Leclerc secures Singapore GP pole in tricky conditions

Charles Leclerc mastered the conditions at the Marina Bay circuit to take his ninth pole position of the season, as championship leader Max Verstappen was forced to abort his final lap.

On a weekend where he can secure the championship, Verstappen will only start eighth, with the Dutch driver furious after being forced to abandon a potential pole lap due to a lack of fuel. His teammate, Sergio Perez, will start in second place, with Lewis Hamilton securing his best qualifying of the season in third.

Magnussen putting in good lap times despite a trip off track. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

The session started in damp conditions, with drivers using the intermediate tyres after a wet FP3. The majority of the track seemed to be dry, with turns 8 and 17 proving to be stubbornly wet throughout the session. Despite struggling with tyre warmup in practice, Mercedes were instantly on the pace, with Hamilton and Russell setting the fastest times early in the session. Unsurprisingly, there was a multitude of yellow flags early on, as Alex Albon, Charles Leclerc and the Haas duo of Kevin Magnussen and Mick Schumacher struggled with the greasy conditions.

On their second set of tyres, however, both Haas were able to briefly get inside the top 10 – showing how much the track was improving. In the end, Schumacher needed one final lap to get through to Q2, with Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo, Esteban Ocon, Albon and Nicolas Latifi dropping out.

Despite hot temperatures in Singapore, the track was slow to dry thanks to the high humidity and the nighttime running. Times were improving in Q2, with Leclerc setting the early pace in this session. Aston Martin decided it was worth a gamble to put both cars onto the slick tyres, but both drivers found the conditions too tricky to handle, as both skated into the run-off at the Anderson Bridge. Lance Stroll qualified 12th, with Sebastian Vettel 14th at the track where he secured his last victory three years ago.

Zhou Guanyu struggled on slicks as well to qualify 15th, with fellow Singapore newbie Schumacher qualifying 12th. The big shock in this session was the loss of George Russell, with the Mercedes man never looking comfortable throughout the session, as he missed out on the top 10 for the first time since the Miami GP. The Brit will start tomorrow from 11th.

Russell was not able to make it out of Q2. Image courtesy of Mercedes Media

The majority of the field chose soft tyres in Q3, apart from Tsunoda and Magnussen who stuck with the intermediates. This briefly looked like the best call, as the majority of the slick-shod runners struggled to get their tyres up to temperature. All except Lewis Hamilton, who was two seconds faster than the next soft tyre runner after the first laps in qualifying. Staying out on the circuit to keep the temperature in the tyres was the best tactic, as Leclerc, Hamilton and Fernando Alonso traded times at the top of the order.

Leclerc managed to set a 1:49.412 on his penultimate run in qualifying, a time which would not be bettered. Perez and Hamilton both came close, but it was Verstappen who twice looked as though he was on the way to taking his fifth pole position of the season. Despite a lap which looked scruffy at times, he was nearly a second up on Leclerc’s time before being told by the team to box immediately, a decision which infuriated the championship leader. This was after he had backed off on a previous lap which would also have been good enough to challenge for the front two rows of the grid. It is likely that continuing on his final run would have led him to run out of fuel, meaning the Dutchman would have been unable to provide a fuel sample, thus starting from the back of the grid.

The top 3 for the race tomorrow. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

The end result of this qualifying session is that Verstappen needs a crazy race tomorrow if he is to secure the championship with five rounds to go, on what has been a difficult weekend for Red Bull as both themselves and Aston Martin have been accused of breaching cost cap regulations.

Verstappen has won from lower than eighth though in two of the last four races, however, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him take his twelfth victory of the season and move one step closer to a second successive championship tomorrow.

F1 Weekend Preview: The Summer Break is Over!

The summer break is over and we are back in Belgium to find out if Ferrari can make a dent in RedBull’s championship charge, or if Mercedes can create a three-way fight to the end. The technical rule changes and driver market changes will certainly bring talking points throughout the weekend.

Technical changes

During the summer break, the FIA announced they had confirmed a few rule changes which are set to create waves in the paddock.

Lewis Hamilton at Baku where he suffered back pain from porpoising. Image courtesy of Mercedes Media

The first is in response to the porpoising or vertical oscillations which began to bring driver safety concerns at some circuits like Baku. The FIA has decided to step in and have outlined a new metric where porpoising is acceptable. Anything outside of these limits could now result in penalties for the teams.

The biggest change could be the rule changes to the floor by introducing flexibility tests. The FIA announced that they would make changes to redefine the stiffness requirements of plank and skids around the thickness measurement holes. This is to prevent any floor-related design which might navigate around the intention of the regulations. This potentially could have the biggest effect on performance so will be fascinating to see how it affects the cars.

Silly Season has begun

With the driver market causing chaos over the summer break, it is good to know where everyone stands heading into Belgium.

Vettel to retire at the end of 2022. Image courtesy of Aston Martin F1 Media

It all started with Sebastian Vettel announcing he was going to retire at the end of 2022 just before the Hungarian Grand Prix. The morning after the Hungarian GP Alonso announced he would replace Vettel at Aston Martin, which seemed to come as a shock to Alpine.

This is where it gets messy. Alpine then made an odd announcement that Oscar Piastri would be driving for them in 2023, but the statement had no quotes from the driver. Only a few hours later Piastri put out a statement saying he would not be driving for the French team, appearing to confirm rumours that he has been in talks with McLaren.

This would appear to make Daniel Ricciardo available to race next season, and with Haas, Williams, and Alfa Romeo yet to confirm their lineups they could secure themselves an experienced driver from McLaren. However, it has not been confirmed where Piastri is driving next season, so paddock talk will likely be all about the driver market.

A Three-way fight

Ferrari has hopefully used the summer break to re-focus and sort out their reliability and strategy issues. They will need an almost flawless second half of the season to stop RedBull and Max Verstappen from storming away with the championship.

However, Mercedes have been quietly making their way into the fight. They have been the most reliable car and have been consistently picking up podiums for the last seven rounds. They appear to have mostly got on top of the issues that plagued them at the beginning of the season and, with the possible performance changes with the new regulations, they could become a real contender towards the end of the season. For them, they can now focus on their pace which will need to improve to be with the teams ahead.

Mercedes double podium at the French GP. Image courtesy of Mercedes Media

Qualifying is on at 3pm BST and the race starts at 2pm BST.

F1’s silly season goes into overdrive

Although Sebastian Vettel’s retirement announcement on Thursday was a surprise to many, it wasn’t wholly unexpected. Few, however, could have predicted the events that have transpired since.

Aston Martin admitted to being caught unaware by Vettel’s retirement, with team principal Mike Krack talking only weeks ago about retaining the four-time world champion for another season. The rumours seemed to suggest that they would be replacing one German with another, with Mick Schumacher and current Aston Martin reserve Nico Hulkenberg being the main names touted for the seat.

It’s safe to say, therefore, that Monday’s announcement that Fernando Alonso would be extending his record-breaking career in green, rather than the blue and pink of Alpine, came almost out of nowhere. There had been mumblings that the Spaniard was considering a move out of Enstone for a third time, but many thought that a one-year extension for Alonso was a done deal. Even the 41-year-old said it would only take ’10 minutes’ to sort out a new contract with the French squad, but there was clearly some stumbling block in the background to force Fernando to go for a change.

Oscar Piastri testing for Alpine at the end of 2021. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

If Aston were surprised by Vettel’s announcement, Alonso’s left Alpine astounded. Team principal Otmar Szafnauer found out at the same time as everyone else, which is likely to lead to a very awkward meeting once the summer break is over. Once crumb of comfort for Otmar however, would have come with the fact that this freed up the seat for their junior driver Oscar Piastri, and it was announced on Twitter on Tuesday that he would be driving alongside Ocon in 2023.

As soon as the announcement was posted, however, questions started to be asked. There were no quotes from Piastri in the announcement. The tweet only spoke about how he was being ‘promoted’ into a race seat, not that he had signed any formal contract. And sure enough, just short of two hours later, the reigning F2 champion announced that he had not signed a contract with Alpine for 2023, and would not be driving for them next year. But how did Alpine get themselves into this mess?

Midway through last season, Esteban Ocon signed a contract for 2024 with the Enstone-based team. The plan seemed simple, keep Piastri in F2 for two seasons, and promote him once Alonso retired at the end of 2022. Problem one came when Piastri won the F2 championship, rendering him ineligible for the series this year. Problem two came with the fact that Alonso had no intention of leaving the sport just yet. Both are nice problems to have, but three into two doesn’t go, and frustrations were building in the background.

It looks like these frustrations have boiled over in the past week, and the lid will not be going back on this pot any time soon. Alonso feels his performances deserve more than a one-year contract, but as Alpine wanted to keep Piastri, this is all he was going to get. Other teams have picked up on this dilly-dallying from Alpine, with McLaren (who had the option to use Piastri as a reserve this season) allegedly swooping in to sign the highly rated 21-year-old for 2023, as a replacement for Daniel Ricciardo.

Ricciardo winning in Monza in 2021. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

This isn’t the only contract shenanigans that McLaren finds themselves in at the moment. Over in IndyCar, reigning champion Alex Palou is being sued by his current team Chip Ganassi Racing, after they announced that he would be driving for them, prompting him to announce that he would be driving McLaren. If Palou and Piastri both end up in papaya next season, this gives them a glut of talent across IndyCar and F1, with their lineup for Formula E next season also yet to be announced.

It is possible then, that Alpine will have an Australian driving for them next season, just not the one they expected. Daniel Ricciardo did a stellar job in the yellow of Renault in 2020, and apart from a win in Monza last season has not looked close to the driver he was during his two-year spell with the French marque. The 33-year-old has made it clear he wants to stay in F1 next year, and this may well be his only opportunity.

Aston Martin fighting amongst themselves for the last points position in Hungary 2022. Image courtesy of Aston Martin Media

But let’s go back to how this all started. Sebastian Vettel clearly didn’t see enough progress at Aston Martin to convince him to stay in Formula One. His father said that the decision was made in Austria, where he qualified last and was involved in incidents in both races, which is enough to make anyone question their motivation. So if he’s not seen any positives, what has made Alonso take one last (presuming he does retire at the end of 2024) throw of the dice?

Next year’s Aston will be the first car to have the fingerprint of Dan Fallows on it. As a member of the aerodynamics department at Red Bull (and eventually the head of aero), Fallows was involved in the Milton Keynes-based team’s dominant run in the early noughties, as well as their recent resurgence. Joining Aston at the start of the season meant he was never able to have a massive impact on the 2022 car, although the new rear wing shown off at Hungary suggests he has some radical ideas to move the team up from the lower end of the order. Being ninth in the championship also means Aston Martin will get more wind tunnel time than nearly all their rivals, invaluable at any time but especially in this modern era of Formula One.

Vettel’s retirement brings to an end one of the most successful careers of all time, with only Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher securing more wins than Sebastian. He will certainly be missed in the F1 paddock, and it is ironic that for a man who doesn’t like the spotlight away from the track, his departure has delivered plenty of drama for fans to discuss over the summer break.

2022 Spanish GP

The Spanish Grand Prix brings us round 6 of this years World Championship. The season so far has been a story of Ferrari versus RedBull, with this race being the race where the first major upgrades are brought to the cars would we see a change in the pecking order, would Mercedes be back in the hunt for wins? A scorching day in Barcelona would bring us all the answers we have been waiting for.

The front row had Leclerc and Verstappen again and could deliver us a titanic battle into turn one. Strategy would be key in the hot weather and whoever looks after their tyres the best would surely go on to win the race.

Home favourite Fernando Alonso took an engine penalty and would start from last, the 2 time world champion promising to give it everything and put on a show for his adoring fans. Could his popular compatriot Carlos Sainz improve his form after an indifferent start to his season, a win not impossible for the Spaniard. Everyone will start on the soft tyre apart from Lewis Hamilton who chose to start on the mediums.

The front 2 clearly ahead of the rest on the start. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Room

Lights out and the battle to the first corner was between the front two, they came through the first turns in the same order that they started.  Russell up to third. Hamilton then had a collision with Magnussen who tried to go around him on the outside of turn 4 causing a puncture with Magnussen into the gravel. Both drivers pitting at the end of the first lap.

At the start of Lap 5 Bottas went around the outside to Mick Schumacher into turn one. Alonso in the Alpine already up to P14, plenty of overtaking moves so far including a great pass from Alonso again on Sebastian Vettel. Sainz then makes a big mistake and spins into the gravel at turn 4 putting him down in 11th.

At the start of lap 9 Max Verstappen also lost it at turn 4 and went into the gravel, returning to the track in 4th. The RedBull team telling him it was a gust of wind. Russell now ahead of both RedBulls and clearly holding them up, RedBull clearly order Perez to let Verstappen through to see if he can make any ground on the Mercedes.

