Sainz Wins an Interesting Singapore GP

Carlos Sainz wins the Singapore Grand Prix through some intelligent driving under immense pressure from behind. Verstappen made up places but the Red Bulls were not in good form while the Mercedes team made an impressive strategy call to challenge for the lead.

The Ferrari’s away cleanly at the start. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Area

Lights out and Sainz got away cleanly but behind him Russell bogged down meaning Leclerc made it past the Mercedes before turn one. The challenge was now on for Leclerc, who started on softs, to keep up with his teammate in the first stint.

Slightly further back Hamilton had a great start to out-break Norris before heading around the outside of Russell but having to take to the escape road and then back on track. Hamilton eventually gave back both places and then settled into his P5 position for a while.

It wasn’t all clean racing on lap one as there was a small amount of contact between Tsunoda and Perez which led to the Alpha Tauri retiring a few corners later. Luckily for the drivers he was able to pull off the circuit safely and the race continued.

Verstappen had gained a place in the first couple of laps and was now on the tail of Magnussen. It was a tight battle between the pair but Verstappen took advantage of DRS to make it into P8. His next job was to chase down Gasly, however, on the hard tyres the Red Bull was still sliding around so Verstappen was told a few times to back off and cool the car down.

Verstappen trying to gain places early on. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Area

The race began to settle down while we waited for the first pit stop window to open. Sainz was managing the race well by keeping the pack close together, however, this meant that even 15 laps in, if the Spaniard had pitted from the lead, he would have come out in P17.

Just a few laps later Sargent ended up hitting the barrier around turn eight and damaging his front wing. Sargent was able to get back to the pits but not without leaving debris along the track and causing a safety car.

Ferrari took this opportunity to double stack. Most Ferrari fans waited with bated breath as this was the sort of thing that could ruin a Ferrari race, however they managed to pull it off… to a certain extent. 

Leclerc had backed up the pack in order to create himself a gap to allow the double stack to happen. Because of this a queue of cars formed behind him and all filed into the pit lane as the Monégasque needed to leave, so he had to be held in his pit box until there was a gap, which cost him track position.

In an interesting strategy call, Red Bull didn’t pit either of their cars as they had started with the hard tyres. However, Sainz came out ahead of Verstappen after his stop so the plan hadn’t paid off for the World Champion. This meant that he and Perez were on old tyres with everyone else of fresh hards around them at the restart.

The safety car restart. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Area

On lap 23 the safety car came in and Sainz had the lead from Verstappen who was struggling to defend against Russell. Just behind them Perez had to fend off Norris and Hamilton who were closing rapidly. 

Almost synchronised, Russell overtook Verstappen and Norris gained a place on the other Red Bull. Perez nearly left the door open for Hamilton but the Mexican was able to stay ahead for a few more corners before the Mercedes made a move stick using DRS.

This then became the trend for a few laps. The Red Bulls began to tumble with Norris and Hamilton gaining places on Verstappen in quick succession. Perez was at the start of a train of cars which led to an interesting battle between the Red Bull, Alonso, and Ocon. 

On lap 37 Alonso dived up the inside of Perez but went in deep and Perez was able to fight back. This opened the door for Ocon to join the fight which was getting closer and closer to the wall. Perez defended the inside of turn eight from Alonso but Ocon went around the outside of the Aston Martin to go side by side into the next few turns.

Ocon was able to make the move on Alonso stick for P8, and was able to pull off a switch back on Perez just a lap later. Alonso then saw his opportunity and overtook Perez a few corners later before the Red Bull headed into the pits for his tyre change.

Sainz at the front had been controlling the race at a decent but slow pace which meant the pack were still quite close together. By the time Perez exited the pit lane, he went from P9 to P18. The story wasn’t much better for Verstappen who came in one lap later from P6 to come back out P15.

Two laps after both Red Bulls changed tyres, the virtual safety car was deployed for Ocon who had stopped just before turn two with a gearbox issue. The top five had already passed the pit entry when the VSC came out but that didn’t stop Mercedes making a bold move.

They double stacked their cars on the next lap for some new mediums to come out P4 and P5 in clean air and only the top three ahead of them. Russell was ahead of Hamilton and it was a very aggressive call but as they headed out the VSC ended and both Brits were on a charge, closing in by two seconds per lap to the leaders. 

With 17 laps left it was now an incredible strategy race to see the Mercedes pushing in full force for the podium. Something we haven’t seen for a few seasons. Because of this, it wasn’t long before both cars were within the DRS range of Leclerc in P3.

Out of the corner Russell pulled out a switch back and won the battle of traction against Leclerc to take P3. One lap later and his teammate made a similar move to take P4 from the Ferrari. Now the hunt was on to claim P2 from Norris ahead.

The Mercedes were gaining on the leaders. Image courtesy of Mercedes AMG F1

The Mercedes were closing at an alarming rate, so Sainz came over the radio to ask for the gap to Norris on every lap for the last five laps. When told Norris was 0.8 seconds Sainz replied with ‘that’s the point’. In some very clever driving, Sainz kept Norris within DRS range to give the McLaren some help with speed down the straights. This not only helped Norris but also meant Sainz would likely keep hold of his win.

It was the final lap and the top four were still within 1.5 seconds. Both Mercedes were moving all over the road in a bid to get past Norris. However, with only a few corners to go, Norris tapped the wall on his rear right but came away unscathed. Russell behind him was not so lucky as he clattered the wall with his front right, breaking the suspension and going head first into the barrier. He was ok but had lost P3 right at the end for his teammate to claim the podium.

Sainz was able to break the Red Bull 2023 win streak by taking the win, Norris finished on the second step of the podium while Hamilton took P3.

