Verstappen dominates wet Canadian GP qualifying

Max Verstappen was fastest in all three parts of qualifying as he took his second pole position of the season at the Canadian GP, as his teammate Sergio Perez crashed out in qualifying.

The Mexican driver will have to fight his way up from thirteenth on the grid, as will Charles Leclerc, who starts nineteenth after power unit penalties. Towards the front, it was Verstappen who adapted best to the changeable conditions, as he took pole position by seven tenths of a second from Alpine’s Fernando Alonso, with Carlos Sainz putting his Ferrari third on the grid.

George Russell setting early pace in the wet. Image courtesy of Mercedes Media

Conditions at the start of qualifying were similar to the morning’s free practice session, with visibility extremely limited in the full wet conditions. George Russell set the early pace with a 1:36, over 20 seconds slower than what the cars managed in Friday’s dry running. Impressively, there were no major incidents in the first part of qualifying, but turn one proved to be particularly tricky thanks to a massive puddle on the apex, which stubbornly remained throughout the entirety of qualifying.

Leclerc did get through to the second part of qualifying, which will allow him to start ahead of Yuki Tsunoda, who also has multiple penalties for exceeding his power unit allowance. The biggest shock of the first qualifying stage was the lack of pace from the Aston Martins, especially given that Sebastian Vettel was third in FP3. Both him and Lance Stroll failed to make Q2, along with the two Alpha Tauris and Nicolas Latifi, in his first home race since joining Williams in 2020.

Strategies were mixed at the start of Q2, with the inters proving to be faster, but only if you could keep it on the drying line. Alexander Albon failed to do this into turn six, sliding slowly towards the barrier, but was able to escape with only a broken front wing. Perez, on the other hand, was less lucky. A much harder hit into turn four wedged the Mexican’s wing under the TecPro barrier, bringing out the only red flag of the session, meaning Perez missed out on the top 10 for the first time since the Qatar GP last November.

Once the car had been removed (and the barriers repaired), everyone was out on the intermediates. It was Verstappen who found pace instantly, going 1.3s faster than the field on his first run. As the track continued to dry, and the drivers gained confidence, the lap times plummeted, and it was clear that whoever was the last car across the line would have the best conditions. Unfortunately for Lando Norris, a power unit issue meant he spent most of the session in the pitlane, and once he was out on track all was still not well with the McLaren, meaning the Brit starts in fourteenth. Joining him and Perez on the sidelines for Q3 were Valtteri Bottas, Albon, Perez and Leclerc (who stayed in the pits for the whole of Q2).

Verstappen was fastest out of the blocks again in the top-10 shootout, going more than a second faster than the Spanish duo of Sainz and Alonso, and remaining ahead even after huge improvements on their second laps. Most of the track was dry at this point, apart from the aforementioned standing water into turn one, which discouraged all drivers but one from choosing slick tyres for their final run.  George Russell was the brave individual who went for the soft tyres, but it was clear that the first few corners were just too wet, as his Mercedes slid into the wall at turn two. He was able to continue, but could not improve on his first intermediate run.

The top three on Saturday. Image courtesy of RedBull Content Pool

The final laps looked like being a Red Bull-Ferrari shootout, with Verstappen and Sainz separated by hundredths in the first two sectors. One slight mistake out of the final chicane by Sainz proved to be costly, and allowed Alonso to jump onto the front row for the first time since the German GP in 2012, 3,619 days ago.

Lewis Hamilton put his Mercedes in fourth position, but the surprise package of qualifying was the Haas team, with Kevin Magnussen and Mick Schumacher looking quick throughout, and they shared the third row of the grid, with sixth for Schumacher being a career best. Esteban Ocon was seventh in his Alpine, ahead of Russell, Daniel Ricciardo and Zhou Guanyu, who was delighted to secure his first Q3 appearance in Formula One.

The race is expected to start in dry conditions, but the track may still be ‘green’ given the lack of dry running on Saturday. Verstappen is in the ideal position to extend his championship lead given that his two closest rivals are outside the top 10, and he will certainly be expecting to see the chequered flag first for the fifth time in six races.

Verstappen extends championship lead as Ferrari’s hopes go up in smoke

Max Verstappen extended his championship lead with victory in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, as both Ferraris succumbed to reliability issues.

Sergio Perez came home in second to make it another 1-2 for Red Bull, with George Russell securing his third podium of the season in third place.

The big story of the race though will be the fragile state of the Ferraris, with both Carlos Sainz and polesitter Charles Leclerc retiring before the race distance. Zhou Guanyu and Kevin Magnussen also retired with power unit problems, in what was a worrying day for the Italian manufacturer.

