The Iceman’s F1 History

Kimi Raikkonen will contest his 349th and final race in this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and we take a look through a sparkling career for the Iceman.

Raikkonen began his career in 2001 with Sauber; he was identified by the team as he dominated through the Formula Renault UK as rookie winning seven out 10 races in 2000.

He had the experienced Nick Heidfeld alongside him who took a fantastic podium in Brazil, whilst Kimi took 6th on his debut then retired consecutively following on from that result. At Austria and Canada in the mid-Season he finished 4th – the highlight of the 2001 Sauber career. Others then began to take notice; another Finn Mika Hakkinen having a torrid having won two championships on the bounce. Mclaren talks were ongoing and it was agreed Hakkinen was walking away, and Raikkonen would replace him at the then-known Silver Arrows Mclaren Mercedes for 2002. Hakkinen, after this announcement in September, did manage to win once more with the pressure off.

The 2002 Season started off well for Kimi, earning his first ever podium with third at the opener Melbourne with the fastest lap. However, the car did have reliability issues which held up, the BMW-Williams also a strong contender for this Season. Mclaren finished third that year due to the reliability issues of the  MP4-17, and Kimi retired from 10 out of 17 races. The highlight of the Season for Kimi was P2 at Magny-Cours – his highest finish to date and double podium. Himself and David Coulthard finished P5 & P6 respectively in the Championship.

2003 was the year Kimi came into his own at Mclaren; Coulthard took his final win of his career at Melbourne but the ever-present Ferrari of Schumacher wasn’t on the rostrom for the first-time since 2001. Mclaren then took victory again at Kuala Lumpur and Raikkonen finally took the first victory of his career, 39.286 clear of Rubens Barrichello in a dominant display. It took Ferrari until the fourth round before they won but Kimi was on the podium in second. He didn’t win again in the year but was on the podium six times, unfortunately missing out on the title by 2 points to Schumacher, scoring 91 points.

In 2004, Mclaren unfortunately went back to MP4-17 levels of reliability. It was so poor that in the Summer we saw the reveal of the MP4-19B. Raikkonen’s best finish was fifth in Canada, and upon returning to Europe Kimi got back on the podium at Silverstone with second. The highlight of 2004 came when he won the Belgian GP at Spa, and a strong end to the Season with a podium with F1’s first venture to Shanghai and at Brazil.

In 2005, Kimi was the bridesmaid once again, but this much different in terms of how it came to fruition. Kimi had his most successful year with seven wins,  winning at Monaco and once again at Belgium. His most fought out win also came in this Season – a fantastic P17 to P1 – overtaking Giancarlo Fisichella on the outside of turn one on the final lap. Alonso won the title, but with new points system he ended up 21 points ahead of the Iceman.

In 2006, as per the previous Championship campaigns, development was slow, but better than 2004. He managed to score podiums in the first two races, and a further three in the first half of the season. Paddock rumours began to float round he was looking elsewhere to find that elusive Championship after those results. Those rumours came true; he was heading to Ferrari to replace Michael Schumacher at Ferrari, and it was announced at the Italian Grand Prix of all places. Kimi got his best result of P2 of the year matching Melbourne – a sign of things to come?

In 2007, Kimi headed into the scarlet red Ferrari, and it couldn’t have gotten off to a more emphatic start, winning the Season opener in Australia. Two more podiums  followed at the so-called flyaways that start the traditional Season. After three rounds we had Kimi, and both Mclaren drivers of Alonso and upcoming rookie Lewis Hamilton all on 22 points. The Season headed to Europe and went to the Americas before heading to France and Britain where Kimi’s challenge began; he was behind but won both races at Magny-Cours and Silverstone. Hungary onwards Kimi was not off the podium; he won again in Belgium, which has become a true favourite of the iceman as it was his third victory at the circuit. He was 17 points behind title leader Hamilton with two races remaining; he surely couldn’t be the bridesmaid or lower again as Alonso was only 12 points behind. He won the final two races of the calendar whilst others faltered. Hamilton had his moment entering the pits at Shanghai, resulting in a no-score and a puncture at Brazil which allowed the 17-point swing, giving Kimi his first World title.

In 2008 the defence began woth a collision, with Kimi fortunate to score due to a race of attrition with P8 and Barrichello later disqualified. However, a spell on the podium thereafter included two wins in the flyaway run, before F1 headed back to Europe. The 2008 Season had its moment in the Canadian pit lane when Hamilton wasn’t looking under safety car conditions, hitting Raikonnen which resulted in Kubica winning, leapfrogging both in the Standings. 

Kimi Raikkonen was less than impressed after being wiped out by Lewis Hamilton at the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Press

In France and Hungary Kimi took a further podium but a poor string of results at the normally favoured track Belgium and the new Singapore circuit mathematically ended the iceman’s chance of retaining the title. His team-mate Felipe Massa and Hamilton fought that out, with Hamilton claiming his first championship. A further three podiums saw him finish third in the standings in 2008.

The 2009 Season brought in new regulations, and Ferrari seemed to be in the midpack and not at their traditional standards of the noughties era. Kimi scored four points in the first four flyaways before Europe began; the car development was rife this Season and we saw it with this car specifically. Prior to the Summer break at Hungary he took a fantastic P2, starting a podium streak and on returning to his trusted Belgium he took Ferrari’s sole win of his season. However, he was still 5th in Standings, with half the points of Jenson Button, and rumours were appearing that Kimi was looking away from Ferrari. He took another podium in front of the Tifosi at Monza and a further two points scores, before it was then revealed the team he was speaking to was to actually Mclaren, but the talks broke down so nothing came to fruition. Ferrari then agreed deals with Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa for 2010.

Kimi took  a two-year sabbatical and ended up agreeing to compete in WRC with Citroen with P5 Rally of Turkey 2010 best result. Agreements were made for Kimi to join Lotus F1, the former Renault program for 2012.

On his return to the Series with Lotus in 2012, Kimi finished a distant third behind the title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso but on review had a successful campaign with seven podium finishes across the year, only failing to finish in the points in China. He claimed the team’s first victory since Ayrton Senna in Detroit in 1987.

Kimi and Lotus looked like they built upon this as they won the Season opening race in 2013, and then took a further three second places, being ever consistent as he was in the black and gold machinery and was second in the standings after Spain. Upgrades begun to occur and Lotus weren’t as quick to match, and a further four races passed until Kimi was back on the podium; he still scored points but not to the high level needed. Germany and Hungary saw him take two second places, and Ferrari once again came looking for a driver as rumours were floating that Massa was looking at alternate drives. The Italian GP was on the 8 September and on the 11 September it was confirmed that Raikkonen, ahead of the new era of F1, would again race for the Scuderia. He took a further two podiums at Singapore and Korea but his Season ended early as he required some surgery on his back, still finishing fifth in the standings.

Kimi spent two years at Lotus before re-joining Ferrari – Courtesy of Pirelli Media

At the start of the hybrid era in 2014, Ferrari’s machinery wasn’t at the races, capped to a best of P7 in the early rounds of the year, getting lapped at Barcelona. While not being in the twilight years of his career just yet, albeit his 12th Season, Ferrari needed to improve. Results begun to pick up but no podium was yielded, with his best result coming at Belgium with a fourth-placed finish, scoring at 13 out of 19 races, ending just towards the bottom of the top 10.

in 2015 the Ferrari power unit was reviewed and had much more power but was still not on par with Mercedes. He had to retire from opener but matched his best result in the second race and saw the rostrum in the fourth round at Bahrain, generally being best of the rest in this Season as the two Mercedes battled it out. Second at Bahrain was the highlight of the Season but two further podiums at the night races of Singapore and Abu Dhabi also came, and he would finish fourth in the Standings – near enough trebling the points from the year before.

Further podiums for Kimi in 2016 saw the win get closer, finishing second twice in the year, behind Verstappen in that record breaking win at Barcelona. He had four podiums in the Season all very early on, with Austria being the latest.

2017 nearly matched Kimi’s points record of 207 points as he was on the podium seven times this . A nice spell of three consecutive podiums in the Americas late in the Season gave him the push to finish 4th. Hungary and Monaco were the highlight of the Season with second place finishes.

In 2018 Kimi took his final victory, setting a new record of 113 races between his previous win, as he made a one stop strategy work in Texas, COTA. The win was his first since Lotus in 2013 but also his first for Ferrari since 2009. He also took 12 podiums in his final Season for the team as it was agreed he would move back to his routes and Alfa Romeo which were born from Sauber where it all began from him in 2001. He finished third with 251 points, best ever points haul.