It was a fascinating race which intrigued not only this Formula 1 fan but many around the world. We are at Suzuka next weekend which will likely see the Red Bulls back on form.

Verstappen Breaking Records at the Italian GP

Max Verstappen takes the win at the Italian Grand Prix, which means he has taken the record for 10 consecutive wins in a season. It wasn’t plain sailing for him and his teammate, but they came home with a 1-2, while Sainz rounded out the podium after starting on pole. 

The camera showed the stricken Alpha Tauri of Tsunoda as the front row began to line up on the grid after the formation lap. Unfortunately for him and the team, there was an immediate engine failure, which left the car in gear and therefore led to a second formation lap.

However, an aborted start meant that confusion ensued as the cars were parked on the grid with engines off while the teams were waiting at the gate to be let back onto the grid. The red flag was never brought out, but there was a delay of a few minutes before the engineers could be let onto the grid.

Despite this, after a 23-minute delay, we could get going with another formation lap.

The eventual race start. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Area

Lights out, and Sainz got off to a great start by cutting off Verstappen into turn one and holding on to the lead. Just behind them, Leclerc had tried to dive up the inside of Verstappen, but the door closed, and the attempt left room for Russell to put pressure on the Ferrari. Russell couldn’t make a move stick.

Both McLarens had a good start, with Piastri making up a place on Albon into turn one as the Williams driver got boxed in. Although the Willams in a straight line is very slippery, just one lap later, Albon was back up into P6.

It didn’t take long for Verstappen to become a hunter with Sainz the hunted. Leclerc couldn’t keep up with the leading pair as the Red Bull pushed the Ferrari all the way. Verstappen was always within the DRS zone and tried to make a move around the outside of turn one on lap six, but it didn’t pay off with Sainz defending well.

Slightly further back, on lap eight, Verstappen’s teammate was mounting a charge on the Mercedes of Russell as he tried a move that didn’t pay off. He built up pressure until lap 14 when Perez tried a move around the outside, outbraked himself, and went straight on which meant he had to give back the place he gained. Two laps later though, the Mexican took the inside line into turn one and this time the move stuck.

Sainz locked up before losing the lead to Verstappen. Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Meanwhile, the Dutch Red Bull driver was closer to Sainz by a couple of tenths heading into the main straight. He tried around the outside of the Ferrari, and even though the move didn’t work, Sainz locked up, which meant Verstappen had better traction coming out of the corner. On lap 15, the inevitable happened into the chicane as the Red Bull had more speed than the Ferrari.

With the world champion unleashed, he gained a 1.5-second lead within one lap. The race began to settle as the pit stops started.

Struggling with tyres after locking up, Sainz was the first of the Ferrari drivers to come in. One lap later, the team pitted Leclerc; however, it was tight between the teammates, and they nearly touched as Leclerc came out of the pit lane. The Monegasque ended up staying behind his teammate, with Perez coming out behind them after his stop.

A similar story was unfolding with the two McLaren’s on lap 24. Norris was the first to pit, with Piastri changing his tyres the lap after. However, Piastri was on the inside of Norris into turn one as he came out from his stop, but unlike the Ferraris, the McLarens made contact. Luckily for both drivers, they were able to carry on, and the stewards decided to take no further action.

Hamilton was the last driver to stop, as he started on the hard tyres so he could go for a longer stint. Coming out from his stop, it didn’t take too long before his new mediums warmed up and he began to gain places on those now on hard tyres. He started with Alonso into turn one on lap 29.

The Mercedes wasn’t the only one on a charge. Norris had been chasing down Albon for several laps, when on lap 38, Norris made a move around the outside but went off the track and gained an advantage. He managed to give the place back and unfortunately for the Brit, this is where he would stay.

A few laps later, Hamilton could smell the chance to make a move on Piastri but couldn’t make it stick. Towards the end of the lap, Hamilton was within the DRS zone of the McLaren and looked for a move on the inside but opted for the switch back, getting better traction out of the corner. Hamilton was mostly in font heading towards the chicane but, crucially, not completely past. 

As Hamilton moved towards the racing line, his back wheel made contact with the front of Piastri’s car, damaging the McLaren’s front wing. Both drivers were able to carry on, but Piastri did need to pit for a new front wing, and Hamilton got a five-second time penalty for causing a collision.

While this was happening, Perez had gained a place on Leclerc to put him on the podium and was chasing down P2. It wasn’t long before Perez was within the DRS zone of Sainz, and he used that to his advantage on lap 46, where he made it past Sainz.

This meant the final five laps were all about which Ferrari would be in P3. The radio call came saying, ‘Still race, but no risk’, However, the teammates knew what was at stake. Leclerc kept the pressure on right until the final lap, where he had a huge lockup and nearly took out both cars, Luckily, he avoided an accident, and Sainz finished in P3 with Leclerc in P4.

However, no one had an answer for Verstappen’s performance, as he crossed the line with a substantial lead over his teammate. A new record was broken, and the speed of the Red Bulls continues to be unmatched.

Next up is Singapore, which Verstappen has never won. Is that an omen or another record to extend?

2023 Italian GP Qualifying

Carlos Sainz has made the Tifosi’s dreams come true and secured pole position for tomorrow’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Celebrating on the track in front of the Ferrari fans the Spaniard who has been very quick all weekend put in one of the laps of his life to beat Max Verstappen by the smallest of margins.

Q1 began with everyone on the Hard Pirelli compound as this qualifying session was being used for the new mandatory tyre allocation strategy trial of hards being used for Q1, mediums for Q2  the softs for Q3.

Max Verstappen’s first lap of qualifying was deleted for exceeding track limits, He immediately pitted, came back out and went quickest by 0.338 from team mate Sergio Perez. They were followed by Fernando Alonso in the Aston Martin and then the Williams of Alex Albon.

