Garry Rogers Motorsport has stunned the world of Supercars by dumping veteran and former champion Garth Tander for the 2019 season, all but certainly ending his full-time driving career.
The 41-year-old only recently spoke of how he was planning to scale back on his extra-curricular racing outside of Supercars so he can focus solely on the series this year.
However, if he is to do that then it will no longer be with GRM after they announced Richie Stanaway as his replacement after he was in turn dropped by Tickford Racing in December, despite having a year still left of his contract.
Tander was set to be the oldest person on the starting grid this year following the retirement of Craig Lowndes and revealed in a recent interview with Supercars.com that he was jokingly warned to not quit by Garry Rogers following the Holden legend’s announcement.
“Straight after Craig’s announcement in Townsville, Garry came and found me and the first thing he said to me was ‘don’t get any ideas!’” he said last month. “They told me they want me to hang around for a bit longer.”
However it turns out not too much longer and despite the two parties’ agreement to prolong their relationship Tander now finds himself out of the door.
Lowndes’ amazing career
In an official statement, Tander said about the decision: “I’m grateful for the start that Garry gave me in Supercars and understand his decision to end my full-time driving career. I’m now going to take a deep breath and consider my future that won’t be at GRM. I wish the team well for the future.”
Rogers himself expressed his regret at not being able to give Tander a hero’s send-off similar to the one Lowndes received with the 2007 champion instead being shuffled out the back door during the off-season.
“It obviously comes as a surprise to most that Garth will not be driving at GRM in 2019,” he said. “On Garth’s return to GRM in 2017 he was guaranteed two years of full-time driving and a management role following that.
“There were many aspects to my decision including that Garth was nearing the end of his career and has expressed that 2019 could be his final full-time season as a driver.
“I was very conscious of the fact that I would be both the one that started and ended Garth’s full-time Supercar career and this weighed heavily on me.
“In a perfect world I would absolutely have loved to give Garth the send-off that a champion deserves, but I never lost sight that motorsport, although centred around the driver, is about the team and not any one individual.”
Stanaway will join James Golding this season while the team also announced Boost Mobile will continue as their naming-rights partner in a new multi-year deal.
Few expected Ricciardo to light up the timesheets in his new Renault on Saturday.
Qualifying 12th, however, was undoubtedly a few positions below the mark.
The Australian put his hand up after qualifying, admitting he left some time out on the track. He missed Q3 by just 0.038 seconds, and was outqualified by his teammate Nico Hulkenberg by just 0.008.
Had he made it through, eighth position would have been on the cards, with McLaren driver Lando Norris taking the spot in Q3 with a time just 0.266 seconds quicker than Ricciardo on a more evolved track.
Nonetheless, the 29-year-old can see the positive to his disappointing Saturday, and explained why he’s in a good position for race day.
“Normally, if I don’t do so well in qualifying, I seem to carry a chip on my shoulder for the race which helps me out, so I will use it as fuel for tomorrow,” he told Sky Sports.
“I was more comfortable in the car today. I don’t think 12th is a representation of where we are, I feel we are better.
“The changes we made today have me more confident for tomorrow … I’m very optimistic for the race it’s just a matter of if we can pass and attack.”
Mercedes have never warmed to being earmarked as the fastest team after pre-season testing.
From the drivers to the team principal, the team has always preferred to point fingers elsewhere when asked before race one who has the fastest car.
Last year we were led to believe Ferrari were the quickest, as we were this year, too.
But either Mercedes are liars or Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel is far from his best, because the Silver Arrows appear to be title favourites once again.
Even if Ferrari do have the faster package, five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton continuously finds a way to gain the upper hand, as he did comfortably on Saturday.
Hamilton will lead the pack for the season opener after setting a record time of 1.20.486, 0.112 seconds ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas. Vettel finished qualifying a distant third (+0.704), and his teammate Charles Leclerc fifth (+0.956).
Hamilton also equalled the record for the most pole positions at a single circuit, making it eight in Melbourne. Only legends Ayrton Senna (Imola) and Michael Schumacher (Suzuka) have claimed eight at one track.
Indeed, it once again appears as if either Ferrari’s testing pace was over-estimated, Mercedes were sandbagging, or both.
Hamilton, however, insists the gap to the Ferraris has come a surprise.
“It’s a real shock,” he said. “But I know Ferrari will be pushing hard tomorrow and they will put up a good fight.”
GASLY MUST LEARN QUICKLY
Ricciardo’s Red Bull replacement got off to a nightmare start to his career with his new team after crashing out at the first stage of qualifying.
Red Bull have struggled for pace all weekend but the theory was they were waiting for the perfect moment to use their ‘party mode’ with the new Honda engine.
