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.

2018 Singapore GP Review: Has the championship been decided?

After the Italian Grand Prix two weeks ago, which signaled the end of the European races for this season, Formula One headed to Asia for round fifteen of 2018, the Singapore Grand Prix. One of the most demanding tracks of the calendar for both drivers and cars due to high humidity, the Marina Bay Street Circuit covers 5.067 kilometres, with twenty-three turns and a race distance of sixty-one laps.

Going into qualifying it had looked as if things would be close at the front, but an outstanding lap from Lewis Hamilton saw him grab pole position by three tenths of a second from Max Verstappen. Vettel ended up third on the grid, six tenths behind his championship rival. Behind him, Bottas, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Perez, Grosjean, Ocon, and Hulkenberg completed the top ten.

The five red lights counted down to the start, and what a start it was for Hamilton. In typical Singapore style the safety car was brought out, this year after just seven corners due to Ocon and Perez colliding with each other, putting the Frenchman in the wall.

2018 Singapore Grand Prix, Sunday- Wolfgang Wilhelm

 

Vettel attempted an overtake on Verstappen for second place, which succeeded just before the safety car was called out. It seemed like Vettel had learned from his crash with Hamilton in Monza as he didn’t go for the overtake straight away at turn one, despite having had a much better start than Verstappen.

The restart on lap five saw Hamilton driving away from Vettel whilst Bottas closed in on Verstappen, however a lock up meant the Finn then lost the same amount of time he had gained.

Reports of some wear on the hypersoft tyres started coming in from lap twelve onwards. Ferrari reported this to Vettel as well, who was now losing some time to Hamilton. The German made his first pit stop on lap fourteen, changing to the ultrasoft tyre. Getting stuck behind traffic, this early stop cost him some major time. Mercedes responded to this pit stop by bringing in Hamilton, who opted for the soft tyres.

The end of lap sixteen saw Verstappen leading the race ahead of Bottas, who made his pit stop on lap seventeen. Vettel, meanwhile, overtook Perez and set about closing the gap to Hamilton. Verstappen then made his pit stop and went to the softs. It was very close at the pit exit with Vettel, but Verstappen came out ahead to claim a net second place.

Vettel reported to his team that he wouldn’t make it to the end of the race on the ultrasoft tyres, a real blow for Ferrari who really had to win this race to keep their hopes for the championship alive.

2018 Singapore Grand Prix – Sebastian Vettel

Race leader Räikkönen went into the pits on lap twenty-three,  dropping back to fifth place. It seemed Ferrari had taken note of Vettel’s worries, as they put Raikkonen on fresh soft tyres.

After a staggering twenty-seven laps on the hypersoft tyres Ricciardo finally made his pit stop, opting for the ultrasofts and dropping back behind Raikkonen. With the better tyre and more than half distance still to go, he still had enough time to close the gap.

Sergio Perez had dropped down the order, getting stuck behind Sergey Sirotkin and becoming increasingly frustrated, even complaining that Charlie Whiting had to do something. The Mexican’s patience ran out on lap thirty-four when he tried overtaking Sirotkin but ended up crashing into him, looking and steering to the left and raising questions about whether it had been done deliberately. Perez as a result had to gp back into the pits for repair. The stewards looked into the incident and decided that he had caused a collision, handing him a drive-through.

2018 Singapore Grand Prix, Sunday- Steve Etherington

Up front, Hamilton was still leading from Verstappen who was carving his way through all the traffic. In front of them was a trio of backmarkers – Grosjean, Gasly, and Sirotkin – fighting for P14. Hamilton was held up as a result, allowing Verstappen to close to within a second. Both drivers expressed their frustration over the radio, describing the backmarkers as “crazy”. Once they cleared them, though, Hamilton opened the gap back up to three seconds, and Grosjean was handed a five-second penalty for ignoring blue flags.

A big surprise came on lap forty-six when Alonso put up the fastest lap time of the race and broke the lap record. That surprise was then doubled when Kevin Magnussen in eighteenth place then broke that record as well.