Sebastian Vettel & Kimi Raikkonen at Abu Dhabi 2018. Image courtesy of Ferrari Media

The twilight years started for Kimi and Alfa’s car was well prepared, a midfield contender, finishing in the points nine times in the Season of 2019, beginning with four consecutive finishes. In Brazil towards the latter end he managed to get a P4 with team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi P5, taking advantage of penalties and incidents to reel in the team’s biggest points haul to date since their return.

Kimi has spent the last three seasons with Alfa Romeo – Image courtesy of Sauber F1

Developments for cars came in 2020 at a different pace and levels. Alfa Romeo dropped to a certain extent, and while Raikkonen might not have been able to be a consistent scorer he was enjoying himself. In the shortened Season he scored two points finishes through the year at Mugello and Imola.

The swansong Season which we didn’t know until halfway through the Season began and was very much the nearly man in this Season until Baku, finishing P11-P13. He finished P10 at that race, along with Hungary. Kimi unfortunately did miss two races mid-Season due to COVID-19 and returned with an instant best result of P8 in Russia with the same result in Mexico. Points finishes might look likely in Abu Dhabi which would be a good way to end his career.

Kimi throughout his career in F1 had 19 Seasons, claimed 21 wins and 103 podiums with 18 pole positions. He has been involved in 349 Grands Prix which is the official record. The man of few words will be remembered for his wit, his nonchalant communication but, most of all, as a Formula One World Champion. 

Let’s talk about Carlos Sainz’s season

Carlos Sainz has been the best, most consistent Ferrari driver and he does not get the credit he deserves.

When they say that a driver is underrated, I tend to believe that he is not – simply because we talk about him, we mention his achievements and, by definition, he is not underrated.

Carlos Sainz claimed his first Ferrari podium in Monaco – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari press Office

In Carlos Sainz’s case, things are different.

He is truly underrated, and without a doubt the most consistent driver in the midfield during this season.

Firstly, it must be noted that this is not the first year in which Sainz is consistent or his performance is going under the radar. His tenure in McLaren was full of races where he did everything correctly and got to the points or even the podium. He was a focal point of McLaren’s ascent to the top of the midfield, with their 3rd position in the contructors’ standings last year being the ultimate proof of Sainz’s contribution to the team.

And all this starts with his brave decision to leave the Red Bull ‘family’ and go to Renault at first, and then to McLaren. He chose to leave the Austrians, because he felt he could achieve more outside their Verstappen-focused system.

This was a decision that paid off. He found himself as a person and a driver in McLaren, and he’s more mature than ever coming to Ferrari.

Driving for the Maranello squad is -without saying- the most challenging experience for any driver – even the very best of them have crumbled under the pressure this position puts to you.

The Ferrari pair of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz brought the cars home in fifth and seventh respectively – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Media

It must be said though, that every modern driver’s first year at Ferrari is a good one, generally speaking. Kimi Raikkonen won his one and only title in 2007, Fernando Alonso was the favourite for the championship in 2010, Sebastian Vettel returned to his winning ways in 2015 and Charles Leclerc took 2 wins and 7 pole positions in 2019.

It’s the second year, and what comes after it, that gets into the nerves of most drivers in that team.

Nevertheless, even with that ‘caveat’ (if you can call it like that), Sainz is impressive in terms of his speed and consistency.

This is a rundown of the Spaniard’s results this year, both in qualifying and in the race. Bear in mind that he has received a penalty only once in terms of qualifying position, in last week’s Turkish GP:

Race Q position R position
Bahrain 8 8
Emilia-Romagna 11 5
Portugal 5 11
Spain 6 7
Monaco 4 2
Azerbaijan 5 8
France 5 11
Styria 12 6
Austria 10 5
Britain 10 6
Hungary 15 3
Belgium 11 10
Netherlands 6 7
Italy 6 6
Russia 2 3
Turkey 19 8

You will notice that his qualifying performance is not his strongest point. That’s not a bad thing at all, because he is extremely good in race pace.

He has that kind of race craft that allows him to gain places in the race, even when the car is not the most competitive in the midfield.

What I find the most impressive result of them all (up until this point) is the one in Istanbul. He started P19 due to the new engine Ferrari fitted to his car, and he absolutely drove the wheels out of it. In a damp track, with intermediates and no DRS use, he seemed to be able to pass drivers left and right.

Sainz has shown some early positive signs of promise do far for Ferrari – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Media

On top of that, Sainz has managed to out qualify Charles Leclerc 3 times and finish ahead of him in the race on 5 occasions – and this comes from a driver who came to the team to serve an unofficial no. 2 role.

