Month: May 2017

Making sense of the Monaco Grand Prix

What happened at the Monaco Grand Prix? How did several drivers gain places at a circuit where passing is difficult at the best of times, let alone with the 2017 iteration of wider Formula One machinery? What makes Daniel Ricciardo so special in Monte Carlo? And did Ferrari lose the race with one driver so they could win it with another? (Answer: yes).

Here’s some answers courtesy of a chat with the 2017 Strategy Podcast: by Apex Race Manager, with the very affable Michael Lamonato as host. ‘Old mate’ gets a mention, and I even (sort of) praise Kimi Raikkonen, which happens as often as Monaco Grands Prix feature one breathtaking overtaking move after another.

Check it out here. 


What happened at the Monaco Grand Prix?

Daniel Ricciardo makes it three Monaco podiums in four years, while the Prancing Horse wins the most famous F1 race of all, but not without controversy.


Lewis Hamilton: qualified 14th, finished 7th. Valtteri Bottas: qualified 3rd, finished 4th.

Sunday’s race around the streets of the Principality was just the fourth since 2014 where at least one Mercedes didn’t make the podium; for the record, the others were Hungary and Singapore 2015, and Spain last year. For Bottas, scoring his first points in Monaco would have taken some of that pain away, but on a rare weekend where teammate Hamilton was completely out of the picture, fourth would have been the bare minimum he would have wanted after qualifying just 0.045secs from pole position 24 hours earlier. The Finn spent most of the race withstanding pressure from the Red Bull of Verstappen, initially for the final spot on the podium, but later for fourth as Ricciardo jumped them both in the pit stops. While Bottas’ weekend was relatively straightforward, Hamilton’s was anything but, the Briton admitting that finding the sweet spot for setting up his Mercedes was a “mystery” after qualifying a poor 14th on Saturday, his one chance at a good lap to sneak into Q3 thwarted when Vandoorne crashed in front of him at the exit of the Swimming Pool complex. Hamilton had nothing to lose by running a marathon opening stint of 46 laps, and to gain six places from where he started – and to only drop 19 world championship points to Vettel on a weekend when it could have been so much worse – was as good as things could have been in the circumstances. “The team said in the strategy meeting this morning I could only get 10th, so I am happy,” he said.

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

After last year and THAT shambolic pit stop that cost him victory, Ricciardo knows a little about Monaco disappointment, and that misery looked set to extend to this year when he qualified half a second behind teammate Verstappen on Saturday, blaming the team for releasing him onto the track into traffic in what he called a “stupid, silly error”. The usual Ricciardo smile returned on Sunday though, a magical five-lap stint after Bottas and Verstappen pitted seeing him leapfrog the pair of them into the final podium spot after his own stop, his one scary moment thereafter coming when he brushed the barriers at the first corner following the safety car re-start with 11 laps remaining. A third podium in his last four races in Monaco and a second consecutive third place after finishing in the same spot in Barcelona two weeks earlier was reward for his searing pace when it counted. Verstappen finished a race in Monaco for the first time, but was less than impressed to find out he was behind his teammate after the stops, and could never get close enough to Bottas to mount a serious challenge as the laps wound down.

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

With Hamilton out of the picture for a race win, Ferrari ended up with the perfect result for its world championship aspirations. Vettel’s victory was the first for the famed red team at Monaco since 2001, and one that extended his margin over the Mercedes driver to 25 points six races into the season. But was it a victory that owed itself to a pre-arranged team order, or one where the German simply made the best of what was, in hindsight, the better strategy? Raikkonen took his first pole since the 2008 French Grand Prix on Saturday and controlled the race for the first 34 laps until his pit stop on Sunday, but Vettel stayed out, pumped in a series of searing laps, and jumped the Finn in the pits to take a lead he never looked like relinquishing. Vettel has now finished either first or second in every race this year, and with a race win worth of points as a margin after just six Grands Prix, is sitting pretty atop the standings. Raikkonen’s facial expressions and immediate media interactions after the race didn’t give away much – they rarely do – but the veteran was clearly not amused that his best chance of snapping a win drought that goes back to the 2013 Australian GP went begging. “It’s still second place, but it doesn’t count a lot in my books,” he eventually said.

Force India
Sergio Perez: qualified 7th, finished 13th. Esteban Ocon: qualified 16th, finished 12th.