After sixty-one long laps it was Lewis Hamilton who claimed victory, winning his forty-fourth race from pole position and extending his championship lead. Verstappen took an impressive second place, deservedly resulting in him being voted driver of the day. Vettel was disappointed as once more he lost points to Hamilton in the championship, taking third place. Completing the top ten were Bottas, Räikkönen, Ricciardo, Alonso, Sainz, Leclerc and Hulkenberg.

2018 Singapore Grand Prix, Sunday- Steve Etherington

It was not the most spectacular Singapore Grand Prix we have ever seen, but it  still had some interesting moments. For the teams, focus now turns to the Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom, with Hamilton leading the championship by forty points.

There are still six races to go though, and lots can happen. As always in F1, nothing is certain.

2018 Italian GP Review: Raging Tifosi

 

Round fourteen of the 2018 Formula One season saw teams arrive at Monza for the Italian Grand Prix. Deemed the Temple of Speed for a reason, it would be a two-way fight for the victory between Ferrari and the Mercedes. Ferrari hoped to please the Tifosi at their home GP whilst Mercedes wanted to steal the show and dominate proceedings, over their Italian rivals.

In a dry qualifying it was Ferrari that took a front row lockdown, but not in the usual order. It was Kimi Räikkönen who profited from the slipstream he got from his teammate Sebastian Vettel, giving him the fastest ever F1 lap with an average speed of 263kmh. Vettel wasn’t happy with his P2, as he told his team they’d “talk about it” afterwards. He was most likely disappointed that the Finn got the slipstream instead of him as he’s a Drivers’ Championship contender. The second row belonged to Mercedes.

The Tifosi were in for a party as the front row coloured red, just as all the grandstands were. Räikkönen had a great start as he led into turns three and four. It was at that same corner that Lewis Hamilton went round the outside of Vettel which then led to contact. The Ferrari driver spun and headed to the pits to repair his front wing. The stewards would look into the incident between the two championship contesters. Before the drivers had cleared the first corner, the Safety Car (SC) was brought out for an incident involving  Brendon Hartley, after he got sandwiched on the straight between a McLaren and a Sauber. This meant his suspension broke and he had to pull the car onto the grass.

At the restart in lap four it was Hamilton who got past Räikkönen into turn one without DRS. However, a better exit gave Räikkönen the opportunity to get first place back, leading to big cheers from the Italian crowds. Vettel opted during his pit stop for the soft tyres, probably trying to avoid another pit stop.

At the back there was slight contact between Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen at the first Lesmo corner. Some debris flew onto the track and onto Magnussen’s car, but not enough to bring out another SC. Meanwhile the stewards decided to take no further action in the incident between Hamilton and Vettel.

During lap eight it was chaos in the fight for the last available point. Charles Leclerc got P12 from Pierre Gasly, and Daniel Ricciardo tried to profit from his poor exit but that almost cost him his front wing into turn four. One lap later Vettel overtook Leclerc for P13, who had already lost his P12 to Gasly. Drama for Fernando Alonso and McLaren again, as he had to retire the car only ten laps into the race due to an engine problem.  His “what a shame” comment sounded a bit sarcastic over the radio.

A huge fight between Ricciardo and the new 2019 Red Bull driver Gasly took place. It was the Australian who braked too deep into the corner, hitting the Toro Rosso on the side but without major damage.

Then Esteban Ocon taking sixth place from Carlos Sainz using DRS on the main straight. At front it was still Räikkönen leading Hamilton by 1.4 seconds. Meanwhile Vettel reported to his team that he still had some damage affecting the balance of the car. Max Verstappen, who was in third, was under increasing pressure from Valtteri Bottas, closing in on the Red Bull driver to try and get within DRS reach. Vettel was in ninth place by lap 16 and closing in on the Force India of Perez. Trying to overtake him the German braked too late, missed the apex and Perez got his eighth place back. Finally in lap 18, Vettel got past the Mexican for eight place, now heading towards the Renault of Sainz.