The track was getting quicker as the session went on meaning the final runs would be crucial.

Ocon out after damage in Q1. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Area

As the final runs ended Albon moved up to P2 with Leclerc also up to P3. At the other end Zhou, Gasly, Ocon, Magnussen, and Stroll were all out of qualifying.

Q2 started with both Ferrari drivers under investigation for not being under the new maximum time to get round for a lap to prevent everyone going slowly on their outlaws, This would be investigated after the session so the result of qualifying might be decided in the stewards room.

Once again Verstappen was first on track and immediately went to the top of the time sheets, Shortly after that Sainz in the Ferrari sent the Tifosi wild and went quickest by 0.044, Behind them was Leclerc and Albon in the flying Williams.

Surprisingly the Mercedes pair went out to the track later than everyone else, Even with the clear track they could only manage 6th and 12th.

All 15 cars left the garages at the same time leaving the pitlane looking like the worlds most expensive car park.

When the last runs finally began the Williams of Sargeant was at the front of the pack, he didn’t improve though and stayed 14th. Joining him in not making it trough were Tsunoda, Lawson, Hulkenberg and Bottas.

Hamilton making his way into Q3. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Area

The top of the timesheet had a familiar look about it with Verstappen fastest with a 1.20.937 ahead of Leclerc, Sainz and Perez. Albon was next up continuing to impress in the Williams, Hamilton improved to 6th ahead of his team mate Russell. Completing the top 10 and making it to Q3 were Piastri, Alonso and Norris.

Q3 brought the inevitable excitement with Verstappen dipping a wheel into the gravel on his first lap but still managing to make the top 3, At the front it was Sainz from Leclerc, then Verstappen and Russell, Behind them were Albon, Perez, Norris , Piastri Hamilton and then Alonso.

The final runs of the session would be the ones to determine the grid for Sundays race.

Charles Leclerc went first and moved to provisional pole, then came Verstappen who beat him but he was then beaten by Sainz in the Ferrari with a scintillating lap time of 1.20.294, the top three separated by just 0.067

4th was George Russell, then came Perez, Albon, Piastri, Hamilton and Norris and Alonso closing out the top 10.

Sainz gets a pole at the home of Ferrari. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Area

Almost immediately after the session was completed it was confirmed no further action was necessary for the Ferrari’s earlier transgression meaning Sainz had pole in a Ferrari at Monza.

Can the Tifosi get their dream result tomorrow or will Max Verstappen continue his run and win a 10th successive race.

F1 – Where do Alpine go next after boardroom chaos?

“I always say, you can’t get nine women pregnant and hope you have a baby in a month.”

That was the bizarre quote from the now former Alpine Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer, with the American removed from the team following a bruising 12-month period.

He leaves alongside stalwart Alan Permane, with Sporting Director also out after 34 years and numerous roles with the team.

Alpine’s new motorsport director, Bruno Famin, will be acting team principal during this period, and is assessing the team’s F1 operations.

Famin said at the Belgian Grand Prix on Friday that the moves had been made with “the aim of reaching faster the level of performance we are waiting for” with Szafnauer and Permane being “not on the same line on the timeline” and that “we have a different view of the way of doing it”.

The duo’s departure was hastily announced on the Saturday of the Belgian Grand Prix, and all seems rather sudden in keeping with an often messy period for Alpine and Renault’s most recent F1 project

Chief Technical Officer Pat Fry also departs, to take a similar with Williams from November, although this is unrelated to the departures of Permane and Szafnauer.

All of this comes two weeks after the Team’s CEO Laurent Rossi, a divisive and fiery character, was moved on to work on other “special projects” with Alpine and parent company Renault.

That leaves the team needing to fill its four most senior positions at the same time.

Why did Alpine hire Szafnauer?

Szafnauer was poached from Racing Point for the 2021 season following the sacking of Cyril Abiteboul, with the passionate Frenchman ditched after heading the Renault factory programme following their return as a team in 2016.

Abiteboul had overseen genuine progress from an awful 2016 after the French marque had re-bought the ailing Lotus team after selling up in 2010, with the team on the podium twice in 2020.

He had a habit of getting into public spats, most notably with the equally spiky Christian Horner at Red Bull following Renault’s still unsolved engine woes and the signing of Daniel Ricciardo from Red Bull for 2019. That Ricciardo saw fit to ditch the Renault project after one year signalled the beginning of the end and a search for a new Team Principal.

Having worked with BAR and later the Honda F1 team for ten years from 1998 before a 12-year stint at Racing Point in its various guises from 2009, Szafnauer was seen as an experienced and shrewd operator.

He oversaw the rise of the Silverstone team from perennial back markers through to solid midfield runners and occasional podium finishers, culminating in Sergio Perez’s Sakhir GP win, garnering great respect as the team consistently punched above its weight.

He was ultimately tasked at Renault with implementing their “100 race plan” to get back to the front, a plan which save for Esteban Ocon’s shock – and fortuitous – win in Hungary that year – looks as far away as ever as the Enstone outfit languish in sixth, over 100 points behind a stated aim of fourth.

A chastening 12 months

Cracks in Alpine’s leadership can be traced back to the Hungarian Grand Prix last year.

Alpine were playing hardball with Fernando Alonso when negotiating a new contract beyond 2021, the team mistakenly believed that the Spaniard, who won two World Drivers’ Championships with the team in their mid-noughties heyday between 2005-06, had no other options.

Alonso’s move to Aston Martin announced the Monday after a race that saw him clash with Ocon came as a surprise right up to raceday in Budapest, and to rub salt into the wound has worked out for him.

He was for the first third of the season the only driver to even resemble a challenge to Red Bull and still lies third in the standings despite Aston Martin’s recent lull, the team having made great progress since a dreadful start to 2022.

