Month: April 2017

What happened at the Russian Grand Prix?

F1 welcomes a new first-time winner as Sochi plays host to a late-race thriller.


Lewis Hamilton: qualified 4th, finished 4th. Valtteri Bottas: qualified 3rd, finished 1st.

Bottas used a quite brilliant start from third on the grid to take the lead by the time the field thundered into Turn 2, and controlled much of the race thereafter to take his first F1 victory, and become the 107th different winner in the sport’s history in the process. It was a close-run thing, though: after Vettel pitted with 18 laps to go, the Ferrari driver closed in on the Finn at a rate of knots, Bottas’ flat-spotted tyres from an ugly lock-up clearly hampering him. The German closed to within a second as the final lap began, but Bottas kept his cool and crossed the line six-tenths of a second ahead. His economically-worded and understated response was in keeping with his character – and his nationality …

Hamilton, by contrast, was absolutely nowhere in Sochi, much to the disappointment of a prominent English-language world TV feed that mixes in occasional commentary between its cheerleading for the three-time world champion. As Bottas scampered ahead, Hamilton was complaining about power delivery and overheating issues from as early as lap seven, and while the dominance Mercedes and Ferrari have over the rest meant he was always going to finish fourth if he made the chequered flag, finishing 25 seconds off the podium – and 36 seconds behind his race-winning teammate – was quite the surprise.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo: qualified 5th, did not finish. Max Verstappen: qualified 7th, finished 5th.

Team principal Christian Horner said before the Russian weekend that Sochi would be “about damage limitation” for Red Bull, but that seemed an understatement after Ricciardo was out after five laps with his right-rear brakes on fire, and after Verstappen finished more than a minute behind Bottas. Ricciardo said in the lead-up to the race that “nothing’s missing in the driver” when asked where Red Bull’s problems were, and while he beat Verstappen again in qualifying, the gap to pole – 1.7 seconds – was akin to being in another category. He failed to score in Sochi for the second straight year, and after finishing every race in 2016, the Australian has two mechanical retirements in four races to start this season. Verstappen had a pre-race scare when a water leak saw the team frantically work on his car in the hour before lights out, and was all-but anonymous over 52 laps on the way to collecting 10 world championship points for a lonely Sunday drive. Spain – and Red Bull’s planned chassis update – can’t come soon enough.

Sebastian Vettel: qualified 1st, finished 2nd. Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 2nd, finished 3rd.

Ferrari locked out the front row of the grid for the first time in a whopping 127 races (France 2008), but Vettel narrowly missed out on a third win in four races to start the season when he ran out of laps to pass Bottas on much fresher tyres. Vettel had rubber that was seven laps younger than the Finn’s in the final stages, and his stop on lap 34 came after he was called in and then told to stay on track as Ferrari frantically did its sums to give the world championship leader the best chance to overhaul the Silver Arrow up front. Vettel’s disappointment was tempered by the increase in his lead over Hamilton at the top of the standings to 13 points. Raikkonen topped opening practice on Friday, but Vettel had his measure thereafter. A tardy start in the race ensured Raikkonen never really figured in the fight for the win, benefitting from Hamilton’s off day to make the podium for the first time since last year’s Austrian Grand Prix, a span of 15 races.

Force India
Sergio Perez: qualified 9th, finished 6th. Esteban Ocon: qualified 10th, finished 7th.

Force India kept up its perfect record of points-scoring finishes in 2017, with Ocon achieving a career-best qualifying performance and race finish on the same weekend. While the young Frenchman’s reputation continues to rise, Perez did what Perez does, bringing the car home in the points for the 14th race in a row. The Mexican finished eight seconds ahead of his teammate, but a mammoth 85 seconds behind Bottas as he joined Ricciardo on 22 world championship points.

Felipe Massa: qualified 6th, finished 9th. Lance Stroll: qualified 11th, finished 11th.

Massa drew Vettel’s ire on the final lap when the front-running duo came up to lap him, delaying the German momentarily to give his former Williams teammate a chance to escape and secure his win. Vettel – “what the hell was that?” – wasn’t thrilled, but Massa didn’t really have anywhere to go as the cars screamed through Sochi’s one signature corner, the flat-out never-ending left-hander of Turn 4. The Brazilian looked set for sixth place but had to make a second unscheduled pit stop for tyres when he picked up a puncture on lap 43, while teenage teammate Stroll finally saw the chequered flag after non-finishes in Australia, China and Bahrain, finishing just outside the points after a costly and clumsy spin behind the early-race safety car.

Fernando Alonso: qualified 15th, did not start. Stoffel Vandoorne: qualified 17th, finished 14th.

The good news for McLaren – if you can call it that – in Sochi was that Vandoorne made the end of the race and beat both Saubers. The bad was that he started from the back after taking a 15-place grid penalty for engine component changes that had exceeded their limit of four for the season in just the fourth race of said season … What was worse was watching Alonso walking down the pit lane as the field assembled for the start, the two-time world champion parking his car at the final corner on the warm-up lap with an energy recovery system failure. The Spaniard is now the only driver in the field not to finish a race this season, a horror stat that stings even more when you consider Barcelona plays host to the next race of the season in a fortnight’s time.

