F2 Russia preview: title in De Vries’ hands

The 2019 Formula 2 Championship could be decided at this weekend’s penultimate round in Sochi, Russia, as points leader Nyck de Vries has his first chance to wrap up the title.

De Vries has been the runaway title leader this year, having amassed three wins, seven further podiums and four pole positions, and finishing in the points in every race bar one. This has put the ART driver on 225 points going into the penultimate round at the Sochi Autodrom, 59 clear of nearest rival Nicholas Latifi.

Mathematically speaking, there are still four drivers that can take the title away from De Vries: Latifi, Luca Ghiotto, Jack Aitken and Sergio Sette Camara. But such is the gulf between De Vries and his challengers, that if those four fail to score even in the feature race, De Vries can wrap up the title by finishing anywhere in the top five—or as low as seventh, if he also secures the four points for pole position.

But while it’s unlikely that all four of De Vries’ rivals will finish outside the top ten in Saturday’s feature race, they can’t afford to squander any opportunities this weekend as at least one of them needs to outscore De Vries by 12 points or more to take the fight down to the wire in Abu Dhabi.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

With the top five focusing on the championship this weekend, those drivers sitting just behind them in the standings will be hoping that preoccupation will give them a chance to steal some major results before the end of the season.

Nobuharu Matsushita currently sits sixth in the championship, out of title contention on 116 points. The Honda junior driver said earlier in the year that his goal was to finish in the top four in the standings, to earn him the necessary superlicence points to graduate to F1 with Toro Rosso.

But although he has two feature race wins to his name this year, Matsushita is still 37 points adrift of fourth-placed Aitken—perfectly achievable with 96 points still up for grabs, but a tall order given Aitken’s form this year.

And as if Matsushita’s goal of fourth place wasn’t already far enough away, he may yet drop another place in the standings this weekend with Renault junior driver Guanyu Zhou only one point behind him in eighth.

Zhou, who recently tested Renault’s 2017-spec F1 car, has been F2’s standout rookie this year, accumulating four third-place finishes and a pole position at Silverstone. However his maiden win at this level still eludes him, and he will be hungrier than ever to claim it this weekend and tee himself up as a 2020 title contender.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

BWT Arden and the Sauber Junior Team by Charouz will once again field full entries this weekend, after both entered just one car each at Monza following the tragic loss of Anthoine Hubert and injury of Juan Manuel Correa at Spa last month.

GP2 and F2 veteran Artem Markelov has been brought in to take over Arden’s second car alongside Tatiana Calderon. He will carry the number 22, as Hubert’s number 19 has been officially retired for the rest of the season.

Meanwhile, Sauber have signed Matevos Isaakyan to fill Correa’s place for the final two rounds. The 21-year-old drove for SMP in the World Endurance Championship last year, and finished runner-up in the 2017 Formula V8 3.5 series. Together with Markelov and ART’s Nikita Mazepin, Isaakyan will make it three Russians on the grid for their home event.

Last week, Correa’s family issued an update on his condition that said he had been removed from his induced coma and no longer needed an ECMO machine to assist his breathing. However, he remains in a serious condition in intensive care and is awaiting major surgery to his right leg, which is being delayed until his lungs are capable of withstanding the operation.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

Sauber renamed Alfa Romeo Racing for 2019

The team previously known as Sauber Alfa Romeo F1 Team has announced its renaming as Alfa Romeo Racing ahead of the 2019 season.

A partnership between Sauber and Alfa Romeo was forged prior to 2018, and resulted in the team finishing P8 in the constructors’ championship thanks to the efforts of its drivers Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson.

Today’s announcement, however, means that the Sauber name will disappear from the F1 grid after 25 years in the sport. It first appeared back in 1993, and survived even when BMW bought the team in 2006.

“It is a pleasure to announce that we will enter the 2019 Formula One World Championship with the Team name Alfa Romeo Racing,” said team principal Frederic Vasseur. “After initiating the collaboration with our title sponsor Alfa Romeo in 2018, our team made fantastic progress on the technical, commercial and sporting side.