Perez taking advantage of Leclerc’s lock up. Image courtesy of RedBull Content Pool

It was Sergio Perez who led in the early stages, getting a superb start from second on the grid to take the lead into Turn One. A small lock up from Leclerc cost him any chance of getting the move back on the first lap one, as the Mexican driver quickly dropped the Ferrari outside of his DRS range.

Things looked to be settling down before Carlos Sainz’s retirement on lap nine with a hydraulics failure, which led to a Virtual Safety Car. Whilst both Red Bulls stayed out, the majority of the chasing pack, including Leclerc and both Mercedes, opted to pit, giving themselves the option of stretching out a one-stop, or pushing harder and making the two-stop work.

Baking hot conditions meant tyre management would be crucial in Baku, as the track temperatures reached 46 degrees Celsius at the start of the race. Pirelli were clearly concerned as well, raising the minimum tyre pressures to try and negate the risk of punctures, thankfully, there were none of the issues which plagued last years race.

Strangely, it was tyre management which looked to be Sergio Perez’s downfall. His early sprint on the medium tyres took too much out of the tyres, and Verstappen was soon able to catch and overtake the Mexican on lap 15, with Checo being told ‘not to fight’ into turn one. However, it looked unlikely that Perez would have been able to put up much of a defence even if he wanted to.

After the Red Bulls pitted to go onto a conventional one-stop strategy, Charles Leclerc had a comfortable lead, and it looked as the win was still a distinct possibility, even if there was a concern over how well the tyres would last. By lap 20 though, this was a moot point. The Monegasque driver’s engine expired on the pit straight, handing victory to Verstappen and Red Bull.

Further back, it was another solid race from Mercedes, even if they aren’t showing the improvements they would have wanted to. George Russell was in no-mans land for the majority of the race, coming home in a lonely third place. His teammate, Lewis Hamilton, had a much more eventful afternoon though. After losing out in the first VSC because of the double stack, Hamilton spent a lot of his second stint stuck behind traffic, with Esteban Ocon being particularly trick to overtake thanks to the Alpine’s straight line speed.

After clearing the Frenchman, Hamilton was able to take advantage of the second virtual safety car (triggered due to Magnussen’s retirement) to get a cheap pitstop, overtaking both of the Alpha Tauri’s to come home in fourth. The heat combined with the vicious porpoising of the Mercedes clearly took it’s toll on the Brit, as Lewis struggled to exit his car at the end of the race.

Hamilton catching Gasly before taking P4 at the end of the race. Image courtesy of RedBull Content Pool

Pierre Gasly finished fifth for Alpha Tauri in what was his best result of the season, and if it wasn’t for a broken rear wing (which necessitated a gaffer tape fix), Yuki Tsunoda would have likely come home just behind in sixth. In the end, Sebastian Vettel recovered from an early spin to finish sixth, ahead of Fernando Alonso, the McLaren’s of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris, and Esteban Ocon.

Ricciardo and Norris seemed to be inseperable throughout the entire race, with the Australian consistently challenging Norris in the early stages, being told to hold station behind his teammate. The roles were reversed at the end, with Norris clearly unhappy at being told to stay behind Ricciardo. This is a nice problem for McLaren to have, with this weekend looking like one of Ricciardo’s best this season.

Although the McLaren team orders may have had an effect on their result, it’s doubtful that Red Bull’s did. Verstappen’s race pace was too much for Sergio Perez, and the Dutchman now has a twenty-one point lead in the championship over his Mexican teammate. Ferrari’s double DNF drops them to eighty points behind Red Bull, as their championship challenge has unraveled dramatically over the last four races, which has seen Leclerc take pole in each race but not reach the chequered flag first in either, becoming the first driver to do this since Juan Pablo Montoya twenty years ago.

Celebrating a RedBull 1-2. Image courtesy of RedBull Content Pool

Next, Formula One heads to Canada first the first time post-COVID, with the last race there being remembered for Sebastian Vettel receiving a five-second penalty for gaining an advantage of track, handing the victory to Lewis Hamilton. Ferrari will be hoping that this time around, they don’t hand victory to their rivals once more.

Leclerc takes pole after Perez crash brings a premature end to qualifying

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took his second successive pole position at Monte Carlo, in a truncated qualifying session after Sergio Perez crashed out at Portier.

Carlos Sainz made it a front row lockout for the Maranello-based team, with Sergio Perez out qualifying his teammate and championship leader Max Verstappen to start third.

