Tag Archives: Mercedes

Formula E: Massa’s Formula E Prospects – S5 Silly Season

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Viewers of the 2018 Spanish GP tuning in for Martin Brundle‘s grid walk over the weekend saw, in a not at all preplanned interview, Felipe Massa discuss the prospect of him joining Formula E in the not too distant future. Having tested Formula E machinery last year, Massa has an understanding of the category and clearly sees a future for himself in the championship.

Season five of Formula E will see the launch of the Gen2 car. With it comes increased power, the removal of mid-race car changes, and increases in the application of aerodynamics. This coupled with huge OEM support makes the championship more compelling than ever for drivers at any stage of their career. That being said, I find Felipe Massa’s interest in the championship curious. Formula E is a championship made up of street circuits, looking back at Massa’s track record around the streets of Monaco, city circuits on the face of it are not his strong suit.

Speaking to senior team members on the topic of the Gen2 machinery, significant concern raised has been around the size of the rear diffuser, the extent to which it is exposed and that with current designs it forms part of a single piece floor panel. Repair costs in Formula E are expected to increase dramatically in Season five, with this in mind teams should be looking for Street Circuit Specialists.

Nevertheless. The prospect of a Former F1 driver with a huge Brazilian following possibly heading to Formula E serves as sufficient justification for a quick-fire look at the Formula E silly season rumours and paddock gossip.

First to remove from the list of potential homes for Massa has to be the big hitters from Germany. Porsche, Mercedes, BMW, and Audi have a huge pool of drivers at their disposal. They are highly unlikely to offer a seat to Massa over a contracted driver. With a fantastic showing from Abt in Season four and a season plagued by technical failings for current champion Di Grassi, expect Audi to maintain their current line up into S5 and beyond.  For S5, Mercedes have opted for a soft launch to their entry into Formula E via longterm motorsports partner HWA with customer technology from the Venturi Team. Through S4 Mercedes loaned out works drivers Engel and Mortara to the Venturi Team presumably with the plan for them to graduate to HWA in S5. Mercedes departing DTM at the end of 2018 also free’s up the likes of Paul Di Resta and Pascal Wehrlein. I expect HWA and Venturi to field works Mercedes Drivers for Season five of the Formula E championship.

Having said that with Venturi being a Monaco based entry, arguably there are some links to Monaco resident Felipe Massa. It is possible the team could be a home for the Brazilian in Season 5.

Moving to BMW, Season five will see the Bavarian Marque step up its commitment and investment in the championship, Felix da Costa will likely retain his place with the team operated by Andretti Autosport, BMW future participation in DTM will likely determine the driver in the second seat. Porsche will step into Formula E from season six, with in-house driver, André Lotterer set to be retained by Techeetah for Season 5 he will be well placed to take the lead position with Porsche upon their arrival. Alongside the German, Porsche have options on a number of WEC championship winning drivers.

On the subject of Techeetah, Massa is unlikely to find a home for season five with the current championship leaders. Jean-Eric Vergne has shaped the team around him, he is unlikely to find a more amiable seat on the grid. Lotterer having now found the form that escaped him in the first half of the season will more than likely be retained by the Chinese team as they look towards a full works status future.

On to mid-season championship favourites Mahindra. Team Principle Dilbagh Gil will be doing everything in his power to ensure Felix Rosenqvist remains with the team for Season 5 and well beyond. With Felix, Mahindra has a future champion in their team, they simply need to give him a consistent car in which to deliver. Nick Heidfeld’s season with Mahindra has been a challenge, his knowledge in setting up a car a maximising potential continues to prove invaluable to the team, but could his skills be best placed in a role similar to Pedro De La Rosa’s with Techeetah? Freeing up a seat with Mahindra for a young talent, perhaps in the form of Jehan Daruvala?

Jaguar Racing is another team which to my mind could offer a seat to Felipe Massa. Season four has seen the team improve dramatically after a challenging first year in the championship. Essentially operated via Williams F1, Massa has strong links to the structure of the team. However, Piquet is understood to have a long-term agreement with the team, and Mitch Evans has more than proved his worth this season. The team would do well to retain their line up into S5.

