Tuscan GP review – Mayhem at Mugello

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Due su due as the Italians would say. If you thought the red flagged madness of Monza from last week was extreme enough, F1’s first visit to Tuscany at the Mugello circuit was that turned up to eleven!

It was Lewis Hamilton though who took victory ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, which on the surface sounds very typical but it was anything but that. The race began with the long run down to turn one, and Max Verstappen – who had some drama pre-race with the mechanics trying to check something, he had a good initial launch but his car seemed to almost forget how to use its engine for a moment. Tumbling down the order and then got caught up in a collision.

Verstappen seemed to get rear ended by Räikkönen heading into turn two, who was in a bad position next to Pierre Gasly and Romain Grosjean trying to claim the same piece of tarmac. Just up the road, Carlos Sainz got tapped by Lance Stroll which sent him spinning, and Sebastian Vettel couldn’t avoid him in the one-off burgundy liveried Ferrari and limped back to the pits with a broken front wing.

Bottas had jumped Hamilton at the start and they were running ahead of Charles Leclerc and Alex Albon. But a safety car was called as both Gasly and Verstappen were out of the race, and coming to the restart, Bottas left it as late as he was legally allowed to before he bolted, trying to give his rivals behind him as little a slipstream as possible. However, chaos ensued.

Sainz, Magnussen, Giovinazzi and Latifi were caught up in melee coming to the restart as many drivers had tried to get the jump on the restart. The race was stopped and the drivers gathered in the pits, and now standard procedure is a standing restart after seeing it for the first time only last week.

Second time around, Hamilton swung round the outside Bottas at turn one and Leclerc retained third place, before being passed by Stroll and Ricciardo. The Ferrari driver elected to pit early for hard compound tyres as he was just bleeding time on the set he was on. Ricciardo then came in to attempt an undercut on Stroll, a strategy that seemed to be working due to high speed nature of Mugello and it was successful as when the Racing Point driver boxed, Ricciardo was ahead.

The other Racing Point driver Sergio Pérez was passed by Lando Norris before he then successfully undercut the McLaren driver. Meanwhile, the sole remaining Red Bull in the race of Alex Albon had elected to go longer than the rest of the field.

At the front, the two Mercs were on medium compound tyres and Bottas was hoping to do the opposite of what Hamilton was doing. However Bottas came in before Hamilton due to the condition of his tyres and put on hard compound, which gave Hamilton a comfortable buffer to then come in on the next lap and do the same, and retained his gap in front.

Bottas was hoping for a safety car, and well he got one. Racing Point’s Lance Stroll went off at the very high speed uphill right hander Arrabbiata after suffering what was suspected to be a puncture. Bottas dove for the pits and it was thought he had gotten a huge advantage as the safety car was called just as Hamilton drove past, but it didn’t come out in time to serve as a help for Bottas, as Hamilton managed to make it round again and pitted.

The race was then red-flagged for a second time, and with only twelve cars left in the race. Bottas was hoping to keep the trend of second place getting the better getaways but this time, it wasn’t to be as both Hamilton and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo rocketed off the line.

Meanwhile at the back, heartache for the newly taken-over Williams team as George Russell had lined up ninth on the restart but had been passed by everyone. He soon got back past Grosjean but even with a 5-second penalty looming over Räikkönen, it looked increasingly unlikely that he would get back into the points.

But for his best mate Alex Albon, things were about to get rosier. He put a beautiful move around the outside of turn three on Pérez and after previously being denied two podiums by coming together with Lewis Hamilton in both Brazil last year and Austria this year, the Anglo-Thai driver put a move on for third and made it stick past Ricciardo. Cyril Abiteboul having made a bet with his driver that if he scores a podium before he leaves the team, he will get a tattoo of the smiley Australian’s choice.

However it wasn’t meant to be as finally, in a time where everyone was expecting a switcheroo between him and last week’s Italian GP winner Pierre Gasly, he finally got to stand on the podium with Bottas and Hamilton.

Ricciardo came home fourth ahead of Pérez, Norris, Kvyat, Leclerc, Räikkönen (who finished ahead of Leclerc but dropped back from the penalty he received for crossing the pitlane entry line too late) and Vettel rounded out the points finishers.

Carnage ensued in the hills of Tuscany, and also whilst not a result that Ferrari would have wanted, it is still very fitting that they have their 1,000th Grand Prix be at a circuit they owned since 1988. A proper old school circuit with plenty of elevation change and gravel traps which have punished a few drivers this weekend across all the races.

F1 goes on a week long break, can we all survive that? The circus reconvenes at Sochi Autodrom on September 27th and following on from that is a run of races which include circuits such as Nürburgring, Portimão, Imola, Istanbul, two races at Bahrain on different layouts before the season concludes at Abu Dhabi on December 13th.

Italy presents us with a strong, unexpected argument for a reverse grid as Pierre Gasly wins in Monza

Benvenuti a Monza! We’re here and we’ve settled in for two weeks of exciting racing in Italy, but should we have come? Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari might like to weigh in on that one.

