What happened at the Brazilian Grand Prix?

Max Verstappen seethes after an incident with a backmarker sees Lewis Hamilton sail through for his 10th win of the year at Interlagos.


The build-up
One title won, another left to secure – that was Mercedes’ mindset as the teams set up in Brazil for the penultimate round of 2018, Lewis Hamilton having sealed the drivers’ crown at the last race in Mexico. The equation for the Silver Arrows was a simple one – outscore Ferrari by 13 points at Interlagos, and a fifth straight double (every year of the V6 turbo hybrid era from 2014 onwards) would be theirs, a run of success matched only by the all-conquering Ferrari/Michael Schumacher axis that dominated the sport in a similar fashion from 2000-04.

The main protagonists for each team, Hamilton for Mercedes and Sebastian Vettel for Ferrari, locked out the front row in a tense qualifying session where a forecast deluge never quite happened, but both drivers could be considered fortunate to escape penalties after incidents on Saturday. Hamilton got in the way, inadvertently, of Sergey Sirotkin’s Williams and Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari in the session but escaped sanction, while Vettel received a reprimand and a 25,000 Euro fine for a bizarre incident in Q2, where he was called to the weighbridge during the 15-minute session.

The German ran over a cone denoting the weighbridge area, ignored instructions from the stewards, didn’t switch off his engine as required and then drove off the weighbridge under his own power when the process was complete, eager to get back on track before conditions potentially worsened. The weighbridge scales were left damaged after he took off.

Hamilton’s Q3 lap of 1min 07.281secs was his 10th pole of the season and more than a second faster than teammate Valtteri Bottas’ pole at the same track a year ago, and the Briton was the only driver in the top three teams to improve on his best lap as the chequered flag fell. At a short circuit where the margins are tiny, it was crucial – he was 0.093secs ahead of Vettel.

Bottas and Raikkonen rode shotgun to their faster teammates on the second row, and while the Red Bull Racing duo of Max Verstappen (fifth) and Daniel Ricciardo (sixth) were separated by just 0.002secs, Ricciardo would start back on row six, coming into the weekend with a five-place grid penalty for a new turbo after his was damaged by fire-retardant foam when his engine expired at the previous race in Mexico. “I got a phone call last week notifying me of what happened,” he said. “I’d kind of got over it (the retirement) that week and then I got that call …”.

Behind Ricciardo in qualifying but ahead of him on the grid was Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, who qualified a career-best seventh in his penultimate race with the team, while arguably the lap of qualifying was driven by the Swede’s teammate Charles Leclerc, who brilliantly leapt inside the top 10 as the rain increased at the end of Q2.

Ricciardo wasn’t the only driven to be slapped with a penalty – Force India’s Esteban Ocon, who qualified 13th, was down in 18th on the grid after a five-place gearbox replacement sanction – while McLaren was the only team to have both cars ousted in Q1, Fernando Alonso (18th) out-qualifying Stoffel Vandoorne (20th and last) for the 20th time in 20 races this season. On the six-year anniversary of McLaren’s most recent win (Jenson Button in Brazil in 2012), it was a stark reminder of how far the former front-runners have fallen.

For the race, the primary intrigue was with Ferrari, with its engine devastatingly fast on the straights (five of the six Ferrari-powered cars made the top 10 in qualifying), and with Vettel and Raikkonen set to start the race on the soft tyre, which would offer greater durability than the supersofts used by Mercedes and Red Bull. If Vettel could get ahead of Hamilton on the short run to the first corner, the race could turn into a strategic arm-wrestle over 71 laps.

The race in exactly 69 words*
Hamilton won his 10th GP of 2018 after race-leader Verstappen, who had passed him on lap 40, was involved in an incident with Ocon at Turn 2 four laps later as the Force India driver looked to unlap himself from 15th place. Verstappen spun and lost the lead, and Hamilton won by 1.469secs. Raikkonen just held off Ricciardo for the final podium place, while Mercedes sealed the constructors’ championship.
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)

Ricciardo recap
Ricciardo made it to the finish, a success in itself given he hadn’t seen the chequered flag since Japan last month when he started from 15th after his car broke down in qualifying, and Sunday was just his fourth finish in the past eight races. So while he was disappointed to be just four-tenths of a second behind Raikkonen for the final podium place, it was a good result at a circuit that has comfortably been his least successful of those tracks on the calendar for his entire career; before Sunday, he’d managed just 13 points in seven starts, a sixth place last year his previous best return.

Starting 11th, the Australian’s aim was to be up with the front five on the grid as soon as possible, and he stormed through to sixth after just five laps. From there, Ricciardo bided his time on the supersoft tyres he set his qualifying lap on, looking to run as long as possible in his first stint to he could make just one pit stop, and exchange those supersofts for soft Pirellis for the final run to the flag. He led for four laps as others pitted (leading for the first time since Singapore in September) before stopping on lap 40, and quickly overtook Vettel before setting off after Bottas for fourth. He finally cleared the Finn with a robust pass of the Mercedes at Turn 1 with 11 laps to go, but despite hounding Raikkonen to the flag, couldn’t add to his only two podiums this year, long-ago wins in China and Monaco.

“I caught Kimi and could see the podium, but unfortunately it just wasn’t quite enough,” he said.

“It’s frustrating because every time we have a penalty we seem to have a fast car, if we started closer to the front I’m confident we could have had a really good result. If we had started where I qualified we could have done better, you can’t ask for much starting from 11th.

“I had fun and some great battles, especially my pass on Bottas. I told the team on the radio I was going for it and I made it stick. The battle with Seb was cool, I think we maybe touched once or twice, but I’ve always respected him and the way he races. We’ve had some on-track battles before, at times it gets slightly heated, but I believe we know where each other’s limits are.”