This goes to show that he entered this year’s campaign with a lot of confidence, which derives from his meticulous preparation before the season, his deep understanding of a car he didn’t help develop and set up, and his tendency to maximise what the car’s limit is, even in difficult situations.

An example of this latter argument is his ability to preserve his tires and do the opposite strategy from other drivers in the midfield. This is a trait that is handy when your team is in a tight battle with McLaren, and you have to get every point you can to help them win.

Carlos Sainz’s podium was not enough to close the gap to McLaren, but it was an impressive performance nonetheless – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Media

Carlos Sainz is an asset for Ferrari at this point, and this makes their partnership ahead of the big regulation changes of 2022 even more interesting.

Main image courtesy of Ferrari Media

 

2020 Scuderia Ferrari Season Preview

Last year was a tough season for Scuderia Ferrari, the Italians presented a promising car in Spain, during the pre-season tests, but they failed their fans in the opening races. Three victories and nine pole positions in 21 races, despite the disappointing numbers, it was a dreaming season debut for Charles Leclerc. The Monegasque, took two of the three chequered flags for Ferrari and secured seven pole positions in his first year in the Scuderia.

Everyone at Maranello, is looking forward to 2020, a year that can crown them world champions almost after twelve years.

Although..

“I am not as optimistic as last year” Binotto said.

“Some of the others are faster than us at the moment, I believe. How much faster is really difficult to judge and I will go through all the data in the next few days but I don’t think we are as fast as them at the moment.”

Not the most promising statement from Ferrari’s team principal, there is a chance, though, that Binotto is hiding his cards.

In total, Ferrari’s drivers, Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, completed 844 laps. Their main rival, Mercedes, did the most laps during the two pre-season tests, 903 for Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

Ferrari’s advantage, last year, was the straights, mainly because Scuderia, had one of the most powerful power units. After, the two weeks of testing, turns out that Ferrari lost that advantage, but improved their performance on slow corners.

Mattia Binotto asked if his team is hiding the true potential of their engine, but the Italian was clear about that.

“We are not hiding. That is our true performance.

“It’s difficult to split on the streets what is drag and what is power, but certainly we are down on speed compared to other competitors. That’s affected by one way from the drag and the other from the reliability programme that we have in place.”

Mercedes, still has the advantage and it looks that they will be unbeatable this season as well. It will be a challenging season for the Scuderia, Reb Bull will be also a strong opponent and the Italians have to prove that are still capable of designing fast cars that can deliver over the season.

 

Pictures courtesy of Pirelli F1

Vettel vs Leclerc: The making of the most explosive partnership ever?

It was coming, wasn’t it?

In the dying laps of the Brazilian Grand Prix, following a safety car,  Ferrari’s talented Monegasque upstart Charles Leclerc dived down the inside of team-mate Sebastian Vettel going into turn one. Nothing wrong with that move. On the exit of turn three, however, came a moment that epitomised what has been a long and painful struggle for Ferrari over recent years.

Attempting to gain his position back, Vettel re-created his 2010 drama with then-Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber, and moved across on Leclerc, terminally damaging Leclerc’s wheel, and giving himself a race-ending puncture.

I know we can’t use one incident to suggest that this is already the most controversial team-mate battle in F1 history. It doesn’t come close to Senna vs Prost or even Hamilton vs Rosberg, but what happened in Brazil was the culmination of an incredibly tense season at the Scuderia. It was a volcano that wasn’t going to stay dormant for long.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Vettel has a history of being more than a little incident-prone. Even during his spell of dominance at Red Bull, there were cracks under pressure, clashes with rivals, and an almost permanent sense of volatility. Then, after his move to Ferrari, there were incidents in Baku and Singapore in 2017, and multiple errors in 2018.

This year, his rivalry with Leclerc has seen a stark contrast with Vettel’s placid and comfortable relationship with Kimi Raikkonen. This year saw him come up against a young, quick, aggressive, motivated and extremely talented Leclerc. This pressure has in some ways pushed Vettel to become a better version of himself, but the mistakes have always been there, as has the flare that comes with competitive team-mates who simply will not accept number two status at the most historic and successful team in F1.

Success may seem distant for Ferrari at the moment, but as a team that dominates all of the papers in Italy and is the biggest talking point of a proud racing nation, the headlines are never far away. In typical Ferrari fashion, they have occupied them at every opportunity this year, but mainly for the wrong reasons.

