Where could Aston Martin upset Red Bull? And what good are wet tires? F1 Mailbag

The Dutch Grand Prix was a mixed bag that left some on the edge of their seats and some bored by the same man being on top every week.

Max Verstappen won his home race, equaling Sebastian Vettel’s record for consecutive race wins (nine). Meanwhile, both Williams cars landed in Q3, and Alex Albon converted his P4 start to an eighth place finish. A new face entered the paddock when Liam Lawson replaced an injured Daniel Ricciardo. AlphaTauri confirmed the New Zealander will continue competing until Ricciardo can return. Ferrari’s confusing form continued, and Alpine took a step forward, with Pierre Gasly securing his first Grand Prix podium finish with the team.

All in all, some storylines continued while others took a turn. It’s a doubleheader, meaning Formula One is already onto a new race week. But before we dive into the Italian Grand Prix, we answered several of your questions in our latest mailbag.

The following questions have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Is Verstappen on a trajectory to be the greatest F1 driver ever? He seems unstoppable, and his past teammates (Albon, Pierre Gasly) seem to do well once he’s not the comparison benchmark. — Abhi A.

The “greatest” debate will always be subjective and can be dissected in so many different ways. Comparing Jim Clark or Ayrton Senna to Max Verstappen or Lewis Hamilton is difficult, even when looking at pure numbers. Seasons and careers are far, far longer than they were in past eras, making it easier for drivers to rack up substantial win numbers if they have a dominant car like Verstappen.

But statistically, Verstappen will surely finish in the Hamilton and Michael Schumacher territory, at least. His 46 wins are already the fifth-most of all-time. I’d be surprised if he’s not surpassed Alain Prost (51) and possibly Sebastian Vettel (53) by the end of the season. If he keeps going at a rate of 10 to 15 wins per season, he could be at the century mark by the time his Red Bull deal is up at the end of 2028. Theoretically, he could be an eight-time champion by then.

I think it will come down to how long Verstappen wants to keep going. He’s been clear in saying there is more to him than racing, and the long, grueling seasons make him question if it’s all worth it. Madeline wrote an excellent feature shining a light on how regular a life he leads away from the track, which will be worth bearing in mind whenever Max does decide to hang up his helmet.



The surprising normalcy of F1 superstar Max Verstappen

Verstappen is surely putting himself in the conversation among the all-time greats. The way he’s performed this year has been reminiscent of Schumacher or Hamilton at the height of their powers. But firm comparisons never come without difficulties or different opinions. – Luke Smith

Could Albon have gone soft-soft with his tires, or did he have to change compounds? Obviously, this assumes that at his first pit stop, Williams would have had no guarantees that it would eventually rain hard enough to force them onto inters or even full wets. I thought in the wet, teams are granted total freedom on tires, but is that actually the rule, or does it only apply if cars use inters/full wets? And if it was possible to run softs then softs again, would Albon have finished any higher? — No name

Because Albon did not switch to intermediates or opted for full wets like many others on the grid when the early rain hit, the Williams driver couldn’t go with the same compound. Drivers must use two different dry compounds in a race unless they use wets or inters – therefore, Albon didn’t have the option to go soft-soft and had to pick medium or hard tires.

It was interesting to hear that Williams felt slightly disappointed by the P8 result because, as team principal James Vowles mentioned, that would’ve been a terrific outcome most weekends.

“We’re disappointed because, as you saw, I’m sure for a lot of that race, we were P6 on merit,” Vowles said. “Sixth place – with, actually, the cars behind pulling away and dropping back relative to us.” – Madeline Coleman

I know you will cover this in your rookie ranking, but I’d like to ask anyway: on a scale of one to 10, how bad/good was Sargent’s weekend? He made it to Q3 but crashed in Q3 and the race. Also, was his race crash really his fault, or is it the fault of strategists leaving a rookie out on softs in the rain? Seems like an obvious choice to bring in the rookie, who already crashed once this weekend. — Luke S.

Logan Sargeant’s weekend was more positive than the end result indicated. However, he made a few mistakes, like being too cautious on the opening lap to avoid another moment like the one that took him out in qualifying. It was evident early in the race weekend that the Florida native was making progress. That is until his car ended up barely outside the narrow dry line that emerged in qualifying.

“Even Q1, Q2, I missed a little bit of pace (Saturday) in the wet, but I think the biggest positive for me is delivering laps when I needed to,” Sargeant said. “And that’s something I’ve lacked this year, and to be able to do that has been really nice today. But yeah, it’s all just shattered by a millimeter mistake.”

As far as the race crash goes, the rookie said Sunday he “lost hydraulics and power steering, and that just sent me off, and once I touched the damp stuff, there was no recovery.” Williams confirmed he lost the hydraulics “on landing from taking a curb.” Sargeant said he’d been using the Turn 8 curb the entire weekend, adding “it was always okay.” So, in the end, it doesn’t appear to be a driver error, and the team is investigating what caused the issue. – Madeline Coleman

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Is there a need for full wet tires? Any situation where you might want to run wet tires is probably going to be a red flag anyway. — John P.

