Canadian Grand Prix: Daniel Ricciardo Day

Daniel Ricciardo took out his first win in Formula 1 at the Canadian Grand Prix in a race that, let’s just say, exceeded my expectations. Nico Rosberg held on to his brakes to finish the race in second, while Sebastian Vettel avoided being collected in the last lap collision between Massa and Perez to finish third. From the first lap, the Canadian Grand Prix was more thrilling than the entire 2013 race. Hamilton had a smooth getaway, immediately putting pressure on the pole sitter. Going into turn 1 the two Mercedes may have kissed slightly, though Rosberg just managed to squeeze Hamilton out to retain the lead, and Vettel took advantage to move up a position to P2. Further back in the field, Bottas made an early move on Massa, while Vergne moved up on the inside of Alonso. However, it was the action at the back of the pack that brought out the safety car after less than a minute of racing. Max Chilton got his MR03 out of shape into turn 3, sliding straight into the path of his team mate. Bianchi had a big impact into the wall of champions, with pieces of his Marussia strewn all over the track. Chilton parked up further down, and both Marussia’s were out in spectacular style.

Starting from P6 on the grid, Daniel Ricciardo survived tyre-wear, over heating brakes, and pressures from the Force Indias’ and his team mate, to snatch the lead from Nico Rosberg with four laps to go. The Australian kept his cool following the gearbox of Sergio Perez in the final stint of the race. Having to back off to cool the car on several occasions, Ricciardo finally made the move on lap 66, getting the RB10 on the inside of Perez into turn 1. The move was daring, getting two wheels onto the grass, but Ricciardo controlled it, to move up into P2. With four laps to go, the Red Bull stalked the endlessly consistent Rosberg. Getting within DRS range, Ricciardo swept around the outside of Rosberg on the back straight just two laps later to take the lead from Rosberg. Sebastian Vettel took the final step on the podium, after a competitive race from the reigning world champion. Vettel held Hamilton back in P3 until his first pit stop released the Mercedes. The Red Bull driver spent most of his race balancing a combination of offensive driving to catch the Force Indias’ in front of him, while keeping the door closed on the Williams behind. Vettel’s pit strategy brought him out P9 on his second and final stop for soft compound tyres, though was still behind Perez. It wasn’t until lap 69 with the Force India losing his rear brakes, that the Red Bull was able to make a clear way passed now into P3. For a final hit of adrenaline, Sebastian Vettel avoided being collected in the Massa/Perez collision on the final lap. The out of control Williams careered across the grass, and straight into the path of the Red Bull. Some lightening quick reactions from Vettel saved the accident from being even more serious.

Nico Rosberg somehow brought his Mercedes home, after suffering from the same issues to his F1 W05 that saw him team mate retire on lap 48. As the race began to unfold, it appeared to be another predictable Mercedes 1-2 finish, with the only question being “could Rosberg keep Hamilton at bay”. Rosberg was undoubtably feeling the pressure, getting out of shape at turn 3 on his out lap, very nearly paying a visit to the Wall of Champions. There were some early scraps for the lead between the two Mercedes drivers, one resulting in an investigation by the race stewards for exceeding track limits. Rosberg had suffered a massive lock up to his right from trye, and missed the final corner, running over the chichane. The escape move took Rosberg out of the DRS threat from Hamilton, who had been closing in for several laps. No further action was taken by the stewards. At midway through the race, it became apparent however that both Rosberg and Hamilton were struggling to maintain their pace. The Mercedes were lapping 20km/h slower than the rest of the field, suggesting an issue with the energy recovery. On lap 48, Hamilton radioed to confirm that his brakes were failing, and retired from the race. Rosberg, suffering from the same issues, began to nurse his car through eventually through to the chequered in P2.

Both McLarens picked up points in the race. Though it was a lucky high points finish for Jensen Button, as the McLaren found himself jolted up to P4 on the final lap. Button had spent most of the race as more of a back marker conserving fuel and tyres, though a one stop strategy worked in his favour to bring the Brit forward within the points. Following his stop, the McLaren found the throttle, taking advantage of fresh tyres and retirements. Kevin Magnussen had a rather anonymous race, running on a two stop strategy to finish P9.

In a bittersweet ending for Force India, Nico Hulkenberg finished P5, where Sergio Perez classified P11 following a harrowing collision with Felipe Massa on the final lap. The Force India’s left rear tyre was clipped by the Williams on the entry into turn 1, sending Perez into a spin stopped only with the aid of the barriers. The contact at the end of a highspeed straight, broke Massa’s front right wishbone, leaving the FW36 completely out of the Brazilian’s control, and he too met the barriers. The Mexican’s race had been his season’s best, maintaining a one stop strategy to make up 11 grid places through the race. He was cut shy of podium finish moments before the collision, as Vettel made his way through on the dirty side of the track on the back straight. Nico Hulkenberg brought home success for the team with a strong points finish in P5, also on a one stop strategy, the German took his stop on lap 41, undercutting the Williams of Bottas, which was crucial for the Force India to chase down the Red Bulls. In the final laps of the race however, Hulkenberg didn’t have the same pace as Perez, creating a train of Bottas, Massa, and Alonso behind him.

Ferrari remain mediocre this season, with neither neither achieving a competitive pace from the car. Though it can be said that the Ferrari is reliable to finish, the F14 T is doing a disservice to Alonso and Raikkonen. Alonso had a poor getaway, immediately conceding a position to a fast moving Toro Rosso. The Spaniard had a rather unremarkable race, placing around P5 to P9 depending on pit strategies. Raikkonen on the other hand, initially made up a position from Button at lights out, though fell back through the field as the race unfolded. Both drivers picked up points in the race, though again, bumped up due to Perez and Massa, with Alonso finishing P6 ahead of Raikkonen in P10.

It was heartbraking* to see such a thrilling race for Massa end in the medical centre. Both the Williams had been competitive throughout the race. Running on a split strategy, Massa’s pace was substantially quicker than Bottas in the final stages of the race. The two stop strategy unfortunately kept the Finn behind Perez for much of the race. I doubt whether Bottas would have got the radio message “Felipe is faster than you”, but the Finn moved out of the way accordingly. Massa was released from behind his team mate at the hairpin on lap 58. On the same lap, the Brazilian set the fastest lap of the race with a 1:18.504. Though slower than his team mate, Bottas remained competitive throughout the race to finish P7.

Vergne was the sole Toro Rosso to cross the line. The Toro Rosso was quick off the line to make an early move on Alonso into turn 1. Like most the the field, Vergne was running on a two stop strategy. Eventually finishing inside the points, Vergne had a steady race, though was rather over shadowed by the rest of the field’s antics. Daniil Kvyat retired at the hairpin with 21 laps remaining after struggling with mechanical issues.

Adrian Sutil made up three places during the race on a two-stop strategy, though this was greater attributed to retirements on track than the competitiveness of the Sauber. Gutierrez had a difficult race, possibly picking up debris from the Marussia collision, pitting twice during the safety car period, first for supersoft, then soft compound tyres. The Mexican ran on a three stop strategy, at least keeping up with his team mate, with the two Saubers chasing the back of pack. Sutil was the last to pass the chequered flag, and in a race with so many retirements, was unlucky not to score points in P13. On lap 67, Gutierrez pulled into the pits for a fourth time, not to reemerge, though was classified P14.

Neither drivers for Lotus or Caterham were able to complete the race distance, proving the strain put on the brakes, engines, energy recovery, tyres, and anything else attached to the car at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve. Until his retirement, Romain Grosjean had a rather competitive race, battling with the Saubers for position. Albiet they were scrapping for P15, though Grosjean won the challenge and took his mini lead. On lap 62, the Frenchman was forced to retire with a broken rear endplate on his E22. Maldonado had an uncharacteristically anonymous race before retirement on lap 21. Kobayashi took up the responsibility from Sutil of a pirouette this year, losing the left rear of the car and spinning at turn 2 on lap 23. The Caterham only continued until the exit of turn 3, where he pulled over to retire. Marcus Ericsson’s race had barely began after the safety car restart when he pulled into the pits on lap 7 to retire. Max Chilton broke his streak of finishing every race started in a truly spectacular fashion. A massive disappointment for Marussia after Bianchi scored their first points in Monaco.

I admit, I completely underestimated the Canadian Grand Prix. I needn’t have worried about staying awake at 3:30am for the race start, or my numerous cups of coffee throughout the 70 laps. I, like most others watching in Australia, am now running on pure adrenaline. It’s a public holiday in Australia today for the Queen’s Birthday, though I’m quite sure we’ve already passed a vote to rename today “Daniel Ricciardo Day”, so happy DRD to you all! The Canadian Grand Prix exposed a weakness for the Mercedes to hotter track conditions, where the likes of Red Bull, Williams and Force India coped well. The stewards have handed Perez a five place grid penalty for Austria, though replays don’t appear to show the Force India at fault. Interestingly, the stewards made the decision without interviewing either driver, who are both still being treated in the medical centre. In a fortnights time, the Championship returns to Europe for the Austrian Grand Prix after an 11 year absence of the event. It will be a home race for Red Bull. Here’s hoping that Ricciardo can make it two in a row. Until then, I’m hoping that the adrenaline fades away and I can get some sleep. So, bonne nuit (hopefully).

– Alex

* braking, get it…? My attempt at a very early morning pun

Qualifying Pole Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Podium DANIEL RICCIARDO (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Fastest Lap 1:18.504 Felipe Massa (Williams-Mercedes)

Canadian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Bonjour mes amis, et bienvenue à Montréal! The Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is one of the fastest tracks on the calender. The 4.361km circuit is made up of twisty first sector that unfolds into high speed straights in sectors two and three. The hairpin at turn 10 is the slowest point on the track, with a large run off area if drivers lose traction. Despite this being a quick circuit, the seven braking zones make fuel consumption and energy recovery critical in teams strategies. In previous years, Renault engines have performed well in Canada, though this year, the focus will be on Mercedes powered cars. The Mercedes-Benz PU106A Hybrid has a special setting that can be selected in qualifying to find extra pace. It was clear conditions for all three qualifying sessions in Canada, with Nico Rosberg taking pole with less controversy from Lewis Hamilton. Sebastian Vettel was the best of the rest, but still 0.5s behind the Mercedes.

