Haas F1 Team Takes First – 2020 Contender Reveal

Haas F1 Team gave the Formula 1 world a pleasant surprise yesterday by revealing its 2020 contender early. The VF-20’s new livery presents a welcome return of the design elements of the team’s first years in contention. The return to the gray, red, a different, lighter gray (I suspect we could be forgiven for thinking it white), and black color scheme presents a welcome evolution of the team’s 2018 livery as well as a return to the branding of Haas Automation.

Haas F1 Media

In the press release accompanying the reveal, it is entirely unsurprising that neither Haas Automation founder and team chairman Gene Haas nor team principal Guenther Steiner mentioned the debacle that was Rich Energy’s sponsorship. The usual nods to lessons learned were suitably dispensed, along with the hopes that 2020 will see an evolution of 2018’s form in both design and results.

The livery suits the 2020 design well. For the sake of Haas fans, here’s hoping that the on-track performance will match its visual appeal.

The VF-20 will make its physical debut as scheduled on 19 February 2020, the opening day of pre-season testing in Barcelona, with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean in the cockpit.

Haas F1 Media

 

[Featured image – Haas F1 Media]

Mexico 2019 – Mercedes triumphs, while Ferrari’s strategy continues to lack

The Mexican Grand Prix saw Lewis Hamilton victorious, but not sufficiently so to crown him the 2019 Drivers Champion. Hamilton’s win also saw his 100th podium for Mercedes, and saw Ferrari give up the top spot on the podium thanks to poor strategy calls once again.

The opening moments of the race delivered excitement, as Grands Prix often do. With Charles Leclerc making an excellent start, his teammate Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, and Max Verstappen jostled for position.

Vettel easily got the best of it (though he made brief contact with Leclerc), retaining second position, while Red Bull’s Alex Albon and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz got a large boost, climbing to third and fourth respectively. Hamilton fell back to fifth, and while Verstappen initially fell back to eighth he quickly suffered a puncture when making an early overtake on Bottas, leading to an immediate pit stop. He ultimately rejoined the race in 20th.

Don’t worry, Verstappen fans – he performed an admirable drive, finishing in sixth and taking the Driver of the Day award. He demonstrated excellent control and patience, regaining several places as other drivers stopped for fresh tyres. When he began overtaking others later in the race, he did so smoothly, with few if any elbows out. Verstappen’s choice of hard tyres led to early speculation about the possibility of a one-stop race.

There was a Virtual Safety Car deployed after the initial carnage while the marshals attended to the debris from the opening collisions, but the race then proceeded Safety Car-free.

(Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

Unfortunately, the opening lap tussles were some of the only exciting moments of the race. While the order changed a bit, the top five drivers throughout the race largely remained Leclerc, Vettel, Albon, Hamilton, and Bottas. The race ended with Hamilton in first, Vettel in second, Bottas in third, Leclerc in fourth, and Albon in fifth.

Though they were few, there were nonetheless some exciting moments. Local hero Sergio Perez (Checo if you’re nasty; all apologies to Janet Jackson) made an excellent early overtake on Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, to the delight of the crowd. Daniel Ricciardo made a spectacular, but failed, late overtaking attempt on Perez. He badly overcooked the attempt and was forced to run wide, cutting several corners. While this did allow him to return to the track ahead of Perez, Ricciardo wisely ceded the position back to his rival.

While there was some other overtaking, it was mainly clean and competent with the defending drivers ceding position when it was obvious they weren’t able to defend successfully.

There was minimal contact between drivers after the first lap. Verstappen and Kevin Magnussen made brief contact on lap 27, but the stewards declined to investigate further. The most memorable other contact came during the final lap. As Hamilton crossed the finish line, Daniil Kvyat returned to his old form and ran straight into the back of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, destroying his rear wing and ending his race practically within sight of the finish line. This initially cost the German two places, dropping him from ninth place to eleventh, though the stewards quickly issued Kvyat a 10-second penalty. This dropped Kvyat to 11th, and brought Hulkenberg up to 10th along with its accompanying point.

Pit stops provided some drama. McLaren’s Lando Norris was given the signal to exit the pit too early, with his left front tyre not completely secure. While he was able to stop prior to crossing the pit lane exit line and his crew was able to remedy the issue, Norris never recovered from this mistake and remained last until his retirement on lap 48.

(Photo by Joe Portlock / LAT Images)

Antonio Giovinazzi’s right rear tyre caused him considerable difficulty as well, which was compounded when the jack was released too quickly, before the tyre was secure. Charles Leclerc wasn’t immune to pit issues either – trouble with the right rear tyre cost him four precious seconds on his second stop.

Tyre management proved to be key in this race. Ricciardo deserves special mention for his tyre management. He was able to maintain respectable pace for 50 laps on his opening set of hard tyres, maintaining sixth place for the last 30 of those 50. It was this show of durability that likely convinced Red Bull to keep Verstappen out on his set of hards, which lasted him for an amazing 66 laps following his early stop. Perez ran the final 51 laps of the race on hards, and Hulkenberg ran 52 laps on his. Vettel also deserves credit for his tyre management, turning in a respectable 40 laps on his initial set of mediums between qualifying and the race.

Indeed, had Vettel not resisted calls for him to prepare to pit on lap 25, the result might have been very different for him. Ferrari, it seemed, had a very different model of tyre performance in this race and were unable to adapt in time to salvage the win. The pit wall’s call for Leclerc’s early stop on lap 15 was premature. All of the front runners started their race on used mediums, but the others handily demonstrated that their tyres were good for many more laps – eight more laps for Hamilton, 21 more laps for Bottas, and 22 more for Vettel. Had the Scuderia sent Leclerc back out on hards, his race might’ve gone very differently as hard tyres amply proved to deliver incredible life.

With three races left, the top of the pecking order is fairly settled. While it is mathematically possible for Bottas to claim the Drivers’ Championship, it is not likely. Similarly, while Red Bull could pass Ferrari for second in the Constructors’ Championship, it is similarly unlikely.

As has been the case for the past several seasons, it’s the midfield where the excitement lies. Toro Rosso and Racing Point are in the fight for sixth and if Renault doesn’t finish strongly in the closing rounds it’s possible that they could find themselves slipping to sixth or even seventh.

And what can we say about Williams? McLaren has recovered from their slump and is showing a return to form, but Williams remains incapable of finding their way forward. On the other hand, they have managed to score one point. Recent seasons have seen some backmarkers finish with zero, but seeing the once powerful team fall to last over the course of a few short seasons still gives pause.

Formula One returns to Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez next year for the Mexico City Grand Prix. Same race, different name.

 

 

[Featured image – Steve Etherington]

Scuderia Toro Rosso debuts 2019 livery, myWorld partnership

On 11 February 2019, Scuderia Toro Rosso unveiled their 2019 contender, the STR14, in a Tron: Legacy-evoking YouTube video.

For 2019, the Baby Bulls are sticking to their tried-and-true ‘drinks can on wheels’ look featuring prominent Red Bull branding. The logo of Toro Rosso’s new partner, myWorld, joins those of Casio’s Edifice brand and the human resources consultancy, Randstad.

In a press release issued on 8 February, Toro Rosso Principal Franz Tost said,

“Innovation is at the core of Formula 1 and I’m delighted that Toro Rosso will be working with myWorld, a future-oriented organisation that unites different brands under one umbrella to provide innovative fan and customer loyalty programmes to associations and corporations. Through this partnership we will support them in promoting how consumers, and also partners, can benefit from their international Shopping Community.”

Rafał Pięta, myWorld International’s CEO, seconded,

“In view of myWorld’s international focus, this collaboration is an important step. Cooperation with Scuderia Toro Rosso is an optimal platform from which to present our group of companies to an international audience.”

This new partnership can only help the squad, which slipped from 7th in the Constructors Championship in 2017 to 9th in 2018.

Side view of the Scuderia Toro Rosso STR14 . Image courtesy of Digital Lighthouse / Red Bull Content Pool

In addition to the myWorld partnership, 2019 brings Daniil Kvyat’s return to fill the seat of Red Bull-bound Pierre Gasly and Alexander Albon’s transition from Formula E’s Nissan e.dams, replacing the ill-starred Brendan Hartley.

Honda returns to power the STR14 with the RA619H for 2019.

Featured Image courtesy of Digital Lighthouse / Red Bull Content Pool

I want my American team back

This piece began life as a riff on the pedigree of the new Rich Energy livery. I was going to work in a great joke about how their next big news was going to be signing Pastor Maldonado for 2020 or releasing a bespoke line of co-branded e-cigarettes since we’re already ripping off paying homage to Lotus.

Haas F1 Media
Andrew Ferraro/LAT/Pirelli Media

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You know, the cheap laughs, good for clicks, and safe for me because I’m in Colorado and likely won’t bump into any of you down the pub.

Grand Prix 1970 van Nederland voor Formule I wagens , Zandvoort; Dan Gurney , kop
*21 juni 1970

As I wrote, though, it changed into a meditation on the current state of American participation in Formula One. As an American I feel like I should cheer unreservedly for Gene Haas’ global marketing program Formula One team. After all, apart from a sprinkling of my fellow Americans in positions of influence and authority we’re thin on the ground in motorsport’s pinnacle series. We’ve had a few successful drivers, among them Dan Gurney, Phil Hill, and Mario Andretti (though I suspect the Italians would be glad to claim Andretti as well), but we’ve not produced a significant number of successful teams.

Back in reality, though, Haas F1 Team has mainly been an American team in name and funding. Though headquartered alongside Stewart-Haas Racing in Kannapolis, the staff are based primarily in Marussia’s former Banbury facility and in Varano de’ Melegari, with, y’know, Dallara. Ferrari of course does the engines and whatnot.

While the technical tie-ups with Ferrari and Dallara have sparked a good deal of controversy, the Euro-centric arrangements Gene Haas put in place make a lot of sense given the realities of the sport. Operating primarily from North America would put any team at a significant disadvantage from a purely logistical perspective, to say nothing of the knowledge and infrastructure bases that would have to be built from the ground up. Our home-grown motorsport talent is top notch, but as Honda’s troubled return to the series has shown, Formula One is a whole ‘nother animal. Operating from the UK and Italy just makes sense.

The Rich Energy sponsorship makes it plain that the funding piece is now decidedly less American. I understand this – Formula 1 is an expensive sport the way the ocean is damp. As the old adage goes, it’s a great way to make millionaires out of billionaires.

Emotion, though, doesn’t care quite as much for these facts. While I’ve been a Silver Arrows man since Mercedes took over Brawn GP, and was a staunch Nico Rosberg supporter until his retirement (don’t @ me, I’m of German heritage), I’ve been proud to see Haas on the grid. It hurts to see Rich Energy take pride of place in the branding, despite the large Haas logo on the car.

The cynic in me says that hey, the team was a marketing vehicle for Haas Automation, and it’s clearly fulfilled its goal. This tie-up with Rich Energy looks like a great way for Gene to gently wind up his involvement in Formula One over the course of the next few years.

The very idea that this is might be the strategic plan leaves me feeling sad. Of course teams churn in Formula One – the glamor and history of the series ensure a ready supply of new money to replace the old, and it’s just good sense to buy as much infrastructure and talent as you can. So much the better if you can exit with dignity and pocketbook (mostly) intact.

If we can’t have another AAR, I’d be glad for this Haas to stick around.

Time will tell, I suppose. In the meantime I can’t wait to see the machine on track, driven in anger.

Oh, and the livery? It’s alright, I guess. Lotus wore it well, but I’d have liked to see something new and different from an up and coming energy drinks company.

 

[Featured image – Haas F1 Media]

Monaco Roundup

Ah, Monte Carlo, the signature event on the Formula One calendar. While the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix won’t go down in history as the most exciting race (the word ‘processional’ comes to mind), the challenging nature of the circuit itself makes for an interesting technical race. This season’s running certainly offered up some worthwhile moments, though the lack of a full Safety Car made it seem like it wasn’t quite Monaco.

Daniel Ricciardo leading the pack in Monaco. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Daniel Ricciardo stole the show with his masterful pace control from pole position. Capitalising on a clean start, he was able to back the field up for the first several laps, babysitting his hypersoft tyres. Several other drivers commented on the slow pace of the opening stint, but due to the difficulties of overtaking on the narrow streets of Monte Carlo nobody was able to mount an effective attack.

The race appeared to begin in earnest around lap 15, when Ricciardo opened up the throttle. Responding to Vettel’s lap 16 pit stop, Red Bull pulled Ricciardo in for a set of ultrasofts on lap 17. Enjoying a comfortable lead, Ricciardo rejoined the race in first.

On lap 28 Ricciardo reported losing power. While Ricciardo later admitted that Red Bull had identified an issue with the MGU-K on lap 18, it was ten laps later when he announced the problem. Despite being down on power, and further only able to use six of his eight gears, Ricciardo was able to manage his pace remarkably.

As the race progressed, pervasive graining on the left front tyre helped discourage Vettel and others on ultrasofts from pursuing too aggressive an approach, whereas the Red Bull’s chassis served tyre management well. In time, Vettel’s tyres settled in and he was able to mount an attack on Ricciardo, but the Red Bull man defended brilliantly.

A late Virtual Safety Car played into Ricciardo’s hands, as Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren emerged from the pits between Ricciardo and Vettel, albeit a lap down. This traffic allowed Ricciardo to rebuild a lead that saw him cross the finish line over 7 seconds ahead of Vettel to claim victory. After the stunning strategy mistake of 2016 cost him that win, this victory was particularly sweet for the Australian. The fact that he remained in P1 through the entire race could’ve only sweetened it further. His Driver of the Day award was well-earned.

Max Verstappen – image courtesy of Rob Smalley / Red Bull Content Pool

On the other side of the Red Bull garage, Max Verstappen drove a solid race. Starting from the back of the grid, he had claimed both Haas cars on the opening lap, and patiently climbed the order. Verstappen maintained a cool head throughout the race, shepherding his starting set of ultrasofts for 47 laps.

Despite some early complaints of pitting late for a set of hypersofts, he engaged in a duel with Carlos Sainz in which both drivers cut chicanes (leading to an amusing radio call of, “He cut the chicane!” from Sainz who moments before did exactly the same thing) resulting in a warning from the pit wall to keep his overtaking clean. After a weekend of trouble and serious errors in previous races, Max drove a clean race to finish in ninth, up from 20th.

Sebastian Vettel at Monaco 2018. Finishing 2nd. Image courtesy of Ferarri.com

Scuderia Ferrari delivered a workmanlike race, though not terribly memorable. Sebastian Vettel consistently kept pressure on Ricciardo, though he wasn’t able to overtake. The pervasive left front graining on the ultrasoft tyres combined with the narrow streets prevented him from pushing past Ricciardo. Technical gremlins briefly popped up for the German on lap 41, causing a brief blackout on his dash. Happily, this wasn’t to become a more serious issue. Vandoorne’s late pitstop during the VSC period sealed Vettel’s second place.

