Red flags cause chaos in qualifying for Azerbaijan GP

The sun was shining over the Baku Street Circuit this afternoon as qualifying for the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix got underway.

Q1 began with two brief yellow flags when Hamilton and Hulkenberg both ran off-track before rejoining the circuit, with Stroll also having a brief scrape with the wall.

A red flag came out just moments after the chequered flag fell on Q1, with Williams’ driver Robert Kubica clipping the wall at turn eight and hitting the barriers. Kubica was okay, but Williams were left with a huge repair job on their hands.

The first session ended with Pierre Gasly in P1, followed by Charles Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton. The five drivers knocked out of Q1 were Stroll, Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Russell and Kubica.

LAT Images

After a delayed start due to the recovery of Kubica’s William’s, Q2 finally got underway, but the red flag was brought out again within minutes when Charles Leclerc crashed into the barriers at turn eight – the exact same place where Kubica crashed in Q1. Leclerc was uninjured but was left understandably frustrated as he made his way back to the Ferrari garage.

After yet another half-hour delay, Q2 finished without further incident. Max Verstappen topped the time sheets followed by Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton in P3. The five drivers out in Q2 and lining up from P11-P15 on the grid for tomorrow’s race are Carlos Sainz, Daniel Ricciardo, Alex Albon, Kevin Magnussen and Pierre Gasly, who didn’t set a time in Q2 due to his penalty for missing the weigh-in yesterday in practice. He will start tomorrow’s race from the pit-lane.

Q3 was relatively uneventful with nine out of ten drivers out on track in a bid to get pole position. Despite having crashed out in Q2, Leclerc set a competitive time and will start tomorrow’s race in tenth place.

Valtteri Bottas set a sensational lap time of 1:40.495, placing him on pole position for tomorrow’s race. Hamilton completed the front row with Sebastian Vettel behind in P3 next to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. The rest of the grid consists of Perez in P5, Kvyat in P6, Lando Norris in an impressive 7th, with Giovanazzi, Raikkonen and Leclerc rounding out the top ten.

LAT Images

If today’s dramatic qualifying is anything to go by, tomorrow promises to be a very interesting race in Azerbaijan!

[Featured image – LAT Images]

How Ferrari has lost out in cornering speed

Images courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari

Ferrari seemed to be the car to beat after pre-season testing, but 3 races into the season, Mercedes has dominated, taking 1-2 finishes right from the start. How did the Italian outfit lose all the ground it had, and why is it difficult to come back?

2019 started with a really positive vibe for Ferrari. Mattia Binotto, a man who has earned the utmost respect of everyone in the team, was appointed team principal, and Charles Leclerc, a driver who knows Scuderia inside out and has been part of it since 2016, replaced Kimi Raikkonen and brought something unprecedented for the Italians, optimism.

Chinese Grand Prix 2019 – Charles Leclerc

All they had to do was get the results on track, a feat that seemed really difficult for them in 2018. Even though Sebastian Vettel started the season strongly, dominating the early part of the championship, the slump that followed was devastating for him and his team, resulting in another lost title.

It’s fair to say that the SF71H was the better part of the championship, the best car out there. It was fast in the straights, rapid in the corners, managed the tires better than its counterpart, the Mercedes W09, and it proved to be the most reliable car only for Ferrari to spoil it with a misjudged upgrade package after the Singapore GP.

The foundation was there for the 2019 car, though, and that seemed to be the case in this year’s pre-season testing. The SF90 was tremendous, toping the timesheets, with experts (and the teams themselves) arguing that this was the car to beat.

Lewis Hamilton’s remarks may have been the most graphic, and possibly exaggerated:

“I think it’s potentially half a second, something like that. But we will be analysing a lot from this test and there will be some mods that we’ll try and implement before Australia. There’s obviously not a lot of time, but over this next week, hopefully we’ll gain another tenth at least just in our understanding of the car.”

And they gained, not just a tenth, but seemingly 8 tenths of a second against Scuderia, which seemed to have taken a huge blow in Melbourne. Set-up problems, cooling issues, all sorts of things happened to the car that was meant to be the winner at the season opener.

Set-up woes and a key factor that changes everything

Right from the start, Binotto emphasized on the set-up issues his team faced in Australia, saying that this was a one off thing, downplaying the importance of this problem, or even worse not fully acknowledging its full extent.

“You’re always hoping to address and improve the situation through the weekend when you’ve got some issues with balance and the set-up,” he said. “It didn’t happen. We need to bring all the data back home and try to analyse it.

“That has to remain an exception all through the season. But I think it will be a good lesson learned.

“If we may identify where the issue was, we can be back even more stronger.”

This year’s aero kits are a very different kind from those of 2017 or 2018. Simplifying the front wing and the bargeboards, widening the rear wing and its effect on the straight line speed messed with the balance of the Italian car, more than any other on the grid.

Ferrari tried to maintain a more aggressive approach with its front wing design, with the inner part of it being taller than the outer, meaning that towards the endplates, the outwash would still be the same as it was with the 2018 wings – and that is the main issue with the set-up changes.

Simplifying aero parts has an effect on the things a team can ‘tweak’ to get the most out of its car, because the operating window of it is really decreased, and every detail has a bigger impact on the car’s performance.

Mercedes tried to be more conservative with its front end design, and that enables it to make changes to the set-up without compromising its all around performance as much as Ferrari.

The Maranello squad tried to push for the straight line speed not only by making big gains in the ERS deployment (with the MGU-K being at full power for the better part of the lap), but with its aerodynamic components, in order to have as less drag as possible. But, less drag means less downforce around the corners, and I don’t know any track which is composed only by big straights.

Even Baku has a very tricky middle sector, full of mid and low speed corners, and Ferrari addressed that by bringing its first upgrades there, per Binotto:

“We are bringing a few updates to Baku, as the first step in the development of the SF90.”

It is almost certain that Ferrari will bounce back and sort these problems out. It is only a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’. And this cannot come soon enough.

Race 1001: Another cracker in Baku?

After a decidedly disappointing 1000th race at the Chinese Grand Prix, the F1 bandwagon brings us to the six kilometre-long Baku Street Circuit for the fourth ever race in Azerbaijan.

Last time out saw Lewis Hamilton take the 75th win of his career, and his second of the season. He goes into this weekend at the top of the WDC ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas, while Ferrari are yet to deliver on the massive potential that they promised after testing in February.

In fact, they have seen their rivals not only inflict significant damage to their title hopes, but make the best team start to a season since Williams in 1992 with three one-two finishes to start the season.

2019 Bahrain Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

If there is to be any hope for Ferrari getting back to winning ways for the first time in 2019, it is that they looked impressive in Baku last year. Sebastian Vettel had been on for victory had it not been for a safety car late on that allowed Bottas to pit and rejoin ahead of him.

A penultimate lap puncture for Bottas then handed the win to Hamilton in a race that didn’t quite equal 2017, but certainly gave us a lot of excitement and entertainment, while Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen were given a lot of resentment by their Red Bull team after their crash.

Speaking of the Austrian team, the tight and twisty corners of a street circuit plus a Honda engine which is giving them significantly more power than Renault did could put them into contention for a podium or perhaps even more if things do their way.

However, this weekend will be a telling one for Pierre Gasly. Having been heavily out-qualified and out-raced thus far by team mate Verstappen this season, a circuit like Baku is an opportunity for him to prove that he deserves the seat awarded to him by Red Bull. Knowing Red Bull’s tendency to be impatient with young drivers, he’d better find some pace quickly.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Their sister team Toro Rosso continue to enjoy a solid start to 2019, and Alex Albon is Red Bull’s next optimistic topic of conversation. He finished 10th in China, having started the race from the pit-lane following a crash in FP3 that put him out of qualifying.

The battle between Toro Rosso, Racing Point, Haas, and Renault continues to be a fun one to watch, as Haas still look for answers to their baffling lack of race pace, and Renault try to have their first clean weekend of the season after a reliability issue-strewn start to the year. There is extra incentive for Nico Hulkenberg, as he looks to prove that Baku is not a bogey track for him, having crashed out of both of the last two races.

As a street track looms, opportunity beckons for some to prove their worth to their teams, and for Ferrari to finally try and throw down the gauntlet to Mercedes in 2019.

 

[Featured image – Wolfgang Wilhelm]

Driver Ratings: Baku Does it Again!

Azerbaijan never ceases to amaze, I am unsure whether this beats 2017’s race which was amazing to watch. Lady luck was on a few driver’s side today, we’ll look in deeper detail at who had it in the rating review. As per always the rating will be done in results order.

Lewis Hamilton – 7

Lady luck was most definitely on his side today, he took longer to turn the tyres on unlike Vettel who led early on. He made some uncharacteristic mistakes especially at the first corner flat spotting both tyres he told pit wall the tyres were finished so had no choice but to change strategy and pit. The pace on the fresher yellow softs was slow but then the safety car came into play. He was gifted the win with misfortune of others.

Kimi Raikkonen – 7

Kimi being Kimi, you wouldn’t really remember he is a World Champion from 2007. He’s being used to a certain extent as a clear number two driver to Vettel. It all went wrong on Saturday with Ferrari only bringing one set of super softs he had to make one lap count, he didn’t do so. This forced him onto another strategy for Sunday. A silly collision on the first lap when he could of let off the throttle easily damaged his car, no penalty surprisingly, as others fell by the way side he took an unexpected second.

Sergio Perez – 9

Ever the opportunist, now the most successful Mexican driver in Formula 1 history and most successful at Baku in terms of podium finishes. Force India looked strong all weekend with their Mercedes grunt. Great pass on wounded Vettel along the straight. The catalyst the fourth placed team from 2017 need to push on this year?

Sebastian Vettel – 8

Go big or go home from the German, he took advantage of the safety car in Australia but this race it hindered him as we look at in a moment. A great flying lap for pole and early race from the quadruple champion. He pulled a clear lead out after the first safety car. He got a lacklustre restart from the second safety car and went for it on the brakes but with such a long straight they went cold, locked up and ran wide. He lost places rather than gaining, and dropped to P4, with then Perez getting him in the later laps due to his massive flat spot. The Ferrari was strongest all weekend, did he really have to go for it at the first attempt he had?

