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.

Valtteri Bottas sets the benchmark in FP1 at the Tuscan Grand Prix

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Valtteri Bottas was fastest during free practice one at the Tuscan Grand Prix. It is the first timed session that we have been able to see with Formula One cars at the famous Mugello circuit.

Bottas set a time of a 1:17:879 closely followed by the Red Bull of Max Verstappen (+0.048). His teammate Alex Albon finished down in P9 (+1.189)

Genuine pace or a masquerade? Regardless Charles Leclerc went third fastest (+0.307) on Ferrari’s 1000th Grand Prix in a surprising up-turn in pace. There were some questions as to whether the ‘Red Car’ were running extremely light to set positive headlines in Italy. Well, it may have worked as there will be an enthusiastic tifosi willing the team on to a potential top 6 result.

Leclerc has been running a new chassis after his collision at the Parabolica last weekend. There is no evidence that it is a new design, but it is entirely possible that they could be tweaks for Ferrari’s famous weekend.

As for Sebastien Vettel, it was a familiar story. Finishing down in P13 (+1.388), the German will no doubt be setting the headlines off-track more so than on-track. With his famous move to Aston Martin for 2021 now in the open, perhaps pressure will be off Vettel this weekend with his future in Formula One assured?

Lewis Hamilton finished down in fourth place (+0.530) in a rather uneventful session, in which the only memorable moment came from a radio transmission asking Lewis to turn the engine down. Mercedes feeling the strain on the engine perhaps?

Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly and Danil Kvyat finished in an impressive P5 (+0.797) and P7 (+0.960) freshly following the Frenchman’s win at Monza. Earlier in the session there was a slight concern as engineers crowded around Pierre’s bargeboard. However, this seemingly didn’t hinder the team’s pace who have a strong chance to continue their strong run of form since Spa.

Esteban Ocon finished in P6 (+0.926) with Daniel Ricciardo in P10 (+1.261) Renault have shown glimpses of form since Spa however have some strong competition with the resurgence of both McLaren and Alpha Tauri.

McLaren’s Lando Norris finished P8 (1.102) with Carlos Sainz P15 (+1.578). The British team tested a range of different aero parts, particularly a new front wing. From casual observation the wing is similar to that of the Mercedes with a narrow body, short stubby pillars under the nose to connect to the wing and a higher cape.

Outside the top ten was a train of Ferrari powered cars starting with the Alfa Romeo of Kimi Raikkonen in P11 (+1.340), the Haas of Romain Grosjean in P12 (+1.345) and Giovinazzi in P14 (+1.443). It is going to be a constant balancing act of lower the downforce to gain on the straight. However, the number of high-speed corners may mean that sacrificing too much downforce will be too much risk on a track such as this. Grosjean had a small moment with the Racing Point of Sergio Perez in which the Swiss driver complained on the radio that he was blocked coming into the second sector.

George Russell finished in P16 (+1.599) closely followed by Kevin Magnussen in P17 (+1.672)

Interestingly, the Racing Point’s decided to not run the soft tyres and focus on race simulations. Stroll finishing in P18 (+1.957) and Perez P19 (+1.961). The Silverstone based team need to find a solution to their confusing drop off in race pace and may be testing to see if they can make the medium tyres last on a one stop strategy.

The final position was rounded out by the Williams of Nicholas Latifi in P20 (+2.155) who’s most memorable moment was a spin during the final ten minutes of the session.

As we draw closer to Free Practice Two. The drivers will be seeking the aid of their trainers and physiotherapists to negate the strain on their necks. While the Mugello circuit is something of a beauty with the backdrop of the Florence and the mountains nearby, it is a double-edged sword. The undulating, medium and high-speed corners are tricky, demanding and will prove a stiff test for many of the drivers to acclimatise before qualifying on Saturday.