On multiple occasions at the start of the year, Ferrari opted to swap their drivers over when chasing the quicker Mercedes cars, despite their cars being equal in pace. These decisions were puzzling to put it kindly, and led to friction that would dominate the rest of the season.

Singapore saw one of the most contentious incidents yet between the two. Leclerc was leading from pole, but Ferrari decided to give Vettel the undercut and inadvertently gave the German the lead of the race in the pit stops. Vettel won the race, ahead of a furious Leclerc.

At this point, tempers were sizzling, but Ferrari insisted that they had the situation under control.

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

They came close to blows on the first lap of the US Grand Prix, and as soon as they went side-by-side in Brazil, you knew what was coming.

Ferrari have worked themselves into a situation that they cannot control. As in many races over the last couple of years, they have cost themselves valuable points with a combination of nonsense strategies and driver errors.

Regarding Vettel and Leclerc, there’s no need to explore specific points during races when Ferrari mishandled their driver situation. Forget China, forget Spain, forget Singapore, and forget Brazil. Ferrari were in trouble before the season even began.

Mattia Binotto started his role in the worst way possible. Before Melbourne, the new team principal stated that Ferrari would favour Vettel in the first part of the season and perhaps give Leclerc equal standing if he proved his worth as the year progressed.

I’m not sure I’ve seen a team boss make such a foreboding start to a reign as team boss. These comments will have created a lack of trust and a polarising divide between Vettel and Leclerc, because how are they supposed to race if they know they constantly have a team decision hanging over their heads? How does Leclerc hope to prove himself as a Ferrari race winner if the team will swap him and Vettel over anyway?

It gave the perception that Vettel had become Ferrari’s darling, and that Leclerc would have to be the bridesmaid. Binotto’s comments made it a personal battle between his drivers and they hadn’t even hit the streets of Melbourne for the weekend yet.

Would the tale have been different had Binotto been a bit more considerate in his comments? It’s difficult to tell, but I certainly feel there would be less animosity in Ferrari.

However, if you’re a neutral looking for exciting headlines every race, then Binotto’s a genius!

Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Let’s face it, F1 has often felt stagnant in the last few years, because intense rivalries have been hard to come by. Lewis Hamilton’s battle with Valtteri Bottas has always been quite passive and amiable, despite Mercedes’ favouring the six-time champion.

Max Verstappen has had a grudge with Esteban Ocon, who will race for Renault next year, since their junior days.

Those rivalries aside, we are yet to see a battle to the extent of Hamilton and Rosberg. Looking back over the years, there has always been friction in such an emotionally-fuelled sport. The aforementioned battle of egos between Senna and Prost springs to mind, as does Mansell vs Piquet. Jacques Villeneuve wants to fight with everyone he meets, and who can forget Fernando Alonso’s beef with both Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel?

This friction gives us talking points other than Mercedes and Ferrari winning, with Max Verstappen, to his credit, often helping to spice up the action at the top of the field.

However, it almost seems like F1 doesn’t have room for mind games and antagonism any more, despite other racing series proving it can still be done.

MotoGP riders do a good job of getting into each other’s heads, and the same applies to Formula E. Jean Eric Vergne, Sebastien Buemi and Lucas di Grassi don’t exactly have soft spots for each other.

And that doesn’t come down to snide remarks and below-the-belt comments in the media like we often see in F1, this is about drivers passionately confronting each other about incidents and making sure everyone knows where they stand on conflicts. Remember Sebastien Buemi going round screaming at every driver he saw after race one of the 2017 season finale in Montreal?

This is what F1 needs more of and hopefully the new 2021 regulations will bring the field closer together and we can see more on-track fights and debates between drivers every race.

Of course, we’re not asking drivers to get the boxing gloves out. All we want is drivers racing closely and entertaining us, giving us something to talk about. Is that so much to ask of a sport that has given us so many jaw-dropping moments over the years?

So, could Vettel vs Leclerc become a rivalry for the ages? Quite possibly, but let’s hope it’s not the only one we have to talk about in years to come.

US Grand Prix Preview: Hamilton’s American dream to finally become reality

Having missed out on winning a dream championship in the ultimate sporting holy grail last year, Lewis Hamilton has a chance to realise this goal 12 months later. He needs just four points this weekend to seal a sixth world championship.

It would make him only the second driver in history to claim six titles, and put him one behind the great Michael Schumacher. What’s more, for the first time in his career he is set to win the championship three years running. He would be one behind Sebastian Vettel for consecutive championships won (2010-2013) and two behind Michael Schumacher (2000-2004).