A run of seven straight races with both cars in the points – five this season – came to a crashing halt for Force India at Monaco, with Ocon in particular labouring through a difficult first race meeting at one of the world’s most unforgiving circuits. The young Frenchman crashed at the end of the final practice session on Saturday and could only qualify his hastily-rebuilt car 16th, and any chance of points evaporated when he had to make a second unscheduled pit stop on lap 40 with a left rear puncture. While Ocon finished second-last, teammate Perez was last as a 15-race run of top-10 results came to an end. The Mexican qualified strongly but pitted on lap 16 with a broken front wing, and was always going to struggle to score after that, a late-race coming-together with Kvyat’s Toro Rosso sending the Russian into retirement, and Perez back into the pits for a third time. Fresh tyres helped him set the fastest lap of the race three laps from the end, but that was little consolation on a rough day for a team that has over-achieved all season.

Felipe Massa: qualified 15th, finished 9th. Lance Stroll: qualified 18th, did not finish.

Massa was one of several drivers to not get a representative lap time in after Vandoorne’s qualifying crash, so to finish in the points from a lowly starting position of 15th was a decent result, a late-race pit stop for fresh rubber under the safety car seeing the veteran salvage something from an afternoon spent in a raging midfield battle. The Brazilian continues to plough a lone furrow at Williams, with Stroll failing to finish for the fourth time in six races, this time because of overheating brakes. The Canadian teenager admitted in the lead-up to Monaco that he’d been getting the track wrong on Playstation, and quickly got it wrong on the real thing too, crashing at Casino Square, almost inevitably, in Thursday practice. His home Grand Prix in Montreal – and a whole heap of pressure – is his next test.

Jenson Button: qualified 9th, did not finish. Stoffel Vandoorne: qualified 10th, did not finish.

For a team that sits last in the constructors’ championship and one that may have squandered its best chance for points all season, McLaren certainly generated plenty of headlines at Monaco, not least because of the return of Button as a super-sub as Fernando Alonso turned his attentions to the Indianapolis 500 half a world away. The 2009 world champion qualified a credible ninth, but Alonso would have sympathised with his old teammate as Button was sent to the back of the grid with a 15-place penalty for having to change engine components. The Briton started from the pit lane and ran around in either last or second-last until lap 60, when he clumsily lunged at Wehrlein’s Sauber and sent the German’s car onto its side against the barriers while wrecking his own, causing a safety car. Teammate Vandoorne made it into Q3 but couldn’t take part after crashing in qualifying, took a three-place penalty for nerfing Massa off in the last race in Spain, got himself into position to score the team’s first points of 2017, and then dropped it at the first corner with Perez in hot pursuit with 12 laps to go and hit the barriers.

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat: qualified 11th, did not finish. Carlos Sainz: qualified 6th, finished 6th.

Sainz admitted he didn’t expect to qualify sixth on Saturday, and that surprise gave way to elation 24 hours later when he finished in the same position he started despite Hamilton breathing down his neck in the manic final laps. It was the Spaniard’s best result of the season to date, and one that saw him jump to eighth in the drivers’ championship. Kvyat was desperately unlucky not to join him in the top 10 after being assaulted by Perez’s Force India at Rascasse and having to park up with seven laps to go.

Romain Grosjean: qualified 8th, finished 8th. Kevin Magnussen: qualified 13th, finished 10th.

The second-year American team made a change to its 2017 livery from Monaco onwards to allow the car to stand out more on TV, and Haas stood out on track for the right reasons too after a first two-car points result for the season. Grosjean survived a fraught qualifying session where he had two spins to start eighth and finish in the same spot, while Magnussen made one of the better starts in the field to jump two rivals into the first corner, and overcame an unscheduled pit stop for a puncture to hold off Palmer’s Renault for the final points-scoring position on offer.

Jolyon Palmer: qualified 17th, finished 11th. Nico Hulkenberg: qualified 12th, did not finish.

Monaco started badly and didn’t improve a lot for Renault, with Palmer still seeking his first points of 2017, and Hulkenberg the first retirement of the race with a gearbox drama on lap 16. The yellow team’s problems started in practice on Thursday, when Hulkenberg had an electrical failure that prevented him from doing any laps in the opening practice session, and Palmer blowing an engine in FP2 after only eight laps.

Marcus Ericsson: qualified 20th, did not finish. Pascal Wehrlein: qualified 19th, did not finish.