Nico Rosberg kept the pressure on his team mate throughout the afternoon. Clearly quite comfortable to have the championship lead back in his favour, the German was the first to dive into the 1:14s. His best lap time was achieved with much less, lets say ‘attention’ than in Monaco, with 1:14.874s enough to ensure Hamilton couldn’t catch him, though not for lack of trying. Lewis Hamilton, who has been quick all weekend, did manage to get his time into the 1:14s at the end of the third session. Though the Brit lost time in the middle sector. His best effort was just 0.079s behind his team mate, but meant he has to settle for P2 on the grid.

Last years winner, Sebastian Vettel took out P3 in the session after a stellar flying lap. The Red Bull driver, had been slower than his team mate all morning, and sat uncomfortably in the drop zone during Q2. A lap on the supersoft tyres moved Vettel up into Q3. In the final session, Vettel took more risks in the second and third sector, braking later going on the throttle earlier. On a track that isn’t best suited to the RB10, Vettel’s P3 is a massive step forward for the team. Despite Ricciardo qualifying in P6, his lap time was a mere 0.041s behind Vettel’s.

The Williams car looked fantastic on track, with the Circuit  Gilles-Villeneuve agreeing with the FW36. Bottas was the faster of the two, just missing out on P3 from Vettel by 0.002s. While Massa artificially topped the timesheets in Q2 on the supersofts before the Mercedes put in their supersoft times. The Brazilian qualified in P5, just 0.028s behind Bottas with 1:15.78.

Unable to match their performance during free practice, Ferrari settled back towards the middle of the grid during qualifying. Alonso, who’d been the fastest on track in FP1, was still competitive in qualifying. He took the right lines, and was considerably faster than his team mate in sector 1. Though the F14T just isn’t up there with the Red Bulls and Williams in chasing down the Mercedes. The best Alonso could get out of the car was enough for P7. Kimi Raikkonen was more aggressive with his Ferrari, clipping right up against the Wall of Champions to get his fastest laps. The Finn is somewhat out of place on the grid after encountering traffic on his only flying lap of Q3. Kimi will therefore start P10, though I wouldn’t expect to see him there for long.

Jean Eric-Vergne is doing all he needs to do on a Saturday afternoon to ensure he retains his seat at Toro Rosso for 2015. Though looking a little bit scrappy at times in the first sector, Jev pushed the STR9 to get the most out of the Renault power unit. The Frenchman comfortably made it through to Q3, and on the supersoft tyres delivered a 1:16.162 to line up alongside Alonso in P8. Daniil Kvyat, while outperforming Jev in the first sector, couldn’t match his team mate for pace on the rest of the circuit. In Q1 the Russian broke too late into turn 14, running over the chichane, though managed to put in a time to secure a spot in Q2. The second session was as far as Kvyat would venture, qualifying in P15, 0.551s slower than his team mate.

Jensen Button made an appearance in Q3 for McLaren. Button’s strongest sector was the third sector, which is somewhat expected given the straight line pace of the Mercedes power unit. Though Button’s quickest is still only enough for mid field. By the end of Q3, Button had made up some time in the first sector, but lost it in the middle sector, eventually qualifying P9. Kevin Magnussen struggled with the lack of downforce in the set up of his MP4-29, though performed well in Q1 despite this, temporarily sitting second fastest on the supersofts. Mini Mag made as far as Q2, with a fastest lap of 1:16.310, good enough for P12.

It was a disappointing qualifying for both Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez, with neither driver getting their car through to the final session. The VJM07 has the pace to be competitive on Sunday, though was a little twitchy in the first sector resulting in time lost. Hulkenberg should have been in Q3, though was bumped down into the drop zone in the final minutes of Q2 by Vergne. Despite a scrappy first sector, the rest of Hulkenberg’s lap was clean, eventually qualifying P11. Perez had an incident at turn 8, getting his tyres on to the white lines and spinning into the run off area. Emerging unscathed, the Mexican managed a more controlled lap to go through the the second session. In the end, 1:16.472 for P13 was the best Perez could get out of the VJM07.

Lotus’ E22 is not suited to the setup required for the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, making the session difficult for the team. Romain Grosjean was the sole Lotus on track in Q2 after Maldonado was forced to make a ‘precautionary’ early exit from the first session. The E22 didn’t have the straight line pace to be competitive on a single lap, but handles well in the corners. Grosjean got the most out of the package as he could, getting his E22 to P14. Despite not finishing Q1, Maldonado’s initial lap time was good enough for P17.

Sutil was the sole Sauber on track, after Gutierrez spun his C33 into the barriers at turn 4 in FP3. It was a difficult session for Sutil, not for any particular incident, but rather his C33 just lack both pace and downforce. The result was less than competitive lap times, and a starting position of P16 on the grid. Gutierrez’s free practice crash damaged the Mexican’s chassis, and means he will start from the pit lane.

Marussia are consistently outperforming Caterham on a Saturday afternoon this season. Max Chilton out-qualified Bianchi for P18 and P19 respectively. Though he is getting used to lining up ahead of Bianchi on the grid, Chilton’s race performance is yet to compare to that of his team mates. Kobayashi has been a safe bet for Caterham (excluding his first lap incident in Australia), keeping his CT05 intact which is more than can be said his Ericsson. The rookie driver is racking up his count track incidences. Adding to the list today by red flagging Q1 in the final minute after putting his car into the wall of champions. Kobayashi and Ericsson round out the back of the grid with P20 and P21.

The Canadian Grand Prix isn’t the most exciting race on the calendar*, though the high speed nature of the circuit and two DRS zones provide plenty of opportunities for over taking. It’s just up to the drivers to take the risk, and make a move. It would seem that Mercedes are set to take out another 1-2 podium finish (barring a retirement). So it will be up to Williams to challenge the Red Bull for the final step on the podium. P3 to P6 are separated in qualifying times by 0.041s, which should hopefully translate into some competitive battles for position come race day. At the very least, I’m hoping Sutil manages another pirouette as he did in the 2013 Canadian Grand Prix, that would be nice…

– Alex

* Though my opinion may be swayed by the fact that I watch the race half asleep at 3:30am… Timezones…

Monaco Grand Prix: Rosberg Vs Hamilton

The Monaco Grand Prix went a full sixty seconds before the first of two safety cars deployed throughout the race. Nico Rosberg got his clean getaway from pole to take home the win for the second consecutive year. Lewis Hamilton fought to keep the pressure on his teammate until “something in his eye” affected his vision and lap times. Hamilton finished a very sulky second, just ahead of Daniel Ricciardo. At lights out, Rosberg was quick off the line, though arguably the best start was from Kimi Raikkonen. Raikkonen, from P6, slipped passed his teammate (who’d swerved to avoid the Red Bulls), and passed Sebastian Vettel on the exit St Devote. Further back on the grid, Kevin Magnussen had made it passed both the Toro Rossos before the first corner. The race was brought back a notch when Perez’s and Button’s cars kissed at Mirabeau, bringing out the safety car.

Mercedes continue to collect both drivers and constructors points. Though while the constructors lead lengthens, the battle for the drivers championship is becoming somewhat tense… After Rosberg was cleared of any wrong doing by the stewards for causing yellow flags in qualifying, the German went on to take the chequered flag, though not without pressure. Rosberg spent most of the race with his teammate closely visible in his mirrors. Clearly pushing hard to guard his lead, Rosberg could be seen locking his front tyres throughout the circuit. As the race progressed, things calmed down a little, only having to contend with lapping the back markers (and then the rest of the field…). Lewis made it painfully clear that he wasn’t happy with his second place finish, the feedback from his engineers, the temperature in his rear tyres, or really anything in the race. Despite the seemingly endless complaints and concerns being voiced over team radio, the former world champion kept close of the tail of his teammate until the final stages of the race when something in his eye affected his vision, causing the Mercedes to back off. Possibly Hamilton was running with the logic of “If I can’t see Rosberg take the lead in the championship, it didn’t happen”, but who knows.

Daniel Ricciardo was somewhat modest in his explanation of his third place finish, claiming that he inherited the position after his teammate’s retirement and Raikkonen’s puncture. This is just modesty. Though the Australian didn’t have the quickest getaway off the line, Ricciardo more than earned his podium finish. Ricciardo kept close on the tail of Raikkonen before the second safety car, laying a rather bold attempt for position on the Finn at Casino Square. He did eventually gain his position when Raikkonen pit again, though the Red Bull driver patiently waited, conserving his tyres, to put himself in the best position to challenge to Mercedes. Once Hamilton started to back away from Rosberg, Ricciardo quickly closed in, under his own improving lap times rather than Hamilton’s easing off. Given another few corners, the Australian may have been able to squeeze up to P2. Though for today, he seemed quite happy with P3. When it comes down to it, Ricciardo was also one of only four Renault engines to even finish the race. Sebastian Vettel only made it as far as lap 8. Once the safety car peeled away, the German fell from P3 to P20 within a lap. The RB10 had no power, limping back to the pits. On his exit, he was stuck in first gear. When he eventually found the rest of his gearbox, it was only to coast back to the garage to retire.

Fernando Alonso drove almost anonymously throughout the race, spending most of the race a healthy seven seconds behind Ricciardo, and half a lap in front of Hulkenberg. Eventually Alonso cruised home to finish P4. Kimi Raikkonen’s race was far from anonymous. Following his sneaky move up to P3 at lights out, his race was looking strong. The Finn demonstrated his balance of offensive and defensive driving skills to keep Ricciardo in his mirrors before Sutil brought out the second safety car. It was during the second safety car period that Raikkonen’s race really livened up. The Ferrari, having already made one visit to the pits during the SC, darted in for a second time after being hit by Marussia’s Max Chilton. The second stop pushed Kimi to the back end of the grid behind Kobayashi. After a failed attempt to pass the Caterham at the Nouvelle Chicane, the Finn eventually made it passed the Japanese driver to close in on Gutierrez. Though he didn’t overtake the Sauber, it required some very quick braking on Kimi’s part not to get caught up in a tangle with Gutierrez. After what was an impressive opening stint, and fight back for position, it all went a bit pear shaped for the Ferrari in the final laps after making contact with Magnussen at the hairpin. The contact saw Kimi drop back and finish P12.

