Alonso confirmed at Renault for 2017

Fernando Alonso will return to Renault in 2017, representing his third tenure with the Enstone operation.

Alonso has inked a two-year agreement, with an option for a third season, by which stage the Spaniard will be 38.

Alonso claimed dual titles in his initial collaboration with the French marque, in 2005 and 2006, though he has failed to add to this tally following near-misses in 2007, 2010 and 2012.

Remarked Alonso “For many seasons, I try to have the third title, with McLaren, with Ferrari and again McLaren, but I don’t want anymore. I have a good feeling with Renault, many people I remember and many good memories.”

Renault’s managing director, Cyril Abiteboul, admitted that the manufacturer’s ultimately successful bid to land Alonso played a large role in returning to the sport in its own right following a five-season absence.

“Having Fernando on board is a huge coup, a huge vote of confidence that we made the right decision. By his arrival we aim to have a package we can already have podiums with, and with Fernando driving, to win races and then championships”, said the Frenchman.

Rising thirty-five, the move shapes as Alonso’s final pursuit of an elusive third crown, having grown disillusioned with progress at McLaren since rejoining the outfit ahead of the 2015 season.

The implication of this announcement is that the Spaniard will not honour the final season of his existing contract with McLaren. Stoffel Vandoorne is expected to be confirmed as his replacement.

The Belgian, who will deputise for Alonso at Bahrain this weekend after the Spaniard was deemed unfit to race on account of his spectacular crash at Australia, could make his full-time debut as imminently as June’s Canadian Grand Prix – following Alonso’s home event at Spain and the subsequent Monaco Grand Prix.

This outcome, heavily favoured by McLaren chief executive officer, Ron Dennis, would in turn provide Alonso with an opportunity to enjoy a sustained break prior to undertaking the next chapter of a fantastical career, blighted by being in the wrong places at the wrong time.

For his part, Dennis remained circumspect regarding the Spaniard’s impending departure. “The fundamental elements to achieve the objectives which company strives for haven’t been forthcoming. With the fullness of time, company hopes to rectify this, however it was mutually agreed that both parties will benefit through dissolution of the relationship”, elucidated the Briton.

Alonso last stood atop the podium at the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix, and hasn’t visited the rostrum in an official capacity since the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix. An impromptu trip to the dais alongsideteammate, Jenson Button, in a rare moment of levity nearing the conclusion of a miserable campaign, at last season’s Brazilian Grand Prix, drew the ire of Dennis.

That the victor of 32 Grands Prix has opted for a return to an operation which has just re-entered the sport, speaks volumes about his faith, or lack thereof, in the McLaren-Honda collaboration, and foremost, his own desperation.

On the previous occasion that Alonso departed McLaren for Renault, he followed that up with a switch to Ferrari. Yet this move surely amounts to the final destination for the Spaniard?

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Magnussen headlines Renault return

Kevin Magnussen has secured a return to the Formula One grid, the Dane completing the line-up at Enstone as Renault marks their return to factory status.

The 23-year old has usurped Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, whose PDVSA backing has dried up following five seasons on the grid at Williams and Lotus. Though the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix victor has already confirmed that he will not compete in the category this season, he hasn’t dismissed a return to the grid in 2017.

GP2 outfit former ART Team Principal Frederic Vasseur has been installed as Racing Director at the operation known officially as the Renault Sport F1 Team, whilst Bob Bell returns to the fold as chief technical officer.

A striking black livery was unveiled at the launch, though a final scheme is set to appear ahead of the opening race at Melbourne next month.

2014 GP2 champion Jolyon Palmer’s impending debut has been ratified, the Briton rewarded for his reserve driver efforts last season. The 25-year old has been afforded a rare opportunity with a works outfit, though expectations will be lower than customary on account of the whirlwind nature with which the Renault return has eventuated.

Esteban Ocon has been handed the reserve driver role following his time in the Mercedes development programme.

Magnussen’s sole outing across any category throughout 2015 came with his erstwhile employer McLaren. On that particular occasion – the curtain raising Australian Grand Prix, the Dane, deputising for a recuperating Fernando Alonso, suffered the ignominy of failing to reach the grid, setting in motion Honda’s inglorious return campaign to the sport.

