Russian GP: Hamilton takes pole in an intense qualifying

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Lewis Hamilton took his 5th straight pole of the season at Sochi on saturday afternoon to put himself in an excellent position in his bid to equal Schumacher’s record tomorrow (91 wins). The pole position looked set to evade him today after the fiasco in Q2 almost saw him miss out on Q3.

Hamilton failed to register a time in Q2 as he crossed track limits during the first run of Q2 and this meant that the 6 time world champion had only one run under his belt to put a time on the charts. However, a Sebastian Vettel crash during the second run of Q2 brought out a red flag with exactly 2 minutes and 15 seconds to go and Hamilton barely made it to the finish line before the flag fell, setting a lap time good enough to go into Q3.

It is not Valtteri Bottas, but Max Verstappen on the front row this time as the Dutchman put in an amazing lap in the second run of Q3 to go 2nd. Bottas who started the weekend well could not make it onto the front row after hitting the sausage kerb in turn 2 and losing momentum going into the rest of the lap.

Sergio Perez put in a great effort despite not having upgrades on his Racing Point and qualified on the second row alongside Bottas while his teammate Stroll could not make it out of Q2 after getting his lap time deleted in the first run and suffering a temperature issue towards the end of Q2.

Ricciardo’s fine form during the weekend continued after his efforts in qualifying will see him start at 5th on the 3rd row next to Carlos Sainz in the McLaren. The 4th row will be a repeat of the colours in the 3rd row but with Ocon in Renault at 7th and Norris in the McLaren at 8th.  Gasly in the Alpha Tauri is set to line up at 9th next to Albon in the RedVull who will be hoping for a much better race than the qualifying today.

Both the Ferraris crashed out of Q2, one literally of Sebastian Vettel at turn 4 after hitting the kerb and one of Charles Leclerc narrowly missing out and all set to start at P11 as the advantage from the minor upgrades they have got this weekend also seems to be minor. Danil Kvyat is set to line up next to Leclerc at 12th and will look to score some good points in his home race, especially after his car seems to be showing a decent race pace.

George Russell in the Williams made it into Q2 for the sixth time this season  and will line up at 14th after yet another good effort in Q3 but his teammate Latifi will have to be content with 19th. It is going to be a Ferrari powered bottom 6 except Latifi after both the Haas cars and the Alfa Romeos are all in the bottom 5.

Kimi Raikkonen went spinning in the second run of Q1 which will mean that he is set to start 20th on the grid and his teammate Giovinazzi will start 17th. Grosjean and Magnussen in their respective Haas cars are set to start 16th and 18th with Grosjean surprisingly offering some positive feedback at the end of Q1.

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

With Hamilton set to start on the soft tyres thanks to the Q2 drama and with Max Verstappen just next to him, it might not be a straightforward drive to win number 91 for the English driver. It is also worth remembering that Bottas’ last victory at Sochi came from 3rd on the grid, which is where he will line up tomorrow, with a tyre advantage. It is all set to play for, in the Russian Grand Prix.

Tuscan GP review – Mayhem at Mugello

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020 Italian Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020 Italian Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I love Formula 1, Williams Racing

Last week Williams Formula 1 Racing team announced it was to be sold to US investment firm Dorilton Capital, this brings to an end not only the Williams family’s 43 years as a wholley family owned team but they end of an era of independent teams in Formula 1.

Frank Williams founder of Williams Racing. Image courtesy of © XPB Images / Williams Racing

It was sad but not unexpected news, it made me reflect on my love of Formula 1 racing and the huge part Williams took in that.

As a young boy I was obsessed with cars, watching them on tv and listening to a certain Murray Walker commentate had a calming affect on my admittedly hyper active childhood.

I had watched many F1 races on the BBC, coverage wasn’t as full as we see today, less races and they didn’t cover them all. Remember this was a time of only terrestrial tv!

Williams had a British driver Nigel Mansell he was a unique individual with a wonderful fighting spirit (and Mustache) racing against what as a young lad I saw aa the enemy! The likes of Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and of course Nelson Piquet – Nigel’s team mate.

