Esteban Ocon, Force India, Circuit of the Americas, 2018

“Gap year” for Ocon in 2019 looking more likely – Wolff

RaceFans Round-up

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In the round-up: Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says the team’s junior driver Esteban Ocon is looking increasingly likely to spend the 2019 F1 season without a race seat.

What they say

Wolff said it is not within his control whether Ocon ends up in the second Williams seat next ayear:

I think it’s kind of settled into a situation that we might need to find the right seat for him in 2020 and have a gap year and integrate him a lot in our team and make him contribute to the team’s performance.

He and us have kind of got our head around it, even though it’s not perfect. Unless a last-minute opportunity opens up at Williams, but it’s not in our hands it’s for Claire [Williams] and the team to decide.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Comment of the day

How significantly does a driver’s style affect their career prospects?

It’s interesting to compare the different driving styles of drivers. According to Prodromou, Vandoorne has a similar driving style to Vettel as well, in that he like to turn the car in one motion and gain time on corner entry, and rely on the traction provided by the car to accelerate out of the corner.

If the driver isn’t able to get on the power early though, their corner entry advantage becomes eradicated, and they end up with slower acceleration out of the corners. Which could explain why Vettel struggled with the RB10, and Vandoorne likewise with the MCL33. Both these drivers need a strong rear-end in order to support their driving styles, and the moment they don’t have that, their advantage is gone.

Now you have someone like Alonso who tends to be more aggressive, and instead of one sweeping motion, he likes to bully the front end of the car with several inputs in order to coax more from the front tyres. This driving style makes him less sensitive to a loose rear-end. Which is why I personally believe that Alonso is maybe the best driving in F1 at coping with understeer.

Due to these reasons, someone like Alonso is far more adaptive than the likes of Vettel and Vandoorne, as his driving style is more about bullying the car, instead of coaxing it. When the car is perfectly balanced, however, that’s when his less smooth driving style might not be as good as Vettel’s, as more inputs equals less time gained. Could be a very plausible explanation for why Alonso doesn’t get as much from qualifying as some others perhaps.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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46 comments on ““Gap year” for Ocon in 2019 looking more likely – Wolff”

  1. On CoTD, very good analysis.

    Did this driving style become more main stream in the blown diffuser era? One of the main reasons for Webber’s failure to match Vettel was how the RBs were so reliant on the downforce generate by the blown diffuser, which Vettel executed to perfection.

    Does anyone know how these styles would have worked in the V10 era? Schumacher was a silky smooth driver and was the undisputed pole position king of the era. At the same time, Juan Montoya was one of the most aggressive drivers on the same grid, and was an absolute beast in Qualy as well. Different tyres probably had a part to play perhaps? Or were drivers not as sensitive to rear end downforce in those days?

    1. @jaymenon10 I think the tyres, and traction control, probably had a huge part to play during that time. Schumacher and Raikkonen have similar driving styles, so it is no coincidence that their peaks were during similar times in F1. Both of them like to have a strong front-end, even at the cost of rear balance, and tend to use the slide of the car to help turn into the corner. I think the Bridgestone, and especially the Michelins, allowed them to use this to maximum effect. The Michelins were an excellent tyre that could handle multiple driving styles. But with the Pirellis now (and Bridgestones before that, though to a less extent), Raikkonen struggles more. But he struggles less so if the compounds are softer, which I think can go some way to explain why he was possibly at his best since his comeback during 2012, 2013 and 2018, when we’ve had the some of the softest compounds in recent memory.

      If you look back at 12-14 years ago, variations in driving style were far more evident than it is nowadays. Montoya and Alonso were probably two of the most aggressive drivers in F1 with how they handled their cars. If you watch onboard footage from Alonso from 2006, and from any time in recent history, you will be able to see the evolution of his driving style. Back in 2006, he used to make very aggressive steering movements both on corner entry and mid-corner, knowing full well the Michelin fronts would be able to take the punishment, and traction control meant that he wouldn’t go spinning mid-corner. Since then, he has calmed down his driving style, as the Bridgestones and Pirellis wouldn’t be able to take that sort of punishment, and the removal of traction control meant he couldn’t rely on a strong rear-end as much.

