Dual in the desert Bahrain

What a race…

Image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

After what seemed like an unusually long winter Formula 1 is back with a bang in the desert.

After winter testing, three practice sessions and qualifying all that we knew for sure was the grid had indeed tightened up, especially for the top two teams in Mercedes and Red Bull.

Max Verstappen had taken pole position from Lewis Hamilton by just under four tenths of a second with the sister Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas in third and Charles Leclerc in fourth.

Even sitting thousands of miles away the anticipation at the start was palpable.

The instillation lap did nothing to calm the nerves as Checo Perez loses power initialising a second instal lap.

He did manage to power up the ailing Red Bull but had to start from the pit lane.

Five red lights go out and we’re away for the Bahrain Grand Prix and indeed the start of the 2021 season. Unsurprisingly to many fans the number two Haas crashes out at turn one and his race ends before it can even start, leaving Mick Schumacher the sole Haas driver as the safety car is deployed.

Leclerc had managed to snatch third from Bottas before the safety car was deployed! Sainz lost out at the start and is down in P10, with Alonso and Stroll both gaining a position from him.

Verstappen leads the pack away from Hamilton who is left to defend from Leclerc into turn one.

Bottas takes third place back as we settle into a familiar pattern.

Verstappen pulls out a small lead of just under two seconds.

Further down the pack Sergio Perez starts to haul the Red bull through the field.

Mercedes are first to blink and try the undercut, putting the hard tyres on and it looks like a great decision as Red bull stays out as Lewis starts pumping in purple sectors and is the fastest man on track.

Verstappen’s in at last! And goes from mediums to mediums, he will have to stop again. He exits the pits nearly seven seconds behind Hamilton!

The top three are Hamilton, Verstappen and Bottas. Further down the field Vettel and Alonso are fighting it out for P8!

Max is putting in the strong laps now on tyres ten laps newer than Hamilton’s. He closes to within two seconds or so, as Mercedes once again throws the dice and pull Lewis in for a new set of hard boots.

He exits the pits in third behinds Bottas in second and Max in first.

Bottas stops but there’s a problem with the front left! It’s a 10.9s stop and he comes out behind Leclerc in P5

Verstappen pits for hards and is stationary for an incredible 1.9 seconds and leaves himself 8.7s to make up to Hamilton in the final 17 laps.

Hamilton’s trying to keep his tyres going until the end, andy it’s falling back into Verstappen’s hands as he starts to take chunks off Lewis.

Verstappen is eating into Hamilton’s lead like its an open buffet. Half a second out in the middle sector alone, and he can see the Mercedes on the straights now.

Hamilton brakes another record this time for the most laps led in F1 with 5,112!

Vettel and Ocon have come together. Both have got going again, but Vettel has some damage to his front wing. Looks like Sebs fault but that’s one for the stewards to decide.

Max is like a lion hunting down his prey with only the odd back marker to hold him back, Lewis locks up and goes wide at Turn ten! He keeps the lead but Verstappen is just a second behind now and within DRS range.

Lap 52 and Hamilton only has half a second over Verstappen as he tries around the outside of Turn one but Hamilton holds him off!

Down to Turn four and Verstappen goes around the outside again, and this time he takes the lead!

Max Is immediately told by his team to give the place back as he’s left the circuit whilst taking the position, if he doesn’t do it a penalty could be costly.

Verstappen’s loses grip in Hamilton’s wake but he’s now out of DRS range on the start finish straight.

Bottas stops for a new set of tyres as he attempts to grab the extra point for fastest lap.

Hamilton starts the final lap and Verstappen is back within DRS range, no matter how well Max has driven this weekend he just can’t get passed the exuberant Hamilton who takes the win from Verstappen and Bottas.

Norris, Perez, Ricardo and Yuki Tsunoda all make impressive debuts, Alonso and Seb looked good and should improve as we get further into the season.

Mick Schumacher had a quiet race finishing last but that’s all that can be expected in the under developed Haas.

HAM

VER

BOT

NOR

PER

LEC

RIC

SAI

TSU

STR

RAI

GIO

OCO

RUS

VET

MSC

DNF: GAS, LAT, ALO, MAZ

Bahrain Test Part Two

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN – MARCH 12: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda on track during Day One of F1 Testing at Bahrain International Circuit on March 12, 2021 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Joe Portlock/Getty Images)

Here we go, four more hours but I can’t see much changing except for the odd driver and the weather.

Daniel Ricciardo still on top of the timing sheets as we start with Gasly and Verstappen close behind in the standings

This session can be described in one word, dusty! They can’t push the cars and are having to short shift and are actually off the throttle at some points on the track.

Coming up to the three hour remaining mark and very little has changed, we’re waiting on the first appearance of the seven time World Drivers Champion Lewis Hamilton

Will they refer to him as Sir Lewis?

First sight of Carlos Sainz in his new Ferrari, it’s a big year for the young Spaniard.

Three hours and two minutes and the World Champion joins the track for the first time and looks straight on it power sliding his way around the track. Times are still down on Ricardos best set earlier today in the morning session, laps are around four to five seconds slower.

Verstappen goes fastest on a 1:31.4O on the hard tyre After completing 80 laps.