1986 hadn’t started well, Sir Frank had an accident whilst returning to the airport after a pre season test at Paul Ricard circuit left him confined to a wheelchair.

Despite this tragic events it would be a vintage year for the Grove based outfit. Nine wins seventeen podiums and two, first and second place finishes at Brands Hatch and Monza, but none of these races stands out as much as the Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide.

26th October 1986 Adelaide the final race of the 16 event season, both Piquet and Mansell could become Champion!

If your old enough you may remember having to fiddle with the tv aerial to get that perfect picture! Obviously this was on at a stupid time of day for us in Europe none the less I was determined to stay up and watch our man Nigel in what I considered my team win the drivers title! he had pole position, surly this would be his day.

I had to be quiet it was past my bedtime luckily mum was asleep and dad worked nights.

Murray Screams Go, Go, Go and Nigel was slow of the line! Piquet, Senna and Keke Rosburg all past him; keke in his final race suffered a puncture elevating Mansell to third, all he needed to take his first World Drivers Championship! Sadly it wasn’t to be as his left rear tyre let go in spectacular fashion along the main straight.

Piquet needed to finish ahead of Prost but with the obvious tyre concerns Williams brought him in and in doing so left him to much to do in his chase of Prost who went onto take his second World Championship.

Williams did however secure the coveted constructors title with nine wins and seventeen podiums.

The following year the FW11B was even more successful delivering both drivers title for Piquet and constructors championships with nine wins and nineteen podiums.

We had to wait until 1992 for Nigel to finally bring the Championship home in the all conquering FW14B ten wins twenty podiums, and fifteen poles in a sixteen race season.

They would continue their dominance through the 90’s with titles for Prost, Damon Hill and Jaques Villeneuve, sadly its a decade that we all remember for all the wrong reasons, the tragic events at Imola in 1994 where we lost Ayrton Senna whilst driving his Williams and Roland Ratzanburger in his Simtek.

Its been a tough few years with just the odd glimpse of past glorys the 2000 season with BMW power seemed to be a turning point finishing third but with no wins, they bettered that in 2001 with another third place but with four wins and again in 2002 a second place in the constructors championship but just the one win. They repeated the feat in 2003 adding four wins to their tally.

The team moved onto Toyota engines in 2007 with the FW29 but failed to live up to expectations.

In 2012 and back once again with Renault power they secure an unlikely win with Pastor Maldonado the teams first win since 2004!

Pastor Maldonado the last winner for Williams in 2012. Image courtesy of Williams Racing

Its been a roller coaster ride for the Williams team, From their first win with Clay Regazzoni at Silverstone in 1979 to today’s FW43 and the sad news that Claire Williams is to step down after this weekends Italian Grand Prix.

Claire Williams. Image courtesy of Williams Racing.

We know the name and legacy will live on despite the family’s absence.

This article is dedicated to Sir Frank Williams and to my son Frankie who was named after him, and to all the contributors to ThePitCrewOnline past and present who fuel my love for racing with so much fun and passion.

Featured image courtesy of Williams Racing

Mugello added to F1 schedule

Formula One have announced that along with the current eight Grand Prix in Europe on the revised schedule, they will be making the trip to the Mugello circuit for what will be the inaugural Tuscan Grand Prix on September 13th, the week after the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

If you are a fan of MotoGP, you will be very familiar with this circuit, as it plays host to the Italian MotoGP. The circuit itself is owned by Ferrari, whose 1000th Grand Prix will now take place at their own circuit but whether or not they can win is another matter completely.

So for those of you unfamiliar with Mugello, here is all you need to know for when the F1 circus shows up in Tuscany on September 13th.

In anticipation of the news, I prerecorded an onboard lap at Mugello on Project CARS 2. Please ignore my terrible driving and my usage of the driving line, we can’t all be David Tonizza.