This question is pretty much what Esteban Ocon told me after the race on Sunday at Zandvoort. “It’s not the right tire at any moment,” he said. “If you have to put on the full wets, it’s a red flag.”

It is something F1 and Pirelli are very aware of. The continued spray issue and struggle to race properly with the full wets means they’re only used to keep the cars circulating behind the safety car. I imagine that part of the decision behind the long wait under the red flag at the end of the race at Zandvoort; it made more sense to wait for the track to dry out for intermediates and avoid a repeat of the Lap 1 bundle into the pits for intermediates that we saw in the Spa sprint race.

Pirelli’s F1 tire chief, Mario Isola, said a few weeks back that F1 really needed a “super intermediate” tire, something that was somewhere between the wet and the intermediate. I’d anticipate there will be action to improve the wets in the future to make them more usable because right now, they’re only worthwhile to circulate behind the safety car. – Luke Smith



How Pirelli seeks the balance of F1’s most vital variable: the tires

Have we found a follow-up for “Drive to Survive” called “Dancing with the Marshals”? — Stephen D.

Honestly, I’d love to see it! Even on the grid, the marshals were waving to the crowd and getting them hyped up. To see them in such good spirits, even under the red flag, was a really sweet moment.

I wrote in Tuesday’s Prime Tire newsletter about the unique atmosphere at Zandvoort and how it stands out as one of the best European races in terms of an overall event. Moments like that only serve as further proof of the good vibes brought by the race. – Luke Smith

I’m not going to ask you to predict the future, but do you think that Aston Martin (Alonso, obviously) can beat Red Bull on any remaining tracks? — Anonymous U.

There’s one track where I could see Aston Martin give Red Bull some trouble. Singapore is the next track that Aston Martin team principal Mike Krack told The Athletic readers he expects the team to be “quite competitive.” The street circuit is physically demanding, and the layout is changing this year, with the number of corners dropping from 23 to 19. Between the Red Bull duo, Sergio Pérez has an impressive street circuit record. Still, Max Verstappen hasn’t won or started on pole in Singapore during his F1 career. The highest he’s started and finished in is second place (2018). – Madeline Coleman

With Haas re-signing both drivers, how many spaces are available for recent Formula 2 drivers, such as Felipe Drugovich and Liam Lawson? — Craig C.

Over the summer break, I wrote about how next year’s driver market looks fairly static. Haas’s call to retain Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg was no surprise. It was partly down to a lack of strong alternatives elsewhere.

Lawson undoubtedly has an excellent opportunity to stake a claim for a future seat while he deputizes for Daniel Ricciardo at AlphaTauri. He was next in line to replace Nyck de Vries had Ricciardo not wanted the seat, and the rookie equipped himself well amid chaotic circumstances at Zandvoort.

Realistically, Ricciardo will be the lead candidate to continue alongside Yuki Tsunoda, who has come on in his third year, even if his points total does not reflect that. So, although I’d still be anticipating a Tsunoda/Ricciardo line-up at AlphaTauri next year, Lawson has strengthened his position at the front of the line whenever we next see movement within the Red Bull setup.



F1 silly season: What we’re hearing about Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo and more

The other two F2 (or recent F2) drivers circling for a 2024 seat are Drugovich, the 2022 champion, and Theo Pourchaire, the current F2 points leader.

Drugovich won the F2 title last year and has been part of Aston Martin’s setup this season as its reserve driver. He’ll feature in FP1 on Friday at Monza as Aston Martin completes the year’s first of two young driver sessions. Drugovich also brings a decent array of Brazilian sponsors, adding to his appeal for a possible seat.

Pourchaire just turned 20 but is massively talented. He narrowly lost out on the F3 title to Oscar Piastri in 2020 and was runner-up in F2 last year. The Swiss driver is part of Alfa Romeo’s young driver program, and current Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur is known to be a huge fan.

Only two seats are really in conversation: Zhou Guanyu’s spot at Alfa Romeo and Logan Sargeant’s drive at Williams. Zhou has performed well this year alongside Valtteri Bottas, and he said at Zandvoort that he felt more nervous about his future this time last year. It really depends on where Sauber (and, looking longer term, Audi) see its future being.

Williams remains committed to making things work with Sargeant. We saw at Zandvoort, where he reached Q3 for the first time, how blisteringly quick he can be. But Sargeant also exhibited the kinds of errors he needs to iron out. While Alex Albon keeps impressing, Sargeant needs to convert the pace of the Williams into some points. It still feels like his seat to lose, though. – Luke Smith

(Lead image of Fernando Alonso: SIMON WOHLFAHRT/POOL/AFP via Getty Images))

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