Monaco Grand Prix: Pit Stop Woes

Nico Rosberg made it a hatrick of wins in the Principality at today’s Monaco Grand Prix after inheriting the lead during a disastrous pit stop strategy under the safety car. Following on, on worn soft compound tyres, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel fought hard to keep his newly earned second place from Lewis Hamilton. The podium result soon saw a somewhat bewildered Nico Rosberg, from an ecstatic Sebastian Vettel, and a less-than-usually-sulky Lewis Hamilton. At lights out, Hamilton was quick off the line, keeping his team mate behind him. Vettel immediately had to defend his position from Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat, who incidentally nearly ran into the back of the Ferrari for some very late braking. Daniel Ricciardo, in the other Red Bull tried to make a move around the outside of Vettel and Kvyat, though the move failed to come to pass. Ricciardo conceded a place to Kvyat through turn 1, relegating the RB11 to P4. Snaking their way through, Alonso in the McLaren and Hulkenberg in the Force India made contact through Mirabeau, resulting the the VJM08 losing it’s front wing in the barrier. Hulkenberg limped back to the pits for a new front wing, losing several positions.

Some undoubtably awkward conversations will be happening over in the Mercedes camp following a definite 1-2 Hamilton-Rosberg victory being thrown away by an unnecessary pit stop under the safety car. Hamilton had led the entirety of the race, managing to keep the brakes cool and pull a +9s lead on Rosberg at times, all before the appearance of the safety car on lap 65. Initially running both cars on a one-stop strategy, the pit wall decided to call Hamilton in for a second stop under the safety car to swap to fresh super soft tyres. A move that made no sense given that there were barely 10-laps left in the race, and almost no opportunity to over take. Without a large enough gap, Hamilton emerged from the pits behind seemingly Vettel, and after a brief investigation over position on track vs. crossing the safety car line, where he would stay. Overall it wasn’t the easiest race for the Mercedes camp.

At least one face on the podium looked pleased to be stood where he was. Sebastian Vettel clearly pushed hard from lights out, never letting the Mercedes ahead get out of reach. The Scuderia initially tried to take Rosberg with an undercut in the pit stops, but failed to pay off the move against the F1 W06. Moving up to P2 from Hamilton’s pit under the safety car, Vettel was concerned that his tyres would lose too much temperature due to the lapped cars unlapping themselves (a long an arduous process). As we went racing once more, Vettel had to defend from a Mercedes right on his gearbox. There wasn’t an opportunity for Vettel to challenge Rosberg for the top step, so the Ferrari focussed on getting his tyres back up to temperature and pulling a large enough gap to keep Hamilton at bay. A strategy that worked as the Mercedes was unable to pass. Further back in the field, Kimi Raikkonen was clearly annoyed* by the traffic through the streets. Monaco isn’t Kimi’s favourite track, though the Ferrari clearly pushed hard to fight for his position. Keeping on the tail of Ricciardo, Raikkonen closed the gap to the Red Bull. Following the safety car however, some contact between the two pushed Raikkonen back to P6.

Red Bull finished the race in a healthy P4 and P5 for their drivers, with Daniil Kvyat finishing ahead of Daniel Ricciardo. Both Dan’s drove a strong race, with Kvyat’s start off the line, and Ricciardo’s overtaking following the safety car being highlights for the two. Once the safety car had peeled in, Ricciardo was told he could attack the cars in front, and attack he did, making up two positions in the two laps following. Pulling off a rather bold move on Raikkonen, which after an investigation by the stewards saw no further action. Ricciardo had then the opportunity to challenge for a podium finish against Hamilton. However with the Mercedes remaining just out of reach, and Kvyat lapping quicker, the Aussie was told over radio if he couldn’t make the overtake to let Kvyat through. Ricciardo obliged and the team scored some solid points between them.

Force India got off to a bumpy start after contact between Alonso and Hulkenberg on the opening lap, costing the Hulk several positions. Sergio Perez however had a strong drive, showing what the Mercedes powered VJM08 is capable of around the tight streets of Monaco. Starting from P7, Checo put together a flawless race, managing a two stop strategy of softs in the middle stint, before switching back to the super softs under the safety car to build a strong challenge against Kimi Raikkonen. Unfortunately for the Mexican, the race ran out of laps, and he was unable to catch the Ferrari and settling for P7. Nico Hulkenberg  dropped to the back of the grid from lap one, though was able to claw his way back up to finish just outside of the points in P11.

A bittersweet result for McLaren-Mercedes, who managed to bring just one car to the chequered flag, that car however did manage to pick up 4 points! More than the Woking based team have collected all season. Starting from P10, and with the odds against him, Jenson Button managed the temperamental Honda power unit keeping a competitive one-stop strategy right up until the safety car. Covering their bases, he team pit Button under the safety car to finish the race on the quicker super-soft tyres as Perez and Nasr pit around him. The strategy paid off as Button finished in P8, his best result all season. Fernando Alonso was less lucky, being handed a 5-second stop-go penalty for causing the collision with Hulkenberg on the opening lap (which he unknowingly served on lap 33, and finally retiring due to a gearbox issue ten laps later.

Sauber had a somewhat anonymous race, with Felipe Nasr finishing just inside the points in P9, and Marcus Ericsson coming home in P13. Running on a one-stop, Nasr initially made up positions on Alonso and Grosjean, though was promoted to P9 through the retirements of Maldonado, Alonso, and Verstappen. Nasr came in to pit for a second time under the safety car, though failed to make up a position. Marcus Ericsson was running on a two-stop, though pitted under the safety as well. Overall, it was a bit of an underwhelming race for the team.

Bringing home a single point, the Toro Rosso garage were robbed of something to really celebrate for. Carlos Sainz, starting from the pit lane managed a one-stop strategy, pitting on lap 12 for the harder of the two compound tyres. Sainz made up several positions before the safety car, finishing a promising P9. Max Verstappen started the race with storming pace, however a slow stop for the STR10 cost the rookie some time. Verstappen quickly worked on closing the gap to get back into the points. The battle soon saw the Toro Rosso approach the back of Romain Grosjean in the E23. After a bold attempt at the hairpin, Verstappen remained behind the Lotus. Keeping on Grosjean’s gearbox, Verstappen made another attempt at the position, though failed to pull the dummy manoeuvre and misjudging the Lotus’ braking. The STR10 caught the right rear of the E23, snapping the front left wish-bone and sending Verstappen straight into the barriers at Mirabeau. Fortunately, Verstappen emerged unscathed from the hefty impact. Unfortunately, Verstappen has also been handed a grid penalty for Canada, and had points added to his super licence.