But if they were waiting to use that, then they waited too long as Gasly could only manage 17th in Q1, meaning that is where he will start on the grid.
The 24-year-old qualified last on the grid in his first Melbourne experience last year and only lasted 13 laps on track and his torrid time at Albert Park continued on Saturday afternoon.
Red Bull only failed to qualify from Q1 once in the whole of last season and that was because Max Verstappen crashed his car into the wall at Monaco.
Verstappen himself could only manage P10 after the first qualifying session too as question marks were beginning to get asked of Red Bull.
Joining Gasly in being eliminated in Q1 were Williams duo Robert Kubica and George Russell, McLaren’s Carlos Sainz and Racing Point’s Lance Stroll.
WILLIAMS HAVE FOUND ROCK BOTTOM
Williams have slipped through the mid-table net and will start the 2019 season as F1’s slowest team.
The English outfit have a brand new driver line-up, recruiting homegrown 21-year-old George Russell and miracle man Robert Kubica, who last raced in F1 in 2010 before a rally crash almost claimed his life.
Both are great individual stories and their places on the grid at Albert Park should be celebrated. But those places will be 19th and 20th – second-to-last and dead last respectively.
Williams were miles off the pace in all three practice sessions, too. Both drivers were more than four seconds off the pace in FP1 and then more than three seconds in FP2.
That shows their lack of speed in qualifying was an accurate representation of their struggles, and that there may be a long season ahead.
Russell could still see the funny side after practice, saying tongue-in-cheek that there is still a chance of Williams winning in Melbourne.
“Best case is everybody crashes at turn one, and we come through leading the race and we go on to finish for a one-two and celebrate in style. I don’t know, that’s the best case,” he said.
“Worst case, and probably most realistic, is we’ll qualify on the back row and probably finish the race there as well.”
THE MIDFIELD BATTLE IS TIGHT
Despite his blistering speed, Hamilton believes the gap between all but the bottom four runners is the tightest it’s been in a long time.
“It’s amazing to see how close the top 16 are,” he said.
“There was a second between us all at one point so that’s a real positive for rule regulations.”
The top five ended the day comfortably clear of the rest in qualifying, but there is some evidence pointing to a tight midfield battle.
In Q2, there was only half a second splitting seventh-placed Kevin Magnussen, and 15th placed Daniil Kvyat.
The tight margins made for an intriguing mid-qualifying battle, with even the slightest of errors having big repercussions on the time sheet.
And when you consider a McLaren and a Red Bull were eliminated in Q1, while their other cars made it to Q3, it becomes clearer how tight the margins are through the field.
Only Williams are noticeably slower than the midfield teams.
Welcome to FOX SPORTS’ live coverage of the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix from Albert Park in Melbourne.
Daniel Ricciardo will be back in the seat of his Renault after struggling to get into it during FP2 on Friday as he was forced to miss a chunk of the session after the straps in the car wouldn’t tighten sufficiently.
He did eventually get out on track but managed only the eighth quickest lap of the session, one place behind his teammate Nico Hulkenberg.
The two Mercedes’ were the quickest on Friday, ahead of the two Red Bulls, but it was the pace of the Ferraris which will be intriguing on Saturday after claims they were holding something back in FP1 and 2.
Saturday’s F1 schedule:
14.00-15.00: Free Practice 3
17.00-18.00: Qualifying for Australian Grand Prix
You can watch all of the action on FOX SPORTS 506 or on Kayo Sports.
Alternatively, follow all the goings on from Albert Park with our live blog below…
Will Lewis Hamilton continue to close on Michael Schumacher’s title record?
Damon Hill: “I think it’s doable, but it’s not going to be easy. This season is looking very much like it’s going to be a very tough battle for Mercedes. They weren’t the quickest in Testing, but then Testing is very much a phony war. We won’t really know until we get to Melbourne and, even then, we won’t really know because it’s a 21-race championship.”
Martin Brundle: “They always say they don’t care about the statistics but it’s not true, they do. They know the numbers and I’m sure Lewis Hamilton wants to leave the sport with a new high tide mark in every department in terms of statistics. To beat Hamilton and Mercedes over the course of a full season is a really hard thing to do, they’ve got the stamina and they seem to find extra speed and determination as the season unfolds. You wouldn’t hesitate to put some money on Hamilton taking his sixth title.”
Johnny Herbert: “From what we saw in Testing the motivation is there. If he’s on the grid he’s going to do the best he possibly can and that mindset means winning races and going for another world championship. It’s going to be really interesting to see how he deals with probably a battle with Ferrari and Red Bull, but Lewis will thoroughly enjoy this because he loves wheel-to-wheel combat.”