Drivers seem to be finding some grip now as Max remains out gaining valuable data for the team.

Tsunoda has impressed on his first outing in the AlphaTauri it’s a little odd seeing the number 22 and not having Jenson Button driving behind the wheel.

With 1 hour 37 minutes left on the clock Lewis and the Mercedes seem to be getting into their stride with a lap still a full 1.5 seconds behind the pace set by Verstappen.

With 90 minutes remaining

1 VER 1:31.412

2 NOR +0.397
3 GIO +0.533
4 OCO +0.716
5 RIC +0.791

The number 9 Haas has completed 48 uneventful laps.

55 minutes to go and Verstappen puts in a flier 1:30.6 and has completed 113 laps just as Carlos Sainz spins his Ferrari.

Hamilton getting the laps in, still off the pace but getting valuable data and obviously we don’t know his fuel levels.

Lando Norris is comfortably third on the timing sheets behind Ocon and Verstappen. The McLaren looks very happy with its new Mercedes engine.

24 minutes to go and Lando posts a faster lap taking him into second place overall. McLaren have had a solid first day of testing.

Lance stroll posts an impressive 1:31.7 and moves up to fourth in the over all rankings.

Hamilton is out lapping in his Mercedes, but he is seriously lacking in traction, spectacular to watch but he’s not improving his times.

Under five minutes to go and the virtual safety card has been deployed, and that brings the session to an end.

1 VER 1:30.674 139

2 NOR +0.215 46

3 OCO +0.472 129

4 STR +1.108 46

5 SAI +1.245 57

6 GIO +1.271 68

7 RIC +1.529 45

8 GAS +1.557 74

9 TSU +2.053 37
10 HAM +2.238 42

Bahrain Testing Day One, Part one

Image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

The first day of testing is always an exciting event for Formula 1 fans but this year with Covid still affecting global sports we kick of in Bahrain instead of what has become the usual annual pilgrimage to Barcelona.

What’s different? Well the big difference other than location is this year we have just three days of testing instead of the usual six.

It’s an early 7am start for us in Europe, first things first as Haas officially launch their 2020 challenger.

Mick Schumacher, Haas F1 Team, F1

Flo fizz and aero rakes at the ready and off we go, for the first four hour session.

First shock of the day, Mercedes has a gearbox issues and Valtteri Bottas has missed over 100km plus of valuable testing time. With sands storms threatening every valuable minute needs to be taken advantage of.

The first couple of hours, how we’ve missed the sounds of Formula 1.

Early form Daniel Ricciardo is setting the pace in his McLaren Mercedes with Max Verstappen Red Bull Honda just behind and Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri with the third fastest time.

The Ferrari in the hands of Charles Leclerc in fourth seems to have made up some of the lost time from last years challenger.

Into the second half of the morning stint and Gasly is now on top of the timing sheets with a 1:32.5

Ricardo straight back out onto track and posts an even faster lap taking three tenths of Gaslys time. Still no sign of Bottas in his Mercedes.

It’s fantastic to see that Micks Schumacher’s three letter code is MSC and not SCH A nice nod to his dad who of course was MSC as he raced alongside his brother Ralf Schumacher.

With just 90 minutes remaining there’s still no sign of the Mercedes and Bottas

On the plus side the new liveries look resplendent in the sunshine. Personal opinion but the Alpine, Aston Martin and dare I say Haas are my favourites.

Roy Nissany driving the Williams has a green light on the back of his car indicating that he’s not got his super license points, I had to fact check this with my colleagues at Crow Towers. James Matthews pointed out that L plates wouldn’t stay attached to a F1 car at speed! He’s here all week.

Bottas is finally out in his Mercedes and is running almost five seconds off the pace with a large Aero rack on the back of the car.

The top three with under 30 minutes to go are Daniel Ricardo Pierre Gasly and Max Verstappen.

Ten minutes to go and Charles Leclerc has stopped at turn four with what sounds like an engine miss fire, bringing out the red flag. After initially impressing the Ferrari isn’t looking on top of things, early days though.

That’s the first four hour session done.

  • 1 RIC1:32.203 45 M
  • 2 GAS+0.028 74 M
  • 3 VER+0.042 60 H
  • 4 OCO+0.756 55 M
  • 5 LEC+1.039 59 M
  • 6 RAI+1.117 63 H
  • 7 VET+1.539 51 T
  • 8 NIS+2.586 39 M
  • 9 MSC+3.924 15 H
  • 10 BOT+4.647 6 H

Enzo Fittipaldi victorious in Virtual Austrian Grand Prix

Image courtesy of Red Bull Racing

After a successful first run of virtual races during the extended off-season, Formula 1 has brought back the Virtual Grand Prix for a three-race mini championship to sustain us until lights go out in Bahrain on March 28th. The first event was held at the Red Bull Ring and featured a star-studded line-up.

Nine of the ten teams competed with their official Esports drivers from the F1 Esports Series taking to the track for a five-lap sprint race to determine the grid order for their feature race counterparts. Each team are competing for a share of a £100,000 prize pot, the better their results in the feature race, the more money they get to go toward a charity of their choice.