You start off with a very long and wide front straight with a bit of a dip before turn one San Donato, a long open hairpin that immediately sets you up for a quick left right section dubbed Luco and Poggio Secco. That second part really tightens up on exit which opens up possibility for a lot of errors.

A short run to Materassi which requires a lot of corner speed, then Borgo San Lorenzo will set you up to continue the momentum. Next up is probably one of the most amazing sequences of corners in motorsport, one that will look incredible in F1 cars.

The run from turns six to nine involves a lot of elevation change, Casanova will be right on the limit for these F1 cars before setting up for Savelli, which feeds into the two Arrabbiata corners, two steep uphill, tight and almost flat out corners that I genuinely am having difficulty thinking of a comparable alternative on the traditional F1 schedule.

This leads to a quick right left section with Scarperia and Palagio and then another long sweeper at Correntaio which has a bit of downhill camber. Then a quick flick through Biondetti before one final long sweeper at Bucine which will catch out a lot of drivers trying to get the best run into their qualifying lap.

An absolute beast of a circuit which is unlike most F1 circuits, a real old school track that I know the drivers will really enjoy it. If I had to think of a comparable circuit, I would liken Mugello to Suzuka due to their shared characteristics of high speed cornering, elevation change and rapid change of direction.

Of course along with the announcement is also the confirmed September 27th slot for the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi, which probably resulted in many collective groans throughout the F1 community but Mugello more than makes up for it. There may be other additions to the schedule that were not on the original draft of the 2020 F1 season calendar, including former San Marino Grand Prix venue Imola, and even the Algarve circuit in Portugal, both of which are very similar in terms of elevation change and long sweeping corners to Mugello.

If there’s one group of people I feel sorry for in this landmark announcement, it’s Codemasters. I get the feeling that Mugello will not be possible to create in game for 2020 but I hope that this circuit along with many other potential circuits to host a Grand Prix this season are included in the next F1 game next year.

Let’s hope the 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix lives up to the hype.

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]

Singapore GP preview: Mercedes favourites at Marina Bay

Formula One heads to the streets of Singapore, for the start of the final flyaway leg of 2019 under the lights at Marina Bay.

Ferrari and Charles Leclerc head to Singapore on the crest of two wins on the bounce at Spa and Monza. But compared to those two high-speed circuits, Ferrari’s low downforce package won’t be anywhere near as effective on the tight Marina Bay Street Circuit.

As has been the case for most of the 2019 season, Mercedes is expected to be the team to beat this weekend. It was in Singapore last year, where Lewis Hamilton took pole position and the race win, that Mercedes finally seemed to understand what was needed to conquer one of its few “bogey” circuits. And judging by the fact Mercedes has won every street race since, there’s every reason for them to be confident about their chances on Sunday.

Paul Ripke / Mercedes AMG

However, Mercedes does have one shadow looming over them this weekend—engine reliability. Since introducing their Spec 3 power unit at Spa three weeks ago, Mercedes have seen uncharacteristic failures in the customer cars of Sergio Perez’s Racing Point and Robert Kubica’s Williams. So far the works team has had no blowouts of its own, but after two demanding power tracks and with Singapore’s reputation for testing cars to their limit, there’s no room for complacency.

The other threat to Mercedes this weekend comes in the form of Max Verstappen and Red Bull. Verstappen has run well in in Singapore in recent years, qualifying second in 2017 and 2018 and finishing runner-up to Hamilton last year.

With the Red Bull-Honda package improving with every race, it would be no surprise to see Verstappen duelling with Hamilton for his third win of the season.

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

As always, the difficulty and unpredictability of Singapore will provide the midfield teams with plenty of opportunities to sneak away with big points hauls.

Renault took a double points finish at Marina Bay last year, but their RS19 has been much more at home on high speed and lower downforce tracks this year. Given their results from slower tracks like Monaco and Hungary, Renault will likely find themselves scrapping with or even behind the likes of McLaren, Alfa Romeo and Toro Rosso this weekend.

