11 October 2018

Fairytales in F1

In the days ahead we should hear something about the remaining F1 drives for 2019, with Racing Point (or whatever it will be called post Force India) due to confirm Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll in Mexico. This means that there are only three drives left open: two at Williams and one at Toro Rosso. I have a feeling that the announcements - when they come - will be good news for British motor racing.

Everyone is talking about the new wave of French (and Monégasque) drivers: Charles Leclerc, Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly, and it’s great that the three kids who grew up together in French and then international karting have all made it through to F1. But we may also see the same thing with young British drivers...

We know that British drivers will likely finish 1-2-3 in the Formula 2 Championship this year. It is almost certain that George Russell will win the title, as he has a 37-point lead with just over 40 on the table, allowing for the strange nooks and crannies of the F2 scoring system. Alex Albon is next, 14 points clear of McLaren’s new signing Lando Norris. There are Nyck de Vries and Artem Markelov hounding Norris for third place, but the three British drivers have all shown that they have the ability to win and so we will have to see the outcome in Abu Dhabi.

It is fairly clear already that Russell is going to be part of the future at Williams. He fits the profile the team wants of a rising British star and his presence will help to get the troubled team focussed. Pay drivers don’t inspire. Young chargers get people motivated. You need only to look at what Sauber has done since Charles Leclerc joined to see how a stagnant team can be energised and inspired, to see what might happen at Williams. Yes, the team needs to build a quick car, but getting to Force India level should be possible.

But I also have a feeling that the underrated Albon may finally get lucky. He’s had a tough time climbing the racing ladder but he’s come through. One of my favourite stories at the moment is about the picture Lando Norris has on his bedroom wall at home. His inspiration when he was young. His idol. Senna? Schumacher? No, Albon... (Lando's dad Adam told me the story, and Lando confirmed it the other day in Suzuka).

Alexander is exactly the kind of driver that Toro Rosso exists to nurture. He’s an Anglo-Thai (Red Bull being an Austro-Thai business) and he even used to be a Red Bull junior. But the most important thing is that he’s fast and mentally tough. He has been through the mill on his way to F2 and he has delivered. He is supposed to be joining Nissan in Formula E next year, but that deal is not really what it seems. The deal was a pay-off for DAMS agreeing to fund his Formula 2 season this year, after his sponsorship fell through at the last minute. To all intents and purposes Nissan’s Formula E team is DAMS, with the Japanese firm having bought Alain Prost’s and Renault’s shareholdings - but team boss Jean Paul Driot retains the majority for the moment, although the oil trader is obviously planning to sell to Nissan when the price is right. There is no shortage of good drivers who could step in for Albon at Nissan, and the money required to get him out of the deal would be peanuts for Red Bull... so I feel that a Kvyat-Albon pairing is quite likely next year at Faenza.

So that leaves Mercedes driver Ocon on the market and a space to fill at Williams-Mercedes... Yes, Williams needs to balance the books (and build a good car), but one can see this making more sense than Robert Kubica and/or a Russian. It would be lovely to see Kubica back in action, but that would be a fairytale and they don’t happen often in F1...

So let’s see. Maybe there will be four British drivers in F1 next year... (even if one uses a Thai racing licence).

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