F1’s silly season goes into overdrive

Although Sebastian Vettel’s retirement announcement on Thursday was a surprise to many, it wasn’t wholly unexpected. Few, however, could have predicted the events that have transpired since.

Aston Martin admitted to being caught unaware by Vettel’s retirement, with team principal Mike Krack talking only weeks ago about retaining the four-time world champion for another season. The rumours seemed to suggest that they would be replacing one German with another, with Mick Schumacher and current Aston Martin reserve Nico Hulkenberg being the main names touted for the seat.

It’s safe to say, therefore, that Monday’s announcement that Fernando Alonso would be extending his record-breaking career in green, rather than the blue and pink of Alpine, came almost out of nowhere. There had been mumblings that the Spaniard was considering a move out of Enstone for a third time, but many thought that a one-year extension for Alonso was a done deal. Even the 41-year-old said it would only take ’10 minutes’ to sort out a new contract with the French squad, but there was clearly some stumbling block in the background to force Fernando to go for a change.

Oscar Piastri testing for Alpine at the end of 2021. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

If Aston were surprised by Vettel’s announcement, Alonso’s left Alpine astounded. Team principal Otmar Szafnauer found out at the same time as everyone else, which is likely to lead to a very awkward meeting once the summer break is over. Once crumb of comfort for Otmar however, would have come with the fact that this freed up the seat for their junior driver Oscar Piastri, and it was announced on Twitter on Tuesday that he would be driving alongside Ocon in 2023.

As soon as the announcement was posted, however, questions started to be asked. There were no quotes from Piastri in the announcement. The tweet only spoke about how he was being ‘promoted’ into a race seat, not that he had signed any formal contract. And sure enough, just short of two hours later, the reigning F2 champion announced that he had not signed a contract with Alpine for 2023, and would not be driving for them next year. But how did Alpine get themselves into this mess?

Midway through last season, Esteban Ocon signed a contract for 2024 with the Enstone-based team. The plan seemed simple, keep Piastri in F2 for two seasons, and promote him once Alonso retired at the end of 2022. Problem one came when Piastri won the F2 championship, rendering him ineligible for the series this year. Problem two came with the fact that Alonso had no intention of leaving the sport just yet. Both are nice problems to have, but three into two doesn’t go, and frustrations were building in the background.

It looks like these frustrations have boiled over in the past week, and the lid will not be going back on this pot any time soon. Alonso feels his performances deserve more than a one-year contract, but as Alpine wanted to keep Piastri, this is all he was going to get. Other teams have picked up on this dilly-dallying from Alpine, with McLaren (who had the option to use Piastri as a reserve this season) allegedly swooping in to sign the highly rated 21-year-old for 2023, as a replacement for Daniel Ricciardo.

Ricciardo winning in Monza in 2021. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

This isn’t the only contract shenanigans that McLaren finds themselves in at the moment. Over in IndyCar, reigning champion Alex Palou is being sued by his current team Chip Ganassi Racing, after they announced that he would be driving for them, prompting him to announce that he would be driving McLaren. If Palou and Piastri both end up in papaya next season, this gives them a glut of talent across IndyCar and F1, with their lineup for Formula E next season also yet to be announced.

It is possible then, that Alpine will have an Australian driving for them next season, just not the one they expected. Daniel Ricciardo did a stellar job in the yellow of Renault in 2020, and apart from a win in Monza last season has not looked close to the driver he was during his two-year spell with the French marque. The 33-year-old has made it clear he wants to stay in F1 next year, and this may well be his only opportunity.

Aston Martin fighting amongst themselves for the last points position in Hungary 2022. Image courtesy of Aston Martin Media

But let’s go back to how this all started. Sebastian Vettel clearly didn’t see enough progress at Aston Martin to convince him to stay in Formula One. His father said that the decision was made in Austria, where he qualified last and was involved in incidents in both races, which is enough to make anyone question their motivation. So if he’s not seen any positives, what has made Alonso take one last (presuming he does retire at the end of 2024) throw of the dice?

Next year’s Aston will be the first car to have the fingerprint of Dan Fallows on it. As a member of the aerodynamics department at Red Bull (and eventually the head of aero), Fallows was involved in the Milton Keynes-based team’s dominant run in the early noughties, as well as their recent resurgence. Joining Aston at the start of the season meant he was never able to have a massive impact on the 2022 car, although the new rear wing shown off at Hungary suggests he has some radical ideas to move the team up from the lower end of the order. Being ninth in the championship also means Aston Martin will get more wind tunnel time than nearly all their rivals, invaluable at any time but especially in this modern era of Formula One.

Vettel’s retirement brings to an end one of the most successful careers of all time, with only Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher securing more wins than Sebastian. He will certainly be missed in the F1 paddock, and it is ironic that for a man who doesn’t like the spotlight away from the track, his departure has delivered plenty of drama for fans to discuss over the summer break.

F1 Weekend Preview: Hungary Grand Prix

The last race before the summer break takes us to Hungary, a track that last year produced carnage at the start and one of the strangest restarts in history with only Hamilton taking the lights on the grid. Ferrari has it all to do so that they can go into the summer break with some positive energy in the team.

