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.

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

 

Belgian GP Review: Hamilton takes 89th career win

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Lewis Hamilton took his 5th win of the season and 89th win of his career on Sunday afternoon in Spa on a day that called for very high tyre management. The Englishman started on pole and had to fend off an early challenge on lap one from his teammate and Max Verstappen. Once he was out in front, it was rarely any challenge apart from managing the tyres which were falling off at the end.

Both him and his teammate Bottas pitted under the safety car around lap ten during a safety car brought on due to Giovinazzi losing his rear and ending up in the barriers while collecting George Russell in the process. The Mercedes duo put on hard tyres like pretty much the rest of the field and limped to the end to finish 1-2.

Max Verstappen of Redbull failed to mount a challenge to the Mercedes after he was put on the same hard compound tyres following the safety car and he had to go into management mode as well. The outright winners of the race apart from the top 3 has to be the Renault sport team after Daniel Ricciardo drove a mega race to finish P4 and take the fastest lap in the process while finishing only 3 seconds behind Verstappen.

His teammate Ocon pulled off a last lap overtake on Red bull’s Albon to finish 5th and the team will be very much looking forward to Monza given the similar characteristics of the Italian circuit. Albon has to be content with 6th after a different strategy call from his team saw him finish the race on mediums which put him at a disadvantage towards the end.

McLaren had a mixed raceday after Carlos Sainz’s bad luck followed him to Spa this weekend. The Spaniard failed to even make it to the grid following an exhaust failure while bringing the car on to the track and will be hoping for something to go his way during next week. The other McLaren of Lando Norris put on a decent show after he finished 7th towards the end passing Lance Stroll on the way and putting up a fight with Albon and Ocon for 5th.

Pierre Gasly certainly put in a driver of the day performance after starting the race on the hard tyres and choosing not to stop under the safety car which enabled him to be on fresher tyres towards the end of the race. The Frenchman definitely made most of this strategy and put in some brilliant moves, especially one up the Eau Rouge onto Radillon on the inside vs Sergio Perez. This saw him finish 8th despite starting outside the top 10 and earned him some well deserved points. His teammate Kvyat in the other Alpha Tauri finished 11th after a quiet race.

Racing Point had a very average race following a similar qualifying and they will be left pondering on the loss of the really good pace that they have been showing so far in the season. Sergio Perez finished in the final points spot at 10th despite trying a different strategy to his teammate Lance Stroll who finished 9th.

Ferrari had a similar, if not worse race compared to qualifying after both the drivers swapped their qualifying positions with Vettel finishing 13th and Leclerc finishing 14th. Leclerc got off to a great start and put himself in 9th place before eventually losing places lap after lap. His pitstop under the safety car did not go according to the plan as well and he had to spend more than 30 seconds in the pitlane. As if this wasnn’t enough, he was then called in for an unexplained pitstop which left him visibly disgruntled on the radio, akin to his teammate.

It was not a completely bad day for the ferrari powered cars after Kimi Raikkonen in the Alfa Romeo finished 12th ahead of both the works Ferraris while passing one of them on the track in a straight fight. Both the Haas cars finished with Grosjean at 15th and Magnussen at 17th after another very underwhelming weekend for the American team. Latifi finished 16th in the only remaining Williams after his teammate was taken out by a crashing Giovinazzi much earlier in the race.

With the promise of rain yet again not being fulfilled, Spa did not deliver the quite the race every F1 fan had hoped for. Mercedes and Hamilton would not be complaining to much after finishing 1-2 yet again and hamilton extending his lead at the top to 47 points over Verstappen. Renault will be the ones looking forward to another power hungry track in Monza while Ferrari might not be missing the Tifosi too much given how they have been performing so far this season.