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat: qualified 12th, finished 12th. Carlos Sainz: qualified 13th, finished 10th.

Russia was a bit of an anonymous weekend for Toro Rosso, which wasn’t expected given Kvyat was the face of the race as the one local driver in it. The Russian finished where he started, while teammate Sainz recovered from a three-place grid penalty for taking Stroll out in Bahrain to sneak the final point on offer.

Romain Grosjean: qualified 20th, did not finish. Kevin Magnussen: qualified 14th, finished 13th.

The weekend couldn’t have been much worse for Grosjean, who couldn’t get his head around a car that he felt handled differently from lap to lap as he qualified dead last. His race lasted all of two corners, his coming-together with Palmer’s Renault leaving both cars in bits and with each driver pointing the finger at the other to apportion blame. Magnussen looked a chance to finish in the points after a much more convincing weekend, but paid the price for exceeding track limits at Turn 2, copping a five-second penalty at his pit stop which dropped him out of the top 10 for good despite his pleas to race director Charlie Whiting to reconsider.

Jolyon Palmer: qualified 16th, did not finish. Nico Hulkenberg: qualified 8th, finished 8th.

The short version of Palmer’s wretched weekend; an exhaust fire burned his car on Friday, causing a chassis rebuild overnight, and then an engine failure left him stranded in final practice on Saturday. The team changed his engine in time for qualifying before he crashed at Turn 5, and he didn’t even make it that far in the race before his incident with Grosjean. Hulkenberg, on the other hand, qualified in the top 10 for the third race running, and used a marathon opening stint of 40 laps on the ultrasoft tyres to try to combat the pace advantage held by Force India through strategy, narrowly missing out on passing Ocon by finishing a second behind at the end.

Marcus Ericsson: qualified 19th, finished 15th. Pascal Wehrlein: qualified 18th, finished 16th.

Second-last (Ericsson) and last (Wehrlein) was where Sauber ended up on Sunday afternoon, but few were talking about the Swiss team’s on-track results in Sochi after news broke that the team would end its eight-year association with Ferrari to run Honda engines in 2018. Having a manufacturer on board and a supply of current-spec engines is good news in theory; given McLaren’s freefall with Honda powerplants over the past three years, perhaps any joy should be muted for the time being.


6 things we know about F1 2017

Three races into a new era of F1, can we paint a picture of the season to come? Yes, and no.


Formula One comes ‘home’ to Europe this weekend, with the Russian Grand Prix bringing the sport back closer to its heartland after the opening trio of races in far-flung Australia, China and Bahrain to kick off the 2017 campaign.

Next month’s Spanish Grand Prix usually ramps up the development race behind the scenes, as teams bring major upgrades to their cars that have largely competed in pre-season spec during the logistical challenge of lugging parts and personnel around the world for the first three races. Some teams will make big gains (and some would want to, we’ll get to them), but we have a fairly clear picture of the shape of the season to come already. And it’s a picture that, for neutral fans, looks pretty. A genuine fight up front, a mixed-up midfield and the fastest cars we’ve ever seen means there’s much to look forward to.

What do we know, what have we learned, and what will happen from here?

Merc must make a call

One of the by-products of winning 51 out of 59 races since the advent of the V6 turbo hybrid era since 2014 as Mercedes did heading into this season was that the opposition were little more than an afterthought. The so-called ‘rules of engagement’ between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were an internal policy of how the drivers would race one another en route to another inevitable Silver Arrows win; one of those rules would have been “don’t hit one another on track”, which they managed for the most part if we discount Belgium 2014 and Spain last year …

Ferrari’s resurgence this season means Merc has a red-coloured riddle to solve, and with Sebastian Vettel mounting a solo challenge to Mercedes’ dominance, perhaps the time has come for the champion team of the last three years to prioritise one driver over another. Twice in the most recent race in Bahrain, Valtteri Bottas was asked/told/coerced into moving over for the faster Hamilton; by the end of the race, Vettel was grinning after his second win of 2017, and opened up a seven-point lead in the title chase.

Bottas is already 30 points – more than one race win – behind Vettel after three Grands Prix, which means Mercedes can’t have him taking points off Hamilton in the fight with Vettel that will surely rage until the finale in Abu Dhabi. Expect much hand-wringing on the Mercedes pit wall as it has to deal with a problem that has been a non-factor for three years.

Vettel is like a dog with a bone

This year’s version of Vettel reminds us of the 2010-13 iteration at Red Bull where he was massively motivated to capitalise on a great car, and not the 2014 model who appeared to check out mentally to some degree as Ferrari loomed large in his future. In a car that’s clearly a massive step forwards from its predecessor, if Vettel gets the slightest sliver of daylight to slip into, he’s taking it. When he gets to the front, his pace is metronomic and mistakes are rarer than rare. Provided Ferrari can stay as sharp on the strategy front as they have in the first three races, Vettel might be the championship favourite.

