Vettel vs Leclerc: The making of the most explosive partnership ever?

It was coming, wasn’t it?

In the dying laps of the Brazilian Grand Prix, following a safety car,  Ferrari’s talented Monegasque upstart Charles Leclerc dived down the inside of team-mate Sebastian Vettel going into turn one. Nothing wrong with that move. On the exit of turn three, however, came a moment that epitomised what has been a long and painful struggle for Ferrari over recent years.

Attempting to gain his position back, Vettel re-created his 2010 drama with then-Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber, and moved across on Leclerc, terminally damaging Leclerc’s wheel, and giving himself a race-ending puncture.

I know we can’t use one incident to suggest that this is already the most controversial team-mate battle in F1 history. It doesn’t come close to Senna vs Prost or even Hamilton vs Rosberg, but what happened in Brazil was the culmination of an incredibly tense season at the Scuderia. It was a volcano that wasn’t going to stay dormant for long.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Vettel has a history of being more than a little incident-prone. Even during his spell of dominance at Red Bull, there were cracks under pressure, clashes with rivals, and an almost permanent sense of volatility. Then, after his move to Ferrari, there were incidents in Baku and Singapore in 2017, and multiple errors in 2018.

This year, his rivalry with Leclerc has seen a stark contrast with Vettel’s placid and comfortable relationship with Kimi Raikkonen. This year saw him come up against a young, quick, aggressive, motivated and extremely talented Leclerc. This pressure has in some ways pushed Vettel to become a better version of himself, but the mistakes have always been there, as has the flare that comes with competitive team-mates who simply will not accept number two status at the most historic and successful team in F1.

Success may seem distant for Ferrari at the moment, but as a team that dominates all of the papers in Italy and is the biggest talking point of a proud racing nation, the headlines are never far away. In typical Ferrari fashion, they have occupied them at every opportunity this year, but mainly for the wrong reasons.

On multiple occasions at the start of the year, Ferrari opted to swap their drivers over when chasing the quicker Mercedes cars, despite their cars being equal in pace. These decisions were puzzling to put it kindly, and led to friction that would dominate the rest of the season.

Singapore saw one of the most contentious incidents yet between the two. Leclerc was leading from pole, but Ferrari decided to give Vettel the undercut and inadvertently gave the German the lead of the race in the pit stops. Vettel won the race, ahead of a furious Leclerc.

At this point, tempers were sizzling, but Ferrari insisted that they had the situation under control.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

They came close to blows on the first lap of the US Grand Prix, and as soon as they went side-by-side in Brazil, you knew what was coming.

Ferrari have worked themselves into a situation that they cannot control. As in many races over the last couple of years, they have cost themselves valuable points with a combination of nonsense strategies and driver errors.

Regarding Vettel and Leclerc, there’s no need to explore specific points during races when Ferrari mishandled their driver situation. Forget China, forget Spain, forget Singapore, and forget Brazil. Ferrari were in trouble before the season even began.

Mattia Binotto started his role in the worst way possible. Before Melbourne, the new team principal stated that Ferrari would favour Vettel in the first part of the season and perhaps give Leclerc equal standing if he proved his worth as the year progressed.

I’m not sure I’ve seen a team boss make such a foreboding start to a reign as team boss. These comments will have created a lack of trust and a polarising divide between Vettel and Leclerc, because how are they supposed to race if they know they constantly have a team decision hanging over their heads? How does Leclerc hope to prove himself as a Ferrari race winner if the team will swap him and Vettel over anyway?

It gave the perception that Vettel had become Ferrari’s darling, and that Leclerc would have to be the bridesmaid. Binotto’s comments made it a personal battle between his drivers and they hadn’t even hit the streets of Melbourne for the weekend yet.

Would the tale have been different had Binotto been a bit more considerate in his comments? It’s difficult to tell, but I certainly feel there would be less animosity in Ferrari.

However, if you’re a neutral looking for exciting headlines every race, then Binotto’s a genius!

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Let’s face it, F1 has often felt stagnant in the last few years, because intense rivalries have been hard to come by. Lewis Hamilton’s battle with Valtteri Bottas has always been quite passive and amiable, despite Mercedes’ favouring the six-time champion.

Max Verstappen has had a grudge with Esteban Ocon, who will race for Renault next year, since their junior days.

Those rivalries aside, we are yet to see a battle to the extent of Hamilton and Rosberg. Looking back over the years, there has always been friction in such an emotionally-fuelled sport. The aforementioned battle of egos between Senna and Prost springs to mind, as does Mansell vs Piquet. Jacques Villeneuve wants to fight with everyone he meets, and who can forget Fernando Alonso’s beef with both Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel?

This friction gives us talking points other than Mercedes and Ferrari winning, with Max Verstappen, to his credit, often helping to spice up the action at the top of the field.

However, it almost seems like F1 doesn’t have room for mind games and antagonism any more, despite other racing series proving it can still be done.