The Italian Grand Prix was the first weekend where the teams were no longer permitted to use their ‘party-mode’ engine modes, typically used in qualifying by certain teams to boost their chances of a better lap time.

At the start of the race it was a tale of two halves for the two Mercedes drivers, as Hamilton got yet another great start off the line, gliding into first place unchallenged as Bottas got swallowed up by the pack. McLaren had an excellent start with Sainz quickly taking 2nd position, and his team-mate Lando Norris overtaking a struggling Bottas going through the first and second Lesmos, which is testament to McLaren’s progress in recent years.

2020 Italian Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

Bottas was quickly overtaken by Daniel Ricciardo, putting the Renault driver into 5th, and pushing Bottas down to 6th. Bottas was quick to report a possible puncture but chose not to pit. Bottas’ race engineer, Ricciardo Musconi, confirmed there were no issues with his tyres, but Bottas still looked to be struggling as he was overtaken by the Red Bull of Max Verstappen through the Parabolica.

It was a sorry start for the home favourites Ferrari, who qualified in 13th and 17th. Just when they thought it couldn’t get any worse, Sebastian Vettel reported brake failure on lap four, smashing through the foam barriers at the end of the pit straight and limping his way back to the pits, where the car was retired for the second time this season.

Ferrari’s hopes were then pinned on Leclerc, who didn’t appear to be having the same issue but didn’t really seem to be having a much better race. Hope was quickly abandoned after a a shocking crash going into the Parabolica, where the Ferrari ploughed into the tyre wall, bringing out the safety car for the second time and red flagging the session. Leclerc’s crash athough dramatic, proved exactly how valuable the halo truly was, as he was able to get out of the car and run from the scene unscathed. All this in the same weekend that Netflix were spending time with Ferrari.

Shortly before the crash, Hamilton had made a quick decision to pit after the safety car came out for Kevin Magnussen, who was forced to stop on track just before the pit entrance with a suspected power unit issue.

Mercedes took what they thought was a risk-free pit-stop, with Alfa Romeo’s Giovinazzi following suit shortly after. It wasn’t long until the race was stopped due to Leclerc’s incident, and both Hamilton and Giovinazzi were placed under investigation for entering the pits after it had been closed due to Magnussen’s stoppage.

This visibly rattled Mercedes, who were looking pretty comfortable. Hamilton took it upon himself to grab his scooter and make his way to Race Control during the red flag in an attempt to justify his actions, arguing on the radio that “there was no light” going into the pit lane.

This didn’t save him nor Giovinazzi, who were both given a 10-second stop and go penalty, serving F1 fans with the biggest game-changer in the hybrid era.

Hamilton was noticeably annoyed by this decision and was talking about building up a lead once again before taking his penalty. He was dissuaded from doing this by his race engineers, who had decided to ‘take the hit’ on this occasion.

2020 Italian Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

Mercedes’ loss meant some considerable gains to the likes of Alpha Tauri, Racing Point, Alfa Romeo and McLaren.

The red flag wasn’t in place for too long and on lap 27 we were back on track heading for a dramatic restart.

Gasly was lightning fast on the restart, overtaking Stroll to take what was essentially first place, as Hamilton made his way around and back into the pits to serve his penalty. He re-joined the race 23 seconds behind the rest of the pack, meaning he would have to have had the drive of his life to get back to a podium finish.

Though it looked like a good opportunity for the Racing Point, Stroll seemed to have issues with the brakes, causing him to run off on the Della Roggia chicane and giving away two positions and putting him down into 5th. This was quickly taken from him by Sainz who had his eyes firmly set on the prize.

The same ambition and determination weren’t felt in either of the Red Bull cars, who have struggled more than usual. Albon was the first to have issues, running wide on lap one after being squeezed by Stroll and Gasly down the main straight, and causing damage to the Haas of Romain Grosjean. Albon was given a 5-second penalty for the damage he caused.

As usual, there was greater expectation of success with Verstappen, who was making some respectable overtakes, and scrapping with Bottas for 6th/7th position. Unfortunately, this was short lived as he was forced to retire the car on lap 31 due to a power unit issue.

Come lap 34, Sainz was chasing Gasly for the win after he and Raikkonen gave fans an absolute masterclass in overtaking through Turn 1.

Stroll bounced back from his earlier brake issue and overtook Raikkonen the following lap, moving him into third place.

Sainz continued to chase Gasly right down to the final lap of the race. Gasly just managed to stay ahead and out of DRS range of the determined McLaren driver and took his first ever F1 win, something absolutely none of us expected would happen going into this race weekend.

MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 06: Race winner Pierre Gasly of France and Scuderia AlphaTauri celebrates on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 06, 2020 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202009060423 // Usage for editorial use only //

After being essentially demoted from Red Bull in the middle of 2019, this win is exactly the boost Gasly and the wider Alpha Tauri team needed. You’d have to be a hard individual not to feel some emotion watching him sit on the podium, sipping champagne in sheer disbelief. It’s only a shame the Tifosi weren’t there to make his win even more special.

We cannot end this race review however, without giving a special mention to Williams, who had its final race with their de-facto team principal, Claire Williams. It followed the announcement last Thursday that the family had decided to step away from Formula 1 after 43 years. It’s a real shame for us to see both she and the family say goodbye to the F1 family.

We owe Williams so much after having been an enormous part in F1’s development, bringing iconic moments for us all to appreciate and look back on with fondness. Though they will continue to race under the same name, something tells me it just won’t quite be the same anymore, so thank you Frank, thank you Claire, and thank you Williams for the great memories. We hope to see you back on top soon.

Belgian GP Review: Hamilton takes 89th career win

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Lewis Hamilton took his 5th win of the season and 89th win of his career on Sunday afternoon in Spa on a day that called for very high tyre management. The Englishman started on pole and had to fend off an early challenge on lap one from his teammate and Max Verstappen. Once he was out in front, it was rarely any challenge apart from managing the tyres which were falling off at the end.

Both him and his teammate Bottas pitted under the safety car around lap ten during a safety car brought on due to Giovinazzi losing his rear and ending up in the barriers while collecting George Russell in the process. The Mercedes duo put on hard tyres like pretty much the rest of the field and limped to the end to finish 1-2.

Max Verstappen of Redbull failed to mount a challenge to the Mercedes after he was put on the same hard compound tyres following the safety car and he had to go into management mode as well. The outright winners of the race apart from the top 3 has to be the Renault sport team after Daniel Ricciardo drove a mega race to finish P4 and take the fastest lap in the process while finishing only 3 seconds behind Verstappen.

His teammate Ocon pulled off a last lap overtake on Red bull’s Albon to finish 5th and the team will be very much looking forward to Monza given the similar characteristics of the Italian circuit. Albon has to be content with 6th after a different strategy call from his team saw him finish the race on mediums which put him at a disadvantage towards the end.

McLaren had a mixed raceday after Carlos Sainz’s bad luck followed him to Spa this weekend. The Spaniard failed to even make it to the grid following an exhaust failure while bringing the car on to the track and will be hoping for something to go his way during next week. The other McLaren of Lando Norris put on a decent show after he finished 7th towards the end passing Lance Stroll on the way and putting up a fight with Albon and Ocon for 5th.

Pierre Gasly certainly put in a driver of the day performance after starting the race on the hard tyres and choosing not to stop under the safety car which enabled him to be on fresher tyres towards the end of the race. The Frenchman definitely made most of this strategy and put in some brilliant moves, especially one up the Eau Rouge onto Radillon on the inside vs Sergio Perez. This saw him finish 8th despite starting outside the top 10 and earned him some well deserved points. His teammate Kvyat in the other Alpha Tauri finished 11th after a quiet race.

Racing Point had a very average race following a similar qualifying and they will be left pondering on the loss of the really good pace that they have been showing so far in the season. Sergio Perez finished in the final points spot at 10th despite trying a different strategy to his teammate Lance Stroll who finished 9th.

Ferrari had a similar, if not worse race compared to qualifying after both the drivers swapped their qualifying positions with Vettel finishing 13th and Leclerc finishing 14th. Leclerc got off to a great start and put himself in 9th place before eventually losing places lap after lap. His pitstop under the safety car did not go according to the plan as well and he had to spend more than 30 seconds in the pitlane. As if this wasnn’t enough, he was then called in for an unexplained pitstop which left him visibly disgruntled on the radio, akin to his teammate.

It was not a completely bad day for the ferrari powered cars after Kimi Raikkonen in the Alfa Romeo finished 12th ahead of both the works Ferraris while passing one of them on the track in a straight fight. Both the Haas cars finished with Grosjean at 15th and Magnussen at 17th after another very underwhelming weekend for the American team. Latifi finished 16th in the only remaining Williams after his teammate was taken out by a crashing Giovinazzi much earlier in the race.

With the promise of rain yet again not being fulfilled, Spa did not deliver the quite the race every F1 fan had hoped for. Mercedes and Hamilton would not be complaining to much after finishing 1-2 yet again and hamilton extending his lead at the top to 47 points over Verstappen. Renault will be the ones looking forward to another power hungry track in Monza while Ferrari might not be missing the Tifosi too much given how they have been performing so far this season.

Opinion: 2020, the year that could have been for Ferrari

It’s safe to say that 2020 has not been the best year for Ferrari. From dropping Sebastian Vettel, who has previously been their best shot at a title, to engine problems leaving them and their customer teams falling behind initial expectations.

Only two podiums in the first four races would usually be a disaster for Ferrari in the modern era, especially when McLaren have one third place and Mercedes have won all four. It doesn’t bode well for a team with such pedigree within the sport.

Not having both drivers through to Q3 in Austria wasn’t a major issue, especially as Charles Leclerc had described the performance of the car as “probably worse than we expected”. But when team principal Mattia Binotto confirmed that there were major design flaws with the SF1000, particularly regarding the aerodynamics, this did not fill anyone within the team, or the fans, with confidence.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

As if things couldn’t get worse, they did at the Styrian Grand Prix when both cars collided on the first lap and had to retire. Even with the new upgrades to the front wing and rear diffuser, the car just couldn’t meet the standards expected from the team and the fans.

Hungary was an improvement, especially in qualifying. Both drivers made it through to Q3 and both finished the race, even if they were both lapped by Lewis Hamilton.

Also, Ferrari are lucky to not have had significant mechanical failures like some Mercedes engines and the electronics issues with the Honda-powered cars. The Ferrari-powered Haas cars had issues with the brakes in the Austrian GP. Even if their power unit isn’t as good as in 2019, its reliability is something to be impressed about.

2020 was destined to be the year for them. Leclerc had just finished his maiden year with the team and Vettel going into his last with them. Surely, just surely, they could string a good season together.

A technical restructure for the team before the British Grand Prix was needed and came with Rory Byrne being mentioned, who helped Ferrari to titles in the dominant Schumacher era. His expertise will be used to ensure the team do not fall as far behind as they currently are.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Bringing a low aerodynamic package to Silverstone, one that would commonly be seen at a track like Spa-Francorchamps, proved that Ferrari were focusing on a defensive strategy rather than trying to attack from the front. This is due to the fact that Silverstone is dominated by engine power and this has been the main point of concern for the team.

The qualifying performance from the team was more impressive at Silverstone than previous races, with Leclerc starting in fourth place just over a second behind the new record time set by Hamilton, and Vettel also qualifying in the top 10.

This was also supported by a strong performance in the race with a podium for Leclerc, assisted by a tyre issue for Valtteri Bottas in the final moments of the race, and tenth for Vettel, after struggling to keep the Alpha Tauri of Pierre Gasly behind him.

After four races, the team is in fourth place in the constructor’s championship, one point ahead of Racing Point who have had a strong showing so far. For the drivers, Leclerc is in fifth position behind Lando Norris, and Vettel is only two points behind Gasly in 13th place. Vettel has not finished a race higher than sixth, which would usually be the minimum for one of the top three teams.

2020 has unfortunately proved that Ferrari are not going to be automatically considered to be in the running for titles or even race wins. With the rules staying the same into 2021, it is unlikely that they will be more competitive next year.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

BRITISH GP REVIEW: HAMILTON WINS RECORD 7TH BRITISH GP

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Lewis Hamliton had to literally drag his Mercedes across the finish line at Silverstone on Sunday afternoon to become the record 7th time winner of the British Grand Prix.

The Sunday for Mercedes was going in a very expected manner with both the cars comfortably leading 1-2 until it all kicked off with 5 laps to go. Valtteri Bottas complained about heavy tyre vibrations which did not seem like a big deal until his front left tyre suffered a puncture with 3 laps to go and he was out of a points finishing place just like that after having to make a pitstop which saw him finish 11th. Luck was on Lewis Hamilton’s side as he also suffered the same fate as his teammate but it was on the very final lap which enabled him to carry the Mercedes across the line for his 88th race win.

Max Verstappen took 2nd place amidst all the chaos on an afternoon where he looked set for a lonely 3rd place finish until the sequence of punctures kicked off which promoted him to 2nd. He could have even taken victory if not for the team’s idea of pitting for fresh tyres in order to go for the fastest lap just the lap before Lewis’ puncture. Charles Leclerc also ended up with a very unlikely last podium spot for Ferrari despite running at 4th the whole race thanks to Mercedes chaos at the end. Sebastian Vettel in the other Ferrari finished his race at the final points spot in 10th to cap off what was a very below average weekend for the German driver. Alex Albon in the other Red Bull made a late charge through the field after stopping twice which saw him finish 8th. The Thai driver will take the result as welcoming concerning the pressure on him about keeping his seat coming into this weekend and also after tangling with Kevin Magnussen in as early as the second lap which ended up with the Danish driver retiring out of the race and could also have ended badly for Albon too.

McLaren also looked set for a strong finish with Sainz at 5th and Norris at 6th when Sainz suffered the same problem as both the Mercedes on the penultimate lap which saw the Spainard finish 13th. Norris managed a 5th place finish despite being overtaken by Ricciardo who hung in there the whole race and finished an impressive 4th after all the events of the race unfolded. Esteban Ocon in the other Renault finished 6th after a strong drive following his earlier battle with the Racing point of Lance Stroll who finished 9th. The Silverstone based team would definitely be very unimpressed with the weekend as they could only get one car to the grid as the sensational return of Nico Hulkenberg did not go according to plan. Mechanical issues meant that the returning German driver’s race had finished before it even began.

Pierre Gasly probably had the best weekend out of the rest after finishing 7th following an impressive drive throughout the race. The Frenchman starting 11th on the grid was on the back of Vettel’s Ferrari from very early on and managed to pass him with a slightly controversial move. He had a mini battle with the only Racing Point as well and came out on top and made his way into a high points place. The other Alpha Tauri of Danil Kvyat retired very early on as he carried too much speed into Maggotts while suffering a right rear puncture and ended up in the barriers. Both the Alpha Romeo drivers were complaining about rare tyres during the race and ended their races with Giovinazzi at 14th and Kimi at 17th. George Russell finished 12th in his Williams after complaining about handling issues during the race. He would be left pondering as to what could have been if he had not had the 5 place grid penalty following an excellent qualifying on Saturday.

