Russell Wins Saturday Sprint in Sao Paulo

George Russell has claimed his maiden F1 race win in Sao Paulo, winning the sprint race ahead of Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton. This means Russell will start tomorrow’s race from pole position.

George Russell fought hard to claim his maiden victory and win the sprint race in Brazil. It took three attempts but, on lap 15, he finally bested this year’s champion, Max Verstappen, to take the lead. Russell quickly pulled out a comfortable lead and left the pack to scrap for the remaining podium places.

Carlos Sainz, who started in 5th, ended the day with a 2nd place medal around his neck. Lewis Hamilton, having recently been granted honourary Brazilian citizenship, delighted fans as he claimed the final podium position.

Verstappen found himself in the lead on lap 3 when he passed pole-sitter, Kevin Magnussen, on the start-finish straight. However, as he tried to continue his clean sweep of sprint race wins this season, Verstappen struggled and eventually ended the race in 4th. Magnussen was eventually shuffled down to 8th to take the final championship point – a result he was still thrilled with.

It was a very frustrating day for Charles Leclerc, much like Friday’s qualifying. After a mistake by the team left him unable to qualify above 10th, he failed to make waves in the sprint race and eventually made it up to 6th. Just ahead of him, in 5th, was his nearest championship rival, Sergio Perez.

For tomorrow’s race, thanks to a grid penalty for Sainz, we will have a front-row lockout for Mercedes – their first in 2022. Verstappen and Perez will line up just behind them to start in 3rd and 4th respectively. Both Ferarri drivers will have a difficult day ahead, as Leclerc lines up in 5th with Sainz in 7th, after his penalty for an engine change. Having qualified in 11th, Alex Albon will have to start tomorrow’s race in last place after spinning out of the race on lap 13.

However, there could still be movement amongst the grid as we have a number of drivers under investigation. Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo and Zhou Guanyu, who finished in 3rd, 11th and 13th respectively, are being investigated for a start procedure infringement. This is suspected to be an issue with their position within their grid boxes. Pierre Gasly, who finished in 10th, is under investigation for driving too slowly on his way to the grid. Both Alpine drivers are also under investigation for a mid-race clash, adding further woes to their dramatic day.

The 24-lap race was packed with action from start to finish, providing a much-needed boost to the debated sprint race format. In 2023, we will have 6 sprint races with the format still yet to be decided. It is clear that today’s showing will have helped its cause.

 

AS IT HAPPENED

As he made his way around the track for the formation lap, pole-sitter Magnussen was told by his team to “have fun”, and that’s certainly what he did. The Haas driver enjoyed a brilliant start and quickly pulled a nice lead ahead of the rest of the grid, who quickly started to battle hard. Verstappen, starting in 2nd, seemed to get swallowed by those around him but eventually came out on top to retain 2nd place.

One of the toughest battles on the opening lap was between Alpine teammates, Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso. As Alonso attempted a move for 6th place, he was pushed wide and onto the kerb. As he tried to maintain control of the car, he twitched and made contact with the side of Ocon’s car. Alonso emerged unscathed whilst Ocon was left with a hole in his sidepod. The following lap saw Alonso again try a move for 6th. This time, Ocon made a very late defensive move and Alonso clipped his rear tire and broke his front wing.

Image Credit: Formula 1

Forced to pit for a new front wing, Alonso dropped to the back of the grid and his race was effectively over. As Alpine continue its fierce championship battle with McLaren, this lack of points will be a blow for the French team.

As the pack settled into their rhythm, it was Lance Stroll and Mick Schumacher who enjoyed the best starts – Stroll gaining 3 places and moving up to 12th, with Schumacher gaining 4 places and moving up to 16th.

It seemed overtakes were happening up and down the grid, with Hamilton taking 5th from Lando Norris and Magnussen quickly dropping from 1st to 4th – he was first passed by Verstappen, then Russell and Sainz who sat in the top three, in that order, for the early stages of the race.

By lap 7, it felt like things were settling down a little, but Russell was still within DRS range of Verstappen and looking hungry for the win.

On lap 9, it was the turn of the Aston Martin teammates to start their battle as they fought for 11th. At the pitlane exit, Lance Stroll pushed Sebastian Vettel off the track and onto the grass, with an excessively aggressive move. Taking to the radio, Vettel’s response was a simple “OK”, but this move was quickly noted by the stewards and Stroll was awarded a 10-second penalty for a “dangerous manoeuvre”.

As the pair started the next lap, lap 10 of 24, Vettel finally made his way past his teammate on the start-finish straight, to claim 11th place.

It was at the halfway point of the race that Russell started to make himself known to Verstappen. He first attempted a move around the outside of turn 1 but struggled to get ahead. The same move on lap 13 also failed to give him the lead but he continued to battle for the rest of the lap.

At this point, Verstappen took to the radio to tell his team that he has hit some debris – this is likely to have come from Alonso’s broken front wing and could have caused damage to the champion’s car. Shortly after this message, on lap 15, he lost the lead to Russell who quickly pulled a gap of 2 seconds.

The previous time penalty didn’t seem to deter Stroll and he was soon back in action, this time with Haas driver Schumacher as the pair fought for 12th. An incredibly late and defensive move from Stroll, which almost caused Schumacher to drive into the back of him, was also noted by the stewards. At the time when the race ended, no decision had yet come from race direction on this incident.

In the dying laps of the race, with Russell now 2 seconds clear of the pack, a huge scrap started between Verstappen, Sainz and Hamilton. It became clear that Verstappen was either struggling on the medium tires or had been significantly affected by the previous debris that he hit – he was visibly struggling to keep control of the Red Bull, which was twitching as he tried to defend 2nd place.

As Sainz made his move and overtook Verstappen for 2nd, there was contact between the pair. Adding to the Dutchman’s woes, his front wing end plate flew off as a result of the contact. It was then just a matter of corners until he lost 3rd to Hamilton.

On lap 21, with just 3 laps remaining, Sainz jumped on the radio to inform his team that he was “running out of tires”. This prompted Mercedes to encourage Hamilton to “keep the pressure on” as he kept Sainz in view. Despite keeping with DRS range, Hamilton simply couldn’t get close enough to make a move for 2nd.

Meanwhile, further down the grid, Norris took 7th place from pole-sitter Magnussen, who was now in the final points position in 8th.

With 2 laps remaining, Perez was quickly catching his teammate in 4th and he asked his engineers if he would be given the position – a fair question as his battle with Charles Leclerc for 2nd in the championship heats up. However, the chequered flag came too soon for the Mexican and he was forced to settle for 5th.

As the chequered flag fell, it was Russell who crossed the line in a comfortable 1st place, nearly 4 seconds ahead of his nearest rival.

The action wasn’t just reserved for on the track, though, as Esteban Ocon’s Alpine caught fire in parc ferme. This was the result of contact with his teammate in the race and resulted in the post-race interviews quickly moving to the grid, rather than the pitlane.

Feature Image Credit: Formula 1

Hammer year for Mercedes, Τoto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton

A very uncertain year, turned out ideally for Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton. The six-time world champion, proved once again that he is currently one of the best, if not the best, driver on the grid, even with the season premiere postponed for a couple of months, Hamilton remained in top form.

In Austria, Hamilton received a time-penalty and finished fourth, whilst his main rival for the title, Valtteri Bottas claimed the victory. Since then, Lewis has finished only once outside the top three and that was in Monza and he has won nine of the thirteen races this season.

IMOLA, ITALY – NOVEMBER 01: Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1, Winning Constructor Representative, Race Winner Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 and Daniel Ricciardo, Renault F1 celebrate on the podium during the Emilia-Romagna GP at Imola on Sunday November 01, 2020, Italy. (Photo by Andy Hone / LAT Images)

It was only a matter of time until Hamilton matched and then broke Michael Schumacher’s 91 victories record. At the Eifel Grand Prix, the British Champion started second behind his team-mate, it took him 13 laps and a lock up from Bottas to take the lead on Sunday. From there, Lewis Hamilton had a comfortable victory and equalized Michael Schumacher’s wins record.

Very emotional moments followed, after the chequered flag, Lewis Hamilton said:

“Honestly as I came into the pit lane that was only when I realised I equalled it, I hadn’t even computed it before that across the line. I couldn’t have done it without this incredible team, everyone continuing to push behind me and giving it their everything. So a big, big thank you and huge respect to Michael.”

Race winner Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 celebrates on the podium

At the age of 35, Lewis Hamilton looks on top form and he found the inspiration that he needed to keep him going on full speed. In the past six years only one driver managed to stop him and that was his ex-team-mate Nico Rosberg. In 2016 the German driver won the championship with 385 points, five more than his title rival.

These records cannot be achieved without having a team, which supports you on every step, during good and bad moments. The key to Hamilton’s success is Mercedes, the team that he is driving for.

Mercedes, achieved something that no other team has managed in the F1 history, they have won seven consecutive world titles, it is the most successful team in the hybrid era.

The maestro of this success is of course Toto Wolff. The Austrian has led Mercedes all these years, he is the α and the ω of this team. Alongside him, he has a team of skilful engineers who are working hard to stay at the top each season.

ALGARVE INTERNATIONAL CIRCUIT, PORTUGAL – OCTOBER 25: Race Winner Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 celebrates on the podium with the trophy after taking his 92nd Grand Prix win, the most for any driver in F1 history during the Portuguese GP at Algarve International Circuit on Sunday October 25, 2020, Portugal. (Photo by Sam Bloxham / LAT Images)

Toto had a short racing career in motorsport, he raced in Austrian Ford Racing and won the Nürburgring 24 Hours in 1994. After three years, the Austrian, decided to quit racing, he completed his studies at the Vienna University of Economics and Business and founded his own investment company in 1998.

In 2009, Toto invested in Williams F1 Racing and after only three years in 2012, he became the Executive Director of the team and Williams celebrated their first victory in eight years at the Spanish Grand Prix.

By the end of 2013, Toto Wolff purchased 30% of Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd. He was appointed Head of the Mercedes group and had the responsibility of the whole Mercedes-Benz group. A few months later, Mercedes celebrated their first constructors’ title in their F1 history and since then they haven’t tasted second place in the championship.

The good news is that Toto Wolff announced that he will remain at Mercedes in 2021.

‘I love this team and I think this is my place’ Wolff said.

Even a non-Hamilton and Mercedes fan has to admit that this driver and that team managed to achieve something unique in the sport, they have proved that money is not the only key to success, a team spirit and the correct decisions are needed as well.

 

Hamilton takes 91st pole position ahead of British Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton has taken the 91st pole position of his career ahead of tomorrow’s British Grand Prix, three tenths in front of team-mate Valtteri Bottas and over a second clear of third-placed Max Verstappen. It makes Mercedes the first team in F1’s history to take eight consecutive pole positions at the same circuit.

Hamilton suffered a spin at Luffield on his first run in Q3 but recovered to post two laps good enough for pole, the quickest being a new track record of a 1:24.303.

Charles Leclerc got to within a tenth of Verstappen in what is Ferrari’s first second-row start of the season. McLaren’s Lando Norris will line up a very respectable P5.

Lance Stroll only just made it through to Q3 and qualified P6 ahead of Sainz and the two Renaults of Ricciardo and Ocon.

Having struggled all weekend, Vettel will line up only tenth for tomorrow’s race. What’s more, he will be starting the race on the soft tyres rather than the more favourable mediums.

Alex Albon failed to make it through to Q3 for the second race in a row and only managed P12 behind the Alpha Tauri of Pierre Gasly. He suffered a hefty crash during free practice on Friday and was plagued by an electrical issue on Saturday morning.

Nico Hulkenberg, drafted in at the last possible moment to replace Sergio Perez after Perez tested positive for COVID-19, qualified P13.

