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.

Hungarian Grand Prix: Hamilton hunts down Verstappen to take victory

Lewis Hamilton has taken victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix, making best use of a free pit stop to chase down Max Verstappen and take the lead in the closing laps of a race that saw every driver outside the top four lapped.

Verstappen had retained his lead after the first pit stops and fended off an attacking Hamilton as the pair picked their way through traffic. Running wide when attempting an overtake at turn four, Hamilton dropped back and the gap to Verstappen stabilised around the one-and-a-half second mark.

With a sizeable gap to the Ferrari duo in P3 and P4, Mercedes made the decision to bring Hamilton in on lap 49 for what was a free stop, switching him onto the medium tyres. He emerged some 20 seconds behind Verstappen and set about chasing him down, being told by his team that Verstappen would be down to “zero rubber” by the end of the race.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Sure enough, Verstappen reported on lap 64 that his tyres were dead, and Hamilton closed at a rate of almost two seconds a lap to make a move round the outside of turn one and take the lead with just three laps to go.

With Verstappen reporting that he couldn’t make it to the end of the race, he made a free pit stop on lap 68 to switch to the soft tyres and chase the bonus point for fastest lap.

Sebastian Vettel finished a distant third, overtaking team-mate Leclerc on lap 68. Vettel ran a very long first stint and only came into the pits on lap 40 to change onto the soft tyres. By the time he had caught up to his team-mate, Leclerc’s hard tyres were some 40 laps old, and this allowed Vettel to dive down the inside going into turn one and take the final podium position. With the gap to Hamilton at over a minute, Ferrari will certainly be hoping that the long straights of Spa and Monza will allow them to claw back

Carlos Sainz finished in an impressive fifth place for the second race in a row, with Gasly and Raikkonen behind in sixth and seventh respectively.

The other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas took himself out of win and podium contention on the first lap. Lock-ups going into the first two corners allowed Hamilton to slip past and take second, and then contact with Leclerc damaged his front wing and forced him to pit. Dropped to plum last on the road, it was a long day for the Finn and he eventually reached the chequered flag in eighth place.

LAT Images

The top ten was completed by Lando Norris – who was hampered by a slow pit stop – and Alex Albon.

Hamilton’s victory means he heads into the summer break with a 62-point lead in the championship. Two bad races in a row means that Bottas is now just seven points ahead of Verstappen in P2, and you have to think that second is now firmly in Verstappen’s sights going into the next half of the season.

Hungary was the fourth good race in a row this season following Austria, Silverstone and Hockenheim, but can the trend continue when the F1 circus reconvenes at Spa at the end of the month?

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]

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.

“Put a Ring On It” – 2019 Austrian Grand Prix Preview

Beyoncé may have said “if you like it, then you should’ve put a ring on it”, but in motorsport we race the rings instead. Yes, it’s race weekend once again, as F1 is welcomed by the circuit previously known as the Österreichring!

It was known as such between 1969 and 1995, and then became known as the A1 Ring from 1996 to 2003. Finally, Dietrich Mateschitz bought the circuit and in 2008 started a reconstruction. From 2014, the newly-branded Red Bull Ring became host once again to a European round of the Formula One Championship.

The Red Bull Ring was originally 5.911km in length, with its weakness being its safety record and high speeds (second only to Silverstone during its Österreichring period). Something had to be done, and as such it was shortened to 4.326km in its guise as the A1 Ring, and again in 2016 to 4.318km.

Red Bull Ring sectors. Image courtesy of Pirelli.This weekend we head back to the Red Bull Rin  after last week’s French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard, which was dominated by Mercedes with Hamilton and Bottas finishing 1-2.

Can I mention hot air? No, not the untruths one may hear, but instead air streams from the African continent. Tyres could again play a massive part in the race this weekend, with it predicted to be one of the hottest days in Europe so far, courtesy of very warm air streams. Last weekend in France saw temperatures hit 56°C, but this weekend could hit 60°C. That alone will shift the working windows of the tyres and also will vary between teams . With higher air temps we could also see the 2019 aero regulations cause some teams issues with heat distribution.

Available tyres for the races up to the Russian GP. Image courtesy of Pirelli

The Red Bull Ring, following its 2014 redesign, is one of the shortest tracks on the F1 calendar, with the current configuration’s lap record being a 1:06.957, set by Kimi Raikkonen in 2018. With four sharp turns (T1, T3, T7 and T8) and three DRS zones allowing overtaking, the race is not a foregone conclusion.

Infograpics for the 2019 Red Bull Ring. Image courtesy of Pirelli

2019 has been a year of Mercedes dominance, with them having won all eight races so far – two for Valtteri Bottas and six for Lewis Hamilton.

Ferrari has had correlation issues in their fluid dynamics simulation to wind tunnel analysis, hence the testing of new front wing and floor assemblies at Paul Ricard. With that issue presumably sorted, can their car finally show its promise?

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won here in 2018, and he will be hoping for that to happen again this year to finally break the Mercedes strong-hold on the championship.

And if Verstappen, Vettel and Leclerc can’t mount a challenge? It will, yet again, be between the Mercedes boys of Hamilton and Bottas.

 

[Featured Image courtesy of Colombo Images/Scuderia Ferrari]

2019 French Grand Prix Review: They Did Their Best

French motorsport fans had already enjoyed the 24 Hours of Le Mans last week, and now their attention turned to the Formula 1 French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard. The 5.8km blue and red maze of a circuit is known for its Mistral Straight, named after the famous winds which caused some trouble over the weekend.

Conditions in qualifying proved to be tough, but Mercedes prevailed and locked out the front row of the grid again, with Lewis Hamilton on pole and Valtteri Bottas behind him. Charles Leclerc was the fastest of the Ferrari drivers in P3, as Sebastian Vettel had a horrible Q3 that saw him qualify only seventh. Verstappen started from fourth place and Gasly from ninth. Who split them then? Well, in a big surprise it was both McLaren drivers of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr., who claimed fifth and sixth place on the grid.

The start of the race saw Hamilton immediately create a gap to his teammate and Leclerc behind. Lando Norris lost fifth place to Sainz, who set about putting pressure on Verstappen. The Dutchman easily recovered though, pulled away from Sainz even as he complained about a ‘lag’ in power on the exit of some corners.

Thanks to the 2019 aerodynamic regulations, most drivers had trouble following the car in front of them, leading to big gaps being created. A few DRS overtakes took place going into the Mistral chicane, but no more than that.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The biggest battles of the race took place in the midfield, where Haas was really struggling and got overtaken by both Toro Rossos.

Verstappen pitted from fourth on lap twenty-one and emerged in fifth place behind Vettel. Leclerc went into the pits on the next lap for the hard tyres as well, coming back out in fourth place. Bottas switched to the hard tyres onlap twenty-four. and re-joined in third behind Vettel, who was yet to stop, and in front of Leclerc.

Race leader Hamilton responded by pitting the next lap, re-joining safe and sound in first place. Vettel was behind him, locked up and told his team he needed to box, which he duly did. Like those around him, he opted for the hard tyres in an attempt to make it to the end of the race. After all pit stops, the situation in the top five was unchanged.

Meanwhile Hamilton took the time to try out the ‘Time Trial’ mode of the new F1 2019 game, putting up fastest lap times on the board lap after lap. and extending his lead to twelve seconds.

LAT Images

With less than half of the race to go, trouble struck Norris and Grosjean. Norris was told by the McLaren team to not use DRS and that his car would soon become unstable, whilst Grosjean, in his home race, had to retire the car with just six laps to go.

A very short Virtual Safety Car was brought out near the end of the race, after Alex Albon hit a bollard that was then left stranded in the middle of the track.

With just two laps to go, Vettel came in for another pit stop to go for the extra point for the fastest lap, whilst his Leclerc chased Bottas for second place. Was this what Ferrari meant by Plan F?

On the last lap he got in DRS range of the Mercedes, but it didn’t matter. The top three in qualifying ended up as the race result. Vettel’s bid for the extra point paid off as he pipped Hamilton’s time by 0.02 seconds.

The Driver of the Day award went to no other than Lando Norris, who carried on racing with hydraulic problems to end up in tenth place.

