2019’s Battle of the Rookies

2019 will see four drivers enter Formula One and, with their previous credentials, it will see an exciting Rookie of the Year battle unfold. For the first time since 2010 we will see the top three drivers from the direct feeder series into Formula One, Formula Two, enter the championship with a full-time drive; 2010 saw Nico Hülkenberg, Vitaly Petrov and Lucas di Grassi promoted from GP2 (Formula Two’s predecessor). Two drivers entering the championship are also former winners of the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award, continuing its trend of spotting and honouring young talent.

Lando Norris – McLaren

Nineteen year old Lando Norris is the latest driver from the McLaren Young Driver Programme to be promoted by the team. Norris has had a very successful junior career dating back to 2014 when he competed in series supporting the British Touring Car Championship – Ginetta Juniors and subsequently MSA Formula (British F4) – before moving up to European and World Championships; between 2015 and 2017 Norris secured five titles. In 2018 Norris drove for Carlin in Formula Two and battled with fellow Brit George Russell for the title, as well as making his debut in a free practice session in Belgium in place of Fernando Alonso. McLaren are gradually moving back towards the front of the grid and expect to see Norris learn from his teammate Carlos Sainz to help make McLaren regular points scorers, and maybe even enter the top five before the season ends.

 

George Russell – Williams

A member of Mercedes’ young driver programme George Russell moves up to Formula One having secured the GP3 and Formula Two championships in the past two seasons. Williams have recently become known for bringing young talent onto the grid, and being partnered with Robert Kubica I’m sure Russell will flourish with the team. Sadly Williams have struggled in 2018 scoring only seven points, and will certainly expect to move higher up the order and back to the levels they were at in 2016. It is almost inevitable that Russell may struggle early on, but with some prior track knowledge from his time in the lower formulas, expect to see him battling for points by the halfway point of the season. I believe that by joining Williams Russell will be able to progress quite quickly and should hopefully remain a part of the team for the next few years.

 

Alexander Albon – Toro Rosso

Back in September Alex Albon had been signed by Nissan e.dams to compete in Season 5 of Formula E, before being released from his contract to partner the returning Daniil Kvyat at Toro Rosso; Albon had previously been a member of the Red Bull Junior Team. When Albon lines up on the grid in Australia he will become the first Thai driver since Prince Bira competed in the early 1950s. Although Albon has not secured a title in his junior career, he has finished on the overall championship podium in three series in the last four years. Unlike his fellow rookies Albon has also not driven in an official Formula One session, Red Bull have clearly been keeping an eye on his progress by choosing to promote him rather than retain Brendon Hartley. Toro Rosso has become more consistent in recent years and expect to see Albon finishing in the points quite early on, but Kvyat will be fighting hard to establish himself once more.

 

Antonio Giovinazzi – Sauber

Despite making his Formula One debut last year with the team – in place of the injured Pascal Wehrlein – Antonio Giovinazzi will be making his full-time debut having spent 2018 with Ferrari as their reserve driver. Giovinazzi will be hoping the forget his two Grand Prix last year as despite a twelfth place finish in Australia, he spectacularly crashed out in China, but knowledge of these two tracks will be key to giving a slight advantage at the start of the year over his fellow rookies. The Italian has effectively spent the year on the bench but finished in fifth in the GTE Pro class at Le Mans; this won’t have hindered him though as he would have gained a valuable insight in to working with Ferrari. With Sauber now becoming one of the top teams in the mid-field, points finishes should be a regular occurrence for Giovinazzi, and with Kimi Räikkönen on the other side of the garage they should be a force to be reckoned with in 2019.

 

We are now seeing a generational shift in Formula One, particularly following the retirements of some of the championship’s big names, and these four drivers will be hoping that they can be the one to set the next benchmark for others to strive for. It is hard to predict which of these four drivers will come out on top in 2019, but don’t expect it to be anything less than enthralling.

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The Rise of Ash Sutton

At the age of just twenty-four Ash Sutton has three seasons in the British Touring Car Championship, and one championship crown under his belt; it’s no wonder that he is one of the most talked about drivers on the grid.

Sutton joined the BTCC in 2016 having won the Renault Clio Cup the previous year, partnering Josh Cook at Triple Eight Racing driving an MG 6. Sutton’s goal for the season was to win the Jack Sears Trophy awarded to the best rookie.

Sutton announced himself with a fourth place finish in the opening race of the season at Brands Hatch, and continued on a streak of six consecutive points finishes, before having to retire from race one at Thruxton. It wasn’t an easy weekend for Sutton at Thruxton and also at the following round at Oulton Park, but it wasn’t long before Sutton took to the podium.