Daniil Kvyat will start P14 ahead of George Russell, who made it through to Q2 for the third consecutive time in his Williams. He was, however, investigated for failing to slow for yellow flags after his team-mate span at Luffield in Q1.

Both Alfa Romeo cars failed to make it through to Q2 yet again, as did both Haas cars. Nicholas Latifi will line up P20 after his aforementioned spin.

 

[Featured image – Steve Etherington]

Hungarian Grand Prix – Hammer time

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, dominated the wet-dry conditions Hungarian Grand Prix.  The British champion, claimed the pole on Saturday’s qualifying session and had an easy Sunday afternoon.

The drama in Hungary started early, more specifically while the drivers were driving to the grid, Max Verstappen crashed into the barriers at turn 12, the track was wet and the drivers were on intermediate tyres. Red Bull’s mechanics urgently repaired Max’s car and that allowed him to start the race from the seventh position.

At the start, Valtteri Bottas moved before lights out and that was the reason why he stopped immediately, for a few seconds, which cost him position and allowed Stroll to jump ahead, behind  Lewis Hamilton.

Verstappen and Vettel had a good start, Max placed third and Vettel fourth.

The track was drying off, on the third lap Bottas and Leclerc pitted for slicks, the Finn rejoined on mediums whilst Charles swapped to softs. A risky move by Ferrari, which didn’t pay off, Leclerc was struggling a lot with the soft tyres, he was complaining to his team on the team-radio. On the following lap, Hamilton, Stroll and Vettel pitted for mediums.

Haas, started both Magnussen and Grosjean on slicks. Their strategy was smart and after the chaotic period with the pit stops, Kevin was third and Romain fourth.  The happiness in Haas’ garage didn’t last long, Stroll passed both Haas’ drivers and moved up to the third place.

Leclerc, couldn’t follow the pace of the rest of the drivers, Albon was right behind Charle’s car on lap 14 and was trying to pass Ferrari and move up to the seventh position. Alex requested extra power from Red Bull and overtook Charles on lap 18.

It was obvious that Ferrari had to protect Leclerc. They called him into the pits for the hard tyres on lap 21 and returned on the track on the 15th position.

More rain was expected during the race, teams started calling their drivers into the pits for fresher tyres, some drops appeared on the track but that was not enough to affect the strategy of the teams.

Mercedes went for the undercut to give the opportunity to Bottas to overtake Stroll for the third place. Lance Stroll pitted a couple of laps later and rejoined behind the Mercedes.

Bottas was closing to Verstappen for the second place, on lap 50 the Finn pitted again for the hard tyres. He rejoined behind Verstappen but he had fresher tyres. Bottas was pushing until the end of the race, he managed to reduce the gap but he didn’t get the chance to make a move on Max for the second place.

Lewis Hamilton pitted for softs in order to secure the fastest lap of the race and score the extra point. Lewis was not challenged at all during the race and secured an easy victory, the second one this season and 86th in total.

 

2020 Mercedes-AMG Petronas Preview

Mercedes head into the 2020 season aiming to win their seventh consecutive constructors’ championship, a feat never before achieved in F1’s history. Likewise, Lewis Hamilton is aiming to win his seventh title, which would put him level with Michael Schumacher at the top of the all-time list.

Hamilton is also on the verge of potentially matching and even surpassing Schumacher’s record of race wins, which currently stands at 91. Hamilton goes into 2020 just seven behind that tally. Given he has won an average of ten races a year since 2014, that is a real possibility.

Bottas, too, will be hoping to further add to his tally of seven race wins, in what is his fourth year with the team.

2020 Barcelona Pre-Season Test 2, Day 2 – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Mercedes’ form in pre-season testing should give them the confidence that they are able to achieve their goals, even though there are potentially a few concerns and question marks to be addressed too.

They completed 903 laps across the six days of pre-season testing, the most of any team and 59 more than second-placed Ferrari. Bottas also posted the fastest lap of the entire test – a 1m 15.732 set on the third day of the first test.