Track evolution during the first qualifying session meant we saw a variety of drivers head to the top of the times. Red Bull were fastest early on, before Fernando Alonso and Lando Norris displaced them for the top two.

Yuki Tsunoda past a marshal waving a red flag. Image courtesy of RedBull Content Pool

It took a few laps for Charles Leclerc to get into his rhythm, but he was fastest ahead of his teammate Carlos Sainz, before a small tap to the wall from Yuki Tsunoda led to a rogue red flag – allegedly caused by a marshal accidentally picking one up rather than a yellow flag.

Only two and a half minutes were remaining in Q1 after this, and with space at a premium around Monaco, someone was always going to be left frustrated. Ironically, it was Pierre Gasly who lost out the most due to the red flag, dropping out in the first part of qualifying alongside Albon, Stroll, Latifi and Zhou.

Leclerc continued his fantastic pace in the second part of qualifying, becoming the first man to get into the 1:11s. It wasn’t all plain sailing though for the Monegasque driver – he missed the weighbridge on the way into the pits, and had to be pushed back by the Ferrari mechanics to avoid a penalty. Daniel Ricciardo’s tough weekend continued, as he qualified down in thirteenth place. Tsunoda, Bottas, Magnussen and Schumacher also failed to make it into the top ten.

Charles Leclerc making his way around the streets. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

It was only the Ferraris and the Red Bulls who used fresh tyres for the first runs in Q3, which proved to be the deciding laps for the front positions. Charles Leclerc went fastest with a 1:11.376, nearly a quarter of a second ahead of Sainz. As has been the case for the majority of the weekend, Perez looked more comfortable than Verstappen, with the Mexican securing third place ahead of Max in fourth.

Whether he’ll be able to start there though, is another matter entirely. Perez crashed on his final run through Portier, losing the car on turn-in, and heavily damaging the rear. Sainz was slow to react to the yellow flags and made contact with the Red Bull, and could well get another reprimand which would lead to a 10-place grid drop.

Lando Norris defied his illness to qualify fifth , ahead of Russell, Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel and Ocon.

Leclerc’s ‘Monaco curse’ has been well documented, as he is yet to see the chequered flag in six races in the principality across different categories. Starting from pole position gives him the ideal opportunity to break this curse once and for all, and retake the championship lead, but the potential for rain on Sunday means victory is not a foregone conclusion for the Ferrari driver.

Verstappen victorious in Imola sprint race

Max Verstappen recovered from a poor start to take victory in Saturday’s sprint race at the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, overtaking Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc on the penultimate lap.

The reigning world champion was able to manage his tyres last better than Leclerc, closing back within DRS range in the final five laps. The Dutchman was able to get close enough to go around the outside into Tamburello on lap 20 to secure the eight points.

It was a poor getaway from Verstappen, who struggled with wheel spin and gear sync issues off the line, allowing the Monegasque driver to take the lead. Fernando Alonso also had a difficult start, dropping behind Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo on lap one.

At least Verstappen and Alonso had a chance to recover from their poor start however. Zhou Guanyu dropped behind Pierre Gasly in the first few corners, and collided with the Alpha Tauri trying to regain the position into Piratella. This sent the Chinese driver careering into the barriers, ending his race and bringing out the Safety Car.

Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo (Germain Hazard, Royal Spark / Alfa Romeo Media)

After the Safety Car, Leclerc was able to extend his lead, stretching out to over two seconds ahead of Verstappen before the Red Bull was able to reel him in. The ‘number two’ cars of Carlos Sainz and Perez both had difficult qualifying sessions, and the sprint race provided a great opportunity to work their way back up the field. Perez set the fastest lap on his way up into third place, with Sainz snatching fourth from McLaren’s Lando Norris in the final few laps. Norris came home fifth, with a sixth place for Daniel Ricciardo continuing the good form seen by the Woking-based team in Melbourne.

The majority of the field chose to compete on the soft tyres, with a few drivers choosing the mediums. One of these was Kevin Magnussen, who had secured Haas’ best ever qualifying on Friday with fourth position. The Dane was unable to keep with the pace of those on the softs throughout the sprint however, securing one point for eighth place having been overtaken by Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas in the final stages of the race.

Alonso just missed out on points behind the Haas, with Mick Schumacher’s tenth place meaning the German will start higher than he ever has done before in a Formula One race on Sunday. After showing promise in FP2 earlier in the day, both Mercedes spent their day stuck in a DRS train, as George Russell came home in eleventh with Lewis Hamilton down in fourteenth place, meaning that there will be no Mercedes in the top 10 of the grid for a Grand Prix for the first time since the Suzuka in 2012.