The stats are both remarkable and stunning. Hamilton is a living legend of the sport right in front of our eyes, but for him, and many others, it is not just about the numbers.

It was evident last year, when Kimi Raikkonen took the win away from Hamilton, that a moment which would have achieved hopes and dreams conceived long ago had escaped Hamilton’s grasp. It was no secret that he would have loved to claim his fifth title at what is considered to be the home of world sport, with some of the most energetic and adoring fans of not just Formula One, but of many others too. To win the championship in the US, like he did in 2015, would be another huge accolade for Hamilton, and it is something that would mean so much to him personally.

His title rival Valtteri Bottas, however, will still be full of belief that he can at least overshadow his team-mate’s inevitable title celebrations with a victory at the 5.5-kilometre-long Circuit of the Americas. While it is almost impossible for him to win the championship from here, Bottas had a positive race in Japan, winning from second on the grid. But a stunning drive from Hamilton in Mexico, out-qualifying Bottas while the Finn’s Mercedes took a huge bite out of the barrier, saw him fend off Sebastian Vettel with a mega second stint to take a well deserved win, and put himself in prime position for the championship this weekend.

2019 Mexican Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

The Mercedes cars are expected to be challenged well again by Ferrari this year. The two teams been typically evenly matched at this circuit in each of the last two seasons, but Ferrari’s advantage in power this year will leave them hopeful of a victory again as they did last year, and team principal Mattia Binotto’s plans for ‘better race management’ in the last three races of the season may aid them achieve a win in what has turned out to be another heart-breaking season for the Scuderia.

The tricky first sector will certainly help to bring the Red Bulls into play, with Alex Albon’s impressive performances seeing him prove his worth at the Austrian team. He has out-scored Verstappen since they have been team-mates, although this has been down to a few slices of misfortune for the Dutchman, as well as one or two clumsy errors. Red Bull, however, should not be expected to challenge for the win, frustrating for them after a thoroughly wasted opportunity by Verstappen in Mexico.

Coming home this weekend are Haas, but we should not expect a particularly happy home-coming for them in what has been a confusing, tiresome and dire year. Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean are really just looking forward to 2020 now, but the home crowd may just inspire a point or two from the French-Danish partnership which has been tested and strained at various different points of the season.

Though Lewis Hamilton’s partnership with race engineer Peter Bonnington will not return until Brazil, Hamilton has no intention of holding back on the title party this weekend, but Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari have no intention of seeing him stand on the top step on race day.

 

[Featured image – Ferrari Media]

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]

Mexican Grand Prix Preview: Six of the best for Hamilton?

As the F1 circus rolls into the fun, vibrant, spirited Mexico City, Lewis Hamilton has an opportunity to claim the world championship for the third consecutive year, and sixth time in total, at the 4.3-kilometre Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez.

Complete with a 1.2- kilometre-long home straight and a stadium section converted from a baseball pitch, the track sits 2,240 metres above sea level. The subsequent thin air creates an extremely tough physical challenge for the drivers, and the lack of oxygen results in the engines’ RPM being reduced, which is why the cars look visibly slower on this track compared to others. In fact, this track is the highest circuit to host an FIA-sanctioned event in terms of elevation.

Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images

Feeling high off his third victory of the season in Japan is Valtteri Bottas. The Finn had struggled ever since his win in Baku all the way back in April, but a dominant performance at the wonderful Suzuka circuit, taking the lead after Sebastian Vettel’s botched start, saw him keep his albeit distant championship hopes alive, whilst team-mate Lewis Hamilton’s third-place finish secured Mercedes’ sixth consecutive constructors’ title.

Bottas will continue to keep his title dream alive if he finishes at least third in Mexico, but if Hamilton beats him by 14 points – the difference between a win with a fastest lap and a fourth-placed finish – a sixth drivers’ title will go the way of the irresistible Brit, who is 10 race wins away from beating Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 wins in F1. That record that seemed insurmountable when Schumacher claimed his last win at the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix, but now seems very possible. Hamilton and his record-breaking Mercedes team look to be hurtling towards yet more Formula One history.

Conversely, Ferrari will spend another winter wondering just where it all went wrong. Having looked unstoppable in pre-season testing in Barcelona, the Scuderia, save for a handful of races, have been blown away by the sheer dominance of Mercedes, and this is a track where Ferrari are expected to struggle once again.