Alonso returns to F1 with Renault

(Image courtesy of Fernando Alonso Instagram)

When Fernando Alonso announced in 2018 that he would be stepping away from Formula 1, very few of thought he would return. With the current status-quo as it is with the last few years dominated by Mercedes with only Red Bull and Ferrari able to hold a candle to them, and Alonso growing evidently tired of being in a lackluster McLaren, it was perhaps understandable that many of us didn’t believe these rumours of the two-time champion returning to F1 with the team that took him to those two world championships, Renault.

But sure enough, it was confirmed by Renault that Alonso would make his F1 comeback next year partnering up with Esteban Ocon and replacing the McLaren-bound Daniel Ricciardo. The former Red Bull driver signed a two-year deal with the French automotive manufacturer which was estimated to be in the region of nearly €25 million per year. But the promise of a car being able to challenge for podiums in the coming years wasn’t convincing enough for Ricciardo, and he will now take the seat of Carlos Sainz who is off to Ferrari to replace four-time champion Sebastian Vettel.

Alonso claimed he would not return to F1 unless he had a race winning car, and in a post on Instagram, he seems to be pinning all his hopes on the upcoming revolutionary 2022 regulations which will close the gap between the top three teams. With the teams having agreed to continue using their current cars for 2021, Renault certainly don’t look like a frontrunning team right now.

The experience of Alonso will undoubtedly play a part in developing their 2022 car but even so, time isn’t on his side. He will be turning 41 in 2022 which means at the very most, he has at most three years if Michael Schumacher’s three-year tenure in his comeback with Mercedes is anything to go by. Will he still be at the top of his game? Even if by some miracle, Renault are consistent front runners and he’s challenging for podiums, wins and maybe even the championship, would Fernando still be capable?

Then there’s the question of Renault’s academy drivers. With Esteban Ocon being out of F1 for 18 months prior to the Austrian Grand Prix and having only raced two full seasons prior with Force India as well as a couple of races with the Manor team in 2016, he’s far from being able to lead a team just yet so that undoubtedly factored in when finding who could take Ricciardo’s seat. However there’s still questions to be asked about where this leads the two probable F1 graduates in Renault’s academy right now.

These two drivers are Formula 2 racers Guanyu Zhou and Christian Lundgaard. Zhou is entering his second season of F2, prior to his first season , he hadn’t been that impressive in the junior formula, although was runner-up in Italian F4 in 2015. He had been on the Ferrari driver academy before joining Renault’s for 2019, and despite his time in European F3 not being indicative of being potential F1 material, he stepped it up when it mattered.

Zhou scored five podiums and a pole position on his way to seventh overall, and began the 2020 season with a pole at the Red Bull Ring, and was set for his first win before his Virtuosi F2 car let him down. Plus you have to think that Zhou is also a marketing goldmine for a manufacturer like Renault, since he would be the first Chinese driver and China is always a market that brands want to sell in so it would make sense from a marketing standpoint.

Then we have Lundgaard, who won two F4 championships in 2017, finished runner-up in Formula Renault EuroCup and took a race win last year in FIA Formula 3 with ART Grand Prix. He’s now in F2 with ART and scored a fourth and fifth in his first F2 races. He has had a rapid rise through the lower ranks and undoubtedly has the ability, but perhaps it may have been too early and he could be in prime position to be in the Renault F1 drive after Alonso retires for good.

Since we are talking about Renault juniors, it would be an insult if we didn’t talk about the driver who was perhaps in the best position for that seat alongside Ocon.

Lundgaard may have remained in F3 for a title charge in 2020, but that ART F2 drive had already been paid for by Renault so he was promoted into the seat that most likely would have been occupied by 2018 GP3 champion Anthoine Hubert.

Having won two sprint races last season in F2 at Monaco and Paul Ricard with BWT Arden, but tragedy struck at Spa-Francorchamps when Hubert was fatally injured. I would have put a lot of money on Hubert being champion in F2 this year had he been in that ART seat, considering the past two champions George Russell and Nyck De Vries raced with ART as well.

(Image taken from F1 2020 Game Play)

Nevertheless, it’s the return of Fernando Alonso with Renault for 2021. I can definitely imagine a few more iconic moments from him, especially in the Drive to Survive season focusing on the 2021 season, the combination of Fernando and Cyril Abiteboul is going to make for some interesting moments for us, that’s for sure.

Bottas stays at Mercedes, Renault sign Ocon

Renault and Mercedes have kick-started the 2020 driver market by announcing their driver lineups for next year at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Mercedes made the first move by announcing on Thursday morning that they had exercised their option to keep Valtteri Bottas for a fourth consecutive season with the team.

Bottas said: “I am very happy and proud to be part of the team for a fourth season and wish to thank every team member and the board of Mercedes for their trust and belief in me.

“My performances have been getting better and better each year, and this is a great way to kick start the second half of 2019.”

Team boss Toto Wolff said he had resigned Bottas for “another season at least”, and praised his contribution to Mercedes’ successes since 2017 as “exemplary”.

LAT Images / Mercedes AMG

Shortly after, Renault announced that it had signed Esteban Ocon for 2020, with the Frenchman free to join the team after being denied a potential Mercedes drive by Bottas.

Ocon joins Renault on a multi-year deal and will replace Nico Hülkenberg, who will leave the French marque after three seasons.

Ocon had previously been part of the Renault stable as their test and reserve driver in 2016, when he took part in four free practice outings in the RS16. Before arriving in Formula One, he was also a member of the Enstone-based Lotus junior programme.

Renault F1 Media

Speaking about joining Renault, Ocon said: “First and foremost, I am very proud to become a Renault driver. I have grown up at Enstone, starting with Lotus in 2010 and then with Renault. I am very attached to this team and everyone who works there; they are the ones who opened the doors of top level motorsport for me.

“Secondly, I am pleased that a team with big ambitions has entrusted me with the opportunity to once again demonstrate my skills at the highest level of F1.”

Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul paid tribute to the departing Hülkenberg’s work at the team, calling him “a pillar” of Renault’s progress since rejoining F1 in 2016.

Speaking on Twitter, Hülkenberg called it “a pity” to be leaving Renault at the end of the season, and added that he is “confident” about being on the 2020 grid but has “nothing to announce at the moment”. He is widely tipped to join Haas, after Gunther Steiner confirmed on Thursday that Hülkenberg is on the American team’s shortlist to partner Kevin Magnussen.

Renault F1 Media

How Hockenheim affects the F1 driver market

With the summer break just around the corner, the German Grand Prix was always going to be a key race for those drivers chasing new contracts for 2020. And when the rain came down on race day, the crazy conditions allowed some to shine and left others dreadfully exposed.

Pierre Gasly

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Already under pressure just to keep his Red Bull seat for the rest of this year, Pierre Gasly’s German Grand Prix was a nightmare he just didn’t need. After starting the weekend with a chassis-wrecking shunt in FP2, Gasly then spent most of the race once again mired in the midfield pack, before retiring in ignominious fashion after rear-ending (ironically, some might say) Alex Albon’s Toro Rosso.

With his teammate again excelling across the weekend to take Red Bull’s second victory of the season, Hockenheim might just be the final nail in the coffin for Gasly.

Daniil Kvyat

Peter Fox, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Gasly’s error-strewn weekend was bad enough by itself, without Daniil Kvyat putting in arguably the drive of his career to steal an unlikely third place for Toro Rosso.

Helmut Marko was quick after the race to say Kvyat’s podium didn’t guarantee him Gasly’s seat for the rest of the year—after all, a podium wasn’t enough to keep Kvyat himself in that seat back in 2016. But even if Red Bull don’t give him another chance at the senior team, Kvyat’s Hockenheim performance will have certainly raised his stock ahead of a potential midfield reshuffle.

Valtteri Bottas

LAT Images / Mercedes AMG

Toto Wolff said at the start of the German Grand Prix weekend that Valtteri Bottas needed “two solid performances in Hockenheim and Budapest” to be sure of a contract extension for 2020.

