Italian Grand Prix: Mercedes are friends now, apparently…

Hello everyone! Tom Grantham here for my final report for this weekend’s edition of Alelbuth while Alex continues to settle in to Madrid. The results of today’s race seem to reflect upon the positions posted at qualifying. Mercedes in the front row, Williams in the second row, and Red Bull Racing finally finding some pace during the race and securing a fifth and sixth place finishes for Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel. While McLaren were pushed down to eighth and tenth place. Magnussen would have finished in front of Perez’s Force India, however the Dane incurred a 5- second penalty against Perez during the race.

First off, I would like to apologise for bringing up the Hamilton/Rosberg situation, as by now, everyone is tired of hearing about it. It is however, still very clear that there is a division in the Mercedes garage even though when asked if he and Rosberg were friends again, Hamilton replied, “Of course we are, we are teammates and always will be!” with the biggest smile he could muster. His actions in the drivers room post race showed an entirely different story as he faces away from the camera and the conversing Rosberg and Massa, fiddling with his cap. It would be a safe bet to say that they two are still not friends but are maintaining a professional relationship, which was demonstrated with a clean race by both drivers today.

It might have been easy to keep all eyes on the Mercedes duo today, however the real entertainers in today’s were Williams’ Bottas and Massa, McLaren’s Button and Magnussen, Force India’s Perez and Red Bull Racing’s Ricciardo who all kept up a constant competitive pace with multiple duals for position with or without technical issue.

Against all odds at the start of his race, Hamilton worked his way up through the ranks to get to a very well deserved first place this weekend. All did not go as planned from the race start as Hamilton’s energy recovery system malfunctioned causing him to lose power and places from the line giving way to Rosberg to begin his speedy lead. Within three to four laps his ERS was reconfigured and he was able to race at full pace again, quickly working his way up the field to begin a multi lap battle for first with his teammate. Eventually overtaking Rosberg at turn one, where he proceeded to keep his lead right until the end of the race.

Rosberg held a very convincing lead from the start, beginning with a quick take-off and building up to a 2.8 second lead over Massa. This lead did not last long when by lap 9, Rosberg broke too late at the start of the Rettifilo chicane and had to steer between the bollards to rejoin the race, losing 1.8 seconds to Hamilton and 1.7 seconds to Massa. Eventually Rosberg’s pace slows and Hamilton began to battle for Rosberg’s position, lapping faster than his German teammate. Eventually Rosberg had another mistake again by breaking late at the same spot at the start of turn one having to turn through the bollards again giving time for Hamilton to take first place. Rosberg comfortably held his second position for the rest of the race after a pit stop to hard compounds.

A definite contender for driver of the day in my eyes will absolutely be Bottas due to his fantastic constant over takes during the early race. Bottas came into the media’s eye from lap 9 as he is noticed being followed by Hulkenberg and Ricciardo. During the next few laps Bottas took ninth, overtook Perez for eighth, Alonso for seventh, and Button for fifth in a very convincing duel, at the approach to turn one. After a pit stop, Bottas continued his streak by taking Perez for eighth; he worked his way up the grid to hold a very comfortable fourth until the end of the race.

Massa also joined the Bottas battle in a race down to turn one, leapfrogging both his teammate and Magnussen in the early stages of the race to run in second at the start of lap 5. Hamilton also overtook Magnussen shortly after the first chicane. Massa finally pit on Lap 24, and fought to maintain his position. Williams definitely ran a fantastic race strategy today.

Button and Magnussen ran a very well managed team race today with some slight positioning issues. They both did well to secure a third row starting position during qualifying but they had to fight hard to keep within the top ten during the race, with a car that (yet again) did not seem to have enough pace to fight for position. Both McLaren drivers were in the spotlight today as Button entered an climatic dual with former teammate, Sergio Perez, lasting for many laps to finally reach a conclusion on lap 39, where Button overtook Perez at turn one, defended fiercely and eventually going wheel to wheel with Perez into the second chicane. Perez went off of the road and cut the second apex of Della Roggia essentially gaining position over Button. It is accepted that Perez was able to regain possession by driving too deep into the apex, however he is not penalised, as Button was found to not left enough room and forcing Perez off the track. Magnussen had a fantastic race finishing seventh over the line, but incurred a 5-second penalty causing him to come in at tenth place. This incident occurred during lap 31 where Magnussen caused Bottas to go too wide out of turn one. The commentators comment that there was nothing that Magnussen could do, however the Stewards later penalised Magnussen with a 5-second time penalty. This certainly was a very exciting race for McLaren as they produced two improved results with competition points for both drivers.

There were only two retirements during today’s race. The first of which occurred on lap 6, when Marussia’s Max Chilton broke too late entering the Della Roggia chicane, causing him to oversteer off of the track, through the gravel, and into the wall… When asked about the incident Chilton replied that he had a slight lock-up and that he pushed the braking distance, causing him to go off track. The second race retirement was the Scuderia’s Fernando Alonso, much to the Tifosi’s dismay. At the beginning of lap 29 near the entry to turn one, Alonso’s gearbox failed, refusing to downshift, leaving him no choice but to park up and retire. Before today, Alonso had enjoyed 89 races without a mechanical retirement since Valencia 2010.

Due to recent political situations within the world of Formula 1, Rosberg did not receive a cheery reception on the podium during the interview, however both he and Hamilton made it clear that they are “friends” now, and are working together as teammates… Despite Hamilton earlier ignoring team advice, and increasing his fuel usage, and pressuring Rosberg, and eventually reaping the rewards by overtaking for first place… Best friends. Even though Massa is no longer racing for Ferrari, the Tifosi gave him the warmest welcome as he returned to the podium after finishing a fantastic third. Massa was visibly elated to finally have his first podium finish of the season after a run of bad luck and poor choices in strategy.

