The 2020 season begins as ever in the ever iconic event that is Rallye Monte Carlo. Ott Tanak begins his title defence having made the switch from Toyota to Hyundai over the winter. He will, I am sure you know, will not however be running with the number one on his car, deciding instead to stick with number eight.
Rallye Monte Carlo has a reputation of being a super tricky event, and this year’s 88th edition is unlikely to be any different. Here are the stages that await the crews:
Thursday, January 23 2020
Quai Albert 1er in Monaco
SS 1 – Malijai / Puimichel
SS 2 – Bayons / Bréziers
Friday, January 24 2020
SS 3 – Curbans / Venterol
SS 4 – Saint-Clément-sur-Durance / Freissinières
SS 5 – Avançon / Notre-Dame-du-Laus
SS 6 – Curbans / Venterol
SS 7 – Saint-Clément-sur-Durance / Freissinières
SS 8 – Avançon / Notre-Dame-du-Laus
Saturday, January 25 2020
SS 9 – Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes / La Bâtie-Neuve
SS 10 – La Bréole / Selonnet
SS 11 – Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes / La Bâtie-Neuve
SS 12 – La Bréole / Selonnet
Stop at the Gap-Fontreyne Service Park
Sunday, January 26 2020
SS 13 – La Bollène-Vésubie / Peïra-Cava
SS 14 – La Cabanette / Col de Braus
SS 15 – La Bollène-Vésubie / Peïra-Cava
SS 16 – La Cabanette / Col de Braus
Shakedown will take place on Wednesday afternoon from 4pm. There will be keen interest in the drivers that have switched teams over the winter to see what kind of times they set on the Route de la Garde 3.35 km stage. We’ll have to wait and see how many runs the crews decide to do, as they attempt to get a feel for their new cars in a competitive environment.
Look back to last year:
Last year Seb and Julien took a win with their return to Citroen, which was their sixth victory in this event. Ott Tanak took third. He was the early leader, but suffered a puncture early on day one, dropping him out of the fight for the lead. Between them, in second, was Thierry Neuville.
There are two drivers who are making their debut in full blooded WRC machinery this weekend. Kalle Rovanperä and Gus Greensmith will step into their respective cars from Toyota and Ford. Yes, I know that Gus drove in three events last year, but he and Edmund haven’t driven one of these cars in Monte before. Last year he drove to a very good win in the WRC Pro class.
Let’s hear from the drivers:
“The start of a new year begins with probably the most demanding event of the season. To make it even more challenging, we have a new team and a new car to learn while tackling the tricky conditions. It will never be an easy job, but it is important to get a good start and to score some points. With the event held at the end of January, the conditions are normally inconsistent, and a lot depends on the altitude. In the lower conditions you can have dry tarmac, then the higher you go it starts to freeze. With the extreme conditions, its normal to find some unpredictability in this rally.”
“Rally Monte-Carlo kicks off the season and we are straight into the dark stages. It’s a very tough event, and tyre choice is crucial. It’s a difficult event in which to compete; there’s a lot of hesitation and you need good pace notes, as well as accurate information from your weather crew. With different altitudes in the stages, high concentration is key. Conditions are constantly changing and the most dangerous thing for us is black ice. We have been competing in Gap for a few years now and we know which sections are in the shade all day and will be slippery, but there will always be some surprises waiting for us in Monte.”
“You never know what to expect at Rallye Monte-Carlo. It could be fully dry, wet or feature a lot of snow, which changes the driving conditions. It can even change between the stages and the road sections, which means tyre choice is even more important. You need to find the right rhythm to be fast without taking major risks. This rally you need to approach with your head; it’s not just flat out, it’s a question of reflection. My previous experience feels like a long time ago, so the rallies feel newer to me than other drivers. We only had one day in the car before Monte-Carlo last year, so hopefully with our current knowledge of the car we will be able to get an even better result than last year.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
“I’m excited to start my first rally in the Toyota Yaris WRC. Every car has different characteristics and it takes some kilometres to learn about them, but so far it has been good in the tests. We want to fight for a seventh title this year, and I believe we can have a good chance with this car. Rallye Monte-Carlo is an event with special emotions for me. I remember at the end of the 1990s, coming to spectate and Tommi was winning a lot – he was the first idol I had in rallying. Myself and Julien obviously have a very strong record too, and every year there is more and more pressure to try and continue that. It’s always a big challenge and one that I definitely enjoy.”
“I’m looking forward to Rallye Monte-Carlo and my first event with Toyota. This is the first time in my WRC career that I’ve changed teams, but everybody’s been very welcoming and I’ve got a good feeling in the car, so I’m excited about the season ahead. My first time driving the Yaris WRC was in our test for the Monte in December, and quite quickly I was able to get a nice feeling and some good confidence. On this event the challenge is always the range of conditions you can possibly face. When you’re setting up the car, you need something that gives you confidence and I think we’ve got some good options with that in mind.”
“Rallye Monte-Carlo will be a special event for me. It’s a big step up from an R5 car, with a lot more power and downforce, but so far, I’ve found the Yaris WRC to be quite easy to drive in the tests. Still, I have a lot to learn and I think it will take a few rallies to really adapt to the car and how everything works. I will need to think differently at the beginning of the season, and I hope that I will have the patience for this. I think Monte-Carlo is not the easiest place to start with a new car and a new team. The weather is changing all the time and you cannot always have the right tyre choice for the conditions. It will be a big challenge for us, but hopefully we can make it through.”
“Monte-Carlo is always a tricky start to the season, but I’m looking forward to getting started. Straight away the Fiesta felt very logical and easy to drive, and that always gives a driver a lot of confidence. I hope I’ll be able to use that confidence next week, but Monte is always a challenge and you never know what to expect.
“We had wet roads on the test and the car felt good in those changing conditions. But in Monte you can have wet roads, dry roads, icy roads, full snow, and sometimes all of that in the same stage! You have to give this rally a lot of respect, but that’s what we plan to do and we want to get this new partnership off to a strong start next week.”
“I’m really looking forward to this season and straight away I could see that Esapekka and I would work well together. We had a very similar set-up on the test, and it looks like we want to take the car in the same direction.
“I tested on dry asphalt and had a really good feeling, but for the more tricky sections where there is a lot of ice and snow I will have to rely on my experience. This is my fourth time in Monte so I’m starting to know the stages a bit better. The rally is always a lottery, but I have a very experienced gravel crew who I trust 100 percent – so anything is possible!”
“Monte is a special one for me. It’s where I claimed my first victory (winning WRC Pro 2 last year), and there’s no other rally than gives me more satisfaction behind the wheel. Knowing that I will drive these amazing stages with the Ford Fiesta WRC this year is beyond my wildest dreams!
“Everyone wants to win here, and the changing conditions make it one of the biggest challenges on the calendar. The smallest mistakes pay a heavy price, but I do think this is a strong event for me. I’ve always relished tricky conditions, but experience is something you need here too. I’ll have to make up for that, and hope to produce a strong performance to kick off this 2020 season.”
Here we go then! Who will win the first round of this new season? Will we see another win going to Seb Ogier, or perhaps we’ll see a new winner this year? Thierry challenged in 2017, and was close last year, or perhaps we’ll see Ott Tanak take a first victory?
Podium challengers could be Elfyn Evans, Teemu Suninen and Seb Loeb. Finally, how will Kalle Rovanperä get on? The son of Harri Rovanperä has made his own name on his way up the ladder. There will be mistakes, that is expected. Still, expect to see him win some stages as well.
Max Verstappen showcased that a Honda-powered Red Bull is capable of winning, even in the 9th race of their collaboration.
Honda is a colossal company, an immensely powerful player in the automotive industry, immune to the ‘group trend’ that other manufacturers have gone into. Since its return in F1, though, back in 2015, it has been hit year with multiple reliability problems, publicly blamed for the misfortunes of the McLaren collaboration, to the point that nobody thought it could be able to stand back on its feet and rise to the challenge in this hybrid era.
The move to Toro Rosso in 2018 was a crucial one for Honda and its F1 plans, because it gave them the opportunity to make a fresh start, with a team that has minimal aspirations, fighting for the best possible result in the midfield battles. McLaren is a team that is used to be a front-runner, Fernando Alonso is a driver who wants to be the protagonist, not a bystander, and that played a huge role in the McLaren-Honda relationship through that 3-year spell. Toro Rosso, on the other hand, have been just the sister team of Red Bull, the first step for young Red Bull Academy drivers to make their way into F1.
Now, Honda had its chance to make everything the way it wanted it to be. No pressure, no strings attached.
Effort and grind run in the Japanese people’s blood. Japan is known for its commitment to work hard, trying and succeeding. And Honda does represent that mindset in the best of ways.
When the Red Bull-Honda collaboration was announced during last year’s French Grand Prix, it became apparent almost immediately that this is not a project that could give a championship in its first year – not even in its second.
Even though RB had all the essential data regarding the Japanese power unit from Toro Rosso, it was crystal clear that this is a long-term relationship, planned out thoroughly, with patience and determination to succeed.
“When they came back into the sport they had a very tough time in the years that they were with McLaren,” said Christian Horner.
“They then moved to Toro Rosso last year and they had some time to get their house in order and start to progress.
“All we have seen is a real dedication and determination, and that is why having won that race, Tanabe-san went to collect the trophy for the constructor.
“After all the effort that they have put in, it is great to see Japan represented up there and Honda picking up the constructors’ trophy.”
This has always been the right path for Honda in this era of F1, with the complexity of the engines playing a big part in a team’s success. McLaren didn’t realise that when it mattered, and the rest is history. Red Bull did understand that time would be needed for Honda to make the difference and bring back the championship to Milton Keynes.
The Austrians have built a well-run organisation, where people understand their role in the company, and fully commit to the goal, whichever that is. It is no coincidence that, even during the adversity with Renault over the last 5 years, they were able to win races and fight for podiums consistently.
This is the case in 2019, too. Honda has started a new cooperation with a team that can really help them propel their growth and get the coveted land as soon as possible.
Winning in Austria, in their home race, with hundreds of thousands of Verstappen fans cheering for him, is really the stuff of dreams. It is certain that Red Bull targeted that race, and took all the necessary measures to be able to fight for the victory in Red Bull Ring – the first with Honda.
Verstappen himself stressed the importance of the timing of this win:
“I’m just very happy that it happened today and it just gives us a lot of confidence as well to the boys and maybe a few doubts are going away because of it.”
The Dutch driver is the noncontroversial leader of this outfit, and that’s very positive for them. Last time there was an alpha-dog in that team was the Sebastian Vettel era and they won 4 consecutive world titles.
They have a clear path if Max decides to continue believing in this team and this project, because he is a driver that can be the star of this sport for the next 15 years. He is a talented young driver, a proven winner, and having him as their leader, it just makes everything easier for them and their road to a title.
It is really fortunate for Red Bull (and Honda, subsequently) that Verstappen does support this collaboration, despite his comments about the power of the engine, or his surprise that he was able to win in Austria. He just puts pressure on them, but not in a negative way.
Having said that, it’s necessary to remember that this project is not short-term. It’s a five year planned out cooperation, and no one stops either side to extend that contract and 2021 is going to be their breakthrough year.
Even if the new regulations don’t provide many changes to the technical side of the sport, Red Bull and Honda understand that this is the best timing for their push to a championship-winning campaign. They will try their hardest to keep Verstappen, and if they do, they will have all the ingredients to get to that trophy.
Red Bull has that reputation of a team that can exploit every change in the regulations every time they change drastically (namely, 2009), and Honda will by then have an even better PU to provide to them, better suited to their needs.
F1 is all about long term commitments, plans that run through the next 4 or 5 seasons – it’s the only way a team can reach the top.
Honda understands that, Red Bull does, too. No one can guarantee that they will get their chip fast or easy, but they will be contending.
It was a another very strong victory for Toyota and Estonian Ott Tanak this year. Here’s the story of how he won Rally de Portugal! He was joined on the podium by Thierry Neuville and Seb Ogier.
This was going to be an interesting day, as there was no afternoon service. It was also very hot as well, with temperatures set to get higher! The crews faced seven stages, which had been last run in 2001. The start list looked like this – Ogier, Tänak, Neuville, Meeke, Evans, Loeb, Lappi, Latvala, Suninen, Sordo, Greensmith.
SS 1 – Lousa 1 (12,35 km) was won by Dani Sordo in his Hyundai, showing that the later you ran the better your grip, although Ott setting the second fastest time showed how good he and the Yaris were getting on. Ogier, who was opening the road, was way down in ninth with Thierry one place ahead. Teemu went well, sitting third at this point.
The longer SS 2 – Gois 1 (18,78 km) saw a number of changes to the top ten. Ott went fastest from Jari-Matti, and leader Sordo setting the third fastest time. Teemu was slower than both Kris and Jari-Matti, which saw him drop places down to fifth overall. Elfyn also gained a place, passing Thierry overall and staying ahead of Ogier.
The last morning stage, SS 3 – Arganil 1 (14,44 km) saw Ott take the lead after problems for Dani, whilst Esapekka suffered a puncture losing over a minute and tumbling down to eighth place. The top three was now a Toyota 1-2-3, with Jari-Matti and Kris slotting into the podium positions. Also going well were Teemu and Elfyn, who were around twenty seconds from the lead. Thierry did a great job in the stage to close the gap to Ogier by five seconds to just half a second.
The re-run of SS 4 – Lousa 2 (12,35 km) saw a more difficult surface for the crews to contend with. Dani Sordo won the stage, whilst Finns, Jari-Matti and Teemu set the same time and were equal second fastest. Thierry moved ahead of Ogier on the overall leaderboard as well. Further down, Gus Greensmith, who was making his maiden challenge in a full WRC car was finding his feet, setting the ninth fastest time, only a few tenths down from Lappi.
SS 5 – Gois 2 (18,78 km) saw the end of Elfyn’s challenge near the front after a problem that caused the car to just stop. The Welshman would lose around four minutes finding the problem and fixing it. What a shame. In the other Fiesta WRC, Teemu would set a great time, winning the stage and jumping ahead of Kris into third overall. Ott continued to lead, whilst Ogier, after going second fastest, jumped ahead of Thierry into fifth place. However, this battle was certainly not over.
Thierry won SS 6 – Arganil 2 (14,44 km), his first stage victory of the weekend and jumped straight back ahead of Ogier, plus with Teemu suffering a problem it put him in a net fourth place overall. Kris was now back into third place. Elfyn showed that without the problem in the previous stage, he’d still be in the fight for the final podium place, with a time good enough for seventh, only a few tenths from Jari-Matti.
The final stage of the day, SS 7 – Lousada (3,36 km) was won by Thierry who had just managed to shade Ogier’s’ time and staying ahead of the Frenchman. At the top, we still had a Toyota 1-2-3, but now Thierry was looming in the mirrors of those Toyota’s! Ogier was also right there as well, looking to move into a podium position.
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 1
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 1:03:26.7
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +17.3
Meeke / Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +22.8
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +24.2
Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +25.8
Suninen / Salminen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:15.7
Greensmith / Edmondson (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:22.1
Lappi / Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +1:23.7
Veiby / Andersson (VW Polo R5) +3:45.2
Kopecky / Dresler (Skoda Fabia R5) +3:49.3
The thoughts then after day one from the drivers.
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Ott Tänak (1st)
“It was a very challenging day. It’s been really hot and the stages have been quite demanding. But, in the end, we had a very clean day. I’ve had a great feeling and confidence with the car, so I’ve been able to push. We wanted to get a good road position for the rest of the rally and we managed to succeed in that. In that sense we did everything we could and we should be happy with that. As a team we’re in a great position, but we’ve only completed a small part of the event so far and there is still a long way to go. Tomorrow will be tough: We saw during the recce that the stages are quite rough, so we need to keep our focus.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (2nd)
“Generally, I’m happy about today. The car was going fantastically, it was really enjoyable to drive. I was pleased with my driving this morning, and the speed was good this afternoon as well. I was just struggling with the tyre wear a little in these temperatures: It has never been as hot as this when I’ve been doing this rally in northern Portugal. That together with an aggressive driving style is not a good combination. So that’s going to be our focus tonight, to try and make it a bit easier to manage tomorrow. We’re in a good position, and now we need to try and defend it.”
Kris Meeke (3rd)
“It’s been a great day for the team. It was tough out there, especially with the high temperatures. We had a problem with the intercom during the morning, so Seb had to make hand signals for me on one stage as I couldn’t hear the pace-notes. In the afternoon we had to manage a few small issues, but we’re in third place overall and I’m quite content with that. We have a couple of quick guys breathing down our necks, but we’ll get the car back in shape in service tonight and we’ll give it our all again tomorrow.”
Thierry Neuville (4th)
“It has been a tough start, no question. We struggled on the opening stage this morning due to the standing dust and we had to take things a bit too carefully. In SS2, I stalled the car at a junction and lost some time. We were back on track in SS3 and set the second fastest time, so it was a mix of feelings at lunchtime. Things weren’t perfect in the afternoon loop. The most frustrating thing is that we have been missing a bit of speed all day and haven’t had the chance to find the rhythm. To finish the first day with two stage wins and inside the top-four – only 1.4 seconds from the podium – is not too bad but we know we have more in the tank.”
Seb Loeb (39th)
“A disappointing day and certainly not what we wanted coming to this rally. Things started out OK but then about 20 metres into the third stage of the morning loop we picked up a mechanical issue. We had to complete the stage at a very slow pace and lost between 15 and 16 minutes. It was the start of what we had hoped to be a positive rally but now we are far back with nothing to play for. We had just to enjoy the afternoon loop as much as we could, have a bit of fun because we will be one of the first on the road tomorrow so it will be a long, tough day.”
Dani Sordo (43rd)
“We started the day well with a stage win on the opening run and getting a good feeling with the car. We conserved tyres on SS2 to prepare for the end of the loop. At the start of the final stage of the morning, the car just lost power and we lost a massive amount of time getting to the end. I was frustrated, not just for myself but also for the team. As we could see from our pace on other stages, we had a great opportunity to fight for the victory this weekend, and that’s been taken away from us.”
Citroën Total WRT
Sébastien Ogier (5th)
“I’m pleased with what we managed to do in the really tough conditions we had today in opening the road, especially on the first stage of the loop. If you’d offered me fifth position at the end of day one before the start, I’d have bitten your hand off! The gap to Ott is already pretty big, but the second-placed crew is not that far ahead. We’re now going to try our very best to catch them. Day two will be very long and probably very rough but we’ll give it everything.”
Esapekka Lappi (8th)
“We were unlucky with the puncture but I’m pleased to see that we are a lot more competitive here than at the previous rounds. We’re moving in the right direction, especially as I’m now starting to feel that we can do even better. That’s our aim for the rest of the rally: focus on our race, undoubtedly fight with Teemu, whilst trying to keep out of trouble.”
Teemu Suninen (6th)
“We had some problems with the brakes this afternoon and lost close to a minute on a single stage – I can tell you that these fast cars are not easy to drive without brakes! Apart from that, we had a really good day. I was setting good times and fighting for second position. Just before the problem I set a fastest time, and I had a really good feeling with the car. Everything was working well so it’s a shame that we lost the podium position. But tomorrow is another challenging day and anything can happen so we have to keep going.”
Gus Greensmith (7th)
“It’s been a mega day out there and I’m pretty happy with how things have gone. The morning was fairly clean – maybe not pushing enough on the second stage and losing a bit of unnecessary time – but in the afternoon we took a good step forward. We lost some time when the car cut out at the start of SS5 – costing us about 10-15 seconds as we waited for it to restart. Then out of frustration I drove way too aggressively and cooked the tyres for the next one. But overall everything has been good and we’re beating some pretty big names! The plan is to improve again tomorrow – I know those stages pretty well, so it would be nice to have a bit of a push!”
Elfyn Evans (16th)
“It’s obviously been a disappointing day for us. It hadn’t been the perfect morning, but the feeling was good after lunch and we were starting to make some ground on the guys in front. Then unfortunately there was just a loose connection on the throttle pedal and it took a while to track down the issue. We lost a fair bit of time, and our road position won’t be ideal tomorrow, but I think we just need to go out there, enjoy ourselves, and see what happens.”
We would see the longest day’s action, with over 160km of stages, including a double run through the Amarante stage, which was the longest of the day at 37km’s. The startlist looked like this – Sordo, Loeb, Evans, Lappi, Greensmith, Suninen, Ogier, Neuville, Meeke, Latvala, Tänak.
After SS 8 – Vieira do Minho 1 (20,53 km), there were comments from Ogier and Lappi to have a longer time gap between the cars, saying three minutes was not long enough to allow the dust to settle. Kris Meeke, third to last on the road won the stage and what with Latvala second fastest and Ott fifth, but nine seconds down on Kris, his lead was now just 11.3 over Jari-Matti. Lappi moved ahead of Gus in their battle over seventh.
Latvala won SS 9 – Cabeceiras de Basto 1 (22,22 km), and Ott pretty much matched his time, the Estonian just three tenths slower than his Finnish teammate. Ogier moved ahead of Thierry as well. A battle for sixth place between Lappi and Suninen was starting to develop as well.
A second stage victory for Latvala in SS 10 – Amarante 1 (37,60 km), plus Ott only third fastest, but 5.8 seconds slower, meant the Finn was just 5.1 seconds from the lead. There were also a couple position changes, with Thierry moving back ahead of Ogier, who was now fifth and Lappi passing Suninen who was now in seventh. Showing how hard it is to open the road, Elfyn was half a minute slower than the stage winner.
SS 11 – Vieira do Minho 2 (20,53 km) saw Ott hit back with a stage win, with Kris just one second slower, whilst Thierry continued to increase his gap over Ogier. Latvala was now almost fifteen seconds behind Ott and the Finn had a broken damper to deal with. Meeke was going well and staying well out of Thierry’s reach.
SS 12 – Cabeceiras de Basto 2 (22,22 km) would see disaster for Jari-Matti, as his broken suspension continued to cause him problems. He lost over 50 seconds and dropped out of the podium fight, into fifth. Gus Greensmith suffered a puncture, falling a further 30 seconds behind Suninen, but still in eighth overall.
The last stage of the day, SS 13 – Amarante 2 (37,60 km) was won by Thierry, with Kris just 1.8 seconds behind the Belgian. Ott’s lead was now just 4.3 after he lost almost a full thirteen seconds to his teammate. He’d suffered the same problem as Latvala with a broken damper, costing him time. There was a spin as well at roughly half distance, a result of the handling imbalance.
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 2
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2:47:23.1
Meeke / Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +4.3
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +9.2
Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +21.0
Lappi / Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +1:37.5
Suninen / Salminen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2:02.7
Evans / Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 6:10.4
Rovanperä / Haltunen (Skoda Fabia R5) + 8:33.8
The driver’s thoughts then after Saturday.
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Ott Tänak (1st)
“It’s been a really tough day. Already early in the first stage we lost the brakes. We had to work quite hard on the road sections but we managed to make the car OK for the long stage and then the team could fix it completely in service. The afternoon loop was definitely the most challenging of the rally. It was really rough with lots of rocks everywhere, so it was very demanding for the cars. Unfortunately, we got an issue on the last stage, and we were lucky to continue. But we are still in the lead and it’s all to play for tomorrow. We know the car has the speed and performance to win. Sunday drives can sometimes be quite boring but this time we will need to push, and I’m looking forward to the fight.”
Kris Meeke (2nd)
“It’s been a good day for me, probably my best yet in this car. I’ve really enjoyed driving the car and I
was able to find a good rhythm this morning, much better than yesterday. I’ve struggled on the second passes up to now, but I could have good pace this afternoon which I’m happy about. We had to push hard to defend our position, and I gave it everything. I feel sorry for Jari-Matti as he was doing a really strong rally. But it’s been a tough rally, especially for the cars: With it being so hot and dry, the roads were really broken on the second pass – the worst conditions I’ve seen them in. Now it’s important that Ott and myself try to bring home a Toyota one-two. We’ll need to do our maximum tomorrow.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (Retired/Rally2)
“I had a really good morning. I went for two hard tyres and they were working really well, and I was able to push hard. I was really happy with the speed. The car was feeling really good and I was in a good rhythm and enjoying it. Then in the first stage in the afternoon, I had a strange feeling at the front and knew that something wasn’t right. We tried to make a fix in order to continue but the road was so rough and it finally broke. It’s frustrating because I thought we had the chance to get back on the podium. At least the speed is there: That keeps me motivated, and I know we will keep fighting. Tomorrow we will try to take some points from this rally.”
Thierry Neuville (3rd)
“It has been a strong day for us and I’m pleased to reaffirm our potential here this weekend. It’s been a first-class team effort. We made a strategic call to take six soft tyres for the morning loop, which was perhaps a mistake because of the extra weight. It wasn’t too bad and we were able to keep Ogier behind us. We had five tyres in the afternoon and looked to build a gap, which we did, as well as move closer to the podium. It wasn’t easy on the second pass with some rocks on the line and a far from trouble-free final stage. However, the speed has definitely been there with another two stage wins. We now have Meeke and Tanak in our sights; it promises to be an exciting battle for the win on Sunday.”
Dani Sordo (24th)
“There’s not much to say after the disappointment from Friday but we never give up, particularly when our main job is to support the team’s championship ambitions. We weren’t able to match the times set by the frontrunners today; they were just out of reach. We have done our best and also used the opportunity to prepare a bit for Sardinia. We had a good feeling for much of the day and our job now is to complete the rally smoothly, to soak up the atmosphere from the amazing fans and to enjoy these wonderful stages.”
Seb Loeb (27th)
“It’s never as much fun when you are not fighting for the leading positions, but we acknowledge we have a team role to play and we’ve done that today. My situation doesn’t change much in the circumstances because our chances for a strong finish were over on the opening day. We have simply been concentrated on each stage as it comes. We didn’t drive anywhere near the limit, playing it safely so we can bring home some important points for the team.”
Citroën Total WRT driver
Sébastien Ogier (4th)
“I’m pleased with my fourth place this evening. The morning went better than the afternoon. We made a call on the tyres and changed the set-up, and perhaps that wasn’t the best decision for the second loop. I am still learning the C3 WRC. It is still a positive result so far, because I feared the worst given the very loose conditions we saw in recce.”
Esapekka Lappi (5th)
“It was a very good day for us. I really enjoyed driving the C3 WRC! We have done some good work with the team and the car suits my driving style much better now. In fact, you can see this in the times we set, despite our position in the running order. The aim is now to keep up the momentum tomorrow.”
Teemu Suninen (6th)
“It was a difficult day running early on the road. The driving was on an okay level, but we still lost some time to the other drivers so it wasn’t as good as yesterday!”
Elfyn Evans (7th)
“Being first on the road for the majority of the day made it pretty difficult for us. Obviously, there was quite a lot of cleaning today so it was just a case of making it through without any problems. Tomorrow we just need to do more of the same and if the feeling is good, we can have a look at some points in the Power Stage.”
Gus Greensmith (15th)
“We wanted to be closer to the pace today, and that’s what we did – trading times with Elfyn and Teemu on only my second day in a world rally car. I felt as though we were getting better with every kilometre, so it was a shame about that last stage. I just missed my braking, slid wide and hit a tree with the rear. It was a silly mistake, but I can’t be too upset because at the end of the day I was still driving a world rally car – and that’s awesome!”
Just a few stages then to decide the winner! The startlist looked like this – Greensmith, Latvala, Sordo, Loeb, Evans, Suninen, Lappi, Ogier, Neuville, Meeke, Tänak.
First stage then, SS 16 – Montim 1 (8,76 km) and Kris won the stage, beating leader Ott and reducing the gap to him as well. There was some swapping going on as well, with the two Hyundai drivers (Loeb and Sordo) not starting at their allotted times and going in just before Neuville. Interesting tactics. Meanwhile Lappi spun, and had a low speed roll at a hairpin. The Finn lost half a minute.
Now it was time for the first run through the spectacular SS 17 – Fafe 1 (11,18 km), with its jump! Ott hit back with the fastest time from Kris, but there was more drama further back, as Esapekka slid wide, hitting a bank. His car was looking a bit second hand, with damage to his aero after the roll and now suspension after this stage. Sadly, he retired from the event, as the damage was too much to fix.
Ott then also won SS 18 – Luilhas (11,89 km) and increased his lead over Meeke who certainly wasn’t giving up on victory. Thierry now had a very good gap to Ogier as well, adding another ten seconds just in this stage. Elfyn had now made it up to sixth overall as well, after a well-judged drive through the field.
Stage SS 19 – Montim 2 (8,76 km) and it was nearly disaster for Kris Meeke, who spun at the same hairpin as Lappi earlier! He lost 17 seconds and second place to Thierry who won the stage.
The last stage then, SS 20 – Fafe 2 Power Stage (11,18 km) and the drama wasn’t over. First up, Loeb who ran wide, damaging his suspension and he limped to the end of the stage. Then Gus crashed after landing from the jump. His suspension was broken before he took off, meaning he was always going to lose control when he landed. Finally, Kris cut a corner too much and broke his steering, the result that he slid off the road and was out! The top five in the stage were Ogier, Neuville, Tanak, Suninen and Sordo. With Ogier taking third place, he would now lead the championship as well. Not what he wanted at all.
Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 3h20’22’’8
Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +15’’9
Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +57’’1
Suninen / Salminen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2’41’’5
Evans / Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 7’08’’3
Rovanperä / Haltunen (Skoda Fabia R5) + 10’34’’2
Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 11’28’’2
Kopecky / Dresler (Skoda Fabia R5) + 11’41’’9
Let’s hear then from the drivers!
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Ott Tänak (1st)
“It feels great to stand on the top step of the podium today. It’s been a long and very tough weekend, definitely the hardest win I’ve ever had. From Friday, our performance was really strong, especially considering our road position. On Saturday we had to fight really hard, but today everything was working well and the speed was there. In the first stage I was a bit careful, as there was a lot of tricky dust and it was difficult to see anything, but after this we could safely push a bit more and build a bigger gap. The championship is looking really tight but I think we are in a good position going to Sardinia.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (7th)
“It was good to restart this morning, and our target was to get back into the top 10 and score some points. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go for a fast time on the Power Stage: My run was red-flagged because another car blocked the stage in front of us. But in the end, we were able to get back up into seventh position overall and take some important points, especially for the team. Personally, I can’t be satisfied with the result, as we were going very strongly yesterday. But the speed is there, that is very important, and we know that the car is fast. I’m looking forward and believe we can have some very positive rallies coming up.”
Kris Meeke (Retired)
“Today started well. We were able to increase the gap to behind us, and then we were just trying to hold it. Unfortunately, we had a spin on the penultimate stage and it cost us some time trying get going again. Going into the Power Stage, I didn’t have so much to fight for, the bonus points were not such a big concern for me. But in a right-hand corner there was a tree stump in the grass on the inside, I didn’t have it in my notes and I caught it with the steering wheel open. It was completely my mistake. I’m gutted for the team because we’d had such a strong rally. Now we have to move on and take the positives from this weekend: It’s been my strongest yet in this car and we have to look forward.”
Thierry Neuville (2nd)
“After the big crash we had in Chile, it was important to come back fighting. It’s not been an entirely smooth weekend but we have shown some strong pace including several stage wins. Overall, I think we can be pleased with second place. The time we lost on Friday’s opening stages is more or less the time we were missing at the end. We were lacking a bit of precision today to give it more of a push, but on the whole it’s a good result. The championship is nicely poised as we reach the halfway point. We know there is no room for error when things are this close, so we have to keep pushing together.”
“We have tried to put the disappointment and frustration from Friday behind us, and to enjoy these great Portuguese stages. It’s a special feeling when you are pushing hard and flying through Fafe with all the spectators. We have put in a full team effort this weekend so I think we all share in the podium result, even if it would have been nicer to be standing on the podium ourselves. We’ll have to try and rectify that in Sardinia!”
“I enjoyed driving this morning’s stages with some new discoveries for me. It wasn’t without incident but overall it was nice to get the experience. The routes were fast and narrow, and the feeling with the car was pretty good. It was particularly nice to get the buzz from all the fans. We were able to set some competitive times, which shows what might have been possible this weekend. I am happy for the team to get a podium finish after what has been a tough event.”
Citroën Total WRT
Sébastien Ogier (3rd)
“I didn’t think we could score twenty points this weekend. Although we never had a chance of winning the rally with our position in the running order, we gave it absolutely everything, regardless of the situation. So, to that extent, this result is just rewards. In truth, I was hoping not to be first on the road in Sardinia, but every point counts at the end of the season. I’m pleased to see that we were competitive on the Power Stage, which was more or less the only stage of the weekend where we had the same grip conditions as our rivals. That means we have also progressed in terms of performance although it was difficult to show it, given the circumstances.”
Esapekka Lappi (Retired)
“After our roll, the car wasn’t too badly damaged, it was just missing the rear spoiler. I thought I had a good rhythm on the following stage but I was slightly too optimistic on a right hander over a crest and I hit a bank, which caused a puncture and then damaged the suspension. There were too many kilometres left to cover with our makeshift repairs. I’m really very sorry for the whole team, who deserved better.”
Teemu Suninen (4th)
“I can be quite happy with this result. It’s a shame that we had a problem on Friday afternoon because that meant we didn’t have a good road position for the rest of the weekend. But our pace was really good on Friday morning, and we took some points in the Power Stage today which was also really good.”
Elfyn Evans (5th)
“We made a pretty good start to the weekend. It wasn’t perfect, but the pace was there. Obviously, it was a shame to lose as much time as we did with the issue on Friday, but these things happen. There wasn’t much more we could do after that, and in all fairness fifth place is a lot more than we could have hoped for on Friday evening.
Gus Greensmith (Retired)
“It’s been a really good weekend for us. For some reason everything just seemed to click quite nicely and, to be honest, the speed came pretty quickly. We were battling with Elfyn and Teemu throughout most of the weekend – and that wasn’t something I was expecting from my first time in a world rally car!
“It was a different challenge opening the road today, but generally a really good experience. It was just a shame that we had the issue over the jump. To have our rally come to an end just 200 metres from the finish was a bit gutting, but overall it’s been a more than positive weekend.”
Well, another victory for Ott and Toyota! The combination is proving pretty amazing and consistent! Once he took the lead, he was never headed. Both his teammates went very well, and it was a shame that it ended with Kris retiring. Jari-Matti was right there, and set for a well-deserved podium before the suspension problem.
Thierry came back and got his head down to the task at hand. It was a good battle between him and Seb Ogier, before the Belgian moved clear, the result being very good with second place and keeping him in touch with his two rivals. Dani Sordo also drove incredibly well, running at the front until car troubles hit. Hyundai will be happy that they continue to lead the manufacturers standings.
Seb Ogier drove his C3 to a very good podium, given that the team are working to make it better. Being in the top five by the end of Friday was key to the result, and he did have some good fortune with the two Toyota’s hitting trouble to get him up onto his sixth podium of the year.
In the M-Sport camp, Elfyn and Teemu drove really well, and could have had a double podium result, with both of them. Sadly, their challenge was held back with car troubles. Brakes on Teemu’s car and electrics on Elfyn’s. Still the Welshman got up into fifth place and was rewarded with moving ahead of Kris Meeke into fourth in the drivers’ standings. Teemu didn’t lose so much time, and kept the car on the road well, given the problems. Finally, Gus drove a great event, his first in a WRC car, setting some good times, only to be derailed on the final stage, not far from the finish. It won’t be long before we see him in a top car again.
DRIVERS’ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
Sébastien Ogier – 142 points
Ott Tänak – 140 points
Thierry Neuville – 132 points
Elfyn Evans – 65 points
Kris Meeke – 56 points
Teemu Suninen – 44 points
Sébastien Loeb – 39 points
Jari-Matti Latvala – 38 points
Andreas Mikkelsen – 36 points
Esapekka Lappi – 34 points
MANUFACTURERS’ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
Hyundai WRT – 202 points
Toyota Gazoo Racing – 182 points
Citroën Total WRT – 158 points
M-Sport Ford WRT – 122 points
We don’t have long now to wait for the next round with the next round, Rally Italia Sardegna on the weekend of the 13th to 16th of June. It will be the final round before the summer break for the championship.
This year, the Canadian grand prix had no surprises. It was a quiet Sunday evening for most of the drivers and especially for the top three.
Vettel’s flying lap on Saturday’s qualification session, was enough to give him the pole position and on Sunday, the German, lead the race for 70 consecutive laps. Bottas, who started second, had to defend his place, on the first lap from Max Verstappen.
The Dutch had a very good Q3 session on the previous day and managed to finish third and get a place on the podium in the Canadian Grand Prix. The only moment where he battled Bottas was at lights out, but the Finn defended very well his place and remained second.
Valtteri Bottas, finished second for the fourth time in seven races this season, he is the driver with the most second place finishes. The Finn, shows his skills this season and it won’t be long till he celebrates his first victory in 20018.
I have to admit that the race didn’t meet my expectations, but still some interesting conclusions can be made.
Ferrari dominated in a circuit which suits Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton won six times in ten attempts in Canada. The Silver Arrows won the last three Grand Prix in Montreal, but this time the team was not able to challenge Ferrari and Hamilton was struggling to stay close to Ricciardo for the fourth place. The British champion complained about the low power that the Mercedes’ engine delivered this week and lost the 14-point lead which he had in the drivers’ championship.
‘’There were lots of hesitations, engine dropping in power, so I thought the engine was going to blow.’’ Hamilton said.
Mercedes had to pit, Lewis, earlier that it was planned to remove some bodywork panels and reduce the engine temperature.
A very productive weekend for Renault, the yellows had the pleasure to see both drivers in the top-10 and they collected some crucial points for the team. Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz finished seventh and eighth respectively. Renault, is currently fourth in the constructors’ championship with 56 points, 16 points ahead of McLaren. The team, looks confident and they have a comfortable lead from McLaren, which is currently struggling to follow the pack.
Charles Leclerc, a young and ambitious driver, which many fans wanting him in Ferrari as soon as possible, finished once again in the points. The rookie driver from Monaco, is keep impressing us with his results. The sixth place in Baku, was not a firework, the Monegasque had to fight with Alonso for the tenth place in Canada. Fernando’s retirement allowed him to finish in the top-10 and score another point for Sauber, which has 12 in total and is ahead of Williams. Charles has 10 points in the championship so far and he is fourteenth, ahead of Vandoorne.
Williams, had another bad weekend. Last season, Stroll scored his first points in his home race, but this time the Canadian retired on the first lap, due to a collision with Brendon Hartley. His team-mate, finished seventeenth.
It was Sebastian Vettel’s 50th victory, a great achievement for the German driver.
There are still many races in the 2018 calendar, it is clear that the drivers’ championship will be a battle between Vettel and Hamilton, but Red Bull is a very capable team and will affect the final outcome of the year.
A few months ago, almost everyone was complaining about the Halo. In Spain, where the first off-season test took place, the majority of the F1 fans didn’t like the design of the 2018 cars, especially because of the ‘Sayonara’ shape which is attached on the cockpit.
The next biggest issue that most of us had/have, is the lack of overtaking and suspense. Which I will agree, the past seasons were boring with zero suspense. We knew the winning team from the first race, except last season where Vettel was challenging Hamilton, our agony lasted until the British Grand Prix. The British champion returned to the winning mode and personally, I couldn’t see the Ferrari be able to stop the Silver Arrows.
This year, everything looks different. In Australia, Hamilton took the pole, but Ferrari copied their last year’s recipe and Vettel took the chequered flag. Two weeks later, in Bahrain, Sebastian Vettel drove from the pole till the final lap and scored his second consecutive victory.
Red Bull, which have faced several technical and non-technical issues this season, managed to do the impossible. Daniel Ricciardo, started the race from the fourth place, but after a thrilling race he took the chequered flag.
Lack of suspense
In Bahrain, Ferrari did not have an easy afternoon. Lewis Hamilton, had an impressive race, he managed to finish third from the ninth place, whilst his team-mate, was pushing Vettel, who decided to go for one stop strategy and finished the race on softs. Valtteri was close to Vettel, he had fresher tyres and a harder compound, in the final laps he was less than a second behind the German, but he couldn’t find the space and the speed to pass Vettel’s Ferrari. It was a thrilling race full of suspense and unpredictable until the chequered flag. After 57 laps, Sebastian Vettel finished first, 0.699s ahead of Valtteri Bottas.
The Battle between the Middle Teams
A dreaming start for the McLaren, in their first season with Renault powered engines. In Australia, Fernando Alonso finished fifth, between the two Red Bulls, while his team-mate, Stoffel Vandoorne finished ninth and scored two points for the McLaren. In Bahrain, both McLaren’s drivers finished in the points, Nando and Stoffel scored ten points combined. That was the second consecutive double point finish for McLaren. Fernando Alonso, didn’t stop the good performances in China. The Spaniard finished seventh ahead of Sebastian Vettel, including a great overtake on Vettel.
Renault looks that provides stable engines to McLaren, which is currently fourth in the constructor championship with 28 points. Fernando Alonso has scored 22 points so far, and he is in the sixth place, not far behind from Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen.
Another team, which had an impressive start been Haas, the American team impressed their fans in Australia with their competitiveness and their speed. Unfortunately, both drivers retired after a mistake during their pit-stops.
The two teams which have not met their fans’ expectations are the Force India and Williams. Force India has scored one point until now, they are ninth ahead of Williams which are at the bottom of the championship. Esteban Ocon, finished tenth in Bahrain and scored the only point for Sahara Force India so far.
Mercedes, the calm before the storm
Mercedes looks like the giant who is sleeping and everyone is trying not to wake him up. The Silver Arrows, have the speed and the pace to follow both Ferrari and Red Bull. Some poor strategic decisions cost them the victory in Australia. Bottas was chasing Vettel in Bahrain, but didn’t manage to pass him and in China Valtteri and Hamilton finished second and fourth respectively.
If the Halo makes the cars uglier but the championship more exciting and unpredictable, I would suggest to add more ‘Halos’ to the cars.
For me, the championship has not even started yet, next race takes place in Azerbaijan, which was one of the most unpredictable and emotional race of the 2017 season. Ferrari seems to have the upper hand, but both Mercedes and Red Bull are close and can easily challenge the Italians.
2018 is turning out to be the an exciting season. For the first time in the hybrid era it has been three races since the Silver Arrows last jumped on the topstep. China tends to be a race with very few retirements but safety cars aplenty and it was a factor today.
Daniel Ricciardo – 10
He never wins a boring race, a stat that shows this is that he has never won a race from starting in the top three. ‘Sometimes you’ve got to lick the stamp and send it.’ That is what he said on the podium after his moves, especially on the divebomb from far back on Hamilton at turn 14. He was sixth at the restart, and through some great moves he finished first. Once he got through the field he pulled a gap and was never seen again. It is the first shooey of the season, some more to follow?
Valterri Bottas – 8
Flying the flag for Mercedes in the race, the Finn got a great start managing to jump one of the Ferrari’s. He kept it behind him and didn’t let the other get away. This allowed him to a great outlap to undercut the Ferrari to get the lead and control the race. His tyres lost him the lead but kept the other Finn behind him for a great second place considering had the second best car.
Kimi Raikkonen – 8
He got screwed by his team, Ferrari seem to be putting all their eggs in one basket with Vettel. It isn’t always going to work if they do. Kimi was a bit fortunate with the timing of the safety car after losing around 15 seconds to Hamilton after being left out there by the team. Had tyre age on his side to allow him to pull some passes off and finish on the podium. Spoilt today with a a few words on the podium too!
Lewis Hamilton – 7
It was a grumpy Lewis Hamilton day much like Bahrain, he was never happy. ‘Is it me or there a lot of cars with fresh tyres behind me’ was a quote in the race. This was a clear shot at the team as was left in no mans land. He was just behind the others all weekend, with everything happening around him he closes the gap on his championship rival. Two races though not on the podium for the Brit.
Max Verstappen – 6
Patience, that is what the Dutchman needs more of, we all know he has the speed. Twice in one race he made mistakes on overtaking. First, on the outside of Hamilton where he could of waited for the DRS rather than losing places to Ricciardo. The second being the half gap on the inside of Vettel for the following lap as time was on his side. He would of probably won the race if he kept it clean but instead fifth due to a penalty. Unlike Bahrain he admitted it was his fault, think a talk with himself tonight needs to be done.
Nico Hulkenburg – 9
Once more this German is so under rated, with contracts up in air at the end of this season surely teams have to take a note. He has never been on the podium but consistently in the points and keeps it clean unlike others. Another strong day for him that puts him firmly as the number one driver at Renault.
Fernando Alonso – 8
Ringing the neck out of his car, finding the pace which his team mate cannot. His racecraft that he has only helps him further from starting so far back in the field. Kept tyres in good condition and his nose clean to push on. Nice move on Vettel late on to get even more points, due to a higher result is sixth in the standings.
Sebastian Vettel – 8
Through no fault of his own the championship leader finished down in eigth. He started the race well and did his token fast first lap to break the DRS on second place. He managed the gap well to keep the field behind him which was brilliant. The team kept him out too long which as a result allowed Bottas to jump him, and then running wide at the hairpin gave the aggresive Verstappen a gap that he would attempt a pass causing a spin. He lit the rears up when trying to get back pointing in the right direction which hindered him for the remaining laps. Had the pace but others hurt him.
Carlos Sainz – 7
Very much in the shadows of his team mate currently, he needs a big display. Nearly got the stricken Ferrari at the end of the race but more points for him, albeit another finish far behind his team mate.
Kevin Magnussen – 7
Said he was lucky to just miss out on Q3. He qualified eleventh allowing him to have first choice of tyre. He went with the soft and slowly picked off the positions, undercuts pushed him back to further down the field though, more points for the American team.
Esteban Ocon – 6
An okay race for Ocon, he finished higher than he started which is something good to take for him. Hope for the team at Baku when they were strong last year but keep it clean!
Sergio Perez – 6
The Mexican well renowned for his skill to keep life in his tyres you’d have thought would thrive in these conditions. A result from probably being one of the ten to go through into Q3 he was not helped by starting on the ultra soft tyres. The damage was done as went long on second stint and had no pace throughout.
Stoffel Vandoorne – 6
The Belgian is in the same boat as Carlos Sainz, playing second fiddle to his team mate. Mclaren seem to be talking a lot of gas and air when it comes to the performance of their car, but Vandoorne isn’t getting what his team mate can out of it. This time drivers’ didn’t retire so finished out of the points.
Lance Stroll – 7
A great start for Stroll today, quite a few positions picked off at the 270 degree turn one. Williams had a bit more pace this weekend albeit being slower than last year in qualifying. Solid midfield finish, confidence can be built as we head into the European season.
Sergey Sirotkin – 6
Is growing into the seat but questions continue to be asked if signing him was the correct decision. Is learning the car well, and gaining confidence. Not much was said about him throughout the race.
Marcus Ericcson – 6
Good finish for Marcus, showing his rookie team mate that there is more potential in the Sauber Alfa Romeo. Peope saw him as a pay driver as they dropped the impressive Wehrlein over him but mixing it in the midfield and not always coming out second best.
Romain Grosjean – 5
Besides the few explicit words on the radio early on in the race when it seems the team said to let his team mate through Romain had a very quiet race. Getting into qualifying three seemed to hinder him. Forget and move on, but take confidence pace in the car is there.
Pierre Gasly – 5
It was the Frenchman’s eigth start and that showed, a bit of a yo-yo season thus far. Toro Rosso struggled with China very power concentrated track. He took out his team mate causing the safety car and ruined both races for the team. Gone back to Australia, want to keep the Bahrain-esque form up. Very silly, but he’ll learn from that.
Charles Leclerc – 6
For a driver that had never been to China he wasn’t adrift of the field, of course there are simulators that can be used but great display. The European season is when Leclerc will come to a next level.
Brendon Hartley – 5
The car wasn’t at the races today and was pretty much held back. The Kiwi was doing his own thing before being a passenger to a collision with his team mate. Had to retire late on due to damage.
Two things to conclude really, Verstappen, we rave how exciting he is to watch but he needs to learn. One of the late great Ayrton Senna’s quotes ‘If you no longer go for the gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver’ can be used to defend him. I don’t even think that he would of attempted that optimistic move.
Gave Ricciardo the driver of the day, but a big shout out to the Red Bull team for the whole of the weekend. A record breaking engine change in this era yesterday, and the two double stack pit stops really shows drive in the team to do the best they can at the track. Off track great tactics was decided in a few seconds when the safety car was called too. In a fortnight the Formula 1 circus is off to Baku, much earlier this year.
Sebastian Vettel secured his second consecutive victory of the season, after a dramatic finish in Bahrain Grand Prix. The German, four time world champion, withstands Bottas pressure on the final ten laps of the race and scored 25 points for Scuderia Ferrari.
Ferrari missed the chance to have two drivers on the podium, because an amateur mistake forced the Finn to stop his car and retire in the pit lane. The left-rear tyre hadn’t changed, Kimi pulled away, injured the leg of one of the mechanics and immediately Ferrari told him to stop his car. It was the second unsafe release from the Italians this weekend.
The mechanic was taken to the hospital, Ferrari confirmed a broken leg, a shinbone and fibula fracture.
Valtteri Bottas had a very good start, he placed his Mercedes between the two Ferraris and was trying to pressure Vettel for the first position. Lewis Hamilton, recovered from ninth place, which he started after a five place grid penalty, and finished third.
The British champion, passed three cars at the same time in one corner, a move that we will surely remember for many years.
With 10 laps to go, Bottas was second behind Sebastian Vettel, the gap between the two drivers was about six seconds. The Finn, had fresher set of tyres, he was on medium tyres, whilst Vettel informed by his team to change his strategy and go from two stops to one stop strategy. The German, pitted two laps earlier than the Finn, he was on the softs for 39 laps.
Mercedes assumed that Vettel will pit again, they informed Hamilton that when the German will re-join will be behind him. Ferrari took the risk to let Vettel on the track until the end of the race and Bottas received an order to push as hard as he could for the first place.
The gap between those two was dropping rapidly, Bottas entered DRS rang with two laps to go, he attempted to attack Vettel but he was not close enough.
Lewis Hamilton, was not able to be close to the two drivers, finished third 6.5 seconds behind Sebastian Vettel.
Disaster for Red Bull, a dreaming race for Gasly
Both Red Bull cars retired early in the race, Max Verstappen had an incident with Lewis Hamilton at the exit of Turn 1, after passing him, Max damaged his left-rear wheel, which caused a puncture. The Dutch, managed to go to the pits but retired a few meters after he re-joined the race.
Daniel Ricciardo retired shortly after Verstappen’s puncture, Daniel’s car shuts down at the exiting of Turn 8.
A race to remember for Pierre Gasly, the French finished fourth behind the Ferrari and the two Mercedes. Gasly, resisted Magnussen’s and Hulkenberg’s pressure, he secured a fantastic result for Toro Rosso at their second race with a Honda powered engine.
Second double points finish for McLaren, Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne finished seventh and eighth respectively.
Kevin Magnussen scored the first points for Haas with his fifth position in Bahrain. A good race for Ericsson and Sauber as well, Marcus finished ninth and scored two points for Sauber.
It looks that this season will be different than the others, not only because Ferrari won the first two races, but mainly because the middle teams are looking very competitive. Williams and Force India are not as strong as they used to be, whilst Haas, McLaren and Renault are looking quicker and able to fight between each other for the fourth place in the championship (if not the third!)
Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel are in party mode, after an unexpected victory in the first race of the 2018 season in Melbourne.
The German driver, qualified third, behind his team-mate and the 2017 world champion, Lewis Hamilton. The Italians took a risk and split the strategy between the drivers, Kimi Raikkonen pitted on lap 21, switched from ultrasofts to softs, Mercedes called Lewis Hamilton into the pits right after Kimi’s stop. Sebastian Vettel, remained on track for some extra laps, on the 25th lap Kevin Magnussen pitted from the fourth position, a few meters after Kevin re-joined the track, forced to step aside and park his car due to an error during the pit-stop.
A couple of laps later, Romain Grosjean pitted for a fresh set of supersofts tyres, but he copied his team-mate exact footsteps, Romain parked his car and retired from the race, for the same reason as Kevin Magnussen, loose wheels, after the pit-stop. The wheels on both cars were not being placed correctly before the nuts were tightened.
The only difference between Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, retirement, was the Grosjean’s car could not be easily recovered, hence the VSC deployed followed by a safety car.
During the VSC period, Sebastian Vettel pitted, that gave him a 10 second advantage over Lewis Hamilton. The German, re-join ahead of the Mercedes and he was leading the race. Hamilton pushed hard, after the SC, to catch and pass Vettel, the British champion was very close to Vettel’s Ferrari, but a small driving error cost him time and he also lost pace in the final laps of the race.
Sebastian Vettel celebrated a second consecutive victory in Australia and started the 2018 year with the same way he did in 2017.
A poor strategy, cost the chance to Red Bull to be competitive and score a podium in Australia. Both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen started the race on supersofts, Verstappen and Ricciardo qualified fourth and eighth respectively. A three place grid penalty was given to Daniel Ricciardo for failing to slow down for a red flag, during free practice.
The Dutch, was not quick enough to challenge the two Ferraris in the opening lap, at turn one on the tenth lap, Max spun his Red Bull and lost places. He was unable to recover, as he was also facing unbalance issues caused by the damaged floor on his car.
Daniel Ricciardo wanted to finish on the podium in his home race, after the retirement of the two Haas, the Australian was fourth behind Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn, had to defend his position as Daniel was on his tail for most of the time in the final laps of the Grand Prix.
At the end, Ricciardo finished fourth and Max Verstappen sixth, behind Fernando Alonso.
Double point finish for McLaren
For the first time since 2014, McLaren scored points in Melbourne. The fifth place that Alonso took matched his best ever result in three years with Honda power. McLaren, couldn’t imagine a better start, Alonso and Vandoorne scored 12 points combined in the opening race of the 2018 season.
Furthermore, Fernando Alonso had the pace to hold back a Red Bull and he finished ahead of Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes.
The outcome of the race affected by the VSC and Haas retirements, personally I was impressed with the pace the American team showed in the first laps of the Grand Prix and I would like to see them racing until the chequered flag.
It is still too early to judge, but I will take the risk to say that Asia will play a key role in the championship. If Ferrari has learnt from their mistakes, this year will be very interesting till the final chequered flag.
Formula One, is heading to Malaysia for the last time this weekend, as the government decided that the race is not profitable any more. Sepang International joined F1 in 1999, it was a part of Bernie Ecclestone’s plan to expand Formula 1 in countries around the world. Bernie’s idea has not worked very well so far Turkey and South Korea had the same fate with Malaysia and maybe more countries will follow.
Sebastian Vettel would like to say goodbye to the Malaysian Grand Prix with a victory, if the German wins it will be his fifth victory in Malaysia. Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso have won three times in Malaysia, whilst Kimi Raikkonen celebrated two victories in Sepang Circuit.
The leader in the drivers’ championship, Lewis Hamilton, has won only once, in 2014, since the track re-joined Formula 1 in 2007. Lewis is facing difficulties in Malaysia, but the Brit has the advantage of the 28 point gap, a finish ahead or close to Vettel will be positive for him.
This weekend a new driver will make his appearance on the grid, the French Pierre Gasly will replace Daniil Kvyat and he will be racing for Toro Rosso in the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Sepang International Circuit
Circuit Length: 5.543 km
Race Length: 310.408 km
Lap Record: 1:34.223 (Juan Pablo Montoya – 2004)
Sepang is one of the most technical circuits in the calendar, designed by the German architect Hermann Tilke, it combines long high speed straights and tight twisting turns like turn number five and six.
High temperatures are the biggest challenge for the drivers, the average air temperature during the race is about 30 C which means that the temperature in the cockpit is around 50C and the drivers must race under these conditions for one hour and thirty-five minutes. Rain is expected in all sessions this weekend, which will be an extra challenge for the drivers.
Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) – “I am not worried, I am excited about making my debut in Sepang this weekend. I have worked hard to prepare for this and to get to F1. I am very happy to have this opportunity. I know it will be different to anything I’ve done before and the other drivers have been racing all season, so I will have a lot of things to get used to and learn about. It’s a super challenge and I can’t wait for it to start. I have raced in Sepang. It was last year, when I took pole position for the GP2 race, so clearly it’s a track I like. It is very tough with the high level of humidity but I am well prepared physically.”
Esteban Ocon (Force India) – “Sepang is such a beautiful track. I really love it. I enjoy chicanes and there are quite a few in Malaysia, with some nice combinations of fast and medium-speed corners. When you have a good car in qualifying, you can just feel the grip; it’s very enjoyable. On the other hand, it’s a very tough race because of the heat and humidity. The rain can play a big part – at least I am told! Last year everyone kept telling me that, but it was just mega sunny and warm all weekend. It’s sad we will be racing here for the last time because it’s such a cool track. I am going to miss it.”
Watch Max Verstappen talking about the fitness in Formula One, by Mobil 1 the Grid