      1. great COTD, @mashiat. Congrats.

        But aren’t you describing oversteer here?

        This driving style makes him less sensitive to a loose rear-end. Which is why I personally believe that Alonso is maybe the best driving in F1 at coping with understeer.

        1. @coldfly I corrected myself with a reply in the original comment, but it obviously did not carry over to this COTD. I was talking about a loose front-end.

      2. @mashiat there was an excellent analysis in F1 Racing magazine in the mid-2000s, involving some seasoned trackside analysts (nigel roebuck or mark hughes, I think) and former drivers (brundle and berger and maybe one other). the consensus was indeed that alonso could deal with understeer better than anyone because of his unusually aggressive turn in. but, as you say, this was a function of the grooved tyres they were using at the time.

        in an earlier era, in schumacher’s early ferrari years, he was often thought to be an on-the-nose type driver (mansell, alesi style, late braking and early turn in, sort out the mess afterwards) in contrast to hill, hakkinen or frentzen (smoother and sacrificing the entry to perfect the exit). but in an interview in 1998 (I think) he claimed he only drove like that because of flaws inherent in the cars he drove (benettons and ferraris) – he said he wanted to turn in as late as frentzen and villeneuve were in the williams (after following them through luffield at silverstone) but if he did he would crash!

        I think all the great drivers have the ability to adapt, but it will be to a different degree and in different directions. for example, jenson button needed the car to be in a sweet spot in order for him to excel in the dry. but at the same time he was very adaptable to more radically changeable conditions, such as a wet/drying track.

      3. Ah, those Michelins, Alonso could have won about a dozen WDCs by now with them

    2. I wish there were more insight from official channels into driver’s particular styles. After all it is what makes them have advantages and disadvantages relative to each other. I think Liberty would benefit from fleshing out the technical differences between drivers more. Putting more focus on individual strengths and weaknesses is a way of making the sport more human. Currently all we know is that someone is “quick” or “good in the rain”, very rarely is there any analysis of why they thrive in a particular car on a particular track in a particular corner under particular conditions.

      In fact we don’t really have a clue about what makes drivers quick without doing quite a whole lot of research on the topic, and even then, that info is restricted and incomplete. For instance, I have absolutely no idea what Grosjean’s or Magnussen’s driving styles are. Even for the big names, Hamilton has stated that he actually likes a stable rear, yet the understanding I have of him as a driver is that he’s more comfortable with a loose rear-end than about anyone. So which is it? Or does it mean that all F1 drivers are on the “rear end grip first” spectrum and Hamilton is just the furthest along it towards a pointy car end of it? Equally, until yesterday I had no idea that Verstappen carries a lot of speed into corners and puts a lot of emphasis on a stable rear end. Does that mean that he’s more sensitive to the car not suiting him than Ricciardo and a bit like Vettel, Vandoorne and Kubica with regards to peak performance vs adaptability?

      Currently F1 only focuses on the differences in cars, but there’s hardly any explanation of what makes drivers excel. Imagine if in football the vast majority of TV audiences didn’t understand the characteristics that made a good defender rather than a striker, or tennis viewers didn’t understand the strong and weak sides of players for particular surfaces and in particular matchups. In F1 it seems like drivers are perfect constants operating cars made by engineers.

      1. @victor I completely agree. We need to get better insights into the driving styles of drivers. As for Grosjean and Magnussen, I don’t know much, but what I do know is that Grosjean is a driver who likes to brake extremely deep, which is why he was so sensitive to Haas’ unpredicatable brakes, and is a driver who is extremely capable of coping with oversteer. Magnussen, on the other hand, is a driver that likes understeer more. But that’s about all I really know. I would recommend reading an article written by Mark Hughes a few years back on Grosjean and his driving style.

    3. @jaymenon10

      One of the main reasons for Webber’s failure to match Vettel was how the RBs were so reliant on the downforce generate by the blown diffuser, which Vettel executed to perfection.

      Mark Webber was often faster than Vettel in the first part of the 2010 season due to his ability to extract the maximum performance from the exhaust blown diffuser with his driving technique. Not surprised though since Mark has been always known for his golden right foot. However, RBR engineers ,and in order to make the car faster, optimized the EBD effect with software update which eliminated the advantage that Webber did have over Vettel early in the season.
      With regard to the driving styles, please find below an extract of one of the best article I’ve ever read about driving styles written by the F1 expert Mark Hughes for Autosport in August 2013 comparing Alonso,Vettel and Hamilton driving styles :

      Fernando Alonso – Making Understeer Interesting

      Fernando is medium-hard on the brakes and with a bit of overlap between braking and cornering. Then as he’s coming fully off the brakes he applies a lot of lock very quickly, initially partly stalling the front tyre to give a sort of false understeer. Occasionally the front will bite better than he anticipates and with so much lock on that can induce the rear into suddenly stepping out – and it’s then you see him applying punches of oversteer to which he’s very attuned, as if he’s half-expecting it. More usually the understeer stays through most of the corner and the balance is maintained with more or less throttle.

      It’s a less extreme version of the technique that was very evident in the rearward-heavy Renaults of 2003-’06. But it wasn’t invented for those cars, they simply allowed him to amplify it to good effect. “I’ve always driven like that – ever since karts,” he said back in 2003.

      It’s a technique that allows him to take in enormous momentum, making the car very alive but without the hazard of too much oversteer. It lends itself to great repeatability, but puts a slightly low ceiling on ultimate peak grip. But it’s consistent, makes the car malleable in that crucial, early part of the corner and it keeps strain off the delicate rear tyres. It’s a great fighting technique, working over a wide variety of lines and grip levels as he uses the throttle to fine- hone the car’s placement.

      It’s a bullying technique, dominating the car rather than going with its flow in the way, for example, Kimi Raikkonen would. It’s quite similar, in fact, to how Felipe Massa drives but is less aggressive on the brakes, slightly earlier and therefore more consistent, with fewer line-altering lock-ups. It was a technique that allowed Alonso to minimise the penalty of the trait of 2010 and ’11 Ferraris not bringing their front tyres up to temperature quickly enough.

      Because he doesn’t actually need the ultimate front grip; so long as he gets some sort of turn-in he’s manipulating the angle with brakes and throttle, almost rally-style. It’s a long way removed from the minimal-input neutrality Michael Schumacher used to stretch the Ferrari elastic in the tyre-war days, but in the Pirelli era Alonso’s more physical technique is probably more effective. Michael was still trying to drive his way in the control-tyre era, using steering lock only grudgingly on his Mercedes, his brain hard-wired to feel that steering lock equalled momentum loss. But when the tyre cannot support the momentum, the car refuses to adopt a stance of sliding neutrality after just the slightest hint of steering lock. Thus the Alonso method is much more adaptable.

      With the higher grip of the 2013 Pirellis it’s going to be interesting to see if that still applies. If it does not, expect Alonso to adapt, just as he did when going from Michelins to Bridgestones in 2007 – though it took him a few races.
      Sebastian Vettel – The Turn-in ‘Rotation-meister’

      Like Alonso, Vettel is medium-hard on the brakes but less brutal with the initial steering. He prefers the car to be quite nervous and pointy on entry and is ready to remove some of the initial lock once the front has gripped and caused the rear to step out. He has a great feel for pivoting the car in this way to quicken its direction change.

      With the Red Bull’s exhaust-enhanced rear downforce he was the first to develop a counter- intuitive technique of taking what would normally be excessive speed in, getting the front in and then using the resultant oversteer to get him the direction change early in the corner.

      Conventionally, this would be counter- productive; the slide would continue after you’d got the direction change, losing you momentum and more than losing what you’d just gained. But with exhaust-enhanced downforce like he had in 2011, he would at this point get back hard on the throttle and have the exhaust gas do its stuff by nailing the back end. So he’d get to have his cake and eat it.

