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]

Mercedes claim sixth consecutive Constructors’ Championship at Japanese Grand Prix

Mercedes have claimed a sixth successive Constructors’ Championship at the Japanese Grand Prix, with Valtteri Bottas taking the race win and Lewis Hamilton finishing in third.

The pair had started in third and fourth respectively, but Bottas capitalised on a mistake from Sebastian Vettel at the start to take the lead going into turn one. Hamilton inherited third when Charles Leclerc pitted on lap four for a new front-wing, following a coming-together with Max Verstappen on the first lap.

“We never thought this would be possible,” Toto Wolff said, “and I’m incredibly happy for everybody who has been a part of this journey. It’s not always been easy, the entire team put in a lot of hard work and we had our fair share of painful moments, but we were always able to pick ourselves up.”

2019 Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

Wolff also spoke of this year’s championship being particularly emotional in the wake of Niki Lauda’s passing in May.

“This sixth Championship is a very special one – and we dedicate it to Niki,” he said. “He has been such an important part from the beginning, and we all miss him dearly. I think about him every day and still find it hard to believe that he’s not here anymore.

“I keep thinking to myself, ‘What would Niki say, what would he think?’ Today, he probably would have said, ‘Congratulations for the sixth one, but you have a challenge on your hands for next year’. It was his way of making sure that we’re never complacent.”

2019 Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Mercedes become the first team to claim six successive championships since Ferrari did so between 1999 and 2004, and things are set to get even more rosy for them in the coming races. Bottas’ win and Hamilton’s third-place means that they alone remain in contention for the Drivers’ Championship, with Vettel, Leclerc and Verstappen’s mathematical hopes being put to bed.

As such, Mercedes will become the first team in F1’s history to claim six successive Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships, regardless of which of their line-up claims the title.

 

[Featured image – Steve Etherington]

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

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

 

“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]

Controversial penalty costs victory for Vettel

Sebastian Vettel drove a storming lap in almost perfect conditions in qualifying at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montréal on Saturday, clocking a stunning lap time of 1:10.240. It was a new track record and the 56th pole position of the German’s career.

The rest of the grid shaped up with a few surprise results, including Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Räikkönen who was knocked out in Q1 and started in P17. Kevin Magnussen suffered a crash at the infamous Wall of Champions, ruining the lap times of several other drivers in the final moments of Q2, including the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, who was forced to start in 11th place.

As a result of Magnussen’s crash, several repairs were required and the Haas team later announced that he would be starting the race from the pit lane, moving every driver up a place from P10 to P20.

The most surprising result of the day, was Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, who drove a stunning lap to secure fourth place, his highest qualifying spot with the Enstone-based team so far.

Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Renault F1 Team RS19.
Canadian Grand Prix, Saturday 8th June 2019. Montreal, Canada.

With Vettel leading the pack for Ferrari, current championship leader Lewis Hamilton started alongside him, ahead of Charles Leclerc and Ricciardo on the second row. Both Leclerc and Ricciardo were seeking a strong result after experiencing some bad luck in the first six races of the season. 

The race began under blue skies, with Vettel stretching out a 1.2 second lead after the first lap, with the top four retaining their initial positions. Lando Norris and Max Verstappen had an exciting scrap for P8, however by lap nine the McLaren driver had retired from the race, after the sweltering heat affected both his suspension and brakes.

Valtteri Bottas was threatened by Verstappen, with the Dutchman using DRS in an attempt to pass.

Antonio Giovinazzi was extremely lucky and miraculously avoided hitting the Wall of Champions as Hamilton closed the gap to Vettel. The Brit got very close, however he then locked up and lost a chunk of time.

Vettel became the first of the leaders to pit when he came in on lap 26. Mercedes, meanwhile, left Hamilton out on track, feeling there wasn’t a big enough gap between the pair for Hamilton to come out of his stop ahead of the Ferrari driver.

2019 Canadian Grand Prix, Saturday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

He would pit two laps later, with both Vettel and teammate Leclerc were told to switch to ‘plan B’ of their strategy. On lap 33, Leclerc pitted, however he found himself stuck in traffic alongside Verstappen in the Red Bull.  