Haas will also be bracing themselves for another tough Grand Prix on Sunday. Although their prolonged dispute with former title sponsors Rich Energy has finally come to an end, their struggles with tyre degradation certainly have not. And in the heat of Singapore, there aren’t many worse problems to have.

However, Haas and Renault can both take some optimism from the fact that this is the Singapore Grand Prix. With tempers running high and the walls never far away, Singapore is the place where anything can happen.

Haas F1 Media

Red flags cause chaos in qualifying for Azerbaijan GP

The sun was shining over the Baku Street Circuit this afternoon as qualifying for the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix got underway.

Q1 began with two brief yellow flags when Hamilton and Hulkenberg both ran off-track before rejoining the circuit, with Stroll also having a brief scrape with the wall.

A red flag came out just moments after the chequered flag fell on Q1, with Williams’ driver Robert Kubica clipping the wall at turn eight and hitting the barriers. Kubica was okay, but Williams were left with a huge repair job on their hands.

The first session ended with Pierre Gasly in P1, followed by Charles Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton. The five drivers knocked out of Q1 were Stroll, Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Russell and Kubica.

LAT Images

After a delayed start due to the recovery of Kubica’s William’s, Q2 finally got underway, but the red flag was brought out again within minutes when Charles Leclerc crashed into the barriers at turn eight – the exact same place where Kubica crashed in Q1. Leclerc was uninjured but was left understandably frustrated as he made his way back to the Ferrari garage.

After yet another half-hour delay, Q2 finished without further incident. Max Verstappen topped the time sheets followed by Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton in P3. The five drivers out in Q2 and lining up from P11-P15 on the grid for tomorrow’s race are Carlos Sainz, Daniel Ricciardo, Alex Albon, Kevin Magnussen and Pierre Gasly, who didn’t set a time in Q2 due to his penalty for missing the weigh-in yesterday in practice. He will start tomorrow’s race from the pit-lane.

Q3 was relatively uneventful with nine out of ten drivers out on track in a bid to get pole position. Despite having crashed out in Q2, Leclerc set a competitive time and will start tomorrow’s race in tenth place.

Valtteri Bottas set a sensational lap time of 1:40.495, placing him on pole position for tomorrow’s race. Hamilton completed the front row with Sebastian Vettel behind in P3 next to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. The rest of the grid consists of Perez in P5, Kvyat in P6, Lando Norris in an impressive 7th, with Giovanazzi, Raikkonen and Leclerc rounding out the top ten.

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If today’s dramatic qualifying is anything to go by, tomorrow promises to be a very interesting race in Azerbaijan!

[Featured image – LAT Images]

Will it be the end for Williams Racing?

When it seemed like nothing else could go wrong for Williams after missing the first two days of pre-season testing, the team has just been beaten twice a week before the season kicks off in Australia. Despite the big effort they are putting in to find solutions, the end of what has been one of the most successful teams in Formula One history appears to be nearer than the turnaround they need to be fighting at the top again. After a terrible 2018 in which they was completely off the pace, the team claimed that they had identified the problem and it would be solved in the upcoming year. The truth is that we are already in 2019 and they have the slowest car on the grid and showing no signs of recovery in the near future.

The first troubles showed up quite early this year as the filming day planned at Silverstone got cancelled in order to ‘make the most of the time left before heading to Barcelona’, an inconvenience given that teams are only allowed 100km of running with special tyres, so the main purpose is to check every system to be ready to hit the track once the light goes green at Montmeló.

It was at this point that we realised they had suffered major setbacks. The car wasn’t ready, it wasn’t even in the circuit and their first laps wouldn’t take place until Wednesday afternoon. This was a complete disaster considering that private testing is forbidden nowadays. In addition to this, the legality of the mirrors and the front suspension has been questioned in the last few days. Some experts explain that the front suspension isn’t easy to redesign, so it may cause a new headache before Australia. Furthermore, Williams’ technical chief Paddy Lowe is taking a leave of absence which could lead into his departure after being pointed out as responsible for the team issues.