Spectators were understandably concerned when Wehrlein ended up stuck in his car while it was tipped onto its left side after being flipped by Button, an incident that came only months after the young German was in an accident at the off-season Race of Champions in Miami that left him with a back injury and caused him to miss the opening two races of the year in Australia and China. Fortunately Wehrlein was OK, but Monaco was quite the come-down after his strong run last time out in Spain. Ericsson qualified last after smacking the wall at the Nouvelle Chicane in qualifying, complained that his car was “so difficult to drive” in the race, and then crashed at the first corner on lap 65 under safety car conditions in a moment that won’t go down as his finest in an F1 car.

The Dan Diaries: Why Monaco is magic

Daniel Ricciardo writes about the most famous F1 race of all – and why street circuits sort out the men from the boys.


It’s about to be the busiest week of the year with Monaco this weekend, which is why I’m spending some time now just cruising, chilling at home in my apartment, and waiting for the chaos to begin! But the chaos is definitely cool, and it’s the one race of the year that the time before you get out on track for first practice can’t go quickly enough.

I’ve lived here now since the middle of 2013, and there’s definitely no other week like the race week. Monaco changes so much from what it normally is that I hardly recognise the place to be honest. It feels like a real race track, and I’m not thinking ‘there’s a cafe I eat at’ or ‘there’s a street I ride my Vespa down’ or whatever. All these restaurants and bars have pop-ups that just emerge for the week, and with all of the road closures, it doesn’t really feel like home at all, even though you’re at home surrounded by your own stuff. The boats in the harbour get bigger too, not that they’re ever that small here …

The logistics of the whole event are pretty unreal too when you think of what a small space it is. The Porsche support paddock is near where I live, and the World Series paddock is on the other side of Monaco altogether. There’s cars stashed all around the city, which is kinda cool. It always amazes me how fast everything gets packed up afterwards too. The grandstands, those guys don’t muck around – give it a week or two after the race, and things are more or less back to normal, which is pretty impressive.

Probably the weirdest thing for me with Monaco is the routine you get into for the weekend when you live here. You wake up in your own bed, kick around your apartment and then start the journey to work. Walk down to the port, get onto a boat, and then onto the Energy Station which is Red Bull’s base for the weekend. It’s a nice way to get to work! It’s the little things like that that mean I can’t ever see the novelty of Monaco wearing off on race week. I’ve done F1 for a few years now and there are things like, say, testing, where it doesn’t give you the excitement it once did. But Monaco on race week – you’d never take it for granted.

Thursday practice is all about recalibrating your brain to just how tight this place is, getting your eyes to adjust to seeing barriers and not grass or gravel run-offs. I always think that some drivers are born with some street circuit abilities and are confident, and others aren’t. The first time I ever did a street circuit was in Macau, and I really didn’t know what sort of driver I’d be – I’d either be shit-scared of walls, or love them! But I loved them straight away. When one driver would, say, clip a barrier and not want to do that again, I’d be more like ‘let’s do that again if it makes my lap faster’. Walking that tightrope is just so cool. But Thursday at Monaco has to be a gradual process. You need as much track time as you can get, so going too hard too early and smashing up the car can ruin the whole weekend, so you build and build as the sessions go on. The idea is that by Saturday afternoon in Q3 when you have that one lap to nail it in qualifying, you’re completely ready to push that little bit more.

Picking a favourite part of the track is hard because it’s all so good, but Tabac and the entry to the Swimming Pool section are pretty special. They’re the fastest corners on the track and I like the fast stuff, plus you have to use all of the track. Tabac, the commitment you need is pretty immense, and you see the guys with the confidence on street circuits have the car pinned right up against the outside barrier, whereas some other guys will be half a metre away. And Swimming Pool, jumping across the kerbs … so good. The hardest corner? Turn 1, Sainte Devote, which is why you see a lot of people drop it in the barriers there. It’s tricky, the apex is a bit blind, and you normally get there in qualifying when your tyres are at their coldest. If you lock a brake, you’re in the barrier or have to bail out and go left down the escape road, so your lap is gone. For me, that’s always been the corner on the track where if you get it right, it feels seriously good. It’s the one corner where you always feel you could have got a bit more out of it, but you’re better off being at 98 per cent there than over the top.

Last year I got pole and did a 1min 13.6sec lap, which was seven-tenths faster than I’d done all weekend before that. It was the most intense 73 seconds of the year, and I can remember the lap pretty clearly even now. That first corner, I nailed it in terms of the braking point and not locking a wheel, and I remember getting out of Turn 1 and feeling really confident that something good could be about to happen. When I got to Mirabeau, there’s a banking right on the apex, and your front wheel either drops into it or skates across it. The front wheel dropped perfectly, and that gave me even more confidence. And then the last sector of the lap, it’s the part I like best and where I feel I really come into my own. Add all of that together – it’s my only pole position so it’s not like I have heaps of them to remember, but it was a pretty sweet lap because even now, re-thinking it corner by corner, I can’t see where I could have realistically got much more out of it.

There’s so much going on socially during this week that there’s distractions everywhere if you’re looking for them. I actually find that motivating – there’s all these people here for the show, Monaco is the centre of attention, and I’m in the middle of it – there’s a chance to be the hero of the scene! Every year I have friends who come to this race, and part of me is envious because they’re able to soak the whole experience in. Even if you’re not at the events and the parties, you still feel the atmosphere. The good thing for me is that if I have mates come to other races that are a bit quieter, I worry that maybe they won’t have as much to do and I feel more obliged to make sure they’re having a good time and all of that. Here? I can let them get on with it – point them in the direction of some bars and hopefully join them Sunday night if everything goes like I want it to!

Miller Time: A rollercoaster in France

Jack Miller writes about his scary crash at Le Mans, and why the motorsport world has a heavy heart after Nicky Hayden’s terrible accident.


Hi everyone,

I’m pretty beaten up after what was a bit of a rollercoaster weekend here at Le Mans – actually, make that a LOT of a rollercoaster weekend. It all happened this weekend – I led the times on Friday, had three crashes on Saturday (we’ll get to the biggest one in a sec), rode in as much pain as I can remember in a while, and hung in there and managed to get eighth in the race, which is pretty crazy considering how sore I am. The race up the front (now I’ve caught up with what happened) was pretty wild too.

But first, that crash in Saturday practice. It was pretty nasty, as nasty as they get really. I had some locking on the front through Turn 2, and when the tyre gripped I was heading for the inside barrier where there was grass, changing surfaces, the lot. The bike was headed straight for the fence and I had to make the split-second decision to get off it. You saw the rest …

The bike was pretty trashed, but I was OK relatively speaking when you consider what I could have been like. My knee was swollen up and I bashed my right hand pretty good, but I got the all-clear from the medical centre to do qualifying, and then crashed again at the last corner, luckily nowhere near as bad as the earlier one. I was a bit annoyed to be 11th on the grid seeing as though I’d led the times on Friday and was third and got straight into Q2 again after third practice, but it could have been worse, definitely. I’m a very, very lucky boy.

When the adrenaline wore off I was pretty beaten up on Saturday night and I knew Sunday was going to be tough, and I paced myself in warm-up and was all the way back in 17th. I had to get 28 laps out of myself in the race and needed to save whatever I had for that.

The race was more a case of not hurting myself anymore and staying on, and just hanging in there lap by lap. I had a jab to get me through the race, the top of my hand is a mess, the hand was worse than the knee. With about eight laps to go I was really struggling, I had pins and needles in my hand. I definitely got a bit lucky with some guys who were ahead of me crashing out, and in the end eighth was the same as my best race this season, in Qatar. Valentino (Rossi) crashed out on the last lap and that got me up another spot. It was crazy and hard to keep track of, I was concentrating as hard as I could just to fight the pain and stay on. Finishing top 10 again – that’s four this season in five races now – and improving to 10th in the championship was more than I could have hoped for after Saturday, but I would have probably said no to that if you offered me that on Friday. Definitely a strange weekend.

I’m supposed to be testing at Catalunya this week, but I’ll have to see how I pull up after this before I can commit to that – there’s no surgery or anything I need to get, but the hand just needs time. The adrenaline got me through today, that’s for sure. And the crowd was intense! More than 100,000 people for race day was pretty amazing, that’s the (Johann) Zarco factor for you.

One more thing before I go, because it’s all most of us have been talking about at Le Mans – of course I’m talking about the terrible cycling accident that happened to Nicky Hayden and how all of us riders are just so devastated for him. Nicky is just one of the best guys who has been around since I’ve been in the paddock, and you just never hear a bad word said about the guy. Seriously talented of course seeing as though he beat Valentino to win a MotoGP championship, but he’s maybe even a better person than he is a rider, which is what makes all of this so sad. He raced my bike at Aragon last year when I was out injured and I got to know him a bit better there, and everyone in MotoGP is hoping that he pulls through after what’s happened. He’s a fighter and if we know anything about Nicky, it’s that he’ll keep fighting. We’re all hoping he and his family can get some good news soon.