MotoGP riders do a good job of getting into each other’s heads, and the same applies to Formula E. Jean Eric Vergne, Sebastien Buemi and Lucas di Grassi don’t exactly have soft spots for each other.

And that doesn’t come down to snide remarks and below-the-belt comments in the media like we often see in F1, this is about drivers passionately confronting each other about incidents and making sure everyone knows where they stand on conflicts. Remember Sebastien Buemi going round screaming at every driver he saw after race one of the 2017 season finale in Montreal?

This is what F1 needs more of and hopefully the new 2021 regulations will bring the field closer together and we can see more on-track fights and debates between drivers every race.

Of course, we’re not asking drivers to get the boxing gloves out. All we want is drivers racing closely and entertaining us, giving us something to talk about. Is that so much to ask of a sport that has given us so many jaw-dropping moments over the years?

So, could Vettel vs Leclerc become a rivalry for the ages? Quite possibly, but let’s hope it’s not the only one we have to talk about in years to come.

Mexico 2019 – Mercedes triumphs, while Ferrari’s strategy continues to lack

The Mexican Grand Prix saw Lewis Hamilton victorious, but not sufficiently so to crown him the 2019 Drivers Champion. Hamilton’s win also saw his 100th podium for Mercedes, and saw Ferrari give up the top spot on the podium thanks to poor strategy calls once again.

The opening moments of the race delivered excitement, as Grands Prix often do. With Charles Leclerc making an excellent start, his teammate Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, and Max Verstappen jostled for position.

Vettel easily got the best of it (though he made brief contact with Leclerc), retaining second position, while Red Bull’s Alex Albon and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz got a large boost, climbing to third and fourth respectively. Hamilton fell back to fifth, and while Verstappen initially fell back to eighth he quickly suffered a puncture when making an early overtake on Bottas, leading to an immediate pit stop. He ultimately rejoined the race in 20th.

Don’t worry, Verstappen fans – he performed an admirable drive, finishing in sixth and taking the Driver of the Day award. He demonstrated excellent control and patience, regaining several places as other drivers stopped for fresh tyres. When he began overtaking others later in the race, he did so smoothly, with few if any elbows out. Verstappen’s choice of hard tyres led to early speculation about the possibility of a one-stop race.

There was a Virtual Safety Car deployed after the initial carnage while the marshals attended to the debris from the opening collisions, but the race then proceeded Safety Car-free.

(Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

Unfortunately, the opening lap tussles were some of the only exciting moments of the race. While the order changed a bit, the top five drivers throughout the race largely remained Leclerc, Vettel, Albon, Hamilton, and Bottas. The race ended with Hamilton in first, Vettel in second, Bottas in third, Leclerc in fourth, and Albon in fifth.

Though they were few, there were nonetheless some exciting moments. Local hero Sergio Perez (Checo if you’re nasty; all apologies to Janet Jackson) made an excellent early overtake on Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, to the delight of the crowd. Daniel Ricciardo made a spectacular, but failed, late overtaking attempt on Perez. He badly overcooked the attempt and was forced to run wide, cutting several corners. While this did allow him to return to the track ahead of Perez, Ricciardo wisely ceded the position back to his rival.

While there was some other overtaking, it was mainly clean and competent with the defending drivers ceding position when it was obvious they weren’t able to defend successfully.

There was minimal contact between drivers after the first lap. Verstappen and Kevin Magnussen made brief contact on lap 27, but the stewards declined to investigate further. The most memorable other contact came during the final lap. As Hamilton crossed the finish line, Daniil Kvyat returned to his old form and ran straight into the back of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, destroying his rear wing and ending his race practically within sight of the finish line. This initially cost the German two places, dropping him from ninth place to eleventh, though the stewards quickly issued Kvyat a 10-second penalty. This dropped Kvyat to 11th, and brought Hulkenberg up to 10th along with its accompanying point.

Pit stops provided some drama. McLaren’s Lando Norris was given the signal to exit the pit too early, with his left front tyre not completely secure. While he was able to stop prior to crossing the pit lane exit line and his crew was able to remedy the issue, Norris never recovered from this mistake and remained last until his retirement on lap 48.

(Photo by Joe Portlock / LAT Images)

Antonio Giovinazzi’s right rear tyre caused him considerable difficulty as well, which was compounded when the jack was released too quickly, before the tyre was secure. Charles Leclerc wasn’t immune to pit issues either – trouble with the right rear tyre cost him four precious seconds on his second stop.

Tyre management proved to be key in this race. Ricciardo deserves special mention for his tyre management. He was able to maintain respectable pace for 50 laps on his opening set of hard tyres, maintaining sixth place for the last 30 of those 50. It was this show of durability that likely convinced Red Bull to keep Verstappen out on his set of hards, which lasted him for an amazing 66 laps following his early stop. Perez ran the final 51 laps of the race on hards, and Hulkenberg ran 52 laps on his. Vettel also deserves credit for his tyre management, turning in a respectable 40 laps on his initial set of mediums between qualifying and the race.

Indeed, had Vettel not resisted calls for him to prepare to pit on lap 25, the result might have been very different for him. Ferrari, it seemed, had a very different model of tyre performance in this race and were unable to adapt in time to salvage the win. The pit wall’s call for Leclerc’s early stop on lap 15 was premature. All of the front runners started their race on used mediums, but the others handily demonstrated that their tyres were good for many more laps – eight more laps for Hamilton, 21 more laps for Bottas, and 22 more for Vettel. Had the Scuderia sent Leclerc back out on hards, his race might’ve gone very differently as hard tyres amply proved to deliver incredible life.

With three races left, the top of the pecking order is fairly settled. While it is mathematically possible for Bottas to claim the Drivers’ Championship, it is not likely. Similarly, while Red Bull could pass Ferrari for second in the Constructors’ Championship, it is similarly unlikely.

As has been the case for the past several seasons, it’s the midfield where the excitement lies. Toro Rosso and Racing Point are in the fight for sixth and if Renault doesn’t finish strongly in the closing rounds it’s possible that they could find themselves slipping to sixth or even seventh.

And what can we say about Williams? McLaren has recovered from their slump and is showing a return to form, but Williams remains incapable of finding their way forward. On the other hand, they have managed to score one point. Recent seasons have seen some backmarkers finish with zero, but seeing the once powerful team fall to last over the course of a few short seasons still gives pause.

Formula One returns to Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez next year for the Mexico City Grand Prix. Same race, different name.

 

 

[Featured image – Steve Etherington]

F3 Russia: Vips sees off Armstrong for final sprint race win

Red Bull junior and Hitech driver Juri Vips took victory in the final sprint race of the season in Sochi, seeing off a charge from yesterday’s feature race winner Marcus Armstrong.

Vips was slow away from his reverse grid pole position, which allowed second-placed starter Jake Hughes to challenge him into Turn 2. Behind them, Leo Pulcini went around the outside of Pedro Piquet to take third place while Armstrong got the jump on Robert Shwartzman and Niko Kari to move up to fifth.

Hughes kept up the pressure on Vips throughout the early laps and on lap 4 pulled alongside the Hitech into Turn 13. But Vips closed the door and Hughes dropped back from the lead to come under attack from Pulcini. The Italian driver set up a move on Hughes into Turn 5, but came off worse as the pair banged wheels and Pulcini was spun out of the points.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Their incident allowed Piquet and Armstrong to both pass Hughes for second and third. Armstrong then took second from Piquet at the start of lap 7 only to be repassed by the Trident at Turn 13, but on the following lap Armstrong once again passed Piquet into Turn 2 and got far enough ahead to keep the position.

After breaking out of DRS range of Piquet on lap 10, Armstrong set about reeling in Vips with a series of fastest laps. At the start of lap 14 Vips had an advantage of 3.5 seconds over Armstrong, but this dropped to half by lap 17.

However, Armstrong’s charge faded in the final few laps as his tyres eventually ran out of grip. Vips was able to open the gap back up between them, having two seconds in hand when he crossed the line to take his third win of the season.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

After being demoted by Armstrong, Piquet had been running in a comfortable third for most of the race. But on lap 17 the Brazilian driver pulled over and retired with a mechanical problem, promoting newly-crowned F3 champion Shwartzman to third.

Hughes finished in fourth after his clash with Pulcini, and Kari was fifth for Trident. The battle for the last three points positions raged throughout the final laps with Richard Verschoor, Yuki Tsunoda and Max Fewtrell all changing positions. But in the end Hitech’s Yi Yifei, who was trailing at the back of the trio, took advantage of their fighting and managed to jump all three to take his first points of the season in sixth. Verschoor finished seventh, and Liam Lawson took eighth place after Tsunoda and Fewtrell both ran off the road with fading grip.

With second place and the fastest lap, Armstrong gained enough points from the sprint race to overhaul his Prema teammate Jehan Daruvala for runner-up in the final standings. Daruvala had been due to start from fourth on the grid, but was relegated to a pitlane start due to an engine problem before the formation lap. He then picked up a five-second penalty later in the race for leaving the track and gaining an advantage, and ultimately finished in 15th place.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

F3 Russia: Shwartzman clinches title as Armstrong wins feature race

Ferrari academy driver Robert Shwartzman sealed the 2019 Formula 3 title in the Sochi feature race, but was denied a home race victory by his Prema teammate Marcus Armstrong.

Shwartzman qualified for the race on pole, his first since the season opener in Barcelona, with his sole remaining title rival Jehan Daruvala alongside him in second. But it was Armstrong starting from third who got the best launch of the three Premas, as he passed Daruvala off the line before slipstreaming Shwartzman for the lead through Turn 3.

While Armstrong went off into the lead ahead of Shwartzman, Daruvala’s chances of taking the title to the final sprint race all but disappeared. Shwartzman’s points gap coming into Sochi meant that Daruvala had to win the feature race to have any chance of snatching away the title, but after being passed by Armstrong he then lost further places to Niko Kari, Christian Lundgaard and Leo Pulcini.

Daruvala managed to repass Lundgaard for fifth on lap two, but struggled to gain any more ground as Pulcini had too much pace ahead of him to present an opportunity.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

The early stages of the race were made tricky as light rain fell on some parts of the circuit, while the rest remained dry.

On lap 2 Bent Viscaal put his HWA into the wall at Turn 5, bringing out the Virtual Safety Car. Devlin DeFrancesco and Felipe Drugovich took advantage of the situation to gamble on a switch to wet tyres, although they were the only drivers to do so.

The VSC was withdrawn on lap 3, but on the following lap the full safety car was deployed when Leong Hon Chio, making his series debut with Jenzer, crashed out as well. The safety car remained out for two laps, during which the rain stopped and DeFrancesco and Drugovich both pitted again to switch back to slicks.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Armstrong managed the restart on lap 6 well to pull away from the field, although Shwartzman behind was caught by Kari and demoted to third place. Meanwhile, further back in the top ten Juri Vips hit the rear of Lundgaard while trying to position himself for an overtake, spinning the ART out of the points and earning himself a 10-second time penalty.

Once clear of Shwartzman, Kari set the fastest lap to close up to the back of Armstrong. On lap 9, the Finnish driver then went around the outside of Armstrong into Turn 13 to take the lead.

Armstrong continued fighting back against Kari over the following lap, but on lap 11 Kari’s lead seemed to be secured when Armstrong went deep into Turn 2 trying to retake first and instead dropped to fourth behind Shwartzman and Pulcini.

However, Kari’s time in front didn’t last long, and on lap 13 he was passed by championship leader Shwartzman into Turn 2.

One lap later Armstrong got back into the podium positions after passing Pulcini for third, then managed to work his way back past Kari for second on lap 17.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

With four laps remaining Shwartzman looked to have enough of a buffer to keep ahead of Armstrong, and wrap up the championship with a home race victory. But Armstrong quickly settled into a rhythm and closed steadily up to the back of his teammate.

At the start of the final lap, Armstrong pulled to the inside of Turn 2 and took the lead away from Shwartzman, who offered little defence with the title on the line. Armstrong then crossed the line with just over a second in hand over Shwartzman, to take his third win of the season and his first in a feature race.

Kari held on to third for his second podium of the year, with Pulcini fourth ahead of Daruvala, Pedro Piquet and Jake Hughes, who also took two points for the fastest lap. Vips managed to finish third on the road ahead of Kari, but with his time penalty dropped to eighth and will start on reverse grid pole tomorrow morning.

Sauber Junior Team’s Raoul Hyman scored his first points of the season in ninth, and Richard Verschoor took the final point in tenth.

David Schumacher, making his F3 debut for Campos in place of the injured Alex Peroni, finished in P22 after being spun around by Keyvan Andres on lap 11.

Sauber’s Fabio Scherer retired on lap 9, while the team’s third driver Lirim Zendelli withdrew from the round ahead of the race.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Singapore GP preview: Mercedes favourites at Marina Bay

Formula One heads to the streets of Singapore, for the start of the final flyaway leg of 2019 under the lights at Marina Bay.

Ferrari and Charles Leclerc head to Singapore on the crest of two wins on the bounce at Spa and Monza. But compared to those two high-speed circuits, Ferrari’s low downforce package won’t be anywhere near as effective on the tight Marina Bay Street Circuit.

As has been the case for most of the 2019 season, Mercedes is expected to be the team to beat this weekend. It was in Singapore last year, where Lewis Hamilton took pole position and the race win, that Mercedes finally seemed to understand what was needed to conquer one of its few “bogey” circuits. And judging by the fact Mercedes has won every street race since, there’s every reason for them to be confident about their chances on Sunday.

Paul Ripke / Mercedes AMG

However, Mercedes does have one shadow looming over them this weekend—engine reliability. Since introducing their Spec 3 power unit at Spa three weeks ago, Mercedes have seen uncharacteristic failures in the customer cars of Sergio Perez’s Racing Point and Robert Kubica’s Williams. So far the works team has had no blowouts of its own, but after two demanding power tracks and with Singapore’s reputation for testing cars to their limit, there’s no room for complacency.

The other threat to Mercedes this weekend comes in the form of Max Verstappen and Red Bull. Verstappen has run well in in Singapore in recent years, qualifying second in 2017 and 2018 and finishing runner-up to Hamilton last year.

With the Red Bull-Honda package improving with every race, it would be no surprise to see Verstappen duelling with Hamilton for his third win of the season.

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

As always, the difficulty and unpredictability of Singapore will provide the midfield teams with plenty of opportunities to sneak away with big points hauls.

Renault took a double points finish at Marina Bay last year, but their RS19 has been much more at home on high speed and lower downforce tracks this year. Given their results from slower tracks like Monaco and Hungary, Renault will likely find themselves scrapping with or even behind the likes of McLaren, Alfa Romeo and Toro Rosso this weekend.

Haas will also be bracing themselves for another tough Grand Prix on Sunday. Although their prolonged dispute with former title sponsors Rich Energy has finally come to an end, their struggles with tyre degradation certainly have not. And in the heat of Singapore, there aren’t many worse problems to have.

However, Haas and Renault can both take some optimism from the fact that this is the Singapore Grand Prix. With tempers running high and the walls never far away, Singapore is the place where anything can happen.

Haas F1 Media

Leclerc fends off Mercedes duo to take Italian Grand Prix victory

Charles Leclerc has claimed his second ever win in F1 at this afternoon’s Italian Grand Prix, the first time a Ferrari driver has won at Monza since 2010.

The Mercedes pairing of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton finished second and third respectively, having pushed Leclerc for much of the race. Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg came home fourth and fifth.

The other Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, by comparison, faltered. Vettel span at the Ascari chicane on lap seven and collected the Racing Point of Lance Stroll as he rejoined. He received a ten-second stop/go penalty for ‘rejoining the track in an unsafe manner’, behind only disqualification in terms of harshness. He damaged his front wing and pitted twice on his way to a lowly P13 finish.

Leclerc started from pole position with Hamilton alongside him, and led into turn one despite Hamilton initially getting a better start.

Ferrari Media

The pair came into the pits on lap twenty and lap twenty-one respectively; Hamilton changed onto the soft tyres, while Leclerc went onto the hard compound.

On lap twenty-three, Hamilton attempted to pass Leclerc round the outside going into the Variante della Roggia chicane but was forced to take to the escape road, saying over the radio that Leclerc hadn’t given him a car’s width of room. Leclerc was given a black and white flag as a warning, but escaped a penalty.

Hamilton continued to pressure Leclerc, and on lap 36 Leclerc locked up going into the first chicane and cut across the kerbs. Though this allowed Hamilton to further close on him, the Ferrari driver successfully defended his position and maintained his lead. The stewards noted that Leclerc had failed to take the apex at turn two, but decided that no investigation was necessary.

At this stage in the race, Hamilton’s medium tyres were starting to fade and Bottas began to reel him in, his own tyres some seven laps fresher than Hamilton’s.

Wolfgang Wilhelm

Hamilton locked up and took to the escape road on lap 42, allowing Bottas to move up into P2 and chase down Leclerc. Though he then got to within DRS range of Leclerc, a couple of errors meant he was not able to make any attempts to pass for the lead.

Leclerc crossed the line just over eight tenths ahead of Bottas to take his second career victory, much to the joy of the Tifosi in the grandstands. The win moves him ahead of Vettel in the championship. Hamilton, meanwhile, pitted late on to chase the extra point for fastest lap. Bottas’s P2 finish means Hamilton’s championship lead has been shortened by two points.

Alex Albon finished in sixth ahead of Sergio Perez, with Max Verstappen coming from nineteenth on the grid to end up eighth. Antonio Giovinazzi and Lando Norris complete the top ten.

German Grand Prix: Mercedes’ race to lose, and they lost it magnificently

The German Grand Prix brought with it another weekend of high expectations for Mercedes and Ferrari. Mercedes celebrated 125 years in motorsport and their 200th race start by bringing a bit of 1950s nostalgia to the Hockenheimring, while Sebastian Vettel returned to home turf in the hopes of starting to claw back the championship lead built by rival Lewis Hamilton.

All bets were off come race day, as the drivers were faced with the prospect of their first wet race of the season. This year’s rookies were more than a little apprehensive, with McLaren’s Lando Norris describing it as “driving into the unknown”.

The stewards eventually decided to have the formation lap done behind the safety car. The likes of Hamilton, Verstappen and Magnussen were eager to get going, encouraging the stewards to bring in the safety car after the third formation lap. It was only after the fourth lap that the stewards finally got the message, and the grid lined up for a standing start.

Verstappen was eager to get going, but his start was lacklustre as he and Pierre Gasly struggled to find enough grip to build on their excellent qualifying positions, with Verstappen dropping two places within the first ten seconds of the race. Bottas was forced to run wide at turn one, and Kimi Raikonnen came out of nowhere to take third place. Leading the pack, Hamilton pushed on unchallenged.

Lewis Hamilton at the 2019 German F1 GP. Image courtesy of LAT Images / Mercedes AMG

For the first few racing laps, the cars moved tentatively around the circuit, dodging spray, puddles, and each other. Sergio Perez was the first casualty, crashing at turn eleven, bringing out the safety car and causing a flurry of activity in the pits.

A busy pit-lane can vastly increase the chances of an unsafe release and, sure enough, Grosjean was forced to slam on the brakes to avoid Charles Leclerc, who had just finished his stop. Ferrari were slapped with a fine, which was a refreshing change from the stewards, who have found themselves in the firing line a great deal this season with their questionable penalty decisions.

The safety car peeled away and we were back racing on lap four, which allowed a feisty Sebastian Vettel to start eating up positions after his P20 start, and by lap seven he was already in eighth place.

On lap 15, poor Daniel Ricciardo faced yet another DNF, after his engine failed and spewed oil all over the track. The virtual safety car was deployed, but only for a lap.

Two laps later, Leclerc came in for his second stop of the race to replace his intermediate tyres, and Carlos Sainz skidded off the track at turn 16. He managed to save it, though, and avoided bringing out the safety car again, virtual or otherwise.

Elsewhere in the pit-lane, talk had already turned to potentially switching to slicks. Haas became the grid’s guinea pig as they pitted Kevin Magnussen on lap 23 to change to the dry tyres despite drizzle still out on track.

The rain didn’t seem to phase Magnussen, though, and this gave the other teams the confidence that maybe it was time for dry tyres after all. Vettel and Verstappen came in for a change of boots, but Red Bull almost immediately regretted their decision, as Verstappen could barely find any grip and span. He somehow managed to re-join the track in third place, with no damage done.

Despite his pre-race apprehension, Lando Norris had been running very respectably considering it was his first ever wet F1 race. Lap 28, though, saw everything change, as he was forced to retire due to a loss of drive. This brought out the second VSC of the race and caused yet more pit-lane activity.

Mercedes and Ferrari took full advantage of another free pit stop, with Hamilton and Leclerc emerging tentatively on soft tyres. Despite their careful driving, Leclerc crashed and beached his car at turn 16, bringing out the safety car. Almost immediately after, Hamilton came skidding past Leclerc and lost a chunk of his front wing.

Charles Leclerc getting out of his car after crashing in the 2019 German F1 GP. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The incident caught Mercedes off-guard, as Hamilton chose to dive into the pits with no warning. The team scrambled frantically to replace the front wing and change his tyres again, and Hamilton ended up losing four places in the chaos. The drama didn’t end there, and Hamilton was given a five-second penalty for entering the pits on the wrong side of the bollard.

The race restarted on lap 34, with Max Verstappen leading and Nico Hulkenberg in P2. Things seemed to settle down briefly, allowing for fans to enjoy a truly mixed-up, unusual grid. Unfortunately, this was short lived, as Hulkenberg, having dropped down to P4, crashed at the final corner on lap 41, bringing out the safety car once again.

By lap 46 we were back racing again. Mercedes had chosen not to pit Hamilton under the safety car, and it is unclear whether they would have pit him at all had it not been for his protests over the radio. They eventually relented and brought him in, where he served his five-second penalty.

Red Bull did not hesitate in pitting Verstappen again. This allowed Lance Stroll to lead the race for the first time in his F1 career. His time in the spotlight, though, was short-lived, as Verstappen re-joined the track and promptly reclaimed the lead.

By this point, the track had started drying out, and fastest laps were being set left, right, and centre. Daniil Kvyat was the first to do so, having worked his way up to third. This was quickly followed by both Haas drivers, and finally reclaimed by Verstappen on lap 50.

On lap 54, Hamilton’s day went from bad to worse, spinning at the first corner and narrowly missing the wall. This left him down in 15th, last of the cars still running. While Hamilton was lucky to avoid the wall, Bottas wasn’t so lucky. He spun in exactly the same place, and the barriers claimed yet another victim. The safety car was brought out, for what was the last time that afternoon.

It was an unfortunate way to end what could have been a promising afternoon for the Finn, eager to prove his worth to Mercedes and secure his seat for 2020.

Proving his worth wasn’t an issue for Vettel this afternoon. Despite starting P20, he had steadily worked his way up the grid and, upon the final race re-start, made light work of Sainz, Stroll, and Kvyat to take P2 on lap 63.

While Verstappen thrived in the conditions, Gasly struggled to hold position, dropping down to 14th at one point. By lap 60 he had worked his way back up to 7th and looked to claim 6th from Alex Albon. The Thai driver wasn’t about to give up the position without a fight, and Gasly ended up running into the back of Albon. The damage forced him to retire at the last moment.

After what felt like a lifetime, the chequered flag finally waved, with Verstappen crossing the line to take the win ahead of Vettel and Daniil Kvyat.

The German Grand Prix’s place on the calendar may be under threat, but yesterday’s race reminded us just why we continue watching F1 every weekend – Kvyat described it as a “horror movie, with a bit of black comedy”.

The action didn’t even stop when the race ended. Both Alfa Romeo drivers where placed under investigation for breach of Article 27.1, relating to clutch torque application at the race start. Hours after the race’s end, the duo were handed 10-second stop and go penalties, promoting Robert Kubica into the points for the first time in ten years.

Going into this weekend, it would have been a safe bet to say Mercedes would dominate, but instead we were treated to a race that will go down in F1 history. It’s amazing what a sprinkle of rain can do!

Featured image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

“Put a Ring On It” – 2019 Austrian Grand Prix Preview

Beyoncé may have said “if you like it, then you should’ve put a ring on it”, but in motorsport we race the rings instead. Yes, it’s race weekend once again, as F1 is welcomed by the circuit previously known as the Österreichring!

It was known as such between 1969 and 1995, and then became known as the A1 Ring from 1996 to 2003. Finally, Dietrich Mateschitz bought the circuit and in 2008 started a reconstruction. From 2014, the newly-branded Red Bull Ring became host once again to a European round of the Formula One Championship.

The Red Bull Ring was originally 5.911km in length, with its weakness being its safety record and high speeds (second only to Silverstone during its Österreichring period). Something had to be done, and as such it was shortened to 4.326km in its guise as the A1 Ring, and again in 2016 to 4.318km.

Red Bull Ring sectors. Image courtesy of Pirelli.This weekend we head back to the Red Bull Rin  after last week’s French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard, which was dominated by Mercedes with Hamilton and Bottas finishing 1-2.

Can I mention hot air? No, not the untruths one may hear, but instead air streams from the African continent. Tyres could again play a massive part in the race this weekend, with it predicted to be one of the hottest days in Europe so far, courtesy of very warm air streams. Last weekend in France saw temperatures hit 56°C, but this weekend could hit 60°C. That alone will shift the working windows of the tyres and also will vary between teams . With higher air temps we could also see the 2019 aero regulations cause some teams issues with heat distribution.

Available tyres for the races up to the Russian GP. Image courtesy of Pirelli

The Red Bull Ring, following its 2014 redesign, is one of the shortest tracks on the F1 calendar, with the current configuration’s lap record being a 1:06.957, set by Kimi Raikkonen in 2018. With four sharp turns (T1, T3, T7 and T8) and three DRS zones allowing overtaking, the race is not a foregone conclusion.

Infograpics for the 2019 Red Bull Ring. Image courtesy of Pirelli

2019 has been a year of Mercedes dominance, with them having won all eight races so far – two for Valtteri Bottas and six for Lewis Hamilton.

Ferrari has had correlation issues in their fluid dynamics simulation to wind tunnel analysis, hence the testing of new front wing and floor assemblies at Paul Ricard. With that issue presumably sorted, can their car finally show its promise?

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won here in 2018, and he will be hoping for that to happen again this year to finally break the Mercedes strong-hold on the championship.

And if Verstappen, Vettel and Leclerc can’t mount a challenge? It will, yet again, be between the Mercedes boys of Hamilton and Bottas.

 

[Featured Image courtesy of Colombo Images/Scuderia Ferrari]

Canadian Grand Prix 2019: Was Vettel robbed?

What a mess. The 2019 season finally came to life in Canada, but perhaps not in the way we wanted it to.

Sebastian Vettel was pushing to protect his lead from Lewis Hamilton, who was displaying much better pace on the hard tyres than Vettel himself. In his attempts to break away, Vettel locked his rear tyres going into turn three. He ran over the grass, re-joined the track, lost the rear again, and very nearly made contact with Hamilton. He did manage to stay ahead though, with the gap between the two roughly the same as before.

Then came the real drama. The stewards decided that Vettel’s actions warranted a five-second penalty, added at the end of the race. In bizarre circumstances, Vettel crossed the line first, knowing that the win would be instead taken by a conflicted Lewis Hamilton, who stated that this was not the way he wanted to win.

A furious Vettel deliberated over whether he would attend the podium celebration, eventually deciding to join Hamilton and third-placed finisher Charles Leclerc, but not before switching the Parc Fermé boards around and declaring himself the deserved winner of the race.

Honourably, he discouraged the booing directed towards Lewis Hamilton by the fans and instead told them to aim their collective anger towards the stewards. But did the stewards do anything wrong? Are the rules wrong?

2019 Canadian Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

Ultimately, you could say both. The penalty was put down to unsafely re-joining the track, which may have been fair, but cast your minds back to Monaco 2016 when Hamilton left the track trying to stay ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, re-joined and, in doing so, very nearly put the Australian in the wall. No penalty was given.

What this highlights is an abhorrent lack of consistency in the rule-enforcement, which simply should not happen in a professional sport. In this respect, the Canadian Grand Prix was a humiliating day for Formula One.

However, F1 is just the same as any other sport, in that it has massive talking points that we can debate long into the night, with everyone having their own opinions on every aspect. This will naturally lead to different stewards having different views on how the rules should be applied and enforced.

You could therefore say that the stewards did not make this decision malevolently towards Vettel. Instead, they were simply interpreting the rules made by the FIA.

But how the should the rule about drivers leaving the track and gaining an advantage have been judged?

Ferrari’s view is that Vettel made his mistake and re-joined the track, actually losing time in the process. Once he had made his error, Vettel was back on track and the incident was over, with the German ahead of Hamilton after the incident just as he had been before. He then got very close to Hamilton, but did not make contact.

Ferrari Media

Mercedes’ view, which was also adopted by the FIA, is that Vettel went off the track and gave Hamilton a chance to pass him for the lead. Vettel then effectively denied him this opportunity by re-joining the track in a hazardous manner and nearly pushing Hamilton into the wall.

The general consensus from viewers and pundits came from the classic racing perspective. An innocent mistake was made – things may have gotten close, but then racing is supposed to be close. No-one crashed as a result, so on we go without another word said.

This, nostalgically but comparatively speaking, was the attitude held in previous eras of racing. Perhaps we need to accept that this era is over and that you simply can’t re-join the track and close the door on another driver any more. This may be within reason, but it was all in the spirit of good close racing, which is danger of dying if the FIA continues to heftily punish on-track mistakes.

So is the rule wrong? Vettel, ultimately, had nowhere to go other than back onto the track once he had gone off. He couldn’t just vanish out of Hamilton’s way, and he couldn’t just stop. Creating more rules isn’t going to eliminate the basic human aspect that we all make mistakes. More specifically, Vettel was ahead of Hamilton both before and after the mistake, no-one crashed, and both drivers were able to continue.

However, Hamilton will feel as though Vettel illegally denied him a passing opportunity, and that had he not taken avoiding action then the consequences of Vettel’s mistake could have been more severe.

As a result, it becomes difficult to find a way through which we can properly establish fault using the sport’s law. Therefore, the stewards should be expected to interpret and apply laws through basic common sense which, if I may step off the fence for a second, did not seem to be present among the stewards in Canada.

GP CANADA F1/2019 – SABATO 08/06/2019
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

These incidents are always subject to interpretation, and so we cannot expect consistency if the stewards are always different. The FIA cannot create a million laws for a million scenarios. The interpretation must be specific to each incident, which raises questions about the use of the different stewards at every race.

At a sport of this level, we simply cannot accept the unbelievable level of inconsistency from the FIA, who somehow do not seem to see the blatant issue that exists within F1.

These incidents, however, are not black and white, and there are always deeper layers to every story.

This next particular level, unfortunately, resembles a concerning pattern for Vettel. Ultimately, if Vettel had not made the error he did, none of this would have happened. By making the mistake and re-joining the track in front of Hamilton, Vettel gave the stewards something to consider, and this fell unfavourably for him.

This is not the first time he has made such an error. He was the architect of his own downfall last year, crashing from the lead in Germany, before spinning in Japan and the USA. The year before, Singapore effectively spelled the end of his title challenge, when a clumsy move across the track at the start saw him collide with Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen. That night perfectly highlighted the fact that Ferrari themselves have repeatedly ruined their attempts to secure championship glory.

Truth be told, Sebastian Vettel’s title hopes are probably dead in the water at this point. Even Valtteri Bottas, who made a sublime start to the season, is beginning to see his title aspirations wither at the ominous, constant, and unrelenting brilliance of Lewis Hamilton.

The shame is that the Canadian Grand Prix wasn’t decided by brilliance, but rather by a harsh stewarding decision that reflects badly on the sport and sets a dangerous precedent that hard racing cannot be permitted any more.

 

[Featured image – Scuderia Ferrari Press Office]

Vettel: ‘We deserved the win’ at Canadian Grand Prix

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel says he believes the team ‘deserved the win’ at the Canadian Grand Prix, after a controversial penalty demoted him to second place behind the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton.

Vettel had started on pole and led for much of the race, however on lap 48, with Hamilton breathing down his neck, he lost the rear of his car going into turn three and ran over the grass. He rejoined the track and did keep his lead, but the stewards deemed the manner in which he had rejoined to have been unsafe. The FIA said he had forced Hamilton off the track, and gave Vettel a five-second penalty to be added to his time at the end of the race.

Vettel took the chequered flag just over two and a half seconds ahead of Hamilton, meaning he was classified P2 once the penalty was applied.

“I think we had a great race,” Vettel said, “and the stewards’ decision is too harsh.

“In turn three, I lost control of my car and I had to run long onto the grass, rejoining at turn four ahead of Lewis. I couldn’t see where he was, as I was too busy trying to keep my car on track without crashing and I didn’t squeeze him on purpose.”

2019 Canadian Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

The penalty was met with almost universal condemnation, with many voicing their support for Vettel and Ferrari. Vettel himself expressed his regret that the penalty meant he was unable to repay the support of the fans at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve with what would have been Ferrari’s best result of the season so far.

“I think given the way things wen this weekend and even though our rivals’ race pace was very strong, we deserved the win,” Vettel said. “I get the impression that lots of the spectators here today at the circuit agree with me.

“It’s always nice to race in Canada. I feel a lot of support from the people and it would have been wonderful to have given all our fans the first big result of the season.”

Ferrari’s Team Principal Mattia Binotto echoed Vettel’s sentiments, and spoke of the team’s decision to appeal the penalty.

“At the moment, we, as a team, are naturally disappointed, but most of all our thoughts are with Sebastian and the spectators,” he said. “As for Seb, I don’t think he could have done things differently, which is why we have decided to appeal the stewards’ decision.”

 

[Featured image – Ferrari Media]