Life In The Fast Lane #9: Russell Makes It Two At Monaco, Williams Get New Director

Words by Tony Robertson (@TonyRob84).

Featured image credit: Liberty Media. Image does not meet threshold of originality and is therefore in the public domain.

Welcome back to Overtime Online’s weekly F1 column Life In The Fast Lane.

We’re back with episode nine this week and lets be honest, it was a fair bit slower than last weeks lightspeed progression but we do still stuff to cover.

Russell makes it two in a row:

George Russell made it two wins from the last two Virtual Grand Prix’s as he managed a win at one of the most iconic and difficult tracks in the current circuit calendar; Monaco.

From personal experience on the F1 2019 game, it’s the driving equivalent to hell (but then again, I wouldn’t compare my skill on the game with that of pros and F1 drivers for obvious reasons). However, the drivers on the circuit this week largely did very well.

Eight F1 drivers made up the grid this time around with Esteban Ocon and Valtteri Bottas making their Virtual debuts for Renault and Mercedes respectively. The usual suspects of Lando Norris, Charles Leclerc, Alex Albon, George Russell, Nicholas Latifi and Antonio Giovinazzi all returned yet again to duke it out.

While the grid notably missed Jimmy Broadbent, this was made up for with some stellar replacements. Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang partnered up with Norris at McLaren, no doubt hoping to do better than his Manchester City counterpart Sergio Aguero, while Luis Fonsi came into partner David Schumacher at Racing Point.

After qualifying it was Pietro Fittipaldi who found himself on pole, with Russell completing the front row of the grid.  

It was Russell who managed to get through to first in turn one and this would ultimately be the most exciting part of his race until the end as he dominated Monte Carlo. The battle behind him though was completely erratic.

Lap one saw Antonio Giovinazzi spin at the top of the hill and need the ‘assistance’ of the two Mercedes cars to turn him back on the right track.

The Mercedes of Esteban Gutierrez was the centre of attention on lap six as a late lunge out of the tunnel saw him climb up to fourth ahead of Schumacher. At the end of the next straight, he was responsible for Albon crashing as he left no room on the inside for the Red Bull driver to overtake.

Lap 16 saw him battle with Arthur Leclerc and Norris up the hill and into the hairpin as he took the outside line on Leclerc’s kid brother on the hairpin approach before and collided with him on the way down to the hairpin and then rear-ended Norris as he turned into the hairpin. 

But that wasn’t all the action of the lap. At the end of the tunnel straight Gutierrez tried to repeat his earlier lunge but came unstuck this time when Leclerc tried to turn but only found at Mercedes car in the way causing him to cut across the chicane and sending Gutierrez into the wall and picking up a three-second penalty for his trouble.

On lap 18 it was time for ‘La Rascasse’ and ‘Sainte Devote’ to shine in this bumper car-inspired edition of F1.

Gutierrez was once again responsible for one of these incidents, as he tried to take Albon on the inside at turn 17 ultimately sending Albon into the wall again but taking sixth position as he did so. 

Just ahead of them was the battle for the final podium spot, as Norris battled both Leclerc’s going into turn 1. Norris ended up taking the turn far too quickly and effectively used A. Leclerc as a bumper cushion causing the Ferrari car to spin and face the opposite direction and losing another two positions to the chasing Gutierrez and Albon. Not a race he will have enjoyed very much at all.

With one lap to go, Charles Leclerc was battling with the busy Gutierrez coming out of the tunnel but was sent into the wall by the Mercedes car, sealing their final positions. Leclerc junior and Albon weren’t quite done though, as they raced wheel to wheel from the main straight all the way to the hairpin with Albon eventually coming out on top due to having the inside line on the hairpin.

George Russell crossed the line with a staggering 40-second gap to the driver behind. Elsewhere Aubameyang managed to finish in 16th, two positions below Aguero from the race before but on a far harder course. Luis Fonsi, who I’m sure everyone knows as the artist who sang Despacito, finished dead last, his car seemingly singing despacio (Spanish word for slowly) as it went around the track. 

IYMI: Williams appoint new director:

In all the driver chaos of last week, it’s easy to forget that there are many more people involved with the running of an F1 car other than the drivers themselves.

Williams who have seriously struggled for many years now announced on May 11 they were appointing former McLaren man Simon Roberts as their new managing director.

A statement from Deputy Team Principal Claire Williams said: “Simon will bring enormous experience and knowledge to the Williams team, and we are delighted that he is joining us when we head back to work  after this enforced F1 shutdown.”

Mr Roberts, who spent nearly 17 years at McLaren as Operations Director and later Chief Operating Officer, “will take overall responsibility for the design and development process, racing, factory operations and planning” and will start work with the British constructor from June 1.

On paper, it’s difficult to see any downsides to this for Williams. But Formula One is not raced on paper, and Williams has an all too recent bad (which puts it nicely) experience with Paddy Lowe to remind them of it.

Although with 17 years’ experience at a team which in the time he was there had a Championship winning driver, albeit in 2008, and is the current ‘best of the rest’ team Roberts should prove to be a good appointment for the team.

The question is how long will he be given to get results from a pair of cars which scored a measly one point between them in 2019? Time will be the all-important factor in a sport where mere fractions of seconds can make the biggest differences.

Driver market rumour mill:

Well, it seems appropriate to start up this section right about now.

Just what will happen to each driver? That is the million-pound question.

Rumours circulated earlier this week about a potential move for Sebastian Vettel to the new Aston Martin team (currently Racing Point). Lawrence Stroll would definitely have the ambition for such a move and would certainly have the finances to pull It off.

But would Vettel be willing to downgrade so far just to keep a seat on the grid for 2021? Vettel most likely left Ferrari because his ambition and drive to succeed was being overshadowed by his teammate who was pushing Vettel really hard for the first driver role, so I think this would be unlikely unless Stroll could work wonders and convince him to join.

Then there’s the vacant seat at Renault. If Vettel were to join any team except for Renault, there would be an immediate displacement of a driver excluding Kimi Raikkonen since he announced he will be retiring at the end of the season.

Most likely this means Sergio Perez would be let go because let’s face it Lance Stroll will always get a seat in a team where his father has a majority stake. That isn’t to say Stroll is a bad driver, but it is to say that he still has people to convince. Perez, on the other hand, has been reliable for many years and many midfield teams would be happy to have him.

This would lead his likely destination as either Alfa Romeo, Haas or AlphaTauri, though the last option is very unlikely seeing as it is the Red Bull affiliate team. Haas and Alfa Romeo both have drivers who are good on their day but can often leave a lot to be desired.

Viewers of Netflix’s Formula One Drive To Survive series will be all too familiar with the struggles of Haas last season. This is why I would expect at least one of them to not have their contract renewed beyond next season. Nico Hulkenberg is eagerly awaiting a return to the sport he describes as having unfinished business with so would be more than happy to take either one of Kevin Magnussen’s or Romain Grosjean’s seats. Though I’d put my money on Grosjean losing his seat to one of Hulkenberg or Perez with the Frenchman possibly taking the seat at Alfa Romeo alongside whoever doesn’t get the Haas seat.

This is, of course, all speculation however and I for one can’t wait to see what will happen.

It occurs to me as I’m writing this that I should put my neck on the line and make some driver predictions. Well, you’ll need to wait a little bit for that one 😉. Keep an eye out for future editions.

Nevertheless, that concludes this week’s column. You can check out last week’s column here.

See you next week.

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