Kimi Räikkönen, despite pushing hard against Lewis Hamilton, was similarly unable to make any meaningful gains. Suffering from the ubiquitous trouble with his left front tyre, the Finn started and finished in fourth.

On the Mercedes front, it looked briefly like Valtteri Bottas might have a chance at upsetting the order as Mercedes elected to send him out on supersofts after pitting on lap 17. While he avoided the graining issues that held up the other drivers at the sharp end of the grid, tyre temperature issues caused him to back off from Räikkönen for several laps, and he wasn’t able to mount a serious challenge to his fellow Finn. Bottas further continued the trend of finishing where he started, in fifth.

Championship leader Lewis Hamilton, while vocal about his tyre issues, race pace and so forth, wasn’t able to do much about any of it either. Starting in third, he finished in third.

Steve Etherington/Mercedes AMG

And so it went for the frontrunners (and Max), though there was a bit more excitement down the grid.

Perhaps the most exciting moment of the race came on lap 72, when local boy Charles Leclerc’s Sauber suffered a brake failure while approaching the chicane. Accompanied by a large puff of brake dust (and brakes), he plowed into the back of Brendan Hartley’s Toro Rosso. While Hartley limped back to the pits to retire, Race Control invoked the Virtual Safety Car while marshals recovered the damaged Sauber.

Leclerc’s teammate Marcus Ericsson had a much less eventful race, finishing in 13th, from starting in 16th.

Pierre Gasly. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly drove an excellent race. Starting in tenth, he shepherded his used set of hypersofts for 37 laps before pitting for supersofts. Avoiding drama, the Frenchman put in a workmanlike drive to finish in seventh.

Renault displayed an admirable amount of teamwork and coordination when defending against Max Verstappen’s charge. On lap 55, Nico Hulkenberg, running in ninth, clearly had pace over teammate Carlos Sainz, who was running in eighth. Sainz did a brilliant job of ceding eighth to Hulkenberg while preventing Verstappen from following through the door. Though Sainz would eventually lose ninth to the Dutchman, he didn’t give up the position without a fight. Hulkenberg proceeded to finish in eighth, up from eleventh, while Sainz finished in ninth, down from eighth.

It’s tempting to say that McLaren’s early form is waning, though there are still many races left in the season. Long-suffering Fernando Alonso suffered his first retirement of the season, with a gearbox failure on lap 54 after running in the points. His teammate Stoffel Vandoorne finished in 14th, having stymied Vettel’s chances, starting from 12th. Perhaps Ricciardo will send him a fruit basket for his efforts, or at least a nice note.

Sahara Force India F1 Team

Force India suffered from bad luck on one side of the garage, as a troublesome right rear wheel caused Sergio Perez’s lap 23 pit stop to run precious seconds long. Though emerging on the durable supersoft tyres, he was unable to make up positions and finished in 12th, down from his starting position of ninth. Teammate Esteban Ocon, though, despite some graining in the middle stint, had a relatively trouble-free drive to finish where he started, in sixth.

Williams is… continuing to be Williams. The storied organisation’s run of poor performance continued today, even before the race start. Sergey Sirotkin was given a 10-second stop/go penalty for not having his tyres fitted by the 3-minute warning, and was investigated again when it appeared that his crew worked on his car while he served the penalty. He was cleared of this, and went on to finish in 16th, down from 13th.

Lance Stroll had an eventful, though negative, outing. One could be excused for thinking that Stroll was attempting to fill in the punches on his Frequent Pit Stop card, pitting three times. Pitting on lap 9 for a new front wing and supersoft tyres, he emerged in 20th and would have remained there save for retirements up the field. Subsequent stops in laps 34 and 59 for fresh sets of hypersofts didn’t help him overmuch. The Canadian finished in 17th, where he started.

Glenn Dunbar/Williams F1

Haas too continued to struggle. After qualifying 18th and 19th, both of the drivers failed to make significant gains on-track, though they did finish ahead of both Williams’. Kevin Magnussen, this season’s points-generator for the American team, finished out of the points in 13th, while Romain Grosjean finished in 15th.

At the end of the day, Lewis Hamilton retains the lead in the Drivers Championship with 100 points, with Sebastian Vettel in second with 96. Daniel Ricciardo rounds out the top three, with 72 points. On the Constructors side, the teams so far mirror the driver standings. Mercedes leads Ferrari by 178 to 156, and Red Bull is comfortably in third with 107 points.

As we approach Canada, the Drivers and Constructors Championships are still wide open. It should be exciting to see how the teams cope with the demands of the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montréal under the new regulations. Stick with us on the weekend of 8–10 June for your Grand Prix du Canada coverage.

Featured image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Haas VF-18 First Look

While the F1 community has been keenly watching their social media feeds for their favorite teams’ 2018 car reveal dates and marking off the days until Williams Martini Racing’s announced reveal on 15 February, Haas F1 Team stole a march on everyone. In a delightful Valentine’s Day gift to fans, Haas revealed renderings of their 2018 challenger in a video tweeted at 10:01 AM Eastern time, along with accompanying press releases and web site updatesOne of the only hints of this upcoming reveal was found in an article published on 12 February in Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport.

Fans, analysts, and the media wasted no time poring over the images.

Although minimized in the initial renderings by being set against a dark background, the Halo fits well with the chassis. The airbox has been modified to accommodate the altered airflow, and there is a small, jagged screen just behind the front pillar of the Halo to influence airflow through the cockpit. Congratulations to Haas’s engineers, aerodynamicists, and designers for rising to meet the many challenges the Halo introduced and producing a good-looking solution.

The nose and front wing are more evolutionary than revolutionary in comparison to those on the VF-17, though clearly developed further. The nose vane shows continued development, and the sidepod vanes have become even more flamboyant along with the bargeboard.

Haas is already taking advantage of technical loopholes, and has included a small wing at the back of the restrained shark fin, above the exhaust. We will likely see similar aerodynamic features from the other teams.

Haas’s partnership with Ferrari shows through in the sidepod inlet design, though Haas’ designers have developed them in a different manner. The partnership with Ferrari open some interesting doors; Craig Scarborough points out that as Haas is using Ferrari suspension uprights, Ferrari won’t be going with a high top wishbone. It may be possible to extrapolate some of the other features on Ferrari’s 2018 car in a similar fashion, and it should be interesting to see what ideas the F1 community puts forth leading up to Ferrari’s 22 February reveal.

Haas F1 Team’s VF-18 is a good-looking machine. While it remains to be seen whether it will deliver on Gene Haas’s goal of being within a half-second of Ferrari, we can’t wait to find out.

All images courtesy of Haas F1 Team.

Dan Gurney – 1931 – 2018

Grand Prix 1970 van Nederland voor Formule I wagens , Zandvoort; Dan Gurney , kop
*21 juni 1970

We at The Pit Crew Online join the global motorsport community in marking, and mourning, the passing of the legendary Dan Gurney.

Gurney came of age in the wild mid-century era of motorsport, racing for several teams across several series from 1959 to 1970 before focusing on managing his team, All American Racers. The list of his accomplishments could fill several lifetimes: racing for Scuderia Ferrari, winning at Le Mans, the most successful American driver in Formula One, winning in NASCAR, winning in Indy Car (the first driver to win in all four series), winning in Can-Am, the first to spray champagne from the podium at Le Mans, the first driver to wear a full-face helmet in a Formula One Grand Prix, inventor of the eponymous Gurney Flap and inspiration for the Gurney Bubble, manufacturer, team owner…

The list of names associated with Gurney throughout his storied career is no less luminous on both the driver’s and manufacturer’s side: Jack Brabham, Carroll Shelby, AJ Foyt, Bob Bondurant, Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark, Bruce McLaren, Roger Penske…

The 1967 season in particular stands out in Gurney’s rich career, thanks to the Golden Week of 11 – 18 June. It was on June 11th, 1967 that Dan Gurney and AJ Foyt won at Le Mans, and Gurney established the tradition of spraying champagne from the podium. A scant week later, Gurney won the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa in his Eagle Mk 1, the only US-built car to win a Formula One Grand Prix. Beyond this, the car was built by Gurney’s own team, then known as Anglo American Racers. This was the second time of only three in Formula One history that a driver has won a Grand Prix in a car of his own manufacture.

There is so much more one could say about Dan Gurney, and doubtless drivers and motorsport fans alike are recounting their favorite memories around the world in his honor.

Dan Gurney died from complications of pneumonia on 14 January, 2018, in Newport Beach, California. He is survived by his wife, their children, and grandchildren.

The final checkered flag has waved for one of the greats of global motorsport. Godspeed, Dan.

Grand Prix of Mexico Race Reaction

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports.

After an exciting qualifying yesterday in which Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen outqualified current Drivers Championship leader Lewis Hamilton, anticipation was the order of the day. Mathematically, as long as Sebastian Vettel finished third or lower Lewis Hamilton would win the title today. Even if Vettel had been on one of the top two steps of the podium, Hamilton only had to finish in the top 5 to secure his fourth trophy.
Despite his strong lead Hamilton was clearly on edge as the drivers got settled into their cars, complaining to his crew that his seat was too hot. One suspects he would’ve been happier in a different hot seat, namely that of pole position.

Penalties also reared their head today, with Ricciardo the latest to receive a penalty due to an engine change. The idea of using penalties to coerce reliability has clearly gone off the rails with the teams opting for strategic penalties instead, and otherwise just taking them as they come.

It would be hard to get a more exciting start, and if the Drivers Championship hadn’t been nearly done for Hamilton it would’ve been even more exciting. Hamilton made a tactical error by an opportunistic attempt to get around Vettel after the Ferrari driver’s contact with Verstappen. Had he hung back a bit he’d have likely been able to challenge for a podium spot, but instead wound up at the back of the field with Vettel. Vettel had to come in for a new wing, and Hamilton suffered a major puncture to his left rear tyre.

Both drivers came in for soft tyres, which had the potential to carry them both to the end of the race. While Seb seemed anxious to get back to business and climb the field, Lewis seemed diffident at best.

Despite his maturing over the past few seasons, Hamilton’s own worst enemy continues to be Lewis Hamilton. Despite rampant speculation of damage that wasn’t obvious on camera, Hamilton’s car appeared in good order (and the pit wall confirmed that his floor was good), yet he struggled mightily to regain his race pace. It took some time before he was able to begin overtaking the usual suspects among the backmarkers, and he was even eventually lapped by Verstappen before getting his act together. You certainly don’t see that every day. Once Hamilton began to get his head back in the game he was able to begin climbing the pack himself, and was able to salvage a few points by finishing in 9th.

It seemed that Hamilton had activated the Conspiracy Switch, asking his engineer Peter ‘Bono’ Bonnington , “Did he hit me deliberately?” Social media was subsequently off to the races with that one, bit clearly Vettel had much more to lose in this situation than did Hamilton. Hamilton’s worries were clearly still getting the better of him, when asking later on what tyres the cars in front of him were using. Hamilton finally seemed to relax a bit later on when it was clear that Vettel wouldn’t be able to close the gap to the frontrunners.

Fernando Alonso showed that he’s still a fighter, giving Hamilton a good deal of trouble overtaking on lap 66. Hamilton opted for a more cautious approach this time, and while he was able to eventually make the overtake stick Alonso put up a fantastic defense.

Vettel himself had a few fraught moments, particularly following a mid-race tussle with ex-Ferrari driver Felipe Massa. It was quite something to hear his engineers talking him down, reminding him to remain calm. He certainly was able to get back down to business afterwards, though, and finished a very respectable 4th. He was certainly aided by a mid-race Virtual Safety Car brought about by Nico Hulkenberg’s exciting retirement, and took advantage of an opportunity to pit for ultrasofts. Sadly, despite delivering a much better race performance (including setting several fastest laps) and Hamilton finishing well out of the top 5, Vettel wasn’t able to finish high enough to keep his title hopes alive.

Lost in all this was Max Verstappen’s masterful drive to finish 1st after setting the fastest lap of the race himself. Despite some early concerns over blistering on the left front, he drove an uneventful race staying substantially clear of second-place Valtteri Bottas. At one point his engineers had to chide him for not slowing down a bit, to which Max replied with a laughing apology. Watch this kid, he’s going places. Here’s hoping that Red Bull and Renault can deliver him a contending chassis and engine next year!

Renault’s sudden lack of reliability, though overshadowed by the opening lap drama and the title contenders’ battle back up the order, was a dubious star of the show. Daniel Ricciardo’s penalty for his power unit change wound up being meaningless as he retired on lap 7 with an engine failure. Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley was forced to retire as well, his engine going out in a puff of smoke reminiscent of his woes in qualifying. Carlos Sainz of the Renault factory team also retired his car late in the race.

Of the Renault retirements, the most spectacular was Nico Hulkenberg’s. Reporting a loss of power and boost, Hulkenberg was instructed to immediately stop the car: “The car is not safe, the car is not safe, you need to get out by climbing onto the front of the car and jumping off.” The battery systems store a considerable amount of energy, and one shudders to think what might’ve happened had Hulkenberg grounded himself while in contact with the car. Doubtless some will use this as another reason to move away from hybrid powertrains in the future.

Apart from Verstappen, Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly was the final Renault-powered car left standing at the end of the race. While certainly better than Honda’s performance over the last several seasons, one can’t help but wonder if Renault is going to prove the best choice for McLaren in coming seasons – but then it’s not like McLaren had a lot of options.

It’s worth noting that both McLarens saw the chequered flag this time around. Alonso even took home a point.

Local favorite Sergio Perez certainly gave the home crowd some moments to cheer about, but a 7th place finish was doubtless a bit disappointing. Happily, with his Force India teammate Esteban Ocon finishing up in 5th the team has locked up 4th in the Constructors Championship and the boys will be free to race in the final two sessions. Bring us a good show, boys!

Happy birthday to Lance Stroll, 6th place and the points to go with it should make for a nice present.

As the sun sets on an eventful Grand Prix of Mexico, congratulations to Max Verstappen on his dominant victory! Congratulations as well to Lewis Hamilton for his 4th Drivers Championship.

Grand Prix of Mexico FP3 Reactions

Image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports (Andrew Home)

Going into Free Practice 3 the big question remains, “Will Lewis Hamilton claim his 4th Drivers Championship?”
High altitude and dust at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez makes life more difficult for the teams, and yesterday’s struggles for grip underscore the challenges. A stiff headwind leading into Turn 1 made for a good deal of excitement as drivers entered the braking zone, and the lower temperatures made for a struggle getting supersoft tyres up to snuff.

The FIA has taken a more aggressive approach to track limits by putting additional measures in place to prevent drivers from gaining an advantage by playing fast and loose with the boundaries. Additional kerbing has been laid out to provide immediate consequences for running wide, with further markers being set up overnight at Turn 11. If drivers cut Turn 10, they’ll need to drive through the markers to ensure they don’t gain an advantage. The stewards will additionally remind the teams about certain corners of concern. Racing drivers are competitive in the same way that the ocean is damp, and curbing their natural tendencies to extract every advantage leads to stewarding being a thankless job at times. It’s thus important that they enforce the rules consistently.

From the session, Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly will face an uphill fight in tomorrow’s race, his FP3 (and later Qualifying) literally vanishing in a puff of smoke due to a mechanical failure after two laps. With only 10 laps completed yesterday due to an engine issue, and two today, he’s desperately short of real-world track time. Simulator time and study are important tools, but there’s no substitute for getting actual miles in the car.

After losing the Super Formula championship by half a point when the race he skipped Austin for was cancelled due to Typhoon Lan, it feels like Gasly can’t win for losing. We hope his luck improves for the remainder of the weekend! With the Honda power supply deal looming next year, the cynical response would be to say, “Get used to it, kid.”

On the other side of the Baby Bulls’ garage, Brendon Hartley put in another quiet, workmanlike performance to finish the session in 11th. Hartley continues to demonstrate his skill, and Toro Rosso wouldn’t go amiss with him on the roster in 2018.

Mercedes AMG Petronas’ Valtteri Bottas seems to be finding his form again, setting a track record of 1:17.681 on ultrasofts near the midpoint of the session, only to top it with 1:17.537 moments later. Though his record wasn’t to stand, being topped by Ferrari, Red Bull, and his teammate Lewis Hamilton, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez is just the sort of circuit Bottas enjoys, so here’s hoping for a good show from him both during Qualifying and the race.

Championship leader Lewis Hamilton spent much of the session lurking near the top of the timesheet, but reported engine issues during the middle portion of the session. Happily for Lewis, the response from the pit wall was that it was something that’d just require a calibration adjustment. Hamilton himself went on to sit briefly atop the timings with a momentary record of 1:17.118

Despite being the overall favorites for pace thus far, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen faced some struggles getting his supersoft tyres into shape. The first sector caused him particular trouble, and given Pirelli’s skittishness about lowering tyre pressure the main option to put more heat and grip on the front will be aero. Of course, Verstappen’s first sector times weren’t exactly bad, so one is left wondering if he simply got placebo changes. Whatever they did to resolve it, it seemed to work as Max went on to top Bottas’ and Vettel’s and Hamilton’s top fastest times to finish the session with the new track record of 1:17.113.

Scuderia Ferrari concentrated much of their session on the supersoft compound, but when they switched to ultrasofts their true pace shone through. Sebastian Vettel briefly topped the timing sheets, with a lap time of 1:17.230. Barring quality gremlins, Ferrari will be a force to contend with tomorrow.

Local boy Sergio Perez of Force India ran an uneventful session, finishing in 7th just ahead of his teammate Esteban Ocon. Should Force India conclusively lock up 4th in the Constructors Championship, ‘Best Name in F1’ winner Otmar Szafnauer has said that the drivers will be free to race again. Here’s wishing the team a solid weekend so we can enjoy the Perez-Ocon rivalry in the final events of the season. They’ve certainly done a good job of reining it in for the team, and it’d be great to see them unleashed.

Though it is of course difficult to generalize from practice performance, there should be an exciting battle at the front of the pack between Red Bull, Ferrari, and Mercedes. Onward to Qualifying!

Grand Prix of Mexico Qualifying Reaction

Image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

The twin themes for Qualifying are excitement and disappointment. On the excitement front, watching the shootout for P1 was thrilling. While it’s certainly au courant to knock the current generation of power units, as the 2017 package hits high levels of development it’s fantastic to see the track records falling. Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in its current incarnation may not have much of a history to compare against, but it’s nonetheless exciting to see records fall.

On the disappointment front, the luckless Pierre Gasly of Scuderia Toro Rosso will be starting from the back after missing Qualifying due to a power unit change, and Brendon Hartley’s promising start to qualifying was also cut short due to an engine failure of his own. Haas failed to perform to expectations, and even typical high performers Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo qualified below their proven potential. One can perhaps understand Ricciardo’s slower pace in comparison to his teammate as Verstappen has a more advanced power unit, but it’s still unusual to see him so far behind. McLaren continues to show how what could have been, and Williams continues in their inconsistent form.

Renault and Force India occupied the middle ground between the extremes. Their drivers all delivered competent performances, qualifying in the lower half of the top 10, but apart from the crowd’s obvious love for Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez the highs and lows experienced by the other teams overshadowed their solid performance.

Q1:
It was no surprise to see Ferrari open with a strong performance on supersoft tyres, though while Sebastian Vettel finished the session in 4th his teammate Kimi Raikkonen fell to 7th, behind McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Force India’s Sergio Perez.

While Mercedes was able to beat Ferrari, they did it on ultrasofts. While Mercedes’ pace is generally undeniable, their need for the softer compounds this round shows that they’re not as safe as they might be.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen topped the Ferrari times – also on supersofts. Hamilton’s engine gremlins continued, with Hamilton reporting another engine cut during the latter half of the session. Regardless, his early time of 1:17.518 ensured he’d safely advance to Q2. His teammate Daniel Ricciardo completed the session in 10th.

Force India’s Sergio Perez, the local favorite, put delivered a solid performance for his supporters the grandstands and occupied 6th.

McLaren’s Fernando Alonso continued to demonstrate the sadly-unrealized potential of the car by climbing to 5th in the first half of Q1 following a forgettable series of practice sessions. The waning moments of Q1 showed Honda’s return to form as Alonso reported no power and no turbo. Despite this, he still managed to deliver excellent sector times as the flag fell.

The flying laps after the chequered flag saw the usual last-minute excitement among the backmarkers. Alonso’s teammate Stoffel Vandoorne climbed to 13th. Toro Rosso’s resident Kiwi, the impressive Brendon Hartley, advanced, finishing the session in 14th. Williams’ Lance Stroll rounded out the Q2 field in 15th. Sadly, Haas and Sauber both failed to put together enough performance to advance to Q2. Given the disparity between Sauber and Haas’ power units, Haas’ finishing behind Sauber is troubling.

Advancing to Q2: HAM BOT VER ALO PER RAI RIC HUL OCO SAI MAS VAN HAR STR

Excluded: ERI WEH MAG GRO GAS

Q2:
Records continued to have a very short lifespan due to the battle at the top of the timing chart, and ultrasofts are the order of the session among the frontrunners. Bottas rocketed to the top of the leaderboard with an opening time of 1:17.161 on ultrasofts, but was topped by Vettel with 1:17.058 (incidentally setting a new track record). Hamilton, disregarding any worries over his engine, put in a blistering new record time of 1:17.035 in turn.

Hartley’s Toro Rosso let him down in the early stage of the session with a sadly-familiar puff of smoke echoing Gasly’s FP3 misfortune. His radio message to the pit wall, “No power, no power,” signaled the end of a promising day and bringing out a yellow.

The yellow flags caused Max Verstappen to back off a promising lap, but he recovered to set his own new record of 1:16.524. Vettel fought back and topped Hamilton, but wasn’t able to unseat Verstappen.

Force India and Renault certainly took part in Q2, but apart from the crowd’s cheering for Checo there wasn’t much notable in their performance – but an unexciting advancement to Q3 is just as much an advancement to Q3 as an exciting one, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Williams continued to suffer from their ongoing inability to quite bring everything together, and elected to only run late in the session. The lower air pressure at altitude contributed to their woes thanks to the associated lack of downforce, and they weren’t able to rise out of the drop zone.

While Vandoorne and Alonso did each put in an early lap, McLaren elected to not attempt to set times for Q2 to preserve tyres, and likely power units, for the race. After Alonso’s excellent Q1 performance it’s disappointing to see McLaren still making these decisions.

Advancing to Q3: VER VET HAM BOT RAI RIC SAI HUL OCO PER

Excluded: MAS STR HAR VAN ALO

Q3:
The crowd loves Checo, and their excitement seeing him in Q3 comes through.

The battle for pole didn’t disappoint, and once again the boots of choice were ultrasofts. Bottas got a good start, but was forced to abort his early flying lap when he came up on a slower-moving Verstappen in the Foro Sol section. While Verstappen did move off to the left, Bottas wound up braking hard and locking up briefly before diving for the pits where he was to remain until the closing minutes of the session. The stewards announced an investigation into Verstappen for impeding Bottas, but in a move that will doubtless ease any sense of anti-Verstappen bias determined that no action was warranted.

Hamilton put in a valiant effort and sat briefly in P1 himself with a repsectable-but-not-unbeatable time of 1:16.934. The churn in P2 was entertaining, with Hulkenberg, Raikkonen, Sainz, and Ocon occupying the position in turn until Sebastian Vettel coaxed his SF70H, Gina, into delivering a lap of 1:16.833, pushing everyone ahead of Verstappen down a spot.

Verstappen responded with a fastest first and second sector, going on to set an excellent time of 1:16.574. For a moment it seemed that a record other than track time, namely youngest pole winner, might be broken, but this sadly wasn’t to be.

After the mid-session lull, Bottas completed his flying lap with a 4th-place 1:16.958 shortly before the chequered flag fell. Hamilton was unable to improve his time.

After the flag fell, Vettel completed his own flying lap to set a new record with a time of 1:16.488, securing his 50th pole position. Verstappen was unable to improve his own time, taking second. Bottas’s own final lap wasn’t enough to improve his position.

As with Q2, the battle at the front overshadowed otherwise competent drives from Renault and Force India. And as with advancing to Q3, an unexciting top-10 starting position is just as much a top-10 as an exciting one. Ocon certainly had the best performance of the midfield, qualifying a surprising 6th ahead of Ricciardo.

As the dust settled on an exciting qualifying session, the grid prior to penalties was VET VER HAM BOT RAI ECO RIC HUL SAI PER MAS STR HAR ALO VAN ERI WEH MAG GRO GAS.

With Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen on the front row, one can only imagine the conversations in the Ferrari and Red Bull camps, hoping to avoid a repeat of the carnage at the start of the Singapore Grand Prix. Even though it’s quite possible that we’ll see the Drivers Championship locked up for Lewis Hamilton during the race session, it’s still exciting to see Red Bull and Ferrari bringing the fight to Mercedes at this late stage of the season. Hamilton’s engine gremlins certainly add an element of uncertainty, and Renault-powered teams will doubtless be keeping a wary eye on their engines following Toro Rosso’s troubles.