Month: September 2018

What happened at the Russian Grand Prix?

Mercedes uses team orders to get Lewis Hamilton to the top step in Sochi, while Max Verstappen starts at the back and leads for half the race after an incredible early charge.


The build-up
Ferrari ramped up its development efforts ahead of the Russian Grand Prix, the Scuderia bringing a completely new front wing for its SF71H car to Sochi than it raced with in Singapore in an effort to rescue Sebastian Vettel’s rising 40-point deficit to Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton atop the drivers’ standings. So it was understandable that were long faces for those wearing red after second and third practice turned into a Mercedes 1-2, Hamilton leading teammate Valtteri Bottas on both occasions, with Vettel a mammoth six-tenths of a second adrift.

Come qualifying, there was a surprise in store, but it was only an internal one at Mercedes as Bottas took his second pole of the year by 0.145 seconds from Hamilton, the Finn getting faster and faster after Hamilton led the first two phases of qualifying, and Hamilton making a mistake and running wide at Turn 7 as he attempted to hunt down Bottas’ time of 1min 31.387secs, which was more than 1.5secs faster than pole on the same circuit 12 months ago.

“I managed to find some time in almost every run,” Bottas grinned after taking pole at a circuit where he’s something of a specialist, after winning his maiden GP at Sochi a year ago.

Hamilton conceded that Bottas simply “did the better job this time”, while Vettel was still more than half a second back, but in third as Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen (+0.850secs to Bottas) wasn’t a threat for anything other than fourth. “The car felt alright, so that makes me quite positive for Sunday,” Vettel said, seemingly more in hope than with any great confidence.

Not in the fight for the front two rows? The Red Bull Racing duo of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, who ended up starting 18th and 19th respectively after the team elected to re-fit Renault’s older ‘B-spec’ engine through concerns that its C-spec, raced in Singapore, didn’t have the reliability required. Both drivers took engine penalties and gearbox penalties, while Verstappen was slapped with another three-place penalty for failing to slow down under yellow flags in Q1, the only session the Red Bulls took part in.

Starting on the back row wouldn’t have been the way Verstappen envisaged his 21st birthday on race day shaping up, while Ricciardo’s high point on Saturday was, as he admitted, watching his beloved West Coast Eagles winning the Australian Football League premiership in the middle of the morning Sochi time. “My voice is definitely suffering after all the shouting,” he croaked.

The back of the grid was a mess after six different drivers took penalties; Toro Rosso duo Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley for new engine components outside of their allocation, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso in the same boat, and Alonso’s teammate Stoffel Vandoorne taking a new gearbox. The penalty spree gave Q2 a bad look, with five drivers of the 15 qualified in the session not bothering to turn a single lap, Renault duo Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz electing to stay in the pits to preserve tyres and start on whatever Pirelli rubber they preferred in the race. So much for a shootout for the top 10 … “It was more boring than anything,” Hulkenberg said.

Well ahead of the glut of penalties was Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, who qualified an excellent fifth, but a whopping 1.8secs from pole as the gap between F1’s haves and have-nots was laid bare again. Esteban Ocon, still without a drive for 2019, was the best of the Racing Point Force India cars in sixth, while Sauber had a day to remember in the Sochi sun, Charles Leclerc qualifying a career-best seventh, and teammate Marcus Ericsson making the top 10 for the first time since Italy 2015 in the week that it was announced he’d be vacating his seat for Ferrari test driver Antonio Giovinazzi next season.

There was good and bad news for local Russian drivers, with Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin causing the yellow flag that caught out Verstappen when he spun in Q1 and qualified just 18th, but the penalties for a third of the field elevated him on the starting grid to 13th. And while we’re on Russian drivers, Daniil Kvyat was revealed as Gasly’s replacement at Toro Rosso for 2019 when the Frenchman moves into Ricciardo’s current cockpit.

Come race day, it looked like Mercedes first and plenty of daylight second, but the long, long run into the first braking zone on the lap (1029 metres) made many wonder how hard Bottas would fight – or be permitted to fight – Hamilton given the Briton’s series lead and Vettel lurking in third on the grid. Would the Finn get his elbows out against his title-chasing teammate, or would he play dutiful rear-gunner to help Mercedes’ best (and realistically only) championship hope?

The race in exactly 69 words*
Hamilton extended his championship lead to 50 points with a maximum of 125 remaining with his eighth win of 2018, which came after Mercedes ordered teammate Bottas to let him past on lap 25. Bottas was a disappointed second, with Vettel losing 10 points to title rival Hamilton with third. Verstappen spectacularly charged from the back of the grid to lead for 24 laps before pitting, and finished fifth.
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)

Ricciardo recap
The Australian started one place ahead of teammate Verstappen, relinquished that position on the way to the first corner, and only progressed as far as sixth from the back of the grid in a race his teammate led for more laps than any other driver, finishing 49 seconds adrift after 53 laps. How did it happen, and was it as disappointing as the numbers make it sound?

For starters, Ricciardo laboured through much of his 39-lap opening stint on the more durable soft-compound rubber with a damaged front wing, which came when he inadvertently ran over debris from Vandoorne’s McLaren on the very first lap. While Verstappen was tearing through the field to the extent that was fifth after just eight laps, Ricciardo’s progress was compromised, and by the time he got up to sixth on lap 18, he was 19 seconds behind his teammate.

Ricciardo took on a new front wing and a set of ultrasoft tyres when he pitted 14 laps from the end and broke the circuit lap record two laps later, and his best lap of the race was just 0.062secs behind Verstappen’s pace. But this wasn’t a case of ‘what might have been’ for the Aussie had his car not been carrying damage for three-quarters of the race; such was Verstappen’s speed, and such was the deficit Red Bull had to Mercedes and Ferrari combined with the advantage it had over the rest, that sixth was the best Ricciardo was ever likely to do in Sochi – the margin to his teammate would have been smaller, but sixth it would have been.

That’s now 10 races in a row where Ricciardo hasn’t managed to make the podium; both of his rostrum finishes this year have been wins (China and Monaco), which must seem like a long time ago as the sun prepares to set on his Red Bull tenure.

What the result means
The podium in Sochi was a strange one, with a subdued Hamilton taking the winner’s trophy with a result he admitted “didn’t feel great”, Bottas clearly annoyed at the imposition of team orders but playing the team game while being beckoned onto the top step of the podium by Hamilton to receive his second-place trophy, and Vettel looking slightly bemused by proceedings and spraying his champagne with more gusto than the others despite his championship chances taking another hefty hit.

Hamilton was in the box seat for the title before this race, and the unsavoury discussion of team orders hadn’t been an issue at Mercedes much this season, such has been his superiority over Bottas. But when the Finn took a surprise pole on Saturday, and with Sochi’s enormous run to the first braking zone of the lap at Turn 2 off the start, the question of whether Bottas would help Hamilton was raised, and the Finn’s tow helped Hamilton repel a charging Vettel off the start as the pack thundered into the first ‘proper’ corner on the circuit.

Hamilton slotting into second left him vulnerable to Ferrari trying to use the pit stops to unsettle the series leader, and the German pitted a lap before Hamilton on lap 13 and jumped the Briton as the Mercedes rejoined the fray, Hamilton making his disapproval with Mercedes’ strategy choice known over the team radio.

Hamilton quickly closed on Vettel and, after being strongly repelled at Turn 2 on lap 16 (which was investigated by the race stewards, with no action taken), ripped past his title rival at Turn 4 on the same lap with a move that was breathtaking and depressing (for Ferrari) at the same time, Hamilton unleashing the full potential of the Mercedes for one decisive split second.

A developing blister on Hamilton’s left-rear tyre while sat behind Bottas prompted the Mercedes pit wall to switch their two drivers just before the halfway stage, keeping Hamilton out of Vettel’s clutches and making the German’s job mathematically all that more difficult in a clearly slower car and with races running out. Was it necessary for Mercedes to order the switch? Perhaps not, given Hamilton has now won five of the past six races, but while it remains numerically possible for Hamilton to lose the crown, it’s unsurprising.

If Hamilton was sheepish, Bottas glum and Vettel sporting a facial expression of a man resigned to his fate, perhaps the biggest smile in the pit lane was for Verstappen, who injected a huge shot of adrenaline into a race that was strategically interesting but lacking in on-track action with his incredible early charge.

Verstappen passed six cars on lap one, was in the points two laps later and fifth eight laps into the race. He finally pitted for ultrasofts – and, curiously, not the faster hypersoft tyre – 10 laps from home, and while his pace flattened from there to the extent that he finished 14 seconds behind fourth-placed Raikkonen, he’d enlivened the race to such an extent that he was voted as driver of the day for the second race in a row.

Hulkenberg spoke for just about everyone when he was given blue flags to let the Verstappen by on lap 41 – “the Red Bull is the leader – how the hell did that happen?” the Renault driver said. Verstappen, unsurprisingly, said it was a fun 21st birthday at work. “I hope you enjoyed the race as much as I did,” he said.

For historical purposes …
That’s five race wins in Sochi in five years for Mercedes, with Hamilton’s win on Sunday adding to his 2014 and 2015 successes, which give Mercedes a clean sweep when combined with the victories of Bottas (2017) and predecessor Nico Rosberg (2016).

The number to know
Sixteen Grands Prix into the 2018 season, Raikkonen (who started and finished fourth on Sunday) is yet to make a pass on the first lap of a race.

