Magnussen’s uncompromising style in wheel-to-wheel battle has won plenty of points for his new Haas team, where he says he finally feels at home after a difficult introduction to Formula 1, but it has gained him few friends among his rivals.
Not that the man Nico Hulkenberg described as “the most unsporting driver on the grid” is particularly bothered by what others think of him.
“I wouldn't say I am the most popular driver among the drivers, but I don't need to be,” Magnussen says. “They are not my friends. I am not aiming to be unpopular. I am aiming to get good results, and sometimes you need to stick your elbows out to get those results.
“What matters to me is the results and what the stewards say. This year I have only had one penalty from a driving incident, so it means I am not that bad.”
Magnussen's Mexican Grand Prix
Haas can be up and down at the best of times, such is the team’s inexperience and the sensitive nature of the tricky Pirelli tyres. It was nowhere in Mexico City, where both Magnussen and team-mate Romain Grosjean qualified on the back row, behind even the perennially uncompetitive Saubers.
But a host of grid penalties and various incidents and retirements early in the race propelled Magnussen up to seventh. Once Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari came back past, Magnussen’s mission over the second half of the race was to hang on for an unlikely points finish.
He fended off the McLaren-Honda of Fernando Alonso and the Mercedes of world champion Lewis Hamilton to finish an excellent eighth in a very difficult car. The team reckoned it was the “perfect” drive from Magnussen.
“How he was able to do that I don’t know,” says team boss Gunther Steiner. “The weekend didn’t start good – we seemed to be struggling everywhere – and all of a sudden he pulls this out of the bag.
“Perfect start – it’s quite amazing how good he is on the starts – and he was confident. Every time we had an engine issue and needed some management – it’s distracting, but he stayed calm. He got in a place where sometimes in life nothing can go wrong.”
Power scored ‘only’ three wins this season, one fewer than last year, and was only fifth in the championship, but those stats belie the fact that he was back to his best after a 2016 dogged by health/fitness issues (it’s a long story). In 2017, he looked trim, enthusiastic, and the regular knife-between-the-teeth qualifying runs were back, resulting in six pole positions.
He was by no means flawless. Two of his four (!) lap one shunts were his fault, his restarts were mediocre unless he was at the front and controlling the pace, he was slower than his Penske team-mates in qualifying on occasion (Helio Castroneves at Road America, Simon Pagenaud in Toronto) and he was caught napping by Josef Newgarden in the race at Mid-Ohio.
But the wins at GP Indy, Texas and Pocono were masterful, cruel luck robbed him of at least a couple more, and he remains the fastest in the series.
Power’s Pocono 500 comeback
Moments after taking fourth place from Tony Kanaan on lap 63 of 200 in a typically frantic Pocono drafting battle, Will Power felt the front wing of his #12 Penske-Chevrolet collapse – fortunately on a straight. He limped to the pits and lost a lap as it was changed. Later, as he swerved to avoid the sliding Schmidt Peterson-Honda of James Hinchcliffe, a chasing car tore up the endplate of Power’s rear wing, necessitating a replacement.
But a caution period fell while he was pitting, which got him back on the lead lap and another yellow fell soon after, allowing him to hit pitlane for more fuel top-ups. As the other fast cars peeled into the pits, Power was in the lead and setting a scorching pace, and after the final stops, only teammate Josef Newgarden was able to catch up. The American couldn’t break the Aussie’s defenses, and Power earned his second straight Pocono win, and the 32nd victory in his Indycar career.
Two wins and all anybody remembers is a hedge, a car park and three words from Killarney. Jesus Christ Kris.
On the start line of the final stage of Rally Mexico, Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle led by 37 seconds. Twelve minutes later they were in a car park heading, ironically, for the beer tent. They made it out. Just. A win remained a win.
Months later, Meeke stepped up to accept an award for the magic moment of the season at the WRC Gala evening in Sydney.
“It was a mistake rather than a magic moment,” he said. “I still cringe every time I see that, but I think it’s one that will live in the memory of the WRC for quite a while. Thanks to Paul for those wise words… He was a passenger just as much as me. None of us was in control and “Jesus Christ Kris” doesn’t tell you where to go!”