Cheers, Jack

What happened at the Spanish Grand Prix?

Daniel Ricciardo takes his first podium of 2017 as Mercedes and Ferrari fight for glory in Barcelona.


Lewis Hamilton: qualified 1st, finished 1st. Valtteri Bottas: qualified 3rd, did not finish.

Mercedes elected to zig where Ferrari zagged in Barcelona, and the result was Hamilton’s second victory of 2017, one that reduced his deficit in the drivers’ championship to Vettel to just six points. The German beat Hamilton into the first corner, and Mercedes then elected to run the slower medium-compound tyre for Hamilton’s second stint, meaning he’d be on the softer rubber at the end. Hamilton then fitted the faster tyre on lap 34 under the virtual safety car caused by Vandoorne’s retirement and began his quest to chase Vettel down, the pair touching wheels at Turn 1 on lap 38 before the Mercedes came past for good five laps later. Such was the pace of the front two that they lapped everyone up to and including fourth-placed Perez, with the race featuring the fewest cars on the lead lap (three) at the end since the 2008 British GP. By contrast, Bottas’ weekend was compromised when the team had to re-fit the engine he’d used in the opening four races of the season before final practice, and while he qualified third, the Russian GP winner’s main impact on the race came when he nudged Raikkonen into Verstappen at the first corner, ending the Sundays of the Ferrari and Red Bull drivers before they really started. Bottas was on course for a distant third-place finish behind the flying front pair, but his old engine finally packed it in on lap 39, meaning he’s now a whopping 41 points behind Vettel’s series-leading tally of 104.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo: qualified 6th, finished 3rd. Max Verstappen: qualified 5th, did not finish.

After non-finishes through no fault of his own in Australia and Russia, Ricciardo was pleased to take his first podium of 2017, but only to a point; he was the only car not lapped by Hamilton and Vettel and nearly 74 seconds from the win as Red Bull’s much-anticipated aero upgrade for Spain did little to arrest the chasm between it and the dominant two teams. While he’ll take it, it’s hard to remember another of Ricciardo’s 19 career podiums where he’s been more anonymous or fortunate, given Bottas, Raikkonen and Verstappen all retired after qualifying ahead of him. A year after his Barcelona breakthrough on his first weekend for Red Bull, Verstappen’s race was over within 30 seconds after a strong qualifying performance where he’d beaten his teammate by half a second. Monaco – a bogey circuit for the Dutchman since he made his F1 debut and one where Ricciardo is typically sublime – is up next.

Sebastian Vettel: qualified 2nd, finished 2nd. Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 4th, did not finish.

Sunday made it five podiums from five races this season for Vettel, and while he finished in the wheeltracks of a Mercedes for the second race running, it could have so easily been worse for the four-time world champion. Ferrari frantically installed a new engine in the two hours between final practice and qualifying on Saturday, Vettel admitting it was “a miracle’ that he was able to take part in qualifying at all, let alone miss out on pole by 0.051secs to Hamilton after locking up in the final sector. The team was tempted to take a late pit stop to change to the faster soft-compound Pirellis to chase Hamilton down given the rest were so far behind, but didn’t roll the dice and banked 18 points as a result. Raikkonen could do little to avoid his first-lap clash with Bottas, and looks destined to do little more than play rear gunner for Vettel for the rest of the year given he’s already 55 points adrift of his teammate after five Grands Prix.

Force India
Sergio Perez: qualified 8th, finished 4th. Esteban Ocon: qualified 10th, finished 5th.

Force India’s perfect points-scoring record for its two drivers hit new heights in Spain, with Perez in the top 10 for the 15th race running, and Ocon achieving a career-best result in fifth. Remarkably, the little team that could is now just 19 points behind Red Bull for third in the constructors’ race, and has more points than Toro Rosso, Renault and Williams combined.

Felipe Massa: qualified 9th, finished 13th. Lance Stroll: qualified 18th, finished 16th.

There’s no way to sugar-coat a wretched Sunday for Williams in Barcelona, with Massa’s race wrecked by his coming together with old Ferrari teammate Alonso on the run to the second corner on the first lap, an incident that forced the McLaren driver into the gravel and left the veteran Brazilian with a right-front puncture and a long limp back to the pits. He still finished ahead of Stroll through, with the Canadian teenager continuing to look well out of his depth at F1 level after qualifying nine spots behind a driver who elected to retire last off-season before coming back after Bottas jumped to Mercedes. A Williams driver finishing last suggests, for now at least, Stroll just doesn’t cut it, no matter how much funding his connections brings to the team.

Fernando Alonso: qualified 7th, finished 12th. Stoffel Vandoorne: qualified 19th, did not finish.

After he didn’t even make the start in Sochi, Alonso’s first lap in practice at his home GP lasted all of three corners before another Honda engine let go. The Spaniard’s response – to return to his hotel to play tennis with his trainer while FP1 continued on track – gave an insight into his mood, but he channelled that fury and more besides on Saturday when he produced what will surely go down as one of the laps of 2017 to qualify seventh, hauling his recalcitrant car into a position it had no business being in thanks to 80-odd seconds of pure genius.

Any chance of points for the combative Alonso were lost thanks to his first-lap incident with Massa, but he at least saw the chequered flag for the first time this year before flying to Indianapolis to start his preparations for the Indy 500 immediately after the race.

Vandoorne had another torrid weekend, falling in Q1 for the fifth race running and then breaking his front suspension when he inexplicably turned in on Massa as the pair fought into Turn 1 on lap 34, ending up stranded in the nearby gravel trap and ensuring he’d take a three-place grid penalty into the next race. McLaren now sits 10th and last in the constructors’ championship, and is the only team without points after five races.

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat: qualified 20th, finished 9th. Carlos Sainz: qualified 12th, finished 7th.

The chances of Toro Rosso placing two cars in the points looked remote on Friday when Kvyat and Sainz struggled in practice, and, for Kvyat at least, downright impossible after Saturday when he qualified a dispiriting last. But the Russian made a great start and got the slower medium tyre stint of his race over and done with on lap one, and equalled his ninth place in Australia for a season-best result. Sainz continued to impress in his third Toro Rosso season, keeping up his perfect record of scoring points when he’s seen the chequered flag so far this year. With eight points between its drivers, STR leapfrogged Williams into fifth place in the constructors’ championship.

Romain Grosjean: qualified 14th, finished 10th. Kevin Magnussen: qualified 11th, finished 14th.

Pain for one Haas driver was pleasure for the other, with Magnussen’s desperately unlucky puncture on the penultimate lap after coming off second-best in a clash with Kvyat necessitating a late-race pit stop that elevated teammate Grosjean into the points, as the downcast Dane was left to finish in 14th place. After his best qualifying effort since 2014, Magnussen deserved better. Grosjean had a ragged qualifying with a pair of spins, but 10th means he now leads his teammate by a point in the drivers’ standings.

Jolyon Palmer: qualified 17th, finished 15th. Nico Hulkenberg: qualified 13th, finished 6th.

Like Williams, Renault remains a team where one driver is doing all of the heavy lifting, Hulkenberg extending his qualifying head-to-head over Palmer to 5-0 and scoring eight points for sixth place to top his tally earned in the previous four races combined. The German benefitted from the chaos of the opening lap to leap up the order from outside the top 10, and stayed there to take his – and Renault’s – tally to 14 for the season, already more than it managed in a disastrous 2016. Palmer did manage to set the sixth-fastest lap of the race, but electing to start on the medium-compound tyre from near the back did him few favours, and the former GP2 champ has now managed one career point in 26 races to date.

Marcus Ericsson: qualified 16th, finished 11th. Pascal Wehrlein: qualified 15th, finished 8th.

A quite brilliant day for the Swiss minnows, with Wehrlein’s marathon first stint – he came in on lap 34 under virtual safety car conditions and pitted just once – setting up an eighth-place result that came with four precious points to lift Sauber from the foot of the constructors’ standings. The German finished seventh at the flag, but was penalised five seconds for a pit lane entry infringement at that sole stop, which dropped him behind Sainz in the final classification. Ericsson was two laps behind Hamilton, but 11th made for his best race result of the season so far.

Daniel Ricciardo’s Spanish lessons

How different is the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in the fastest cars F1 has ever seen? We asked the Red Bull Racing star.


Ask any Formula One driver to draw you a map of the circuit they can recall with the greatest accuracy, and there’s a fair chance the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya will appear in front of you.

Why? Most F1 drivers have spent more time lapping the Spanish circuit than any other, mostly because of its use as a pre-season testing venue of choice in the northern hemisphere winter while the rest of Europe shivers in February. Every corner, every straight, every camber change – F1 drivers have this track down-pat. Or at least they did, until this season.

Wider cars with more downforce and bigger, grippier tyres greeted the F1 pilots when they arrived in Barcelona for pre-season testing three months ago, and for those drivers who have been pounding around the Spanish track for years, it was quite an eye-opener. When the rule changes for 2017 were announced in 2015, Nico Rosberg set pole for the Spanish GP with a lap of 1min 24.681secs. This year, in pre-season testing, Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari set the benchmark of 1:18.635, a whopping six seconds faster than just two years ago.

For the drivers, 2017 has meant recalibrating their brains for the fastest cars F1 has ever produced. At all four races so far this year – Australia, China, Bahrain and Russia – the pole position times have smashed the overall circuit lap records, some of which had stood for 13 years.

This weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix is the first time the drivers arrive at a track knowing exactly what to expect from this new generation of cars, and for Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo, it’s a chance to test his memory on what he learned back in February. “They’re a lot different to drive anywhere compared to last year’s cars,” he says, “but this time, we know what we’re getting ourselves into.”

Which sections of the 4.655km track below are a game-changer compared to last year? Our affable Aussie highlights four bits below to keep an eye on when you’re watching round five of the season this weekend.

Turns 2-3

As Ricciardo highlighted earlier this year, the revered Turn 3 at Barcelona has gone from being a 220km/h corner last year – no walk in the park – to an eye-watering flat-out 255km/h right-hander that places massive strain on the drivers’ necks. “It’s a big jump, not a gradual one,” he says.

What’s more, Turn 2, the sharp left-hander that sets up the long run into 3, has become a challenge in its own right.

“Turn 2, I think there were a few laps in winter testing where it was full-throttle,” Ricciardo grins.

“If you set a lap up good and stayed tight on the exit, you could do Turn 2 AND Turn 3 full, so that was a big difference – and very cool!”

Turn 7

There was nothing particularly special about this corner in the past, other than seeing how much of the inside kerb the drivers would dare to take as they strained to save valuable milliseconds in qualifying. In 2017-spec F1 machinery? Ricciardo’s verdict: “sweet”.

“Turn 7, the little left-hand flick, that was a lot quicker in these cars than I can ever remember it,” he says.

“That’s only ever been a fourth-gear corner, and now it’s fifth gear. So, intense!”

Turn 9

Along with Turn 3, this is the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya’s signature corner. The right-hander comes at you over a crest, meaning the car feels light as the drivers are stomping on the loud pedal to blast down the back straight. Attempting to keep your foot buried in the throttle for this turn in testing became a game within a game for the drivers, and we saw several spinners as the tyres simply couldn’t cope with the entry speed.

“With Turn 9, the right-hander into the back straight, if we get a headwind there this weekend, we could take that one full (throttle) as well,” Ricciardo says.

“(Teammate) Max (Verstappen) tried it in testing but ran out of road and had to lift out of it. But in these cars, this one is super-quick.”

Turn 16

Barcelona doesn’t quite save the best for last, but it’s not far off. While the last section of the lap isn’t the flat-out blast that it once was before the current configuration of corners were brought in before 2007, it’s still a challenge – although Ricciardo admits to considering what it would be like with the former layout.

“With these new cars, it makes me wonder about the last sequence of corners where we can see the track that MotoGP has used and F1 used to with the two high-speed right-handers,” he says.

“I never got to drive those with the old layout by the time I came into F1, but in these cars – wow! The track is always physical anyway, but that would have made it something else for your neck. Brutal.”

As it is, the new cars have added a physical element to what had become a corner that was only occasionally a challenge.

“The very last corner has been full with very low fuel in the past, but on high fuel and when the tyres wear, that’s been pretty tricky,” he says.

“But the grip and downforce now is so good that in testing this year on our long runs, that was still easily flat.”

First race in first place

On the anniversary of Max Verstappen’s maiden F1 win in Spain, we look back at the last five drivers who discovered there’s nothing quite like your first time.


This time a year ago, Max Verstappen stunned the Formula One establishment when he took his maiden victory on his first weekend for Red Bull Racing at the Spanish Grand Prix. Verstappen’s win meant he was F1’s latest first-time victor … until last time out in Russia, where Valtteri Bottas’ triumph for Mercedes saw the Finn become the 107th driver to win an F1 race.