It’s a big two, not a big three

Pre-season predictions had Mercedes and Ferrari up front with Red Bull lurking closely behind, but that’s not what has happened. Just one podium – from Max Verstappen in China – from the nine available so far isn’t much to write home about, and both Mercedes and Ferrari have doubled Red Bull’s constructors’ championship tally of 47 points in just three races. In Australia, the fastest Red Bull in qualifying (Verstappen) was 1.2secs off pole, and the lead Red Bull in the race (again Verstappen) finished more than 28 seconds behind race-winner Vettel. In China, the margins were 1.3 seconds off pole in qualifying (Daniel Ricciardo) and 45 seconds in the race (Verstappen in third), while in Bahrain, Ricciardo’s sensational qualifying lap was still nearly eight-tenths of a second slower than Bottas’ pole, and he finished fifth and 39 seconds from the win after Verstappen retired with brake failure. The team plans to introduce a significant chassis upgrade for the Spanish Grand Prix next month, but for now, Red Bull remains in an anonymous class of one, well behind the top two teams, but streets ahead of the rest.

It’s time for Raikkonen to go

The one driver we haven’t yet mentioned from the top two teams? That’d be Kimi Raikkonen, who is yet to outqualify Vettel in the sister Ferrari (the average deficit is four-tenths of a second) and has been beaten by the German by an average of 29 seconds in three races. The Finn turns 38 in October, and while age isn’t necessarily a deterrent to success in the premier class of a global motorsport championship (look at the MotoGP championship leader, 38-year-old Valentino Rossi), it’s surely time to bring in someone younger, hungrier and capable of mixing it at the front when Raikkonen’s contract runs out at the end of the season. The 2007 world champion remains one of the most popular drivers amongst fans for his approach to anything that doesn’t involve driving, but the stats don’t lie; he’s not won a race in four years, had a pole position since the French Grand Prix of 2008, and scored less than 60 per cent of the points managed by teammates Fernando Alonso and Vettel since returning to Ferrari in 2014. Can the Prancing Horse really fight Mercedes when one of its drivers can’t get out of a trot?

Hands up who wants fourth?

Behind Tier A (Mercedes and Ferrari) and Tier A-minus (Red Bull) lies a fascinating midfield fight, if the first three races are any indication. Williams has Felipe Massa ploughing a lone furrow, as teenage teammate Lance Stroll is yet to finish a race and has completed just 52 of the combined 170 laps. Force India, with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, have scored points with both drivers in all three races; only Mercedes and Ferrari have done likewise. Toro Rosso has pace with Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat, and a team boss in Franz Tost who expects “that we will make it to Q3 with both cars (in Russia) and that we will score points with both cars … and that this will be the standard for all the races to come.” And while Haas has just eight points in three races, Romain Grosjean has two top-10 qualifying results, and the team has use of the potent 2017 Ferrari engine. This will be a fun fight to watch.

Alonso is still a megastar

He’s yet to score a point, finish a race, and lead anything other than the unofficial scorecard for radio rants this season, with Raikkonen’s moaning a close second. But proof that McLaren-Honda’s woes haven’t dimmed the star of Alonso was plainly obvious when he made the shock announcement before Bahrain that he’d be skipping the Monaco Grand Prix next month for a McLaren-endorsed tilt at the Indianapolis 500. Yes, Nico Hulkenberg’s Le Mans win two years ago garnered plenty of positive press, but nothing like this. McLaren’s decision to allow its star driver to play for a weekend in IndyCar and miss a Monaco layout that won’t show up its woeful lack of engine performance is surely just one way to keep a star employee happy while distracting attention away from just how dire its F1 season has been. Whatever the motivation, you can bet the Indy 500 will be watched more closely than ever by plenty of F1 people next month.

Miller Time: Happy but hungry in Austin

Aussie MotoGP rider Jack Miller admits he wanted more despite a third top-10 finish to start the 2017 season in America.


Hi everyone,

Us MotoGP riders are never satisfied, are we? I’m talking to you about an hour after the race finished in Austin on Sunday afternoon, and I’m happy to have finished 10th to keep my good start to the year rolling, but only happy to a point. This time last year? I didn’t even race in Austin after busting up my right foot in a practice crash, and after three races of the season, I’d scored exactly two points. This year? I’m 10th in the championship with 21 points. There’s a lot to be happy about. But still …

I guess it shows you how far things have come this year when I finish top 10 and I’m not 100 per cent happy. I wanted more from the race and felt like I could have got more too, but I got stuck behind Jorge (Lorenzo) for most of it, and that Ducati is just a rocket in a straight line. Every lap was the same thing, I’d catch him in the first part of the lap and sit right behind him, and then we’d get to the back straight and he’d just take off, that Ducati is in another league in a straight line – 345km/h in the race. I felt like I’d have been able to stretch away from him over the rest of the lap if I got by, but the longer the race went and the more we wore the tyres, it was just impossible.

There was nowhere I was going to be able to get past Jorge without taking a massive risk and potentially taking him (and probably me) out, so there was just no way. As the race went on, the front tyre started to wear pretty badly and I had a whole heap of graining and tearing on the right-hand side, so I had to concentrate more on what was behind me than in front of me. I lost a spot to (Andrea) Iannone, and then (Danilo) Petrucci got me with a couple of laps to go, and I couldn’t go with him. I had half a second on Jonas (Folger) at the end, so 10th was as good as it could have been. The rear tyre we used, the hard, was fine, but in hindsight the medium-option front wasn’t probably the right idea, but we hadn’t done much on the harder front and we didn’t want to take the gamble on that for the early laps while we waited for it to work properly.

To be heading back to Europe with three top-10s in a row, I can’t ask for a lot more than that. It was what I was after when we started out in Qatar what seems like months ago, but I felt Austin should have been better, which is why my first reaction when I got off the bike was more disappointment than anything. But saying that, I was only 18 seconds off the win, and felt that I could have been a second or so closer than that, so we’re making good progress.

I felt comfortable on the bike all weekend in Austin, and it’s a circuit that I really like and one that has been pretty good to me as well (other than last year when I hurt myself, but we’ll ignore that). There’s just something about it that works for me. It’s a seriously busy track, long two-minute laps, 20 corners, all sorts of corners, up and downhill – it doesn’t miss much. To do 45 minutes around there, fight with the others, deal with tyre degradation … it’s as solid of a workout as you’ll get, and I felt pretty decent after the race physically which was good.

This year seemed even more physical than the last time we were here because the bumps were so much worse in the braking zones. We’re used to the bumps to some degree at the tracks we race at where Formula One races too, but this year they were pretty bad. The F1 cars generate so much downforce that they put more pressure on the tarmac, so we get a bumpier ride. It’ll be interesting to see what we get next year when we come here and whether they re-surface it, because it wouldn’t be good if they were worse. It’s the same for everyone of course, but it did seem a lot more severe than last time we came here.

I stayed out in California between the Argentina and Austin races to do a heap of training, which was pretty useful considering how physical the weekend was. Seems like we’ve been away for ages though, so I’m quite looking forward to get back home on Monday, get back on Europe time, see my dog and get back into some training before Jerez and the start of the races in Europe where we’re all closer to home and things seem a bit more normal. We’ll keep pushing, and I’ll talk to you from Spain.

Cheers, Jack

What happened at the Bahrain Grand Prix?

Who did what and how as F1 shone bright under the desert lights of Sakhir.


Lewis Hamilton: qualified 2nd, finished 2nd. Valtteri Bottas: qualified 1st, finished 3rd.

Bahrain ended up a case of ‘what if?’ for Mercedes, after Hamilton lost the race by 6.660 seconds to Vettel – and after he had to serve a five-second penalty at his second pit stop on lap 41 after being found to have been “driving unnecessarily slowly in the pit entry” in front of Ricciardo during his first stop on lap 13 under safety car conditions. Hamilton had the pace to beat Vettel, but didn’t have the judgement or, on this day, the sharpness from the pit wall to help him out, Ferrari winning the strategy game by pitting Vettel early on lap 11 after he’d jumped Hamilton off the start and was tucked in behind pole-sitter Bottas. For the Finn, who took his first pole in his 80th race weekend 24 hours previously, Sunday was a reality check after over-pressured tyres and oversteer saw him fall to 13 seconds behind his teammate at the flag, and after suffering the ignominy of being asked to move aside by the pit wall to allow his teammate to continue his futile chase of the new championship leader.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo: qualified 4th, finished 5th. Max Verstappen: qualified 6th, did not finish.

A race to largely forget for Red Bull. Verstappen’s qualifying was compromised by a slowing Massa on Saturday, but he made an amazing start on Sunday to zap Ricciardo into the first corner and was right up behind third-placed Hamilton until his pit stop on lap 11. He didn’t last much longer, brake failure seeing him lightly nudge the Turn 4 barriers on the next lap and prompting a long, hot and annoyed walk back to the pits. Ricciardo jumped Hamilton in the pit stops under the safety car on lap 13, but was a sitting duck on cold soft-compound tyres as the race resumed, with his only hope being that he could get to the end on the more durable rubber. When he couldn’t, a lonely fifth place and an afternoon where he rarely seemed to be on the front foot was the result.

Sebastian Vettel: qualified 3rd, finished 1st. Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 5th, finished 4th.

Vettel’s third win in Bahrain was superbly taken, and it recalled his Red Bull days of yore in that once he got to the front, he was never going to beat himself or hand a win to Mercedes with a mistake or drop-off of pace. Tensions rose on the Ferrari pit wall as Hamilton stalked him late, team principal Maurizio Arrivabene seemingly unable to sit down in one spot for 10 seconds at a time, but a second win for the year and a seven-point championship lead was no less than the four-time world champion deserved. Raikkonen was knocked off the second row of the grid by a brilliant Ricciardo lap on Saturday, and then dropped another two spots off the start in the race to never really figure in the podium fight once again, finishing 22 seconds behind his race-winning teammate and being surpassed only by Alonso in the surly radio message stakes.

Force India
Sergio Perez: qualified 18th, finished 7th. Esteban Ocon: qualified 14th, finished 10th.

A superb rescue job by Force India to get both cars in the points again after a horrible qualifying, Perez starting way back on row nine after his lap was compromised by Sainz’s stricken Toro Rosso, and Ocon battling DRS issues en route to just 14th. Perez made a decisive start to set up his strong seventh place by passing five rivals on lap one, while Ocon made it a hat-trick of 10th-place finishes as he continues to impress in his first full season.

Felipe Massa: qualified 8th, finished 6th. Lance Stroll: qualified 12th, did not finish.