What the result means
Hamilton winning for the 10th time this year was a huge achievement, while Mercedes taking its fifth straight constructors’ crown is (almost) historically unprecedented. But all everyone wanted to talk about after the race was the Ocon-Verstappen clash, which continued from the track to the post-race weigh in …

For sake of context: how did we get to the point where they collided on track on lap 44? Verstappen made a brilliant start from fifth on the grid, and after he ambushed Bottas at Turn 1 on lap 10, starting hacking into Hamilton’s lead. Hamilton pitted for medium-compound tyres on lap 19, and Verstappen was relentless after he inherited P1, emerging right in Hamilton’s wheeltracks after he pitted on lap 36, and breezing by four laps later.

It looked almost certain that the Dutchman would take back-to-back wins after victory in Mexico a fortnight ago, but Ocon, who had pitted on lap 40 and was lapped in 15th place after being shuffled down to 19th on lap one, was in no mood to hang around as he strived to make the best of his new tyres to climb back into the top 10.

After the race, the Red Bull driver didn’t hold back with his words after making his displeasure with Ocon obvious with his actions. For the record, Ocon was given a 10-second stop-go penalty from the stewards for causing the collision.

“We had a great car. Then, by such an idiot, to get taken out while he is being lapped. I have no words,” Verstappen said, adding that Ocon “was being a pussy” after their post-race shoving match.

“I think a penalty says enough. If the stewards give him a penalty, you know who was wrong in that situation.

“You can easily say afterwards that I have much more to lose than him, but I’m just trying to do my race.

“Suddenly a backmarker is trying to race you and taking a stupid risk to dive inside. What can I do about it?

“The penalty for me is that I lost the victory, but hopefully in 15 years’ time we can laugh about it.”

Ocon’s view? “What I am really surprised about is the behaviour of Max coming into the scales,” he said.

“The FIA having to stop him from being violent, pushing me and wanted me to punch me – and that is not professional.”

Asked by a TV crew if he planned to speak to his former F3 rival, Ocon said: “I am used to the fights with Max, it has been the same, it goes back a few years. So, no.

“I had fresh tyres basically and the rules say you are allowed to unlap yourself if you are faster, and that is what I did on the second lap because I had massive pace.”

Hamilton, who nursed a car battling significant tyre wear and engine issues home after being gifted the lead, took a longer lens to describe what had unfolded in front of him.

“I saw it happen, it wasn’t something that … I wasn’t surprised by it,” he said.

“I saw them racing but they were not racing for the same position. I would have been in a different frame of mind.

“Fortunately he was able to keep going, no-one got hurt and it was a racing incident, I guess.

“Max is that go-getter guy, and every now and again it bites you.”

For historical purposes …
Sunday’s win for Hamilton was the first time the five-time world champion had taken victory in a Grand Prix in the same year after securing the title.

The number to know
Bottas set the fastest lap of the race (for the record, a 1:10.540 on lap 65 of 71) for the seventh time this year … and is still searching for his first race win of 2018 while teammate Hamilton has won half of this year’s 20 Grands Prix.

Under-the-radar winner(s)
Raikkonen took his 12th podium of the season to edge away from Bottas in third place in the drivers’ standings with one race left; he has a 14-point lead over his compatriot heading to Abu Dhabi and the season finale. As Hamilton celebrated on the podium and Verstappen didn’t stick around after receiving his second-place penalty, Kimi was being, well, Kimi …

Who else won at Interlagos? Ricciardo, for finishing (it’s all about small steps), Leclerc with an outstanding seventh that saw him seven seconds clear of the other midfield runners to be a clear best of the rest, and Haas, which had Romain Grosjean (eighth) and teammate Kevin Magnussen (ninth) in the points on a day when Renault (Nico Hulkenberg DNF with a radiator issue, Carlos Sainz 12th) couldn’t score any.

Those who lost out
Second when you looked set to win lands Verstappen in this category, while Ocon landed in the naughty corner for his penalty. Bottas (fifth) and Vettel (sixth) end up here too after both started inside the top three, with the German completely overshadowed by teammate Raikkonen after Ferrari entered the race seemingly in the box seat. Pierre Gasly, who started inside the top 10 but finished 13th after a fraught late-race battle with Toro Rosso teammate Brendon Hartley. And Ericsson, whose day went from bad to worse after his Sauber started shedding bits of bodywork on the way to the grid; from sixth, he fell progressively backwards, spun on lap 21 and dropped to the back, and retired soon after.

What’s next?
Twenty down, one to go – the last GP of the season comes in Abu Dhabi in a fortnight’s time, which will double as the final race for Ricciardo, Leclerc, Sainz, Gasly and Raikkonen at their current teams, and the F1 finale for Alonso, Ericsson and Vandoorne before they move to pastures new.


What happened at the Mexican Grand Prix?

Max Verstappen takes his fifth career win in dominant style, while fourth place for Lewis Hamilton wrapped up the Briton’s fifth world title.


The build-up
Season 2018 has been one, from its mid-point at least, of metronomic predictability; Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton on top, Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel falling away from the front, and Red Bull Racing in a league of one, unable to mix it with the top two teams on raw pace, but comfortably faster than everyone else. Which made practice at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico all the more baffling, with Max Verstappen just ahead of teammate Daniel Ricciardo, eye-catching performances coming from the likes of Renault and Toro Rosso, and Mercedes and Ferrari looking all at sea.

Why? The altitude of Mexico City (2225 metres above sea level, three times higher than Interlagos in Brazil, the next-highest track) played a part, as the reduced air density decreased the amount of oxygen in the air, which meant less engine power was available than normal. For Mercedes and Ferrari, their renowned ‘qualy modes’, where both teams are able to turn up the power delivery from their engines for one mega qualifying lap, didn’t have the same effect, while for Red Bull, the benefits of its sweet-handling chassis wouldn’t be negated by its usual lack of punch in a straight line. The tyres also played a part on a hot and slippery track surface, Mercedes in particular struggling to keep any life in the Pirelli hypersoft rubber, the ideal tyre for one stopwatch-chasing lap on Saturday.