The line-up is as follows, with the feature race driver and then their sprint race counterpart in brackets:

Mercedes:
Stoffel Vandoorne (Jarno Opmeer)
Anthony Davidson (Dani Moreno)

Red Bull:
Alex Albon (Marcel Kiefer)
Jeffrey Herlings (Frederik Rasmussen)

McLaren:
Benjamin ‘Tiametmarduk’ Daly (James Baldwin)
Jimmy Broadbent (Josh Idowu)

Alpine:
Christian Lundgaard (Fabrizio Donoso)
Oscar Piastri (Nicholas Longuet)

Ferrari:
Marcus Armstrong (David Tonizza)
Arthur Leclerc (Brendon Leigh)

AlphaTauri:
Luca Salvadori (Joni Törmälä)
Vitantonio Liuzzi (Manuel Biancolilla)

Alfa Romeo:
Thibaut Courtois (Dani Bereznay)
Jack ‘Pieface23’ McDermott (Thijmen Schutte)

Haas:
Pietro Fittipaldi (Samuel Libeert)
Enzo Fittipaldi (Cedric Thomé)

Williams:
Alejandro ‘Flowstreet’ Pérez (Álvaro Carretón)
Nicholas Latifi (Alessio Di Capua)

Note: George Russell was meant to be driving for Williams alongside Latifi but due to unknown reasons, was forced to withdraw last minute. Also, Aston Martin elected to not take part most likely due to the F1 2020 game still housing their BWT-branded Racing Point livery.

Before the sprint race started, a one-lap qualifying determined the grid and it was David Tonizza who would start on pole looking to seal that slot for F2 driver Armstrong. The race got underway and Tonizza held off the advances of Mercedes’ Dani Moreno and Red Bull’s Marcel Kiefer.

Further back it was carnage as Williams’ Álvaro Carretón was sent into a spin after he tapped Alfa Romeo’s Dani Bereznay, and AlphaTauri’s Manuel Biancolilla also got caught in an incident and both subsequently went to the back of the field. The very fast and rapid Red Bull Ring being only 2.7-miles long meant the race was over with quite quickly but it didn’t stop there being battles.

2017 and 2018 F1 Esports champion Brendon Leigh who has just moved to Ferrari for this year, pulled off an incredible move on Marcel Kiefer on the last lap by going round the outside at turn four, and holding his line into turn five to guarantee Arthur Leclerc a third place start behind Davidson and Armstrong.

Now onto the 36 lap feature race. The race began with predictably some chaos, as Motocross champion Jeffrey Herlings either forgot to calibrate his brake pedal or just decided to not brake, and he collected a few drivers in the process. Meanwhile, the Ferrari academy drivers got away well but Davidson in the Merc seemed to be suffering from some technical issues as his car was all over the place.

But Jimmy Broadbent starred in the opening laps. Thanks to the efforts of Josh Idowu, he lined up fifth on the grid and opted to start on the mediums, and was up to third when he dispatched of the lag-strewn Davidson. As Armstrong and Leclerc established an early lead, it was Broadbent ahead of a group featuring the Fittipaldi brothers, Vandoorne and Courtois.

Up at the front, no team orders were holding back the Ferrari drivers. Arthur Leclerc put a move on Armstrong for the lead, and then Enzo Fittipaldi passed Broadbent to take third which would prove pivotal later on.

Rather inevitably, drivers would begin to rack up penalties due to track extending, with the only exception being Formula 3 champion Oscar Piastri. It got so bad, former F1 driver Vitantonio Liuzzi even got disqualified for racking up so many penalties. This would also play a part in deciding the eventual winner.

Leclerc was the first to bite the penalty cherry of the leading group heading onto lap 11, which put Armstrong in a good position to take advantage. A few laps later, Leclerc was in to the pits and held off Enzo Fittipaldi who had stopped a few laps prior to Leclerc, but when Armstrong pitted to cover off his team mate, he didn’t slow down in time for the pit entry line and got a five second penalty. To add insult to injury, he not only rejoined behind his team mate but also Enzo Fittipaldi.

Stoffel Vandoorne was heading the field having started on the medium tyres and would come to pit on lap 22. This began a charge from Vandoorne propelling him past Pietro Fittipaldi and Marcus Armstrong.

Heading into the last ten laps, Enzo Fittipaldi tailed Arthur Leclerc and it was hotting up between them. The pin was pulled on lap 28 as Enzo tapped Leclerc in the rear heading into turn three and sent the Ferrari driver wide, and he took quick advantage. Three laps later, Leclerc repasses him at the same corner.

He would later rack up another track extension penalty which meant up until that point when Leclerc and Enzo Fittipaldi both had the single three-second penalty, the Ferrari driver now had two of them. This was immediately followed by a wheel banging tussle from the start of the lap all the way up to turn four, and they continued to battle all the way up until Leclerc attempted an extremely over-optimistic move into turn three on the last lap which sent him wide.

That left the Haas driver to take victory, Leclerc followed him home but due to penalties, lost second-place to Stoffel Vandoorne who had caught up to the pair of them incredibly and had the race gone on for an extra lap, he could very well have won with the pace he had.

Alex Albon was classified fourth ahead of Pietro Fittipaldi, Marcus Armstrong, Oscar Piastri, Anthony Davidson, Luca Salvadori and Thibaut Courtois who also scored an extra point for fastest lap.