“This has given a boost of motivation to each team member, be that track-side or at the headquarter in Switzerland, as the hard work invested has become reflected in our results. We aim to continue developing every sector of our team while allowing our passion for racing, technology and design to drive us forward.”

Charles Leclerc, Alfa Romeo Sauber C37 at Formula One World Championship, Rd20, Brazilian Grand Prix, Practice, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday 9 November 2018.

Alfa Romeo was last involved in F1 back in 1985, and is best known for its title-winning campaigns in F1’s first two seasons in 1950 and 1951. In 2019, its drivers will be 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen, and Ferrari junior Antonio Giovinazzi.

Michael Manley, CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automotives, said, “Alfa Romeo Racing is a new name with a long history in Formula One. We’re proud to collaborate with Sauber in bringing Alfa Romeo’s tradition of technical excellence and Italian panache to the pinnacle of motorsport.

“Make no mistake: with Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi on one side of the pit wall and Alfa Romeo and Sauber expertise on the other, we are here to compete.”

 

[Featured image – Alfa Romeo Racing]

Kimi Raikkonen at Sauber: Why this move could be beneficial for both sides

Kimi Raikkonen is back at Sauber, in a move that many did not see it coming, although it could prove the best choice for him and the Swiss team.

Back in June, Charles Leclerc was heavily rumoured with a move to Ferrari, asa replacement for Kimi Raikkonen, whose future was still uncertain.  The ‘Iceman’ had been in good form up until that point, with three podiums to his name. But, he was at the exit door in Maranello.

Kimi Raikkonen at Abu Dhabi. Image Courtesy of Ferrari Media

The late chairman of Ferrari, Sergio Marchionne, had made his mind since the Canadian Grand Prix, and his sudden death did not change the plan he had put forward: Leclerc in, Raikkonen out.

The fact that the young Monegasque will join forces with Sebastian Vettel in 2019 is very fortunate for him, a boyhood dream come true. He has all the potential to make this move work, to achieve his and his team’s goals.  However, the Raikkonen-Sauber collaboration seems to have an advantage.

No, Alfa Romeo-Sauber will not be on its ‘big sister’s’ level, but the Finn is an experienced driver and Hinwil has done an excellent job on getting back in the hunt at the midfield group of the grid.

As far as Raikkonen is concerned, the 39 year old driver is highly motivated, as everyone has seen from this year’s campaign, in which the stood on the podium 12 times, and won once. This was -probably- his best season since the 2007 one, and that came from a man who many criticised for his lack of commitment and motive. This new challenge can regenerate him, since he will be able to be the no.1 driver in a team he knows like the back of his hand (from his 2001 tenure with it).

Apart from that, Raikkonen has been proven exceptional on giving feedback and setting the car to better suit his driving style, and Sauber needs that ability from its headline driver, in order to up its game on the midfield battle. He is in fine form and he can help his old team get back on the top 5.

Since Sauber was mentioned, the Swiss team has a very big advantage over any other team on the middle pack of the grid: the support from Ferrari. The Alfa Romeo rebranding acted as a salvation for them, after a horrendous 2017 season, and this was just the beginning. Ferrari made everything it could to make sure its ‘little sister’ had a fresh start: new team principal (Fred Vasseur), new technical director (Simone Resta), and a higher budget meant that Hinwil could go for a big push again, and remind to every competitor that it is a force to be reckoned. Add to that a driver like Raikkonen, and you’ve got yourself a perfect combination of experience and know-how.

Essentially, Kimi Raikkonen and Sauber had to be together for next year’s campaign, because both of them will be able to gain so much more than any other team-driver collaboration on the 2019 grid – or so we hope.

Leclerc Impresses For Ferrari On Day Two Of Pirelli Tyre Tests

Young 21-year-old Monegasque Charles Leclerc has impressed on his first outing for Ferrari this week during day two of the Pirelli tyre tests in Abu Dhabi. With the 2016 GP3 title and 2017 Formula 2 championships already under his belt, it’s hard not to imagine this young talent becoming Formula One champion in the future.