Romain Grosjean was the only Lotus to finish the race as Pastor’s E23 pulled a sicky earlier in the race. Maldonado, starting off strong, was called into retire after a brake by wire failure on lap 8. Though a short lived race, Maldonado did pick up some contact first with Massa into turn 1, and then Verstappen at Tabac. Keeping his head down, Grosjean maintained a competitive pace on a one-stop strategy, though was unable to make a points finish stick. The E23 finishing just outside in P12.

It too was an anonymous race for Williams, who, not hoping for much, finished in P14 and P15. It was all too clear that the FW37 is suited to long high speed straights, and as Monaco barely has one, the team struggled. Valtteri Bottas maintained a two-stop strategy, pitting just before the safety car to finish P14. Felipe Massa had a difficult start, having to pit on the opening lap following contact from Maldonado. The stop was a long one owing to a necessary front wing change. Massa then raced on a two-stop strategy, before pitting for a third time under the safety car to finish P15.

Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens for Manor F1 Team are undoubtably sick of the sight the blue flags, having spent the entirety of the race having them waved in their visors. That being said, both cars managed to finish the race, which in itself is an accomplishment in Monaco. Merhi finished ahead of his team mate in P16, to Stevens P17.

After a rather quiet start (or 60-odd laps), the Monaco Grand Prix did deliver it’s usual spectacle of nail biting attempts to overtake and safety car appearances. Though it wasn’t quite the victory that Rosberg would have been hoping for, the result has closed the championship points gap to just ten points. So, that’s something for Mercedes, or Vettel to think about. The championship now moves on to Montréal, for the Canadian Grand Prix. Not always the most exciting of races, though Daniel Ricciardo did take his first Formula 1 victory there last year, so personally I’m hoping for a repeat. Until then, à tout à l’heure.

– Alex

Monaco Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Bonjour mes amis! Et bienvenue à Monaco. The traveling circus has once again returned to the Principality for the crown jewel in the Formula 1 Calendar. The 3.340km circuit is narrow to say the least, translating to a slight advantage for a setup with shorter gear ratios. It’s a tight squeeze to the first corner, St Devote, where many a first lap incident has occurred. Turns 4 and 5 are bumpier on the street circuit, causing drivers to change their lines to avoid bottoming out down to Maribeau. Drivers must be careful not to lose the rear through Portier to be able to get the best line to go flat out through the tunnel. The chicane at the exit of the tunnel has been the scene of many an out-braking manoeuvre over the years, on occasion catching the car in front up the rear… Through to the final sector and La Rascasse. Marking the second slowest point on the track, braking and racing line are vital to run an inch away from the inside wall  Overtaking is “easiest” at the Nouvelle Chicane, and the start-finish straight where drivers can get a little extra from DRS. The unforgiving nature of Monaco translates into an all important qualifying. Focus on front wing aerodynamic grip and downforce through the corners will be vital over the weekend, giving the Renault powered teams a fighting chance. Concerns of  fuel saving and energy recovery take a backseat for this race. Some drivers will try and aim for a little bit of oversteer in the corners to make the most of being able to accelerate out from the corner sooner.

Under the threat of rain, qualifying got underway largely without incident. Track temperature was a balmy 29 C, falling to 27 C as the afternoon wore on. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton denied Nico Rosberg a hatrick of pole positions in Monte Carlo. Hamilton took the top spot with a blistering 1:15.098, relinquishing Rosberg to start from P2 on the grid. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was best of the rest, dipping into the 1:15s to secure P3 on the grid.

Mercedes were unsurprisingly strong in qualifying, though didn’t run away with the session. Hamilton’s session was slow starting, being caught in traffic from the two Lotus’, before losing aero grip through turn 11. After a front wing adjustment, the Briton was back on track, playing cat and mouse for the fastest lap. Lewis Hamilton had the advantage of choice in going out first in the final session, and remained unchallenged for the pole lap. It was a 1:15.098 on his final run on the super soft compound that did it, though the threat from Rosberg never came. Rosberg struggled to keep his F1 W06 from locking up at St Devote. A near repeat of last year spoiled Jenson Button’s lap at the end of Q2. Though thankfully this year there was no debate that the front right lock up was an accident. Unfortunately for Rosberg, his final in Q3 lap was a scrappy one. Diving into the pits, Rosberg’s penultimate lap of 1:15.440 on the super softs will slot him in to P2.

Sebastian Vettel had looked promising in the Ferrari to challenge for dark horse pole position. Despite an aggressive qualifying, the top spot remained just out of reach. Missing the apex in turn 11 spoiled the SF15-T’s final lap, making a 1:15.849 in the super soft tyres a time for P3. Sebastian however did remain 0.8s clear of team mate Kimi Raikkonen overall. Suffering from a little too much oversteer in the earlier sessions, Raikkonen lost the rear again as the chequered flag fell, relinquishing the Finn to P6 with 1:16.041 on the super softs.

Red Bull Racing are traditionally strong on the streets of Monaco, and today was no different. The high downforce, low engine wear nature of the Monaco Street Circuit Daniel Ricciardo was an easy P4, though the Australian felt he could have easily pushed for P3. After being caught in traffic and not getting the perfect run, Ricciardo’s best time on the super softs of 1:16.041 slots the RB11 into P4. Separated by a mere 0.141s, Daniil Kvyat lines up P5 just behind his team mate with a time of 1:16.182.

It was a bittersweet session for Force India, with Sergio Perez qualifying in a solid P7. Heading out early in Q2, Perez worked to get his confidence up through the narrow circuit. Paying off in the final session, Perez pulled out a 1:16.999 on the super softs. Nico Hulkenberg however was an early victim to the barriers. In the final minutes of Q1, Hulkenberg in the VJM08 lost the rear into Portier, sending the left rear into the barrier. Hulkenberg was however able to make it through to the second session, though a mistake into the final corner cost him passage into Q3. Qualifying in P13* with 1:17.193, Hulkenberg will also start on the super softs.