Co-driving for Kris MeekeBy David Evans
Co-driving. How hard can it be? If you can sit down you’re halfway there and if you can read, job done. That was what I told Paul Nagle after a glass of red wine the night before I replaced him in the seat alongside Kris Meeke.
The next morning I was, sort of, wishing I hadn’t been quite so bold; I’d got the sitting down bit sorted. It was just the reading I was struggling with. Seriously, I can read. And I thought I could read pacenotes. I’d done a half-decent job on the odd occasion I’d accompanied folk through the forest before – I’d even managed to get Stephane Peterhansel through a Dakar test. Admittedly, there hadn’t been any dunes – or even any junctions – but we didn’t get lost. Or crash.
I’m genuinely afraid both might be about to happen.
"Don’t forget to change your tone of voice. And speak clearly. But don’t shout."Paul Nagle - Kris Meeke's co-driver
And now Nagle’s back. And he’s got a bit more to say.
I’ll shut the door. That’ll help. Hmm, strapped firmly into Citroen’s C3 WRC, I can’t even reach my own pocket, let alone the door. I’ll put my crash helmet on instead. Block him out that way.
“Watch these bits,” Nagle grins, leaning into the car and pointing to a couple of ‘fives’ in the notes. “You’ll be really moving there and it’s so important you get him slowed down for that slower corner coming up. Don’t forget to change your tone of voice. And speak clearly. But don’t shout.”
And now it’s coming from the other side too.
“Sorted?” says Meeke with a stern look on his face. “I need these notes, I haven’t been around here much and you know when you’ve got notes coming, as a driver, you follow them instinctively…”
“It’s true. Now come on, give me the first note.”
This really is happening. More than ever I’m regretting following up my appraisal of the work of a co-driver with a jovial recollection of the story about world champion drivers being accompanied by the ‘World Passenger Champion.’
Not even my mate Scott Martin found that one funny. No sense of humour some people.
“Watch the clock,” Meeke tells me.
What? You’ve just asked for the first note – which is it buster? One or the other, only got one pair of eyes on this side of the car…
“Three hundred, four-right tightens over crest,” I tell him.
Oops… Fortunately, KM’s noticed the clock ticking down, pulled first at 10 seconds and flicked us into ‘stage’ mode at three seconds. That reminded me.
“Two, one, go!”
Rubber digs dirt and drop-kicks us towards the horizon.
Crikey. Alright, Mr Shouty.
I’d read this thing about 10 times and could recite the first couple of pages of notes off by heart. Yet I’d fluffed the first line.
“Three hundred right!”
What? Was that me? Did I really say that? I did, didn’t I.
So far, you might have the impression that I haven’t taken the job of co-driving Meeke terribly seriously. Actually, I have. After the recce, I’ve watched the video and taken advice from Scotty and Paul; lots of it – once they forgave me for the whole Bordeaux-fuelled World Passenger thing.
They were both brilliant, even if it did get slightly complicated when I tried to read Scott’s Craig Breen notes. Both Breen and Meeke use a number system: one to six. Meeke follows the old Colin McRae plan of linking the speed-indicating number to gears; one is slow (first gear) and six is fast (sixth gear).
Breen’s system is the complete opposite, six being a virtual hairpin.
I’m going through Scott’s notes and converting them. What can go wrong?
Scott: “So that’s a six left there.”
“Six? No, no, no, I meant one. It’s a one left.”
Repeat this three or four times and it’s remarkable how one person can find something so unamusing while, for others, it just gets funnier and funnier.
Where was I? Ah, yes, confusing 300 for three left. Or was it right? You get the gist of my problem. But I was genuinely confused. I’d read this thing about 10 times and could recite the first couple of pages of notes off by heart. Yet I’d fluffed the first line.
I had to pick this thing up. I offered a nervous laugh, apologised and gave Kris an affectionate, let’s-not-let-this-spoil-our-relationship kind of pat on the arm. That didn’t go well. He’d pulled fourth and we were hammering towards a long-ish right.
“What’s coming?” he shouted in a very much don’t-touch-me-again kind of way.
That was it. I started reading.
“Thirty one left opens into late hairpin right 30 one left short 80 two right minus 50 five right tightens…”
My sentence was interrupted.
“Slow down! You’re way ahead of me,” Meeke said.
My response probably wasn’t typical of his previous co-drivers.
“Crack on then!”
It was then that it dawned on me, this wasn’t going very well. In all honesty, it didn’t get much better. We did some skids, got back to the team and I got out. Slightly chastened.
I was humiliated.
On the upside. I didn’t throw up.
On the downside, Nagle was waiting for me.
I made a half-hearted attempt at being upbeat, but the look Meeke shot me told its own tale. Kris really was quite uncharitable about my efforts. I would have settled for the line which became something of an annual anthem to my school report: “He could do better.”
It was nothing like as upbeat.
Fortunately, I found a bowl of Haribo cola bottles and took solace in them.
Over an understandably lonely lunch, news is delivered. It’s good and bad. Turns out the video thing hasn’t videoed. That’s the good news: there’s now no record of my incompetence.
The bad news is they’re giving me another go. And this time they’re going to press the record button.
“Come on,” says Meeke with a grin, “what’s the worst that can happen?”
Seriously torn between some sort of prawn toast-type arrangement and the seat beside the Rally Spain winner… I go for both and clamber aboard, pacenote book in one hand, lunch in the other.
“This time,” he says, “don’t just blabber it all out. Feel what the car’s doing, call the next corner when we’re halfway down the straight. Think of being a corner and a half ahead.”
That’s fine, but what if we’re going really fast down a short straight? When then? And who counts time in corners? Or corners and a half?
Enough. Enough with the nonsense. Let’s just get on with it.
Startline. Deep breath.
Meeke flicks a switch and buries the throttle. We’re ready to launch.
And we’re gone.
In all honesty, the launch isn’t too violent. In the time since my last attempt, Meeke has done a few more runs and the road’s started to cut up off the line. Sticky slicks on a baking Spanish startline would undoubtedly rearrange my insides. But initial wheelspin is countered by electronic French trickery and we’re soon picking up gears and speed at a staggering rate.
This time I’ve delivered line one at roughly the right time and in the right place.
“Three hundred, four-right tightens over crest.”
Looking at the note, I remembered Nagle’s advice about underlining (“Anything underlined needs to be read as one sentence…”). Oops. There’s a bit more to come.
Just as we’re heading into the four right, I repeat the call.
“Four-right tightens over crest for 100, tightens two-right at sign.”
By the time I’ve got that out, we’re halfway down the hundred and KM’s a touch too quick into the next corner.
“Quicker!” he barks.
Kris makes that funny noise again. The one that makes me think he’s not entirely committing to what I’m telling him.
This time I don’t panic. I call the next corner, but actually process what it means.
One left, short. That’s a first-gear corner. That means we’ll be going slowly. Silently, I look at the next line, which starts with 80 – that buys me a nanosecond. Deliver. Next one? Second gear corner, keep it steady. Hairpin, again, no need to gabble. Get through the corner, look up, check and talk.
It’s making sense. Now for the quicker stuff with some fourth and fifth-gear corners. Again, I just keep myself in check.
I’ve got it. Well actually, I haven’t. But I’m definitely less bad. I’ve started to understand that it’s about using all the senses; feeling the direction change through the seat, taking in the speed and looking up to find out where we are.
The stage slows again with: “One right and one left narrows under bridge.”
As we pass beneath the bridge, I decide to be even more helpful.
“There’s the bridge!”
Kris makes that funny noise again. The one that makes me think he’s not entirely committing to what I’m telling him.
We swirl into an intentional spin to take us back down the same road and he’s heard enough. He grabs a gear, then my book and throws it away.
I like to think he’s laughing with me at this point.
With nothing to do, I sit back and enjoy, helpfully pointing out Yves Matton standing on top of a hill.
Fortunately for Kris, even without my pacenote book, I’m able to deliver what I see as genuinely helpful information.
“Don’t crash in front of Yves!”
All too soon, we’re done.
I wasn’t perfect. Not even nearly, but for a couple of corners I got it right and that feeling was special.
“That actually wasn’t too bad,” says Meeke. “Better than the first time. That time you were better than James May.”
That’ll do for me.
Once again I extricate myself from the car and go in search of Haribo, only to find Nagle and Martin waiting for me.