Hungarian GP 2021

Chaos at the start. Image courtesy of RedBull Content Pool

Last year saw the race start wet, which meant everyone started on intermediates but created chaos at the start. Bottas got a poor start but couldn’t slow down fast enough for turn one, hitting the back of Norris. This created a chain reaction, Norris hit Verstappen, Bottas hit Perez and behind them, Stroll had crashed into Leclerc, who hit Ricciardo.

This created a red flag, allowing the track to dry, and on the formation lap to the restart grid, all drivers apart from Hamilton dived into the pits to get slick tyres, creating one of the weirdest standing starts in Formula 1 history.

The race itself is known as an exciting track with plenty of overtaking opportunities and a great place to rack up some decent points for the championship.

Ferrari’s strategy calls in question… again

It’s no secret that in the last few years Ferrari has managed to build a reputation for making strategic decisions that often get in their own way. The French GP was no exception to this.

Sainz putting in a solid performance from P19. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

After losing Leclerc from the race early on, they only had to focus on Sainz, who was making great progress through the field and looked on pace for a podium. However, with 10 laps to go Ferrari decided to pit him for fresh tyres. He was on the mediums, and it was questionable if they would make it to the end, but Sainz was at a good pace and had just past Perez in P4.

These calls have now created a situation where Ferrari will need an almost flawless performance from now on. For Leclerc who is now 63 points behind Verstappen, he needs a clean weekend to take that confidence into the summer break

Double podium Mercedes

Mercedes had their first double podium since the Saudi Arabian GP in 2021. They are currently the most reliable team on the grid, and at their fastest, they have been able to pick up podiums when the top two falter.

However, they are now consistently on the pace and fight for the podium places now merit. Hamilton seems to have returned to his performance after a shaky first part of the season and Russell is still consistent. Hungary has always been a happy hunting ground for them, so they will want to replicate their past success.

Alpine is at the top of the midfield pack

The end of an epic battle. Image courtesy of Mercedes Media

Alpine has fond memories of the Hungarian GP last year, Ocon got his first win in Formula 1 and Alonso had an epic battle with Hamilton, helping out his teammate from the charging Silver Arrow. This year they appeared to have a faster car to bring to the fight.

In France, Alpine definitely had the measure of its closest championship rival, McLaren. Alonso appeared to taunt the papaya behind him and finished P6, while his teammate finished in P8 after an early incident with Tsunoda.

However, they are only four points ahead and McLaren seems to be having unpredictable performances. Alpine can’t rely on that pace alone with the midfield battle so close.

F1 Weekend Preview: The French GP

Just past the halfway point now, Verstappen has a commanding lead in the championship over Leclerc. The Mercedes are making progress and the midfield battle has tightened. From an exciting double header, we move to the circuit of Paul Ricard, infamous for being boring, however, in 2021 it entertained us with a thrilling battle at the top.

Are Ferrari’s problems getting worse?

At the start of the season Ferrari seemed to have nailed the new regulations while RedBull had reliability problems. However, RedBull appeared to have solved their problems after three races, but that’s when the problems for Ferrari started.

For Carlos Sainz, the latest of these meant his car literally exploded with only a few laps left of the Austrian Grand Prix. After the highs of his first win in Silverstone, he felt the heartbreak of his engine letting him down again.

Leclerc faster but in Austria despite team issues. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

Ferrari needs to go back to Maranello and properly investigate their issues. This means that RedBull are very much on top with Verstappen 38 points ahead of Leclerc at the halfway point. It won’t be the first time a team and driver has come back from behind to win, but Ferrari will be hoping for a positive weekend in France if they want to push their arguably the quicker car to the top.

Mercedes constant top 3

Mercedes seem to have had a very different journey to the top two teams. They have had considerable porpoising issues since the start but in the last couple of races appear to have overcome these, getting consistent podiums.

Hamilton on the podium in Austria. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

For them, the difference has been that they have a reliable car that needed some significant issues fixing. This also meant the drivers who were adapting to the car with the new regulations. However, whilst Russell seemed to get to grips with the bouncing better than Hamilton in the first part of the season, Hamilton is now on a roll with three consecutive podiums and performing well every time he gets in the car.

Mercedes still don’t have the raw pace of Ferrari and RedBull, but the French Grand Prix last year ended up being unpredictable and a good race to watch. This year could be another one that Mercedes will need to capitalise on.

Silly season has begun

With rumours circulating around, McLaren and Daniel Ricciardo seem to be the main topic of conversation. The suggestion being that Ricciardo may lose his seat at the end of the season based on his performances. This reached its peak when Ricciardo had to take to social media to issue a statement to say he is not planning on leaving and is committed to McLaren until the end of next year at least.

Daniel Ricciardo. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

Ricciardo hasn’t had the best performances this year, Norris comfortably beating him and even getting a podium early on. However, in the last few races, he has gotten closer to his teammate despite McLaren’s overall performances lacking pace. He will want to prove himself in the second half of the season to avoid the rumours becoming reality by the end.

Verstappen extends championship lead as Ferrari’s hopes go up in smoke

Max Verstappen extended his championship lead with victory in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, as both Ferraris succumbed to reliability issues.

Sergio Perez came home in second to make it another 1-2 for Red Bull, with George Russell securing his third podium of the season in third place.

