Brazilian Grand Prix: Thank You Mark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Alex

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

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

Brazilian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Alex

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

United States Grand Prix: Vettel Rules the Roost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Alex

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

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

United States Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Alex

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

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

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Vettel of Arabia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Alex

* Presumably to one of three bottle shops in neighbouring Emirates

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


Indian Grand Prix: “IV”ettel

Sebastian Vettel secured his fourth consecutive Driver’s World Championship title at today’s Indian Grand Prix. The Red Bull driver far from cruised to the victory putting in a very competitive race. Rounding out the podium was Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg and all the way from P17, Lotus’ Romain Grosjean.

Hamilton had a superb getaway off the grid, immediately moving in front of his team mate and putting pressure on Vettel. The German was having none of Hamilton’s advances and keep the Mercedes at bay. Massa was the only Ferrari to get a clean start of the grid. Making the most of the squabble through turn 1, the Brazilian snuck through on the inside passed the likes of Webber, Hamilton, and soon after Rosberg for P2. Webber had a rocky start, giving a shunt to Raikkonen and then straight into Alonso in the exit of turn 1. Further back on the grid, Van der Garde who was squeezed out of the exit of the first lap by Max Chilton, and subsequently forced to retire at the end of the lap. Gutierrez had a jump start, which he later served a driver through penalty for on lap 17

While Massa was chasing the Red Bull’s tail in P2, Alonso was having a disaster of an opening lap. The Ferrari suffered front wing damage following Webber’s shunt, but wasn’t making things any easier for himself as he touched wheels with the McLaren of Jensen Button. The rest of Alonso’s race proved to be just as scrappy as his start, eventually coming home in P11. Both Webber and Raikkonen came out relatively unscathed from their contact. The Red Bull on the superior medium compound tyres made up several places after some early pit stops. Race leader, Vettel was among the first to pit relinquishing the lead to Massa. Vettel came out in P17, and just to prove that he can still race from the back of the field, the German eased his way back through the field to P3 in just 11 laps.

Grosjean’s tyre management through out today’s race was nothing short of incredible. The Lotus driver found the race pace that the E21 was hiding during qualifying to carefully carve his way back through the field from an unlucky P17 all the way to the podium. It was a truly impressive race from a driver who has come so far in less than half a season. Lotus couldn’t seem to manage both driver’s strategies over the weekend, with Grosjean suffering on Saturday, but Kimi suffering where it counted. The team made an error choosing not to cover Hulkenberg’s final pit (possibly because the Sauber retired shortly after), but the tyre god couldn’t get his Pirelli’s through to the end of the race. The Finn relinquished the final podium position to his team mate on lap 56 after some harsh words from the pit wall. You have to admire Kimi’s style, replying with a cool “Don’t f***ing shout” as he moved to let his team mate through.

Ricciardo put in another impressive drive, nursing his tyres well through his first stint and spending a lot of time in P4. Perhaps he was trying to familiarise himself with the front of the field for next year. The Toro Rosso, running on the medium compound tyres pitted on lap 34 from the front of the field, and did well to finish just inside the points in P10. Vergne was less lucky today, but still putting in a good race, coming home in P13.

McLaren had a bipolar race, with Perez finishing well in P5, but Button well outside of the points in P14. Force India put on a show for their home crowd and finally had a double finish in today’s race with di Resta and Sutil in P8 and P9. Both Williams drivers finished with Maldonado P12 ahead of Bottas in 16. Max Chilton remains the only driver to finish every race this season, though largely because he’s so far behind any of the action. The Marussia finished ahead of team mate Bianchi in P17. It was an unfortunate double retirement for Caterham, with Pic coming into the pits on lap 35.

Webber had more than recovered from his more than shaky start, spending most of the race with a good shot at the podium. The RB9 was consistently putting in fastest lap times throughout the race, but an alternator issue saw Webber retire with just 11 laps until the chequered flag. Mark’s reaction to the radio message from the pit wall from heartbreaking, after a truly superb race. I have to admit it was nice to see Webber handle his retirement with his head held high, even if it was forced by his HANS system.