An immensely entertaining race and there’s more where that came from! The Virtual Grand Prix racing will return this Sunday at Silverstone, and then the finale will be Interlagos the Sunday afterwards. To watch, check F1’s official social media channels (Twitch, YouTube, Facebook) as well as your appropriate F1 broadcast channels in your country at 6pm UK time to watch the rest of this virtual madness.

Turkish GP: Hamilton wraps up 7th championship in Turkish delight

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Win number 94, world championship number 7, records broken, records equaled. Lewis Hamilton reigned supreme in changing conditions on Sunday by putting in yet another world class performance to take his 2nd Turkish grandprix win and his 7th world driver’s championship.

The lights went out on a fairly wet track at Istanbul Park and all the chaos unfolded as the cars set out on their way. Racing Point had the best possible start they could ask for with Stroll leading into turn one and Perez following him swiftly, thanks to the slow starting Max Verstappen in the Redbull. The Dutch driver failed to get the wheels going and fell behind, allowing the Racing Point drivers to pull away.

The absolute winner of the start had to be Sebastian Vettel, who started all the way down at 11th and managed to get to 3rd, all on the first lap. His teammate comparatively had a slower start but came alive later in the race to finish a high 4th. The start also saw Hamilton’s only remaining championship rival Bottas tangle with the Renault of Ocon which caused him to spin out, taking him out of contention. Carlos Sainz was another big gainer at the start, leaping six places on the first lap alone.

As the race progressed, there were no signs of any rain and the track slowly but surely kept drying up. Racing Point, especially Lance Stroll was enjoying a very big lead early vs his teammate Perez while Max Verstappen recovered quickly from a poor start and was battling the fast starting Ferrari of Vettel in the early laps. The track still had considerable amount of water on it at this point but it was Charles Leclerc of Ferrari who blinked first among all the drivers and made a switch to inters.

Following his pace closely, were many other teams and most of them made the switch to inters immediately in the following few laps. Verstappen however chose to overcut the drivers in front of him and it worked out well for him as he came out ahead of Vettel after the first round of pit stops while the Racing Points were still maintaining 1-2. This led to a nice little battle for a few laps between Vettel and Hamilton as the British driver set about to catch the German, a sight reminiscent of 2017 and 2018.

Around lap 20, Verstappen seemed to have made the overcut strategy work perfectly for him until he came out 2nd best while chasing Perez and went spinning at turn 11. This caused him to drop down all the way down to 6th as he flat spotted his tyres and was taken out of the picture for the race win. At the midway point after the Verstappen incident, there was a 5-way fight for the race win with Stroll, Perez, Albon, Vettel and Hamilton all covered by 12 seconds as things started to get really tight.

A second round of pit stops were the order of the day as the inter tyres seemed to be overworked and everybody but Hamilton and Perez made the call to go to a new set of inters. The pair who were 1-2 in the race at this point chose to keep track position as opposed to the rest of the field, a decision which proved worthy at the end of the race with them finishing 1-2 as they were. The second phase of pit stops really altered the course of the race as Lance Stroll, who was once comfortably leading the race started getting picked off by the drivers behind him as the Canadian could not find any grip on his new inter tyres and could only finish 9th.

The McLarens mad their way into the race in a fine manner after starting as low as 15th and 16th on the grid. Carlos Sainz after getting a really good start,  fully capitalized on it as the race progressed. The Spaniard was calm and collected and took the race as it came to him. He managed both the wet and inter tyres really well and finished an excellent 5th while his teammate Norris also drove a very good race to finish 8th. Renault however could only salvage one point in the race despite starting high up on the grid. Daniel Ricciardo made a couple of mistakes which he could not completely recover from and only managed 10th place while his teammate Ocon managed a 11th place after spinning out at the start.

It was a day to forget for Valtteri Bottas who had a dreadful start to the race and it did not stop for him there. The Finnish driver kept spinning in the race at regular intervals, pushing him all the way back down after every time he seemed to have made up some ground. His misery was complete when his own teammate lapped him towards the end of the race. It was however Ferrari’s best day of the season with Sebastian Vettel finishing on the podium and Charles Leclerc finishing 4th. At one point, it seemed like Leclerc was on course for a 2nd place finish but his move on Perez came undone as the Monegasque locked up and went wide and his German teammate who was right behind him, took full advantage of the mistake and snatched a podium place on the very last corner of the final lap of the race.

Redbull would be disappointed after what seemed to be a very good first part of the race for both drivers, ended only otherwise. Mistakes from Verstappen and Albon throughout meant that they could only finish as high as 6th and 7th respectively, which otherwise looked set to be a double podium at one point. Both the Haas cars were forced to retire during the race as so did Nicolas Latifi of Williams, after starting from the pitlane and Giovinazzi of Alfa Romeo. George Russell in the Williams also had to start from the pitlane after damaging his front wing while coming on to the starting grid before the race and he finished at 16th. Kimi Raikkonen in the other Alfa Romeo finished 15th, after having his share of incidents during the race.

Alpha Tauris had a quiet day compared to how the race went after Danil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly finished 12th and 13th respectively. They were however not without incident after a curfew breach with Gasly’s car saw him relegated to the back of the grid before the start of the race.