Day one of the testing, which was held on Tuesday, ended with teammate Sebastian Vettel at the top of the timesheets after sixty-nine laps on the 2018 hypersoft compound, setting an impressive time of 1m 36.812s in front of Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas, who set a 1m 37.231 on what Pirelli called ‘Compound 5’ – the softest tyre that will be on offer next year.

Over the course of day one, twelve drivers took to the Yas Marina circuit, including newbie for 2019 Lando Norris driving for McLaren and George Russell for Williams. It was also an opportunity for Polish driver Robert Kubica to get back into the car after his horrifying rally accident eight years ago. Kubica took over from George Russell during the afternoon stint.

Vettel struggled at the beginning of the day after a minor crash at turn one which brought out the red flag. However, he was able to set decent enough times throughout the long nine-hour session.

YAS MARINA CIRCUIT, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – NOVEMBER 27: Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo Sauber C37 during the Test Days at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2018 in Yas Marina Circuit, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Joe Portlock / LAT Images)

Kimi Raikkonen had a disappointing end to his first outing for Alfa Romeo Sauber after suffering a technical issue in the closing stages of the test. In his F1 test debut, Pietro Fittipaldi also ran into some issues when his Haas stopped on track early on in the session, this too bringing out the red flag.

Decent times were set by all on day one, Vettel topping the times from Bottas, Stroll, Verstappen and Perez, with Lando Norris an impressive sixth. Hulkenberg finished the day in seventh followed by Fittipaldi, Kubica and Russell. Raikkonen finished in eleventh place after his earlier struggles and Toro Rosso’s Sean Gelael finished last with a 1m 40.435s.

Day two of the testing brought many surprises, most impressive of all being Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who finished at the top of the timesheets after a whopping 135 laps on the new ‘Compound 5’. Leclerc’s fastest lap, a 1m36.450s, was quicker than the time Sebastian Vettel had set on the previous day, however Sebastian set his time on the 2018 compound.

(L to R): Lance Stroll (CDN) Racing Point Force India F1 Team with Bradley Joyce (GBR) Racing Point Force India F1 Race Engineer.
Formula One Testing, Tuesday 27th November 2018. Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Pierre Gasly, in his first outing for Red Bull Racing, finished the session on P2 setting a time of 1m37.916s, also on the new 2019 compound tyres. Lance Stroll who was testing for Force India slotted in third place, followed by Valtteri Bottas and new McLaren driver Carlos Sainz. In sixth place was Renault’s Artem Markelov, followed by George Russell and returning Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat. In ninth was Haas’ debutant test driver, F2’s Louis Deletraz, in tenth was Robert Kubica and in eleventh position was Sauber’s Antonio Giovinazzi.

The session was mainly incident free, however in the afternoon Giovinazzi caused the red flag to come out after his Sauber came to a halt in the tunnel exiting the pitlane.

This test in Abu Dhabi officially marks the end of the 2018 season, the next set of testing days being pre-season in Barcelona. Will Leclerc’s top form continue into the new season? Could we see the youngest Formula One champion ever be crowned? With just over one hundred days to go until lights out in Melbourne, we are eager to see what happens in 2019!

The Chequered Flag Falls On The 2018 Season With Dramatic Finale in Abu Dhabi

After another impressive season with Mercedes, it seems that nothing could stop five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton from dominating the race track once again on Sunday afternoon in a somewhat dramatic fashion.

Qualifying results meant that Mercedes had a front row lockout, Hamilton taking prime place on pole position followed by Bottas in second, ahead of the two Ferrari’s of Vettel and Raikkonen in third and fourth, and the two Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen in fifth and sixth. The top ten was completed by Romain Grosjean in seventh, an impressive lap time put Charles Leclerc in eighth, Esteban Ocon  was ninth and rounding out the top ten was Nico Hulkenberg for Renault.