Ricciardo overtaken by hos teammate early on. Image courtesy pf Pirelli F1 Press Room

The McLaren of Ricciardo is falling down the order with the Aussie now down on 15th after pitting for fresh soft tyres. Lap 13 and Norris pits in his McLaren returning to the track in 9th place ahead of Sainz in the Ferrari. Both Russell and Verstappen pitted together, the world champion would need to get passed quickly to try and salvage his race. The RedBull struggling with an intermittent DRS fault meaning Verstappen couldn’t  get to close to the Mercedes on the main straight. The world champion looking very ragged in the RedBull complaining on the radio that they should be able to get the DRS working.

Leclerc up front still hadn’t pitted at the start of lap 20 and led by 30 seconds from Russell and Verstappen. The top 10 completed by Perez, Bottas, Ocon, Sainz, Vettel, Norris and Tsunoda. Alonso now up to 11th after starting last in his Alpine. Hamilton in the Mercedes seemingly with damage as he has only moved back to 16th.

Lap 22 and Leclerc finally pits, a great stop by the Ferrari team at 2.2 seconds, he returns to the track with 4.6 second lead but he now has tyres 8 laps fresher than the cars behind him.

At the start of lap 24 Hamilton pits for new medium tyres but falls down to 19th. Verstappen makes a move into turn one but Russell hangs him out to dry and makes him go the long way around and he can’t quite do it. Great defending by George Russell. Anyone who thought this race would be boring was very wrong. Perez now behind Verstappen asking the team to get him out of the way.

Suddenly Leclerc has trouble and the Ferrari is limping back to the pits, The first DNF of the season for the championship leader. Russell now leads in the Mercedes, Verstappen still struggling to find a way by the slower Mercedes.

Back down the field Lance Stroll again runs out of talent and spins after contact with the Alpha Tauri into turn one. RedBull decide to pit Verstappen dropping him to 4th but in clean air. Surely a 3 stop is now on the cards. Russell now out front ahead of Perez but the Mexican goes straight passed at the first attempt. His team mate now back up to 3rd, just 13 seconds behind.

At half distance this race is between the two RedBulls but seeing as team orders were clearly used earlier surely it is Verstappens race to lose now. As he closes on Russell the Brit pits in his Mercedes. The two RedBulls now leading the pack just 6 seconds apart. Perez pits the very next lap for mediums, returning to the track clear of Russell in the Mercedes. Further down the field Lando Norris is now up to 8th position despite feeling unwell this weekend.

Perez making a move on Russell. Image courtesy of Red Bull content pool

Hamilton in the Mercedes is currently the quickest car bar the RedBulls and showing that the Mercedes does in fact have quite a lot of pace which shows well for the rest of the season, the 7 time world champion now up to 6th.

Lap 45 and Verstappen pits for what surely is the last time. He comes back out ahead of Russell, just 5 seconds behind his team mate. Sainz in the sole remaining Ferrari also pits for the 3rd time. He is now 7th, another disappointing show from the Ferrari driver.

Lap 49 and RedBull tell Perez to let Verstappen passed for the lead, The Mexican agreeing but not very happy with the order.

Mercedes pit Russell again for fresh soft tyres, he remains in 3rd and on for a podium, RedBull bring Perez back in also to protect his 2nd position.

The rest of the field seems to have settled with a few battles developing for the back end of the top ten before the end of the race.

With 10 laps to go Verstappen leads from Perez, Russell, Bottas, Sainz, Hamilton, Ocon, Norris, Alonso, Schumacher, Tsunoda, Vettel, Ricciardo, Gasly, Stroll, Magnussen, Latifi and Albon with the only 2 retirements being Leclerc and Zhou.

Hamilton making moves. Image courtesy of Mercedes Media

Bottas, Sainz and Hamilton were running within a second of each other at the start of lap 58. Sainz is straight passed down the main straight, Hamilton then drives around the outside of turn three to overtake his former team mate. The Brit in his Mercedes clearly on a mission after the disappointment of lap one. His sights now clearly on the Ferrari ahead. He swoops around the outside of the Ferrari into turn one, a great drive today from Hamilton that might stop all the Netflix fans saying he’s finished.

After 66 laps Verstappen crossed the line as the race winner and also takes the lead of the world championship, he is followed over the line by Perez and the Mercedes of George Russell, Sainz is fourth after taking Hamilton one lap from the end due the Mercedes having to lift and coast for the last few laps, Hamilton finishes fifth ahead of Bottas, Ocon, Norris, Alonso and Tsunoda rounding out the top ten.

The rest of the classified finishers were Vettel, Ricciardo, Gasly, Schumacher, Stroll, Latifi, Magnussen and Albon.

Probably the best Spanish Grand Prix since 1991, plenty of overtaking and battles throughout the field all race long. The next stop on the F1 circus is Monaco, obviously we wont have the amount of overtaking that we did here but every lap has jeopardy and so anything can happen.

 

F1 Race Preview: We are finally back!

We are finally back in Australia to go racing for the first time since 2019. When we arrived in Albert park for the beginning of the 2020 season we saw a press conference before FP1 on the Friday announcing that the weekend was cancelled after a paddock member tested positive for COVID 19.

Albert Park has undergone significant changes in a bid to make the racing more interesting and to enhance the new regulations which so far have proven to add excitement. Turns 1, 3, 6 and 13 have been widened to allow for harder attacking and defending.

The most significant change comes between turn 6 and 11. The old chicane at turn 9/10 is gone so its now flat out from turn 6, through turns 7 and 8 to what used to be turns 11/12 which is now 9/10. The back straight will now be used as the new DRS zone.

The front of the grid

Red Bull and Ferrari have now taken one win each with Ferrari seemingly having the upper hand with both cars on the podium in the first two rounds. They are providing us with the battle at the front which we needed after an epic season-long fight last year.

Melbourne is a typical street circuit which means qualifying is very important. But with these two teams and specifically Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen made it very clear in Jeddah that this isn’t a problem for them.

Leclerc and Verstappen battling it out under the lights. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Room

The best of the rest

Mercedes have dominated Melbourne since 2014, but with their recent issues keeping up they don’t look like they can get past 5th and 6th. They will very much be hoping that the changes at the circuit will benefit them.

Haas and Kevin Magnussen seem to be their closest competitor. The last time out in Melbourne Magnussen had his best finish of 2019 in P6. He has already past that by getting P5 in Bahrain. He is currently the main competitor for Mercedes and will be looking to continue the momentum.

Good news for Aston Martin as Vettel has been cleared to race at Albert Park after having COVID and missing the first two rounds. Hulkenberg has done a great job for the team as a super sub putting in solid drives with no time in the car before the season.

Hulkenberg in Jeddah. Image courtesy of Aston Martin Media

The race starts live at 6am GMT. Make sure you tune in to our commentary on Twitter spaces for qualifying and the race.

F1 Race Preview: Into the Desert

The 2022 season is finally here with a race at Bahrain to kick us off for the third year in a row. The anticipation is high with the new regulations, new tyres and optimism that the cars will be able to race much closer than last year.

Having been pushed back a year because of covid we finally get to see Formula 1’s big changes to produce more exciting racing. However, testing is over and the teams and drivers, hopefully, understand their cars a little better after all the changes and upgrades between Barcelona and Bahrain.

Mercedes will be looking to defend their constructors title with their new, slimmed down car very different to anything else on the grid. In Barcelona they didn’t blow everyone away despite putting in the fastest laps, but they seem to have improved in Bahrain. During testing Lewis Hamilton did say they might not be competing for wins, but we have heard that before?

Ferrari look to be very reliable and so far meeting the expectations of those that thought they were going to have a quick car this year. They looked to be one of the fastest teams in both testing sessions and have been very consistent and reliable throughout both tests.

Red Bull are there or thereabouts. They have had issues, but reigning world Champion Verstappen finished with the fastest lap of testing. Looking towards the year he will be looking to drag everything out of that car to defend his title.

McLaren look to be the other team which may be in the title fight after testing. They had a solid car in Barcelona, but reliability issues and a sick driver means they haven’t had the running they would like to go into the first race. Daniel Ricciardo should be back for FP1, provided he has a negative covid test.

Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press

Looking further back Aston Martin and Alpine are still very much looking towards the midfield with a hope for some podiums. Alfa Romeo and Williams look to be close to each other as will. They have been very close on times throughout testing so will be in a battle with each other all season.

Haas have been the surprise of testing. They were granted an extra hour at the end of day 2 and 3 in Bahrain to make up for their lack of running in the morning of day 1 because of flight delays. However, with the return of Kevin Magnussen, he went fastest at the end of day 2. Not to be left out Mick Schumacher was P2 by the end of day 3.

Testing times can never been taken as the definitive order, however it has been great to see how these cars might work in race conditions. We won’t completely know until Sunday afternoon if the new philosophy has worked but we are all excited to get racing again 92 days later.

The race on Sunday is 3pm GMT.

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