Despite losing out to Verstappen at the end, Leclerc extends his lead in the championship to 40 points, with Carlos Sainz now in second. Red Bull also moved up to second in the championship, and find themselves 57 points behind Ferrari heading into Sunday’s race.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari (Scuderia Ferrari Press Office)

Dominant Leclerc extends championship lead with Australian GP victory

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc converted pole position into his second victory of the season at Albert Park, as Max Verstappen failed to finish with hydraulic issues.

The only time the victory looked in doubt for the Monegasque driver was after the second safety car, when a slow restart gave Verstappen an opportunity to attack into turn one, but Leclerc held on to extend his championship lead to thirty-four points over Mercedes’ George Russell.

In the end, even if Verstappen had made the overtake it would have been inconsequential, as Red Bull’s reliability issues reared their ugly head once again, with the Dutchman’s car failing at the start of lap 39, just seconds after he had set the fastest lap of the race.

Sergio Perez secured his first podium of the season in second place, as Mercedes matched their best result of the season from Bahrain, with George Russell leading Lewis Hamilton home in third and fourth.

It was Hamilton who had the best start out of the front runners, jumping from fifth to third on the run towards the first corner, overtaking Perez and Lando Norris. One man who did not have a good start was Carlos Sainz, dropping five places as he struggled with the hard tyres. Tyre warmup was the least of his concerns on lap two however, as the Spaniard went deep into turn nine, losing the car over the grass and ending beached in the gravel. This is the first time Sainz has failed to score points since the French GP last year.

Into turn 1 at the start of the GP. Image courtesy of Red Bull content Pool

Perez was able to work his way back past Hamilton in the first stint, but the Mercedes driver looked to be managing his tyres better, and was briefly able to make the overcut work on the Mexican driver, before Perez struck back with a bold move around the outside of turn ten.

Lewis may feel aggrieved that it was his teammate who scored the podium, and not him. Russell admitted afterwards he had been fortunate with the timing of the second safety car, which was brought out by Sebastian Vettel’s miserable weekend coming to an end in the barrier at turn four. This allowed Russell to take advantage of a cheap pit stop to come out ahead of Perez in third, but the Mexican was soon able to make his way past the Briton.

It was a much more promising race for Mercedes, who looked to be matching the Red Bulls on pace at times throughout the race. McLaren also had their best result of 2022, with Norris just finishing ahead of home hero Daniel Ricciardo, as they finished fifth and sixth. Esteban Ocon secured seventh for Alpine, in what was a very quiet race for the Frenchman.

The McLarens solid performance all weekend. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Room

This was the first race at the Albert Park circuit since 2019, and since then changes had been made to the track, most noticeably the removal of the chicane at what was turns eight and nine, in an attempt to improve the racing. There was no doubting the effectiveness of this in the midfield, with the different strategies leading to some brilliant battling.

Lance Stroll pitted twice early on, and this allowed him to climb as high as ninth at one stage. However, worn tyres combined with a five-second penalty for weaving on the straight meant points were always going to be a difficult task, and the Aston Martin dropped down the field in the later stages.

The Stroll train in full affect during the GP. Image courtesy of Aston Martin Media

Valtteri Bottas and Pierre Gasly finished eighth and ninth respectively, with Alexander Albon securing a shock point for Williams in tenth. After starting on the hards from last, the Thai driver was forced on to a different strategy by the safety cars. Whereas Fernando Alonso and Kevin Magnussen took advantage of the virtual safety car caused by Verstappen’s retirement to change onto the medium tyres, Albon stayed out on the hards.

He eventually pitted on the penultimate lap (the latest allowed by the regulations), coming out on a fresh set of softs to secure the Grove-based team’s first point of the season. Alonso and Magnussen struggled with the graining that dogged many of the front runners in the early stages, finishing comfortably outside the points.

Although Leclerc took victory in Bahrain, this was the first time this season where the Ferrari looked comfortably clear of the Red Bull in race pace. The Formula One calendar heads to Imola in two weeks time for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, which will also host the first ‘sprint race’ of the season.

F1’s latest rivalry revs up once again

When Formula One’s new regulations were revealed for the 2022 season, it was with the hope that it would lead to closer, more exciting racing. Two races in, they’ve certainly delivered.

In Bahrain, it was the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc who came out on top as the Scuderia secured a 1-2, after late race breakdowns for both Red Bulls left them pointless. There were no such issues for the reigning champions in Jeddah though, as Max Verstappen kickstarted his championship defence with a hard-fought, and well-thought, victory.