Toro Rosso were another team to gain advantage from the high downforce track, with both Sainz and Verstappen having strong opening sessions. Unfortunately for the Scuderia, the results on track didn’t translate in the final grid line up. Carlos Sainz challenged Perez for P7, finishing just a tenth of a second slower than the Force India in P8 with 1:16.931. The rookie has however been handed a penalty for missing the compulsory weigh bridge. So, all the hard for Sainz is undone as the STR10 will start from the pit lane. After a stormer of practice sessions, Max Verstappen’s STR10 lost steam in the final session, failing to improve from his Q2 time of 1:16.546, Verstappen will start P10 with 1:16.957 on the super softs.

Almost happy days for Lotus, with both E23s running strong. While some may have watched in bated breath as Pastor lapped blisteringly fast and close to the barriers**, the Lotus driver managed to pull ahead of his team mate early on in the session. After being caught in traffic in the final session, Maldonado was unable to keep temperatures up in the E23, and was unable to improve on his final lap, making for a qualifying position of P9 with 1:16.946. Grosjean had less luck during qualifying, locking a wheel into turn 15 on his flying lap. The small error cost Romain a slot in Q3, settling the Lotus of P11 with 1:17.007. However, due to an early gear box change, Grosjean carriers a 5-place grid penalty to tomorrow’s race.

McLarens’ MP4-30 appears to be better suited to the Monaco streets, largely due to the low engine wear. Jenson Button would have made it through to the final session had it not been for waved yellow flags in the first sector, spoiling his final flying lap. Button had a strong handle on the set up and was able to push the McLaren for pace and grip. Unable to catch a break however, his fastest Q2 time put him P12 with 1:17.093. Alonso didn’t carry any luck through to qualifying either, despite a strong start. The Spaniard, going strong was threatening to make it through to Q3. This turned out to be empty threats however as Alonso’s Honda chose to pack up in Q2, relegating him to P15 and a 1:26.632.

Williams  were surprisingly less competitive in qualifying. There wasn’t a specific issue hindering the FW37’s performance, it appeared that Monaco just didn’t suit the Williams set up. Massa couldn’t get the pace he needed out of the car to make it to the top ten shoot out, only managing a 1:17.278 for P14.Throughout the session, Bottas was unable to keep the temperatures in the tyres, and lost time due to the subsequent lack of grip. In a galant act of mate-ship, Bottas backed off his final flying lap after making a mistake on his own. By backing off, Bottas allowed his team mate through into clear track ahead to have a run a his lap. Calling it a day, the Finn dove into the pits, settling himself for P17.

Sauber opted for a different strategy in qualifying, venturing out first on the super softs while the rest of the grid (with the exception of the Manors) started on the soft compound tyres. Unfortunately for Sauber, the strategy didn’t exactly pay off, as neither Nasr nor Ericsson made it out of the initial drop zone. Felipe Nasr did manage to out-qualify his team mate in P16 with 1:18.101 on 4-lap old super softs. Ericsson will start P18, after a lap 4-tenths slower with 1:18.513.

Rounding off the back of the grid is the Manor F1 Team. Both the Manor’s made it through the circuit with enough grip and speed to qualify inside the 107% rule (1:21.884), with Stevens again out qualifying Merhi for P19 and P20 with 1:20.655 and 1:20.994 respectively.

The atmosphere of the Monaco Grand Prix is rather extravagant. The Monte Carlo streets are phenonemal. Lined with yachts and champagne off track, the streets are so narrow that it’s hard to believe a race can physically be held here. Needless to say, there is very little margin for error. To top things off, an 80% chance of the safety car keeps things interesting (like we would be bored here?). Starting from pole, it’s Hamilton’s race to lose tomorrow. Now we wait to see who can catch him.

– Alex

* Expected to start P11 due to penalties on the grid

** I may or may not have been one of them.

 

Malaysian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Hello, dan selamat datang ke Kuala Lumpur! Round two of the 2015 Formula 1 Championship gets underway at the Sepang International Circuit. The 5.543km circuit runs clockwise for 56 laps, through 15 corners, and two DRS zones. The opening sequence of corners requires good engine tractability, as the right hander for turn 1 immediately snakes into a tight left-hander into turn 2. In wet conditions (and let’s face it, Malaysia is pretty wet), there are a lot of slippy racing lines. Turn 3 requires a lot of driver confidence to take the long right-hander at speed to open out to the straight leading into the heavy braking zone of Langkawi corner. The second sector is made up of a series of high speed corners, requiring a stiffer suspension set up. Sepang is a punishing track in terms of tyre wear and brake wear, with turn 7 being particularly tricky on the tyres, and turn 9 hard on the brakes. The final sector is the fastest sector of the track, with the second DRS zone on the back straight, it’s full throttle into the hairpin at turn 15. Given the number of different racing lines that can be taken, overtaking is quite common through turns 1 and 2, as well as turn 15.

Qualifying got underway in typical tropical form, wet. Q1 started dry, but with the ominous threat of rain, it wasn’t until Q2 that the skies finally opened, making the first lap of Q2 the deciding passage into Q3. After a short delay, the track had dried enough for the session to resume, as drivers wasted no time in exploring the tricky conditions. The Mercedes front row lock out has been broken for the first time in ten races, Hamilton still will start P1, but it’s Sebastian Vettel in the prancing horse that will start alongside him. Nico Rosberg is left P3, starting on the clean side of the second row.

Mercedes have yet again dominated the time sheets over the weekend, though it was Hamilton who kept his cool in the wet conditions in qualifying to secure pole yet again. Both the Mercedes were early out and early in during Q1, knowing that it was a well timed run in Q2 that would make the difference. Hamilton was not happy to be caught in traffic during Q2, complaining that he was let out too late. The Brit finished the second session in P8, though it didn’t really matter given that his Q3 lap time was 1.232s quicker than his teammate’s, and 0.74s faster than Vettel. Hamilton chose the tight line into turn 1, giving a wider entry into turn 2 for his final flying lap of the afternoon, giving him the edge over Vettel. Rosberg couldn’t find the right racing line in the wet conditions, with the F1 W06 crossing the line P3 on the inters with 1:50.299.