Further ignominy came when the Dane’s services were terminated by the Woking operation via phone on his 23rd birthday, invoking Ron Dennis’ infamous remark that Magnussen “did not behave as he should have.” If his Melbourne outing represented the capture data to compliment this sentiment, it amounted to a raw deal.

Great expectations were thrust upon Magnussen following his third place, which ultimately amounted to second following the disqualification of Daniel Ricciardo, on his debut at the 2014 Australian GP. This proved to be the watermark of his campaign, a lacklustre MP4-29 ensuring the Dane.languished in the midfield for the balance of the season.

Outscored 55 points to 126 by team-mate Jenson Button, Magnussen nevertheless expected to be retained for 2015. That he was snubbed in favour of the Briton alongside a returning Fernando Alonso following a painfully protracted process was a bitter pill to swallow.

The Dane forwent a full-time IndyCar berth to substitute for the Spaniard at Melbourne. With the benefit of foresight, Magnussen must have surely wished that he had settled for the former.

Just as it seemed that he may have been lost to Formula One forever, a lifeline has emerged

Having scaled back its’ commitments in acrimonious circumstances at the conclusion of 2009, following the fallout from the events of the Singapore Grand Prix ‘crashgate’ the year prior, Renault returned to its’ true calling – engines.

Four consecutive constructors’ titles gleaned between 2010 and 2013 in unison with Red Bull vindicated the decision.

The irony is that both, though more so the former, were so focused on their successful trajectory that each was exposed as a day late and a dollar short with the introduction of turbo ‘power units’ ahead of the 2014 season. Three victories, the only wrested from Mercedes grasp, was the result, a far cry from the lofty heights of the fourteen achieved in 2013.

Far worse was to beckon. A ceaseless war of words between the company and the energy drinks giant blighted the 2015 campaign, as a resurgent Ferrari cast Renault further down the pecking order. Reliability issues were all too frequent, its’ blushes spared only by Honda’s non-existent presence.

Tired of the persecution and feeling unloved for their sizeable contribution to the aforementioned golden era, the bigwigs at Viry Chatillon were compelled to take decisive action, and thus, reacquisition of the Enstone operation.

However, it took such a long period for confirmation to come, that the outfit is well behind the curve for their return campaign which commences in seven weeks’ time. The 2016 challenger was equipped to run with Mercedes power, the task to marry the Renault power unit to the well advanced chassis is not ideal.

Thus, Magnussen must remain patient in 2016, and anticipate frustration as Renault feels its’ way back into the game following six seasons away from the coalface. Time is on his side, and if Renault’s three-year plan to reach the top, as they did in their previous tenure is realised, he is at the right place at the right moment.

One individual who does not count time on his side is Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard will be monitoring developments with an eager eye. Marking the tenth anniversary of his second and most recent title, the 34-year old is bound to become restless if his 2016 season is as fruitless as his return campaign with the Woking outfit.

A return to the scene of his glories following too many near misses to recall would represent a romantic notion. Much water has to pass under the bridge until this can be contemplated.

For now, we should be pleased to witness another manufacturer’s presence on the grid, as well as a driver worthy of their place.

Forget Lewis, Vettel is Rosberg’s greatest indictment

Lewis Hamilton lies on the precipice of a third World Championship, the Briton a considerable prospect of invoking title-elect status at the United States Grand Prix in Austin this weekend.

Though the 30-year old’s campaign has been peerless, cantering towards a second consecutive crown with ease, it is the name lying second in the drivers’ standings which is the greatest indictment on team-mate Nico Rosberg.

Sebastian Vettel has represented a model of consistency throughout his maiden campaign at Ferrari, gleaning eleven podiums, finishing inside the top five at each event – save for his dramatic penultimate lap blowout at the Belgian Grand Prix whilst running third, condemning him to twelfth.

That he has enjoyed the same three victories as his countryman is academic. The four-time champion has established himself as not only the greatest threat to Hamilton for the balance of this campaign – however minute this prospect may be, but for the foreseeable future.

The erstwhile stance had been to dismiss Vettel’s swag of titles achieved at Red Bull as owing purely to the ingenuity of Adrian Newey. A wanting 2014 campaign led many to contemplate his ongoing commitment to Formula One. It stands to reason that many labelled his move to Marenello twelve months ago as career suicide.

