Ross's United States GP review: Making history in Austin
Looking back on an outstanding, sell-out United States Grand Prix weekend, Formula 1 Managing Director, Motorsport, Ross Brawn reckons that history was made on two fronts in Austin.
On Sunday, Lewis Hamilton wrote another incredible page into the annals of the sport by becoming just the second man in F1 history to score six or more world championship titles. It’s a remarkable achievement and one that Ross believes has been done in an utterly unique and thrilling way.
In tandem with Lewis’ sixth F1 crown another game changing event occurred earlier in the weekend – the presentation of the rules governing F1 from 2021 onwards. And as Ross explains, they represent not just a shift in how F1 cars are built and raced but are a long-term, holistic vision for the future success of Formula 1 – competitively, financially and environmentally.
As well as those marquee moments, there were plenty of other star performances at COTA, with Renault, McLaren and Sergio Perez all also earning Ross’ admiration…
Lewis's path to greatness
It’s hard to find anything new to say about the trajectory of Lewis Hamilton’s Formula 1 career. One could let the statistics do the talking, but that would be a rather dry way of acknowledging his sporting greatness.
Therefore, I think the best compliment I can pay Lewis today is to say that he has found a unique way of being a great champion. I have to admit that when I started working with him back in 2013 I was slightly nervous about his approach to being a professional racing driver. For me, the benchmark was Michael Schumacher, a man totally dedicated to chasing success and at the same time very keen to guard his privacy and that of his family. Even then, Lewis was demonstrating a truly eclectic approach to his career and whilst totally professional he preferred a lifestyle that was definitely less monastic than Michael’s.
Lewis has always been comfortable moving in different circles, such as music and fashion, and that’s given him the energy to develop his talent still further, while always ensuring he is in the best physical shape possible, which is vital in the modern Formula 1 era.
And at Mercedes, Lewis has found the right support in an environment that is stimulating technically, but that at the same time allows him the freedom he absolutely needs.
I therefore congratulate Toto Wolff and the whole team, as they’ve not only given him an amazing car year after year but they’ve allowed Lewis to develop and grow to become one of the greatest drivers in the history of Formula 1, certainly the strongest of the last 15 years.
Ferrari flag in Texas
The United States Grand Prix turned the clock back by six months, as not since Barcelona had we seen a podium without a Ferrari driver on it.
In Spain, Mercedes scored a one-two finish that appeared to definitively stamp their authority on the battle for both championship titles. But then, especially after the summer break, Ferrari seemed to make a breakthrough as they scored six pole positions and three wins but in the end the Maranello team went backwards, and in a surprising way. Not so much in qualifying where Vettel was just 0.012s behind Bottas, but definitely in the race, where Leclerc finished a whopping 52 seconds behind the Finn. The Ferrari man struggled particularly in the first stint on medium-compound Pirellis, lapping around a second down on the leader. Once he moved to the hard tyre, Leclerc was more competitive, but by then his chances of competing for a podium position were long gone.
From the outside, it’s hard to explain the drop-off and I certainly don’t want to speculate about the latest FIA technical directive relating to fuel flow metering. What is clear, though, is that Ferrari struggled in Texas, especially when it came to tyre management. It wasn’t so much about making them last, but more about getting them to work properly.
It’s true track conditions changed a lot over the course of the weekend, as the temperature went up significantly, but it’s equally true that Mercedes and Red Bull did a better job of adapting to the changing conditions. There’s a lot to do in Maranello over the coming days to analyse, reflect and come up with countermeasures, especially as this will also be useful for next year.
Midfielders on the cusp
After a poor showing in Mexico, McLaren were back on form in the US, but while they achieved a good result in Austin, they weren’t best of the rest. That honour went to Renault, with Daniel Ricciardo taking sixth place just 0.398s ahead of Lando Norris.
Renault have recovered well from a disappointing Suzuka and even if fourth place seems well out of reach, as McLaren leads them by 38 points and Renault hasn’t so far amassed more than 22 points in a single race, it is significant that the French squad has finished in the points in all races since the summer break, except for Japan, where they were disqualified. The drivers also seem to have found new levels of motivation and grit – not just Daniel who will be with the team next year but also Nico [Hulkenberg] who is leaving the team at the end of the season. It's a step in the right direction, even if there’s a long way to go to catch the top three teams.
The same can be said for McLaren, who have made so much progress this year, but without getting to the podium. For a team that has won so much in the past, fourth place in the constructors’ championship won’t be entirely satisfying, but it is a real sign that they are returning to competitive form.
Perez makes his points
Sergio Perez is another driver who seems to have turned things around in the second part of the season. From Spa onwards, the Mexican has only missed out on points in Singapore, where he retired with a reliability problem.
His results have not grabbed the headlines, his best being a sixth place in the Belgian Grand Prix, but when the top five or six places are pretty much pre-booked by the top three teams, finishing in the top 10 is a great result, especially given how tight it is in the mid-field.
Thanks to Perez’s consistency, Racing Point are still in with a chance of taking fifth place in the constructors’ championship, which would be very significant, especially if it was done at the expense of a factory team, namely Renault. They are only 18 points behind the French squad with two races to go, and that means that Lance Stroll would need to contribute to the effort. However, with Perez ahead of his team mate 31 points to 3 at the moment, the omens are not all that positive.
Changing the game
There was a great crowd in Austin and not only did they witness Hamilton take his sixth title, they were also present on the weekend of the announcement of the biggest ever rule change in the history of Formula 1.
After more than two years of work in close collaboration with the FIA and the sport’s teams, driver and key stakeholders, the rules governing 2021 and beyond, which have been was unanimously approved by the FIA World Motor Sport Council, were unveiled early in the weekend in Austin.
Covering technical and sporting matters, as well as for the first time, the financial stability of the sport, these new regulations represent a sea change for Formula 1 and are aimed at making Formula 1 stronger, more equal and more suited to current climate in both technical and financial terms.
Too often in the past, rule changes have been effected as a knee-jerk reaction to temporary issues and with a short-term approach. This time, the methodology has been very different. These rules have been thought out, studied and defined in a truly holistic manner, taking into account what the fans want, because at the end of the day, they are the sport’s most important stakeholders and the baseline for all we do. You can have the best drivers, the fastest and most technologically advanced cars and the most beautiful and demanding race tracks, but if the fans aren’t interested then you are going nowhere.
We are pleased with how the regulations were received, especially by the fans, and we are also aware that there is still a lot of work to do in the coming months to fine tune and adjust the rules where necessary before the start of the 2021 season. In the meantime, everyone can start to work on building the new Formula 1, starting from a defined and agreed base. There is no turning back.