As we get set to hear plenty about Verstappen’s 2016 heroics ahead of this weekend’s race in Barcelona, who are the five most recent F1 winners, and at what races did they make their names?

Valtteri Bottas

First race win: Russia 2017 for Mercedes
Wins since: N/A
Races before first F1 win: 81
How it happened: For a driver who had only taken his first pole at the previous GP in Bahrain, Bottas was as cool as ice on the streets that surround the Winter Olympics venues from Sochi 2014. From third on the grid, he zapped the Ferrari duo of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen before the second corner, and rarely put a foot wrong despite Vettel closing late in the race, winning by six-tenths of a second.
He said: “I always knew I could get good results if everything goes right and I always trust in my ability, but it’s nice to get confirmation that the results are possible.”
Stat fact: Only eight Finns have raced in F1, and Bottas became the fifth of them to win a race (along with Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen, Raikkonen and Heikki Kovalainen).

Max Verstappen

First race win: Spain 2016 for Red Bull Racing
Wins since: None
Races before first F1 win: 24
How it happened: On his first weekend for Red Bull after being switched from Toro Rosso in place of Daniil Kvyat, Verstappen made the most of the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg taking one another out on lap one to get to the front after the final pit stops had shaken out – and stayed there despite Raikkonen’s Ferrari breathing down his neck in the closing laps.
He said: “I have no words for it. It was very good company on the podium, I mean Kimi even raced against my dad, so it’s very funny! I was celebrating a lot on the in-lap and I got a bit of cramp, but that’s part of it.”
Stat fact: As well as being the first Dutch driver to win a race, Verstappen became the youngest-ever F1 winner at 18 years and 226 days.

Daniel Ricciardo

First race win: Canada 2014 for Red Bull Racing
Wins since: 3
Races before first F1 win: 57
How it happened: Mercedes had won the opening six races of 2014 before F1 came to Montreal, and when Hamilton retired with brake failure after 45 laps, teammate Rosberg looked imperious until his own brakes started to fade, and a charging Ricciardo took the lead of an F1 race for the first time with two laps to go. The race – and his first win – finished at walking pace after a massive shunt between Sergio Perez (Force India) and Felipe Massa (Williams) at the first corner of the last lap brought out the safety car. Before 2014? Ricciardo had never scored a single point in Canada.
He said: “I think it still seems a bit surreal to be honest, just because it all happened so quickly at the end. Finishing under the safety car made it a bit weird, but I wanted to make sure the two drivers who were in the accident were OK before I started celebrating.”
Stat fact: Ricciardo became the third driver to win their maiden Grand Prix in Montreal in seven years (Hamilton in 2007, Robert Kubica in 2008).

Pastor Maldonado

First race win: Spain 2012 for Williams
Wins since: 0
Races before first F1 win: 24
How it happened: Seven different winners in the first seven races of 2012 as the sport tried and failed to get a grip on Pirelli’s tyres was one thing, but this was downright nutty – Maldonado scored just one point in his debut season in 2011, and had never finished better than eighth in a race before his first win. He inherited pole after Hamilton was sent to the back after a technical breach, but resisted huge pressure from none other than two-time world champion Fernando Alonso in a Ferrari at his home track to win by three seconds. Maldonado never made a podium again, became infamous for his accident-prone approach, and lost his seat in the sport at the end of 2015.
He said: “There was some moments that he (Alonso) was so close, especially at the end of the race. But I was managing the gap and controlling everything.”
Stat fact: Maldonado scored 25 points for this race win; in the other 94 Grands Prix he contested, he scored 51 points and never finished better than seventh.

Nico Rosberg

First race win: China 2012 for Mercedes
Wins since: 22, and the 2016 F1 world championship
Races before first F1 win: 110
How it happened: The other first-time winner in that crazy 2012 season start? Rosberg, back in the days when Mercedes winning races was a novelty. The team didn’t finish on the podium once in 2011, but Rosberg was imperious in the third race of the following season, starting from pole in Shanghai and winning by 20 seconds. It was Mercedes’ sole success of 2012, and the first victory for a works Mercedes works team since 1955.
He said: “Unbelievable feeling, very cool, very happy, very excited. It’s been a long time coming for me and the team also. I didn’t expect to be that fast.”
Stat fact: In winning for the first time on his 111th start, Rosberg slotted into fifth on the list of those who have waited longest for their maiden victory behind Mark Webber (130 starts), Rubens Barrichello (123), Jarno Trulli (123) and Jenson Button (113).