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]

It Came Home: The British Grand Prix Race Review

Ask every driver in Formula 1, the home race is guaranteed to be their favourite. This was no exception for current World Champion Lewis Hamilton going in to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone this weekend, aiming to build on his lead over rivals Sebastian Vettel and team-mate Valterri Bottas.

It wasn’t an ideal start for Hamilton though, having qualified in P2 on Saturday afternoon after being pipped to the top spot by fellow Mercedes driver Bottas, with only 0.006s between the two laps. This time Hamilton didn’t simply have the luxury of building a lead from the start, he’d have to earn his keep and get past the fiery Finn before getting to the golden trophy.

Behind the two Mercedes’ drivers sat Charles Leclerc in P3, eager for another opportunity to be on the podium following a dramatic Austrian Grand Prix which saw him lose out on 1stplace to the ballsy Dutchman, Max Verstappen and Red Bull who coincidentally sat in P4, providing fans with a great deal of entertainment throughout the race.

It was a relatively clean start all round, however Haas’s week of drama continued as Kevin Magnussen and Roman Grosjean made contact in the first lap, which unfortunately forced both drivers to retire from the race. This unlucky accident resulted in Grosjean’s 5thretirement of the season, and no doubt, 2 pairs of thoroughly boxed ears from an extremely angry Gunter Steiner in the post-race briefing.

At the front of the grid, both Mercedes’ drivers had a good start, with Bottas’ managing to hold his team-mate at bay with some excellent defending. Bottas’ looked to be building a lead on Hamilton. This was all in vain as Antonio Giovannazi beached his Alfa Romeo in the gravel giving Hamilton the opportunity for a free pit stop.  Unfortunately, Bottas wasn’t able to catch up with the Brit, who had been rewarded by opportunistic strategy from Mercedes engineers. This lead was held for the duration of the race, much to the joy of the hordes of Hamilton fans in the stands that day.

But we expected that.

Meanwhile, a little bit further down the track, some exciting racing was finally taking place.

Charles Leclerc ahead of Max Verstappen at the 2019 F1 British GP. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Verstappen was keen to rub yet more salt in Leclerc’s wounds for another podium finish, providing fans with some clean, excellent racing for 13 laps, after which came an overtake that had fans (aka me) screaming at their TV’s in amazement. Both Leclerc and Verstappen came into the pits at the same time, putting enormous pressure on both Ferrari and Red Bull mechanics to get the tyres changed flawlessly and quicker than the other team.

Red Bull won the battle, but as soon as the mechanics had stopped cheering on Verstappen taking 3rdplace from Leclerc in the pitlane, the young Ferrari driver had re-gained the position emerging back on track. New tyres on a newly re-surfaced track caused Verstappen to run wide at turn four, leaving the door wide open for Leclerc to take back 3rdplace.

To pit or not to pit, that was the question once again for Leclerc’s strategists at Ferrari who were slow to bring their number two driver in to change his boots during the safety car. This cost the young Monégasque track position, coming out ahead of Verstappen who had also pitted and emerged in 6th.

The re-start was promising for Verstappen who managed to overtake Leclerc for a second time (on track this time), and push on towards his team-mate Pierre Gasly for 4thposition. Gasly honourably moved aside to allow Verstappen to charge after the other prancing horse, which he quickly met and began the battle for 3rdplace once again.

Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel before Vettel’s late braking incident at the 2019 F! British GP. Image courtesy of Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Verstappen overtaking Vettel going into Stowe could have been one of those moments that go down in fondly remembered Formula 1 history, unfortunately, the gods of racing weren’t happy to leave well enough alone. Almost immediately after Verstappen had gained the position, he had lost it once again after Vettel misjudged his braking and shunted the back of the Red Bull which caused them both to run off the track.

By some miracle, the only thing that was damaged was the two drivers’ egos, and the pair somehow managed to work their way out of the notoriously tricky gravel trap and back onto the track to continue with the race. Vettel was slapped with a 10-second time penalty for this incident, which adds to what has been a gut-wrenching season for the 4-time World Champion.

This weekend was not simply an opportunity for fans to bask in Hamilton’s never-ending glory, British fans were also able to say thank you to a F1 icon, Sir Frank Williams who was celebrating an astonishing 50 Years in Formula 1. Although Vettel’s mistake cost Ferrari important championship points, it also gave the Williams’ drivers the opportunity to not finish last for the first time this season. British driver George Russel finished 14thahead of his team-mate Robert Kubica in 15th, although it doesn’t seem like much of an achievement, it was a welcome change for the struggling team.

The racing wasn’t simply reserved for Ferrari and Red Bull, McLaren and Renault were also able to get stuck in. McLaren golden-boy Lando Norris made his intentions quite clear from the beginning, as payback for Ricciardo’s cheekiness in the driver’s conference at the start of the weekend.

The two battled it out wheel-to-wheel, quite literally from the start of the race, through Copse, Maggots and Becketts until Ricciardo eventually lost out to the youngster in the hair-raising battle. Norris’ spectacular driving ability was over-shadowed by McLaren’s poor strategy choice which eventually kept Norris out of the points, finishing in 11th; Ricciardo managed to score his first few points since Canada, finishing in 7thplace.

Following his win at Silverstone, Lewis Hamilton is able to go into the German Grand Prix with a 39-point lead on his main rivals, Valterri Bottas and Max Verstappen. That said, after this weekend, there’s quite clearly something special about a home race, and with Hockenheim just around the corner, perhaps this is where Vettel will start to make his comeback.