Then to Dragon Racing. The team have struggled this season, and don’t appear to have any short-term solutions in sight. Massa would only look to move to Formula E if he had a chance of winning races. Dragon are unlikely to be able to offer this until the Blue Oval comes on board.

That leaves, Renault Nissan eDams,  Vigin Envision Racing, and NIO Formula E team, All of whom I believe are the most likely candidates for Felipe Massa in Formula E. The Renault eDams team will become Nissan in Season five of Formula E. As the most successful team in Formula E with 3 constructors championships they offer the levels of success Felipe Massa is likely to expect. With Alain Prost recently selling his stake in the team it can be expected Nico, after a very difficult season, will likely leave the team ahead of Season five. Buemi is understood to be under an agreement, and Nissan seemingly doesn’t have an issue with him representing Toyota in WEC alongside his commitments in Formula E with them. Whilst my first choice for the seat alongside Buemi in the Nissan Formula E team would be Nissan EV ambassador Margot Robbie, a more likely candidate should Massa not be considered would be Jann Mardenborough.

In season five Virgin Racing is expected to lose it works manufacturer status, it is expected the team, the majority shareholding of which was recently sold to Chinese Energy group Envision will switch to a customer Audi partnership moving forward. Current driver and championship contender Sam Bird will likely remain loyal to the team with whom he entered Formula E, teammate Alex Lynn’s place seems less secure. Massa could be attracted to a race winning Power Unit in Audi and Race Winning team set up with the Virgin Racing Establishment, but the reduced testing opportunities offered to a non- works team will make getting up to speed with the intricacies of Formula E a real challenge as evidenced by André Lotterer in this season.

Finally, to the NIO Formula E Team, the team who in my opinion are most likely to offer the conditions Felipe Massa might expect from a Formula E team. They are well funded, they have delivered a world championship, with Nelson Piquet in Season One, and continue to prove on occasion they have the pace to run at the front. Oliver Turvey will likely retain his seat with the team for Season five and continue to maximise the potential of the car at every opportunity, running Massa alongside him would bring much-needed media coverage to the team and offer a face to the broader NIO EV global rollout.

Time will tell if Felipe Massa makes the move over to Formula E for the launch of the championships Gen2 machinery. Perhaps his following in Brazil will bring the championship to the country and facilitate the World Championship status Formula E management are working to secure. I’m not convinced Formula E needs Felipe Massa, and Felipe Massa’s bank balance is unlikely to need Formula E. In my opinion, the championship should not become the home for drivers coming to the end of their career in Formula One, rather the pinnacle for young drives proving their worth in the future of motorsport.

Following recent news regarding another arrival to Formula E for the Berlin ePrix this weekend I have to say I have a similar opinion about the commentary box.

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Formula One: Ricciardo to Renault?

 

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Daniel Ricciardo: Time to remove the Red Bull Racing race suit for good?

 

As the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship heads to Barcelona, silly season is kicking into high gear. At present, when looking towards the 2019 season, the state of play for the likely top four finishers in the Constructors Championship this season is as follows: 

Mercedes: both drivers out of contract

Ferrari: One seat open

Red Bull Racing: One seat open

Renault: both seats open

Being only four races into the 2018 season it may seem a little premature to be talking about 2019, but the events of Baku are likely to play a pivotal role in the decision-making process across the market.

With 99% certainty, it can be expected Lewis Hamilton will or has already renewed his commitment to Mercedes for 2019 and beyond in what will likely be his final contract as a driver in Formula One.  Leaving a single seat with the Silver Arrows. Whilst many have questioned his outright ability to take the fight to his competitors, Bottas has proved to be a reliable second driver for the team. Lewis’ response towards his teammate after being gifted his first win of the year, illustrates a team working in cohesion. Management would have to think long and hard about what they were trying to achieve in looking to replace Bottas. I expect he will be retained for a third season unless Ocon finds himself without a seat at Force India.

Over at the Scuderia, Kimi has been in his final season since he rejoined the team in 2014. Whilst never stella, he again creates an environment in which his teammate can thrive. Arguably he weakens Ferrari’s ability to challenge for the constructor’s championship, but I personally believe he will either be renewed on another single year agreement, or make way for Charles le Clerc, who finally started to prove his strengths with a fantastic performance in Baku. I do not believe Ferrari are considering Ricciardo as a possible partner for to Vettel.

Then to the curious case of Red Bull Racing. In Baku, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo broke the golden rule of motorsport and took each other out. The incident was a long time coming, after a race in which multiple passes between the two had already resulted in contact, the drivers compromised their own strategies and slowed each other down. With the team standing by their philosophy to “let them race”.  In the short term, I don’t believe this will destroy team harmony, but it went some way to sowing the seed in Riccardo’s mind that a team not willing to favour one driver over the other may not be the team in which he achieves his ambition of securing a world championship. This coupled with the widely expected announcement that Red Bull Racing will switch to Honda power for 2019, which whilst much more competitive with Toro Rosso than it ever was with McLaren may not quite be at the level to compete for championships.

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Renault F1 Team  successfully challenging Aston Martin Red Bull Racing for position during the 2018 Azerbaijan GP

Then to Renault, a team whose 3-year plan to reinvigorate the Enstone facility and rebuild a once championship contending team, is now starting to come to fruition. From 2019 onwards Renault should expect to be challenging for outright wins and comfortably challenge the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari. In Hulkenberg and Sainz the team have a formidable but unthreatening lineup. As the team look to challenge for wins, they need a superstar driver. Could Ricciardo become Renault’s next superstar? As a works team, they are in a position to offer the salary driver of Ricciardo’s calibre should command, and they can offer something no other team can, the ability to shape the team around him. Some will say it would be risky for Ricciardo to give up a race-winning seat for a team which hasn’t won a race in over a decade, but the same could be said for Lewis Hamilton when he walked away from McLaren. Renault presents opportunities Red Bull Racing simply can’t offer.

Should the top four teams be covered by four manufacturers, it would be fantastic to see the top four drivers of the current era; Hamilton, Vettel, Verstappen, and Ricciardo behind the wheel of different cars each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

Daniel Ricciardo racing for the Renault Sport F1 Team for 2019 is my prediction for the big shift this silly season. Sainz may well return to Red Bull fold as a result, but I personally believe he will remain with Renault with Hulkenberg heading to life after F1 and Gasly moving into the Red Bull Racing team.

Image Source: Red Bull Media Pool

 

Formula One: Preparing for the budget cap

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The Liberty Media vision for the future of Formula One Teams is clear. The owners expect 12 commercially viable, profitable, franchises all capable of challenging for race victories. In his role as Managing Director of Motorsports, Ross Brawn, has been mandated with the task of delivering a strategy to ensure this vision is achieved.

12 commercially viable & profitable teams, on paper, sounds fantastic. With the variable of available finances removed, the resourceful nature of F1 teams will truly be put to the test. Outwardly it seems as though there is widespread support from the teams for such a move. Afterall, what business wants to spend more money? With representatives from leading teams including Red Bull Racing emploring Liberty Media to ‘ Save F1 Teams from themselves’ the route to implementing a budget cap should, in theory, be straightforward.

However, As with any commercial decision in Formula One nothing is straightforward. The first major hurdle to overcome is the existing structure around payments and the legacy of disparity. In 2017 Joe Saward explained the complexities around the current structure in this article. The existing structure rewards success and longevity, a something which is not overly inviting to a new team, nor geared towards a midfield team ever being in a position to surprise. In an estimated payment fund of $900M per season, the top 3 teams receive approximately 60% of the revenue, leaving the remaining, currently 7, teams to compete for 40% ($360M) between them. It is estimated that the smallest operational budget in F1 today is in the region of $100M, with only $50M coming from the championship, teams have a significant shortfall to cover.

A more appropriate payment structure would be equal distribution amongst all teams, with a proportional bonus for constructors championship position, similar to that seen in the Premier league as detailed here.  Unfortunately, in order to reach this point, the largest teams, with operational budgets believed to be in excess of $400M per season must agree to a cut in support from the system under which their team structure has been developed. What business would agree to lose as much as 50% of its funding without a clear view of how it will cut costs or increase revenue through other ventures.

Convincing; Red Bull Racing, Scuderia Ferrari, and Mercedes Grand Prix to agree to this change will be one of the key tasks ahead of Ross Brawn through 2018 and 2019 if a new system is to be introduced under the new commercial vision for the sport in 2020.

The task is far from simple, the infrastructure of the top teams has been built around a mindset of a limitless budget. If a budget cap of $150m per season were to be introduced in 2020 with no consultation from the teams, it would be almost impossible for the top teams to comply. From a personnel headcount perspective alone a team such a Mercedes Grand Prix, with in excess of 1400 employees, if an average salary of $50,000 is applied, the team commit 46% of its budget to salaries before considering building a car. Without modifying the current team structure, introducing a budget cap within the next 3 seasons, unless Liberty Media expect teams to make more than 50% of their workforce redundant, is not feasible.

On a more positive note, there are indications that the top teams in question are preparing for the change. A budget cap in Formula One will not mean that the likes of operating entity such as Mercedes Grand Prix or Red Bull Racing will be limited to an expenditure of $150M per season, rather their allocation of resources to F1 will see this limit applied.

As a result, it is highly likely that diversification will be a key element to the future of F1 Teams. Over the past decade, McLaren and Williams have established an industry-leading position in the application of engineering solutions developed to improve performance in motorsport being incorporated into manufacturing processes and commercial entities.  For these teams, this third-party business will likely continue to grow. it is, however,  unlikely Ferrari or Red Bull Racing will view this as an appropriate use of resources or brand credibility.

Instead, expect the very top teams to move towards expanding their foothold in other forms of motorsport.

  • Mercedes Grand Prix has already made steps in this direction with the announcement of a commitment to Formula E team from season 6 of the championship. This alongside the development of the Mercedes Project One, which to many is a clear indication of Mercedes ambitions to return to Endurance Racing. A return which with LMP1 regulations under review and the prospect of the reinvigoration of the FIA Global Engine strategy, Mercedes are well positioned to find success.

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Credit to Sean Bull Design for the concept Mercedes Formula E livery 

  • Similarly, Red Bull Racing through their partnership with Aston Martin has acknowledged an interest in taking the Valkyrie racing, and under guidance from Ross Brawn will no doubt be seeking to bring the Toro Rosso team entirely in-house.

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  • McLaren has taken the decision to take control of their GT programme, and have already explored further engagements in championships including Indycar following the positive coverage generated through the one-off partnership with Andretti Autosport at the Indy 500 in 2017.

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  • Ferrari continually talks of a return to Endurance Racing, and could, similar to Red Bull Racing consider a strategy of an in-house B-team with which budget cap compliance could be achieved.

In conclusion, political posturing between the top teams in Formula One, Ross Brawn, and Liberty Media throughout the 2018-19 seasons will likely overshadow on-track performances. Fans of the sport should take any empty threats from top teams to walk away from the sport as just that. Empty threats. The financial implications of such a move make the option unviable. Instead, teams will double down on motorsport, getting involved with more championships, with the eventual winner being the fans.

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Formula One: Missing Sponsors

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As the clock struck midnight on December 31st 2017, many sponsorship relationships throughout the F1 Grid reached their conclusion. In the coming weeks and months, numerous new agreements will be announced at both a team and championship level as attention focuses on the season ahead. For myself as a lifelong fan of the business of Formula One, now aspiring to develop a career in this side of the sport, this period between commercial contract expiry and new contract announcements can be fascinating.

No team will encourage media to make a story out of the end of a partnership, so don’t expect any press releases confirming a departure, instead head to the partner’s section of the website of the team you follow and see if you can spot the brands or names suddenly missing from the list.

A well-publicised partnership expiration is that of the relationship between Santander and Scuderia Ferrari.  A partnership many believe will be replaced by the promotion of long-term team partners Phillip Morris introducing e-cigarettes to Formula One with the brand IQOS. If true, e-cigarettes could represent a high-value sector of sponsors for F1 moving forward, assuming advertising challenges can be overcome, and OEM’s including Mercedes and Renault are comfortable with the association.

Intriguingly, whilst Santander has been removed from the Scuderia Ferrari Website, it remains on the McLaren (no longer McLaren Honda) website. Santander, whilst no longer a brand represented on the McLaren livery have been partnered with the Woking based team since Alonso first joined the team in 2007.

Can you spot any other team websites with mysteriously missing partners? There are some out there which may surprise…

The three P’s of Formula One: Points, Penalties and Prizes – Paddock Magazine

The 2017 Italian Grand Prix served to highlight once again that current Formula 1 regulations around grid penalties for exceeding…

Source: The three P’s of Formula 1: Points, Penalties and Prizes – Paddock Magazine

Formula One: No Mercedes power for McLaren in 2018

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Away from incredible on track performances this season, recent Formula One news has been increasingly fixated by the prospect of ‘divorce’ between Honda and McLaren, with a number of respected outlets and leading pundits suggesting the separation is already all but finalised.

Whilst frustrations around the on track performance of the McLaren Honda partnership are plainly visible for all to see, with senior representatives from McLaren doing little to calm stories, one key factor appears to have been forgotten. The FIA Sporting Regulations.

Within the FIA Formula One World Championship Sporting Regulations, all power unit manufacturers are required to submit a list of teams they will supply in the following season by May 15th.  Under this regulation both Honda and Mercedes have already informed the FIA of the teams which will be using their power units for 2018

No power unit may be used in a given Championship season unless the Power Unit Manufacturer supplying such power unit accepts and adheres to the following conditions.

Each of the Power Unit Manufacturers of an homologated power unit must :

i)  provide the FIA, before 15 May (or such other date as agreed in writing between all the Power Unit Manufacturers and the FIA) of the season preceding that in which such power units are to be supplied, with the list of teams (clearly identifying the appointed “works/factory” team, if any) to which a supply agreement has been concluded for the given Championship season ;

ii)  if called upon to do so by the FIA before 1 June (or such other date as agreed in writing between all the Power Unit Manufacturers and the FIA) of the season preceding that in which such power units were to be supplied:

T = 111-A/B-C

–  A = Total number of teams (including “works/factory” teams) having a supply agreement concluded for the given Championship season with a New Power Unit Manufacturer.

–  B = Total number of manufacturers of homologated Power Units for the given Championship season.

–  C = Total number of New Power Unit Manufacturers for the given Championship season.

provided that if the result contains a fraction then the fraction shall count as a full team (e.g. 11 teams divided by 4 manufacturers = 2.75, each manufacturer must, if called upon to do so by the FIA, supply at least 3 teams).”

Appendix 9 – FIA Formula One World Championship Sporting Regulations. 

Earlier today, confirmation was sought from both Mercedes and Honda as to the contents of the lists provided to the FIA in accordance with this regulation.

Honda stated their list submitted to the FIA documents Power Unit supply intentions for both Mclaren and Sauber. Mercedes confirmed their submission to the FIA references three teams, Force India, Williams, and the factory Mercedes team.

No provision is made within the Sporting Regulations around deviation from this commitment. With both Honda and Mercedes having stated intentions around 2018 it seems highly unlikely any change is planned or possible without the consent of all teams participating in the championship.

Formula One: Time for Mercedes to go Aggressive?

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The 2017 Russian Grand Prix looks set to be the race in which Scuderia Ferrari cement their status as the dominant force in the World Championship. Having won two of the first three races of the season, the Scuderia’s pace was unquestionable yet many felt AMG Mercedes Petronas still held an ultimate performance advantage.

However with Ferrari having locked out the front row in qualifying for the first time since 2008 at a circuit which Mercedes have dominated in recent years, it is becoming clear that the boys in red have overtaken the silver arrows in terms of out and out pace. Since the introduction of the current power unit regulations, ignoring a few erroneous races, Mercedes have been the dominant force. The team has adopted an approach in which only an inter team battle is considered as a threat. In so doing, in a bid to ensure equality amongst drivers, race strategies have been safe and mirrored on both sides of the garage.

With a genuine threat from Ferrari for the overall  2017 World Constructors Championship clear, has the time come for this to change? At this point in the season Mercedes and Ferrari are the only team capable of challenging for race wins. Red Bull Racing being the next closest team were 1.8 seconds of the pole lap time in Russia. In this situation the challenging team, in this case Mercedes have two choices; acknowledging the lack overall race pace, they could take adopt the same approach as Ferrari in qualifying and the race, with the hope that driver skill or mistakes will elevate performances, or they could switch to an aggressive strategy, splitting their drivers tyres compound section in the hope of interfering with Ferrari.

