2018 British GP Review: Is it coming home?

Formula One hosted it first ever triple header, which concluded at round 10 The British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Silverstone normally produces drama and excitement and this year was no exception.

‘Homeboy’ Lewis Hamilton started the race from pole as he claimed his 76th career pole with a lap he called himself ‘’the toughest lap ever’’. Behind him was Vettel with a small gap of only +0.044s. It was a tense battle for pole. For many teams like McLaren and Williams the British Grand Prix is their home Grand Prix as well. They didn’t impress the home crowd like Lewis did, as Stroll caused a red flag for spinning into the gravel. Sirotkin did the same, but he managed to get back to the pits to try another flying lap. Vandoorne was almost a second slower than his teammate Alonso in qualifying. He ended up in P17 as Alonso started from P13. Was it really coming home for the Brits?

Sebastian Vettel leads the 2018 British GP. Image courtesy of Ferrari

The start of the race was a bit chaotic for Toro Rosso, as the car of Brendon Hartley wasn’t ready during the parade lap, as mechanics were still working on his car in the garage. He did manage to start the race though from the pits, but after already one lap he returned to the pits to retire. Hamilton had an awful start as Vettel overtook him into turn 1. To make things even worse, Lewis spun in turn 3 after he got hit by Kimi Räikkönen who locked his brakes. Kimi eventually got a 10-second time penalty for the incident. Hamilton thus had to start from the back. After two laps he was back up to P14 after overtaking some slower drivers. Perez had a difficult start as well as he spun in turn 1, almost collecting both the Williams cars that started from the pit lane.

Meanwhile a great battle between Max Verstappen and Kimi was unleashed, just like in Barcelona 2016. Max defended heavily whilst Kimi was looking for a move. Vettel took the lead and extended it by almost a second per lap on Bottas in second place. Renault did a good job, with Hülkenberg and Sainz making up some places at the start. Hamilton was in P8 by lap 9, catching up the Sauber of Leclerc and eventually overtaking him that same lap. Hülkenberg was his next target, but that wasn’t a problem for him as he got him in lap 10 using DRS on the Hangar Straight. Kimi was frustrated at his team as he was struggling to get past Max. His team reminded him of his penalty whilst he was ‘’just trying to help, but I probably shouldn’t be thinking’’. He clearly was unhappy as the pressure from behind of Ricciardo increased. As a result of this all, Räikkönen ended up being the first to do a pit stop in lap 14, putting on the mediums.

Williams and McLaren battled each other, but only for their honour as the points were out of reach. Force India had mixed feelings with Ocon in the top 10 but Perez in last place after the incident at the start. Haas impressed in Austria, but seemingly struggled at Silverstone as they were just fighting for the last few points.

Max Verstappen ahead of Kimi Raikkonen. Image courtesy of Charles Coates/Getty Images via Red Bull Content pool

Max Verstappen went into the pits in lap 18, changing to the medium tyre which meant that Lewis passed the Dutchman. Hamilton however still had to make his pit stop. He was up to P3 when Daniel Ricciardo went into the pits, followed by Charles Leclerc to make his stop too. The team made an impressive 2.3 second pit stop, but it already looked too good to be real as he had to stop the car after exiting the pit lane.

Bottas passed Hamilton as he was on a new set of mediums, whilst Lewis was still going on his old softs. Valtteri was closing the gap to Vettel as he really pushed his new tyres to the limit. The only team that gave the new ‘Ice Blue’ hard tyre a try, to probably make it to the end of the race. With the exceptional high temperatures at Silverstone this didn’t seem like a bad idea. This was confirmed in lap 31 as Ricciardo made his second pit stop of the race, going back to the soft compound which meant he came back at P6 behind Hamilton who made his first and only pitstop in lap 25.

In lap 33 Ericcson crashed heavily in the first corner at full speed after using too much of the outside kerbstone. This brought out the yellow flag and eventually the Safety Car, as his car was deep into the tyre barriers. Luckily he could climb out of his car on his own. The Safety Car situation got the strategists thinking into overdrive: should they pit their cars now or wait. Bottas didn’t take a second pit stop, but Verstappen, Räikkönen and Vettel did. Bottas now led with his old mediums, whilst Vettel was in P2 with his new soft tyres and surprisingly Hamilton in third position. He didn’t make another pit stop too, which led to complaints from the British driver as he was worried he ‘’wouldn’t make it’’ on these tyres. His team assured him that he was the fastest driver on track and that he shouldn’t give up. Ricciardo didn’t get lucky during the SC, as he ended up in only P6 after he already had made his second pit stop. The team told him that ‘’the timing of the Safety Car was unfortunate’’.

The Safety Car went into the pits in lap 37, starting the fifteen lap sprint race to the finish flag. At the restart Vettel wasn’t focused as Bottas drove away. Kimi overtook Max in turn 6, which led to a massive fight between the two. This fight ended early as another Safety Car occurred for a crash between Sainz and Grosjean at Copse Corner. Sainz was at the outside, cutting to the inside where Grosjean already was. The Frenchman did have a moment of oversteer and crashed into Sainz. It thus looked like a racing incident.

The second Safety Car situation of the race ended in lap 41 of 52, shortening the sprint race from fifteen laps to just ten. These SC situations meant that Hamilton could manage his older tyres to the end. The second restart went horrible for Kimi as he went wide but he could get his P5 back. Vettel tried to overtake Bottas at turn 6 as he was very close but he had to lift, otherwise they would probably collide. Alonso had a good restart overtaking Magnussen for P9, but Magnussen took back his place the same lap. Max made a mistake coming up on Hangar Straight, making an overtake easy for Räikkönen. Vettel and Bottas had a legendary fight for the victory. Hamilton was under pressure from Kimi, whilst Lewis was increasing the pressure on Vettel who put Bottas under pressure. It was a massive fight for the podium between the four drivers, as the camera helicopter captured the top four in just one shot.

The problems for Max Verstappen got worse as he spun in lap 46, eventually leading to his retirement from the race as he had problems with the brake-by-wire system. Meanwhile Vettel overtook Bottas into turn 6 with an amazing speed and a lap later Hamilton also overtook Bottas, taking an impressive P2 after a terrible start. With just five laps to go Lewis was just two seconds away from a victory on home soil. Bottas went down from P2 to P4 in just three laps, he was really struggling for pace. He even had to defend his P4 from Daniel Ricciardo for the last three laps, which he did successfully because the Red Bull just wasn’t fast enough. In the end it looked like Hamilton was happy to take P2, losing some time on Vettel and probably more thinking about defending his position from Räikkönen.

The 2018 Formula One British GP winners; (left to right)Lewis 2nd, Seb winner and Kimi 3rd. Image courtesy of Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel took his 51st career victory at the 2018 British Grand Prix, whilst Lewis Hamilton got voted Driver of the Day by the fans after a heroic drive saw him finish in second place in front of his home crowd. It wasn’t meant to be for Lewis to win his sixth British GP, but at least he brought home some very important eighteen points. Vettel extended his championship lead by a small margin because of this victory. After an exciting race, the British fans should be very happy to see Hamilton on the podium. Lewis himself didn’t look happy though as he skipped the post-race interview. He later on said that Ferrari “used some interesting tactics”, probably suggesting that Räikkönen hit him on purpose to give Vettel the win. Mercedes teamboss Toto Wolff went even further, saying “it was deliberate or incompetence”. It’s an all out warfare between Ferrari and Mercedes this year. Will Lewis still bring it home this year?

Featured Image courtesy of Ferrari media

The British Grand Prix: The Summer Festival of Formula One

It’s that time of the year again. No, not Christmas—the British Grand Prix. Once an airfield in the Second World War, Silverstone was turned into a race track in the late 1940s, and it is the second oldest track on the F1 calendar behind Monza.

The 5.1-kilometre track has seen some changes in recent years. The left-right Abbey chicane which led to Bridge was changed into a right-hander—now Turn one—and Bridge was disused, but is still an attraction for spectators during the weekend. Instead, we have the Wellington straight which leads to the long left-hander of Brooklands. The start/finish line is no longer the straight between Woodcote and Copse, but instead the uphill run from Vale to Abbey.

One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the appeal of the race. The activities, the camping, the barbecues and the atmosphere among the fans gives the British GP weekend a real festival feel, and expect it to be no different this weekend. The appeal of the Maggots, Becketts and Chapel complex has never changed either in 70 years of Silverstone. The high-speed section provides speed, fun and excitement for the drivers, and with these high downforce cars, most of it is now flat out.

Silverstone hasn’t always been the home of Formula One racing in Britain, however. It used to alternate with Aintree in the 1970s, and Brands Hatch has also hosted the race.

Ferrari Media

The third part of Formula One’s first ever triple-header will see British favourite Lewis Hamilton race in front of his home fans—he has won each of the last four races at Silverstone.

Sebastian Vettel comes into this weekend with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ championship after his third-place finish in a crazy Austrian Grand Prix. Max Verstappen won the race, his first win in 2018, from Kimi Raikkonen, while Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo and Hamilton all retired due to mechanical failures. As a result, Ferrari also lead the Constructors’ Championship—it was a pivotal moment in the season, and it is all perfectly poised coming into one of the most eagerly anticipated weekends of the year.

The favourites will be Mercedes. The power-sensitive nature of the track, coupled with the extra motivation of it being Hamilton’s home race, will work in their favour. However, the high speed sections will be more suited to Ferrari and Red Bull, and let’s not forget the power Ferrari have as well.

As the Red Arrows fly over, will it be the Prancing Horses, the Silver Arrows, or the Charging Bulls who will enjoy the taste of victory in the one of the biggest sporting events of the summer? We’ll find out this weekend at the home of British Motorsport.

Orange Magic: Max Verstappen wins 2018 Austrian Grand Prix

The second race of the first ever ‘triple header’ saw F1 return to the mountains of Austria, for the Grand Prix at Spielberg’s Red Bull Ring.

As it’s the team’s home race, Red Bull Racing had high hopes. These hopes were, however, seemingly shattered when a disappointing qualifying on Saturday meant that Max Verstappen would start the race on Sunday from P5 (which ended up as P4 when Vettel got a three-place grid penalty for impeding Sainz in Q2), with Daniel Ricciardo in P7 behind the Haas of Romain Grosjean. There was no reason for them to be yodelling just yet.

This weekend not only was a special Grand Prix for the Austrian team’s management, but also for Max Verstappen personally. With a sea of orange shirts in his very own ‘Max Verstappen Grandstand’, it is no surprise that this is seen as the second home Grand Prix for the Dutchman (with Belgium being the other one). Not only that, shortly before the weekend he announced he would be driving with a special helmet design. Rather than its normal dark blue, his helmet instead shone yellow as a thank-you to his first big sponsor, the Dutch supermarket Jumbo. Were these things the trigger for Verstappen to get the luck he so desperately needed?

Start of the Austrian F1 race. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

He had a pretty good start, and went from P4 to P3 after turn one as Kimi Räikkönen and Valtteri Bottas ran wide. Still taking risks on the first lap, he made slight contact with Raikkonen, who then had to run wide a bit. He was briefly under investigation for the touch, but the stewards decided it was just a racing incident as the consequences for the drivers were little.

Shortly after Nico Hülkenberg retired with a spectacular engine failure – resulting in some big flames – another car retired. It was none other than Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, whose gearbox got stuck in second gear, resulting in a loss of drive. This brought out the Virtual Safety Car on lap fourteen. Some teams decided to use this VSC to change their strategy, as Ferrari and Red Bull put on the soft tyres on their cars.

One team that didn’t decide to change their strategy, however, was Mercedes, and Lewis Hamilton stayed out on track. This led to a gap of just thirteen seconds to Verstappen, who emerged from his pit stop in P2. It takes roughly twenty-one seconds to complete a pit-stop in Austria, including time spent driving down the pit-lane, so it was looking disastrous for Hamilton. When he finally did pit, Max Verstappen inherited the lead and, from that moment onwards, dominated the race. Things later when from bad to worse for Hamilton, and he eventually had to retire the car due to engine problems.

Max Verstappen leading the Austrian Grand Prix. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

One critical issue during the race for lots of drivers was tyre degradation. Daniel Ricciardo for instance had changed to the softs during the Virtual Safety Car period, but after just twenty-two laps it became clear he would not be able to make it to the end, as his rear-left tyre was destroyed.

Someone that didn’t seem to struggle at all with the soft tyres, however, was Verstappen. He drove over fifty laps on those tyres to bring home the victory for Red Bull Racing, claiming his fourth career win. The orange crowds went insane and it didn’t look like the party would end very soon for the fans and the team.

Max Verstappen. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Criticised for his aggressive driving style many times this season, Verstappen has surely shown the press they were wrong. Whilst his teammate struggled on the same tyre compound after just twenty-two laps, Max managed to make it to the end and keep both Ferraris behind. Once again his aggressive driving style brought him a brilliant victory. Should he really change his driving style?

Austrian Grand Prix: Bottas Claims First Pole of the Year

Image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Valtteri Bottas has claimed his first pole position of the year, and leads a Mercedes 1-2 into tomorrow’s Austrian Grand Prix.

Of the big-hitters, only Bottas and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen had a truly clean session. Both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel made mistakes early on – at turn three and turn four respectively – and ended up relatively far back after the first Q3 runs had been completed. It took until the last couple of minutes for the pair to pull themselves back up the order – Hamilton ultimately qualified P2, and Vettel P3, with both pushing Kimi Raikkonen down into P4. Vettel was noted as being under investigation for allegedly impeding Carlos Sainz in Q2, but since Sainz did advance to Q3 it is uncertain whether Vettel will receive any penalty.

Red Bull had expected qualifying to be a struggle compared to Mercedes and Ferrari coming into the weekend. Max Verstappen may have qualified P5 but he was still two tenths behind Raikkonen, and Daniel Ricciardo ended up P7 behind the Haas of an impressive Romain Grosjean. Replays of team radio throughout the session indicated a certain amount of tension in the team, with Ricciardo frustrated that Verstappen did not follow orders to lead the Australian for a lap and give him a tow, as Ricciardo had done for Verstappen the lap before.

Kevin Magnussen and the two Renaults of Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg complete the top ten.

Further down the order, Charles Leclerc continues to impress in the Sauber. He qualified P13 but carries a five-place grid penalty due to his gearbox needing to be changed following a stoppage on track in FP3.

Force India’s Sergio Perez had a nightmare of a session. The Mexican complained of running out of battery during his first run and of getting stuck in traffic during his second. He failed to make it out of Q1 and starts P17.

It was also a frustrating session for McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley. Both were looking to pull themselves out of the drop-zone and into Q2, but encountered yellow flags on their flying laps when Charles Leclerc ran through the gravel trap in the final moments of Q1.

Both Mercedes and Red Bull will start tomorrow’s Grand Prix on the supersoft tyres, with all those around them starting on the ultras. Bottas will be hoping to convert pole position into a win, at the circuit where he claimed his second ever victory in 2017.

Austrian Grand Prix Grid

1. Valtteri Bottas – 1:03.130

2. Lewis Hamilton – 1:03.149

3. Sebastian Vettel – 1:03.464

4. Kimi Raikkonen – 1:03.660

5. Max Verstappen – 1:03.840

6. Romain Grosjean – 1:03.892

7. Daniel Ricciardo – 1:03.996

8. Kevin Magnussen – 1:04.051

9. Carlos Sainz – 1:04.725

10. Nico Hulkenberg – 1:05.019

11. Esteban Ocon – 1:04.845

12. Pierre Gasly 0 1:04.874

13. Fernando Alonso – 1:05.058

14. Lance Stroll – 1:05.286

15. Stoffel Vandoorne – 1:05.271

16. Sergio Perez – 1:05.279

17. Sergey Sirotkin – 1:05.322

18. Charles Leclerc – 1:04.979 *5-place penalty for gearbox change

19. Brendon Hartley 1:05.366

20. Marcus Ericsson – 1:05.479

 

Update – 17:30 – Sebastian Vettel has been given a three-place penalty by the stewards for impeding Carlos Sainz at turn one in Q2. The German will now start P6, promoting Kimi Raikkonen to P3, Max Verstappen to P4, and Romain Grosjean to P5.

Chinese GP: has Ricciardo ended Bottas’s Mercedes hopes?

Daniel Ricciardo’s path to victory in Shanghai last Sunday was full of all the precise car placement and late-braking brilliance that F1 has come to expect from its smiling assassin.

But what was perhaps the most noticeable part of Ricciardo’s win was not the moves he made to achieve it, but who he beat along the way.

Wolfgang Wilhelm/Mercedes AMG F1

Fans and pundits alike were quick to point out that the two drivers who trailed Ricciardo onto the podium in China—Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen—also happened to be the same drivers under pressure from the Australian for a 2019 seat.

It was a coincidence sharp enough to be ominous—and judging by the two Finns’ downcast expressions in the post-race press conference, neither appreciated the irony in that result.

For Bottas, the timing of his defeat by Ricciardo could hardly have been less fortunate. It was only a week ago that the Finn was being criticised for a lack of aggression in his pursuit of Sebastian Vettel for the lead in Bahrain, and it will surely not have escaped his notice that one of those critics was Ricciardo himself.

After Bahrain, Ricciardo was quoted by Motorsport.com as saying he would have “at least tried” to overtake Vettel were he in Bottas’s position: “For me, the first opportunity you have to take. If it’s for a win, you just can’t [settle].”

To then have victory snatched away at the very next event, with a decisive move up the inside by the same man posturing to replace you? There’s misfortune, and then there’s misery.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

But what makes matters worse for Bottas is that he didn’t just lose out on victory for himself, he also let slip a victory for Mercedes.

With Lewis Hamilton struggling to get on the pace across the China weekend, the burden was on Bottas to lead Mercedes’ charge against Ferrari and secure their first win of the season.

And although the Finn’s chances of winning in Shanghai were ruined by the ill-timed safety car, it’s hard not to notice the similarities between this race and Bahrain. Both times Bottas was the lead Mercedes, both times a clever pit strategy put him in a winning position, and both times he finished only second.

Add that to the qualifying crash in Australia that left Bottas starting 15th on the grid, and Mercedes could be forgiven if their faith in the once-Flying Finn has become a little half-hearted this year.

And the danger there is that Hamilton, also out of contract this year, has hinted several times that the next deal he signs might well be his last. The driver decisions facing Mercedes this year will therefore be made with that post-Hamilton future in mind—their priority will be to lock in place the driver most capable of leading the team forward once Hamilton departs.

Given that’s something Ricciardo’s already shown he can do during his Red Bull tenure, Bottas will have a lot of work to do after his early season errors to prove to Mercedes that he is still their best option.

Steve Etherington/Mercedes AMG F1

There is still time for Bottas to turn his situation around—although that time is fast running out.

Ricciardo’s contract renewal talks with Red Bull were due to start this month, and if he decides early not to stay then the Australian could be meeting with Toto Wolff by the time F1 comes round to the European season in May. The uncertainty over Hamilton’s extension might hold up the talks for now—but alternatively, the fear of Ferrari poaching Ricciardo while Mercedes waits may well push Wolff into a swift decision.

Bottas will need to impress quickly, then, if he is to even remain in the running for his seat. But luckily for the Finn, the next race in Azerbaijan should be one of his stronger events—last year, he came from the back after a first lap crash to steal second from Lance Stroll across the line.

Another performance like that will go a long way to restoring Mercedes’ confidence in Bottas at this crucial time in the season—and if he can go one step further and take the Silver Arrows’ first 2018 win, then all the better.

But whatever results Bottas brings from Baku and beyond, he will have to up his game generally, and prove he is capable of taking the fight to Ferrari and Red Bull whenever Hamilton can’t.

Because as messages go, Ricciardo’s “lick the stamp and send it” jibe on the Shanghai podium couldn’t have been any clearer: if Mercedes wants a driver who will do more than settle for second, they know where to find one.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Hamilton fastest on busy end to first F1 test

Lewis Hamilton set 2018’s fastest testing time yet on Thursday, as the first week in Barcelona ended with its busiest day so far.

In total, 15 of this year’s 20 race drivers enjoyed track time at the Circuit de Catalunya on Thursday, with most teams opting to run both their drivers to make up for time lost during the week’s weather disruptions.

Only Ferrari, Haas, Force India, Red Bull and Toro Rosso chose not to split their day’s running.

Renault Sport F1 Team

The final day of testing began with yet another damp track, but higher temperatures compared with previous days meant meaningful running was not an impossibility.

When the track dried enough for slicks around midday, Valtteri Bottas and Nico Hülkenberg took the opportunity to trade times at the top of the leaderboard, until McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne beat them both with a 1:19.854s on the pink hypersoft tyre.

Vandoorne’s time—one of only four to dip below 1:20s this week—was good enough to hold onto the top spot for most of the afternoon, until Hamilton went half a second quicker on mediums with an hour to go.

Steven Tee/LAT Images/McLaren Media

As well as finishing second-fastest on the strength of his hypersoft time, Vandoorne was also among Thursday’s busiest drivers, with 110 laps to his name.

Only two drivers recorded more mileage than the Belgian. Sebastian Vettel, who was third-fastest behind Vandoorne, made it to 120 laps, while Pierre Gasly signed off a solid week for Toro Rosso and Honda with 147 laps.

Kevin Magnussen also had a profitable day, despite not joining Gasly, Vettel and Vandoorne in triple figures. After finishing bottom of both the time and lap charts with his first taste of the Haas VF-18 on Tuesday, the Dane bounced back on Thursday by logging 96 laps and the fourth-fastest time.

Glenn Dunbar/LAT Images/Haas F1 Media

Fernando Alonso, taking over from Vandoorne for the final few hours of Thursday, added another 51 laps to his week’s total and snatched fifth by just 0.010s from compatriot Carlos Sainz. Lance Stroll was a few tenths slower in seventh.

Sergio Pérez, driving Force India’s VJM11 for the first time, had a slow start to the session but eventually logged 65 laps and was classified eighth.

He was ahead of Max Verstappen, who by contrast had another trying day behind the wheel of the RB14. Having chosen to sit out the wet morning running, the Dutchman lost further track time with a fuel leak and a spin into the gravel later on—as a result, Verstappen recorded the lowest number of laps of the day (35) and ended the day nearly three seconds off Hamilton’s pace.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Thursday’s longest runner Gasly was tenth-fastest ahead of early pacesetters Hülkenberg and Bottas. The two Saubers were the last of the representative runners, with Charles Leclerc heading Marcus Ericsson by a second thanks to the afternoon’s faster track, although with 59 laps to Ericsson’s 79.

Lastly, Williams’ rookie Sergey Sirotkin spent another day at the bottom of the timesheets. The Russian handed over his FW41 to teammate Stroll in the afternoon and as such didn’t set a time on slicks, explaining his 12.646s gap to Hamilton at the front.

F1 testing resumes at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya next week, running from Tuesday 6th until Friday 9th.

Glenn Dunbar/LAT Images/Pirelli Media

Vettel lowers benchmark on second day of testing

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel finished top of the timesheets on day two in Barcelona, setting the fastest lap of the test so far in a day of weather-limited running.

The German’s best effort, a 1:19.673s set on soft tyres, was half a second faster than Daniel Ricciardo’s Monday benchmark, and made Vettel one of only two drivers to lap within the 1:19s on day two.

The other was Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas. Having posted a best of 1:20.325s in the morning, the Finn was the early pacesetter until Vettel’s soft run knocked him from the top spot—but despite improving in the afternoon to join Vettel below the 1:20s barrier, Bottas remained 0.303s adrift by the close of day.

Wolfgang Wilhelm/Mercedes AMG F1

Outside of the top two, no other driver today posted lap times below Monday’s fastest, as near-freezing temperatures once again held back representative running.

Stoffel Vandoorne was the third-fastest runner of the day, 0.652s off Vettel’s pace with a best lap of 1:20.325s. The Belgian’s time was the first of the test logged on Pirelli’s new pink-walled hypersoft tyre.

Max Verstappen failed to post a time in the morning after being sidelined by a fuel leak, but improved in the afternoon to finish fourth, just 0.001s behind Vandoorne on the medium tyre.

Next up, Carlos Sainz, Pierre Gasly and Williams third driver Robert Kubica all lapped within a few tenths of each other in the 1:21s. Kubica’s teammate Sergey Sirotkin and Force India’s Esteban Ocon were a little behind again, closely matched in the 1:21.8s.

Monegasque rookie Charles Leclerc had a difficult first day driving the Sauber C37 with a spin in the afternoon and finishing more than three seconds off the pace, but was spared ending the day at the bottom of the timesheet at the expense of Haas’ Kevin Magnussen.

Jerry Andre/LAT Images/Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

The cold weather also meant that no driver managed to surpass Ricciardo’s first day total of 105 laps, although Vettel and Bottas came closest with 98 and 94 laps respectively.

Gasly held the next-highest total, putting in 82 laps in his STR13 to prove that Toro Rosso-Honda’s mileage yesterday was no fluke, while Leclerc made up for his early error with 81 laps to his name in the end.

At the other end of the lap charts, McLaren suffered another low-mileage day with an exhaust issue keeping Vandoorne in the garage from midday onwards, unable to add to his tally of 37 laps.

However, that was at least one more than Haas achieved across the day. With his programme interrupted by two off-track moments—one of which nearly ended in the barriers—Magnussen was prevented from making up for lost time when reports of snow at the end of the day brought running more or less to an end, and the Dane finished the day bottom of both the timesheet and the lap count.

Steven Tee/LAT Images/Haas F1 Team

Mercedes W09 unveiled at Silverstone

Mercedes has revealed the W09 EQ Power+, the team’s new car for the 2018 F1 season, at a special launch event at Silverstone.

The new Silver Arrow carried out its first series of laps on Thursday morning with Valtteri Bottas at the wheel, before being given an official presentation later in the day. Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton then took to the track for his first taste of the car he hopes will take him to a fifth drivers’ crown this year.

Steve Etherington/Mercedes AMG F1

Like most of its rivals for this season, the W09 isn’t much of a departure from last year’s model. It has retained the same ultra-long wheelbase that helped the W08 to dominance at 2017’s high-speed circuits, and also sports a conventionally-rounded nose cap—as yet, the only such design on this year’s grid.

However, the W09 also features plenty of less obvious refinements meant to address its predecessor’s peaky performance.

As well as an increase in rake similar to the Red Bull philosophy, the W09 also features an all-new suspension design, and what Hamilton described as “a different aerodynamic characteristic” for the floor, both aimed at improving the car’s ride.

Steve Etherington/Mercedes AMG F1

Speaking of the new car, Mercedes technical director James Allison said: “Across the board, [the W09] is more elegant than last year.

“Last year’s regulations were brand new and we weren’t quite sure which direction they would take us in.

“This year, being a little more confident of what we’re aiming for, we’ve been able to commit more fully to certain concepts. So we have the packaging much tighter and have taken things to more of an extreme.”

Steve Etherington/Mercedes AMG F1

Grand Prix of Mexico Qualifying Reaction

Image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

The twin themes for Qualifying are excitement and disappointment. On the excitement front, watching the shootout for P1 was thrilling. While it’s certainly au courant to knock the current generation of power units, as the 2017 package hits high levels of development it’s fantastic to see the track records falling. Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in its current incarnation may not have much of a history to compare against, but it’s nonetheless exciting to see records fall.

On the disappointment front, the luckless Pierre Gasly of Scuderia Toro Rosso will be starting from the back after missing Qualifying due to a power unit change, and Brendon Hartley’s promising start to qualifying was also cut short due to an engine failure of his own. Haas failed to perform to expectations, and even typical high performers Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo qualified below their proven potential. One can perhaps understand Ricciardo’s slower pace in comparison to his teammate as Verstappen has a more advanced power unit, but it’s still unusual to see him so far behind. McLaren continues to show how what could have been, and Williams continues in their inconsistent form.

