Leclerc pleases home fans with Italian GP pole

Charles Leclerc delighted the Tifosi to take his eighth pole position of the season at Monza, with George Russell securing a front-row start after penalties for other drivers.

Leclerc beats Verstappen to pole at Ferrari’s home race. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz, Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton rounded out the fastest five in qualifying, but penalties for the quartet behind Leclerc drop them to fourth, eighteenth, tenth and nineteenth respectively. This has promoted the British duo of George Russell into second and McLaren’s Lando Norris into third place, on what will be a poignant weekend for the many Brits associated with Formula One after the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Leclerc took advantage of a tow from Norris to go fastest with his final run in Q3, setting a 1:20.161 for his second pole position at Monza, and his seventeenth overall. Verstappen was a tenth and a half behind but will be confident that the Red Bull’s superior race pace can take him to an eleventh victory of the season.

First qualifying started in baking hot conditions in Monza, and there were plenty of drivers struggling to find grip in the early stages, as Mick Schumacher and Lance Stroll both had to react quickly to prevent their cars from spinning on their first runs. It was Ferrari who set the early pace, but with degradation extremely low around a circuit with very-few high load corners, drivers could stay out there for lap after lap – with Max Verstappen eventually going quicker than the Ferraris on his fourth run.

Vettel out in Q1 again. Image courtesy of Aston Martin F1 media

Haas were left wishing they had time to get even more runs in, as both drivers struggled to stay on track in the latter stages of the session. Kevin Magnussen had two laps deleted for track limits as he qualified nineteenth (sixteenth after penalties), ahead of his teammate Mick Schumacher, who went straight on at the Rettifilo chicane. Joining the Haas’ on the sidelines for Q2 was Nicolas Latifi, whose chances of retaining his seat will have taken a knock after being out-qualified by Nyck de Vries on debut, and the Aston Martin pairing of Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll.

Due to the nature of the Monza circuit, no one wants to be out on track first and give the rest of the field a handy slipstream on their hot laps. Once cars began to make their way out onto the circuit, it was Ferrari who again set the pace, despite Leclerc needing a second lap on his first run after locking up at Turn One.

Alpha Tauri decided not to bother sending Yuki Tsunoda out in Q2, with the Japanese driver having multiple driving and power-unit penalties, consigning him to a back of the grid start tomorrow. Only Daniel Ricciardo managed to pull himself out of the bottom five after the first runs, securing his first Q3 appearance since the summer break.

Esteban Ocon, Valtteri Bottas, Nyck de Vries, Zhou Guanyu and Tsunoda were the drivers to miss out in Q2, with de Vries having a major moment on the brakes into the second chicane, on what was a promising debut for the Dutch driver. Starting eighth tomorrow, in a car that is notoriously slippery in a straight line, it wouldn’t be a major surprise to see him score points on his F1 debut.

De Vries made it into Q2 on his first qualifying outing in F1. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

The first runs in Q3 saw Carlos Sainz go fastest, with his teammate Leclerc slotting in just behind, as the drivers alternated who would get the benefit of the tow. This proved to be the decisive factor on the final laps, with Leclerc’s double slipstream from Sainz and Norris potentially giving him the edge.

Daniel Ricciardo was eighth fastest and will start from fifth around the circuit where he took victory twelve months ago. Pierre Gasly and Fernando Alonso will start sixth and seventh, having both been caught out with track limits in the final qualifying session and failing to get a time on the board.

Ferrari has removed some upgrades from their car for Monza, and these changes look to have had the desired effect, certainly in qualifying. However, Leclerc has failed to convert any of his last five pole positions into a victory, with the Monegasque driver needing to end this streak tomorrow if he wants to keep his slim championship hopes alive.

F1 Weekend Preview: Monza

The final race of this triple header takes us back to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix. It could be a homecoming for Ferrari which is dominated by the RedBull pace and an emergent Mercedes proving to be championship competitors towards the end of the season.

Who can stop Verstappen?

Verstappen was victorious at his home GP again. Image courtesy of RedBull content Pool

Verstappen and RedBull have put on a dominant display of pace and strategy in the two races after the summer break, extending their lead in the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships. In Belgium, Verstappen was almost in his own league which was positive for them heading into Monza.

However, with Perez not having a great weekend in Zandvoort and Leclerc making it onto the podium, Leclerc has moved in P2 in the driver’s championship but is still 108 points back from the reigning world champion.

Ferrari will want to try and impress in front of their home fans, but their overall speed has dropped since the change in regulations and further messed-up strategy calls have made it difficult for the team to catch up to RedBull. Their Sainz pitstop issues in Zandvoort added to their lack of points and have now brought Mercedes into contention for P2 in both championships.

Having been very much battling for a win in Zandvoort on actual pace Mercedes will want to take that momentum forward with them. If it weren’t for the VSC and full safety car Hamilton could have had a win this year. Despite this, they will be cautious going into Monza because it hasn’t always been a track that has suited their car.

The battle for fourth hots up

Alpine and McLaren battling in Zandvoort. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

Alpine and McLaren are locked in the fight to finish highest of the midfield teams by the end of the season. Currently Alpine is 24 points ahead in P4 going into Monza where engine power is important on the high-speed track.

Alonso has finished in the top 10 in the last 10 races which has helped Alpine to that P4 spot, however, Norris has got some good momentum and is the best of the rest in P7 in the championship. The teams are fairly evenly matched, but their performances are still unpredictable, making it exciting for fans to watch.

McLaren goes into Monza with memories of last year’s 1-2 finish and will want to bring that pace and teamwork back to the track this year with the aim of leaving Italy ahead of Alpine in the constructors’ championship.

Verstappen victorious in Dutch GP after late drama

Max Verstappen secured his tenth victory of the season and his fourth in a row with victory at the Dutch Grand Prix, to move even closer to his second world championship.

A late Safety Car had the potential to mix up the order, but Lewis Hamilton was powerless to stop the Dutchman overtaking on the restart, with victory at Zandvoort putting Verstappen 109 points ahead in the championship with seven rounds remaining. George Russell took second place to secure his best finish of the season, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc coming home in third.

In the end, it was a fairly straightforward victory for Verstappen, but there was a real possibility that Mercedes could have taken their first win of the season, as Hamilton and Russell looked to make a one-stop work. However, a virtual safety car caused by the Alpha Tauri of Yuki Tsunoda made Verstappen a favourite for the win.

Hamilton leads Verstappen during the safety car period. Image courtesy of RedBull Content Pool

A safety car caused by Valtteri Bottas’ stricken Alfa Romeo looked like it might have brought Mercedes back into the fight for the win, as Hamilton and Russell both initially stayed out on their old mediums. Russell made the call to come in a lap later for a set of soft tyres, and this turned out to be crucial for the Brit. Hamilton stayed out on the mediums, with the seven-time champion fuming at the decision not to pit for fresh rubber.

At the start, Verstappen and Leclerc got away evenly, allowing the Dutchman to keep the lead into Turn One. Things were tighter behind as Carlos Sainz and Hamilton made slight contact at the apex, but both were able to continue. Further down the field, Kevin Magnussen made contact with the barrier on lap two, but the Haas was able to continue, albeit with a lot more paint on the sidewall on his rear-left tyre.

Most people expected the softs and the mediums to be the chosen race tyres, with a two-stop therefore being the only viable option. However, both Fernando Alonso and Lando Norris were able to make the white-walled tyres work to good effect opening up the possibility of a one-stop strategy. Mercedes took this gamble, and it looked as though it was going to be a fascinating end to the race, as Verstappen would have had to work his way past both Hamilton and Russell.

Ferrari not where they wanted to be today. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

Despite showing promising pace on Saturday and at the start of the race, Ferrari were clearly the third fastest car on race day, with Leclerc only taking third at the end thanks to the advantage of fresh soft tyres. His teammate had a much more eventful day, coming home eighth after being given a 5-second penalty for an unsafe release, forcing his compatriot Alonso to slam on the brakes. That wasn’t the only pit lane peril for Sainz, as he dropped back from third after Ferrari only had three tyres ready for his first stop, in yet another calamity for the Scuderia which will only add more pressure to beleaguered team boss Mattia Binotto. The Spaniard also came close to being penalised for overtaking under yellow flags, but it appeared he had already committed to the move on Esteban Ocon into Turn One before reaching the first yellow flag.

The main talking points of the race began on lap 46, as Yuki Tsunoda stopped at the side of the track, claiming his tyres weren’t fitted correctly. He was told to continue on, and the Japanese driver came back to the pits at a severely reduced pace, before having a long pit stop to seemingly refasten his seatbelts, which is certain to be investigated by the FIA. He was released on to the circuit only to stop a few corners later, bringing out the VSC which greatly benefitted Alpha Tauri’s sister team.

Verstappen’s victory was put in doubt by the later full safety car (due to Bottas’ retirement), but the speed and tyre advantage of the Red Bull meant Hamilton had no chance of stopping him. A furious Hamilton managed to hold on to finish in fourth place ahead of Sergio Perez, with whom he had had a fascinating battle in the middle of the race which got interrupted by Sebastian Vettel, who impeded the Brit and earned himself a five-second penalty in what was a weekend to forget for the Aston Martin driver.

Verstappen overtook Hamilton into turn 1 at the safety car restart. Image courtesy of RedBull Content Pool

Fernando Alonso came home in sixth ahead of Lando Norris, who looked for the majority of the race that he would finish best of the rest before losing out in the pitstops. Esteban Ocon was ninth, helping tighten Alpine’s grip on fourth in the championship, with Lance Stroll securing his fifth tenth place of the season to round out the points. Gasly, Albon, Schumacher, Vettel, Magnussen, Zhou, Ricciardo and Latifi were the rest of the finishers.