My respect for them has gone through the roof. I tell them about understanding the timing and delivery a bit more and Paul offers: “That’s fine, but wait until you get somewhere like Corsica…”
Scotty picks up: “… you just don’t stop talking. It’s corner, corner, corner all the time.”
Heaven forbid, what do you do if you lose your place?
Martin: “The first thing is not to panic. Let the driver know and he’ll start calling the notes to you, then you have to find your place very, very quickly.”
Being the best of the best, that doesn’t happen to these boys. But what does sometimes happen is when there’s been an incident in the stage, the odd occasion when they’ve had to deal with, oh, I don’t know, a trip into a car park at the end of a stage in Mexico...
Watch that bit back. Nagle doesn’t miss a beat when they’re back on the road. He’s straight back into the notes, right on cue.
What amazes me is the commitment from the co-drivers. After my recce with Kris, my four or five pages of notes were a real mess, that’s what comes from trying to write when your driver can’t keep the car still. Showing them to Scott, he asked me if I was going to rewrite them.
I gave him the look I reserve for my wife when she asks if I really need that extra roast potato.
He gave me the look my wife gives me when I eat the potato.
“You’ve got to rewrite them,” he says. “You can’t afford to not be able to read anything in the stage. It’s got to be completely clear. All the short hand and symbols we use, they become second nature. If you have to stop for a moment to think: ‘What does that say?’ or ‘What does that mean?’ You could be in real trouble. Co-driving is so instinctive.”
Yeah, yeah, I get all of that, and I’m totally committed to getting this right. But seriously? Re-writing all four pages?
“I rewrite every note we make on the recce,” he says. “I probably don’t need to, but I still do it all the time. Every note.”
Fine. Bloody fine. I’ll rewrite the sodding things.
He’s so right. Had I gone with the original notes, it would have been a disaster. OK, a total disaster.
I wasn’t perfect. Not even nearly, but for a couple of corners I got it right and that feeling was special.
But the highest praise came when I asked Kris for an honest comparison with Nagle.
“You were definitely better in one area,” he says. I genuinely hadn’t expected that. I felt like hugging him.
“When you say ‘three’ it doesn’t sound like ‘tree’.”
It’s fair to say my team-mates for the day found that funnier than I did.
So, with a handful of Haribo, I bade them farewell.
Lamborghini factory ace Bortolotti was the standout driver in the Blancpain GT Series in 2017, leading Grasser Racing to the overall and Endurance Cup titles after four successive victories across the Monza, Brands Hatch and Silverstone weekends.
Involved in the development of the Huracan GT3 since the start, the Austro-Italian has shown the car to be a competitive force since its first year in 2015, but too often was let down by factors outside his control. Aside from a throttle damper failure at Spa when in the thick of the fight, that all changed this year. Racing at Dubai, Daytona and Sebring prior to the European season helped Grasser iron out any issues, and having the underrated Christian Engelhart as his co-driver only seemed to spur him on.
Two standout moments stick in the memory. Correcting an Eau Rouge tank-slapper on the first lap at Spa was sublime, but his Q3 stunner to take pole on the Brands GP loop by a full half second was even better.
Bortolotti looks back on his year
In addition to his Blancpain GT campaign, Bortolotti contested a partial ADAC GT Masters season in Germany, entered the Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours, the Dubai 24 Hours and the FIA GT World Cup in Macau, totalling 20 weekends in all.
There were plenty of special moments this year, but which was the most important in shaping your championship challenge?
We managed to have a run of wins and that was the foundation of the titles, because after Silverstone we didn’t win for the rest of the season. It was important to take those results when we were on top, especially in the cooler races in the beginning of the season. When it started to get hot, we were struggling a bit more, so I would say that a very important weekend was Budapest. We didn’t win, but we finished second and third which put us in a really good position for the overall championship.
Did you do anything differently this year to last?
If I look at 2015 and 2016, there were some performances that were better than what I did in 2017, but we never managed to bring home the results we deserved. In 2015 I had two poles, one in 2016 and two this year as well, so I’m really happy that I could match those performances and grow in myself, but it was many other factors that made a step so that we could fight for the title.