Under-the-radar winner(s)
The top three teams have been covered extensively above, but there were winners (and losers) behind them. Count Leclerc in the first category, the 2019 Ferrari driver impressing once again with seventh as the only car outside of the Mercedes-Ferrari-Red Bull ‘A’ division not to be lapped, and producing one of the passes of the race when he hung on around the outside of the notoriously feisty Magnussen at Turn 3 on the second lap.

It wasn’t all bad for Haas and Magnussen, the Dane taking four points for finishing eighth and bringing the American team to within 11 points of Renault for fourth in the constructors’ championship with five races to go, after Hulkenberg (12th) and Sainz (17th) couldn’t make their lengthy first stints on soft tyres pay off by the chequered flag.

Force India deserve some credit too, with Ocon and Sergio Perez playing nice after their clash in Singapore the race previously, and adhering to team orders in their ultimately futile attempts to gang up on Magnussen, Ocon finishing ninth, and Perez rounding out the points after both had a go at hunting down the combative Dane.

Those who lost out
Bottas and Ricciardo make this category for reasons controlled and uncontrolled, while further back, Renault’s tyre gamble (as outlined above) didn’t hit pay dirt. Elsewhere, Alonso wasn’t enormously impressed with being given an outline of his race en route to finishing 14th (“I’m 15th, I don’t care,” he said), while Toro Rosso had both drivers retire to be the only non-finishers in the race, both Hartley and Gasly spinning at different corners and returning to the pits to be retired on lap five with front brake failures.

What’s next?
There’s just five races remaining in 2018 and only four days before duties start for the next one, with Sochi on the calendar this year as a baffling back-to-back with Suzuka in Japan. The unique figure-of-eight layout is one all the drivers revere, and one where Mercedes has run rampant since the big rule change of 2014, Hamilton winning at the twisty, undulating super circuit three times in the past four seasons.


Miller Time: Picking up the pace in Aragon

Jack Miller writes about a challenging race at Aragon, where he beat the heat and survived a late scare to score his best result in nine races.


Hi everyone,

Ninth at Aragon doesn’t sound like a lot – I mean, who comes into a race weekend saying ‘I really want to finish ninth’? – but considering how things have been for me lately, it’s pretty good. I’m not overly impressed, but it’ll do.

Why? It’s been a long while since I’ve scored that many points – Le Mans back when I came fourth in April if you can believe that – and I was only 16 seconds off the win and had my best-ever finish at Aragon, so that’s something. And also because that was no easy race with how hot it was here. It was over 30 degrees when the race started and the track was up to 45 degrees and climbing fast, and there was no way you could even consider anything other than the hardest front and rear tyre available, for our bike anyway. There was no other option. And even then, that gave me some dramas.

I just couldn’t seem to get the life out of the tyre at all today. I was eighth and starting to crawl back towards my teammate (Danilo) Petrucci with seven or eight laps to go, and then I had this feeling like the bike had jumped out of gear or something, because I had this huge vibration. I thought I’d delaminated the rear tyre on the left-hand side, so that was a bit of a panic because I thought I was probably going to have to retire or crash. I’d been riding with one eye on that because the whole race, from the first lap, the tyre light came on my dash warning me about the tyre consumption. I knew that wasn’t right because it was so early in the race, but you knew it was coming, and I just kept counting the laps down waiting for a drama. Seeing a tyre light every corner make it hard to keep calm, that’s for sure.

When that vibration came, lap 17 I think it was, I immediately dropped my pace back half a second or more into the 1 minute 50s which left me exposed to Valentino (Rossi) coming up from ninth, and he got me with less than two laps to go. I had nothing for him at that stage, I wanted to fight him but the tyres definitely didn’t. The last four laps, I had to roll off and basically nurse it home because I had zero tyre left. It’s pretty scary when you’re having vibrations on the straight and you’re convinced the tyre is chunking when you’re doing 320km/h …

When I got off the bike, the tyre looked fine as far as the chunking goes – there were no bits hacked out of it – but it was destroyed. Maybe the vibration came from the gearbox, we’re still not sure until we look into it a little bit more.

With all that going on and me wondering if I was going to still be on the bike when my race finished, it’s not too bad of a result. I got a bit unlucky with the start, because I got such a good one that I was close to (Jorge) Lorenzo when he went down after starting from pole, he had a big old highside and Petrucci and I had to sit up to avoid him and that cost me some spots. Probably could have easily run into him, or run into someone else that did. So, ninth is nobody’s idea of an awesome result, but it’s a start of something better, at least that’s how I’m looking at it.

I just needed to get some points going again, and these ones have been a while coming – I was fast at Silverstone and then we didn’t race with the weather, and then Misano was going pretty well until I screwed up and dropped it on the third lap. I got there eventually, so hopefully this is something to build on.

Thailand is up next, and it’s the first time for us all there to race after we did the test there before the season. The interest was crazy then, so it’ll be nuts once we get there for the race. It’s the first of the flyaways and that means Phillip Island is getting closer, and I get to spend some time at home soon which will be awesome. I had some strong results in this part of the championship last year, definitely in Australia and Malaysia, and the top 10 is still reachable for me this year, which was the aim coming in. We’ll try to keep this up in a couple of weeks’ time – we’ve started walking again, so we’ll pick the pace up from here …

Cheers, Jack

What happened at the Singapore Grand Prix?

Lewis Hamilton strengthens his grip on the F1 title with a dominant win, while Red Bull’s Max Verstappen makes the Singapore podium for the first time in second place.


The build-up
Arguably the biggest news of the entire Singapore Grand Prix weekend came before it started, when it was announced that Sauber rookie Charles Leclerc would take the place of Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari from next season on a multi-year deal. The super-impressive Monegasque had been thought of as a nailed-on successor to the Finnish veteran for months, but what was more surprising was that Leclerc’s move from Ferrari-aligned Sauber amounted to a job swap, the 38-year-old Raikkonen re-joining the Swiss team he made his debut for way back in Australia 2001.

Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo spoke for many of his peers when he said he was a “little bit” surprised by Raikkonen’s career arc coming full circle. “I suspected Ferrari would make the change they’ve made, but I thought if Kimi left then he was leaving, riding dirt bikes and spending time with his kids,” the Australian said. “His body language doesn’t always show he enjoys the sport, but obviously he likes it more than we think he does …”

Raikkonen’s current employers looked to be in the ascendancy as the teams went through the three practice sessions under the night lights of Singapore, but when it came to qualifying, championship leader Lewis Hamilton took his Mercedes to another level, beating last year’s pole lap by (no misprint) nearly three-and-a-half seconds to snare his 79th career pole. When you’ve had as much Saturday success as the Brit has – Hamilton has more poles than any driver in F1 history – topping qualifying might not be as exciting as it would be for another driver, but this was a lap that left him almost speechless. Every apex kissed, little or no wheelspin, millimetres from the walls – it was sublime. “That lap felt like magic,” he beamed afterwards.

For those wondering about the rate of progress in F1; Hamilton’s first Singapore pole lap, for McLaren in 2009, was 11 seconds slower than his time for Mercedes this year. We’ll just let that sink in …

Alongside him on the front row with what he felt was the best qualifying lap of his career was Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who was three-tenths of a second off pole, but smiling like he’d taken top spot. “If I can take a metre against Lewis at the start, and get in the lead, there’s a good chance of a win as it’s a hard track to pass on,” he said, optimistically.

Not so happy were Ferrari, with Sebastian Vettel (third) and Raikkonen (fifth) not able to translate their practice pace when it counted against Hamilton, while the man who split the red cars, Valtteri Bottas, was seven-tenths of a second behind his Mercedes teammate, scratching his head wondering where Hamilton’s pace came from.

Verstappen was top dog at Red Bull again, Ricciardo looking strong until Q3 before finishing sixth, nearly a second off pole and six-tenths behind his teammate, while Sergio Perez was king of the ‘B’ division for Racing Point Force India, finishing seventh at a track where he typically races well, but qualifies poorly. “I think I produced a nearly perfect lap on a track where it is hard to achieve it,” the Mexican said.

Elsewhere, Haas were delighted (Romain Grosjean was eighth) and baffled (Kevin Magnussen was 16th) in equal measure, while Fernando Alonso made it a perfect 15-0 record against McLaren teammate Stoffel Vandoorne when he qualified 11th, the Belgian out in Q1 again in 18th. It was worse still for Williams, where Sergey Sirotkin was 19th and 1.4secs behind Vandoorne, while teammate Lance Stroll was nearly a tenth of a second slower than the Russian rookie. “It was really tough … more of a survival,” Sirotkin admitted.

Come race day, it was the usual Singapore talking points that were front of mind – would the 61-lap distance be completed within the maximum two-hour race window, and when, not if, the safety car would make an appearance given there had been eight safety car periods in the past five Singapore races.

More importantly for the championship, could Vettel peg back some of his 30-point deficit to Hamilton at a circuit where Ferrari, on paper at least, should be stronger?

The race in exactly 69 words*
Hamilton extended his championship lead to 40 points with six races remaining with a controlled victory, his fourth in Singapore and seventh for the season coming by a margin of over eight seconds from Verstappen, who took his maiden Singapore podium. Vettel rounded out the rostrum after a lonely drive to third in a race where the top six qualifiers finished in the same positions after 61 soporific laps.
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)

Ricciardo recap
At least he saw the chequered flag … sixth for Ricciardo, after he’d finished second on the Singapore streets for the past three years, wasn’t much to get excited about for Red Bull’s Australian, but seeing the finish line after three mechanical retirements in the four previous races was at least a tiny step in the right direction.

Starting sixth, Ricciardo made no headway in the opening stint of the race, but was able to roll a strategic dice with no pressure from behind, staying out longer than his teammate Verstappen and the Mercedes/Ferrari pairings to delay his sole pit stop to discard his hypersoft tyres until lap 27. He inherited the lead when Raikkonen pitted on lap 21 to head a race for the first time since he won in Monaco in May, and elected to fit ultrasoft tyres for the remainder of the race at his stop, the pace of the softer rubber theoretically enabling him to catch fourth-placed Bottas and Raikkonen in fifth ahead of him.

Ricciardo surged late in the race, setting several fastest laps along the way, but was never close enough to mount an attack on the Finnish pair, finishing nine-tenths of a second behind the second Ferrari and a whopping 45 seconds behind his teammate. Sixth in qualifying, sixth in the race and – not coincidentally – sixth in the world championship with 126 points, 22 behind Verstappen (who he led by as many as 37 points earlier in the season).

What the result means
There’s been several good Grands Prix this season, and even a couple of great ones. And then there was Singapore, where the top six cars finished where they started after 111 minutes of “racing”, the seventh-placed finisher (Alonso) was 50 seconds behind the driver in front of him (Ricciardo), every other driver was lapped at least once, and where there was precisely one overtake among the top six – through the pit-stop phase of the race – among the top three teams after the first lap.

Why? What made qualifying so exciting 24 hours before and saw record times tumble was the use of the hypersoft tyre for the first time, which ensured the top 10 qualifiers would do everything in their power to extend their first stint of the race so as to not have to pit more than once to cover the 61 laps. On tyres that Pirelli suspected might last 10-15 laps, Ricciardo eked his out to lap 27, while Vettel was the first of the fastest six drivers to pit on lap 14. How? By not pushing: the opening laps of the race after the manic opening corners were run at lap times 11 seconds slower than qualifying.

Vettel’s opening-lap pass of Verstappen at Turn 7 after using the superior grunt of the Ferrari engine to usurp the Dutchman’s Renault-powered Red Bull looked to have put the German into play to challenge title rival Hamilton, but Ferrari’s early pit stop – and the decision to fit ultrasoft tyres – backfired when Vettel found himself bottlenecked behind Perez for two laps on resuming, meaning Verstappen could pit three laps later, fit the more durable soft tyre, and sneak out of the pits just ahead to regain second place, which he held until the end.

With fading tyres and more than likely fading motivation, Vettel fell to 39secs behind Hamilton at the flag, and now needs to score an average of seven points more than his Mercedes rival in every race for the remainder of the season to win the title. Given Hamilton has finished either first or second for the past six races, that sounds like a very, very tall order.

For historical purposes …
Magnussen may have finished 18th – or, if you prefer, second-last – after a weekend when he could never get on the pace of Haas teammate Grosjean, or most of the rest of the field. But the Dane did set the fastest race lap (1min 41.905secs on lap 50) for the first time in his 76-race F1 career, and became the first F1 driver in his family to achieve the feat; father Jan, who started 24 races between 1995-98, never managed it.

The number to know
the percentage of races in Singapore to feature a safety car intervention. Esteban Ocon’s meeting with the Turn 3 wall on the first lap (more of which later) made it 15 safety car periods in 11 races at one of the calendar’s most unforgiving tracks.

Under-the-radar winner(s)
Look no further than Alonso here, who took McLaren’s best result since Azerbaijan 10 races ago with seventh, using a marathon 38-lap first stint on ultrasoft tyres starting outside of the top 10 to leapfrog Grosjean, Perez and Renault pair Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg and maintain a strong pace throughout. Six points for the team after it had taken just four between its two drivers from the previous four races gave McLaren reason to smile in what has been a rough season.

It wasn’t all bad for Sainz and Hulkenberg either – eighth for the Spaniard, and 10th for his German teammate, saw Renault score five points on a day when Haas went scoreless (Grosjean 15th, Magnussen 18th) and increase its lead over the American team in the constructors’ championship to 15 points.

Singapore was a welcome return to the points for Sauber’s Leclerc, too; the 2019 Ferrari driver was ninth for his first top-10 finish in six races, a wretched run that included three non-finishes.

Those who lost out
The ‘new’ Force India lost out big-time in Singapore, when Perez nudged teammate Ocon into the wall on the opening lap to make the Frenchman the first (and eventually only) retirement of the race. Ocon was unimpressed with Perez squeezing him into the outside barrier; Perez said he was unsighted and had nowhere to go.

It was a rough race for the pink-hued team, with Perez later copping a drive-through penalty after swerving into Sirotkin after he passed the Russian at Turn 17 on lap 33, the Mexican’s frustration boiling over after being snookered behind the slower Williams for several laps.

Sirotkin didn’t endear himself to many of his rivals on Sunday, given a five-second time penalty for pushing Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley into the wall late in the race, while the Williams driver fought Grosjean’s Haas like crazy as the pair were being lapped by the leaders on lap 38, Hamilton nearly losing position to Verstappen and commenting “these guys are crazy” to his team. Grosjean was later given a five-second penalty for ignoring blue flags as he baulked Verstappen as his battle with Sirotkin raged.

What’s next?
After jetting all the way to Asia (while staying on European time for the night event of Singapore), F1 hits reverse and heads back to the northern hemisphere bound for Russia (September 30), which hosts the fifth world championship Grand Prix held at the circuit that winds its way around the stadiums used for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Which, naturally, comes before Suzuka in Japan a week later (who organises these calendars?) Bottas will be one driver keen to see Russia come up on the schedule as he searches for his first win of 2018; the Finn was victorious in Sochi 12 months ago, while Mercedes has won all four Grands Prix at the venue, which is bad news for Vettel and everyone else.

Miller Time: Not too low after Misano

Jack Miller writes about a ‘stupid’ mistake that proved costly at Misano, and why he still has plenty of optimism after a pointless but promising weekend.


Hi everyone,

Well, that was 24 hours of extremes, that’s for sure. It’s hard to have a lot of perspective and be all bigger picture after you’ve just screwed up and crashed out of a race where you’ve started on the front row, but I’m doing my best. It’s an hour or so since I got off the bike here at Misano and I’m not going to lie, I’m massively disappointed in myself. Completely my mistake. But I can’t get too low after this one, and there’s a lot of reasons for me to be optimistic. It wasn’t that long ago that being optimistic was the last thing I was thinking about.

I came 18th in Austria too in my last race before Sunday’s at Misano (we got rained out at Silverstone, remember), but there’s finishing 18th, and finishing 18th. Same result but they’re not the same thing, nowhere close. Austria, we were lost, I couldn’t make the tyres last, I’d qualified nowhere, it wasn’t a surprise. This one today was a bad surprise I didn’t want, but they’re not the same weekend. Here we had pace, it was consistent, I felt good, the bike was great and there was nothing fluky or lucky about qualifying on the front row … I just made a stupid mistake at the worst possible time.

There’s no sugar-coating what happened. The track was still pretty fresh and I was just trying to stay with the guys at the front after Andrea (Dovizioso) and Marc (Marquez) passed me in the first two laps. I knew they were coming, sure, and it was realistically going to be hard to me to keep those guys behind me for the whole race, even if I did manage to get them both in qualifying. But I was right there and we had a gap to the others behind. Fourth felt good, and felt like I could keep it.

I felt like I was losing a little bit too much in drive and speed, and I guess I was working the tyre too hard in the corner. And down she went – bottomed out in the middle of Turn 14, tucked the front, and that was that. There’d been a few warning signs leading up to it, but really, at that part of the race, we’re all having those warning signs, you’re just trying to react to them and catch them.

There’s ways to look at this. I’m crashing out of fourth position three laps into the race on a year-old bike, and the only riders ahead of me are two factory Ducatis and the championship leader. So you have to look at the positives. When I picked the bike up, it had no windscreen because it was smashed, and the handlebar was bent, and still my fastest lap of the race was only about a tenth (of a second) slower than (Valentino) Rossi with a bike that was clearly pretty damaged after a crash. I got back up, worked my arse off to catch the guys in front and pass some of them, so I don’t want to over-think the negatives.

The pace this weekend wasn’t a surprise in some ways because we were quick at Silverstone in the dry (when it actually was dry), and then we had a test just afterwards at Aragon where I did 88 laps, about three race distances in the one day, and we pushed all day and were quick. The track was pretty dirty too that day and we still did strong lap times, so that was a good sign for the next race in two weeks.

Misano, the whole weekend was strong – in the top 10 most sessions, obviously second on the grid – so this is a minor hiccup, and no more than that. It won’t take much to bounce back from this to continue the good pace for Aragon next, and then the races as we lead into Australia. We’ve got six races left and I’m massively determined to finish this year out strongly and get some good results for the team. On Sundays as well as Saturdays …

Cheers, Jack

What happened at the Italian Grand Prix?

Lewis Hamilton strikes back with a win in Ferrari territory, while Daniel Ricciardo’s charge from the back flames out in what was a tense race at Monza.


The build-up
Ferrari’s enthusiastic tifosi arrive in their tens of thousands for the Italian Grand Prix every year, but they had a special spring in their step for this trip to Monza after Sebastian Vettel’s win at Spa a week earlier, and with most experts believing it was the Scuderia, not Mercedes, who now had the fastest car in their field.

Practice times indicated it would be a shock if a red car wasn’t on pole, but few would have thought Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen would have ended up as top of the pile after Q3, the Finnish veteran beating his teammate by 0.161secs with a lap of 1min 19.119secs that set an F1 record for average speed (263.587km/h). It made the 38-year-old the oldest pole-sitter since Nigel Mansell in Australia 24 years ago.

The brilliant lap was more than four-tenths of a second faster than the old record, held by Juan Pablo Montoya (Williams) at Monza in 2004, but predictably, most people were more emotional about Raikkonen’s pole than the ‘Iceman’ himself …

Vettel was miffed at not taking pole at a circuit where first in qualifying has translated to first on race day seven times in the past eight years, with many wondering if Raikkonen would be sacrificed in the race for Vettel’s title campaign, given their comparative deficits to series leader Lewis Hamilton (Vettel 17 points, Raikkonen 85).

Hamilton was just 0.014secs behind Vettel with a lap he felt he’d “squeezed everything out of”, and while Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas was fourth, his deficit to pole (0.537secs) was a truer indicator of Mercedes’ lack of pace compared to Ferrari.

Max Verstappen was next but a world away (1.496secs off pole) despite using Renault’s new engine in his Red Bull, while teammate Daniel Ricciardo was at the very back after also taking a new powerplant but accruing penalties for exceeding his season’s allocation, and not bothering to set a lap time in Q2, knowing he’d be at the tail-end anyway. “We’re as fast in a straight line as we can be at the moment which should serve me well in the race,” he said. “We’ll come through the field, brake late and hopefully finish up with some good points.”

Elsewhere, Romain Grosjean (Haas) and Carlos Sainz (Renault) had excellent sessions in sixth and seventh respectively, while Grosjean’s teammate Kevin Magnussen (11th) had a war of words after qualifying with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso (13th), the pair compromising one another’s laps in Q2.

“There are many classes of drivers and then there are the Haas ones, who have the third or fourth-best car of the grid and are out in Q2,” Alonso sarcastically said of the Dane, who didn’t miss the Spaniard with his retort. “I’m not going to let him pass me, and sacrifice my own lap. No way. I know he thinks he’s a god, but no way,” Magnussen said, adding: “He came to me after qualifying and laughed to my face … just outright disrespectful. I can’t wait for him to retire.”

Other notable performances came from Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, who was ninth after expecting to struggle to make it out of Q1, while Lance Stroll was 10th for some desperately-needed good news for his beleaguered Williams team. “Sometimes you get in a rhythm and it just comes all together, and today that is how it went,” the Canadian said.

Come Sunday, all eyes were on the weather after it poured on Friday and threatened on Saturday, and whether Ferrari would orchestrate a switch of positions between its drivers on the run down to the super-tight first chicane, where first-lap accidents are almost an annual tradition. “We know as a team we can race but we need to be careful with each other,” Raikkonen said, cautiously …

The race in exactly 69 words*
Hamilton extended his championship lead with his sixth 2018 win, a combination of pace and tyre management seeing him beat Raikkonen after surviving a brush with Vettel on lap one. Vettel recovered from the back to fourth after a pit stop for repairs, while Verstappen fell from third on the road to fifth in the results after being penalised for hitting Bottas, the Finn inheriting the final podium place.
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)

Ricciardo recap
For the third time in four races, Ricciardo was an early spectator through no fault of his own, pulling over before the Turn 3-4 chicane on lap 24 with smoke billowing from the back of his Red Bull after “I heard something breaking” as he slowed for Turn 1. The Australian had just edged into the points after starting from the back row before his retirement, which is his sixth in 14 races this season; only Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley (who also had his sixth DNF of the year after contact with Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson seconds after the start) has finished as few races.

Ricciardo started on the soft tyre and had planned to run a long first stint of the race, but the safety car caused by Vettel’s first-lap tap with Hamilton and the debris from Hartley’s shunt saw him immediately pit for supersoft tyres in an attempt to make inroads through the midfield.

Contact with Gasly on lap nine saw him sustain some front wing damage, but he was still able to make steady if unspectacular progress into the points before what appeared to be another power unit failure, but was later revealed to be a clutch issue.

“It’s not always fun, looking at the whole year it has been pretty frustrating,” he said.

“I passed Stroll and then I could see smoke coming out of the back. If I got a penalty in Singapore, I probably won’t even show up …”

Since Ricciardo’s second win of the season in Monaco in round six, he’s managed just three fourth places, a fifth, and retired three times with mechanical failures. Between them, the Red Bull pairing of Ricciardo and Verstappen have 10 retirements, more than any other team on the grid.

What the result means
Former F1 driver Felipe Massa, conducting the post-race interviews, described Hamilton’s fifth Italian GP win as one of his finest races, and it’s hard to argue. For the world champion to head to the next race with a 30-point series lead – meaning he’ll retain that advantage no matter what happens on the Singapore streets – was an enormous result in the context of the title fight on a weekend where Ferrari was faster in all three practice sessions and all three periods of qualifying.