They say it’s not over until the fat lady sings, but her vocal cords must be warming up by now. It is surely a case of when, not if, Verstappen secures his second world championship, and in much less controversial circumstances than his first. The Italian GP at Monza is taking place next weekend, and you’d be a brave man to bet against the Dutchman spoiling Ferrari’s homecoming party.

Dutch GP 2022 Qualifying

Round 15 of the 2022 F1 World Championship sees the F1 circus return to Zandvoort for the Dutch GP, the home of World Champion and the Orange Army. After the summer break F1 returned to Spa in Belgium and the weekend was dominated by RedBull and Max Verstappen. This weekend is a completely different circuit and the field seems to be a lot closer after practice. Qualifying will be very important this weekend as overtaking is very difficult around the tight, twisty Zandvoort track.

As usual the 2 Haas cars enter the track first, all other teams seem happy to wait a little while before beginning their first runs. Magnussen was the quicker of the 2 Haas cars and they were followed by the 2 Williams of Albon and Latifi.

Russell making the most of the new found pace. Image courtesy of Mercedes Media

With 5 minutes of the session gone Max Verstappen left his garage to huge cheers from the Orange Army. If the crowd inspire him the way the British crowd used to inspire Nigel Mansell he could have pole by about 5 seconds today. His first timed lap is a 1.11.317, a second clear of his team mate in second. The two Ferraris then cross the line with Sainz in P2 nearly half a second behind and then Leclerc third over 0.8 seconds behind the Flying Dutchman. George Russell then puts his Mercedes into P2 with Lewis Hamilton right behind him in P3. The Mercedes seems to like the nature of the Dutch track with both drivers within a quarter of a second of the leading RedBull.

With 5 minutes remaining Leclerc puts the Ferrari into P2 just 0.126 from the fastest time so far. Only 3 cars are left on track as everyone pits for new fresh tyres and waits before they go out for their final run. Everyone crossing the line is improving with Tsunoda moving up to second in the Alpha Tauri just 0.110 behind Verstappen, he is then topped by Lewis Hamilton who is just 0.014 behind the RedBull. Out of Q1 are Bottas, Magnussen, Ricciardo, Vettel who went through the gravel on his quick lap and Latifi in the Williams.

As soon as Q2 begins the session is red flagged as a flare had been thrown onto the track. The race organisers had asked fans not to bring them into the circuit this weekend but obviously the free flowing Heinekken has got the better of one of the Orange Army.

Albon setting quick times again. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

As soon as the session resumes both RedBulls go out on track to get an early banker lap in. Verstappen does a 1.10.927, that’s 0.387 quicker than Perez in the sister RedBull. Lewis Hamilton then goes P2 with a time just 0.148 behind Verstappen. Russell is also in the top 4 with a time 3 tenths slower than his teammate. Alex Albon decides to start his final run earlier than everyone else and make use of a free track, he sets a time good enough for P10 currently.

With 2 and half minutes left everyone else decides now is the time to go out. 13 cars on track with just Albon and Verstappen staying in their garages. Charles Leclerc gets into the one-minute tens and moves to P2, once again most people are improving. Sainz moves to the top of the field with a 1.10.814 ahead of Russell by 0.010, they are followed by Verstappen, Leclerc, Hamilton, Norris, Perez, Stroll, Schumacher, and Tsunoda rounding out the top ten. Out after Q2 are Gasly, Ocon, Alonso who was complaining about traffic on his quick lap, Zhou and Albon.

And so to the shoot-out that is Q3, could we see a new pole sitter for this season, or does Max Verstappen have enough in hand to delight the home crowd? Verstappen is first out onto the circuit no doubt going for an early banker lap in case the session is interrupted by any incidents.

Norris going quickly. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

Verstappen sets a time of 1.10.515, Perez is half a second down on his teammate again but goes to P2. Norris in the McLaren goes P3 1.6 seconds behind the leading RedBull. Hamilton’s first timed lap is good enough for P2, just behind Verstappen, Leclerc then beats this in the Ferrari, 0.059 ahead of the RedBull. The top 10 after the first runs is Leclerc, Verstappen, Hamilton, Sainz, Perez, Russell, Norris, Tsunoda, Schumacher, and Stroll who is yet to set a time. The Canadian seems to have a technical issue with his Aston Martin and won’t be taking part in the rest of the session.

With exactly 3 minutes left the last runs are set to begin, Leclerc in his Ferrari first to the track. Another flare has been thrown onto the track but thankfully ran off the track so no delay to proceedings. As the drivers finish their laps, Verstappen moves to the top of the timings, Hamilton is on a quick lap but Perez has spun at the last corner but one and causes yellow flags meaning anyone behind on track won’t be able to improve. An anti-climax to the session end. The top ten was Verstappen, Leclerc, Sainz, Hamilton, Perez, Russell, Norris, Scumacher, Tsunoda and Stroll.

The top 6 are a lot closer than last week so we could be in for a very close race tomorrow. The home crowed will be leaving the circuit tonight very happy and expecting a win from their hero tomorrow.

 

F1 Weekend Preview: Zandvoort

From Spa to Zandvoort we move to the home Grand Prix of Max Verstappen who won in dominant style at Spa. The fast banking of Zandvoort is unlike any other track on the calendar so it will be a real test to see who can match RedBull’s pace.

Ferrari problems… again

Sainz enjoying P3. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

At Spa, it was not Ferrari’s weekend. The RedBulls were just too fast for them to keep up so could only get a P3 and P6. Whilst the P3 for Carlos Sainz was the best they could have hoped for, Charles Leclerc had a very unlucky weekend.

Having started P15 with various engine penalties, he managed to make his way up to P9 until he was forced to stop when it appeared a tear-off from Verstappen got caught in his brake duct. Having managed to make his way back up to P5 throughout the race, Ferrari pitted him to put on soft tyres and take the fastest lap from Verstappen.

However, another Ferrari strategy didn’t quite work because he came out behind Alonso with only two laps to go. This meant he had to overtake Alonso and didn’t achieve the fastest lap. To add insult to injury he was speeding in the pitlane by 1km/h on his last stop and was given a 5-second time penalty at the end of the race. Putting him back to P6.

Ferrari will want to put that behind them and try to gain points on the RedBulls in Zandvoort. Leclerc may be able to keep up with a new engine at his disposal, however, with the pace of Verstappen, it is difficult to see how Ferrari can bring their way back into this championship fight.

Mercedes crashing back to reality

After a successful outing in Hungary and a competitive run before the summer break, it was expected that the new regulations would help Mercedes be even closer to the top two teams. This was not the way it worked out.

Hamilton fly’s after contact with Alonso. Image courtesy of Mercedes media

They were 1.8 seconds slower than the pole lap in qualifying, struggling to get the cold tyres to work for them. When it came to the race Hamilton had a first-lap clash with Alonso, forcing him to retire from the race early.

George Russell on the other hand had a reasonably solid performance if you ignore the pace of Verstappen. He finished a respectable P4 which showed once again Mercedes’s race pace is better than their qualifying pace.

The last thing Mercedes need now is to go back to the unpredictability of their car before Silverstone, but Zandvoort may not be in their favour with the high-speed banking. The key for them on Saturday will be tyre management to prevent the large deficit they had in Spa.

2022 Belgium GP

The summer break is over and F1 returns and where better to start the second half of the season than Spa Francorchamps, possibly the greatest track in the world.

The new technical directive regarding Flexi floors seems to have affected the RedBulls the least and sees them with the biggest advantage anyone has had all season. However, with a host of penalties throughout the field the grid is mixed up and should give us a great race, could we see Max Verstappen use that huge advantage and make his way through the field from 14th, or could we see a new winner this season with both Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton on the second row today. The weather looks good, almost the complete opposite from last year’s farcical “race” where not a single racing lap took place.

Hamilton fly’s after contact with Alonso. Image courtesy of Mercedes media

Lights out and Perez makes a poor start, Hamilton makes a move on Alonso into Les Combes and they touch sending the Mercedes into the air, he makes it through another couple of corners before coming to a halt with damage to the car. Into lap 2 and Latifi spins causing Bottas to spin in avoidance bringing out the safety car. Verstappen has already made it up to P8 with Leclerc right behind him. Sainz leads from Perez, Russell, and Alonso.

Leclerc pits under the safety car and puts on fresh mediums but drops to P17. Pit radio confirms a tear-off was stuck in his brake ducts but was removed at the stop. The safety car pulls in and we begin lap 5, Sainz leads the field away.

Alonso tries to overtake Russell but the Mercedes driver breaks later and keeps P3. Verstappen moves to P7 and has his sights on Ricciardo in the McLaren. At the chicane Verstappen makes it passed and is into P6 already. Albon also makes it passed the McLaren and gets his Williams into P7. Verstappen is flying on his soft tyres and is already up to the gearbox of Vettels Aston Martin. Once again into the chicane, he makes it up to P5, next up is Alonso in the Alpine.

Verstappen making it past the Alpine. Image courtesy of RedBull content pool

The World Champion simply drives passed the Alpine as if it was in reverse. Now up to fourth and only 5.5 seconds behind Sainz in the Ferrari in first position. One lap later he overtakes Russell, the straight-line speed of the RedBull is unstoppable. Meanwhile, Leclerc has made his way up to 14th but is 15 seconds behind Verstappen already. On lap 9 Lando Norris makes his way up to P11 overtaking Magnussen into Les Combes.

Up at the front and Sainz leads Perez by 1.3 seconds who is 0.6 ahead of his teammate. Sainz pits at the end of lap 11, as he pits Verstappen overtakes Perez and takes the lead. Sainz returns to the track in P6 behind the McLaren of Ricciardo, have Ferrari made another strategic error?

At the end of the next lap, Ricciardo and Ocon also pit. The RedBull’s are staying out pulling clear of the field. Russell pits from P3 and returns to the track in P7, he was matching the times of Perez in front of him. Verstappen has now pulled a gap of 3.7 seconds, Perez in second pits at the end of lap 14, he comes out ahead of Leclerc. Perez moves to defend into Les Combes and keeps the position.

Verstappen pits. Image courtesy of RedBull content pool

The leader pits at the end of lap 15, as he comes out Perez is behind him followed by Leclerc and Russel. Sainz now leads by 4.8 seconds. Russell moves ahead of Leclerc and into P4, Leclerc down to P5 ahead of Alonso, Tsunoda, Albon, Vettel, Ocon, Ricciardo, Gasly, Norris, Stroll, Zhou, Magnussen, Schumacher, and Latifi.

Verstappen closes the gap to less than a second at the start of lap 18. He retakes the lead with another move at Les Combes. It looks like he will just check out now as he is putting laps in that are over 2 seconds quicker than the Ferrari can manage.

At half distance Verstappen lead from Perez as the Mexican overtakes Sainz, The lead is 6.5 seconds, Sainz is already 1.5 behind Perez, Russell is a further 7.5 seconds behind the Ferrari and he is 9 seconds ahead of Leclerc who appears to be on the usual Ferrari Plan Z strategy. The field seems to have settled before the inevitable second round of pitstops.

The second round of stops begins with Sainz on lap 26, he is followed by his teammate Leclerc. Sainz on the hards and Leclerc on the mediums, surely Leclerc is going to run out of tyres before the end of the race. Albon and Stroll pit on lap 27, They are now at the back of the field along with Latifi.

Perez stops a lap later and returns still in front of the Ferrari of Sainz. His teammate has made it back up to P6 with a move on Ocon in the Alpine. Next up for Leclerc is Vettel who is 3 seconds up the road.

Russell pits in the Mercedes as we start lap 30. He is still in a comfortable P4 in yet another impressive display from the young British driver. Verstappen ends lap 30 by pitting, a fresh set of mediums fitted and he leads his teammate by 8 seconds. The dominance of the Redbulls this weekend has been scary, They have 13 laps now to cruise to an easy 1-2.

RedBull is clearly in a league of their own. Image courtesy of RedBull content pool

As we begin the last 10 laps Russell is catching the Ferrari of Sainz and the gap is down to 4.2 seconds. Could he keep up the run of Mercedes podiums? Ocon moves up to P7 with a great move on both Vettel and Gasly, using the double slipstream to great effect and then outbraking the Alpha Tauri driver.

The gap between 10th and 15th is now just 4 seconds, the leader of the DRS train is Albon, followed by Stroll, Norris, Zhou, Tsunoda, and Ricciardo.

With just 5 laps to go, back at the front, Verstappen leads by 16.7 seconds ahead of Perez who is a further 9.7 seconds ahead of Sainz who is being followed by Russell a further 2.3 seconds behind.

Leclerc pits on lap 43 to go for the fastest lap point but Alonso makes it passed the Ferrari dropping him down to 6th. If he doesn’t get back past the Alpine, Ferrari has just thrown more points away. The Ferrari driver uses DRS to make it passed the Alpine but will he be able to get the fastest lap? He does a 1.49.984 which is over half a second slower than Max Verstappen’s quickest.

Verstappen wins. Image courtesy of RedBull content pool

Verstappen wins by a huge 17.8 seconds ahead of his teammate who started from the front row, a dominant performance over the driver who is now his closest challenger almost 100 points behind him. Third is Sainz ahead of Russell, Leclerc, Alonso, Ocon, Vettel, Gasly, and Albon collecting the final point of the weekend. Next up was Stroll, Norris, Tsunoda, Zhou, Ricciardo, Magnussen, Schumacher, and Latifi, The only two retirees were Bottas and Hamilton.

As the podium interviews began it was announced that Leclerc had been given a five-second penalty for speeding in the pitlane for the pitstop that wasn’t needed which dropped him behind Alonso and down to P6.

It’s now just a matter of time before Verstappen wraps up the title for this season, after a display like this weekend it wouldn’t be surprising to see RedBull repeat 2013 where they dominated the season after the summer break.

In just 5 days’ time, the F1 circus will return to Holland for the Dutch GP, Verstappen’s home race, who would bet against him once again dominating?

 

2022 Belgium GP Qualifying

The summer break is over, F1 is back and it returns with one of the greatest circuits in the world, Spa Francorchamps, and the Belgium GP.

This will be the first weekend that the car has to comply with the new technical directive regarding Flexi floors, could this shake up the pecking order? Practice results would suggest not and it even looked as though RedBull had gained quite a big advantage over the rest of the field. Qualifying would be the true test and provide us with a view of how the changes have made difference If any.

Mick Schumacher, is one of many to take grid penalties. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

As usual in the Hybrid era, teams have decided to take engine penalties to introduce new parts into the seasons pool so they have more choice later in the season. This would mean that after today’s qualifying session, at least Verstappen, Leclerc, Norris, Ocon, Schumacher, Zhou, and Bottas would all receive grid penalties.

With ten minutes to go until the start of the session, the temperature had dropped to just 16 degrees, something that would mean Mercedes might struggle with their season-long battle to try and get temperature into their tyres. The start of qualifying would be delayed due to repairs being needed to some of the armco barriers after a crash in the Porsche Supercup support race.

25 minutes after it was originally scheduled to start, qualifying finally got underway. First out on track was Latifi in the Williams who went straight back into the pits at the end of his first lap. The first driver to set a time was Mick Schumacher. The two Mercedes jumped ahead of the Haas but were immediately beaten by Perez in the RedBull, by almost a second.

After the first runs, the top four were the usual suspects of both RedBull and Ferraris, led by Verstappen and Sainz, they were followed by the two Alpines. The two Mercedes went for a second lap on the softs but still could only make it to 10th and 11th with Russell ahead of Hamilton. Everyone went for another run on fresh tyres apart from the top four. The Mercedes drivers improved to 5th and 7th.

At the other end of the field and out of qualifying were Vettel, Latifi, Magnussen, Tsunoda, and Bottas. At the top of the field was Max Verstappen with a time of 1.44.581.

Vettel out in Q1 again. Image courtesy of Aston Martin F1 Media

Q2 began, and the first driver to set a time was Lewis Hamilton. He was beaten by his teammate George Russell by 3 tenths of a second. Then came Max Verstappen beating the two Mercedes by a massive 1.5 seconds. The two Redbulls led the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz by almost three-quarters of a second. The Redbulls seemed to be in a league of their own this weekend. They were followed by Ocon, Norris, and Leclerc who had a scruffy lap and was complaining of handling issues. Then came Alonso, Russell, Gasly, and Hamilton rounding out the top ten. The final runs began with the two Alpines at the front of the queue.

Neither RedBull needed to go out again such was their dominance.  Leclerc had a better run and topped the times with a 1.44.551 ahead of the two Redbulls, behind them was Sainz, Hamilton, Russell, Ocon, Alonso, Norris, and Albon. The outward-bound McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo was the first to be illuminated in 11th along with Gasly, Zhou, Stroll, and Schumacher.

Albon joined the top teams in Q3. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

A strange start to Q3 knowing 3 of the drivers taking part would have grid penalties applied at the end of the session. Halfway around Leclerc’s first lap he realised he had the wrong tyres on the car, yet another Ferrari error. The team ended up telling him to do the lap anyway. At the end of the first runs Verstappen was again top of the times ahead of Sainz in the Ferrari, next came Perez, Leclerc, Ocon, Norris, Russell, Albon, Hamilton, and Alonso who chose to abort his lap.

Verstappen with his grid penalty decided not to do a final run, the same went for Norris, and Leclerc, however, he reappeared on track and gave his team mate a tow down the long straight. It didn’t really seem to help as the Spaniard had a scruffy lap, however thanks to Verstappen’s penalty, he would still be on pole for the race tomorrow. Third was Perez, with Leclerc next up, then came Ocon and Alonso. Next up was Hamilton and Russell ahead of Albon and Norris.

Once all the penalties have been given out the grid will look very different at the start of tomorrow’s race.

Will the weather gods play games like last year or could we get a dry race with a very mixed-up grid providing us with a great race at a great race track?

Whatever happens, the Belgium GP should be a classic.

 

F1 Weekend Preview: The Summer Break is Over!

The summer break is over and we are back in Belgium to find out if Ferrari can make a dent in RedBull’s championship charge, or if Mercedes can create a three-way fight to the end. The technical rule changes and driver market changes will certainly bring talking points throughout the weekend.

Technical changes

During the summer break, the FIA announced they had confirmed a few rule changes which are set to create waves in the paddock.

Lewis Hamilton at Baku where he suffered back pain from porpoising. Image courtesy of Mercedes Media

The first is in response to the porpoising or vertical oscillations which began to bring driver safety concerns at some circuits like Baku. The FIA has decided to step in and have outlined a new metric where porpoising is acceptable. Anything outside of these limits could now result in penalties for the teams.

The biggest change could be the rule changes to the floor by introducing flexibility tests. The FIA announced that they would make changes to redefine the stiffness requirements of plank and skids around the thickness measurement holes. This is to prevent any floor-related design which might navigate around the intention of the regulations. This potentially could have the biggest effect on performance so will be fascinating to see how it affects the cars.

Silly Season has begun

With the driver market causing chaos over the summer break, it is good to know where everyone stands heading into Belgium.

Vettel to retire at the end of 2022. Image courtesy of Aston Martin F1 Media

It all started with Sebastian Vettel announcing he was going to retire at the end of 2022 just before the Hungarian Grand Prix. The morning after the Hungarian GP Alonso announced he would replace Vettel at Aston Martin, which seemed to come as a shock to Alpine.

This is where it gets messy. Alpine then made an odd announcement that Oscar Piastri would be driving for them in 2023, but the statement had no quotes from the driver. Only a few hours later Piastri put out a statement saying he would not be driving for the French team, appearing to confirm rumours that he has been in talks with McLaren.

This would appear to make Daniel Ricciardo available to race next season, and with Haas, Williams, and Alfa Romeo yet to confirm their lineups they could secure themselves an experienced driver from McLaren. However, it has not been confirmed where Piastri is driving next season, so paddock talk will likely be all about the driver market.

A Three-way fight

Ferrari has hopefully used the summer break to re-focus and sort out their reliability and strategy issues. They will need an almost flawless second half of the season to stop RedBull and Max Verstappen from storming away with the championship.

However, Mercedes have been quietly making their way into the fight. They have been the most reliable car and have been consistently picking up podiums for the last seven rounds. They appear to have mostly got on top of the issues that plagued them at the beginning of the season and, with the possible performance changes with the new regulations, they could become a real contender towards the end of the season. For them, they can now focus on their pace which will need to improve to be with the teams ahead.

Mercedes double podium at the French GP. Image courtesy of Mercedes Media

Qualifying is on at 3pm BST and the race starts at 2pm BST.

F1’s silly season goes into overdrive

Although Sebastian Vettel’s retirement announcement on Thursday was a surprise to many, it wasn’t wholly unexpected. Few, however, could have predicted the events that have transpired since.

Aston Martin admitted to being caught unaware by Vettel’s retirement, with team principal Mike Krack talking only weeks ago about retaining the four-time world champion for another season. The rumours seemed to suggest that they would be replacing one German with another, with Mick Schumacher and current Aston Martin reserve Nico Hulkenberg being the main names touted for the seat.

It’s safe to say, therefore, that Monday’s announcement that Fernando Alonso would be extending his record-breaking career in green, rather than the blue and pink of Alpine, came almost out of nowhere. There had been mumblings that the Spaniard was considering a move out of Enstone for a third time, but many thought that a one-year extension for Alonso was a done deal. Even the 41-year-old said it would only take ’10 minutes’ to sort out a new contract with the French squad, but there was clearly some stumbling block in the background to force Fernando to go for a change.

Oscar Piastri testing for Alpine at the end of 2021. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

If Aston were surprised by Vettel’s announcement, Alonso’s left Alpine astounded. Team principal Otmar Szafnauer found out at the same time as everyone else, which is likely to lead to a very awkward meeting once the summer break is over. Once crumb of comfort for Otmar however, would have come with the fact that this freed up the seat for their junior driver Oscar Piastri, and it was announced on Twitter on Tuesday that he would be driving alongside Ocon in 2023.

As soon as the announcement was posted, however, questions started to be asked. There were no quotes from Piastri in the announcement. The tweet only spoke about how he was being ‘promoted’ into a race seat, not that he had signed any formal contract. And sure enough, just short of two hours later, the reigning F2 champion announced that he had not signed a contract with Alpine for 2023, and would not be driving for them next year. But how did Alpine get themselves into this mess?

Midway through last season, Esteban Ocon signed a contract for 2024 with the Enstone-based team. The plan seemed simple, keep Piastri in F2 for two seasons, and promote him once Alonso retired at the end of 2022. Problem one came when Piastri won the F2 championship, rendering him ineligible for the series this year. Problem two came with the fact that Alonso had no intention of leaving the sport just yet. Both are nice problems to have, but three into two doesn’t go, and frustrations were building in the background.

It looks like these frustrations have boiled over in the past week, and the lid will not be going back on this pot any time soon. Alonso feels his performances deserve more than a one-year contract, but as Alpine wanted to keep Piastri, this is all he was going to get. Other teams have picked up on this dilly-dallying from Alpine, with McLaren (who had the option to use Piastri as a reserve this season) allegedly swooping in to sign the highly rated 21-year-old for 2023, as a replacement for Daniel Ricciardo.

Ricciardo winning in Monza in 2021. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

This isn’t the only contract shenanigans that McLaren finds themselves in at the moment. Over in IndyCar, reigning champion Alex Palou is being sued by his current team Chip Ganassi Racing, after they announced that he would be driving for them, prompting him to announce that he would be driving McLaren. If Palou and Piastri both end up in papaya next season, this gives them a glut of talent across IndyCar and F1, with their lineup for Formula E next season also yet to be announced.

It is possible then, that Alpine will have an Australian driving for them next season, just not the one they expected. Daniel Ricciardo did a stellar job in the yellow of Renault in 2020, and apart from a win in Monza last season has not looked close to the driver he was during his two-year spell with the French marque. The 33-year-old has made it clear he wants to stay in F1 next year, and this may well be his only opportunity.

Aston Martin fighting amongst themselves for the last points position in Hungary 2022. Image courtesy of Aston Martin Media

But let’s go back to how this all started. Sebastian Vettel clearly didn’t see enough progress at Aston Martin to convince him to stay in Formula One. His father said that the decision was made in Austria, where he qualified last and was involved in incidents in both races, which is enough to make anyone question their motivation. So if he’s not seen any positives, what has made Alonso take one last (presuming he does retire at the end of 2024) throw of the dice?

Next year’s Aston will be the first car to have the fingerprint of Dan Fallows on it. As a member of the aerodynamics department at Red Bull (and eventually the head of aero), Fallows was involved in the Milton Keynes-based team’s dominant run in the early noughties, as well as their recent resurgence. Joining Aston at the start of the season meant he was never able to have a massive impact on the 2022 car, although the new rear wing shown off at Hungary suggests he has some radical ideas to move the team up from the lower end of the order. Being ninth in the championship also means Aston Martin will get more wind tunnel time than nearly all their rivals, invaluable at any time but especially in this modern era of Formula One.

Vettel’s retirement brings to an end one of the most successful careers of all time, with only Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher securing more wins than Sebastian. He will certainly be missed in the F1 paddock, and it is ironic that for a man who doesn’t like the spotlight away from the track, his departure has delivered plenty of drama for fans to discuss over the summer break.

Verstappen Wins while Ferrari have more Strategy Problems

Max Verstappen wins from P10 with Hamilton finishing P2 from 7th and Russell rounding out the podium after getting pole in qualifying. Ferrari had another disastrous strategy resulting in them finishing off the podium in P4 and P6.

The weather looked like it could have played a part when it began to spit before the start of the race. Several cars locked up into turn 2 with the strong tailwind that was being created and could have affected them during the race.

Russell is ahead at the start of the GP. Image courtesy of Mercedes Media

Lights out and George Russell gets a great start from pole but behind him, Sainz has kept up with him going side by side with Carlos on the outside of into turn 1. Russell closes the door and manages to stay ahead of both Ferraris. Leclerc got a slow start meaning Norris could pressure for P3 but with no success. Hamilton was the main mover at the start, making it to P5 before turn 1.

Bottas got a slow start so both RedBulls were able to jump ahead of him and begin to chase down the Alpines. On lap 7, with a much faster car, Verstappen was able to make a move down the inside of turn 1 and move past Alonso before chasing after and passing Ocon. Perez was not far behind and took both Alpines just the next lap.

Hamilton lining up a move on Norris. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Media

By lap 12 Verstappen had closed down the gap to Hamilton in P5 who was battling Norris for P4. Just as Verstappen reached within the DRS range of the Mercedes, Hamilton made a DRS move on Norris down the inside of turn 1. Verstappen took advantage of this as Norris went slightly wide to have a drag race into turn 2. Verstappen, still with DRS, was able to go around the outside of Norris meaning the McLaren lost two places within two corners.

Just before the first pitstops, Leclerc began to complain that he was faster than Sainz in front of him. To solve this they brought Sainz in leaving Leclerc out for a longer stint. However, this benefited Leclerc who came in for his stop on lap 22 and then came out behind Russell but ahead of his teammate.

With fresher tyres, Leclerc didn’t take long to catch and overtake the Mercedes for the lead. On lap 30 Leclerc used DRS down the main straight to make a move around the outside of turn 1 which this time he made stick. Sainz was not far behind so this was Ferrari’s race to control.

Russell made a move on Leclerc. Image courtesy of Mercedes Media

10 laps later it was time for stop number two for Leclerc and Russell. In a bold move Ferrari but on the hard tyres, which no one had been able to make work in the cooler conditions. The pitstop hadn’t worked for Mercedes as Russell came out behind both RedBulls, with Leclerc out just in front of them.

The hard tyres would prove to be Leclerc’s undoing though. As he couldn’t get them to warm up and find pace, just one lap later Verstappen had DRS and passed him down the inside of turn 1. Just when we thought Verstappen had made the move stick for the net lead, he went for a spin, losing the back end of the car coming out of the penultimate corner.

This had a domino effect on Perez, who got caught up behind his teammate and now had to defend from Russell going down the main straight. Side by side, the Mercedes was able to make it around the outside of Perez in turn 1, nearly making it past the other RedBull before having to yield.

It wasn’t long before Verstappen caught up to Leclerc and overtook him in a similar fashion to before. This time though he was able to make it stick and create a gap to the Ferrari, which still had the hard tyres on.

On lap 54 Russell had now closed the gap on Leclerc as well and looked on for a move. Leclerc defended the inside of turn 1 but unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep the Mercedes behind him. Moving Russell back into P2. Ferrari then decided enough was enough and pitted Leclerc for mediums one lap later. It was too late though as he came out behind Perez, who had struggled but was finding some good pace towards the end of the race.

At this point, Hamilton was back on a charge having made a late stop for soft tyres. Putting in fastest lap after fastest lap, he was able to make his way up to the podium places with ease. When he came across his teammate 5 laps from the end there appeared to be no team orders and they were allowed to race. However, Hamilton was just faster and after a clean battle, he did a switch back coming out of turn 1 on his teammate to take P2.

Verstappen took the chequered flag to win his 50th Grand Prix and be 80 points ahead in the drivers’ championship heading into the summer break. Mercedes got a second consecutive double podium, and it looks like they are on pace to compete for race wins if it weren’t for issues in qualifying. However, with the technical directive coming into play in Spa, this could affect the race pace of the top teams. Either way, Ferrari needs a flawless second half of the season to get back in the championship hunt.

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