Sebastien Vettel

Hamilton takes wet pole from Vettel

Lewis Hamilton mastered the wet but drying conditions in the final Q3 session to claim pole by the narrowest of margins over the resurgent Sebastien Vettel and Ferrari. Nico Rosberg will be slightly disappointed with third although this still leaves him in a good position for the race tomorrow.

Q1 began with increasingly darkening skies as everyone worried as to when the thunderstorm clouds surrounding the circuit would finally envelop it. Everyone was quick to get out on track once the session began, all hoping to get in a banker lap time in case the rain began to fall.

Lewis Hamilton was top of the times after everyone’s first laps, with a 1m39.269 enough to oust Rosberg by 0.105 of a second. From here things began to follow a more regular Q1 pattern, with the front runners returning to the pits whilst the rest fought it out to make it into Q2. Of those eliminated at the end of Q1 it was the two Manor-Marussia entries that ended the session at the back of the field.

Brit Will Stevens wasn’t able to get out on track with an electrical problem, whilst Spanish rookie team mate Roberto Merhi was 19th, with a time just outside the 107% rule. Despite both being outside the cut off time to race, it appears they may well be able to race with the ultimate decision coming from the race stewards. The team will be hoping they can make their 2015 debut this weekend after not being able to run in Australia.

Next up were the two McLaren’s, with Jenson Button out qualifying Fernando Alonso in 17th and 18th. Whilst this wasn’t the positions the team were hoping for, they are encouraged by their step up this weekend, the team seemingly finding 0.8 of a second since the opening Australian GP. The final driver eliminated in Q1 was Australian GP hero Felipe Nasr, who struggled on his final lap and starts 16th.

On to Q2 and once again the grid filed out very early on in the session, with the threat of rain becoming very real now. Everyone was able to set one banker lap before the light rain started at the back edge of the circuit. From here it was all downhill as the downpour started in earnest. It appears across the world that Malaysia has the strongest downpours, with the track instantly soaked by the onslaught of heavy rain. With this the drivers retreated to the pits, bringing an end to the track running in Q2.

Kimi Raikkonen was the highest profile casualty with his Ferrari held up on his hot lap by Marcus Ericsson on his own timed lap, leaving the Finn 11th. Pastor Maldonado was 12th for Lotus, whilst the two Sahara-Force India’s of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez 13th and 14th respectively. Completing the top 15 is rookie Carlos Sainz in his Scuderia Toro Rosso. He will likely be slightly disappointed with this as he looked confident in the dry Q1 session, and looked likely to make Q3 before the rainfall.

After a 30 minute delay whilst the Safety Car assessed the track conditions, the final twelve minute Q3 shootout for pole got underway, with the majority of the ten remaining cars heading out with intermediate tyres on. The field were all once again out early as they hoped to dry the track for optimal performance later on in the session. As with seemingly the rest of the qualifying session Hamilton was fastest after their first timed runs, with a scintillating 1m49.834 lap time a huge 1.232 seconds quicker than team mate Nico Rosberg in second.

From here they all returned to the pits, preparing themselves for the crucial final run to decide the grid. The end of the session was slightly anti-climatic as both Hamilton nor Rosberg were able to improve their times on their final laps. This opened the door for an inspired Sebastien Vettel to claim second on the grid, only 0.074 from snatching a very unlikely pole for the resurgent Ferrari team.

Rosberg will surely be disappointed with third on the grid, showing the level of dominance the team has enjoyed over the past year or so. Daniel Ricciardo will be pleased with fourth after a difficult opening race for the Red Bull team, with team mate Daniil Kvyat right behind him in fifth. Max Verstappen belied his lack of experience with a very impressive qualifying session, culminating with sixth in tricky conditions. Whilst other more experienced drivers struggled he delivered for the Scuderia Toro Rosso team.

Felipe Massa was seventh for Williams, a disappointing return from qualifying as the team were hampered by their decision to start the session on full wet tyres instead of intermediates. They always looked to be chasing time and will be hoping tomorrow’s race is dry so they can show their full potential in the race. Romain Grosjean will be happy to be eighth as the Lotus team still adjusts to their new Mercedes engine.

The final row of the top ten is completed by Valtteri Bottas, returning after missing the Australian GP with a back injury he aggravated in qualifying. Marcus Ericsson starts in the top ten for the first time with tenth, showing Sauber will be competing for points in tomorrow’s race.

This qualifying session has provided some interesting story lines going into tomorrow’s race in Malaysia, with an earlier starting time reducing the chance of rain returning during the Grand Prix tomorrow. It will be interesting to see if Sebastien Vettel will be able to seriously challenge the AMG Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Rosberg, although if Hamilton carries on his current momentum this weekend he looks almost unstoppable on track. There will be plenty to keep you tuned in tomorrow in the Malaysian GP.

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Alonso saga finally coming to a close

Ever since Fernando Alonso publicly made disparaging comments about his Ferrari car after the 2013 Hungarian Grand Prix, speculation has abounded as to his future with the fabled Ferrari team. Whilst Alonso had previously commented on his wish to remain at Ferrari for the rest of his career, and had signed a long term deal tying him to the team until the end of 2016, it appeared increasingly likely he could leave the team as their cars failed to provide with championship opportunities.

At age 33 and coming closer to the end of his career, Alonso was increasingly motivated to add more world titles to his two already from his years at Renault in 2005-2006. Alonso should have won the 2010 world title in his first season with Ferrari, although a strategic error in the final race in Abu Dhabi meant he was stuck behind the Renault of Vitaly Petrov, and was forced to watch Sebastien Vettel steal his first world title from him.

From here 2011 was a lean year as Ferrari struggled and Red Bull dominated, although 2012 saw Alonso wring every last ounce of performance from his once again poor Ferrari car, to take the championship title fight into the final race in Brazil. Despite leading the title fight for a majority of the year, Alonso once again was beaten by Vettel at the final race for the title.

Alonso fighting for the world title at the 2012 Brazilian GP

In 2013 Ferrari once again struggled with a poor car as Red Bull and Sebastien Vettel once again dominated, something Alonso grew increasingly frustrated with. After his response from a reporter asking what he would like for his upcoming birthday in the aftermath of the Hungarian Grand Prix, Alonso sarcastically responded with “someone else’s car.” These were ill timed comments from Alonso as there were persistent rumours at this time that Alonso and his manager were talking to Red Bull about potentially him joining the team to replace his great friend Mark Webber for 2014.

From here Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo warned Alonso about his F1 conduct with regards to his comments, with a statement from this time stating “There is a need to close ranks, without giving in to rash outbursts that, while understandable in the immediate aftermath of a bad result, are no use to anyone. That was a reference to the latest comments from Fernando Alonso, which did not go down well with Montezemolo, nor with anyone in the team.All the great champions who have driven for Ferrari have always been asked to put the interests of the team above their own.”

Fernando Alonso in action during the fateful 2013 Hungarian GP

After the prospect of an unlikely Red Bull move was quashed after Daniel Ricciardo was announced as their new driver, it seemed Alonso was stuck with Ferrari until the foreseeable future. This was not entirely a bad thing however, as many tipped Ferrari to benefit most from new 2014 regulation which saw a switch to turbo V6 power. The fact Ferrari would be the only team other than AMG Mercedes producing both their own cars and engines, which suggested they would have an advantage with the design of their 2014 car and engine.

After a mixed testing period, once the season started it quickly became apparent AMG Mercedes would be dominant as the Mercedes engine was clearly the most powerful, with some even suggesting an 60-80bhp advantage over the Ferrari powerplant. It was also apparent the AMG Mercedes and Red Bull chassis were much better than the Ferrari F14T. Alonso once again performed heroics to drag the car onto the podium with a 3rd at the Chinese Grand Prix, it was clear however Alonso would once again miss out on the world title in 2014 as the two AMG Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg dominated the season.

Heads began to roll at Ferrari as team principal Stefano Domenicalli resigned after the Bahrain Grand Prix, to be replaced by the CEO of Ferrari North America, Marco Mattiacci. Despite having very little racing experience Di Montezemolo felt his success with Ferrari North America could help provide a fresh impetus to Ferrari. It was clear now that the relationship between Alonso and Di Montezemolo was strained. As the season wore on and Alonso struggled it also became clear Mattiacci felt Alonso could be deemed expendable as his frustrations and lack of commitment to Ferrari increased.

This therefore provided a very unlikely initial rumour which quickly grew much larger. Honda were to join F1 in 2015 with McLaren, and it soon became clear Honda would provide an open chequebook to sign a top line driver. Whilst Sebastien Vettel laughed off the rumours, it soon became clear Alonso was seriously considering the offer. The news that long term Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo was to leave the team at the Italian GP did little to persuade Alonso to stay.

Alonso and Di Montezemolo embracing at the 2014 Italian GP

This ongoing saga reached critical mass at the 2014 Japanese GP, where it became apparent in the build up to the weekend that Alonso and Ferrari had reached an agreement to terminate his contract after the 2014 season. In the next few days the bombshell was announced that Sebastien Vettel was to leave Red Bull, with their team principal Christian Horner letting the cat out the bag by announcing he was to join Ferrari. This development left Alonso in a weakened position as it now became obvious his only options for 2015 were to either join McLaren or take a sabbatical.

After brief talk of Alonso potentially taking a year off and desperately trying to get himself into an AMG Mercedes seat for 2016 was shot down by the team, it became clear Alonso would likely sign for McLaren. Whilst the team has struggled in the past two years, and also Alonso’s turbulent season with the team in 2007, it appears fresh impetus from Honda will give Alonso a greater chance to be competitive and add the world titles his craves to his resume. McLaren with Honda will likely by Grand Prix winners within two years, whilst Ferrari are talking of several years of re-building before becoming dominant again.

This is why Alonso was so keen to leave the team, as sticking around for several years of re-building will not leave him enough time to win any more world titles. This optimism is something McLaren can provide with their’s and Honda’s winning pedigree. An official announcement on Alonso’s move to McLaren is likely to come later this month, with the next big decision for the team being whether to retain either experienced Brit and key ally of Honda Jenson Button or the team’s young rookie Kevin Magnussen. Plenty of people in the paddock with be relieved when all the confirmations are revealed, as Alonso looks forward to developing the McLaren-Honda package in 2015.

Photo credits go to :

Alonso 2013 Hungarian GP – http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2013/07/28/alonso-faces-investigation-over-drs-breach/

Alonso 2012 Brazilian GP – http://www.motorauthority.com/news/1080651_vettel-picks-up-third-f1-world-champion-after-brazilian-gp

Alonso Di Montezemolo photo – http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2014/09/06/hamilton-ends-pole-position-wait-monza/gp-italia-f12014-23/

2014 Canadian GP Race Report

After a surprise pole for AMG Mercedes man Nico Rosberg, the race promised to be a thrilling battle between the two AMG Mercedes drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton out front. After a contentious Monaco GP weekend the team was simply hoping for a much calmer race this time around.

As the red lights went out it was Hamilton who initially made the best getaway, appearing to have the momentum to out drag Rosberg on the outside going into Turn 1. Yet unfortunately for Hamilton the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has one of the shortest GP straights of the year, allowing Rosberg to tough it out with Hamilton and unintentionally force him wide going into Turn 2. From this fast starting Sebastien Vettel grasped this opportunity to jump past Hamilton for 2nd.

The action continued at Turn 3 as Max Chilton slid wide in his back marking Marussia, consequently sliding into team mate Jules Bianchi, who then violently slammed into the wall, removing most of his rear end in the process. With oil and debris spread across the track the Safety Car was quickly scrambled as the efficient marshals set to work. The Safety car peeled in at the end of lap 7, as Hamilton immediately started challenging Vettel for 2nd. After DRS was enabled Hamilton used it to breeze past Vettel in the inferior Renault powered Red Bull on the back straight before the final chicane on lap 10.

Daniel Ricciardo in the other Red Bull was the first of the top 6 to stop on lap 13, a strategic move that many around him soon copied to cover him. Rosberg was the first of the AMG Mercedes to pit as he came in from the lead on lap 18, with Hamilton responding with a slower stop a lap later. For Sebastien Vettel the first round of stops were the start of a frustrating afternoon as he was now stuck behind the one-stopping Nico Hulkenberg in his Sahara-Force India. Finally on lap 23 he tried a desperately late dive to the inside at the Turn 10 hairpin, before over-shooting wide and allowing Hulkenberg back through again.

Back at the front, the leaders battle was heating up too as Hamilton reduced a 2.1 second lead after the pit stops to less than a second in 4 laps. Hamilton’s new found pressure on Rosberg appeared to force a mistake as the leader locked his left front heavily braking for the final chicane, before straight lining it and carrying on. The contentious issue with this however, was the fact Rosberg opened a 0.6s gap and set his fastest lap during the process. This usually results in a penalty and the AMG Mercedes team expected the worse once it was announced the stewards were indeed looking into this move.

Back in the pack, some long awaited poetic justice was served as Williams driver Felipe Massa breezed past Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari with the help of DRS going into Turn 1 for 8th on lap 26. The significance of this move stems from Felipe’s time with Ferrari, where he spent the previous 4 seasons behind outpaced by Alonso, who used team orders to take victory in the 2010 German GP, in the process cementing the infamous “Fernando is faster than you” radio message into the contentious history books.

Hamilton meanwhile settled behind Rosberg as the stewards deliberated giving Rosberg a time penalty. Once is was confirmed he wouldn’t receive a penalty on lap 32, Hamilton soon began challenging again. Just behind them Sergio Perez in the other Sahara-Force India finally pitted from 3rd, after making his Super Soft tyres last an amazing 34, when other were averaging 15-18 laps. With Perez re-joining 8th this freed the train behind Hulkenberg consisting of both Red Bull’s and the Williams of Valtteri Bottas were now fighting over the final podium position.