The big story of the race though will be the fragile state of the Ferraris, with both Carlos Sainz and polesitter Charles Leclerc retiring before the race distance. Zhou Guanyu and Kevin Magnussen also retired with power unit problems, in what was a worrying day for the Italian manufacturer.

Perez taking advantage of Leclerc’s lock up. Image courtesy of RedBull Content Pool

It was Sergio Perez who led in the early stages, getting a superb start from second on the grid to take the lead into Turn One. A small lock up from Leclerc cost him any chance of getting the move back on the first lap one, as the Mexican driver quickly dropped the Ferrari outside of his DRS range.

Things looked to be settling down before Carlos Sainz’s retirement on lap nine with a hydraulics failure, which led to a Virtual Safety Car. Whilst both Red Bulls stayed out, the majority of the chasing pack, including Leclerc and both Mercedes, opted to pit, giving themselves the option of stretching out a one-stop, or pushing harder and making the two-stop work.

Baking hot conditions meant tyre management would be crucial in Baku, as the track temperatures reached 46 degrees Celsius at the start of the race. Pirelli were clearly concerned as well, raising the minimum tyre pressures to try and negate the risk of punctures, thankfully, there were none of the issues which plagued last years race.

Strangely, it was tyre management which looked to be Sergio Perez’s downfall. His early sprint on the medium tyres took too much out of the tyres, and Verstappen was soon able to catch and overtake the Mexican on lap 15, with Checo being told ‘not to fight’ into turn one. However, it looked unlikely that Perez would have been able to put up much of a defence even if he wanted to.

After the Red Bulls pitted to go onto a conventional one-stop strategy, Charles Leclerc had a comfortable lead, and it looked as the win was still a distinct possibility, even if there was a concern over how well the tyres would last. By lap 20 though, this was a moot point. The Monegasque driver’s engine expired on the pit straight, handing victory to Verstappen and Red Bull.

Further back, it was another solid race from Mercedes, even if they aren’t showing the improvements they would have wanted to. George Russell was in no-mans land for the majority of the race, coming home in a lonely third place. His teammate, Lewis Hamilton, had a much more eventful afternoon though. After losing out in the first VSC because of the double stack, Hamilton spent a lot of his second stint stuck behind traffic, with Esteban Ocon being particularly trick to overtake thanks to the Alpine’s straight line speed.

After clearing the Frenchman, Hamilton was able to take advantage of the second virtual safety car (triggered due to Magnussen’s retirement) to get a cheap pitstop, overtaking both of the Alpha Tauri’s to come home in fourth. The heat combined with the vicious porpoising of the Mercedes clearly took it’s toll on the Brit, as Lewis struggled to exit his car at the end of the race.

Hamilton catching Gasly before taking P4 at the end of the race. Image courtesy of RedBull Content Pool

Pierre Gasly finished fifth for Alpha Tauri in what was his best result of the season, and if it wasn’t for a broken rear wing (which necessitated a gaffer tape fix), Yuki Tsunoda would have likely come home just behind in sixth. In the end, Sebastian Vettel recovered from an early spin to finish sixth, ahead of Fernando Alonso, the McLaren’s of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris, and Esteban Ocon.

Ricciardo and Norris seemed to be inseperable throughout the entire race, with the Australian consistently challenging Norris in the early stages, being told to hold station behind his teammate. The roles were reversed at the end, with Norris clearly unhappy at being told to stay behind Ricciardo. This is a nice problem for McLaren to have, with this weekend looking like one of Ricciardo’s best this season.

Although the McLaren team orders may have had an effect on their result, it’s doubtful that Red Bull’s did. Verstappen’s race pace was too much for Sergio Perez, and the Dutchman now has a twenty-one point lead in the championship over his Mexican teammate. Ferrari’s double DNF drops them to eighty points behind Red Bull, as their championship challenge has unraveled dramatically over the last four races, which has seen Leclerc take pole in each race but not reach the chequered flag first in either, becoming the first driver to do this since Juan Pablo Montoya twenty years ago.

Celebrating a RedBull 1-2. Image courtesy of RedBull Content Pool

Next, Formula One heads to Canada first the first time post-COVID, with the last race there being remembered for Sebastian Vettel receiving a five-second penalty for gaining an advantage of track, handing the victory to Lewis Hamilton. Ferrari will be hoping that this time around, they don’t hand victory to their rivals once more.

2022 Spanish GP

The Spanish Grand Prix brings us round 6 of this years World Championship. The season so far has been a story of Ferrari versus RedBull, with this race being the race where the first major upgrades are brought to the cars would we see a change in the pecking order, would Mercedes be back in the hunt for wins? A scorching day in Barcelona would bring us all the answers we have been waiting for.

The front row had Leclerc and Verstappen again and could deliver us a titanic battle into turn one. Strategy would be key in the hot weather and whoever looks after their tyres the best would surely go on to win the race.

Home favourite Fernando Alonso took an engine penalty and would start from last, the 2 time world champion promising to give it everything and put on a show for his adoring fans. Could his popular compatriot Carlos Sainz improve his form after an indifferent start to his season, a win not impossible for the Spaniard. Everyone will start on the soft tyre apart from Lewis Hamilton who chose to start on the mediums.