Once again, the top two toyed with each other when it came to using DRS on multiple occasions. Verstappen made the first move into the final corner, but as we saw a week ago, Leclerc was able to instantly fight back on the next straight. Thus began the cat and mouse games that might define this generation of Formula One. Just one lap later, neither driver wanted to cross the all important detection line into Turn 27 first, with the Monegasque driver catching Verstappen napping, and briefly being able to build a one-second lead. When Verstappen got back within DRS range however, Leclerc was powerless to stop the Red Bull driver marching to his first victory, and first points of the season.

The final few laps at Jeddah 2022. Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Many expected Verstappen and Leclerc to be stars of the future from the moment they set foot in an F1 car, and it looks like this season will be the first time we get to see them fight consistently against each other at the front. Admittedly, the ‘fights’ have so far been fairly straightforward DRS overtakes. Albert Park, home of the next race in two weeks time, is usually a much tougher place to pass, so might see Max and Charles get closer than they have done so far this season, perhaps even repeating their antics from Spielberg and Silverstone in 2019.

Those previous battles three years ago might be why we’re seeing a tamer Verstappen than we saw last year. He knows that Leclerc isn’t afraid to get his elbows out, whereas Lewis was more likely to try and avoid contact at any cost. It would not be surprising if this year’s top two send carbon fibre flying on more than one occasion throughout the remaining twenty-one races.

The battle between Max and Charles which entertained us all at Silverstone 2019. Image courtesy of Red Bull content Pool

So far, it is one each between Max and Charles, but it could have been so different. Sergio Perez was unlucky with a pit-stop the lap before Nicolas Latifi found the barrier and brought out the safety car, turning a possible victory for the Mexican into a lonely race to fourth. His misfortune promoted Carlos Sainz onto the podium for the third consecutive race, but this was another weekend where the Spaniard looked off the pace compared to his teammate. The battle between the ‘number twos’ could be crucial in determining the destination of both champions this year, especially on any weekend when one team has a clear pace advantage.

The midfield entertained as always, with both Alpines adding many grey hairs to team principals Otmar Szaufner’s head in the opening laps. Kevin Magnussen also pulled off some good moves, but the early safety car meant that anyone that was starting on the hard tyres would be on the back foot when it came to strategy.

This was also the case for Lewis Hamilton, on arguably his most difficult weekend (pace-wise) in the hybrid era. One point will be scant consolation for the seven-time world champion, with George Russell coming home in fifth. Barring any issues for Red Bull or Ferrari, a porpoising fix, or performance found in a ‘reliability’ engine upgrade, it looks like fifth will be the best the Brackley team can manage over the next few races.

The leading Mercedes of George Russell at Jeddah. Image courtesy of Mercedes Media

Sunday’s race passed without any controversy, which definitely couldn’t be said about last years. Once again though, the track proved to be brutally punishing, with Mick Schumacher and Cem Bolukbasi both missing their races after heavy accidents at Turn 12. These crashes, and the missile strike at the nearby Aramco refinery during Friday practice, will quite rightly raise questions about the wisdom of holding a race in Saudi Arabia.

No matter who you support, perhaps the best news from this weekend is that it is over, and everyone is able to leave safely.


Magic Max secures Yas Marina pole

Max Verstappen put himself in the best possible place to win his first world championship, as he took pole position for Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. His title rival Lewis Hamilton will line up alongside in second, as Lando Norris secured his best qualifying since the Russian Grand Prix to start in third.

It was all about the first run in qualifying three for Verstappen, as Red Bull decided to use his teammate Sergio Perez to give the Dutchman a tow in the middle sector. Verstappen was over half-a-second up on Hamilton after this first run in Q3, with Lewis losing time thanks to a small lock up in turn five.

Mercedes elected not to use the tow on their final run, and although Hamilton improved, he remained over three tenths of a second behind Verstappen, whose time of 1:22.109 was good enough to secure a tenth pole position of the season.

Mercedes had to settle for a frustrating P2 & P6 in qualifying – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

Sergio Perez managed to slot his Red Bull into fourth place, while it was a bad qualifying session for Alfa Romeo-bound Valtteri Bottas, who finds himself sandwiched between the Ferrari’s of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc in sixth position. Yuki Tsunoda recovered from having his first lap deleted after a small mistake in the final corner to put the Alpha Tauri in eighth position, with Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo rounding out the top ten.