A day which promised excitement, chaos and unpredictability truly delivered in what was record breaking race and a record equaling championship for Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. The English driver now has 7 world driver’s championships to his name, an honour only shared by Michael Schumacher.

Pirelli info graphics

Emilia Romagna GP: Hamilton wins as Mercedes secure 7th straight constructors championship

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes took his 93rd Formula 1 win and their 7th consecutive constructors championship respectively at Imola on Sunday afternoon in what was an event filled race in the third Italian grandprix of the season. It was not a straightforward win for Hamilton as the English driver lost out at the start thanks to fast starting Max Verstappen from 3rd.

Things started falling into place for him as the race progressed and it all played very nicely into his hands after an extended first stint paid off thanks to a virtual safety car around lap 30 which enabled him to assume the lead of the race ahead of his teammate Bottas and Verstappen in the Redbull. The drama did not end there as Max Verstappen crashed out of the race with less than 10 laps to go triggering a full course safety car.

A Mercedes 1-2 and Redbull not scoring any points meant that Mercedes have now secured their 7th consturctors crown, beating a previous record of 6 by Ferrari set in the 1999-2004 period. The whole team would be overjoyed at the achievement but Valtteri Bottas might not share the complete enthusiasm as the Finnish driver would feel he missed out on a victory.

Daniel Ricciardo made waves again after he drove a fantastic race to make it two podiums in three races as the Aussie driver had to sustain pressure from Leclerc in the early parts of the race and Kvyat in the final stages after the safety car. His teammate Ocon in the other Renault had to retire at the midpoint of the race thanks to a clutch issue.

Danil Kvyat’s best result of the season heavily depended on the safety car as the Russian drives came out all guns blazing following the restart as he made really good overtake moves on Leclerc and almost made a podium out of all this for himself but failed to get past Ricciardo. His teammate Gasly in the other Alpha Tauri had to retire early in the race due to terminal issue after starting from as high as P4.

Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari secured another very good result for the team after finishing 5th thanks to a good start to the race. His teammate Vettel was on course for a points finish but it was all undone when the Ferrari mechanics had a tough time during his one and only pitstop and the German driver was left stranded for 13 seconds in the pits, a scenario that pretty much summed up how his season has been progressing.

Sergio Perez looked set for a podium finish after a Racing Point’s strategy seemed to have paid off which saw the Mexican driver jump 7 places from his starting position but deciding to stop under the safety car for fresher tyres proved costly for the Mexican as he dropped to 6th and could not finish higher. His teammate Stroll in the other Racing Point could only finish 13th after tangling with Ocon in the opening lap which meant a front wing change for the Canadian driver very early on.

It was a low double points finish for McLaren with Sainz at 7th and Norris at 8th which keeps the team still in the battle for the 3rd place in the constructors championship with Renault and Racing Point. The British team will certainly hoping for better results in the next few races with Renault and Racing Point looking faster than them on the track at the moment.

It was also a double points finish for Alfa Romeo with Raikkonen at 9th and Giovinazzi at 10th after the former drove a stellar first stint on the medium tyres for almost 50 laps which meant he performed an overcut on most of the out of points runners. The team will be delighted to pick up points in their home country that will put them above Haas and Williams in the standings. As for Williams, George Russell looked set to pick up his first ever points in 38 F1 races but he had a Grosjean-esque moment under the safety car and crashed out of the race while trying to keep his tyres within temperature. His teammate Latifi in the other Williams finished just outside the points in 11th.

Redbull had a race to forget thanks to a DNF for Verstappen which triggered the safety car and from the restart after the safety car, Albon spun around all by himself after being overtaken by Perez and could only finish 15th which means that there is now more doubt looming on his future in F1.  As for Haas, Kevin Magnussen had to retire after he had complained about headache issues and could not finish the race in that condition while his teammate Grosjean finished 14th after a very late 5-second penalty for exceeding track limits multiple times.

Another race win for Hamilton means that a win or a 2nd place finish in the upcoming race irrespective of Bottas’ result will secure the 7th world championship for the Englishman, which seems like a real possibility the way things have been going on this season. Despite constructors championship being wrapped up, it is a lot to look forward to in the upcoming final four races of the season.

Potuguese GP: Hamilton makes history at Portimao

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Lewis Hamilton absolutely demolished opposition on Sunday afternoon at Portimao to take the coveted win number 92 which has been the talk of the weekend. Hamilton lost out at the start to his teammate Bottas and the fast starting McLaren of Carlos Sainz and had to make his way back into the lead of the race, which he did in spectacular style.

It was a chaotic start to the race which started off in very light rain conditions meaning that the cars starting on the dirty side of the grid had their work cut out for them. This meant that both Mercedes cars lost out to the McLarens at the very beginning and the race briefly saw Sainz lead the proceedings for a few laps. Normality was restored after Mercedes drivers managed to get their tyres going and made it into the 1-2 positions and eventually ended up there.

Max Verstappen starting at 3rd also lost out at the start to McLarens and the Racing Point of Sergio Perez and later made his way back into the race, finally finishing at 3rd. It was not so simple for the Dutchman as he was involved in a first lap incident with Sergio Perez which saw the Mexican driver go spinning out of the track. This meant that Perez had to really work hard for a decent result and he did a stellar job and finished in points at 7th place.