The front 2 clearly ahead of the rest on the start. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Room

Lights out and the battle to the first corner was between the front two, they came through the first turns in the same order that they started.  Russell up to third. Hamilton then had a collision with Magnussen who tried to go around him on the outside of turn 4 causing a puncture with Magnussen into the gravel. Both drivers pitting at the end of the first lap.

At the start of Lap 5 Bottas went around the outside to Mick Schumacher into turn one. Alonso in the Alpine already up to P14, plenty of overtaking moves so far including a great pass from Alonso again on Sebastian Vettel. Sainz then makes a big mistake and spins into the gravel at turn 4 putting him down in 11th.

At the start of lap 9 Max Verstappen also lost it at turn 4 and went into the gravel, returning to the track in 4th. The RedBull team telling him it was a gust of wind. Russell now ahead of both RedBulls and clearly holding them up, RedBull clearly order Perez to let Verstappen through to see if he can make any ground on the Mercedes.

Ricciardo overtaken by hos teammate early on. Image courtesy pf Pirelli F1 Press Room

The McLaren of Ricciardo is falling down the order with the Aussie now down on 15th after pitting for fresh soft tyres. Lap 13 and Norris pits in his McLaren returning to the track in 9th place ahead of Sainz in the Ferrari. Both Russell and Verstappen pitted together, the world champion would need to get passed quickly to try and salvage his race. The RedBull struggling with an intermittent DRS fault meaning Verstappen couldn’t  get to close to the Mercedes on the main straight. The world champion looking very ragged in the RedBull complaining on the radio that they should be able to get the DRS working.

Leclerc up front still hadn’t pitted at the start of lap 20 and led by 30 seconds from Russell and Verstappen. The top 10 completed by Perez, Bottas, Ocon, Sainz, Vettel, Norris and Tsunoda. Alonso now up to 11th after starting last in his Alpine. Hamilton in the Mercedes seemingly with damage as he has only moved back to 16th.

Lap 22 and Leclerc finally pits, a great stop by the Ferrari team at 2.2 seconds, he returns to the track with 4.6 second lead but he now has tyres 8 laps fresher than the cars behind him.

At the start of lap 24 Hamilton pits for new medium tyres but falls down to 19th. Verstappen makes a move into turn one but Russell hangs him out to dry and makes him go the long way around and he can’t quite do it. Great defending by George Russell. Anyone who thought this race would be boring was very wrong. Perez now behind Verstappen asking the team to get him out of the way.

Suddenly Leclerc has trouble and the Ferrari is limping back to the pits, The first DNF of the season for the championship leader. Russell now leads in the Mercedes, Verstappen still struggling to find a way by the slower Mercedes.

Back down the field Lance Stroll again runs out of talent and spins after contact with the Alpha Tauri into turn one. RedBull decide to pit Verstappen dropping him to 4th but in clean air. Surely a 3 stop is now on the cards. Russell now out front ahead of Perez but the Mexican goes straight passed at the first attempt. His team mate now back up to 3rd, just 13 seconds behind.

At half distance this race is between the two RedBulls but seeing as team orders were clearly used earlier surely it is Verstappens race to lose now. As he closes on Russell the Brit pits in his Mercedes. The two RedBulls now leading the pack just 6 seconds apart. Perez pits the very next lap for mediums, returning to the track clear of Russell in the Mercedes. Further down the field Lando Norris is now up to 8th position despite feeling unwell this weekend.

Perez making a move on Russell. Image courtesy of Red Bull content pool

Hamilton in the Mercedes is currently the quickest car bar the RedBulls and showing that the Mercedes does in fact have quite a lot of pace which shows well for the rest of the season, the 7 time world champion now up to 6th.

Lap 45 and Verstappen pits for what surely is the last time. He comes back out ahead of Russell, just 5 seconds behind his team mate. Sainz in the sole remaining Ferrari also pits for the 3rd time. He is now 7th, another disappointing show from the Ferrari driver.

Lap 49 and RedBull tell Perez to let Verstappen passed for the lead, The Mexican agreeing but not very happy with the order.

Mercedes pit Russell again for fresh soft tyres, he remains in 3rd and on for a podium, RedBull bring Perez back in also to protect his 2nd position.

The rest of the field seems to have settled with a few battles developing for the back end of the top ten before the end of the race.

With 10 laps to go Verstappen leads from Perez, Russell, Bottas, Sainz, Hamilton, Ocon, Norris, Alonso, Schumacher, Tsunoda, Vettel, Ricciardo, Gasly, Stroll, Magnussen, Latifi and Albon with the only 2 retirements being Leclerc and Zhou.

Hamilton making moves. Image courtesy of Mercedes Media

Bottas, Sainz and Hamilton were running within a second of each other at the start of lap 58. Sainz is straight passed down the main straight, Hamilton then drives around the outside of turn three to overtake his former team mate. The Brit in his Mercedes clearly on a mission after the disappointment of lap one. His sights now clearly on the Ferrari ahead. He swoops around the outside of the Ferrari into turn one, a great drive today from Hamilton that might stop all the Netflix fans saying he’s finished.

After 66 laps Verstappen crossed the line as the race winner and also takes the lead of the world championship, he is followed over the line by Perez and the Mercedes of George Russell, Sainz is fourth after taking Hamilton one lap from the end due the Mercedes having to lift and coast for the last few laps, Hamilton finishes fifth ahead of Bottas, Ocon, Norris, Alonso and Tsunoda rounding out the top ten.

The rest of the classified finishers were Vettel, Ricciardo, Gasly, Schumacher, Stroll, Latifi, Magnussen and Albon.

Probably the best Spanish Grand Prix since 1991, plenty of overtaking and battles throughout the field all race long. The next stop on the F1 circus is Monaco, obviously we wont have the amount of overtaking that we did here but every lap has jeopardy and so anything can happen.

 

Emilia Romagna GP Race Report

Round 4 of this years World Championship is taking place at Imola. One of the most historic tracks but one which will forever be associated with the dreadful weekend in 1994 where Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna lost their lives.

So far this weekend every session for both F1 and the support races has been interrupted by either safety cars or red flags. Early scenes from the track this morning showed the rain had returned so this looked to be a factor for today’s race.

World Champion Max Verstappen would start from 1st alongside his 2022 nemesis Charles Leclerc. Then came Perez, a resurgent Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari. Lando Norris was next up alongside team mate Daniel Ricciardo. The top 10 was rounded out by Bottas, Magnussen, Alonso and Mick Schumacher.

With 5 minutes to go before lights out the track was still damp so the intermediates looked to be the tyres best to start on. Could we see a mad flurry of pitstops early on or would a safety car be more likely to play a part in today’s strategies?

Lights out and Leclerc got a bad start. Sainz and Ricciardo collided with Sainz out at turn one, his dreadful last run of races continuing. Russell in the Mercedes made a storming start and was up to 6th. The safety car was deployed without a single lap being completed. The two Redbulls led the way with Norris third and Leclerc 4th. Replays showed Sainz was the innocent victim after Ricciardo slid a little wide into the Ferrari. It looked like a racing incident. Ricciardo pitted under the safety for a fresh set of inters. Charles Leclerc was already on the radio saying the track was drying quickly.

The race would restart on lap 5 as the safety car pulled into the pitlane. The restart was a little calmer than the original start, the only mover being Vettel on Alonso. Verstappen was already pulling clear of his team mate, Leclerc was stalking Norris in 3rd. Alonso continued to fall down the order and was now down to 12th. The replay of Hamilton overtaking the Spaniard show part of his engine cover flying off the car, He pitted on lap 7 and retired the car.

Alonso losing bodywork as the bouncy Mercedes drives past. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Room

Just 2 laps after the restart Verstappen had pulled 3 seconds on his team mate, Leclerc was still stuck behind Norris in the McLaren. Leclerc made his move on the start of lap 8, overtaking Norris with some late braking into Tamburello. He was already 6 seconds behind his title rival though with Perez in between them. Already some drivers were complaining about the inters going off, the track however wasn’t dry enough for slicks yet. Who would be the first to make the change?

Russell was now harrying Magnussen in the Haas fighting for 5th place. Without DRS he couldn’t quite get past the Haas before the end of the pit straight. The next lap round he made it passed but couldn’t stop the car in time for turn one and went wide. The Haas slipped back passed at the next turn. Later on in the lap the Mercedes made it passed and made it stick.

Magnussen then came under pressure from Bottas. The Alfa man made it passed before the end of the lap. Back upfront Verstappen continued to pull away from Perez who was being caught by Charles Leclerc.

Daniel Ricciardo the trend setter. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Room

At the start of lap 17 Daniel Ricciardo decided it was time for slicks, now everyone would be looking at the timesheets to see if it was the right choice or not. Lewis Hamilton over the radio said it was too early still. Others disagreed as Vettel, Gasly and Albon all pitted. Ricciardo was setting his quickest sector times but still not purple sectors, RedBull sacrificed Perez and put him on the medium tyres at the start of lap 19. Mercedes also pitted Russell on the same lap, he was followed in by Hamilton. Ocon was released in front of the Mercedes in what seemed a possible unsafe release. Ocon was later given a 5 second time penalty for the unsafe release.

The leaders then also pitted with the whole field now on slicks. The Ferrari of Leclerc made it out ahead of Perez but thanks to the already warm slick on the RedBull Perez made it back passed him almost immediately.

With the field settling down Verstappen led by 7 seconds from Perez, and Leclerc was a further 1.7 seconds down. The fastest laps were now tumbling and at the start of lap 22 Leclerc was right behind Perez. For some reason race control still hadn’t allowed the use of DRS, a strange decision seeing as everyone was now on slicks. This was costing Leclerc massively as he couldn’t get close enough to overtake the RedBull.

Perez keeping Leclerc at bay. Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Further back Mick Schumacher went straight on at the chicane and then spun when rejoining the track. Everyone on the track was having problems overtaking as offline the track was still very damp and still DRS hadn’t been allowed to be activated.

As we got to half race distance Lewis Hamilton was struggling in his Silver Space Hopper down in 14th place, with the team learning nothing new about the car surely they would pit him to let him run in free air and use the rest of the race as a test session. This was not the case.