After falling back in pace initially, Rosberg found pace in the Mercedes during the second half of the race where Hamilton couldn’t seem to. Hamilton appeared to be lacking for grip and couldn’t make the pass by a defensive Massa. Webber’s retirement from the race benefited the Mercedes, as Rosberg rounded his race out nicely, starting and finishing in an impressive P2 on the podium.

The RB9 alternator issues haunted Sebastian during the final leg of the race, even being told to stop drinking from his water bottle*. Nevertheless Vettel nursed his car through to the chequered flag to become the four time consecutive World Championship Driver. The championship clearly meant just as much to Vettel today as his first in 2010. It was exhilarating to see the Red Bull driver truly earn his victory today. From his companions on the podium today, the most impressive drive would have to go to Grosjean. Red Bull were unable to secure both titles today, but I expect as the championship moves across the gulf to Abu Dhabi we’ll see them lock it down. Until then, śubharātri.

– Alex

* Possibly this was the team’s strategy in saving room for all the champagne

Qualifying Pole Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Podium Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault)
Fastest Lap 1:27.679 Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus-Renault)

Indian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Namasté, from this weekend’s Indian Grand Prix*. For something completely different Vettel once again topped the time sheets in qualifying. The Buddh International Circuit is quite a colourful stop on the calendar. The 5.125km circuit is made up of steep climbs, creeping back into downhill corners. The pinnacle of this circuit however is undoubtably Turn 10 into Turn 11. The long right hander is taken at speed, and puts drivers under immense g-force for up to eight seconds. The first DRS zone has been extended this year by 80 metres to aid in overtaking.

Vettel has at dominated the Buddh International Circuit since it’s inception, qualifying on pole, leading every lap, and finishing first for the past two years. On the way to extending this record to another year, Vettel set the pace on the time sheets with 1:24.119 on the soft tyres. Red Bull chose to split their driver’s strategies, sending Webber out in Q3 on the medium tyres. The result was P4 for Webber, behind his team mate and the two Mercedes.

Mercedes went into the final session of qualifying to challenge Vettel for pole. Rosberg qualified just behind the Red Bull to complete the front row. The Mercedes driver qualified on the soft tyres, and to great effect. Rosberg got everything he could out of the F1 W04, setting a flying lap to line him up next to Vettel on the grid. Hamilton matched his team mate’s strategy, and almost matched his pace in Q3 qualifying only .070 seconds behind Rosberg.

Going out on softs, Massa put in a lap time more than half a second quicker than his team mate to qualify in P5. It seems the Brazilian is making a habit of out qualifying his team mate. Alonso suffered from gearbox issues through practice, and reportedly couldn’t hear the beep telling him to change gears in qualifying. The Spaniard made it to Q3, though he only managed to set a time fast enough for P8 on the grid on medium compound tyres.

Kimi’s strategy opted for the faster options tyres for Q3. Admittedly his flying lap on the soft tyres was very clean, but didn’t quite give him the pace he needed out of the E21, qualifying in in P6. On the other hand, Grosjean’s qualifying strategy was all wrong on the medium tyres. The Frenchmen had difficult session and appeared to be struggling to control his car, the Frenchman qualified in P17. Following Grosjean’s recent pace, it’s very disappointing to see him so far back on the grid.

Hulkenberg had an impressive qualifying, and again made it all the way to Q3. The Sauber driver’s lap time sandwiched him between Raikkonen and Alonso on the time sheets in P7. Gutierrez had a disappointing session after failing to make it out of Q2.  Unlike his team mate, Gutierrez had quite a bumpy ride in qualifying and couldn’t seem to get control of his C32, qualifying in P16.

Both Perez and Button went out in Q3 with the medium compound tyres. McLaren, knowing that their pace isn’t enough to match Red Bull or Mercedes, appear to be going for a tyre strategy that may see either driver make up places in the pit stops. Perez qualified P9 ahead of Button in P10. Toro Rosso. Ricciardo put in an impressive lap in Q2, which for a moment saw him eighth fastest. Unfortunately Ricciardo’s lap time was bumped down in the final minutes of the session, coming to rest in P11. Still managing to qualify ahead of his team mate, Vergne will start from P14.