Mercedes were also responsible for potentially the biggest headline to come out of pre-season testing when they debuted their new dual-axis steering system, known as DAS. It was noticeably used more in the first week of testing than the second, and it will be interesting come Australia to see in which situation it is used more – long runs or qualifying runs.

2020 Barcelona Pre-Season Test 2, Day 2 – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Things were not all good for the Silver Arrows, though.

Hamilton ground to a halt with an oil pressure problem on the second day of the second test, an issue that meant he completed just 14 laps on that particular day. Bottas also suffered an electrical issue, in the first week.

Add to that the fact that Mercedes’ customer team Williams had four power unit problems in just six days of testing, and there are a few worries about the reliability of Mercedes’ engine.

If those problems can be resolved, and considering the stability of the regulations for this year, Mercedes should be in a prime position to begin to realise those dreams of a seventh consecutive championship.

With the Australian Grand Prix now less than a week away, we don’t have long to wait to find out if that is true.

 

[Featured image – Wolfgang Wilhelm]

Mercedes unveil 2020 challenger

Mercedes gave their fans a Valentine’s gift of their own on Friday morning, as they unveiled the car they are hoping will take them to a seventh consecutive title sweep.

Following the unveiling of the 2020 livery on the 2019 season’s car on Monday, the new car features red hints on the end-plates of the front and rear wings and on the front of the engine cover. This is part of their brand new partnership with sponsor INEOS.

Sporting a unique wing intake on the sides of the front nose, Mercedes have predominantly stuck with their imperious winning formula, opting to keep the car largely the same as last year.

Mercedes-AMG F1 W11 EQ Performance – Render

They will run their car today for a shakedown session at Silverstone, as Red Bull did yesterday with Max Verstappen when they released the RB16. World Champion Lewis Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas will both run the car.

Hamilton is chasing more records this season, as are his team. Mercedes look to extend their record of consecutive constructors’ championship successes, while Hamilton will attempt to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of seven drivers’ championships, as well as beating his staggering record of 91 race wins. He needs eight more victories to achieve the latter.

Hamilton feels well equipped to do this, saying that he feels ‘on another level’, both in terms of fitness and focus heading into what could be a very pertinent year in the illustrious career of the 35-year-old.

Alpha Tauri, the renamed Toro Rosso, will also reveal their car later today.

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]

Mercedes claim sixth consecutive Constructors’ Championship at Japanese Grand Prix

Mercedes have claimed a sixth successive Constructors’ Championship at the Japanese Grand Prix, with Valtteri Bottas taking the race win and Lewis Hamilton finishing in third.

The pair had started in third and fourth respectively, but Bottas capitalised on a mistake from Sebastian Vettel at the start to take the lead going into turn one. Hamilton inherited third when Charles Leclerc pitted on lap four for a new front-wing, following a coming-together with Max Verstappen on the first lap.

“We never thought this would be possible,” Toto Wolff said, “and I’m incredibly happy for everybody who has been a part of this journey. It’s not always been easy, the entire team put in a lot of hard work and we had our fair share of painful moments, but we were always able to pick ourselves up.”

2019 Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

Wolff also spoke of this year’s championship being particularly emotional in the wake of Niki Lauda’s passing in May.

“This sixth Championship is a very special one – and we dedicate it to Niki,” he said. “He has been such an important part from the beginning, and we all miss him dearly. I think about him every day and still find it hard to believe that he’s not here anymore.

“I keep thinking to myself, ‘What would Niki say, what would he think?’ Today, he probably would have said, ‘Congratulations for the sixth one, but you have a challenge on your hands for next year’. It was his way of making sure that we’re never complacent.”

2019 Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Mercedes become the first team to claim six successive championships since Ferrari did so between 1999 and 2004, and things are set to get even more rosy for them in the coming races. Bottas’ win and Hamilton’s third-place means that they alone remain in contention for the Drivers’ Championship, with Vettel, Leclerc and Verstappen’s mathematical hopes being put to bed.

As such, Mercedes will become the first team in F1’s history to claim six successive Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships, regardless of which of their line-up claims the title.

 

[Featured image – Steve Etherington]

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)

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