As daylight faded and the floodlights dominated the night sky, the drivers lined up on the grid, many facing an emotional race ahead; the likes of Kimi Raikkonen who was about to take on his last race for Ferrari, Daniel Ricciardo’s last dance for Red Bull Racing, and of course Fernando Alonso’s final ever Formula One race. It was going to be a challenging afternoon in the desert.

Lights out and both Mercedes, followed by both Ferraris and Daniel Ricciardo, got a clean start into turn one, chased by the rest of the pack. Grosjean and Alonso both ran wide but quickly rejoined, with Fernando losing a few places to Ericsson and Gasly. Max Verstappen was strong off the line, however he encountered a problem with a water temperature sensor which temporarily slowed him into turn two, dropping him down the order.  After speaking over the team radio, Max managed to reset the system and the sensor issue was resolved.

2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Sunday – Steve Etherington

Leclerc shot up the order to sixth followed by Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Verstappen, Ocon, Sainz and Perez. Leclerc was closing in on Ricciardo and the two switched places numerous times, with Daniel eventually fighting his way back up the field.

Meanwhile, Grosjean and Hulkenberg were fighting behind them for position. Grosjean’s Haas was on the outside line going into the corner, Hulkenberg right alongside him. Nico attempted to move across in front of Grosjean, however he misjudged the corner and, as a result, the pair locked wheels, forcing Hulkenberg’s car to barrel through the air into the barriers, the car coming to rest upside down and with some flames igniting in some of the rear bodywork. The Safety Car was deployed and, thankfully, Nico was unscathed if not a little shaken from the accident.

It was a disappointing race for Kimi Raikkonen whose Ferrari came to a stand still on the start-finish straight at the end of lap seven, the display on his steering wheel going black; a disappointing end to his last race for Ferrari.

Kimi’s technical issue meant that Virtual Safety Car was deployed and Mercedes took the plunge, deciding to bring Hamilton in for supersoft tyres on lap eight of fifty-five. He emerged in P5.

Numerous battles were being had across the board, notably between Ocon and Verstappen who had collided in Brazil. This time, Max got the place without any problems. Gasly and Ericsson were having a scrap before Ericsson’s car suffered a technical failure, and Ocon and Sainz were scrapping for P7.

2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Sunday – Steve Etherington

By lap 23, many of the drivers had pitted. However, Red Bull decided to keep Daniel Ricciardo out for a long stint on the ultrasofts, the Australian leading the race before pitting on lap 34 for supersofts, the slower of the compounds. He came out of the pitlane in P5 behind teammate Verstappen.

By lap 35 Bottas was struggling, locking up on several occasions. Sebastian Vettel took advantage of this and managed to steal second place. Both Red Bulls soon closed up on a struggling Bottas and snatched another two places from him, Max up to the final podium spot and Daniel in 4th position.

As the race reached its closing stages, technical issues arose for Esteban Ocon, Pierre Gasly and Marcus Ericsson who all were forced to retire, a disappointing end to each of their seasons.

Despite the drama behind him, Lewis Hamilton had a faultless race, cruising to his 73rd career victory in Formula One. The podium was completed by Sebastian Vettel in 2nd place and Max Verstappen in 3rd, Daniel Ricciardo finishing his 100th race and last for Red Bull Racing in an admirable 4th position.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Valtteri Bottas finished in 5th followed by an impressive result for Renaults’ Carlos Sainz in 6th and Alfa Romeo Saubers’ Charles Leclerc in 7th, both in their final races for their respective teams before moving on to pastures new at McLaren and Ferrari.

It was a well fought but disappointing final race for double world champion Fernando Alonso, who just missed out on the points in P11. At the end of the race, Alonso was joined by Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel who all performed doughnuts on the home straight for the Abu Dhabi crowds as a farewell to the 2018 season and the legendary Spanish driver, a truly remarkable end to the championship. The countdown is on for 2019!

 

Featured Image: 2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Ferrari Media

BrazilianGP Review: Robbery in Brazil for Verstappen

The title has been decided, but that doesn’t mean the season is over just yet. The 20th round of 2018 was ready to bring some spectacle, with the Brazilian Grand Prix at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace.

Once again qualifying took place under difficult circumstances. Interlagos is (in)famous for its unpredictable weather conditions, and this year was no exception. This resulted in Lewis Hamilton taking Mercedes’ 100th pole position and his luck didn’t stop there. Sebastian Vettel secured second place, although both drivers were at risk of losing their positions. Hamilton seemed like he wasn’t awake at times as he blocked Sergey Sirotkin during his outlap and hindered Kimi Räikkönen on his flying lap, but it didn’t end up in a penalty, a strange decision by the FIA.

Lewis Hamilton. Photo curtesy of Pirelli

 

Vettel’s incident was even stranger. Vettel was called in for inspection and had to go onto the weigh bridge. In his haste, he drove onto the weigh bridge itself, and drove off it with his engine turned on, therefore destroying the weigh bridge. This resulted in a reprimand and a $25,000 fine.

Honourable mention goes to Charles Leclerc. During Q2 he was out of the top 10. Reporting to his team that it was raining too heavily, he put in a superb lap which saw him continue to Q3. There Sauber surprisingly locked the fourth row, but Daniel Ricciardo would drop five places due to a grid penalty.

On race day it seemed like it would stay dry but there was still  a threat of a potential thunderstorm. Vettel locked his brakes into turn one, giving Valtteri Bottas second place immediately. Meanwhile, both Renault drivers were battling each other, they even had a slight touch but survived.

In lap four it was a very bold move from Max Verstappen who dive-bombed Vettel, giving him third place. However, the Ferrari’s were on the soft tyres while the other two top teams were on the supersofts. Ricciardo quickly found his way back to the top six and was now charging the slower Ferrari’s ahead. His teammate took second place though, overtaking Bottas into the first corner. The Finn was really struggling, with Räikkönen, Vettel and Ricciardo knocking on his door.

Lap 16 saw the first pit stop, Fernando Alonso came in but his rear right tyre wasn’t fitted correctly. Quick reactions by the Spaniard meant that pit crew could still fix it. Bottas came in for his pit stop in lap nineteen, meaning that the Ferrari’s now had free air to continue on their softs. One lap later Hamilton came in, also opting for the medium tyres.

Marcus Ericsson, who had a great starting position, spun at high speed and returned to the pits. Not for a regular pit stop, but a retirement – the first of the race. A few laps later though Vettel overtook his teammate for sixth, but it didn’t last long as they were surprisingly told to switch places.

Photo curtesy of Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool.

 

Disaster struck for Verstappen as Esteban Ocon tried to overtake the Red Bull, but took the inside and touched Verstappen. He spun, but could continue the race (after he showed the Frenchman the middle finger of course). Eventually the stewards decided that Ocon caused the collision, handing him a stop/go penalty for crashing into the race leader.

Ricciardo and Vettel had locked horns but the Australian wouldn’t give up that easily and kept his fifth place. A few laps later Ricciardo passed Bottas for fourth place. With 17 laps to go, Vettel took his second pit stop and opted for the supersofts. This dropped him back to seventh place behind his future teammate Leclerc.

However, it would be the victory for the 2018 World Champion. Mercedes, after winning the Drivers’ Championship with Hamilton, now also have the 2018 Constructors Championship. Verstappen took second place (arguably he should have placed higher) and Räikkönen completed the podium, keeping Ricciardo at bay.

Verstappen, responding to Horner’s disbelieve: “Yeah I know what to say, I really hope I won’t see him in the pits…” with a lot of censoring needed. And as it would have it, the two did meet with Verstappen pushing Ocon three times in a widely broadcast standoff.

After some drama, it is time to look towards the last race of the season. The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix could result in some drivers taking big risks for the win. It will be Alonso’s final race in F1; he’ll be hoping to step away from F1 with a good result. In short, it should be a good one.

2018 Mexican GP Review: F1esta Mode for Mercedes

We’re in the final stages of the 2018 season, and as F1 entered round 19 of the calendar for the Mexican Grand Prix, another chance emerged for Lewis Hamilton to become a five-time world champion, with his rival Sebastian Vettel 70 points behind and just three races to go.

Qualifying was once again very close, with Daniel Ricciardo stealing pole from team-mate Max Verstappen by just 0.026 seconds. Behind them, it was close as well, with Hamilton, Vettel, Bottas and Raikkonen making up a very interesting grid.

On Sunday, Hamilton got an amazing start and got past pole-sitter Ricciardo, but didn’t quite manage to get past Verstappen. Ricciardo dropped to third, with Vettel and Bottas still in fourth and fifth.

It took only five laps before the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) was brought out, after Fernando Alonso pulled over having had his car damaged by some flying debris from Esteban Ocon at the start.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Hamilton started losing time to Verstappen once the green flag was shown, allowing Ricciardo to close to within DRS range by lap eleven, although he wasn’t quite close enough to attempt an overtake.

On lap twelve, Hamilton came in for his first pit stop along with Bottas just seconds after, and Ricciardo and Verstappen pitting on successive laps, all opting for the supersofts. On lap fifteen, Verstappen used his DRS to overtake Raikkonen, the winner of last week’s United States Grand Prix

With Raikkonen’s tyres fading, he dropped into the clutches of Hamilton and Ricciardo, with the former pulling off an overtake in turns two and three.

On lap eighteen both Vettel and Raikkonen finally made their pit stops, switching onto the supersofts and making Verstappen race leader once again, this time by a margin of eight seconds.

A second Virtual Safety Car was brought out on lap 32, with Carlos Sainz having parked his Renault at the side of the track.  When the green flag was shown once more Vettel saw a chance to get past Ricciardo and, on lap 34, he  finally overtook the Australian and set about closing the gap to Hamilton. By lap 38 he was within a second, and the following lap he overtook his rival on the main straight.

He now had a thirteen second gap to Verstappen he needed to close down, but more interesting was the fact that Hamilton was losing almost a second per lap to Ricciardo. The Brit would still become World Champion even if he got overtaken, but that wouldn’t be in style as he was now at risk of losing a podium place.

2018 Mexican Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

In an attempt to overtake Hamilton, Ricciardo tried the move on the main straight but Hamilton braked way too late and overshot the first corner, going across the grass. Unsurprisingly, he pitted at the end of the lap for a set of used ultrasofts.

With 22 laps to go, both Vettel and Verstappen pitted. Vettel went to the ultrasofts, whilst Verstappen opted for a new set of supersofts. This promoted Ricciardo into second place but, with him being on older tyres, Vettel soon closed the gap again.

On lap 62 Vettel’s job was made a lot easier when Ricciardo once again retired due to an engine problem. The Virtual Safety Car was called out for the third time, and Bottas took the opportunity to pit.

After 71 laps it was an outstanding drive from Max Verstappen, who took the chequered flag and claimed his fifth win in F1. Following him home were the two Ferraris of Vettel and Raikkonen.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Verstappen’s victory, however, was somewhat overshadowed by the fact that Lewis Hamilton finished in fourth place, which was enough for him to be crowned the 2018 Formula One World Champion. He gave the crowd a bit of a show by doing some doughnuts in the stadium section of the track. Even Will Smith left a radio message for him, and Vettel showed his sportsmanship by congratulating his rival.

There are still two races left of the season to go. Sure, the tension of the championship is now over, but that doesn’t mean the upcoming races will be any less interesting. The Brazilian Grand Prix is up next, which always makes for a great race, especially as the weather gods always play their part there. But, for now, the party mode can be turned on at Mercedes.

 

 

Featured image: 2018 Mexican Grand Prix, Sunday – Steve Etherington

2018 United States GP Review: The Iceman Returns

The United States Grand Prix had the potential to see the crowning of a five-time world champion. Taking place at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, F1 entered the eighteenth round of the 2018 season with a 67-point difference between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.

With only three races left after this one, it would need a miracle for Vettel to overturn that gap and take his fifth world championship. A win for Hamilton in the US Grand Prix meant that Vettel couldn’t afford to finish third or below, as this would extend the gap to over 75 points and hand the championship to Hamilton. Did the (American) dream end here for Vettel?