F1 returns to Austria next weekend in the first double-header of the season. Last year saw Max Verstappen take the biggest trophy, whilst drama for Mercedes showed us that their engines are not invincible. Will this year’s race see the same drama, or are Mercedes really unbeatable now?

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]

Canadian Grand Prix 2019: Was Vettel robbed?

What a mess. The 2019 season finally came to life in Canada, but perhaps not in the way we wanted it to.

Sebastian Vettel was pushing to protect his lead from Lewis Hamilton, who was displaying much better pace on the hard tyres than Vettel himself. In his attempts to break away, Vettel locked his rear tyres going into turn three. He ran over the grass, re-joined the track, lost the rear again, and very nearly made contact with Hamilton. He did manage to stay ahead though, with the gap between the two roughly the same as before.

Then came the real drama. The stewards decided that Vettel’s actions warranted a five-second penalty, added at the end of the race. In bizarre circumstances, Vettel crossed the line first, knowing that the win would be instead taken by a conflicted Lewis Hamilton, who stated that this was not the way he wanted to win.

A furious Vettel deliberated over whether he would attend the podium celebration, eventually deciding to join Hamilton and third-placed finisher Charles Leclerc, but not before switching the Parc Fermé boards around and declaring himself the deserved winner of the race.

Honourably, he discouraged the booing directed towards Lewis Hamilton by the fans and instead told them to aim their collective anger towards the stewards. But did the stewards do anything wrong? Are the rules wrong?

2019 Canadian Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

Ultimately, you could say both. The penalty was put down to unsafely re-joining the track, which may have been fair, but cast your minds back to Monaco 2016 when Hamilton left the track trying to stay ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, re-joined and, in doing so, very nearly put the Australian in the wall. No penalty was given.

What this highlights is an abhorrent lack of consistency in the rule-enforcement, which simply should not happen in a professional sport. In this respect, the Canadian Grand Prix was a humiliating day for Formula One.

However, F1 is just the same as any other sport, in that it has massive talking points that we can debate long into the night, with everyone having their own opinions on every aspect. This will naturally lead to different stewards having different views on how the rules should be applied and enforced.

You could therefore say that the stewards did not make this decision malevolently towards Vettel. Instead, they were simply interpreting the rules made by the FIA.

But how the should the rule about drivers leaving the track and gaining an advantage have been judged?

Ferrari’s view is that Vettel made his mistake and re-joined the track, actually losing time in the process. Once he had made his error, Vettel was back on track and the incident was over, with the German ahead of Hamilton after the incident just as he had been before. He then got very close to Hamilton, but did not make contact.

Ferrari Media

Mercedes’ view, which was also adopted by the FIA, is that Vettel went off the track and gave Hamilton a chance to pass him for the lead. Vettel then effectively denied him this opportunity by re-joining the track in a hazardous manner and nearly pushing Hamilton into the wall.

The general consensus from viewers and pundits came from the classic racing perspective. An innocent mistake was made – things may have gotten close, but then racing is supposed to be close. No-one crashed as a result, so on we go without another word said.

This, nostalgically but comparatively speaking, was the attitude held in previous eras of racing. Perhaps we need to accept that this era is over and that you simply can’t re-join the track and close the door on another driver any more. This may be within reason, but it was all in the spirit of good close racing, which is danger of dying if the FIA continues to heftily punish on-track mistakes.

So is the rule wrong? Vettel, ultimately, had nowhere to go other than back onto the track once he had gone off. He couldn’t just vanish out of Hamilton’s way, and he couldn’t just stop. Creating more rules isn’t going to eliminate the basic human aspect that we all make mistakes. More specifically, Vettel was ahead of Hamilton both before and after the mistake, no-one crashed, and both drivers were able to continue.

However, Hamilton will feel as though Vettel illegally denied him a passing opportunity, and that had he not taken avoiding action then the consequences of Vettel’s mistake could have been more severe.

As a result, it becomes difficult to find a way through which we can properly establish fault using the sport’s law. Therefore, the stewards should be expected to interpret and apply laws through basic common sense which, if I may step off the fence for a second, did not seem to be present among the stewards in Canada.