Alpine then rushed to announce then junior driver Oscar Piastri as his replacement with a press release issued that day, curiously with no quotes from their supposed new driver.

Piastri would then issue a humiliating rebuke later that evening as he was in talks with McLaren, and the FIA’s Contract Recognition Board found against Alpine – criticising the team in the process.

Alpine went on to sign Pierre Gasly, who has done well for a team not operating at the level in previous years, but the damage to Alpine’s reputation, and particularly those of Rossi and Szafnauer, following the saga was significant.

Pierre Gasly’s third place in the Belgian Sprint race was a rare high in 2023 – Image: Pirelli F1

A poor start of 2022 was brought to a head by Rossi’s scathing criticism of the team’s performance, accusing it of “a performance deficit and an execution deficit” before stating, that it was “not worthy of of our resources” and going to accuse the team of “dilettantism (amatuerishness)” after a poor Bahrain Grand Prix where Ocon served three penalties, one for not serving an initial penalty correctly.

 

 

The one high point prior to Spa was an excellent podium for Ocon in Monaco and an excellent showing overall, and Gasly’s podium in the Belgian sprint ensured a positive weekend for the team.

They are currently sixth in the Constructors’ Championship on 57 points, as close to a rejuvenated McLaren in fifth as they are Williams in seventh.

What next?

The question of what next is impossible to answer with any certainty.

To fill one role at short notice is difficult but Alpine at least have the summer break to begin the process of filling those four roles, with the next race not until the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort at the end of August.

Famin is for now the interim team principal while Julian Rouse, head of the team’s young driver academy, temporarily fills the void left by Permane as interim sporting director.

Famin’s time will likely be taken up with  conducting an audit of the team’s Formula 1 operations but he cannot afford to dither.

At present the team are rudderless and with a lack of immediate options, may have to promote from within.

The team have faced accusations from former Renault driver and senior advisor Alain Prost, of a variety of faults ranging from corporate interference, a lack of structure and in the case of Rossi arrogance.

The four-time World Champion drew comparisons with Jean Todt, Ross Brawn and Michael Schumacher at Ferrari, Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda with Lewis Hamilton,  and Christian Horner, Adrian Newey with Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen at Red Bull.

Prost, who left the team in 2021, then highlighted that the team’s only successful period this century was with Flavio Briatore and Fernando Alonso as a partnership with the point being that works teams perform better if the team is separate from the company.

The team have a lot of issues to fix from arguably their lowest ebb since that 2016 nadir. They have shown in the past that they can turn things around but the job, and pressure, is bigger now.

Whether Alpine take Prost’s advice remains to be seen, at the most critical point in the team’s journey since a return to factory status.

 

Images courtesy of Pirelli F1

Hungarian Grand Prix – Daniel Ricciardo’s return analysed

Daniel Ricciardo returned to the Formula One grid after a half year hiatus at this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

The 34-year-old Australian replaced the sacked Nyck De Vries, himself dropped as suddenly as he was signed following a stellar 9th place at last year’s Italian Grand Prix.

It is a move Red Bull are almost infamous for, having swapped Brendon Hartley for Pierre Gasly at Toro Rosso in 2018, Gasly out for Alex Albon in 2020 and Daniil Kvyat out for Max Verstappen back in 2016. How did that last one go?

Ricciardo has resurfaced at Alpha Tauri following a disastrous spell at McLaren during which he never matched Lando Norris. That saw the Woking team pay the eight time winner to terminate his contract a year early to make way for compatriot Oscar Piastri.

This was after initially stating that he did not want come back to Formula One in back of the grid machinery, despite the team with whom Ricciardo started out with in 2012 – save for a half season cameo at HRT the year before – currently bottom of the Constructors’ Championship.

So why has he come back, how did he end up off the grid, what could he achieve and have we learnt anything from his first outing at the Hungaroring?

How did we get here?

Ricciardo left Red Bull with his stock among the highest on the Formula One grid at the end of 2018.

Ricciardo had a successful first spell with Red Bull before leaving at the end of 2018. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

 

He had a successful five years with the team, winning three times in his first season in 2014 which ultimately saw 4-time World Champion and team leader Sebastian Vettel seek refuge at Ferrari.

He would go on to win seven times for Red Bull including a memorable success at the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix, where he held off challenges from Vettel and Lewis Hamilton despite a total ERS failure leaving him over 100 bhp down on power.

A couple of high profile incidents with Verstappen, at Budapest in 2017 and more famously in Baku the following year saw things begin to sour and Ricciardo joined Renault for 2019.

A sluggish 2019 for the Enstone team made way for a better 2020, but by the start of that season he’d already decided to abandon the Renault project before the first race of the Covid-delayed season to sign for McLaren.

He was expected to lead the Woking outfit, paired with Lando Norris but despite victory at Monza during his debut season, it did not work out that way.

Ricciardo struggled badly at McLaren, but did win their first race since 2012 with victory at 2021 Italian Grand Prix (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202109120251 // Usage for editorial use only //

Ricciardo struggled with McLaren’s inconsistencies on corner entry during both years there, and scored roughly a third of the points scored by Norris during that period and left the team a shadow of the driver that deposed a reigning four-time champion from Red Bull eight years prior.

Why move to Alpha Tauri, and what might he gain? 

He took refuge as Red Bull’s third driver to work on the simulator and assess options for the upcoming seasons, where even they noticed “bad habits” had crept in as Ricciardo’s driving had become so compromised by his attempts to change his driving style to try to suit McLaren.

Ricciardo says that he’s realised he needs to   drive naturally to get the best out of himself and the car, rather than change his style.

He was expected to appear on certain race weekends in an ambassadorial role for Red Bull and work on their simulator at the factory.