Everyone inside the team grew up, we added two very good drivers [Engelhart and Andrea Caldarelli for the Endurance races] and the whole package improved. We started working on this very early and we went testing in winter to be prepared. If you consider the last round of 2016, we actually won three Endurance races in a row.
Was this your most satisfying season to date?
The titles from 2017 are extremely satisfying if I take into account the fact that I was there from day one, working on that project from nowhere to more or less the highest level you can get in GT3 racing.
I’ve invested myself completely into this, I wanted it really bad and I’m really satisfied that we managed to do it. But I’m not the only guy that works – everyone is working so hard and that makes it even more satisfying because you are competing with the highest levels of GT teams and drivers.
“It’s impossible not to talk about slippers isn’t it…” that was Dan Barritt just after shakedown in Monte Carlo this year. He and Elfyn Evans were back together again. In his season on the naughty step, Evans had won the British Rally Championship with Craig Parry, but now they were back in the big time. And back together again.
Fast forward a season and Barritt’s just been spun around and around and around outside Marks and Spencer in Llandudno. And that’s a good thing. They’d won Wales Rally GB, their first WRC success together.
“The change in him is remarkable,” said Barritt. “I knew from the start of the season how he’d grown and matured, but it’s been amazing to see it up close. He’s a very different driver and a different person from the one I left in 2015. He’s ready now. I think we both are.”
Couldn’t agree more.
There are a number of reasons why Jamie Whincup’s seventh Supercars title is his finest; firstly, he had to win the crown with what was the second fastest car in the field. There’s no doubt that the DJR Team Penske package was significantly superior over a lap, and marginally better over a race distance.
It meant Whincup and his crew had to dig deep to overcome an in-form Scott McLaughlin, and do so with an engineering department spread incredibly thin thanks to the simultaneous development of the new Commodore (led by Whincup’s race engineer David Cauchi). It was a poorly-timed distraction given Penske’s upswing in speed, and one that makes Whincup’s grinding title win all the more impressive.
The big thing, though, is the personal sacrifices he made to win that seventh title; for example Whincup called off his engagement late last year to focus on what was going to be a tough 2017 season. Big call, but that’s how badly he wanted that silverware.
There wasn't much to choose between the six Porsche LMP1 drivers over the 2017 World Endurance Championship, but Bernhard gets the nod for a spot in the Top 50 — along with Formula 1 debutant Brendon Hartley – because he was again a rock of consistency. The German should be regarded as one of the foundation stones on which the success of the 919 Hybrid project was founded.
He was as super consistent in 2017 as ever on the way to a second world title: Bernhard doesn't appear to have off days. He was also stellar at the Le Mans 24 Hours as the drivers of the #2 Porsche attempted to make up the ground they had lost in their successful chase of the leading LMP2 car.
It was somehow fitting that Bernhard should be at the wheel of one of the 919s at finish at its final race in Bahrain, because he was the first to drive the car back in the summer of 2013. Bernhard played a big part in the success of the 919 in general and his car in particular.
This was one of the more impressive Felipe Massa seasons in his four-year stint with Williams, having postponed a short-lived retirement to replace Mercedes-bound Valtteri Bottas. Massa certainly left a strong impression on new technical chief Paddy Lowe.
“I’ve only really observed him from a distance, but it’s been a real pleasure to work with him,” says Lowe. “Firstly, he’s always happy in his work - always cheerful, always enthusiastic. Then, in the car, completely dependable.
“There are a lot of drivers who have bad days and then you don’t know where you are. In our case, we needed that reference, [or] we’d have been a bit lost, so he’s been great for the team and a great support to Lance by being so consistent, and also literally helping Lance - he’s given him quite a lot of coaching, a lot of important advice around techniques for different things, whether it’s warming tyres or tactics.”
Felipe Massa on his final F1 season
You’ve had a strong year, enjoyed driving the cars, said you wanted to stay in F1 at one point, do you feel you should be getting another shot?
Now it’s OK man – it’s fine for me. I wanted to stay because I was feeling I was doing really a great job, and I always said I want to stay if I stay [with a team going] in the direction I wanted to stay. If teams and people didn’t see that, I’m ready to go – and I’m happy to go as well.
What has the team’s feedback been on your performances this year?