With the altitude levelling the playing field in terms of engine power, downforce through the tricky second sector is vital. This is something Red Bull have unlocked to magnificent effect the last two years, with Max Verstappen storming to victory in both 2017 and 2018, but having his victories overshadowed by Hamilton’s title celebrations on both occasions.

Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images

This year will present another opportunity for the Dutchman, but Mercedes will no doubt push them hard with their improved downforce this year. Ferrari, meanwhile, have impressed at unexpected venues in the second part of this season after bringing an upgrade for the second part of the season, which has aided them spectacularly in races like Singapore, where they claimed a shock one-two finish.

With Thai-British driver Alex Albon yet to really stamp down his place at Red Bull after taking over from the demoted Pierre Gasly in the summer, we could be in for an exciting scrap this weekend.

It is always a festival when F1 goes to Mexico, particularly for home hero Sergio Perez, but will Lewis Hamilton be hosting yet another title festival in Mexico City? Valtteri Bottas and one or two others may have something to say about that.

 

[Featured image – Will Taylor-Medhurst/Getty Images]

Japanese Grand Prix Preview: As a typhoon looms, is Hamilton storming towards the 2019 title?

Just when things looked to be in peril for Mercedes in the second half of the season, stepping up to stop Ferrari was, erm… Ferrari.

An evident storm is brewing within the Italian giant as the rivalry intensifies between Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, and imminent typhoon Hagibis will either threaten to ignite that combustible tension or will give them the necessary push to overcome their Russian demons.

Indeed, the title is now all but wrapped up by the imperious Lewis Hamilton who leads the championship by 73 points with just 128 still up for grabs.

His tour towards his inevitable sixth world title brings us to the 5.8-kilometre Suzuka circuit. It’s easy to get tied up in knots here, with it being the only figure-of-eight circuit on the calendar, and having the awe-inspiring yet terrifying first sector, featuring high-speed esses that require skill, talent and bravery in equal measure.

2018 Japanese Grand Prix, Saturday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Such sections tend to become more difficult in treacherous conditions, and we are expecting no shortage of those this weekend. The typhoon is expected to affect practice, qualifying, and the race, although it is difficult to predict with any certainty.

Form generally gets tossed out the window in conditions like the ones anticipated in Suzuka – cast your minds back to Hockenheim – and the favourites for the weekend would be tough to predict in normal situations. Suzuka requires a pinpoint balance of power and downforce, and Ferrari – save for their spectacular in Sochi last time out – have seemed to excel at both since the teams returned from the summer break, but Mercedes will fancy their chances through the technical first sector.

Indeed this is a big weekend for Ferrari. Vettel had a complete nightmare last year in Japan, when a crazy, kamikaze move on Verstappen cost him any chance of a podium finish, and Charles Leclerc’s race was ultimately ruined after an incident at the start of the second lap with Kevin Magnussen.

Ferrari were in trouble before the race even began in Russia last time out. They had planned for Leclerc, starting on pole, to allow Sebastian Vettel, starting third, to slipstream his way past to ensure they had a one-two off the start. This was all well and good, but there’s one aspect Ferrari failed to factor in – pride.

Vettel, who is no stranger to team order controversy, was never going to allow Leclerc back past as the team had planned. Leclerc is an upstart who has walked into Vettel’s team and all but overthrown him. He needed to make a statement to his team, his team mate, and the world, saying that he is a four-time world champion, and that this is his team.

GP RUSSIA F1/2019 – DOMENICA 29/09/2019
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Ferrari gave Leclerc the undercut to pass Vettel in the pitstops, only for the German to suffer an engine failure. He stopped the car off track, brought out the virtual safety car, gave Mercedes a free pit stop for both their drivers, and, ultimately, a one-two.

It is fair to say, then, that Ferrari have a point to prove, but so do Mercedes. They must prove themselves able to throw down with Ferrari after a post-summer break that has seen their form undulate. They want to change that, and issue an emphatic message to their counterparts.

Elsewhere, Toro Rosso will give an F1 debut to reigning Super Formula and Super GT champion Naoki Yamamoto. The Japanese home hero will take Pierre Gasly’s seat in the first practice session, before Gasly returns to the cockpit for the rest of the weekend.

It’s set to be a tough weekend with Typhoon Hagibis looming, and there’s a storm brewing between Mercedes and Ferrari as we head towards beautiful Suzuka.