Judging by Wolff’s table-banging and audible cry of “Damn it, Valtteri!” as Bottas spun into the wall on lap 56, the Finn’s chances of keeping his seat from Esteban Ocon have been considerably reduced. Add to that his lacklustre early race pace and qualifying defeat by both Max Verstappen and an unwell Lewis Hamilton, and this becomes a very costly weekend for Bottas’s future.

Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen

Haas F1 Media

Gunther Steiner was visibly furious with Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen after they hit each other late on at Hockenheim, just one race after taking each other out on the first lap at Silverstone.

A driver change now looks like a certainty, though whether Steiner and Gene Haas have enough patience left to wait until 2020 is still up for debate. If not, Ferrari simulator driver Pascal Wehrlein is thought to be the most likely to slot into one of the cars after the summer break.

BrazilianGP Review: Robbery in Brazil for Verstappen

The title has been decided, but that doesn’t mean the season is over just yet. The 20th round of 2018 was ready to bring some spectacle, with the Brazilian Grand Prix at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace.

Once again qualifying took place under difficult circumstances. Interlagos is (in)famous for its unpredictable weather conditions, and this year was no exception. This resulted in Lewis Hamilton taking Mercedes’ 100th pole position and his luck didn’t stop there. Sebastian Vettel secured second place, although both drivers were at risk of losing their positions. Hamilton seemed like he wasn’t awake at times as he blocked Sergey Sirotkin during his outlap and hindered Kimi Räikkönen on his flying lap, but it didn’t end up in a penalty, a strange decision by the FIA.

Lewis Hamilton. Photo curtesy of Pirelli

 

Vettel’s incident was even stranger. Vettel was called in for inspection and had to go onto the weigh bridge. In his haste, he drove onto the weigh bridge itself, and drove off it with his engine turned on, therefore destroying the weigh bridge. This resulted in a reprimand and a $25,000 fine.

Honourable mention goes to Charles Leclerc. During Q2 he was out of the top 10. Reporting to his team that it was raining too heavily, he put in a superb lap which saw him continue to Q3. There Sauber surprisingly locked the fourth row, but Daniel Ricciardo would drop five places due to a grid penalty.

On race day it seemed like it would stay dry but there was still  a threat of a potential thunderstorm. Vettel locked his brakes into turn one, giving Valtteri Bottas second place immediately. Meanwhile, both Renault drivers were battling each other, they even had a slight touch but survived.

In lap four it was a very bold move from Max Verstappen who dive-bombed Vettel, giving him third place. However, the Ferrari’s were on the soft tyres while the other two top teams were on the supersofts. Ricciardo quickly found his way back to the top six and was now charging the slower Ferrari’s ahead. His teammate took second place though, overtaking Bottas into the first corner. The Finn was really struggling, with Räikkönen, Vettel and Ricciardo knocking on his door.

Lap 16 saw the first pit stop, Fernando Alonso came in but his rear right tyre wasn’t fitted correctly. Quick reactions by the Spaniard meant that pit crew could still fix it. Bottas came in for his pit stop in lap nineteen, meaning that the Ferrari’s now had free air to continue on their softs. One lap later Hamilton came in, also opting for the medium tyres.

Marcus Ericsson, who had a great starting position, spun at high speed and returned to the pits. Not for a regular pit stop, but a retirement – the first of the race. A few laps later though Vettel overtook his teammate for sixth, but it didn’t last long as they were surprisingly told to switch places.

Photo curtesy of Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool.

 

Disaster struck for Verstappen as Esteban Ocon tried to overtake the Red Bull, but took the inside and touched Verstappen. He spun, but could continue the race (after he showed the Frenchman the middle finger of course). Eventually the stewards decided that Ocon caused the collision, handing him a stop/go penalty for crashing into the race leader.