Featured Photo by Gareth Harford / LAT Images via Pirelli

 

Hamilton clinches pole in Monaco after disappointing qualifying for Ferrari

It was a dry but overcast afternoon in Monaco and, as the green light went out in Q1, eighteen of the drivers took to the Circuit de Monaco in a bid to claim pole position.

Monaco is a tight street circuit, so many choose to set competitive times early to avoid being caught out by a yellow or red flag. Early lap times are crucial at this track.

Both Red Bulls of Gasly and Verstappen sat in the garage at the beginning of Q1, with Verstappen’s car being pulled apart and swiftly put back together. Whatever issues he had seemed to have been fixed as he exited the garage.

Leclerc struggled to set a good lap time at the start of the session,  having been held up by Lance Stroll. Hulkenberg almost ran into Giovinazzi in a very similar situation at turn 18, with the pair being put under investigation for the incident.

Verstappen had the initial time to beat, three tenths quicker than defending world champion Lewis Hamilton. Leclerc was in third, with Alex Albon sitting in an impressive fourth place for Toro Rosso.

Hamilton also seemed to struggle, as replays showed the Mercedes driver locking up going into the chicane. After a bit of a scrappy lap, his teammate Bottas managed to set the pace with a 1:11.562.

Steve Etherington

Leclerc then missed the weighbridge procedure, as did Perez and Hulkenberg. All were investigated after qualifying came to a close for the infringements.

Vettel clipped the barrier at the Swimming Pool exit before pitting and returning to the track to set a competitive time. The Ferraris were cutting it fine in P17 and P15 as the chequered flag came out.

After topping the session in FP3, Leclerc dropped out of the session in a disappointing P16 at his home Grand Prix, having been left in the garage by Ferrari as the session came to a close. It was a costly and frustrating mistake which resulted in Leclerc falling behind traffic on his final attempt. Joining Leclerc in the drop-zone were Perez, Stroll, Russell and Kubica.

Both Mercedes went out at the beginning of Q2, with Bottas setting a new track record and Hamilton struggling to match the pace of his teammate in P3 behind Verstappen. Hamilton quickly managed to slot into second spot.

Several drivers made minor mistakes throughout the session, including Magnussen who clipped the wall going into Mirabeau as his Haas struggled to find grip.

With five minutes remaining in Q2, all drivers bar Verstappen went out to set their quickest laps. Verstappen sat in P1 in front of both Silver Arrows as the session ended with Hulkenberg, Norris, Grosjean, Raikkonen and Giovinazzi in the elimination zone. Grosjean was majorly unhappy with P13 after having been held up by the Red Bull of Pierre Gasly, who was then put under investigation for the incident.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Both Alfa Romeo cars had a disappointing session after showing great pace in free practice, finishing in P14 and P15.

Vettel sat in P4, followed by Kevin Magnussen and both Toro Rossos. Gasly sat in P8 with Daniel Ricciardo behind in P9. Rounding out the top 10 was McLaren’s Carlos Sainz.

The final part of qualifying got underway as all ten drivers took to the track on soft compound tyres. Valtteri Bottas set the initial pace with a staggering 1:10.257, four tenths ahead of Max Verstappen in second position.

Hamilton initially made a mistake going into the chicane which meant his first lap had to be aborted, but he managed to slot into P2 on his second run, two tenths behind his teammate.

Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo made a risky decision to go for only one flying lap in the session and managed P6.

Sebastian Vettel made a late mistake and ran into the barrier at Tabac, but he didn’t sustain any damage.

After a flawless performance throughout qualifying by Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton pipped his teammate as the chequered flag came out, clinching pole position by half a tenth from Bottas.

Behind, Max Verstappen lined up P3 followed by Sebastian Vettel in P4, Gasly, Magnussen, Ricciardo, Kvyat, Sainz, and Albon.

It was certainly an interesting session with several cars being investigated for impeding the regulations throughout the afternoon. It was another dominant session by Mercedes, but an extremely disappointing day for Ferrari who will have to rethink their strategy for tomorrow’s Monaco Grand Prix. What’s more, with a 60% chance of rain, it certainly seems as if the race could be full of surprises.

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]

Lando Norris: “I’m not going to get carried away” with Q3 performance

McLaren rookie Lando Norris says he isn’t ‘going to get carried away’ with himself and with the performance of the car, despite a Q3 appearance on his F1 debut at the Australian Grand Prix.

Norris qualified P8 with a time of 1:22.304, putting him ahead of the likes of Kimi Raikkonen, Nico Hulkenberg and home-favourite Daniel Ricciardo. It is McLaren’s first Q3 appearance since the Monaco Grand Prix of last year.

Speaking of his performance, Norris said, “I loved it but I’m not going to get carried away! I was very nervous at the start of the session with it being my first-ever F1 quali and never having been here before. But I managed to put the laps together today – the team were fantastic.

“Our aim was to get into Q2 but it turned out to be even better, and it’s a great confidence boost for everyone. It’s going to be a long, tough race and that’s what I must concentrate on now.”

Norris’ team-mate Carlos Sainz, by comparison, will start from P18, having been forced to back off when he encountered a puncture-riddled Robert Kubica in Q1.

 

[Featured image – Steven Tee/McLaren]