If practice painted a surprising picture, qualifying was even more of a shock when the Red Bull on pole was Ricciardo rather than Verstappen; the Dutchman has comfortably had the Australian’s measure on Saturdays this year, and looked in the box seat for pole when he led the timesheets after the opening laps in Q3 from Vettel and Hamilton, Ricciardo a quarter of a second behind. But on his final lap, Ricciardo found nearly three-tenths of a second, and when Verstappen and the rest couldn’t improve, a third career pole – and his first not at Monaco – was his.

Months of frustration – and some unexpected jubilation – poured out in Ricciardo’s reaction afterwards.

“Max led the way through the practices, I knew there was a bit more in it and I just squeezed it out at the very end,” he said.

“I’m holding a lot in. I let a bit out once I heard I got pole, but I’ve got to save some energy for tomorrow. We’ve got to finish the job tomorrow, but to confirm our pace in qualifying is really good.”

Verstappen was second, 0.026secs adrift, and less than impressed after his practice pace didn’t translate into becoming the youngest pole-sitter in the history of the sport. “The whole qualifying was crap,” he said after Red Bull took its first front-row lockout since the US GP of 2013, therefore its first in the V6 turbo hybrid era.

Hamilton was third and, crucially, ahead of Vettel in fourth as he looked to cement the world championship in Mexico; with a 70-point lead with two races remaining, the Mercedes man only needed to be ahead by 50 points after the Mexican GP to head to the next race in Brazil as a five-time world champion. The Brit didn’t expect to be able to match Ricciardo and Verstappen in the race, but wasn’t about to play it safe at the start and the lengthy 890-metre run into the first corner, either. “Everyone’s going to be barrelling into Turn 1 to gain places,” he said. “It’s a very, very fine line. If you go easy, you can get hit. If you go too aggressive, you can get hit. You’ve got to race it like normal.”

Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas and Vettel’s fellow Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen were fifth and sixth on the grid and never featured in the fight for pole, while Renault and Sauber each placed two cars in Q3, Nico Hulkenberg (seventh) two-tenths ahead of Renault partner Carlos Sainz, and Charles Leclerc a similar margin ahead of Sauber teammate Marcus Ericsson in ninth and 10th.

Elsewhere, Brendon Hartley’s promising practice pace didn’t translate to qualifying when he was just 14th for Toro Rosso, while teammate Pierre Gasly was at the back after yet another engine penalty for the Honda-powered squad.

Renault’s threat to fourth in the constructors’ championship, Haas, had a miserable run in qualifying, Romain Grosjean starting way back in 18th, and Kevin Magnussen only marginally better in 16th. For Grosjean, staring at a race ban for penalty points on his licence after clattering into Leclerc a week earlier in Austin, Mexico was a “shit situation”. “When you are on a fast lap you do your best, and when you are on a slow lap you always watch twice more in the mirrors and make sure you don’t block anyone,” he said, admitting he would be cautious in the race.

Caution would be the last thing Ricciardo and Verstappen would be considering when the lights went out for 71 laps on Sunday, with both drivers spying a chance at a rare race win. Hamilton had his title to think about, Vettel had nothing to lose … it promised to be an explosive start.

The race in exactly 69 words*
Verstappen nailed the start and got to turn one first, and was largely untroubled from there as he won by 17 seconds from Vettel, who was comfortably ahead of teammate Raikkonen in third. It was Verstappen’s second consecutive win in Mexico. Fourth for Hamilton was enough for the Mercedes driver to win the world title, while pole-sitter Ricciardo’s wretched luck continued, retiring from second place with 10 laps left.
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)

Ricciardo recap
The Australian didn’t even get a chance to defend his hard-earned pole into the first corner, getting a tardy getaway off the line and being immediately swamped by Verstappen, while Hamilton sailed between the Red Bulls to demote Ricciardo to third before the cars even hit the brakes. Ricciardo was always on his back foot from there, and with Verstappen careering away and Hamilton, at least initially, looking to have his measure, Ricciardo’s focus was more on Vettel behind him as the Ferrari driver desperately attempted to claw onto the back of his title rival.

Encountering lapped traffic in the slow stadium section of the track on lap 33 didn’t help Ricciardo’s cause, Ferrari’s 10-15km/h speed advantage on the straight seeing Vettel sail by for third, but second place still looked achievable for Ricciardo when Vettel pitted five laps later, and even more so when he forced Hamilton into a mistake at the first corner on lap 47 to slot in behind Verstappen, albeit a long way behind.

Ricciardo tried to make his second set of tyres last to the end of the 71-lap race, employing a one-stop strategy where most of the other front-runners pitted twice, and seemingly had Vettel covered before a tell-tale puff of smoke came from the back of his car on lap 61, which ground to a halt with hydraulics failure at the first corner on the next lap. He’s now retired from eight races this season, more than any other driver.

“I don’t think ‘frustration’ is the word anymore,” Ricciardo said. “Everything feels hopeless. I haven’t had a clean race or weekend in so long. I’m not superstitious or any of this bullshit, but … the car’s cursed. I don’t have any more words.”

What the result means
It was high-fives all round for the two biggest winners in what became a bizarre Mexican GP, with the altitude, tyre wear and performance spread throughout the field seeing most of the drivers tip-toe home, not looking to endanger their fragile cars in one of the more taxing races of the year.

Winner number one was, of course, Hamilton; while he only needed to finish seventh or better to confirm his fifth world title, the Briton battled tyre blistering and intermittent pace throughout, but was under little pressure of falling out of the top six with the performance gap between the top three teams and the rest of the field.

With five world titles, he now equals the great Juan Manuel Fangio as the second-most successful driver in the sport’s history; only Michael Schumacher (seven) sits ahead of him. After Will Smith came onto the team radio to congratulate him on his slow-down lap, Hamilton was more interested in talking about his title than one of his least convincing races this year.

“It’s a very strange feeling right now,” he admitted. “It was a horrible race. To complete this, when Fangio had done it with Mercedes, is an incredible feeling and very surreal at the moment.”

Hamilton’s achievement was momentous and overshadowed Verstappen’s drive to a degree, as it did last year when the Dutchman won the race and Hamilton took the title at the same Grand Prix. But for one lap on Saturday afternoon, Verstappen was in a class of one in Mexico, and a man on mission to record his second win this year, and fifth of his career.

While Ricciardo’s retirement in the sister Red Bull raised alarm bells, Verstappen asking his team repeatedly what he needed to do to preserve his car to ensure it saw the flag first, he needn’t have been concerned.

“I didn’t sleep very well last night,” Verstappen admitted after the race, kicking himself after losing out on a pole position that looked nailed-on after practice.

“I was very determined to win, and we’ve done that. We had the right tyres and the car was working very well.”

For historical purposes …
Verstappen’s second win this season made it four victories for Red Bull in 2018; you have to go back to 2010 for the last time three different teams won at least four races in the same season. For the record, the 2018 scorecard stands at Mercedes nine (all Hamilton), Ferrari six (five to Vettel and one to Raikkonen), and two each for Red Bull pilots Ricciardo and Verstappen.

The number to know
5 to 4:
Verstappen now leads Ricciardo in race wins since they became teammates at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix.

Under-the-radar winner(s)
Vettel’s dream of ending Ferrari’s 11-year drivers’ title drought is over, but the German was gracious in defeat, and forthright about what Ferrari – and any other team – need to do to unseat the team that has won every drivers’ title since F1 entered the V6 turbo hybrid era in 2014.

“They did a superb job all year,” he said of Hamilton and Mercedes. “We need to stand there, accept that and send congratulations.

“It is an absolutely horrible moment (to lose the title), you put a lot of work in. I did pay attention in maths so I knew the numbers.

“Three times in my life I have had that disappointment when you realise you can’t win the world championship, and those are not happy days. We had some chances, we used some and did not use some. In the end, we were not good enough.”

Largely overlooked in the statistical post-race avalanche was that Ferrari’s double podium with Vettel and Raikkonen, allied to the 22 points scored by Hamilton and a lapped Bottas in fifth, means the constructors’ championship is still alive with two races left, Mercedes leading it by 55 points with a maximum of 86 available in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

On that very subject, sixth place for Hulkenberg meant Renault added eight points to its tally, stretching its lead over Haas to 30 points for fourth in the teams’ race. Hulkenberg’s teammate Sainz was a mid-race retirement, but Haas were nowhere to capitalise, Magnussen and Grosjean finishing at the very back in 15th and 16th, the final two cars classified.

Two other drivers left Mexico happy; McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, who ended a 14-race run without points by finishing eighth, and Gasly, who guided his Toro Rosso from last on the grid to 10th, seeing off French rival Esteban Ocon in a fight that got feisty more than once as they scrapped over the final point on offer.

Those who lost out
The massive crowd at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez groaned when Sergio Perez’s Force India retired on lap 40 with brake failure; starting 13th, the Mexican had used his renowned tyre-preserving style claw his way into the points, only for his car to let him down. It was a bad day all round for the Spanish-speaking drivers, Sainz and Perez joined on the sidelines by Fernando Alonso, whose McLaren inadvertently ran over a piece of Ocon’s front wing in the hectic opening corners after the Force India driver was hit by Sainz’s Renault.

And Ricciardo. No further explanation needed.

What’s next?
With the title fight over, Hamilton will have plenty of time for a celebration or three before the penultimate race of the season at Interlagos in Brazil in a fortnight’s time.

What happened at the United States Grand Prix?

Kimi Raikkonen takes his first win in five years, Lewis Hamilton is denied the F1 title and Max Verstappen charges from 18th to second in an amazing finish to Austin.


The build-up
For Lewis Hamilton, the equation was simple heading into the US GP; outscore Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by eight points in Austin, and world championship number five was his. Given he came into the Circuit of the Americas weekend with six wins in the past seven Grands Prix and on a run of four wins on the trot in the US, the Mercedes man had every reason to be confident. But if he ever needed a reminder to not get too far ahead of himself for the 56-lap race, qualifying provided it.

Hamilton duly took his ninth pole of 2018 and his fourth in America to equal Michael Schumacher’s record, but the margins were almost non-existent in one of the most intense sessions of the year. The circuit record was lowered time and time again until Hamilton banged in a 1min 32.237secs lap on his last effort to take top spot. How tight was it? Vettel was just 0.061secs behind in second, and Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen a further 0.009secs behind in third. “I knew it was going to take perfection and neat laps to take them,” Hamilton said of the Ferrari pair.

Vettel would normally have been content with being second and so close to his title rival, but a three-place grid penalty for not slowing down sufficiently when a red flag was thrown in Friday practice dropped him to fifth on the grid, his frustration obvious.

Ferrari attempted to mitigate Vettel’s pain by running some race interference with Raikkonen, the Finn doing his Q2 timed lap on the softer ultrasoft tyres which put him out of sequence with the rest of the frontrunners on supersofts, but ensuring he’d start the race on a tyre that would provide a grip advantage off the line when the lights went out.

Given Ferrari’s prodigious pace on the straights, the chance of Raikkonen getting in Hamilton’s way off the start to help Vettel was a tactic worth pursuing, but one that needed recent history to be re-written; Raikkonen hadn’t gained a place on the first lap of a race since Abu Dhabi 2016, 37 Grands Prix ago.

Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas was fourth after not improving on his final run, while Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo qualified fifth, both drivers promoted a spot by Vettel’s penalty. Remarkably, it was the first time the Australian was to start inside the front two rows of the grid since he took pole in Monaco 12 races ago, and he planned to make the most of it. “I’m just happy to have my nose there and then we just need to make it happen. If I can get track position at the start then I can maybe … have a good crack at a podium,” he said.

Ricciardo’s teammate Max Verstappen didn’t make it out in Q2 after breaking his right rear suspension when he hit a kerb hard in Q1, an innocuous-looking incident having big consequences. Fifteenth in qualifying for the Dutchman became 13th on the grid after Toro Rosso duo Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley yet again took engine penalties; with a maximum of three power units per driver permitted for the season before penalties kick in, Hartley would race his eighth different Honda powerplant and Gasly his seventh in Austin, both drivers condemned to back-row starts.

Come race day, all eyes were on Vettel’s early progress from fifth, whether Raikkonen could get his elbows out against Hamilton at the start, and whether Austin’s weather – predicted to be hot after a day of incessant rain on Friday ruined every team’s race simulation runs in practice – would throw a curveball into the mix.

The race in exactly 69 words*
Raikkonen won his first Grand Prix in 113 starts (Australia 2013) when he edged Verstappen and Hamilton in a thrilling last stint to the race, the top three split by just 2.3secs after 56 laps. Verstappen stormed through from 18th on the grid after a gearbox penalty, while Hamilton missed out on taking the title when rival Vettel recovered from a first-lap spin to finish behind him in fourth.
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)

Ricciardo recap
It was a case of the fast and the furious for Ricciardo in Austin; fast in that his race didn’t last very long, his car shutting down after just nine laps when he was running in fourth place, and furious in that he put a fist-sized hole through the wall in his drivers’ room after he returned the garage following his fifth retirement in the past 10 races. It was Ricciardo’s seventh non-finish this season, a total matched only by Hartley at Toro Rosso, and as many as the four Ferrari and Mercedes drivers combined.

Ricciardo made a good getaway from the dirty side of the grid and looked a chance to take second into the first corner before wisely backing out, but was passed down the back straight by Vettel to drop back to fifth. The former teammates then clashed at Turn 13, Vettel making a mistake and spinning after he hit Ricciardo, the Ferrari driver falling right to the back.

Ricciardo ran in a comfortable fourth place until his car switched off coming out of the Turn 11 hairpin onto the back straight; like last year at COTA, he was an early retiree after starting from fourth on the grid.

“Everything just switched off and it seemed pretty much identical to the issue I had in Bahrain at the beginning of the year,” he said.

“I couldn’t even communicate with anyone on the radio, so it looks like a battery failure.”

What the result means
Austin was a race that started with drama, went into a long mid-race lull and built beautifully to a late-race boil that saw three drivers in three different cars fighting for the race win, with Hamilton’s championship win so close he could touch it, and Vettel doing all he could to prolong the Briton’s celebrations for another race.

Ricciardo’s early-race demise saw a virtual safety car period called to remove his stricken car from the side of the circuit, which added another strategic element to a race where the teams were already scrabbling for tyre life information after Friday practice was washed out.

Hamilton, in second after being jumped by Raikkonen into the first corner, was told to do the opposite of the Finn as they approached the pit lane entry on lap 11, and when the Ferrari rounded the final turn, the Mercedes man pitted for new soft tyres, which was to prove crucial later on.

On fresh rubber, Hamilton was so quick that he was back on Raikkonen’s tail within seven laps, but the Finn was able to hold him at bay until lap 21 until he made his own stop, Hamilton’s tyre wear meaning he’d need to stop again and be out of sequence with the rest of the front-runners.

When Hamilton stopped for a second time with 20 laps left, Raikkonen inherited the lead and had to keep his cool as he had Verstappen and Hamilton closing, and the trio ran within a three-second window for the last 10 laps. The crucial moment for Raikkonen – and Hamilton’s title chances – came with three laps left, when the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers ran side-by-side for four corners before Hamilton ran wide at Turn 18 as he chased second place, which would have been enough for him to win the championship.

Raikkonen escaped from Verstappen’s clutches to win for the first time in 113 races, the longest gap ever between victories, and after turning 39 years old during the week leading into Austin, he became the oldest F1 race-winner in 24 years (Nigel Mansell, 1994).

“I’m much happier than finishing second,” the ever-understated Raikkonen said, adding his win drought “hasn’t really been a big deal for me, it’s been a much bigger deal for other people.”

Verstappen might have been miffed at coming oh-so close to a win after coming from so far back, but his drive was inch-perfect and incisive, storming from 18th to fifth in the first seven laps in a display reminiscent of his charge in Sochi two races earlier. A win looked a chance when he started to gap Hamilton and draw closer to Raikkonen with seven laps left, but an eighth podium of the year – and the way he managed it – made him a worthy recipient of the Driver of the Day accolade.

Hamilton wasn’t able to take the title at one of his happiest hunting grounds, out-scoring Vettel by just three points to extend his advantage to 70 points with 75 remaining across the races in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi. He said he was a “little bit surprised” at the decision to pit early, but acknowledged that a podium finish when the team was wrong-footed strategically was no bad thing. “To get a third, I’m still grateful for that, but naturally, starting first and finishing third is never a good thing.”

Elsewhere, Vettel’s recovery to fourth after facing the wrong way a minute into the race after his spin was as good as he could have hoped for, but it means he’ll have to win all three remaining races and have Hamilton score less than five points if he’s to steal an unlikely title.

Bottas was a quiet fifth, 24secs from the race win after showing no real pace and being asked twice to move aside for teammate Hamilton, while Nico Hulkenberg’s sixth for Renault was the best of the rest, a whopping 87 seconds behind Raikkonen after doing very little wrong. The gap between the haves and have-nots seems to be bigger by the race …

For historical purposes …
Just eight of the drivers who took part in the 2013 Australian Grand Prix, Raikkonen’s last race win before Sunday in Austin, are still on the F1 grid; that race was Bottas’ F1 debut (for Williams), and Hamilton’s first Grand Prix for Mercedes after crossing from McLaren.

The number to know
The number of podiums Raikkonen had scored between victories.

Under-the-radar winner(s)
Sixth and seventh for Hulkenberg and teammate Carlos Sainz was a huge result for Renault, who extended its lead over Haas for fourth in the constructors’ race to 22 points after the American team didn’t score at home. Romain Grosjean hit Charles Leclerc’s Sauber at the end of the back straight on the first lap and retired with damage on lap four, while teammate Kevin Magnussen was excluded from the results after finishing ninth after his car was found to have had more than the permitted 105kg of fuel at the start of the race. Grosjean was also hit with a three-place grid penalty for the next race in Mexico.

Another driver to make the points and have them taken away was Racing Point Force India’s Esteban Ocon, who was thrown out of the results after finishing eighth when his car was found to have breached the fuel flow limits in the regulations.

The winners from the two disqualifications were Ocon’s teammate Sergio Perez (promoted from 10th to eighth), Hartley, who inherited ninth for his first points since Germany, and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, who finished 12th on the road but moved up two spots to score one point.

Those who lost out
Haas at home, Sauber after Leclerc was forced into retirement on lap 33 after a top-10 qualifying run, and, yes, Ricciardo – especially given he was ahead of his teammate who eventually finished second when his car shut down. “Seeing how the race played out makes it even harder to take as it could have been pretty interesting, and it was a great afternoon for Max,” he said. “There’s not much more to say about it to be honest …”.

What’s next?
Match point number two for Hamilton comes in Mexico in just a week’s time.

What happened at the Japanese Grand Prix?

Daniel Ricciardo comes from the clouds to storm to fourth at Suzuka for Red Bull, but it’s Lewis Hamilton who leaves Japan on top after yet another imperious victory.


The build-up
Lewis Hamilton
almost had a fit of the giggles in Friday practice in Japan as he stroked his Mercedes to the top of the timesheets in both sessions. “This track is awesome, I’m having the best day,” he gushed over the team radio, and while the sight of modern-day F1 cars sweeping their way around Suzuka’s swoops is stunning no matter the machinery, it was the Mercedes that did it best no matter the weather, Hamilton topping all three practice sessions leading into qualifying, the last of them in sketchy half-wet conditions on Saturday morning.

The weather would play a part in the hour to set the grid too, but not as much as Mercedes’ ‘opposition’, which largely conspired to shoot itself in the foot. A loss of power with a broken throttle actuator in Q2 did for Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who made his frustration audibly obvious when he was out without setting a lap and forced to start from 15th, the latest in a slew of setbacks for the Renault-bound Australian.

Red Bull wasn’t realistically expected to challenge Mercedes for pole at Suzuka, but Ferrari was, especially after Sebastian Vettel finished just over a tenth of a second adrift of Hamilton in final practice.

The Scuderia were found wanting strategically as the session entered the final 12-minute shootout for pole; with rain looming but not falling, the team sent Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen out on intermediate tyres, which clearly proved to be the wrong choice as they immediately pitted for dries, a blunder team principal Maurizio Arrivabene seethed was “unacceptable”. Then, at the end of the session after their rivals had banked a close-to-optimum lap time, Vettel and Raikkonen slithered around on slicks, the German running off track at the Spoon corner on his best lap, and then not getting a better lap in as the rain intensified, almost throwing his car into the barriers at the tricky Degner 2 turn as he was marooned in ninth place. “Tomorrow is a new day,” Vettel said, sounding very much like a man trying to console himself before a race where he desperately needed to hack a chunk out of Hamilton’s 50-point series lead.

Raikkonen at least scrambled to fourth, behind the one working Red Bull of Max Verstappen, but there was little surprise when Mercedes locked out the front row for the sixth time this year, and second in a week after their Saturday 1-2 in Sochi seven days previously. Valtteri Bottas headed Q2 from Hamilton as Mercedes had such a margin over the rest that it could top the timesheets on the slower softer-compound Pirelli tyre, which would allow it to run a longer first stint in the race and retain track position at a circuit that is brilliant to drive, but tricky to pass on.

Hamilton’s pole in Q3 was his eighth this year and the 80th – no misprint – of his career, a figure Bottas acknowledged was a “pretty big number” as the drivers debriefed following the session, the gap back to Verstappen a whopping 1.3secs. Hamilton’s lap of 1:27.760 was 0.299secs faster than his teammate, and on a different planet to the rest.

With Ricciardo out of the picture with another unreliability issue and Vettel’s luck with the weather washing out, Romain Grosjean took best advantage of the opportunity that had presented itself, hauling his Haas to a fine fifth on the grid. The Frenchman was happy, but not as ecstatic as Toro Rosso after Brendon Hartley qualified a career-best sixth, teammate Pierre Gasly just behind him in seventh. On a weekend where engine supplier Honda was under pressure to perform at home, both Toro Rosso in the top 10 was a massive result, and one on the third row something that couldn’t have been dreamed.

Esteban Ocon was mildly disappointed to qualify eighth for Racing Point Force India after being seventh – king of the ‘B’ division – in all three practice sessions, and his mood darkened further when he was slapped with a three-place grid penalty for failing to slow sufficiently for a red flag in an earlier practice session. There was greater disappointment further back though, with Ricciardo missing the top 10 for the fourth time in the past six races after not making Q3 just three times in total in his Red Bull tenure prior to that. “I just can’t catch a break at the moment and I’m pretty fed up with it,” he said.

Elsewhere, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg was left back in 16th and eliminated in Q1 after the team had rebuilt his car following a sizeable shunt in final practice, while Marcus Ericsson gave Sauber a late Saturday night after his big off in the first period of qualifying, Suzuka’s old-school run-offs and unforgiving barriers biting hard. As for McLaren, who switched from Honda power last year to Renault engines this year and were third-last (Fernando Alonso) and second-last (Stoffel Vandoorne), ahead only of the crashed Ericsson, their thoughts about Toro Rosso’s star turn can only be imagined …

Come race day, the intrigue surrounded the weather (would it finally stay dry?), Mercedes’ ability to get off the unique downhill starting grid on the slower tyre at the start of the race, and whether Verstappen could elbow his way past one or both Mercedes into a first corner that has seen its fair share of incident over the years. Asked if he’d intervene in the title battle if Vettel came through from ninth, Verstappen had a mischievous response that contained a hard truth. “Is it still a battle?,” he shrugged. “I’m not sure …”.

The race in exactly 69 words*
Hamilton extended his series lead to 67 points with just 100 available in 2018 with his sixth win in the past seven races, leading from start to finish. Teammate Bottas fended off a late charge from Verstappen as the top three finished where they started, while Ricciardo charged from 15th to fourth. After contact with Verstappen and an early spin, Vettel finished just sixth, nearly 70 seconds behind Hamilton.
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)

Ricciardo recap
Ricciardo was initially furious and then unusually despondent on Saturday after his latest in a long line of late-season disappointments, but spent his Sunday morning in a focused frame of mind, downing his pre-race protein shakes while watching the UFC bout from Las Vegas on his laptop before the drivers’ parade. He came out swinging in the race; he made just one spot on the opening lap, but the Australian was in a combative mood at a circuit where passing is tougher than most, storming his way through to fifth within 12 laps on the theoretically slower soft-compound tyre, his overtaking into the final chicane up to his usual decisive standard.

He pitted for medium tyres on lap 22 and jumped Raikkonen for fourth, and immediately closed the gap to teammate Verstappen in front, an unlikely podium seemingly within reach. But the longer Ricciardo’s final stint went, Suzuka’s fearsome corners took their toll on his front left tyre, and he was forced to call off his rostrum charge as he finished five seconds behind his teammate after starting 12 places behind him on the grid.

Twelve points for fourth didn’t shift Ricciardo from sixth in the drivers’ standings, where he seems set to stay with only four races left in 2018. But it did represent his best race since Hungary before the mid-season break, and before his announcement that he’d be off to pastures new next year. He was happy, and those watching his passing masterclass liked it too, Ricciardo voted Driver of the Day by the sport’s fans on social media.

“Surprisingly I was able to come through the field and overtake quite easily,” he said.

“That’s not because I thought I couldn’t overtake, it’s just not that easy on this track, but I was able to make good use of the downforce we had on the soft tyre.

“The first part of the race was a lot of fun. We went on to the mediums to try and cover Kimi, and fourth place was kind of written after that. I would have loved a podium and I was kinda hoping for something to happen up front, but I feel I earned at least a fourth today.”

What the result means
Verstappen was right; this isn’t a title fight after all, and if the 2018 season was a boxing bout, the referee would be stepping in. Hamilton didn’t put a foot wrong, and was only denied a grand slam (starting from pole, leading every lap and setting the fastest lap of the race) for the sixth time in his career by Vettel setting a meaningless fastest lap of 1:32.318 on the final tour. By then, Hamilton was in cruise control, and he strolled across the line 12.9secs ahead of Bottas.

Vettel looked to have salvaged something from his qualifying woes when he made a barnstorming start to the race, leaving Gasly and Hartley in his wheeltracks before the field thundered into the first corner, and he was fourth by lap eight and in position to attack for a podium finish when a safety car was called following debris left on the circuit by Kevin Magnussen’s Haas, which had been damaged in contact with Charles Leclerc’s Sauber. But things went awry when he clashed with Verstappen at the Spoon curve after the re-start, spinning and seeing the entire field stream past. The race stewards looked at the incident and elected not to penalise either driver, which meant both were quick to blame the other after the race.

“In that corner you cannot overtake,” Verstappen said. “I even gave him space. But he understeered into my car.” Vettel’s reply? “As soon as he realises somebody is close or next to him, he tries to, in my opinion, push when you shouldn’t push any more …”

Such was Vettel’s pace compared to the second-tier teams that he was able to recover to sixth by the flag, but he dropped 17 more points to Hamilton on a weekend where he needed to, at least, shadow the Briton to the line to keep his fading title fire aflame.

Lost in the post-race wash-up was that Vettel could have been more patient; Verstappen had a five-second penalty hanging over his head from earlier contact with Raikkonen, where the Red Bull ran off the track at the final chicane on the first lap and clashed with the Finn’s Ferrari as he resumed. Verstappen was penalised for “leaving the track and not re-joining safely”, which he vehemently disagreed with, but Vettel could have played the long game, sat behind the Dutchman or tried to pass elsewhere, or take third position when Verstappen pitted for new tyres and served his penalty later. It was the latest in a sting of errors by driver and team that have turned what was a close championship for half a season into a Mercedes fait accompli by the end of it.

For historical purposes …
The start-to-finish victory by Hamilton continued a curious trend at Suzuka that has happened every three years since 2009, when Vettel won for Red Bull from top spot in qualifying. In 2012, the German did it again, while Hamilton did the same for Mercedes in 2015, and again on Sunday.

The number to know
Hamilton’s 50th win for Mercedes made him just the second driver to take a half-century of victories with one team; Michael Schumacher won 72 Grands Prix for Ferrari.

Under-the-radar winner(s)
Seventh place for Sergio Perez saw the Force India take seventh in the championship, level on points with Magnussen (the first retirement of the race) and Hulkenberg, who retired with a problem at the back of his Renault with 16 laps left. Perez has seventh to himself courtesy of his best result of the year, his third place in Baku (which remains the only podium not scored by a Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull driver this year). In an indication of how tight the ‘B” championship is, five drivers are separated by just four points for positions 7-11 in the standings.

Elsewhere, Grosjean was peeved with being passed by Perez after a late-race virtual safety car period to retrieve Leclerc’s broken-down Sauber, but four points for Haas, combined with just one for Renault (Carlos Sainz in 10th) saw the French team’s advantage for fourth place in the constructors’ standings shrink to just eight points with four races left.

Those who lost out
Vettel obviously lost out big-time, but Sauber had a race to forget at Suzuka after Leclerc had front-end damage when Magnussen blocked his path into turn one, and rear-end woes when teammate Ericsson ran into the back of him as the race re-started following the safety car. Leclerc ran off at the Degner corner and stopped with “something broken” with 13 laps left, while Ericsson was a pointless 12th.

Toro Rosso’s Honda’s Saturday celebrations turned into a Sunday horror story, neither Gasly (11th) nor Hartley (13th) scoring points despite starting well inside the top 10. Both cars tried long first stints on the supersoft tyres that didn’t pay dividends, and suffered late with rear tyre blisters (Gasly) and traffic (Hartley). “It would have been great to reward the team and Honda here in Japan for their home race with some points today,” Gasly lamented.

What’s next?
comes up in two weeks’ time, and the equation for Hamilton is simple; if he can extend his series lead to 75 points by the end of a Grand Prix he’s won for the past four years, he’ll be a five-time F1 world champion.

The Dan Diaries: My five high-fives

In his latest driver column, Daniel Ricciardo is in a list-making mood with five F1 races left this season …


Alrighty … so it’s been a while since I did one of these. A long while. There’s been a bit going on as you’re probably quite aware of, so we don’t need to go over a lot of old ground. But as I said the other week, it’s been a weird year. Probably my best start to a season ever with China and Monaco; actually, definitely my best start. And then things dried up. And now I’m into my last five Grands Prix at Aston Martin Red Bull Racing before I head off to my new adventure.

Come Abu Dhabi, there’s going to be a heap of reminiscing, going down memory lane and all of that, and it’ll be good to look back and remember a lot of things (which I’ll do in this diary, 100 per cent). But shorter-term, we’re in Japan and it’s time to tackle Suzuka, one of the absolute highlights of the year. Japan has really grown on me as a country over the years and being here always puts me in a good mood.

So we’re going to keep things light. Five races to go this year and with Red Bull, and I’m going to answer five random questions I get asked about being in F1, or maybe one or two I’ll make up. And I’ll do five answers for each. With me? Let’s get it.

5 things I’d change about F1 if I was in charge

This is hard, but let’s go with …

(1) Engines, both the noise and the specs.

(2) No winter testing. Turning up in Melbourne with no testing would be a curveball, wouldn’t it?

(3) Change the calendar. I would set it up so we travel the world how the world is mapped out, not doing massive jumps from one continent to the next, one hemisphere to the next, run it in some sort of order. Australia stays first, of course.

(4) Two-day race weekends. I reckon they’d be more intense for the fans, they’d be better for us drivers, and it’s kind of the way the sports-consuming world works these days. Two practice sessions on Saturday, qualify that evening, race the next day.

(5) Two wildcard races per year. You have one weekend in the first half of the year and one in the second where you have two shorter races rather than one normal one. You qualify as normal for the first one, and there’s a lottery for the grid for the second one. Don’t mind that.

5 best tracks to drive on the current F1 calendar

If we’re saying tracks to drive rather than tracks to race at (they’re two different things) … in no specific order, I’m saying (1) Monaco, (2) Montreal, (3) Suzuka, (4) Baku, that one should be in there because it’s intense, and (5) Austin. I’ve probably left out some of the classics or some that people might think are obvious, but everyone has their opinion, me included …

5* races you have to go to as a fan

This isn’t all about the track itself, it’s the experience, the cities, the atmosphere …

(1) Japan. This wouldn’t have made my list if we were doing this when I first started in F1, because it has grown on me big-time since my first visit. Tokyo is one of the world’s great cities. Just so cool.

(2) Monaco, because it’s Monaco.

(3) Monza, because it’s Monza.

(4) Mexico. Just an amazing one to go to because of the fans, the drivers’ parade we do there is the best of the year. Huge energy at that one in a buzzing city. Big tick.

(5) Melbourne. This has to be on most people’s list really. Location, fans, weather, great city, Aussies everywhere … so much to like.

(* – I’m going to sneak a sixth one in here – Austin).

5 famous people I’ve met that have given me a buzz

I haven’t done a Jack Miller and met the Pope yet, so for me it’s entertainers, sports people, actors and people like that. So a recent one is (1) Tom Brady, who we had a sponsor activity with this year at Monaco – that’s a huge sporting name. (2) Kevin Hart, who had so much energy. (3) Arnold Schwarzenegger – The Terminator! (4) Dale Earnhardt Jr. (5) Gerard Butler. That was pretty big. He did a shoey with me in Austin a couple of years ago which was very cool of him, considering I put him on the spot …

5 things I wish I was better at

Only five? Let’s run with (1) Singing or playing a musical instrument. Or both, maybe sing and play guitar. That’d be so, so good. (2) Ride a dirt bike better. (3) Dancing, so in a club I can look cooler. I like to dance, but I probably look like an idiot. (4) Not biting my nails – I’m still so bad at that. I’m not sure what that is, anxiety, nerves, habit … it’s got to stop. (5) And it’s a tie between either being better at being on time or decision-making. I procrastinate more than I’d like, which is sometimes why I’m not that good at being on time …

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.

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.