Carlos Sainz – 8

Flying the flag for Renault today for the first half of the race had they had the third best package. He got by the Red Bulls well and then pulled clear. When they got up to speed he kept up with them. He pitted early as started on the ultra softs and continued well to finish solidly in the points. Pretty much the reason why Renault ‘loaned’ the Spaniard from Red Bull this season.

Charles Leclerc – 9

The reason why Ferrari rate this driver highly was shown today as he scores his first World Championship points in P6. He did better than most turning on the super softs and had great pace from his impressive qualifying managing to keep Raikkonen at bay after the first restart. He would of still scored points even if others finished, he just got a few more as result. Great for the Sauber team to have points but more importantly a talent like Leclerc behind the wheel of one of their cars.

Fernando Alonso – 8

The character and grit that Alonso showed today was the reason why everyone rates him so highly. To begin with he got the McLaren round a near 2 minute lap with 2 wheels shod car into the pits with minimal damage. There was some to the floor of the car as a result but still managed to score decent points for the team. Good battle with fellow countryman Sainz today. Worth every penny to Mclaren once again.

Lance Stroll – 8

A happy hunting ground for the Canadian, after taking advantage of the 2017 race and scoring an unlikely podium, he scored his and the team’s first points this season. Great confidence booster for him and the team. He had the pace with the Mercedes power and good racecraft to finish in the points.

Stoffel Vandoorne – 6

Stoffel was off colour this weekend, but took advantage of others to finish in the low end of the points but also once again Alonso was on average a few tenths quicker than him all weekend. He continues to pile pressure on himself regardless of a points finish today, Lando Norris is looking pretty nifty in Formula 2.

Brendan Hartley – 6

The Kiwi has scored his first point in Formula 1. He had a very unorthodox way of entering the sport last year and has taken him a while to adjust, some say he still is and was the fortunate today. Bad driving on Saturday as he didn’t set a lap and his team mate nearly went flying over the top of him. He drove better on Sunday.

Marcus Ericcson – 6

Marcus was in the shadow of his team mate today, a collision on the first lap turn 2 restricted his performance. He received a penalty for the collision and was clearly at fault, no excuses. He flat spotted tyres which also ruined the strategy he was on halfway through the race. The car was good over the weekend which should give him confidence Bahrain can happen again.

Pierre Gasly – 7

He showed great racecraft on Sunday, and reactions on Saturday. He thought that he was going into the wall after coming across his team mate but managed to keep it away with lightning reactions. With yellows like his team mate he didn’t set a representitve lap time. The race was different all be it he has nothing to show from it, he managed to get up as high as P7 in the race after carving through the field’s destruction on lap 1. An out and out racer, battled with former rival Leclerc which was good to see. He was involved in a collision with Magnussen which prevented the attack for points as he had the pace.

Kevin Magnussen – 6

K-Mag was in the wars on Sunday after a tough qualifying. A short run to the 90 degree corners and being in the middle of the pack increases chances of collisions. He collided with Ericcson at turn 2 which ended his chance of a good finish at that stage. A further collision with Gasly after the second restart then ended his chance of points. Later reprimanded with 2 penalty points, 12 is the amount before a ban, at this current time he is on 8 in the 12 month period. Most dangerous driver Gasly has ever raced according to the Frenchman. An off colour performance to such a great start to the season.

Valterri Bottas – 8

He was on for a win with Mercedes but you could say poor marshalling and debris still scattered over the track resulted in his dramatic retirement. It was through no fault of his own. He managed the gap all race and was consistent, and midway was fastest driver. He made no mistakes throughout. Due to staying out longest he used the safety car to continue to lead. He then restarted well and pulled away but ran over debris which caused a dramatic puncture at around 180mph, forcing him to retire with only a handful of laps remaining. Great weekend but nothing to show for it, joy for one of the Silver Arrows but despair for the other.

Romain Grosjean – 5

Grosjean seemed to be in 2017 mood, very emotional and spins aplenty with one really silly. He was hindered by a gearbox problem in qualifying which resulted him starting last. He kept his nose clean driving through the mess and was on for good points. Every driver was struggling for tyre temperature. He tried to warm the tyres up behind the second safety car by weaving and too much the Frenchman hit the wall at slow speed, throwing away first points of the season ironically at the time putting Magnussen into the points. Bad day at the office.

Max Verstappen – 5

His fault or not but Max has now collided with other drivers 3 times in 4 races, beginning to remind me of the great Pastor Maldonado. He was playing with fire all race long with his team mate, great spacial awareness but sometimes a bit too aggressive with squeezes and double direction changes defending. He couldn’t get the red walled super soft tyre switched on early in the race resulting in both Renault passing him. Battery issues may of slowed his pace but the issue between team mates was brewing all race long. Once more a retirement and hefty bill for Red Bull to pay.

