Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday From The Sofa

A very eventful Monaco Grand Prix, which included a chaotic dash of rain mid-way through the race, is being followed up this weekend with the moderate Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

The site of the Spanish Grand Prix is a common test track both in real-life and in team simulators, meaning that everybody in the field has plenty of experience there. The final chicane will no longer be run by Formula 1, however, creating a much faster section three than most are accustomed to.

Really the only drivers who have tangible experience racing without that chicane (pre-2007) will be Lewis Hamilton from when he was in GP2/F1 testing and Fernando Alonso.

Alonso, whose resurgence this season has helped propel the Spanish organizers into selling out the circuit this weekend, created some headlines of his own on Thursday (June 1).

In Monaco, Aston Martin made a controversial move and switched the Spaniard to medium compound tires, in spite of everybody else changing to intermediates at the time due to the rain. The next lap, he had to pit again for intermediates, and although he would finish the race in second, there was some serious discussion this week online about Aston Martin’s questionable decision.

Alonso, however, has no regrets.

“Maybe – if you had the crystal ball and you know the conditions, you know who stops, who doesn’t stop, and then finally it rains, and you need the inters, 100% you stop for inters,” Alonso told the BBC. “What I don’t like in F1 is that we see always the negatives, and we all see everything very easy from the sofa.

“And I tell you an example. If we stop for inters, this week we will only talk about the wrong decision from Red Bull stopping one lap too late. We would never say: ‘Aston Martin was very brave and chose the right tire.’ We would only say that Red Bull chose the wrong tire and stopped one lap later. This is just the mentality of F1, the unlimited search for perfection which is not possible to reach sometimes.”

He’s right. I think just in general, there’s a lot more talking of what team did X wrong than what team did X right in sports in general. Especially when it comes to things that are hard to quantify unless they go diabolically wrong, like race strategy.

But a lot of that comes down to what fans want, will click on, will watch. How many times, dear reader, did you react to Ferrari making a mockery of themselves last year versus reacting when Red Bull had the superior strategy on the day?

Teams shouldn’t be immune to criticism, but at the same time, we have to recognize that these are human beings making these split-second decisions. It’s important that they don’t turn it into a habit like Ferrari did last year, but Aston Martin will get another chance to win this year. It’s not the end of the world yet.

Also, I actually think the dry compound call was a good gamble. If they had gone with the intermediates and leapfrogged Max Verstappen, that is not race over in the slightest.

Verstappen is both incredibly gifted in the rain and is one of the most dynamic overtakers in the history of F1. There were times when Alonso bit into Verstappen’s lead on the last run of the race on the intermediates, but the Dutchman was always able to come back and maintain a pitstop-length lead. He wasn’t showing all of his cards in the closing laps.

Combine all of those factors and the fact that overtaking goes from impossible to merely very hard in the wet at Monaco, and I don’t think Alonso would have been able to hold him off anyway. If Alonso was going to win that race, either a really goofy strategy like the one they ran would have done it, or they would have had to rely on Verstappen making a gigantic mistake. And I wouldn’t rely on that happening very often.

But I digress.

There has been some discussion this week about Logan Sargeant potentially being on the hot seat at Williams as Mercedes boss Toto Wolff tries to find a 2024 or 2025 seat for his reserve driver Mick Schumacher.

There are a few things at play here. First and foremost, Sargeant is a rookie who was just barely able to point his way into super license eligibility. It would be a bit goofy for Williams to cast him off after one year.

In fact, it is a bit dumb for rookies not to get a mulligan season unless they are shown pretty definitively to be not cut out for F1 – such as Nikita Mazepin. So far, Sargeant has appeared a bit too much on my TV this year, but he’s also nowhere near being unfit for F1 at this moment.

Schumacher may also not be that big of an improvement. I know the idea might be a bit appetizing for Williams to bring back somebody cast off the grid; it paid huge dividends for them when it comes to Alex Albon.

Albon spent a year stashed in some basement in the Red Bull headquarters in Milton Keynes, then emerged to take the role of team leader at Williams. In doing so, he has lived up to the potential that enticed Red Bull to sign him in the first place.

But this is also a completely different situation. Albon only got the seat when George Russell was recalled to Mercedes. He didn’t replace a struggling Nicholas Latifi or anything like that.

Sargeant has been in the Williams camp for a few years now, first as an academy driver. I don’t know how well he gets on with the team, but Schumacher replacing him and showing up to the shop with Ralf Schumacher and the rest of that entourage could turn the garage against him on day one.

Again, maybe things will change, and come Monaco in September, a swap could make sense. But it’s not looking like a good idea at this time for Williams, as they try and find their way with the Williams family itself no longer owning or involved with them.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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