Massa matched the sixth place he took in the Australian season-opener and banished the bad memories of China a week ago with a solid result on Sir Frank Williams’ 75th birthday, but the team continues to exist in a class of its own, well behind the Ferrari-Mercedes-Red Bull front-runners, and well ahead of everyone else. While Massa continues to show well after his brief ‘retirement’, Stroll is still looking for his first points, the young Canadian hit by Sainz as the latter was returning to the track after his pit stop at Turn 1 on lap 13, both cars eliminated on the spot. Stroll’s view? “I got completely destroyed … it’s ridiculous,” he fumed.

Fernando Alonso: qualified 15th, did not finish. Stoffel Vandoorne: qualified 17th, did not start.

“I have never raced with less power in all of my life,” was the pick of Alonso’s caustic radio messages in Bahrain, which came at the end of a week where he dominated the news cycle after the stunning revelation that he’ll skip next month’s Monaco GP for a crack at the Indianapolis 500. Alonso missed Q2 on Saturday after a MGU-H failure in his Honda engine, and fought like crazy in the race before another failure saw him limp into the pits and retire for the third time in three races with a handful of laps left. At least he got to race; Vandoorne, at the circuit where he made his F1 debut last year to deputise for an injured Alonso, didn’t even start on Sunday after a third MGU-H failure in as many days as he left the garage for the grid.

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat: qualified 11th, finished 12th. Carlos Sainz: qualified 16th, did not finish.

Sainz fumed when the contact with Stroll ended his race, but closer examination showed he was at least half at fault – if not more – for the full stop on a miserable weekend where his car ground to a halt on track with no power in qualifying. Kvyat was well wide at the final corner in qualifying, well wide at the penultimate corner on lap one as he narrowly avoided whacking his teammate, and punchy in the extreme as he looked to battle back into the points after dropping to second-last on the first tour. You’d go a long way to find a more entertaining drive that was, given he finished 12th, pointless.

Romain Grosjean: qualified 9th, finished 8th. Kevin Magnussen: qualified 20th, did not finish.

Grosjean got his 2017 point-scoring tally off the mark in Bahrain, where he finished fifth for the American newbies last year, and at a layout where he’s always been strong. He couldn’t hang with Perez in the latter stages, but four points after a difficult Saturday that included a brush with the Turn 4 barriers was a strong result. Magnussen’s weekend was rather more compromised, qualifying last and lasting just nine laps before crawling to a halt with a mechanical problem.

Jolyon Palmer: qualified 10th, finished 13th. Nico Hulkenberg: qualified 7th, finished 9th.

Renault had both cars into Q3 for the first time since the 2011 Japanese Grand Prix, but their Saturday joy didn’t extend to Sunday, with just two points to show for their Bahrain weekend. Hulkenberg’s qualifying lap for seventh will surely go down as one of the best of the year given the machinery at his disposal, and he thought it was as good as his sole pole position in the sport, for Williams in Brazil way back in 2010. While he scored his first points of the year, the German would have expected better. Palmer made the top 10 in qualifying for the first time, but went backwards in the race, getting part of his front wing knocked off by an ambitious Kvyat lunge on lap 25 and finishing a lapped last.

Marcus Ericsson: qualified 19th, did not finish. Pascal Wehrlein: qualified 13th, finished 11th.

Wehrlein finally made his delayed 2017 debut, and the German impressed by making Q2 and finishing one place outside the points, albeit 24 seconds behind the top 10. Perhaps more importantly, he managed to get through 56 laps after struggling for fitness after his big shunt in the off-season Race of Champions event in Miami. Ericsson had nothing to lose starting so far back and was the only runner to start on soft-compound rubber, but never made much headway before pulling over into retirement five laps from home.


Miller Time: In the 10 again

Aussie MotoGP rider Jack Miller talks big points, the rain game and skydiving after a manic weekend in Argentina.


Hi everyone,

We’re packing up here in Argentina as I talk to you, and the team and me are both pretty happy with another top 10 result. Like every rider does, I wanted a bit more, but two top-10s in a row to start the season, I can’t be unhappy with that.

The race on Sunday was a bit lonely at times, but looking back at it, I probably made a few too many mistakes in the first laps. I was hoping to stay in the group with Jonas Folger and those guys, but they were a little bit too strong and I found myself with Scott Redding again like Qatar, and Karel Abraham after he fell back from qualifying on the front row.

I spent a lot of the race hovering around the back of the top 10, and I’d planned to have a real go at Scott at the end, I was being as patient as I could. It was a bit disappointing not to get him, I made a few attempts but just wasn’t able to get it to stick. Compared to us, that Ducati is ridiculously fast on the straights, so I didn’t have the top-end to pass him. But when you look at it, ninth – another top 10 finish too – that’s a pretty decent result, and we can take a lot away from here.

You can see the way the season is going at the moment with people crashing and whatnot, and staying on the bike and being smart is a real focus. There’s a lot of guys not scoring points at the moment, so to be seventh in the championship after two races, I’ll definitely take that. The consistency has been really good.

