Hamilton triumphs in an incident-packed Monaco Grand Prix

Over the course of the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, the world of Formula 1 came together to celebrate the extraordinary life of Niki Lauda, triple world champion who sadly passed away in Vienna on the 20th of May at the age of 70.

The drivers all paid their respects, and the teams placed their own tributes on their cars, with Mercedes’ tributes have been most poignant. Lauda had been the non-executive chairman of the team and was regularly seen in the team garage alongside Toto Wolff; he had been an enormously important figure in bringing Lewis Hamilton to the team.

Lauda was always seen in the paddock wearing a red cap and so, in tribute, Hamilton and Bottas‘ cars had a red star painted on the bodywork – a reportedly permanent change – and the normally silver halo was painted red in the triple world champion’s honour. 

2019 Monaco Grand Prix, Thursday – Steve Etherington

Prior to the start of the Grand Prix, a minute’s silence was held to remember the Austrian, who fought against all odds following a horrific crash at the Nürburgring in 1976. At the time, his chance of recovery was slim and a priest administered the last rites and yet, miraculously, he survived. As the F1 world took a moment to remember a legend, few words were needed, other than ‘Danke Niki. 

Qualifying once again saw Mercedes at the front of the pack, with Lewis Hamilton taking pole position with a staggering 1:10.166. Teammate Valtteri Bottas, who posted a time just eight hundredths of a second slower, lined up alongside the Brit. Max Verstappen had looked quick in free practice and secured third position, with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel securing 4th. Unfortunately for Charles Leclerc, his home race weekend didn’t get off to the best of starts and he qualified 16th after a major strategic error from his Ferrari team. The midfield once again remained incredibly close, bringing hopes of wheel-to-wheel action and entertainment in a race which is notorious for being fairly uneventful.

As the race got underway, Hamilton got a perfect start, with teammate Bottas also starting well. Around Sainte Devote, Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi had to cut the corner, however the stewards deemed an investigation was unnecessary. Leclerc fought his way past the cars ahead, making a memorable move around Lando Norris at the hairpin. Despite an impressive start and progression up the pecking order, a tussle with Nico Hülkenberg caused a puncture in the Ferrari driver’s right rear tyre and damage to the floor of his car.

With debris from Leclerc’s tyre littered across the circuit, the safety car was brought out and many drivers dived into the pits. In a rare mistake from the Red Bull pit crew, Max Verstappen was let out of his pitbox too soon and found himself pushing Bottas near to the wall. As a result, Bottas lost second place and was forced to pit again, changing onto the hard compound tyres. The stewards investigated and gave Verstappen a five-second penalty for the unsafe release, which was to be added to his time post-race. He was also given 2 points on his license. 

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Leclerc was stuck at the back of the train of cars due to his collision with Hülkenberg, and on lap 16, both himself and George Russell found the road ahead blocked by Antonio Giovinazzi and Robert Kubica, the latter having been hit by the Alfa Romeo when the Italian took the inside line at Rascasse. Luckily, all four drivers managed to get back on track and carry on with their race, even though Giovinazzi was given a ten-second penalty for the incident.

Leclerc made another pitstop and switched to softs, but his car was suffering from a severe lack of downforce. Unfortunately, he was forced to return to the Ferrari garage and retire from his home race. 

Stroll was investigated by the stewards for a clash with Kimi Räikkönen – the Finn taking part in his 300th Grand Prix – and was given a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage. 

By lap 48, the leaders were caught in a train of backmarkers, with Bottas being compromised by Lance Stroll and losing a chunk of time.  

Lewis Hamilton was doing his utmost best to care for his tyres, however their deteriorating condition and Mercedes’ strategy left the Brit anxious.  In the closing stages of the race, Verstappen remained on Hamilton’s tail, posting similar lap times which kept him on average just half-a-second behind the leader. Sebastian Vettel had been running in 3rd place for most of the race and it was a quiet and uneventful afternoon for the four-time World Champion. 

Ferrari Media

After a brilliant effort to pass the race leader with two laps to go, Verstappen and Hamilton made contact at the Nouvelle Chicane, but luckily both escaped the incident unscathed. The stewards reviewed the incident, but confirmed no further action was needed. 

Hamilton took his fourth victory of the season, dedicating the win to Niki Lauda, with Verstappen finishing second. However, because of his penalty, he was classified fourth behind Vettel and Bottas.

Pierre Gasly secured a bonus point for posting the fastest lap time, the second time he has done so this year. Carlos Sainz had a strong race for McLaren, finishing in 6th, while both Toro Rossos impressed in 7th and 8th. Daniel Ricciardo took the final point for Renault, with Lando Norris just missing out in eleventh. 

There are now 17 points between Hamilton and Bottas in the Drivers’ Championship. Mercedes appear to be running away at the top of the Constructors’ standings 

The seventh round of the 2019 Formula 1 season will take place on the 9th of June at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve for the Canadian Grand Prix.  

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]

Hamilton clinches pole in Monaco after disappointing qualifying for Ferrari

It was a dry but overcast afternoon in Monaco and, as the green light went out in Q1, eighteen of the drivers took to the Circuit de Monaco in a bid to claim pole position.

Monaco is a tight street circuit, so many choose to set competitive times early to avoid being caught out by a yellow or red flag. Early lap times are crucial at this track.

Both Red Bulls of Gasly and Verstappen sat in the garage at the beginning of Q1, with Verstappen’s car being pulled apart and swiftly put back together. Whatever issues he had seemed to have been fixed as he exited the garage.

Leclerc struggled to set a good lap time at the start of the session,  having been held up by Lance Stroll. Hulkenberg almost ran into Giovinazzi in a very similar situation at turn 18, with the pair being put under investigation for the incident.

Verstappen had the initial time to beat, three tenths quicker than defending world champion Lewis Hamilton. Leclerc was in third, with Alex Albon sitting in an impressive fourth place for Toro Rosso.

Hamilton also seemed to struggle, as replays showed the Mercedes driver locking up going into the chicane. After a bit of a scrappy lap, his teammate Bottas managed to set the pace with a 1:11.562.

Steve Etherington

Leclerc then missed the weighbridge procedure, as did Perez and Hulkenberg. All were investigated after qualifying came to a close for the infringements.

Vettel clipped the barrier at the Swimming Pool exit before pitting and returning to the track to set a competitive time. The Ferraris were cutting it fine in P17 and P15 as the chequered flag came out.

After topping the session in FP3, Leclerc dropped out of the session in a disappointing P16 at his home Grand Prix, having been left in the garage by Ferrari as the session came to a close. It was a costly and frustrating mistake which resulted in Leclerc falling behind traffic on his final attempt. Joining Leclerc in the drop-zone were Perez, Stroll, Russell and Kubica.

Both Mercedes went out at the beginning of Q2, with Bottas setting a new track record and Hamilton struggling to match the pace of his teammate in P3 behind Verstappen. Hamilton quickly managed to slot into second spot.

Several drivers made minor mistakes throughout the session, including Magnussen who clipped the wall going into Mirabeau as his Haas struggled to find grip.

With five minutes remaining in Q2, all drivers bar Verstappen went out to set their quickest laps. Verstappen sat in P1 in front of both Silver Arrows as the session ended with Hulkenberg, Norris, Grosjean, Raikkonen and Giovinazzi in the elimination zone. Grosjean was majorly unhappy with P13 after having been held up by the Red Bull of Pierre Gasly, who was then put under investigation for the incident.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Both Alfa Romeo cars had a disappointing session after showing great pace in free practice, finishing in P14 and P15.

Vettel sat in P4, followed by Kevin Magnussen and both Toro Rossos. Gasly sat in P8 with Daniel Ricciardo behind in P9. Rounding out the top 10 was McLaren’s Carlos Sainz.

The final part of qualifying got underway as all ten drivers took to the track on soft compound tyres. Valtteri Bottas set the initial pace with a staggering 1:10.257, four tenths ahead of Max Verstappen in second position.

Hamilton initially made a mistake going into the chicane which meant his first lap had to be aborted, but he managed to slot into P2 on his second run, two tenths behind his teammate.

Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo made a risky decision to go for only one flying lap in the session and managed P6.

Sebastian Vettel made a late mistake and ran into the barrier at Tabac, but he didn’t sustain any damage.

After a flawless performance throughout qualifying by Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton pipped his teammate as the chequered flag came out, clinching pole position by half a tenth from Bottas.

Behind, Max Verstappen lined up P3 followed by Sebastian Vettel in P4, Gasly, Magnussen, Ricciardo, Kvyat, Sainz, and Albon.

It was certainly an interesting session with several cars being investigated for impeding the regulations throughout the afternoon. It was another dominant session by Mercedes, but an extremely disappointing day for Ferrari who will have to rethink their strategy for tomorrow’s Monaco Grand Prix. What’s more, with a 60% chance of rain, it certainly seems as if the race could be full of surprises.

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]

Bottas takes blistering pole position in Spain

The clouds cleared and the sun came out as qualifying got underway at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain this afternoon.

Q1 got off to a rather quiet start until Nico Hulkenberg locked up his front-right tyre and ran into the barrier at turn four and over the barrier, losing his front wing. The German managed to rejoin the circuit, but had to limp his Renault back to the pits for repairs before he could set a competitive lap time.

Shortly after, British driver George Russell had a spin on the final chicane at turn 13 before rejoining the track.

At the end of Q1, the pack was led by Valtteri Bottas, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in P2 and Lewis Hamilton in P3. Rookie Lando Norris managed to finish the session in an impressive P6, and home-boy Carlos Sainz managed to finish Q1 in P8.

The five drivers who dropped out of Q1 were Hulkenberg and Stroll – who has dropped out of Q1 for nine consecutive races – followed by Giovanazzi, and both Williams’ of Russell and Kubica. Russell has a five place grid penalty for a new gearbox so will start P20 in tomorrow’s race.

LAT Images

In Q2, both Mercedes drivers set impressive pace at the start, with Hamilton setting a new track record of a 1:16.038. Vettel’s time, by comparison, was six tenths slower.

Ricciardo majorly impressed in Q2, slotting into P10. The Renault hasn’t shown great pace so far this weekend, and despite not having completed any qualifying runs in FP3, Ricciardo managed to set a very competitive time of 1:17.299, a positive outcome for Renault after Hulkenberg’s incident in Q1.

The session ended with Bottas in first with a 1:15.924, followed by teammate Lewis Hamilton and the the two Ferraris in P3 and P4.

Out at the end of Q2 was Lando Norris, Alex Albon, Carlos Sainz at what is his home race, Kimi Raikkonen, and Sergio Perez.

Bottas put in an extraordinary flying lap at the beginning of Q3, setting a blistering time of 1:15.406, six tenths quicker than Hamilton.

Leclerc didn’t set an initial lap-time, seemingly in a bid to set one single flying lap. Despite his best efforts, the Monegasque driver finished the session in P5.

LAT Images

Valtteri Bottas took pole position with his first lap time in Q3, with Hamilton in P2 followed by Vettel, Verstappen and Leclerc. Pierre Gasly, Grosjean, Magnussen, Kvyat and Ricciardo rounded out the top ten. Ricciardo, however, has a three-place grid penalty from the previous race so will start P13 on the grid.

It certainly looks like tomorrow’s race will be an interesting one under the sun in Barcelona. Will it be another Mercedes one-two, or will the Ferraris fight them for victory? Time will tell.

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]

2019 Bahrain GP Review: Drama in the Dust

The second race of the 2019 season took place under the bright lights of the Bahrain International circuit. Charles Leclerc started from pole position, making him the 99th driver to take pole in the 999th F1 Grand Prix, with Vettel, Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen started behind him.

The lights went out and both Vettel and Bottas got better starts than Leclerc, demoting the Monagasque to third with Hamilton in fourth after the first lap.

Chaos broke out behind the leaders, with sparks flying around the cars of Stroll and Grosjean. The Frenchman would eventually retire from the race. At the back the Williams drivers had a heated fight, which was more for their honor than the points.

Leclerc managed to pick up the speed after his horrible start and regained second place from Bottas. This overtake cost the Finn momentum, meaning that his teammate Hamilton could overtake him as well.

Verstappen in P5 came under pressure from Sainz in the McLaren, a potential haul of points McLaren could definitely use. What they couldn’t use, however, was a touch with Verstappen which meant Sainz received major damage on his front right tyre. The incident was investigated by the stewards, but no action was taken.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Up front, Ferrari told that both drivers were free to fight, and they took advantage of it. Leclerc closed the gap to Vettel quite easily, telling his team “I’m quicker guys!” On lap six he managed to overtake the German using DRS, retaking the lead.

Gasly had to regain his respect after a disappointing qualifying, but struggled in a huge midfield fight with Norris, Magnussen, Albon and Kvyat. To make matters worse, his pit stop went horribly and cost him further precious seconds.

On lap thirteen Kvyat spun due to a slight touch with Giovinazzi at turn eleven, losing places as a result. To add insult to injury, the Russian Toro Rosso driver later got a five-second penalty for speeding in the pitlane. That same lap, Bottas and Hulkenberg came into the pits.

Race leader Leclerc made his pitstop on lap fourteen, opting for the mediums whilst Hamilton went for the soft tyres.

Vettel lost his second place to Hamilton on fresher tyres, but the Brit’s strategy would mean he needed to make another pitstop to fulfill the rules of using two different compounds during a race.

2019 Bahrain Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Some small mistakes from Hamilton meant that Vettel closed the gap, even though the German was on the harder tyre. Hamilton complained about oversteer and had to make another stop. On lap 23 Vettel overtook him, leading to some stressful board-radios from Hamilton.

In the midfield a fun fight between Norris and Räikkönen for P7 took place, keeping each other under pressure.

On lap 33, car number 33 came in for his second pitstop. Verstappen couldn’t be happy as his pitstop went awful, not the first pitstop that’d gone wrong at Red Bull today. Hamilton made his second pitstop two laps later, going for the mediums. He came back on track in front of Verstappen.

Vettel then tried to cover the Mercedes, making his second pitstop, going to the mediums for a second time. He came back just in front of his rival. Immediately after that Leclerc made his second pitstop, and emerged with his lead intact.

Last year’s championship rivals came very close to crashing, with Vettel edging Hamilton out by only a small margin. The German smelled blood and overtook Bottas, who then came into the pits with only a small margin to Verstappen.

Ferrari Media

Up front, a fight for second place between Hamilton and Vettel spelled drama: Hamilton overtook Vettel and the German spun round on his own, costing him a lot of time. He then lost his front wing, as the car was shaking a lot on the straight after turn ten. He had to make another pitstop, dropping down to ninth.

On lap forty-six Leclerc caused a scare when he reported to his team that something was wrong with the engine. His pace dropped away very quickly, with Hamilton closing the gap from nine seconds to just five in three laps. With ten laps to go the Ferrari was really struggling, just managing to put 1:40s on the board compared to the 1:36s of Hamilton.

Hamilton therefore easily managed to overtake him. Leclerc turned his attention to managing the gap to Bottas in P3. He still held the fastest lap, earning him an extra point, but that couldn’t make it up for the disappointment of losing out on his first win due to an engine problem. He was losing around 40 kph on the straights. Bottas closed the gap to him by five seconds a lap and later overtook him for P2.

Further drama sparked with just three laps to go, as both the Renault cars cut out in the first sector. This brought out the safety car, saving Leclerc from losing third place to Verstappen. When it rains it pours: Sainz also retired from the race with just three laps to go.

The race ended behind the safety car, meaning Hamilton won the race ahead of Bottas and a very disappointed Leclerc, who still took the extra point for fastest lap.

Ferrari Media

Some great sportsmanship was shown by Hamilton, sounding sorry for Leclerc and also trying to cheer him up after the race. Verstappen, Vettel, Norris, Räikkönen, Gasly, Albon and Perez completed the top ten.

It was certainly a very dramatic race, and the season is just two races old. Next up is China – will Leclerc get his revenge there or will Mercedes take another win?

 

[Featured image – Wolfgang Wilhelm]

Valtteri Bottas: a man reborn

If I may initiate this piece with a song reference, honours are bestowed to this one, plucked straight from Eminem’s six-barrel lyrical blitz ‘Lose Yourself’. ‘Yo! His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy’. It speaks of one being pelted at from all corners by the tribulations of life, while maintaining an outward show of calmness. What better example, then, than a fallen sportsman.

At one point or another during 2018, Valtteri Bottas may have stared into the abyss of his bathroom mirror, opened out his fingers and checked for any trickling beads of moisture. He may have felt out the strength of his joints with reflex tests. He may even have found his arms screaming out for contact with the ground, as though the distress of his on-track results were taking on a physical form.

2018 was Valtteri’s annus horribilis. What started out as a championship fluttering around the reach of his grasp, derailed and morphed into a warped nightmare. His trademark stoicism was being sapped away with each botched race weekend, and the Finn even admitted the tyre blowout which denied him a crucial victory in Baku left him ‘crying like a baby’.

2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Saturday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

I like to think of this as his Mika Hakkinen moment, and not just for his and Hakkinen’s shared nationality. Harking back to 1999, the king of flying Finns faced his own emotional nadir – after spinning out of the lead in Monza, Hakkinen both blew ten points into the wind and folded under the mind games of the Scuderia’s tifosi. Away from their taunts, he wept under the trees lining the track.

If you’re familiar with the tale of F1 1999, you’ll know that Hakkinen’s mistake did not cost him the championship. He admits that while the pain of never winning an Italian GP still rests in his mind, he was never going to be desolate under the trees for long. Bottas’ tears in Baku dried much the same, but his internal hurting lasted for the season and brought into question just whether he was able to channel that same energy Hakkinen generated for himself.

