The Singapore Grand Prix was seen to be one of the most important races of the 2018 season so far. With seven races to go, including Marina Bay, a win for Hamilton would put him at least 37 points clear of Sebastian Vettel. A win for Vettel, on the other hand, would bring the gap down to 23 points.
Excitement flowed up and down the paddock as everyone anticipated a crucial and exciting Singapore Grand Prix which, in the past, has been a massive race in terms of the championship outcome, not least last year when Vettel crashed out on the first lap and left Lewis Hamilton to claim a brilliant victory.
This year’s race, however, was exactly as Hamilton would have wanted it to be – uneventful. He won from pole, and Vettel could only manage a third place finish, leaving the German’s title challenge seemingly in tatters.
Is there a way back for the Ferrari man?
Mathematically, of course, yes. There are still 150 points up for grabs this season, so a 40-point gap means the title race is still open. However, with 25 points given for a race win, Vettel is running out of both time and numbers.
Should Vettel win the next six races with Hamilton finishing second, the German would win the championship by two points. If Hamilton wins another race, Vettel will essentially need to win the other five, hoping for a fourth place finish for Hamilton somewhere in there. Two wins for Hamilton in these last six, and Vettel can forget about the championship.
Realistically, it is very difficult to see any of this happening. We are going to six tracks which will not all suit Ferrari and, given that Hamilton has been strong at almost every circuit so far this season, it is turning into Mount Everest with an extra 100 feet for Sebastian Vettel to climb.
What Vettel can hope for is, of course, some help from his team mate Kimi Raikkonen in the fight against the two Mercedes. The more cynical in the Formula One world might suggest we will see some Ayrton Senna-esque tactics from the Finn, but that is not how we want to see this championship decided.
How has Vettel ended up in this situation? The simple fact is that he has made too many mistakes this season. The most notable ones are his spin in Italy when he needlessly hit Hamilton on the first lap, and his crashing out of his home Grand Prix at Hockenheim from the lead of the race.
Red Bull have also taken away two possible wins from Ferrari this season – Ricciardo won in China after Max Verstappen took out Vettel, and Verstappen then won in Spielberg at his team’s home circuit. These two races were massive points lost for Ferrari, and the Scuderia could be left to rue them at the end of the year.
Ferrari made an error of their own in Singapore. They brought Vettel into the pits to change him onto the ultrasoft tyre with three-quarters of the race still to go. Hamilton and Verstappen both changed onto the soft tyre which could not only make it to the end of the race, but also run at a consistent pace. This is something Vettel could not do, condemning him to a frustrating and costly P3.
It summed up what has been talked about a lot over the last two seasons – Ferrari have simply been too error-prone, and this has most likely left Hamilton with the championship in the bag.
But, as Hamilton himself will no doubt know from 2007, it’s never over until it’s over and, as Murray Walker once famously said, anything can happen in Formula One and it usually does.
Last weekend’s German Grand Prix opened with the unsurprising news that Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas would be remaining with Mercedes for the next year and beyond.
Coming just before the summer break, Mercedes’ announcement is set to kick-start what has so far been a slow-building driver market for 2019. Daniel Ricciardo is expected to remain with Red Bull, while the current paddock word is that Ferrari will hand Kimi Räikkönen another year’s extension.
But with the top teams entering a holding pattern, what does that mean for any potential moves elsewhere on the grid?
Force India, Renault now key to the midfield
With the grid’s top six seats filling up, all eyes are turning now to Force India, Renault and Esteban Ocon.
Despite Force India holding an option on Ocon’s services, Mercedes has been trying to place their young Frenchman at Renault next year to safeguard his career against the financial and legal troubles plaguing Force India. It’s unclear whether this switch will still go ahead now that Force India is no longer facing a winding up order, but the consensus is that it’s still on the cards at least.
If Ocon does make the move it will be at the expense of Carlos Sainz, even though the Spaniard will be free to commit to Renault long-term once Ricciardo blocks off the final Red Bull seat.
Force India could have another vacancy to fill, with Sergio Pérez on the shopping list for Haas. If there is a seat free at the Silverstone-based team, Lance Stroll will be at the front of the queue to take it with help from his father’s backing. Stroll is also said to be keen on bringing Robert Kubica with him from Williams, to act as his benchmark and mentor, should both Force India seats open up.
Williams and McLaren fall into place
With Stroll almost certain to switch to Force India, that leaves an opening at Williams. And despite that seat being arguably the least attractive on the 2019 grid, Williams does still have a few options to fill it.
The first is Kubica (if there’s no room for him at Force India), who would provide Williams with a relatively consistent lineup as they try to escape their downward spiral. Mercedes junior George Russell is also in the frame, and would bring with him a discount on the team’s power units to offset the loss of Williams’ Stroll and Martini funding. (Russell also has the added perk of being Williams’ first full-time British driver since Jenson Button in 2000.)
McLaren will also be keeping an interested eye on the Force India/ Renault situation as they look to finalise their 2019 lineup over the summer break. Fernando Alonso looks likely to stay with the team for another year at least now that their IndyCar talk has cooled, although Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren future is far less certain.
Early season reports had Lando Norris as sure to replace Vandoorne for next year, but a midseason F2 slump has put Norris’ F1 promotion into doubt for now. Sainz’s contractual limbo has moved him into play for the second McLaren seat, arguably the most competitive option open to him if he is forced out of Renault. Kubica has also been touted as an outside contender.
Few options for Red Bull and Ferrari juniors
The deadlock at the top of the grid means that there isn’t much upward movement available for the likes of Pierre Gasly and Charles Leclerc. The latter has been linked to Grosjean’s Haas seat lately, but there seems little sense in Ferrari switching Leclerc from one midfield team to another for the sake of it—given his trajectory, it would be better to see how Leclerc develops in a sophomore year at Sauber.
Leclerc staying put rules out a Ferrari-backed Sauber placement for Antonio Giovinazzi—with one of the Scuderia’s juniors already in the team, Sauber is more likely to either keep Marcus Ericsson for a fifth season or pick up Vandoorne from McLaren.
As for Red Bull’s academy team, the likelihood of seeing a brand new face replacing Brendon Hartley is slim. Red Bull may want F3 protege Dan Ticktum in the car, but his lack of superlicence points is an obstacle the FIA won’t be willing to overlook—so too is the case for Honda juniors Nirei Fukuzumi and Tadasuke Makino.
Featured image by Steve Etherington, courtesy of Mercedes AMG
Ferrari CEO and Chairman Sergio Marchionne was supposed to stay on with the company until 2021, only leaving once a successor had been found and readied. Things, however, have not gone to plan. Marchionne was taken into hospital for planned shoulder surgery, but complications have since arisen which have left him unable to return to work and in an undetermined state of health.
Once it became clear that Marchionne would not be able to return, Ferrari’s Board of Directors convened and named John Elkann as the new Chairman and proposed Louis Camilleri as the new CEO, splitting Marchionne’s old role into two separate ones. Before these appointments, Elkann was the CEO and Chairman of investment company Exor, while Camilleri was already a board member at Ferrari.
This movement has rocked Ferrari’s settling boat. The team say that their thoughts remain with Marchionne and his family, but a change this big and unscheduled will have undoubtedly thrown them.
There are going to be some sizeable short and long-term consequences of the shift for the team as they try to work out where they stand, and prepare themselves for the remainder of what could be a title-winning season for them.
One of the first issues for the new bosses to deal with is the matter of who drives alongside Sebastian Vettel next year. When Marchionne was in charge, it was thought that the team were leaning more towards the much-hyped Charles Leclerc as opposed to the aging Kimi Raikkonen but this, like everything else, has seemingly changed.
Promoting Leclerc into the Scuderia is a huge risk considering his lack of experience in F1, whereas Raikkonen is a known quantity who, while no longer very exciting, doesn’t represent as much of a gamble. This means that the Finn is much more likely to be retained now than he was before, simply because the new management aren’t going to want to come in and have one of their first major decisions be a big risk. It would be a shame for Leclerc, but he has time on his side and will certainly get to Ferrari one day.
Another thing that needs addressing is the negotiations surrounding F1’s 2021 regulation change. Marchionne had threatened to pull Ferrari out of F1 as a result of the planned engine changes, although many saw this as a bluff to give them more influence in the talks. The main question is if Ferrari’s tune will stay the same with new management – will they deal with F1’s owners Liberty Media in the same way or will things change?
F1 Chairman Chase Carey has said that they will give Ferrari time to sort themselves out before resuming talks. However, with the team having been left somewhat unstable following Marchionne’s departure, it could mean that their position in those talks will be subsequently weakened.
Then there’s the rest of this season to deal with. After issuing unclear team orders at the German Grand Prix, Raikkonen was certainly unhappy and the team as a whole just seemed a bit flustered. Vettel hit the wall and saw not only an almost certain victory slip away from him, but also the lead in both championships. Ferrari can’t afford to let another championship escape their grasp, as this is the closest they’ve been for a decade – their last constructors’ title came in 2008, with their last drivers’ title in 2007.
The Ferrari revolution, led by Marchionne, had almost been completed. The team were almost back to their championship-winning ways, and it was just that last little bit of work that was missing.
Now, with the new management in place, the question is whether Ferrari continue Marchionne’s good work, or whether it will go to waste? Only time will tell, but these next few weeks and months will be pivotal for the future of Ferrari’s F1 team.
Looking at the results, you wouldn’t have thought much happened during the British Grand Prix, but some action at the start and a couple of safety car periods spiced the race up. The final race of the triple-header in Europe saw Sebastian Vettel take the win.
Sebastian Vettel – 9
There were pre-race doubts about Vettel’s fitness – he had tape put on his neck after FP3 – but the adrenaline kicked in and his start was beautiful, waving concerns away. All the action happened behind him. The safety cars late on in the race put him behind on the track but a great dive-bomb up the inside of Bottas sealed the win. Great victory as we head towards Germany next!
Lewis Hamilton – 9
The Brit got a tardy start which he would come to regret, even if he ended the race in a position where he lost minimal amounts of points. There were some very interesting comments from him afterwards suggesting that tactics from Ferrari were what resulted in him being taken out, bringing back memories of Mexico 2017. Hamilton was the last car on track at the end of lap one, but like a knife through butter he carved his way through the field. A disappointing start, but if you look from lap two onwards it was a great race for him.
Kimi Raikkonen – 7
Raikkonen has finished on the podium at the last three races, but never on the top step. The Finn owned up to his coming-together with Hamilton, saying the incident at turn three was his fault and accepting the penalty handed to him. Team-mate Vettel stormed off into the distance, while Raikkonen couldn’t quite match Hamilton near the end of the race.
Valtteri Bottas – 8
The Mercedes team threw away the lead again today, deciding to keep Bottas out after the second safety car. Before that he was faster than Vettel, so on a level playing field Bottas could have beaten the German and taken the flag first. Much like in China and Baku, strategy from his team may have cost him the victory once again, even if it may have been tougher in Silverstone to remain in the lead. A great start made amends for a poor qualifying on Saturday, but he is clearly still playing second fiddle to Hamilton.
Daniel Ricciardo – 7
Silverstone turned out to be a track which highlighted the frailties of the Red Bull package. Roughly 80% of the track is spent at full throttle, and power isn’t exactly Red Bull’s strong point. Ricciardo was out qualified once again by Verstappen, with a DRS issue hampering his performance. He was great at defending against Raikkonen during the race but unfortunately the safety car came out at the wrong time for him, as he had already made a pit-stop two laps beforehand. The lack of speed along the straights prevented him from passing Bottas in the closing laps of the race.
Nico Hulkenburg – 8
Best of the rest and great haul of points for the German. Renault were the only team to use the hard tyre during the race, having worried about blistering on the other compounds, and the tactic worked brilliantly. Hulkenberg did supremely well to keep the pack behind him at the two safety car restarts.
Esteban Ocon – 7
Ocon is showing his worth a lot more this season compared to last, and provided a great result at for Force India at what is essentially the team’s home race, given that their factory is literally just over the road. Ocon made it through to the final part of qualifying, and kept the car in the top ten on Sunday.
Fernando Alonso – 8
Alonso’s McLaren may lack pace on a Saturday but on a Sunday, in the hands of the Spaniard, it is one of the best in the midfield. He took advantage of the safety cars to pit for some fresh rubber, allowing him to get past Kevin Magnussen at the end. He may appear calm on the outside, but it isn’t hard to imagine that deep down all is still not well with the relationship between himself and McLaren.
Kevin Magnussen – 7
Hampered by the first lap accident with his team-mate, Magnussen did well to score points considering the clash inflicted some damage to his car, which restricted his speed. He was one of few drivers not to pit under the safety car which pushed him down the order late on, but he managed to hold on to salvage some points.
Sergio Perez – 6
Much like Hamilton, Perez saw the field drive past him after contact on the first lap spun him at turn one. He recovered well and found himself in contention for the last point, which was ultimately claimed by Pierre Gasly Chafter a collision between the two near the end of the race. After the race, though, Gasly was awarded a five-second penalty for the incident, meaning Perez inherited P10 and the one point that comes with it.
Stoffel Vandoorne – 4
It was a quiet weekend in general for Vandoorne. He was a whopping 0.9 seconds slower than Alonso on Saturday, and with others making the decision to start the race from the pit-lane it meant he was the last on the grid. He finished the race in 12th, meaning he now hasn’t scored since Baku. Lando Norris in currently second in Formula 2 and is hotly tipped for a drive in F1 next year. It could well be this seat that he takes.
Lance Stroll – 5
Williams are currently the worst car on the grid, and unfortunately nothing put that more on show than Sunday’s race. Prior to the first safety car they were the only team to have been lapped, and Stroll made a mistake in qualifying which ended up his car being beached in the gravel.
Pierre Gasly – 7
Gasly had a good Sunday and initially finished tenth, a welcome result given that Toro Rosso been having a tough time of it recently. The Frenchman collided with Perez with a few laps to go, and a harsh time penalty given to him after the race pushed him down the field. Silverstone was a track which showed Honda’s deficit to the other manufacturers, but there are still promising signs and it was a far better day for Gasly than the results suggested.
Sergey Sirotkin – 5
Sirotkin, along with his team-mate, started the race from the pits after taking on new parts. Like Stroll, Sirotkin also made a mistake in qualifying, but managed to keep the car going and set a lap, albeit one that turned out to be the slowest of the session. Seeing the Williams team run plum last is such a shame to see.
Max Verstappen – 7
Verstappen may have been classified as a finisher, but a brake-by-wire issue ended his day late into the race. Ever-hungry, he was running in a solid podium position, but with the deficit of his Renault power-unit he was a sitting duck at the restarts. His defending to Raikkonen was brilliant.
Carlos Sainz – 5
A poor performance for Sainz both on Saturday and Sunday. A less-than-par qualifying session put him in the thick of the action, and he collided with Romain Grosjean. A weekend to forget for the Spaniard.
Romain Grosjean – 5
Will Austria be seen as a peak in Grosjean’s season? Three collisions in one weekend isn’t good enough. The first occurred in practice, with the second being the cardinal sin of hitting his team mate on the first lap. The third, a tangling with Sainz at Copse, ended his race. Grosjean should have lifted off the throttle, but he kept his foot buried, causing instability and ultimately the collision.
Marcus Ericcson – 6
Ericsson’s DRS didn’t close as he approached turn one during the race and he crashed heavily, bringing out the first safety car. The crash rounded out an unfortunate weekend for the Swede, after England took his country out of the World Cup the day before. He did, however, have great pace during qualifying and got through to Q2.
Charles Leclerc – 8
An unfortunate error in the pits for Sauber resulted in Leclerc’s rear tyre not being fitted properly and the team telling him to stop the car. He had made another Q3 appearance on Saturday and had been running seventh at the time of the error, which meant the loss of a potentially big haul of points.
Brendan Hartley – N/A
You can’t really comment on what a horrible weekend the Kiwi has had. The suspension failure on Saturday pretty much ended his weekend. He didn’t see any track action in qualifying, and a last minute problem starting from the pit lane resulted in retirement after one lap. None of it whatsoever was his fault.
There is now a two-week break before we head to Hockenheim in Germany, a track that we see appear every so often on the calendar. Vettel won on Hamilton’s home turf this weekend, but can Hamilton strike back with victory in Germany? Vettel hasn’t got a record like Hamilton at his home track, and has only won in Germany once in his Red Bull days. The summer break looms and, for drivers such as Grosjean and Vandoorne, the pressure increases.
In Formula 1 anything can happen, and it usually does! That was what Murray Walker always said, and it did indeed happen at the Red Bull Ring this weekend. A very hot Sunday played havoc with the field, though someacclimatised better than others.
Max Verstappen: 9.5
This was a great weekend for Verstappen, as he continued his podium form and this time to the top step. Fortune favoured the brave on the first lap with a great move on Raikkonen. One of the first to pit under the Virtual Safety Car, Verstappen made his tyres last in the heat while others struggled with blistering. He is a driver known for his speed, but this weekend Verstappen proved he can drive calmly.
Kimi Raikkonen: 8
Austria was one of Raikkonen’s better races of the year. After a great start (marred slightly by running wide on the first lap) Raikkonen put in a tyre management drive reminiscent of his Lotus days to take a superb second place. With reports saying Leclerc is all set to join Ferrari next year, could this be the beginning of Raikkonen’s swan song?
Sebastian Vettel: 7
After this weekend sees Vettel leave Austria as the Championship leader, he won’t mind too much about the grid penalty he was given for impeding Carlos Sainz in qualifying. Vettel’s race started poorly on Sunday as he fell to 8th, but a good recovery drive put him on the podium.
Romain Grosjean: 8
The Frenchman finally sees the flag in the top ten! Grosjean was very impressive on Saturday when he outqualified a Red Bull, and was one of the better drivers on Sunday at keeping the tyres in good condition. A great result for him and especially Haas, as teammate Magnussen finished behind him in P5.
Kevin Magnussen: 8
Magnussen continued his impressive 2018 in Austria with a great haul of points in P5. Together with Grosjean, Magnussen’s points this weekend helped Haas back up their statement about being the fourth-best team. A great drive from Magnussen all weekend, evening if Grosjean had shaded him on race day.
Esteban Ocon: 8
Ocon is a name being frequently mentioned in the drivers’ market as a hot talent, and he proved why in Austria. Starting in P11 he had the free choice of tyres, and used that well to finish P6. He had a fresher set of tyres later on than most which helped him too.
Sergio Perez: 7
After dropping out of qualifying in Q1 it looked like Perez would struggle. But with grid penalties ahead of him, Perez started P15 and made up the most places of who took the grid to finish P7—his first points finish since Spain.
Fernando Alonso: 8
Alonso started from the pitlane on Sunday because his car was taken out of parc fermé for a change of front wing and MGU-K. He was on the radio early on calling for a new strategy to get out from behind Hartley’s Toro Rosso, and and an early pit stop allowed Alonso to come back through the field as he kept his tyres from blistering. A much better race for the 2018 Le Mans winner.
Charles Leclerc: 8
Through to Q2 again for the sixth weekend in a row, Leclerc’s Sauber showed great pace on Saturday. A gearbox penalty meant he dropped back to P17 on the grid, but a strong recovery brought him up into the points—and all on the weekend that his move to Ferrari for next year has reportedly been decided.
Marcus Ericsson: 7
Ericsson had a pretty poor Saturday as he said couldn’t find a gap on track in qualifying, but put that behind him to help Sauber to its first double points finish since China 2015. To sweeten the deal, Ericsson only had to wait seven races between his last points finish and this, as opposed to the two whole seasons before. The Sauber is being developed well.
Pierre Gasly: 7
Gasly’s tyres just gave up on him at the end of the race as he suffered from the blistering that affected most of the field. He was running a strong P8 with a few laps remaining but his tyres were past it. For a very power hungry track, Gasly qualified a fine P12 with the Honda power unit. His raw pace is noticeable.
Carlos Sainz: 6
Sainz was only one of two drivers to finish further back from his grid place in Austria. He started P9 and actually got by Vettel for half a lap, but his two-stop strategy didn’t pan out and he dropped to P12 by the end of the race.
Sergey Sirotkin: 6
Out in Q1, Sirotkin struggled to get to grips with his car in the early part of the weekend. However it was a better Sunday from the Russian, as he finished P13 and ahead of his teammate.
Lance Stroll: 6
A great Saturday performance saw Stroll get into Q2 for the first time since Azerbaijan. On the first lap he was running as high as P12 and points were possible, but a ten-second penalty for ignoring blue flags resulted in him finishing P14.
Stoffel Vandoorne: 4
Austria was another poor weekend by Vandoorne, with a Q1 exit on Saturday and a collision with Gasly on the first lap on Sunday. After pitting for a new front wing the Belgian was way down the order and off the pace. He retired lap 66 due to damage, and the pressure to defend his seat for next year is building.
Lewis Hamilton: 7.5
With upgrades on his car Hamilton was the one to beat in the early part of the race. But when the VSC came out on lap 14 he didn’t pit like everyone else, and as a result lost the race lead. Hamilton then retired on lap 64 with a loss of fuel pressure—his first retirement since Malaysia 2016—and lost the lead of the championship to Vettel.
Brendon Hartley: 5
Hartley’s Sunday began with a 35-place grid penalty for changing his power unit, and ended when his gearbox failed on lap 57 and put him into retirement.
Daniel Ricciardo: 6
The Austrian Grand Prix may have been on Ricciardo’s 29th birthday, but sadly it ended in retirement. It was a sour start to the weekend with him being outqualified by Grosjean and an argument with his teammate over slipstreaming tactics. Ricciardo put a trademark late-braking move on Raikkonen early in the race but struggled with tyre blisters later, then retired due to a broken exhaust. He’ll be hoping for a stronger weekend in Silverstone.
Valtteri Bottas: 9
Bottas seems to love the Red Bull Ring, and pole and the win last year gave him huge confidence into this year’s event. He managed to get pole again this year but didn’t get as good a start as he got in 2017 and lost the lead to Hamilton in Turn 1. A great double overtake on the first lap saw Bottas recover to P2, although luck wasn’t on his side as the seemingly ever-reliable Mercedes broke again with a hydraulics failure. Two mechanical DNF’s for the Silver Arrows.
Nico Hulkenburg: 6
The first failure of the race came to Hulkenberg, a massive engine failure with smoke and lots of fire. Hulkenberg was in place for reasonable points but lost power on the straight. He had great pace in qualifying and got through to Q3 but reliability caught him this weekend.
Valtteri Bottas has claimed his first pole position of the year, and leads a Mercedes 1-2 into tomorrow’s Austrian Grand Prix.
Of the big-hitters, only Bottas and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen had a truly clean session. Both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel made mistakes early on – at turn three and turn four respectively – and ended up relatively far back after the first Q3 runs had been completed. It took until the last couple of minutes for the pair to pull themselves back up the order – Hamilton ultimately qualified P2, and Vettel P3, with both pushing Kimi Raikkonen down into P4. Vettel was noted as being under investigation for allegedly impeding Carlos Sainz in Q2, but since Sainz did advance to Q3 it is uncertain whether Vettel will receive any penalty.
Red Bull had expected qualifying to be a struggle compared to Mercedes and Ferrari coming into the weekend. Max Verstappen may have qualified P5 but he was still two tenths behind Raikkonen, and Daniel Ricciardo ended up P7 behind the Haas of an impressive Romain Grosjean. Replays of team radio throughout the session indicated a certain amount of tension in the team, with Ricciardo frustrated that Verstappen did not follow orders to lead the Australian for a lap and give him a tow, as Ricciardo had done for Verstappen the lap before.
Kevin Magnussen and the two Renaults of Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg complete the top ten.
Further down the order, Charles Leclerc continues to impress in the Sauber. He qualified P13 but carries a five-place grid penalty due to his gearbox needing to be changed following a stoppage on track in FP3.
Force India’s Sergio Perez had a nightmare of a session. The Mexican complained of running out of battery during his first run and of getting stuck in traffic during his second. He failed to make it out of Q1 and starts P17.
It was also a frustrating session for McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley. Both were looking to pull themselves out of the drop-zone and into Q2, but encountered yellow flags on their flying laps when Charles Leclerc ran through the gravel trap in the final moments of Q1.
Both Mercedes and Red Bull will start tomorrow’s Grand Prix on the supersoft tyres, with all those around them starting on the ultras. Bottas will be hoping to convert pole position into a win, at the circuit where he claimed his second ever victory in 2017.
Austrian Grand Prix Grid
1. Valtteri Bottas – 1:03.130
2. Lewis Hamilton – 1:03.149
3. Sebastian Vettel – 1:03.464
4. Kimi Raikkonen – 1:03.660
5. Max Verstappen – 1:03.840
6. Romain Grosjean – 1:03.892
7. Daniel Ricciardo – 1:03.996
8. Kevin Magnussen – 1:04.051
9. Carlos Sainz – 1:04.725
10. Nico Hulkenberg – 1:05.019
11. Esteban Ocon – 1:04.845
12. Pierre Gasly 0 1:04.874
13. Fernando Alonso – 1:05.058
14. Lance Stroll – 1:05.286
15. Stoffel Vandoorne – 1:05.271
16. Sergio Perez – 1:05.279
17. Sergey Sirotkin – 1:05.322
18. Charles Leclerc – 1:04.979 *5-place penalty for gearbox change
19. Brendon Hartley 1:05.366
20. Marcus Ericsson – 1:05.479
Update – 17:30 – Sebastian Vettel has been given a three-place penalty by the stewards for impeding Carlos Sainz at turn one in Q2. The German will now start P6, promoting Kimi Raikkonen to P3, Max Verstappen to P4, and Romain Grosjean to P5.
Red Bull got their Monaco Grand Prix weekend off to a strong start by locking out the top two positions in both Thursday practice sessions.
Daniel Ricciardo finished marginally ahead of Max Verstappen in each session, and staked his claim as the driver to beat this weekend by lowering the circuit’s unofficial lap record to 1:11.841s in FP2.
On lap times alone, neither Mercedes nor Ferrari seemed to have an answer to the RB14 on Thursday. Championship protagonists Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel were Red Bull’s closest challengers in FP1 and FP2 respectively, but despite their best efforts on the hypersoft tyres neither came any nearer to the pace than a 1:12.4s.
Last year’s Monaco poleman Kimi Räikkönen could get no higher than fifth fastest in either session, and at best was seven tenths off Ricciardo in FP2, while Valtteri Bottas was the slowest of the top teams’ drivers, finishing seventh in the morning and sixth in the afternoon.
Ferrari’s deficit to Red Bull was particularly surprising, given the Scuderia’s control of last year’s Monaco Grand Prix and the expectations that they would be in front again this weekend.
However, this does come with the caveat that Ferrari rarely shows its hand on the opening day of practice, and is likely to turn up the performance of the SF71H on Saturday.
Thursday’s running gave a confusing picture of how the midfield teams will line up this weekend.
Force India and Williams were surprising stars in the morning session, with Sergio Pérez and Sergey Sirotkin ending FP1 in eighth and tenth respectively, while Esteban Ocon was just bumped to eleventh in the closing stages.
But in the afternoon, despite all four of their drivers improving on their earlier times, the two Mercedes customer teams were kept out of the top ten by Renault and McLaren.
And although that restored some normality to the midfield order, one team was conspicuously absent from the best-of-the-rest battle: Haas.
Apart from a late charge to ninth for Romain Grosjean in FP1, Haas spent most of Thursday struggling to get off the bottom of the timesheets—in FP2, they were indistinguishable from the Williams’ and Saubers.
In their absence, Toro Rosso quietly impressed. Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly were regular features in the top ten throughout the day—especially during the more representative second session—even if they did get bumped down to a best finish of eleventh by the end of play.
The STR12 also looked like one of the most comfortable cars around the Monte Carlo circuit, and its performance in the opening practice sessions should put Toro Rosso in a good position to pick up some more points if anyone else is caught out in front.
Daniel Ricciardo’s path to victory in Shanghai last Sunday was full of all the precise car placement and late-braking brilliance that F1 has come to expect from its smiling assassin.
But what was perhaps the most noticeable part of Ricciardo’s win was not the moves he made to achieve it, but who he beat along the way.
Fans and pundits alike were quick to point out that the two drivers who trailed Ricciardo onto the podium in China—Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen—also happened to be the same drivers under pressure from the Australian for a 2019 seat.
It was a coincidence sharp enough to be ominous—and judging by the two Finns’ downcast expressions in the post-race press conference, neither appreciated the irony in that result.
For Bottas, the timing of his defeat by Ricciardo could hardly have been less fortunate. It was only a week ago that the Finn was being criticised for a lack of aggression in his pursuit of Sebastian Vettel for the lead in Bahrain, and it will surely not have escaped his notice that one of those critics was Ricciardo himself.
After Bahrain, Ricciardo was quoted by Motorsport.com as saying he would have “at least tried” to overtake Vettel were he in Bottas’s position: “For me, the first opportunity you have to take. If it’s for a win, you just can’t [settle].”
To then have victory snatched away at the very next event, with a decisive move up the inside by the same man posturing to replace you? There’s misfortune, and then there’s misery.
But what makes matters worse for Bottas is that he didn’t just lose out on victory for himself, he also let slip a victory for Mercedes.
With Lewis Hamilton struggling to get on the pace across the China weekend, the burden was on Bottas to lead Mercedes’ charge against Ferrari and secure their first win of the season.
And although the Finn’s chances of winning in Shanghai were ruined by the ill-timed safety car, it’s hard not to notice the similarities between this race and Bahrain. Both times Bottas was the lead Mercedes, both times a clever pit strategy put him in a winning position, and both times he finished only second.
Add that to the qualifying crash in Australia that left Bottas starting 15th on the grid, and Mercedes could be forgiven if their faith in the once-Flying Finn has become a little half-hearted this year.
And the danger there is that Hamilton, also out of contract this year, has hinted several times that the next deal he signs might well be his last. The driver decisions facing Mercedes this year will therefore be made with that post-Hamilton future in mind—their priority will be to lock in place the driver most capable of leading the team forward once Hamilton departs.
Given that’s something Ricciardo’s already shown he can do during his Red Bull tenure, Bottas will have a lot of work to do after his early season errors to prove to Mercedes that he is still their best option.
There is still time for Bottas to turn his situation around—although that time is fast running out.
Ricciardo’s contract renewal talks with Red Bull were due to start this month, and if he decides early not to stay then the Australian could be meeting with Toto Wolff by the time F1 comes round to the European season in May. The uncertainty over Hamilton’s extension might hold up the talks for now—but alternatively, the fear of Ferrari poaching Ricciardo while Mercedes waits may well push Wolff into a swift decision.
Bottas will need to impress quickly, then, if he is to even remain in the running for his seat. But luckily for the Finn, the next race in Azerbaijan should be one of his stronger events—last year, he came from the back after a first lap crash to steal second from Lance Stroll across the line.
Another performance like that will go a long way to restoring Mercedes’ confidence in Bottas at this crucial time in the season—and if he can go one step further and take the Silver Arrows’ first 2018 win, then all the better.
But whatever results Bottas brings from Baku and beyond, he will have to up his game generally, and prove he is capable of taking the fight to Ferrari and Red Bull whenever Hamilton can’t.
Because as messages go, Ricciardo’s “lick the stamp and send it” jibe on the Shanghai podium couldn’t have been any clearer: if Mercedes wants a driver who will do more than settle for second, they know where to find one.
Kimi Räikkönen kept Ferrari on top for the final day of 2018 testing, leading by half a second from McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.
The Finn set his best time during the morning session, using hypersofts to post a 1:17.221s—just 0.039s slower than Sebastian Vettel’s record-breaking lap from Thursday.
Although Räikkönen’s focus turned to long runs in the afternoon as he notched up a total of 153 laps, his time was strong enough to remain fastest even as a flurry of hot laps came late in the session.
Fernando Alonso made the most ground on the leaderboard during that period, setting a pair of hypersoft-shod 1:17s that brought him within 0.563s of the Ferrari in the final 15 minutes.
The Spaniard did briefly top the leaderboard following that run with a 1:16.720s, but this time came by cutting the final chicane and as such was deleted.
As well as rising to second-quickest, Alonso’s afternoon was also spent recovering from yet another interrupted morning. After teammate Vandoorne logged 151 laps on Thursday, Alonso’s final session with the MCL33 was halted after just seven laps this morning, when a turbo problem prompted a five-hour engine change.
However, once that was completed Alonso had no further issues on track and ended the day with a respectable 93 laps.
Alonso’s P2 was the first in a trio of Renault-powered cars to slot in behind Räikkönen, as the French marque continued to show signs of improvements in its power unit performance.
Carlos Sainz’s works Renault was three tenths down on the McLaren in third. Like Alonso, he too was making up for lost track time in the final hours, following a gearbox problem that halted his RS18 after just four installation laps in the morning.
Fourth was Daniel Ricciardo, who set a supersoft lap of 1:18.327s—only three tenths off the hypersoft lap that put the Australian on top of Tuesday’s session.
Romain Grosjean was fifth, putting in another strong showing of speed for Haas with a 1:18.412s. The Frenchman also posted the most laps of the day at 191.
Valtteri Bottas—who set his best time on the medium tyre—was the highest-placed Mercedes in sixth. Once again, the Silver Arrows split its day between Bottas and Lewis Hamilton, with the duo putting in a combined 201 laps on Friday to bring Mercedes’ testing total up to 1,040.
That’s 56 fewer than the team achieved during 2017 testing, but still leaves Mercedes comfortably top of this year’s mileage charts, setting 111 laps more than next-best Ferrari.
Slotting into third on the teams’ lap count was Toro Rosso-Honda, their total of 822 laps including the 156 logged by Brendon Hartley on Friday. The New Zealander was seventh-fastest in the end, one tenth down on Bottas and less than 0.020s quicker than Esteban Ocon’s Force India in eighth.
Charles Leclerc was ninth, and the first driver outside of the 1:18s. The reigning F2 champion’s final day was hampered when he span into the gravel trap in the morning—the delay limited Leclerc to 75 laps, the third-lowest total of the day.
Lewis Hamilton made a rare appearance towards the bottom of the leaderboard, as his 1:19.464s (good enough for fourth in the morning) tumbled down the order while his teammate drove the afternoon session.
The defending champion eventually settled in eleventh place, splitting the two Williams’ of Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll. During his morning in the FW41, Sirotkin recorded a century of laps to help Williams to fourth in overall testing mileage.
However, his teammate added only 27 laps of his own in the afternoon running, and with a best time of 1:19.954s Stroll made it the sixth time in eight days of testing that a Williams has been slowest.
Daniel Ricciardo set the pace and topped the lap charts on the opening day of Barcelona testing, while Honda showed a remarkable improvement in reliability to log 93 laps with Toro Rosso.
This time last year, Honda ended the first day of testing firmly at the bottom of the lap charts, with then-partners McLaren achieving only 29 amid a spate of engine-related issues.
But after a concentrated effort to improve reliability with its 2018-spec power unit, Honda more than tripled that amount on Monday, with Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley only missing out on a century of laps when rain interrupted running late in the afternoon.
Renault also look to have made strides with their reliability compared with last winter. The factory outfit achieved a total of 99 laps over the day, splitting running between Nico Hülkenberg (73 laps) in the morning and Carlos Sainz (26 laps) in the afternoon.
The French marque’s combined total stood for a while as the most of any team, until Ricciardo edged his Renault-powered RB14 into triple figures with a few late runs in the wet before the chequered flag.
McLaren ended the day some way off its fellow Renault customers with only 51 laps recorded, although this was due to a wheel tether issue which kept Fernando Alonso in the garage for much of the morning session.
As expected, the lap times from day one gave little away about the pecking order for 2018, as the general consensus among teams was for reliable rather than representative running.
In addition, dropping track temperatures and a rain shower late in the afternoon session meant there were few real improvements in pace after lunch.
Ricciardo’s benchmark 1:20.179s—over 1.5s slower than last year’s fastest overall testing time—established him as the quickest driver of the morning over Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas by just under two tenths.
The Australian’s lap came as part of a last-minute flurry before lunch, in which Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen went fastest from Hülkenberg, before Bottas and then Ricciardo jumped them both in turn.
Alonso finished the day fifth-fastest and was the only driver to improve their position in the afternoon, rising from ninth on the timesheets as he made up for his morning delay.
His compatriot Sainz ranked sixth ahead of defending champion Lewis Hamilton, who took over from Mercedes teammate Bottas after lunch. These two also ended Monday at the bottom of the lap count along with Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin—who was likewise sharing driver duties—as the worsening conditions prevented any of the afternoon drivers from completing more than 30 laps each.
Hartley and Toro Rosso finished eight-fastest in the end after running as high as fifth before lunch. Behind him came Lance Stroll, Romain Grosjean and Marcus Ericsson.
Force India development driver Nikita Mazepin sat out the whole of the afternoon session and remained twelfth, while Sirotkin’s weather-curtailed running meant the Russian rookie did not set a representative time.