The queue of cars behind Hulkenberg was depleted somewhat as Bottas strategically pitted for the second time on lap 36, hoping to jump Vettel in the process. Vettel was called in the lap after to cover this and comfortably re-joined in front of the Williams. Thing’s were not all brilliant for Vettel however as team mate Ricciardo pitted a few laps later and subsequently jumped him for the final podium place.

Back at the front the drama was only just beginning for the AMG Mercedes twins as both drivers started complaining of a loss of power. Their times suddenly rose from 1.19 laps to high 1.22 laps, several seconds a lap slower than those behind them. Hulkenberg finally released those behind him as he stopped on lap 41, although the Red Bull’s now had Perez’s Sahara-Force India in front of them. Both AMG Mercedes cars pitted on laps 44 and 45, with Hamilton jumping Rosberg for 2nd after stopping a lap later.

It appeared both cars had suffered ERS energy recovery failure’s, leaving them 160bhp down on their usual output. From here things got a lot worse for Hamilton as he now began suffering with severe braking problems, which quickly allowed Rosberg through again into 2nd on lap 46. A lap later and it was all over for Hamilton, as his car had now completely cooked it’s brakes, leaving him no choice but to trickle into the pits to retire, his second of the 2014 season.

With the various issues for the AMG Mercedes cars, this left Felipe Massa alone out front, although he appeared unlikely to be able to last the rest of the race without needing another tyre stop. This mantra was proved correct as Massa needed another tyre stop on lap 47, dropping him to 7th but with the benefit of much fresher tyres. With Rosberg now appearing a sitting duck this left Perez, Ricciardo and Vettel fighting for a likely victory behind them. Perez was struggling mightily with much older tyres things weren’t getting any better as he now had a DRS issue, which left him really struggling to overtake Rosberg for the lead.

In the next gaggle behind Perez and the Red Bull’s, Valtteri Bottas showed an unintentionally kind side to team mate Massa as his dive inside Hulkenberg for 5th meant Massa could jump them both and retain a slim chance of winning the race. Things got worse for Bottas a few laps later as Alonso used DRS into Turn 1 to depose him from 7th. By lap 63 Massa had caught Vettel and the train in front, yet appeared frustrated as the inherent lack of rear traction in the Williams gave Massa little chance of passing Vettel.

With Rosberg appearing increasingly comfortable in the lead things were hotting up behind him as Ricciardo finally passed Perez for 2nd with a demon outside move into Turn 1 using DRS, in fact he carried so much speed he barely stopped the car in time for Turn 2 , just about managing to hold of Perez and the rest behind him. He quickly caught Rosberg in front and used DRS on the back straight before the final chicane to steal the lead with only a few laps left.

For Ricciardo an unlikely first victory was secured on the final lap, as behind him Massa used DRS to gain a run on Perez for 5th, yet on-board camera’s appeared to show Perez jinked slightly to cover this move, with the unfortunate end result being a heavy collision for them both with both needed mandatory hospital visit’s afterwards, although both were later pronounced perfectly okay.

The final lap Safety Car left Ricciardo free to take a unexpected yet highly popular first win from the wounded Rosberg in 2nd, who expertly controlled the second half of the race to collect a great points haul, putting him 22 ahead of Hamilton now. Completing the podium was the other Red Bull of reigning champion Sebastien Vettel. After a demon second stint of the race Jenson Button rose from no where to claim 4th for McLaren. Nico Hulkenberg collected solid points in 5th, from a low-key Fernando Alonso in 6th for Ferrari.

Valtteri Bottas salvaged 7th and some points for Williams in a frustrating missed opportunity for them, whilst Jean Eric Vergne quietly raced on to 8th for Scuderia Toro Rosso. Completing the points were McLaren rookie Kevin Magnussen in 9th and finally a below-par Kimi Raikkonen in 10th.

After a truly thrilling Canadian GP, which contained it all with high amounts of on-track drama alongside a popular first time winner in Daniel Ricciardo, the revived Austrian GP has a lot to live up to in two weeks. The Red Bull team will be looking for another good result at the home race for their team, but it appears AMG Mercedes will be back on top barring any more mechanical maladies. One thing that appears certain is that this Canadian GP will be remembered as by far the best race of the 2014 F1 season.

Thank you for the great images they can be viewed at these websites below.
http://o.canada.com/sports/autoracing/ricciardo-gives-red-bull-first-f1-win-with-victory-over-rosberg-in-canada
http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2014/06/09/2014-canadian-grand-prix-tyre-strategies-pit-stops/
http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2014/06/06/mercedes-back-top-ahead-red-bull-ferrari/