They’ve not been straightforward weekends either, we had all the rain and the cancelled qualifying in Qatar, and then Argentina wasn’t an easy weekend either with the weather. They’re the sorts of weekends when you can easily make a heap of mistakes and end up with nothing, so to have 15 points after two races of things not being the smoothest is pretty good. You could have so easily had none, it wouldn’t have taken much. We can be pretty happy with that, and to have some good results under our belt.

I’m a lot happier after the race than I was after qualifying – I was 17th on the grid and felt I should have been a lot higher up than that in those conditions, I was pretty dirty about it. I had really good speed in the wet, I was fifth in practice before qualy, and then didn’t do anything with it. I used the hard tyre in FP4 and was up there, and then went for the soft in qualifying and went nowhere, way too much spinning, and the tyres were no good after half a lap. It was the wrong call for sure. I pitted to change but we ran out of time, so I was pretty annoyed. Sunday helped to make up for that, but we need to get better in those sorts of situations.

I got to do one pretty cool thing in the build-up to the Argentina race – I went skydiving for the first time. Me, Yonny Hernandez from Moto2 and Jorge Martin from Moto3 did it for Red Bull, and it was something to tick off the bucket list, definitely. We got to see some different parts of Argentina too which was cool, but throwing yourself out of a plane was the highlight for sure, you definitely don’t do that every day! It was so much fun, awesome, and something I’d wanted to do my whole life really, I just didn’t get the chance to before this. I normally like being in control, all us riders are probably like that, but I wasn’t crapping myself or anything, just pretty excited to do it. As you can see, we all got a massive buzz out of it.

We’re racing in Austin next, so I’ve decided to head straight from here to the US to make the most of some Californian sun to do some training and stay in the same timezone. It’s a long old hike back to Europe from Argentina, it’s five hours from Buenos Aires from here before you even leave Argentina, so at least I can cut back on the travel time. It’ll be good to get some sun (hopefully, I haven’t seen much of that lately) and hopefully we can be there around the mark again in America. I didn’t race there last year after having a pretty big crash and hurting my ankle, so it’ll be good to get back out there again on that track. I’ll talk to you from there.

Cheers, Jack

What happened at the Chinese Grand Prix?

Who flew and who fell in China, as Max Verstappen stormed through from the back to the Shanghai podium.


Lewis Hamilton: qualified 1st, finished 1st. Valtteri Bottas: qualified 3rd, finished 6th.

After being beaten fair and square by Ferrari in Australia, Hamilton responded in the most emphatic style possible for the sport’s benchmark team of the past three years in China, winning from pole and leading every lap while setting the fastest lap of the race, a rare grand slam. A recovering Vettel came at him hard in the latter stages, but Hamilton’s response with 12 laps to go – setting the fastest lap of the race to extend his lead to over eight seconds – meant that it was game over for the Prancing Horse. Hamilton’s podium was his 106th in F1, equalling Alain Prost for the most ever, and his sixth straight pole position dating back to last season meant another milestone won’t be too far away …

Teammate Bottas looked set to join the three-time world champion on the podium after the early stages, but a clumsy spin behind the safety car before the race re-started on lap eight following Antonio Giovinazzi’s accident in the Sauber dropped the Finn to 12th, and he spent the rest of the afternoon fighting a rearguard action, finishing a frustrating three seconds from third place. “A stupid mistake of mine,” he fumed afterwards.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo: qualified 5th, finished 4th. Max Verstappen: qualified 19th, finished 3rd.

“Like a video game” was Verstappen’s description of his mesmerising opening lap; after an engine misfire destroyed his qualifying on Saturday, the Dutch teenager gained three places on the grid for post-qualifying penalties for three rivals, and then sensationally passed nine cars on lap one to make a podium a possibility. A lap 11 lunge past teammate Ricciardo at his preferred passing spot of Turn 6 was impressive, but he had to deal with the resurgent Australian in the closing laps, just holding on to third to ensure a Red Bull driver appeared on an F1 podium at the 100th different race.

Ricciardo at least got his 2017 points tally off the mark after his disastrous home GP, but wouldn’t have been best pleased with the manners put on him by his teammate, nor the understeer he battled for most of the 56 laps. A podium for Red Bull was a welcome relief after a depressing deficit in Australia, but Verstappen’s margin to Hamilton – 45 seconds – showed there’s a lot of work still to do despite the Dutchman’s heroics.

Sebastian Vettel: qualified 2nd, finished 2nd. Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 4th, finished 5th.

It was the sliding doors moment of Sunday’s race; Vettel, out of sequence after stopping for new tyres when the race was neutralised under the virtual safety car on lap one, found himself at the back of a train of cars for 12 laps, Ricciardo leading Raikkonen, who never threatened to pass, and the Finn holding up his German stablemate. Vettel eventually found his way by on lap 30, but we’ll never know how much closer he could have been than the 6.2-second margin to Hamilton at the finish had Ferrari moved Raikkonen aside. Still, with one win apiece in the opening two races and being level in the championship gives Vettel plenty of optimism that this could finally be the year he and Hamilton have a genuine title fight. If he was happy, Raikkonen was less so – the Finn ranted over the radio for most of the race about everything from engine torque delivery to tyre wear, and in hindsight, Ferrari could have done with pitting him for his final stop earlier than lap 39. On fresher rubber, he closed to within three seconds of the duelling Red Bulls on the final lap, but ended up marooned in fifth.