Pierre Gasly’s excellent year continued at Portimao after the French driver put in another excellent performance to finish at 5th place. On an afternoon where almost every other driver struggled to make soft tyres work, Gasly made them work just right during his first stint which made the ultimate difference for him and provided that very strong finish.

McLaren were on course for a high points finish but it was all undone when Lando Norris was tagged by Lance Stroll in an overtake attempt but it did not come off well for the Canadian after he sustained damage on his car and also inflicted some on Lando’s car for which he received a time penalty as well, adding to the one he received for infringing track limits. The Racing Point had to retire towards the end due to damage and a wing change for Norris meant that he could not finish any higher than 13th.

Renault were the big winners in the battle for 3rd in the constructors championship after their Sunday afternoon earned them a double points finish with Ocon at 8th and Daniel Ricciardo at 9th. The former went an astounding 55 laps on medium tyres before finally switching to softs towards the end through which he was able to overcut most of his competitors and achieved a good finish.

It was a good day for Ferrari as well compared to how their 2020 has been going after Charles Leclerc finished at 4th place, producing yet another fantastic drive as he has been doing so far this season and Sebastian Vettel, finally after quite a few races, finished in the last points position following his battle with Kimi Raikkonen. The German driver was also closer to a 9th place finish after he got ever so close to Ricciardo but a major lock up prevented him from making that move.

It was an amazing start to the race for Kimi Raikkonen after he made up as many as 10 places on the opening lap to fins himself at 6th but the ultimate lack of pace from the Alfa Romeo meant that it was inevitable that he would drop down the order and finally finish 11th. His teammate Giovinazzi in the other Alfa Romeo finished 15th following his battles with Magnussen and Russell at the back of the field.

It was a flurry of time penalties in the race after both Romain Grosjean and Danil Kvyat were handed 5 seconds each when they breached track limits and this meant that they could not salvage much out of the weekend as they finished well outside points. George Russell drove a good race which saw him finish 14th but that elusive points finish still seems to evade him. His teammate Latifi could only manage an 18th place finish.

The one talking point among the out of points finishers has to be Alex Albon who has had yet another underwhelming weekend, With Christian Horner admitting that Red Bull are prepared to look outside their pool of drivers, a 12th place finish does not exactly make the case for Albon retaining his seat in the Milton Keynes based team and this means that the Thai driver will have to ensure a strong finish to his season.

Today’s race has seen yet another Schumacher record broken, this time the biggest one in the form of number of race wins. 92 is the magic number for Lewis Hamilton in car no.44, who extends his championship lead to 77 points over the car no.77 of Valtteri Bottas. The record equaling 7th driver’s championship is now a matter of when, rather than if, for one of the all time greats of F1.

Honda to leave F1 at the end of 2021

Honda has announced that it will be withdrawing from Formula 1 as a power unit supplier at the end of the 2021 season.

The Japanese manufacturer stated its desire to realise “carbon neutrality by 2050” as its reason for withdrawing.

“Honda needs to funnel its corporate resources in research and development into the areas of future power unit and energy technologies,” a statement read, “including fuel cell vehicle (FCV) and battery EV (BEV) technologies, which will be the core of carbon-free technologies.”

Honda only returned to F1 back in 2015 as a supplier for McLaren. This relationship – which lasted until 2017 – was fraught with unreliability and performance issues.

They have, however, since made improvements. They joined forces with Alpha Tauri (then named Toro Rosso) in 2018 and Red Bull in 2019 and have powered them to a combined five race victories, making them the only power unit supplier to win races with more than one team since the start of the hybrid era in 2014.

Their withdrawal, though, now leaves both Red Bull and Alpha Tauri in something of a limbo and with not much time to find a new supplier.

If they are unable to find an alternative, then Renault are bound by the regulations to supply them. This is because Renault currently supply the least number of teams, with Mercedes and Ferrari already at the maximum permissible number of three.

However, Red Bull’s split from Renault in 2018 was acrimonious to say the least and it would no doubt be with great reluctance that both parties rekindle that relationship.

Honda’s withdrawal might also have implications for Japanese F2 racer Yuki Tsunoda. Tsunoda is a Honda-backed driver and there were rumours that he was set to be promoted to Alpha Tauri in the near future. However, with Honda now out of the picture that promotion is uncertain.

Red Bull have said that they “acknowledge” Honda’s decision, and have thanked the manufacturer for “its exceptional efforts as power unit supplier”.

Russian GP: Bottas reigns supreme in Sochi

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

In a race that was decided pretty much by the events happening before the lights going out, Valtteri Bottas took his 2nd victory of the year, long after the win in the first race of the season. His teammate Lewis Hamilton was awarded two different 5-second penalties for two practice start violations that he committed prior to the race start, in the locations where he was not supposed to.

This made the race very difficult for the record chasing English driver as he dropped well down the order after he had to serve the penalty in a pitstop. He recovered well to be able to finish on a podium but will be gutted to miss out on a win. Bottas on the other hand would welcome this victory at a track where he is supposedly at his strongest.

It was a lonely Sunday afternoon drive for Max Verstappen, which pretty much sums up his season so far barring the last couple of races. The Dutchman dropped to as low as 4th on the race start but recovered immediately to 3rd place and Lewis’ penalty meant that he would comfortably finish 2nd. It was a similar race for Sergio Perez in the racing Point at 4th place after he too recovered from a poor start.

It was a chaotic start to the grandprix after many incidents unfolded one after the other. McLaren lost the most out of all the teams at the start after Carlos Sainz crashed into the wall in an attempt to try and go around the bollards and his teammate Norris ran over the debris left by Sainz and only managed to finish 15th at the end of the race after a forced pitstop. Racing Point also lost one car on the opening lap after Lance Stroll got tagged on the right rear tyre by the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc which sent the former spinning into the barriers. The effect of the new upgrades was not to be seen today and will have to wait until the Nurburgring at the earliest.

A couple of mini battles unfolded in the midfield between Ferrari and Renault followed by another between the Alpha Tauris and Albon’s redbull. Renault’s bid to swap their cars and catch Perez ended in a way they would not have wanted after Ricciardo was handed a 5-second time penalty for not following race director guidelines. It did not quite help Ocon’s case after the Frenchman was stuck behind the Ferrari of Vettel and could not catch Leclerc towards the end of the race. Ricciardo’s penalty did not hurt him much after he managed to pull ahead of Leclerc and finish 5th. For Ferrari, it was a mixed result as Leclerc managed to finish 6th and Vettel paid the price for staying out long and could only manage P13 on his 250th GP start.

Both the Alpha Tauris managed a double points finish with home driver Kvyat at 8th and Gasly at 9th following their battle with Albon in the other RedBull. Kvyat could have finished ahead of Ocon at 7th after the Russian battled the Renault driver almost towards the end of the race but it just wouldn’t happen for him thanks to the superior straight line speed of the Renault.

Kimi Raikkonen could only manage 14th in his record equaling 322nd race start but his teammate Giovinazzi in the other Alfa Romeo would be very happy with his race result at P11, just missing out on the points. Haas also registered one decent result with Magnussen at P12, ahead of a works Ferrari but they would quickly want to forget the P17 salvaged by Romain Grosjean. Both the Williams finished with Latifi at P16 and Russell at P18, with what was an unusual 3-stop race for the English driver, with the last stop seemingly an ambitious attempt for a fastest lap. It was however not there for the taking as Bottas eventually ended up with the point on offer.

In what was expected to be the 91st win for Lewis Hamilton, the race win went out of the window thanks to the pre-race events. His teammate jumped in at the chance to take maximum advantage to cut the gap in the championship standings to 44 points with a handful of races to go. Hamilton will now have to be careful for the next 4 races as he has picked up 2 penalty points today and two more would mean that a race ban would be handed to him, which could seriously dent his championship hopes.

 Pirelli Motorsports info-graphics

 

Sebastian Vettel: Possible Redemption?

So the worst kept secret in F1 is out. Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel will be moving to Racing Point for next season when it is rebranded as Aston Martin. It all was the result of Vettel’s departure from Ferrari who he has raced for since 2015, a partnership that he had hoped would have resulted in a fifth championship – but it wasn’t meant to be.

Vettel won four straight championships with Red Bull who housed him throughout his junior career, however nowadays you would be forgiven for doubting that this was the same driver. The Vettel of today has been so dejected, dare I say humbled by his lack of success with the Scuderia, and there’s a narrative these days that it’s all because of Ferrari. I however disagree with this notion, it’s not all one party’s fault the relationship has soured.

Sebastian Vettel celebrates his fourth and final championship with the Red Bull Team – courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Before I proceed, I feel the need to put forward my biases and perspective so everyone knows. I wasn’t a fan of Vettel back in his Red Bull domination days, and to an extent I’m still not a fan but even now, I do have some sympathy for him.

When he joined Ferrari, it was the beginning of the Mercedes dominance in the turbo hybrid era so Vettel had a mountain to climb. He had just come off the back of a winless final season with Red Bull in which he was shown up rather considerably by new Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who took three wins on his way to third in the championship.

He took the seat of departing Fernando Alonso, who had hoped to be Ferrari’s next champion and came very close but lost out to Vettel in 2010 and 2012, and lined up alongside Ferrari’s last champion Kimi Räikkönen. Vettel really surprised in his first season with the Scuderia, as he took three victories at Malaysia, Hungary and Singapore on his way to third in the championship.

Vettel enjoyed a positive first season with Ferrari – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

However unlike his teammate the previous season Daniel Ricciardo, Vettel took those victories on pure pace as opposed to benefiting from some misfortunes that befell both Mercedes cars. In fact from 2014-2016, it was Vettel’s three wins that were the only ones that were won not from misfortunes for Mercedes. Even with Merc’s dominance, Vettel came very close to denying Nico Rosberg runner-up in the championship that year.

2016 was a bit of a nothing year for Vettel, but with the regulation change coming into 2017 there was renewed hope for Vettel and Ferrari that they could take the battle to Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. At first it was very much hopeful, as Vettel and Hamilton traded places in the first two races and then the Ferrari driver began opening up a lead.