Daniel Ricciardo – 5

The high of Shanghai two weeks ago to the despair of Baku. He struggled to get by his team mate as the over powered DRS with gusty winds helped him dramatically. Various occasions the driver supposedly best on the brakes had his car side by side with his team mate but only pulled it off a few laps prior to the pit stop. He had better pace than Max at a track he did great on last year. Multiple times he was on the outside centimetres from the wall and multiple lock ups. He lost out to the overcut but with the warmer rubber from far back he tried to get by but went straight into the back of his team mate. The worst thing you can do in motorsport! Red Bull blame both drivers which you can understand, but much like Vettel did he have to go for it? Plenty of laps were remaining. There is talk of Ricciardo going to Ferrari with contracts ending for various drivers, not the first time he colliding with his team mate maybe sway his mind to leave the Austrian outfit?

Nico Hulkenburg – 5

With how the race played out, Nico could of finally got on the podium! He still waits to taste the champagne after being close on multiple occasions. He lost the car on his own accord after getting by the poor paced Red Bulls. Renault looked like the fourth best car. He needs to keep concentration as with more mental races and no mistakes from the German, he could be that podium soon.

Esteban Ocon – 7

A passenger in his crash with Raikkonen, surprised that the Ferrari driver didn’t receive a penalty. Strong qualifying and pace but nothing he could do on his short Sunday afternoon.

Sergey Sirotkin – 7

Best weekend for the Russian rookie, albeit the mistake into the wall in third practice. Qualified strongly and was unfortunate to be in the sandwich between drivers on the first lap which ended his race early. Extremely harsh that he has received a 3 place grid penalty for the next race in Spain.

Summary

So Hamilton got his win in Baku through some strong luck, whilst Vettel through his decision to go big at the restart lost points. Hamilton now leads the Championship for the first time this year. 

My driver of the day is a very tough decision, my toughest yet this year, and it’ll go to Sergio Perez for his podium finish. It just shades Charles Leclerc’s impressive points finish. Red Bull really need to look at the current situation, once more through collisions they have cars not finishing. 

Cars tend to change quite dramatically at Barcelona and that is where the Formula 1 circus is next at. Will Red Bull kiss and make up or will the fire get bigger? Mclaren say big upgrade for Spain, will it work and push them forward? What upgrades will Mercedes have in store to catch up to Ferrari? We have to wait 2 weeks to find out.

?image courtesy of Sahara Force India. Fetured image courtesy of RedBull Content pool

Opinion: the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was the race F1 needed

At the start of the 2017 season, hopes were high that this would be the year F1 found its feet once again. After years of processional racing, unattractive cars and an all-too-corporate image under Bernie Ecclestone and CVC, we were promised a whole new era for the sport, one that would take it back to the spectacle for which it was once renowned.

But when the championship got underway in Melbourne, the product appeared very much different from the initial pitch. The new regulations were slammed for stringing-out rather than levelling the field, and the apparent “sex appeal” of the aggressive new car designs was hard to find beneath an array of shark fins, thumb noses and T-wing appendages. Before long, the optimism surrounding Liberty Media’s acquisition of F1 also faded as its plans for T-shirt cannons at Grands Prix and a 25-race calendar prompted fears of a slide towards an “Americanised” sport.

Such criticisms were then amplified once it became clear the 2017 title fight would not become a legendary battle royale, with the likes of Fernando Alonso, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen held back once again by the inequality between F1’s engine suppliers—nor was the sport’s image helped by the censure directed at the on-track struggles of Jolyon Palmer and Lance Stroll. In short, Formula One has been left more bruised than bettered so far in 2017, and has been in desperate need of a pick-me-up for months.

Baku City Circuit, Baku, Azerbaijan.
Thursday 22 June 2017.
A view of the circuit.
World Copyright: Zak Mauger/LAT Images
ref: Digital Image _56I6235

Strange, then, that it should find that at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Although last year’s inaugural visit to the Baku City Circuit was a success logistically, from a fan’s perspective there was little to commit to memory—the race result was a walk in the park for Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg, and all the usual drama of street circuit racing was absent amidst a glut of run-off areas and spacious 90-degree corners. It seems safe to say that, given the response to 2016’s event, anticipation for F1’s return to the City of Winds this year was pretty muted.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

But for all the pessimism, the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix turned out to be—in no uncertain terms—a surefire classic. Teammates collided, the title contenders clashed and controversy brewed all over the grid; and all that before the race was won by a driver who crashed out in qualifying, and a teenager in only his eighth Grand Prix start took a maiden podium finish. Looking through the classification tells only half the story of a race that would belong in the same camp as Senna’s Monaco ’84 podium, or Button’s infamous last-to-first win in Canada—and one that might prove exactly the shot in the arm that F1 needs right now.

For starters, the end result was packed full of good news stories. As neutral as we journalists are, it’s hard not to enjoy the sight of Daniel Ricciardo beaming down from the top step of a podium—especially when his victory makes Baku the first time three different constructors have won in a single season since 2013. Furthermore, Valtteri Bottas proved by finishing second that overtaking is clearly not impossible for the 2017 cars, having come back from last place after a collision with Kimi Räikkönen on the first lap.