Force India
Sergio Perez: qualified 8th, finished 9th. Esteban Ocon: qualified 20th, finished 10th.

The three teams to score points in both races so far? Mercedes, Ferrari and (yes) Force India, as last year’s fourth-best team shone through the Shanghai gloom. Ocon finished 10th for the second race in a row, a strong recovery after being caught out by the timing of Giovinazzi’s qualifying accident and qualifying dead last. Perez clattered into Stroll’s Williams on lap one and was cleared of any wrongdoing, and while the Mexican didn’t have the pace to keep Magnussen’s Haas at bay with eight laps left, a double points-finish perked up the pink team.

Felipe Massa: qualified 6th, finished 14th. Lance Stroll: qualified 10th, did not finish.

The only good thing about the Chinese Grand Prix for Williams? It’s end, and that the next race in Bahrain is only a week away. The wet and cold weather on Sunday saw an unwanted return of Williams’ Achilles heel of last year, with no tyre grip seeing Massa finish a lap down and second-last after a strong qualifying. Stroll’s race lasted all of 10 corners before he was punted by Perez.

Fernando Alonso: qualified 13th, did not finish. Stoffel Vandoorne: qualified 16th, did not finish.

As McLaren continue to flounder, Alonso’s radio communications from the cockpit to his team become ever-more entertaining; the Spaniard said he drove like “an animal” in qualifying to make it to 13th, and he was running inside the points until a driveshaft problem sidelined him on lap 35. Vandoorne made it only as far as lap 18 before he had to park up with a fuel problem. McLaren’s lack of straight-line punch from its Honda engines – the car was routinely 20km/h slower than anything else down Shanghai’s monstrous 1km back straight – was painfully obvious.

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat: qualified 9th, did not finish. Carlos Sainz: qualified 11th, finished 7th.

Sainz figured he had nothing to lose by being the only driver to start the race on slick tyres as the damp track dried; he lost plenty on the opening laps with a wheelspin-ridden getaway and a spin at Turn 4, but the race came back to the Spaniard as he finished in the points again, and was the last driver not to be lapped by race-winner Hamilton. Returning to the scene of his most recent F1 podium finish last year, Kvyat had a tougher time, and ran around in the back-end of the top 10 before stopping when a mechanical failure saw him sidelined on lap 19.

Romain Grosjean: qualified 17th, finished 11th. Kevin Magnussen: qualified 12th, finished 8th.

Grosjean’s weekend started to unravel in Q1 on Saturday when he spun at the final corner, and then he was penalised five grid positions after qualifying for not slowing sufficiently under double waved yellow flags after Giovinazzi’s crash at the same turn, not that he was in agreement with the sanction …

The Frenchman finished tantalisingly close to the points in 11th, but Magnussen was the much happier Haas driver after finishing eighth for his first points since Singapore last year for Renault, a well-deserved reward for a convincing drive.

Jolyon Palmer: qualified 18th, finished 13th. Nico Hulkenberg: qualified 7th, finished 12th.

Palmer asked his team to check his car after a lacklustre Australian Grand Prix; should the driver be under the microscope too, especially after teammate Hulkenberg qualified seventh? Like Grosjean, Palmer fell foul of the stewards after the Giovinazzi crash and started from the back, and spun after an early pit stop to condemn himself to an afternoon of blue flags and frustration at the back of the field. Hulkenberg was brilliant in qualifying, but went from hero to zero in the race when he copped two penalties worth a total of 15 seconds, one for overtaking under the virtual safety car, and another for passing when the safety car was on track.

Marcus Ericsson: qualified 14th, finished 14th. Antonio Giovinazzi: qualified 15th, did not finish.

After showing so much promise in Australia, Giovinazzi’s second weekend as a stand-in for the injured Pascal Wehrlein was an expensive one for the small Swiss team, smashing one car against the outside wall at the final corner on Saturday, and wrecking another against the inside wall at the same turn the following day.

Ericsson made fewer headlines than his teammate, but finished last on Sunday to take some of the shine off Sauber’s Saturday, where it placed two cars in Q2 in qualifying for the first time since the corresponding race in China 12 months ago.

Five reasons we’ll be watching the Chinese Grand Prix

Are Red Bull back in the game, will Mercedes muscle in, or can Ferrari spring another Shanghai surprise?


The new-for-2017 Formula One opened in Australia last month to mixed reviews – for all of the positive press about wider cars that look and are faster, the lack of overtaking at Albert Park caused some consternation as to what sort of a season the quickest cars in F1 history can produce over 20 races.

Racing in Melbourne has always come with an asterisk, as the high-speed street circuit has never been one where passing is easy, and rarely produced a race that has stolen the headlines save for a massive first-lap pile-up or a local hero making good. China, and the Shanghai International Circuit, should give us more of an insight into the true picture painted by the new cars – and it remains to be seen if that picture will have a red hue once more after Sebastian Vettel opened the season with a win for Ferrari at Albert Park.

There’s a million reasons to keep a close eye on the action from Shanghai this weekend – not least because it’s one of the rare overseas races for Australian fans that doesn’t end in the wee hours of the following day – but we’ll restrict ourselves to these five.