That was until Nyck De Vries’ performances began to fade badly in the face of a solid if low key season from Yuki Tsunoda at Red Bull’s junior team.

De Vries’ struggles for consistency coupled with a tendency to collide with other drivers such as Kevin Magnussen in Canada or the wall such as twice in Baku had led to questions over whether the Dutchman would see out 2023.

At the same time, Red Bull’s other driver Sergio Perez was experiencing struggles of his own, failing to get into the final part of qualifying for five straight races in comfortably the best car on the grid, and only breaking that duck this weekend with ninth place.

Sergio Perez (right) has struggled for form and consistency in a troubled 2023 (Red Bull Content Pool / Getty Images)

Ricciardo has not taken the seat because his ultimate goal is to drive for Alpha Tauri – his mind has not changed from his comments at the end of last season.

The return to Alpha Tauri is to effectively put himself in the shop window, whether that is to replace Perez at Red Bull for this or next year. Perez has a contract for 2024.

If Ricciardo shows well and ultimately beats Tsunoda, Red Bull will know that they have a competitive replacement should Perez, 110 points (over four race victories) behind Verstappen, continue to falter and crucially an experienced driver who has raced at the front of the grid before. Being a known quantity may go in his favour.

Can we learn anything from his return this weekend?

As we’ve seen already with Red Bull it would be foolish to judge a driver’s potential from one race, as with De Vries.

The signs are good – Ricciardo’s pace in a recent tyre test at Silverstone in the RB19 was competitive, and out of the car he appears a completely different man to the one unceremoniously dumped by McLaren.

His results on the track were never going to be earth-shattering this weekend – two tenth places are the team’s best result courtesy of Tsuonda and they are on average the ninth slowest car on the grid.

Ricciardo made a solid return to the grid at the Hungaroring, taking 13th place (Red Bull Content Pool / Getty)

After outqualifying Tsunoda to line up 13th, the first time in five races Alpha Tauri have gotten out of Q1, Ricciardo’s cause wasn’t helped when Zhou Guanyu used his Alpha Tauri as a battering ram against the Alpines of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly.

That saw him drop to 18th but the pace was there and he brought himself back up to 13th with a mixture of decent pace relative to machinery and a Ricciardo-inspired strategy call to ditch hard tyres after 11 laps on lap 29, and take fresh mediums to the end.

He and Alpha Tauri Team Principal Franz Tost believe it could be four races before the Australian is properly up to speed, but should the team – and Red Bull – see the old Ricciardo as opposed to the McLaren-spec one then it is possible that he may take the second Red Bull seat.

Perez, for his part, says that it is in his (Perez’s) hands and the Mexican is right. If he stops making basic errors such as dropping a wheel onto the grass on his first lap of the weekend, or crashing into the wall in Q1 in Monaco, then Red Bull will see no reason to replace him.

If he doesn’t, the door is very much ajar.

Images courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool / Getty Images / Pirelli F1 Media

Hungarian Grand Prix – Verstappen takes a crushing win as Red Bull break win record

Max Verstappen  won at a canter to take a seventh win in a row and ninth of the 2023 season.

His win means that Red Bull break McLaren’s record of 11 straight victories in 1988, with the Milton Keynes outfit now on their 12 straight triumph.

The result means Verstappen has a championship advantage of 110 points, more than four race victories without reply, over teammate Sergio Perez.

His 44th career win came ahead of Lando Norris, who took consecutive podiums for the first time in his career after second in Silverstone last time out, and a resurgent Perez in third.

Polesitter Lewis Hamilton was down in fourth after a tough first corner saw him lose places to Verstappen, eventual fifth place finisher Oscar Piastri and Norris at Turn 2.

Piastri lost pace after his first stop, but these previous two weekends have shown a real coming of age having not raced in 2022 and starting life in Formula One with an undercooked McLaren.

George Russell rose well from 18th on the grid to finish sixth after Charles Leclerc’s penalty dropped the Monegasque to seventh ahead of Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz.

Fernando Alonso on the 20th anniversary since his first Grand Prix win was ninth as Aston Martin completed a Noah’s Ark top 10 with Lance Stroll in tenth.

A good initial launch at the start from Hamilton was wasted in the second phase and Verstappen got alongside, and crucially for Turn One, the inside to block pass his rival and stop his run on the exit.

That allowed Piastri to take the inside and move to second, with Hamilton boxed in to allow Norris a run on the outside of the second corner.

Behind them an awful start from fifth for Zhou Guanyu in the Alfa Romeo left him out of sync on the run to the first corner and he outbraked himself to hit the back of the returning Daniel Ricciardo’s Alpha Tauri.

That sent the Australian into the Alpine of Esteban Ocon, who launched over his teammate Pierre Gasly to break not only car but his seat, and resulted in another double retirement for the Enstone team.

Behind Verstappen the story was how quickly Perez could make his way through the field from ninth on the grid.

The Mexican was quickly into his stride dispatching the Alfa Romeos of Zhou and Valtteri Bottas, who started seventh, before taking Alonso’s seventh early on.

From there he settled behind the Ferrari duo, before Sainz stopped on lap 16 to release Perez – Leclerc would follow suit shortly after.

After that he stalked Hamilton’s Mercedes through the second stint, the both catching Piastri who had lost out to Norris in the first round of pit stops.

Both Perez and Piastri pitted on lap 44 to leave Hamilton stranded on old hards for a further six laps, and Perez passed Piastri three laps after their stops.

Norris proved to be a bridge too far in second and he couldn’t make it a 1-2 on a day of history for Red Bull.

The race marked a solid return to F1 for Daniel Ricciardo, who’s 13th for Alpha Tauri capped off a weekend that saw him outqualify and outrace teammate Yuki Tsunoda.

