Brazilian GP: Albon tops FP1 despite crashing out, as Ferrari lead FP2

FP1 – A Damp Day on Track

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – NOVEMBER 15: Alexander Albon of Thailand driving the (23) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB15 on track during practice for the F1 Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 15, 2019 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Red Bull’s Alex Albon set the fastest lap in FP1, before bringing out the red flag to end the session after crashing out on slicks in drying conditions.

He topped the session with a 1:16.142, set shortly before he hit the wall at Juncao, with Valtteri Bottas second with a 1:16.693 and Sebastian Vettel in third with a 1:17.041. However, the morning’s session looked unlikely to be representative as the session started off wet and dried out slowly, with slick tyres not being seen until the final five minutes of the session.

The adverse conditions led to limited running, with four drivers – including Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen – not setting timed laps. Nicholas Latifi took the place of Robert Kubica, the driver he is expected to replace at Williams in 2020, in his sixth FP1 session of the season.

The session got off to a slow and soggy start, with Carlos Sainz the only driver to set a lap time in the early stages, with Lewis Hamilton and then Charles Leclerc the first drivers to emerge on intermediates just over the half-way point in the session.

With five minutes remaining, a flurry of cars came out on slick tyres, with both Red Bulls suffering problems in the damp conditions, but several drivers found the conditions challenging. Verstappen and Daniil Kvyat both suffered spin, and the session was brought to an end when Alex Albon hit the barriers.

FP2 – Ferrari on Top

GP BRASILE F1/2019 – VENERDÌ 15/11/2019
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

By the time FP2 came around, conditions had improved, and despite reports of raindrops mid-session, the rain stayed away enough to avoid a switch to intermediates.

The two Ferraris topped the timesheets, with Sebastian Vettel in first with a 1:09.217. Leclerc, who has a ten place grid penalty owing to an ICE change this weekend, set a 1:09.238 in second. Verstappen was third, and the Mercedes cars of Bottas and Hamilton were fourth and fifth respectively.

The midfield battle looked as close as ever, with a little over four tenths of a second separating the Haas of Kevin Magnussen in sixth and the Racing Point of Lance Stroll in 17th.

The session was red flagged early on as Robert Kubica’s Williams hit the wall before he was even able to set a lap time, scattering debris all around and likely creating some headaches for Williams, who have been beset by a shortage of parts this season.

Verstappen set the early pace before being usurped by the Ferraris at the top of the table, while Valtteri Bottas created some hairy moments for both teammate Lewis Hamilton and the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, failing to move out of the way as they came past on flying laps. Bottas and Leclerc also had a close shave in the pit lane, but the stewards deemed an investigation unnecessary.

Pierre Gasly parked up with 20 minutes to go with a probable engine issue, his car exuding plumes of smoke. The other Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat brought out the red flag to end the session, with Kvyat coming to a stop in the same place as Albon in FP1. However, Kvyat’s incident was likely to be mechanical as his dash appeared to cut off, sending him off the track.

 

[Featured image – Scuderia Ferrari Press Office]

Mexico 2019 – Mercedes triumphs, while Ferrari’s strategy continues to lack

The Mexican Grand Prix saw Lewis Hamilton victorious, but not sufficiently so to crown him the 2019 Drivers Champion. Hamilton’s win also saw his 100th podium for Mercedes, and saw Ferrari give up the top spot on the podium thanks to poor strategy calls once again.

The opening moments of the race delivered excitement, as Grands Prix often do. With Charles Leclerc making an excellent start, his teammate Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, and Max Verstappen jostled for position.

Vettel easily got the best of it (though he made brief contact with Leclerc), retaining second position, while Red Bull’s Alex Albon and McLaren’s Carlos Sainz got a large boost, climbing to third and fourth respectively. Hamilton fell back to fifth, and while Verstappen initially fell back to eighth he quickly suffered a puncture when making an early overtake on Bottas, leading to an immediate pit stop. He ultimately rejoined the race in 20th.

Don’t worry, Verstappen fans – he performed an admirable drive, finishing in sixth and taking the Driver of the Day award. He demonstrated excellent control and patience, regaining several places as other drivers stopped for fresh tyres. When he began overtaking others later in the race, he did so smoothly, with few if any elbows out. Verstappen’s choice of hard tyres led to early speculation about the possibility of a one-stop race.

There was a Virtual Safety Car deployed after the initial carnage while the marshals attended to the debris from the opening collisions, but the race then proceeded Safety Car-free.

(Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

Unfortunately, the opening lap tussles were some of the only exciting moments of the race. While the order changed a bit, the top five drivers throughout the race largely remained Leclerc, Vettel, Albon, Hamilton, and Bottas. The race ended with Hamilton in first, Vettel in second, Bottas in third, Leclerc in fourth, and Albon in fifth.

Though they were few, there were nonetheless some exciting moments. Local hero Sergio Perez (Checo if you’re nasty; all apologies to Janet Jackson) made an excellent early overtake on Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, to the delight of the crowd. Daniel Ricciardo made a spectacular, but failed, late overtaking attempt on Perez. He badly overcooked the attempt and was forced to run wide, cutting several corners. While this did allow him to return to the track ahead of Perez, Ricciardo wisely ceded the position back to his rival.

While there was some other overtaking, it was mainly clean and competent with the defending drivers ceding position when it was obvious they weren’t able to defend successfully.

There was minimal contact between drivers after the first lap. Verstappen and Kevin Magnussen made brief contact on lap 27, but the stewards declined to investigate further. The most memorable other contact came during the final lap. As Hamilton crossed the finish line, Daniil Kvyat returned to his old form and ran straight into the back of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, destroying his rear wing and ending his race practically within sight of the finish line. This initially cost the German two places, dropping him from ninth place to eleventh, though the stewards quickly issued Kvyat a 10-second penalty. This dropped Kvyat to 11th, and brought Hulkenberg up to 10th along with its accompanying point.

Pit stops provided some drama. McLaren’s Lando Norris was given the signal to exit the pit too early, with his left front tyre not completely secure. While he was able to stop prior to crossing the pit lane exit line and his crew was able to remedy the issue, Norris never recovered from this mistake and remained last until his retirement on lap 48.

(Photo by Joe Portlock / LAT Images)

Antonio Giovinazzi’s right rear tyre caused him considerable difficulty as well, which was compounded when the jack was released too quickly, before the tyre was secure. Charles Leclerc wasn’t immune to pit issues either – trouble with the right rear tyre cost him four precious seconds on his second stop.

Tyre management proved to be key in this race. Ricciardo deserves special mention for his tyre management. He was able to maintain respectable pace for 50 laps on his opening set of hard tyres, maintaining sixth place for the last 30 of those 50. It was this show of durability that likely convinced Red Bull to keep Verstappen out on his set of hards, which lasted him for an amazing 66 laps following his early stop. Perez ran the final 51 laps of the race on hards, and Hulkenberg ran 52 laps on his. Vettel also deserves credit for his tyre management, turning in a respectable 40 laps on his initial set of mediums between qualifying and the race.

Indeed, had Vettel not resisted calls for him to prepare to pit on lap 25, the result might have been very different for him. Ferrari, it seemed, had a very different model of tyre performance in this race and were unable to adapt in time to salvage the win. The pit wall’s call for Leclerc’s early stop on lap 15 was premature. All of the front runners started their race on used mediums, but the others handily demonstrated that their tyres were good for many more laps – eight more laps for Hamilton, 21 more laps for Bottas, and 22 more for Vettel. Had the Scuderia sent Leclerc back out on hards, his race might’ve gone very differently as hard tyres amply proved to deliver incredible life.

With three races left, the top of the pecking order is fairly settled. While it is mathematically possible for Bottas to claim the Drivers’ Championship, it is not likely. Similarly, while Red Bull could pass Ferrari for second in the Constructors’ Championship, it is similarly unlikely.

As has been the case for the past several seasons, it’s the midfield where the excitement lies. Toro Rosso and Racing Point are in the fight for sixth and if Renault doesn’t finish strongly in the closing rounds it’s possible that they could find themselves slipping to sixth or even seventh.

And what can we say about Williams? McLaren has recovered from their slump and is showing a return to form, but Williams remains incapable of finding their way forward. On the other hand, they have managed to score one point. Recent seasons have seen some backmarkers finish with zero, but seeing the once powerful team fall to last over the course of a few short seasons still gives pause.

Formula One returns to Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez next year for the Mexico City Grand Prix. Same race, different name.

 

 

[Featured image – Steve Etherington]

Mexican Grand Prix Preview: Six of the best for Hamilton?

As the F1 circus rolls into the fun, vibrant, spirited Mexico City, Lewis Hamilton has an opportunity to claim the world championship for the third consecutive year, and sixth time in total, at the 4.3-kilometre Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez.

Complete with a 1.2- kilometre-long home straight and a stadium section converted from a baseball pitch, the track sits 2,240 metres above sea level. The subsequent thin air creates an extremely tough physical challenge for the drivers, and the lack of oxygen results in the engines’ RPM being reduced, which is why the cars look visibly slower on this track compared to others. In fact, this track is the highest circuit to host an FIA-sanctioned event in terms of elevation.

Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images

Feeling high off his third victory of the season in Japan is Valtteri Bottas. The Finn had struggled ever since his win in Baku all the way back in April, but a dominant performance at the wonderful Suzuka circuit, taking the lead after Sebastian Vettel’s botched start, saw him keep his albeit distant championship hopes alive, whilst team-mate Lewis Hamilton’s third-place finish secured Mercedes’ sixth consecutive constructors’ title.

Bottas will continue to keep his title dream alive if he finishes at least third in Mexico, but if Hamilton beats him by 14 points – the difference between a win with a fastest lap and a fourth-placed finish – a sixth drivers’ title will go the way of the irresistible Brit, who is 10 race wins away from beating Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 wins in F1. That record that seemed insurmountable when Schumacher claimed his last win at the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix, but now seems very possible. Hamilton and his record-breaking Mercedes team look to be hurtling towards yet more Formula One history.

Conversely, Ferrari will spend another winter wondering just where it all went wrong. Having looked unstoppable in pre-season testing in Barcelona, the Scuderia, save for a handful of races, have been blown away by the sheer dominance of Mercedes, and this is a track where Ferrari are expected to struggle once again.

With the altitude levelling the playing field in terms of engine power, downforce through the tricky second sector is vital. This is something Red Bull have unlocked to magnificent effect the last two years, with Max Verstappen storming to victory in both 2017 and 2018, but having his victories overshadowed by Hamilton’s title celebrations on both occasions.

Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images

This year will present another opportunity for the Dutchman, but Mercedes will no doubt push them hard with their improved downforce this year. Ferrari, meanwhile, have impressed at unexpected venues in the second part of this season after bringing an upgrade for the second part of the season, which has aided them spectacularly in races like Singapore, where they claimed a shock one-two finish.

With Thai-British driver Alex Albon yet to really stamp down his place at Red Bull after taking over from the demoted Pierre Gasly in the summer, we could be in for an exciting scrap this weekend.

It is always a festival when F1 goes to Mexico, particularly for home hero Sergio Perez, but will Lewis Hamilton be hosting yet another title festival in Mexico City? Valtteri Bottas and one or two others may have something to say about that.

 

[Featured image – Will Taylor-Medhurst/Getty Images]

Mercedes claim sixth consecutive Constructors’ Championship at Japanese Grand Prix

Mercedes have claimed a sixth successive Constructors’ Championship at the Japanese Grand Prix, with Valtteri Bottas taking the race win and Lewis Hamilton finishing in third.

The pair had started in third and fourth respectively, but Bottas capitalised on a mistake from Sebastian Vettel at the start to take the lead going into turn one. Hamilton inherited third when Charles Leclerc pitted on lap four for a new front-wing, following a coming-together with Max Verstappen on the first lap.

“We never thought this would be possible,” Toto Wolff said, “and I’m incredibly happy for everybody who has been a part of this journey. It’s not always been easy, the entire team put in a lot of hard work and we had our fair share of painful moments, but we were always able to pick ourselves up.”

2019 Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

Wolff also spoke of this year’s championship being particularly emotional in the wake of Niki Lauda’s passing in May.

“This sixth Championship is a very special one – and we dedicate it to Niki,” he said. “He has been such an important part from the beginning, and we all miss him dearly. I think about him every day and still find it hard to believe that he’s not here anymore.

“I keep thinking to myself, ‘What would Niki say, what would he think?’ Today, he probably would have said, ‘Congratulations for the sixth one, but you have a challenge on your hands for next year’. It was his way of making sure that we’re never complacent.”

2019 Japanese Grand Prix, Sunday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Mercedes become the first team to claim six successive championships since Ferrari did so between 1999 and 2004, and things are set to get even more rosy for them in the coming races. Bottas’ win and Hamilton’s third-place means that they alone remain in contention for the Drivers’ Championship, with Vettel, Leclerc and Verstappen’s mathematical hopes being put to bed.

As such, Mercedes will become the first team in F1’s history to claim six successive Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships, regardless of which of their line-up claims the title.

 

[Featured image – Steve Etherington]

Japanese Grand Prix Preview: As a typhoon looms, is Hamilton storming towards the 2019 title?

Just when things looked to be in peril for Mercedes in the second half of the season, stepping up to stop Ferrari was, erm… Ferrari.

An evident storm is brewing within the Italian giant as the rivalry intensifies between Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, and imminent typhoon Hagibis will either threaten to ignite that combustible tension or will give them the necessary push to overcome their Russian demons.

Indeed, the title is now all but wrapped up by the imperious Lewis Hamilton who leads the championship by 73 points with just 128 still up for grabs.

His tour towards his inevitable sixth world title brings us to the 5.8-kilometre Suzuka circuit. It’s easy to get tied up in knots here, with it being the only figure-of-eight circuit on the calendar, and having the awe-inspiring yet terrifying first sector, featuring high-speed esses that require skill, talent and bravery in equal measure.

2018 Japanese Grand Prix, Saturday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Such sections tend to become more difficult in treacherous conditions, and we are expecting no shortage of those this weekend. The typhoon is expected to affect practice, qualifying, and the race, although it is difficult to predict with any certainty.

Form generally gets tossed out the window in conditions like the ones anticipated in Suzuka – cast your minds back to Hockenheim – and the favourites for the weekend would be tough to predict in normal situations. Suzuka requires a pinpoint balance of power and downforce, and Ferrari – save for their spectacular in Sochi last time out – have seemed to excel at both since the teams returned from the summer break, but Mercedes will fancy their chances through the technical first sector.

Indeed this is a big weekend for Ferrari. Vettel had a complete nightmare last year in Japan, when a crazy, kamikaze move on Verstappen cost him any chance of a podium finish, and Charles Leclerc’s race was ultimately ruined after an incident at the start of the second lap with Kevin Magnussen.

Ferrari were in trouble before the race even began in Russia last time out. They had planned for Leclerc, starting on pole, to allow Sebastian Vettel, starting third, to slipstream his way past to ensure they had a one-two off the start. This was all well and good, but there’s one aspect Ferrari failed to factor in – pride.

Vettel, who is no stranger to team order controversy, was never going to allow Leclerc back past as the team had planned. Leclerc is an upstart who has walked into Vettel’s team and all but overthrown him. He needed to make a statement to his team, his team mate, and the world, saying that he is a four-time world champion, and that this is his team.

GP RUSSIA F1/2019 – DOMENICA 29/09/2019
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Ferrari gave Leclerc the undercut to pass Vettel in the pitstops, only for the German to suffer an engine failure. He stopped the car off track, brought out the virtual safety car, gave Mercedes a free pit stop for both their drivers, and, ultimately, a one-two.

It is fair to say, then, that Ferrari have a point to prove, but so do Mercedes. They must prove themselves able to throw down with Ferrari after a post-summer break that has seen their form undulate. They want to change that, and issue an emphatic message to their counterparts.

Elsewhere, Toro Rosso will give an F1 debut to reigning Super Formula and Super GT champion Naoki Yamamoto. The Japanese home hero will take Pierre Gasly’s seat in the first practice session, before Gasly returns to the cockpit for the rest of the weekend.

It’s set to be a tough weekend with Typhoon Hagibis looming, and there’s a storm brewing between Mercedes and Ferrari as we head towards beautiful Suzuka.

 

[Featured image – Charles Coates/Getty Images)

Singapore GP preview: Mercedes favourites at Marina Bay

Formula One heads to the streets of Singapore, for the start of the final flyaway leg of 2019 under the lights at Marina Bay.

Ferrari and Charles Leclerc head to Singapore on the crest of two wins on the bounce at Spa and Monza. But compared to those two high-speed circuits, Ferrari’s low downforce package won’t be anywhere near as effective on the tight Marina Bay Street Circuit.

As has been the case for most of the 2019 season, Mercedes is expected to be the team to beat this weekend. It was in Singapore last year, where Lewis Hamilton took pole position and the race win, that Mercedes finally seemed to understand what was needed to conquer one of its few “bogey” circuits. And judging by the fact Mercedes has won every street race since, there’s every reason for them to be confident about their chances on Sunday.

Paul Ripke / Mercedes AMG

However, Mercedes does have one shadow looming over them this weekend—engine reliability. Since introducing their Spec 3 power unit at Spa three weeks ago, Mercedes have seen uncharacteristic failures in the customer cars of Sergio Perez’s Racing Point and Robert Kubica’s Williams. So far the works team has had no blowouts of its own, but after two demanding power tracks and with Singapore’s reputation for testing cars to their limit, there’s no room for complacency.

The other threat to Mercedes this weekend comes in the form of Max Verstappen and Red Bull. Verstappen has run well in in Singapore in recent years, qualifying second in 2017 and 2018 and finishing runner-up to Hamilton last year.

With the Red Bull-Honda package improving with every race, it would be no surprise to see Verstappen duelling with Hamilton for his third win of the season.

Mark Thompson, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

As always, the difficulty and unpredictability of Singapore will provide the midfield teams with plenty of opportunities to sneak away with big points hauls.

Renault took a double points finish at Marina Bay last year, but their RS19 has been much more at home on high speed and lower downforce tracks this year. Given their results from slower tracks like Monaco and Hungary, Renault will likely find themselves scrapping with or even behind the likes of McLaren, Alfa Romeo and Toro Rosso this weekend.

Haas will also be bracing themselves for another tough Grand Prix on Sunday. Although their prolonged dispute with former title sponsors Rich Energy has finally come to an end, their struggles with tyre degradation certainly have not. And in the heat of Singapore, there aren’t many worse problems to have.

However, Haas and Renault can both take some optimism from the fact that this is the Singapore Grand Prix. With tempers running high and the walls never far away, Singapore is the place where anything can happen.

Haas F1 Media

Leclerc fends off Mercedes duo to take Italian Grand Prix victory

Charles Leclerc has claimed his second ever win in F1 at this afternoon’s Italian Grand Prix, the first time a Ferrari driver has won at Monza since 2010.

The Mercedes pairing of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton finished second and third respectively, having pushed Leclerc for much of the race. Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg came home fourth and fifth.

The other Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, by comparison, faltered. Vettel span at the Ascari chicane on lap seven and collected the Racing Point of Lance Stroll as he rejoined. He received a ten-second stop/go penalty for ‘rejoining the track in an unsafe manner’, behind only disqualification in terms of harshness. He damaged his front wing and pitted twice on his way to a lowly P13 finish.

Leclerc started from pole position with Hamilton alongside him, and led into turn one despite Hamilton initially getting a better start.

Ferrari Media

The pair came into the pits on lap twenty and lap twenty-one respectively; Hamilton changed onto the soft tyres, while Leclerc went onto the hard compound.

On lap twenty-three, Hamilton attempted to pass Leclerc round the outside going into the Variante della Roggia chicane but was forced to take to the escape road, saying over the radio that Leclerc hadn’t given him a car’s width of room. Leclerc was given a black and white flag as a warning, but escaped a penalty.

Hamilton continued to pressure Leclerc, and on lap 36 Leclerc locked up going into the first chicane and cut across the kerbs. Though this allowed Hamilton to further close on him, the Ferrari driver successfully defended his position and maintained his lead. The stewards noted that Leclerc had failed to take the apex at turn two, but decided that no investigation was necessary.

At this stage in the race, Hamilton’s medium tyres were starting to fade and Bottas began to reel him in, his own tyres some seven laps fresher than Hamilton’s.

Wolfgang Wilhelm

Hamilton locked up and took to the escape road on lap 42, allowing Bottas to move up into P2 and chase down Leclerc. Though he then got to within DRS range of Leclerc, a couple of errors meant he was not able to make any attempts to pass for the lead.

Leclerc crossed the line just over eight tenths ahead of Bottas to take his second career victory, much to the joy of the Tifosi in the grandstands. The win moves him ahead of Vettel in the championship. Hamilton, meanwhile, pitted late on to chase the extra point for fastest lap. Bottas’s P2 finish means Hamilton’s championship lead has been shortened by two points.

Alex Albon finished in sixth ahead of Sergio Perez, with Max Verstappen coming from nineteenth on the grid to end up eighth. Antonio Giovinazzi and Lando Norris complete the top ten.

Bottas stays at Mercedes, Renault sign Ocon

Renault and Mercedes have kick-started the 2020 driver market by announcing their driver lineups for next year at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Mercedes made the first move by announcing on Thursday morning that they had exercised their option to keep Valtteri Bottas for a fourth consecutive season with the team.

Bottas said: “I am very happy and proud to be part of the team for a fourth season and wish to thank every team member and the board of Mercedes for their trust and belief in me.

“My performances have been getting better and better each year, and this is a great way to kick start the second half of 2019.”

Team boss Toto Wolff said he had resigned Bottas for “another season at least”, and praised his contribution to Mercedes’ successes since 2017 as “exemplary”.

LAT Images / Mercedes AMG

Shortly after, Renault announced that it had signed Esteban Ocon for 2020, with the Frenchman free to join the team after being denied a potential Mercedes drive by Bottas.

Ocon joins Renault on a multi-year deal and will replace Nico Hülkenberg, who will leave the French marque after three seasons.

Ocon had previously been part of the Renault stable as their test and reserve driver in 2016, when he took part in four free practice outings in the RS16. Before arriving in Formula One, he was also a member of the Enstone-based Lotus junior programme.

Renault F1 Media

Speaking about joining Renault, Ocon said: “First and foremost, I am very proud to become a Renault driver. I have grown up at Enstone, starting with Lotus in 2010 and then with Renault. I am very attached to this team and everyone who works there; they are the ones who opened the doors of top level motorsport for me.

“Secondly, I am pleased that a team with big ambitions has entrusted me with the opportunity to once again demonstrate my skills at the highest level of F1.”

Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul paid tribute to the departing Hülkenberg’s work at the team, calling him “a pillar” of Renault’s progress since rejoining F1 in 2016.

Speaking on Twitter, Hülkenberg called it “a pity” to be leaving Renault at the end of the season, and added that he is “confident” about being on the 2020 grid but has “nothing to announce at the moment”. He is widely tipped to join Haas, after Gunther Steiner confirmed on Thursday that Hülkenberg is on the American team’s shortlist to partner Kevin Magnussen.

Renault F1 Media

F1 makes its anticipated return: Belgian Grand Prix Preview

After a summer break that always feels like a lifetime, Formula One is back, and the circus this time arrives at the 7 kilometre Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest.

The summer has seen a couple of changes. Pierre Gasly, who has endured a horrible season at Red Bull alongside the imperious Max Verstappen, has been dropped by Red Bull axe-man Helmut Marko and placed back at Toro Rosso. His replacement is Anglo-Thai driver Alexander Albon, who moves up from the junior team having impressed in his rookie season alongside Daniil Kvyat—although the Russian, having scored a podium in Germany and more points this season than his younger team-mate, will feel as though he should have been with the Austrian team heading into Belgium.

Albon joins the team for a race at which they are not expected to pull off the spectacular heroics that Max Verstappen has displayed in the first half of the season. Spa is very much a power track, but the tricky, twisty middle sector will provide somewhat of an opportunity for the Bulls to make up time on Mercedes and Ferrari.

Lars Baron, Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Speaking of them, Ferrari need to establish some kind of foothold in this season’s championship, having failed to win a race in the first half of the season, with Charles Leclerc falling agonisingly short of victory in Bahrain and Austria, and Sebastian Vettel losing the win in Canada due to a penalty. The prancing horses, who have thus far been cantering ponies, are generally better in a straight line than Mercedes this year, and this weekend is a great chance to grab that first win.

As for Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton certainly cannot be counted out of a win, and it is not as if the Mercedes is tremendously slower than the Ferrari on the straights. However, Hamilton will surely have one eye on the title with a 62 point lead over team-mate Valtteri Bottas, and may opt to play the long game.

Bottas is in a different boat. Following a blistering start to the season, winning in Australia and Azerbaijan, the Finn has fallen back, and has since started to show the cracks that we have seen in the last two seasons partnered with Hamilton. No wins since race four, a crash in Germany and a clumsy incident with his team mate in Hungary has left his future in doubt, with Esteban Ocon among a couple of names potentially being lined up to replace him next year. Bottas is running out of time in the harsh climate of Formula One, and he needs a strong result at Spa to kick off the second part of the season and salvage his future at Mercedes.

LAT Images / Mercedes AMG

Further back, Haas drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen both need strong weekends themselves. Several incidents between the two drivers have frustrated their demanding team boss Guenther Steiner, and neither of them currently have a safe seat for next season.

It was at this race 12 months ago where Racing Point, undergoing their transformation as Racing Point Force India, came close to a podium with Sergio Perez. A podium will not be expected this time, but points will certainly be the objective. So too will be the case for Renault’s drivers, who both failed to score points here last year after Nico Hulkenberg catapulted Fernando Alonso, and Daniel Ricciardo was caught up in the ensuing melee.

George Russell was hopeful that Williams were taking steps in the right direction following the last race in Budapest, but we should not expect them to be able to lift themselves off the bottom of the time sheets this time around.

Hamilton is back to defend his championship lead, Bottas and Ferrari need to bounce back, and Formula One is back, as is Eau Rouge, I mean Raidillon, oh forget it…

Follow full live text commentary of free practice, qualifying and the race on our Twitter account, @PitCrew_Online.

Header image by Wolfgang Wilhelm / Mercedes AMG

Hungarian Grand Prix: Hamilton hunts down Verstappen to take victory

Lewis Hamilton has taken victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix, making best use of a free pit stop to chase down Max Verstappen and take the lead in the closing laps of a race that saw every driver outside the top four lapped.

Verstappen had retained his lead after the first pit stops and fended off an attacking Hamilton as the pair picked their way through traffic. Running wide when attempting an overtake at turn four, Hamilton dropped back and the gap to Verstappen stabilised around the one-and-a-half second mark.

With a sizeable gap to the Ferrari duo in P3 and P4, Mercedes made the decision to bring Hamilton in on lap 49 for what was a free stop, switching him onto the medium tyres. He emerged some 20 seconds behind Verstappen and set about chasing him down, being told by his team that Verstappen would be down to “zero rubber” by the end of the race.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Sure enough, Verstappen reported on lap 64 that his tyres were dead, and Hamilton closed at a rate of almost two seconds a lap to make a move round the outside of turn one and take the lead with just three laps to go.

With Verstappen reporting that he couldn’t make it to the end of the race, he made a free pit stop on lap 68 to switch to the soft tyres and chase the bonus point for fastest lap.

Sebastian Vettel finished a distant third, overtaking team-mate Leclerc on lap 68. Vettel ran a very long first stint and only came into the pits on lap 40 to change onto the soft tyres. By the time he had caught up to his team-mate, Leclerc’s hard tyres were some 40 laps old, and this allowed Vettel to dive down the inside going into turn one and take the final podium position. With the gap to Hamilton at over a minute, Ferrari will certainly be hoping that the long straights of Spa and Monza will allow them to claw back

Carlos Sainz finished in an impressive fifth place for the second race in a row, with Gasly and Raikkonen behind in sixth and seventh respectively.

The other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas took himself out of win and podium contention on the first lap. Lock-ups going into the first two corners allowed Hamilton to slip past and take second, and then contact with Leclerc damaged his front wing and forced him to pit. Dropped to plum last on the road, it was a long day for the Finn and he eventually reached the chequered flag in eighth place.

LAT Images

The top ten was completed by Lando Norris – who was hampered by a slow pit stop – and Alex Albon.

Hamilton’s victory means he heads into the summer break with a 62-point lead in the championship. Two bad races in a row means that Bottas is now just seven points ahead of Verstappen in P2, and you have to think that second is now firmly in Verstappen’s sights going into the next half of the season.

Hungary was the fourth good race in a row this season following Austria, Silverstone and Hockenheim, but can the trend continue when the F1 circus reconvenes at Spa at the end of the month?

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]