Month: July 2018

The F1 2018 mid-term report

Who is the dux of this year’s Formula One class? Who needs to raise their grades? Who gets extra detention? We’re naming names …

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hear that sound? No? That’s the peace and quiet of the Formula One mid-season break, with teams specifically and the sport generally in its (northern hemisphere) summer shutdown for the season. For two weeks between tools down in Hungary last weekend to Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium for the next round of the season on August 26, the F1 world takes a pause to gear up for the frantic end of the season, with just two more races in Europe before the endless array of flyaways to conclude the 21-race campaign.

Rest? Not us. The summer slumber is the ideal time to catch our breath and revive an annual tradition, the half-term grades for the good and great on four wheels this season. And after 12 of 21 races (yes, not halfway, but the ‘halftime’ break), there’s no shortage of material to cast an eye over.

Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari have ensured this year’s championship chase shouldn’t be an intra-term Mercedes fight for the first time since F1 entered the V6 turbo hybrid era in 2014, while Lewis Hamilton has shown enough to suggest the road to the title still goes through the driver who, statistically, now has a chance of usurping Michael Schumacher’s seemingly untouchable records by the time his next Mercedes contract is up at the end of 2020 after extending his tenure at the team in Germany. We’ve had Red Bull winning races, plural, and Daniel Ricciardo showing that, if there were points for winning with style, he’d be leading the championship after barely-believable victories in China and Monaco. Max Verstappen sent the traveling Dutch fans home delirious after Austria, Charles Leclerc looks to be the best rookie we’ve seen since Verstappen with his exploits for a much-improved Sauber, and the constructors’ championship – from position four onwards – chops and changes seemingly by the race.

With nine races to go, who has stood out, for the right and wrong reasons? Who has exceeded expectations, and who has fallen short? Who needs to finish 2018 with a wet sail? And who might be getting extra detention if (just imagine) is the F1 paddock was a school classroom?

Here’s our take on who has earned what so far.

Dux of the class

Right from the outset, the 2018 F1 campaign was billed as ‘the fight for five’, as in which of Vettel or Hamilton could join the great Juan Manuel Fangio on a quintet of titles to trail only Schumacher (seven crowns) in the sport’s history books. The stats show that Mercedes’ Hamilton has a 24-point lead over his Ferrari rival at the mid-season break, and while there’s more to it than simply assessing the raw numbers before arriving at Hamilton as our mid-year dux, the Briton’s advantage has to be taken into account, and more particularly, how he’s taken it.

Hamilton was eight points behind Vettel coming into the German’s home race at Hockenheim and a million miles behind him on the grid, with the Ferrari taking pole while a hydraulics failure left Hamilton languishing in 14th. But from Saturday in Germany onwards, Hamilton showed that he has to be considered the favourite in the title chase despite driving, what most paddock observers agree, is a slightly inferior car to Vettel in 2018.

As the rain turned the later stages in Germany into a battle of who could keep their wits, Hamilton maintained his while Vettel dropped the ball, binning it in a single-car shunt to become the first race leader to crash out of a race in 13 years (Fernando Alonso for Renault in Canada in 2005). Seven days later, at what was considered by Mercedes to be one of its weakest races of the year on paper, Hamilton was peerless in a deluge in qualifying before winning in Hungary by 17 seconds from Vettel, who had to elbow his way past Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas just to minimise the points loss. The win was, remarkably, Hamilton’s ninth in succession when a GP weekend has been affected by, at some stage, wet conditions.

Both drivers have five pole positions, Hamilton has five victories to Vettel’s four (and that stat stands at 5-2 after Vettel won the season-opener in Australia and backed it up in Bahrain), and each has one DNF, Hamilton’s a car failure in Austria. And each has led the world championship after six of the 12 rounds, meaning we’re splitting hairs as to who has been better so far. Ferrari’s sheer pace and the relentless pull of its car down the straights means there’ll be some tracks where it’ll be untouchable, while Mercedes’ prowess in the high-speed corners means tracks like Spa and Suzuka should be right up its alley in the back half of the year. So what gives?

It’s hard to imagine Ferrari will drop the ball in the second half of this year as it did last, meaning we should get a title fight that rages all the way to the finale in Abu Dhabi in November, and, for the first time in the V6 turbo hybrid era, feature more than one team. But on the evidence of what we’ve seen so far, Hamilton has his nose in front of Vettel, with no other driver even worthy of an honourable mention to this point.

Encouragement award

Doing the best with what you have available is the theme here, and top of this group are Ricciardo and Verstappen who, despite driving a Red Bull that most times is nowhere near the one-lap pace of Ferrari and Mercedes, have won three races between them despite having more non-finishes as a team (eight) than the aforementioned two other teams have had combined between their four drivers (six).

If our dux was going to the driver who ranks top of the class for opportunism and overtaking, then Ricciardo would be a shoe-in; the Australian’s driving in China, when he had a tyre advantage but had to pick and choose when to use it in the latter stages, was as good as it gets, and his win in Monaco while nursing a crippled car that seemed seconds away from retirement for the last three-quarters of the race proved that he has more strings to his bow than his usual swashbuckling style. Hungary, and his charge from 16th after lap one to fourth by the end, was an overtaking masterclass, and while he sits fifth in the title chase ahead of his teammate, he has just two podiums in 12 races, his results falling off after Monaco, often through no fault of his own.

Verstappen spent most of the first few races spinning, hitting rivals or clattering into stationary objects, but all that seems long ago after his superbly-judged win in Austria and other podiums in Spain, Canada and France, and he holds a healthy 9-3 lead over Ricciardo in qualifying. Like his teammate, the Dutchman has endured his fair share of reliability gremlins, but you’d back him in for another win or two before the season is out.

Elsewhere, the battle for the best of the ‘other teams’ (or, as Haas’ Kevin Magnussen has called it more than once, the ‘B’ championship) looks likely to come down to the Dane against old sparring partner Nico Hulkenberg, the Renault driver with his nose in front at the mid-point (52 points to 45) even while suffering from less luck and reliability (Hulkenberg hasn’t finished three races, Magnussen just one). Seventh place in the title race doesn’t sound like a lot, but it would be a career-best for either driver should it happen.

Leclerc’s excellent debut season for Sauber has made his eventual Ferrari promotion surely a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’, while we tip our hat to Alonso, who has somehow coaxed 44 points out of a McLaren that arguably isn’t as fast (if more reliable) than last year’s Honda-powered machine, which scored 17 points for the whole season. The Spaniard may have turned 37 at the last race in Hungary, but his raging competitive fire shows no sign of being extinguished.

Could do better

Listing Mercedes and Ferrari drivers in our ‘dux’ section was easy, but listing their teammates here is harder, given that Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen is third in the championship, 14 points and one place ahead of his compatriot, Mercedes’ Bottas. But where else can you put these two Finns when they haven’t won a race between them in the same cars their teammates have used to take victory in nine of the season’s 12 Grands Prix to date?

Raikkonen, 39 in October, is having his strongest season in some time, which (perhaps not coincidentally) comes in a contract year. He knows his place in Ferrari’s structure; keep your head down, provide as much technical feedback as possible (an under-rated part of his appeal) and don’t rock the boat. Eight podiums in 12 races trails only Hamilton’s nine, and he’s been on the rostrum in all five races leading into the break. But Raikkonen hasn’t won a race since Australia 2013 (for Lotus), has taken 29 podiums without a win in the five-and-a-half seasons since, and there remains the nagging feeling that a younger, hungrier driver in a car that good could do more. He’s out-qualified Vettel just twice, trails him by 43 points in the championship, and has become an over-qualified number two driver in the twilight of his career.