      It’s a very unnatural thing to do – with the tail threatening to slide too far, the last thing you feel you want to do is stand on the gas. But Seb proved brilliantly adept at it. When the 2012 regulations took most of the blown-diffuser effect away, the Red Bull initially was merely competitive – and into the bargain Vettel’s superiority over team-mate Mark Webber evaporated. But into the last third of the season Red Bull had not only got a significant chunk of exhaust-derived downforce back via re-shaping of the rear bodywork, but had also introduced a tweak in the rear suspension that gave the car a roll-oversteer characteristic into slow turns.

      This got Seb back his quick direction change – and now with enough exhaust-enhanced rear downforce to tame that slide once he got back on the throttle. It loosely replicated the behaviour of the 2011 car, enough to allow Seb back what he termed “my tricks”. Watching the RB9 in action at Barcelona testing through the slow section at the end of the lap it’s very clear that the trait has been retained, maybe even enhanced.

      The car positively rotates around itself as the rear rolls, nice and early into the corner, getting the car perfectly lined up with the apex and enabling the steering lock to be removed as he nails the throttle. It’s a beautiful case study of technology and technique developing together.

      How much the impetus has come from Adrian Newey and the Red Bull vehicle dynamicists and how much from Vettel isn’t clear, but it isn’t important. It’s almost certainly been an organic development, a direction to follow that has allowed the driver to take full advantage of his strengths and perhaps leading the engineers in a direction they wouldn’t have otherwise thought to go. Why, after all, would you ordinarily want to introduce roll-oversteer into a car?
      Lewis Hamilton – Last of the Late Brakers
      Lewis is a traditional late-braking, oversteer- loving driver in the lineage of Jochen Rindt, Ronnie Peterson, Keke Rosberg and Mika Hakkinen. He has a fantastic feel for how to modulate the brake pedal as the downforce bleeds away, reducing the pressure so as to keep the wheels just on the point of locking after a very heavy and late initial application when the car is smothered in aerodynamic grip.

      Hamilton demands a lot of braking power. He will then take a geometrically perfect line, usually visibly later than Alonso into a slow corner, and will carry an audacious entry speed as he turns in, too much for the rear end to stay in line. But without the same degree of exhaust-type downforce as the Red Bull, typically that rear-end slide lasts longer and consumes more time than Vettel’s, forcing a lower mid-corner minimum speed. But his exquisite feel minimises the downsides of that; he’s onto it early and can carry way more momentum than anyone else in an oversteering state in a conventional car.

      He’s very much a reactive driver in the sense that he’s prepared to deal with whatever consequences the car throws at him after he’s pointed it at the apex, not needing to build up to find a particular groove and rhythm.

      He’s not dealing with the last finger-tip sensations of tyre grip through steering feel, but simply reacting to what the car does, confident that he can invariably deal with it. Although Paddy Lowe at the time reckoned Lewis’s ease with oversteer would probably lead McLaren down a development path of more aggressively pointy cars, not needing to have them as stable as with previous drivers, it didn’t really pan out that way. The arrival of Jenson Button maybe had something to do with this. Certainly there were traits about the 2010 car that Button didn’t care for and it was notable that he was much happier with the general neutrality of the 2011 and ’12 cars.

      Hamilton meanwhile simply adapted to what he was given – and that’s the beauty of his preferred technique; it’s fantastically adaptable for all handling traits, tyre behaviour, grip levels and weather conditions. Only in changeable conditions, with grip varying from one corner tothenextlapbylap–suchaswesawfora time in Brazil last year – did Button’s finer- honed feel allow him to be faster.

  2. No surprises that Daniel will be racing the last two and it was never really in doubt.

    He’s an Aussie. We don’t quit. No doubt he’ll be absolutely wringing the neck of that Red Bull until the last few seconds of the last race.

    Hopefully the team will give him a great send off and wish him well.

    1. @dbradock

      He’s an Aussie. We don’t quit.

      Casey Stoner says hello.

      1. @mashiat the two-time Moto GP World Champion?

        1. @mashiat the two-time Moto GP World Champion, that after some races had to be taken off his bike by his team due to illness related exhaustion?

        2. @justrhysism I’m merely stating, he quit MotoGP didn’t he? So clearly, quitting is in the dictionairies of the Aussies :p. And I live in Australia, so no biases here.