Renault and Force India occupied the middle ground between the extremes. Their drivers all delivered competent performances, qualifying in the lower half of the top 10, but apart from the crowd’s obvious love for Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez the highs and lows experienced by the other teams overshadowed their solid performance.

Q1:
It was no surprise to see Ferrari open with a strong performance on supersoft tyres, though while Sebastian Vettel finished the session in 4th his teammate Kimi Raikkonen fell to 7th, behind McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Force India’s Sergio Perez.

While Mercedes was able to beat Ferrari, they did it on ultrasofts. While Mercedes’ pace is generally undeniable, their need for the softer compounds this round shows that they’re not as safe as they might be.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen topped the Ferrari times – also on supersofts. Hamilton’s engine gremlins continued, with Hamilton reporting another engine cut during the latter half of the session. Regardless, his early time of 1:17.518 ensured he’d safely advance to Q2. His teammate Daniel Ricciardo completed the session in 10th.

Force India’s Sergio Perez, the local favorite, put delivered a solid performance for his supporters the grandstands and occupied 6th.

McLaren’s Fernando Alonso continued to demonstrate the sadly-unrealized potential of the car by climbing to 5th in the first half of Q1 following a forgettable series of practice sessions. The waning moments of Q1 showed Honda’s return to form as Alonso reported no power and no turbo. Despite this, he still managed to deliver excellent sector times as the flag fell.

The flying laps after the chequered flag saw the usual last-minute excitement among the backmarkers. Alonso’s teammate Stoffel Vandoorne climbed to 13th. Toro Rosso’s resident Kiwi, the impressive Brendon Hartley, advanced, finishing the session in 14th. Williams’ Lance Stroll rounded out the Q2 field in 15th. Sadly, Haas and Sauber both failed to put together enough performance to advance to Q2. Given the disparity between Sauber and Haas’ power units, Haas’ finishing behind Sauber is troubling.

Advancing to Q2: HAM BOT VER ALO PER RAI RIC HUL OCO SAI MAS VAN HAR STR

Excluded: ERI WEH MAG GRO GAS

Q2:
Records continued to have a very short lifespan due to the battle at the top of the timing chart, and ultrasofts are the order of the session among the frontrunners. Bottas rocketed to the top of the leaderboard with an opening time of 1:17.161 on ultrasofts, but was topped by Vettel with 1:17.058 (incidentally setting a new track record). Hamilton, disregarding any worries over his engine, put in a blistering new record time of 1:17.035 in turn.

Hartley’s Toro Rosso let him down in the early stage of the session with a sadly-familiar puff of smoke echoing Gasly’s FP3 misfortune. His radio message to the pit wall, “No power, no power,” signaled the end of a promising day and bringing out a yellow.

The yellow flags caused Max Verstappen to back off a promising lap, but he recovered to set his own new record of 1:16.524. Vettel fought back and topped Hamilton, but wasn’t able to unseat Verstappen.

Force India and Renault certainly took part in Q2, but apart from the crowd’s cheering for Checo there wasn’t much notable in their performance – but an unexciting advancement to Q3 is just as much an advancement to Q3 as an exciting one, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Williams continued to suffer from their ongoing inability to quite bring everything together, and elected to only run late in the session. The lower air pressure at altitude contributed to their woes thanks to the associated lack of downforce, and they weren’t able to rise out of the drop zone.

While Vandoorne and Alonso did each put in an early lap, McLaren elected to not attempt to set times for Q2 to preserve tyres, and likely power units, for the race. After Alonso’s excellent Q1 performance it’s disappointing to see McLaren still making these decisions.

Advancing to Q3: VER VET HAM BOT RAI RIC SAI HUL OCO PER

Excluded: MAS STR HAR VAN ALO

Q3:
The crowd loves Checo, and their excitement seeing him in Q3 comes through.

The battle for pole didn’t disappoint, and once again the boots of choice were ultrasofts. Bottas got a good start, but was forced to abort his early flying lap when he came up on a slower-moving Verstappen in the Foro Sol section. While Verstappen did move off to the left, Bottas wound up braking hard and locking up briefly before diving for the pits where he was to remain until the closing minutes of the session. The stewards announced an investigation into Verstappen for impeding Bottas, but in a move that will doubtless ease any sense of anti-Verstappen bias determined that no action was warranted.

Hamilton put in a valiant effort and sat briefly in P1 himself with a repsectable-but-not-unbeatable time of 1:16.934. The churn in P2 was entertaining, with Hulkenberg, Raikkonen, Sainz, and Ocon occupying the position in turn until Sebastian Vettel coaxed his SF70H, Gina, into delivering a lap of 1:16.833, pushing everyone ahead of Verstappen down a spot.

Verstappen responded with a fastest first and second sector, going on to set an excellent time of 1:16.574. For a moment it seemed that a record other than track time, namely youngest pole winner, might be broken, but this sadly wasn’t to be.

After the mid-session lull, Bottas completed his flying lap with a 4th-place 1:16.958 shortly before the chequered flag fell. Hamilton was unable to improve his time.

After the flag fell, Vettel completed his own flying lap to set a new record with a time of 1:16.488, securing his 50th pole position. Verstappen was unable to improve his own time, taking second. Bottas’s own final lap wasn’t enough to improve his position.

As with Q2, the battle at the front overshadowed otherwise competent drives from Renault and Force India. And as with advancing to Q3, an unexciting top-10 starting position is just as much a top-10 as an exciting one. Ocon certainly had the best performance of the midfield, qualifying a surprising 6th ahead of Ricciardo.

As the dust settled on an exciting qualifying session, the grid prior to penalties was VET VER HAM BOT RAI ECO RIC HUL SAI PER MAS STR HAR ALO VAN ERI WEH MAG GRO GAS.

With Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen on the front row, one can only imagine the conversations in the Ferrari and Red Bull camps, hoping to avoid a repeat of the carnage at the start of the Singapore Grand Prix. Even though it’s quite possible that we’ll see the Drivers Championship locked up for Lewis Hamilton during the race session, it’s still exciting to see Red Bull and Ferrari bringing the fight to Mercedes at this late stage of the season. Hamilton’s engine gremlins certainly add an element of uncertainty, and Renault-powered teams will doubtless be keeping a wary eye on their engines following Toro Rosso’s troubles.

Can Mercedes start celebrating, Well, can they?

2017 Singapore Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm
Ferrari has ruined their best chance at winning a driver’s title since 2013 and their first constructor’s title since 2008, it was always going to be a bit of a stretch due to Raikkonen being fourth best out of the two teams, he even finds himself behind Ricciardo in the championship.

Since the hybrid era began, Singapore has been a track on which Mercedes had never  been able to adapt, other teams were able to be much closer to them than they are at other circuits. Nico Rosberg did break the trend last year, but if the race was slightly longer then Ricciardo may have got him on fresh rubber. It seemed a case of deja vu for the silver arrows team once more with them locking out the third row and Vettel producing probably the best lap of his life to beat the two Red Bulls who had looked mighty around the floodlit streets. Raikkonen was once again in fourth, looking like a rear gunner.

The weather had been temperamental all weekend, with heavy showers duringthe day and even an almighty monsoon during Saturday afternoon. This was officially the first ever wet night race, as the rain came and went in the build-up to the race It was pretty much decided that with 10-15 minutes to go that the track was wet enough for intermediates, some decided to go on full wets, even in the dry this is a track that keeps you on your toes, especially as it continues to have a very high chance of a safety car.

The calm before the storm came as they lined up in their grid positions, the lights  went out and away they went. Raikkonen and Hamilton made the best start of the top teams, Vettel and Ricciardo were rather tardy. Raikkonen went down the inside of Verstappen generally the safer route, whilst Hamilton went on the outside. Vettel much like his hero Schumacher decided to close the gap, very risky on a wet track, closing the door to where Verstappen could go. Vettel didn’t see what an amazing start Raikonnen made, so he was actually squeezing two cars which never would have worked. Verstappen was not in a bad position with only some front wing damage, but Raikkonen got damaged and was a passenger as he careered into Verstappen also collecting Alonso, and in the end, retiring the three. Vettel has also managed to continue, but not for long, his car was severely damaged, spewing out its fluids, spinning and hitting the wall. Hamilton must have thought all his Christmas’ had come at once at once, to find himself leading the race and realistically the only challenger forvictory would be Ricciardo. Hamilton was, as always, good in the changing conditions and was easily gaining time on the Aussie, radio messages weren’t broadcast but it seems early on he had a gearbox problem, more woe for Red Bull. He managed to get the car home but all Hamilton had to do was to keep it out of the wall.

Due to three safety car periods, the race lasted two hours rather than the full distance being completed, but full points were awarded. Hamilton won his 60th Grand Prix, and now has his eyes firmly set on a fourth world title, while Vettel still has it all to do. Vettel, Raikkonen and Verstappen were called individually to the stewards to investigate the first corner drama, The stewards could not point the finger at anyone but from the public response, Vettel was the catalyst in the situation. It was placed as a racing incident, many expecting a penalty for Vettel, but losing further points to Hamilton is punishment enough for the German.

Has the Championship already been decided? As the legendary Murray Walker would say ‘Anything can happen in Formula 1 and it usually does!’ Just look at Malaysia last year, Hamilton’s ‘No, No, No’ moment, when he was clear of the field. Singapore was a major turning point but is there one last twist in the 2017 season?

By Chris Lord 18/9/17