Finishing Positions:
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
3. Felipe Massa (Williams-Mercedes)
4. Valtteri Bottas (Williams-Mercedes)
5. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
6. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
7. Sergio Perez (Force India-Mercedes)
8. Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes)
9. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
10. Kevin Magnussen (McLaren-Mercedes)
11. Daniil Kvyat (STR-Renault)
12. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India-Mercedes)
13. Jean-Eric Vergne (STR-Renault)
14. Pastor Maldonado (Lotus-Renault)
15. Adrian Sutil (Sauber-Ferrari)
16. Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault)
17. Kamui Kobayashi (Caterham-Renault)
18. Jules Bianchi (Marussia-Ferrari)
19. Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber-Ferrari)
20. Marcus Ericsson (Caterham-Renault)
RET. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
RET. Max Chilton (Marussia-Ferrari)

Both Mercedes and Williams displayed a fantastic team performance today to get 1-2 and 3-4 finishing positions, followed by Red Bull Racing who showed vast improvement during today’s race. While the Italian Grand Prix was almost a problem free race, with a few minor incidents, it was still a competitive race with well earned results by the leading drivers and teams. Despite the bad publicity that certain drivers on the grid receive, they all worked very hard to get the result they received today and I would not have seen it go any other way.

Thank you everyone for reading my pre race and post race analysis this weekend! I shall now let you resume normal programming by passing the baton back to Alex now that she will be settled in by the time the Singapore Grand Prix arrives! As a passing food for thought and discussion, there are rumours that due to financial constraints, there will be eight teams on the grid next year each with three cars on the circuit. What do you think about this new rumoured change to Formula 1?

– Tom Grantham

 

Italian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Hello everyone! It’s Tom Grantham here filling in for Alex for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix at the legendary Monza! One of the hottest topics on the grid this weekend has been the replacement of gravel with Astroturf around the Parabolica corner. This has generated several drivers’ excitement at the decreased risk of damaging their cars if they go too wide off the corner. This is certainly a safer change, but let’s be honest, it adds some excitement to this corner as drivers will now attack it with a braver pace…providing they don’t brake too late!

It has also been revealed that Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat has incurred his first engine penalty for this season after his engineers put a new V6 engine into his car on Friday evening to fix issues with his car. Kvyat will now start with a ten-place grid penalty.

Now, before I continue on to talk about qualifying I would like to take a moment to talk about the rough diamond* and the prince, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. The two former friends now have a schoolboy tiff that has now surpassed the likes of Vettel and Webber, thanks to an exchange of team orders and car parts on the circuit. It is clear that while there is an obvious division in the garage, Mercedes are not going to let this split the team up as heard by Hamilton’s and Rosberg’s responses during Thursday’s drivers conference. It is clear as the championship reaches its climax, all eyes will be on the feuding few while other drivers (see Ricciardo/Alonso/Bottas/Massa/Anyone on the grid) may take the advantage and slip by under the radar.
A quick mechanical note: Different drag combinations on Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren cars have taken place pre qualifying to help manage the cars on the circuit and a change to the Mercedes engines has been noted which will make it easier for the Williams duo to submit more competitive laps. This showed during Qualifying. It is also worth a mention that during pre-qualifying it was discovered that Hulkenberg once again encountered electrical issues with his Force India.

Onto qualifying!

Q1:
A very mechanically interesting qualifying session from the word “go”. After some gear box issues, Rosberg exited the pits a few minutes later than he wanted to, however he did not let this fracture his pole chances. Both Mercedes went out on the circuit on hard compounds making commentators question if a one-stop strategy would be on the cards for the troublesome duo. Sutil drives out on to the circuit with hydraulic problems while Kobayashi enters the first recorded lap with a time of 1:28.299. Shortly after the tifosi loose themselves with fiery red Ferrari filled emotion as Alonso hits pole position with 1:26.514, Rosberg flies through taking pole with 1:24.862. Queue a qualifying battle between Rosberg and Hamilton, where Hamilton hits 1:25.571 and Rosberg narrowly gets 1:25.607. Massa sneaks his way into second while the two McLarens each hit a starting 1:30s time. Ricciardo stole ninth while Massa stole pole with 1:25.528 with eight minutes of the session to go. Thirty seconds later Rosberg steals first again with 1:25.493 travelling 353.9 km/h through the speed trap while Lotus F1 Team’s Grosjean returns to the garage after springing a leak. With just over six minutes to go Vettel became reckless by going too wide through the apexes of Ascari chicane and then too wide onto the brand new Astroturf at Parabolica, loosing time. With just under 6 minutes left Hamilton steals first again with 1:25.363, while Rosberg considers a gearbox change with his engineers, the risk is too high.

In a last ditch effort; Hulkenberg flies out in the last few minutes of Q1 with a very shaky performance under pressure running a time of 1:26.665 placing him in ninth position. Bianchi also rushes out onto the circuit after experiencing issues and places eighteenth between Lotus’ Maldonado in seventeenth and Grosjean in nineteenth while passing the chequered flag. At the end of Q1 Hamilton describes his final pole lap as poor with his front right wheel locking up into turn one and again into Ascari chicane pushing too wide into the second apex. I guess you cannot be perfect while shooting a Pharrell Williams music video at the same time as driving an F1 car.
Knockouts at the end of Q1: Maldonado, Grosjean, Kobayashi, Bianchi, Chilton, and Ericsson.

Q2:
Hulkenberg exits the pits first and places a time of 1:31.488, which is later beaten by Kvyat with 1:26.265. Rosberg flew out of the pits and set a lap of 1:24.682, then followed by Bottas, Alonso, Perez, and Raikkonen. Massa then captures second place with a 1:25 flat showing the start of a weekend long battle between Mercedes and Williams. Meanwhile, Alonso oversteers on Parabolica and discovers the new joys that is the Astroturf and regains control of his car back on the circuit. With seven and a half minutes remaining Rosberg is told to come to the pits to conserve his car while Ricciardo and Vettel both place sixth and seventh respectively while Hamilton steals first with 1:24.540. Button pushes for fifth in a show to try to keep his contract at McLaren pushing his teammate into the bottom six.

With just over five minutes to go, Rosberg re-enters the circuit in an attempt to beat Hamilton’s time, but is unsuccessful but still shows to be the fastest through the speed trap with 353.9 km/h. With four minutes left Rosberg returns to the pits. With just over one minute and twenty seconds remaining Raikkonen pushes for a better lap but makes a mistake through Ascari chicane. With a last ditch effort Vettel secures seventh place and Raikkonen misses out on Q3.
Knockouts at the end of Q2: Kvyat, Raikkonen, Vergne, Hulkenberg, Sutil, and Gutierrez.

Q3:
From the start of Q3 it was clear that it was going to be a time battle between Mercedes and Williams, with both Williams drivers pushing hard against the sturdy boshe and the prepubescent Brit. All cars go out from the start of the ten-minute session to get their laps out, Perez goes first with a time of 1:26.230, one second slower than expected of him, while Rosberg and Bottas hit 1:25.552 and 1:24.697 respectively putting Massa in pole position. It looked good for Williams as Massa gains 1:24.845 securing second place. By the five-minute mark, Hamilton and Rosberg had already beaten Bottas and Massa’s times and everyone went back to the pits.
With just over two minutes left of Q3, Rosberg, both McLaren drivers and a few more go back out onto the circuit again in a last ditch effort to improve lap times. Rosberg continues to secure his second place position while not managing to snatch pole from Hamilton while McLaren’s collective efforts show Magnussen taking fifth place from Button, pushing Button to sixth, creating an all Mercedes front row, all Williams second row, and all McLaren third row.

Results from Qualifying:
1. Hamilton (Mercedes)
2. Rosberg (Mercedes)
3. Bottas (Williams-Mercedes)
4. Massa (Williams-Mercedes)
5. Magnussen (McLaren-Mercedes)
6. Button (McLaren-Mercedes)
7. Alonso (Ferrari)
8. Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
9. Ricciardo (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
10. Perez (Force India-Mercedes)
11. Kvyat (STR-Renault)
12. Raikkonen (Ferrari)
13. Vergne (STR-Renault)
14. Hulkenberg (Force India-Mercedes)
15. Sutil (Sauber-Ferrari)
16. Gutierrez (Sauber-Ferrari)
17. Maldonado (Lotus-Renault)
18. Grosjean (Lotus-Renault)
19. Kobayashi (Caterham-Renualt)
20. Bianchi (Marussia-Renault)
21. Chilton (Marussia-Renault)
22. Ericsson (Caterham-Renault)

While there were no major race incidents during qualifying it was a clear show of good competitive driving and team management ending with a first row of Mercedes, second row of Williams and third row of McLaren which is exactly the sort of start that both Williams and McLaren need right now. The results and general performance of Vettel and Ricciardo show that Red Bull Racing seems to have dropped a little in pace which will hopefully be addressed by their engineers tonight before Sundays race. But that said, with Red Bull dropping their pace and McLaren stepping up, it is clear to me that we are all in for an interesting race at the classic Monza circuit tomorrow.

– Tom Grantham

* Actually a HAM sandwich.

Italian Grand Prix: Track Analysis

Ciao amici, e benvenuti al Gran Primio d’Italia! The 5.793km Autodromo di Monza requires a completely different aerodynamic setup compared to any race on the calendar. Adding to atmosphere, the unique blend of long straights, and slow corners pose a circuit that is seriously hard on the brakes.
A lower downforce package for straight-line speed is favoured for Monza, resulting in some slippy cars on track (especially out of Lesmo) and a greater risk of locking the wheels into the braking zones. Hard and medium compound tyres are therefore the tyre allocation for the weekend.

In sector one, the first chicane at Rettifilo is a difficult braking zone, one of the tightest corners on the F1 calendar, and the slowest point on the circuit. Watch for the opportunity to overtake at turns four and five into the second sector. A good exit from the second chicane is needed to carry the momentum into Lesmo. Overtaking is easy in the DRS zone on the back straight before heading into the final sector. Using the kerbs on the exit of the Ascari chicane (turns eight-nine-ten), drivers approach the Parabolica at a pretty quick pace (330km/h). The iconic gravel trap at the Curva Parabolica has been replaced with a tarmac run-off area, removing an ample amount of risk from running wide into turn 11. Previously, running off-line into turn 11 and putting a foot on the grass would see drivers pulled off track and into the gravel trap. It was a corner where drivers’ dared to brake late, to push just that little bit further. This year, the tarmac run-off doesn’t save time, but it does save bodywork, and allow drivers to safely re-enter the track. Safer –yes, exciting – well…

But at least for what the Parabolica lacks in amusement this year, the Tifosi will make up for, I’m sure. To match the distinctive circuit, only the distinctive Tifosi can deliver such enthusiasm (understatement) from the grandstands.

In other news, I’m very happy to introduce a guest blogger for this weekend. Tom Grantham* is an experienced blogger and friend who has very kindly agreed to take over alelbuth for the Italian Grand Prix. Tom will be writing the Pre Race Thoughts and Race Post for Round 13, as I rather ingeniously organised to move to Madrid over the race weekend. Idiot.

– Alex

* Otherwise known as Lord Grantham

Belgian Grand Prix: Aussie Aussie Aussie

Daniel Ricciardo took out his third win of the season at Spa-Francorchamps after a faultless drive allowed him to pick up the pieces of Mercedes disastrous race. Nico Rosberg somewhat controversially took the second step of the podium, while the quiet achiever at Williams; Valtteri Bottas came home to finish third. From lights out, Hamilton got the jump on Rosberg on the run down into La Source, but so too did Vettel. Starting from P3, the Red Bull was quick off the line to challenge the two Mercedes down into turn 1. Rosberg reluctantly conceded two positions, until a too-eager Vettel ran wide, letting Rosberg back through to challenge Hamilton. The rest of the field made it through La Source relatively unscathed, with the exception of Bianchi, who ran wide down to Eau Rouge and was clipped by Romain Grosjean as he re-entered the track. The tone for the rest of the race however, was set on the second lap after a very clumsy tussle between the two Mercedes. As Lewis Hamilton led his team-mate* into Les Combes, Rosberg went off the racing line to have a look around the outside of Hamilton. Hamilton continued on the racing line to make the apex of the corner, only to find Rosberg still there… Rosberg’s front wing clipped Hamilton’s left rear, causing a puncture (and soon a full blow-out) and a considerable loss of downforce to Rosberg’s car. All of this, and only on lap two.