Are we really about to get a Vettel v Hamilton title fight?
The second and fourth-most successful drivers in F1 history have spent a decade sharing the world’s racetracks, but have never really featured in the same title fight. With 53 wins, Lewis Hamilton has found the majority of his success in the past three years as Mercedes dominated the era immediately following the Vettel/Red Bull march for four straight titles from 2010-13, where the German took 34 of his 43 career victories to date.

Most forget the duo made their debuts within six races of one another in 2007 (Hamilton for McLaren at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, Vettel as an injury replacement for Robert Kubica at BMW at that year’s US Grand Prix at Indianapolis), and while they finished just 16 points apart in the epic 2010 title chase, Vettel had Fernando Alonso and teammate Mark Webber in closer proximity at the end of that season.

The German’s win over Hamilton at Albert Park raised hopes that this might be the year they both have the machinery at their disposal to have a proper head-to-head title fight; having more than one team racing for the drivers’ and constructors’ crowns after the past three years of Mercedes domination can only be good for F1 diehards and casual fans alike.

Is the Prancing Horse a one-trick pony?
Valtteri Bottas’ first weekend for Mercedes in Melbourne went largely under the radar, but the unassuming Finn couldn’t have a done a lot more in his first GP as Hamilton’s teammate. Bottas was third on the Australian grid, two-tenths of a second slower than Hamilton, and finished 1.2 seconds behind him in the race, showing that Mercedes will be able to launch a two-car assault on this year’s titles. Meanwhile, that red speck you saw in the background was Kimi Raikkonen; Bottas’ compatriot was more than half a second behind Ferrari teammate Vettel in qualifying and 22 seconds adrift of him after 57 laps in the race despite the pair starting line astern.

The Finnish veteran showed well against Vettel in qualifying last year, but was that down to his speed or Vettel slightly lifting off the throttle mentally when he didn’t have a race-winning car at his disposal, which seemed the case in 2014 at Red Bull when he was trounced by Daniel Ricciardo despite being the reigning four-time world champion?

When he returned to Ferrari in 2014, Raikkonen was out-scored over the season by then teammate Alonso (by 106 points), and then in 2015 by a motivated Vettel (by 128 points). If the 2017 Ferrari is genuinely a race-winning car, as Vettel suggested it was in Australia, then it’d be nice to have a driver capable of winning races driving it. Put it this way: would you put your money on Raikkonen beating Vettel or Hamilton in a straight fight?

Can Red Bull bounce back?
Red Bull’s Australian Grand Prix was underwhelming in the extreme, with neither Ricciardo nor Max Verstappen able to challenge the Ferrari-Mercedes duopoly at the front, and Ricciardo’s home race snowballing out of control after a qualifying shunt on Saturday preceded a race of technical disasters on Sunday. The team seemed to lurch from one set-up solution to another but never found the RB13’s sweet spot in Melbourne, and with no significant engine upgrade likely until round seven in Canada, the opening trio of flyaway races could prove to be some hard sledding for a team expected to make the most of the relaxed aerodynamic regulations in 2017.

China has been a happy hunting ground for the team in the past; in addition to Vettel’s 2009 win, Ricciardo was second on the grid last year, and Daniil Kvyat was third in the race. While the SIC is a more ‘normal’ circuit than the atypical Albert Park, it remains to be seen if the Bulls can charge into the fight with the top two.

Fernando’s future
Webber and Alonso are good mates, so when the retired Red Bull racer said the Spaniard might not see out the 2017 season at McLaren as its alliance with Honda remains stuck in neutral, the F1 world raised an eyebrow. Webber is as savvy a media performer as exists, and it’s unlikely he’s making a public statement to that effect unless he senses or knows something is up.

F1 is so much better with Alonso in the mix for something meaningful, but the most recent of his two world championships in 2006 must seem like an eternity ago. At the end of 2014, when Alonso left Ferrari to return to McLaren and hopefully reprise his glory days of yore, Vettel had 39 career wins and Hamilton 33 to Alonso’s 32. Since? Hamilton has 20 wins, 35 total podiums and two world championships, Vettel has won four races and taken 21 total podiums, and Alonso hasn’t finished better than fifth in a race. Exasperation doesn’t even begin to describe it.

The Spaniard’s driving at Albert Park was sadly compelling as he muscled and willed a dog-slow car to the back-end of the points through sheer force of will until it broke, leaving him to describe his race as “probably one of the best I’ve had”. What might China reveal about his plans to carry on with the team when he comes out of contract at the end of 2017?

What bonkers Chinese GP experience will we get in 2017?
There’ll be something, because there always is in China. In 2005, Juan Pablo Montoya’s McLaren had to retire after it ran clean into a manhole cover that had come loose. In 2011, Jenson Button pulled up in Red Bull’s pit box to take service and new tyres – the only problem being that the Brit was driving for McLaren. Hamilton won the 2014 race that ended prematurely after the chequered flag was erroneously waved a lap too early, while a year later, a spectator ran across the track in the middle of free practice, jumping the pit wall because he wanted to have a go of F1 machinery himself. Last year was relatively incident-free for China, which can only mean we’re due …