Verstappen extends championship lead as Ferrari’s hopes go up in smoke

Max Verstappen extended his championship lead with victory in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, as both Ferraris succumbed to reliability issues.

Sergio Perez came home in second to make it another 1-2 for Red Bull, with George Russell securing his third podium of the season in third place.

The big story of the race though will be the fragile state of the Ferraris, with both Carlos Sainz and polesitter Charles Leclerc retiring before the race distance. Zhou Guanyu and Kevin Magnussen also retired with power unit problems, in what was a worrying day for the Italian manufacturer.

Perez taking advantage of Leclerc’s lock up. Image courtesy of RedBull Content Pool

It was Sergio Perez who led in the early stages, getting a superb start from second on the grid to take the lead into Turn One. A small lock up from Leclerc cost him any chance of getting the move back on the first lap one, as the Mexican driver quickly dropped the Ferrari outside of his DRS range.

Things looked to be settling down before Carlos Sainz’s retirement on lap nine with a hydraulics failure, which led to a Virtual Safety Car. Whilst both Red Bulls stayed out, the majority of the chasing pack, including Leclerc and both Mercedes, opted to pit, giving themselves the option of stretching out a one-stop, or pushing harder and making the two-stop work.

Baking hot conditions meant tyre management would be crucial in Baku, as the track temperatures reached 46 degrees Celsius at the start of the race. Pirelli were clearly concerned as well, raising the minimum tyre pressures to try and negate the risk of punctures, thankfully, there were none of the issues which plagued last years race.

Strangely, it was tyre management which looked to be Sergio Perez’s downfall. His early sprint on the medium tyres took too much out of the tyres, and Verstappen was soon able to catch and overtake the Mexican on lap 15, with Checo being told ‘not to fight’ into turn one. However, it looked unlikely that Perez would have been able to put up much of a defence even if he wanted to.

After the Red Bulls pitted to go onto a conventional one-stop strategy, Charles Leclerc had a comfortable lead, and it looked as the win was still a distinct possibility, even if there was a concern over how well the tyres would last. By lap 20 though, this was a moot point. The Monegasque driver’s engine expired on the pit straight, handing victory to Verstappen and Red Bull.

Further back, it was another solid race from Mercedes, even if they aren’t showing the improvements they would have wanted to. George Russell was in no-mans land for the majority of the race, coming home in a lonely third place. His teammate, Lewis Hamilton, had a much more eventful afternoon though. After losing out in the first VSC because of the double stack, Hamilton spent a lot of his second stint stuck behind traffic, with Esteban Ocon being particularly trick to overtake thanks to the Alpine’s straight line speed.

After clearing the Frenchman, Hamilton was able to take advantage of the second virtual safety car (triggered due to Magnussen’s retirement) to get a cheap pitstop, overtaking both of the Alpha Tauri’s to come home in fourth. The heat combined with the vicious porpoising of the Mercedes clearly took it’s toll on the Brit, as Lewis struggled to exit his car at the end of the race.

Hamilton catching Gasly before taking P4 at the end of the race. Image courtesy of RedBull Content Pool

Pierre Gasly finished fifth for Alpha Tauri in what was his best result of the season, and if it wasn’t for a broken rear wing (which necessitated a gaffer tape fix), Yuki Tsunoda would have likely come home just behind in sixth. In the end, Sebastian Vettel recovered from an early spin to finish sixth, ahead of Fernando Alonso, the McLaren’s of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris, and Esteban Ocon.

Ricciardo and Norris seemed to be inseperable throughout the entire race, with the Australian consistently challenging Norris in the early stages, being told to hold station behind his teammate. The roles were reversed at the end, with Norris clearly unhappy at being told to stay behind Ricciardo. This is a nice problem for McLaren to have, with this weekend looking like one of Ricciardo’s best this season.

Although the McLaren team orders may have had an effect on their result, it’s doubtful that Red Bull’s did. Verstappen’s race pace was too much for Sergio Perez, and the Dutchman now has a twenty-one point lead in the championship over his Mexican teammate. Ferrari’s double DNF drops them to eighty points behind Red Bull, as their championship challenge has unraveled dramatically over the last four races, which has seen Leclerc take pole in each race but not reach the chequered flag first in either, becoming the first driver to do this since Juan Pablo Montoya twenty years ago.

Celebrating a RedBull 1-2. Image courtesy of RedBull Content Pool

Next, Formula One heads to Canada first the first time post-COVID, with the last race there being remembered for Sebastian Vettel receiving a five-second penalty for gaining an advantage of track, handing the victory to Lewis Hamilton. Ferrari will be hoping that this time around, they don’t hand victory to their rivals once more.

Emilia Romagna GP Race Report

Round 4 of this years World Championship is taking place at Imola. One of the most historic tracks but one which will forever be associated with the dreadful weekend in 1994 where Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna lost their lives.

So far this weekend every session for both F1 and the support races has been interrupted by either safety cars or red flags. Early scenes from the track this morning showed the rain had returned so this looked to be a factor for today’s race.

World Champion Max Verstappen would start from 1st alongside his 2022 nemesis Charles Leclerc. Then came Perez, a resurgent Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari. Lando Norris was next up alongside team mate Daniel Ricciardo. The top 10 was rounded out by Bottas, Magnussen, Alonso and Mick Schumacher.

With 5 minutes to go before lights out the track was still damp so the intermediates looked to be the tyres best to start on. Could we see a mad flurry of pitstops early on or would a safety car be more likely to play a part in today’s strategies?

Lights out and Leclerc got a bad start. Sainz and Ricciardo collided with Sainz out at turn one, his dreadful last run of races continuing. Russell in the Mercedes made a storming start and was up to 6th. The safety car was deployed without a single lap being completed. The two Redbulls led the way with Norris third and Leclerc 4th. Replays showed Sainz was the innocent victim after Ricciardo slid a little wide into the Ferrari. It looked like a racing incident. Ricciardo pitted under the safety for a fresh set of inters. Charles Leclerc was already on the radio saying the track was drying quickly.

The race would restart on lap 5 as the safety car pulled into the pitlane. The restart was a little calmer than the original start, the only mover being Vettel on Alonso. Verstappen was already pulling clear of his team mate, Leclerc was stalking Norris in 3rd. Alonso continued to fall down the order and was now down to 12th. The replay of Hamilton overtaking the Spaniard show part of his engine cover flying off the car, He pitted on lap 7 and retired the car.

Alonso losing bodywork as the bouncy Mercedes drives past. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Room

Just 2 laps after the restart Verstappen had pulled 3 seconds on his team mate, Leclerc was still stuck behind Norris in the McLaren. Leclerc made his move on the start of lap 8, overtaking Norris with some late braking into Tamburello. He was already 6 seconds behind his title rival though with Perez in between them. Already some drivers were complaining about the inters going off, the track however wasn’t dry enough for slicks yet. Who would be the first to make the change?

Russell was now harrying Magnussen in the Haas fighting for 5th place. Without DRS he couldn’t quite get past the Haas before the end of the pit straight. The next lap round he made it passed but couldn’t stop the car in time for turn one and went wide. The Haas slipped back passed at the next turn. Later on in the lap the Mercedes made it passed and made it stick.

Magnussen then came under pressure from Bottas. The Alfa man made it passed before the end of the lap. Back upfront Verstappen continued to pull away from Perez who was being caught by Charles Leclerc.

Daniel Ricciardo the trend setter. Image courtesy of Pirelli F1 Press Room

At the start of lap 17 Daniel Ricciardo decided it was time for slicks, now everyone would be looking at the timesheets to see if it was the right choice or not. Lewis Hamilton over the radio said it was too early still. Others disagreed as Vettel, Gasly and Albon all pitted. Ricciardo was setting his quickest sector times but still not purple sectors, RedBull sacrificed Perez and put him on the medium tyres at the start of lap 19. Mercedes also pitted Russell on the same lap, he was followed in by Hamilton. Ocon was released in front of the Mercedes in what seemed a possible unsafe release. Ocon was later given a 5 second time penalty for the unsafe release.

The leaders then also pitted with the whole field now on slicks. The Ferrari of Leclerc made it out ahead of Perez but thanks to the already warm slick on the RedBull Perez made it back passed him almost immediately.

With the field settling down Verstappen led by 7 seconds from Perez, and Leclerc was a further 1.7 seconds down. The fastest laps were now tumbling and at the start of lap 22 Leclerc was right behind Perez. For some reason race control still hadn’t allowed the use of DRS, a strange decision seeing as everyone was now on slicks. This was costing Leclerc massively as he couldn’t get close enough to overtake the RedBull.

Perez keeping Leclerc at bay. Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Further back Mick Schumacher went straight on at the chicane and then spun when rejoining the track. Everyone on the track was having problems overtaking as offline the track was still very damp and still DRS hadn’t been allowed to be activated.

As we got to half race distance Lewis Hamilton was struggling in his Silver Space Hopper down in 14th place, with the team learning nothing new about the car surely they would pit him to let him run in free air and use the rest of the race as a test session. This was not the case.

On lap 33 race control decided DRS would now be available, unfortunately for Leclerc he had now fallen to 2 seconds behind Perez so this wouldn’t benefit him until he closed to within a second of the RedBull. Nobody wanted to risk going to far onto the damp parts of the track so still no movements were really being made through the field.

As Verstappen started lap 41 he lapped Lewis Hamilton, possibly the most dramatic thing to happen in the race at this point. The Mercedes team knew they had work to do but to be lapped with still over 20 laps remaining must surely make the World Champion Constructors wonder whether their no sidepod car was indeed the wrong way to go. Hamilton had been caught behind Gasly since the pit stops and even with DRS didn’t look like he was going to be able to overtake him anytime soon.

Gasly keeping the 7 time world champion behind him. Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Lap 48 suddenly brought us some much needed action with a great move Tsunoda on Magnussen 8th position. If only DRS was allowed earlier in the race.

As lap 50 begun Ferrari decided to roll the dice and fit the soft tyre to Leclerc, he lost position to Norris but would be back in front of him once the tyres were warmed up. The very next lap RedBull did the same with Perez, a battle was now on for fastest lap and that extra bonus point. Verstappen unsurprisingly with the lead he pitted a lap later so the top three remained the same.

With just 11 laps left Verstappen led by 13.8 seconds from Perez but Leclerc seemed to be enjoying the new tyre more and had closed to within a second of the second RedBull. Unfortunately for the Monagasque he spun at the chicane and damaged his front wing. He pitted on lap 54 for a new wing but was now down in 9th position, an error like that could prove very costly later in the season. He would now need a big charge to try to save decent points this afternoon.

With just 6 laps left the main fight was between George Russell and Valtteri Bottas. These 2 have history on this track as just last season they came together here causing a race stopping crash. As they battled away, behind them Leclerc had made it up to P7. With 2 laps remaining Leclerc took P6 from Tsunoda, would he now go for fastest lap as well?

After 63 laps Max Verstappen crossed the line for what must be his easiest win yet, he was followed 16.5 seconds later by his team mate. They would be joined on the podium by Lando Norris after yet another fine display by the Brit in his McLaren.

The Podium. Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Next up was George Russell in the Mercedes after a great performance with Bottas right behind him at the chequered flag. Then came Leclerc who must surely be feeling he had thrown away big points today. Tsunoda was next up followed by Vettel, Magnussen and Stroll finishing up the top 10.

11th was Albon in the Williams, 12th Gasly just ahead of Lewis Hamilton, then came Ocon in the Alpine and Zhou in the second Alpha Romeo. Latifi, Schumacher and Ricciardo were the last classified finishers.

A race that promised a lot didn’t really deliver especially considering the weather. Questions need to be asked about the delay in allowing DRS to be used, another very questionable decision by race control.

The title race closes after this weekend, Leclerc’s huge points lead cut to 27 points, just over one race victory, Verstappen moves up to P2 in the standings despite two DNFs already. Perez is now third on 54 points (5 behind his team mate) and Russell somehow 4th in the Mercedes on 49 points.

The next race is in 2 weeks when F1 visits Miami for the first time, Will Mercedes bring upgrades? Which car out of the top 2 will suit the track better? In just under two weeks time we will find out.

Verstappen victorious in Imola sprint race

Max Verstappen recovered from a poor start to take victory in Saturday’s sprint race at the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, overtaking Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc on the penultimate lap.

The reigning world champion was able to manage his tyres last better than Leclerc, closing back within DRS range in the final five laps. The Dutchman was able to get close enough to go around the outside into Tamburello on lap 20 to secure the eight points.

It was a poor getaway from Verstappen, who struggled with wheel spin and gear sync issues off the line, allowing the Monegasque driver to take the lead. Fernando Alonso also had a difficult start, dropping behind Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo on lap one.

At least Verstappen and Alonso had a chance to recover from their poor start however. Zhou Guanyu dropped behind Pierre Gasly in the first few corners, and collided with the Alpha Tauri trying to regain the position into Piratella. This sent the Chinese driver careering into the barriers, ending his race and bringing out the Safety Car.

Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo (Germain Hazard, Royal Spark / Alfa Romeo Media)

After the Safety Car, Leclerc was able to extend his lead, stretching out to over two seconds ahead of Verstappen before the Red Bull was able to reel him in. The ‘number two’ cars of Carlos Sainz and Perez both had difficult qualifying sessions, and the sprint race provided a great opportunity to work their way back up the field. Perez set the fastest lap on his way up into third place, with Sainz snatching fourth from McLaren’s Lando Norris in the final few laps. Norris came home fifth, with a sixth place for Daniel Ricciardo continuing the good form seen by the Woking-based team in Melbourne.

The majority of the field chose to compete on the soft tyres, with a few drivers choosing the mediums. One of these was Kevin Magnussen, who had secured Haas’ best ever qualifying on Friday with fourth position. The Dane was unable to keep with the pace of those on the softs throughout the sprint however, securing one point for eighth place having been overtaken by Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas in the final stages of the race.

Alonso just missed out on points behind the Haas, with Mick Schumacher’s tenth place meaning the German will start higher than he ever has done before in a Formula One race on Sunday. After showing promise in FP2 earlier in the day, both Mercedes spent their day stuck in a DRS train, as George Russell came home in eleventh with Lewis Hamilton down in fourteenth place, meaning that there will be no Mercedes in the top 10 of the grid for a Grand Prix for the first time since the Suzuka in 2012.

Despite losing out to Verstappen at the end, Leclerc extends his lead in the championship to 40 points, with Carlos Sainz now in second. Red Bull also moved up to second in the championship, and find themselves 57 points behind Ferrari heading into Sunday’s race.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari (Scuderia Ferrari Press Office)

Emilia Romagna Qualifying Report

Round 4 of the 2022 F1 World Championship takes us to a wet and soggy Imola, after the one practice session that the drivers get before the Qualifying session on a Sprint Race weekend it looked like  Ferrari were once again going to be the team to beat with Charles Leclerc 1.4 seconds ahead of third placed Max Verstappen but with the field so far apart with the track drying it would be all to play for in the qualifying session.

Qualifying began in the best conditions seen all day but the track was still damp in places meaning the session would be very interesting. The first runners entered the track on a mix of slicks and intermediate tyres. The first driver to set a time was Lewis Hamilton in the very bouncy Mercedes, it would seem they still have massive issues with porpoising. His time was quickly beaten by both Aston Martins and by some margin. Both Mercedes immediately pitted for new slick tyres. The session was then red flagged thanks to Alex Albons Williams having a fire at the right rear end of the car causing a small explosion which then deposited debris onto the track.

The session restarted with 12 minutes remaining. The times began to tumble as soon as the first laps were completed. The Ferrari’s once again went to the top of the timesheets. Verstappen split them on his second timed run. With the track drying with every lap being driven the times were changing as each driver crossed the line. Then came the now customary Latifi spin, for once he avoided the barriers. As the session came to a close the Ferrari of Leclerc was fastest with 1.18.796 half a second clear of Verstappen. Out in Q1 were Albon, Ocon, Latifi, Gasly and Tsunoda. The Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton just making it into Q2 with a late lap but the World Champion Constructors are clearly really struggling again.

A Friday to forget for the Alpha Tauri Drivers. Image Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Q2 began with the threat of rain again, everyone rushed to get on track to try and set a time before the expected downpour. Sainz was first to set a time but was beaten by Verstappen, on his next flying lap Sainz ended up in the tyre wall at Revazza causing the second red flag of the qualifying session, replays showed Sainz lost the rear of his Ferrari going in to the second part of the corner. The rain began coming down again before the session restarted, this meant the 2 Mercedes were in very real danger of both being out in Q2, the worst result for the German manufacturer in some 10 years.

The session restarted but nobody returned to the track as it was clear nobody was going to be able to improve their times. With 2 minutes left Vettel returned to the track to get his eye in for Q3. A few more drivers followed clearly all wanting to get some experience of the wet track before Q3 began. Out of Q2 were Stroll, Zhou, Hamilton, Schumacher and Russell. The fastest time was set by Verstappen with 1.18.793

Stroll qualifying P11 ahead of the Mercedes. Image courtesy of Aston Martin F1 Media

Only 9 cars would begin Q3 with the Ferrari of Sainz out of the session. The track was quite wet in some places but in others was already visibly drying. However almost straight away the Haas of Magnussen was into the tyre barriers and the session was red flagged, Magnussen managed to get his car out of the barriers and the gravel and returned to the pits seemingly unscathed.

A nine minute shoot out would begin when the green light at the end of the pitlane lit up. First man to set a time was Magnussen, he was beaten by Lando Norris who was then topped by his team mate Ricciardo. They were both then beaten by Leclerc and Verstappen. Verstappen then went even faster despite having to lift off for a yellow flag caused by Bottas in the Alfa Romeo. This then turned into another red flag.

The final 3 minutes would again be a shoot out for pole position, those at the front would get two flying laps, those further behind would get one shot. During the delay it began to rain again meaning the session was theoretically over. All the drivers returned to the track but the track looked a lot wetter than at the start of Q3. Lando Norris then lost it at Aqua Minerale and was stuck in the gravel, this brought out the final red flag of the session as only 38 seconds remained.

Pole position for Saturdays sprint race would go to Max Verstappen with a lap time of 1.27.999,  alongside him was Leclerc, on the second row would be Lando Norris and Kevin Magnussen, they were followed by Alonso, Ricciardo, Perez, Bottas, Vettel and Sainz.

Heartbreak for Norris but it’s 100 for Hamilton!

Hamilton finally gets his 100th win in a race with changing conditions. Heartbreak for Norris who was leading for most of the race, but a call to stick to slicks as the rain got heavier with just 3 laps left meant that he finished P7. Verstappen gained the most though finishing P2 after starting at the back of the grid.

Qualifying yesterday created a dream top 3 for some fans, and with Verstappen starting from the back it was set to be a good race. Bottas took a shock engine penalty this morning meaning he start P17, interesting tactics by Mercedes? The weather, which had played a part all weekend, looked like it may play a part with rain out at sea closing in.

Lights out and Norris got a great start, Sainz was battling Russell through to turn 2 but wins out. Sainz picked up an incredible slip stream and takes the lead around the outside of turn 3. Hamilton had a terrible start, bogged down and lost out to Ricciardo and Stroll who picked up a slipstream from Hamilton as he was boxed in.

Now in P6, Hamilton was on a charge as part of the train behind Russell who was still in P3 on lap 5. Verstappen was making up places, up to P15 but was stuck behind Bottas. The Mercedes team game looking at the bigger championship picture. However, Verstappen made a move after just 3 laps, Bottas leaving the door open and Verstappen going through.

10 laps in and Norris was now within DRS of Sainz and closing every lap. Russell holding up the rest of the pack meant that the top 2 were now 7 seconds clear to battle each other. Just 1 lap later and Verstappen was making up more places. Leclerc made a move on Vettel on the inside of turn 4 but went too deep. Verstappen just behind wanted to take advantage, but nearly pinched into the wall he had to back out and wait for Leclerc to go wide again, which happened just 2 corners later.

SOCHI, RUSSIA – SEPTEMBER 26: Max Verstappen driving the (33) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda during the F1 Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on September 26, 2021 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Lap 13 and Norris makes it past Sainz in a great move down the back straight using DRS. He managed to pull out a gap before Sainz went in to pit just a few laps later with an unfortunate slow stop. Stroll was the first to pit and took full advantage of the powerful undercut. Once Russell pitted, who was ahead of Stroll before pitting, he came out behind Stroll.

Ricciardo came into the pits 23 laps in. Both McLaren and Mercedes were ready but Hamilton was told to do the opposite. Ricciardo had a very slow stop trying to get to grips with the new, slower, pitstop system. The light didn’t change and therefore Ricciardo was held in his pit box. This played into Hamilton’s hands, who had a whole pitstop over Ricciardo. However, Hamilton, in clear air, decided to stay out longer and was putting in fastest laps. Lap 27 and having pulled a gap to Ricciardo, Hamilton had a clean stop but still came out behind Stroll. Verstappen pitted for mediums at the same time, coming out only 2 places behind Hamilton.

Norris finally pits for a set of hard tyres with a much cleaner stop. He came out in clean air with the 3 drivers ahead of him yet to stop. Hamilton on fresh hard tyres made use of the action packed back straight to dispatch of Stroll, Sainz and Gasly to begin gaining on Norris just over halfway through the race.

By lap 37 Verstappen was still behind Ricciardo, which was hurting his medium tyres. Perez pitted but had a very slow stop with problems on the rear right, meaning he came out just ahead of Verstappen. This is where team orders were expected but there was no change over and Verstappen lost out to Alonso who had fresh tyres, having pitted at the same time as Perez.

SOCHI, RUSSIA – SEPTEMBER 26: Sergio Perez F1 Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on September 26, 2021 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Lap 46, the rain finally came around turn 5. Umbrellas were up and every team now deciding what to do because it came in initially as light rain. Norris thinking about the race win and Hamilton thinking about the championship. Sainz the first to make a call about getting ready for intermediates. Norris went wide on the wet corners, but Hamilton also had to go slowly around the corner and stayed behind Norris.

Trying to decide when to come in the entire grid were changing positions. Importantly Norris decided to stick with the slicks with a 25 second gap to Hamilton who did pit for intermediates. Hamilton had over a 40 second to Perez so knew he had a free pit stop.

As the rain got heavier chaos ensued. Norris couldn’t keep control and slides off down the back straight giving the place to Hamilton who was able to make up the gap with Norris  around. Verstappen, who did also pit for inters, took advantage of those falling off the track and made it up to P2 after starting from the back of the grid. Heartbreakingly for Norris, he couldn’t control the car into the pits, crossed the line twice and will likely get a penalty to add to his eventual P7 finish. Carlos Sainz rounded out the podium with a solid performance along with the right call at the right time for the intermediate tyres.

SOCHI, RUSSIA – SEPTEMBER 26: Race winner Lewis Hamilton, second placed Max Verstappen and third placed Carlos Sainz celebrate on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on September 26, 2021 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Yuri Kochetkov – Pool/Getty Images)

Sire Lewis Hamilton finally gets his 100th win. The first driver in Formula 1 history to achieve this especially in changing weather conditions. He also now leads the championship by only 2 points to Verstappen going into the next round.

McLaren back at the front of the pack!

Race 2 of the weekend for the full 53 laps at the temple of speed and all eyes were on the front of the grid. Verstappen looking to capitalise on the bad start for Hamilton yesterday and both McLarens in the fight who wanted to mix things up and get a podium.

After his crash yesterday Gasly had some issues on his reconnaissance lap with a stuck throttle. However, starting from the pitlane after having to replace parts of the car it looked like they had repaired the car in the garage and was able to start the race. However, the car was undriveable and Gasly was out by lap 5. On the other side of the garage there was some late drama for Tsunoda whose car was pushed off the grid and into the garage 5 minutes before the race start. The car had some hydraulic brake issues which is not normally a quick job so Alpha Tauri tried their hardest for a pitlane start but they couldn’t get it out in time, and he didn’t start the race. A race to forget for Alpha Tauri.

Lights out and Daniel Ricciardo beat Verstappen into the first corner and lead the race into turn 2. Hamilton managed to get around the outside of Norris into turn 1 and picked up the slipstream from Verstappen, moving alongside him into the second chicane. 2 into 1 doesn’t go and Hamilton ended up being forced wide, similar to Imola this year. Hamilton then lost another place to Norris who had watched it unfold.

MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 12: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) McLaren F1 Team MCL35M Mercedes leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes W12 and Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda on track during the F1 Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 12, 2021 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

Further back and Giovinazzi went wide at the same chicane, unsafely coming back onto the track and clipping the front of Sainz, spinning him into the wall and losing his front wing. This brought out the Virtual safety car to recover the debris for 2 laps before the track was cleared. Giovinazzi got a 5 second time penalty for this which he served at his next pitstop.

Perez was on the mediums and coming into play for RedBull as he made his way up the grid. He had a great battle with Sainz for P6 on lap 10 from turn 1 all the way to the second chicane where Perez eventually won out and gained the place. The other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas was also making his way up the grid making the hard tyres work for him.

On lap 15 Vettel and Ocon were fighting for P12, Vettel closing in on Ocon into the second chicane and he was alongside going into the corner. However, Ocon was closing the door on Vettel, not leaving enough room, and the two made contact with Vettel losing out. Ocon gained a 5 second time penalty for his contact with Vettel and not leaving him enough room despite being alongside.

Lap 22 and the leader came into the pits with a perfect stop from McLaren. RedBull and Verstappen respond immediately but they had a terrible stop being held for 11 seconds in the pit box due to a slow right rear tyre. At the same time Hamilton finally overtook Norris and took the lead of the race. Norris then came into the pits and another perfect pit stop for McLaren.

MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 12: Max Verstappen driving the (33) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda makes a pitstop during the F1 Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 12, 2021 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

Mercedes responded, he was held slightly but came out between Norris and Verstappen. Norris got past but Verstappen attempted to get around the outside of Hamilton into turn 1. Verstappen ended up on the sausage curb and was lifted over Hamilton, destroying the back wing but the halo doing its job as the tyre of the RedBull.

At the restart Ricciardo got away and Norris caught Leclerc out and used the tow to his advantage, taking P2 behind his teammate. Leclerc didn’t have a great restart and lost another place to Perez, then to Bottas moving down to P5. However, Perez hopped across the corner to gain the place and didn’t give the place back was awarded a 5 second time penalty which was added at the end of the race. Bottas on the mediums was faster than the leader Ricciardo by 1.3 seconds per lap. The charge was on for him and next to hunt down Perez and stay within that 5 second window.

After the chaos of the restart, by lap 40 normal racing had resumed and Norris was looking faster than Ricciardo but McLaren confirmed they would hold station to gain maximum points for the team. Just 4 laps later, after making contact with his teammate and locking up going straight on at turn 1, Mazepin’s engine gave out and he stopped bringing out a brief virtual safety car neutralising the battles.

Leading from start to finish after a great move into turn 1, Daniel Ricciardo won the Italian Grand Prix with his teammate Lando Norris in P2. To add to the achievements Ricciardo gained the fastest lap point on the last lap. This is the first win for McLaren in 9 years and its fantastic to see them back on top. Perez finished P3 on track but after the 5 second penalty he drops to P5 and Bottas finished on the podium.

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren (McLaren Racing Media)

It has been a turn of fortune since coming back from the summer break for Daniel Ricciardo. McLaren have also been on the way back up since 2018. Shout out to Norris who put in a mature drive for the team to bring home a 1 – 2.

For the championship the crash means Verstappen leaves with the 5 points lead from yesterday. The incident is being investigated and the repercussions could last for weeks. This is becoming a very intense battle for the title which every fan is excited about. Good to see both drivers get out of the car OK and this will only add to the fight going into Russia in 2 weeks’ time.

Belgian GP: Verstappen takes pole ahead of Russell as Norris crashes at Eau Rouge

Max Verstappen has taken pole for tomorrow’s Belgian Grand Prix ahead of Williams’s George Russell, who put in a great performance in challenging conditions. Lando Norris crashed at Eau Rouge in the early stages of Q3, raising even more questions about the barriers at that corner.

The beginning of Q1 was initially delayed for 12 minutes because of heavy rain, but when it began both Russell and Nicholas Latifi headed out on track as the sole cars on intermediates. It was a decision that every other driver soon followed when the rain eased, as the times began to tumble.

Intermediates were the tyres of choice for Q2 as well. Both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas left it late to get a good lap in, being brought in for new sets and only moving out of the drop-zone in the closing moments.

The rain came down heavier for the start of Q3.

Sebastian Vettel was one of the first drivers to head out, and he almost immediately radioed his engineer saying he thought the session should be red-flagged because of how bad the conditions were.

It was indeed red-flagged a couple of minutes later, but only after Lando Norris crashed heavily at the Eau Rouge/Radillion complex. Vettel pulled up alongside the McLaren to check that Norris was okay, voicing some very angry comments over the radio. “What did I say?” he demanded.

At the time of writing, Norris has been taken for a precautionary x-ray on his elbow, but he managed to get out of the car on his own at least.

Following as his crash does from the six-car pile-up during W Series qualifying yesterday at the same corner, there is certainly a debate to be had over the barriers at Eau Rouge. Norris was sent spinning back across the track, and it was only good fortune that meant no-body was following close behind and put in danger of collecting him.

After a half an hour-long delay Q3 restarted.

Hamilton took provisional pole after the first runs, only to be bested by George Russell. It looked for a moment as if the Williams would actually take pole, only for Verstappen to cross the line and go fastest of all by three tenths.

More of the same can be expected for the race tomorrow in terms of weather, and we are certainly in for an interesting 44 laps!

Ocon on top in a dramatic race at Hungary

Esteban Ocon took his first Formula 1 victory and the first for the Alpine team in a chaotic race at the Hungaroring, after multiple drivers were taken out at the first corner.

15 minutes before the race start, rain started to fall on the track. Adding to the anticipation, it started light but was due to continue for the first 30 minutes of the race and get heavier before mostly drying out by the end of the race. Intermediate tyres on to start, Lewis Hamilton indicating on the radio he was ready for the fight in the rain. Hamilton and Max Verstappen are both known for performing well in the wet, possibly a leveller but definitely exciting!

Lights out and all eyes turned to Verstappen and Hamilton. Both got a great launch, but Valtteri Bottas had an absolutely dreadful start with wheel spin from third. Lando Norris got in front of him off the line but was tapped by Bottas from behind who had missed his breaking point. Norris then crashed into Verstappen and Bottas hit Sergio Perez. Norris and Verstappen managed to carry on with significant damage, but Bottas and Perez were out.

Further back in turn 1, Lance Stroll tried to avoid some cars by heading towards the apex, but ended up on the grass and collected Charles Leclerc who hit and spun around Daniel Ricciardo. Unfortunately, that was the race over for Leclerc.

Ricciardo kept going and Stroll was able to keep driving after damage to the front of his car. A red flag was called to gather the debris left around turn 1. This allowed the Red Bull team to fix Verstappen’s car, potentially saving him from retirement. Norris and Stroll then had to retire due to the damage from the incident.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull (Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool)

Hamilton was still in P1, but others had benefited from a high attrition first corner. Ocon and Sebastian Vettel were the biggest winners, starting P2 and P3 respectively. Yuki Tsunoda was in P5, Carlos Sainz P4 and the Williams’ were P6 and P8 whilst Verstappen had really lost out and started in P13. A fight from the back was on after quick recovery work by Red Bull. There was a standing re-start as the sun came out to a now quickly drying track, but the question then was slicks or inters?

Hamilton was the only one starting on the grid, so the race was in the pits with everyone coming in for slicks. George Russell came out on top, and with Hamilton pitting after it looked like Russell would lead the race, but Russell was told by the FIA to give back the places he’d taken in the pitlane. Mercedes didn’t come out well with Hamilton boxing after the restart and ending up last and importantly behind Verstappen. So, on lap 5 Ocon was leading the race, with Vettel P2 and Nicholas Latifi P3. Hamilton was catching Verstappen who still had damage, so the race was on!

Verstappen managed to get past Pierre Gasly but then became stuck behind Mick Schumacher for five laps before passing him with a daring move through Turns 1, 2, 3 and 4. They did touch but both were able to carry on. Meanwhile Hamilton was struggling behind Gasly, locking up a few times but both Gasly and Hamilton managed to pass Schumacher in the next two laps.

Hamilton stopped for hard tyres on lap 20 in an attempt to change the strategy and go longer. Red Bull and Verstappen responded so made the stop just one lap later. Ricciardo pitted at the same time as Verstappen, and he came out in front of the Red Bull. Hamilton was coming down the straight as the pair came out of the pits. Hamilton took advantage and got past not only Verstappen but also Ricciardo, putting a vital car between the Championship rivals.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes (Wolfgang Wilhelm / Mercedes AMG)

On lap 32, Hamilton was the fastest car in the race passing Tsunoda into P5 with a fantastic move while Verstappen was still behind Ricciardo in P12. This move caused Ferrari and Sainz to react, and with enough gap Sainz pitted and came back out in P4 with fresh tyres ready to defend against Hamilton.

Meanwhile Schumacher was doing a great job in the Haas to keep 4 drivers behind him. However, after many laps of battling, Russell finally made it past Schumacher on lap 33 with a brave move on the outside of Turn 2. Schumacher then begun to lose places rapidly to Ricciardo and Verstappen on the next lap, very important for Verstappen in terms of the championship.

From the front, Vettel pitted with a slow stop but came out in P3, ahead of Sainz and Hamilton. Ocon told to push but Alpine appeared to have the advantage with both cars in the podium places fight. A good stop meant Ocon came out ahead of Vettel, but Vettel tried to fight it into Turn 4. Sadly for him nothing came of it and with only Fernando Alonso in front of Ocon it looked to be an Alpine win from lap 39.

It wasn’t over at the front though. Sainz and Hamilton in P3 and P4 were catching the leaders at a rapid pace. However, Hamilton pitted on lap 48 for the mediums. He came out behind Alonso, but this would mean he could push to the end of the race, with flashbacks to Hungary 2019 and Spain 2021. Vettel got closer to Ocon through the back markers in an attempt to pass him for the lead. On lap 50 the fight was not over with Vettel having DRS and the pressure piling on Ocon.

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin (Courtesy of Aston Martin media)

Verstappen finally made a move on Ricciardo for P10 on Lap 61 and the final points position. This could be an important point for the championship and impressive driving considering the significant damage still on his car from lap 1.

On lap 57 a brilliant battle between Hamilton and Alonso began, Alonso defending and making the Alpine the widest thing on the track. This epic battle continued for over 10 laps, but Hamilton was eventually close enough when Alonso made a rare mistake and locked up into Turn 1. This did create problems for Hamilton though, who was on a mission to get to the front. However, catching Sainz on older tyres in P3 meant that just two laps later, Hamilton was in the podium places, but the gap was too big for Hamilton to catch Vettel in P2.

Esteban Ocon won the Hungarian Grand Prix! The first win for him and a great turn around since a relatively poor run of form. Vettel was in P2 after a great drive from the restart. Sainz was P4 ahead of Alonso, Gasly sneaked in a fastest lap right at the end in P6, and Tsunoda was P7. Both Williams finished in the points with Latifi P8 and Russell P9, which is vital for the constructors and their first double points finish since 2018. Russell finally managed to get those illusive points in a Williams!

For the championship Hamilton gained points on Verstappen, who finished P10, and leads going into the summer break. This has been a real swing in momentum after the British Grand Prix in the favour of Mercedes and Hamilton. It is all to play for as the teams regroup and look to improve for Spa at the end of August.

Home is where the heart is for Red Bull – Austrian GP preview

The Formula One circus stays in the Styrian mountains as the Red Bull Ring plays host to the Austrian Grand Prix, just seven days after Max Verstappen claimed victory at the same circuit in the Styrian Grand Prix.

It would take a brave person to bet against Verstappen taking his third consecutive victory on Sunday, given his dominant performance last weekend. Sergio Perez will be hoping he can make it two Red Bulls on the podium, after coming within a second of Valtteri Bottas in the previous race.

A double podium is probably the best case scenario once again for Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton making a rare trip to the Brackley simulator in an aim to extract every last inch of performance out of his car. The quick turnaround means no upgrades for this race, and there are mixed messages from the Mercedes camp regarding how much more development we will see on their 2021 car.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes (LAT Images / Mercedes AMG F1)

The pace from the top two teams meant Ferrari and McLaren were once again left fighting for fifth. Although it was Lando Norris who won the midfield battle last weekend, Daniel Ricciardo was showing good pace before reliability troubles dropped him down the order. Ferrari will also be hoping for a smoother weekend from Charles Leclerc, who showed some inspired moves after being controversially involved in Pierre Gasly’s retirement.

AlphaTauri, Alpine and Aston Martin will look to pick up some of the lesser points once again, in what looks to be one of the tightest midfield battles for years. Strategy could well be key in this battle, as free air is hard to come by on the track with the shortest lap time of the year. Pirelli are also bringing softer tyres to the Austrian GP than they did at the Styrian round, which might lead to more action in the pitlane.

For George Russell, he will be hoping his pitlane action is much more conventional this weekend. A pneumatic leak cost him a shot at his first ever points for Williams, with the Brit admitting that there’s no guarantee he will be able to replicate that performance again this time around. His teammate will also be hoping for a better result, after being an innocent victim in last weekend’s lap one shenanigans.

 

Alfa Romeo will be hoping they can sneak a point, after just missing out with Kimi Raikkonen last time around. The intriguing battle between the Haas cars will also be one to watch, as Mick Schumacher and his teammate battle for inter-team supremacy, which must be a small ray of light in a very difficult debut season for both drivers.

It’s fair to say last week’s race was not a classic, but different tyres (and possibly different weather) could make the Austrian GP an entirely different beast indeed.

 

Why Lando Norris’ harsh words are actually fair

When Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc crossed the line at Monza back in 2019 to join the likes of Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso as first-time winners for the Scuderia in front of the Tifosi, I was absolutely elated for him. However the following year came and Ferrari were heavily hampered by amendments to rules regarding the engine. They plummeted from second in the constructors’ championship in 2019 with three wins, to sixth in 2020 with a best of a second place finish courtesy of Leclerc at the season opener in Austria.

Charles Leclerc’s P2 at the Austrian Grand Prix last year was the best result in a dire season for Ferrari – Courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Media

After spending a lot of time prior to the delayed 2020 opener on the F1 game with Leclerc, Lando Norris was asked during the season if he felt sorry for the Monegasque and he answered that he did not. On the surface, it might seem as if Lando is being very callous in his response but when you actually take the time to understand what he’s saying, it does make sense.

Norris pointed out that Leclerc had been in a position to win races in 2019, winning two and coming close to winning many more. You have to consider yourself very fortunate to find yourself in such a position; not every driver is able to be in racing-winning machinery and as a wiser person than me once said, you have to savour the good days because they don’t always last.

The reason I bring this up is because Lando repeated this comment in relation to his new teammate at McLaren, Daniel Ricciardo. The Aussie found himself in a race-winning position many times during his tenure at Red Bull between 2014 and 2018, before making a move to Renault and now McLaren for this season.

Daniel Ricciardo claimed seven wins with Red Bull, the last of which coming in Monaco in 2018 – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Ricciardo hasn’t had the smoothest of starts to his time with the Woking-based outfit, so far only out-racing Norris in the most recent race at Spain, with Lando having moved over for him, repaying the favour that Daniel did for him at Imola which resulted in the Brit scoring a podium finish.

When Norris was asked about his teammate’s struggles, he was again brutally honest. He pointed out that adapting to a new car and overcoming these issues are part and parcel of this cutthroat business of Formula One. He also said that he has no doubt that Daniel will get the hang of it eventually.

But even then, success is not guaranteed or handed to you on a plate. Even if you’re Sebastian Vettel, who is the only non-Alfa Romeo, Williams or Haas driver to have failed to score a point so far this year, you can’t use the excuse “But he’s a four-time champion”.

When the announcement of Ricciardo and Norris becoming teammates at McLaren happened, a lot of people began making mountains out of molehills claiming Lando was scared, that there’s tension between them and that they’ll be glad when Ricciardo ends Lando’s career.

Who needs Netflix to do it for Drive To Survive when we already are creating this needless and petulant drama?

But my point is, Lando clearly isn’t saying any of this with malice. There may come a point when Lando is in a position where he is winning races and contending for championships; I would hope that is soon. But if after that, things aren’t going his way, you shouldn’t pity him. That’s the way life is when you’re in a sport that is as competitive as Formula One.

People are reading way too much into his comments believing he’s immensely arrogant, rude and doesn’t even have the results to justify his demeanor. First of all, even if you’re as successful as Lewis Hamilton, it still doesn’t mean you get to treat people terribly. But that’s besides the point.

Primarily though, Norris is mature enough to understand that success isn’t guaranteed and you need to overcome your difficulties in your own way. He’s said some regrettable stuff and has acknowledged that, impressing many of us with how self-aware he is.

In the end, people will create conflict where there is none and the people who are successful will have earned it, in spite of what they’ve achieved before. Think of it this way: Lando Norris was the best placed driver outside of Mercedes and Red Bull in the first three races, with that streak broken in Spain. Do we feel sorry for him for that? No.

There are plenty of people who said he underperformed last year. Whether you agree with that or not, that’s up to you. I don’t believe so personally, finishing only eight points behind his vastly more experienced teammate Carlos Sainz, and winning the intra-team qualifying battle in both seasons together. Yes there will have been some elements skewing those numbers but that’s part and parcel of life.

But do we feel sorry for him that he didn’t get more points or wasn’t more successful? No. You just have to take what comes at you in this sport and hope brighter days are only ahead, and even if not, there’s nothing you can do about it.

It’s not like Lando is smugly reveling in the misfortunes of others. He’ll face highs and lows like many of the drivers; the highs will have come from hard work and the lows will require effort to be overcome. We can all learn a thing or two from Norris’ approach – of course not everything can be overcome with hard work but the last thing any of us needs is to be wallowing in pity.

Norris has competed exceptionally alongside more experience team mate Ricciardo this year – Courtesy of McLaren Media

In the cases of the likes of Daniel Ricciardo and Charles Leclerc, I can see things are definitely improving already and it’s very likely they will be contending for regular podiums throughout the season. So don’t read into Lando’s comments and assume he’s saying it with hostility. It’s ridiculous.

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