Croft was to be the circuit in which Sutton would shine, and has been hallowed ground for him in the two seasons that have followed. Sutton finished race one in third place behind Colin Turkington and future teammate Jason Plato. But it was in a wet final race of the day where he shone. Sutton charged through the field to win by more than a second and take the fastest lap, ahead of Sam Tordoff and Tom Ingram.

After Croft Sutton’s results for the rest of the year were mixed. Triple Eight had secured a 1-2 finish, with Sutton the winner, in race one at Silverstone but both were disqualified due to a technical infringement on the rear wings.

Sutton ended his first season in thirteenth place in the championship with one hundred and sixty two points and the Jack Sears Trophy.

For 2017 Sutton moved to Team BMR teaming up again with his mentor from the Clio Cup Warren Scott. The switch to the Subaru Levorg wasn’t easy at first as he left Brands Hatch with no points on the board.

Two podiums at Donington Park saw an upturn in his fortunes and began to set him on course for a much stronger final championship result. Three top ten finishes at Thruxton followed by Sutton making more regular trips to the podium in the second half of the season.

Croft marked the halfway point of the year and unsurprisingly it was another fruitful weekend for Sutton. Qualifying saw him qualify in Pole Position, half a second ahead of Turkington who would become his nemesis for the championship. Sutton took the win in race one and finished in second in races two and three.

It was the consistency regular podium finishes and capitalising on strong points finishes as an alternative was the key to him becoming a contender for the title. It was only race three at Snetterton, where contact with Rob Austin took him out of the race, and prevented him from completing a hat-trick of wins, was the only blot on his copybook in the latter half of the campaign.

Sutton entered the Brands Hatch finale, on the GP circuit, with just a ten point lead over Turkington. After qualifying it was Sutton who held the advantage by putting himself third on the grid, whilst Turkington could only manage seventeenth.

Sutton finished race one in third place with Turkington just entering the points in fifteenth, swinging the pendulum firmly in his favour. Turkington went on to take the win in race two ensuring that the title would be decided at the final race; would there be another roll of the dice to benefit Turkington?

Turkington suffered in final blow in the wet decider when contact from Mat Jackson broke his suspension and gave him a right rear puncture. Sutton safely navigated the poor conditions to third place and secured the championship by twenty one points.

2018 saw Sutton remain with Team BMR with the sole aim of defending the title. Although he began the year better than he had previously, it was Turkington and Ingram who got the upper hand.

Despite eight consecutive points finishes, he was yet to reach the podium. Three tough races then ensued where he did not finish any higher than twentieth.

Croft was, for a third year running, the scene of more wins for Sutton, and with another at Snetterton, his title campaign had been revived. More trips to the top step concurred at the following rounds at Rockingham and Knockhill, but it was another disqualification from the win that would hinder his charge.

Sutton, and Ingram who had finished in second, were both disqualified after failing a ride-height check after the race; Turkington was promoted to fourth place as a result. After failing to enter the top ten at Silverstone, Sutton’s chance to successfully defend his title was over.

Wanting to end the season on a high, Sutton had his best race of the year after defeating friend Cook in a captivating battle that saw them split by just 0.032s at the line.

In 2018 Sutton also tried his hand in other Touring Car series by competing in TCR UK (in a Honda Civic Type R) and TCR Europe (driving a Volkswagen Golf GTI). Sutton took two wins in TCR UK at Oulton Park and a third place finish at the TCR Europe season finale in Barcelona, proving that he has become a master of tin tops.

Sutton is currently yet to announce his plans for 2019, but is expected to remain with Warren Scott’s squad to try and regain his crown.

A long career in Touring Cars should be in store for Sutton, and it is entirely possible that he could set himself as one of the all-time greats.

Formula E Season 5 preview

This weekend sees Season 5 of Formula E get underway with the Ad Diriyah ePrix in Saudi Arabia, a new addition to the calendar. Season 5 sees numerous changes take place in the Championship not least with the switch to the Gen2 car. Other notable changes will be the removal of the mandatory car-swap, races will now last a duration of forty-five minutes (plus one lap) rather than a set amount of laps, the introduction of “attack mode” which gives a driver an additional 25 kW of power on a certain area of the track and the awarding of Fan Boost to five drivers instead of three.

Numerous team and driver changes have happened for Season 5, which may be the most exciting in the series’ history. I have outlined the prospects for each team, and its line-up, and in typical Formula E-style it looks once again to be unpredictable.

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Loeb victorious in Spain

Nine-time champion Sébastien Loeb today secured victory in Rally Catalunya by almost three seconds ahead of reigning champion Sébastien Ogier and Brit Elfyn Evans. Loeb’s seventy-ninth victory comes after five years after he won Rally Argentina in 2013.

Ogier heads into Rally Australia with just a three point lead over Thierry Neuville and a further twenty points ahead of Ott Tänak.