          1. Stoner didn’t quit, he retired, why do people not understand that? Same as people that say Rosberg quit. These guys don’t have to live up to your ideologies, they have their own values, and retired at a perfect time for both of them, they are both very happy. They are more mentally sound then armchair experts. Montoya did a fantastic ‘quit’ on the f1 world, was fed up with poletics and just wanted to race!

    2. Sounded like RIC was chucking in the towel after Sundays race.
      “I couldn’t care less.” “Let Gasly drive it”

      1. He was over it in that moment. Much better than Mansell’s old tirades, declaring he is retiring from f1, only to come straight back.

  3. Re the Vietnam GP

    Does anyone else think it will be yet another venue that will fail to pull in ticket paying patrons?

    It seems to me that Liberty are falling in to the same trap of holding F1 races in countries that put up $ instead of those that have a rich motor racing history. If viewers see empty stands do they see any motivation to actually go to these tracks?

    Marketing 101 – know your audience/market and cater for them Mr Bratches.

    1. Toto: “…but it’s not in our hands…”

      But maybe it could be if they were prepared to put their money where their mouth is… Or just shut up…!
      I, for one, am tired of Toto’s protestations… Methinks he doth… etc…!

      1. Sorry, DB-C90 – this was supposed to be a new comment.
        My comment to you was to agree… ;-)

    2. I agree, this is a case of marketing over motorsport tradition, but in its favour, Hanoi is a brilliant city to visit and experiencing a tourism boom with cheap flights from all across Asia. And the city itself is much more affordable than Singapore. I can see it becoming a destination race for F1 fans across the region. (As a resident of Seoul still mourning the loss of the Korean GP, I fully intend to be there!)

      And the cynical side of me notes that even if attendance is on the low side, it’s much easier to cover that up on a street circuit than with a permanent one. Baku only gets something like 35,000 spectators on race day, but it still looks good on TV.

      1. It’s certainly attractive in terms of affordability probably cheaper for me than to travel from Perth to Melbourne but I doubt it will actually do the sport any good.

        I wonder whether or not F1 would be better off using some of the classic tracks (Silverstone, Spa, Suzuka etc) twice per season and cutting out some of the poorly attended tracks like Abu Dabi etc. If for example they started the season in Melbourne and ended it in Adelaide there’d be massive crowds. Same with an early season race at Silverstone say at the start of summer and one later at the end of summer. It would be interesting too to see how teams approach a second attempt at a track in the same year.

    3. I don’t agree necessarily, @dbradock.
      Some venues host F1 because they can make most money out of attendance (e.g. Zandvoort), others do it to attract the circuits to their country/city (happens in all sports).
      The latter is valid as well; they should just make sure that they have fewer grandstands and/or sell the tickets cheaply so there won’t be as many empty seats.
      PS our GP is able to do both; attract hundreds of thousands of paying fans and still need Vic/Mel tip in huge amounts

      PPS I’d like to see more on/off races. Stick to 20 races each year, but have some venues only on the calendar every 2nd/3rd/4th year. We see in races with little FP time that unknown tracks help give us a great race on Sunday.

    4. Americans going to Vietnam, those feel right those it?

      1. *doesn’t feel right does it?

        damn it ‘smart’phone!

  4. MB (@muralibhats)
    2nd November 2018, 1:12

    Wonder why Toto didn’t rally so much for wehrlein. Looks like Ocon is getting preferential treatment from Merc

    1. Exactly true and wehrlein didn’t figure badly against ocon.

    2. Maybe because he wasnt that good?

      1. Is Ocon good ? What has he done ?

      2. Because he was considered for Rosberg’s seat? Because he didn’t drive a FI?

    3. It’s definitely not down to pure pace as both were on par with another during their time at Manor, but it could be their personality and how they go about things off the track as well, like in media reports, sponsorship events and even communicating with the team on a daily basis. There are so many variables to take into account on selecting a driver as this could be the reason why Mercedes released Wehrlein and kept Ocon.

    4. Conformition that Ocon will have a seat for next year just in, he will drive for the Williams… eSports team

    5. Wonder why Toto didn’t rally so much for wehrlein.

      I don’t see Toto rallying very hard for Ocon either!
      A guy with his own team and a big indirect PU finger in 2 other teams should be able to get what he wants.