I think you need to ask them. I’m sure they need to have a good driver to replace me! Otherwise, it will not be very great.
This seems a key point for the team with its big ambitions – there was a big gap between you and Stroll most of the time, so it’s not like they can rely on him yet.
“But if the team cannot see that what should I do? That’s the way it is. Sometimes, the talent doesn’t count compared to some other things. Unfortunately, sometimes this is a little bit of a shame in Formula 1.
In some ways, this bonus season is also related to money, in that Mercedes paid Williams to take Bottas, which allowed you to come back.
It’s true, but definitely I think the job I am doing – I am quite happy with my season. Unfortunately, in some of the races, even where Lance scored a lot of points, I was in front of him, ready to score points, and I had a lot of unlucky moments. Nothing you can do. But anyway, I’m happy with my season, happy with everything I did this year, I’m really happy the way I’m driving the car, taking the best out of the car most of the time.
Where are you going to go – to Formula E?
To home – to my sofa!
It’s very unusual to have these consecutive retirements.
For the moment it feels normal. Maybe next year when the season starts it will feel [strange], but I’m happy. I have nothing to regret.
For an idea of just how good Sam Bird can be, just look at his pass on Jean-Eric Vergne from the opening round of the 2017/18 Formula E season in Hong Kong. His pass on a driver who is arguably the championship’s most aggressive defensive driver, was masterful.
It was a reminder that when it all comes together he is in the same league as a Sebastien Buemi or Lucas di Grassi. Bird has diversified his talents in recent years, and is now a mainstay of Ferrari’s World Endurance Championship attack in GTE, winning two races with Davide Rigon and helping secure the teams’ title.
Unsurprisingly for a driver constantly focused on improving, prior to the Hong Kong FE weekend he rated his year “a 6/10, maybe a 6.5”. Maybe he could be persuaded to mark that up to a 7 after leaving Asia with the championship lead, as an early Christmas present to himself.
Formula E’s master of numbers
In Formula E, numbers are king: battery state of charge, battery temperature, gaps to the car in front and behind, power output, energy harvesting values.
It is, by all measures, a complex category. And in the land of the brainiacs there is arguably no driver as invested in the data as Bird.
“There’s a lot to manage and he’s really good that side of things, keeping cool and calm, doing the driving on autopilot and being able to have conversations,” says his DS Virgin Racing engineer Mike Lugg. “Sometimes we might talk non-stop for an entire lap. We’re chatting about strategy, temperature management, things like that. There’s a lot of back and forth.”
Lugg started working with Bird last season, and reckons that one of Bird’s biggest attributes is that “when it comes down to the crunch, you can rely on him” – and knows the difference between relaying information to the engineer and getting too involved.
“He’s happy that his job is the driving bit and he gives the feedback and leaves it to me to look into stuff,” says Lugg. “When he’s in the car, he’s quite decisive with things. When things do go wrong, things change, he’s quite good at immediately jumping on the new target he has to achieve.
“A lot of that comes from us spending a lot of time on the simulator and going through all possible scenarios. It’s a matter of he knows that if something happens, he does ‘this’.”
Bird says he has no trouble driving while on the radio because “the more information I can give and they can give me, I prefer it”.
“I don’t drive any slower if I’m on the radio, it doesn’t affect me,” he says. “In this championship you need to adapt, the steering wheel’s not straight very often. I want to know what the guy behind is like on energy, what his pace is like, if we think they’ll go a lap longer or shorter, if I need to look after temperatures. Whatever I need to have a better race than I’m having.”
James Calado took up where he left off at the end of last year in the 2017 World Endurance Championship. He had arguably already become the complete sportscar driver, but the difference was that he now didn't have Gianmaria Bruni alongside him in the lead factory AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE.
It would be wrong to suggest that the Briton somehow stepped into the shoes of the erstwhile team leader at Ferrari after Bruni's defection to Porsche, but he did everything that was required of him in 2017. Together with team-mate Alessandro Pier Guidi, the 28-year-old extracted everything every time from a car that was the most consistent performer in GTE Pro across the season.
Calado's performances made him a worthy world champion, and he backed them up with more strong drives in the Blancpain GT Series enduros and a couple of IMSA cameos. He might yet go on to become the next Bruni.