For the first time this season, Bottas failed to secure a top 3 finish after the events during the final laps which means that his championship hopes have taken a massive hit as he now sits 30 points behind his teammate Hamilton, who is in the driver’s seat to take his 7th championship and equal Michael Schumacher’s all time record. Max Verstappen also looks to be slowly cementing his 3rd place in the driver standings after his strong 2nd place finish today. It is however going to be all to play for from P4 to P10 with the midfield battle looking very promising between Racing Point, McLaren, Renault and Ferrari.

Hungary hat-trick for Hamilton? 2020 Hungarian Grand Prix

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

As 2020 hits its third race on the bounce, Lewis Hamilton looks to claim his third consecutive victory at the Hungaroring as F1 heads to the Budapest for the Hungarian Grand Prix.

A 21 minute drive from the city centre of Budapest, the 4.3 kilometre Hungaoring circuit prepares to host its 35th Formula One Grand Prix, and it is an eagerly awaited one.

With rain expected on race day, the acclimatised Red Bull to this downforce orientated track will have a strong chance of taking victory at a venue where, surprisingly, the pole sitter has failed to win the race on 19 occasions.

The last wet race was a dire one for current world champion Lewis Hamilton, who was one of many to succumb to the treacherous penultimate corner of Turn 16 in Hockenheim last year, albeit he was ill for much of the weekend. He did, however, put in a stunning performance in qualifying in Austria in extremely wet conditions, asserting the dominance that could well be about to take him to his seventh World Championship.

To take another step towards it this weekend though, he will no doubt face stern competition from team mate Valteri Bottas, winner of the first race in Austria, and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who impressed with a podium finish at the Styrian Grand Prix.

This also promises to be a competitive weekend between McLaren, Renault and Racing Point, who have all seemed to take an early incentive in the midfield battle –  McLaren enjoying the most success thus far. After a fastest lap point in each of the first two races as well as a podium finish with Lando Norris, this relatively short track, coupled with the downforce element, will show us whether the McLaren has definitive pace in the corners. It will also be a display of whether they could again challenge for the podium. Carlos Sainz qualified an exquisite third in the wet in Styria, and will be sensing an opportunity this weekend.

We are still yet to learn the outcome of the protest Renault filed against Racing Point after the second Grand Prix in Austria, but with two cars that seem closely matched should hopefully come some heated competition.

Ferrari’s lack of pace is expected to be slightly mitigated at a track that requires less power, which may also come as a relief to their customer teams Haas and Alfa Romeo, both of whom were also strugglers over the two weeks in Spielberg. Ferrari are anticipated to be bring some upgrades so as to try to figure out what exactly is going wrong with, not only their Power Unit, but their Chassis as well. What would of course help their cause is avoiding contact on the first lap this time.

The last time anyone won this race two seasons running was Hamilton himself – in 2012 and 2013. And with rain forecast on Sunday and a potentially thrilling race in store, the six time world champion looks to build on that record, and close the gap to team mate Valtteri Bottas at the head of the championship.

2020 Styrian Grand Prix preview: second chance in Spielberg

Another week, another visit to Austria’s Red Bull Ring—this time for the Formula 1 Styrian Grand Prix.

Last week’s Austrian Grand Prix was a terrific opening round to the 2020 season. Valtteri Bottas landed an early blow in the title fight with Lewis Hamilton, Lando Norris earned his maiden podium with a last-gasp effort, and there was plenty of close-quarters racing throughout.

Last week’s result was also largely unexpected, thanks to incidents and reliability issues almost halving the field by the chequered flag. That means we could get a very different result again this weekend, if the teams and drivers don’t have half as much trouble keeping their cars on track.

One of the teams that’s sure to factor more in the Styrian Grand Prix is Red Bull. It was clear last time out in Austria that they were Mercedes’ closest challengers, but technical problems for both Max Verstappen and Alex Albon led to a double DNF instead. Both drivers will be going into this weekend pushing hard to make up for that, with Albon especially motivated after coming so close to his first F1 podium.

Racing Point F1 Team

Racing Point will also be hoping for a much better result this time out. The RP20 showed more evidence of its considerable pace in practice and qualifying, but a technical DNF for Lance Stroll and a penalty dropping Sergio Perez behind both McLarens in P6 left a lot still on the table for the team. Provided everything goes to plan for them this weekend, Racing Point should be able to finish ahead of their midfield rivals and take away a decent haul of points.

However, there will be several teams hoping for a repeat of last Sunday’s attrition. Alpha Tauri and Alfa Romeo both managed to score points last time out, with Pierre Gasly in P7 and Antonio Giovinazzi in P9, but on pace alone neither team looked that close to the top ten throughout the weekend.

And then there’s Ferrari. Although Charles Leclerc finished second in the opening race, that was very much a great result salvaged from a terrible outing. The SF1000 looked sluggish all weekend, never troubling Mercedes or Red Bull and qualifying behind McLaren and Racing Point. Add to that Sebastian Vettel’s spin after colliding with Carlos Sainz, and the result was a very sobering start to the season.

