🇺🇸 F1'24: R6: Very Clearly, A Resounding Bounceback

Away from the big news, VCARB is making moves

Obviously I wrote about Norris not winning a race last time out didn’t I. Well done me. Lando Norris broke his duck on the 110th attempt for McLaren, taking the chequered flag from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by seven seconds. It means CarLando are the two drivers to win a race this season that are not the current World Champion, and Norris is the first British driver to win since George Russell in Brazil 2022.

If you wanted to do that by British monarchs, and why wouldn’t you, Russell and Norris won in the Charles III era. The last two British winners of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign were Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.

The win is McLaren’s first since Daniel Ricciardo led him and Norris in a 1-2 at Monza 2021, and while this would be tempting to reel off 68 different stats about Lando Norris and his victory, I wanted to look a little deeper beyond the madness while everyone is talking about Ricciardo’s old team, whisper it quietly, but it has been a very positive weekend for his current one, the Visa CashApp Racing Bulls - or VCARB for short (while I would rather call them Minardi, it means I can do the acronym joke in the headline, which you got, right?).

(Short disclaimer, I do some work with the VCARB team - none of it affects this article and no non-public information is used. This is all just for fun and I don’t know anything non-public anyway.)

When the name was launched earlier in 2024, ditching the Alpha Tauri name and selling the title rights to Visa and Cash App, the name was not received positively, but has settled now to VCARB and potentially the strongest driver line up the team (in whatever guise) has seen. As the team has positioned itself as a sister, rather than junior team to Red Bull, the lineup has changed from rookies, to those with a bit more experience, even if the aim is to eventually move into the championship-winning outfit.

Yuki Tsunoda has already surpassed his 2021 points total and is on course to score more than his debut season the year before when he took 32, his season high. Daniel Ricciardo, after half a season on the sidelines, gets a full-time drive again, with the popular Aussie running a real-life redemption scenario in trying to shake off a few bad years at McLaren.

And it still hasn’t quite happened for Ricciardo yet. He has picked up five points so far, all of which came from the Miami sprint where he brilliantly held off Carlos Sainz to finish fourth. Unfortunately, he couldn’t replicate that in the race, getting sucked in to the lower end of the order and the battles for 14-17th.

But, it had been a couple of frustrating races for Ricciardo, who had an opening lap crash with Alex Albon in Suzuka and was rear-ended by Lance Stroll in China while under the safety car. A new chassis for Ricciardo has finally been battle-tested and the sprint race shows that there could be potential as the season develops.

One person who is proving that is teammate Yuki Tsunoda. The Japanese driver finished seventh, and picked up a point in the shortened format, moving him above Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin in the standings. The seven-point weekend in Florida doubled his total and puts VCARB in sixth overall. 

@redbullmotorsports

“No sharks here Yuki, don’t worry.” 🦈 #MiamiGP #givesyouwiiings

It feels there is a clear demarcation between the top and bottom halves of the grid and VCARB, Alpine, Williams, Sauber and Haas all see sixth as achievable. Sixth would equal the team’s best-ever finish, equalling what they did in 2008, 2019 and Tsunoda’s first year in 2021. After the driver upheaval last year, finishing eighth, a sixth-place Teams’ Championship finish would represent a vast improvement, especially given the drivers waiting in the wings.

Liam Lawson is one of the most popular drivers who doesn’t actually have a drive.. He stepped in for Ricciardo after his injury last year, taking a pair of points in five races and hearing  calls from the sport’s media to give him a permanent seat in 2024.

@visacashapprb

Setting the scene in Suzuka 🎡 #F1TikTok #JapaneseGP @Liam Lawson

Then there’s Isack Hadjar. The young Frenchman will be on the radar of anyone who watches Formula 2, and his Campos took the feature race win in Melbourne last time F2 turned a wheel in anger. He’s currently behind former Red Bull Juniors Zane Maloney and Dennis Hauger, and current Mercedes junior Paul Aron in the standings. In what would be an embarrassment of riches, what does VCARB do if Hadjar ends up winning Formula 2, locking him out of the series?

But, that’s a question for tomorrow. Right now, team VCARB should be celebrating a weekend where both drivers scored points. The last time this happened was Abu Dhabi 2021 (obviously that was the main headline of that weekend) when Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly finished fourth and fifth. 

VCARB’s issue in the past couple of years has been consistency and scoring points over consecutive races. In fact, the team has not had both drivers score points in consecutive weekend since 2015, when two blokes called Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz both took points at Singapore and Japan. Wonder what happened to them. 

That consistency is what can help them secure sixth. Sauber aren’t settled and their pit stops are killing them. Williams have one driver constantly looking over his shoulder. Haas have been sneaking points through some interesting teamwork and several meetings with the stewards and Alpine - despite picking up their first point of the season - are struggling with their weight (I know the feeling) and have two drivers who are due to collide with each other any time now. The prize of sixth is utterly achievable, if VCARB can keep going.

Formula 1 moves to VCARB’s home race in Imola and the Paddock’s first visit to Europe for 2024. Imola was cancelled last year after Storm Minerva moved in, so it will be interesting to see how the teams take on the historic circuit. While VCARB will hope that home advantage is a thing, McLaren may well be the team to watch again. After bringing several upgrades to Norris’ car, they’ll bring the rest to Piastri’s machine by the team they reach Northern Italy. Of all the drivers on the grid who are yet to win, you wouldn’t find many people who would bet against the Australian being next.

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