Daniel Ricciardo was there to pick up the pieces of the scrapping Mercedes. Ricciardo was calm and calculated, not to say he wasn’t pushing. Making it somewhat of a habit, Ricciardo took Alonso into Les Combes on lap 4 to hunt down Vettel. He didn’t have long to stalk behind his team-mate before another mistake on Vettel’s behalf forced him wide, allowing Ricciardo to pounce past, and scamper away. The young Australian led for most of the 44 lap race, defending his top step finish right down to the last lap. Ricciardo finished the race on 17 lap old medium compound tyres, just 3.3s ahead of a fully recovered Rosberg on 10 lap old soft compound. A brilliant drive, and a well deserved win for Ricciardo and his “big homies” (his words, not mine). Vettel, though somewhat outshined by the young-gun, put in an impressive drive (though clumsy in areas) to finish P5. Vettel’s race came to a climatic finish following his final pit stop for soft compound tyres with just 10 laps remaining. The strategy put Vettel right amongst the battle in the midfield between Magnussen, Button, and Alonso. The wheel-to-wheel action saw Vettel capiltalise on mistakes made by Button and Alonso, moving himself up to P5 on the final lap. Despite a solid finish, Vettel’s race was a little shabby, exceeding track limits at the Curve Paul Frere, and running wide through Les Combes on the opening lap.

Valtteri Bottas completed the podium line-up, making up three positions to finish third. The Williams, clearly much more competitive in the dry conditions made progress early on in the race, making an easy pass on Rosberg before remaining steadily on the gearbox of Vettel. Following the Finn’s pit on lap 38 for the harder compound, Bottas breezed past Vettel on the run into La Source, and never looked back. Having no such luck, Felipe Massa picked up damage from Hamilton’s tyre debris, spoiling his race from early on. Massa spent most of the afternoon well outside the points, though finished his race in the 1:54s in P13.

Kimi Raikkonen looked in strong podium contention at Spa, though in the end, the F14 T didn’t have the pace to challenge the Williams. Still running the smaller wing, Kimi was lapping within the 1:54s compared to Alonso’s 1:56s, showing that hopefully the Finn is becoming more comfortable in the Ferrari. Alonso’s race got off on the wrong foot, with team personnel still on the grid at the start of the formation lap. Alonso was awarded a 5 second stop-go penalty, which he served on lap 13. Though the penalty could have been worse for Alonso, it did bring him out behind Magnussen, who proved not as easy to pass as Alonso would have expected. The F14 T looked very scrappy, lacking considerable grip and even speed against the MP4-29 (which is slightly embarrassing). In the final laps, the Ferrari was in the midst of the battle for P5, 6, and 7. Though spoiled his chances by running wide, allowing Vettel through. Eventually Alonso finished P8.

McLaren had one of their best results of the season of a double points finish, with Magnussen P6 ahead of Button in P7. Magnussen had already shown he could hold his own against Alonso, though managing a two stop strategy finishing on 20 lap old medium compound tyres is rather something in your rookie year. Jensen Button waited until the final stages of the race to do something exciting, keeping himself ahead of the Ferrari, and for a time the Red Bull as well. Alonso had eventually made it past Button, though running wide on the final lap allowed the McLaren through for P7.

Force India had a better race than qualifying, though only managed to get one car into the points. Perez made up four positions in the race to finish P9 on a two-stop strategy. Hulkenberg, on the same strategy, made up a full nine positions to finish just outside the points in P11.

Danill Kvyat took out the final point of the race, finishing P10. Kvyat had a quiet, but positive race. Vergne was unlucky to score a point at Spa, lapping in the 1:53s, albeit in clean air and with no one behind him. Perhaps the pressure of losing his Toro Rosso seat will push Vergne the same way it pushed Massa last season?

Sauber had a somewhat anonymous race, with neither driver picking up a point. Sutil finished ahead of his team-mate in P14. Gutierrez at least had a better race than he did qualifying, though he did only manage P15.

Max Chilton was involved in a rare occurrence of racing in challenging Ericsson for P16. Hats off to Max though, who after having stalked down the Caterham once, lost considerable ground in the final few laps due to blue flags as the scrap between Magnussen, Button, Vettel, and Alonso moved through. The Marrusia managed to let everyone past, and close the gap back to Ericsson in less than a lap, to eventually overtake the Caterham. Jules Bianchi was forced to retire on lap 41, though his race was ruined from the opening lap. Following his contact with the Lotus, Bianchi never managed to make up his lost grid positions.

It was not the best day at the office for Lotus, with neither driver reaching the chequered flag. Maldonado retired on lap 2, due to exhaust issues on his E22 calling it quits. Grosjean made it to the final ten laps before damage from debris forced him to retire.

With the number of cars that picked up damage from debris during the race, it is a wonder why at no point the Stewards thought it might be a good idea to deploy the safety car and clear the track. That being said, if the track had of been cleared, Nico Rosberg wouldn’t have picked up with very snazzy decal around his antenna (a piece of Lewis’ tyre). The safety car would have however, brought the grid back together, saving a few races. All in all, I don’t think anyone will be complaining about the top step result, as Ricciardo remains the only driver able to win a race against the Mercedes this season. It’s the Tifosi’s turn to host Formula 1, as the championship moves to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix in two weeks time, so until then, bonsoir.

– Alex

* That term is used very loosely now

Belgian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Mercedes lock out the front row of the grid ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix, though it was Nico Rosberg who could hold his own in the tricky track conditions, to out qualify his team-mate for pole position. Lewis Hamilton, therefore settles to start alongside in P2, with Sebastian Vettel still two seconds behind for P3. The Spa circuit lived up to its reputation of varying track conditions during qualifying. A massive downpour in the hour before the first session ensured that the already challenging track was, shall we say; moist. The slippy track resulted in many an off-moment for most of the grid.

Mercedes still clearly have the lead on the rest of the grid, qualifying a full two seconds ahead of Vettel’s Red Bull. Nico Rosberg kept a level head during all three sessions. While playing the usual game of cat and mouse between his team-mate for provisional pole, it was a more calculated racing line that saved Rosberg time, securing him pole position. Hamilton suffered several off-moments during qualifying, mostly around the Bus Stop Chicane, though he could be seen twitching through Eau Rouge in Q2. With no mechanical issues for the F1 W05* , Hamilton has nothing to fall back on, he just wasn’t quick enough for Rosberg today.