Sebastian Vettel repeated his 2014 effort in qualifying, once again splitting the Mercedes for P2, although this time for the Scuderia. Forever strong in the rain, Seb ran two sets of intermediate tyres, keeping himself at the top end of the time sheets. On his flying lap in Q3 to the wide line into turn 1, giving a tighter entry to turn 2, the opposite to Hamilton’s line, giving him a 1:49.908. Both Vettel and Hamilton were the only drivers who managed to dip into the 1:49s in the wet. Kimi Raikkonen’s only chance to get through to Q3 was spoiled at turn 1, and again at turn 15 by Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson. Ericsson in the C34, also on a flying lap, took a different line to Kimi in the SF15-T. Kimi caught in traffic put in a 1:42.173 on three-lap old medium tyres, settling Kimi for P11.

Red Bull Racing line up on the second and third row of the grid, an improvement from Australia. Both RB11s made it through to the final session. Daniel Ricciardo, starting P4, was just 1.242s behind Nico Rosberg’s fastest Q3 time in the wet. Red Bull are traditionally strong in the wet due to the set up of the car, more downforce means better grip through the corners, and minimises the speed advantage from the Mercedes power unit. Daniil Kvyat was momentarily in the drop zone in Q1, though his final flying lap saw him leap frog up to P6. Kvyat improved his position in the final session to start in P5, after setting a 1:51.951.

Scuderia Toro Rosso, like their big sister, ventured out on the hard compound tyres in Q1 before making the swap to the intermediates. Max Verstappen equalled his father’s best career qualifying in his second race in Formula 1. Verstappen’s 1:51.981 on the inters slot the STR9 into P6, just behind Daniil Kvyat. Verstappen was at home in the wet, taking wide lines, and being confidently late on the braking. Carlos Sainz was unlucky not to make it through to Q3, after suffering from a lock up into turn 14 giving him a handful of oversteer. The mistake cost the rookie considerable time, and as the rain began to bucket down he was unable to put in another lap. 1:43.701 puts the STR9 in P15.

Williams Martini Racing qualified somewhat out of order, with the FW37 not as nimble in the wet. In the dry opening session, both the Williams were within the top 5 of the time sheets on the medium compound tyre. Even as conditions deteriorated in Q2, Massa and Bottas easily made it through to Q3. The final 12 minutes of qualifying came down to strategy, with the team attempting to get Massa and Bottas last across the line to take advantage of the dry(ish) line appearing. In the end, a 1:52.473 for Massa, and 1:53.179 for Bottas put the two Williams in P7 and P9 respectively.

Marcus Ericsson made it through to the top ten shoot out for the first time in his career. Despite holding up Kimi Raikkonen in Q2, the Swede managed a flying lap on the inters, to see him through to eventually qualify P10 with 1:53.261. Felipe Nasr was unable to keep up his early qualifying form from Australia, a rear wheel lock-up into turn 4 spoiled Nasr’s flying lap in Q1, resulting in the Brazilian’s 1:41.308 placing him P16.

Lotus F1 Team were tipped to be a dark horse in qualifying, with the E23 expected to qualify between P6 and P8. Both Grosjean and Maldonado made it out of Q1. Grosjean had a little twitch onto the back straight of his final flying lap in the opening session. Maldonado had a slightly bigger moment into turn 1, though still managed to set the fastest sector 1 time in Q1… The E23 has never tested with wet weather tyres, so the team made the cautious decision to go out on the full wets in the opening stint of Q2, then swapping to the intermediates. Unfortunately neither Grosjean or Maldonado were able to complete their flying laps on the intermediate tyres. Grosjean’s 1:41.209 was enough to see him through to the top ten shoot out, though Maldonado’s 1:42.198 just missed out, qualifying P12. Grosjean went on in Q3 to qualify P8 with 1:52.261 on the inters.

With the rain failing just a little too late for Force India, Nico Hulkenberg managed 1:43.023 on his one and only run in Q2 for P13. Sergio Perez gave it all he had in the back end of Q1, needing to find a few hundredths on his lap to ensure his passage to Q2. A well put together time of 1:41.036 saw the Mexican squeeze his way through. In Q2 however as the fast approaching rain began to fall, the one and only flying lap Perez was able to put in on the medium compound tyres was 1:43.469, only enough for P14. Perez’s qualifying was somewhat compromised by being the last car out in Q2, meaning he was unable to find a clear piece of track.

McLaren continued to struggle, as both failed to make it out of Q1 for the second round running. With the MP4-30 still down on power, both Button and Alonso put in 8 laps each on the medium compound tyre, but remained in the drop zone for the entirety of the session. On their final flying lap, two duo gave it everything, but the Honda power unit could only deliver enough for Button to qualify with 1:41.636 in P17, ahead of Alonso’s 1:41.746 for P18.

Manor F1 Team will race at the stewards discretion tomorrow** after Roberto Mehri failed to make the 107% rule (1:46.218s), missing out by 0.4s. Will Stevens wasn’t able to run at all in qualifying, with a fuel system issue from FP3 keeping him in the garage for the rest of the afternoon. Stevens was able put in laps inside the 107% cut off time in the earlier practice sessions, proving that the Manor cars have the pace to keep up, they just need the chance to do so.

Race day strategy is completely dependant, yet again, on the race. The abrasive nature of Sepang is ridiculous on tyre wear, so a dry race could even be a three stopper. If the rain falls*, this will benefit the Red Bulls’ and Toro Rossos’, closing the gap to the Mercedes power. Williams and Force India struggled the most in the wet conditions. So, Sunday’s race is Hamilton’s to defend and Rosberg’s to recover, personally I’ll be looking at what the Ferraris’ do now they’re within reaching distance of the Mercedes. Forever keeping my fingers crossed for a wet race in Malaysia, see you tomorrow.

