I know what you did last summer
In what can only be described as one of the weirdest periods in recent F1 history, the latest F1 summer break started on a meme-inducing frenzy. It was on the boil for a while. A bubble we were all waiting on to burst. Something had to give… and then it did.
Aston Martin kicked things off following the retirement announcement of Sebastian Vettel, quite respectfully. I don't think George Russell sipped that first beachside cocktail before Aston Martin announced that Fernando Alonso would take the open seat. News for everyone, including team principal for Alpine, Otmar Szafnauer, who found out (allegedly) at the same time everyone else did.
Alonso is no stranger to causing a stir, but who can blame him in the extremely unforgiving dog-eat-dog world of F1? The Spaniard wasn't entirely happy that his contract wasn't yet confirmed beyond one year. Don't be surprised if Lawrence Stroll pushed Vettel into retirement to get Alonso onto the greenside. This may only be spoken about in Vettel's biography someday. It's the nature of business.
But if you think that's where the weirdness ended, think again. Alpine looked like they were taking pages out of the PR playbook for beginners announcing that reserve driver Oscar Piastri would be taking the empty seat. Thirty minutes later, Piastri went onto Twitter to announce that wasn't the case.
It was no secret that Daniel Ricciardo's seat was available. The writing was on the wall since last year, and for valid reasons, despite that win at Monza in 2021, the first for McLaren in a decade. It was also one of the worst kept secrets until the news broke last night. But truth be told, the Australian has just not cut it in a world where anything other than perfection is frowned upon. McLaren had given enough chances, but sadly, for whatever reasons, the car proved challenging to get used to, and although Lando Norris struggled too, it was all cold comfort for Ricciardo at the end of the day.
All of this highlights F1's dark side, the sport governed by money and where old-school morals like integrity, honour and loyalty seemingly don't have much room. We can argue that Piastri bit the hand that fed him, but, on the other side of the coin, we also don't know the whole story. Regardless of how you look at it, the entire chain of events has been a bit of a mess.
That then marked the peak of the chaos, for as quickly as it all started, it ended with many unanswered questions. Like who would occupy the seats of Mick Schumacher, Guanyu Zhou, Nicholas Latifi and Yuki Tsunoda. Latifi will likely leave. Yes, Tsunoda's fiery attitude has gotten him into trouble many times before, but is that enough not to get a seat? He's passionate and has achieved results but not the team's desired results. Sadly, Alpha Tauri may deem him on the wrong side of average.
Zhou, on the other hand, has performed well for a rookie in the big unforgiving world of F1, often outperforming Bottas. For F1 to be a truly global sport, they need a Chinese driver, and Zhou is there on merit, make no mistake. That leaves Mick Schumacher and the uncertainty around his future. Given that he's already written off two cars in one season, Haas, with their limited budget, simply might not be able to afford him in the future. So, where does Mick go? Alpine may be a good fit, but perhaps, there's a seat swap between Zhou and Mick, where Zhou goes to Haas, and Mick moves a step closer to Ferrari, given the family ties between Alfa Romeo, the prancing horse, and the Schumacher name. Another twist in the tale could be Antonio Giovinazzi returning to test for Haas in free practice this weekend after his less than ideal year in Formula E. It's all proving to be a big melting pot of speculation at this point.
The big rule change governing the floorboards underneath the cars is one to watch this weekend. With Mercedes making the inroads and bridging the performance gaps between them, Red Bull and Ferrari, this is one to pay careful attention to. But don't think that other teams will remain idle while Mercedes advances. They, too, may have a few surprises up their sleeve.
Looking forward to Spa. And we need to remind ourselves of the 2021 event, which saw it rained out and the shortest race in F1 history. There have been, however, massive changes between then and now with a resurfacing of the track and modifications to Eu Rouge with run-off room and improved drainage. During the break, Spa was also a hot topic about which tracks will be replaced to make room for Kyalami. Given the historical significance of this track, I genuinely hope that we can make an allowance for this and keep it while getting Kyalami on the calendar. PS… Did I mention it's raining all weekend at Spa?
Words by Brent Van Der Schyff