    6. @muralibhats

      It’s funny you mention it. I didn’t expect Ocon to get that degree of support from Mercedes and Wehrlein get that less support from them to be honest. While I would rate Ocon marginally higher than Wehrlein, primarily due to his consistency, I thought Wehrlein’s highs much better than Ocon’s. He took a Manor in to the points on a couple of occasions IFRC.

      It’s hard to comment on what’s going on behind the scenes. There were rumours that Wehrlein was very hard to work with.. I don’t know if that’s true. Maybe Wehrlein lost some speed after his crash in ROC. I really can’t tell why suddenly Mercedes found him that unattractive.

  5. The ‘neeeoooowwwwwww’ guy reminded me of when we were kids and we would put strips of plastic or cardboard into our bike spokes to try to make them sound a bit mean…Never thought that would be required in F1!

    1. great memories indeed @paulguitar.

  6. Toto: “…but it’s not in our hands…”

    But maybe it could be if they were prepared to put their money where their mouth is… Or just shut the **** up…!
    I, for one, am tired of Toto’s protestations… Methinks he doth… etc…!

  7. Toto: “…but it’s not in our hands…”

    But maybe it could be if they were prepared to put their money where their mouth is… Or just shut up…!
    I, for one, am tired of Toto’s protestations… Methinks he doth… etc…!

    1. I was sure that early on the reason Esteban wouldn’t sign for Williams was because he wanted a multi-year contract, then later on the reason he sign for Williams was because he wanted a one year contract.
      You are only worth what someone is prepared to pay, and if the choice is driving for Williams or nothing, and Williams pay better than nothing, then I’d suggest he takes the seat at Williams.

      1. Well he isnt ready to be a number 1 in a top team and noone is looking to replace their obidient number 2 so he aint worth much right now.

        Williams is only looking for money so he will have to cash that seat and its starting to look the same in midfield.

  8. Re Zandvoort

    Also on the 2020 calender planned but i wonder if they can fix the circuit that fast. Support is no probleem expect 140k people.
    As my first GP was in 1966 on that circuit (back then you could walk into the Pitstop talk to everyone there, I think my uncle should have a picture of me in an F1 car, back then it was so relaxed) memories are flowing back.

  9. Zandvoort got an offer from FOM to host the 2020 – 2024 Dutch GP

    Hopefully they can get the money!!

    1. It is a pretty incredible development. I would love to have a GP 12 kilometers from where I live, but the amount of work that has to be done to prepare the circuit is immense. How on earth do they expect to enlarge the paddock (would have to buy a nearby camping for that), enlarge the pit boxes and scrap together the money within 1 1/2 tot 2 years?
      That would really be the achievement of the century. However the circuit management confirmed this report it still seems to be wishful thinking if you ask me.

  10. How did the ‘neeow’ sound manage to get audible to the world feed coverage, LOL? Was there a mic somewhere on the tower?
    – Regarding the BBC-article: Too early to jump to definite conclusions. Too early to claim it’d definitely happen. We all know how the proposed Miami GP plan has panned out so far, as well as, the NJ Port Imperial plan earlier this decade. It can go either way with temporary circuits.
    – Concerning the De Telegraaf-article: Let’s wait and see.
    – Interesting COTD.
    – BTW, ”Is that Glock?” Ten years on.

  11. I am not sure that the plan to introduce two more races to the calendar is going to help Liberty’s overall plan for the regeneration of F1.

    There have been many comments by Toto and some other team principals I believe, to the effect that there are already too many races on the calendar. I would be concerned that by adding yet more races to the calendar the major 3 teams are going to demand some kind of trade off in terms of rule changes, budget caps, providing a fairer split of F1 income, etc. Surely it would have been better to leave things as they are in terms of the number of races involved? Certainly until after 2021.

    Adding more races will also increase costs for smaller teams and make it even more difficult for them to complete on a more competitive basis. I don’t think it is clear either that a race in somewhere like Vietnam will necessarily be a financial success. I do think the Dutch race will be though given the very high level of interest in Max.

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