Bottas, in an alternate universe, could have already won six races this season, which is six more wins than Raikkonen has sniffed. Bottas failed to take the last-lap chance he had to pass an ailing Vettel in Bahrain, got mugged by Ricciardo in China, had a puncture while leading in Azerbaijan, was on pole in Austria before his gearbox broke, had a tyre gamble backfire late in the race at Silverstone, and was ordered by his team not to attack Hamilton late in Germany with Vettel out of the picture. Yes, all ifs and buts, and yes, he has six less than six wins. But still; he’s generally been more on Hamilton’s pace than Raikkonen has been on Vettel’s, but sitting 81 points behind his Mercedes teammate suggests he’ll be used more as Hamilton’s wingman for the rest of the season, much as he bristled at the suggestion in Hungary last time out.

Are both Finns having solid seasons? Sure. Is there a case for expecting them to do better given what they’re driving? Their teammates’ stats suggest so.

Needs a strong second semester

We’ll share the love here. Ricciardo will be desperate to beat Verstappen for the third straight year, qualifying disparity or not, to keep the statistical high ground at Red Bull. At cash-strapped Force India, Esteban Ocon will need to put the perennially-underrated Sergio Perez in the shade if he’s to justify the expectations that he could be driving a factory Renault in 2019; after 12 races, Perez holds sway by a single point (30-29). And, as we mentioned earlier, Ferrari gets a berth here, as the sport’s neutral observers hope it can carry the fight all the way to the end against Mercedes. Following Singapore last year and Vettel’s start-line shunt after qualifying on pole, Ferrari unravelled to such an extent that Hamilton won the title in Mexico with two races remaining.

Extra detention

Who gets to sit in the naughty corner? Magnussen’s teammate Romain Grosjean has been left in the shade in points (45-21) and in qualifying (9-3) as Haas has emerged as a genuine midfield threat in every race, while it’s even worse for Stoffel Vandoorne at McLaren against Alonso; the Belgian has scored just eight of McLaren’s 52 points, hasn’t outqualified his teammate in the same car since Japan last year, a span of 16 straight races, and rapid reserve driver Lando Norris is hovering for a race seat.

As for the teams, you’d have a hard time convincing anyone who watched F1 religiously in the 1980s and 90s but not much since that grandee squads McLaren (seventh) and Williams (10th and last) would be struggling so much in the constructors’ championship, and Williams’ Russian rookie Sergey Sirotkin is the only driver not to have scored a point so far, 13th in Austria the best he’s managed. Good job there’s the second half of 2018 to come to put that right …

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What happened at the Hungarian Grand Prix?

Lewis Hamilton did what Lewis Hamilton does in Budapest, while Daniel Ricciardo launched an incredible comeback from 16th place on lap one to finish in the shadows of the podium places for Red Bull.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

The build-up
Red Bull came to Hungary confident the RB14 should be in its element at a tight and twisty circuit more akin to a street course than a permanent race track, but Ferrari, and more specifically Sebastian Vettel, looked nailed-on for pole position after setting a scorching pace under a hot sun in practice. But when those skies turned grey and dumped rain all over the track in qualifying, it ended up being Mercedes that took its chance, Lewis Hamilton nailing his fifth pole of the season with a lap of 1:35.658secs on wet tyres, nearly 20 seconds slower than the cars were doing in the dry, but one good enough to edge teammate Valtteri Bottas by a little over a quarter of a second.

“I thought I would be lucky to get third, fourth or maybe even fifth, as Ferrari have been quicker than us and Red Bull were fast too,” Hamilton said. “But then the heavens opened and I knew we were in the game.”

Ferrari locked out row two but in a different order than expected, Kimi Raikkonen two-hundredths of a second faster than Vettel in a week where the team competed with heavy hearts following the death of former CEO Sergio Marchionne. The news was even worse for Red Bull, Max Verstappen just seventh after finding the car “just doesn’t work” in the wet, but at least the Dutchman made Q3, Daniel Ricciardo finishing just 12th after his best lap in Q2 was thwarted by Williams’ Lance Stroll crashing into the barriers in front of him, and conditions worsening thereafter as he tried desperately to advance as the circuit rapidly resembled a lake. “It was more bad luck than bad strategy,” he lamented.

The absence of the Red Bulls from the sharp end threw up a surprise third row, with Renault’s Carlos Sainz producing his best qualifying effort all season with fifth, which matched his career-best starting slot for Toro Rosso in Barcelona three years ago. Joining him was Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, the team overjoyed to get both cars into Q3, Brendon Hartley qualifying a career-best eighth. “A mega day for Toro Rosso,” Gasly beamed.

Elsewhere, Haas rounded out the top 10, Kevin Magnussen beating Romain Grosjean, the latter incensed with Verstappen after Q3 when he felt the Red Bull had blocked him on his fastest lap. Sauber’s Charles Leclerc couldn’t continue his run of stellar Saturdays and was just 17th, three places behind an impressive effort by teammate Marcus Ericsson, while at McLaren, Stoffel Vandoorne wasn’t able to make the most of a new chassis and a new floor as he qualified 16th, five places behind Fernando Alonso, who suggested he needed a “rocket ship” to advance higher than 11th as the rain teemed down.

Force India was just 18th (Esteban Ocon) and 19th (Sergio Perez) in the 20-car field, but made more headlines for news off track than on it after the team was placed into administration, Perez taking legal action against team owner Vijay Mallya for monies owed. Perez’s action was supported by other creditors including engine supplier Mercedes and sponsor BWT, and the team will continue to operate while under administration. “I’m just a driver, but it got too much and I was asked by a couple of members of the team to go ahead and save the team,” Perez said. “We were not a racing team since the beginning of January.”

With the inclement weather set to pass for Sunday’s race and with overtaking at a premium at the Hungaroring (last year’s race featured just six passes, none of them achieved without DRS), the start loomed as critical if Ferrari was to utilise its likely pace advantage over Mercedes lined up in front, while strategy or some good fortune looked to be the only chance Red Bull could hit back after a Saturday that refused to go their way.

The race in exactly 69 words*
Hamilton extended his series lead to a season-high 24 points by dominating at the Hungaroring, only briefly ceding the lead in the pit stops as he roared to a 17-second victory. Behind him, an early-stopping Bottas kept a fast-finishing Vettel at bay until the Ferrari went by with six laps left, Bottas then running into the back of Vettel and losing the final place on the podium to Raikkonen.
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)

Ricciardo recap
A rotten run of results and luck since his Monaco win in May had Ricciardo pining for a holiday before the mid-season break, and his mood wouldn’t have been brightened when he was hit by Ericsson’s Sauber at Turn 1 on the opening lap, the Australian falling to 16th and a mile away from the points, let alone anything better. But from there, Ricciardo went into full attack mode, bringing life to a race that, as Hungarian Grands Prix often are, turned out to be tedious. Ricciardo stormed his way past one rival after another, usually with late-braking moves into the first corner, to find himself in the points after 11 laps, but he wasn’t done there. By lap 27, when he passed Gasly, the Red Bull driver was fifth, and while that looked to be as far as he’d advance with only the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers in front of him, he pushed on after making his sole pit stop for the race on lap 44, the Red Bull crew exchanging his soft tyres for ultrasofts in a whirlwind 2.2 seconds. He promptly set the fastest lap of the race (1:20.012) two laps later, and after the Vettel/Bottas clash with six laps remaining left the Mercedes driver with a damaged front wing, Ricciardo hunted Bottas down, attacking him at Turn 1 with two laps to go only for Bottas to spear into the side of the Australian after he’d passed the Finn around the outside. Lucky to escape with minimal damage, Ricciardo regrouped and had another go, and was rewarded with a pass at the same corner on the final lap to snatch fourth. It was clearly his best drive since Monaco despite missing out on the podium, and while finishing 46secs off the win wasn’t what he would have signed up for ahead of the weekend, it was a brilliant fightback after his bad luck with the weather in qualifying, and one that stopped this race from being a complete snorefest. The fans clearly agreed …

What the result means
Back-to-back wins for Hamilton in a seven-day span shows how this year’s championship can turn so quickly; after he ended up a distraught 14th on the grid in Germany a week ago when his car failed in qualifying, the Briton benefited from a Vettel error to win at Hockenheim before a sodden qualifying played into his hands in Hungary on a weekend where Ferrari, when running in clean air, looked faster than his Mercedes. Hamilton is something of a specialist at a circuit he likens to a go-kart track – Sunday was his sixth win at the Hungaroring, equalling his record in Canada and the USA – and he now has an advantage almost akin to a race win with nine Grands Prix remaining.

Fifth for Bottas was a bitter pill to swallow after being second with six laps left, continuing the theme of a season that has been a case of nearly, but not quite. A post-race 10-second time penalty for the Ricciardo incident didn’t cost him a place, but he was more hurt by Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff referring to him as a “wingman” for Hamilton’s victory quest in the role he played in holding up Vettel. “‘Wingman’ hurts,” Bottas said afterwards. “I don’t see any positives in this race for me. I wanted a better result.”

Vettel’s second was something of a save considering where he – and his main title rival – started, and Ferrari got off the hook after Vettel’s slow lap 39 pit stop, where the left front tyre took an eternity to come off, dropping the German behind Bottas when he returned to the track and setting up the incident between the two with six laps left that would have quite easily ended with Vettel nursing a rear puncture or worse after Bottas ran into him. “I think it was the maximum today,” he said of second place. Teammate Raikkonen extended his run of podiums to five in a row despite not being able to gain places early in a race yet again – the last time the Finn gained a spot on the first lap of a Grand Prix was, incredibly, Abu Dhabi in 2016, 32 races ago.

While Red Bull was thrilled with Ricciardo’s efforts, Verstappen’s race ended after just six laps when his car ground to a halt with a power unit problem, one race after Ricciardo retired in Germany with an engine failure after taking new Renault components for that weekend and starting from the back. Verstappen had made a robust start, passing Sainz and Gasly on lap one, and would have surely been there to benefit from the Vettel-Bottas clash given the pace shown by Ricciardo in the sister Red Bull. Verstappen on the team radio was not impressed (“I don’t care if this engine blows up… What a f-ing joke all the time … honestly”), while team principal Christian Horner, speaking on the worldwide TV feed, was more measured, but equally unamused. “I am not going to get drawn into saying too much, but we pay multi-millions of pounds for these engines, for a first-class product, a state-of-the-art product, and you can see it is quite clearly some way below that,” he said.

For historical purposes …
If there’s a black cloud in the silver lining of Hamilton’s win, it’s this; not since 2004 and Michael Schumacher has the winner of the Hungarian GP won that year’s world championship.

The number to know
8:
the number of retirements for Ricciardo and Verstappen combined in the first 12 races this year. By contrast, the other teams in Formula One’s ‘big three’, Mercedes and Ferrari, have six combined non-finishes between their four drivers.

Under-the-radar winner(s)
Outside of the leading trio of teams, two drivers could leave Budapest for their summer break with their heads held high. One was Gasly, who finished an excellent sixth, didn’t put a foot wrong, and was still on the lead lap at the end, finishing 63 seconds behind Hamilton, who had lapped everyone from seventh onwards. The young Frenchman doesn’t score often (three times in 12 races), but does score big, eight points for sixth place on Sunday coming after he finished a career-best fourth in Bahrain, and seventh at Monaco.

The other big winner was Alonso, who, on his 37th birthday, showed his usual fight and made the most of a long first stint to grab four points for McLaren by finishing eighth for the fourth time this season. At the circuit where he won his first Grand Prix for Renault 15 years ago, it was a strong way to wind up the first half of a season that has been challenging, but one where he’s (typically) made the most of what he’s had at his disposal.

Those who lost out
Verstappen is the headline entry here, but Alonso’s teammate Vandoorne was desperately unlucky not to make it two McLarens in the points, the Belgian running just behind his Spanish stablemate before a gearbox problem stopped him cold on lap 50. Leclerc was the other retiree, the Sauber driver parked with “something bent” on his car after just one lap, contact with the Force India pair of Perez and Ocon at the back of the field after a manic first few corners the likely culprit. Sainz would have been hoping for better than ninth after qualifying on the third row, while Hartley finished just outside the points in 11th, his maiden Q3 appearance not paying off on a day when teammate Gasly turned heads for Toro Rosso.

What’s next?
After five races in the past six weekends, exhale … the summer shutdown, where teams aren’t allowed to work for two weeks in the time between Hungary and the next race in Belgium (August 26) will be welcomed by all. After that? It’s nine races in a manic 14 weekends to end the season.

“It’s been sensational”: Wayne and Remy Gardner talk MotoGP in 2018

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON MOTOGP.COM.AU

Nine races of the 2018 MotoGP season down, 10 to go – which makes the mid-season break the perfect time to catch up with the state of play in the world championship with Australia’s 1987 500cc world champion Wayne Gardner, and Wayne’s 20-year-old son Remy Gardner, who is riding for Tech 3 Racing in this year’s Moto2 series.

Wayne, Remy, thanks for taking the time to chat to us. Let’s keep it simple to start. What do you make of the 2018 world championship so far, and how things have shaken out in the first half of the season?

Wayne: I think the MotoGP season has been sensational, and it’s becoming more like Moto2 in that the races and the grids are so close, and that has to be a good thing for us watching. The gaps have closed, there’s a lot of competitive riders and a lot of bikes close to one another. That’s why you get races like the Assen race, which was absolutely amazing – I’ve not seen a motor race like that in 20 or 30 years. Assen will go down in everyone’s minds as one of the greatest races of all-time. So the racing has been great and the crowds show that, which has to be a good thing as we look forward for Phillip Island, and we have Jack (Miller) right in the middle of all of that too with him having his strongest year so far. It’s taken a while for him, but he’s on a good bike with the Ducati and he’s made some big steps off the bike, and he’s improving all the time which is exciting for the Aussie fans.

Remy: I’d agree on Assen, that’s the one we all remember from the season so far, probably for a few more seasons too. Just an incredible race, passes every lap from lap one until the end, it was just full on. But the racing generally seems to be great every weekend now, we’ve had some awesome races already so everyone’s enjoying it.

Marc Marquez has a 46-point lead at the mid-season break and has already won five races this year – is there anyone or anything who can stop him making it five world titles in six years before the end of the year, or maybe before we get to Phillip Island in October?