Nico Hulkenberg delivered a very strong performance following what was a rather challenging qualifying. On lap 33, Hulkenberg executed a startlingly skilful move on Kevin Magnussen at Portier to take P4 on the entry to the tunnel. The Force India driver kept the car competitive with a 1-stop strategy, and making up 6 places to eventually finish P5. It was Sergio Perez’s shortest race of the season after being involved in an incident with Jensen Button at Mirabeau on the opening lap. The Mexican is notorious for being a little too eager on the streets of Monaco (Kimi vs. Perez 2013), and possibly didn’t leave enough room for the two of them to take the corner safely. Button clipped Perez, sending the VJM07 into the barriers.

Jensen Button left it to the final laps to really start his race. Starting a rather uncompetitive P12, Button’s 1 stop strategy played well into the appearance of the safety cars and retirements from the race. Biding his time, the Brit moved in on his teammate from P7 until lap 74, overtaking Magnussen on the exit of St Devote. Kevin Magnussen got off to a strong start, initially gaining two places from the Toro Rossos, though his race became rather scrappy towards the end. During the second safety car, Magnussen prematurely overtook an unsuspecting Vergne before crossing the last safety car line. Magnussen was unable to give the position back because Hulkenberg soon passed him. After being passed by his teammate, Magnussen was involved in a collision with Raikkonen at the hairpin, holding up the rest of the field. Eventually the Dane made it home in one piece to finish P10.

Giving Williams something to celebrate for, Felipe Massa turned his luck around on the Monaco streets with one of his best drives of the season. Somehow the Brazilian maintained his super soft tyres through two-safety car, and 45 laps before eventually coming in to swap for the soft compound tyres. The strategy allowed Massa to move up to P4 before his stop, putting him back out in P11 when he re-entered the field. On fresher tyres, the Williams driver closed in quickly on Raikkonen’s Ferrari to challenge for position. Unfortunately, Felipe didn’t make it passed Raikkonen, though he did make up places to finish P7. Valtteri Bottas closed the gap for the second half of the field, as his FW36 became to lose pace. The Finn created a train behind him of Gutierrez, Raikkonen and Massa. On lap 57, Bottas’ engine had had enough, and he limped back to the pit to retire.

Romain Grosjean is becoming rather experienced at becoming the sole points scorer for the Lotus team. The Frenchman, starting from P14, put in a good drive, keeping the E22 on track until the chequered flag (as mentioned earlier, one of only four Renault cars to do so). Grosjean, on a two-stop strategy with the safety cars, maintained his competitive pace to finish inside the points in P8. Pastor Maldonado couldn’t get his E22 off the grid for the formation lap, and never made it out of the pit to start the race. Maldonado’s failure to start has been put down to a suspected fuel-system issue. Disappointment for the team, though given the Venezuelan’s history at the circuit, probably safer for the rest of the field.

Jules Bianchi scored Marussia’s first ever Formula 1 World Championship point, and he even collected two of them finishing P9. Besides staying out of trouble with the barriers and the rest of the field, Bianchi made a confident move on Kobayashi at La Rascasse to move up to P12. The Frenchman also served two penalties throughout the race, firstly for being out of position on the starting grid, and a second 5-second penalty for serving the first one under the safety car period. Following the retirements, Bianchi eventually moved in to the points. Max Chilton was more involved in the action than we’re used to seeing. Though he still finished last in P14.

Marcus Ericsson briefly looked as though he might too, finish inside the points, though Kimi and Magnussen’s traffic jam at the hairpin put Caterham’s hopes of a point to finish. Ericsson crossed the line P11. Kobayashi, like Alonso, raced quietly at Monaco. The Japanese driver found stability in his CT05, though lacked the pace to finish anywhere other than P13.

An impressive race for Esteban Gutierrez came to an end of lap 61. Throughout the race, Gutierrez in the Sauber had made up 8 places, running on a one stop. The safety car for Perez and Sutil certainly played well into his hands for tyre wear, though the issues to keep heat in the tyres that plagued the team in qualifying seemingly disappeared. In the final stages of the race, the Mexican clipped his right rear at La Rascasse while on the tail of Kimi Raikkonen. Gutierrez put his C33 in a spin, and became the final retirement of the race. One of the most debonair drivers at the Circuit de Monaco, Adrian Sutil executed some pretty ballsy overtakes* before meeting with the barriers on lap 25. Sutil, channelling his karting days, got up on the kerbs at the hairpin to take P16 from Grosjean. The move was a little messy, but extremely opportunistic (which as it happens is a prerequisite for any overtaking attempt in Monaco). A few laps later, Sutil out broke the Marussia of Max Chilton on the entry to the Nouvelle Chicane, moving up to P15. It came to an end for the Sauber driver on lap 25 when the C33 lost traction over the bumps on the exit of the tunnel, kissing the barrier and losing the front wing. Sutil’s retirement brought out the second and final safety car.

Jean-Eric Vergne’s race went from bad to worse following the second appearance of the safety car. The Frenchman was handed a drive through penalty for an unsafe release on Magnussen during the safety car period, which nearly saw the STR9 remove the McLaren’s front wing. Vergne held P7 upon the race resume, and until he served his penalty on lap 38. His race went a little sour from here, clipping the back of Bianchi’s MR03 losing from front wing, only to retire lap 53 with engine problems. Daniil Kvyat’s first visit to Monaco can only be described as brief, but impressive. After a difficult qualifying, the Russian rookie retired lap 13 with a loss of power and a very ill sounding STR9.

True to form, the Monaco Grand Prix was littered with excitement (and debris), with the action carrying through until the final moments. Though Ricciardo didn’t quite make it to the top step of the podium, he was still up there, which is always nice to see. The next round of the championship takes place at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Canada. A rather hard act to follow from Monaco, but who knows, maybe something will happen this year… Until then, bonne nuit.

– Alex

* Yes, that is the technical term.

Qualifying Pole Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Podium Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull Racing)
Fastest Lap 1:18.479 Kimi Raikkonen (Scuderia Ferrari)

Monaco Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Bonjour et bienvenue à Monaco! The Monaco Grand Prix epitomises the extravagance of Formula 1 racing. Known as the jewel in the crown of Formula 1, the Circuit de Monaco is also the most unforgiving track of the calendar. The 3.340km circuit is breathtakingly narrow, meaning teams with shorter gear ratios have an advantage to the streets. There is less focus on fuel saving and energy recovery, with teams focussing on high downforce and mechanical grip to avoid too much oversteer. It’s a tight squeeze to the first corner, St Devote, where many a first lap incident has occurred. Overtaking is easiest (and I say that lightly) at the Nouvelle Chicane, though I wouldn’t recommend for the faint hearted. There’s only one DRS zone in Monaco, located on the start-finish straight. It was perfect conditions for qualifying, with clear skies and a track temperature of 42 degrees. After three sessions, it was another Mercedes front row lock out, with Rosberg the only driver to crack the 1:15s ahead of Hamilton, leaving the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo to qualify P3.

Mercedes were unsurprisingly strong in qualifying. The Mercedes set up has traditionally been well suited to the Circuit de Monaco, so it was unsurprising to see both the F1 Wo5s qualify on the front row. Homeboy Nico Rosberg clinched pole position from Hamilton, setting a time of 1:15.989. An off for Rosberg at Mirabeau resulted in yellow flags, and saw Hamilton (who was two tenths up on his lap) back off on his final lap to challenge his teammate. Hamilton adhered to the flags, thus securing the top spot for Rosberg. The stewards are now investigating Rosberg for purposely causing yellow flags.

Red Bull are among the teams that gain an advantage from the Monaco streets. The BR10s short gear ratios, and high downforce set up is one that agreed for both drivers today. The session went largely without incident for Ricciardo, who consistently lapped at the top of the time sheets to put a little pressure on the Mercedes. Unfortunately, the RB10 didn’t make up the same time as the Mercedes in the few straights there are, so Ricciardo settles for P3. Sebastian Vettel is again looking more competitive in the RB10, despite being unable to out-qualify his teammate on this occasion. The reigning world champion suffered from a KERs issue throughout qualifying, influencing his lap times. It’s therefore rather impressive to see Vettel qualify just 0.163s behind Ricciardo for P4.

Continuing the theme of lining up the grid in team order, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso qualified P5, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in P6. The F14 T is looking more competitive since Spain, and more agreeable to both drivers. Alonso’s session went smoothly, with the Spaniard improving on his times through out qualifying to set a final flying lap of 1:16.686, just more than a tenth of a second behind the Red Bull. Keeping startlingly close to the barriers, Kimi was slightly more aggressive in his qualifying. The Finn, put in a good scrap against Alonso in Q1. Though Raikkonen was still slightly off the pace where it counts, with his final lap 0.7s slower than his teammate to qualify P6. In other news, Justin Bieber, who’s in Monaco for the weekend, tried to meet Alonso in the paddock. Bieber was however snubbed by the Spaniard*, and removed from the paddock. (Ok, I made that last bit up, but Alonso did ignore him).

Toro Rosso got their strategy right in qualifying, running on the super softs in Q1 to secure a spot comfortably for both Vergne and Kvyat in Q2, and then Q3. Vergne’s performance throughout all three sessions was rather impressive, topping the time sheets at the end of Q1, and putting pressure on the front running teams. The Frenchman eventually qualified a strong P7 with 1:17.540. Vergne’s Russian teammate had a far more eventful qualifying. In the early stages of Q1, Kvyat lost control of the back of his STR9 on the exit of the tunnel, flicking the front of his car into the barriers and completely removing his front wing. The contact with the barriers was enough to see the car run off at the Nouvelle Chicane, and get the car back to the garage for a new front wing and a check-up. Kvyat was lucky to escape serious damage (to himself and the car) going into the barriers at one of the fastest sections of the circuit, and even luckier to be able to continue for the remainder of the sessions. In the second session, Daniil Kvyat caught the attention of the stewards for impeding Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado, later complaining of cold tyres. In the final session, Kvyat, again on the super softs pulled himself forward slightly to qualify P9.

The McLarens MP4-29 doesn’t appear to be as suited to the Monaco streets, with Button still struggling to get out of Q2. In his best qualifying since Malaysia, Kevin Magnussen had a better handle on the setup, as he pushed the car to the limit throughout qualifying, paying off to make it to the final session. There was a small incident in Q1 with the rookie going off at St Devote, creating a flat spot on his front left tyre. Magnussen recovered, and had a smoother day thereafter, putting his MP4-29 through to Q3 to eventually split the Toro Rossos for P8. Jensen Button could only manage P12 after locking up on his final flying lap to make it out of Q2.

Force India were surprisingly less competitive during the sessions, appearing very bumpy over the chicanes costing both drivers time on their laps. Both drivers chose to run on the super softs in Q1 and Q2, with the effort enough to put Perez through to the final session. Though a lock up at the end of Q3 saw Perez unable to improve on his time, with the Mexican therefore round out to top ten with 1:18.327. Hulkenberg couldn’t match his teammate in either session for pace, just missing out on Q3 to line up P11.

Williams had an unfortunate qualifying following an incident with Ericsson that saw Massa’s session prematurely end, and Bottas struggling for grip due to cold tyres. The Finn’s best effort on the super softs was 1:18.082s, putting him P13. Though Massa didn’t run in Q2, he made it through with his lap of 1:18.209s in Q1 to start P16. The Brazilian’s day was cut short when Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson lost his CT05 at Mirabeau, sliding into the barriers taking the FW36 with him. It seems Massa doesn’t have much luck when it comes to qualifying at Monaco.

The Lotuses were somewhat off the pace during qualifying, with the set up appearing lack grip in the corners. Romain Grosjean was less competitive, with his E22 difficult to handle through qualifying. Maldonado was involved in an incident with the stewards, though in a slightly subtler manner than we’re used to. The Venezuelan driver was under investigation by the stewards for an incident with Kvyat in Q2 to determine if the Russian had impeded the Lotus. Neither driver made it through to Q3, with Grosjean qualifying P14 ahead of Maldonado’s P15.

Sauber joined the list of teams struggling to get heat in the tyres. Both drivers ventured out on the super softs in Q1. Adrian Sutil was forced to back off on a flying lap at the end of Q1 following double yellow flags from the Ericsson and Massa collision. The flags meant Sutil had no chance to improve on his time, resulting in the German failing to make it through to the next session. Esteban Gutierrez attracted the attention of the stewards for an impeding offence, demonstrating just how off the pace the C33 was. The Mexican’s final flying lap put him P17, where Sutil’s best lap was enough for P18.

Rounding off the back of the grid are the familiar faces of Marussia and Caterham. Jules Bianchi surprised the team in the final practice session, though was unable to have the performance carry through to qualifying. Max Chilton is beginning to make a habit of qualifying somewhere other than the back row. Good one Max. The Marussia’s lined up in their usual order with Bianchi ahead of Chilton in P19 and P20 respectively.

Caterham’s qualifying was short yet eventful. Kobayashi flew somewhat under the radar during the session, unable to put in a competitive lap time due to cold tyres and yellow flags qualifying P21. Ericsson however attracted attention for all the wrong reasons. After initially impeding Vettel early in the season, the rookie continued to struggle for pace and grip. Ericsson’s day ended at Mirabeau after braking late, resulting in oversteer and a meeting with the barriers.

The Monaco Grand Prix is breathtaking both on and off the track. Any attempt to overtake is thrilling, and when done right is truly astonishing. Just to make things a little more interesting, there’s also an 80% chance of a safety car at this circuit. A good qualifying position and clean getaway of the grid is essential. Though it’s usual to see a driver win from pole, Sunday’s race is Daniel Ricciardo’s best shot of taking the top step of the podium. Just have to hope for that safety car…

– Alex

 

* Alonso didn’t snub me Justin…  See

** The results after the stewards investigations are, Rosberg keeps pole, Ericsson will start from the pit lane, and Kvyat has been handed a reprimand.

Spanish Grand Prix: Hamilton vs Rosberg

Since Malaysia, it has seemed inevitable that Lewis Hamilton would take the lead in the championship, and at tonight’s Spanish Grand Prix, the inevitable happened by 0.6s. Lewis Hamilton took the chequered flag, and the lead in the championship from Nico Rosberg who finished P2. The final step of the podium was filled by the Australian, Daniel Ricciardo. The Red Bull, though the closest rival to the Mercedes, was still nearly a minute behind Hamilton and Rosberg. From lights out, Hamilton held the lead down into turn 1, edging away from Rosberg and Ricciardo. It was a thrilling start from Bottas who moved in on Ricciardo, right as Grosjean was speeding down the between the two. The Williams had a better getaway compared to the Red Bull, and by the entry into turn 1 was already challenging Rosberg for P2. Slightly further back, Grosjean had a huge lock up of both front wheels on the run down into turn 1 only half a cars length in front of both Ferraris. What could have been a very expensive turn 1, unfolded with no major contact. In the opening laps, it was Rosberg on Hamilton, Ricciardo on Bottas, Raikkonen on Grosjean, and Alonso on Raikkonen. While further back in the field Magnussen nearly made contact with Vettel after mounting the sausage kerb. Soon after Maldonado earned himself a 5 second stop go penalty for contact with Ericsson.

It wasn’t an easy victory for Hamilton, as he consistently complained over team radio regarding the balance of his F1 W05. The former world champion had to fight hard to keep his tyres, and his position from Nico Rosberg. It was definitely a resounding success from the Mercedes garage, with both drivers fighting tooth and nail down to the final corner. Despite the Mercedes again running on split strategies, Hamilton and Rosberg were still matched for pace. Hamilton did manage to extend his lead over Rosberg by 4s, though the German responded with purple lap times to hunt him down to within DRS range. Overall, Nico’s drive was admirably better, and given one more lap could have taken the lead from Hamilton.

Finally a podium Red Bull can keep!* Daniel Ricciardo, qualifying P3 took his place on the final step of the podium after todays race. The Australian lost a position to Bottas on the run down to turn 1 on the opening lap, though kept his cool (and his tyres) to later close the gap to the Williams, though pitting rather than passing. After a stop for medium compound tyres, Ricciardo emerged P12 though made light work of Button and Kvyat. By lap 18, the RB10 had cruised passed Perez for P4. Ricciardo had cleanly made his way back through the field to challenge Bottas for P3, though we were robbed of this battle when the Williams came into pit on lap 21. Sebastian Vettel seemed to wake up for the first time this season, and delivered a drive worthy of his world champion title. Starting P15, the German ran a three stop strategy in an attempt to make up places. An early stop for hard compound tyres saw Vettel maintain his tyres for a longer stint, to keep grip in his tyres to make his way back through the field. On his final stint on fresh medium compound tyres, he managed to just squeeze ahead of Alonso as the Ferrari exited the pits. The move up to P6 lit some kind of drive in Vettel that has been missing this season, and immediately the RB10 stalked the remaining Ferrari. With nine laps to go, Vettel had closed the gap to Raikkonen and dived down the inside of turn 10, making the move stick. His 11 and final position gained for the day came at the expense of Valtteri Bottas at the same corner seven laps later. While Vettel drove to form today, he’s still a long way behind Ricciardo’s performance in the RB10. But still, it was nice to see Sebastian actually racing again.

Williams got off to a fantastic start, with Bottas immediately passing Ricciardo to pressure Rosberg. The Finn continued to match the pace of the Mercedes and pulled further away from Ricciardo as the Red Bull dropped back. Following his pit stops, Bottas was behind the Red Bull, and matching for pace for several laps. This effort showed the true strength of the Williams package this season. However the team decided to swap from an offensive to defensive strategy and cover the Ferrari’s behind. The strategy paid off, with the FW36 saving grip and pace until the chequered flag with Bottas finishing P5 after conceding a late position to a flying Vettel. Overall it was a brilliant drive one again for Bottas. Felipe Massa, who started P9, gained a position early on and began to hunt down former his Ferrari team mate. By lap 8, Massa had caught up to Alonso, and while definitely putting the pressure on the Spaniard, couldn’t find the right line to lay down a move. The Williams later came in to pit for medium compound tyres on lap 16. From this point however, the Brazilian driver seemed to lose his competitiveness in the race and couldn’t make his way back through the field, eventually finishing P13, eight places behind his team mate.

Ferrari found some fight in the race, with Alonso putting on a show for his home crowd despite not finishing near the podium. There were constant inter team battles between Alonso and Raikkonen, as well as individual battles with the rest of the field. First the Ferraris one by one, cruised passed the Lotus of Grosjean before pit stop strategies split the drivers. Alonso made further light work of McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen on the run in to turn 1 on lap 38. Magnussen who’d been running with DRS enabled couldn’t keep the looming F14-T behind him, and Alonso made an easy move on the outside of turn 1. The icing on the cake for the Ferrari battle came with two laps to go, with Alonso closing in on Raikkonen. The Finn delivered a delicate balance of an offensive and defensive drive to hold his position in P6, however as the two Ferrari’s began lap 64, Alonso had closed to gap to run almost nose to tail with his team mate. The Spaniard initially tried the same move that had worked so well for his at the circuit in 2013, though lacked the grip to make the move competitive. Keeping his cool, Alonso swung back inside on the entry of turn 4 and emerged ahead of his team mate. Both Alonso and Raikkonen cruised on to finish P6 and P7 respectively.

Running on a two stop strategy, Grosjean delivered a fantastic drive to pick up the team’s first points for the season in P8. After a difficult getaway off the line, Grosjean was immediately on the defence from his former team mate, Kimi Raikkonen. As both Ferraris still struggled for grip, the Lotus was able to pull away. This wouldn’t be the only time the former team mates would race each other. 20 laps in, Grosjean and Raikkonen played a game of cat and mouse for P5. With apparent ease, the Grosjean cruised passed Raikkonen to regain his position, though only for another few laps before the Lotus’ tyres were gone and he’d dropped behind both Ferraris. Grosjean came in for his second pit, for hard compound tyres on lap 35. Pastor Maldonado continues to do more harm than good for the Lotus team after being handed a 5 second stop go penalty for his contact with Ericsson on the opening laps. All jokes aside, even with Maldonado behind the wheel, the E22 had made up 6 positions even with the contact, and following his penalty managed to work his way back through the field to finish P15. Though I feel this is more testament to the developments of the E22 in recent weeks rather than driver skill.

Despite the VJM07 not being best suited for the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, both Force Indias finished inside the points. Perez and Hulkenberg though running on different tyre strategies lapped with similar times, allowing for some inter team battles to ensue. Perez who had qualified behind his team mate, ran on the harder compound tyre from his second stop, giving him slower degradation over the race. Hulkenberg despite losing grip on his medium tyres, held his position from Perez until lap 52. Perez made his move on the German closing the gap down pit straight and swinging to the outside of turn 1. The Mexican made it stick, and both drivers raced on to finish in that order. It was P9 for Perez, and the final point of P10 for Hulkenberg.