Red Bull in a class of their own

Verstappen and Red Bull were once again in a class of their own. (Getty/Red Bull Content Pool)

Verstappen made a mockery of Hamilton’s pole position and talk of a Mercedes victory within the first ten seconds of the race.

From there, his afternoon followed a familiar pattern in that he controlled the race, stretched out a comfortable lead and completed a trouble free run to the flag.

Red Bull’s 12th win broke a 35-year-old record set by McLaren for wins in a row and, as with 1988, it’s only the prospect of a double DNF that looks set to stop them from winning every race this season.

McLaren won 15 of 16 races that year, and a 100% record season is surely a target now for the current World Champions.

McLaren prove themselves

McLaren had not been expected to match the heights of the British Grand Prix, with their car suited to high speed corners at Silverstone and the team struggling on lower speed corners that characterise the Hungaroring circuit.

So it was a surprise to see Norris and Piastri qualify in third and fourth on Saturday, and aside from Perez recovering from another out of position start to finish roughly where his Red Bull should have been, they stayed there.

Piastri faded somewhat after his second stop eventually finish fifth but the rookie can be pleased with his efforts nonetheless on a circuit he hasn’t raced on since 2020.

Lando Norris
Lando Norris took his second straight podium, for the first ever time (Pirelli F1 Media)

Norris meanwhile underlined his credentials as a future world champion by backing up second place last time out with another runners-up finish in Budapest as McLaren look like they are here to stay.

Ferrari and Aston Martin falter

Put kindly, Ferrari had another race to forget.

After Carlos Sainz qualified 11th and Leclerc sixth, their pace was badly shown up by McLaren’s improvement and George Russell coming through from 18th on the grid to beat the pair of them in sixth.

Leclerc was heard less than impressed on the radio with their strategy, and lost time in the pit stops with a slow rear left tyre change.

For Aston Martin, their pace since the Austrian Grand Prix has slowly slipped away culminating in a finish this weekend at the very rear of the points in ninth and tenth for Alonso and Stroll.

The Silverstone team has never counted the Hungaroring among its favourite tracks, but there’s a lot of work to be done if they are once more emerge as one of Red Bull’s primary challengers.

Mercedes’ contrasting day.

When Lewis Hamilton woke this morning fresh from a shock 104th pole position yesterday, he cannot have expected fourth to be the best that his Mercedes could achieve today.

Mercedes struggled badly in the middle of the race as hard tyres and heavy fuel took a heavy toll in the second stint and ultimately extinguished any chance of a podium – a late salvo not enough for Hamilton to overhaul Perez.

Similarly, when Russell was tucking into his morning Weetabix, he cannot have expected sixth place from 18th on a track where overtaking is difficult.

He was helped slightly by Zhou’s skittling of the Alpines at Turn One, but his pace was solid late on and struggles for pace on the hard tyre masked by being in a train of slower cars earlier in the race, and his charge against a spent Ferrari team ensured that he salvaged a good result from an awful Saturday.

Images courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool / Getty mages, and Pirelli F1

Hamilton takes record ninth pole for Hungarian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton has taken pole for tomorrow’s Hungarian Grand Prix – his first since 2021 – setting a record for the most number of pole positions at one circuit by one driver. He lines up ahead of Max Verstappen and Lando Norris, with the trio separated by only +0.085.

It was the first try-out of a new qualifying format, with drivers mandated to use only hard tyres in Q1, medium tyres in Q2 and soft tyres in Q3.

2023 Hungarian Grand Prix, Friday – Steve Etherington

McLaren locked out the second row, further delivering on their upgrades from the last round in Silverstone. Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu had a strong showing in fifth, having topped Q1 earlier.

Slightly further down in the top ten, Perez finally put an end to his run of Q1 eliminations and lines up P9 on the grid for tomorrow’s race.

In his first qualifying session back in F1 – having been brought in as a replacement for Nyck de Vries at Alpha Tauri – Daniel Ricciardo ended up P13, with team-mate Yuki Tsunoda in P17.

Although Mercedes have reason to celebrate with Hamilton’s pole, it was not an entirely great day for the team. George Russell complained about traffic on the build-up to his last Q1 lap and wasn’t able to improve, finding himself all the way down in P18.

Hungarian Grand Prix – Red Bull favourites as Ricciardo returns

Red Bull will once again pitch up to the Hungaroring as favourites to emerge victorious and continue a perfect start to 2023.

The Milton Keynes team will be bringing a raft of upgrades including changes to the cooling slot and reprofiled sidepods (Watch out copycats) but arguably its biggest story this week is with its junior team.

Max Verstappen has long since vanquished any hope of a championship fight and now holds a near 100 point lead in the standings over teammate Sergio Perez.

Verstappen has only failed to win twice this season and has eight victories.

The Hungarian Grand Prix traditionally marks the halfway point of the Formula One season, and as Round 11 this season is no different.

At Alpha Tauri, Nyck De Vries will not see even half the season out as the 2021 Formula E champion was unceremoniously dumped out of Red Bull’s B Team in favour of a return of a familiar face.

Daniel Ricciardo returns to the place where it all began, save for a half season in 2011 at HRT, by rejoining the team first knwon as Toro Rosso.

Ricciardo, 34, had previously said that he would not return unless  it was in a competitive seat.

Alpha Tauri are on average ninth quickest in 2023 and are bottom of the Constructors’ this season with two points courtesy of Yuki Tsunoda.

Clearly that is not what the affable Australian meant, but he has identified it as a chance to shown Red Bull that the Honey Badger is still in there – Ricciardo did win eight Grands Prix with Red Bull and McLaren and was renowned for his wheel to wheel racing with Red Bull.

With Perez faltering at Red Bull – he’s failed to get into the final part of qualifying since Miami in May, there is talk that should Ricciardo impress again that he could make a sensational return to the team he quit in 2018.

How realistic that is remains to be seen.

Away from Red Bull’s latest driver swap, the battle for best of the rest looks set to once more see-saw between Aston Martin, McLaren, Mercedes and Ferrari.

Ferrari’s race management was dismal at Silverstone last time out and the Scuderia could only manage ninth and tenth with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz after a poor tyre choice and strategy saw them slip backwards after a late Safety Car.

Mercedes managed to return to the podium with Lewis Hamilton, who benefitted at the expense of McLaren driver Oscar Piastri to move up to third during that safety car period, but were surprised by McLaren’s sudden gain in pace.

Lando Norris was second for the Papaya outfit, and left Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff to suggest that their rivals’ progress is a positive, and that McLaren’s jump shows that huge progress is possible.

McLaren for their part do not expect to hit the heights of second and fourth this weekend, with the twisty Budapest track exposing their slow corner weakness much more than Silverstone, but the base package is still expected to score points this weekend.

That leaves Aston Martin as Mercedes’ likely best of the rest challengers.

The Silverstone team have been low key of late, failing to reach the podium at either Austria or the British Grand Prix, two layouts which favour high speed performance and low drag.

They’ve shown a preference for slower speed tracks and were arguably the closest team to toppling Red Bull this season, when a strategic error arguably cost them the win at a wet Monaco Grand Prix.

This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of Fernando Alonso’s first win, then for Renault, at the 2003 Hungarian Grand Prix.

Red Bull are expected to make further history this weekend, where victory would be their 12th in a row and see them out on their own after previously tying with McLaren’s 11 in the late 1980s.

Verstappen’s clean sweep in Austria amongst Track Limit Dramas.

Verstappen took a clean sweep in Austria with Leclerc in P2 and Perez making a great recovery drive to finish on the podium. But, late penalties meant the on-track finishing positions changed hours after the race. 

Less than 24 hours after an entertaining Sprint, F1 fans settled down to watch the Grand Prix with the grid set from Friday’s qualifying session. Unlike Sprint Saturday, Sunday’s race was set to be dry with the Ferrari’s able to launch a double attack on Verstappen ahead, if they could catch him.

Vertappen narrowly leading Leclerc into turn 4. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Area.

Lights out and Verstappen got a clean start with the Ferrari’s following behind. Both Mercedes had a better launch than Norris in front, and Hamilton went around the outside of the McLaren while a small tangle with Stroll behind meant Norris was compromised and had to give the place up to Hamilton.

Further back in the pack many were trying to get three wide through turn 1 which didn’t end well for Tsunoda who picked up front wing damage. Having lost downforce he locked up into turn 4 but was able to make it back to the pits for a quick front wing change. However, a safety car was deployed at the end of lap 2 to recover the debris from the Alpha Tauri.

On the restart everyone got away cleanly with very few dramas. The Alpha Tauri’s were getting very close together while Magnussen tried to go around the outside of turn 4 but managed to get back on track. Perez also gained a position on Ocon.

Just nine laps in and this is where the track limits debacle began. Norris was reporting Hamilton using every inch possible and slightly more on each lap. This was due to a brake issue Hamilton was managing meaning he couldn’t slow the car properly, however he did manage to pick up a black and white flag by lap 13.

While this was happening, Hamilton’s teammate, Russell, was under pressure from Perez. It took a few laps of great defending from the Mercedes but he made a mistake into turn 3 and went wide, leaving the door open for the Mexican driver to take advantage of DRS and make his move which eventually stuck by turn 4.

One lap later, a very slow Haas pulled to the side of the track. Hulkenburg lost power and had to retire the car. A Virtual Safety Car was deployed as they pulled the stricken vehicle to the escape road. However, it only took them two laps, and by lap 16 the green flag was shown.

Confusion now rained over the grid with main making pitstops as this was the first stop window of the day. However, Ferrari and Aston Martin missed the initial VSC call so came in just as the green flag was shown. To make matters worse for Ferrari, their double stack didn’t work, Leclerc’s stop was slow which compromised Sainz who came out in P6, losing 3 places.

A four car battle on track. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Area.

Through the now interesting developments in the race, Tsunoda was the second driver to pick up a penalty for track limits. Meanwhile Ocon, Albon, Magnussen, Stoll and Gasly had an intense battle on lap 20. It was hard to keep up with everything going on.

Despite most coming in for a change of tyres during the VSC, Verstappen chose to stay out and not come in until lap 25. He came out having lost two places behind the Ferrari’s now in P1 and P2. There was finally action for the lead however, this was not to last very long because within five laps Verstappen was back out in front.

As the race began to settle again Norris in his upgraded McLaren was pressuring Hamilton at every turn. On lap 28 he made a great move around the outside of turn 4 to make it into P4. Some great racing between the brits.

Sainz then became the third victim of the time penatlies fro track limits while Ocon was given one for an unsafe release during the stops. At this point four drivers had penalties but this was not the end.

Gasly was added to the list on lap 38 with De Vries picking up a penalty for pushing Magnussen out wide around turns 5 and 6. While it may seem like there were a lot of penalties, at this point nearly half the grid had been shown the black and white flag, so some penalties were taking longer than normal to be given.

To make matters worse for Tsunoda he was given a 10 second time penalty for not serving his original penalty correctly. This was added to his time at the end of the race. 

The action on track never stopped. Perez was making his way through the pack and came up against Sainz in P4 on lap 59. This led to a three-lap long battle between the drivers as Sainz attempted to hold off the faster car behind. After some great racing however, Perez learned to hang back slightly into turn 3 and gain DRS towards turn 4, eventually making the move stick.

Perez finally overtakes Sainz.

Sargent and Magnussen picked up time penalties for track limits while Verstappen picked up his 7th Grand Prix win of the year. However, the race was not over yet.

Aston Martin lodge a protest of the results which was accepted and reviewed. The complaint was regarding the track limits violations which seemingly hadn’t all been through the stewards so more penalties were yet to be dished out.

In total 83 lap times were deleted, resulting in the following penalties:

Sainz – 10 seconds, Hamilton – 10 seconds, Gasly – 10 seconds, Albon – 10 seconds, Ocon – 30 seconds, Sargent – 10 seconds, De Vries – 15 seconds, Tsunoda – 5 seconds.

It is fair to say the track limits issue tainted the race with results being decided hours after the chequered flag dropped. This will be a talking point at least for the next week as we head to the British Grand Prix next where track limits are not considered as much of an issue.

Canadian Grand Prix: Verstappen Dominates in Montreal

Max Verstappen took a lights-to-flag victory in Montreal to complete another dominant weekend for Red Bull Racing.

The win is Red Bull’s 100th in Formula One since the energy drinks company bought Ford out in 2005, and also puts Max Verstappen level on wins with Ayrton Senna at 41.

Triumph at the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve sees the Dutchman extend his championship lead over teammate Sergio Perez to 69 points, as Red Bull now head Mercedes in the Conctructors’ Championship by a whopping 154 points.

Fernando Alonso in his Aston Martin held on for second ahead of a charging Lewis Hamilton for Mercedes, while the two Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz recovered to fourth and fifth respectively.

Perez ended a disappointing sixth from 12th on the grid, a point for fastest lap scant consolation for the Mexican who suffered a third disappointing weekend in a row.

As has been the norm in 2023, Verstappen led away from the start and controlled the race from the outset, briefly interrupted by a Safety Car brought out after 12 laps following George Russell’s collision with the barriers.

From there, the two-time World Champion controlled the race, with Verstappen even able to laugh at nearly crashing at Turn Nine in the same way Russell did, such was his comfort five laps from the end.

The big fight was for second, as Hamilton passed Alonso off at the start and held station until shortly after the Safety Car returned to the pits, when Alonso outbraked his old nemesis into the final chicane and gently broke away.

In truth from there on, the Spaniard’s main annoyance after surviving an early race brush with the Turn 4 barrier was having to lift and coast despite that Safety Car, owing to a brake wear problem.

Those two were closely followed by Russell until lap 12, the Norfolk driver clouting the wall after taking too much kerb at Turn 9.

He was able to carry on until 20 laps from the end, when a brake issue that was a legacy of that crash damage sustained from that early race shunt, having fought up to 8th from there.

Driver of the Day Alexander Albon was an excellent seventh in his much upgraded Williams, six points lifting the Grove team off the bottom of the Constructors’ Championship.

That came courtesy of Williams’ straight line speed, with Esteban Ocon, Lando Norris, Lance Stroll, Valtteri Bottas, Oscar Piastri and Pierre Gasly all within five seconds of the Thai driver at race end. A penalty dropped Norris to 13th at race end.

Aston Martin and Mercedes begin to close the gap?

In Alonso and Hamilton, Aston Martin and Mercedes have two world class drivers reinvigorated of late.

Alonso has been the closest thing to a challenge Red Bull has had all season, while Hamilton was in the fight for second all the way until the end, a huge upgrade package from Mercedes a introduced a month ago paying dividends.

This weekend it was Aston Martin’s turn to bring upgrades, and in finishing eight seconds behind Verstappen the Silverstone squad will feel those improvements have worked, irrespective of whether Red Bull weren’t exactly going flat out.

Further back, Stroll fought his way up to ninth after a poor qualifying session, a penalty and a compromised race strategy as Mercedes’ George Russell was running well before his incident on lap 12.

More punishment for Perez

For Sergio Perez it was another lacklustre weekend as for a third straight race, the man second in the standings was punished for a poor qualifying performance.

It was another disappointing weekend for Sergio Perez

Starting 12th, he failed to make much of an impact on those ahead barring a first lap scrap with Sainz until the Safety Car saw him jump to sixth on the alternative strategy.

He failed to use the advantage of softer medium tyres against the Ferraris ahead later in the race having originally started on hard tyres, and was dropped by the Scuderia pair to a point where Red Bull elected to pit him for a go at the fastest lap, an extra point that will provide scant consolation.

The gap between he and teammate Verstappen is almost three full races, and it is now a question of when the two-time World Champion wins the 2023 Drivers’ crown.

Any notion of a title challenge has long since disappeared.

Improvements from Ferrari.

Ferrari have been much maligned for their race management and strategy over the last two seasons, but they deserve credit for turning a poor Saturday into a good Sunday.

It looked as if old problems would rear their head again when Leclerc went out of qualifying early, and a penalty for Sainz drop the Spaniard to 11th on the grid.

The call to stay out on medium tyres looked bold when the Safety Car came out on lap 12, but both Sainz and Leclerc managed used mediums well until laps 39 and 40 before fitting fresh hards.

Sainz may have been a driver behind that decision after appearing to resist a call to pit on lap 32, but operationally this was much better for the Prancing Horse.

Awesome Albon 

The final word must be saved for Williams and Alex Albon.

It was a shock to see the Thai driver top Q2 on Saturday and he was expected to fall back from 10th on the grid.

It didn’t play out that way and good strategy, good straight line speed coupled with a litany of upgrades on Albon’s car this weekend saw him lead home a train two-stoppers for seventh place, which marks the best result for Williams since Spa’s 2021 “race” when George Russell stood on the podium.

That lifts Williams off the bottom of the Constructors’ Standings.

 

Images courtesy of Pirelli Sport

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