GP CANADA F1/2019 – SABATO 08/06/2019
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

These incidents are always subject to interpretation, and so we cannot expect consistency if the stewards are always different. The FIA cannot create a million laws for a million scenarios. The interpretation must be specific to each incident, which raises questions about the use of the different stewards at every race.

At a sport of this level, we simply cannot accept the unbelievable level of inconsistency from the FIA, who somehow do not seem to see the blatant issue that exists within F1.

These incidents, however, are not black and white, and there are always deeper layers to every story.

This next particular level, unfortunately, resembles a concerning pattern for Vettel. Ultimately, if Vettel had not made the error he did, none of this would have happened. By making the mistake and re-joining the track in front of Hamilton, Vettel gave the stewards something to consider, and this fell unfavourably for him.

This is not the first time he has made such an error. He was the architect of his own downfall last year, crashing from the lead in Germany, before spinning in Japan and the USA. The year before, Singapore effectively spelled the end of his title challenge, when a clumsy move across the track at the start saw him collide with Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen. That night perfectly highlighted the fact that Ferrari themselves have repeatedly ruined their attempts to secure championship glory.

Truth be told, Sebastian Vettel’s title hopes are probably dead in the water at this point. Even Valtteri Bottas, who made a sublime start to the season, is beginning to see his title aspirations wither at the ominous, constant, and unrelenting brilliance of Lewis Hamilton.

The shame is that the Canadian Grand Prix wasn’t decided by brilliance, but rather by a harsh stewarding decision that reflects badly on the sport and sets a dangerous precedent that hard racing cannot be permitted any more.

 

[Featured image – Scuderia Ferrari Press Office]

Controversial penalty costs victory for Vettel

Sebastian Vettel drove a storming lap in almost perfect conditions in qualifying at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montréal on Saturday, clocking a stunning lap time of 1:10.240. It was a new track record and the 56th pole position of the German’s career.

The rest of the grid shaped up with a few surprise results, including Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Räikkönen who was knocked out in Q1 and started in P17. Kevin Magnussen suffered a crash at the infamous Wall of Champions, ruining the lap times of several other drivers in the final moments of Q2, including the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, who was forced to start in 11th place.

As a result of Magnussen’s crash, several repairs were required and the Haas team later announced that he would be starting the race from the pit lane, moving every driver up a place from P10 to P20.

The most surprising result of the day, was Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, who drove a stunning lap to secure fourth place, his highest qualifying spot with the Enstone-based team so far.

Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Renault F1 Team RS19.
Canadian Grand Prix, Saturday 8th June 2019. Montreal, Canada.

With Vettel leading the pack for Ferrari, current championship leader Lewis Hamilton started alongside him, ahead of Charles Leclerc and Ricciardo on the second row. Both Leclerc and Ricciardo were seeking a strong result after experiencing some bad luck in the first six races of the season. 

The race began under blue skies, with Vettel stretching out a 1.2 second lead after the first lap, with the top four retaining their initial positions. Lando Norris and Max Verstappen had an exciting scrap for P8, however by lap nine the McLaren driver had retired from the race, after the sweltering heat affected both his suspension and brakes.

Valtteri Bottas was threatened by Verstappen, with the Dutchman using DRS in an attempt to pass.

Antonio Giovinazzi was extremely lucky and miraculously avoided hitting the Wall of Champions as Hamilton closed the gap to Vettel. The Brit got very close, however he then locked up and lost a chunk of time.

Vettel became the first of the leaders to pit when he came in on lap 26. Mercedes, meanwhile, left Hamilton out on track, feeling there wasn’t a big enough gap between the pair for Hamilton to come out of his stop ahead of the Ferrari driver.

2019 Canadian Grand Prix, Saturday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

He would pit two laps later, with both Vettel and teammate Leclerc were told to switch to ‘plan B’ of their strategy. On lap 33, Leclerc pitted, however he found himself stuck in traffic alongside Verstappen in the Red Bull.  

Other noticeable incidents saw Giovinazzi spin and Hülkenberg speak of his concerns over team radio regarding downshifts in the gearbox. His teammate Ricciardo brilliantly defended his position against Bottas as Leclerc passed Verstappen for third.  Hamilton once again closed the gap to Vettel, and by lap 39 the leaders were less than a second apart. 