Having witnessed the inexplicable souring of relations between Fernando Alonso and company – a combination deemed a match made in heaven, the consensus was that nobody could rescue the Prancing Horse from the abyss, yet the German has comprehensively silenced his executioners this season.

Where this leaves Rosberg poses the greatest dilemma, not that many are overly concerned. The reality is that the brand presented by the victor of 11 Grands Prix is uninspiring – notwithstanding a spate of reliability issues, he is not an individual exuding World Champion material.

He is a renowned nice guy who attempts to portray a rough and ready persona, though frequently to no avail when it counts. Hamilton, conversely, possesses a veneer of aloofness – yet it is he who delivers most weekends, as opposed to only Sundays as was the case in 2014. The effect is that 2016 looms as the campaign which defines Rosberg’s career.

Rubens Barrichello realised this rapidly during his colourful tenure at Maranello. He was a defeated man the moment he let Michael Schumacher through metres from the chequered flag at the infamous 2002 Austrian Grand Prix. Mark Webber was acutely aware that he was second-billing shortly following Vettel’s arrival at Milton Keynes from Toro Rosso in 2009.

So long as Hamilton remains at Brackley and claiming the majority of races, he is their main man. Having renewed his association with the Silver Arrows until 2018, it’s hard to see the Briton succumbing to the German’s meek advances. Perhaps Rosberg is content to drive out his days, picking up the occasional victory and handsomely remunerated for his efforts.

It’s the other German who poses the greatest threat to the Hamilton-Mercedes supremacy, in tandem with his red machine, a mouth-watering prospect which has been sadly lacking in recent seasons.

 

As though a potential second place in the standings in his initial campaign for the fabled marque isn’t incentive enough, Sebastian Vettel is going to be the man taking it to Lewis Hamilton in the years to come. For Rosberg, the equation is simple – he must shape up or ship out, otherwise he’ll represent a mere footnote in the record books.

Rosberg title bid at crossroads

Rosberg title bid at crossroads

Successive victories – the latter an inherited gift courtesy of his team-mate, though first place all the same, followed by a close-run second last weekend at Montreal, betrays the notion that Nico Rosberg is in contention for the drivers’ championship.

The German is yet to take the fight to Lewis Hamilton in direct wheel-to-wheel combat this season – much less emerge superior, the cornerstone of a successful title campaign. Embellished is an appropriate adjective to summarise the 29-year old’s season. A third consecutive triumph on the now infamous afternoon at Monaco, served to embellish Rosberg’s legitimacy to the crown.

In reality, the imminent father was comprehensively outclassed that day. Good fortune intervened, that which is unlikely to be witnessed subsequently for the balance of the season. Thus the German must improve other components of his racecraft, not necessarily huge inroads, yet small ones in each field which, executed correctly, has the potential to provide Hamilton with crippling migraines, as opposed to the occasional mild headache.

Analogous to Kimi Räikkönen’s Saturday woes which has left the Finn with too much to achieve the next day, Rosberg has seldom managed to best Hamilton in Q3 this season. His peerless Spanish weekend serves as an anomaly rather than a constant, this serving the case for his team-mate and reigning champion.

That Hamilton has raised his game to another level in his title defence is undeniable. Further apparent is that Rosberg hasn’t been the same beast since the cataclysmic microsecond at Belgium last season. Admonishment for the episode cut deeply into his psyche, manifesting in the defining moment of his campaign at Monza a fortnight later, carrying on at Variante Rettifilo – conceding the lead and subsequently, victory to Hamilton. Brazil excepted, he didn’t share the same page as the Briton for the balance of the season, a notion which has persisted to the present.

The German trails Hamilton by seventeen points. Not quite the equivalent of a second place, it doesn’t take a great deal to reverse the situation. Realising this, then carrying on with the form which enacted it is another matter. Following the infamous afternoon in the Ardennes forest last season, Rosberg held an ostensibly decisive 29-point advantage over his team-mate with seven races in hand.

Three events later – at the conclusion of the Singapore Grand Prix, Rosberg was trailing Hamilton by three points following an untimely electronics failure which culminated in retirement. Though he ultimately recovered to finish second, his lock-up into turn one at the inaugural Russian Grand Prix on the opening lap was the act of a desperate individual vainly attempting to avert fate.