Just as enjoyable was the return of Williams to the rostrum courtesy of Lance Stroll. The Canadian’s ability to bounce back from being blasted as F1’s worst-ever rookie to becoming its second-youngest podium finisher was astonishing to see, and will surely give the sport’s media something positive to discuss all the way to Austria. It may still be too early to tell if Stroll’s maiden podium will be the first of many or a one-off delivered by fortune, but the maturity he has shown in progressing from first finish to first points to first podium definitely suggests a promising second half of the season now that the wind is in his sails.

And as if that weren’t enough, there was also plenty of celebration at the lower end of the top ten as Fernando Alonso came home ninth to take McLaren’s first points of 2017. Admittedly, a haul of just two championship points is hardly the kind of result McLaren and Alonso fans want to be seeing, but for the two former champions to finally get on the board in such a woeful season can only be a good thing for them and F1 both.

Baku City Circuit, Baku, Azerbaijan.
Sunday 25 June 2017.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren, arrives on the grid.
Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _R3I3731

But as uplifting as those relative victories were, where F1 really won out in Baku was through the numerous controversies that unfolded on and off track.

When Sebastian Vettel banged wheels with Lewis Hamilton at the second safety car restart, it was almost possible to hear the collective intake of breath from spectators around the world. Although the contact was far from race-ending, the exit of Baku’s Turn 15 had all the hallmarks of a moment that turns a title fight from a fierce-but-friendly rivalry into a veritable powder keg: think Hamilton and Rosberg at Spa in 2014, or Vettel and Mark Webber at the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix. Without shared team management to cool things down between Hamilton and Vettel, the friction will surely only continue to escalate over the coming races, providing F1 with the kind of fiery headlines seen during the days of Senna and Prost—and that would hardly be a bad thing, as I’m sure any racing fan will agree.

And as the title battle rages, there is also a much greater chance for that tension to spill over into the intra-team relationships at Mercedes and Ferrari. As Hamilton chased down Vettel in Baku, he was heard on team radio apparently calling for teammate Valtteri Bottas to call off his own hunt for second place and hold up the Ferrari behind him. It’s hardly the first time Hamilton has intimated he would prefer a more favourable hierarchy within the team this season, and will no doubt be the last; especially as Räikkönen’s slumped position to fifth in the standings with less than half Vettel’s points will surely mean team orders coming into play at Ferrari sooner or later.

Großer Preis von Aserbaidschan 2017, Samstag – Steve Etherington /Mercedes AMG-Petronas

What’s more, although the box office clash at the front has become the dominant talking point from Baku, Hamilton and Vettel were far from the only ones cooking up a storm in the City of Winds on Sunday.

Force India endured what must have been one of its most painful races in a long while on Sunday, as Esteban Ocon tripped over the front wing of Sergio Pérez and turned what might have been a double podium into a sixth place and a retirement respectively. It was an incident that has frankly looked inevitable since their falling out at the last race in Montréal, but for things to come to such a head so soon was surprising, and it will be fascinating to see how the team manages this situation over the next twelve races.

Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson were also in the wars late in the race, rubbing wheels and shedding carbon fibre as they fought for position behind the top ten. Despite not producing the kind of fireworks as Ocon and Pérez, this will surely not help to ease the discord that has apparently arisen in the Sauber garage following media reports of the team favouring Ericsson over Wehrlein—especially as the German reputedly disobeyed a pitwall order to let his teammate through for tenth in the closing stages of the race.

What makes these two intra-team brawls particularly interesting (besides the resulting carnage and curse words) is that they’ve come at that point in the season when drivers’ eyes begin turning towards the negotiating table for 2018. A deteriorating relationship with one’s teammate now will make those summer break offers all the more enticing; factor in also the pointedly visible contact between Alonso’s entourage and the heads at Mercedes and Renault, and Max Verstappen’s continued displeasure with Red Bull’s reliability issues, and we could well have Baku to thank for one of the most engrossing driver markets in recent years.

Pascal Wehrlein (D), Sauber F1 Team. Baku Street Circuit.

Of course, only time will tell if the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix has earned a place in F1’s Hall of Fame. But what can’t be denied is that, at a track lambasted as soulless and bland, we were gifted with a race as compelling as it was unpredictable, one that has set a fire beneath an already-simmering championship contest and generated enough subplots to keep the press supplied with headlines all season long.

And if that’s not just what Formula One needs right now, I don’t know what is.

James Matthews, Deputy Editor

Vettel under further investigation; why the FIA has to step up

Everyone seems to have an opinion on that now infamous incident between Hamilton and Vettel in Baku. And with the news that the case will be heard by the FIA, with a verdict expected before the Austrian Grand Prix, the debate seems like it’s going to rage on for a while longer.

There is the chance that the FIA will decide that no further action is warranted, or they could deliver any number of punishments to the Ferrari driver from a fine to a race ban. It wouldn’t be the first time the FIA has taken retroactive action following a racing incident, most famously in the case of disqualifying Michael Schumacher from the driver’s championship in 1997 for his ‘avoidable’ collision with Jacques Villeneuve in the final race of the season. But the question of whether or not Sebastian Vettel deserves further punishment still remains

What should be taken into consideration is that this is not Vettel’s only case of road rage in the last twelve months. Everyone remembers his rather colourful language towards Charlie Whiting in Mexico last year, and the subsequent fallout from that. In that instance, the German escaped without punishment after his apologies to both Whiting and the FIA. That case was not brought before the FIA international tribunal. But Vettel was warned that in the event of a future ‘similar incident’ disciplinary action would be taken.