Hamilton went too deep at the hairpin and lost some time, while Vettel went on to post the fastest lap of the race on lap 42.

Further down the field, Pierry Gasly struggled to pass Lance Stroll, who was still racing with the tyres he had started on.

Vettel voiced his concerns about the temperature of his brakes and, on lap 48, went wide on the grass, almost losing the lead of the race to Hamilton. Hamilton reported the incident to his team.

GP CANADA F1/2019 – SABATO 08/06/2019
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Verstappen passed both Renaults to take P5 and the stewards announced that they were investigating the incident between Hamilton and Vettel. This resulted in a five-second penalty being given to the Ferrari driver, due to unsafe re-entry and forcing another driver off track. This decision was met with much criticism from the German, stating that the stewards were stealing the victory from him.

With just five laps remaining in the Grand Prix, Toro Rosso’s Albon retired, his car having suffered damage during an early clash with Giovinazzi. Leclerc attempted to catch Hamilton, as Bottas dived into the pits in order to seal a bonus point for the fastest lap. Carlos Sainz lost two more places, to Racing Point driver Stroll and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat. 

Sebastian Vettel crossed the finish line first, however Lewis Hamilton ultimately inherited the victory after Vettel’s five-second penalty. Leclerc managed to close the gap and just missed out in taking second place from his teammate.  

The final result also saw Bottas in fourth, Verstappen in fifth and a stellar performance from Daniel Ricciardo secured sixth, with his teammate Hülkenberg just behind. Gasly finished in eighth with Kvyat in tenth and Lance Stroll securing points in P9 at his home race. 

Valtteri Bottas snatched the fastest lap of the race with a 1:13:078. Sebastian Vettel was voted driver of the day and in his frustration, after the race, switched the 1st and 2nd place signs in parc fermé. He would also receive two penalty points on his super license.

The 8th round of the 2019 Formula 1 season will begin with Free Practice on the 21st of June at Circuit Paul Ricard for the French Grand Prix. 

 

[Featured image – Scuderia Ferrari Press Office]

Hamilton clinches pole in Monaco after disappointing qualifying for Ferrari

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Etherington

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]

Lewis Hamilton: Mercedes ‘very, very lucky’ at Bahrain Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton has admitted that Mercedes were ‘very, very lucky’ to claim a 1-2 at the Bahrain Grand Prix, with Charles Leclerc’s power unit issue putting a stop to what was otherwise a very dominant performance by the Monegasque.

Hamilton had started the race in P3 but fought his way past Sebastian Vettel on lap 38 to claim P2. Then, with under fifteen laps to go, the other Ferrari of  Leclerc developed a power issue that cost him roughly 30mph in speed on the straights; in just two laps Hamilton had wiped out Leclerc’s nine-second lead and passed him with ease to take the 74th Grand Prix victory of his career.

“It was very tricky out there today,” Hamilton said, “and I had to give it everything I had. We were very, very lucky to get this 1-2, Ferrari outperformed us all weekend.

“Ultimately you want to have a real fight and want to pass someone because you’re quicker, so it feels a bit weird and you can’t quite believe your luck in these scenarios.”

2019 Bahrain Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Hamilton praised Leclerc for his performance nonetheless and offered some words of consolation to him in the post-race cool down room. He is under no illusion about Mercedes’ pace relative to Ferrari, and is bracing himself for some tough races to come.

“I have been in similar situations [to Leclerc] and I know how it feels, but Charles did a great job all weekend long and has a beautiful, bright future ahead of him,” he added.

“We’ve only had two races; one where we were rapid and far ahead, one where Ferrari had the upper hand. It’s hard to say how the next races are going to pan out, but I anticipate that it will be a tough fight and that it will be a back and forth between the two teams.

“We need to keep working hard to see where we went wrong this weekend and to see where we can improve the car. But as we saw today, reliability also plays an important role, so we need to keep working on all areas.

“We’ll take the points we got today and move forward to China.”

 

[Featured image – Steve Etherington]

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