For Mercedes to maximise an interference strategy the team should have sent either or both Hamilton and Bottas out into Q2 on Super Soft tyre compounds, with Ferrari qualifying on Ultras softs. This move would have safely taken them through the session and allowed them to run much longer in the first stint of today’s race. In electing not to do this Mercedes opportunity to interfere with Ferrari today will be limited to a strong start, or adopting a two stop approach over the expected one stop norm.

Moving forward, in order for Mercedes to challenge for their 4th successive constructors championship they must adapt to the new norm and consider irregular approaches to race strategy. Simple accepting, ‘the second row was a the best we could expect’ is not good enough from a championship winning team.

Formula One: Are Cosworth the solution to McLaren-Honda’s woes?

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On the eve of the 2017 F1 season McLaren Honda head into the third year of their partnership with little cause for optimism. Despite the FIA’s removal of the Power Unit development token system which previously limited manufacturers ability to modify / redesign technology, Honda solutions seemingly remain at odds with the F1 Hybrid era.

2017 pre-season testing saw Honda introduce an entirely new Power Unit, a fully integrated unit developed around the MCL32. In a bid to improve performance and resolve drivability issues which plagued the 2015 / 16 design, Honda engineers have taken inspiration from the solutions seen with their immediate competitors. This approach, in the short term at least, appears to have failed. McLaren have reported extensive issues with vibrations within the power unit limiting any ability to push for out right performance. Neither team nor engine manufacturer have been able to validate design concepts through pre-season testing and have minimal expectations around the team’s ability to complete a race distance let alone score points in the opening races of the 2017 season.

The situation is unsatisfactory for all parties involved.

In recent days it has emerged McLaren may have made preliminary enquiries towards Mercedes around future power unit supply, some media outlets going as far to suggest a mid season switch could be possible. The reality of this is highly unlikely, both from a commerical and technical perspective the strategy defies logic and any form of long term thinking.

McLaren maintain an ambition to compete for and win world championships. Using Williams Martini Racing as a prime example, despite access to the dominant power unit for the past three seasons, customer status with Mercedes limits their ability to challenge. This should not be the strategy McLaren seek or accept. It may resolve short term frustrations with partners, but it will not deliver world championships.

Instead McLaren may need to seek an alternative solution. It is understood Honda support the team and power unit development to the tune of $100 million per season. On the recommendation of McLaren, Honda could look to redirect this finance to a third party. The third party in question being Cosworth.

When the Hybrid F1 regulations were originally outlined in 2010, Cosworth, similar to Mercedes, dedicated significant resource to develop a new power unit for the sport. The intention had been for Volkswagen to badge the Cosworth power unit, however as the implementation of the new regulations grew nearer VW reneged on their F1 ambitions. This left Cosworth with a concept power unit 4 years in the making but no manufacturer budget to bring the power unit to the grid.

Cosworth have stated in previous years that with budget the power unit they developed could be on the grid within 6 months. They remain confident that the solutions they engineered would be competitive. In theory it would be possible for the Cosworth power unit to become the 2018 Honda F1 Power Unit. It is fair to say there would be a certain amount of pride to overcome between all parties involved, but ensuring future competitiveness may ease the short term pain.

To those who see the suggestion of Honda badged Cosworth Power Unit as the future of the McLaren Honda relationship as far fetched, take a look at the companies house registry for the list of directors at Cosworth. Top of this list you will find Mr Zak Brown, Executive Director of the McLaren Technology Group.

Formula One: Eddie Jordan slams Lewis Hamilton & Mercedes

Ahead of the 2017 F1 season former team owner turned pundit Eddie Jordan has suggested he would his response to Lewis Hamilton’s decision to back up Nico Rosberg in the final race of the 2016 season in a bid to secure his 4th World Championship would not have been as forgiving as that of Toto Wolff and the Daimler management board.

Never one to shy away from a headline, in this 2017 preview for Mobil One’s The Grid, Jordan comments on the departure of his good friend Bernie and the new start of a new era with Liberty Media.

Despite questioning Lewis’ approach to 2016, suggesting his lost focus, Jordan predicts he will be the favourite going into 2017. On Bottas, Jordan suggests 3-4 wins could be possible but questions his ability to push Lewis through the season.