In qualifying it was a heated battle up front. Lewis Hamiltom claimed pole, with only seven hundredths of a second covering the top three. Behind him were Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas, with Vettel being demoted to fifth because of a penalty he was given after free practice for failing to slow down sufficiently under a red flag.

One notable name missing from that top ten was Max Verstappen. He set a fast lap in Q1 and advanced to Q2, but broke the rear suspension of the car after he hit a sausage kerb. Red Bull didn’t have enough time to fix the car, and he didn’t set a time. To add insult to injury, Red Bull had to change his gearbox, leaving him with a grid penalty and an eighteenth place starting slot.

Once the lights went out, Räikkönen made a great start and overtook Hamilton on the inside going into turn one, with mayhem breaking out behind them. Vettel tried to overtake Ricciardo, but crashed into the Australian and spun. He rejoined in fourteenth place, behind Vandoorne. He made up some places very quickly, but he still was twenty-two seconds behind his teammate, who was leading the race.

Verstappen was already in seventh place after five laps and was closing on his team-mate, when Ricciardo once again suffered an engine issue and had to come to a stop at the side of the track.

The parked Red Bull brought out the Virtual Safety Car, with Mercedes calling Hamilton in to change from the supersofts onto the softs. He re-emerged in third place, eight seconds behind Raikkonen.

Valtteri Bottas was asked on lap fourteen to let Hamilton through, and Hamilton set about closing the gap to the race leader, who was on the ultrasofts, and eventually catching up on lap nineteen. The Mercedes made it to within DRS range, but couldn’t get past. After defending all the way through sector three, Raikkonen came into the pits and changed onto the softs.

A strange call from the Ferrari team came on lap twenty-five, when Vettel was asked to let his teammate go by. He was then overtaken by Verstappen before he had the chance to go into the pits, and dropped out of the podium positions. By the halfway mark of the race he was 43 seconds behind race-leader Hamilton and in fifth place.

Hamilton started to struggle due to blisters on the rear tyres, allowing Vettel to close the gap back to less than thirty seconds. On lap 37 it became clear Hamilton wouldn’t be able to make it to the end, and he came in for another pit stop. He re-emerged in fourth place, ahead of Vettel and with Raikkonen still leading.

For the second time in the race, Bottas was asked to let Hamilton by, with his team-mate on the fresher tyres and charging his way back up. By lap 45 the top three were very close, with two seconds separating Raikkonen and Vertappen, and another three second gap to Hamilton in third.

By lap fifty Vettel was within DRS range of Bottas in fourth, with the top three now separated by just two and a half seconds. With Vettel where he was, Hamilton needed to finish in second, and that meant getting past Verstappen.

On lap 53, Verstappen made a slight error and gave Hamilton the opportunity to overtake. Verstappen defended and didn’t give the Brit any space, with Hamilton running wide and losing time.

Two laps later, Vettel overtook Bottas for fourth place, meaning that the chance for Hamilton to win the championship this race was gone

After 113 races, Räikkönen finally got another victory. It may certainly be his last for Ferrari, but it was probably one of his best. Verstappen finished in second having started from 18th, a performance which resulted in him deservedly winning Driver of the Day. Behind them, Hamilton finished in third and Vettel in fourth, with Bottas, Hulkenberg, Sainz, Ocon, Magnussen and Perez completing the top ten.

With three races to go, the gap between Hamilton and Vettel is now 70 points. Vettel needs a miracle to happen if he wants to become five-time world champion, whilst Hamilton just needs to defend his major points advantage.

Up next is the Mexican Grand Prix – will Hamilton be crowned five-time world champion there?

2018 Japanese GP Review: Risking It All

Early in the morning for most Europeans, Formula One returned to the legendary Suzuka circuit for round seventeen of the 2018 season.

Lewis Hamilton started on pole once again, the 80th time he has done so in his career. Title rival Sebastian Vettel started from a lowly ninth place after a gamble on the intermediate tyres at the start of Q3 meant they lost precious time on track when it was dry. When the rain then started to fall near the end of Q3, Vettel couldn’t improve and made several mistakes in the slippery conditions. Bottas started behind Hamilton in P2, with a very surprised but happy Verstappen in third. On the other side of the Red Bull garage there was drama as Ricciardo once again had issues with the engine, keeping the car inside the garage in Q2 and resigning him to a 15th place start.

The race started under clear blue skies, and immediately Vettel began to make up for his poor qualifying by charging to sixth place after just two turns, and fifth place by the end of the first lap. Verstappen had a good start, but at the end of the first lap he locked up his brakes entering the final chicane, pushing the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen off the track as he rejoined. The incident was investigated, and Verstappen was given a five-second penalty for “leaving the track and returning unsafely”.

2018 Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

After a brief Virtual Safety Car, deployed because of debris on the track after a collision between Kevin Magnussen and Charles Leclerc, Vettel moved up to fourth place and turned his attention to getting past Verstappen for third. He made an overtaking attempt going into Spoon Corner but, in trying to go through on the inside of Verstappen, the two made contact, with Vettel spinning and dropping down to 19th.

Verstappen survived relatively unscathed, and came into the pits on lap twenty-two to serve his five-second penalty and change onto the soft tyres. Valtteri Bottas made his pit stop the lap afterwards, and switched onto the medium tyres.

By lap 34, Vettel had fought his way back into the top ten, and overtook Grosjean going into Spoon – this time cleanly – to take seventh place.

After another Virtual Safety Car, this time for the stranded car of Charles Leclerc, Verstappen made an effort to get past Valtteri Bottas for P2. Despite Bottas making an error going into the last chicane and struggling with a blister on his rear tyres, he managed to hold on.

After fifty-three laps it was a dominant victory for Lewis Hamilton, once again extending his championship lead as Vettel disappointed with an eventual sixth place. Bottas and Verstappen completed the podium, with Ricciardo, Räikkönen, Vettel, Perez, Grosjean, Ocon and Sainz rounding out the top ten. Driver of the Day could only go to Daniel Ricciardo, who finished in fourth after starting from fifteenth.

2018 Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday – Paul Ripke

In the drivers’ championship, Hamilton now leads Vettel by 67 points with only four races to go. Next up is the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in two weeks time. If Hamilton outscores Vettel by eight points or more in that race, Hamilton will win the championship.

F1 – Antonio Giovinazzi joins Kimi Raikkonen at Sauber for 2019

Alfa Romeo Sauber have confirmed Ferrari junior driver Antonio Giovinazzi as their second driver for 2019 alongside the returning Kimi Raikkonen.

Giovinazzi deposes Marcus Ericsson, who had been with the Swiss outfit for four years after debuting in Formula One with Caterham in 2014, while Raikkonen and Charles Leclerc have effectively swapped seats for next year.

Ericsson will continue with Sauber as their reserve driver and as a brand ambassador.

Having stood in for the injured Pascal Wehrlein at the start of 2017 for two race, Giovinazzi is no stranger to the Sauber set-up.

He will be the first Italian to drive permanently on the grid since Jarno Trulli’s ill-fated spell with Caterham ended in 2011.

Giovinazzi says he is honoured to represent the team and made reference to himself and the famous brand Alfa Romeo’s Italian roots.

“I am delighted to be joining the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team. This is a dream come true, and it is a great pleasure to have the chance to race for this team. As an Italian, it is a huge honour for me to represent a brand as iconic and successful as Alfa Romeo in our sport. I am very motivated and cannot wait to start working towards achieving great results together.”

Sauber chief executive Frederic Vasseur was delighted to have replaced the Ferrari-bound Leclerc with a like-for-like swap.

“Together with Alfa Romeo, we are delighted to welcome Antonio Giovinazzi, who will take the place of Charles Leclerc. We have already had the opportunity to work with him in the past and he has proven to have great potential. We are very determined and motivated. Our target is to continue progressing and fighting together for positions that count.”