On lap 33 race control decided DRS would now be available, unfortunately for Leclerc he had now fallen to 2 seconds behind Perez so this wouldn’t benefit him until he closed to within a second of the RedBull. Nobody wanted to risk going to far onto the damp parts of the track so still no movements were really being made through the field.

As Verstappen started lap 41 he lapped Lewis Hamilton, possibly the most dramatic thing to happen in the race at this point. The Mercedes team knew they had work to do but to be lapped with still over 20 laps remaining must surely make the World Champion Constructors wonder whether their no sidepod car was indeed the wrong way to go. Hamilton had been caught behind Gasly since the pit stops and even with DRS didn’t look like he was going to be able to overtake him anytime soon.

Gasly keeping the 7 time world champion behind him. Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Lap 48 suddenly brought us some much needed action with a great move Tsunoda on Magnussen 8th position. If only DRS was allowed earlier in the race.

As lap 50 begun Ferrari decided to roll the dice and fit the soft tyre to Leclerc, he lost position to Norris but would be back in front of him once the tyres were warmed up. The very next lap RedBull did the same with Perez, a battle was now on for fastest lap and that extra bonus point. Verstappen unsurprisingly with the lead he pitted a lap later so the top three remained the same.

With just 11 laps left Verstappen led by 13.8 seconds from Perez but Leclerc seemed to be enjoying the new tyre more and had closed to within a second of the second RedBull. Unfortunately for the Monagasque he spun at the chicane and damaged his front wing. He pitted on lap 54 for a new wing but was now down in 9th position, an error like that could prove very costly later in the season. He would now need a big charge to try to save decent points this afternoon.

With just 6 laps left the main fight was between George Russell and Valtteri Bottas. These 2 have history on this track as just last season they came together here causing a race stopping crash. As they battled away, behind them Leclerc had made it up to P7. With 2 laps remaining Leclerc took P6 from Tsunoda, would he now go for fastest lap as well?

After 63 laps Max Verstappen crossed the line for what must be his easiest win yet, he was followed 16.5 seconds later by his team mate. They would be joined on the podium by Lando Norris after yet another fine display by the Brit in his McLaren.

The Podium. Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Next up was George Russell in the Mercedes after a great performance with Bottas right behind him at the chequered flag. Then came Leclerc who must surely be feeling he had thrown away big points today. Tsunoda was next up followed by Vettel, Magnussen and Stroll finishing up the top 10.

11th was Albon in the Williams, 12th Gasly just ahead of Lewis Hamilton, then came Ocon in the Alpine and Zhou in the second Alpha Romeo. Latifi, Schumacher and Ricciardo were the last classified finishers.

A race that promised a lot didn’t really deliver especially considering the weather. Questions need to be asked about the delay in allowing DRS to be used, another very questionable decision by race control.

The title race closes after this weekend, Leclerc’s huge points lead cut to 27 points, just over one race victory, Verstappen moves up to P2 in the standings despite two DNFs already. Perez is now third on 54 points (5 behind his team mate) and Russell somehow 4th in the Mercedes on 49 points.

The next race is in 2 weeks when F1 visits Miami for the first time, Will Mercedes bring upgrades? Which car out of the top 2 will suit the track better? In just under two weeks time we will find out.

Emilia Romagna Qualifying Report

Round 4 of the 2022 F1 World Championship takes us to a wet and soggy Imola, after the one practice session that the drivers get before the Qualifying session on a Sprint Race weekend it looked like  Ferrari were once again going to be the team to beat with Charles Leclerc 1.4 seconds ahead of third placed Max Verstappen but with the field so far apart with the track drying it would be all to play for in the qualifying session.

Qualifying began in the best conditions seen all day but the track was still damp in places meaning the session would be very interesting. The first runners entered the track on a mix of slicks and intermediate tyres. The first driver to set a time was Lewis Hamilton in the very bouncy Mercedes, it would seem they still have massive issues with porpoising. His time was quickly beaten by both Aston Martins and by some margin. Both Mercedes immediately pitted for new slick tyres. The session was then red flagged thanks to Alex Albons Williams having a fire at the right rear end of the car causing a small explosion which then deposited debris onto the track.

The session restarted with 12 minutes remaining. The times began to tumble as soon as the first laps were completed. The Ferrari’s once again went to the top of the timesheets. Verstappen split them on his second timed run. With the track drying with every lap being driven the times were changing as each driver crossed the line. Then came the now customary Latifi spin, for once he avoided the barriers. As the session came to a close the Ferrari of Leclerc was fastest with 1.18.796 half a second clear of Verstappen. Out in Q1 were Albon, Ocon, Latifi, Gasly and Tsunoda. The Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton just making it into Q2 with a late lap but the World Champion Constructors are clearly really struggling again.

A Friday to forget for the Alpha Tauri Drivers. Image Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Q2 began with the threat of rain again, everyone rushed to get on track to try and set a time before the expected downpour. Sainz was first to set a time but was beaten by Verstappen, on his next flying lap Sainz ended up in the tyre wall at Revazza causing the second red flag of the qualifying session, replays showed Sainz lost the rear of his Ferrari going in to the second part of the corner. The rain began coming down again before the session restarted, this meant the 2 Mercedes were in very real danger of both being out in Q2, the worst result for the German manufacturer in some 10 years.