Ricciardo and Vettel had locked horns but the Australian wouldn’t give up that easily and kept his fifth place. A few laps later Ricciardo passed Bottas for fourth place. With 17 laps to go, Vettel took his second pit stop and opted for the supersofts. This dropped him back to seventh place behind his future teammate Leclerc.

However, it would be the victory for the 2018 World Champion. Mercedes, after winning the Drivers’ Championship with Hamilton, now also have the 2018 Constructors Championship. Verstappen took second place (arguably he should have placed higher) and Räikkönen completed the podium, keeping Ricciardo at bay.

Verstappen, responding to Horner’s disbelieve: “Yeah I know what to say, I really hope I won’t see him in the pits…” with a lot of censoring needed. And as it would have it, the two did meet with Verstappen pushing Ocon three times in a widely broadcast standoff.

After some drama, it is time to look towards the last race of the season. The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix could result in some drivers taking big risks for the win. It will be Alonso’s final race in F1; he’ll be hoping to step away from F1 with a good result. In short, it should be a good one.

2018 Mexican GP Review: F1esta Mode for Mercedes

We’re in the final stages of the 2018 season, and as F1 entered round 19 of the calendar for the Mexican Grand Prix, another chance emerged for Lewis Hamilton to become a five-time world champion, with his rival Sebastian Vettel 70 points behind and just three races to go.

Qualifying was once again very close, with Daniel Ricciardo stealing pole from team-mate Max Verstappen by just 0.026 seconds. Behind them, it was close as well, with Hamilton, Vettel, Bottas and Raikkonen making up a very interesting grid.

On Sunday, Hamilton got an amazing start and got past pole-sitter Ricciardo, but didn’t quite manage to get past Verstappen. Ricciardo dropped to third, with Vettel and Bottas still in fourth and fifth.

It took only five laps before the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) was brought out, after Fernando Alonso pulled over having had his car damaged by some flying debris from Esteban Ocon at the start.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Hamilton started losing time to Verstappen once the green flag was shown, allowing Ricciardo to close to within DRS range by lap eleven, although he wasn’t quite close enough to attempt an overtake.

On lap twelve, Hamilton came in for his first pit stop along with Bottas just seconds after, and Ricciardo and Verstappen pitting on successive laps, all opting for the supersofts. On lap fifteen, Verstappen used his DRS to overtake Raikkonen, the winner of last week’s United States Grand Prix

With Raikkonen’s tyres fading, he dropped into the clutches of Hamilton and Ricciardo, with the former pulling off an overtake in turns two and three.

On lap eighteen both Vettel and Raikkonen finally made their pit stops, switching onto the supersofts and making Verstappen race leader once again, this time by a margin of eight seconds.

A second Virtual Safety Car was brought out on lap 32, with Carlos Sainz having parked his Renault at the side of the track.  When the green flag was shown once more Vettel saw a chance to get past Ricciardo and, on lap 34, he  finally overtook the Australian and set about closing the gap to Hamilton. By lap 38 he was within a second, and the following lap he overtook his rival on the main straight.

He now had a thirteen second gap to Verstappen he needed to close down, but more interesting was the fact that Hamilton was losing almost a second per lap to Ricciardo. The Brit would still become World Champion even if he got overtaken, but that wouldn’t be in style as he was now at risk of losing a podium place.

2018 Mexican Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

In an attempt to overtake Hamilton, Ricciardo tried the move on the main straight but Hamilton braked way too late and overshot the first corner, going across the grass. Unsurprisingly, he pitted at the end of the lap for a set of used ultrasofts.

With 22 laps to go, both Vettel and Verstappen pitted. Vettel went to the ultrasofts, whilst Verstappen opted for a new set of supersofts. This promoted Ricciardo into second place but, with him being on older tyres, Vettel soon closed the gap again.

On lap 62 Vettel’s job was made a lot easier when Ricciardo once again retired due to an engine problem. The Virtual Safety Car was called out for the third time, and Bottas took the opportunity to pit.

After 71 laps it was an outstanding drive from Max Verstappen, who took the chequered flag and claimed his fifth win in F1. Following him home were the two Ferraris of Vettel and Raikkonen.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Verstappen’s victory, however, was somewhat overshadowed by the fact that Lewis Hamilton finished in fourth place, which was enough for him to be crowned the 2018 Formula One World Champion. He gave the crowd a bit of a show by doing some doughnuts in the stadium section of the track. Even Will Smith left a radio message for him, and Vettel showed his sportsmanship by congratulating his rival.

There are still two races left of the season to go. Sure, the tension of the championship is now over, but that doesn’t mean the upcoming races will be any less interesting. The Brazilian Grand Prix is up next, which always makes for a great race, especially as the weather gods always play their part there. But, for now, the party mode can be turned on at Mercedes.

 

 

Featured image: 2018 Mexican Grand Prix, Sunday – Steve Etherington

2018 United States GP Review: The Iceman Returns

The United States Grand Prix had the potential to see the crowning of a five-time world champion. Taking place at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, F1 entered the eighteenth round of the 2018 season with a 67-point difference between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.

With only three races left after this one, it would need a miracle for Vettel to overturn that gap and take his fifth world championship. A win for Hamilton in the US Grand Prix meant that Vettel couldn’t afford to finish third or below, as this would extend the gap to over 75 points and hand the championship to Hamilton. Did the (American) dream end here for Vettel?

In qualifying it was a heated battle up front. Lewis Hamiltom claimed pole, with only seven hundredths of a second covering the top three. Behind him were Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas, with Vettel being demoted to fifth because of a penalty he was given after free practice for failing to slow down sufficiently under a red flag.

One notable name missing from that top ten was Max Verstappen. He set a fast lap in Q1 and advanced to Q2, but broke the rear suspension of the car after he hit a sausage kerb. Red Bull didn’t have enough time to fix the car, and he didn’t set a time. To add insult to injury, Red Bull had to change his gearbox, leaving him with a grid penalty and an eighteenth place starting slot.

Once the lights went out, Räikkönen made a great start and overtook Hamilton on the inside going into turn one, with mayhem breaking out behind them. Vettel tried to overtake Ricciardo, but crashed into the Australian and spun. He rejoined in fourteenth place, behind Vandoorne. He made up some places very quickly, but he still was twenty-two seconds behind his teammate, who was leading the race.

Verstappen was already in seventh place after five laps and was closing on his team-mate, when Ricciardo once again suffered an engine issue and had to come to a stop at the side of the track.

The parked Red Bull brought out the Virtual Safety Car, with Mercedes calling Hamilton in to change from the supersofts onto the softs. He re-emerged in third place, eight seconds behind Raikkonen.

Valtteri Bottas was asked on lap fourteen to let Hamilton through, and Hamilton set about closing the gap to the race leader, who was on the ultrasofts, and eventually catching up on lap nineteen. The Mercedes made it to within DRS range, but couldn’t get past. After defending all the way through sector three, Raikkonen came into the pits and changed onto the softs.

A strange call from the Ferrari team came on lap twenty-five, when Vettel was asked to let his teammate go by. He was then overtaken by Verstappen before he had the chance to go into the pits, and dropped out of the podium positions. By the halfway mark of the race he was 43 seconds behind race-leader Hamilton and in fifth place.

Hamilton started to struggle due to blisters on the rear tyres, allowing Vettel to close the gap back to less than thirty seconds. On lap 37 it became clear Hamilton wouldn’t be able to make it to the end, and he came in for another pit stop. He re-emerged in fourth place, ahead of Vettel and with Raikkonen still leading.

For the second time in the race, Bottas was asked to let Hamilton by, with his team-mate on the fresher tyres and charging his way back up. By lap 45 the top three were very close, with two seconds separating Raikkonen and Vertappen, and another three second gap to Hamilton in third.

By lap fifty Vettel was within DRS range of Bottas in fourth, with the top three now separated by just two and a half seconds. With Vettel where he was, Hamilton needed to finish in second, and that meant getting past Verstappen.

On lap 53, Verstappen made a slight error and gave Hamilton the opportunity to overtake. Verstappen defended and didn’t give the Brit any space, with Hamilton running wide and losing time.

Two laps later, Vettel overtook Bottas for fourth place, meaning that the chance for Hamilton to win the championship this race was gone

After 113 races, Räikkönen finally got another victory. It may certainly be his last for Ferrari, but it was probably one of his best. Verstappen finished in second having started from 18th, a performance which resulted in him deservedly winning Driver of the Day. Behind them, Hamilton finished in third and Vettel in fourth, with Bottas, Hulkenberg, Sainz, Ocon, Magnussen and Perez completing the top ten.

With three races to go, the gap between Hamilton and Vettel is now 70 points. Vettel needs a miracle to happen if he wants to become five-time world champion, whilst Hamilton just needs to defend his major points advantage.

Up next is the Mexican Grand Prix – will Hamilton be crowned five-time world champion there?

2018 Japanese GP Review: Risking It All

Early in the morning for most Europeans, Formula One returned to the legendary Suzuka circuit for round seventeen of the 2018 season.

Lewis Hamilton started on pole once again, the 80th time he has done so in his career. Title rival Sebastian Vettel started from a lowly ninth place after a gamble on the intermediate tyres at the start of Q3 meant they lost precious time on track when it was dry. When the rain then started to fall near the end of Q3, Vettel couldn’t improve and made several mistakes in the slippery conditions. Bottas started behind Hamilton in P2, with a very surprised but happy Verstappen in third. On the other side of the Red Bull garage there was drama as Ricciardo once again had issues with the engine, keeping the car inside the garage in Q2 and resigning him to a 15th place start.

The race started under clear blue skies, and immediately Vettel began to make up for his poor qualifying by charging to sixth place after just two turns, and fifth place by the end of the first lap. Verstappen had a good start, but at the end of the first lap he locked up his brakes entering the final chicane, pushing the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen off the track as he rejoined. The incident was investigated, and Verstappen was given a five-second penalty for “leaving the track and returning unsafely”.

2018 Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

After a brief Virtual Safety Car, deployed because of debris on the track after a collision between Kevin Magnussen and Charles Leclerc, Vettel moved up to fourth place and turned his attention to getting past Verstappen for third. He made an overtaking attempt going into Spoon Corner but, in trying to go through on the inside of Verstappen, the two made contact, with Vettel spinning and dropping down to 19th.

Verstappen survived relatively unscathed, and came into the pits on lap twenty-two to serve his five-second penalty and change onto the soft tyres. Valtteri Bottas made his pit stop the lap afterwards, and switched onto the medium tyres.

By lap 34, Vettel had fought his way back into the top ten, and overtook Grosjean going into Spoon – this time cleanly – to take seventh place.

After another Virtual Safety Car, this time for the stranded car of Charles Leclerc, Verstappen made an effort to get past Valtteri Bottas for P2. Despite Bottas making an error going into the last chicane and struggling with a blister on his rear tyres, he managed to hold on.

After fifty-three laps it was a dominant victory for Lewis Hamilton, once again extending his championship lead as Vettel disappointed with an eventual sixth place. Bottas and Verstappen completed the podium, with Ricciardo, Räikkönen, Vettel, Perez, Grosjean, Ocon and Sainz rounding out the top ten. Driver of the Day could only go to Daniel Ricciardo, who finished in fourth after starting from fifteenth.

2018 Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday – Paul Ripke

In the drivers’ championship, Hamilton now leads Vettel by 67 points with only four races to go. Next up is the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in two weeks time. If Hamilton outscores Vettel by eight points or more in that race, Hamilton will win the championship.