He’s a fast and committed driver. We’re certain he’s going to be one to watch throughout the year and delighted to have signed Kiern to join Paavo and Sebastian. All three drivers are new to F4 and single-seaters, but it’s a line-up we believe has massive potential.” - Anthony 'Boyo' Hieatt.
British F4 confirmed entries so far
|Double R Racing||Kiern Jewiss|
|Double R Racing||Paavo Tonteri|
|Double R Racing||Sebastian Alvarez|
|Fortec Motorsports||Hampus Ericsson|
|Fortec Motorsports||Johnathan Hoggard|
|Fortec Motorsports||Lucca Allen|
|JHR Developments||Ayrton Simmons|
|JHR Developments||Manuel Sulaimán|
|JHR Developments||Josh Skelton|
|Sharp Motorsport||Jamie Sharp|
|TRS Arden Junior||Dennis Hauger|
|TRS Arden Junior||Jack Doohan|
|TRS Arden Junior||Seb Priaulx|
For those that have been out of the loop the last week, the BRDC British F3 Championship, in a bid to increase the spectacle, changed the points system for the second race of a weekend.
Prior to this, the reverse grid event had simply seen the top eight swapped with 25 points being awarded to the winner instead of the regular 35. While the start of these races were always a show as slower drivers tried to hang on to the lead, after the third lap, often settled down with minimal action. This was largely because the grid for the final event is set on fastest times and by consolidating your position, a driver was free to push for a fast time.
In an attempt to increase interest amongst fans, a number of changes were made. These included reversing all the finishers (with a fastest lap within 103%,) not just the top eight, and awarding points for how many positions a driver gained. In exchange, the winner would only receive 20 points and with the top 20 all scoring under BRDC F3 rules it means they also eliminate the extra points advantage for the top 3.
2018 BRDC British F3 - Grid and Points System for Race 2
The chart above goes some way to explaining the mess of the race two format, though drivers will still need to set a fast time for the race three grid.
Ultimately this issue of fastest lap will kill the system.
While race two did throw up some quite bizarre grids, notably at Silverstone, where all three Fortec Motorsports cars lined up at the front, it simply allowed Ben Hingeley to take an easy win, while Manuel Maldonado, who had started on pole, fell down to eighth with Kjaergaard finishing last in the other Fortec.
The problem was, this race, that also featured Toby Sowery’s rise through the order to second, was an exception. For round 8 at Snetterton, the top ten exchanged no positions after lap 2 and that would have just been the first lap had Enaam Ahmed not overtaken Jamie Chadwick on the second tour and James Pull hadn’t dropped down the order due to a puncture.
The sad reality is that this became all too common.
It’s arguably not because of driver complacency either. At Rockingham, after being punted to the back in the opening lap, Ahmed found it hard to actually work his way back up the order. The 17-year-old had won all four races so far, but only managed to gain four places past backmarkers.
It’s hardly as if Ahmed lacked the pace and with teammate and championship rival Cameron Das leading, he had every incentive. While he was gifted two further positions due to time penalties, it wasn’t easy for the eventual runaway champion.
Das himself ran into a similar issue at Snetterton where he spent the ten lap race stuck behind rookie and leader Jordan Cane. He was within a second for the first seven laps, but was unable to overtake, despite racing for the quicker team. With rival Ahmed down in sixth he should have leapt at the opportunity.
The point is, that as much as Jonathan Palmer did his best to improve the cars during their second generation, the Tatuus-Cosworth MSV F4-016 has made it harder to overtake, especially around national circuits.
The long straights at Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps are easier for the drivers, with the latter providing some of the most exciting races of recent years. The issue; it’s almost impossible for the car to run in dirty air, which is exaggerated at Oulton Park and Snetterton due to the cars greater reliability on aerodynamics.
Points to encourage overtaking is all well and good, but without the equipment to make a sufficient move, it becomes obsolete.
Overtaking in the first lap hasn’t been an issue, but unlike Formula 1 or perhaps more extremely, like NASCAR, you cannot avoid this issue with more rolling starts or safety car restarts, because the queue still suffers from the dirty air problem. After safety cars, it’s been rare to see British F3 cars jumping a number of positions.
So what should be done?
Well, the obvious answer is get a new car. But single-seaters are expensive and the cost would have to be paid for by the driver, which there isn’t the market for.
One option is to change the circuits. The cars perform better at Silverstone and Spa and MSV have already taken one step in the right direction by adding a second Silverstone round. More extreme would be to get rid of circuits like Snetterton, Oulton Park or Rockingham, but this seems like a ridiculous solution as there are few viable replacements to help the racing.
While Thruxton would be a good alternative, this would require the series to breakaway from the British GT calendar creating more problems than it solves, especially for marketing and ticket sales.
It may not just rely on the circuits though, but the way the car competes. In a move reminiscent of Formula Ford some years back, shorter races in exchange for more sessions might help.
While all three races are 20 minutes, with overtaking barely occurring after the third lap, much may not be lost in reducing all three to 15 minutes and finding space for a fourth event, putting it in line with European F3 and creating better value for money.
Qualifying could be key. Currently, MSV sets one quali for 30 mins. This often involves drivers setting early benchmarks before returning to the pits and heading back out for a final run.
By reducing the session by 15 mins, this could open up room for another 20 minute race later in the weekend without affecting the support series too much. It could also open up the opportunity to drop the full grid reversal procedure.
But this might all seem too extreme and a reduction past the 20 minute mark could be bad publicity for a series that is competing against 30 minute F4 races and 25 minute Formula Renault events.
In which case, the answer again could come from qualifying. If drivers are simply treating the second race as an opportunity to get a strong place for the finale then why not decide the grids earlier on.
In a number of European series as well as their rival F4 British Championship, the drivers second fastest time is used to settle the grid for the final event. This opens up race two as an opportunity for midfield drivers to get a strong result free of consequences for the final encounter.
British F3 2018 Entries so far
|Carlin||Sun Yue Yang|
|Double R Racing||Linus Lundqvist|
|Double R Racing||Krishnaraaj Mahadik|
|Double R Racing||Pavan Ravishankar|
|Douglas Motorsport||Alexandra Mohnhaupt|
|Douglas Motorsport||Jamie Chadwick|
|Fortec Motorsport||Tristan Charpentier|
|Fortec Motorsport||Manuel Maldonado|
|Fortec Motorsport||Tom Gamble|
|Lanan Racing||Kush Maini|
|Lanan Racing||Joshua Mason|
|Chris Dittmann Racing||Harry Webb|
Picking up on the split session idea, why not reduce qualifying to fifteen minutes and hold the second of the fifteen minute sessions after race one (or race two), giving drivers an opportunity to redeem their weekend should it not have gone their way early on, without sacrificing a race to setting strong lap times.
Finally, this also opens up better tyre strategies. The F3’s Pirelli's has proven one of the more durable of the feeder series with minimal drop-off once it reaches the cliff. Even without changing the tyre compound, this presents new opportunities for drivers to play with their strategy, perhaps even forcing fast drivers to start further down in exchange for fresher rubber.
Then again, maybe this new system will work to a driver's benefit. As the year comes to an end, those wishing to fight for the championship will be prepared to take more risks and with Silverstone, an easy overtaking circuit providing the season finale, could yet throw up some surprises.
Though in the event this pomp and ceremony is mostly for naught, it might be time to once again reconsider our perceptions on how a series should be run.