McLaren failed to pick up a point during the race, though both cars showed improvements to make up places from qualifying with Button finishing P11 ahead of Magnussen in P12. While the McLaren appeared on course for their intended strategy, the MP4-29 still wasn’t quite competitive enough when it came down to it. The likes of Vettel and Ricciardo made easy work of Button before the Brit came in for his first of two stops, this time for medium compound tyres. Despite the fresher tyres, and a later stop for the harder compound, Button didn’t quite manage to find his way into the points. Kevin Magnussen had yet another scrappy start to the race, nearly making contact with Sebastian Vettel on lap 1. The Dane was trying to pass Kvyat on the outside, but ran wide allowing Button through. As he entered back onto the track, Magnussen came within an inch of Vettel who took advantage of the gap to move up into P14.

Toro Rosso only managed to bring one driver through to the chequered flag as Daniil Kvyat finished P13. The Russian rookie was one of the few drivers to run on a three stop strategy in an attempt to keep up the pace and grip. Kvyat was warned to keep off the kerbs to reduce degradation, even with the warning Russian couldn’t keep the grip, finishing 8.2s behind Massa. Jean-Eric Vergne put a quick end to what had been a difficult weekend for the Frenchman. After being handed a 10 place grid penalty and a hefty €30,00 fine for his runaway wheel incident, Vergne retired on lap 28 from a broken exhaust. Prior to his retirement, the Frenchman was looking strong, as Vergne had already made up 6 positions through the field.

Both Saubers struggled for pace in the race despite splitting their drivers strategies. Gutierrez lost considerable on his second stint on medium compound tyres. The slowing Sauber lost 4 places before making his third and final pit stop, while Sutil neither lost nor gained grid positions with his two stop strategy. To add salt to the wounds of a difficult drive, the Mexican suffered from damage, shedding some of his front wing in the final laps. As the race concluded, Gutierrez finished P16, only three positions down, while Sutil was steady in P17.

It was a successful day for the Marussia garage as once again, as not only both drivers crossed the line, but ahead of the sole remaining Caterham, with Bianchi P18 and Chilton P19. While Chilton did conceded his team lead to Bianchi, the Brit did manage to keep Ericsson’s Caterham at bay despite lapping 10s a lap slower at the end of the race. In terms of reliability, the Marussia is definitely stronger than that Caterham, and from today possibly the Sauber as well. Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson rounded off the end of the pack finishing P20. While Kamui Kobayashi was the second and final retirement of the Spanish Grand Prix, pulling into the garage on lap 39 due to brake failure.

The Spanish Grand Prix finally showed teasers of what we’ve been waiting for, for the first four races. While Mercedes is still a clear dominating force, Rosberg is within half a second of Hamilton, and still a strong title contender. The Ferraris are beginning to be competitive come race day, and Alonso and Raikkonen are battling for position with each other, albiet for sixth and seventh… Finally Vettel has pulled his finger out driving the RB10 closer to the way his team mate is. Despite one rather “spontaneous” driver, Lotus too seemed to have ironed out a lot of the kinks from missing pre season testing and are again in a competitive footing. The break from China allowed teams to make major developments on the cars, though the journey is far from over. In a fortnights time, the championship moves to the diamond in the crown that is the Formula 1 calendar for the Monaco Grand Prix. This circuit is the hardest for overtaking, and the high downforce, low speed nature of the circuit is Daniel Ricciardo’s first real shot at the top step of the podium. Here’s hoping I hear my own national anthem at the conclusion of next round, until then buenas noches.

– Alex

* Hope I don’t jinx that

Qualifying Pole Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Podium Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull Racing)
Fastest Lap 1:28.918 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing)

Spanish Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

¡Hola, bienvenidos a España! The first race of the European leg of the Championship begins at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. The 4.655km track is a demanding circuit, with a faster first and second sector turns into a low speed final sector offering very little downforce. Teams must find the right package to maintain speed through the first half of the track, and traction through the slower corners. All the teams made major developments over the three week break in a hope to catch up to Mercedes’ early dominance, though the leading team remained two steps ahead. In ideal qualifying conditions, Lewis Hamilton took his first pole position at the Spanish Grand Prix just ahead of team mate Nico Rosberg, and Red Bulls Daniel Ricciardo. Despite ideal conditions, the Barcelona track was certainly biting back keeping the field very much fighting to control their cars. Some less successfully than others… *Cough* Maldonado *Cough.

Lewis Hamilton will line up in P1, for the fifth consecutive time this season (stop it Lewis). Hamilton, who doesn’t yet have the title lead, struggled compared to Rosberg for pace during the early stages of qualifying. The Briton was half a second slower than his team mate, losing considerable time in turns 7 and 10. Despite a solid performance over free practice, Hamilton complained over radio that somehow they had made the car worse. Clearly it couldn’t have been that bad, as in true Hamilton style he delivered an unbeatable lap of 1:25.232. Nico Rosberg is less than thrilled to start P2, being the only other driver to break into the 1:25s. Rosberg overall drove better throughout qualifying, setting the pace in the first two sessions. The German’s final flying lap time of 1:25.400 sat at the top of the time sheet until the final moments of the session when his team mate crossed the line.

Ricciardo appears to be the only driver to come close to challenging the Mercedes. The Australian qualifies P3, just 1.1s slower than the pole sitter and just over half a second behind Rosberg. In Q1 Ricciardo found himself struggling with for rear grip of his RB10, though took control in Q2 to finish strong. It’s been a disaster of a weekend for Sebastian Vettel, who leading into qualifying had only completed 24 laps of the circuit. Running with the chassis he used in winter testing, the RB10 stopped during FP1 due to an issue with the wiring loom, failed to run in FP2, and finally put in 20 laps on Saturday morning. During qualifying, the reigning world champion at first appeared to have ironed out the kinks with the car in Q1, lapping quicker than his team mate. Though in Q2 the order switched with Ricciardo nearly a second quicker a lap. In the final session, Vettel found himself with a box of neutrals* as he left the pit, causing the second red flag of the day. The RB10 lost second gear, changed to third, only to get stuck in fifth before finally retiring from the session. Overnight Vettel was handed a 5 place grid penalty for a gearbox change, so after qualifying a default P10, will start P15.

It was a biploar qualifying for Williams with Bottas qualifying on the third row in P4, while Massa starts from the middle of the grid in P9. Valtteri Bottas looked comfortable in his FW36 following changes to the setup made after FP2, momentarily splitting the two Red Bulls in Q2 for pace. Massa couldn’t match his team mate’s pace however and lapped towards the middle of the field, eventually qualifying P9.

Romain Grosjean is carrying all the success for the Lotus team, putting his E22 in a very impressive P5. Heading out initially on the medium compound tyres, the Frenchman struggling with understeer joining the list of drivers to run off at turn 10, affecting his lap times. Just making it through to Q2, Grosjean then contended with his E22 pulling left under braking, though easily made it through to Q3. While Lotus certainly haven’t ironed out all the issues with the E22, the teams progress in five races is rather insane. Pastor Maldonado saw the first qualifying session stopped with 13:31 remaining after sending his E22 into the inside wall on the exit to turn 3 after only completing two laps. The Venezuelan went too far left on the exit of turn three, putting two wheels on the slippery astro turf, losing control Maldonado tried to correct and ended up on the other side of the track, missing a front right wishbone and tyre. It really is a shame for the Enstone team to see their hard work and effort essentially fall to pieces by careless driving. It’s time Maldonado took a leaf out of Grosjean’s book, and matured and developed as a driver. The early session retirement means Maldonado will round off the back of the grid in P22.

The Ferrari looks to have been one of the cars to have made a significant improvement since China, though not enough to compete with the Mercedes yet. Both Ferrari’s made it through to Q3, much to the delight of the Spanish fans. Kimi Raikkonen however did manage to out qualify the Spaniard for P6, though only by 0.021s. All eyes will be on Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso at his home Grand Prix. Like the rest of the field, Alonso struggled to get grip in the F14-T. Briefly sitting in the drop zone for Q2, the Spaniard found time in the final sector to make it through, eventually qualifying P7.

Jensen Button was in the drop zone in Q1, though improved on his lap time to edge out Sauber’s Adrian Sutil. Button’s lap times, like many other drivers, suffered from poor balance and too much under steer. The Briton went on the make it through to Q3, despite struggling with the car, and qualifies P8. Kevin Magnussen didn’t set a time for Q2 after his MP4-29s power unit failed. Magnussen ran well in Q1, lapping one-tenth of a second slower than his team mate with 1:28.389. The McLaren qualifies P15, but will move up to P14 following Sebastian Vettel’s grid penalty.

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is a track that doesn’t really favour the Force India VJM07, which could be seen in how both Hulkenberg and Perez twitched through the back end of the circuit. Despite neither driver making it through to Q3, both Hulkenberg and Perez placed reasonably well in P11 and P12 to start P10 and P11 respectively once Vettel takes his penalty

In a flurry of flying laps at the conclusion of Q2, Daniil Kvyat was on the edge of the drop zone. The Russian’s sector 1 and 2 times were enough to see him through to Q3, which incidentally would have knocked out Fernando Alonso, though the STR9 lost time in the low speed sector 3*. As a result Kvyat qualified P13, to start P12. Vergne, who didn’t run in Q2, starts at the back of the grid. The Toro Rosso driver takes a 10 place grid penalty for an unsafe release in FP2 that saw his left rear tyre come loose from his car.

It was a rather quiet qualifying for the Sauber team with Gutierrez qualifying P14 (starting P13) ahead of Sutil in P17. Both Sauber drivers appeared to battle similar issues with their setup and grip, resulting in less than ideal lap times for the team.

The usual suspects were in the knocked out at the end of Q1, with both Marussia drivers qualifying ahead of the Caterhams. Max Chilton put in his best qualifying yet, setting a lap time of 1:29.586 which was only 1.023s slower than Sauber’s Adrian Sutil. Chilton, who dare I say is improving, qualifies P18, ahead of Bianchi’s P19. Marcus Ericsson out qualifies Kamui Kobayashi  for P20 and P21.

Barring mechanical failure, Lewis Hamilton is in the best position to win from pole at the Spanish Grand Prix. Despite developments from up and down the pit wall, the Mercedes are still the dominant package, and Lewis still the fastest on a single qualifying lap. On a track like the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, qualifying is all-important as over taking is difficult. That being said, the nature of the circuit, and lack of grip from the Pirellis have seen many of the drivers struggling with their setup, particularly struggling for control through turns 7 and 10. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a safety car, which of course would shake up strategies and hopefully positions.