FP1 Classification

  1. Bottas (1:17:879)
  2. Verstappen (+0.048)
  3. Leclerc (+0.307)
  4. Hamilton (+0.530)
  5. Gasly (+0.797
  6. Ocon (+0.926)
  7. Kvyat (+0.960)
  8. Norris (+1.102)
  9. Albon (+1.189)
  10. Ricciardo (+1.261)
  11. Raikkonen (+1.340)
  12. Grosjean (+1.345)
  13. Vettel (+1.388)
  14. Giovinazzi (+1.443)
  15. Sainz (+1.578)
  16. Russell (+1.599)
  17. Magnussen (+1.672)
  18. Stroll (+1.957)
  19. Perez (+1.961)
  20. Latifi (+2.155)

 

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.

Spanish GP: Hamilton takes his 4th consecutive win in Catalunya

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Lewis Hamilton absolutely demolished the competition on Sunday afternoon in Spain to take his 88th grand prix victory in what was a very straightforward race for him. The Englishman got off to a brilliant start off the line and never looked back after and now has the most f1 podiums to his name at 156. His teammate Bottas however would be ruing his fortunes after failing to make a decent start which left him on a recovery mode for the rest of the race. The Finnish driver managed to make his way on to the podium which happens to be the 50th of his career.

Max Verstappen had yet another amazing race weekend considering this is the best result that Redbull could have hoped for given the pace of the Mercedes but the Dutchman got off to a good start jumping the Mercedes of Bottas into 2nd place and then managed to hold on to it to the end of the race. His teammate Albon finished 8th after stopping twice and the Thai driver would not be overly pleased with his raceday considering he started 6th but unfortunately found himself in the thick of the midfield battle.

Racing Point managed to convert their good qualifying result into the race result as well after Lance Stroll finished 4th after he got off to a good start and drove a good race from that point. Sergio Perez put in a great show after returning from illness and finished 5th behind his teammate despite finishing 4th on the track. The Mexican driver was penalized by the stewards for ignoring blue flags which meant that 5 seconds were added to his time.

Ferrari’s mixed fortunes continued long into this raceday as well after an electrical failure saw Leclerc retire around lap 40 after the Monegasque driver was just beginning to put on a charge and head for a points finish. A disgruntled Vettel on the radio showed up with a few laps to go after the German driver was asked to push his dying soft tyres to the end of the race. He managed to get on with it however and finished 7th by making the one stop strategy work, which would be a welcome result after a dismal last couple of weekends at Silverstone.

Carlos Sainz finally had an incident free race at his home grandprix after the Spanish driver finished a decent 6th following an aggressive McLaren strategy which saw him put on soft tyres twice followed by mediums to the end.  His teammate Norris however could not make the most of the strategy and got caught in traffic and ended up at 10th.

Pierre Gasly continued his impressive form this season after he finished 9th today. The French driver had to fend off early pressure from the Ferrari of Leclerc during his first stint which he did well and managed to achieve a points finish. His teammate Kvyat finished exactly where he started at 12th and also picked up the same 5-second penalty as the likes of Perez for ignoring blue flags.

Renault would like to quickly put this weekend past them after Ricciardo and Ocon managed to finish 11th and 13th out of points despite starting off aggressively. The team would be looking to get things into order quickly with them losing ground in the constructors championship to the other midfield teams. Kimi Raikkonen had a great weekend after the Finnish driver managed P14 where he drove a pretty quiet race apart from an early battle with Ocon.

Both the Haas drivers finished their races with Magnussen at 15th and Grosjean at 19th with the latter having to make quite a save at turn 4 after he lost the back end and risked ending up in gravel. He somehow managed to keep the car on track and finish the race. Both the Williams finished with Russell at 17th and Latifi at 18th after a quiet showing for both the drivers. Giovinazzi of Alfa Romeo just finished above both the Williams at 16th. The Italian would be somewhat happy with that after starting dead last on the grid.

Hamilton is now perfectly poised to take his 7th world driver’s championship after extending his lead over Max Verstappen to 37 points by the end of this race with his teammate Valtteri Bottas sitting a further 6 points behind the Dutch driver. The midfield battle seems to be heating up as we progress further into the season with Racing Point at 63 points, followed by McLaren at 62 and Ferrari at 61.

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

A case for: The Finnish GP

This weekend would have been the return of the Dutch Grand Prix at the Zandvoort circuit to the F1 calendar, which is only happening because of a certain Max Verstappen. F1 madness has gripped the Netherlands, it only took about five years for a driver to generate enough buzz to get it back on the calendar. But we aren’t talking about that today, instead I’m talking about a country which has had three drivers who have won the Formula One world championship yet have never gotten close to having a Grand Prix in F1’s 70 year history.

1982 champion Keke Rosberg, 1998 and 1999 champion Mika Häkkinen and the much beloved 2007 champion Kimi Räikkönen all hail from a small country up in Scandinavia, you might have heard of it, Finland! A country that has a rich history of motorsport, mainly through rallying with seven drivers who have won the World Rally Championship, and if you ever saw the piece on Top Gear where James May is given racing lessons by Mika Häkkinen, you’ll realise how seriously the Finns take driving.

So why may I ask, has Finland never had a Grand Prix? Maybe the Scandinavian countries aren’t warm enough throughout the year, but immediately I can refute that because Sweden had a Grand Prix between 1973 and 1978. Plus it’s not like there isn’t demand! We always hear about the Finns traveling down to the Hungaroring for the Hungarian Grand Prix. Why should they be made to travel upwards of 2,000 kilometres to attend a Grand Prix?

For this year, construction was completed on a circuit on the Northern Eastern outskirts of Helsinki with the intention of bringing back the Finnish MotoGP. The circuit was called the Kymi Ring, and it hosted an open test shortly after finishing construction with the Grand Prix scheduled for July 12th, but understandably has been postponed in the current circumstances.

Looking at this video of a virtual lap from the newly-released MotoGP 20 game by Milestone, you can see that the Kymi Ring has some rather unique corners. The fast flowing turn one heading into an uphill hairpin, then a long back-straight before a series of very technical, flowing yet tight corners. Plenty of elevation change too, which is always an amazing characteristic with all the great circuits.

Whether F1 could have a good race here is another matter, although it wouldn’t be any worse than Yas Marina and Sochi. In any case, there have been discussions to potentially have other top-line racing series at the Kymi Ring other than MotoGP. This includes Karting, Rallycross, Speedway, Motocross, and even top-line circuit car racing such as World Touring Cars, DTM and the World Endurance Championship!

Those last three in particular should definitely hammer home how serious the Kymi Ring is about being the home of Finnish motorsport. It has gotten the top grades by both the major motorsport governing bodies for motorcycle and car racing, with the FIM giving it a safety grade A for motorcycle racing, and the FIA have granted the circuit and its facilities, grade 1 licence. Thus making it the first and only Nordic circuit to meet the requirements to host an F1 Grand Prix.

So immediately, this track meets the regulations to host F1, so it would beg the question, why isn’t it already trying? Well, as the answer always seem to be, money. MotoGP got priority over F1 because it cost way less, and it may build up the interest of potential investors but even so, I don’t see any reason why Finland wouldn’t be hugely onboard with getting the F1 circus to go there.

It just astounds me to think that it has taken so long to have the conversation about a Finnish F1 Grand Prix, particularly as we have got an aging Kimi Räikkönen – still racing in F1 at 40 – who will at some point overtake Rubens Barrichello for most Grand Prix starts when F1 does resume. Lewis Hamilton has Silverstone, Fernando Alonso had Barcelona and Max Verstappen will have Zandvoort, why can’t Kimi have the Kymi Ring? I mean, I doubt he actually cares but what about the adoring fans?

Like I was saying, the Finns have to make the journey to Budapest if they want to watch Kimi, their other Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas and indeed all the other drivers. Why should they? I’m British, so whether or not the Finns have their own Grand Prix doesn’t effect me hugely, but I think it’s an insult that they have never had one, particularly at the height of Häkkinen’s and Räikkönen’s careers.

One of Finland’s neighbouring countries is Russia, which already has a Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom near the shores of the Black Sea, one of the most southerly points of European Russia. However, there are strong talks of a circuit that has just been completed called Igora Drive, just north of St. Petersburg and not far from the Finnish border potentially taking over the Russian Grand Prix from 2021. This circuit is/was set to host a DTM round this year, and it looks a damn sight better than the current Russian Grand Prix venue.