Red Bull appear to be closing the gap to the Mercedes, albeit, not by much. Vettel stayed on the intermediate tyres for all three sessions, a risky choice as rain continued to spatter the track, but a risk that paid off nonetheless. In the final session, Vettel ran wide after swapping to fresh intermediates and not having his tyres up to temperature. It took three laps on the new tyres for Vettel to set a time of 2:07.717 for P3.

Ricciardo continues to challenge his team-mate, briefly pushing him into the drop zone in during Q2. Also choosing the stick with the intermediate tyres, Ricciardo recovered from a rather thrilling twitch through Blanchimont to sit just behind Vettel with 2:07.911. The Australian sat in P4 until Alonso crossed the line, settling him to start P5 on the grid.

Alonso had a few moments throughout the day, suffering a right front lock up in Q2, and a few twitches at Eau Rouge in Q3, though overall had quite a positive qualifying. The Ferrari driver put his F14 T through its paces; with slightly better straight-line speed for P4. Raikkonen ran a different wing to Alonso during qualifying, choosing a higher downforce setup to give advantage in sector two. Kimi was rather slow to get going in the first session, venturing out first for two laps on wets, then diving back for inters. When he eventually set a lap time it was more than enough to see him through. Not wanting a repeat of qualifying in Hungary, the team kept Raikkonen out to ensure his passage to the next sessions. In the second session, Kimi catapulted himself from P14 to P5 on the inters, finally coming to rest in P8 in the final session with 2:08.780, 0.994s behind Alonso.

Williams had an interesting qualifying, with the FW36 almost running out of steam towards the end of Q3. Starting strong in the early session, Bottas and Massa challenged for the top end of the time sheets behind the Mercedes and Red Bulls. Though as the day progressed, the Williams didn’t appear to cope as well with the varying conditions. In the wet, Bottas coped well compared to the rest of the grid, though as the track began to dry and the team swapped to the intermediate tyres his advantage diminished slightly. Still very comfortably making it through to the final qualifying session, Bottas steadily found his way back to manage a lap of 2:08.049, for P6. It was a similar story for Massa, finishing the day still 1.7s behind his team-mate, in P9.

McLaren will no doubt be hoping for another dampening of the track during tomorrows race, with the MP4-29 clearly preferring the wet weather. Magnussen did manage to out-qualify his team-mate once again for P7, pushing Raikkonen down to P8 in the final moments of Q3. Jensen Button was under pressure at the end of Q2 after falling into the drop zone (with a lap set by Magnussen), Button pulled it out of the bag and managed to safely make it through to the final session. However, his pace didn’t continue in Q3, failing to improve on his Q2 time, Button will round out the top ten with 2:09.776.

Kvyat was unlucky not to make it to the top ten shoot out, though had a positive qualifying all the same. On his first out lap, the Russian went off at turn 9, with the Spa circuit biting back at the rookie. This was Kvyat’s only real moment, and he went on to set 2:09.377 for P11. Vergne’s pace started off stronger than his team-mate’s, lapping faster in the first session. In the second session however, Vergne couldn’t find the extra 0.5s that Kvyat could, making 2:09.805 on intermediate tyres his best effort for P12.

Force India had a very bipolar qualifying as Nico Hulkenberg didn’t make it out of the first session. Sergio Perez was luckier, lapping a second faster to make it through to Q2. Only improving his Q1 time by half a second, Perez eventually qualified P13 with 2:10.084. It appeared to be a strategic error that cost Hulkenberg his qualifying, with the VJM07 sitting in the garage for the first half of the session. Hoping for a dry line to have emerged, Hulkenberg ventured out on intermediates, though lost time in sector two on cold tyres (and no dry line). The result was 2:11.267 and P18.

Adrian Sutil managed to make it through to Q2, improving over the afternoon to set a lap time of 2:10.238 for P14. However, Sauber suffered from a lack of luck for Esteban. His C33 crawled to a stop during the first qualifying session. Despite only getting in four laps before losing drive, Gutierrez still out-qualified the Caterhams, so you know, small victories.

There were more small victories for Lotus, as Romain Grosjean made it through to the second session. Maldonado didn’t quite make the cut, being pushed out by Magnussen in the final moments of Q1. Pastor was one of the first to feel Spa’s sting, losing the back of his E22 into the Bus Stop Chicane, (you’re not actually meant to park there). The Enstone team therefore starts a little further back than they would have hoped for with Grosjean in P15, and Maldonado P17.

Bianchi continues to impress Marussia (and myself) after another strong performance in qualifying. On the intermediate tyres, Bianchi ended the first session in P14 on the time sheets, ahead of Magnussen and equal with Sutil. In Q2 the MR03 couldn’t keep up, with Bianchi failing to improve on his earlier time to qualify P16. Still, a Marussia in Q2 is a rather impressive achievement. Max Chilton has resolved his contractual issues, though I would have rather seen Alexander Rossi take the MR03 for a spin. Chilton delivered his usual qualifying performance, no real incidents, no real pace for P19.

Caterham have changed their driver line up for the Belgian Grand Prix. Standing in for Kobayashi, Andre Lotterer made his qualifying debut in Formula 1. Lotterer had a slow start to the session. Taking his time to lap within the 107% rule, though managed 2:13.469 after nine laps, out-qualifying Ericsson for P21. Marcus Ericsson therefore rounds out the grid in P22.

It’s difficult to know what to expect at Spa. There has been many a first lap incident on the run down to La Source, with the safety car making an appearance at eight of the last twelve Belgian Grand Prix. Whether tomorrow will deliver such carnage of the past is unknown. However, at a circuit like Spa-Francorchamps, it will undoubtedly be a beautiful race to watch.

– Alex

* And nothing in his eye

Belgian Grand Prix: Track Analysis

Bonjour, et bienvenue à le Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps! After the seemingly endless Summer Shutdown, the championship resumes for Round 12 at the iconic Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix. The track runs clockwise for 44 laps, the fewer number of laps given that Spa is the longest circuit on the calendar, at an immense 7.004km. Comprised of a mix of highs-peed corners, slow(er) corners, and dramatic elevation changes, Spa is a very challenging track.

Turn 1, La Source, marks the slowest corner on the track before (if you make it out unscathed) opening up to Eau Rouge. There is a risk of cars bottoming out* at the bottom of Eau Rouge, the long sweeping corner should therefore dictate drivers’ ride-height for the rest of the circuit.

With DRS assistance along the Kemmel Straight into sector two, Les Combes offers a lovely opportunity to overtake. The second sector is made up of slow corners (that’s a relative term there…) where mechanical grip is important. A good exit at Turn 15 for the Curve Paul Frère is needed to take Blanchimont at full speed, and into the Bus Stop Chicane for another opportunity to overtake.

Spa is a low drag, lower downforce circuit. So an aerodynamically efficient setup is favoured to assist in straight-line speed for sectors one and three. Teams opting for more rear wing are typically going for a stronger sector two. Despite having 19 corners, brake wear is considered light, giving an indication of just how little braking is needed.

The Belgian Grand Prix is a favourite among drivers and spectators; it’s not hard to see why.

– Alex

* Lol, bottom.

Alelbuth goes to Enstone

Being the “hard hitting F1 journalist” that I am, I thought it best to go out and see a factory first hand, and what better place to start than at Enstone. Yesterday, the Enstone family at Lotus F1 Team kindly hosted me as their guest for the day. My adventure started in Oxford, where barely having recovered from my jet lag, I found myself sitting outside of the train station with two coffees. One for myself (needed), and one for Aurélie (also needed) who had kindly agreed to collect me from the station. I did Google Maps the journey to Enstone via public transport, but the route involved two bus changes, followed by a 30 minute walk along a field, so Lotus offered to pick me up from Oxford.

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Once I received my fancy visitors card I met with Ian, who’d I’d been in contact with. My tour started as Ian led me into a room telling me “Don’t hold your breath, it’s nothing special”, opening the doors to the conference room where Michael Schumacher’s 1994 and 1995, and Fernando Alonso’s 2005 and 2006 championship winning Benettons and Renaults lined the wall.

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As ingenious as the E22s twin tusk nose, Lotus’ Computational Fluid Dynamics centre is built in an underground James Bond style bunker to get around planning permissions. Though the feel of the building has more of a Teletubbies feel than a spy bunker, that is, if the Teletubbies were working on state of the art technical developments for the E22…

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I don’t mean to brag, but when I sat on the wheel the car moved about a quarter of an inch back, so *technically* I have driven a Formula 1 car. Just saying… Move over Pastor, I’m coming.

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We then moved along to the wind tunnel, where I was given a lesson in how the tunnel transforms the fast turbulent air generated from the fan, to fast smooth air by the time it runs over the 60% scale model of the E22. I wasn’t able to take photos in this area, but the scale of the tunnel is quite impressive. With the power needed to generate the fan, being enough to run a small village. Impressive.

The tour continued to the 3D printing facility, where an entire mock up of the car, from gearbox to front-wing end plate can be printed using a sophisticated combination of lasers, powder and/or liquid. Moving through the factory, I was taken to visit the composites department, where just next door Charles Pic’s chassis was being repaired. On closer inspection I noted that some of the bodywork on the car was being held together with masking tape, but just until the glue dried I was assured by Ian.

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After lunch in the Lotus cafeteria (I had a lovely fresh tuna sandwich in case you were interested), I went upstairs for a chat with Andy and Aurélie in the media communications office to get some advice on pursuing a career in motor sports. My VIP day ended with a visit to the trophy shelves, where I couldn’t resist taking a couple of “trophy selfies”, and hugging the headless manikin on the Lotus race suit.

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At 5pm, I left the factory with aching cheeks from my Daniel Ricciardo impersonation all day*. Andy dropped me back to Oxford station so I could get back to London. I’ve always heard rumours of the Enstone family being the friendliest in the Paddock, and I can confirm, that’s true. No other team would be that hospitable to a young (slightly F1 obsessed) Australian girl who’d flown 12,000 miles to ask for career advice. So thank you very much Ian, Aurélie, Andy, and the Lotus F1 Team for such an incredible day.

– Alex

* Ie. I couldn’t stop smiling.

Hungarian Grand Prix: Ricciardo On Top

Daniel Ricciardo stormed his way to his second victory of the season (and his career) at a thrilling Hungarian Grand Prix. For the first time in a long time it seems, Ferrari graced the podium with Fernando Alonso finishing second. While, on a track where you can’t pass, Lewis Hamilton passed 19 cars to take home third.  The sopping track conditions at lights out saw spray obscure the field’s view (unless you were pole sitter, Nico Rosberg), as the grid cautiously filed through turn 1. Bottas made a smart move, keeping to the outside of the track, and out of the spray to take Sebastian Vettel for P2, while Fernando Alonso made a quick move passed both the Red Bulls of Ricciardo and Vettel. Despite a very slippy track, everyone emerged unscathed from the first lap, even Massa. The only opening lap incident was Hamilton spinning at turn 2 as he caught he way up from the pit lane.

Ricciardo had a faultless race, consistently setting fastest lap times throughout the race. Making his way from P4 on the grid, the Australian managed his tyres on a three stop strategy, holding his position while others pit again. After passing Hamilton on lap 67 on the inside of turn 3, Ricciardo set his sights on Alonso for the lead. The two replicated their performance from last week, with Ricciardo wasting no time in attacking. Just one lap later, Ricciardo lined up the Ferrari on the run down in to turn 1, taking the lead and subsequent win. Vettel very nearly repeated the manoeuvre that sent Sergio Perez into the barriers. On lap 33, Vettel got onto the astroturf at the exit of the final corner, sending the RB10 into a nice little pirouette, grazing the pit wall before throwing it back in gear and charging back down the pit straight. Vettel had been running in P4, and the incident saw him fall down the order to P13. Vettel managed to make up six positions to finish P7.

Almost as surprising as Hamilton’s podium appearance was Alonso’s place on the second step in the less than competitive Ferrari F14 T. Alonso inherited the race lead following the second safety car period, building up the gap by setting fastest lap times. For a moment it looked as if a Ferrari might win a Grand Prix for the first time this season. Daniel Ricciardo saw to that however, with Alonso happy to finish P2. The surprises in the Ferrari garage continued as Raikkonen sneakily made up ten positions to finish P6.

It was refreshing not to see Mercedes walk away with the race result. Mercedes were already brought down a peg or two as the Hungaroring favours downforce rather than sheer speed, but Rosberg found it difficult to overtake, and struggled with his brakes to give way for a more hair raising race. The rules didn’t seem to apply for Hamilton, who found no issue in overtaking on the startling narrow circuit. Starting from the pit lane, the Briton made up 19 positions on a two stop strategy to finish on the podium. The only car that Hamilton failed to pass was Alonso’s F14 T. By the end of the race, Hamilton’s tyres were dead and the Mercedes power just couldn’t make a move stick against the Ferrari. Hamilton was hungry for the points, and was never going to move aside to let Rosberg through (who was on a different tyre strategy). Rosberg couldn’t catch up to his team mate in racing conditions until the final lap. Rosberg was on fresher tyres than Hamilton, and the two engaged in an intoxicating wheel to wheel battle for third. Not letting up, Hamilton forced Rosberg wide at turn 2, with Rosberg losing time and settling for P4.

It was a double points finish for Williams as Massa finally seems to have shaken his new talent of being crashed into, with the Brazilian finishing a very competitive P5. Bottas had a strong start, cleverly keeping to the outside line into the first corner to avoid spray and make up a position against Vettel in the opening lap. The Finn continued to defend against the Red Bull, who even with DRS wasn’t able to pass the Williams. As the race progressed, Bottas’ pace dropped off and the Williams’ complained of understeer, eventually finishing within the points in P8.

Vergne had his best race of the season, strategically right before the summer break and “silly season”. Whether Vergne is feeling the pressure to prove his potential in the team, or the Hungaroring favours the STR9, it was a fantastic race for the Toro Rosso driver. Making his way up to fifth, Vergne defended his position from Rosberg, who on fresher tyres was eager to get back to the lead. Vergne slipped passed the Mercedes after Rosberg tried and failed to pass Magnussen at turn 1 on lap 16. It can’t be said that Vergne held up the Mercedes, as the Toro Rosso was still lapping at a competitive pace clearly benefiting from the wet track and high downforce. By lap 27, Vergne was up into second, and again defending from Rosberg. Despite it being the Mercedes, and the Toro Rosso not having DRS, Vergne again managed to keep Rosberg at bay, until pitting on lap 35. As the grid settled down following the pit stops, Vergne finished in P9 to collect two happy points for the team. For once over shadowed by his team mate’s performance, Kvyat finished outside of the points in P14.

McLaren should have finished higher in the order, if it weren’t for their risk in tyre strategy not paying off. The team played a gamble on the reappearance of rain, keeping Button out on the intermediates after the first safety car period. For a while, it looked as if the strategy had paid off, with Button being able to easily swoop passed Ricciardo on slicks for the lead at the race restart. As the race wore on, the rain never came and the rest of the field on slicks got up to temp. On lap 16 McLaren pitted both Button and Magnussen for soft compound tyres, but Button was unable to make his way back to the front of the grid, only on lap 30 managing to pass Sutil at turn 1 to get himself into the points. Button would finish the race in that position to collect a single point for the team in P10. Starting from the pit lane after his crash in qualifying, Kevin Magnussen made up 9 position throughout the race to finish P12.

Sutil had an uneventful race, with the Sauber driver starting and finishing in P11. Despite the number of non-finishers in the race, Sutil couldn’t manage to get the C33 into the points. The only racing action that Gutierrez encountered was going wheel to wheel with Sergio Perez on the exit of the pit lane. Under the first safety car period, made the dash in for medium compound tyres. After being released at the same time, the two went into a kind of Mexican stand off (pun intended) on the exit of the pit before Gutierrez yielded, allowing Perez out in front. Unfortunately, as the race progressed Gutierrez added himself to the list of race retirements on lap 32 after the MGU-K system failed in his C33.

Maldonado was lucky to finish the race in one piece, spinning at turn 1 and clipping the Marussia of Jules Bianchi on lap 18, eventually finishing P13. The Lotus driver suffered from understeer during the race. A typical issue due to the set up of the car for the circuit, though it made the E22 trickier than usual to handle. Adding to the teams woes, both E22s struggled for tyre temp (especially under the safety car periods)… Poor Grosjean.

Though not picking up any points, both Marussia’s finished the race. Bianchi made up one grid position throughout the race to finish P15. Max Chilton had a quiet race at the back of the grid, being promoted to finish P16 as the rest of the field dropped like flies.

Force India leave the Hungaroring without any points, with neither driver making it to the chequered flag. Perez takes the award for most spectacular crash of the afternoon after crashing into the pit wall barrier on lap 22. The Mexican dipped a wheel onto the astroturf at the final corner, flicking the VJM07 across the track. Perez however was lucky to make it to lap 22 after an on track incident with his team mate several laps earlier. Hulkenberg had clipped the back of Perez going into turn 14, Perez was able to control and recover with minimal damage, but the contact sent Hulkenberg’s Force India into the barriers and out of the race.

Caterham made up the second double retirement of the afternoon, albiet one driver ‘retired’ with a little more force than the other… Marcus Ericsson had brought out the first safety car of the afternoon. At lap 9, track conditions were still slippy (even on the inters). Ericsson lost traction and dropped it on the entry into turn 3, spearing his CT05 straight into the barriers. Kobayashi came to a stop at turn 12 on lap 24.

The Hungaroring always promises a good race, but this year the circuit delivered some of the best action all season. Another win for Ricciardo, and a Ferrari finally on the podium. Hamilton and Raikkonen chose to ignore the “it’s next to impossible to pass at the Hungaroring”. The wet weather and cooler track conditions send Ericsson, Perez, and Vettel into spins. While the high understeer and downforce of the set up saw Hulkenberg and Maldonado very twitchy. Overall, a pretty good race to end the first half of term with (and we thought this season was going to be boring). We’ll return from the summer break at Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgium Grand Prix and the stunningly beautiful, Eau Rouge. Until then, goodnight. – Alex

Qualifying Pole Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Podium Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Fastest Lap 1:25.724 Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)

Hungarian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Nico Rosberg just snatched pole position from Sebastian Vettel in the final moments of qualifying, with Valtteri Bottas just a tenth of a second behind the Red Bull. Qualifying was a bit of a mixed bag with track conditions, and grid positions. Rosberg topped the time sheets throughout all three sessions, though Hamilton’s potential in the session will never be known. A fuel leak to Hamilton’s F1 Wo5 meant the Brit’s qualifying went up in flames only a few minutes into the first session, literally. The team now have the choice for Hamilton to start from either the back of the grid of the pit lane.

The second sector played right into the Red Bulls hands, as both Vettel and Ricciardo put in good qualifying performances. The RB10 benefit’s the most from the low-speed-high-downforce nature of the Hungaroring. Vettel kept the pressure on Rosberg all through qualifying, as he even managed to out qualify Ricciardo with a 1:23.201, which for a brief moment looked good enough for pole position. Ricciardo was just 0.190s behind Vettel, taking P4.

Bottas split the two Red Bull after a very clean qualifying session. The Williams driver ran well in all three sessions, keeping up at the top of the time sheets with every timed lap. The Finn only went out on one timed lap in the second session, but managed to get it in before the double waved yellows for Kvyat’s spin at the final corner, securing him a place in Q3. Massa was less than a second behind his team mate through out the afternoon though couldn’t improve on his final lap in Q3, settling for P6.

Ferrari had the strongest strategy in qualifying*, keeping both Alonso and Raikkonen in the garage at the end of the first session. Alonso was safe, making it through to Q3 to put in a time of 1:23.909 on the soft compound tyres for P5. Assuming that both drivers were safe to go through to the second session, Raikkonen’s 1:26.792 on the medium compound tyres was knocked into the drop zone with P17 by a late run by Bianchi in the Marussia. To add insult to injury, the Ferrari Academy driver is rumoured to replace Kimi at the Scuderia when the Finn retires.

McLaren’s MP4-29 has benefited from the banning of FRIC, and the high downforce circuit. Button finished the session in a strong position for the team, sitting in P4 with 1:24.294 on the soft compound, until Massa and Alonso improved on their times. Ricciardo’s final run pushed Button down to start P7. Magnussen’s session was cut short only a few minutes into Q3. On the run down into turn 1, the track conditions suddenly changed from dry to wet. The Dane had no grip, or opportunity to reduce his speed as he careered side on into the barriers. The hefty impact red flagged the session with 9:59 mins left. With no time set, Magnussen will start from pit lane.

It was a good session for Vergne, who in the Toro Rosso made it through to Q3. Vergne steadily improved throughout the afternoon, until damp track conditions in the final session saw the STR9 a little more tentative on the lap. The light rain at the start of the session wasn’t enough to bring out the inters, so on the soft compound tyres Vergne put in a 1:24.720 for P8. Kvyat span at T12 at the end of Q2. The STR9 looked to have an issue with the brakes, losing the back on the final corner and causing double waved yellows. The Russian’s time of 1:24.706 before his incident was good enough to put the Toro Rosso in P11.

Force India were slow to get it together in qualifying. Hulkenberg sat near the drop zone in Q1, as even on the soft compound tyres he couldn’t get the VJM07 to bite into the corners. On a late run in Q1, the Force India got it together and pulled himself out of danger. The grip improved as the session went on, with Hulkenberg eventually putting in a 1:24.775 in the final session for P9. Sergio Perez was another mechanical casualty in qualifying. A hydraulic leak put a premature end to the Mexican’s session, set to start P13.

Both Sutil and Gutierrez made it through to Q2 for Sauber, despite the C33 looking less than compliant at the Hungaroring. Even on the grippier** soft compound tyres, the Sauber didn’t appear to bite down into the corners. Sutil battled the C33 to put in a 1:25.136 for P12. Gutierrez was unlucky to get caught in Kvyat’s yellow flags, backing off and unable to improve on his 1:25.260 for P14.

Grosjean was the only Lotus out in qualifying. Maldonado barely made it passed the pit exit before his E22 called it a day, forcing the Venezuelan to park up on the side of the track. Grosjean, like the Force India, was slow to get it together in Q1, but pulled himself through with an impressive late run at the end of the first session. Grosjean improved on his Q1 time, but not enough to make an appearance in the final session. The best the Frenchman could get out of the E22 was 1:25.337 for P15.

Marussia have a lot of reason to celebrate in one half of the garage, with Bianchi making an impressive appearance in Q2 by knocking out Kimi Raikkonen at the end of the first session. Bianchi qualified P16, though his final flying lap was compromised by double waved yellows. Chilton had a less exciting session, with a fuel pressure issue leaving him with a slower than usual lap, qualifying P19.

Caterham unsurprisingly round out the back of the grid, with Kobayashi qualifying P18 ahead of Ericsson’s P20. A small positive for the team, Ericsson’s 1:28.643 was this time within the 107% time (1:30.886) this session.

Usually, it would be expected that Hamilton would make his way through the field easily from the back of the grid. At the Hungaroring, where overtaking is extremely difficult, it would be lucky if he made it into the points… if he weren’t Lewis Hamilton. As much as I hate to admit it, the Mercedes driver is one of the only drivers on the grid who’d be able to drive to the kind of calibre to overtake the majority of the field. Even with the playing field somewhat levelled, Mercedes power continue to dominate, though this is Red Bull’s best chance of a win since Canada. In any case, tomorrow’s race will be unmissable.

– Alex

* That’s sarcasm in case you couldn’t tell.

**Another technical term there

Hungarian Grand Prix: Track Analysis

Szervusz és Üdvözlet a Magyar Nagydíj! The final round before the mid term break takes us to Budapest, and the Hungaroring. The 4.381km circuit is known as “Monaco without the barriers”, and it’s not hard to see why. The track is very narrow, with a slow sequence of corners in the second sector making it very difficult to overtake. Teams must rely on the best possible mechanical grip for their setup, rather than straight line speed. This puts teams with superior downforce, such as Red Bull, in a more competitive position. MGU-K comes into play with heavy braking zones in the hairpin at turn 1, and turns 6 and 7. Only 55% of the lap is taken at full throttle, with the two DRS zones in the first sector giving the best chance for overtaking. Once again, the absence of FRIC has seen some off moments for cars running wide at turn 11, though slightly less so than at Hockenheim. The Hungaroring is a fantastic circuit to race on, it looks more like an F1 car on a go-kart circuit.

– Alex