After surviving the tangle with Vettel, which was deemed a racing incident despite the German saying Hamilton had left him nowhere to go, Hamilton never challenged Raikkonen for the lead, but never let the Finn’s Ferrari out of his sight before Raikkonen pitted on lap 21. The ensuing eight laps until Hamilton stopped were the most critical of the race, Hamilton maintaining a strong pace on worn rubber, and Raikkonen – as it turned out – going far too hard too early on his new tyres, that still had to complete 32 laps, after he resumed.

Hamilton was initially concerned with the gap to Raikkonen once he made his own stop – the Ferrari pulled out five seconds as Raikkonen relentlessly pushed – but Mercedes was able to snooker Ferrari by having Bottas stay out longer than planned before his own pit stop, denying Raikkonen the free air he needed to escape the Briton’s clutches. Tyre wear – Raikkonen’s left rear tyre was ageing badly the longer the race went – saw Hamilton close rapidly, and it became a matter of if, rather than when, the championship leader would strike.

Eight laps from the end – on eight-lap younger tyres, remember – Hamilton took the lead into the first corner, and bolted to win by nearly nine seconds as Raikkonen was forced to drop his pace to such an extent that he was the slowest car on track in the closing stages as he nursed his tyres home.

Race pace, strategy calls, teamwork … Mercedes had it all over Ferrari in hostile territory. The radio message to Bottas as he and Hamilton drove side-by-side on the lap back to the pits after the chequered flag – “formation all the way home, just to show our Italian colleagues” – only served to rub it in.

Raikkonen (who scored his 100th podium finish) was understandably disappointed to miss his best chance yet of snapping a win drought that extends 108 races back to Australia in 2013, while for Vettel, fourth was as good as it could have been given he was last and facing the wrong way four corners into a race that, before qualifying started, he would have been odds-on to win.

Bottas’ team play was rewarded with a podium – although not on the road at the flag – after Verstappen clattered into him as they fought into the first corner on lap 42, the Dutchman given a five-second time penalty that dropped him behind both the Finn and Vettel in the results. Verstappen was not pleased, to put it mildly, suggesting the stewards were “killing racing”, adding to his team that “I’m losing time to Vettel, but I don’t really care” as the final laps loomed. In reality, fifth – behind the two Ferrari and two Mercedes cars – was as good, on pace, as Red Bull was going to achieve at a circuit where straight-line speed has always been king.

For historical purposes …
Hamilton’s win was his fourth Italian Grand Prix victory in five years, and ensured Mercedes won on Ferrari’s home patch for the fifth straight year after Hamilton’s former teammate Nico Rosberg was victorious in 2016. Since F1 switched to the V6 turbo hybrid engine era in 2014, Mercedes has never been beaten at Monza.

The number to know
Hamilton’s points gap atop the standings is the largest enjoyed by any driver this season.

Under-the-radar winner(s)
Look no further to the back-end of the points for the biggest winners not on the rostrum in Italy – Williams. Stroll finished 10th and teammate Sergey Sirotkin looked to have just missed out on his maiden points finish in 11th, but hours after the race, the Russian was promoted into the top 10 after the disqualification of Romain Grosjean (sixth). Grosjean’s haul of points looked to have propelled Haas past Renault in the constructors’ championship, but the French team protested the legality of Grosjean’s machine, and the stewards agreed, saying the floor of the Haas was in breach of the sport’s regulations.

Grosjean’s exclusion elevated Force India pair Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez into sixth and seventh, Sainz (and Renault) inherited eighth, and the Williams pair rounded out the points, the team’s first score since Azerbaijan 10 races ago.

Those who lost out
Haas (see above). The Ferrari fans; Alonso’s 2010 victory at Monza remains Ferrari’s most recent on home soil. Alonso himself, who was given a stirring reception from the crowd on the drivers’ parade before his final Italian GP, but was out after just 10 laps when his McLaren had a sudden loss of power. Ricciardo, who’s becoming a regular fixture in this space. And Raikkonen, despite finishing second. On pole, teammate out of contention and in the lead in the fastest car in the field with less than 10 laps left … you can’t help but wonder if he’ll ever have a better chance of nabbing that elusive 21st career victory.

What’s next?
The European leg of the world championship is now done and dusted, with the focus now shifting to Singapore (September 16) and the Grand Prix that has become one of the sport’s signature events. It’s hard to find a contrast between circuits greater than the flat-out blasts of Monza to the stop-and-go streets of the Asian city-state, which tends to suits Ricciardo down to the ground. The Australian’s last four races there: third, second, second, second. If he’s to snare another win before leaving Red Bull for Renault, this shapes as the race …