If it were me organising the schedule, I’d put Kymi Ring and Igora Drive in successive weeks in late July and early August, probably at the expense of the Hungaroring, sorry Hungarians! With the Finnish F1 Grand Prix being a week or two after the MotoGP but before the WRC Rally Finland round. A month’s worth of racing action for the Finns!

As I said earlier, I’m British and none of my family are in any way linked to Finland, nor do I have any special affinity with Finland. But I firmly believe that all you Finns out there deserve a Grand Prix, and I hope it does happen. Kiitos!

Image courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari

2020 Mercedes-AMG Petronas Preview

Mercedes head into the 2020 season aiming to win their seventh consecutive constructors’ championship, a feat never before achieved in F1’s history. Likewise, Lewis Hamilton is aiming to win his seventh title, which would put him level with Michael Schumacher at the top of the all-time list.

Hamilton is also on the verge of potentially matching and even surpassing Schumacher’s record of race wins, which currently stands at 91. Hamilton goes into 2020 just seven behind that tally. Given he has won an average of ten races a year since 2014, that is a real possibility.

Bottas, too, will be hoping to further add to his tally of seven race wins, in what is his fourth year with the team.

2020 Barcelona Pre-Season Test 2, Day 2 – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Mercedes’ form in pre-season testing should give them the confidence that they are able to achieve their goals, even though there are potentially a few concerns and question marks to be addressed too.

They completed 903 laps across the six days of pre-season testing, the most of any team and 59 more than second-placed Ferrari. Bottas also posted the fastest lap of the entire test – a 1m 15.732 set on the third day of the first test.

Mercedes were also responsible for potentially the biggest headline to come out of pre-season testing when they debuted their new dual-axis steering system, known as DAS. It was noticeably used more in the first week of testing than the second, and it will be interesting come Australia to see in which situation it is used more – long runs or qualifying runs.

2020 Barcelona Pre-Season Test 2, Day 2 – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Things were not all good for the Silver Arrows, though.

Hamilton ground to a halt with an oil pressure problem on the second day of the second test, an issue that meant he completed just 14 laps on that particular day. Bottas also suffered an electrical issue, in the first week.

Add to that the fact that Mercedes’ customer team Williams had four power unit problems in just six days of testing, and there are a few worries about the reliability of Mercedes’ engine.

If those problems can be resolved, and considering the stability of the regulations for this year, Mercedes should be in a prime position to begin to realise those dreams of a seventh consecutive championship.

With the Australian Grand Prix now less than a week away, we don’t have long to wait to find out if that is true.

 

[Featured image – Wolfgang Wilhelm]

Mercedes unveil 2020 challenger

Mercedes gave their fans a Valentine’s gift of their own on Friday morning, as they unveiled the car they are hoping will take them to a seventh consecutive title sweep.

Following the unveiling of the 2020 livery on the 2019 season’s car on Monday, the new car features red hints on the end-plates of the front and rear wings and on the front of the engine cover. This is part of their brand new partnership with sponsor INEOS.

Sporting a unique wing intake on the sides of the front nose, Mercedes have predominantly stuck with their imperious winning formula, opting to keep the car largely the same as last year.

Mercedes-AMG F1 W11 EQ Performance – Render

They will run their car today for a shakedown session at Silverstone, as Red Bull did yesterday with Max Verstappen when they released the RB16. World Champion Lewis Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas will both run the car.

Hamilton is chasing more records this season, as are his team. Mercedes look to extend their record of consecutive constructors’ championship successes, while Hamilton will attempt to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of seven drivers’ championships, as well as beating his staggering record of 91 race wins. He needs eight more victories to achieve the latter.

Hamilton feels well equipped to do this, saying that he feels ‘on another level’, both in terms of fitness and focus heading into what could be a very pertinent year in the illustrious career of the 35-year-old.

Alpha Tauri, the renamed Toro Rosso, will also reveal their car later today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo by Joe Portlock / LAT Images)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

[Featured image – Steve Etherington]

Mercedes claim sixth consecutive Constructors’ Championship at Japanese Grand Prix

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

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

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

2019 Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

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

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

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

2019 Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

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

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

 

[Featured image – Steve Etherington]