Force India had a disappointing qualifying at what could be considered their home track. Di Resta’s pace wasn’t enough to get him through to Q3. Unlucky for the Scot, di Resta’s was bumped out from the top ten at the very end of the session to start P12. Sutil looked good on track today, despite qualifying behind his team mate in P13. The Force India while lacking slightly on the throttle had good control. Williams had high expectations for qualifying today. While Bottas proved capable on the circuit today, his best time was only good enough for P15. Maldonado didn’t make it out of Q1 today, being knocked out in the final minutes of the session.

The usual suspects of Bianchi, Van der Garde, Pic and Chilton round out the back rows of the grid. Although Bianchi’s qualifying was rather impressive. The Marussia driver’s qualifying time was only a few tenth’s of a second behind Maldonado’s. The rookie driver showing more promise than his team mate for sure.F

The Buddh International Circuit is a fantastic race to watch. Driver’s use all of the track and then some, constantly running outside of the racing line to get the speed. For the first time at the Indian Grand Prix, Red Bull haven’t locked out the front row for Sunday’s race. I doubt this matters to Vettel though, who only needs to finish in P5 tomorrow to secure the Driver’s Championship. Webber’s strategy starting on the medium compound tyre will mean that he can make up places when those on the soft tyres pit, it would be good to see Webber battling for P2. I have a feeling Ricciardo might opt for a similar strategy to Webber tomorrow and start on the medium tyres. Tomorrow seems like a battle between Mercedes and Red Bull for the podium, and what should be an exciting race.

– Alex

* Actually namasté from my couch

Japanese Grand Prix: All Renault Podium

Today’s race could have been a very effective advertisement for Renault powered engines, as Red Bull and Lotus took out the podium. Sebastian Vettel didn’t manage to secure his fourth Word Championship title at today’s Japanese Grand Prix, despite taking home his ninth victory for the season. Team mate, Mark Webber came home an unlucky second after qualifying on pole, while Lotus’ Romain Grosjean had the drive of his career to finish third.

The first two laps of the circuit saw more incident than the rest of the race. Neither Red Bull driver had a particularly quick get away off line line, which immediately put both Vettel and Webber on the defensive. Grosjean executed a well thought out move into turn 1, going around the outside of Vettel, as the Red Bull marked Hamilton. Webber didn’t have the initial pace, and conceded the lead to Grosjean. Vettel and Hamilton made contact coming down the pit straight, resulting in an immediate right rear puncture for the Mercedes, sending him to the back of the grid and forcing him to limp back to the pits. Behind the rest of the field Bianchi and Van der Garde made a mess of each other, both retiring from the race. Hamilton’s damage to the under tray proved to be too much to recover from, and the team retired him on lap 7.

Most of the race was led by Romain Grosjean, who, on a track where tyre degradation plays a key role in strategy, managed his tyres and his pace extremely well. Particularly of note was the Frenchman holding off an attacking Webber during the final stint of the race. Grosjean is a completely different driver compared to this point in the season last year, and I now enjoy watching him race for very different reasons. Team mate, Kimi Raikkonen had a fairly standard race, despite being out of position in the middle of the pack. The Finn had a good battle between Button in the final laps, and finishing well in the points in fifth.

It was refreshing to see a race where not only did Vettel not have his usual head start from pole, but also have to manage his tyre strategy to ensure he had enough fight from third. The championship leader had quite a scruffy race, locking his brakes on several occasions. Webber had a much more controlled race, despite finishing second. The Australian was forced to run a three stop strategy, after using more of his tyres up in the opening laps of the race. Tyre strategy was always going to be the podium decider today, and Webber was unfortunate, but wouldn’t have been able to keep a competitive pace on two stops due to the increased downforce from his rear wing set up.

Massa had a disappointing finish to what had been a good race. The one-man-team kept Alonso at bay for most of the race, despite at times lapping slower than the other Ferrari. Admittedly, Alonso only managed to get close enough to Massa while being stuck in the train of cars following Ricciardo. Later in the race, Massa was handed a drive through penalty for speeding in the pit lane, the Formula 1 equivalent of running in the school corridors. The order for the drive through took Kimi by surprise, misinterpreting his team’s message, thinking that he’d been given the penalty.

Sauber had their best points finish of the season, as Hulkenberg  took advantage over the squabbling Ferrari’s and pitted early. Gutierrez delivered the race of his career today, starting from fourteenth, to finish well in the points in seventh. The rookie driver demonstrated some quite controlled battles for position against the Ferrari’s, and Kimi, and finally Rosberg as they approached the checkered flag. Not a bad 70th birthday present for Peter Sauber.

Both Force India’s finally managed to make it to the checkered flag today. Neither Sutil nor di Resta made contact with another driver, or any part of the circuit they weren’t meant to. Quite an achievement for the team, as both drivers were in a constant battle for position with Pastor Maldonado.

McLaren made a mess of their pit stops today, costing first Button, and then Perez valuable time. Button spent most of his race battling for position in the middle of the pack against the Ferrari’s and Kimi Raikkonen. Button made the most of a less than ideal race for the team, and finished just inside the points in ninth. Perez had a less than fortunate race, irritating several drivers, and making contact with Rosberg. The Mexican might have been the recipient today a rather dodgy sounding radio message from Vettel to his pit wall. “Keep him away from me, even if he’s on fresher tyres”, went out over the radio as Vettel approached to lap him. There are some thoughts that this may have been directed at Webber, who at the time was fast gaining on the leader. On the one hand, Perez was on fresh tyres, and particularly reckless earlier in the race, having already made contact with Rosberg (suffering from a puncture and sending himself to the back of the grid in the first place). If I were Vettel I’d want to make sure Perez well and truly obeyed the blue flags. On the other hand, Vettel could have been feeling the pressure knowing that Mark too was on fresher tyres, and putting in faster lap times.

Further getting caught up in the Perez debacle was Toro Rosso’s, Daniel Ricciardo. Although this time it was Ricciardo who fared second best. Ricciardo overtook Perez on the outside leading into 130R, but failed to keep traction and ran off track. The Toro Rosso managed to get back on track, and still ahead of Perez. The stewards, however, viewed this as gaining an advantage by leaving the track, and awarded him a drive through penalty. An interesting decision by the stewards, as this time the punishment outweighed the offence, and cost Ricciardo his race.

So, at Suzuka we were once again treated to the never-ending German National Anthem, as Vettel took the top step. Had Webber been able to overtake Grosjean sooner, maybe we would have heard the Australian National Anthem*, alas, Formula 1 is not a sport of “ifs”. I’d like to see Webber take at least one victory in his retiring season, possibly when Formula 1 moves across to the subcontinent.

– Alex

* Ours is much shorter, I think you’d enjoy it.

Qualifying Pole Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Podium Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault)
Fastest Lap 1:34.587 Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)


Japanese Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Konnichiwa, this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix gets underway in Suzuka with the Red Bull’s once again topping the time sheets. The Suzuka Circuit is a drivers favourite, and it’s not hard to see why. The 5.087km track runs anti-clockwise, and is the only circuit on the F1 calendar that has a figure of eight where the track loops over itself. Being one of the oldest circuits on calendar, Suzuka has a true race-track feel to it. The circuit isn’t ridiculously modernised, nor is it particularly wide. There are few run off areas, translating into little room for error. One mistake here, and you’re off into the grass or gravel pits.

It was Mark Webber’s turn to out qualify his team mate, showing considerable strength through all three qualifying sessions to take provisional pole position. Webber is reported to be running a smaller rear wing compared to Vettel, and this seems to be working for him, setting an impressive lap time of 1:30.915. Vettel suffered momentarily from a KERS issue, though a quick stop in the garage saw the issue resolved. On his final flying lap he suffered a lock-up costing him a few tenths of a second, and pole position. It’s yet to be seen whether Webber will retain his pole position as the stewards investigate a possible grid penalty for impeding Perez on a slow lap. Leave the man alone, I say, he deserves this pole.

Hamilton qualified third ahead of team mate Nico Rosberg in sixth. Once again the Mercedes were quick and consistent in qualifying. The F1-W04 is undoubtedly quick, though still just lacks the race day pace against the RB-9s. The constant defeat seems to be getting the better of Hamilton, as he’s not been much of a happy chap in the paddock. Rosberg continues to drive consistently lapping at 1:31.397. However, the German has been handed a reprimand by the stewards for slow driving in free practice, it is his second one for the season.

Both Lotus cars are looking promising ahead of Sunday’s race. Grosjean was unlucky miss out on P3 on the grid by just over a tenth of a second, posting a time of 1:31.365. I’m not sure what happened to the Lotus driver during the summer break, but it appears he’s finally figured out how to race his E21 (without crashing it into anyone/anything). Despite an off road excursion during free practice, Kimi lapped well in qualifying. The Finn had considerable grip and pace in the car throughout most of the sessions. However, his time of 1:31.684 wasn’t quite enough in the end of Q3, so he will start from ninth.

Ferrari looked as if they’d found some pace in the car in Q2, as Alonso briefly held the quickest lap time. Unfortunately for the Scuderia, this didn’t translate into Q3. In a further move to stick it to the team, Massa once again managed to out-qualify Alonso, qualifying fifth to his team mate’s eighth. I doubt whether Alonso will spend much time in the middle of the pack tomorrow, realistically I see him running around fifth.

Hulkenburg had a good session, and is still currently quicker in a Ferrari engine than Alonso, qualifying ahead of the Spaniard in seventh. Team mate, Esteban Gutierrez was less lucky in today’s session. To begin with the Mexican was on fire*, though he failed to make it out of Q2, qualifying a respectable fourteenth.

Button will round off the top ten, while McLaren team mate will sit next to him on the grid in eleventh. Di Resta for once had better luck than his team mate, and (even more surprisingly) didn’t appear to slag off the team throughout qualifying. Sutil, unfortunately suffered from his crash in free practice, and failed to make it out of Q1. Williams drivers Bottas and Maldonado will start from thirteenth and fifteenth on the grid after an uneventful session for the team.

Toro Rosso had a disappointing qualifying session today, with Ricciardo starting from sixteenth tomorrow, and Vergne from eighteenth. Ricciardo just couldn’t seem to get the pace out of the car, perhaps he was fearful that his brakes would over heat like his team mate. Vergne in the final minutes of Q1 had the session briefly red flagged as the back of his STR8 caught fire.

For the first time this season, Chilton out qualified his team mate, and will be starting a career best nineteenth. Pic, Van der Garde, and Bianchi make up the final cars on the grid.

Tomorrow, Vettel has the opportunity to secure the Driver’s Championship if he comes home in P1, and Alonso fails to finish higher than P9. While it’s very possible that Vettel will indeed win tomorrow at Suzuka, the probability of Alonso finishing lower than he qualified is slim. It’s more likely that the battle for second and third will be between Webber, and the Lotus’. Hamilton, and Mercedes do still stand a chance, though I feel the Lotus is better suited to Suzuka. We’ll have to wait and see how tomorrow unfolds.

– Alex

* Arguably this was due to the fact that his car was literally on fire in the garage.

Korean Grand Prix: Hulkenberg’s Race

The “unstoppa-bull”* Sebastian Vettel took out his eighth win of the season today at the Korean Grand Prix. After yet another controlled drive, the German is now one win away from securing his fourth consecutive World Championship title. The second and third step of the podium was taken out by the Lotus duo of Raikkonen and Grosjean. Despite the possibly predictable win, the Korean Grand Prix was one of the most confusing and interesting races so far this season.

Grosjean truly earned his spot on the podium today. The Lotus driver, was bold getting off the grid immediately laying a challenge on Hamilton, and quite a good one at that. Grosjean spend most of the race cruising in second, and I say cruising because he really was. Most of the field were reporting graining issues on their tyres, resulting in a noticeable lack of grip, though the Lotus had an incredible amount of traction throughout the race. Possibly Kimi has been sharing some of his “Tyre God” wisdom with his team mate. His position didn’t go unchallenged, as he had to work hard to keep the door closed on the Mercedes, and Kimi. His team mate eventually was in a position to make a move on lap 38, and passed Grosjean on the straight to take second.

Perez brought our the first of two safety car periods with a front right tyre blowout on lap 31. The McLaren’s trye tread came to rest right on the racing line. Webber and Hamilton, who were following Perez were lucky to escape serious debris. Webber did pick up a small puncture himself causing him to dive back into the pits, only one lap after his scheduled pit stop. It took five whole laps to clear the tyre, and allow the back markers unlap themselves.

It was a double DNF for Force India today, when first Paul di Resta threw his off track at turn 12 on lap 27. For the fourth race running, the Force India failed to finish due to driver error. Sutil didn’t see much of the race restart from the safety car as he gave a huge shunt to Mark Webber on lap 37. Webber became an instant retirement, and brought out a Jeep (and the second safety car). The contact saw Sutil retire with damage shortly after the second restart.

Webber had been having a great race, despite his ten place grid penalty, the Australian had worked his way back up the field. One of Webber’s more spectacular battles for position was against Alonso. I really enjoy watching Webber and Alonso challenge each other, because you know that their strategies will be clean and controlled. Nothing goes wrong between those two, because they have a mutual level of respect and trust. It just makes sense. It was therefore unlucky for the Australian to be in the wrong corner at the wrong time. His contact with Sutil immediately transformed his car into a BBQ, and the RB9 immediately pulled over to the side. It did make for some spectacular footage of Webber casually getting out of his car, leaning down and switching off the engine as the fire roared behind him. Possibly more spectacular was the Jeep that ventured out on track before the safety car had been deployed, it was quite comical.

Sauber’s Gutierrez was unlucky to finish just outside of the points in eleventh. Starting from eighth, Gutierrez got off the line quickly to pull himself ahead of his team mate and Massa to run in sixth. Gutierrez did fall back several places throughout the race, though he had a good drive in the middle of the field battling Massa. Unfortunately on lap 45, Maldonado made a move on the Sauber to take tenth position, and his hopes of a point. Gutierrez didn’t go down without a fight, and briefly regained his position a few turns later.

Though driver of the day would undoubtably have to go to his team mate, Nico Hulkenberg. Starting seventh on the grid, Hulkenberg go off to a strong start, avoiding contact from the rest of the field into the first corner. The Sauber held off various manoeuvres from Alonso, Hamilton, and  The German proved his worth on the grid in the final leg of the race as he delivered a perfect balance between defensive and offensive driving to hold off Hamilton to maintain his fourth position. The Sauber-Ferrari’s had a much quicker pace than the Ferrari Ferrari’s.

The scuderia had an unfortunate race today, Massa was too ambitious going turn two and had to brake hard to avoid contact with Rosberg. A lack of grip on cold tyres meant he lost the back and gave his ‘team mate’ a little shunt. Alonso emerged unscathed, though Massa (facing the wrong way) had to wait for the rest of the field to pass before playing catch up. Not exactly what I meant by seeing some mid 2000s Massa on track. Alonso’s race wasn’t much better, despite no real issues with the car, the Ferrari just didn’t seem to have the pace when it was needed.

Mercedes finished the race with Hamilton fifth, and Rosberg seventh. Rosberg put on a spectacular display as he made a move on his team mate on lap 28. Not so much because his attack was brilliant, but rather his front wing failed to drag along in front and rain sparks. Unbeknownst to Rosberg as to why he suddenly had a less than cruisey pace, his challenge to over take did not stick for long as he was called into the pits. Quite the amusing radio message from the pit wall; “Front wing looks to have failed, Nico, front wing looks to have failed”.

In the final stint of the race, Grosjean was urging the team to let him pass Kimi. While he was lapping quicker than Kimi, the team wouldn’t release him. Instead he was told to race him. Most likely the smarter decision, building Grosjean’s confidence in his driving ability (and hopefully his skill), and preparing him for next season when he won’t be able to ask to have Kimi out the way.

Say what you want about Sebastian Vettel winning from pole, but he did have to work today. He survived two restarts, harsh tyre degradation, and a runaway Jeep. Today’s win was no walk in the park.

– Alex

*I’m really sorry for the terrible pun, but I couldn’t resist.

Qualifying Pole Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Podium Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus-Renault)
Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault)
Fastest Lap 1:41.380 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)