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 stewards have set a dangerous precedent

When Valtteri Bottas crashed heavily at the end qualifying for the Mexican Grand Prix, his fellow drivers all slowed down when passing the incident and the subsequent double-waved yellow flags. That is, all but one.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull’s boisterous,  energetic, and head-strong superstar, did not lift, and went on to set a fastest final sector and improve on his provisional pole time.

This was a clear breach, not just of regulations, but also his safety, Bottas’ safety, and the safety of the marshals who needed to recover the stricken Mercedes.

Verstappen would have got away with it, but he was caught out by… himself. The post-qualifying press conference featured a moment which could only be described as absolutely bizarre. When asked about his failure to slow under yellow flags, Verstappen said, “It’s qualifying and, yeah, you go for it. But like I said before, if they want to delete the lap, then delete the lap.”

(Photo by Will Taylor-Medhurst/Getty Images)

The comments were completely devoid of consideration, and showed a complete obliviousness to the fact that he was admitting to a very dangerous breach of the sporting regulations, ultimately landing himself in trouble.

Following the press conference, the stewards decided to open an investigation into how Verstappen went quicker after Bottas’ crash, when his rivals all slowed down. He was then awarded a three-place grid penalty, and will instead start the race from fourth, with Charles Leclerc now on pole for the seventh time this season. Sebastian Vettel is promoted to second, giving Ferrari a front-row lock-out.

Verstappen’s mistake can be forgiven. Nobody was hurt, and in a roundabout way, he was aware that what he had done was wrong, and he appeared to accept that punishment would be coming his way. After all, he is a young racing driver, and consideration and evaluation of risk can be easily skewed when adrenaline is high, particularly during a qualifying run.

The real issue lies deeper. And this is where the blood boils.

It took Verstappen admitting his error in the press conference for the stewards to do anything about it, even after it was clear he set a purple final sector time following Bottas’ crash. It was clear, obvious and blatant that he had not slowed for the yellow flags. The stewards also had data from his car available to them, but either chose to not look at it or, even more outlandishly, see the data and opt not to award a penalty.

(Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)

Either way, whatever actions they had endeavoured to take – or not take as the case may be – they, at first, decided to not award a penalty for a clear breach of regulations. This was a farce. They made themselves look foolish, and it was frankly an embarrassment for the sport.

But more than that, it was a breach of duty of care from the stewards to be so dismissive of the fact that a driver on track had risked the safety of so many people.

Their initial actions, or lack thereof, displayed a complete disregard for safety, and a serious lack of awareness of the precedent they are setting for the future. It was a statement that any driver can now go flat out through yellow flags after a serious incident, risk hitting someone on the way, and get away with it so long as they make sure they keep their mouth shut about the incident afterwards.

And it is very clear that F1 has somehow not learned its lesson from past cases, like that of Jules Bianchi in 2014, who tragically lost his life after failing to slow for yellow flags following a crash at Suzuka. Despite this, with no due diligence whatsoever, the stewards still saw fit to not act on a driver failing to slow for an incident when they know what the impact can be, and a precedent has now been set for the future –  it is a dangerous one.

It was a further example of stewards at a Grand Prix refusing to do their job, not only as rule enforcers, but as responsible adults charged with ensuring the safety of everyone involved at the event, and this is unacceptable.

If the stewards are not willing to act appropriately, and if they are happy to allow someone to endanger lives, then it shows an immaturity that cannot be condoned, especially at an event where the risks that come with motor-racing are so high.

It resonates with me that, not only have the stewards this weekend shown themselves to be unfit for the job of rule enforcers, but they are also evidently cannot be trusted with making sure that drivers in the future are completely aware that actions such as Verstappen’s cannot be tolerated.

Instead, F1 is left in a position where drivers are at risk of being uncontrolled by FIA regulations, which is why the events of yesterday’s qualifying are more significant, and dangerous, than many in the sport are making it out to be.

 

[Featured image – Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images]

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]

2018 Mexican GP Review: F1esta Mode for Mercedes

We’re in the final stages of the 2018 season, and as F1 entered round 19 of the calendar for the Mexican Grand Prix, another chance emerged for Lewis Hamilton to become a five-time world champion, with his rival Sebastian Vettel 70 points behind and just three races to go.

Qualifying was once again very close, with Daniel Ricciardo stealing pole from team-mate Max Verstappen by just 0.026 seconds. Behind them, it was close as well, with Hamilton, Vettel, Bottas and Raikkonen making up a very interesting grid.

On Sunday, Hamilton got an amazing start and got past pole-sitter Ricciardo, but didn’t quite manage to get past Verstappen. Ricciardo dropped to third, with Vettel and Bottas still in fourth and fifth.

It took only five laps before the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) was brought out, after Fernando Alonso pulled over having had his car damaged by some flying debris from Esteban Ocon at the start.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Hamilton started losing time to Verstappen once the green flag was shown, allowing Ricciardo to close to within DRS range by lap eleven, although he wasn’t quite close enough to attempt an overtake.

On lap twelve, Hamilton came in for his first pit stop along with Bottas just seconds after, and Ricciardo and Verstappen pitting on successive laps, all opting for the supersofts. On lap fifteen, Verstappen used his DRS to overtake Raikkonen, the winner of last week’s United States Grand Prix

With Raikkonen’s tyres fading, he dropped into the clutches of Hamilton and Ricciardo, with the former pulling off an overtake in turns two and three.

On lap eighteen both Vettel and Raikkonen finally made their pit stops, switching onto the supersofts and making Verstappen race leader once again, this time by a margin of eight seconds.

A second Virtual Safety Car was brought out on lap 32, with Carlos Sainz having parked his Renault at the side of the track.  When the green flag was shown once more Vettel saw a chance to get past Ricciardo and, on lap 34, he  finally overtook the Australian and set about closing the gap to Hamilton. By lap 38 he was within a second, and the following lap he overtook his rival on the main straight.

He now had a thirteen second gap to Verstappen he needed to close down, but more interesting was the fact that Hamilton was losing almost a second per lap to Ricciardo. The Brit would still become World Champion even if he got overtaken, but that wouldn’t be in style as he was now at risk of losing a podium place.

2018 Mexican Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

In an attempt to overtake Hamilton, Ricciardo tried the move on the main straight but Hamilton braked way too late and overshot the first corner, going across the grass. Unsurprisingly, he pitted at the end of the lap for a set of used ultrasofts.

With 22 laps to go, both Vettel and Verstappen pitted. Vettel went to the ultrasofts, whilst Verstappen opted for a new set of supersofts. This promoted Ricciardo into second place but, with him being on older tyres, Vettel soon closed the gap again.

On lap 62 Vettel’s job was made a lot easier when Ricciardo once again retired due to an engine problem. The Virtual Safety Car was called out for the third time, and Bottas took the opportunity to pit.

After 71 laps it was an outstanding drive from Max Verstappen, who took the chequered flag and claimed his fifth win in F1. Following him home were the two Ferraris of Vettel and Raikkonen.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Verstappen’s victory, however, was somewhat overshadowed by the fact that Lewis Hamilton finished in fourth place, which was enough for him to be crowned the 2018 Formula One World Champion. He gave the crowd a bit of a show by doing some doughnuts in the stadium section of the track. Even Will Smith left a radio message for him, and Vettel showed his sportsmanship by congratulating his rival.

There are still two races left of the season to go. Sure, the tension of the championship is now over, but that doesn’t mean the upcoming races will be any less interesting. The Brazilian Grand Prix is up next, which always makes for a great race, especially as the weather gods always play their part there. But, for now, the party mode can be turned on at Mercedes.

 

 

Featured image: 2018 Mexican Grand Prix, Sunday – Steve Etherington

2018 Mexican Grand Prix Preview

The 19th round of the 2018 Formula One World Championship brings us to the 4.3 kilometre-long Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez for the Mexican Grand Prix, where the world championship is set to be decided in Lewis Hamilton’s favour.

The circuit is named after brothers Ricardo and Pedro Rodriguez. The first ever Mexican Grand Prix took place in 1962 in a non-championship event and, tragically, Ricardo was killed during the race, with Pedro carrying the Mexican Grand Prix into the world championship the following year.

1992 would be the last race in Mexico for 23 years, before the circuit’s reintroduction as a revamped circuit in 2015, with the victory being taken by Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg.

GP MESSICO F1/2017
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER FERRARI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

A week after narrowly missing out on his fifth world title in the US – the country where he desperately wanted to get the job done – Lewis Hamilton now will need just a seventh place finish to overtake Sebastian Vettel on the world championship count.

After a brilliant race last time out, it was a third place finish for Hamilton, behind second-placed Max Verstappen, who started 18th, and extremely popular race winner Kimi Raikkonen, who took his first win in Formula One since the opening race of 2013.

Off the back of that, Mexico is a track where we should expect a tight battle between all three of F1’s top teams. Max Verstappen won the race last season, and Red Bull are anticipating another strong weekend this year. Furthermore, Ferrari are expected to be slightly stronger than Mercedes, which for really the first time this year, gives us a race in which any of our top six could take the win.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

A win is something Sebastian Vettel will desperately want, having seen his team-mate win in the States. In order to achieve this, however, he will need a weekend free from mistakes. The four-time champion has proven to be a bit of a magnet to the two Red Bulls in the past couple of races, hitting Max Verstappen in Japan and Daniel Ricciardo in the States.

However, a perfect weekend with a victory will probably not be enough for Vettel to keep his title hopes alive, and he would need a remarkable amount of bad luck for Lewis Hamilton who, excluding his DNF in Austria, has a lowest finishing position of fifth.

As if the task weren’t difficult enough already, Ferrari will have to factor in the Red Bulls, who will up for a fight for victory at a track where they will be brimming with confidence. Verstappen will be a tough man to pass, and Ricciardo will be desperate to get one last win before he leaves the team for Renault at the end of the season. This, though, could also be a potential banana skin for Lewis Hamilton, making Mexico an eagerly anticipated race at the tail-end of a season which has seen Mercedes turn the tables on Ferrari from the start of the year and give them a vicious beat-down in the championship.

It was an uphill struggle already for Vettel, but a series of errors from himself and Ferrari this year have meant that Hamilton is one step away from title number five, and in a race just a week before Mexico’s death festival, we are set to once again see the death of Sebastian Vettel’s title challenge, and the rise of Lewis Hamilton to the level of the great Juan Manuel Fangio.

 

 

Featured image: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool