Month: June 2016

27 to 1: the definitive Daniel

It’s Daniel Ricciardo’s 27th birthday. So here’s 27 fast facts about the Red Bull star.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

It’s many happy returns for Daniel Ricciardo on July 1, as the Red Bull Racing star celebrates his 27th birthday. We’re celebrating too, by presenting 27 trivia titbits about F1’s affable Aussie.

27: At age 27, Ricciardo is the 10th-oldest driver on the 2016 F1 grid.

26: Car number of his fifth F1 teammate, Daniil Kvyat.

25: Points for each of his three F1 wins to date – Canada, Hungary and Belgium 2014.

24: Daniel has raced on 24 different circuits in his F1 career.

23: He raced with car number 23 for one Grand Prix only, in India for HRT in 2011.

22: His car number for his Grand Prix debut at Silverstone, 2011.

21: Daniel’s car number when he won the 2009 British Formula 3 title.

20: Daniel became the first Australian in 20 years (David Brabham, 1989) to win the British F3 crown.

19: Daniel’s car number for his second full season in F1, 2013 for Scuderia Toro Rosso.

18: His finishing position in the drivers’ championship in his first full season, 2012.

17: Car number of his first teammate at Toro Rosso in 2012, Jean-Eric Vergne.

16: There have been 16 drivers in F1 history with a surname starting with ‘V’; Ricciardo has been teammate to three of them (Vergne, Vettel, Verstappen).

15: Daniel was the fastest of the 15 drivers to participate in the 2010 post-season F1 rookie test in Abu Dhabi, setting a lap time 1.3 seconds faster than Sebastian Vettel’s pole lap at the Grand Prix three days earlier.

14: Daniel is the 14th Australian to start a world championship Formula One Grand Prix.

13: The number of top-10 finishes he managed in 50 Grands Prix before joining Red Bull Racing.

12: Points earned in each of four of the first five races this season, where he finished fourth four times.

11: Career F1 podium finishes, up to and including Monaco 2016.

10: Points earned in his first full F1 season, 2012.

9: The age Daniel started karting in his native Western Australia.

8: Eight other drivers have won the same number of Grands Prix (three) as Daniel, among them world champions Phil Hill and Mike Hawthorn, and the likes of Giancarlo Fisichella, Johnny Herbert and Heinz-Harald Frentzen.

7: Won his seventh Grand Prix with Red Bull Racing in Canada, 2014.

6: Daniel spent more laps in sixth place (196) than any other position in 2015.

5: Daniel has set the fastest lap of the race in five Grands Prix, most recently in Australia this year.

4: One of just four Australians to win a Grand Prix – Sir Jack Brabham, Alan Jones and Mark Webber are the others.

3: Ricciardo’s race number, inspired by NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt.

2: Points earned in his first F1 points finish, ninth in Australia 2012.

1: 1 July 1989 was when Daniel Ricciardo was born. Happy birthday, Honey Badger.

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Ricciardo’s three-part plan

Learn how the Red Bull racer keeps himself in prime condition for the longest season in F1 history.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

The glamour, the attention, the chance to drive the world’s most sophisticated racing cars in front of a worldwide TV audience of millions – there’s a very obvious allure to being one of the few who get to race in Formula One. That’s all on show for public consumption, but what isn’t as easily recognisable is the work the drivers do behind the scenes to prepare themselves to perform at their peak every race weekend.

With this year’s calendar stretching from March to November and a record 21 races, Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo has needed to be in better shape than ever to combat the gruelling travel regimen and number of hours at the wheel. But it’s not all about what happens at the track; as Daniel’s performance coach Stuart Smith explains, it’s what is (or isn’t) done before, during and after a season that helps keep Ricciardo in optimum condition.

Switch off to move on
Being primed for the next season can only happen if the driver is able to shut down after the previous one, Smith argues. The final race of last year was in Abu Dhabi in late November; after that, Ricciardo had commitments in his hometown of Perth to attend to before finally being able to unwind. Smith says that downtime is critical.

“It’s important for Daniel to completely unwind at the end of the season and get a proper mental and physical break,” he says.

“It’s such a brutal season in contrast to other sports because of the time it takes and the travel. Testing starts in February, and the final race is at the end of November, and you’re in different time zones, different continents … it’s a long haul. We’ve found that it’s important to have time away from training, from travel, even from each other a bit … we take a month, and then we get back into it in early January.

“Part of what makes that work is an understanding on the athlete’s side that there’s a time when you need to get back to work, and Daniel has always been ready to get back into pre-season by the time January comes around. He’s always ready to go and to get after it in January, his motivation and drive is where it needs to be.”

Hit it hard, keep it moving
Once January comes around, pre-season testing looms large, and time is of the essence. The early days of January and February may be off the radar for most F1 fans, but that’s where the committed drivers are really putting in the hours, Ricciardo being no exception.

“You get your best work done for the year in the first month to six weeks,” Smith argues.

