Brazilian Grand Prix: Thank You Mark

The Brazilian Grand Prix took place with Sebastian Vettel winning from pole, ahead of retiring teammate Mark Webber, and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. The result was Alonso’s best since Singapore, though all eyes were on Webber for his final race in Formula 1.

For the final time in 2013, 22 cars lined up on the grid. Most of the grid started on the medium compound tyres, with the exception of Button and Gutierrez, who started on the hard compound. Given that rack conditions were drastically different to qualifying, the early stage of the race was thrilling as teams weren’t sure of tyre wear, or optimal setup for the car. At lights out, both Red Bulls had a reasonable getaway, however Rosberg from P5 and Massa from P7 were quickest off the line. By the exit of the Senna Esses, Rosberg led from Vettel and Alonso, while Hamilton had squeezed out Webber for P4. Not giving up without a fight, both Red Bulls were hot on their respective Mercedes’ tails.

The F1 W04’s straight-line speed was no match for the RB9, and Vettel overtook Rosberg without DRS as they made their way down the pit straight at the end of lap 1. Vettel didn’t have to challenge for position again, though his race was not without incident. Vettel had to manage his tyres more so than usual as the RB9 was suffering severe degradation on his front right tyre, which is expected on an anti-clockwise track. Following Bottas’ retirement, the RB9 made a quick dive into the pits in anticipation of a safety car. The unscheduled stop caught the Red Bull mechanics off guard, and cost him a lot of time. In the final stint of the race, Vettel was losing pace, allowing back markers to un-lap themselves. Nevertheless, Vettel brought the victory home with his now obligatory donuts.

Closely following his teammate’s move on the opening lap, Webber was waiting for the opportune moment to make his move on Hamilton. This moment came as both drivers were entering the Senna Esses at the end of lap 2. In true Webber style, the RB9 lined up behind the F1 W04 down the pit straight, before pulling out to the right to take Hamilton on the outside of the corner. The RB9 then began to close in on Alonso for P2. On lap 13, the Red Bull took the Ferrari in a similar manner to his move on the Mercedes several laps prior. While the move didn’t look too contested by Alonso, Webber was yet again clean and in control. Webber’s final battle for position came several laps later, again with Fernando Alonso. Following a slow pit stop on lap 24 for the Red Bull, Webber came out just behind the Ferrari. Within two laps and on a fresh set of medium compound tyres, Webber once again had Alonso within his grasp, managing to retake his position in P2.

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso did not go down without a fight to Webber, laying several challenges to the Red Bull as the two snaked their way through sector two. Unfortunately for Alonso, Webber managed to close the door on every attempt by the Spaniard. Alonso appeared true to his usual championship form, maintaining a frightening quick pace throughout the race, and never quite letting Webber out of his sight. It was very impressive for the Ferrari to hang on to the RB9s. Though never managing to make a move on Mark, Alonso came home in P3. Massa’s race pace was fantastic for his final drive for the Scuderia, despite a less than ideal qualifying. Starting from P9, at lights out the Brazilian cruised his way through the middle of the pack passed two Toro Rossos and a Lotus. Massa’s pace continued throughout the race, with the Brazilian standing a good chance to challenge for a podium position before a drive through penalty put an end to it. The stewards handed Massa the drive through for crossing the white line of the pit entry while overtaking Hamilton on lap 30. A furious Massa took the penalty several laps later while waving* at the stewards as he passed. He’d been running in P4, and came back out into the field P8. Despite putting up a brave fight, Massa could only regain one position, and finished the race P7.

McLaren had their best finish of the season following a stellar race by both Button and Perez. Button, starting P15 immediately made his way through the likes of Bottas, di Resta, Ricciardo, and Kovalainen and into the points by lap 5. One of his more impressive moves of the day came on lap 13 on Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg. The stars aligned for McLaren, as their pit strategy benefitted him against the rest of the field, while Button found the race pace that the McLaren seemed to have been missing all season to eventually finish P4. Perez gave off an impressive final show for McLaren, setting lap times that could only be beaten by the Red Bulls. On his first tyre stint, Perez made up ten positions to put himself inside the points. With steadying pace, Perez made up three more positions on a two-stop strategy to finish P7.

Qualifying P2, Rosberg managed to make the move he’d tried on Vettel during the Singapore Grand Prix. The Mercedes had incredible pace off the line, and despite only leading the race for one lap, laid an excellent challenge to Vettel. Rosberg did appear at times to struggle for tyre degradation with the ever-approaching chance of rain. With the team holding off on their first round of pit stops, Rosberg’s pace suffered and he relinquished P4 to his teammate. Unable to maintain a competitive pace, Rosberg came in for his first pit a few laps later. Holding it together against several quicker cars, Rosberg eventually finished in a respectable P5. After a tricky qualifying, Hamilton got off to an impressive start to the race challenging Webber for P3. The F1 W04 appeared to have a possible issue with his KERs, despite this Hamilton was lapping well to maintain his position in the front of the field. Hamilton’s race unfortunately suffered severely following contact with Bottas resulting in a right rear tyre blow out and a drive through penalty for the Mercedes. Unable to recover from the penalty, Hamilton eventually finished an unlucky P9.

Hulkenberg’s rumoured final race for Sauber went reasonably without incident. The young German driver maintained a competitive pace, and defended his position where he could, notably, Hulkenberg lost out to Button during the early stages of the race. A well-timed two-stop strategy allowed Hulkenberg to still maintain a position in the points, eventually finishing P8. In his final drive of his rookie year, Gutierrez drove with a steady competitive pace driving defensively against Button. His most impressive move of the race came with a wheel-to-wheel moment with Williams driver, Valtteri Bottas, as the two battled for P14. Gutierrez won the challenge and moved up in the field, eventually finishing just outside the points in P12.

Toro Rosso appeared to have a difficult race, with Ricciardo struggling for pace in the early stages of the race. The Australian driver didn’t appear to put up much of a fight as Hamilton challenged him for P9 following the Toro Rosso’s first pit stop. Perhaps he knew the Mercedes with Hamilton behind the wheel would ultimately win out against an inferior Toro Rosso, or perhaps Hamilton is just that good of a driver. Either way, Ricciardo could have given more of a challenge to Hamilton, as the whole move appeared too easy and could be mistaken for a driver obeying blue flags. Picking up the last championship point, Ricciardo eventually finished P10. Team mate Vergne, had a very unfortunate race, immediately conceding several places and falling to the back of the field. To add salt to the wound of Vergne’s race, the Toro Rosso was stuck behind Maldonado and made contact with the Williams on lap 65. While Vergne emerged unscathed from the contact, it was too late for Vergne to make up positions in the field, and he eventually finished P15.

Force India’s race went largely without an issue, with both drivers finishing the final race. Di Resta appeared on form lapping with competitive pace, though not quite managing to finish within the points. Here’s hoping di Resta’s P11 is enough to secure him a race seat for next season. Sutil appears confident that he knows where he will be in 2014, though his confidence didn’t translate into race form, with the German finishing P13.

Kovalainen did the best he could for Lotus, and while the Finn put in an impressive effort throughout the race, his inexperience in the E21 could only yield him P14. Grosjean’s race was cut short as the Frenchman bid adieu to the V8 era of Formula 1 in style with a spectacular engine failure. With smoke billowing from the back of the E21, Grosjean pulled over to the side on lap 2, and quickly exited the track.

Maldonado’s last race for the Williams team was true to his usual form, albeit not a very good form. The Venezuelan had several sloppy incidences on track, finally spinning out after making contact with Vergne, and nearly collecting Button as he rejoined the race. Eventually finishing in P16, Maldonado was smart enough to not blame his team this time. Bottas’ last race of the season ended prematurely as the Williams made contact with Hamilton on lap 45. The Williams immediately lost his left rear tyre, resulting in a spectacular spin off track and his retirement from the race.

Marussia secured the all-important tenth place in the constructors championship following Bianchi’s P17 finish, and Chilton’s P19. Chilton finished every race in his rookie year, though the achievement may have meant more if he hadn’t finished in last place for every race. Van der Garde finished P18 for Caterham, though Pic’s retirement from the race following a broken rear suspension ultimately lost the team the constructors’ position.

The final race of the season marked the end of an era in Formula 1, and a rather more emotional end to the championship than years passed. It was an emotional race for Massa for his final race for the Scuderia, celebrating in style with donuts in front of his home crowd. Webber’s final drive couldn’t quite get him to the stop step of the podium, though he race was arguably one of his best of the season. The Brazilian Grand Prix also marks the final time the sound of V8 engines will ring out from the circuit, as well as Bosworth’s departure again from the sport. Drastic regulation changes for the 2014 season will attempt to knock Red Bull and Vettel off their extremely dominant position. Whether the V6 engines will give smaller teams a better chance is yet to be seen, though I suspect Renault power will continue to rule the grid. Until then, thou e boa note.

– Alex

* It was well more of an angry gesture, but we’ll keep it clean.

Qualifying Pole Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Podium Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
Fastest Lap 1:15.436 Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)

Brazilian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Saudações! The final stop in the 2013 Formula 1 Championship takes place at the iconic Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace in Sao Paulo Brazil. The circuit is 4.309 km in length, runs anticlockwise. Drivers must snake their way up through a curving second sector, before making the final climb to the third sector. This circuit is all about a package favouring downforce and grip. The long back straight offers fantastic overtaking opportunities, while the unpredictable weather promises a fantastic race. Vettel once again secured pole position, ahead of Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso. The session began with rain drizzling over the middle sector of the track, sending the field out on wet tyres. Deteriorating conditions through the session saw drivers struggle for grip and heat in the tyres.

Unsurprisingly, Vettel took his final pole position for the season on the intermediate tyre. It appeared all too easy for the German to knock Grosjean off the top of the time sheet once the RB9 switched from full wets to inters in Q3. Eager to qualify in the best possible position, Webber was the first out on track in Q3. Despite success during the final practice, Webber’s eagerness to get out in Q3 didn’t translate into fastest lap times. Also on the intermediate tyre, Webber missed out on the front row of the grid by 0.47s behind Alonso and Rosberg, and will start P4 for his final Formula 1 race.

Mercedes got it half right in qualifying, with Rosberg delivering an impressive performance throughout tricky conditions. Rosberg had superior pace to his team mate, while managing to keep his car on track. Despite success for himself and the team, the F1 W04 was no match for the RB9, setting a best lap time 0.623s behind Vettel to start P2. Hamilton appeared to struggle in the wet conditions, not quite finding the right set up for his F1 W04. The Mercedes preferred the drier conditions in Q1, setting the fastest lap time. However, as the conditions deteriorated, Hamilton noticeably lacked grip, and despite having a reasonably competitive pace could only manage P5.

The wet conditions played right into the hands of Fernando Alonso, managing to secure P3 on the grid. The Ferrari may have been able to secure a slot on the front row of the grid had he not lost time going off the track in his final flying lap of Q3. Despite his team mate’s success in the rain, Massa couldn’t find the same pace out of his F138. In his last race for the Scuderia, and in front of his home crowd, Massa’s best time was only good enough to start P9 on the grid.

A quick thinking Grosjean switched to the inters early on in Q3, a move that briefly saw the Lotus driver sitting on the top of the time sheets. The Frenchman appeared controlled on track, where others were struggling for grip, the E21 got it right. However, as the track continued to dry, and more drivers switched to inters, Grosjean’s best time was only good enough for P6. Kovalainen couldn’t match is team mate’s pace during in qualifying and was unlucky to just miss out on running in the final session, starting P11.

It was a fantastic session for  Toro Rosso, with both drivers making it through to Q3. In his final qualifying with the team, Ricciardo was consistent throughout all three sessions, setting a flying lap a fraction of a second ahead of Vergne to line up P7 on the grid. In deteriorating conditions, Vergne appeared to struggle with his tyres and traffic, falling into the drop out zone of Q1. After a brief stay in the pits, the Toro Rosso ventured back out on to a clearer track and a new set of warm inters. The tricky initial session for Vergne luckily didn’t follow through to Q2 and Q3. The Toro Rosso will start just behind his team mate in P8.

A late surge Hulkenberg in Q2 managed to secure the Sauber driver a place in the final session, to the expense of Lotus’ Kovalainen. P10 on the grid was the best that Hulkenberg could manage during Q3 after appearing to struggle in the conditions on track. Team mate, Gutierrez struggled for grip in difficult conditions during his qualifying, and unluckily found himself in the drop zone in the final moments of Q1. The Sauber driver will start a lowly P18 on the grid.

Di Resta appeared to favour the first sector, though the VJM06 visibly struggled for grip during the windy middle sector. Despite the Scot’s best efforts, di Resta couldn’t make it past Q2 and will line up P12 on the grid. Sutil suffered similar issues to his team mate, setting a decent first sector, though not being able to keep the pace through out the rest of the circuit. The Force India’s best lap time was only good enough for P16.

Williams driver, Valtteri Bottas put in his best effort during qualifying, but the wet conditions didn’t seem to favour the Finn. Bottas couldn’t make it out of Q2 and will start P13. Maldonado’s final qualifying session for the Williams Team was disappointing for the Venezuelan, failing to make it out of Q1. Once again, out qualified by his rookie team mate, Maldonado will start from P17.

Neither McLaren could make it out of Q2. Perez was strong through qualifying, visibly pushing his MP4-28 to the limit. Though the Mexican’s final qualifying for the team was cut short after losing grip and careering into the barriers during the his final lap in Q2. Despite his crash, Perez still managed to out qualify his team mate in P14. It was the usual story for Button as the McLaren struggled for heat in his tyres, and resultantly will start P15*.

Both Caterham and Marussia will be battling for tenth in the constructors championship. Though, neither Caterham nor Marussia made it out of Q1, putting their goal of a driver finishing P13 or higher all the more difficult for tomorrow.

Pole position is not a crucial for tomorrow’s race, though it certainly will assist Vettel in trying to secure a record breaking ninth consecutive win. The weather in Sao Paulo offers a high chance of rain, giving slower teams the opportunity to compete with the front runners, and often shakes up the pack. It is Webber’s last chance to reach the top step in Formula 1. While it is unlikely his team mate will move aside, Webber has promised not to lift, and put in his best effort for his final race. With several drivers still waiting for a confirmed 2014, the Brazilian Grand Prix promises a spectacle of teams drivers pushing to the limit, and a truly unmissable race.

– Alex

* As a result from his excursion into the barriers, McLaren have replaced Perez’s gearbox resulting in a five place grid penalty.

United States Grand Prix: Vettel Rules the Roost

Sebastian Vettel led the way to a record breaking eighth consecutive race win at the Circuit of the Americas, ahead of Lotus’ Romain Grosjean and teammate Mark Webber. It was the fourth time this season that the drivers made up an all Renault podium, though only the second time the three had stood together.

A number of cars were considerably out of place on the grid before the race had even started. Both Rosberg and Massa had qualified considerably poorer than in recent races, and a grid penalty for Button saw him line up on the eighth row of the grid. At lights out, Vettel stormed away towards the first corner from pole. Webber, who’d had a reasonable launch off the grid, couldn’t quite make the racing line before a fast moving Grosjean. The Lotus had been exceptionally quick off the line, and immediately moved himself up into second. To add insult to injury, Hamilton squeezed passed an out of line Webber, relegating the Red Bull driver to fourth before turn 2. Not an entire lap had been completed before the safety car made it’s first ever appearance at the Circuit of the Americas. Force India’s Adrian Sutil had made contact with Maldonado’s wing in the opening lap, and the resulting shunt sent Sutil straight into the barriers. After five laps of the safety car while the marshals cleared the stricken VJM06, the race resumed with little drama.

Unsurprisingly, Sebastian Vettel launched himself from the rest of the field, again setting fastest lap times despite Rocky’s pleas to save the tyres. There were talks before the race of a possible gearbox issue on Vettel’s RB9. Understandable seeing as the gearbox was not only on it’s fifth race, but had also done two sets of donuts… Naughty Seb. Alas, any issues throughout the race didn’t haunt the German, excluding a slightly shorter opening stint on the medium tyres than Webber or Grosjean. Vettel cruised home to a record breaking eighth consecutive win. After conceding two positions in the opening lap, Webber began to close the gap on Hamilton. It was clear the RB9 had better pace than the F1W04, and eventually Webber made his move around the outside of the Mercedes on lap 14. The Red Bull, after his pit to the hard tyres, began to close the gap between himself and Grosjean. Apparently in a bid to conserve his tyres, Webber pulled back by two-seconds a lap around lap 36, before launching another attack. Despite Webber racing with DRS, Grosjean was able to defend his position with KERs, and Webber was forced to settle with P3.

After a phenomenal start from the Lotus, Grosjean spent most of the race sandwiched between the two Red Bulls, except for a brief stint in the lead following Vettel’s pit to hard tyres. While Grosjean never made it close enough to Vettel to challenge for the lead, the Lotus maintained his initial pace off the line and his tyre wear, all the while dealing with an every approaching Webber. Grosjean’s defensive driving against the RB9 was clean, controlled, and ultimately deserved for P2 on the podium. Kovalainen’s return to F1 was somewhat plagued by bad luck. Despite a challenging race, the Finn had a brief battle with Rosberg for eleventh before diving into the pits. After a loss of pace and grip from suspected contact, the team pit Kovalainen for tyres and a new front wing. The Lotus lost 33 seconds in the stop, and toppled down the grid order. Finally, a loss of KERs in the back end of the race saw Kovalainen unable to challenge for a points finish, eventually coming home in P15.

After initially taking two positions off Hulkenberg and Webber, Hamilton was unable to maintain the pace in his Mercedes while looking after the tyres. A very moody Hamilton complained over the radio first of a “leave me alone, I know what I’m doing” message, and then again a few laps later of “C’mon man, you have to keep me updated on my pace, my tyres, my [insert comment regarding Lewis’ hormonal mood swings]”. Hamilton then spent the majority of the race running in fourth. The only challenge to overtake that Hamilton encountered was Caterham’s Charles Pic ignoring blue flags towards the end of the race, eventually moving out of the way, the Mercedes crossed the line P4. Despite starting the race largely out of position, Rosberg drove consistently throughout the race. Arguably Rosberg’s best challenge of the day was his battle for tenth with Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo. The battle on lap 20 concluded with Rosberg sweeping through the inside of Ricciardo to then take the racing line into the next corner. Rosberg later made a move of di Resta, which saw the Mercedes move up to P9, where he would finish the race.

Alonso was back on the pace compared to last round in Abu Dhabi, though his race was a touch underwhelming. Starting sixth on the grid, the Ferrari immediately conceded a place to Perez. His challenge to regain his position never eventuated as the McLaren dived into the pits for fresh tyres. Alonso’s second battle of race came against Gutierrez on lap 29. However, the experience of a world champion over the rookie driver saw an easy pass at turn 1. Finally in the later stint of the race, Alonso set himself to challenge Hulkenberg for fifth. After catching the Sauber for several laps, the Ferrari passed Hulkenberg in the same manner as when he’d passed his teammate several laps earlier. Alonso eventually finished the race in P5. Massa was noticeably off the pace after an impressive few previous rounds. Unable to keep his tyres in check, the Brazilian was called into the pits on lap 39 for another set of medium tyres. The second stop saw Massa fall way back to P16 around the likes of Maldonado. Massa was unable to make his way back through much of the field and finished P13.

Hulkenberg delivered another exceptional race, which can only make fans plea to see him in a more competitive car. The Sauber driver had a battle with Hamilton for fourth with Hamilton in the early stages of the race, and then later held Alonso off for as long as he could before the Ferrari made his move on the inside of turn 1. Starting in fourth, Hulkenberg eventually crossed the line P6. Gutierrez’s race was less fortunate at either end. The rookie driver was lightly involved in the opening lap incident between Sutil and Maldonado, making an immediate pit stop to assess the damage. The Mexican’s race improved from there on out, seeing a battle between himself and Vergne on lap 26, and racing at his highest position in sixth. Gutierrez was to repeat his race with Vergne in the final lap of the race, however this time Vergne clipped the Sauber sending him into a spin, and conceding several places. The contact saw Gutierrez finish P14.

Perez had a good clean race, doing well to stay inside the track limits and not cause any collisions this year. The McLaren was forced to take evasive action while Maldonado ran wide and back onto the track, though luckily no contact was made. Finishing ahead of his teammate this week in P9, Perez was the only McLaren to score points. Button suffered front wing damage in the opening lap and was forced to make an early pit to change the nose and tyres. The McLaren did well to finish in P12, after making his way from the back of the grid in a less than competitive car from qualifying.

Despite receiving a blow from McLaren this week, Perez had one of his best races of the season. The Mexican driver, despite finding it initially difficult to overtake, set several fastest sector times throughout the race. We were possibly robbed of a battle between himself and Alonso as the McLaren made his pit, though Perez later made successful moves on Gutierrez and Vergne. Overall his race was quite clean and controlled as he came home in P7. Despite a poor qualifying and grid penalty, Button’s race went rather unnoticed. The McLaren benefited from the rest of the fields pit stops moving his way back up the grid. Finally Button landed a challenge against Ricciardo in the final laps and managed to make to finish just inside the points in P10.

Williams’ rookie Valterri Bottas delivered a sensational race. Pitting on lap 24 for hard compound tyres, the Finn returned in tenth before moving up to eighth as Vergne and Gutierrez pit in front of him. Bottas held his position with seemingly more experience than other rookies, eventually crossing the line in P8. Maldonado appeared to be in a mood over the weekend with the team, and it could be seen in his driving. After causing the retirement of Sutil on the opening lap, the Venezuelan remained in the field until black and orange flags forced him into the pits for a new wing. This sent Maldonado to the back of the field, where the only places he made up were due to pit stops. Maldonado’s race finished with him conceding a place to Kovalainen and finishing P17.

Ricciardo maintained a good pace throughout the race, and was unlucky to miss out on a points finish. The Toro Rosso driver lost a battle earlier in the race to Rosberg moving him to eleventh. Following the pit stops from the rest of the field, Ricciardo moved back inside the points to tenth, before losing the battle to Button in the final laps to finish P11. Teammate Vergne also conceded a place to Button, though in the opening lap. The Frenchman’s pace was good, and his race went largely unnoticed until the final lap where he caused an incident with Gutierrez. The Toro Rosso immerged unscathed and crossed the line one position behind his teammate in P12.

Di Resta missed out on a point for Force India after a reasonable race from the Scot. Starting eleventh on the grid, the Force India raced as high an ninth before his first pit stop. The middle stint of the race was promising, however, conceding a place to Ricciardo and a late pit saw di Resta topple back in the grid to eventually finish P16. Sutil was the only retirement of the race, and appeared to be in the wrong place at the wrong time*.

It was another double finish for Caterham and Marrusia, with Bianchi finishing ahead of both the Caterhams and his teammate. Van der Garde had a largely uneventful race, while Pic received a drive through penalty to ignoring blue flags on Hamilton.

Despite a few good battles for position throughout the race, the United States Grand Prix was a little underwhelming. At this point in the season, and with both championships wrapped up, it is no surprise to see the Red Bulls lead the field, though a track like the Circuit of the Americas promises so much more than what was delivered today. The championship moves for the final time this season to conclude in Brazil, where the battle for second place in the constructors between Mercedes and Ferrari will be decided.

– Alex

* That place may be anywhere around Maldonado, and at anytime around Maldonado

Qualifying Pole Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Podium Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault)
Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Fastest Lap 1:39.856 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)

United States Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Formula 1 moves into the penultimate round at the Circuit of the Americas for the United States Grand Prix. The 5.513km circuit is one of the few on the calendar to run anticlockwise. The circuit itself is made up of a number of fast corners in the first sector, before the circuit hairpins back into a long straight for DRS in the second sector. The third and final sector is made up of slower speed corners, where overtaking will be more difficult. The package for this weekend is a tricky mix of speed in the initial sectors and downforce in the final sector. The Circuit of the Americas was built with elements of all the great racing circuits, and it translates well.

The Red Bull’s seemed unphased throughout qualifying, as both RB9s locking out the front row. Vettel narrowly clinched pole position by just a tenth of a second from his teammate in the final minute of qualifying. Webber had sat at the top of the timesheets for most of qualifying, putting in a 1:36.441 lap time, an impressive half a second on the rest of the field. Vettel’s fantastic final sector pace found him that extra tenth of a second, qualifying P1 with 1:36.338.

Grosjean slotted in just behind the Red Bulls in P3. The Lotus driver found pace in the E21 that rivalled that of world champions in the Mercedes and Ferraris. Heikki Kovalainen will sit the rest of the season in the Lotus seat while Kimi recovers from back surgery. The replacement Finn did well throughout qualifying, showing that a brief absence from a racing seat has not dampened his ability. Kovalainen will start P8.

Hulkenberg’s qualifying continues to improve, all the while without a confirmed race seat for 2014. Yet again, the Sauber-Ferrari was the fasted Ferrari engine in qualifying as Hulkenberg put in a flying lap of 1:37.296. The Sauber looked comfortable on track, even setting purple sector times in S1 despite issues from wind on track, and will line up P4. Gutierrez had a less than fortunate qualifying, being investigated for impededing Maldonaldo in Q1*, though managing to make it through to Q3, qualifying in P10.

Hamilton was consistently on the pace through qualifying, while Rosberg was unlucky to be out in Q2. With the rest of the field lapping slowly, Hamilton initially found it difficult to find a gap in the traffic in the earlier sessions. However in Q2 and Q3, Hamilton put his F1 W04 through its paces, battling for the top of the timesheets with Bottas and Hulkenberg, eventually qualifying P5. While Hamilton flew, Rosberg struggled to get on the pace battling with difficult tyre windows. The issues for the Mercedes saw him qualify P14.

Ferrari had a rather bipolar qualifying session, while Alonso finally got it right and Massa struggled with his F138’s package. After a string of less than satisfying qualifying sessions, Alonso looked confident on track in his F138. The Ferrari driver found pace despite earlier issues with track temperatures, lining up as respectable P6. With the pressure off Massa to find a seat for 2014, the Brazilian had a disappointing qualifying session. Massa’s best lap time was unexpectedly only fast enough for P15.

McLaren struggled to see both drivers succeed in qualifying. Perez, who is now essentially in a job interview now until the end of the season, was quite consistently on pace in today’s session. The Mexican appeared focussed on track, and put in an impressive flying lap only a tenth of a second behind Hamilton, and 0.07s behind Alonso to qualify P7. Yet again Button struggled with the feel of the car, complaining first of understeer at speed and oversteer in the slower corners. The result for Button meant a disappointing P13. To further add fuel to the fire, Button receives a three-place grid penalty for over taking during a red flag period in Friday’s free practice.

Williams saw a rather bipolar qualifying session for their drivers. Bottas managed to get a lot of pace out of the car, translating to sitting near the top of the timesheets for most of qualifying. The Finn’s qualifying effort was nothing short of incredible, though a last minute surge of times saw him topple down the timesheets to P9. Currently without a seat for 2014, Maldonado did little to add to his resume failing to make it out of Q1. Maldonado with start P18.

Ricciardo looked reasonably controlled on track, though the Toro Rosso just missed out on Q3 by less than a tenth of a second. Starting in P11, the Toro Rosso driver can at least choose which compound tyre to start on. Vergne was eager to get on track in Q2, heading out on the option tyre he’d used in Q1. Despite the early start, Vergne couldn’t find the pace in the final minutes of Q2 and was knocked out of the session in P16.

Di Resta out qualified his teammate, though was unlucky to miss out on Q3 after encountering a slow running Hamilton while preparing for a final flying lap. Nevertheless, di Resta qualified a reasonable P12. Sutil had vert little luck in his qualifying session with what appeared to be a mechanical issue with his Force India. The VJM06 looked to be struggling for grip around the circuit, running wide on several corners. Sutil failed to make it back to the pits, and will start P17 for tomorrow’s race.

Van der Garde out qualified Pic for P19 and P21, putting the Caterhams in a good position to challenge for tenth place in the championship. Bianchi split the Caterhams by qualifying P20, while Chilton will round out the back of the grid in P22, again**.

Time is running out for Webber to reach the top step of the podium, something that even an advantage of qualifying a tenth of a second behind the pole sitter wouldn’t much help. If all goes to Red Bull’s plan, Vettel will clear away for an unchallenged victory, leaving Webber to battle against Grosjean and Hamilton for the second step of the podium. Despite what could be a predictable podium, the Circuit of the Americas is a track that is incredible to drive, promising a race that should be exciting.

– Alex

* Gutierrez was later handed a ten-place grid penalty for impededing Maldonado

** Chilton received a drive through penalty for also impededing Maldonado, and Sutil

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Vettel of Arabia

It was a Red Bull 1-2 finish at tonight’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, though unsurprisingly it was Sebastian Vettel who took the top step ahead of teammate Mark Webber. For the second week in a row, Mercedes man Nico Rosberg took to the podium, this time on the third step.

The race got underway with Webber as pole sitter, ahead of his soon to be podium pals of Vettel and Rosberg. Webber had a slower getaway, and let room for Vettel to launch himself into the lead by the first corner. To add insult to injury, Webber also conceded a place to Rosberg while trying to close the door on Hamilton. The rest of the field made it through the first corner relatively unscathed, with the noticeable exception of Kimi Raikkonen. The Lotus, electing to start from the back of the grid, made contact with a Caterham at the exit of turn 1 and damaged his E21’s suspension.

Red Bull were more than competitive throughout the race. Sebastian Vettel extending his lead with ease, setting fastest laps to the point of the team radioing him to stop to save the tyres. Webber didn’t have the best getaway from the grid, however still put in an impressive drive. Webber looked at complete ease passing Rosberg through the chicanes on lap 20. There was no catching his teammate it seemed, so today the Australian is happy with P2.

Mercedes held up their end of the bargain to bother the Bulls in today’s race, albeit only one of them. Rosberg put pressure to Webber and kept in close range, despite the F1 W04 being considerably slower than the RB9. Nevertheless, the Mercedes looked very controlled through the chicanes while keeping up the pace. Down further in the field, his teammate struggled for grip from the tyres. Hamilton ran in dirty air until lap 19 when he was finally able to pass Sauber’s Gutierrez.

Romain Grosjean was unlucky to miss out on a podium finish today. The Lotus driver, starting P7 remained on the pace throughout the race, proving that the E21 is still a competitive car. Following Grosjean’s pit on lap 38, he managed to keep both Ferrari’s of Massa and Alonso behind him from his pit lane exit, in a move that a year ago could have been careless. Grosjean eventually finished 1.2 seconds behind Rosberg in P4. Kimi was the only retirement from the race, and not bothering to stick around, left the track quickly*.

Alonso appeared to lack pace in his F138 down the long straights, costing him valuable positions in the race early on. In an attempt to leap frog the spaniard up the field, the team tried for a one-stop strategy. Eventually Alonso had to admit defeat on the degraded tyres and pitted again on lap 44. It was a messy exit for the Ferrari, coming out in the path of Vergne followed closely by Massa. Alonso was very close to exceeding the track limits to maintain his position in front. A move that was investigated and later dropped by the Stewards. Alonso held a good position for the remaining laps, finishing P5. Talk of Ferrari today seemed to surround Massa’s ongoing job-interview-style race pace. Prior to Massa’s first pit stop, the Brazilian was ahead and lapping faster than his teammate, sparking comments from the commentators that Ferrari should “Fire him at the start of every season, and rehire him again at the end”. If a little race seat pressure was what Massa needed to get back on form, then maybe the team should have. In one of the more exciting battles of the race, on lap 26 Massa squeezed through Hamilton who was defending from Sutil, and then slip streamed passed the Force India, making up two places. Massa later finished behind his team mate in P8.

Di Resta brought home some well needed points to the Force India garage after successfully managing a one stop strategy, and finishing in P6. Sutil put pressure on the rest of the field, in particular a slippery Hamilton who failed to get passed the VJM06, despite running on the same one stop strategy as his team mate. Sutil contributed to the team’s double points finish with P10.

Perez had a good clean race, doing well to stay inside the track limits and not cause any collisions this year. The McLaren was forced to take evasive action while Maldonado ran wide and back onto the track, though luckily no contact was made. Finishing ahead of his teammate this week in P9, Perez was the only McLaren to score points. Button suffered front wing damage in the opening lap and was forced to make an early pit to change the nose and tyres. The McLaren did well to finish in P12, after making his way from the back of the grid in a less than competitive car from qualifying.

Maldonado noticeably struggled for grip throughout the race, possibly leading to his run off the track. Despite the difficulties, the Williams driver made up four places in the race to finish just outside the points in P11. Valterri Bottas looked strong on the pace in his FW35, managing his tyres well for a two stop strategy. Bottas’ final stint on the faster soft compound tyres proved not quite quick enough, with the Williams finishing P15.

Gutierrez drove defensively in the race today, making up for a less than optimal qualifying position. The Sauber driver put pressure on Hamilton during the first leg of the race, and then had a brief battle with a more experienced Ferrari defending his position to Alonso. In the final laps, the Sauber looked as if to challenge Button for position. However, the Sauber couldn’t make the move and finished P13. Getting further caught up in the Sauber’s, Alonso and Hulkenberg had a scrap for position through the twisty middle sector. With Hulkenberg able to weave through the inside and then the outside line with Alonso, eventually ending the battle by diving into the pits on lap 27. The Sauber seemed unable to get his tyres to the end of the race on a two stop, and fell back to finish just behind his teammate in P14.

Ricciardo found it difficult to overtake in today’s race, failing to make up positions from his first pit stop on lap 7. After a very disappointing race for the Toro Rosso driver and a strong qualifying position, Ricciardo finished in P16. Vergne was having a very competitive race up in the front on the field. The Frenchman was quick on the pace in the DRS zones, and kept good time in the middle sector. Only in the final three laps did Vergne’s tyres finally give up, toppling back down the field ten places to finish P17.

Both Caterhams and Marrusia’s finished the race today, with Van der Garde lapping slightly faster than Pic. Bianchi finished ahead of Chilton, who seemed to get the hang of his DRS button today.

To say that Vettel finished ahead of Webber is a bit of an understatement. The German’s RB9, having lapped half the field, crossed the line 30 seconds in front of the Australian’s RB9. It is incredible to see just how much difference two drivers can get out of the same competitive car. It makes it a little clearer of Vettel’s deserving to lead races. It’s hard to walk away from today’s race without feeling slightly robbed of what could have been a great race by Kimi. However, there are not “ifs” or “buts” in Formula 1, so we must wait until the Texas Grand Prix to see Kimi compete. Until then, tesbah ala kheir.

– Alex

* Presumably to one of three bottle shops in neighbouring Emirates

Qualifying Pole Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Podium Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Fastest Lap 1:43.434 Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)


Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Ahlan wa sahlan! Formula 1 moves once again to the desert for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit. The 5.554 km circuit is an interesting mix between speed and downforce. A fast first sector turns into a slower, more technical back end. Think, a similar package to the Indian Grand Prix, finding the balance between downforce to get traction in the slower corners, while remaining competitive on the long straights. It’s not often that a pit lane can be considered interesting during a race weekend. The Yas Marina Circuit’s pit lane breaks rules of being boring to sweep underground, and under the track for drivers to re-emerge at the exit of turn 1.

Red Bull showed considerable strength in qualifying, once again locking out the front row of the grid. Though it was Mark Webber who put in a fantastic effort to secure the fastest qualifying lap of 1:39.957. The Australian’s RB9 was the only car to qualify within the the 1:39s. Vettel qualified just behind his team mate, with a 1:40.075. The German making it clear that he wasn’t about to lift the throttle after his championship victory last weekend.

Mercedes were consistently on the pace throughout qualifying, yet again on track to bother the Bulls in tomorrow’s race. Rosberg looked particularly controlled throughout the third sector, proving enough to position himself right behind Webber on the grid in P3. Hamilton lost the back of his F1 W04, and span off the track in turn 14. Despite his little excursion, his best lap time was enough to put him next to his team mate in P4.

Kimi has chosen to run the short wheelbase over this weekend, giving the car better airflow and downforce, while Grosjean qualified in P7 on the longer wheelbase. The strategy seemed to favour Kimi in qualifying, as the E21 looked very controlled through the tricky middle sector, putting him ahead of Grosjean in P5. Kimi’s qualifying time was later disqualified by the Stewards after his floor deflected more than the 5mm regulations. Lotus now have the choice to start him from the pit lane or back of the grid. Grosjean proved tyre blankets unnecessary, after his sticky tyres took off some of the concrete garage floor, resulting in a reasonably bumpy ride. Although that is one way to ensure his E21 met the weight requirement**.

Hulkenberg once again proved to be the fastest Ferrari on track, putting in a very impressive lap time of 1:40.576 in P6, only 0.034 seconds off the man he is rumoured to be replacing at Lotus. Gutierrez showed good control through the middle sector, but was ultimately lacking in straight line speed. The Sauber will line up P17 on the grid.

Felipe’s Ferrari yet again out qualified his teammate, lining up P8. While Alonso failed to make it out of Q2, only managing to put himself in P11. In another disappointing session for the team, the Spaniard’s F138 was noticeably lacking on the pace in the middle sector.

McLaren had a bipolar qualifying session compared to practice. Perez set a lap time quick enough to secure him P9 on the grid, though Button found absolutely no pace in the car. Button, who’d initially looked strong in the first sector, failed to make it out of Q2 and will start P15.

Daniel Ricciardo looked quick throughout the circuit, after momentarily sitting fourth on the time sheets, will start P10 on the grid. While Vergne had no issues through qualifying, and will start P14.

Force India were another team to have a bipolar qualifying session for their drivers. Di Resta found a little luck and a little pace to start P12. Though Sutil’s VJM06 couldn’t find the control or the pace in today’s session, and after a luckless session, will start P18. It was a truly unlucky session for both Williams after looking quick through practice. Neither driver made it out of Q2, with Maldonado starting P15, ahead of Bottas in P16.

The back of the grid is rounded out by Caterham and Marussia. Bianchi put in a timed lap faster than his team mate despite having KERs issues from his touch with the barriers in FP3. The Frenchman will start from the back of the grid, after receiving a 5 place grid penalty after the team elected to change the Marussia’s gearbox. Max Chilton got confused by his DRS button, opening and closing it again until his pit wall radioed him to stop. Good one Max.

The world of Formula 1 wants to see Webber win a race before he retires. Meaning that for Webber, his start is more important than ever tomorrow. He is at a real risk of being leap frogged by Rosberg off the line, not to mention a quick getaway from Vettel.  With a top ten grid separated by just over 1.1 seconds and a non-Vettel pole, tomorrow’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix should be unmissable.

– Alex

Though probably a bad idea.