So, with the winter months behind him, Bottas likely came into Melbourne praying a new chapter would be penned, rather than a grim continuation of what had gone before. Not that he outwardly seemed it – there was now a surprising arrow to his bow: bite. Armed with a gruff beard and a sharp tongue, the champions’ element of disdain with the circus of whispers around them were acquired by Bottas like a platformers’ item box.

Throughout the weekend, Albert Park’s white lines could have buckled under the strain of confining Bottas, the Finn busy proving to the globe that he does have the winner’s uncompromising instinct, as a matter of fact. Even when high Mercedes brass suggested over the radio that he place the shackles back on and resist the push for fastest lap, they were welcomed with the unexpected hand grenade – no. Not this time.

2019 Australian Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Albert Park’s indoor parking spot welcomed its winner first, as is usual. A silver front nose told a story we’d seen many a time over the hybrid era, but this time a white and red helmet didn’t complete the set. It was white, blue and carbon. And to whom that may concern, the man underneath it has words for you. Unsavoury ones. The Hakkinen moment and the understated power of his sisu mindset gave this race’s victor the second wind that could quell media scaremongers and seat poachers alike over the season.

With Australia 2019 now stored in the archives, we can admit there were outside factors that helped Bottas’ day of days. Lewis Hamilton was at the helm of a wounded machine, but even so, with a start so fierce and race management on-point, it’s hard to see past a Finn win. To me, at least, it wasn’t the margin of victory that tells the story here. It’s the way it all unfolded.

Bottas wasn’t holding on for dear life, protecting his right to be part of the elite like Russia, his first win. No murmurs over his conduct, as there were in Austria. Even his Abu Dhabi triumph, under the circumstances of a dead-rubber season’s end. No, this was the breakthrough. His palms were dry like the sahara. His knees were manning the sweet orchestra in the footwell, and his arms were weighted with the delicacy of porcelain. He was no longer wrestling with the tears, nor his rhythm behind the wheel.

Will it last? We wait to see, but the strength he has acquired can last for the rest of his career. This second wind truly feels like it could be season long, if the gods of racing roll the dice of fate favourably. And so he now ventures off to Bahrain, with a thirst for vengeance. For what feels like the longest time, I won’t be concerned for him when he gets there.

 

[Featured image: Paul Ripke]

Mercedes’ 2020 seat: Could Bottas yet be retained?

2018 was a torrid year for Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas. A season plagued with bad luck and inconsistent performances left him without a win and fifth in the championship, while team-mate Lewis Hamilton dominated to take the title for a fifth time. Bottas was out-qualified by an average of 0.3 seconds over the course of the season, a fairly substantial margin in pace that is something of a cause for concern.

2018 was at times a humiliating season for Bottas, much like 2017, as he was constantly out-performed by his team-mate and made to play second fiddle. However, there may yet be hope of him keeping his seat for 2020.

Despite being out-qualified 28 times in 41 races by Hamilton and out-raced 26 times in races they have both finished, Bottas has taken seven poles and three wins from his first two seasons with Mercedes, and has helped them to two victories in the Constructors’ Championship. Most drivers will be made to look average when partnered with Lewis Hamilton, but Bottas has in fact done a fairly solid job – he has at times made himself look world-class.

Of course, “solid” is not quite going to be enough when trying to keep a long-term place at a team at the very top of Formula One, and Bottas is a smart man so he will be under no illusions about this, but there is certainly a talent that, if exploited in the right way, can take him into potential title contention.

2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Friday – Steve Etherington

Furthermore, if you look at contract situations, Bottas may yet be reasonably unchallenged in terms of that second Mercedes seat. Max Verstappen is signed by Red Bull until 2022, Daniel Ricciardo has just signed for Renault, and Sergio Perez would be a very distant candidate for the seat after his contract with Racing Point F1 runs out. It is highly possible, however, that the Mexican will extend this contract anyway.

Lance Stroll is yet to show the racecraft and pace necessary to drive for a top team, but Mercedes protégé George Russell may be a threat provided he has a positive season with Williams up against the returning Robert Kubica.

And let’s not forget Esteban Ocon, the Frenchman unceremoniously dumped out of F1 for 2019 by a dastardly combination of money and politics. He is a Mercedes test and reserve driver for next season, and will undoubtedly be vying for Bottas’ seat for next year – an in-house battle if you will.

Bottas’ seat beyond this year is far from safe and his performances will need to be better, but Mercedes team principalToto Wolff will be fully aware of the prodigious talent that the Finn has, as we watch the intense battle for Mercedes’ second seat in 2020 unfold this year.

 

Featured image – 2018 Brazilian Grand Prix, Sunday – Paul Ripke

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?