Other noticeable incidents saw Giovinazzi spin and Hülkenberg speak of his concerns over team radio regarding downshifts in the gearbox. His teammate Ricciardo brilliantly defended his position against Bottas as Leclerc passed Verstappen for third.  Hamilton once again closed the gap to Vettel, and by lap 39 the leaders were less than a second apart. 

Hamilton went too deep at the hairpin and lost some time, while Vettel went on to post the fastest lap of the race on lap 42.

Further down the field, Pierry Gasly struggled to pass Lance Stroll, who was still racing with the tyres he had started on.

Vettel voiced his concerns about the temperature of his brakes and, on lap 48, went wide on the grass, almost losing the lead of the race to Hamilton. Hamilton reported the incident to his team.

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

Verstappen passed both Renaults to take P5 and the stewards announced that they were investigating the incident between Hamilton and Vettel. This resulted in a five-second penalty being given to the Ferrari driver, due to unsafe re-entry and forcing another driver off track. This decision was met with much criticism from the German, stating that the stewards were stealing the victory from him.

With just five laps remaining in the Grand Prix, Toro Rosso’s Albon retired, his car having suffered damage during an early clash with Giovinazzi. Leclerc attempted to catch Hamilton, as Bottas dived into the pits in order to seal a bonus point for the fastest lap. Carlos Sainz lost two more places, to Racing Point driver Stroll and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat. 

Sebastian Vettel crossed the finish line first, however Lewis Hamilton ultimately inherited the victory after Vettel’s five-second penalty. Leclerc managed to close the gap and just missed out in taking second place from his teammate.  

The final result also saw Bottas in fourth, Verstappen in fifth and a stellar performance from Daniel Ricciardo secured sixth, with his teammate Hülkenberg just behind. Gasly finished in eighth with Kvyat in tenth and Lance Stroll securing points in P9 at his home race. 

Valtteri Bottas snatched the fastest lap of the race with a 1:13:078. Sebastian Vettel was voted driver of the day and in his frustration, after the race, switched the 1st and 2nd place signs in parc fermé. He would also receive two penalty points on his super license.

The 8th round of the 2019 Formula 1 season will begin with Free Practice on the 21st of June at Circuit Paul Ricard for the French Grand Prix. 

 

[Featured image – Scuderia Ferrari Press Office]

Vettel claims first pole of 2019 at Canadian Grand Prix

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel has taken pole at the Canadian Grand Prix, his 56th career pole position and his first since the 2018 German Grand Prix, some 17 races ago.

Hamilton had been on provisional pole for much of Q3, but Vettel’s last lap of a 1:10.240 was good enough to beat him into P2 by two tenths of a second. Charles Leclerc was a further five tenths behind in P3 and will start ahead of a very impressive Daniel Ricciardo in P4, and Pierre Gasly in P5.

It was a very messy Q3 for the other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas, who spun coming out of turn two early on in the session and was left with just one attempt to set a competitive time. A couple of lock-ups and a too-deep line going into the hairpin meant his lap was only good enough for P6, ahead of Hulkenberg, Norris and Sainz.

LAT Images

Haas’s Kevin Magnussen did technically make it through into the final stage of qualifying, but he did not take part after crashing heavily on the pit-straight in the final moments of Q2.

The subsequent red flag curtailed Max Verstappen’s attempt to make it through to Q3. The Dutchman had been pushed into the drop-zone relatively early on, complaining of traffic and low grip. He switched to the soft tyres and was on track to make it through to the next stage, only for Magnussen’s crash to put a stop to things and leave him high and dry in P11, but with free tyre choice for the race.

He lines up ahead of Kvyat, Giovinazzi, Albon, and Grosjean down in P15. Grosjean, too, was affected by Magnussen’s crash; he had locked up and bailed out of his earlier lap and, like Verstappen, found himself with just one lap to make it through to Q3. He had been coming out of the last corner at the time of Magnussen’s crash, with just a couple of seconds separating him from a Q2 elimination and progression into Q3.

Towards the lower end of the grid, it was a home qualifying to forget for Racing Point, with both Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll eliminated in Q1. Kimi Raikkonen was also knocked out, with it being only the second time this season that he has been out-qualified by his team-mate. The Williams pair of Russell and Kubica will make up the last row of the grid.

 

[Featured image – Ferrari Media]