– Alex

* Turns the circuit into a river

** Manor received approval from the FIA at 19:37 local time Saturday evening to start the race.

Alelbuth: Be Right Back

Do to working commitments, there will be a brief brake* in alelbuth posts. Don’t worry, I’ll make it up to you.

In the meantime, you can follow my coverage from the Pitwall via our blog or twitter

– Alex

* Brake – break (get it)

Japanese Grand Prix: Track Analysis

Konnichiwa, Nihon e yōkoso! With much excitement, the Championship remains in the Far East for the Japanese Grand Prix The Suzuka Circuit is one of Formula 1 legend. Home to iconic corners; Degner, 130R, and Spoon, the 5.807km circuit is a highlight in the Formula 1 calendar for drivers and fans alike. Suzuka is a true racing circuit, it’s old school; high-speed, 70% of a lap at full throttle, only one corner taken at less than 100km/h, and a figure of eight loop. The long and fast corners put an incredible load on the cars, making it a rather technically demanding race. Suzuka’s coastal location means that the track is prone to sudden rain, in this year’s case, a super-typhoon.

Suzuka is comprised of challenging double apex corners, and varying radii*. The track narrows in several places translating into little room for error. One lap, well, every lap, requires commitment and complete concentration. Even with the DRS zone, overtaking can be a challenge, but possible (and awesome) at the chicane on the exit of 130R. There is a delicate balance between high downforce and stability at Suzuka, while not compromising on speed. Adding to the setup consideration, super-typhoons call for a little more grip than the average shower. The chance of a safety car is officially around 60%, but again given the super-typhoon this is set to change. The circuit isn’t particularly modernised, the asphalt is abrasive, and tyre wear is an issue. To accommodate the high-speed corners and wear, tyre allocation for the weekend is the hard prime and medium option compound tyre, the two hardest compounds Pirelli offer.

Sector 1 is technically very challenging, a lot of complex maneuvers and double apex corners. Turn 1 and 2 just happens to be a perfect example of a double apex corner. At 300km/h on the entry into turn 1, as soon as drivers have past the first apex, it’s a quick downshift to fourth gear, slowing the car down to 160km/h. Leading into the ‘S’ Curves, this complex requires continuous momentum and downforce, taken in fifth gear for some mechanical grip. The Esses (turns 3-6) test drivers’ neck strength, good news for Esteban here.

Sector 2 begins with turn 8, Degner Curve. To get the apex, a little clip of the kerb is needed on the entry, but too much and its straight into the gravel trap. The run down into turn 10 is an opportunity for drivers to sneak up to full throttle, but barely as the Hairpin at turn 11 will sneak up pretty damn quick. The Hairpin is a mere 70km/h and has caused a few lock ups over the weekend so far. Turn 12 opens to a smooth right-hander into another Suzuka classic, Spoon Curve.

Then its time 130R**; the fastest corner on the Formula 1 calendar at 310km/h. The final complex of corners, turns 16-17-18 make up the Casino Triangle. The braking point for Casino is crucial for a good entry for the chicane to power towards the start/finish straight. Already there have been two incidents coming out of Casino, Ricciardo met with the barriers in the second free practice on Friday, and Hamilton copied the move on Saturday morning for practice.

– Alex

* Good word

** Squee!

Singapore Grand Prix: Sledge Hammer Time

Lewis Hamilton took the lead in the championship tonight after winning the Singapore Grand Prix. The Mercedes driver stormed his way to victory from pole position, and the retirement of his teammate left the way for the two Red Bulls to stand either side of Hamilton on the podium. Vettel stole an early position from Ricciardo to finish second, with his teammate just behind in third. The Singapore Grand Prix had a reasonably high rate of attrition, with Kamui Kobayashi not making it past the formation lap. Nico Rosberg also failed to get away, but managed to start his F1 W05 from the pit lane.

At lights out, the twenty remaining cars on the grid stormed down into turn one. It was a predictably quick getaway from Hamilton, who led the pack. Sebastian Vettel immediately went left onto the racing line, squeezing out his teammate for second. Alonso, starting behind Vettel on the grid in P5, capitalised on the empty track left by the Red Bull, and went full throttle into the first corner. The Spaniard was a little over excited by the prospects of a competitive grid position it seemed, as he went too deep, locking the brakes, and completely missing turn one. Alonso gave his track position back to Vettel, though arguably he should have handed a place back to Ricciardo as well. Further back, the rest of the grid snaked through the first complex of corners in a remarkably orderly fashion, followed up the rear by Nico Rosberg, who had managed to get away from the pit lane.

Rosberg’s race was already off to a bad start before he’d even left the garage for the grid. Control system issues to his steering wheel meant the team had to replace his wheel not once, but twice. The team couldn’t figure out the problem, meaning only the gearshift paddles were working. The F1 W05 sat stranded on the grid as the rest of the pack shuffled around him on the formation lap, forcing him to start form the pit lane. To make matters worse, Rosberg’s radio wasn’t working for the opening laps of the race. Perhaps the Mercedes garages were taking the team radio ban a little too seriously. Rosberg eventually settled into a rhythm and began to make his way through the field of back markers. His race came to a premature end when he came in for his first pit stop. Having to switch the car off for the stop, Rosberg was unable to get it started again. Deciding to save the miles on the engine, Rosberg called game over and retired. Not ideal for defending the championship lead. This left the door open for Hamilton to cruise his way to victory and take the championship lead for the first time this season. However, his race to victory would prove to be far from a cruise. The apparently inevitably appearance of the safety car at the Singapore Grand Prix brought the grid back together at two thirds race distance. There was a moment of panic in Hamilton’s voice when he realised that the seven cars behind him were all on the prime tyre, compared to his worn option. The team pushed and encouraged Hamilton to build a twenty seven second gap over seven laps to Vettel in P2, to allow the Mercedes to make his final pit stop. Hamilton was convinced his tyres were on the brink of sheer explosion. Though with a little coaxing from his race engineer, built up a twenty-five gap and was called in. He emerged just behind Vettel, but critically, in front of Ricciardo and Alonso. Vettel wasn’t about to put up a fight for the lead knowing Hamilton was on fresh tyres, so he let him through.

The second step on the podium was Vettel’s best race result of the season, so it is unsurprising that he allowed Hamilton through so easily. The battle was never there, Hamilton was on fresh primes to Vettel’s twenty-nine lap old primes. So Vettel was happy to collect his eighteen points in second place. The Red Bull was fairly aggressive on his teammate at lights out, squeezing him out for a position before the first corner. Perhaps this was Vettel’s way of showing Ricciardo, who again out-qualified him, that he should still be considered as a threat, or perhaps Vettel wanted a bit of competitive rivalry between teammates. Either way, Vettel’s aggression paid off, he made the position and remaining in front of Ricciardo for the rest of the race. Ricciardo was never in the position to fight back as his RB10 was running on limited power. The team radio ban on driver coaching meant that the pit wall couldn’t talk Ricciardo through the issue, even if they had worked out the problem in the first place. The fact that Ricciardo finished in third is testament to his performance on track tonight. The safety car hurt both the Red Bulls strategy, and Ricciardo was left managing a weak RB10 on seriously degraded tyres during the final laps. Ricciardo couldn’t simply bring it home, he had Alonso right on his tail.

Alonso wasn’t penalised for his adventure off track on the opening lap having given the place back to Vettel. The F14 T had looked competitive all weekend through practice and qualifying, and Alonso was happy to deliver a more than competitive race. The Ferrari was lucky in their race strategy, managing to undercut Vettel in the second round of pit stops, moving into P3. Though the appearance of the safety car, similarly to the Red Bulls, was not a good thing for the rest of Ferrari’s strategy. Alonso was left fighting Ricciardo for the final podium step with twenty-three lap old prime tyres. Alonso sized Ricciardo up, not knowing that the RB10 was struggling for power (and on thirty-two lap old primes), but waited too long to put any real pressure to the Red Bull, eventually finishing P4. Kimi Raikkonen somewhat fell away during the race. Kimi was stuck behind Massa in the first stint, and the safety car didn’t do much to improve his efforts. He still picked up points, four of them, finishing in P8.

Williams’ race fell apart when the safety car came out. Massa’s strategy had benefited him in the first pit, exiting on fresh rubber ahead of Raikkonen. Massa managed to hold the Ferrari up and lay down some good laps. Score one, Massa. The rest of the race didn’t go to plan, with the safety car forcing Massa to drive like his grandmother (his words not mine) to save the tyres until the end of the race. Clearly want to wanting to unleash more from the FW36, he obliged, and finished a healthy P5. Bottas was on the same strategy and enjoying a healthy run in P6, however his tyres completely fell off the cliff on the final lap, dropping from his P6 to outside of the points in P11.

Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne, picked up a five second stop-go penalty for exceeding track limits when he gained a position on Bianchi. The Frenchman had two options; either take the penalty in the pits and lose valuable grid positions, or, have the five seconds deducted from his lap time and overtake a good five or six cars to make up for it. Vergne chose the latter option, and powered past Perez, Raikkonen, and Hulkenberg to cross the line in P6. Even with his penalty in place, Vergne retained his finishing position, having built enough of a gap to Perez in P7. It looks like the pressure of being left without a confirmed race seat for 2015 is agreeable for Vergne, he’s doing a lot in his race to build up his resume for a seat. Kvyat had a difficult race. The conditions in Singapore are hard at the best of times, but the rookie was left without a drink for the whole race, literally having to be peeled from his STR9 at the end of the race. Kvyat asked to retire, feeling issues with the Toro Rosso, but the team kept him out. Eventually he crossed the line in a dehydrated P14.

Force India managed a double points finish, despite Sergio Perez’s VJM07 losing it’s front wing to Sutil. The contact with the Sauber occurred on lap 30, when Perez was trying to overtake Sutil for P12. Sutil completely unaware of his surroundings, moved straight across into Perez’s path clipping his right rear on Perez’s wing. A moment later, the Force India’s wing was underneath the car, and littering debris all over the Singapore streets. Cue safety car. Luckily no one picked up a puncture, though the track to several laps to clear. Perez was understandably unhappy, not only did he face the hefty fine of littering in Singapore, but also Sutil’s carelessness had seemingly cost him his race. Or saw we thought, Perez was on form again for the remainder or the night, recovering to pick up points in P7. Hulkenberg had less of a dramatic race, and finished with two valuable points in P9.

McLaren had a competitive pace, and a strong MP4-29, and a good strategy for both drivers. Their race didn’t go to plan though. Button was on a two-stop strategy, keeping him within the points. Earlier in the race he’d been one of the front-runners, though his strategy was going to see him finish around P6 or 7. Alas, on lap 54, Button’s MP4-29 lost drive after going over the kerbs on the Anderson Bridge. After one of Button’s best races of the season, he parked up and retired. Magnussen was on a three-stop, to take the last point in P10.

Lotus nearly scored points on the Marina Bay Circuit, although the race didn’t come together as planned for Maldonado or Grosjean. Maldonado’s first pit wasn’t as smoothly as the team would have liked. The green light for the Lotus pit malfunctioned, sending him away with the front left wheel gun slightly attached still… slightly. The team also had to pit Maldonado a fourth time after fitting the E22 with the wrong tyres under the safety car. Luckily this didn’t affect his position, but the supersofts he was on ran out of grip in the last ten laps and he fell out of contention for his first points of the season. Eventually, Maldonado finished P12. Grosjean lost out on the race restart, pushing too hard and losing two positions. Without enough grip for the end of the race, Grosjean couldn’t pass back into the points, and finished P13.

Marcus Ericsson had his best race of the season, finishing ahead of the two Marussias in P15. His teammate however had one of his worst races, in that he didn’t race. Kobayashi suffered a total loss of oil pressure on the formation lap, recording his first ever DNS. Bianchi once again finished ahead of Chilton. The two MR03s finished in P16 and P17 respectively.

It hasn’t been an easy season for Sauber, and the Singapore Streets didn’t do much to aid their woes. Gutierrez was an early race retirement after his C33 battery wouldn’t charge, leaving him without any ERS*. Gutierrez was understandably upset, he had been on course for a competitive race. Sutil received on a five second penalty for his contact with Perez, though he never served it, coming into the garage on lap 40 made it a double retirement for Sauber.

Hamilton now leads the championship by three points, a margin that is by no means great. The title battle remains! Round 15 remains in the South East for the much anticipated Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. In complete contrast to Marina Bay, Suzuka is one of the fastest circuits on the calendar. The track has a lot going for it too, double apex corners, elevation changes, a figure of eight so the trap loops over itself… Not to mention 130R. Only two weeks to wait. Until then, selamat malam.

– Alex

*Remember how you need a lot of ERS on a street circuit?

Position No Driver Team Laps Time/Retired Grid Pts
1 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 60 Winner 1 25
2 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 60 +13.5 secs 4 18
3 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing-Renault 60 +14.2 secs 3 15
4 14 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 60 +15.3 secs 5 12
5 19 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 60 +42.1 secs 6 10
6 25 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Renault 60 +56.8 secs 12 8
7 11 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 60 +59.0 secs 15 6
8 7 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 60 +60.6 secs 7 4
9 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 60 +61.6 secs 13 2
10 20 Kevin Magnussen McLaren-Mercedes 60 +62.2 secs 9 1
11 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes +65.0 secs 8
12 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus-Renault +66.9 secs 18
13 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault +68.0 secs 16
14 26 Daniil Kvyat STR-Renault +72.0 secs 10
15 9 Marcus Ericsson Caterham-Renault +94.1 secs 22
16 17 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Ferrari +94.5 secs 19
17 4 Max Chilton Marussia-Ferrari +1 Lap 21
Ret 22 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes +8 Lap 11
Ret 99 Adrian Sutil Sauber-Ferrari +20 Laps 17
Ret 21 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari +43 Laps 14
Ret 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes +47 Laps 2
Ret 10 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham-Renault + secs 20

Singapore Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

It is once again a Mercedes front row lockout ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix*. Under the streetlights, Hamilton managed the snatch pole position from his teammate, who in turn stole the top spot from Daniel Ricciardo. The absence of aiding drivers over team radio had caused confusion during practice, but seemed a little more settled for qualifying. With only a 10% chance of rain at the beginning of the session, the track remained warm at a toasty (but sweaty) 33°C.

Both the Mercedes were slow to get on their usual competitive pace. Having finished FP3 further down the timesheets, many were left wondering if the team were sandbagging. Apparently, yes, possibly? While both the Mercedes clearly had the single lap pace, Hamilton was consistently scrappy, missing the apex and locking throughout the evening. Rosberg’s session immediately got off to a poor start by completely out-braking himself into turn 8 in the opening minutes of Q1. The Mercedes were never in contention of being knocked out before Q3, proving to be able to unleash a little more of their ERS. However it remains to be seen if both the F1 W05s can make the race distance tomorrow.

Red Bull lockout the second row, with Ricciardo once again out-qualifying Seb. Ricciardo had a near perfect qualifying, managing the right amount of downforce and pace in his set up. Demonstrating his ability by moving to P1 on his first flying lap in Q1. It looked as if Ricciardo would secure pole position in the session that counted, posting a 1:46.854 on the chequered flag. The momentous cheers for Ricciardo were short lived and replaced with cheers for Rosberg and then Hamilton. Vettel had a less than perfect session. In Q1, his first attempt of a flying lap was hindered first by driver error in sector one, and then completely spoiled by traffic. The perils of a street circuit, eh? When he finally found some space on the track, the RB10 was easily through to Q2, and then Q3. Vettel’s evening improved as his tyres came up to temperature, but pushing too hard on his final flying lap, he lost critical time through the twisty street circuit. On the Singapore streets, the reigning world champ managed to qualify P4.

Ferrari have been the surprise of the weekend, with both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen finding not only grip, but speed from the F14 T. Alonso had been quicker than the Mercedes through Q1, and though he starts from P5, proved to have much cleaner laps. Kimi Raikkonen is unfortunately out of position, having not being able to complete the final qualifying session. Kimi had finished the second session on top of the time sheets, something he’s not managed all year in the Ferrari. However, while Kimi was making space for himself on track in Q3, the F14 T decided that 14 laps for the night was enough, and lost power. Promisingly, Kimi’s lap time was still enough for P7.

Williams made some radical changes to their balance overnight, with their street circuit setup clearly paying off. Felipe Massa lapped quicker than his teammate all evening, and spent a brief spell at the top of the timesheets in Q3. Williams were looking in strong contention for the front row, however at the end of the session and the usual scramble of times took place, Massa was bumped down to P6, where Bottas starts P8.

McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen made a Q3 appearance, though that’s about all the MP4-29 could muster. Magnussen could only improve on his second session time by four hundredths of a second, putting him P9. Button meanwhile just missed out on the top ten shoot out, qualifying P11. The Briton got all he could out of the McLaren, though needed more downforce. Unfortunately for Button, he’d already maxed that out in Q1.

It was a similar story to McLaren for Toro Rosso. Daniil Kvyat was the only Toro Rosso in Q3, having found a solution to the brake issues that had plagued him during practice. Like the Red Bull, the Toro Rosso’s STR9 is better suited to a street circuit. The Russian rookie’s lap of 1:47.362 sees him round out the top ten. Vergne, who remains without a confirmed seat for 2015, qualified in P12, six tenths of a second behind Kvyat.

Strategy bit Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, who like Hamilton, Alonso, Raikkonen, and Ricciardo, had returned to the garage in the final minutes of Q2. It was a risk, was Hulkenberg’s 1:47.308 on supersofts enough to see him through to Q3? No. As the remaining cars on track set their final laps, Hulkenberg was pushed down to P13. Perez didn’t make it past the second qualifying session either, despite being one of the remaining cars out on track. The VJM07 has been competitive so far over the weekend, but Perez appeared to run out of steam and grip in Q2, running wide at turn 11 and only managing to extract 1:47.575 for P15.

Gutierrez was a surprise in the early stages of qualifying, putting his C33 up into P2 with a 1:47.970 on the supersoft tyres. Last year, Gutierrez made his first Q3 appearance at the Singapore Grand Prix, this year he’d only make it to Q2, and P14. It shows at least some promise for the Sauber. On the other side of the garage, Sutil was having no such luck. His C33 lost all power at the end of Q1, relinquishing him to start P17. Perhaps, it is time to give your seat to Giedo for 2015… Just saying.

It was a frustrating evening for Lotus. The E22 and Singapore Streets should be getting along a lot better than they are at the moment. Whatever advantages the E22 has in downforce on the circuit, the Renault turbo seems to squash. Romain Grosjean had the potential to qualify much higher than P16, though spoiling his flying lap in Q2 by running completely over the kerbs. Maldonado, running with a new chassis after his FP2 crash, was unable to run at full power and qualified P18. On the plus side, both Grosjean and Maldonado have fresher tyres to play with tomorrow.

The usual suspects round out the back of the grid. Marussia went against the grain in Q1, coming immediately on the supersoft compound tyres while the rest of the track were on softs. Bianchi out qualified his teammate and the two Caterhams for P19, while Max Chilton got his turbo back after losing it momentarily in FP3 to qualify P21. Splitting the two Marussias, Kamui Kobayashi qualified P20 in a very reluctant CT05. Ericsson only made it out of the garage for two laps in Q1 due to work being done on the car, so unsurprisingly lines up P22.

The 10% chance of rain at the beginning of the session, quickly changed to 100%, as it bucketed down shortly after all twenty-two cars were safely tucked into bed (their garages). However, it has never rained on race day in Singapore, so once again, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a sprinkling tomorrow night. The results from qualifying give some indication of who will remain cool in the Singapore heat. Ferrari are finally competitive, while Red Bull (like in Monaco) stand in the best position to challenge Mercedes. Despite their front row lockout, Mercedes have suffered from over heating issues on high downforce circuits before.

– Alex

* I’m running out of different ways to phrase that sentence…

Position No Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3 Laps
1 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 01:46.9 01:46.3 01:45.7 17
2 6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 01:47.2 01:45.8 01:45.7 19
3 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing-Renault 01:47.5 01:46.5 01:45.9 12
4 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 01:47.5 01:46.6 01:45.9 15
5 14 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 01:46.9 01:46.3 01:45.9 16
6 19 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 01:47.6 01:46.5 01:46.0 20
7 7 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 01:46.7 01:46.4 01:46.2 14
8 77 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 01:47.2 01:46.6 01:46.2 18
9 20 Kevin Magnussen McLaren-Mercedes 01:48.0 01:46.7 01:46.3 18
10 26 Daniil Kvyat STR-Renault 01:47.7 01:46.9 01:47.4 21
11 22 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 01:47.2 01:46.9 12
12 25 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Renault 01:47.4 01:47.0 14
13 27 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 01:47.4 01:47.3 13
14 21 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 01:48.0 01:47.3 9
15 11 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 01:48.1 01:47.6 13
16 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 01:47.9 01:47.8 14
17 99 Adrian Sutil Sauber-Ferrari 01:48.3 6
18 13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus-Renault 01:49.1 8
19 17 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Ferrari 01:49.4 7
20 10 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham-Renault 01:50.4 8
21 4 Max Chilton Marussia-Ferrari 01:50.5 7
22 9 Marcus Ericsson Caterham-Renault 01:52.3 5
Q1 107% Time 01:54.2

 

Singapore Grand Prix: Track Analysis

Selamat datung ke Singapura! Round 14 of the 2014 Formula 1 Championship takes us to the 5.065km Marina Bay Street Circuit for the night race; the Singapore Grand Prix. This is quite possibly one most physically demanding races on the calendar. While the Singapore sun is nowhere to be seen, the Singapore heat likes to linger, keeping things nice and warm (not to mention muggy). Humidity is around 80%, coupled with track temperatures around 35°C for the race. Drivers lose around 3kgs in sweat during the two-hour race… charming.

The Monaco of the East can be a rather unforgiving circuit. Already a low grip circuit, the various humps and bumps on the Singapore roads, coupled with the beautifully narrowing barriers, translate into very little room for driver error. Consequently, a similar Monaco setup is used, put on all the downforce, and pray for grip. Gear ratios are also a lot shorter at the Singapore Grand Prix to give a little more mechanical grip through the twisty street circuit, and power out of each turn. Brake stability and balance becomes a focus, as well as engine wear. At this point in the season, most teams are reaching their limit for engine changes. A lot to focus on really… On the plus side, there is opportunity for energy recovery, and lots of it. A total of 23 corners mean a lot of braking zones. This is not a circuit where you want an ERS failure. Tyre allocation for the race is the soft and supersoft tyre, with around a 2.5-3 second difference between the compound. So expect a two-stop or three-stop strategy for the race.

Sector one offers a few opportunities to overtake, particularly in the braking zone on turn one. The first DRS activation zone runs just after turn five along Raffles Boulevard; expect more opportunities to overtake here. Entering into sector two at turn seven is another hard braking zone. The Singapore Sling at turn 10 has been reconfigured to give drivers better traction through the corner. The hairpin at turn 13 is the slowest section on the track and is all about downforce. Sector three is the most technical part of the circuit. Raffles Avenue is the bumpiest sections of track, proving to be not the most comfortable ride, let alone the risk of losing traction. The series of corners from sixteen to nineteen past the football stadium are right-left-left-right, and blind entry, just for fun. Turn eighteen has been particularly tricky in the past, with many a driver pay a visit to the barriers. If you’re Fernando Alonso, you’re going to want to power slide through turn twenty-three and onto the start/finish straight.

A fun fact for the Singapore Grand Prix, the lighting along the circuit to replicate daylight is the equivalent of 3,000 candles. Candles, while more environmentally friendly, would significantly raise the temperature, so I’m glad the FIA opted for light bulbs. The Singapore Grand Prix is probably my favourite race on the calendar, and though I might be bias in saying that, it really does have a lot to offer. Racing under lights, on narrow, low grip, and bumpy street circuit. All the race is missing is rain*.

– Alex

* and me.

Italian Grand Prix: Mercedes are friends now, apparently…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Tom Grantham

 

Italian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

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

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

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

Onto qualifying!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Tom Grantham

* Actually a HAM sandwich.