One glimmer of hope for the Scuderia was that the car looked much more responsive later in the race on the harder tyres, and the team will have hopefully learned something from last weekend’s pain that can be used to improve this weekend. If not, Leclerc and Vettel will likely find themselves scrapping away with the upper midfield rather than challenging for the podium.

The 2020 Styrian Grand Prix gets underway with free practice this Friday, with full coverage on our Twitter feed.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Mexico 2019 – Mercedes triumphs, while Ferrari’s strategy continues to lack

The Mexican Grand Prix saw Lewis Hamilton victorious, but not sufficiently so to crown him the 2019 Drivers Champion. Hamilton’s win also saw his 100th podium for Mercedes, and saw Ferrari give up the top spot on the podium thanks to poor strategy calls once again.

The opening moments of the race delivered excitement, as Grands Prix often do. With Charles Leclerc making an excellent start, his teammate Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, and Max Verstappen jostled for position.

Vettel easily got the best of it (though he made brief contact with Leclerc), retaining second position, while Red Bull’s Alex Albon and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz got a large boost, climbing to third and fourth respectively. Hamilton fell back to fifth, and while Verstappen initially fell back to eighth he quickly suffered a puncture when making an early overtake on Bottas, leading to an immediate pit stop. He ultimately rejoined the race in 20th.

Don’t worry, Verstappen fans – he performed an admirable drive, finishing in sixth and taking the Driver of the Day award. He demonstrated excellent control and patience, regaining several places as other drivers stopped for fresh tyres. When he began overtaking others later in the race, he did so smoothly, with few if any elbows out. Verstappen’s choice of hard tyres led to early speculation about the possibility of a one-stop race.

There was a Virtual Safety Car deployed after the initial carnage while the marshals attended to the debris from the opening collisions, but the race then proceeded Safety Car-free.

(Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

Unfortunately, the opening lap tussles were some of the only exciting moments of the race. While the order changed a bit, the top five drivers throughout the race largely remained Leclerc, Vettel, Albon, Hamilton, and Bottas. The race ended with Hamilton in first, Vettel in second, Bottas in third, Leclerc in fourth, and Albon in fifth.

Though they were few, there were nonetheless some exciting moments. Local hero Sergio Perez (Checo if you’re nasty; all apologies to Janet Jackson) made an excellent early overtake on Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, to the delight of the crowd. Daniel Ricciardo made a spectacular, but failed, late overtaking attempt on Perez. He badly overcooked the attempt and was forced to run wide, cutting several corners. While this did allow him to return to the track ahead of Perez, Ricciardo wisely ceded the position back to his rival.

While there was some other overtaking, it was mainly clean and competent with the defending drivers ceding position when it was obvious they weren’t able to defend successfully.

There was minimal contact between drivers after the first lap. Verstappen and Kevin Magnussen made brief contact on lap 27, but the stewards declined to investigate further. The most memorable other contact came during the final lap. As Hamilton crossed the finish line, Daniil Kvyat returned to his old form and ran straight into the back of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, destroying his rear wing and ending his race practically within sight of the finish line. This initially cost the German two places, dropping him from ninth place to eleventh, though the stewards quickly issued Kvyat a 10-second penalty. This dropped Kvyat to 11th, and brought Hulkenberg up to 10th along with its accompanying point.

Pit stops provided some drama. McLaren’s Lando Norris was given the signal to exit the pit too early, with his left front tyre not completely secure. While he was able to stop prior to crossing the pit lane exit line and his crew was able to remedy the issue, Norris never recovered from this mistake and remained last until his retirement on lap 48.

(Photo by Joe Portlock / LAT Images)

Antonio Giovinazzi’s right rear tyre caused him considerable difficulty as well, which was compounded when the jack was released too quickly, before the tyre was secure. Charles Leclerc wasn’t immune to pit issues either – trouble with the right rear tyre cost him four precious seconds on his second stop.

Tyre management proved to be key in this race. Ricciardo deserves special mention for his tyre management. He was able to maintain respectable pace for 50 laps on his opening set of hard tyres, maintaining sixth place for the last 30 of those 50. It was this show of durability that likely convinced Red Bull to keep Verstappen out on his set of hards, which lasted him for an amazing 66 laps following his early stop. Perez ran the final 51 laps of the race on hards, and Hulkenberg ran 52 laps on his. Vettel also deserves credit for his tyre management, turning in a respectable 40 laps on his initial set of mediums between qualifying and the race.

Indeed, had Vettel not resisted calls for him to prepare to pit on lap 25, the result might have been very different for him. Ferrari, it seemed, had a very different model of tyre performance in this race and were unable to adapt in time to salvage the win. The pit wall’s call for Leclerc’s early stop on lap 15 was premature. All of the front runners started their race on used mediums, but the others handily demonstrated that their tyres were good for many more laps – eight more laps for Hamilton, 21 more laps for Bottas, and 22 more for Vettel. Had the Scuderia sent Leclerc back out on hards, his race might’ve gone very differently as hard tyres amply proved to deliver incredible life.