Wayne: Marc looks like he’s well on the way to the championship again, and you know that he’s always pushing, he never gives up. There’s no limits to Marc, he’s an incredible talent. He rides beyond the limit in practice and throws it down the road, picks the bike and himself up and then races, and he has to be the favourite in almost every race he goes to.

Remy: Yeah, you’d think Marc is going to smash it again unless he hurts himself somehow. He’s just got an extra level compared to everyone else. (Jorge) Lorenzo is the one for me that, if he gets a couple more wins and stays there in the podium places, he could be the one who could take advantage if Marquez crashes out a couple of times because you can see that when Lorenzo gets up the front, he’s pretty hard to stop.

Has anyone surprised either of you, good or bad, in 2018?

Remy: Lorenzo winning those two races after not being anywhere near it would normally be the biggest surprise, but then he signed with Honda which was even more of one! I’m not sure how that’s going to go for him because he’s up against someone who might be a five-time world champion on that bike by then. It might be tough for him, but it’ll be interesting to see how it goes, and I’m hoping he can prove me wrong.

Jack has been really good too, he’s having a great year which I guess isn’t a surprise as we all know how talented he is. The move from the Honda to Ducati has been a big one for him and he’s doing really good, really improved and he’s really consistent, he’s always up there around the top 10. I’m really happy for him. Hopefully he can get on the podium before the end of the year. Maybe the surprise with Jack was the pole in Argentina and how that race started with him up the front and everyone else down the back of the grid, nobody would have seen that coming! They should have started the rest of them from the back of the grid – they made the wrong tyre choice, so it was their fault. Jack would have won the race if that had happened …

Wayne: Lorenzo winning those two races and then signing with Honda was the biggest surprise for sure, that one really came out of the blue. I know it’s next season, but it’ll be really interesting to see how he goes there alongside Marquez. It’ll probably make Marquez push even harder, if that’s possible! Other than that, the rider who has probably surprised me a bit is (Johann) Zarco, who started so strongly but has dropped his pace a bit more recently.

Remy, it’s been a tough year for you so far given you missed Spain, France and Italy after your big motocross accident when you broke your legs – how’s the fitness coming along, and can you get back to 100 per cent before too long?

Remy: I’m getting better week by week at the moment. Obviously, the legs aren’t perfect and they still hurt when I try to do certain things, but it’s not too bad. I’m not able to run or anything like that yet, but I’m getting closer. Sachsenring before the break was a good test for me because that circuit just goes left and left and left … riding generally hasn’t been too painful, but by the end of the race and 28 laps around there it was pretty sore where the bone is calcifying on the tibia.

Wayne: The accident was a huge shock, but to give him credit where it’s due, Remy’s worked really hard to get back after an operation to put pins and plates in, he’s done the hard work with the physio, and he was back on track six weeks after the accident and having good results. The Moto2 championship is so difficult and so competitive – look at somewhere like the Sachsenring, he was eight-tenths of a second off pole but 20th on the grid, which is quite amazing. So I think he’s done a great job to get back, and hopefully can get his body back towards 100 per cent and push on from here the rest of the season. Moto2 might be the most difficult championship of them all because of how even the bikes are and how such small margins can means rows – not just a single row but rows on the grid – after qualifying.

Remy, you get two clear weekends off between Germany and the Czech Republic next week – what does a rider do when they actually get some downtime away from the track?

Remy: It’s only a two-week break this year, so there’s not that much of a break compared to usual. For me, I’ve not done any riding because of the rehab and trying to give my body a bit of a break, because it’s been a tough year for that. So I’ve been doing some spear-fishing, bit of wake-boarding, hanging out with some mates and not doing a lot. I’ll get back on the bike next week before Brno to get back in the groove.

We mentioned Brno coming up, and that’s one of 10 races left with a few in Europe, the swing through Asia, Australia … besides Phillip Island, where are you looking forward to going in the back half of the year?

Remy: Thailand will be interesting as it’s our first time there. I spoke to Jack about the track in Thailand after the MotoGP guys did their pre-season test there, and I’m not sure that the track will be anything amazing, but the place itself and the crowds there will make that weekend pretty crazy, there’s definitely a real love for bikes there. From what I’m hearing it’ll be even hotter than Malaysia is, so that’ll be interesting! It looks like a hard-braking type of a track, so that should suit us.

Wayne: Thailand is one race I’m looking forward to see what happens for the second half of the season, because it’s a new market for MotoGP and the sport has just exploded in popularity there, in Asia generally but there in particular from what I’m told. It’s great to see the popularity of the racing getting bigger in places we haven’t been before.

And the Island itself – the Australian round is one all the riders circle on their calendars, isn’t it?

Remy: Oh, for sure. Everyone asks me ‘what’s your favourite track?’, and when I say ‘Phillip Island’, they say that I’m always going to say that because I’m Australian. But it’s not that at all, it’s just a bloody awesome track. The sea in the background, it’s so fast and ballsy … I just love the place. Can’t wait to get back there.

Wayne: The whole paddock likes coming to Phillip Island, all three classes, and that’s because we know that track throws up great racing in Moto3, Moto2 and of course MotoGP. Last year’s MotoGP race there was a classic, it’s one of the races that, as soon as it was finished, people were talking about it being one of the all-time greats, like Assen was this year. I’m hopeful that Remy will go well there too, it’s a place where he’s gone well in the past and he’s strong there, so we’re looking forward to getting down there again.

And finally, Wayne, we have your new documentary ‘Wayne’ coming out soon with the premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Tell us a bit about it, and what it’s like to see your life played out on the big screen?

Wayne: Watching it is actually quite an emotional experience, because you’re looking back which us racers don’t tend to do, we’re always facing forward to the next race and the next result. You get so used to working like that, and then your whole life is like that. So with the movie, you sit back and look at the big-screen production of your life … it’s pretty emotional. I’m proud of what’s been achieved, and the producer (Matthew Metcalfe) and GFC Films have put together an amazing show. It’s beyond my expectations, and I’m excited to see what people think about it when they get to see it for the first time. It’s taken us three years to do, from the moment Matthew approached me with a copy of my biography under his arm and saying he wanted to make a film. He’s been true to his word and I’m very proud of it.

Remy: I haven’t seen the whole thing yet, I’ve only seen a few snippets. Really impressive though, and I can’t wait to see the whole thing. The trailer is great, they’ve done really well with it and it definitely made me want to watch!

What happened at the German Grand Prix?

Sebastian Vettel’s crash from the lead hands Lewis Hamilton the most unlikely of F1 wins at Hockenheim, while Daniel Ricciardo’s dry patch continues with an early retirement before the rain came.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

The build-up
The lead-in to Germany’s bi-annual return to the F1 calendar was dominated more by what would happen next year, with driver signings (and non-signings) overshadowing what might occur on track.

Mercedes confirmed its line-up for the past two seasons would stay intact, reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton extending until the end of the 2020 campaign, while teammate Valtteri Bottas was signed for 2019, with an option for the following year. Kimi Raikkonen’s future job prospects at Ferrari was thought by some paddock insiders to have taken a turn for the better when the company’s CEO Sergio Marchionne, an often vocal critic of the Finn, left his role with immediate effect because of health problems, while at Red Bull, Daniel Ricciardo’s future remained unclear, but news of his next move seemed likely as soon as the following weekend’s race in Budapest.

When the cars finally hit the track, Ricciardo’s weekend at the Hockenheimring got instantly more difficult when it was announced he’d be taking a raft of new engine components for the race, condemning him to a back-of-grid start with penalties no matter what he did in qualifying. With the tight and twisty Hungaroring, where Ricciardo won in 2014, more suited to the RB14 than the sweeps of Hockenheim, the Australian hoped a strategic play would pay dividends down the track.

The fans flocked to Hockenheim to see home hero Sebastian Vettel, and the German didn’t disappoint, putting his Ferrari on pole with a phenomenal lap of 1min 11.212secs, smashing the circuit record and showing the rate of progress in F1; just two years ago, the pole lap (by Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg) was a whopping three seconds slower.

While the championship leader was in the prime position, title rival Hamilton was in the wars after a hydraulic failure saw him grind to a halt in Q2, the Mercedes driver dramatically jumping out of his car in a futile attempt to push it back to the pits before realising he was out of business, left to start way back in 14th place. In Hamilton’s absence, Bottas flew the Mercedes flag with a superb lap that left team principal Toto Wolff pumped up, but in the end, he could only get within 0.204secs of Vettel, Wolff estimating that Ferrari was “five-tenths” of a second faster on the straights in what he called a “severe warning” to Mercedes’ championship defence.

Vettel’s teammate Raikkonen was third, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen – who took the first corner of his final qualifying lap without a lift of the throttle – back in fourth, his 0.610secs deficit to Vettel showing what his car didn’t have on the straights.

Ricciardo’s penalty and Hamilton’s misfortune opened the door for others to shine, and Haas showed that Ferrari’s recent engine upgrade helped its customer teams as well as its works outfit, Kevin Magnussen (fifth) and Romain Grosjean (sixth) locking out row three in what team boss Gunther Steiner called “the best” result for his squad. Elsewhere, super-impressive Sauber rookie Charles Leclerc (ninth) aced qualifying again, while Sergey Sirotkin (12th) gave Williams a rare reason to smile when he made Q2 for just the third time all season.

On the opposite end of the happiness scale was Stoffel Vandoorne at McLaren, who qualified last and was at a loss as to why he was so slow. “I definitely haven’t forgotten how to drive,” he said after qualifying slower than teammate Fernando Alonso for the 11th race out of 11 this season.

With volatile weather predicted for race day, all eyes were on Vettel’s quest for a maiden Hockenheim win at the front, what Hamilton could do from the middle, and where Ricciardo could end up from the back at the circuit where his now-signature ‘shoey’ made its first appearance two years ago.

The race in exactly 69 words*
Vettel looked to have his maiden Hockenheim win locked up until a late rain shower hit the circuit, and he crashed out from the lead on lap 52 of 67. After a safety car period to remove his Ferrari, Hamilton inherited the lead and held off Bottas, who was instructed by Mercedes to stay behind his teammate, to win and re-claim the series lead. Raikkonen rounded out the podium.
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)

Ricciardo recap
Red Bull flagged its intentions for Ricciardo as early as Friday’s second practice, when he did a long stint of laps on the medium-compound Pirelli tyres, planning a race simulation from the back of the grid with his engine penalties. He was the only driver to start on the mediums come race day, and was cautious from the back in the early laps as his tyres got up to a suitable working temperature. By lap 19, the Australian overtook Leclerc to get inside the top 10 for the first time, but he became the first retirement of the race on lap 27 with an engine failure when running in sixth place. It was his fourth retirement of the year, second in the past three Grands Prix, and third from a mechanical failure in 2018. “I don’t know the specifics but it was some sort of engine failure which is obviously pretty frustrating after taking the penalties today,” he said. “Anyway, would have, could have, that’s racing and I feel like I have been in this position too often this season. It hurts, it always does.”

What the result means
Hamilton was utterly despondent on Saturday when his car failed in qualifying, yet 24 hours later left Hockenheim with a 17-point championship lead from Mercedes’ first 1-2 at its home race. It was a win that carried as much historical importance as it did significance for this year’s championship, as never before had the Briton won a race from outside of the top six on the grid. Yet that wasn’t the most remarkable part of what could be a championship-changing afternoon.

Hamilton started on soft tyres and picked his way through the midfield ruthlessly in the opening laps, and was up to fifth by lap 14 after disposing of Magnussen’s Haas at the Turn 6 hairpin, his overtaking place of choice. He eked 42 laps out of his tyres before pitting, Mercedes boldly placing him on ultrasoft dry tyres even though rain was looming, and he began gaining on Vettel, Raikkonen and Bottas ahead of him. As the rain increased, Vettel crashed out, and Bottas and Raikkonen both pitted behind the safety car. Hamilton nearly did too before being instructed to stay out and cutting across the grass as he narrowly avoided entering pit lane, which was the subject of a post-race stewards’ investigation that saw him handed a reprimand.

The final run to the flag looked set to be a tense one, with Hamilton on old tyres followed by Bottas and Raikkonen (new tyres) and Verstappen on newish tyres after the Dutchman had abandoned a brief gamble to run intermediate tyres in the worst of the rain.

Bottas challenged Hamilton at the Turn 6 hairpin as the race resumed on lap 58, but Mercedes quickly called off the fight and told Bottas to let Hamilton escape, mindful of the 25-point gain he’d make over Vettel on a day the Ferrari driver owned until his critical mistake.

“We didn’t have the quickest car here and we need to progress for the next races because that is the most important,” Wolff said. “It was still raining at the time and the fight was so intense. We wanted to keep it calm.”

Vettel was understandably gutted with his very rare mistake, his in-car radio message after crashing a mix of tears and profanities after seeing that elusive home win slip through his fingers, and the series lead with it on a weekend when Ferrari was clearly the faster car. “I don’t think it was a huge mistake, it was a huge impact on the race because we retired,” he said. “But it’s not like tonight I will have difficulties to fall asleep because of what I’ve done wrong. It’s disappointing because up to that point everything was sweet. We didn’t need the rain.”

The threat of heavier rain intensified as Hamilton started the penultimate lap of the race, and he responded with a time of 1:15.545, the fastest of the entire race. His haste to get the race over as quickly as possible was justified, a deluge hitting the circuit as the podium ceremony took place. The drivers and dignitaries were soaked to the skin on the podium, a bizarre way to end a race day that nobody could have seen coming at its halfway stage.

For historical purposes …
Hamilton’s victory was his 45th for Mercedes, but his 44th driving car number 44, the number he adopted for the 2014 season when drivers were allowed to choose their own race numbers. His only other win for Mercedes came in his first season with the team in 2013, when he sported number 10 when taking victory in Hungary.

The number to know
28:
Raikkonen’s 28th podium since his last victory (Australia 2013) is a record for the most top-three finishes by any driver without any of them being victories since their last one.

Under-the-radar winner(s)
Nico Hulkenberg’s
fifth at home was the Renault driver’s best result of the season, while Grosjean salvaged sixth after Haas were caught out on a drying track under the safety car and had both the Frenchman and Magnussen drop outside of the top 10 in the manic final 10 laps. Force India had both cars in the points despite Sergio Perez (seventh) and Esteban Ocon (eighth) having a fight that got a little too close for comfort at one stage, while Marcus Ericsson (ninth) gave Sauber its fourth points finish in the past five races. Brendon Hartley snared the final point for Toro Rosso despite finishing behind Carlos Sainz on the road, the Renault driver penalised 10 seconds for overtaking while the race was neutralised under the safety car. The Spaniard was eventually classified 12th.

The naughty corner
There were tyre gambles to be taken in the midfield for those drivers with little to lose when the rain hit, but most of them didn’t pay off. Leclerc finished 15th after rolling the dice for intermediate rubber as soon as the rain hit, but the early gamble saw him 10 seconds off the pace of the front-runners before he pitted for slicks again. He then spun twice in the final 10 laps and finished 15th and the final car running at the end, a harsh lesson in wet-weather driving for the impressive rookie. Hartley’s teammate Pierre Gasly pitted for extreme wet tyres when the rain was little more than heavy drizzle, a decision based on extreme optimism and one that led to a 14th-place finish. And Williams’ 700th Grand Prix start ended with a whimper, both Sirotkin (engine oil leak) and teammate Lance Stroll (brakes) out during the six-lap safety car period

What’s next?
The rapid pace of F1 doesn’t abate just yet, with the fifth race in six weekends coming in Hungary next Sunday (July 29), where Red Bull will fancy its chances of a fourth win for the season at a track, Singapore aside, that might be its best bet for the rest of the season. Hamilton will take some beating, though; the four-time world champion has won in Budapest a record five times.

The MotoGP 2018 mid-term report

Which MotoGP rider is dux of this year’s class? Who gets extra detention or has to write lines? Who deserves a gold star for encouragement? It’s time to name names …

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Disclaimer, before we start: it’s hard to come up with a MotoGP mid-season review that lands smack-bang in the middle of the 2018 season, with the 50 per cent point coming halfway around the 11th racing lap of the Brno circuit in the Czech Republic on Sunday August 5. So you’ll have to forgive us as we go a few laps early on what has become an annual tradition – the half-term grades for the good and great of two wheels this season. And in a season like 2018, there’s plenty of material to pore through.

We’ve had insanely close races (Qatar and Assen, the latter instantly – and appropriately – hailed as one of the greatest Grands Prix of all time), the customary annual Marc Marquez masterclasses in Austin and Germany, the absurdity of the start of the race in Argentina (hello to all Jack Miller fans), and the frankly bizarre sight of Jorge Lorenzo, who was nowhere early in the season, winning back-to-back races on a Ducati at Mugello and Catalunya, the latter reprising memories of his most dominant Yamaha days where he broke the spirit of his rivals with one devastatingly metronomic lap after another.

Nine races down, 10 to go – so near-enough to halfway. Who has stood out, for the right and wrong reasons? Who has exceeded expectations, and who has fallen short? Who needs to finish the second semester of the year strongly? And who might be getting extra detention if the travelling MotoGP paddock was a school classroom?

Here’s our take on who has earned what so far.

Dux of the class

He’s become a regular in this spot, so perhaps the better way to make a case for Marc Marquez is to give you time to think who should be here in his place. (Waiting). See, told you. His wins have gone from utterly dominant (COTA) to calculatingly brilliant (when he broke up the pursuing pack with two spectacular laps to end one of the bigger brawls for a win the sport has ever seen at Assen), but it’s two races he hasn’t won that show why, barring something unforeseen, he’s likely to become a five-time MotoGP champion in his first six seasons by the time November rolls around. One was his controversial ride in Argentina, where he was in a different league in practice before a sketchy track caught him out in qualifying, and then his race … well, that, and the contact with several riders (particularly Valentino Rossi) that sparked a war of words wasn’t his finest moment, but one that showed the pace he has over the rest when he’s pushing as hard as he can. The other was Barcelona, when he realised he couldn’t safely keep up with a blistering Lorenzo and settled for second when Andrea Dovizioso, who looked to be his primary title rival at the time, crashed out early in the race. There’ll be the odd race like Mugello, when he fell (and didn’t manage to save a slide for once) and couldn’t get back into the points, but his rivals are going to need a lot more of those if they’re to deny the Spaniard a high five at (or perhaps before) Valencia.

Honourable mentions: One for Lorenzo, for his Mugello/Catalunya double after being basically invisible on a red bike for a year and a bit beforehand. Watching such consistent excellence in a sport with so many variables lap by lap is mesmerising when it happens. And another for Johann Zarco, who (before his home GP in France) looked the Yamaha rider most likely to snap the manufacturer’s losing run (more of which later) with a series of searing performances.

Others have had flashes in a year where 10 different riders have already made the podium, but nobody has been as fast for as long as Marquez has this year, and it isn’t close.

Encouragement award

Rossi deserves a reward ribbon here for his persistence, hauling a bike that isn’t at race-winning pace into podium contention time and time again with (typically) canny racecraft and decisive overtaking that overcomes his (alas, also typically) underwhelming qualifying efforts; he had a dramatic pole at home at Mugello and was on the front row at Assen, but he’s often having to fight recovery missions from the third row or further back.

Danilo Petrucci is worthy of a mention here as well, the Italian nabbing a podium at Le Mans and nabbing a factory Ducati seat for next year after Lorenzo’s shock defection to Honda to be Marquez’s teammate in 2018.

His Alma Pramac Ducati teammate Miller gets kudos too, finishing the first five Grands Prix of the year in the top 10, taking a big-balls pole with the lap of his life in Argentina, and riding an immaculate race in France, where fourth was arguably his most convincing big-bike result yet (even more so than his win at Assen 2016, as he conceded himself).

Elsewhere, Alex Rins has been fast when he’s stayed on the bike long enough; in the first nine GPs of the year, the Spaniard had two podiums (second at Assen and third in Argentina) and a fifth place in Italy, but five race-ending crashes. And Rins’ compatriot Tito Rabat has nearly scored as many points already (30) as he has in his best MotoGP full season (35 last year), turning his career trajectory around on a satellite Ducati after leaving Marc VDS Honda behind at the end of ‘17.

Could do better

Maverick Vinales was expected, along with Dovizioso, to be Marquez’s main roadblock to the title this season, but the Spaniard has been up and down in temperament as well as results, a pole in Austin (after Marquez was penalised) and just three podiums in the first nine races seeing him sit third in the title chase through persistence more than any real pace, and with his frustration mounting by the race. Rossi has done marginally better on the same equipment, but perception is everything – and the sight of Vinales getting swamped in the early laps of races on cold tyres and with a full fuel tank has been depressingly common in 2018.

Dovizioso winds up here too, if only for the strange way his season has shaken out – so, so consistent when he challenged Marquez for the title all the way to the line last year, he’s already crashed out three times in 2018 to make his chance of the crown the longest of long shots by the halfway mark.