Despite a promising 2017 season, Vettel fell short of his fifth title, losing out to Lewis Hamilton – Courtesy of Ferrari media

Whilst the two drivers were relishing this opportunity to battle it out for the championship, it did all come to a head at Azerbaijan when Hamilton led Vettel under safety car conditions, Vettel didn’t anticipate Hamilton’s movement and ran into the back of him, assumed he brake tested him so he did the thing he believed was a good idea, drove alongside Hamilton and deliberately ran into him.

Then the infamous Singapore start collision caused by Seb moving over on Kimi and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen handed the momentum to Hamilton, and with Mercedes outdeveloping Ferrari, the 2017 title race was swiftly over. A rejuvenated Vettel went into 2018 feeling confident, and he took two wins from the first two races to open up an early lead. But before long, Vettel began making more and more errors.

He threw away a win at Baku when he locked his brake going into turn one on a safety car restart, locked up at the start at the French GP and clipping Bottas, thus ruining both their races. However it was Hockenheim that sealed Vettel’s fate, where he had a commanding lead and when some drizzle arrived and he lost it heading into the stadium section and burying it in the gravel and tyre barrier.

From then on, it came thick and fast. Monza lap one when he spun after touching Hamilton, Suzuka when he spun when trying to pass Verstappen heading into spoon, lap one at the US Grand Prix when he tapped Ricciardo and, you guessed it, spun. Couple that with Hamilton driving like a man possessed, Hamilton went from trailing Vettel in terms of championships 4-1 to then being 5-4 in his favour.

Meanwhile on the other side of both garages, their Finnish teammates were highlighting the difference between them.

Whilst Vettel had Räikkönen as his teammate, Hamilton had Valtteri Bottas. Both of them were playing supporting roles, but it was quickly becoming obvious that whilst Hamilton’s driving was warranting the lead driver status, Vettel clearly wasn’t doing enough to have his teammate hang back. This coincided with the meteoric rise of a Ferrari-backed driver from Monaco, called Charles Leclerc.

After winning titles in GP3 and Formula 2, Leclerc spent his rookie F1 campaign with Sauber and got the call-up to Ferrari for 2019. Clearly very highly rated by many, there was expectations that Leclerc could do what Ricciardo did in 2014 and wipe the floor with Seb. In a way, he kind of did.

As Leclerc looked set to take victory in only his second race for the team before a mechanical failure dropped him to third, Vettel had it difficult to hold him back initially and then spun again when passed by Hamilton later in the race. Vettel then got a penalty for skipping across the chicane at Canada and nearly colliding with Hamilton, which ultimately lost him the race and he protested after the race with an act of defiance switching of the first and second place boards.

Vettel’s dangerous re-join at last year’s Canadian Grand Prix earned him a race-costing penalty – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

At Silverstone, he locked up and slammed into the back of Max Verstappen just after he overtook Vettel after spending the majority of the race up until that point having a very close battle with Leclerc. Another spin at Monza was further compounded by Leclerc taking victories at the previous race at Spa, and then in front of the Tifosi, but even with Seb taking victory at Singapore the following round couldn’t shake the narrative that he was losing it.

It wasn’t helped when in Brazil, Vettel swiped at Leclerc putting them both out in an incident very similar to when he did the same at Istanbul back in 2010 to his then Red Bull teammate Mark Webber. In the end, Leclerc won the qualifying battle and despite Vettel being ahead in more races, he still finished behind Leclerc.

Ferrari endured a tumultuous 2019 season with among a tense inter-team rivalry between Vettel and Charles Leclerc

I am not just pointing these out to kick Vettel whilst he’s down, I took no pleasure in watching him make these errors which were becoming an all too common occurrence, prompting the meme ‘SBINALLA’ whenever he would mess up. Of course, before this delayed season began it was announced that Vettel’s Ferrari contract would not be renewed and he’d be replaced in 2021 by Carlos Sainz.

Since then, it’s been a narrative of “Vettel didn’t perform because Ferrari didn’t believe in him”. To that I say, well can you blame them? If a rookie kept making the mistakes Vettel was making, they would have probably been replaced. It’s a two-way system, Vettel made a lot of unforced errors which resulted in Ferrari losing faith, and now they don’t give him the belief that he needs.

Vettel will leave Ferrari having failed to win a championship with the team

Again I don’t take pleasure in saying this, even I’ve begun to feel sorry for the guy. However maybe the move to Aston Martin is just what he needs. A fresh start (which seemed to bode well for him in 2015), plus the current ‘Pink Mercedes’ which will be used again in 2021 could lend well to his driving style. The turbo hybrid cars don’t have as much rear downforce as pre-2014 cars due to the exhaust gases not being channeled under the car.

Vettel’s style could bode even better when the 2022 regulations roll around since they utilise ground effect. However by that point, maybe the likes of Verstappen, Leclerc and all the other young guns will be the benchmark.

I’m not writing him off completely, but Vettel has got a lot to be proud of in his career. Winning for Toro Rosso at Monza, winning four straight championships at Red Bull, and he could do very well with Aston Martin. But ultimately, just because he has done that in the past doesn’t mean his errors during his time at Ferrari can be overlooked.

I hope Vettel gets his mojo back and can bring a win or two for the team that started out as Jordan back in 1991, I hope he can prove to himself and everyone else that they are wrong.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of Ferrari Media