Three Formula 1 teams have battled in ‘Class C’ this year but which is best-served to avoid the wooden spoon? MotorsportWeek.com analyses the scrap at the back.
Alfa Romeo: Improving after slow start
“It has been a disaster but we just have to do things better. And we have to make the car faster – as simple as that.” So said Kimi Raikkonen after a lacklustre Hungarian Grand Prix.
Alfa Romeo has held the upper hand points-wise throughout the campaign courtesy of Antonio Giovinazzi picking up ninth at the chaotic opener in Austria, but to begin with its C39 was severely underwhelming. The car was slowest in qualifying throughout the opening five rounds and it was an aspect that left it firmly on the back-foot heading into the races, where its performances were slightly brighter.
After a slow start Alfa Romeo has made one-lap gains, chipping away at the C39 while getting the car into the right window more often, which combined with Raikkonen’s improved performances has led to three Q2 appearances in the last four rounds. That gives it more opportunities in race trim. Raikkonen finished ahead of both Ferrari drivers at Spa-Francorchamps and gave chase to AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat in the final stint.
The team also crucially has four points to its name courtesy of salvaging results in attrition-filled races.
Giovinazzi kept his head down in Austria to score ninth, a position replicated by Raikkonen at Mugello in spite of a first-lap clash, a poor stop and a pit lane infraction.
The only major missed chance came at Monza. Raikkonen was never going to convert the podium position he held at the restart but points were realistic – though being in receipt of only fresh Softs hampered his prospects and he tumbled out of the top 10.
“We have made some obvious steps forward recently, as displayed in the last triple header, and now we have to build on those gains to keep challenging the other teams in the midfield,” said team boss Frederic Vasseur.
Haas: Stagnating with undeveloped car
Haas battled Renault for fourth as recently as 2018 but after difficulties with its perplexing VF-19 it adopted a different strategy in 2020, with no developments coming for its VF-20. The logic was sound, given the financial uncertainty a few months ago amid the lowest ebb (so far) of the pandemic, and the general unknowns that abounded at that point. Haas was also conscious that the updates for its 2019 car did not work and it finished in Abu Dhabi with an Australia-spec car, having regressed to ninth in the standings. Thus there was no guarantee that any new parts for its 2020 car would yield the desired outcome. But it has started with an off-the-pace car and consequently is scrapping for half an opportunity.
There was a brief flicker of hope in Spain, where it has traditionally been strong, when Romain Grosjean placed fifth in practice two with a lap time that Kevin Magnussen felt was also achievable on his side had he not erred. But Grosjean’s astonishment and surprise at the turn of speed spoke volumes. Neither he nor Haas fully understood why the VF-20 was so fast – and therefore it could not learn nor regard it as a breakthrough. Haas regressed to the mean the next day.
Grosjean deserves credit for Mugello perseverance in a battered car while sole top 10 finish came courtesy of the inspired slick tyre call on the formation lap in Hungary. It should have been ninth for Magnussen, and therefore two points, if not for Formula 1’s arbitrary radio rules.
Reliability has been a bugbear, costing the drivers track time during practice, and also leaving Magnussen with more retirements than he has finishes – a statistic from a bygone era.
“It will be a tough end to the season, in the same way it was a tough start to the season,” accepted boss Guenther Steiner. “We obviously have some deficiencies in our car. We also haven’t brought any upgrades to the car. With a little bit of luck, and some of our own talent, we should hopefully get some points before the season ends.”
Williams: Missed opportunities proving crucial
Williams has made strides this year after its awful 2019 campaign in which it was regularly a second behind its nearest opponent and only scored one point in very fortuitous circumstances.
George Russell has made Q2 on several occasions and was joined in Hungary by sole 2020 rookie Nicholas Latifi. The one-lap advantage that Mercedes has held over Ferrari in the power stakes has largely assisted Williams over Alfa Romeo and Haas in qualifying. Latifi still has room for improvement in qualifying, particularly when the track ramps up, but it is coming.
However Williams is the only team that has yet to collect a point.
The draggy FW43 has usually been relatively slower than its primary opponents in race trim, hampered by persistent problems the drivers are having in dirty air. The FW43’s problem in following rivals is causing Russell and Latifi a world of pain, accentuating tyre wear, and resulting in cooling concerns.
But even accounting for those setbacks Williams has allowed chances to slip through its grasp.
Russell was in the mix for points in Austria until an engine failure while debutant team-mate Latifi was understandably conservative first time out, coming home as the last of 11 classified finishers. The Canadian was then unfortunate to be released into the path of Carlos Sainz after a strong start in Hungary, copping a puncture that wrecked the car. Williams was on the wrong side of the Monza chaos, with Latifi 11th again, but more crushing was its Mugello outcome. Russell was poised for ninth, which became eighth when Lance Stroll crashed, but an awful getaway at the late standing restart thwarted his hopes – and he classified 11th.
“It was disappointing missing out on those points at Mugello, points that I felt we thoroughly deserved,” said Russell. “However, it has given me and the team greater motivation to go out there and extract even more performance from the car.”