Part Three: Continuity & Change

It was a different looking team that came back after the summer break. Here’s part three of our season review.

We shuffled the deck over the summer break, with Pierre Gasly returning to Toro Rosso and Alex Albon, off the back of a strong first half of the year with Toro, taking his place with the senior squad. In many respects, the summer break came at the wrong time. Momentum was high before the shutdown, with two wins and a pole position in the previous four races. Things were a little quieter after the break – but the results are probably a fair reflection on where the Team was at that point in the year. 

Round 13. Belgian Grand Prix, Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. Alex P5, Max DNF

The death of Anthoine Hubert, and a serious injury to Juan Manuel Correa in Saturday’s F2 Feature race made Spa-Francorchamps a very solemn place to go racing on Sunday. Christian Horner put out the following statement on the team’s behalf. The tragic death of Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert at Spa today is a reminder of just how cruel motorsport, the sport we love, can be sometimes. In his rookie season, Anthoine was demonstrating to be a star of the future having already won races in Monaco and France this year. On behalf of Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, our thoughts are with Anthoine’s family, Renault and the BWT Arden team, which is close to my heart. Our thoughts are also with Juan Manuel and his family at this time.  

At a circuit that wasn’t going to suit the RB15, Max qualified P5 and Alex started from P17, having elected to take an engine penalty here, with a view to more favourable races ahead. Max’s race ended in the lottery of La Source, clashing with Kimi Räikkönen at the first corner, after which his suspension failed at Raidillon. Alex, meanwhile, put down a marker by climbing from P17 on the grid to P5 at the flag. Remarkable in a car he hadn’t driven until two days earlier. 

Round 14. Italian Grand Prix, Autodromo Nazionale Monza. Alex P6, Max P8

At Monza it was Max’s turn to take the engine penalty. He opted to not set a qualifying time and started the race P19. Alex, meanwhile, qualified eighth, having failed to set a time during Q3’s bizarre go-slow, in which everyone tripped over themselves in an effort to not be first to start the lap and give everyone else a tow. In the race, Alex worked his way up to P6 and Max’s charge from the back row ended with P8, though both had a lot of work to do, after Max lost his nosecone on the first lap and Alex was barged onto the gravel by Carlos Sainz. Not a race to write home about – but better things were to come. 

Round 15. Singapore Grand Prix, Marina Bay Street Circuit. Max P3, Alex P6

In recent years, the Singapore Grand Prix has been the race we’ve targeted as our best chance of victory in the second half of the year. The tight confines of the Marina Bay Street Circuit, brilliantly illuminated in the hot, steamy equatorial evening have given us a lot of trophies over the years. Max got our hopes up on Friday, with P1 and P2 in the two practice sessions, but it became clear early on Saturday that the car didn’t quite have the pace to threaten the front row and Max duly qualified P4 and Alex P6. The race itself was a fairly robust affair with lots of wheel-banging and smashed bodywork – but both of our drivers kept it clean, and we survived with a double points finish, Alex ended the race where he started in P6, and Max picked up a place with an undercut to finish P3. Both cars home and a first podium since the resumption. Perhaps glass-half-full.

Round 16. Russian Grand Prix, Sochi Autodrom. Max P4, Alex P5

While Alex put in a good recovery drive at Spa and Max the same a week later at Monza, Russia represented the first time both drivers went into the race wearing their overtaking head. Alex collected a five-place power unit penalty but had a crash in qualifying to render that moot: changing his floor required him to start the race from the pitlane. Max, meanwhile, also had a five-place penalty and, having qualified P4, dropped to P9 on the grid. Both drivers had very solid races and – given Sochi isn’t the easiest circuit on which to overtake – made thrilling moves when they had to, to get back up to the back of the leading pack. Fourth and fifth isn’t particularly thrilling but it was a good return after a tough weekend. 

Round 17. Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka International Racing Course, Alex P4, Max DNF

Not for the first time, qualifying in Suzuka took place on Sunday morning – though this year there was rather more notice than usual. With Typhoon Hagibis bearing down on the circuit, organisers took the decision early on Friday morning, to close the track on Saturday. After FP2 teams had a mad scramble to derig and tear down anything exposed in the pit lane and paddock, and bring it all inside to be locked down in the garage. On Saturday, the Category Five supertyphoon gave Ise Bay a near miss, bringing high winds and lots of rain to Suzuka, before going on to hit Tokyo. Sunday morning had bright blue skies and looked like a totally different planet. Adding to the feeling of unreality, Max and Alex set identical times in Q3 to line-up fifth and sixth. Max made a great start, only to be punted-off coming out of turn two by Charles Leclerc. He retired the damaged car a few laps later. Alex, meanwhile, maximised his opportunity to finish P4.