Belgian Grand Prix Preview

In the News

Verstappen to Become Youngest F1 Driver in 2015

Perhaps the most surprising news of the week was the announcement that 16 year old Formula Three driver, Max Verstappen – son of former Benetton and Arrows driver Jos – will make his Formula One debut in 2015 for Toro Rosso. Recently recruited Red Bull Junior Verstappen, who has been a revelation in 2014, will become the youngest Formula One driver ever in Australia next year – as a 17 year old – replacing Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne in the Italian team.

Debate will rage until Melbourne as to whether or not Verstappen has what it takes to be an F1 driver at 17. No doubt, the Dutchman has the speed and ability to race, but I wonder if it would be better if he spent a couple more seasons, building his experience – say in GP2 or Formula Renault 3.5 rather than dive straight into the top flight.

The very fact that Verstappen is replacing fellow Red Bull backed driver Vergne, is testament to Franz Tost’s almost brutal philosophy that “if you don’t perform enough, you are out”. It would a shame to see Verstappen put into F1 before he is ready, and see his potential unfulfilled. It also begs the question: why would Red Bull give a Formula Three driver an F1 spot when another one of their backed stars, Carlos Sainz Jr is cleaning up in Formula Renault 3.5 this year? Wouldn’t Sainz Jr – who has also race Formula Three, GP3 and tested GP2 machinery and the current Red Bull F1 car – be a better choice for Toro Rosso?

That said, I like the look of Verstappen, and the way he drives is phenomenal. Let’s not forget that this is his first ever season of car racing – something that Red Bull appreciated straight away. He makes other, more experience car drivers look like novices with his dominating mid-season run of 6 consecutive victories. It will be interesting to see him in F1, and I for one hope I am proved wrong when I say he may be too young.

Lotterer to Make Caterham Debut at Spa

The other big news this weekend is the announcement that Kamui Kobayashi will be replaced at Caterham by three-time Le Mans 24 Hour winner Andre Lotterer. The 31 year old German will get his first crack at a Formula One race weekend, after having spent two seasons as test driver for Jaguar in 2001/2002. Kobayashi, who signed this year as a pay driver has apparently run out of money, and it remains to be seen if he will drive again this season. The Japanese driver, so often out of luck with the ever increasing cut throat financial side of the sport is once again facing the prospect of being on the sidelines.

Much like Verstappen, it will be interesting to see how Lotterer gets on. However, let’s face it: it is a Caterham and not an Audi R8 Le Mans winner so his performance will be relative to the car’s capability. But the German is one of the world’s best drivers at the moment; his Le Mans record says a lot for itself. He has versatility too: having raced Le Mans prototype cars, Super GT in Japan as well as winning the Super Formula (formerly Formula Nippon) championship in 2011, he has driven a vast number of cars. This should leave him in good stead in adapting to the complexities and unpredictable Caterham car which, this year has proven to be the unequivocal backmarker.

I feel sorry for Kobayashi as he is one of the most exciting drivers out there. But he needs commercial backing in this day and age and sadly, that is not what he has. Formula One is in a sorry state of affairs when it quite easily ignores raw talent in favour of big bucks. However, in the case of Lotterer, the German is one of the best in the business; if only he was given a better car to exploit this potential.

All will be revealed come Sunday afternoon in Spa.

Rossi to Race in Spa; Chilton Out

Another driver change for this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix at Spa is at Marussia. Max Chilton will make way for American Alexander Rossi – who only recently joined the team from Caterham where he was test driver for two years. In what is still a hot off the press story, there is some confusion as to who made what call. Marussia say that there had been “contractual issues” to settle with Chilton prior to the event. However, the buzz coming from the Chilton camp has a different spin on things. A statement released by Chilton’s PR team say that the Brit “volunteered to step out of his seat” in a move, they claim, to “attract much-needed funds”. The statement also suggested that Chilton would be back in the Marussia car for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in September.

Make of that what you will but it means that we have two Grand Prix debutantes this weekend, at perhaps one of toughest circuits on the calendar. Rossi has a lot more modern day experience in Formula One than Lotterer and the Marussia is performing much better than that of the Caterham so expect him to be competitive come Sunday.

Update: 22/8/14

Chilton will now apparently race for Marussia this weekend. The Brit will take over Rossi’s seat in Free Practice 2 and for the time being, retains his seat for the race. Elsewhere, Max Verstappen is likely to make his debut in FP1 at some point before the end of the year.

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