With three races left, the top of the pecking order is fairly settled. While it is mathematically possible for Bottas to claim the Drivers’ Championship, it is not likely. Similarly, while Red Bull could pass Ferrari for second in the Constructors’ Championship, it is similarly unlikely.

As has been the case for the past several seasons, it’s the midfield where the excitement lies. Toro Rosso and Racing Point are in the fight for sixth and if Renault doesn’t finish strongly in the closing rounds it’s possible that they could find themselves slipping to sixth or even seventh.

And what can we say about Williams? McLaren has recovered from their slump and is showing a return to form, but Williams remains incapable of finding their way forward. On the other hand, they have managed to score one point. Recent seasons have seen some backmarkers finish with zero, but seeing the once powerful team fall to last over the course of a few short seasons still gives pause.

Formula One returns to Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez next year for the Mexico City Grand Prix. Same race, different name.

 

 

[Featured image – Steve Etherington]

Leclerc fends off Mercedes duo to take Italian Grand Prix victory

Charles Leclerc has claimed his second ever win in F1 at this afternoon’s Italian Grand Prix, the first time a Ferrari driver has won at Monza since 2010.

The Mercedes pairing of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton finished second and third respectively, having pushed Leclerc for much of the race. Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg came home fourth and fifth.

The other Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, by comparison, faltered. Vettel span at the Ascari chicane on lap seven and collected the Racing Point of Lance Stroll as he rejoined. He received a ten-second stop/go penalty for ‘rejoining the track in an unsafe manner’, behind only disqualification in terms of harshness. He damaged his front wing and pitted twice on his way to a lowly P13 finish.

Leclerc started from pole position with Hamilton alongside him, and led into turn one despite Hamilton initially getting a better start.

Ferrari Media

The pair came into the pits on lap twenty and lap twenty-one respectively; Hamilton changed onto the soft tyres, while Leclerc went onto the hard compound.

On lap twenty-three, Hamilton attempted to pass Leclerc round the outside going into the Variante della Roggia chicane but was forced to take to the escape road, saying over the radio that Leclerc hadn’t given him a car’s width of room. Leclerc was given a black and white flag as a warning, but escaped a penalty.

Hamilton continued to pressure Leclerc, and on lap 36 Leclerc locked up going into the first chicane and cut across the kerbs. Though this allowed Hamilton to further close on him, the Ferrari driver successfully defended his position and maintained his lead. The stewards noted that Leclerc had failed to take the apex at turn two, but decided that no investigation was necessary.

At this stage in the race, Hamilton’s medium tyres were starting to fade and Bottas began to reel him in, his own tyres some seven laps fresher than Hamilton’s.

Wolfgang Wilhelm

Hamilton locked up and took to the escape road on lap 42, allowing Bottas to move up into P2 and chase down Leclerc. Though he then got to within DRS range of Leclerc, a couple of errors meant he was not able to make any attempts to pass for the lead.

Leclerc crossed the line just over eight tenths ahead of Bottas to take his second career victory, much to the joy of the Tifosi in the grandstands. The win moves him ahead of Vettel in the championship. Hamilton, meanwhile, pitted late on to chase the extra point for fastest lap. Bottas’s P2 finish means Hamilton’s championship lead has been shortened by two points.

Alex Albon finished in sixth ahead of Sergio Perez, with Max Verstappen coming from nineteenth on the grid to end up eighth. Antonio Giovinazzi and Lando Norris complete the top ten.

German Grand Prix: Mercedes’ race to lose, and they lost it magnificently

The German Grand Prix brought with it another weekend of high expectations for Mercedes and Ferrari. Mercedes celebrated 125 years in motorsport and their 200th race start by bringing a bit of 1950s nostalgia to the Hockenheimring, while Sebastian Vettel returned to home turf in the hopes of starting to claw back the championship lead built by rival Lewis Hamilton.

All bets were off come race day, as the drivers were faced with the prospect of their first wet race of the season. This year’s rookies were more than a little apprehensive, with McLaren’s Lando Norris describing it as “driving into the unknown”.

The stewards eventually decided to have the formation lap done behind the safety car. The likes of Hamilton, Verstappen and Magnussen were eager to get going, encouraging the stewards to bring in the safety car after the third formation lap. It was only after the fourth lap that the stewards finally got the message, and the grid lined up for a standing start.

Verstappen was eager to get going, but his start was lacklustre as he and Pierre Gasly struggled to find enough grip to build on their excellent qualifying positions, with Verstappen dropping two places within the first ten seconds of the race. Bottas was forced to run wide at turn one, and Kimi Raikonnen came out of nowhere to take third place. Leading the pack, Hamilton pushed on unchallenged.

Lewis Hamilton at the 2019 German F1 GP. Image courtesy of LAT Images / Mercedes AMG

For the first few racing laps, the cars moved tentatively around the circuit, dodging spray, puddles, and each other. Sergio Perez was the first casualty, crashing at turn eleven, bringing out the safety car and causing a flurry of activity in the pits.