– Alex

* Thanks for the use of your name Box of Neutrals. Very applicable for the post! https://twitter.com/BoxOfNeutrals

** Possibly slowing down for fear of the Spanish fans.

Chinese Grand Prix: Hamilton Hattrick

Once again Mercedes dominated in tonight’s race, and for the third time this season, Hamilton took the top step of the podium ahead of Nico Rosberg and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. It was another thrilling start from Massa, as the Williams made up four places running down the inside into turn 1. The move was met with some contact from former Ferrari team mate, Fernando Alonso as the Spaniard appeared to move a touch too far to the right. Though both emerged unscathed, the contact caused Rosberg to brake, leaving him caught off guard as the remaining Williams attempted to sneak through. Bottas however didn’t have the cleanest line through, making contact with the Mercedes. Ricciardo was on the defence from Alonso as soon as Massa passed them both, forcing the Red Bull to hold his line through the opening corners. Further back in the field, Vergne was defending hard against McLaren’s Jensen Button.

Hamilton cruised to the victory from pole position, not once having to defend from his team mate, or anyone else for that matter. Rosberg had a very different race, battling hard to regain positions lost on the opening lap, and having to communicate all of his race data back to the pit wall. On the sprint down to turn 1, Rosberg was somewhat caught off guard to Bottas, touching his front left tyre against the Williams. The Mercedes didn’t have the quickest getaway, and the contact saw Rosberg run back in P7. Rising to the challenge, Rosberg immediately laid an attack on Nico Hulkenberg for P6, before hunting down Massa and the rest of the front runners.

It was Ferrari’s best race of the season with Fernando Alonso taking the final step on the podium. It was a quick start from the Spaniard, though possibly turning into Massa too much on the sprint down to turn 1, resulting the former team mates making contact. In the final stint of the race, Alonso responded to the threat of a fast approaching Ricciardo, getting out of DRS within a lap. It was the first time this season that the F14 T and Alonso really seemed to mesh well, making his podium finish more than deserved. The same cannot be said for the other side of the garage as Kimi Raikkonen continued to struggle with his set up. It’s hard to believe that Kimi and Alonso are in the same car after such an incredible race from Alonso. Though the Finn made light work of both the McLarens, Kimi was lapping nearly 4 seconds slower in his F14 T eventually finishing P8.

It was another incredible drive for Daniel Ricciardo, after again out-qualifying, and out-racing his team mate. Ricciardo managed his tyres better than Vettel, resulting in lap times more than 2 seconds faster than the other RB10. The Red Bull ran out of laps in closing the gap to Alonso, finally settling for P4. Sebastian Vettel had a clean getaway off the line, though almost immediately struggled with graining of the front tyres. The Red Bull driver held his P3 position until his first pit stop, where he emerged P5 behind Alonso. Vettel did manage to get within DRS range of the Ferrari, though didn’t have the straight line speed to pass him, and was told to back off by his pit wall. The German was clearly in very feisty mood, ignoring team orders to let Ricciardo passed. “Tough luck” was the response from Vettel, when told to move aside, the battle for position was short lived however as Ricciardo made his way through in turn 1 on lap 29. When Kobayashi, on fresh tyres, unlapped himself from the Red Bull, Vettel didn’t quite remain calm. Resulting in a very annoyed and amusing rant from the reigning world champion. Perhaps the world champ was kept out for possibly too long on medium tyres. Shortly after, he was told to box, and cheered up… Slightly. Vettel eventually finished 24 seconds behind his team mate in P5.

Both Force India drivers finished in the points. Hulkenberg suffered from a number of lock ups throughout the race, first in the hairpin and then again when coming in to pit. Luckily the German, running on a two stop strategy, managed to keep his VJM07 under control and crossed the line P6 after holding the Williams of Valtteri Bottas at bay. Perez put in an impressive race after a poor qualifying. Starting from P16, Perez initially battled for position with Button into the hairpin on lap 15, moving up the P14 as the Mexican made the move stick against the McLaren. The race became more difficult for Perez, who despite being on the same tyre strategy as Hulkenberg, appeared to struggle for grip, running wide at turn 14. After pitting for new medium tyres, Perez was told to bring the car home, which he adhered to, not before making up additional places to finish P9.

Bottas had contact with Rosberg into turn 1 on the opening lap, which seemed to affect his race pace. The Finn did manage to recover some pace towards the end of the race, closing the gap on the Force India. Bottas ran out of laps however, to finish P7, half a second behind Hulkenberg. It was a phenomenal start from Felipe Massa, giving him the strongest chance for a podium until disastrous pit stop cost him the race. It was a stubborn left rear wheel nut*, which had to be removed manually, which sent him very uncomfortably to the back of the field. The Brazilian put in a lot of fight to make up places from dead last, however the Williams ran out of laps, finally coming home P15. A real shame considering the strength of Massa’s drive.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat picked up the final point of the race coming home with P10. The Russian driver out performed his team mate on his first visit to the Shanghai International Circuit. Jean-Eric Vergne drove without incident. While he couldn’t quite match his qualifying pace, Vergne showed that the Toro Rosso package is reliable if anything with the Frenchman eventually finishing P12.

Neither McLaren picked up points during the Chinese Grand Prix. The MP4-29 was clearly running with the middle range teams. While Button did make an early move on Vergne stick for P13, it would be expected that a McLaren with a Mercedes power unit would have the advantage over a Renault powered Toro Rosso. Though once against another Mercedes power unit, it is painfully clear how inferior the McLaren package is. Button was easily passed by the Force India of Perez on lap 15, before tyre graining would have been an issue for the Brit. Button eventually finished just outside of the points in P11. While a positive race for a rookie driver, Magnussen has still not able to deliver the same overall race performance seen in Australia. Starting on medium compound tyres from P15, the Dane initially made up places with the strategy as others pit. However, by lap 18 the advantage had worn off and after conceding P9 to Raikkonen, the McLaren came in to pit for softs. Admittedly, the Dane suffer from front wing damage from early on in the race, affecting his performance, eventually finishing P13.

The stewards decided to let Maldonado drive in today’s Grand Prix. Starting from the back of the grid, Maldonado kept out of trouble throughout the race to eventually finish P14. Romain Grosjean was not as fortunate as his team mate, in what was a truly disappointing race for the team after such a strong qualifying. The Frenchman lost fourth gear around lap 25, making it impossible to keep on the track through the middle sector. On lap 29 the E22 went off at turn 11, and the team chose to retire him.

Esteban Gutierrez would no doubt have been a little nervous when he saw the E22 of Maldonado in his mirrors. The Sauber held him off for a few corners, though preferring to remain upright, moved aside for the Venezuelan on lap 38. Though lapping in the low 1:44s, the Sauber wasn’t as competitive as previously seen. In an attempt to pick up the pace, the Mexican was forced to run with four stops, coming in for fresh soft tyres and a new front wing on lap 42. The best Gutierrez could manage was P16 for the team. Adrian Sutil was the first retirement of the race, suffering from a failing power unit from the opening laps. The German pitted to retire on lap 6.

It was a double finish for Caterham, and a minor victory, with Kamui Kobayashi finishing ahead of both Marussias**. After pitting for medium compound tyres on lap 12, Kobayashi was lapping very quickly on his second stint, much to the disgust of Vettel, as he unlapped himself on lap 34 on the fresher tyres. The Caterham finished ahead of his team mate in P17. Marcus Ericsson seemed to lose steam in the race, allowing both the Marussia’s passed him to take last place usually reserved for Chilton.

Marussia split the two Caterham with Jules Bianchi finishing P18. The Frenchman had contact at the start, though settled down as the race progressed. Max Chilton finished P19. It would appear that Chilton may slightly be improving, as this is now the second race that the Brit has managed to finish somewhere other than last. The Marussia is definitely taking baby steps with the concept of over taking in Formula 1.

Despite the drastically different track conditions from qualifying, the Chinese Grand Prix was somewhat predictable. The season is beginning to unfold with an imminent Mercedes 1-2 finish, where we are left wondering who will fill the final podium position. The rest of the field hasn’t quite caught up to the advantage of the Mercedes package, and with Hamilton’s performance over a single qualifying lap, it’s almost up to Rosberg to catch Hamilton at turn 1 before he walks away with the victory. Red Bull are the closest competitor now to Mercedes, having sorted out their reliability issues. Daniel Ricciardo is more than comfortable in his seat at Red Bull, consistently out performing Vettel. There is a short break in the calendar before Formula 1 moves to Europe for the first time in 2014 for the Spanish Grand Prix, until then, wǎnān.

– Alex

* And the crew not having any rear tyres ready

** As the chequered flag was shown two laps early to Lewis Hamilton, the results were decided on Lap 54 when Kobayashi was P18 behind Bianchi in P17.

Qualifying Pole Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Podium Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
Fastest Lap 1:40.402 Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)

Chinese Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Dâka-hô! Formula 1 returns to the Shanghai Circuit in 2014 for the fourth round of the championship season. The 5.451km runs clockwise is the first circuit on the calendar where tyre temperatures lower tyre deterioration. Despite the cooler temperatures, the Shanghai Circuit is still considerably aggressive in the second sector, a highlight of the track being turns 11 through 13, where drivers flick quickly left before doing an almost complete right hander. Qualifying was greeted with rain today, with teams opting for full wet tyres in the opening session. The wet track conditions were difficult for some drivers, though ultimately meant slippy white bits, and slippy black bits for that matter*. Slight but persistent rain throughout the rest of the sessions saw the field switch to intermediates as a slight drive line appeared. Mercedes unsurprisingly impressive, with Lewis Hamilton comfortably securing pole position. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo will line up along side the Mercedes in P2, more than half a second ahead of Sebastian Vettel in P3.

The Mercedes package continued to dominate throughout all three qualifying sessions, despite wet conditions. Both cars ventured out on wets for Q1, before swapping to intermediates in Q2 and Q3 with the rest of the field. Hamilton remained mostly on top of the timesheet, showing the rest of the field how to set a qualifying lap in the wet. Rosberg followed suit with a similar performance throughout the qualifying, right up until the final minutes of Q3. On his second to last flying lap, Rosberg locked left front tyre into the first corner, choosing to abandon lap for one last run. There was no luck for Rosberg on his final attempt, forgetting the golden rule of a wet track, keep off the white lines. The Mercedes driver sent his F1 W05 into a spin on the final corner on what would have been a perfect lap. Despite the difficulties in the final minutes of the session, Rosberg still lines up on the second row of the grid just behind the reigning world champion in P4.