The session restarted but nobody returned to the track as it was clear nobody was going to be able to improve their times. With 2 minutes left Vettel returned to the track to get his eye in for Q3. A few more drivers followed clearly all wanting to get some experience of the wet track before Q3 began. Out of Q2 were Stroll, Zhou, Hamilton, Schumacher and Russell. The fastest time was set by Verstappen with 1.18.793

Stroll qualifying P11 ahead of the Mercedes. Image courtesy of Aston Martin F1 Media

Only 9 cars would begin Q3 with the Ferrari of Sainz out of the session. The track was quite wet in some places but in others was already visibly drying. However almost straight away the Haas of Magnussen was into the tyre barriers and the session was red flagged, Magnussen managed to get his car out of the barriers and the gravel and returned to the pits seemingly unscathed.

A nine minute shoot out would begin when the green light at the end of the pitlane lit up. First man to set a time was Magnussen, he was beaten by Lando Norris who was then topped by his team mate Ricciardo. They were both then beaten by Leclerc and Verstappen. Verstappen then went even faster despite having to lift off for a yellow flag caused by Bottas in the Alfa Romeo. This then turned into another red flag.

The final 3 minutes would again be a shoot out for pole position, those at the front would get two flying laps, those further behind would get one shot. During the delay it began to rain again meaning the session was theoretically over. All the drivers returned to the track but the track looked a lot wetter than at the start of Q3. Lando Norris then lost it at Aqua Minerale and was stuck in the gravel, this brought out the final red flag of the session as only 38 seconds remained.

Pole position for Saturdays sprint race would go to Max Verstappen with a lap time of 1.27.999,  alongside him was Leclerc, on the second row would be Lando Norris and Kevin Magnussen, they were followed by Alonso, Ricciardo, Perez, Bottas, Vettel and Sainz.

F1 Weekend Preview: The Sprint is Back!

This weekend we see the return of the sprint race which had mixed reviews last year. However, they have been a few changes to the rules and couple of new hosts in an attempt to make the sprint race format work better for 2022.

The sprint race is still a 100km dash to the line with no mandatory stops. There are still only 3 races on the calendar which will host the event as sanction by the FIA because the teams are also getting to grips with the new regulations. This year Imola and Austria will join Brazil in hosting an event which allowed Hamilton his 25 place come back over last season.

Hamilton gaining places in Sao Paulo during the sprint in 2021. Image courtesy of Mercedes Media

There have been two major changes to note, the first is the points for the sprint race. In 2021, only the top 3 drivers would get points, with P1 getting the maximum of 3 points. For this year the top eight drivers will get points, with P1 getting a more desirable 8 points down to P8 who will get 1 point. This means that there is a maximum of 34 points available to the drivers in one weekend (win sprint race, Grand Prix and fastest lap).

The other thing which caused much confusion amongst fans was that the winning driver of the sprint was awarded pole for the weekend. This year, the FIA and Formula 1 have out their heads together and decided common sense means that pole is now to be awarded to the fastest driver in the qualifying session on Friday. They will start the sprint race on pole and the winner of the sprint will start the Grand Prix on pole. Much simpler.

Imola sprint top 3 Imola 2021. Image courtesy of Mercedes Media

Ferrari’s Home Ground – Part 1

This will be the third time in as many years we have had two Italian races on the calendar, and with Ferrari at the top with seemingly nothing to stop them, the tifosi definitely have something to shout about now. So is there anyone that can stop them?

Max Verstappen finally broke his ‘Italian curse’ at Imola last year but in 2022 his car appears to be less reliable despite its pace. This adds an element of unpredictability to the Red Bull race weekend, and at 46 points behind Leclerc, Verstappen will be looking to take advantage of the sprint race.

Sergio Perez is currently the most consistent Red Bull driver, picking up the podium at Albert Park last weekend. However, as the only definite second driver on the grid at the moment he will be used to help out Verstappen when his car is working properly.

Sergio Perez on the podium in Melbourne 2022. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Room

A loss for Red Bull means a Mercedes gain as they have been there to pick up podiums when they became available. They are, however, still struggling to tame the porpoising enough to get the full potential out of the car. Mercedes did make some improvements in Albert Park though so they will be looking to capitalise on any positive developments they can make.

Alpine’s have been really solid so far this season, and if it weren’t for a bit of luck in Melbourne then Alonso may have had a closer fight to Verstappen as his car gets faster. McLaren also took a big jump in Australia. They were competing for the last few positions in rounds one and two, but they finished P5 and P6 respectively at Melbourne.

McLarens putting in a solid performance in Melbourne 2022. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Room

It will be an interesting weekend with the return of the sprint under the new regulations, as well as improvements for teams up and down the paddock as they start to get used to the 2022 cars.

Qualifying starts 4pm GMT on Friday, the Sprint is 3:30pm GMT on Saturday and the Race starts 2pm GMT on Sunday.

Perez on pole for the first time

Perez finally gets a pole position with an outstanding lap around Jeddah. He beat both Ferrari’s and his teammate to start at the front of the grid tomorrow.

Q1 started as normal but with 11 minutes to go Latifi had a big accident into turn 13 hitting the wall at high speed and causing a red flag. It looked like the back end stepped out and he hit both the front and back of car against the barriers. Thankfully he was ok.

Once going again Tsunoda’s qualifying came to an end early where he had to retire with issues that are fuel related. This was later confirmed to be a cooling system issue which couldn’t be resolved quickly.

The Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton in particular were having speed issues for the whole session. While Russell managed P4 in Q1, Hamilton couldn’t get much faster than P13, ending up being pushed down into the bottom 5, finishing P16. A shock departure for him from qualifying by not making it into Q2 for the first time since Brazil 2017.

The first runs of Q2 and Russell was now the only works Mercedes in the session is also the only driver to come out on the mediums. McLaren have improved from last week putting in solid times and looking to get into Q3 with Russell. At the front, Leclerc still has the upper hand on both Red Bulls but by only 0.04 seconds., but sadly were both out in Q2 in P11 and P12. he just made it through to Q3.

The Haas drivers looked strong today with both drivers setting quick first laps. But with 5 minutes to go though Mick Schumacher was on a flying lap when the back end stepped out onto the curb on the exit of turn 10 which he tried to correct but hit the wall at some speed causing a second Red Flag of qualifying. The speed of the car meant his car finally stopped at the entry of turn 11. Reports were that he was conscious and talking to the doctors but they had to extract him safely from the car and took him to the medical centre by an ambulance. He had spoken to his mum and was taken to the hospital for precautionary scans but was ok.

After a lengthy delay while they fixed the barriers and soaked up the oil, we were underway with nearly 5 minutes left. Those that didn’t have any lap times now needed to nail a lap with almost only 1 shot at it. The Ferrari’s were still on top at the end of the session with Sainz joining Leclerc at the top of the time sheet. 

McLaren sadly couldnt get out of the bottom 5 and were both out in Q2 in P11 and P12. Russell just made it through to Q3 meaning he was the only car with a Mercedes power unit in the top 10.

Daniel Ricciardo on his way to P12. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Room

Q3, the final 10 and the battle again was between the Ferrari’s and the Red Bulls. Everyone made it through the first runs cleanly with Sainz coming out on top with his teammate right behind. Perez was P3 with Verstappen struggling for grip on fresh tyres.

The Alpines split the Red Bulls with laps 0.5s slower than Perez. Gasly was P7, Bottas P8 and K Mag P9 while Russell came out in the gap between runs. He pulled out a great lap for the Mercedes to split the alpines for P5, closely followed by Bottas who put it P6.

It looked like the fight for pole as they all came back out was between the Verstappen and the Ferrari’s. Sainz couldn’t improve on his time but Leclerc had pace and beat his teammate to provisional pole. Perez was next who was on an absolute flyer. He took provisional pole with only his teammate to stop him. Verstappen came round the final corner and he had not improved his time. It was only good enough for P4 so Sergio Perez is finally on pole.

Pole position for Sergio Perez. Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Every person in the paddock was happy for Perez who has worked hard for many years to reach that goal. It will be interesting to see what he can do from Pole.

F1 Race Preview: Into the Desert

The 2022 season is finally here with a race at Bahrain to kick us off for the third year in a row. The anticipation is high with the new regulations, new tyres and optimism that the cars will be able to race much closer than last year.

Having been pushed back a year because of covid we finally get to see Formula 1’s big changes to produce more exciting racing. However, testing is over and the teams and drivers, hopefully, understand their cars a little better after all the changes and upgrades between Barcelona and Bahrain.

Mercedes will be looking to defend their constructors title with their new, slimmed down car very different to anything else on the grid. In Barcelona they didn’t blow everyone away despite putting in the fastest laps, but they seem to have improved in Bahrain. During testing Lewis Hamilton did say they might not be competing for wins, but we have heard that before?

Ferrari look to be very reliable and so far meeting the expectations of those that thought they were going to have a quick car this year. They looked to be one of the fastest teams in both testing sessions and have been very consistent and reliable throughout both tests.

Red Bull are there or thereabouts. They have had issues, but reigning world Champion Verstappen finished with the fastest lap of testing. Looking towards the year he will be looking to drag everything out of that car to defend his title.

McLaren look to be the other team which may be in the title fight after testing. They had a solid car in Barcelona, but reliability issues and a sick driver means they haven’t had the running they would like to go into the first race. Daniel Ricciardo should be back for FP1, provided he has a negative covid test.

Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press

Looking further back Aston Martin and Alpine are still very much looking towards the midfield with a hope for some podiums. Alfa Romeo and Williams look to be close to each other as will. They have been very close on times throughout testing so will be in a battle with each other all season.

Haas have been the surprise of testing. They were granted an extra hour at the end of day 2 and 3 in Bahrain to make up for their lack of running in the morning of day 1 because of flight delays. However, with the return of Kevin Magnussen, he went fastest at the end of day 2. Not to be left out Mick Schumacher was P2 by the end of day 3.

Testing times can never been taken as the definitive order, however it has been great to see how these cars might work in race conditions. We won’t completely know until Sunday afternoon if the new philosophy has worked but we are all excited to get racing again 92 days later.

The race on Sunday is 3pm GMT.

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