The battle between Verstappen and Bottas continued to heat up, causing both to lock up their tyres into turn one. Verstappen seemed to think Bottas was close enough to overtake him, but his team reported to him that “he was nowhere near.” Vettel meanwhile passed Sainz for seventh place, still around thirty seconds behind his teammate and race leader, Räikkönen. The Finnish Ferrari driver came into the pits during lap 21 whilst the Mercedes crew were ‘faking’ a pit stop. But only one lap later they were saying the famous words, “It’s hammer time!” He then didn’t come to the pits again, after his team ordered him to stay out as he still had the pace but his teammate Bottas was still struggling to get past Verstappen.

On lap 24 some drivers reported that it was raining at the back of the circuit around turns three and four, but one person who wasn’t worried about the rain was Vettel. He was still surging ahead and got into P5 after overtaking Ocon.  Then there was a big smoke plume behind Ricciardo – his new C spec Renault engine died, meaning he had to retire from the race. For the fourth time in six races the Australian didn’t make it to the end. His teammate Verstappen then asked his team if everything was alright with his engine, the team assured him that there was no problem. The Dutchman would soon come into the pits, opting for the soft tyres, but he dropped back to sixth place behind Vettel.

Bottas was told by his team to keep Räikkönen behind him to help Hamilton make a safe pit stop. He would opt for the soft tyres, but he couldn’t even get close to Räikkönen coming out of the pits. During lap 30, Vettel made his second pit stop of the race, now opting for the supersofts. Falling back to tenth place for doing so, he once again had to fight his way back to the front. Bottas was in “holding mode” – keeping Räikkönen behind him so that Hamilton could close the gap between himself and the Finn. Mercedes reported to Bottas that Räikkönen had blistered his left rear tyre.

AUTODROMO NAZIONALE MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 02: Back right tyre of Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari SF71H in parc ferme during the Italian GP at Autodromo Nazionale Monza on September 02, 2018 in Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Italy. (Photo by Manuel Goria / Sutton Images)

Hamilton was within a second of Räikkönen by lap thirty-five, splitting the top three by just less than two seconds. Finally, Bottas came into the pits from the leading position, going from the supersofts to the softs, but he would fall back behind Verstappen by three seconds. This pit stop gave Räikkönen the chance to create a gap between himself and Hamilton, but at this stage he was really struggling with his blistered tyre. Hamilton’s tyres were eight laps newer with fifteen laps left.

Vettel meanwhile overtook Perez for sixth place with only a small gap to catch Ocon, who headed to the pits, so Vettel surged to fifth. Whilst Räikkönen was struggling with blisters on the rear left, it was Hamilton who was struggling with blisters on the front left. The battle behind them was between Verstappen and Bottas who got very close to the Red Bull and tried to get past him in lap 42, but Verstappen defended well. One lap later he tried again but this time it cost him way more as he completely missed turn one after he and Verstappen made contact when the Dutchman went to the left where Bottas was trying to overtake him. Once again the stewards had a tough job to decide what to do. Bottas lost four seconds because of the incident. The stewards handed Verstappen a five-second time penalty for causing a collision. He didn’t sound too happy on the radio: “For what? I gave him space. They are doing a great job of killing racing, honestly.”

Then Monza had a new race leader as Hamilton finally got past Räikkönen using DRS into turn one, despite Räikkönen’s defense attempts. Seven laps to go and Räikkönen began losing time to Hamilton. Verstappen had a gap of just over one second on Bottas and with the time penalty he had it would mean he’d be in fourth place. The Dutchman also lost time to Vettel because he was fighting Bottas, but told his team, “I don’t care about it.”

Meanwhile it was worryingly to see that Sergey Sirotkin had unlapped himself by passing Räikkönen, when Ferrari had told the Finn that his tyre situation was critical.