Wet track conditions undoubtedly favoured both the Red Bulls, though not taking away from Daniel Ricciardo’s P2. The Australian was off to a difficult start, felt the grip from the extreme wet tyres wasn’t good enough during Q1 and Q2. This didn’t seem to interfere too much with his performance, going on to set a Q3 lap time of more than half a second ahead of his teammate. Vettel joined the list of drivers to run wide at the final turn, though on this particular lap in Q2 he remained second fastest. As the session wore on, the Red Bull looked strongest in the middle sector, as expected. Sebastian Vettel’s penultimate flying lap in Q3 was enough to briefly hold P1, until Hamilton snatched that away. Shortly after, Ricciardo would set his P2 lap time, leaving Vettel to beat Ricciardo’s 1:54.455. In the end, Vettel was left 0.505s short and settles for P3. 

Its been a rocky week for the Italian team, though Fernando Alonso gave the team some reason for celebration qualifying next in line from the Mercedes and Red Bulls in P5. The Spaniard was strong throughout all three qualifying and practice sessions, sitting second fastest with 1:57.030 for a stint in Q1. The F14 T’s package definitely favours the seasoned Ferrari driver compared to returning Raikkonen. We’re still waiting to see the team mate battle between two world champions unfold, at this point its all a bit of an anticlimax as Raikkonen continues to struggle with the set up of his car. The Finn had appeared to not to have any grip through the twisty second sector, and almost no control through turns 11 and 12. That being said, Raikkonen is still delivering exceptional drives in a car he clearly isn’t comfortable in. Unluckily, the Finn was pushed down to the drop zone at the end of Q2 as the Williams and Grosjean made their way through. The Finn put in a personal best for his final lap, though still more than a second behind his team mate, it wasn’t enough to get both the Ferraris through. Raikkonen will therefore start P11.

Both Williams made it through to Q3 with Massa out qualifying Bottas. Both the FW36s looked comfortable of the slippy and at times twisty Shanghai Circuit. Massa just pulled himself out of Q2, backing off in Q2 to create a clean track ahead, possibly backing off too much, with Raikkonen slipping passed so he could set his own lap. In Q3, like the rest of the field, Massa made a late dash back to the pits for fresh intermediates for his final Q3 laps. Despite cutting it rather fine, the Brazilian got the most out of his FW36 to line up P6. Bottas delivered a consistent performance throughout the sessions, lining up just behind his team mate in P7.

Grosjean delivered for Lotus today, in difficult track conditions getting the E22 through to Q3. In a slight off moment in Q2, Grosjean touched the white lines in the second sector, flicking the back on the exit of the corner. In a skilled recovery, the Frenchman kept control and continued with his lap. Eventually qualifying in P10 with 1:57.079 on the intermediate tyres. Maldonado didn’t run in qualifying today. With the Lotus failing to set a time, he automatically fails to qualify within the 107% rule and will therefore race at the steward’s discretion. Let him race I think, whats the worst that can happen?

Force India had a rather quiet qualifying, with Hulkenberg once again delivering a strong performance, qualifying in P8. The only real incidents for the German driver came when Hulkenberg out braked himself at turn 11, and then ran wide on the final corner of his final lap in Q2. Despite this little off moment for P10 in Q2, Hulkenberg secured  a spot in the final qualifying session. After 10 minutes on intermediate tyres, the Force India driver delivered a lap time in the 1:56s, good enough for P8. Team mate Sergio Perez had a less impressive qualifying. Though not appearing to suffer from any major incident, the Mexican couldn’t deliver the same pace from the VJM07 as Hulkenberg, eventually qualifying P16. 

The MP4-29 isn’t that much better than the MP4-28, with the McLaren’s still not living up to their season opening performance. Jensen Button’s qualifying wasn’t anything extraordinary, leaving him scraping to get out of Q2. However failing to make it through, forcing the veteran to settle for P12. Magnussen’s drive however should be noted as a positive performance. The Dane didn’t run much in P3,  and being his first visit to Shanghai Circuit, ran reasonably well in the wet conditions. The lap times coming from the rookie driver were strong, and Magnussen scrapped a good timed lap to come in for fresh intermediate tyres for his final flying lap. He got what he could from the Mp4-29, though still only enough for P15 with 1:57.675.

The Toro Rossos both made it through to Q2, with Vergne making an appearance in Q3, opting for the same strategy as the back half of the field. Both Vergne and Kvyat ventured out in Q1 on the intermediate tyres, despite rain still present. Along with Sauber, Toro Rosso were the only team to benefit, with Vergne qualifying in P9, ahead of Kvyat back in P13.

Sauber only made it as far as Q2 in todays session as both ventured out late on intermediate tyres as well in an attempt to leapfrog out of the drop out zone of Q1. Adrian Sutil made it through, though noticeably lacked downforce. In a scrap at the end of Q1, Gutierrez just missed out on going through to the next session, pushing a little too hard on the last lap and losing it on the inters, qualifying P17. 

Caterham were the first team to run on intermediates in Q1, setting the trend to take advantage on any dry line that may have developed on the circuit. Kobayashi set personal bests on the strategy, though it wasn’t enough once the rest of the back markers caught on, eventually qualifying P15. Ericsson also ran on intermediates to line up P20.

Marussia’s Jules Bianchi looked twitchy through the middle sector on the intermediate tyres, while improving his time, he ran wide on the final corner to spoil his final flying lap, qualifying P19. Chilton qualified behind his team mate in P21, no surprises there.

A wet qualifying usually acts as an equaliser between teams, and can shake up the grid a little. It’s reasonably clear that the Shanghai International Circuit really favours high downforce package for the middle sector, one that Red Bull seem to have down pact. With tomorrow’s race still forecast to be dry, Mercedes may again walk away with a win. However, if conditions dampen it will most likely be a Red Bull versus Mercedes race. It would be refreshing, despite only four races in, if someone could challenge Hamilton for the lead. Personally, I’d like to see Rosberg leap frog his team mate early on in the race. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

– Alex

* Not a euphasmism

Bahrain Grand Prix: Perez on Podium

Lewis Hamilton took the top step of the podium, but only just from team mate Nico Rosberg in what was easily the most thrilling Grand Prix of the season. Though the celebrations came from a bit further down pit from the Force India garage as Sergio Perez climbed to third place after a spectacular race from the Mexican. From lights out Hamilton had the lead, though had to work hard to defend his position from an eager Rosberg. Massa undoubtedly had the best start, making up four places before the entry into turn 1 to challenge Rosberg for second. Further back on the grid, Magnussen and Raikkonen made contact, as well as Bottas and Vergne.

Early on it the race, it became apparent that Mercedes intended to split their drivers strategies, with Rosberg going for a longer stint on the soft tyres. Unusually though, the split made no difference to either cars pace, despite Hamilton complaining of “no power” immediately before setting fastest lap… Yes Lewis, your car is obviously very slow. Hamilton went on to set more fastest laps, and was steadily increasing his lead over the rest of the field until the appearance of the safety car brought the grid back together. From this point, the battle between the Mercedes cars really got underway. Both Hamilton and Rosberg were instructed over team radio to bring the cars home safely, which was interpreted by both drivers as “lets race each other wheel-to-wheel”. The battle that ensued was some of the most thrilling and skilled driving I’ve seen. Rosberg would briefly take the lead, sneaking through the inside of a turn, before Hamilton would regain his position in the next corner. In the end, it was Hamilton who crossed the line first, so Rosberg was forced to settle for second, for now at least.

Sergio Perez had a rocky start off the grid, suffering from a major front left lock up into turn 1, luckily the Force India emerged unscathed and went on to deliver one of his best Formula 1 performances to date. The Mexican engaged in several battles for position, first with Massa in the early stages of the race, then Alonso following his first pit stop, and finally his own team mate. In previous races, an overtaking attempt from Perez would most likely have ended in contact. In Bahrain Perez was focussed, finally showing teams the drive he is capable of. Though the limelight shone mostly for Perez, Hulkenberg delivered a good performance making up six positions before the first round of pit stops. To the German’s advantage, the Force India’s soft tyres held their grip for a slightly longer first stint, putting the VJM07 on a strong footing for the rest of the race. Hulkenberg’s most notable battle for position came against Perez, who held his ground forcing Hulkenberg off the track at turn 9. Eventually the two were split by a Red Bull for Perez to finish on the podium in P3, and Hulkenberg in P5.

Third time was the charm for Ricciardo to finally pick up some (much deserved) points for the 2014 season. After qualifying P3, the grid penalty from Malaysia saw him start from P13. The Red Bull driver more than rose to the challenge, putting in an impressive first stint on the soft tyres, making up several positions before a late first pit stop for the medium compound tyres. Ricciardo continued to make his way back through the field, taking his time behind Raikkonen before making the move for P7 stick at turn 9 on lap 24. When he caught the back of his team mate, the order came over the radio for Vettel to move aside for (the faster) Ricciardo, Vettel obliged, and The Australian would eventually finish P4. Sebastian Vettel had a less thrilling race, suffering from DRS issues in the early stages of the race. Despite this, Vettel managed to match his team mate for pace in the later stages. In the final stint of the race, Vettel had caught up to Ricciardo (with the assistance of the safety car), but was unable to make it passed his team mate, who then passed Hulkenberg, so the German settled for P6.

After weeks of waiting, it finally happened, the Williams cars delivered what the FW36 is capable of, though admittedly both drivers lost steam in the final stint. Felipe Massa’s start was incredible, moving from P7 to P3 before the rest of the grid had got going. Initial thoughts were that he may have jumped the start, but review showed that he just had the perfect launch. As the race progressed, Massa engaged in a battle for P3 with Perez, though he later fell back down the order during pit stops. Bottas had more of a quiet race, falling back through the field after making contact with Vergne. The appearance of the safety car was most unfortunate for Williams as it took away their advantage from their tyre strategy, so Massa’s P7 and Bottas’ P8 are somewhat out of place.