CIRCUIT DE BARCELONA-CATALUNYA, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 26: George Russell, Williams FW42 during the Barcelona February testing II at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on February 26, 2019 in Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Spain. (Photo by Zak Mauger / LAT Images)

For some, the two main reasons that have placed Williams on the edge are money and the team’s attitude, both discussed in the following lines. Despite the team denying that the delay was related to issues with external suppliers or a lack of financial resources, it is hard to believe what they stated because of their well-known struggles to keep going through the last few years. Even if they got ROKiT (a telecommunications company) as new title sponsor and Orlen (an oil refiner company and Kubica’s personal sponsor), these brands aren’t expected to match the vast amount of money brought by Lawrence Stroll (Lance’s father) and Martini which left the team at the end of last season.

Having said that, the horizon doesn’t look really promising due to the fact that when you have the slowest car, you want is to develop it as quickly as possible and you need a lot of money to do so. We may have a look back at the beginning of the hybrid era, when the Mercedes engine brought some success to Grove. At that moment, they even managed to afford a big upgrade of their wind tunnel aiming to fight on top again, but their work didn’t pay off and not much more has been said about what was described as a massive step forward in terms of development capability. Since then, they are in freefall praying for the budget cap to come in on time to save the team. Examples like this one make us realise how difficult it is to reach the top and how easy it is to go back to the midfield when you don’t spend the budget correctly or simply don’t have it.

Secondly, the team is missing a captain who steers the project in order to get out of the hole in which they are in. With Sir Frank Williams out of the picture, it is his daughter Claire who actually leads the squad. She seems tired or at least that is the impression given every time she faces the media. Claire has mentioned many times that she doesn’t want to be the person who ends’ Williams long history, but when there is no passion there is nothing to do.

Moreover, Robert Kubica’s attitude towards the team isn’t helping, for sure. The Polish driver, who is coming back to the sport after a long period recovering from the injuries suffered in a rally crash in 2011, has criticised his team harshly over the last days as a consequence of the poor pre-season done. ‘The car was too tired to continue’ and ‘I only know 20% of the things I should know before Australia’ were some of the comments made by Kubica. Most likely, he expected too much from a team which is suffering the worst streak in their history. On the contrary, George Russell is doing exactly what Williams needs: he is always encouraging his guys on social media and making positive statements when he talks to the media. It might sound useless, but the atmosphere you create around you is very important get good results.

Taking all this into account, I have to confess that I fear Williams could not make it to the end of the season as I feel they are digging their own grave. The large number of issues they are facing, added to the lack of leadership and the fact that they remain adamant in their idea of building the whole car on their own and refusing to buy some parts to manufacturers, could mean the end for a team that has been competing in the championship since 1977.

Featured image courtesy of  Glenn Dunbar / LAT Images

Problem-free start to second test “a huge relief” for Williams

Williams’ George Russell has described the first day of the second pre-season test as “a huge relief” for himself and for the team, completing all the planned running with no issues.

“It was a good day,” Russell said. “Our plan was to get as many laps on the board, make sure we had no issues and that’s exactly what we did. We have learnt so much about the car on lower fuel and higher fuel which gives us a good indication moving forward into the next few days.

“All in all, it was a huge relief to have a day like today and we completed our test plan as intended.”

Russell posted the ninth fastest time of the day using the C5 tyre – the softest compound available – and also completed 119 laps, the third most of the day.

George Russell (GBR) Williams Racing.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Tuesday 26th February 2019. Barcelona, Spain.

It comes after a less-than ideal first test for Williams, which saw delays with the production of parts for the car force the Grove-based team to miss the first two days of running.

Chief Technical Officer Paddy Lowe added, “It was a good day of testing with George driving the car. We completed 119 laps without any significant reliability issues, so we achieved the entire programme that we had planned from the start of the day.

“Well done to the team, a great job by everybody to get a car that can do the laps without incident to make a solid start to the second test.”

 

[Featured image – Williams F1]