GP MESSICO F1/2016 – CITTA’ DEL MESSICO (MESSICO) 28/10/2016
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER PIRELLI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

Flash forward seven months or so, and Vettel loses his cool again, turning in on Hamilton after what he believed was a piece of brake testing by the Briton. He was not by any means the first driver to act in that way, and he almost definitely will not be the last. Although his mistake was of a different nature this time, it was avoidable and it was another case of his emotions clouding his better judgement. And as was the argument last November, it sets a very poor example for junior drivers hoping to make it to Formula 1 some day.

Without Mexico, and the promise by the FIA to follow up on any future incidents, further punishment would not be as necessary. But the fact that this is not the first time that Vettel has been involved in such an incident in recent months makes it hard to see how the FIA can justify not taking further action.

For example, race bans for incidents similar to Vettel’s are not uncommon in the junior formulas. In MSA Formula, British driver Dan Ticktum was banned for competing in motorsport for two whole years after deliberating colliding with a rival under safety car conditions. Though his case was far more extreme, and no one is calling for Vettel to be banned from motorsport for such a length of time, the two situations are definitely comparable. The basic premise is the same, and why should there be a different rule for older drivers who are supposed to know better?

Even more similar to the Hamilton/Vettel incident was the race ban received in 2016 by GP2 driver Nobuharu Matsushita for driving erratically after a safety car restart in Baku. After misjudging the safety car line, the Japanese driver accelerated, then braked, then attempted to accelerate again, causing mass confusion and several collisions. His actions were deemed dangerous and he was forced to miss a round of the championship. Though the speed difference is substantial between the two incidents, Matsushita’s offence lacks the aggression and intent of Vettel’s, which are arguably far graver factors.

2016 GP2 Series Round 3
Baku, Azerbaijan.
Saturday 18 June 2016.
Nobuharu Matsushita (JPN, ART Grand Prix) leads Mitch Evans (NZL, Pertamina Campos Racing)
Photo: Andy Hone/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _ONY0719

Though penalties in lower categories of motorsport are ordinarily much harsher, since the drivers are learning the limits of rules and regulations, Formula 1 drivers are expected to know better and set an example. Whether Sebastian Vettel likes it or not, he is an ambassador for global motorsport, and purposely colliding with another driver, no matter the intent behind it, is an inexcusable action that does no favours for Vettel, or the sport of Formula 1.

After letting him off lightly following the events of Mexico last year, the FIA runs the risk of making themselves look weak, and their orders unenforceable if they do not follow up on this ongoing case. A ten second stop-go penalty hardly seems sufficient, especially considering it was the same penalty given to Kvyat in Canada for failing to reclaim his position before the safety car line, which is a far less dangerous offence.

Whether it be a grid penalty or a race ban, further action would send a clear message that behaviour like Vettel’s in unacceptable, and reaffirm the FIA’s commitment to road safety—a long standing mission of the organisation.

Georgia Beith, F2 Correspondent

Ferrari Review: Sebastian Vettel’s penalty not a talking point if Lewis Hamilton’s headrest had stayed attached

Baku City Circuit, Baku, Azerbaijan.
Sunday 25 June 2017.
World Copyright: Andy Hone/LAT Images
ref: Digital Image _ONY8206 via Pirelli media

Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton’s incident is unquestionably the hot topic of what was a crazy Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

For Ferrari it represents points lost in the Constructors’ Championship as Kimi Raikkonen retired after an eventful evening while Valtteri Bottas produced a comeback worthy of Felipe Massa to finish second behind eventual winner Daniel Ricciardo, after stealing extra points from Lance Stroll on the line.

Ultimately after a race containing more than a few melees Vettel gained on his title rival Hamilton by finishing fourth, a place ahead of the Brit, who had to pit from the lead to address a broken headrest.

So, I might as well get straight to it.

On lap 21 Lewis Hamilton appeared to slow slightly (Not brake) at turn 16 to prepare for the restart of the race after a Safety Car period for debris.

For whatever reason Vettel was wrong-footed and ran into Hamilton, angering the German.

While madly gesticulating in a return to last year’s red mist mayhem at Mexico, Vettel hit Hamilton with his hands off the steering wheel.

I would find it very difficult to believe that Vettel would risk his car in such a way as to deliberately wheel-bang into his rival.

At 50mph it is very easy to break the suspension of both your car and your target if you were to deliberately ram into another car.

What is more logical is that he simply wasn’t looking at his steering angle in his rush to perform hand-gymnastics in the direction of Hamilton.

And then there is the furore over the 10-second stop/go penalty that the stewards dished out on one of their busier days.

That cost Vettel half a minute, and was a fittingly severe penalty for a moment of stupidity from a vastly experienced World Champion.

It doubtlessly cost him the race victory.

The reason I say that is because no amount of F1 dodgems would have caused Hamilton’s headrest to become loose.

Without Hamilton’s strife Vettel would have lost at least 15 points and thus surrendered the lead of the World Drivers’ Championship, and with only himself to blame.

Had Hamilton not hit structural gremlins then precisely nobody would be calling Vettel’s penalty lenient, least of all the frustrated three-time champion – who branded Vettel a “disgrace.”

So yes, Vettel ended the race with upper hand but it had nothing to do with his lovetap of Hamilton’s Mercedes.

The punishment was announced at the same time that Hamilton pitted to fix his headrest, and that means it would have been decided beforehand.

So to then alter the punishment based on Hamilton’s issues would have been mind-bogglingly amateurish. They were rightly chastised with their handling of Daniil Kvyat’s penalty(ies) in Canada for parade lap infringements.

The stewards had to stick with what was the correct punishment.

The incident was at low-speed and because of aforementioned factors it was unclear just how deliberate the contact was bearing in mind Vettel wasn’t looking where he was going (The key shot is the onboard).

There have been far more heinous acts committed in a Formula One car, if not necessarily far more thoughtless ones.

The incident adds fire to what was a peaceful Drivers’ Championship fight. This could turn into a fight as heated as the Rosberg years.

Jack Prentice @JPrentice8

Baku Quali Review

courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Lewis Hamilton secured his 66th career pole and his first around the Baku City Circuit thanks to a blistering 1:40.593 – meaning the title-chaser will start at the front of the grid at Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

The Brit had struggled for pace throughout all three practice sessions, including finishing down in 10th at the conclusion of FP2 on Friday, however stormed his way to the front of the pack after being able to take 0.4 seconds off teammate Valtteri Bottas in sector two, who will start alongside his fellow Silver Arrow on the front row of the grid.

It looked as if car number 44 was to suffer pain similar to that of Q3 12 months ago as Daniel Ricciardo clipped the exit of turn six in his Red Bull and forced a red flag leaving just over three minutes of the session remaining with everyone’s favourite Austrian Toto Wolff looking on concerned.

With good reason too, as throughout the day it had taken Mercedes at least two warm-up laps to turn on the soft compound tyres due to the low degradation.

However, the Merc boss needn’t have been, as after just one long out-lap Hamilton broke the 1:41 barrier for the first time of the day, snatching pole from his teammate Bottas who had topped the timesheets up until Ricciardo’s crash.

Behind them title rival Sebastian Vettel did not enjoy his afternoon and will start on the second row of the grid in fourth alongside fellow Ferrari Kimi Raikkonen, after a 1:41.841 and a 1:41.693 respectively were not enough to challenge either of the Silver Arrows.

The Italian prancing horse pairing will have to have their wits about them when the lights go green as Friday practice time-topper Max Verstappen will be looking for any small avenue to sneak through sitting in fifth.

The Dutchman was unable to match his great race-pace shown during FP1 and FP2, but may just fancy taking on the struggling Vettel after out-qualifying his teammate for the second race weekend in a row with the Australian starting 10th.

Alongside the youngster from Red Bull sits Force India’s Sergio Perez, but will not take the headlines in the paddock with the pink panther’s teammate Estaban Ococ securing his best ever grid position of P7 behind the Mexican.

Lance Stroll also recorded his best finish in F1 after out-qualifying his partner Felipe Massa by 0.035s, with the Williams duo beginning Sunday’s race P8 and P9 respectively.

Elsewhere McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne both exited quali during Q1, with the veteran ending up in 16th and the rookie only able to secure P19 after Renault’s Jolyon Palmer not featuring. However, neither really matter, as with the help of a 70-place grid penalty between them, both Honda-powered cars will be starting the race from the back of the grid.

By Joe Owens

Azerbaijan a chance for Ferrari to atone for Canada

at Formula One World Championship, Rd7, Canadian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Montreal, Canada, Saturday 10 June 2017. Image courtesy of Pirelli Media

 

Canada was not a race that went to plan for Ferrari but in Azerbaijan the Prancing Horse have a chance to right the Montreal wrongs.

Sebastian Vettel had an eventful drive to fourth after losing bodywork and damaging his floor, passing both the Force India drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon to provide spice to the race.

He did lose 13 points to title rival Lewis Hamilton, who won for the sixth time at the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve.

Kimi Raikkonen was beaten up in the early stages of the race and fell to fifth, where he stayed for most of the race.

A decision to pit followed by braking issues meant he would limp home to seventh on a rare disappointing day for Ferrari.

Azerbaijan represents an opportunity for redemption for both men, as albeit in different cars the team showed solid form around the streets of Baku.

Sebastian Vettel finished a lonely second in the only other staging of the European Grand Prix to take place on the Caspian Coast, while Raikkonen was fourth after eventually losing out to Perez.

Fourth last time out is Vettel’s worst finish of the season and the only time the four-time champion has been off the podium in 2017.

By contrast bad luck and sometimes less pace has meant that Raikkonen remains winless since the Australian Grand Prix of 2013.

But we have seen shades of the old Kimi in recent times.

Pole position in Monaco suggests there is still some life left in the Iceman yet.

Ferrari remain confident that he can back up Vettel’s push for a fifth World Drivers’ Championship. And that starts with regaining form this weekend.

Jack Prentice

F2: Baku Preview

After a month off, Formula 2 returns this weekend in Azerbaijan for the fourth round of the championship, which takes place at the Baku City Circuit. Despite only being on the calendar for a year, Baku has already earned itself an unpopular reputation, thanks to the less-than-enthralling F1 race that took place last year.

But its GP2 counterpart was anything but, with two chaotic and action-packed races. Out of the twenty-two cars that started both races last year, only twelve finished the feature race, and only fifteen in the sprint race. The high chance of crashing out, especially in the tight section of the track that runs through the older part of the city, adds an element of total unpredictability to this round.

2016 GP2 Series Round 3
Baku, Azerbaijan.
Saturday 18 June 2016.
Sean Gelael (INA, Pertamina Campos Racing)
Photo: Andy Hone/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _ONZ0910

As the second street circuit of the year, Baku presents a different challenge to Monaco. Though avoiding traffic and the walls will be difficult in parts, overtaking should be easier, thanks in part to the long start-finish straight—the longest of any track, at over two kilometres. Last year it was also the site of Antonio Giovinazzi’s double winning weekend, which well and truly launched his championship campaign. This suggests that if any driver’s performance has been underwhelming so far, there is still time to earn back those lost points.

The biggest change going into the weekend will be the absence of ART’s Alexander Albon, who is out for the weekend with a broken collarbone. He will be replaced by Sergey Sirotkin, Renault’s test driver, who drove for ART last year and finished third in the 2016 GP2 championship. It is definitely a blow for Albon, who was proving to be a consistent driver, having scored points in every race this season thus far, but the team seems confident that he will be able to drive at the Red Bull Ring in a few weeks’ time.

Bringing in a new driver for the weekend shouldn’t place ART at a disadvantage however. Sirotkin managed to score himself a double podium last year at Baku, so the team can feel confident when the Russian arrives, fresh from racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

(L to R): Mark Slade (GBR) Renault Sport F1 Team Race Engineer with Sergey Sirotkin (RUS) Renault Sport F1 Team Third Driver.
Russian Grand Prix, Friday 28th April 2017. Sochi Autodrom, Sochi, Russia.

By contrast, Matsushita had a nightmare weekend in Baku last year, despite having good pace and leading much of the sprint race. The Japanese driver struggled on the safety car restarts, and his driving was erratic enough to earn him a race ban. He will be looking to learn from the mistakes of last year, but with one win and a podium under his belt, he seems to be having a better season already.

Some drivers will be heading into this weekend with recovery at the forefront of their mind after disappointing results in Monte Carlo. Norman Nato is one such driver. The Frenchman started the year full of promise, and his potential is definitely that of a race winner, but after failing to score any points in Monaco, he needs a strong showing in Baku to get his season back on track. His teammate Sean Gelael, who has trailed Nato so far, had a solid qualifying performance in Monaco, but failed to convert that into race results.

Prema’s drivers will also be looking to bounce back from less than ideal results last time out. Leclerc, who does still lead the championship, will need to show that he can recover mentally from the double retirement in his home race, something which will prove essential if he is to carry his challenge for the duration of the season. Antonio Fuoco’s battle still remains one of proving he can measure up to his teammate, and increasingly, proving that he deserves his race seat and his place in the Ferrari Driver Academy. The track suited Prema last year, who managed to nail setup, earning them a pole position and a second place, as well as Giovinazzi’s two wins.

Rapax, after a slow start to the season, achieved a season’s best in Monte Carlo with a first and second place in the sprint race. Carrying that momentum to Baku may be difficult considering neither of their drivers have driven the street circuit before, but rookie Nyck de Vries seems to have gotten over his early season struggles with adjusting. If this race weekend is similar to last year’s then luck in staying out of trouble will probably be a large factor, so there is no counting the Rapax drivers out.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 3.
Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Saturday 27 May 2017.
Johnny Cecotto Jr. (VEN, Rapax)
Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.
ref: Digital Image _54I7139

Both DAMS and Racing Engineering had a mixed weekend in Monaco, with one of their drivers delivering promising results – with a win for Oliver Rowland (DAMS) and a third place for Gustav Malja (Racing Engineering) – and the other failing to score any points. Both teams have machinery that seems capable of delivering race winning results, and with mostly experienced drivers, they stand a good chance of performing well at Baku. DAMS’ Rowland will be particularly anxious to do so as he now sits only three points shy of championship leader Leclerc, and if he can outperform the Monegasque and avoid any incidents, then his chances of leaving Baku as the new leader of the drivers’ standings are high indeed.

Based on points alone, Russian Time were the top team out in Monaco, and succeeding in taking a fourteen-point lead in the teams’ standings from DAMS. Artem Markelov and Luca Ghiotto also occupy third and fourth in the driver’s standings, and if fortune plays into their favour, Baku presents them with the opportunity to close the gap to Rowland and Leclerc.

There is every chance that we will leave Baku with a new points leader—but more than that, the venue offers the chance for one of the most entertaining, and maybe a little crazy, races of the year. If you are yet to see last year’s GP2 races, I would recommend doing so. They’re carnage, but entertaining nonetheless.

Georgia Beith, F2 Correspondent