Anthony Davidson: “It’s almost harder when you’ve got the fastest car to remain at the top rather than to have a target to aim for to get the better of your competition. They’ve won five championships back to back and so the car has been the target for everyone to beat. I think it’s going to be a very tough championship.”
Ricciardo and Renault: How will it go?
Herbert: “He’s probably going to be best of the rest. I’m not sure they’ve got enough speed to go to Australia thinking they are going to get on the podium because we know how strong Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull are. But they do seem to have made progress over the winter and they seem to have a pretty good car. We’re going to have to wait and see how the engine side has improved, if it has.”
Di Resta: “Where are Renault going to fall into this midfield battle? They really have to go to Australia with a reliable car and have a development path that’s going to, very quickly before the European season, make an impact in this championship.”
Will Vettel and Ferrari be stronger in 2019?
Herbert: “One thing that has been a bit of a problem for Sebastian is the pressure on his shoulders. The pressure of Ferrari, the media in Italy and the fans with their expectation, that’s a massive load on a driver’s shoulders. As a team, you’ve got to be able to take that off and that hasn’t been the case. But now with Arrivabene moving on and Binotto moving in, Sebastian seems much happier. And when you’ve got a happy driver, particularly a four-time world champion, you’ve got a pretty difficult man to beat. I think Sebastian will be in a completely different zone.”
Hill: “He needs a reliable car and one that maintains its development trajectory because they lost their way a little bit last year. Together with one or two mistakes from Sebastian they kind of threw away the championship. I think Mercedes know that and they are very clear that nothing is going to be a walkover. But the Ferrari does look very good. Vettel would love to have five titles just like Lewis and he’s got a really tempting target to shoot for.”
Brundle: “It does appear the grid might be chasing a red car this year rather than a silver car. It seems Ferrari have the upper hand but we know that it’s an arms race, and it will be relentless arms battle between Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes.”
Di Resta: “Vettel is now that one championship behind Hamilton now and he needs to be at the top of his game. I think Ferrari are providing the stability in the car he needs at the moment.”
Can Max Verstappen and Red Bull challenge?
Brundle: “Verstappen is pretty special. If the car is capable of winning he’ll win in it. They’ve gone to Honda engines who have had a few problems in recent years but they’re very pleased with how Testing went – reliability was tremendous for them so let’s hope it stays this way. If Red Bull and Honda don’t win a few races this year, it’ll be a shocker and I’d be amazed. I really expect them to be title challengers in 2020, without any doubt.”
Davidson: “Red Bull can maintain a challenge, like they did at the end of last season. They won some races with the Renault engine which definitely wasn’t the best engine out there, it had a deficit of around 50 horsepower we believe to the two top power units. Honda have been working all through the winter, and with Toro Rosso last season as well.
“Red Bull are a bit of a question mark. They had an up and down Testing period in Barcelona. Pierre Gasly had a few mistakes and crashed the car, to the extent where they couldn’t get a lot of long runs done and the teams couldn’t really analyse their performance.”
DiResta: “Where Verstappen finished last year was quite something. With Honda in Testing they have looked very reliable and it looks like that decision to go with them was the right one, they’ve got a manufacturer behind them now. I would like to see Verstappen on the top step of the podium come Australia, it would be a great thing for F1, but I get the feeling at the moment it’s going to be Ferrari in that strong position.”
Hill: “He’s a very exciting driver and takes a lot of risks and sometimes that doesn’t pay off. But we’re very excited with Max in the mix because he’s a real racer. He needs a car that can compete at the front and the car does look quick. He’s an outside chance for the championship but you never know with Formula 1.”
Who’s going to top the midfield?
Davidson: “You have a really fascinating mix and, honestly, I don’t know who’s got the best car out of Renault, Toro Rosso, Alfa Romeo, Racing Point, McLaren and Haas. We’ve seen that Williams are lacking behind the midfield pack.
“I think the driver is going to make the difference in that block of six teams fighting it out.”
How will the young drivers fare?
Brundle: “This year, we’ve got young drivers coming in and they’re the best-prepared ever in the history of Formula 1 in terms of their speed, their fitness and every single aspect that they need to do. I think we’re about to see the changing of the guard in Formula 1 in the next year or two.
“Charles Leclerc has moved to Ferrari, which I think is going to be one of the stories of the season. Then you’ve got Lando Norris, George Russell, Alex Albon, and Robert Kubica comes back to Formula 1 after eight years out of the sport. That’s a fairytale story but I think it’s going to be a tall order for Robert to fight the youngsters.”
This article was taken from Sky Sports with permission.