Ferrari were less than impressive during the race, with neither Alonso or Raikkonen placing particularly high up in the order. Alonso struggled to hold his qualifying position, as his F14 T lost power during the race. Notwithstanding this, Alonso didn’t race poorly by any means, just the Ferrari didn’t deliver. Kimi Raikkonen struggled with similar issues throughout the race, and suffered from a particularly bad lock up before his first pit, resulting in a flat spot on his tyre. The Finn got what he could out of the Ferrari, but contact with Magnussen hurt him, and he conceded places to Button before fending back the Red Bull of Ricciardo, which he eventually lost as well. The result was a less than thrilled Ferrari garage, and Alonso and Raikkonen finishing P9 and P10 respectively.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat seems to be another rookie driver who’s performance has calmed down since the season opener in Australia. Kvyat’s race, while quiet, was controlled and he suffered no major incidences. The Russian eventually finished P11. Team mate, Jean-Eric Vergne however never quite recovered from his contact with Bottas in the opening laps, retiring on lap 18.

It was a successful race for Lotus in the sense that both cars made it home, and Grosjean even managed to keep the car running well to finish P12. A huge positive for the team considering the difficulties they’ve had so far in the season. It was rather unsurprising however that the first appearance of the safety car was caused by Pastor Maldonado, what was more surprising was that he managed to finish the race. On lap 40, Maldonado was exiting the pit as Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez was approaching turn 1. The Sauber was already well and truly into the turn when Maldonado’s E22 t-boned Gutierrez, flipping the Sauber, and resulting in an instant retirement of the C33 (and some insane pictures of an upside-down Mexican mid-flight). Maldonado claimed Gutierrez gave him nowhere to go*, but luckily neither driver was hurt. The safety car brought the field back together for the final stint of the race, and Maldonado, reasonably unscathed came home in P14. Maldonado was handed a 10-second stop-go penalty, and a 5-place grid penalty for the Chinese Grand Prix, which seems reasonable given that Ricciardo was given a 10-place grid penalty for an unsafe release where nobody flipped a Sauber…

It was a double finish again for Marussia. Max Chilton continued his record of finishing every race, however, Bahrain was the first race where he didn’t finish last. So well done Max. Bianchi got off to a rather scrappy start, making contact with Sutil on lap 13 as he attempted to overtake into turn 1. The incident resulted in a drive through penalty for the Marussia. Chilton eventually crossed the line P13, ahead of Bianchi in P16.

Caterham were another team do race quietly from start to finish. Kobayashi drove well and without incident, to split the two Marussias to eventually finish P15. Ericsson unfortunately retired on lap 33 due to an oil leak.

Jenson Button’s 250th Grand Prix started well for the veteran driver. Button got the most he could out of his MP4-29, and by halfway through the race had only used 37% of his fuel load. Surely it was part of the McLaren strategy to push in the final stint to move Button forward, however this strategy fell apart following the safety car, and clutch issues similar to that of team mate Kevin Magnussen. Magnussen was the final retirement of the race shortly after the safety car on lap 41.

It was a rather dramatic double retirement from Sauber. Sutil retired early on in the race from accident damage after contact with Bianchi, though Gutierrez’s retirement will surely be the flashiest of the season. Gutierrez’s reaction following the somersault in the Sauber was simply; “what was that?!”, the answer, Maldonado, Esteban, that was Maldonado…

For what the Bahrain Grand Prix lacked in engine sound, it certainly made up for in incidents. At one stage of the race, the top eight drivers were paired into their teams; Mercedes, Force India, Red Bull, and Williams. It was interesting to see given that teams had split their drivers strategies only to find that it made no difference to lap times of positions whatsoever. I was most impressed by the absence (or ignoring) of team orders. Mercedes were free to actually battle for their positions, and Red Bull didn’t favour one driver over another. I do feel we have a bit more to see from Sergio Perez. I’d like to see him mature as a driver in the same way Grosjean matured last season. The championship heads back east in a fortnights time for the Chinese Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit. Possibly Alelbuth might make an appearance, but we’ll have to wait and see. Until then, tesbah ala kheir.

– Alex

* Except everywhere else on the track

Qualifying Pole Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Podium Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Sergio Perez (Force India-Mercedes)
Fastest Lap 1:37.020 Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)

Bahrain Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Ahlan wa sahlan! This weekend marks the tenth anniversary of Formula 1’s visit to the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, and to celebrate the Bahrain Grand Prix becomes a night night race. The 5.412 km lap distance has quite aggressive asphalt from sand (due to the fact it’s in a desert), and hard braking areas from wind (also due to the fact it’s in a desert). The twisty nature of the circuit and difficult winds favours a downforce package, making it crucial for drivers to hit the apex of turns 5 through at the beginning of the second sector. The Bahrain International Circuit is a very interesting track, hosting elements seen both in Australia and Malaysia. Drivers must focus on fuel saving, as in Australia, but also be concerned with tyre degradation due to heat, as in Malaysia. It would seem that Mercedes are taking it in turns in qualifying on pole. In quickly cooling track conditions, Rosberg steals P1 at Sakhir Circuit tonight, after Hamilton ran wide out of turn 1. Red Bull’s, Daniel Ricciardo followed closely behind the Mercedes to qualify P3 with 1:34.051.

Mercedes strolled through qualifying tonight opting to not even venture out on the soft tyres in Q1. Throughout the sessions, the only issue Mercedes saw was Hamilton running off track at the exit of turn 1 in the final moments of Q3. The incident hardly caused the team worry as the Brit was merely trying to improve on his current (and seemingly unbeatable) P2. Nonetheless, the off track moment took the pressure off pole sitter, Nico Rosberg, confirming the 1-2 Rosberg-Hamilton order of the grid for tomorrow.

The only other driver to save their soft tyres for later in qualifying was Red Bull’s, Daniel Ricciardo. Qualifying meant more for the Australian tonight as he carries a 10-place grid penalty from his unsafe release in Malaysia last week. Ricciardo delivered the best possible result for the team, qualifying right behind the Mercedes in P3 on the soft tyres, dropping back to P13 with the penalty. Vettel once again struggled with the downshifts of his RB10, but by his own admission, just couldn’t get the pace out of the car. For the second time in three rounds, the reigning world champion failed to make it through to Q3, qualifying in P11. Though given his team mate’s grid penalty, Vettel will start P10.

It was all smiles for the Williams garage today as both Bottas and Massa made it all the way through to Q3. The Williams were the first to swap to the grippier soft compound tyre in Q1, which saw Bottas briefly top the timesheet and Massa close behind. The strategy secured both drivers passage into Q2 where the team again set competitive lap times on both the soft and medium compound tyres. Bottas was faster than Massa tonight, finishing up P4, while Massa qualified P8. With Ricciardo’s penalty, Bottas moves to his highest ever F1 grid placing, P3, and Massa to P7.

Force India had a bipolar qualifying, but not in the order expected by most. Perez outshone Hulkenberg for the first time in their partnership, making it through to Q3 ahead of Hulkenberg’s P12. The Mexican, in the final moments of Q2 set a time good enough for P6 in the session, and good enough push Vettel down into the drop zone. In Q3, Perez went on to improve on his time on softs to finish up P5. Both Perez and Hulkenberg benefit from Ricciardo’s penalty, starting P4 and P11 respectively.

Ferrari are an interesting team to watch in 2014, the team never particularly do anything wrong, but neither driver can particularly do it right either. Raikkonen is once again struggling with the sheer power of the F14 T, looking rather scrappy throughout the session. Despite feeling very uncomfortable in the car, Raikkonen qualified a comfortable P6, starting P5. Alonso had his usual quiet qualifying, until a sudden loss of power to the car saw him severely lose lap times in Q3. As a result the Spaniard is slightly out of place in P10, starting P9.

Both Button and Magnussen made it through to Q3, though the team had a reasonably quiet session. Button out-qualified his team mate for his 250th Grand Prix weekend, in P7 on the softs. Magnussen seems to have calmed down from his initial success in Australia, consistently running in the middle of the time sheets. The Danish driver eventually qualified P9, to start P8. Despite a quiet qualifying, the McLaren package remains promising for the race, and should favour the circuit conditions.

Despite a strong performance throughout practice, both Kvyat and Vergne were eliminated in Q2. The STR9s were about on pace with each other, with Kvyat just out-qualifying Vergne for P13 and P14 by 0.141s. The two are split however by Ricciardo, as he takes his place in P13, bumping Kvyat up to P12.

While performance wise, Sauber delivered, getting both cars through to Q2. Qualifying P15, Gutierrez pushed his C33 to the limit, though still looked comfortable through the twisty circuit, a good sign for a track less focussed on straight-line speed. Sutil however has been handed a 5-place penalty for the race for blocking Grosjean on a flying lap at the end of Q1. Sutil, who had qualified P18, will now start at the back of the grid in P22.

Lotus appear to be finally finding their footing in the 2014 season, and ironing out their reliability issues. Grosjean delivered what he could from the E22, though the lap times didn’t appear high up in the order. Neither car made it through to Q3, though the Frenchman did once again out-qualify his team mate in the final moments of Q2. Both on the soft tyres, Grosjean pushed Maldonado down to take P16 for himself, settling Maldonado for P17.

Again, the usual suspects were out after the first qualifying session. It was a slight victory for Caterham as Kobayashi was able to qualify P19 ahead of the two Marussias, while Marcus Ericsson split both Bianchi and Chilton for P21. For a brief moment it appeared as Bianchi may have broken out of Q1, however Maldonado quickly pushed the Marussia back down into the drop zone before entering it himself. In the end, there were no real surprises at the end of the pit lane with Bianchi qualifying P20, ahead of team mate Chilton in P22. Following Sutil’s penalty however, the back end of the grid reshuffles to Kob P18, Bia P19, Eri P20, and Chi P21.

It feels rather imminent that Mercedes will take another 1-2 finish, but I’m quietly hoping for a Williams on the final step of the podium. It feels like I’ve been saying since Australia that I’ve been waiting for Williams to break out and really deliver on race day, and I’m really hoping that the Bahrain Grand Prix is finally the race. Red Bull could have a unusually difficult race, with both Vettel and Ricciardo starting from unfavourable grid positions, a rather underwhelming Renault power unit, and a circuit setup that the RB10 isn’t particularly fond of. Though I wouldn’t count either driver out for pulling something out of the bag. The Bahrain International Circuit offers a great race, and going from qualifying this could finally be the race that Maldonado completes all 57 laps*.

– Alex

*But probably not.