Dovi’s compatriot, Andrea Iannone, completes our trio here, the Suzuki man showing why he should be pictured under ‘mercurial’ in the dictionary given how hot (back-to-back podiums in Austin and Jerez) and cold he can blow. In his sixth season (and his last one with Ducati before moving to Aprilia for next year), he’s nothing if not consistently inconsistent …

Needs a strong second semester

Vinales, for his own state of mind and Yamaha’s future given Rossi, 40 next February, won’t be (dare we contemplate) around forever. Dovizioso, who simply can’t afford to be out-scored by Lorenzo before the Spaniard splits for Honda, particularly as he had a 40-point lead over his teammate after four races. Miller, who will be hoping to rekindle the form from his first five races as he prepares to step up to become his team’s leader next year when Petrucci moves up and Moto2 front-runner Pecco Bagnaia moves in. And Alvaro Bautista, the Spanish veteran who sits 13th in the championship, who must prove his worth if he’s to be picked up by anyone for 2019 after the Angel Nieto Ducati satellite entry sold its grid slots to the Petronas Yamaha MotoGP team, to be run by the Sepang International Circuit. Which brings us to …

Extra detention

Dani Pedrosa’s body of work over a 13-year stint in the premier class didn’t deserve to end up like this, nor in this category. The Spaniard announced ahead of the German GP that 2018 would be his last lap, finally putting an end to persistent rumours that he’d switch to the aforementioned Malaysian-backed Yamaha project after spending his entire career riding for Honda. Once he puts a full stop on his career in Valencia, he’ll surely be remembered as the best rider never to have won a premier-class world title, and you wouldn’t bet against him riding with more freedom than he’s had so far this year and snaring another win before he leaves, extending his remarkable run of at least one victory in all of his MotoGP campaigns.

It’s testament to the esteem Pedrosa is held in that we’d even contemplate another victory after how underwhelming 2018 has been to date; on the same bike as the championship leader, remember, Pedrosa has a best result of fifth, has missed Q2 twice and is 116 points behind Marquez. Ten different riders have made the podium this season, yet nine races in, the 32-year-old isn’t one of them. Pedrosa’s legacy remains intact no matter what happens from here, but this isn’t the end we envisaged for one of the sport’s front-runners for over a decade.

Loyalty to Honda could have been one reason for Pedrosa not finishing his career on a Yamaha, but Yamaha’s wretched recent record could have been another, which is why they’ve also ended up in our mid-season naughty corner. Yamaha’s last win came when Rossi saluted at Assen last year, 19 races ago, and the most recent round at the Sachsenring represented an unwanted record for the manufacturer, as the drought became its biggest ever (Yamaha previously went 18 races without a win between Malaysia 2002 and South Africa 2004, Rossi’s first race with the marque). Three riders in the top five of the standings is one thing, but entirely another when they have zero wins between them …

Miller Time: The road to recovery

Jack Miller writes about being an innocent bystander in some first-lap chaos in Germany, and a comeback ride that left him happy but annoyed with himself in equal measure.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

Started 14th, finished 14th – doesn’t sound like much of a German Grand Prix, does it? But there was a lot more going on in that race than what it looks like in the results, and while 14th isn’t going to get me that excited, it’s better than being where I was after three corners, which was last and almost in the fence.

It was a pretty chaotic start in the middle of the pack, and you probably saw what happened when Pol (Espargaro) ran into (Alex) Rins and I didn’t have any choice but to run off track at Turn 3.

It all actually kicked off before at Turn 2 when Pol hit me, he definitely rode a little bit out of control on the first couple of corners. He then hit (Andrea) Iannone and Rins, I forget in which order but he hit both of them, and I got tangled in it. I ran off through the gravel trap, managed to miss all the bikes and riders and got as far as the wall, managed to stay on and dug myself out of that, and there I was in last place, 29 laps to go and a fair way behind the rest of the pack for something I basically had nothing to do with. An innocent bystander, basically. So from there, it could only really get better …

From there it was head down, bum up and salvage what I could. I managed to get two points and somehow stay inside the top 10 (just, but I’ll take it) in the championship, and the good thing was that the pace was pretty decent. All weekend we’d been working on the race pace and that had been a challenge, because 30 laps around Sachsenring is a tyre management challenge as much as a race. The race pace felt good and my fastest lap for the race was ninth-fastest overall, so it probably shows you where I could have been without the incident. A pretty good recovery for me, really.

My pace was good enough to be well inside the top 10, that’s the annoying part. But part of that is on me too, because I’ve got to qualify better than where I did in 14th. That’s three races in a row I’ve missed Q2, and that’s the problem when you get buried for the start like that, you end up back in the pack with those sorts of guys and there’s always drama. For the second half of the season we have to recover some of the qualifying pace from the first half of the year; I was in Q2 for five of the first six races and you can avoid some of that other stuff when you’re ahead of it and they’re all running into one another instead of me. That’s got to be a focus for me because someone else’s problem can destroy your race like it did for me this time.

I’ve been coming to the Sachsenring for a while now, my first world championship race on a 125cc was actually here seven years ago, and while there’s some unknowns with whether we keep coming back here, I hope we do. It’s a small track, the shortest we ride all year and the race is the most number of laps, and it’s a strange place to ride a MotoGP bike because it turns left all the time and there’s no real straights to speak of. But I don’t mind it at all, it’s got a character of its own, and the place is always packed with fans – it was hot here today, there’s 90,000 people packed in, it’s a good look for MotoGP. It’s enjoyable because it’s different. It’d be pretty boring if all the tracks were the same with one kilometre-long straights and whatnot, so you wouldn’t want 19 tracks like that, or 19 like this. A mix is good, so for that reason I hope Sachsenring stays on the calendar.

We’re nearly at the halfway stage of the championship now – nine races down, 10 to go – and I’m keeping to that pre-season goal of being inside the top 10. I’d probably hoped for better after how well things started with the pole in Argentina and the fourth place at Le Mans, but 10th so far is something to build on.

We have a mid-season break now, but it’s not as long as it used to be, just two weekends, so there’s no going back home to Oz for me. I’m at World Ducati Week at Misano in Italy next weekend which should be a bit of fun, and I’m going to drive my van there to do some dirt-tracking and whatnot. Then it’ll be a drive back to Andorra, eventually – there’s no real plans yet – before we have the back-to-back at Brno and Red Bull Ring. The Ducati should go pretty well at those tracks, so there’s two to look forward to.

Cheers, Jack

What happened at the British Grand Prix?

Sebastian Vettel snaps a long drought for Ferrari at Silverstone, while teammate Kimi Raikkonen sends home hero Lewis Hamilton into a spin, and Red Bull struggle to hang onto the top two teams.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

The build-up
The English summer – two words that often can only be used together when they’re accompanied by a laugh track – hit Silverstone with a vengeance for qualifying, air temperatures touching 25 degrees and the track temps topping out at a Bahrain-like 52 degrees. But Lewis Hamilton proved he could handle the heat, the home hero smashing the circuit record with a lap of 1min 25.892secs to take his 76th career pole. The Mercedes man needed every bit of that time too, as primary title rival Sebastian Vettel was just 0.044secs behind, and Vettel’s Ferrari teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, just 0.098secs off pole himself, but having to settle for third. “That lap took everything out of me, it was the toughest lap I’ve ever had to do in a qualifying session,” Hamilton gasped afterwards, following his fourth straight pole at Silverstone and 50th with Mercedes. “I had to go over the limit to get that time out of the car and I could have easily not pulled that lap together.”

Second for Vettel was a good save after he had to deal with a sore neck that saw him miss a good chunk of final practice, while Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas let the two red cars off the hook with a mistake on his final lap when second looked a possibility. “I lost it in the last two corners,” he admitted after finishing fourth.