One small note of optimism for Mercedes is that they were able to get into the final qualifying session on the medium tyres, with all the other runners having to use the softs. Verstappen’s time on the mediums would have been good enough to get him into Q3, but concern about track evolution – and a potential flat spot on the yellow-walled tyres – meant he elected to go out again on the soft tyres.

There is the potential for the qualifying results to change, as plenty of drivers complained about traffic, especially during the second qualifying session. Fernando Alonso felt he had been held up by Ricciardo in the final corner, as the Spaniard just missed out on the top 10 and will line up eleventh. Pierre Gasly, Lance Stroll, Antonio Giovanazzi and Sebastian Vettel were the other drivers eliminated in Q2. Vettel was particularly frustrated about the traffic in the final sector as the drivers were preparing their tyres for the final runs, with the German even coming to a complete stop at one point.

The main moment of drama in the first session came when Mick Schumacher launched a bollard onto the racing line, which was then collected by Lando Norris. This did cause a red flag with just over five minutes remaining, but didn’t cause issues for those towards the top of the order.

It wasn’t the ideal sign-off to George Russell’s Williams career, as he was outqualified by Nicholas Latifi, with the highly-rated Brit failing to improve on his final run. They will line up in sixteenth and seventeenth, with Kimi Raikkonen starting his final grand prix from eighteenth position. The two Haas’ take their usual spots on the back row of the grid, with Mick Schumacher outqualifying Nikita Mazepin by six tenths of a second.

Many people thought that the changes to the Yas Marina circuit would suit the Mercedes package better than the Red Bull one. Alas, it is Verstappen who starts in the perfect position for tomorrow’s race, with the lights going out at 13.00 GMT.

Saudi shambles exposes the farcical side of Formula One

Looking at the results, the inaugural Saudi Arabian GP was a fairly bog-standard race. It was the perfect result for the championship battle as well, with Lewis Hamilton’s victory over Max Verstappen meaning the two are tied ahead of this weekend’s finale at the re-designed Yas Marina circuit. Anyone who watched the race though will have been left with a bitter taste in their mouth, no matter who they want to win.

Jeddah looked like being a fairly dull race for the first few laps, but this changed when Mick Schumacher lost his Haas at Turn 22, in an almost identical manner to Charles Leclerc earlier in the weekend. This is where the issues with the FIA’s rulebook started being exposed. Mercedes pitted both drivers, with Valtteri Bottas hanging back more than what is allowed by the regulations, in order to cost Verstappen as much time as possible should he choose to pit.

The Dutchman stayed out, with Red Bull perhaps sensing that a red flag was not far away, where they would be able to get a free tyre change.  Lando Norris and others don’t think this should be allowed, but it was certainly a mistake by Mercedes to leave themselves vulnerable to this – especially on a street circuit where any accident is likely to lead to a red flag for barrier repairs.

Hamilton got a superb restart (perhaps helped by the fact that he’d strayed a bit more than the required 10 car lengths behind Verstappen, allowing the Red Bull’s tyres to cool), but Max did what he is getting an unfortunate reputation for doing. He skipped over the kerb at Turn One, retaining the position and also allowing Ocon to jump Lewis. Behind, Perez was the catalyst for a shunt between Latifi and Mazepin, causing all three to retire and leading to another red flag.

This is when Formula One turned into an episode of Deal or No Deal. Masi ‘offered’ Red Bull an opportunity to demote Verstappen to third, behind Ocon and Hamilton. Why an offer, and not an outright order? Because race direction don’t have the power to dish out punishments, and it is at the team’s discretion to follow their instructions, even though failure to do so nearly always leads to a time penalty.

Verstappen was forced to start third for the second restart following his illegal move during the first – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull unsurprisingly took the offer, but Verstappen made up for earlier with a wonderful move up the inside into turn one to regain the lead. We then saw the best of the two title protagonists, as they traded fastest laps, with the gap constantly hovering at around one second. This was despite multiple – albeit necessary – VSC interruptions for debris, another sign of Sunday’s scrappy nature.

The biggest dramas however were yet to happen. Hamilton took advantage of the double DRS to get a fantastic run on Verstappen into the first corner, but the Dutchman’s determination to stay ahead forced both cars off the circuit, with the Brit unsurprisingly annoyed over the radio.