 

[Featured image – Charles Coates/Getty Images)

Leclerc fends off Mercedes duo to take Italian Grand Prix victory

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

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

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

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

Ferrari Media

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

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

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

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

Wolfgang Wilhelm

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

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

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

2019 Austrian Grand Prix Review: The Future of F1

Formula 1 returned to the Austrian hills of Spielberg for round nine of the season, the Austrian Grand Prix. Definitely the best race of the season so far, the Austrian GP delivered what fans desperately needed after the French GP.

Qualifying saw Charles Leclerc taking pole for the second time this season, although he won’t have fond memories of the first time he got pole position. In Bahrain with just ten laps to go his engine went wrong, but he still managed to take third place. Lewis Hamilton took second place, although a three place grid penalty for impeding Kimi Räikkönen during qualifying saw him start from fourth. This was due to another penalty, for Kevin Magnussen who qualified P5 but he had a five place grid penalty, thus starting from tenth. ‘Local boy’ Max Verstappen, thanks to the packed orange grandstands, starts from second place with Valtteri Bottas behind. Norris in fifth showed the progression McLaren has made this season. Drama for Vettel meant he starts the race from ninth, after not being able to set a time in Q3 due to problems with the floor.

Max Verstappen had a horrible start, not being able to come off the line at all, dropping him back to seventh place. Norris had an impressive start and took third place exiting turn one, but Hamilton charged back and even Räikkönen got past him for fourth. Vettel had to make up some positions which he did, overtaking the McLaren of Norris for fifth place. The Brit now had to defend from the poorly started Dutchman.

That same Verstappen went on to P5 overtaking Räikkönen in the Alfa Romeo in lap nine, with a gap of four seconds to Vettel in front of him.

Magnussen was under investigation for being out of position on the grid. The stewards awarded him a drive-through penalty. A great result in qualifying, a drama in the race for the Danish Haas driver.

A nice surprise to see was George Russell in the Williams battling with Kvyat and Grosjean for seventeenth place. Kubica however was still struggling in last place.

A fight for seventh between Räikkönen and Gasly was the most entertaining one. Pierre struggled to get past the Finn, but every time he tried Räikkönen showed he’s still capable of racing and defending perfectly. Finally, after around twenty laps of battling the Frenchman got past. Throughout the field the gaps were extending fast, very few battles took place. It was all about strategy now.

On lap twenty-two Bottas came into the pits for his first stop, changing from the mediums to the hard tyres. A pretty big gamble, as Leclerc on the softs was still pulling away up front. Vettel immediately came in as well for the same change of tyres, but the stop took longer than expected, leading to frustration at the team. One lap later it was the race leader coming in for his pit stop, also opting for the hard tyres.

These changes meant that Hamilton was now leading the race, in front of Verstappen. Both still had to make their pit stop.

In lap thirty-one Hamilton came in for his stop. However, it was not only tyres they were changing. A few laps earlier he reported a ‘loss of downforce’ to the team. They didn’t want to take any risks and changed the front wing as well. Verstappen reacted to that by immediately coming in as well, re-joining in front of Hamilton in fourth place.

For third place the heat was on between Vettel and Verstappen, the latter one on much newer tyres.

With fifteen laps to go Verstappen overtook Bottas for second place, leading to a massive standing ovation from the orange crowds. He was putting up insanely fast lap times on the board, and with ten laps to go the gap to Leclerc shrunk to four seconds. A nail-biting end of a better race than the previous ones, although still lacking more battles.

Just five laps to go, the gap shrunk to a very tight one second. Reports over the radio that he had a loss of power disappeared when he showed the pace.

The battle of the season was fought out between the future of F1, Leclerc and Verstappen. A hard-fought battle into the third corner, even a bit of contact and the Monegasque got pushed wide in an aggressive, but fair battle. Verstappen took the lead, but it was unsure for how long as the incident got under investigation by the stewards. Some controversial moments happened this year with stewards after the race, but Austria wouldn’t be interfered with. Max Verstappen took another win at Austria, just like 2018 in a dramatic manner.

Charles Leclerc ended up in second, a great result for the Ferrari youngster, who definitely hoped for more and for 90% of the race, it looked like that was possible. Bottas would join them on the podium, although it was very close in the end with Vettel.

Possibly the most exciting race of the season so far, F1 leaves Austria to head to a circuit where the crowds won’t be orange. They will be full of British flags for the British GP at Silverstone in two weeks time.