While the mandated F1 summer break means four weeks without a Grand Prix, it is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the season so far and prepare for the second half of the year. I got the chance to talk to David Coulthard about the current state of play in Formula 1. Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing has run away in the world championship standings, Coulthard feels there’s still an important fight ahead for teams and drivers further down the order.
Coulthard is currently an F1 pundit on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, but he’s more famously known for his exploits as a Formula 1 driver in the 1990s and 2000s. The Scotsman, commonly referred to as DC, took 13 Grand Prix victories over his 15 seasons in the world championship. All but one of his F1 wins came while he was a driver at McLaren.
The battle for this year’s world championship between Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Ferrari has become quite lopsided. Ferrari hasn’t had either driver stand on the podium since the Austrian Grand Prix, a race that Charles Leclerc won while the car of his teammate Carlos Sainz burst into flames. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen leads the drivers’ championship by 80 points over Leclerc. Red Bull is leading the constructors’ championship by 97 points over Ferrari.
REK: “Before we all got to go off on the summer break, we had an interesting couple of races heading into it. Seemingly, in Formula 1, the championship has gotten a bit out of hand so to say in terms of Red Bull pulling away from Ferrari in both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships. Do you expect that they could be a reversal of fortune for Ferrari when we return for Belgium?”
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DC: “I think that Ferrari have delivered a very fast race car with two quick drivers. Clearly, Charles [Leclerc] has been more comfortable in exploiting the qualifying performance in the first half of the season. But, I think that Carlos [Sainz] has been coming back and showing good pace in the last couple of races prior to the break. I think that Ferrari are a real threat to Red Bull in terms of picking up victories in the remaining half of the season.”
“Whether there’s too much of a points deficit now to really have a chance at the Drivers’ Championship remains to be seen. They’ve obviously had their fair share of reliability issues in the first half of the year and a few strategic mistakes in hindsight. I would expect Red Bull will have some penalties and reliability-related penalties just by the nature of the really tight controls of the engines for the season. But that said, they may well strategically take those penalties on circuits that they think there’s a better chance of overtaking. Budapest wouldn’t have been one of those circuits.”
“Formula 1 continues to deliver surprise, and I think that if you’re going to rate the first half of the season, you’ve definitely got to say it’s up there with one of the more entertaining because we’ve had big crashes where drivers walk away. You know those are part of the show. We’ve had some great battles for the pole, we’ve had some good battles for the race victories and we still got nine more of them to play with before the end of the year.”
REK: “Yes, and obviously talking about things that could be a hindrance to Red Bull. One of the things that have been interesting to me in the past couple of races is this, I wouldn’t say resurgence, but slight improvement that we’ve seen from the previous constructors’ champions Mercedes and how they’ve gotten second and third at the last two races. It seems like they’re finding their way back to the front of the field.
DC: “I think in outright performance terms, Budapest was by far and away the most impressive like-for-like performance. Yes, you could say ‘Well, okay. Max [Verstappen] didn’t get his final run in qualifying.’ But, the cooler track temperatures at Budapest seemed to bring their car into a window where it really performed. Now, they will be probably scratching their heads, as much as we were all surprised, as to how they really found that window of performance. But, you don’t accidentally stumble on many pole positions so the underlying pace of the car was definitely good.”
“It will be interesting when we go to Spa to see relatively how far away they might be. And I say how far away because I think the nature of that track with long straights and high-speed corners that hasn’t necessarily been Mercedes’ trend. If they closer at Spa, then I think we can definitely say ‘Okay, this is a comeback to really being able to be competitive for the podium in every race. But, I can’t possibly know what upgrades they’ve got for Spa. Based on the first half of the year, the car is a little bit too draggy on the straights to maybe really shine in Spa. But, you know, you never know. It could piss down with rain and be ten degrees the whole weekend. It’s Belgium after all.”
REK: “One of my favorite moments from the Hungarian Grand Prix was the fight towards the front of the midfield, where Daniel Riccardo pulls off this incredible double overtake past both the Alpines. It seems to me that’s the story in the midfield, Alpine versus McLaren. It seems like it’s going to be neck and neck between all four of those drivers for the rest of the year.”
DC: “I think that’s a very good observation of which the world championship, constructors’ or drivers’, will take care of itself in many ways. But that midfield battle is so important to those teams. The financial reward for finishing higher in the constructors’ is very important, so every point is a prisoner. Those teams not only are battling on-track of course, but they’re battling for drivers’ services going forward as well. That’s just the nature of Formula 1. It’s the fastest form of closed circuit racing, a truly global world championship. It gives us a little bit of everything, doesn’t it? You know it’s not all about who’s won the Grand Prix. I think it’s right to point out that there’s some great battles in the midfield.”
During our conversation, I found it hard to disagree with Coulthard that the stakes are high for those fighting for every positions further back in the field. Despite the championship fight behind nowhere close to a nail-biter, I still find myself wondering what could happen on a moment-by-moment basis during races. The ultimate outcome of who will receive the silver trophy at the FIA Gala might feel decided, but I still want to see the twists and turns along the way.
The FIA Formula 1 World Championship returns from its summer break for the Belgian Grand Prix on August 28th.