Then came the synchronised slowdown shenanigans. Max was told to ‘strategically’ give the place to Lewis, and he tried this on the run to the final corner, in order to take advantage of DRS on the main straight. Lewis slowed down as well, reluctant to pass. Scenes very reminiscent of Baku in 2017 followed, as Hamilton collided with the rear of the Red Bull, with both cars fortunate to only have minor damage. Mercedes say Lewis was unaware that he was being let by. If so, why would he hang back in what appeared to a deliberate attempt to ensure he had the DRS into Turn 1? Red Bull say Max only braked to let Lewis through – if so, why did he do it while on the racing line?

Verstappen received 15 seconds of penalties for all of this, five during the race for the initial defence, ten afterwards for braking on the straight. He also let Hamilton through for the lead, with the Brit rather foolishly squeezing Max off track, which could well have led to a steward’s enquiry. With cooked tyres and a damaged diffuser, all Verstappen could do was watch Hamilton streak away to victory, leaving us all with the prospect of an explosive show-down in Abu Dhabi.

Verstappen was penalised not once, but twice during the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

It’s easy to blame Verstappen or Hamilton for those incidents, as well as the various comings together throughout the season – the majority of social media has picked a side. But would any of this have happened if the FIA hadn’t allowed things to fester throughout the past few seasons? Yes, we want to see people race hard, but it needs to be fair and preferably on the race track. Drivers feel they can go for ridiculous, one-in-a-million moves, knowing that acres of tarmac run-off await. A small gravel strip on the edge of the corner might make people think twice about running off circuit, and probably would have led to Verstappen getting penalised during the Brazilian GP. That may well have stopped him attempting the moves we saw in Jeddah, and therefore stopped Hamilton feeling the need to retaliate through the final corner.

Verstappen was no penalised for the Turn Four incident in Brazil – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

Alpine may also feel hard done by, as Bottas’ safety car antics didn’t lead to a penalty, despite others being previously penalised for the same offence. This inconsistency has become endemic in Formula One, and may well become pandemic throughout motorsport. If the greatest drivers in the world can get away with it, what’s stopping youngsters on their way up the ladder thinking they too are immune to the rulebook?

Esteban Ocon agonisingly missed out on a podium finish in Saudi Arabia – Courtesy of Renault Sport Media

This Sunday should be a mouth-watering championship finale as the winner takes it all. Hopefully, it is great racing we are talking about in a few days’ time, not shoddy stewarding and Dick Dastardly driving.

Hamilton the history maker shows his class

Before the Russian Grand Prix weekend, many Formula One fans would have sighed at the prospect of a Lewis Hamilton-Max Verstappen 1-2 in Sochi. In the end though, we had by far the best Russian race since it’s debut in 2014, and one which was a microcosm of the season so far.

As soon as Max Verstappen opted for new power unit components after FP1 on Friday, his weekend was always going to be about damage limitation, whereas Lewis Hamilton knew he wouldn’t have a better chance to retake the championship lead with his main rival out of the picture. This looked like a straightforward task right up until the final moment s of qualifying, when old intermediates on a drying pitlane led to the smallest of mistakes from the seven-time champion. Fixing the front wing meant Hamilton (and Valtteri Bottas, who was held behind the Brit) only got one lap on slick tyres, leaving Lewis starting fourth behind Lando Norris, Carlos Sainz, and his future teammate George Russell.

The rain caused a difficult day for Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton on Saturday – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

Still, many would have expected the Mercedes man to take an easy victory on Sunday, but this looked a lot less likely by the time the field reached the braking zone for turn two. Just like in the Monza sprint race, Hamilton was slow away, and he dropped to seventh before re-passing Fernando Alonso.

As his rivals pitted, this is where Hamilton’s mastery came to the fore. ‘Bono my tyres are gone’ has become the most feared message in Formula One, as it’s normally followed by purple sectors across the board for Car #44. For a man who was initially known as being hard on his tyres, Lewis seems to be able to eek out performance when the rubber is far from fresh, and this – combined with a less than ideal stop for McLaren’s Ricciardo – helped him jump up the order.

Once on fresh hards, Hamilton looked unstoppable. Sainz was dispatched with consummate ease, and the gap to Norris started rapidly reducing. Dirty air started having an effect though, and Lewis couldn’t quite get within that all important one second window.

Up until Spa, the prospect of wet-weather led to excitement rather than trepidation from Formula One fans. And Sochi proved that you don’t need monsoon-like conditions to cause drama; just a small shower can create panic and problems. As the heavens opened over the Black Sea coast, Norris initially extended his lead, and it looked like we were going to get a second debut winner of the season. Both drivers stayed out when the majority were pitting, before a decisive move from the McLaren driver proved to be costly. Whereas the Woking team were more advisory about Lando pitting, Mercedes were insistent: The slicks would soon be skidding, and intermediates were the only option. Straight away Hamilton gained time, and within one and a half laps he was well on the way to his hundredth victory – a simply staggering achievement.

Of course, the irony in this is that the rain hindered Hamilton’s chances of taking a record-breaking eighth title. Max Verstappen was in seventh, struggling to make up ground before the downpour, and he came in at just the right time to shoot up the order, finishing in second, and an astonishing eighteen places higher than he started. A twelve point swing had been reduced to seven, and he is now just two points behind with seven races still remaining.

Max Verstappen’s sublime recovery saw him limit the ground lost to Hamilton in the standings – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

For Lando, his time will come. And with an extra engine in the bag, Max may well be slight favourite for the championship despite trailing in the standings, thanks to a drive which again showed why many expect him to be the man to pick up the baton from Hamilton. But yesterday was Lewis’ day. Even the young karter from Stevenage could have barely imagined getting one hundred race victories, and there’s no reason why more won’t be added to the tally. The greatest of all time? That’s a bold statement. The greatest of his time? Unquestionably. The future is bright for Formula One, with Max, Lando, George and Charles Leclerc all looking like world championship material. But you’d be a brave individual to bet on any of them to surpass the achievements of Sir Lewis Carl Davidson Hamilton.

F1 heats up before the summer break

Formula One heads for its traditional summer break after the Hungarian Grand Prix, and a few of the drivers will be glad to see some sun after a sprinkling of rain caused chaos on lap one at Budapest.

It looked like a mistake from one Mercedes had created the perfect opportunity for the other. Valtteri Bottas’ wet-weather prowess has come into question after disappointing performances over the last twelve months, and taking out Lando Norris – as well as both Red Bulls – will give extra ammunition to those who think his time at the Silver Arrows should come to an end this season. The fact that George Russell is taking part in this week’s Pirelli test for Mercedes will only add fuel to the fire.

The events of Budapest have increased the pressure on Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

With Lewis Hamilton being the only front-running car left unscathed, it should have been straightforward for the Brit to claim his hundredth victory in Formula One after the red flag. But nothing is ever simple in Formula One. Out on his own in the record books, Hamilton was left out on his own on track as all the other cars came in for slicks. One lap later, the reigning champion was last with it all to do. Mercedes have history for making strange strategy decisions when forced to think on their feet (for example, pitting Lewis at Monaco 2015 and handing victory to Nico Rosberg), and this was another case of them being caught out when things go astray from the plan.

At this point, Hamilton would have snapped your hand off at the opportunity to take a podium, but it was another performance that took the fans (and his) breath away, dicing his way through the field on one of the trickiest tracks for overtaking on the calendar. Red Bull will certainly be hoping that Lewis’ usual post-summer break performance boost is not as potent this year, otherwise Max Verstappen may have his work cut out if he is to retake the championship lead.

Hamilton’s marvelous recovery to the podium in Hungary saw him re-take the championship lead – Courtesy of Mercedes F1 Media

Although Bottas’ first lap catastrophe didn’t lead to retirement for Verstappen, the damage done to the floor and barge board pretty much ended any chances of a competitive finish for the Dutchman. Crash damage in this cost-limited season is much more problematic than usual, and with Max’s engine from Silverstone being irreparably damaged, at least one grid penalty after the break is almost a certainty.

For the second race weekend in a row, Red Bull suffered from a first lap incident – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

All this drama allowed a young gun and an old hand show exactly why they belong in Formula One. Esteban Ocon drove superbly to keep Sebastian Vettel at bay, the Frenchman taking Alpine’s first ever win in the sport as a constructor, and the first since 2013 for the team based at Enstone. This may not have been possible were it not for the dogged defending from his teammate, Fernando Alonso. Almost inch-perfect with his car placement until a lock up at turn one allowed Hamilton through, Alonso showed the kind of performance he was known for in his original F1 foray, and a performance which will quiet those detractors who believe one of Alpine’s juniors should be in that seat. Yes, it’s a shame for Christian Lundgaard, Oscar Piastri and Guanyu Zhou that their path is blocked by a 40-year-old, but you aren’t going to find many 40-year-olds who can perform like the Spaniard.

Fernando Alonso superbly, and crucially, kept Lewis Hamilton away from the lead battle for several laps – Courtesy of Renault Sport Media

The drivers get a chance to recuperate for four weeks before the final twelve races of Formula One’s longest ever season. Thanks to a Mercedes resurgence and some bad luck for Red Bull, it looks like we may need every one of those to decide the championship.

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