The grip and cornering speed of the fierce 2018-spec F1 cars negated some of Red Bull’s usual ascendancy in high-speed turns at Silverstone, and their lack of straight-line grunt meant fifth and sixth were always their likely starting spots, Max Verstappen again well ahead of Daniel Ricciardo (by nearly half a second), although Ricciardo’s run was hamstrung with DRS issues. “When you go through a corner that’s almost flat and when you accelerate out of the corner our engine is just not pulling,” Verstappen explained. “You know you just don’t have the horsepower.”

While Ricciardo said his qualifying was “a bit frustrating”, the driver next on the grid, Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, was ecstatic to finish seventh, which he called “a pole position in the ‘B’ championship” behind the big three teams. A trio of Frenchman, Magnussen’s teammate Romain Grosjean, Sauber’s super-impressive rookie Charles Leclerc and Force India’s Esteban Ocon, all made Q3 and rounded out the top 10.

Further back, Renault had no joy as Nico Hulkenberg was 11th, while Carlos Sainz was way back in 16th, missing the top 10 for the first time all season. Williams had a session to forget with both Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll spinning because of aerodynamic issues with the car’s floor, Stroll getting beached in the Turn 6 gravel trap, and the cars qualifying 18th and 19th of 20 respectively. At least they got out for qualifying – 20th and last on the grid would be Brendon Hartley, who didn’t take to the circuit at all after a massive front suspension failure saw his car spat into the Turn 6 barriers in final practice, Toro Rosso changing teammate Pierre Gasly’s suspension completely ahead of qualifying as a precaution. Hartley was, fortunately, fine; his car was a mess and needed rebuilding for Sunday’s 52-lap race.

The race in exactly 69 words*
Vettel took his second British GP win and the first at Silverstone for Ferrari in 11 years, but Hamilton minimised the damage to his championship chances by recovering to second after being tapped into a spin by Raikkonen on the first lap and falling to last. Raikkonen was penalised for the incident but finished third, while Bottas faded to fourth after two late safety cars prompted a manic finish.
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)

Ricciardo recap
Qualifying left the Australian more hoping than expecting to have a strong Sunday at Silverstone, and while he gained an early place when Raikkonen sent Hamilton spinning to the back, sixth looked the best Ricciardo could do, which prompted a second pit stop for new soft tyres on lap 30 in an attempt to have fresher rubber for the final laps. That plan, or at least the maximum effectiveness of it, was scuppered to some degree by Marcus Ericsson crashing his Sauber heavily at the first corner two laps later, a safety car being called the extract the Swede’s car, which had buried itself deep into the tyre barrier. Where Ricciardo was hoping to use his fresher tyres to make inroads into the drivers ahead of him, Vettel, Raikkonen and Verstappen all pitted as the race was neutralised, negating his one strategic chance to vault up the order. Neither Hamilton nor Bottas pitted for new Pirellis, and while Ricciardo was all over the back of the Finn’s tyre-worn Mercedes by the end, he fell just short of snatching fourth place, finishing 0.6secs behind without ever launching an overtaking move. Ten points for fifth was at least a better result than the previous Sunday’s non-finish in Austria, but the chasm between the Ferrari/Mercedes front-runners and Red Bull seems to have widened, even taking into account Verstappen’s win seven days earlier, which owed itself to some degree to Mercedes’ mechanical misfortune.

What the result means
It seems entirely appropriate that the first triple-header in F1 history gave us three different winners from three teams in three weeks, Vettel’s Silverstone success coming after Verstappen won at the Red Bull Ring, and Hamilton at Paul Ricard a week before that. But as much as F1 has shaped itself as a two-tier formula with three teams in the upper class, reality suggests that, at most circuits, Mercedes and Ferrari have the legs on Red Bull, with the final 11-lap run to the flag after the second safety car of the race caused by a shunt between Grosjean and Sainz at Copse shaping up as a furious fight between Bottas, Vettel, Hamilton and Raikkonen, with Verstappen and Ricciardo left to play distant spectators. A gearbox problem did for Verstappen five laps from home, the Dutchman’s run of three straight podiums coming to an end after his car was stuck in fourth gear because of a brake-by-wire issue, but neither he nor Ricciardo had podium pace all weekend.

Much as Hamilton was crestfallen to have not extended his home winning streak in front of a massive Silverstone crowd (and as much as he was criticised for skipping the pre-podium TV interview afterwards to retreat into the drivers’ green room before the podium ceremony), he and Mercedes will take some solace in that, on pure pace, the W09 in his hands still appears to be the car to beat. Vettel, as he has done so often throughout his career, made the most of an opportunity presented to him and didn’t let go, and his robust pass of Bottas for the lead of the race at Turn 6 with five laps left should quieten any critics who still, after all these years, question his ability to overtake. He also set the fastest lap of the race (1:30.696) on the same lap.

As we reach the (nearly) halfway mark of the season, with 10 races run and 11 to go, the real winners of 2018 so far are the fans, who, after four years of Mercedes turning the sport into a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ they’ll win the world championships (plural), have a genuine fight to watch unfold, with the pendulum swinging back and forth between Grands Prix, and – often – within the same race weekend.

For historical purposes …
That’s now six British Grands Prix in a row to have featured a safety car, and this one featured two thanks to Ericsson’s scary shunt (fortunately the Sauber driver emerged unscathed) and the Grosjean/Sainz incident, which the Haas driver was certain was the Spaniard’s fault. “He turned into me,” Grosjean said.

The number to know
51:
Vettel’s 51st career victory sees him draw level with Alain Prost for third all-time on the F1 win list; only Michael Schumacher (91) and Hamilton (65) have more.

Under-the-radar winner(s)
In a sporting world full of athletes making excuses, blaming their equipment/someone else/the way the stars were aligned on a particular day, we’re giving Raikkonen a space here for the way he put his hand up for the first-lap touch with Hamilton that ruined the home hero’s race. “It was my mistake, that’s fine,” he said of the 10-second penalty served at his first pit stop on lap 13 that dropped him to 11th place. “I deserve it and I took the 10 seconds and kept fighting. That’s how it goes. Obviously on the third corner I locked a wheel and ended up hitting Lewis in the rear corner and he spun. My bad, that is how it goes sometimes.”

Further back, Hulkenberg turned an alternate tyre strategy, starting from outside the top 10 on mediums, and a cracking first lap into sixth place, just beating Ocon’s Force India, which started a spot in front of him.

The other under-the-radar winner was once again Fernando Alonso, who started 13th in a McLaren with very little pace, made his usual decisive start and then was relentless for 52 laps as he hauled his car into eighth to nab four world championship points. Remarkably, the two-time world champion still sits inside the top 10 in the standings (eighth with 40 points), and leads McLaren teammate Stoffel Vandoorne 40-8 in points and 10-0 in qualifying this season.

The naughty corner
Raikkonen has to sit here too, for causing the lap one contact before taking responsibility for it, while the team who had things roughest under the Sunday sun at Silverstone were Sauber, Leclerc’s lap 19 retirement after a wheel wasn’t affixed correctly at his pit stop preceding Ericsson’s meeting with the Turn 1 barriers 13 laps later. All nine other teams had at least one car finish.

What’s next?
Other than a well-earned beverage of choice for the sport’s mechanics and team members who slogged through Formula One’s first-ever triple-header and emerged unscathed? A weekend off next week precedes the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim (July 22), which has become a bi-annual event to cover the steep costs of a place on the ever-expanding calendar in countries far, far away from F1’s European heartland. Hungary (Jul 29) follows the next weekend before the season goes into recess until the end of August.