After 53 laps, taking around 77 minutes, it was Hamilton who took his 86th career victory at Ferrari’s home GP. This made it extra painful for the Tifosi who really made this clear by booing the race winner and his ‘wingman’. Mercedes then angered the Tifosi even more as Bottas was told over the radio to stay next to Hamilton in “formation all the way out, just to show our Italian colleagues.” Hamilton even thanked his teammate for helping him out. One positive for the Tifosi was that Driver of the Day Räikkönen brought home his Ferrari in second place and Vettel fought back to finish in fifth position. Bottas completed the podium as Verstappen got demoted to fifth. Romain Grosjean, Ocon, Perez, Sainz and Lance Stroll completed the top ten.

Hamilton entered the weekend as Championship leader and left Monza still as the leader in the title fight, but now with an even bigger margin. He now has 256 points over Vettel’s 226 points, as the German threw away some very important points at his team’s home GP. Räikkönen extended the gap between himself and Bottas  to five points, and Verstappen once again shortened the gap to his teammate due to another retirement. While Mercedes are leading the Constructors’ Championship with 415 points with Ferrari trailing behind with 390 points.

F1 will return in two weeks for round 15 in Singapore. Vettel really has to get some points to keep Hamilton from running away with the Championship, and Singapore seems to be one of his biggest opportunities to do that. Will Vettel be able to bounce back, or will Hamilton take another big step towards his fifth World Championship?

2018 Belgian GP Review: Chaos at Spa

Finally the summer break is over as Formula 1 returned to the Ardennes forests for the 13th round on the calendar, the Belgian Grand Prix.

Lots of things happened during the summer break; the shocking news of Daniel Ricciardo moving to Renault next year, Carlos Sainz moving to McLaren and the retirement of Fernando Alonso. Most important though was the news that (formerly) Sahara Force India was saved from bankruptcy by an investor group led by Lance Stroll’s father, Lawrence Stroll. It took until one day before the Grand Prix to really save the team because problems with previous investors meant that the team wasn’t officially allowed to start. FIA gave clearance as the team changed their name to Racing Point Force India. This came with its consequences though, as they lost all their Constructors’ Championship points from the previous 12 races.

Daniel Ricciardo due to leave Aston Martin Redbull Racing for Renault f1 for the 2019 season. Image courtesy Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The Saturday of the GP started bizarrely as Valtteri Bottas didn’t see Stoffel Vandoorne coming up Kemmel straight just after Raidillon in FP3 which resulted in the Belgian evading the Finn by running onto the wet grass. Vandoorne lost control of his McLaren and just missed the barriers. The incident was noted by the stewards, who only reprimanded the Mercedes driver. It was already a tough weekend for Bottas who started the race from the back of the grid due to his team fitting new parts to his car, which resulted in a grid penalty.

Then the qualifying started. Out of Q1 were Vandoorne, Stroll, Sergey Sirotkin, Alonso and Sainz. During Q2 the clouds came out, but there was still no sign of rain. The five drivers not making it into Q3 were Nico Hülkenberg (who didn’t even get to drive in Q2 due to a grid penalty), Marcus Ericsson, Charles Leclerc, Brendan Hartley and Pierre Gasly. When the lights went green in Q3 all drivers went out on slicks because of potential rainfall.  It was at Blanchimont that Bottas showed it was raining hard; spinning out of nowhere at high speeds. Only the Force Indias tried to set a lap on the slicks, which saw a spectacular save by Sergio Perez at Eau Rouge and Raidillon just keeping him from the tyre barriers. Then everyone went out on the intermediates, some fast times were put on the leader boards, but the rain was decreasing near the end of the session. Force India profited from this situation as they spectacularly took P3 and P4, with Romain Grosjean also surprisingly taking P5 and Lewis Hamilton took pole in front of rival Sebastian Vettel.

With a very mixed up grid the race on Sunday was looking to be crazy, which was definitely the case although not as you would expect. The Verstappen grandstand coloured Spa bright orange on race day, just like Max Verstappen’s special helmet for the weekend.