“We try to have a couple of weeks of training in Australia to start because it’s home for Daniel, for one, and because we can do good hot-weather training. We identify different physiological parameters that we want to improve and work across the board to do that. We didn’t do anything specific to this year with the 21 races and the longest calendar F1 has ever had – it was more an evolution of the program we had in place before.”

Smith says varying Ricciardo’s training is one of the best parts of the pre-season.

“One of the great things about working with a Formula One driver from my perspective is the variety of training you can implement. As an example, if you’re working with a runner or a rugby player, they have to run or practice rugby, and train within their given sports. Formula One drivers don’t train by driving Formula One cars, that’s just not possible. It’s not like you can just get a car and head out to, say, Silverstone for some laps. So we have the licence to keep varying things, varying ways of training, to keep training interesting.”

Routines for race week
Smith became a new father earlier this year and has scaled back his travel to five races with Ricciardo this season as a result, but the pair have a tried and tested plan in place for dealing with a race weekend.

“For a Grand Prix in Europe, Wednesday is the travel day,” Smith says.

“We’ll try to make it to the city we’re going to be in at a time so we can have dinner on local time and get into the hotel so you can be asleep on local time, because we want to get up early the next day, a time that’s conducive to waking up ready on the other days of the weekend. We work backwards – say practice starts at 10am, engineering meetings start at 9, you want to be at the track at 8 to have breakfast … you have to be leaving the hotel at 7.30 and need to be up no later than 7, which means you have to get a good sleep on that first night.

“The focus is to go through mobility exercises and some more training – we’ll generally do some low-level training on the Thursday morning before he heads to the track to do media and meetings. That’ll be the last dedicated physical training we’ll do over a race weekend. From Friday and working backwards from what time he needs to be in the car, the weekend has its own flow and we’ll take what chances we have to work on things to keep him fresh.”

Part of utilising that time comes away from the prying eyes of the TV cameras. Spending time with Ricciardo during an on-track session of a race weekend is quite an eye-opener; while some drivers stand around and chat or sit in the back of the garage biding their time before getting back into the car, Smith and Ricciardo will often be in an adjacent empty garage with Smith’s bag of sporting equipment that comes to every Grand Prix.

“We’ve done different warm-ups since we first started working together in 2011, when we took a rugby ball to the track,” Smith says.

“With me being from Brisbane, rugby is a bigger sport than Perth where he’s from, but we eventually went to an AFL ball. It was just something we enjoyed as a warm-up, and it evolved from there.

“We tend to vary the warm-up we do, but it serves the same purpose for him, which is to get him in the right headspace to drive the car. There’s no one set routine we go through, but it could be the AFL ball, a skipping rope, tennis balls, reaction drills – we’ll mix it up. There’s no routine other than this being part of Daniel’s routine before he gets in the car in that set time we have.

“It doesn’t work for every driver and they all have different ways of wanting to warm up, but we’ve found that it works best for him.”

Miller Time: A day I’ll never forget

Aussie MotoGP rider Jack Miller lifts the lid on his feelings after his amazing Assen win.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Hi everyone,

So, where do I start? It’s about 90 minutes after I’ve won my first MotoGP race, my voice is already shot and I’m wet from champagne and rain. It’s been manic – the podium, interviews, being with the team … my head is still spinning. But it’s starting to sink in, bit by bit. Me, a MotoGP race winner. It still sounds and feels a little bit unreal to be honest.

More Miller Time: Thinking of Luis

My mind is a bit scattered, and I keep remembering certain things in random orders. When I took the lead from Marc (Marquez) I knew there were eight laps to go, and I can’t tell you how long they took. I swear it seemed like there were five laps to go for about five laps … The track was actually drying pretty quickly late in the race and that took some of the tension away, but at the same time I was concentrating even harder, not wanting to even think about relaxing, trying to keep calm. The last lap went for an eternity, but coming out of that famous final chicane at Assen, seeing all the fans standing up, realising that I had a clear run to the line … like I said, it’s all a bit unreal at the moment.

About 45 minutes before that, when the first race was stopped because of the weather, I was actually pretty happy. I was eighth and would have liked to have been further up, but it was absolutely the right call to stop it. The visibility was really bad and the standing water was crazy in some parts, and I wouldn’t have been unhappy if the race had been red-flagged even earlier than it was. When it stopped and there was a chance we wouldn’t get going again, I was really happy with eighth – 10th in the last race was the best I’d done in MotoGP before, and to improve on that in such tricky conditions and considering how far back I’d started after qualifying didn’t go well for me, I was pretty content with that. Truth be told, I didn’t really want a re-start. It worked out pretty well, didn’t it?

I got a great start in the second race and I was up to fourth in the first few corners, and that was when I started to think that maybe I could challenge for a podium if a lot of things went right for me. When ‘Dovi’ (Andrea Dovizioso) went down, I thought ‘wow, third would be alright’, and then Vale (Valentino Rossi) went down. That was when I thought ‘hang on, I can actually win this’. I got the sense Marc had buttoned off a bit once Valentino went down and that’s completely understandable, he has a championship to try and win and one of his main rivals was out. He’s not worried about me, and he shouldn’t have been. For me, I’m not winning the championship this year and had pretty much nothing to lose, so I figured he wouldn’t fight too hard if I tried to make a pass. I got by at the chicane and then it was all about managing the gap, and those last five laps that seemed to take about five years. I got into a nice groove and to be honest, there weren’t too many moments – I just tried to be as smooth as possible, not try to go for too much and keep my head, which is something I’m probably not all that known for! It was tense, but I actually felt quite calm out there. It wasn’t the way I imagined I might win my first MotoGP race.

The lap back to the pits after I crossed the line was something I’ll never forget. There was this massive release of tension, and I had all these things racing through my head – thinking of my family and how we came over to Europe six years ago dreaming of this day, how Honda has stuck by me, how supportive the Marc VDS team has been, how this season has been hard with battling injury for a lot of the time … my mind was all over the place. And I was screaming. A lot. You probably noticed that by the time I went to do my first interview afterwards, I didn’t have a lot of my voice left. And I knew that I was going to cry. The Australian national anthem gets me every time. It was so nice to hear it again.

What’s funny about my first win coming at Assen is that the circuit has been a terrible one for me in the last few years. Two years ago I was leading in Moto3 in the wet and crashed on the second lap, and last year I didn’t make the end of the first lap and crashed, it was one of the worst moments of my rookie year. So it’s a pretty huge turnaround for me. I’ve actually always liked to ride this place, and I like it a hell of a lot more now.

We’ve got three weeks between now and the next round in Germany, which is a decent slab of time to have a good celebration, I reckon. I drove my new van that I bought a few weeks ago from Andorra to Assen, so maybe I’ll need to find someone to drive it back. Not a problem I expected to be having, to be honest. But I’ll take it.

Thanks heaps for all of the support and messages from back home, and I’ll catch you next time.

Cheers,
Jack

The Dan Diaries: Catching my breath

In his first exclusive driver column, Red Bull Racing ace Daniel Ricciardo talks Baku, a Canadian road trip, and getting old.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

No, I’m not giving up my day job to become a writer, don’t worry – but I thought I’d take you behind the curtain a bit and let you know what’s been going on. I’m back home in Monaco this week after a back-to-back with Montreal and Azerbaijan, and then we have another back-to-back after this weekend off with Austria and Silverstone. It’s a pretty glamorous life, this F1 driver thing – this morning I’ve been running errands and doing pretty boring stuff so I can get some time off to recharge a bit over the weekend.

I got back into Monaco on Tuesday after Azerbaijan, which wasn’t the greatest result for us, but a cool new race for us to go to. Sunday in Baku caught us all a bit by surprise, to be honest. We expected a one-stop race, we figured it would be a pretty safe one-stopper, a bit like Russia. But by the start of the third lap of the race, I could feel the tyres were going off and I could already tell that it was going to be very difficult to do that, so I was in to change the supersofts for a set of softs on lap six. We figured the softs would behave differently but that was the same, so by lap 23 I was back in again, and this time for mediums. Because the track was quite smooth, we thought we could be a bit more aggressive with the tyres and try to put some more energy through them, work them a bit harder. We just took that a step too far. We didn’t plan on running the medium tyre at all, and we were kind of forced to in the end. It actually worked alright for us, all things considered. So seventh wasn’t great, but it was kind of where we were.

I might have got a bit carried away on Saturday after qualifying when I told everyone it was guaranteed to be an awesome race on Sunday, the race of the season, that sort of thing. It ended up being pretty stale, didn’t it? In some of my interviews afterwards I apologised to the fans for maybe getting their hopes up a bit too much! I was basing it partly (this is my excuse anyway) on the two GP2 races, which were both insane. We were all expecting there’d be a safety car based on what happened in the GP2 races, but it just never happened.

When Azerbaijan came onto the calendar, I didn’t know much about the place – I wasn’t on my own there, mind you. I knew it was further east than Sochi, but that was as good as my geography was going – I had no idea where exactly it was on the map, and I didn’t know the track was right on the sea. And no, I couldn’t spell it from scratch – I got the ‘i’ in the wrong spot. That’s why we have predictive text, right? Anyways, I thought the whole thing was great and the race there definitely seems like a keeper compared to some of the places we’ve gone to and then stopped going to after a few years. I really enjoyed it – everything was convenient, you could walk straight into the paddock from the hotel – and it didn’t seem like a new race as everything just seemed to be in the right place and established, which isn’t always the way.

And the track was awesome. For me, it felt a bit like Singapore in sections, bits of it reminded me of Macau, bits that were unique – it was a long lap too, which is pretty unusual for a street circuit. You could really attack it, so it was heaps of fun to drive, and a good combination of outright speed and some technical driving and risk. Turn 9 where we brushed alongside the castle there – on the simulator it seemed tight, but I did a track walk, I couldn’t believe how tight it was and how little margin for error there was. But for me, that’s really refreshing that a corner can be tighter and more difficult than we expected.

Before Baku I ended up in New York for a bit before heading to Montreal, which was kind of planned, but it took a different twist after what happened to me in Monaco. I’m guessing you all know about that … Any time we head to Montreal or to Austin, that side of the world, I always plan a few extra days either before or after depending on where I need to be, so the plan was to always spend some time in the US before heading up to Montreal. New York made sense as it’s so close to Montreal, and a few other guys from the team were heading there, so we made the decision to road trip it from there to Montreal, we did a drive over about six hours or so. I had planned on spending the weekend in New York before Montreal, but after the way Monaco went, I had the perfect excuse to head out earlier. With that and the back-to-back with Azerbaijan, I haven’t been home a lot lately, but I’ll fix that this week.

Montreal was fun except for how stupidly cold it was – I think it was 12 degrees on race day and the wind is pretty fierce coming off the river, so I did the drivers’ parade with three jumpers on and a beanie, and I was still freezing! The best part of the weekend was qualifying, because I gave the wall a decent whack and managed to get to fourth. I think I managed to hit the wall a bit more square than Carlos (Sainz) did earlier on, but I knew that I’d hit it pretty hard – the car was a bit wobbly down the straight, but she got there! I stayed in the throttle and gained a tenth and a half of a second on the way in, and maybe lost half a tenth on the way out, so it was an overall win. The race – it was one of those that didn’t quite happen, and the big mistake for me was locking the first set of soft tyres into the last chicane. I looked at the race afterwards and at that stage I was ahead of (Valtteri) Bottas, and maybe that could have been the podium he got.

The saddest thing about Baku was afterwards when someone told me that it was my last race as a 26-year-old – it’s my birthday before Austria. I reckon 26 still sounds young, but 27 … it’s a good thing I don’t stress much, but there might be some grey hairs coming in soon. I reckon I can pull the old salt and pepper beard off if it comes to that. As long as you own it, right?

Daniel was speaking to Red Bull Australia motorsport editor Matthew Clayton.

Front to back: the European Grand Prix

Reviewing every F1 team and driver from the maiden race on the Baku city streets.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton:
qualified 10th, finished 5th
Nico Rosberg: qualified 1st, finished 1st
Rosberg came into the first race held in Baku under pressure after seeing his 43-point championship lead slashed to just nine after a trio of scruffy races; a win from pole while recording the fastest lap and leading every lap was the most emphatic response possible. The German tore off to a 10-second lead after just five laps and cruised from there for his fifth win in eight races this year. Hamilton’s weekend went from domination to despair from qualifying onwards; after leading all three practice sessions, the reigning world champion made a catastrophic mistake when he hit the wall in Q3, condemning him to a 10th-place start. Brake issues and being in the wrong engine mode for much of the race made for some fraught exchanges with the Mercedes pit wall over the radio, and he finished 56 seconds behind his teammate in a frustrated fifth.

Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel:
qualified 4th, finished 2nd
Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 5th, finished 4th
Given the sheer gulf in speed between Mercedes and everyone else in Azerbaijan, Vettel looked to be happiest of the podium finishers by coming second, minimising the points loss to Rosberg on a day when Ferrari and everyone else had no answer to the German’s searing pace. Vettel jumped Ricciardo into second on lap six and was largely untroubled thereafter, with Raikkonen moving aside for him on lap 28 in a perfect demonstration of team orders. Given Ferrari’s struggles in slow-speed corners all weekend, second was a solid result. Raikkonen’s chances of racing his teammate when it mattered were scuppered when he was assessed a five-second penalty for crossing the line indicating the pit lane entry when chasing Ricciardo; the Finn had his own series of discussions with the Ferrari pit wall (with less words but more obscenities than Hamilton) as he attempted to hold onto third, but could do nothing to prevent Perez passing him on the final lap. On an identical one-stop strategy, Raikkonen finished 16 seconds adrift of his teammate, but was able to leapfrog Ricciardo in the drivers’ standings.

Williams
Felipe Massa:
qualified 6th, finished 10th
Valtteri Bottas: qualified 8th, finished 6th
Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams admitted she had her eye on the fourth-placed team making up some ground on Red Bull in the constructors’ race at a circuit where their Mercedes power plant was the one to have; in the end, it was Force India who closed the gap to Williams in the teams’ race after both Bottas and Massa had lonely afternoons on the Baku city streets. Bottas had a messy qualifying after getting into seemingly unnecessary stoushes with Verstappen, and could only advance to sixth in the race and finished a full minute behind Rosberg, while Massa managed points for the seventh time in eight races this season, but only just as he finished 10th. Given the characteristics of the track and coming to Azerbaijan just a week after Bottas’ podium in Montreal, Williams would have hoped for better.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo:
qualified 3rd, finished 7th
Max Verstappen: qualified 9th, finished 8th
Other than the team’s pointless race in Russia, Baku was Red Bull’s worst showing of the year, Ricciardo’s seventh after starting on the front row a letdown, and Verstappen finishing one place ahead of where he started to snatch two points. Ricciardo made a solid getaway from second but was in the pits after six laps with heavy graining on his supersoft rubber, and a second stop to the barely-used medium tyre on lap 23 was a strategy born from desperation and the hope of a safety car, which surprisingly didn’t make an appearance after the GP2 support races had been peppered with them. The Australian had enough life in his tyres to finally nail Hulkenberg for seventh with three laps left, but six points on a Sunday that promised more saw him slip to fifth in the drivers’ standings. Verstappen was only a second adrift of his teammate at the finish at a circuit where Red Bull’s straight-line speed disadvantage was all too obvious on the two-kilometre straight to complete the lap.

Force India
Nico Hulkenberg:
qualified 12th, finished 9th
Sergio Perez: qualified 2nd, finished 3rd
A brilliant podium for Perez was his second in three races, but the Mexican could be excused for wondering whether it could have been even better; after clouting the wall in the final practice session, a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change saw his career-best second on the grid become seventh on Sunday, but he was quickly challenging for the podium places after a robust start and made it past Raikkonen at turn one on the 51st and final lap. Hulkenberg’s weekend was compromised by confusion in the second part of qualifying, where a spin and a communication breakdown with the pit wall saw him mired in 12th, way below the potential of the car. A long first stint running the softer-compound tyre at least gave him a chance to enter the top 10 on strategy, but he could do nothing to prevent both Red Bulls storming past in the shadows of the chequered flag.

Renault
Jolyon Palmer: qualified 22nd, finished 15th
Kevin Magnussen: qualified 21st, finished 14th
The good news for Renault was that both cars finished, which appeared unlikely after Magnussen and Palmer qualified on the back row of the grid, the first time that’s happened for the Enstone team since Australia 2014, when they were known as Lotus. Magnussen started from the pit lane after a gearbox change and tried a marathon second stint to sneak into the points, but faded badly late. Palmer at least saw the chequered flag after back-to-back non-finishes in Monaco and Montreal, but the Brit’s summation of his qualifying – “rubbish” – could have doubled as a descriptor for Renault’s weekend.

Front to back: what happened in Canada?

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat:
qualified 7th, did not finish
Carlos Sainz: qualified 13th, did not finish
A short and sour race for Toro Rosso, which was tough for swallow for Kvyat in particular after the Russian was outstanding in qualifying on Saturday. Kvyat was the first retiree with suspension issues on lap seven, while teammate Sainz was parked on lap 33 with the same problem. It was the first race since Russia that neither STR driver scored points.

Sauber
Felipe Nasr:
qualified 16th, finished 12th
Marcus Ericsson: qualified 20th, finished 17th
No points for Sauber, but Baku was the best weekend of the season for Nasr, who made it into Q2 for the first time in five races on Saturday, and then had a season-best 12th in the race 24 hours later to match Ericsson’s 12th in Bahrain for the best result for a Sauber this year. The Swede never got back on terms with his Brazilian teammate after brushing the wall in qualifying and managing only 20th on the grid.

McLaren
Jenson Button:
qualified 19th, finished 11th
Fernando Alonso: qualified 14th, did not finish
The longest straight in F1 was always going to pose a problem for the Honda-powered McLaren pair, and neither Alonso nor Button came close to the top 10 in qualifying, Button never recovering after a spin at Turn 15, and Alonso critical of the traffic he was sent out into as he chased a time good enough for Q3. The race wasn’t a lot better, the veteran duo having a brief but entertaining battle outside of the points-paying positions before Alonso was forced to retire on lap 43 when his car became stuck in fourth gear.

Manor
Pascal Wehrlein:
qualified 18th, did not finish
Rio Haryanto: qualified 17th, finished 18th
Haryanto was Manor’s Saturday star, Wehrlein their Sunday standout as the team enjoyed seeing the German running inside the top 10 as the pit-stop strategies played out in the first half of the 51-lap race. A respectable finish looked possible after Wehrlein made his own tyre stop on lap 29, but his brakes decided they’d had enough with 10 laps to go for his first non-finish this season. Haryanto has proved more competitive in qualifying against the highly-rated Wehrlein than many anticipated – the Indonesian was just 0.116secs away from Q2 on Saturday – but his chances of a strong race were over quickly as he sustained front wing damage at the first corner that necessitated a lengthy pit stop, which saw him finish two laps down and last.

Haas
Romain Grosjean:
qualified 11th, finished 13th
Esteban Gutierrez: qualified 15th, finished 16th
Gutierrez was another in the wars at Turn One, clattering into Hulkenberg’s Force India and losing pieces of his front wing, while Grosjean was forced into an unplanned pit stop after picking up debris in his radiators, which sent temperatures skyrocketing and prompted a change to the medium-compound tyre on lap 26 for the run to the flag.

Baku’s big questions

Here’s five talking points ahead of the inaugural European Grand Prix in Azerbaijan.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

It’s been a whirlwind week for everyone associated with Formula One; seemingly minutes after the race at the Canadian Grand Prix finished last weekend, another one started as the teams frantically packed for the 9000km journey to Baku for the inaugural European Grand Prix to be held in Azerbaijan on Sunday.

A new circuit is hard enough to plan for, but add the travel time and the loss of eight hours in timezone changes, and it has been a tricky week even for the usual high-efficiency standards of F1. But the mad scramble will be forgotten when the cars take to the all-new track on Friday, with the Baku City Circuit becoming the sixth venue (after the Nurburgring, Valencia, Brands Hatch, Jerez and Donington Park) to host a European GP, and the first one since 2012.

What are the main talking points so soon after Montreal as we head into the great unknown this weekend? These.

1. What do we know about the track?
There are few combinations of words that cause F1 fans to bite their bottom lips in tension more than ‘designed by Hermann Tilke’, and while the Baku City Circuit lacks the awesomeness of Tilke’s sadly-missed Istanbul Park, it’s no Valencia Street Circuit, which had all the appeal of a race around a bunch of abandoned port-side warehouses. The 6.003km circuit in Baku is second only to the revered Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium for length on this year’s calendar, and the drivers will complete 51 laps of a track that looks to be two circuits in one.
Where the tight and twisty parts of the circuit take in the old city buildings and measure only 7.6 metres wide in some places (think the Anderson Bridge in Singapore for a comparison), the final sector features a 2.2km blast from Turns 16 through to Turn 1, the longest ‘straight’ of the season where the cars are expected to nudge 340km/h, unheard of on a street course. The slogan for the race? ‘The speed is higher in the land of fire’. It should be an exhilarating track to drive, but will it allow for much overtaking?

2. Is this a critical race for Rosberg?
It feels like it. Mercedes’ championship leader strolled to four wins from the opening quartet of races, but things have gone pear-shaped since; after a crash with teammate Lewis Hamilton on the first lap in Barcelona, Nico Rosberg floundered to seventh on the streets of Monte Carlo, and could only recover to fifth after dropping to 10th on lap one in Montreal. Even Hamilton, winner of those latter two races, expressed his surprise at just how fast he’s been able to slash a 43-point championship deficit to just nine points ahead of this weekend, and the season seems to have a familiar feel to it, Hamilton appearing to be in control even if the championship standings say otherwise. Rosberg again came off second-best in a wheel-to-wheel moment against his teammate, Hamilton edging him towards the grass on lap one in Canada and leaving Rosberg, in his own words, “pissed off”. Perhaps he can channel that anger to make his mark on the Baku city streets and stop the rot.

3. Can Ricciardo make his point?
He’ll certainly want to. Since Max Verstappen joined Red Bull Racing in Spain, the scorecard reads Verstappen 37 points, Daniel Ricciardo 36. The Australian felt he could have won in Barcelona and knows he should have in Monaco, while a message to the Dutchman to not hold Ricciardo up early in the race in Montreal wasn’t discussed as much as it could have been afterwards thanks to a virtual safety car period that turned the GP on its head. A compromised pit stop in Canada wouldn’t have helped Ricciardo’s already-sour mood any. Getting some reward on a Sunday for his blistering qualifying pace – he’s beaten Verstappen and, before him, Daniil Kvyat in all seven qualifying sessions this season – surely must come sooner rather than later. Street circuits are usually right up the 26-year-old’s alley, and he’ll be relishing the challenge posed by a new one this weekend.

4. Can Kimi keep his job?
If you’re looking to extend your Formula One career into a 15th season, Kimi Raikkonen’s Canadian GP – where he qualified in sixth, sixth-tenths of a second behind Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel, and then finished 58 seconds behind him in the same position in the race wasn’t exactly a case of putting your best foot forward. That his Montreal malaise came a race after Monaco, where he clumsily hit the wall and then dangerously attempted to drag his car back to the pits with a broken front wing pinned beneath it, made it even worse. “This race and the last race wasn’t ideal,” was his typically succinct comment after Montreal, while Vettel was more expansive on the topic of who his 2017 teammate might be with the Italian press after Monaco, saying “I am fine with Raikkonen, there is no teammate who could be less complicated, and he is not political. Between us there is respect, he is calm and I think it would be nice to continue together.” Which you would say when you’re undoubtedly the number one driver at the sport’s most famous team.

Raikkonen may end up being Ferrari’s least worst option for 2017, if not beyond. The team seems to have cooled on Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, perhaps looking at his results compared to Felipe Massa, a man the Scuderia know well, and while the Ricciardo/Ferrari rumours continue to do the rounds, Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner is adamant that Ricciardo and Verstappen will be together at Milton Keynes next year and “not just 2017”. Who else is there other than, say, Ferrari-powered Haas driver Romain Grosjean? Perhaps Kimi keeps his job by default.

5. Are Williams really back in the mix?
Third for Bottas in Montreal would seem to suggest yes, but there were some extenuating circumstances in Canada last weekend. The FW38 puts massive energy through its tyres which is usually its Achilles heel, but the atypically low temperatures of Canada (12 degrees air, 22 degrees track) on race day suited it down to the ground, allowing Bottas to one-stop and attack the circuit, in particular the long back straight where Williams could make devastating use of its Mercedes powerplant. Baku has the long straight, but will undoubtedly be hotter this weekend. Montreal was a nice start, but more evidence is needed before Williams can think about retaining the third-place finish in the constructors’ championship that it has enjoyed over the past two years; the popular British team sits in fourth place in the constructors’ race, 49 points behind Red Bull after seven races.

Front to back: the Canadian Grand Prix

Our review of every F1 team and driver from Sunday’s race in Montreal.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton:
qualified 1st, finished 1st
Nico Rosberg: qualified 2nd, finished 5th
The record books will show Hamilton won from pole at the circuit that has become his happiest of hunting grounds, but this was far from a routine victory, the Briton’s blood pressure surely rising when he made another poor getaway off the line to be mugged by Vettel into the first corner. But Mercedes kept their nerve where Ferrari arguably lost theirs, sticking with their original plan to pit the reigning world champion just once and banking on track position being king around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. The decisive moment of the race came on lap 61, when the pursuing Vettel ran wide at the final chicane for the second time – the same lap race-leader Hamilton did his best lap of the race to extend his margin to over six seconds. Hamilton’s fifth win in Canada makes the Montreal circuit the most successful in his 10-season career. Rosberg’s championship lead, 43 points just three races ago, has been slashed to just nine on a weekend where he could never keep his teammate’s pace, and was elbowed out of the way at the first corner by Hamilton in a dismissive manner reminiscent of 2015. After dropping to 10th on lap one, an unscheduled pit stop for a slow puncture enlivened Rosberg’s race for the final 18 laps and he had several goes at Verstappen at the final chicane, but a spin on the penultimate lap saw him consigned to fifth, and left Hamilton breathing down his neck in the title chase.

Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel:
qualified 3rd, finished 2nd
Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 6th, finished 6th
Was this a race Mercedes won, or one Ferrari lost? Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene chose the latter after the race, where Vettel relinquished his advantage earned from a quite brilliant start to pit on lap 11 when the virtual safety car was brought into play after Button’s McLaren retired, a move that committed him to a two-stop strategy that proved unnecessary. “We overestimated the degradation on the tyres,” a glum Arrivabene said post-race, “and we called him in – it was the wrong decision.” After Australia, where Vettel led only to be placed on a strategy that was as conservative as it was wrong, that’s two victories the Scuderia has arguably gifted a team that’s quite clearly good enough to win races without anyone’s assistance. Vettel was left with too much to do and not enough laps to do it after his final pit stop on lap 37, and while he spent a lot of his race ranting about backmarkers over the radio, he was – publicly at least – quite pleased after the race, knowing Ferrari has the raw speed (if seemingly not the strategic sharpness) to fight with Mercedes on track. Qualifying and finishing sixth was an apt return for an anonymous race for Raikkonen, who finished 58 seconds behind Vettel on an identical strategy. The Finn drove a clean race and didn’t make any mistakes, which perhaps is easier to do when the car isn’t being pushed to its capabilities.

Front to back: what happened at Monaco?

Williams
Felipe Massa:
qualified 8th, did not finish
Valtteri Bottas: qualified 7th, finished 3rd
Unexpected joy for Williams in Montreal, with Bottas taking the team’s first podium of the season to replicate his third place at the same circuit last year. The Finn used a one-stop strategy and made the most of the prodigious straight-line speed of the Mercedes-powered Williams to take the first podium for the team since Mexico late last year, and won the race within a race between himself, Raikkonen, the recovering Rosberg and the two Red Bulls, given Hamilton and Vettel were so far up the road. Massa on the other hand had a disastrous trip to Canada – he’s never out-qualified a teammate in Montreal in 13 visits, and his race ended abruptly on lap 37 when his engine temperatures skyrocketed while he was running in the back-end of the top 10. It ruined the Brazilian’s record of being the only driver to have scored points in every race this season.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo:
qualified 4th, finished 7th
Max Verstappen: qualified 5th, finished 4th
Like Monaco last time out and Spain before that, Ricciardo’s Saturday promise turned to disappointment on Sunday, the Australian finishing seventh in a race where he expected to be in the mix for a victory. It didn’t take quite as long in this race for things to go pear-shaped – Ricciardo made a good initial getaway but snatched a brake into turn one, and then found himself having to take avoiding action from Rosberg as the Mercedes re-joined the circuit after his brush with Hamilton, Verstappen jumping him in the chaos. A direction from the pit wall for Verstappen to let Ricciardo come past wasn’t heeded by the time of the virtual safety car for Button’s demise on lap 11, and a flat spot after braking too late for the final chicane – and a stuttering pit stop to replace the damaged tyre on lap 39 – put paid to any chances Ricciardo had of getting back into the podium fight. Verstappen showed his attacking and defensive qualities in equal measure, scooting off after Vettel and Hamilton in the early stages, and then defending for all his worth against Rosberg to retain fourth in the final laps, forcing the championship leader into a spin at the last chicane with some wise racecraft. Eighteen points for the team was reasonable, but more would have been expected given where both cars started. Statistical footnote: by qualifying fourth on Saturday, Ricciardo is the only driver not to have been beaten in qualifying by a teammate in seven races this season.

Force India
Nico Hulkenberg:
qualified 9th, finished 8th
Sergio Perez: qualified 11th, finished 10th
It wasn’t quite the high of a third (Perez) and sixth (Hulkenberg) for Force India two weeks’ ago in Monaco, but five points between the drivers on Sunday kept the team in fifth place in the constructors’ standings, and was achieved completely on merit. Hulkenberg was a lapped eighth but did all that could have been expected of him, while Perez elected to start on the soft tyre and try another of his trademark one-stop economy runs to the flag, but had to take a second set of tyres late in the race to ensure a points finish, the “summer” temperatures of 12 degrees (air) and 22 degrees (track) making for higher than expected tyre wear.

Renault
Jolyon Palmer: qualified 17th, did not finish
Kevin Magnussen: qualified 22nd, finished 16th
Palmer’s wait for a first F1 points finish continues, the Briton sidelined on lap 18 with a water leak after frustratingly missing Q2 on Saturday by just 0.015 seconds. Teammate Magnussen saw the end after seeing the start from the very back, the Dane not able to take part in qualifying on Saturday after a big shunt in the final practice session. Finishing just 16th and behind one Sauber (Ericsson) and in a fight with the Manors and the other Sauber of Nasr wouldn’t have improved his mood, though.

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat:
qualified 13th, finished 12th
Carlos Sainz: qualified 16th, finished 9th
Hamilton took the win, Vettel the plaudits for a supreme start, and Bottas the pats on the back for a surprise podium – but there’s an argument for Sainz being the man of the Montreal match after the Spaniard scythed his way from 20th on the grid into the points on race day. Sainz came off second-best with a meeting with the infamous ‘Wall of Champions’ in Q2 and then had a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change, but finishing between the Force India drivers was an excellent two-point reward for an afternoon of never giving in. Kvyat’s weekend was compromised before he even got to Montreal after carrying a three-place grid penalty into the race after his incident with Magnussen at Monaco, and he’s managed just one point in three races since being demoted from Red Bull Racing, Sainz scoring 14 across Spain, Monaco and now Canada.

Sauber
Felipe Nasr:
qualified 20th, finished 18th
Marcus Ericsson: qualified 19th, finished 15th
The good news after Monaco was that the Saubers didn’t hit one another in Canada; the bad news for Nasr was that someone else hit him, as Magnussen spun the Brazilian at Turns 3-4 on the first lap. A pit stop on lap 10 had him nursing his tyres to the end, with no chance to score some first points for 2016. Ericsson had a three-place grid penalty after Monaco for the aforementioned Sauber shambles, and finished a lonely race eight seconds behind Grosjean in 14th, and 10 seconds ahead of the trailing Magnussen.

McLaren
Jenson Button:
qualified 12th, did not finish
Fernando Alonso: qualified 10th, finished 11th
A disappointing day for McLaren where points were always going to be hard to come by, the team still finding its speed deficit on the long straights to be its Achilles heel. Button was the first driver to retire after his engine cried ‘enough’, while Alonso questioned the merits of continuing to the end with six laps to go when running half a minute outside the points, but was cajoled into seeing the chequered flag after a race that snapped the team’s modest three-race run of points finishes.

Manor
Pascal Wehrlein:
qualified 18th, finished 17th
Rio Haryanto: qualified 21st, finished 19th
Manor’s straight-line speed wasn’t an issue – Wehrlein was fourth-quickest through the speed trap in qualifying – but the corners proved more difficult for F1’s minnows, who were anchored towards the back for the entire weekend. Wehrlein pulled out a superb lap in qualifying to miss Q2 by a mere 0.020 seconds, and the German finished a whopping 44 seconds ahead of his Indonesian teammate, Haryanto never really getting back on terms with the track after clouting the wall in Q1.

Haas
Romain Grosjean:
qualified 15th, finished 14th
Esteban Gutierrez: qualified 14th, finished 13th
Grosjean started behind his teammate for the second straight race and got a little too close on lap one, the cars touching and Grosjean complaining of front-wing damage in the first stint. There’s no question that the car is being pushed to its limit by both drivers, Gutierrez finishing half a second ahead of his teammate after 92 minutes of racing, but the early-season deluge of points has turned into a trickle for F1’s newest team, Haas managing just four points total across the past four Grands Prix.