It was at the upcoming Austrian Grand Prix’s corresponding event twelve months ago that a rare unforced error by Hamilton during qualifying handed the German the initiative, which he seized. These are the outcomes Rosberg needs to encourage, by harassing and being a little bold.

His team-mate’s proclivity to use scenarios such as those witnessed in the fallout from the Monaco qualifying fiasco and the Belgium debacle last season, to mould the image of a man wronged – in a similar fashion to Ayrton Senna, is when Hamilton is dually at his most vulnerable and potent.

This is a risk which Rosberg must assess in the heat of the moment, he is at such a crossroads in his campaign that another Belgium moment would be understandable. To quote the iconic Fargo character, Lorne Malvo, “Maps used to say, there be dragons here. Now they don’t, but that don’t mean the dragons aren’t there.” Translated, such acts are frowned upon and met with contempt, yet you don’t win World Championships without being ruthless.

Just because running into a driver is condemned, doesn't mean it can't happen.

Just because running into a driver is condemned, doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

Rosberg’s legacy arguably hinges on this season, much in the manner that Mark Webber initially came within touching distance of glory, made a series of errors which were cumulatively enough to cruel his chances and never again came close to greatness for the balance of his career. Rosberg must look into his soul and ask himself, “is this what you want?”

Delivery time for Kimi

Judgement Day looms for Kimi Räikkönen, who endured another wanting outcome at Monaco, a consequence of once again leaving much to be desired on a Saturday.

Having lined up sixth, the 2007 World Champion crossed the finish line in the same position, coming off second best in a barging of wheels with Daniel Ricciardo during the closing stages of an ultimately controversial afternoon.

Despite the Finn’s share of misfortune this campaign, he had accumulated more points than he managed across his dismal 2014 season by the conclusion of the Monaco weekend. Yet the notion stands that he has failed to deliver when a driver’s best lap of their weekend is expected – during the final segment of qualifying.

Räikkönen has started no higher than fourth on the grid following six events, and has yet to outqualify Sebastian Vettel – who has already made the Maranello outfit his own following his departure from the Red Bull dynasty.

It would be remiss not to mention his storming drive to second at Bahrain, though aided heavily due to a Vettel removed from the picture due to his front-wing change. Even so, this performance runs the gauntlet of being dismissed as an aberration, unless he can correct the Saturday conundrum.

Rising 36, it is understandable that the raw edge which the Finn possessed a decade ago can no longer be expected, though not to the degree where he concedes two or three positions to his team-mate on the grid, in the a package which is evidently the best of the rest.

When one glances at MotoGP, Valentino Rossi, at 36, is similarly mired in his own Saturday blues despite his upturn in form across the past two seasons. The Italian has been vastly more competitive, with podiums commonplace.

Yet the reality is that cleaner performances during qualifying would undoubtedly be commensurate with further victories than the four he has achieved during this time frame. The age similarities between the former champions lends itself to the theory that no matter how great, the passing of time isn’t without effect.

Räikkönen hasn’t sat on pole position since the French Grand Prix in 2008, but as long as Vettel isn’t achieving this – which is unlikely considering Mercedes decisive advantage throughout past seasons, nobody expects him to either. Conversely, lining up on the second row is a non-negotiable. That it has seldom been occupied by Räikkönen in 2015 is concerning.

This deficiency doesn’t represent grounds for dismissal, with the twelve-month option enactment still the preferred path for Ferrari, but it remains that he must make significant inroads on this front prior to the mid-season break.

If there’s a circuit which could provide another  victory, it’s Spa-Francorchamps – the first event once the circus reconvenes in August. Indeed, his most recent Ferrari victory came at the venue in 2009, whilst the best outcome of his nightmare 2014 campaign was delivered here.

But none of this is possible unless the Finn unearths the maximum potential on a Saturday, which will make his life infinitely easier during the races, when it has to be said, he isn’t doing too much wrong.

A Ferrari power unit upgrade in the vicinity of 30 bhp for this weekend should be more than adequate for the Iceman to deliver on arguably the most important lap of his weekend. Failure to do so will only leave further questions regarding his ability to place himself in a position where success on Sunday is the simple matter of a clean getaway, rather than the will-he or won’t-he conundrum of the midfield.

It’s an oft repeated phrase than Formula One is better for Räikkönen’s presence, but it would be something else for the Finn to be causing consternation for those ahead on a Saturday evening, not when it’s all too late.

Australian Grand Prix moves to April for ’16

The Australian Grand Prix has a new date next season, with the event to be staged during the first weekend in April.

According to AGP Corporation chief executive Andrew Westacott, the race will retain the coveted curtain raiser status, despite being pencilled to run from March 31 to April 3 – which would represent the latest season commencement since 1988.

An effect of the date change is the event coinciding with the conclusion of daylight savings on the Sunday, which is likely to see the race start time brought forward to 3pm.

The AFL season will be in full-swing by this date, which has the potential to detract attendance numbers, as does the likely milder weather which traditionally envelops Victoria towards the end of March.

It could be argued that it is ideal to catch Friday practice or Saturday qualifying at the circuit prior to catching the tram to Federation Square and making the short journey to the ‘G, but without enjoying the exclusivity of being the only big-event sport in town, it is inevitable that many will choose to pass on the Grand Prix.

A curiosity of the announcement is the event’s twinning with the Chinese Grand Prix on April 10, which begs the question – has the recently renewed Malaysian Grand Prix been shifted, potentially to the September date which houses the neighbouring Singapore Grand Prix, or will the event inexplicably precede Melbourne, despite the latter’s contractual stipulation that it host the first race?

Bahrain has enjoyed curtain raiser duties in the past, in 2006 when Melbourne played host to the Commonwealth Games, in 2010 to commemorate the ‘diamond jubilee’ of the World Championship (who can forget the woeful ‘endurance’ layout?), whilst they were set to commence the season once more in 2011 until civil uprising forced the event’s cancellation.

With the recent switch to twilight status, complemented by high-quality races, one can understand the allure of commencing the season there, yet it lacks the carnival atmosphere which accompanies the Melbourne event.

For Albert Park to lose the prestigious status would represent a slap in the face, having been worthy custodians of the role on eighteen occasions since the controversial move from Adelaide in 1996.

The most recent running of the event certainly wasn’t the most enthralling in it’s history, yet to contemplate this as a factor in any potential stripping of status would be unfair – it wasn’t the circuit’s fault that Mercedes romped home.

Bernie Ecclestone is renowned for his unforeseen actions, not least as part of attempts to push numerous agendas – you only need to look at the inclusion of the Korean Grand Prix on this season’s initial calendar, when event organisers weren’t even aware that they had a race on their hands.

Had the event gone ahead, it would have clashed with the World Endurance Championship’s 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps – due to be staged this weekend, when a certain Nico Hulkenberg will be competing for Porsche. Another theory was that he was attempting to exploit the four-engine per season loophole by extension of a calendar exceeding 20 events.

Whether something is at play or it is a simple case of the 19 or 20-strong calendar being ‘condensed’ as is claimed, it still equates to an odd move.

 

 

 

Flyaway Lewis – title Hamilton’s to lose

Lewis Hamilton returns to Europe with the momentum necessary to claim a second consecutive championship.

The Briton’s victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix consummated a dominant flyaway experience, conceding just seven points from the maximum yield across the four events.

Though his dominance isn’t entirely surprising, the revelation that Mercedes has a genuine fight on its’ hands courtesy of a resurgent Ferrari certainly is. The notion “be careful what you wish for” is applicable upon contemplating Nico Rosberg’s post-Australian Grand Prix lamentation that it was all too easy for the German marque.

We didn’t have to wait long for this realisation – a fortnight on, Malaysia delivered this moment, with Sebastian Vettel capitalising on an early safety car and warm conditions to deliver Ferrari their first victory in nearly two years.

The four-time champion seems like an individual who has fallen back in love with the sport following his indifferent 2014 campaign and subsequent switch to Italian marque.

Whilst not as potent at China, Ferrari’s pace was adequate enough that Rosberg engaged in an extraordinary post-race outburst directed at his team-mate, accusing Hamilton of backing him into Vettel’s path. Tension over the threat from third place wouldn’t have been fathomable twelve months ago, let alone caused by the Italian marque, Stefano Domenicali having resigned prior to the corresponding event.

Meanwhile, another lap at Bahrain and the likelihood of Kimi Räikkönen prevailing – with a little assistance from brake-by-wire failure on both Silver Arrows, was greater than distinct.

The Finn finally enjoyed a trouble free run, showing flashes of the reputation garnered in his McLaren days. His tandem with technical director James Allison harks back to the Lotus days, with the SF15T bearing characteristics akin to the packages Räikkönen enjoyed success with in 2012 & 2013. If he keeps up these performances, a contract extension which appeared so unlikely last season is surely a formality.

As it is, a massive wake-up call has been handed to Brackley. The days of resting on their laurels, whilst cruising and collecting on Sundays are a distant memory.

For all that Ferrari has achieved to date, the fact stands that it is going to take something majestic to reign in Hamilton. The 30-year old has remained oblivious to his team-mate’s antics, and mentally appears in a place where only the most concerted effort can destabilise his tranquillity. The breakthrough title last season , even the ongoing contractual limbo

Rosberg conversely edges closer to the dreaded number two status with each race. His China antics were not unrelated to this frustration. If the German fails to enjoy the better of his team-mate by Monaco – arguably his home race having resided there for the majority of his life, not to mention that he has claimed the past two events, the call will surely be imminent. That he has beaten Hamilton just once in eleven attempts since their infamous collision at Belgium begs the question whether he can ever regain the form which saw him lead the standings for the majority of the season.

Williams hasn’t slipped in the strictest sense, yet they haven’t made the presumed evolution expected following their sensational 2014 resurgence, instead usurped by Ferrari. Podiums and victories aren’t on the cards yet, however solid top six placings have laid a strong foundation to push for greater outcomes. Valtteri Bottas took the majority of the flyaway phase to recover from his back injury which ruled him out of the Australian Grand Prix, but reminded everybody of his talent in holding off Vettel for fourth at Bahrain. Felipe Massa looks the most at ease behind the wheel since his near-title winning days, giving the Finn a much closer run for his money than expected.

With Red Bull a shadow of their former glory, Daniel Ricciardo has extracted the maximum from an uncompetitive chassis & power unit. The energy drinks company and supplier Renault engaged in a war of words in the lead up to Malaysia, but both parties appear to have realised no success will come from this.  If Renault can provide worthy upgrades, the Australian has an opportunity to compete regularly for top five positions, though it is unlikely that he will repeat his glorious 2014 campaign which yielded three victories and third in the standings. Daniil Kvyat has struggled to find his feet following a solitary season at Toro Rosso, the Russian will need to lift his game if he wants to retain his seat.

At the junior outfit, Max Verstappen has been a revelation despite non-finishes at three of the four events. His race combat reminds many of a certain Ayrton Senna. Not yet of age, the Dutchman will be going places in a hurry if the potential witnessed in his first four races is anything to draw on. Indeed, he could be eyeing off Kvyat’s seat if power unit upgrades allow him to capitalise on the raw speed he possesses.

Lotus and Sauber have both made huge inroads on dismal 2014 campaigns, the former benefiting from a switch to Mercedes power despite early reliability issues, whilst the Swiss outfit has enjoyed the much improved Ferrari offering despite the off-track woes which blighted their Australian Grand Prix preparations. Force India is still running what is essentially last season’s challenger, and having missed the opening test, didn’t appear to be in great shape. However, they have gleaned solid points at Australia and Bahrain, with a B-spec car due for the Austrian Grand Prix.

McLaren continues to make inroads at a snails’ pace, Jenson Button having endured a nightmare weekend at Bahrain which culminated in his first non-start in a decade. Fernando Alonso eventually marked his return at Malaysia, with the details of his pre-season accident still causing much debate. Points are realistic in the near future, it’s a question of patience for the Woking squad.

Last but not least, the herculean efforts by Marussia to remain on the grid resulted in their belated on-track presence at Malaysia. Will Stevens was forced to wait until China to race, but has since outshone Roberto Merhi – the Spaniard a race by race proposition pending his commercial package. They too have an updated chassis, accompanied by the improved Ferrari power unit in the wings as the season progresses.

An analysis of the flyaway events and team outcomes at each will be released in coming days. Some outfits performed as predicted, whilst others surprised – not always for the right reasons. Prospective fortunes as Formula One buckles up for the return to European heartland will also be discussed.

Can Ferrari sustain their momentum and take the fight to Mercedes for the balance of the season, or is it all in vein as Lewis Hamilton goes about his business unperturbed by outside influences?