Lights Out at the Belgian GP 2018. Image courtesy of Ferrari Media

After the five red lights went out it took only a few hundred metres before total chaos ensued. Hülkenberg  completely missed his brake zone on the left, causing him to fully lock all of his tyres. He couldn’t do anything to avoid a collision with Alonso in front of him, who got catapulted into the air just over the car of Leclerc. Damage on Leclerc’s Halo showed that Alonso was dangerously close to hitting him. In all this chaos, Alonso hit the rear of Ricciardo’s car who lost a big part of his rear wing. The team could repair the car, but would eventually retired it near the end of the race to safe parts. In a chain reaction it was then Ricciardo who hit the back of Kimi Räikkönen’s car, causing a puncture. After some pit stops the race was over for the Finn as well. On the right side it was Bottas who braked too late as well, but only causing light damage to his front wing.

With all chaos behind them it was Vettel who took the lead from Hamilton after a better exit through Eau Rouge saw him overtaking the Brit on Kemmel straight. Just after his overtake the Safety Car (SC) was brought out to clean up the mess at La Source.

In lap 4 the SC came back into the pits. Hamilton tried to overtake Vettel into the final chicane, which allowed Vettel to pull away because he locked up. This was strange as they weren’t past the SC line yet. Three laps later it was Verstappen who overtook Esteban Ocon for P4, as the Dutchman clearly wanted to impress all the Dutch fans around the track. Meanwhile Bottas was storming through the grid, with a spectacular move at Eau Rouge on Hartley, giving him P13. Just later he also got into P12 when overtaking Sainz. In front it was Hamilton that was initially losing time to Vettel, but as the laps went by he gained more and more, and closed the gap between himself and the German. In lap 9 the other Ferrari driver Räikkönen came into the pits to retire from the race as the damage the car sustained after the manic start was too severe. Verstappen then overtook Perez for P3, leading to big cheers from the crowds who hoped he could finally get a podium at his home Grand Prix.

It was lap 22 when Hamilton went into the pits to fit soft tyres. Vettel responded to his decision by coming into the pits one lap later, also opting for the soft tyre. Vettel came back on track still leading the race with a gap of around two seconds between himself and Hamilton, who overtook Verstappen using DRS on the long straight. Verstappen hadn’t made a pit stop yet so he didn’t defend as aggressively as he usually does.

An interesting fight took place for the last points around lap 27/28 between Ericsson and Hartley. The Toro Rosso driver overtook Ericsson on the Kemmel straight, but the Swedish Sauber driver fought back by going down the inside of Hartley regaining his tenth place. On lap 28 it was Hartley who got his P10 back again by using DRS on the straight but only one lap later it was Ericsson who overtook the Kiwi that very same way again. In lap 31 Ricciardo had to come into the pits to retire his car. There was too much damage to continue and by retiring the car they can fit a new gearbox without any penalties as a result. Bottas, starting in 17th place, got P4 in lap 40 when overtaking Perez.

The race could have been more interesting without the chaos at the start, which meant that five cars retired from the race. There were a few interesting battles from time to time, but overall the gaps between the cars were big.

In the end it was Vettel who took the win, with a struggling Hamilton taking second place. Third place went to Verstappen, who finally got a podium at his ‘home’ Grand Prix. In fourth it was Bottas who really fought his way back into the top but just couldn’t get close to a podium. Force India should be happy with a fifth and sixth place meaning they now have 18 points, moving them into ninth in the Constructors’ Championship. Completing the top ten was Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen, Gasly and Ericsson.

Sebastian Vettel wins the 2018 Belgium GP. Image courtesy of Pirelli media

 

The win for Vettel meant that he gained seven points in the Drivers’ Championship, bringing the gap between himself and Hamilton down to 17 points. Bottas is closing in on Räikkönen, who was unlucky in the race, as he now has 144 points to Kimi’s 146 points. Verstappen has finally passed his teammate in the Championship. The Dutchman has 120 points and Ricciardo has 118 points as his retiring from the race meant he left with zero points.

It’s already race week again with the Italian Grand Prix taking place this weekend. Will Vettel please the Italian Tifosi at Ferrari’s home Grand Prix, or will Hamilton try to extend his lead in the championship?

Featured image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool