Reminiscing over Lewis Hamilton’s seven Championships

After a stunning display of driving during a tricky Turkish Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton secured his seventh World Driver’s Championship.

Lewis Hamilton’s win in Turkey put him level with Michael Schumacher on seven championships – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

He now equals the legendary Michael Schumacher for championship wins, with many believing he will beat the record in the next few years. When Michael retired at the end of 2006 (and equally at the end of 2012 after his stint at Mercedes) it appears only he believed that his records could be broken. But just 8 years on from when Schumacher last raced in Formula 1, Lewis Hamilton has been able to match him. But how did Lewis win his championships? Let’s reminisce…

2008:

Lewis’ first championship came in just his second season in Formula One, following an incredible rookie campaign where he lost out on the championship to Kimi Raikkonen by just one point. Naturally for a rookie, you would assume the mistakes that cost him the 2007 title would affect him coming into the new season, but not so. He stormed to pole position at the Australian Grand Prix and subsequently took the chequered flag in a race that saw only 7 drivers finish – 6 after Rubens Barrichello was disqualified.

Hamilton’s quick start didn’t last long however,  as the next 4 races were dominated by Ferrari – Raikkonen and Felipe Massa winning alternately. Lewis achieved podium finishes in the Spanish and Turkish Grands Prix, but could not find a way past the prancing horses. Monaco followed, where Lewis took his first victory in the principality, despite a puncture sustained after making light contact with the barrier mid-race.

Lewis’ only retirement that season came due to a pit lane incident in Canada where he wiped both himself and Raikkonen out of the race, with Nico Rosberg needing a nose change.

Kimi Raikkonen’s wrecked Ferrari sits at the end of the pitlane after being wiped out by Hamilton – courtesy of Ferrari media

Perhaps Hamilton’s most famous victory that season (or even ever), came at Silverstone, where he charged through the lashing rain to lap the entire field bar 2nd and 3rd and finish a whopping one minute, eight seconds ahead of Nick Heidfeld in second. It was a race that saw many people give him the title “Rain Master”, and judging by his performance that day, he definitely deserved it.

Soon after came the controversy of Spa where Hamilton’s victory was stripped from him for leaving the track and gaining an advantage during a battle with Raikkonen. Kimi made slight contact with Lewis, causing the Brit to take to the run-off. Hamilton gave Kimi the position back, but received a 25 second time penalty after the race which saw him drop down to third; a decision that many saw as unfair.

Felipe Massa won the 2008 Belgian Grand Prix after controversy cost Hamilton the win – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

Following redemption in China, Lewis went into the final race in Brazil leading the championship by 7 points over Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. To win the championship Hamilton just needed to finish in 5th place or better, with Massa needing to win. Massa never really looked in doubt for the victory but after some rain started to fall in the closing laps, Hamilton lost fifth place to Sebastian Vettel. They battled hard and as Massa won the race the title looked to have slipped away. Until….”IS THAT GLOCK!?”.  Those imortalised words. The words that meant Lewis had won the championship. The words that stopped the premature celebrations in the Ferrari garage. Anybody who was watching that race (or have seen it since) will always remember the celebrations in the McLaren garage, the unfortunate incident between the Ferrari mechanic and the wall, and the crying Massa on top of the podium. It was a race, and a title battle, that has become the stuff of legends.

Hamilton’s last corner overtake cost a devastated felipe Massa the title in 2008 – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

It was a year in which Hamilton had made some mistakes, but had also had some incredible performances. His first title had gone down to the wire but in the end it would be difficult to say he didn’t deserve it. In just his second season in the sport, Lewis Hamilton was a world champion.

2014:

In the years between 2008 and 2014, Lewis Hamilton struggled to get a quick enough car beneath him to challenge for a title. Whilst he won a race in every single season, the Red Bull and the Brawn GP cars were just too quick week in week out to be able to chase his second drivers title.

Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull’s dominance snuffed out Hamilton’s hopes of winning another championship in his McLaren days – courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

But that would soon change in 2014. Now with Mercedes, who Hamilton joined in 2013, Lewis partnered Nico Rosberg in a team that absolutely nailed the new engine regulations. The car was far superior to anyone else’s and that set up a tense Hamilton vs Rosberg title scrap.

Rosberg took first blood in Australia, winning by a comfortable margin over second placed debutant Kevin Magnussen. Lewis was forced to retire due to an engine issue. Hamilton then won the next four races, the most notable of which was Bahrain. Rosberg and Hamilton battled lap after lap but ultimately it was Lewis who came out on top. It remains to this day one of the most exciting battles for the lead of the modern era.

In Hungary, Hamilton got off to a poor start, sustaining front wing damage after colliding with the wall. Throughout the rest of the race, Hamilton had a great drive to finish 3rd, despite running in last place after the initial crash. Ricciardo won that race after Rosberg was punished by a late safety car.

Daniel Ricciardo took advantage of Mercedes’ struggles for the second time in 2014 in Hungary – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Tensions between the two started to fray in the following race in Belgium, as Rosberg made contact with Hamilton’s tire as the pair went into Les Combes. Lewis suffered a puncture and was later forced to retire from the race as a result. Again, it was Daniel Ricciardo who was there to sweep up and take the victory.

Hamilton then won the next five races, one of which was the Japanese Grand Prix, where we tragically saw the sport lose one of its most exciting young talents in Jules Bianchi.

Going into the Abu Dhabi finale, both Rosberg and Hamilton could still win the championship. In order to win, Lewis needed to finish in the top two, owing to the fact that the 2014 Abu Dhabi grand prix was the only race in history to offer double the usual number of points. Hamilton took the lead into the first corner and never looked like losing it. Whilst his teammate suffered car issues that saw him finish outside the points, Lewis went untroubled as he secured his second drivers title.

Hamilton’s Abu Dhabi victory in 2014 secured his second world title – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

It had been a year of dominance for Mercedes and Hamilton, with the team winning 16 of the 19 races and Lewis winning an incredible 11 of them. When Lewis wasn’t winning, he either finished on the podium or never finished at all, which in itself is very impressive. In a season that brought the world the Hamilton – Rosberg rivalry, it was first blood to Lewis.

2015:

2015 saw Mercedes continue to dominate the sport as Hamilton could not be matched by his teammate. Lewis took victory in three of the opening five rounds, finishing second in those he failed to win.

Then came Monaco, and a rare blunder in strategy for Mercedes saw Hamilton lose the lead and second place to Rosberg and Sebatian Vettel respectively. Mercedes decided it would be a good idea to pit Lewis whilst the virtual safety car was deployed following Verstappen’s heavy crash with the barrier at Sainte Devote. But the German team had misjudged Hamilton’s gap to his teammate, allowing Nico (who had stayed out) to pass him and take the lead of the race. It was a race-losing mistake as Lewis failed to regain the positions he had lost.

An ill-timed pit stop for Hamilton gave Nico Rosberg the win in Monaco in 2015 – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

So far the championship battle had been tightly contested between Hamilton and Rosberg with the gap never being larger than 28 points. However, it was Lewis who came back from the summer break in better form, winning in both Spa and crucially Italy, where Rosberg was forced to retire. The gap between the pair was beginning to grow larger and larger.

Hamilton then took victory in Japan and Russia, the latter proving to be very costly for Rosberg after he was again forced to retire from the race. This allowed Lewis to go into the race in the USA able to wrap up the title by outscoring Vettel by nine points and Rosberg by two. Rosberg started on pole with Lewis alongside. However, it was the brit who led into turn one after he got off of the line better and was able to hang Rosberg out to dry at the first corner. Hamilton lost the lead to Ricciardo later on in the race but was able to gain it back during the pit stops. Lewis went on to win followed by Rosberg and then Vettel, after a race-costing error by his team mate.

Hamilton took advantage of a crucial Rosberg mistake to win his third title in the USA in 2015 – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

With only three races to go, Hamilton could no longer be caught in the drivers championship and thus he was crowned champion. It would be Hamilton’s last victory of the season with Rosberg gaining momentum going into the following season.

The 2015 Formula One World Championship had by no means been a classic, but Lewis was able to capitalise on Rosberg’s unfortunate set of circumstances to take what turned out to be a dominant championship victory. Ferrari had just started to emerge as challengers, but nobody could match the consistency of both Hamilton and Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton was now a three-time world champion.

2017:

Following a challenging season in 2016, Hamilton went into 2017 with a fresh face in the other Mercedes. Reigning champion Nico Rosberg decided to leave the sport on a high following his one and only title win. It would be Williams’ Valtteri Bottas who would partner Lewis for the 2017 season. But could he prove a close match for Hamilton?

Nico Rosberg won his sole championship in 2016 following an intense finale in Abu Dhabi – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

In short: no.  Lewis did not have the championship all his own way, however. After a disappointing 2016, which saw them fail to improve on the promising results of 2015, it was Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari who would prove to be Hamilton’s closest competition. Vettel started the season strongly taking 3 victories and 3 second place finishes in the first 6 races, whilst Hamilton was only able to achieve 4 podium finishes in that time. By this time, Vettel led the championship by 25 points.

Tensions between Vettel and Hamilton were beginning to boil over however, as an incident under the safety car in Azerbaijan saw Lewis and Sebastian both fail to finish on the podium. Hamilton was leading when the safety car was called out with Vettel right behind him. Coming out of Turn 15, Vettel accelerated a lot more than Hamilton, subsequently causing the German to run into the back of him. Vettel wrongly believed that Lewis had brake-checked him and came alongside the Mercedes driver and drove into him. Sebastian was later given a ten second stop/go penalty for this incident. Whilst Vettel served his penalty, Hamilton’s head restraint started to come loose and he was forced to pit on safety grounds to fix it. Lewis eventually finished behind Sebastian with Daniel Ricciardo winning the race, despite dropping to the back of the field on Lap 1. It would be one of the most exciting races of 2017.

Despite a penalty for a moment of road rage, Vettel still managed to finish ahead of Hamilton in Baku in 2017 – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

Silverstone has always been a special place for Lewis, and that proved to be so in 2017. Lewis himself had a comfortable lead throughout the entire race, but his luck really played out when both Ferraris suffered punctures. Vettel’s puncture came at the worst possible time for him, as he had to crawl almost the entire way around the track on 3 wheels. With Lewis winning the race and Sebastian finishing seventh, the gap in championship was down to just a single point in Vettel’s favour.

Lewis, however, is famous for coming alive in the second half of seasons and 2017 was no different. Victories in Belgium and Italy preceded a victory in the infamous 2017 Singapore Grand Prix. Hamilton started a lot lower down the order than expected, but rain before the race had started to cause some intrigue. The drivers arrived in their grid slots at the end of the formation lap and the lights started to turn on. As they turned out, Vettel moved over to the left-hand side of the track in order to cover off Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Unbeknownst to Vettel however, his teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, had made an even better start and was on the other side of Verstappen. Three cars tried to be in one place at the same time and all three crashed out of the race, allowing Hamilton to take the lead; something he would not go on to lose.

A dramatic collision off the line saw Vettel, Raikkonen and Max Verstappen retire from the race in Singapore in 2017 – Courtesy of LAT Images

Victory in Japan and then the USA saw Hamilton place one hand on the championship, especially after Vettel retired in Japan following a spark plug problem. Lewis went into the Mexican Grand Prix just needing to fail to be outscored by Vettel by 16 points to have an unattainable lead over the rest of the field. However, it would not be as simple as it appears. Following a long run off the line into the first corner, Vettel, Verstappen and Hamilton were all jostling for the lead into Turn 1. Then, disaster struck, as contact with Verstappen caused Vettel to puncture Lewis’ rear tire as he himself sustained significant wing damage. Both came into the pits at the end of the first lap and the rest of the race became a reconnaissance mission. Vettel was able to climb his way back to fourth position, whilst Lewis could only finish P9. This, though, was enough to secure Lewis the championship.

Hamilton’s ninth-placed finish was enough to earn him his fourth world championship at the Mexican Grand Prix in 2017 – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

The 2017 season gave birth to the Vettel-Hamilton rivalry; something that was much needed for the sport to be entertaining. Lewis’ new teammate Valtteri Bottas proved to be an excellent number two driver, but just couldn’t match Hamilton across the entire season and so, had it not been for Vettel and Ferrari, we would have been in for a very uninteresting season. It was a season in which the championship was neck and neck for large portions but, in the end, it was Lewis who was able to match Sebastian on 4 world drivers championship titles.

2018:

Many saw the 2018 season as the “race to five championships” as Hamilton and Vettel looked to renew their rivalry coming into the new campaign. As with the season prior, Ferrari looked to be on par with Hamilton and Mercedes, and it’s safe to say Bottas did not.

Vettel started the season strongly, taking victory in the first two rounds in Australia and Bahrain to immediately put him in the lead of the championship. Hamilton bounced back in Azerbaijan, though, after he capitalised on an unfortunate incident that gave teammate Bottas (who was winning at the time) a puncture and caused him to retire. It was believed that the puncture was caused by some debris that had not been removed following the safety car restart. The victory moved Hamilton into the lead of the championship by just four points over Vettel.

Race winner Hamilton consoles Valtteri Bottas after a penultimate lap puncture cost the Finn victory at the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

The championship swung again in Austria, where both Hamilton and Bottas suffered from engine and gearbox troubles and were both forced to retire from the race. With Vettel finishing in 3rd, he retook the championship lead by a single point. This was then extended to eight points the following race as Vettel took the victory at Silverstone – Hamilton’s “back yard”.

It was ultimately Lewis who had the last laugh though as a very tricky race in Germany saw Vettel crash in changing conditions and Hamilton win. After an issue in Qualifying 1 prevented him from completing the rest of qualifying, Lewis started from 14th place on the grid. The race began and Vettel was comfortably leading the way, whilst Lewis slowly climbed up the order. Then the rain started  to fall. In the wet conditions, race leader Vettel locked up his brakes and got buried in the gravel trap. He was out. In order to retrieve Vettel’s stricken car, the stewards brought out a safety car and Bottas, who had inherited the race lead, was pitted.

The team, however, were not ready for him and the resulting chaos meant he was stationary for twenty seconds. A miscommunication with his engineer also saw Hamilton begin to come into the pits but change his mind, causing him to allegedly cross the white line. He then took the victory but was summoned to the stewards for the pit lane incident. Hamilton was not given a penalty, a decision which many saw as controversial. This was the turning point in the championship.

Hamilton claimed victory in a remarkable and dramatic German grand prix in 2018 – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

Lewis went on to win five of the next six races, whilst Vettel continued to struggle under the pressure. The gap between the pair had grown to 70 points heading into the Mexican Grand Prix and all Hamilton had to do to claim his 5th world drivers championship was fail to be outscored by Vettel by 21 points. The race itself was largely uneventful as Hamilton sought to secure his position (4th) and thereby the championship. Lewis now had an unattainable lead over second place Vettel and the championship was sealed with two races to go.

When you look back on the 2018 season, you can’t help but think that Vettel’s unforced error in Germany affected him greatly. From that point forward, Hamilton and Mercedes were streaks ahead of the rest and only Bottas had a chance at challenging him. For the second season in a row Bottas failed to do so. Lewis had had an incredibly consistent year, rarely finishing off of the podium. He was the deserved champion, and Juan Manuel Fangio’s number of titles had just been equaled.

For the second consecutive year, Hamilton claimed the championship in Mexico in 2018 – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

2019:

It’s fair to say Mercedes hadn’t truly dominated the sport for a couple of seasons; they took it upon themselves to put that right. The opening five races were 1-2s for the German team as Hamilton won 3 and Bottas won 2. In order for the viewers to have a championship battle to watch, Bottas needed to step up his game from 2018. And to his credit, he did.

Despite Bottas’ uptake in form, it was still not quick enough to cause Lewis too many problems, with the Brit having won 7 of the 10 completed races heading into Germany. But Germany 2019 was an uncharacteristic race for Lewis to say the least. The race eventually started in heavy rain after several formation laps, then the chaos started.

The tricky conditions saw drivers were unable to keep the car in a straight line, spinning off and crashing constantly. On Lap 22, Leclerc was a victim of the slippery track and got beached into the gravel. Hamilton joined him that same lap, making contact with the wall, but unlike Leclerc was able to get out of the gravel trap. Lewis needed to pit but in doing so crossed the same white line he allegedly crossed at the same track the year prior.

Panic ensued in the Mercedes garage as they were not expecting Lewis and did not have the tries or a new front wing ready. To top it off, Lewis received a penalty for crossing the white line. Later on in the race, Hamilton spun at turn one; this time just avoiding the barriers. His teammate also spun there, but was not so lucky. In a race where Bottas could have capitalised on Hamilton’s errors, the Finn went home empty handed as Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took the victory. By this stage the gap in the championship was 41 points.

Max Verstappen won a phenomenal German Grand Prix after a disastrous day for Mercedes – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

After the summer break, Ferrari  – who had looked good on one lap pace all season – were finally able to take three victories in a row, the first being the tough weekend in Belgium which had seen the loss of rising star Anthoine Hubert in the F2 Feature Race. Ferrari’s pace wouldn’t last long though as Hamilton won in Russia, and then again in Mexico, sandwiching a Bottas victory in Japan. Going into the US Grand Prix, Bottas needed to outscore Lewis by 22 points to prevent him from taking the title. The weekend started well for the Finn as he took pole with Lewis down in fifth. Bottas went on to win the race, but with Lewis finishing second, the championship had been sealed.

Despite Bottas’ victory, Hamilton’s second placed finish sealed his sixth world title – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

With the Mercedes being as dominant as they were at the start of the season, the responsibility of having a championship battle rested solely on Bottas’ shoulders.  Whilst his performances were much improved, he could not match Lewis’ consistency and some impressive drives made branded him a deserved winner. Lewis Hamilton was by now a six time world champion. Roll on 2020!

2020:

How else can you describe 2020 other than “it was 2020”? A season that was hotly tipped to be incredible ground to a halt before it even got started in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After a considerable time away from the track, the season did eventually start with a new-look race calendar in Austria.

When the teams arrived in Austria, it was Mercedes yet again who dominated the field. The main challengers from prior seasons, Ferrari, had endured a woeful time developing the car and they had become the fifth and occasionally even sixth fastest team. The only team that could challenge Mercedes would be Red Bull, whose car was not fast enough to be a true title contender. Yet again, a title battle rested on Bottas’ shoulders.

Bottas started the season the stronger of the two Mercedes drivers, winning a crazy first race which saw just 11 finishers. Hamilton crossed the line in second place but was dropped down to fourth after he received a penalty for causing a collision with Alex Albon.

Bottas’ victory in the first race in Austria has been one of the few highlights of the season for the Finn – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

Lewis bounced back in the following two races, however, taking victory in both the second race in Austria, and the Hungarian Grand Prix.

This saw Lewis enter the first race in Silverstone five points clear of Bottas in the championship standings. Hamilton started on pole at the British Grand Prix and looked comfortable in the lead for almost the entire race. However, in the dying laps, teammate Valtteri Bottas started complaining of vibrations on his tires. Soon after that, his front left tire became punctured and he dropped to the back of the pack as he made a pit stop. To add to the drama, on the final lap, Hamilton’s left front also blew out and he was forced to complete the race with only three inflated wheels, a la Lightning McQueen. Second placed Max Verstappen slowly closed the gap between him and Lewis, just falling short at the line as Lewis took an unprecedented victory.

Following a bizarre final few laps, Hamilton won the British Grand Prix this year – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

Further victories in Spain and Belgium meant Lewis went into the Italian Grand Prix 47 points clear of Max Verstappen, who had overtaken Bottas for 2nd in the championship. But the Italian Grand Prix proved tricky for Hamilton, who was only able to finish seventh, despite starting on pole. A rare loss of concentration meant Lewis came into the pits after it had closed and subsequently picked up a ten second stop/go penalty. Bottas, whose only issue that race was that he didn’t feel like being quick, failed to capitalise on Lewis’ error. Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly went on to take the victory – a very popular winner.

A pit lane blunder from Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes in Monza opened the door for a remarkable Pierre Gasly win – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Victories in four of the next five races meant Hamilton went into a slippery Turkish Grand Prix needing to avoid being outscored by Bottas by eight points to retain the title. Rain, paired with the resurfacing of the track, meant there was very little grip and we were in for a cracking grand prix. Racing Point’s Lance Stroll led from pole position and it looked as if we would have a new race winner.

However, after the first round of pit stops, Stroll dropped off in pace and Lewis was slowly starting to get quicker. As the track dried, Hamilton was one of the few drivers able to keep his car in a straight line and as his tires wore out, the wet weather intermediate tire became more like a very soft slick, allowing him to keep them in a good temperature window. The way he nursed the tires to the end of the race and took victory was extremely impressive. It was a race deserving of sealing his seventh title.

2020 has posed many challenges to the teams and drivers, but the ever-adaptable Lewis Hamilton showed us once again why he deserved to win the championship this season.

Hamilton will now be gunning for an eighth world championship and the title of the most successful driver in Formula One history – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

So, they are Lewis’ seven world championships to date. Throughout his career he has shown the world the sheer amount of talent he has. Yes, he has had the best car for almost all of his championships, but it is near impossible to win one without the best car, especially with the amount of races we see today. To suggest it is all the car is also naive. If it were all the car, how come Rosberg didn’t beat him more often? How come Bottas isn’t closer in pace? The truth is Hamilton is one of the sport’s all-time greatest drivers and thoroughly deserves to be a seven time world champion. Many believed Schumacher’s records would not be broken for a long time, but Hamilton has now matched him and could potentially beat him next year. He is one of the most successful drivers in the sport and still he rises!

2020 Turkish Grand Prix Preview

After a nine-year absence, Formula One will finally make its long-awaited return to Intercity Istanbul Park this weekend, as F1 gears up for the final four rounds of the championship.

With Mercedes having sealed a remarkable seventh-straight Constructors’ Championship in Imola last race, Lewis Hamilton has his sights set on a seventh drivers’ title, and could achieve such if he finishes within seven points of Bottas – so a P2 would seal the deal so long as the Finn does not take the fastest lap.

The Silver Arrows pair are now the only two drivers left who have a mathematical chance of winning the title, and Bottas’ efforts both for the team and his own championship gains have been praised by Hamilton. The championship leader has paid tribute to Bottas in the last week, saying that he “does not get the credit he deserves,” describing him as an “amazing team mate” both on and off the track.

Valtteri Bottas stands on the podium after winning the Russian Grand prix – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

Overall, the pair have blown away the competition from the excellent Max Verstappen and Red Bull, at the track where, last time a Formula One race was held, Sebastian Vettel won for the Milton Keynes-based outfit.

This was, of course, a time of the last great period of dominance in the sport, but Mercedes have since far surpassed that, and Vettel’s new employers Ferrari, who last won this race in 2008 with Felipe Massa, have flattered to deceive in a hugely underwhelming 2020.

Felipe Massa was the last Ferrari driver to win in Turkey 12 years ago – Courtesy of Ferrari media

Living fairly vicariously on their past successes, the Italian team’s performance improvement, particularly with Charles Leclerc, has not gone unnoticed, but they are now a world away even from the 2018 car that almost carried Vettel to title victory.

However, perhaps even more enticing is the incredibly engaging battle for fourth in the drivers’ championship and third in the constructors’. Two-time podium finisher this year Daniel Ricciardo leads Leclerc by 10 points, with a further 22 points covering the six positions between fifth and tenth.

Daniel Ricciardo’s two impressive podiums have put him in fourth in the championship – Courtesy of Renault Media

Holding that tenth spot is Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly, who sits just one point behind Alex Albon in the senior Red Bull team. The Thai-Brit will be more than aware that he has less than a handful of races left to impress Christian Horner and Helmut Marko enough to convince them to give him a drive in 2021. His unfortunate error of judgement the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix left him 118 points off Lewis Hamilton and 98 points behind team mate Verstappen.

This weekend very much has an end-of-season feel about it, as Mercedes look to build on their success, teams and drivers vie for best of the rest, and drivers set out to Istanbul with a point to prove for next year.

The 5.3 Kilometre Istanbul circuit has been one of the magnificent bi-products of the Coronavirus-hit season, and it is unlikely that we will see it on a Formula One calendar again after this year, so enjoy it!

Sebastian Vettel: Possible Redemption?

So the worst kept secret in F1 is out. Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel will be moving to Racing Point for next season when it is rebranded as Aston Martin. It all was the result of Vettel’s departure from Ferrari who he has raced for since 2015, a partnership that he had hoped would have resulted in a fifth championship – but it wasn’t meant to be.

Vettel won four straight championships with Red Bull who housed him throughout his junior career, however nowadays you would be forgiven for doubting that this was the same driver. The Vettel of today has been so dejected, dare I say humbled by his lack of success with the Scuderia, and there’s a narrative these days that it’s all because of Ferrari. I however disagree with this notion, it’s not all one party’s fault the relationship has soured.

Sebastian Vettel celebrates his fourth and final championship with the Red Bull Team – courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Before I proceed, I feel the need to put forward my biases and perspective so everyone knows. I wasn’t a fan of Vettel back in his Red Bull domination days, and to an extent I’m still not a fan but even now, I do have some sympathy for him.

When he joined Ferrari, it was the beginning of the Mercedes dominance in the turbo hybrid era so Vettel had a mountain to climb. He had just come off the back of a winless final season with Red Bull in which he was shown up rather considerably by new Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who took three wins on his way to third in the championship.

He took the seat of departing Fernando Alonso, who had hoped to be Ferrari’s next champion and came very close but lost out to Vettel in 2010 and 2012, and lined up alongside Ferrari’s last champion Kimi Räikkönen. Vettel really surprised in his first season with the Scuderia, as he took three victories at Malaysia, Hungary and Singapore on his way to third in the championship.

Vettel enjoyed a positive first season with Ferrari – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

However unlike his teammate the previous season Daniel Ricciardo, Vettel took those victories on pure pace as opposed to benefiting from some misfortunes that befell both Mercedes cars. In fact from 2014-2016, it was Vettel’s three wins that were the only ones that were won not from misfortunes for Mercedes. Even with Merc’s dominance, Vettel came very close to denying Nico Rosberg runner-up in the championship that year.

2016 was a bit of a nothing year for Vettel, but with the regulation change coming into 2017 there was renewed hope for Vettel and Ferrari that they could take the battle to Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. At first it was very much hopeful, as Vettel and Hamilton traded places in the first two races and then the Ferrari driver began opening up a lead.

Despite a promising 2017 season, Vettel fell short of his fifth title, losing out to Lewis Hamilton – Courtesy of Ferrari media

Whilst the two drivers were relishing this opportunity to battle it out for the championship, it did all come to a head at Azerbaijan when Hamilton led Vettel under safety car conditions, Vettel didn’t anticipate Hamilton’s movement and ran into the back of him, assumed he brake tested him so he did the thing he believed was a good idea, drove alongside Hamilton and deliberately ran into him.

Then the infamous Singapore start collision caused by Seb moving over on Kimi and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen handed the momentum to Hamilton, and with Mercedes outdeveloping Ferrari, the 2017 title race was swiftly over. A rejuvenated Vettel went into 2018 feeling confident, and he took two wins from the first two races to open up an early lead. But before long, Vettel began making more and more errors.

He threw away a win at Baku when he locked his brake going into turn one on a safety car restart, locked up at the start at the French GP and clipping Bottas, thus ruining both their races. However it was Hockenheim that sealed Vettel’s fate, where he had a commanding lead and when some drizzle arrived and he lost it heading into the stadium section and burying it in the gravel and tyre barrier.

From then on, it came thick and fast. Monza lap one when he spun after touching Hamilton, Suzuka when he spun when trying to pass Verstappen heading into spoon, lap one at the US Grand Prix when he tapped Ricciardo and, you guessed it, spun. Couple that with Hamilton driving like a man possessed, Hamilton went from trailing Vettel in terms of championships 4-1 to then being 5-4 in his favour.

Meanwhile on the other side of both garages, their Finnish teammates were highlighting the difference between them.

Whilst Vettel had Räikkönen as his teammate, Hamilton had Valtteri Bottas. Both of them were playing supporting roles, but it was quickly becoming obvious that whilst Hamilton’s driving was warranting the lead driver status, Vettel clearly wasn’t doing enough to have his teammate hang back. This coincided with the meteoric rise of a Ferrari-backed driver from Monaco, called Charles Leclerc.

After winning titles in GP3 and Formula 2, Leclerc spent his rookie F1 campaign with Sauber and got the call-up to Ferrari for 2019. Clearly very highly rated by many, there was expectations that Leclerc could do what Ricciardo did in 2014 and wipe the floor with Seb. In a way, he kind of did.

As Leclerc looked set to take victory in only his second race for the team before a mechanical failure dropped him to third, Vettel had it difficult to hold him back initially and then spun again when passed by Hamilton later in the race. Vettel then got a penalty for skipping across the chicane at Canada and nearly colliding with Hamilton, which ultimately lost him the race and he protested after the race with an act of defiance switching of the first and second place boards.

Vettel’s dangerous re-join at last year’s Canadian Grand Prix earned him a race-costing penalty – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

At Silverstone, he locked up and slammed into the back of Max Verstappen just after he overtook Vettel after spending the majority of the race up until that point having a very close battle with Leclerc. Another spin at Monza was further compounded by Leclerc taking victories at the previous race at Spa, and then in front of the Tifosi, but even with Seb taking victory at Singapore the following round couldn’t shake the narrative that he was losing it.

It wasn’t helped when in Brazil, Vettel swiped at Leclerc putting them both out in an incident very similar to when he did the same at Istanbul back in 2010 to his then Red Bull teammate Mark Webber. In the end, Leclerc won the qualifying battle and despite Vettel being ahead in more races, he still finished behind Leclerc.

Ferrari endured a tumultuous 2019 season with among a tense inter-team rivalry between Vettel and Charles Leclerc

I am not just pointing these out to kick Vettel whilst he’s down, I took no pleasure in watching him make these errors which were becoming an all too common occurrence, prompting the meme ‘SBINALLA’ whenever he would mess up. Of course, before this delayed season began it was announced that Vettel’s Ferrari contract would not be renewed and he’d be replaced in 2021 by Carlos Sainz.

Since then, it’s been a narrative of “Vettel didn’t perform because Ferrari didn’t believe in him”. To that I say, well can you blame them? If a rookie kept making the mistakes Vettel was making, they would have probably been replaced. It’s a two-way system, Vettel made a lot of unforced errors which resulted in Ferrari losing faith, and now they don’t give him the belief that he needs.

Vettel will leave Ferrari having failed to win a championship with the team

Again I don’t take pleasure in saying this, even I’ve begun to feel sorry for the guy. However maybe the move to Aston Martin is just what he needs. A fresh start (which seemed to bode well for him in 2015), plus the current ‘Pink Mercedes’ which will be used again in 2021 could lend well to his driving style. The turbo hybrid cars don’t have as much rear downforce as pre-2014 cars due to the exhaust gases not being channeled under the car.

Vettel’s style could bode even better when the 2022 regulations roll around since they utilise ground effect. However by that point, maybe the likes of Verstappen, Leclerc and all the other young guns will be the benchmark.

I’m not writing him off completely, but Vettel has got a lot to be proud of in his career. Winning for Toro Rosso at Monza, winning four straight championships at Red Bull, and he could do very well with Aston Martin. But ultimately, just because he has done that in the past doesn’t mean his errors during his time at Ferrari can be overlooked.

I hope Vettel gets his mojo back and can bring a win or two for the team that started out as Jordan back in 1991, I hope he can prove to himself and everyone else that they are wrong.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of Ferrari Media

What could the future hold for Ferrari?

This weekend’s Tuscan Grand Prix at Mugello marks Ferrari’s 1000th race in the Formula One World Championship. They are the only team to have been competing since the very first season, and has amassed a religious-esque following from so many people around the world.

Ferrari right now are going through a rough patch in Formula One, and their current chairman John Elkann has gone on record saying that we shouldn’t expect Ferrari to be consistently near the front until the big regulation changes in 2022. This resulted from the supposed engine and oil-burn rule clarification that Ferrari were highly suspected as having breached last year, which now has led to them going from having the best engine to the worst.

Their performances this year have been at comedic levels of horrendous. Charles Leclerc has been dragging that car into getting results that it really should not be capable of.  It has been reminiscent to that of Fernando Alonso during his time at the Scuderia when he was able to somehow challenge for championships. On the other side of the garage is the departing Sebastian Vettel; the four-time champion is having a torrid final season with the Italian team that took his hero Michael Schumacher to five straight championships.

A lot of F1 fans seem to believe that Ferrari are deliberately trying to sabotage Vettel, and whilst even I as someone who didn’t enjoy Vettel’s time at the top with Red Bull can sympathise with him and see how dejected he looks, I think this idea that Ferrari are trying to sabotage him is utter clownery. The fact that so many fans are convinced of this, just makes every error that Ferrari make (which admittedly is a lot of the time) look fairly suspect.

GP ITALIA F1/2020 – GIOVEDI 03/09/2020
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

So what does the future hold for the Scuderia? Well Leclerc has a long-term contract so providing there isn’t any exit clause exercised, he should be there until 2024 and for at least the next two seasons he will be partnered up with Carlos Sainz. They are looking to restructure their management personnel and give current team principal Mattia Binotto a more focused role and more people coming in to take on more specific positions.

Ferrari have always been the diva of the F1 paddock. Knowing the pull they have to F1, they exercise their right to withdraw at any moment they don’t look to be getting their way, which has led to various pulling out threats over the years. They even claim a bigger chunk of the FOM prize money at the end of the year, for the privilege of F1 to have them there basically, yet they can’t spend that money to actually make a decent car.

GP BELGIO F1/2020 – VENERDÌ 28/08/2020
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nevertheless, since we are on the topic of money, F1 is bringing in a $145,000,000 budget cap for next season. Now I have no doubt that Ferrari will overspend and threaten to leave if they are punished for it, but perhaps the upcoming budget cap could possibly result in Ferrari diversifying their race program. Back in the day, it was typical to see Ferrari in other various forms of competition.

Right now, Ferrari do have teams in sportscar racing competing with their 488 GTE and GT3 cars in various illustrious endurance races and championships. However there are plans very soon for the FIA World Endurance Championship to adopt a set of regulations that will allow for manufacturers to compete with race versions of some of their top line supercars in the top class replacing the dying LMP1 formula. There is a bit of time to further clarify the rules but we’ve seen interest in the form of Toyota, Aston Martin among others.

I’d love to see the likes of McLaren racing the Senna, and as unlikely as it may be, Mercedes with their One hypercar, Porsche with the 918, and maybe Ferrari with the LaFerrari? Although by that point, perhaps the LaFerrari will have been replaced. In any case, seeing some of these F1 teams and drivers going off to do Le Mans in their spare time would be amazing. Of course if we look back to 2015, then-Force India F1 driver Nico Hülkenberg raced at Le Mans with Porsche and took overall victory!

Then there’s even mumblings that suggest Ferrari may join McLaren in putting in a full IndyCar effort. Considering their chairman is American, it would be perfect to race there and also when Enzo Ferrari himself stated he’d love to get a victory at the Indy 500. But of course, they have to get their F1 program back on track before they consider touching anything else.

Since we are talking about Ferrari’s future, let’s look to their other affiliated drivers. First up is current Alfa Romeo F1 driver Antonio Giovinazzi, who became part of Ferrari following his successful season in GP2 in 2016 when he just missed out on the championship to his Prema teammate and new F1 race winner Pierre Gasly.

Giovinazzi was leapfrogged to the 2018 Sauber drive by now-Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc and admittedly, for good reason. He had been out of a race seat for a while, though he did impress when he was called to race for the Swiss outfit in the first two races of 2017 when main driver Pascal Wehrlein injured his back at the Race of Champions. Albeit Antonio did wreck quite heavily a couple of times at the second race in China, but you can put that down to having very little time to prepare.

I felt like he did impress last season for the newly rebranded Alfa Romeo alongside longtime F1 veteran and 2007 champion Kimi Räikkönen, however he’s certainly having to step it up for this year. I feel like he is doing so in a sub-par Alfa, but he has to step it up if he doesn’t want his ‘paid for by Ferrari’ seat at Alfa Romeo to go to one of the many impressive juniors in F2.

Ferrari have five academy drivers in F2. Mick Schumacher, Robert Shwartzman, Callum Ilott, Marcus Armstrong and Giuliano Alesi, and it’s the first three who are immediately impressing. New Zealander Armstrong was FIA F3 runner-up to Shwartzman but unlike the Russian, hasn’t hit the ground running in F2 but like Schumacher, may be even more impressive next year. Alesi on the other hand, the son of Ferrari F1 race winner Jean Alesi who had to sell of his beloved Ferrari F40 to get Giuliano a drive with the new HWA outfit, and probably won’t be in F2 next year judging by his lack of results.

Mick Schumacher, Prema (Courtesy of Ferrari Media)

So Giovinazzi’s direct competition comes in the form of British driver Ilott, SMP Racing-backed Robert Shwartzman and also Mick Schumacher, the son of Ferrari’s most famous driver Michael Schumacher. They are trading places in the top three right now and could all end up in F1 perhaps with the likes of both of Ferrari powered teams Alfa Romeo and Haas.

Looking at FIA F3, Enzo Fittipaldi (grandson of Emerson) has only had a few points finishes but has proven himself capable of great results with being the Italian F4 champion in 2018 and runner-up in Formula Regional Europe last year. Speaking of Formula Regional, there’s the Brazilian Gianluca Petecof going toe-to-toe with Arthur Leclerc, younger brother to Charles.

Leclerc Arthur, F3 Tatuus 318 A.R. #14, Prema Powerteam

In Italian F4, Ferrari acquired the services of first year car racing driver Dino Beganovic from Sweden who has already picked up a pole. You may have seen him competing in the first Virtual Grand Prix with Robert Shwartzman, and also did a little race with Lando Norris in the #ChallengeLando livestream on the F1 game.

That segues on nicely to the final few Ferrari drivers. Last year was their first foray into Esports, and in the F1 Esports pro draft, they had first pickings and selected Italian driver David Tonizza which ended up being a masterstroke as he ended up winning the championship. However their other two drivers didn’t score points and they lost the team’s championship to Red Bull.

So to rectify this, they signed former McLaren Shadow driver Enzo Bonito who, alongside Tonizza, competed in the F1 Esports Pro Exhibition races, the SRO GT E-Sports Series Silver category championship and even the Le Mans 24 Virtual with Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi. Then in this year’s pro draft, Ferrari – or officially known in Esports as FDA Hublot – signed Slovakian driver Filip Prešnajder.

Ferrari are not short of talent in the driver department, and they undoubtedly will always be a presence within motorsport for years to come. They have an uphill battle, and hopefully one day we will see Ferrari back where they belong.

 

Feature Image courtesy of Ferrari Media

Italian GP qualifying: Hamilton takes 94th career pole as Sainz impresses

Lewis Hamilton took his 94th career pole and his seventh at Monza on Saturday afternoon after pipping Bottas in a very close fight. The English driver took pole by 0.069 seconds after putting in a mega lap in the second stint of Q3. He now has 68 poles with Mercedes alone which equals Michael Schumacher’s all-time career poles.

2020 Italian Grand Prix, Saturday – LAT Images

Carlos Sainz put in the biggest performance in qualifying after driving a mega lap to put his McLaren in third place on the grid. His luck seems to have at least turned around for qualifying, and whether it will turn around for the race is yet to be seen. His teammate Lando Norris put the other McLaren on the third row in sixth after a very good effort.

Carlos Sainz, McLaren MCL35

In what was an unusual happening, Max Verstappen failed to make it to the second row on a Saturday after what seems to be an effect of FIA’s decision of not using higher engine modes for qualifying. The Dutchman will be starting on the third row in fifth and will have some work to do for a podium place unlike the last few races where it was a very straightforward affair. His teammate Alex Albon is set to start from ninth position after yet another underwhelming qualifying.

Sergio Perez put in another stellar qualifying performance after putting himself on the second row alongside Carlos Sainz in fourth. The Mexican will be keen to make great use of the track position to challenge for the podium considering how well the Racing Point handles itself around Monza and the threat of Max Verstappen is not at its highest around this place. His teammate Lance Stroll will be lining up alongside Daniel Ricciardo on the fourth row in eighth place. Pierre Gasly made it to Q3 yet again continuing his impressive form but failed to make any inroads into the session and will have to settle for 10th place on the grid.

It was a Q3 without the drama of last year where eight of ten cars failed to make it to the starting line before the flag because all the teams decided to come out and register lap times with more than 5 minutes to go in the session. It was however not a session without drama as Q1 was quite a hassle after everyone was tripping over each other to put in a quick lap and take advantage of the slipstream.

It all started off when the Alfa Romeo cars tried to overtake everyone in front of them on the outlap which ended up in compromising everybody’s laps. At the front of it all, Esteban Ocon was racing Kimi Raikkonen towards the first chicane, trying to cover the inside while George Russell had to try and stay away from there to not compromise his own lap. This turned into a chain reaction when Vettel had his lap compromised as well thanks to the events unfolding infront of him. In the frantic second stint of Q1, both the Williams, Vettel in the Ferrari, Giovinazzi in Alfa Romeo and Grosjean in the Haas were all knocked out, with some of them quite vocal on the team radio expressing their anguish at how things went about.

GP ITALIA F1/2020 – VENERDÌ 04/09/2020
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Q2 did not serve up any similar sort of drama apart from the continuation of woes of the home team Ferrari. The Tifosi would not be minding not being in the grandstands after yet another disastrous Saturday saw them qualify with Leclerc in 13th and Vettel in 17th. An exhausted Leclerc was out on the radio at the end of Q2 saying this was the best he could do and it was evident with the kind of lap he put in. The pace just doesn’t seem to be there for the Italy-based team and they will not have much to hope for the race tomorrow.

Esteban Ocon has been called to the stewards for his Q1 antics where he blocked Raikkonen and the rest and it has to be seen whether there will be any action taken. As of now he lines up 12th on the grid alongside Danil Kvyat in the Alpha Tauri in 11th.

George Russell (GBR) Williams Racing FW43.
Italian Grand Prix, Saturday 5th September 2020. Monza Italy.

George Russell will not be making it into Q2 after a good run following the drama in Q1 and will be lining up on the last row in 19th next to his teammate Nicolas Latifi in 20th in what will be the last race as team principal for Claire Williams. Both the Haas cars will line up with Magnussen in 15th and Grosjean in 16th.

With Mercedes clear of the field, it is very clear who will have the biggest advantage in terms of winning the race but the fight for podium is set to be interesting considering McLaren and Racing Point seem to have a better car compared to Red Bull Honda at least in qualifying. The midfield battle is set to be intriguing as well considering Renault will start further behind compared to their expected positions, which should give us an exciting Grand Prix to look forward to.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of  Steve Etherington/Mercedes Media

F1 Winter Testing: Round-Up

Formula 1 Pre-Season testing got underway in Barcelona this morning with a healthy mix of old and new faces racking up the laps. Rookies Lando Norris and Alex Albon for McLaren and Toro Rosso were first out on track.

Albon had the marshals on their toes after causing the first red-flag of the session, one minute after lights went green. Albon’s Toro Rosso was sat in the gravel facing the wrong way after having lost it upon exiting Turn four, and after a 20-minute recovery from the marshals, we got back into the session.

Both Ferrari and Mercedes were keen to begin testing the harder tyres this morning, running the C1, starting at a slightly slower pace than the previous day. After Bottas’s morning test yesterday, it was the turn of Hamilton to set an early alarm, and by 8:20am he had set the first time of the day at 1:32s.

Ferrari’s new driver Charles Leclerc got in the seat for the first time, initially taking a steady approach to handling his new car by setting a 1:42. He picked up the pace pretty quickly after that though, going from the bottom to the top of the table by setting a more-than-respectable 1:19 and showing the world he can match the pace of his teammate Sebastian Vettel. Vettel has already gone on record in considering Leclerc a ‘full rival … He got the seat for a reason and I’ve got to take him very seriously’. With a personal best of 1:18.2 this morning, it’s difficult to view Leclerc in any other way.

After Verstappen’s impressive performance yesterday, Red Bull’s number two driver Pierre Gasly took to the wheel for the first time at just after 8:30am, sharing the track with Alfa Romeo’s number two, Antonio Giovinazzi. Gasly put in a steady first lap on C3 tyres with a 1:37.5, before picking up the pace and putting in a 1:22, and a 1:21 shortly after. Giovinazzi puts in a 1:24 and continues to improve, achieving a 1:20 after 22 laps.

Like Hamilton, Ricciardo was also back in the driver’s seat this morning following yesterday’s afternoon session. Ricciardo’s Renault matched the pace of Red Bull and Gasly lap after lap, as both cars achieved a respectable 1:21s.

Meanwhile, it looked to be yet another slow start for Racing Point this morning after yesterday’s arguably disappointing session. The team managed to rack up a meagre 30 test laps across the whole day. Performance Engineering Director Tom McCullough summarised the day; ‘We had some teething problems, which caused us some downtime across the day, and a small oil leak, but nothing overly concerning’.

McCullough explained the teams aim for today’s session, focusing on aero data collection and giving Lance Stroll an opportunity to experience his new car, however by 8:50am, Stroll had only managed two installation laps. By 9:05am, Stroll had achieved his first timed lap, managing a 1:29 on C3 tyres. His pace improved quite quickly with a 1:21.6, coming second on the timing sheets over Hamilton’s 1:24.6. Stroll surpassed his teammates efforts yesterday, completing 45 laps before lunchtime.

Perhaps a little dubious to appear on track too early this morning, Kevin Magnussen and Haas finally ventured out to do an installation lap on intermediate tyres, before returning to the pits. Magnussen was back on track after 35 minutes in the garage, putting in his first flying lap of 1:23.4. He continued to build on this by following it with a 1:21.9, and a 1:21.6 moving ahead of Albon’s Toro Rosso.

Magnussen spent a further 20 minutes in the garage; the Haas social media team describing it as an ‘extended stay’, offering no indication of why the team have put in so few laps this morning.

Ricciardo’s Renault decided to spice up the morning by parting ways with its rear wing while using DRS, causing him to spin off track and into the gravel. Miraculously he managed to get the car out without causing a second red-flag in the session.

The lunch break came and went with some teams opting for a driver change, namely Mercedes and Renault. Bottas was the first man on track, followed closely by Charles Leclerc for Ferrari. Leclerc was the first man to break the 100-lap benchmark, followed by rookie Alex Albon for Toro Rosso.

Nico Hulkenberg settled down to test his Renault for a race distance and continued to knock out lap times in the 1:20s. Hulkenberg didn’t manage to top the timesheets, however Renault seem to have found consistent timing and distance of greater value than fastest car on track. He did eventually break free of the monotony and started pushing the car just a little bit, managing a personal best of 1:20.3 which put him in 8thposition.

Pierre Gasly spun out going in to turn 12 with only an hour and a half left on the clock. Though the damage didn’t look overly disastrous, it was a sorry end to Gasly’s otherwise smooth and steady session.

Pietro Fittipaldi took to the wheel in place of Kevin Magnussen who was forced to retire from the race early due to a seat-fit issue, which could explain the frequent ‘extended stays’ K-Mag was having in the morning session. Fittipaldi managed a total of 13 laps before the end of the session.

Sadly, we heard very little from Williams today. It is thought they will be arriving with the car very early tomorrow morning, with a view to joining in the testing tomorrow lunchtime.

McLaren are continuing to play the come-back kid by coming second only to Ferrari on the timing sheet. It’s an extremely positive start for the team, but ultimately Ferrari stole the show once again, taking fastest lap for the second day in a row (a 1:18.2) along with a healthy distance on track. With 157 laps under his belt, Leclerc has taken thorough advantage of his opportunity to get used to his new car.Image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Testing continues tomorrow.

2019 Australian Grand Prix Driver Ratings

The first round of the 2019 Formula 1 season is complete – here we look at Australian GP driver ratings:

Valtteri Bottas – 9

Sunday was near perfect, with a lightning start allowing him to jump his team mate and from then he just went off into the distance, getting an extra point for fastest lap as well. He wasn’t necessarily the winner we expected from pre-season testing but he was without a doubt the driver of the day.

2019 Australian Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

Lewis Hamilton – 7

Hamilton is well known for having the Saturday pace which generally puts him in good stead for Sunday, but he was beaten fair and square during the race. Still, he’ll take the podium along with the equal record for the most poles at one circuit.

Max Verstappen – 8

Verstappen put in the best performance for Honda in the whole of the hybrid era with his podium finish. He managed his tyres well and made an easy move on Vettel. A mistake at turn one hindered a late attack on Hamilton, but he will leave Melbourne with a smile on his face.

Sebastian Vettel – 7

Vettel had a solid start and was quick in the first stint, attempting to attack with an undercut which ultimately didn’t work. You can guarantee an investigation will be underway at Ferrari to figure out how they ended up 57 seconds behind the winner.

Charles Leclerc – 6

A great start by Leclerc but he was rather ambitious to attempt a move on his team-mate which could have ended in tears. Unlike his team-mate, he was slow in the first half of the race but fast in the second, and caught up to Vettel before being told to hold position. He showed he had speed in Q2 but the Ferrari doesn’t seem to be the package everyone thought.

Ferrari Media

Kevin Magnussen – 8

Magnussen was best of the rest in Australia, with solid pace and what seems to be the fourth quickest car. It was a better result than last year with no faulty pitstops, even if he was outqualified by his team-mate.

Nico Hulkenburg – 7

It was another result in a familiar place for the German. He started 11th so had free choice of tyres, which benefitted him in the race as he got the move on a few other drivers.

Kimi Raikkonen – 8

Raikkonen did exceptionally well considering where the team was last year, with a very aggressive package seeming to suit him well. He got the car into Q3 and kept that momentum going into Sunday.

Lance Stroll – 7

Stroll always raises eyebrows due to how he got into the sport, but in the race he showed he was fully deserving of the seat at Racing Point as he was in the thick of it all weekend. He scored the team’s only point, having some great battles whilst keeping the car clean.

Danil Kvyat – 6

A good return to the sport, ignoring a mistake at turn three. He was ambitious to run the hard tyre and defended well from faster cars behind, taking his car deeper into the race and allowing him to overcut the majority of them for the last point.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Pierre Gasly – 4

Australia will be a race to forget for Gasly. A mistake on Saturday by the team cost him dearly and he spent most of the race staring at Kvyat’s rear wing, unable to get past even on the softest tyre.

Lando Norris – 7

It was a great Saturday from Norris, but an early stop in the race in reaction to others put him in traffic. He was unable to pass Giovinazzi for several laps and just missed out on the points. Expect big things from Norris this season.

Sergio Perez – 5

It was an off-day for the Mexican on Sunday as he was classified down in 13th. He got caught up in the midfield battle which let others overcut him. The car looks great though, so there will be plenty more opportunities for him.

Alex Albon – 6

Despite being the first to spin this season in similar circumstances to his incident in testing, Albon did a good job. He matched Kvyat for outright pace on Saturday but was just caught up in the ever-so-tight midfield squabble. A good Sunday debut.

Antonio Giovinazzi – 5

The returning Italian was a pain for most at Melbourne, stuck on a confusing strategy with his tyres were ruined, and becoming a replacement for the infamous ‘Trulli train’. He showed true grit in terms of defence but not a lot of outright speed, though this is only his third ever race in F1.

George Russell – 6

Russell blitzed his much more experienced team-mate, but that’s not saying much considering Kubica is really the only competition he has due to Williams being so far behind the others. He finished his debut race and hopefully get in the mix, sooner rather than later.

George Russell (GBR) Williams Racing FW42.
Australian Grand Prix, Sunday 17th March 2019. Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia.

Robert Kubica – 3

A race to forget and move on from for Kubica. He hit the wall twice on Saturday and then hit Gasly at turn one on the first lap of the race. Williams will have collected some data though, and Kubica will get quicker and quicker throughout the season.

Romain Grosjean – 7

Another pit stop failure resulted in early retirement for the Frenchman, after being on course for a good points haul. A long delay in the pits pushed him down the order, and he then had to stop the car on track due to a ill-fitted left-front tyre.

Daniel Ricciardo – 5

For the first time in Melbourne in the turbo era, Ricciardo failed to get through to Q3 on Saturday, and his race – his first for Renault – was pretty much over in a few seconds when he pushed wide onto the grass and broke his front wing. He decided to retire the car.

Carlos Sainz – 4

Sainz was beaten by his rookie team mate on Saturday comprehensively, and was the first to retire on Sunday. Because of the nature of the track he had been unable to make up much ground prior to the retirement. He is a fighter though, and will be back for Bahrain.

 

[Featured image – Wolfgang Wilhelm]

Five Things We Take Away From The Mexico Grand Prix

 

Max Verstappen the winner of the 2018 Mexico Grandprix. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

1 – Max sticks to his word

All season it has been said that Red Bull realistically have talked up winning at Monaco, Hungary and Singapore. But if you were to ask that question to Max Verstappen, he would say ‘and Mexico too.’ He wasn’t a happy man on Saturday though as another chance at pole position went begging. On Sunday it took great guts to be the latest braker into turn 1 and his kindness to his tyres took him to victory, like he has been saying all season. He had two sets of new red supersoft tyres compared to the rest of the field, who only had one, and he won by a clear 15 seconds – his fifth victory in F1, and second of the 2018 season.

 

Photo Credit: Suceria Ferrari

2 – Vettel is gracious in defeat

When David Coulthard was doing the pre-podium interviews it was great to see Sebastian Vettel go to Lewis Hamilton and congratulate him. The German knew where it all fell apart this season and didn’t want to discuss it at the time. A true sportsman as he probably wasn’t in high spirits and he wasn’t standing on the first position on the podium. After this he entered the Mercedes pit section and congratulated the team too. The German will look to build on this season and look  ahead to the challenges that 2019 hold. 

 

Credit: Mercedes-AMG Petronas

3 – Mercedes tyre wear haunts them

The tyres that the Silver Arrows cars used just fell apart, which resulted in Hamilton finishing a distant P4 and Bottas pitting 3 times before finishing a distant P5. They had great starts but it was easy for others to overtake them, and poor mistakes from both Hamilton and Bottas put them back to P4 and P5. An investigation will surely be had after the celebration of Hamilton’s 5th title, as they were the team that struggled the most with tyres and they are close to wrapping up another Constructor’s title.

 

 

4 – Superb Sauber

Sauber had to start on the ‘chewing gum’ tyres, the pink wall hypersofts, and still managed P7 and P9. They both made a ‘one stop’ strategy work, taking us back to the days of Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez doing it so well in the Sauber colours. They jumped Toro Rosso in the standings for P8, as Pierre Gasly had a solid Sunday, but more grid penalties only helped Sauber further. It was a great haul of points by the team considering they started on the hypersoft tyres. 

 

Daniel Ricciardo in Aston Martin RedBull Racing garage at the 2018 Mexico Granprix. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

5 – Ricciardo can’t wait for his new challenge to begin with Renault

“Just let Gasly drive it” was the quote from the Honey Badger in the media pen after his eighth retirement of the season and his second mechanical failure in a row. He probably feels that his 2018 car is cursed and hasn’t taste champagne since his victory in Monaco. His new chapter edges closer and most are unsure how close he will be to the podium in the future, considering that Nico Hulkenburg, as of yet, still hasn’t been there. 

Ferrari’s year turned into Ferrari’s nightmare

Photo credit: Ferrari Media Site

My name is Dimitris Bizas, I am from Greece, and I study Communication, Media and Culture at Panteion University. I have been writing about Formula 1 since 2012, firstly at totalracing.gr and, for the past 18 months, for the ‘4Wheels’ magazine. Motorsport is my passion and getting to write and report on it is a true blessing.

2018 was supposed to be Ferrari’s year: they built a good, competitive at any given Sunday car, they had Sebastian Vettel at his prime and they carried with them a year’s worth of experience in title battles, from their 2017 campaign. However, they seem to have failed to capitalize on their chances once again, and the reason is simple, but not so obvious.

Let’s start from the very beginning of this season, the Australian Grand Prix. Ferrari did the unexpected, with Sebastian Vettel winning a race which Hamilton led up until the Safety Car, having taken a remarkable pole position the day before. They continued their winning ways at Bahrain, they were held up by the Red Bulls at China, and then came the first real ‘wake-up call’ for Vettel and his team: the Baku incident.

He could be on the podium, on the second or third place, hadn’t he been in such a hurry to overtake the Mercedes boys. He was somewhat lucky that he did not end up on the barriers at the exit of Turn 1, taking the checkered flag 4th.

This was the first sign of his lack of composure under pressure. But, since it was so early in the season, it didn’t affect his championship aspirations, despite the fact that his arch-rival, Lewis Hamilton, took his maiden 2018 win that day.

Fast forward to France, and Vettel has just taken a commanding victory on Hamilton’s ‘second home’, at Montreal. He grabbed a truly unbelievable pole on Saturday (sing of his confidence at that point of the season), and he went on to win, reminding to his nemesis that 2018 is not a 2017 repeat.

Of course, this feeling of superiority against Hamilton was short-lived. Paul Ricard marked the first of a series of mistakes from Vettel – mistakes that ultimately cost him the world title. He got off the line brilliantly, before hitting Bottas from behind, losing place after place, and finishing only 5th – a result far from representative for his overall performance that weekend.

Then there was Germany and his biggest mistake of his career, probably. That was the first turning point for his campaign – losing 25 points, in front of his home crowd, and seeing his rival taking the win instead, was a huge blow, not only for his team, but also for his confidence. Sebastian Vettel is and has

always been a driver whose performance is affected completely from his morale. If he is elevated and on a roll, he seems unstoppable, invincible. However, a single race gone bad can make him vulnerable, prone to mistakes. It is as if a huge weight is put to his shoulders, and this year, that weight is all the expectations from within his team and from the hundreds of thousands of Tifosi. It is not an easy task.

The final nail on his title hopes’ coffin was put at the Italian and the Singapore Grand Prix. His spin at Variante della Roggia and the crucial mistake during the FP2 at Marina Bay were the ones which gave Hamilton a huge advantage, both on the standings, and on the ‘psychological war’, as he calls it. He now stands 67 points ahead of Vettel, and Austin could be the place where he will have both hands on his 5th world championship.

Ferrari’s fault on this run

Although it is easy to point fingers and proclaim that Vettel lost the title on his own, Ferrari has been subpar when the stakes were extremely high.

One of their biggest weaknesses is the consistency they do not show during the season, not only on the track, but also back at the factory. Keeping a respectable –nay, a competitive- level of performance during the span of 21 races is crucial for the title battle, and the Maranello squad has not met the standards of their rivals, Mercedes.

Both at Brackley and at Brixworth, work was done in order to close the gap from the dominant –as it stood in the first 1/3 of the season- SF71H. The disadvantage on the power unit area and the tire management were the two main factor that held the Germans back, and they made a remarkable job recovering from a deficit on and off track. This allowed Hamilton to push harder, to build his confidence with the car, and ultimately to win one race after the other.

On the other hand, Ferrari made some marginal gains over the summer, and all their upgrades after the summer break were not what they expected. They fell back when their rivals pushed forward, got ahead of them and tried to stay there.

Even if Vettel was perfect (which is highly unlikely in such a lengthy season), his team would have failed on him. Stagnation is a poison for every F1 team, especially in such a hard-fought battle.

The bottom line is that the Ferrari-Vettel combination lost another chance to make history, to bring the crown back to Italy after 11 years. The legacy of this cooperation is still a work in progress, and if these two years are just the beginning, they have time to improve, to learn from their mistakes and

mishaps. But, if this was their final chance (and that’s a big hypothesis), then History will not be lenient with them.

Dimitris Bizas

Charles to shake-up the harmony in Ferrari, can the Italians handle it?

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari SF-71H and Charles Leclerc (MON) Alfa Romeo Sauber C37 at Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Qualifying, Baku City Circuit, Baku, Azerbaijan, Saturday 28 April 2018.

An expected announcement followed by an unexpected move, published this week by Scuderia Ferrari. The Tifosi, released their 2019 driver line-up and presented Sebastian Vettel’s new team-mate, Charles Leclerc.

Kimi Raikkonen, will join Sauber for the next two years and will race alongside Marcus Ericsson.

“Signing Kimi Raikkonen as our driver represents an important pillar of our project, and brings us closer to our target of making significant progress as a team in the near future, Kimi’s undoubted talent and immense experience in Formula One will not only contribute to the development of our car, but will also accelerate the growth and development of our team as a whole. Together, we will start the 2019 season with a strong foundation, driven by the determination to fight for results that count.” said Sauber Team Principal Frederic Vasseur.

The Finn, surprised most of the fans with his move, from last week his fans in the media made it clear to Ferrari that they should keep Kimi for at least one more season. The Italians, had a different point of view, they chose a young talented driver to replace the flying Finn and have a strong driver line-up in 2019.

“Dreams do come true” posted Leclerc on twitter, the day that his move to Ferrari was published. Just a few years ago, when Vettel moved to Scuderia Ferrari, stated “the dream of a lifetime has come true”.

Next season, Ferrari will have one of the strongest driver line-up on the grid. Extra pressure on the shoulders on everyone in the team, especially if the Italians don’t manage to close the gap and beat Mercedes this season.

Even if nobody in Ferrari admits it, Vettel is the first and Raikkonen the second driver, there is a good relationship between the two drivers and each one knows exactly his role. From next season, the harmony in the team might be altered. Charles Leclerc, is a promising driver who has just started his Formula One career. From the other hand, Sebastian Vettel is a very experienced four-time world champion driver, who has to prove to the public that he can still race in high level.

Kimi has accepted his faith in Scuderia, and assisting Vettel as much as possible to win the championship. I don’t expect Charles to do the same.

“I’m not going to Ferrari to learn,I think I’ve had a very good season this year where I could learn most of it, and next year [my role] is to perform in a big team. I’m not saying I won’t learn anything anymore, because I have so much to learn still and I can still improve a lot in a lot of things. But definitely I will be a lot more ready than I was at the beginning of the year.” said Charles Leclerc.

The Monégasque, is not joining Ferrari just for the show and for the glory, he wants to add his name in Ferrari’s glorious history.

Are the Italians able to handle the situation?

Sebastian Vettel was the one who “ruled” in the team, but as he very well knows, if he don’t improve his current performance and win the championship, his seat at Ferrari will not be secure. Charles will grab any chance he can get and the German could live a déjà vu.

Kimi Raikkonen will enjoy the next two years in Formula One. The Finn, is going to race with much less pressure and with lower expectations. The fans will still be happy to watch him on the track and we will keep enjoying some great press conferences, like the one today!

“Q: And you’re still passionate about racing? The fire…

KR: No, I’m not actually. Just by pure head games for you guys I happened to sign and I’m going to spend two years there just not being happy.”

Ferrari is risking a lot with that move, they have chances to rule in the following seasons with a thrilling driver line-up but if their choice back fires…

Victor Archakis

Twitter: @FP_Passion