A busy pit-lane can vastly increase the chances of an unsafe release and, sure enough, Grosjean was forced to slam on the brakes to avoid Charles Leclerc, who had just finished his stop. Ferrari were slapped with a fine, which was a refreshing change from the stewards, who have found themselves in the firing line a great deal this season with their questionable penalty decisions.

The safety car peeled away and we were back racing on lap four, which allowed a feisty Sebastian Vettel to start eating up positions after his P20 start, and by lap seven he was already in eighth place.

On lap 15, poor Daniel Ricciardo faced yet another DNF, after his engine failed and spewed oil all over the track. The virtual safety car was deployed, but only for a lap.

Two laps later, Leclerc came in for his second stop of the race to replace his intermediate tyres, and Carlos Sainz skidded off the track at turn 16. He managed to save it, though, and avoided bringing out the safety car again, virtual or otherwise.

Elsewhere in the pit-lane, talk had already turned to potentially switching to slicks. Haas became the grid’s guinea pig as they pitted Kevin Magnussen on lap 23 to change to the dry tyres despite drizzle still out on track.

The rain didn’t seem to phase Magnussen, though, and this gave the other teams the confidence that maybe it was time for dry tyres after all. Vettel and Verstappen came in for a change of boots, but Red Bull almost immediately regretted their decision, as Verstappen could barely find any grip and span. He somehow managed to re-join the track in third place, with no damage done.

Despite his pre-race apprehension, Lando Norris had been running very respectably considering it was his first ever wet F1 race. Lap 28, though, saw everything change, as he was forced to retire due to a loss of drive. This brought out the second VSC of the race and caused yet more pit-lane activity.

Mercedes and Ferrari took full advantage of another free pit stop, with Hamilton and Leclerc emerging tentatively on soft tyres. Despite their careful driving, Leclerc crashed and beached his car at turn 16, bringing out the safety car. Almost immediately after, Hamilton came skidding past Leclerc and lost a chunk of his front wing.

Charles Leclerc getting out of his car after crashing in the 2019 German F1 GP. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The incident caught Mercedes off-guard, as Hamilton chose to dive into the pits with no warning. The team scrambled frantically to replace the front wing and change his tyres again, and Hamilton ended up losing four places in the chaos. The drama didn’t end there, and Hamilton was given a five-second penalty for entering the pits on the wrong side of the bollard.

The race restarted on lap 34, with Max Verstappen leading and Nico Hulkenberg in P2. Things seemed to settle down briefly, allowing for fans to enjoy a truly mixed-up, unusual grid. Unfortunately, this was short lived, as Hulkenberg, having dropped down to P4, crashed at the final corner on lap 41, bringing out the safety car once again.

By lap 46 we were back racing again. Mercedes had chosen not to pit Hamilton under the safety car, and it is unclear whether they would have pit him at all had it not been for his protests over the radio. They eventually relented and brought him in, where he served his five-second penalty.

Red Bull did not hesitate in pitting Verstappen again. This allowed Lance Stroll to lead the race for the first time in his F1 career. His time in the spotlight, though, was short-lived, as Verstappen re-joined the track and promptly reclaimed the lead.

By this point, the track had started drying out, and fastest laps were being set left, right, and centre. Daniil Kvyat was the first to do so, having worked his way up to third. This was quickly followed by both Haas drivers, and finally reclaimed by Verstappen on lap 50.

On lap 54, Hamilton’s day went from bad to worse, spinning at the first corner and narrowly missing the wall. This left him down in 15th, last of the cars still running. While Hamilton was lucky to avoid the wall, Bottas wasn’t so lucky. He spun in exactly the same place, and the barriers claimed yet another victim. The safety car was brought out, for what was the last time that afternoon.

It was an unfortunate way to end what could have been a promising afternoon for the Finn, eager to prove his worth to Mercedes and secure his seat for 2020.

Proving his worth wasn’t an issue for Vettel this afternoon. Despite starting P20, he had steadily worked his way up the grid and, upon the final race re-start, made light work of Sainz, Stroll, and Kvyat to take P2 on lap 63.

While Verstappen thrived in the conditions, Gasly struggled to hold position, dropping down to 14th at one point. By lap 60 he had worked his way back up to 7th and looked to claim 6th from Alex Albon. The Thai driver wasn’t about to give up the position without a fight, and Gasly ended up running into the back of Albon. The damage forced him to retire at the last moment.

After what felt like a lifetime, the chequered flag finally waved, with Verstappen crossing the line to take the win ahead of Vettel and Daniil Kvyat.

The German Grand Prix’s place on the calendar may be under threat, but yesterday’s race reminded us just why we continue watching F1 every weekend – Kvyat described it as a “horror movie, with a bit of black comedy”.

The action didn’t even stop when the race ended. Both Alfa Romeo drivers where placed under investigation for breach of Article 27.1, relating to clutch torque application at the race start. Hours after the race’s end, the duo were handed 10-second stop and go penalties, promoting Robert Kubica into the points for the first time in ten years.

Going into this weekend, it would have been a safe bet to say Mercedes would dominate, but instead we were treated to a race that will go down in F1 history. It’s amazing what a sprinkle of rain can do!

Featured image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool