After what seems like an age since the first race in March, the Formula One season has reached its half way point in 2023. With the cancelation of the Chinese and Emilia-Romagna events the schedule to date has delivered 11 races in almost 5 months.
The final 10 F1 events after the summer break will be crammed into just 13 weeks as the season concludes on the 26th November.
Hamilton v Verstappen battle fizzles out
The usual paddock tensions and public spats so far this year have been kept to a minimum in part because there is little to argue about on track between arch rivals Mercedes and Red Bull given the latter dominance has seen them over the hill and far away.
Even the much anticipated start of the Hungarian Grand Prix which saw Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen line up 1-2 for the first time since the fateful evening in Abu Dhabi 2021 fizzled out in seconds and Hamilton was beaten to turn one by the world champion and found himself falling from pole position to fourth by the second corner.
Yet there are a number of issues oncoming that may well see the heated exchanges between Horner and Wolff reignited.
Cost cap breaches reported by French media
French publication L’Equipe is reporting a cost cap row is on the horizon and could include Aston Martin, Mercedes and Red Bull in trouble following the retrospective rule change this year which includes the inclusion of the value of any intellectual property obtained from non-F1 divisions associated with the teams.
The French publication suggests a number of teams have questioned Dr. Helmut Marko’s actual position in the Red Bull hierarchy.
“Marko is present at all the races, inside the Red Bull box, yet he is not listed amongst the three top earners whose compensation is not included in the $136m,” the report states.
Helmut Marko’s salary questioned
Of course it is likely Helmut Marko is not one of the three most highly paid Red Bull employees and would naturally not be included in that list.
Marko has apparently said he has a contract with Red Bull until 2024 which for those raising the questions believes should be included in the team’s spending budget.
Yet before the fun and games begins when the FIA announce their cost cap audit findings supposedly at the end of July, the tetchy nature of the Red Bull and Mercedes team principal’s relationship appears to be ratcheting up.
Toto Wolff has given his opinion that Red Bull are teeing up Daniel Ricciardo to succeed the highly iritic Sergio Perez next season.
Perez vastly underperformed
Given the superiority of the RB19 Red Bull would expect their number two driver to perform as Rosberg and Bottas did when driving alongside Lewis Hamilton in a car that’s way ahead of the field.
Rosberg won a championship and finished second behind Hamilton the either two seasons while Bottas was regularly there to pick up the pieces and claim a race win were Hamilton to suffer any kind of misfortune.
Red Bull have just three 1-2 finishes this season and on current form will get no where near the eleven Rosberg and Hamilton claimed in 2014.
Wolff claims Ricciardo replaces Perez
Wolff believes Red Bull are looking at terminating Perez contract early to promote Ricciardo if they believe he will do a better job.
Speaking to Sky Germany in Hungary about the sacking of De Vries and his replacement Daniel Ricciardo at AlphaTauri, Wolff stated:
“I do feel sorry for him [De Vries]. He had called me on Monday morning to ask if I had time for a cup of coffee. I did and I will support him as best I can.
“However, it is clear that there is no place with us. Formula 1 is a tough world, we know that. I think they [Red Bull] wanted to have a benchmark with Daniel Ricciardo, to see if he can take over from Checo (Perez).”
Toto praises sacked Nyck de Vries
By suggesting Perez may be replaced by Red Bull with a year left on his contract, Toto is stirring the pot and maybe hoping to destabilise the atmosphere at Red Bull.
This public supposition from the Mercedes boss is likely to infuriate Christian Horner who may well respond at the upcoming Belgium Grand Prix.
Toto is then complimentary about De Vries and suggests he wasn’t given enough time by Red Bull partly given a number of the early season races are held at circuits De Vries has never raced before.
Mercedes boss speaks with forked tongue
Wolff said: “I’m a fan of Nyck’s. He’s always contributed a lot to the development of the car, but maybe he needed more time.
“Who knows what would have happened if he had been given the whole season. Maybe he would have been a good candidate for the Red Bull seat, but that’s not our problem.”
De Vries was of course Mercedes’ reserve driver last season until Wolff decided to release him to become a free agent.
So given Toto didn’t think he was good enough for their F1 team he is clearly making mischief by claiming the dutch driver may have become worthy to race alongside Verstappen at Red Bull, given the chance.
It’s impossible to come to Spa and not look back at this mega lap⚡️
Lewis’ pole position in the W11 🐐
— Mercedes-AMG F1 News (@MercedesNewsUK) July 24, 2023