Nico Rosberg topped the second free practice session of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza today.
The German set a quickest tour of 1:26.225s – some six-hundredths up on Mercedes teammate and championship rival Lewis Hamilton; however the latter lost a significant portion of the session when sidelined by an electronic failure.
Rosberg initially set the quick form on the harder Pirelli tyre – ahead of the persistent Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) and continued to show his pace later on the mediums.
Kimi Raikkonen and Alonso made the best of a solid day for Ferrari, with the pair accepting 3rd and 4th, while Valtteri Bottas (Williams) and Jenson Button (McLaren) and Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) all set times just over half-a-second slower than Rosberg,
There were a few minor offs during the session, continuing the example set during the opening session, although little significant damage was suffered.
Lewis Hamilton headed the opening free practice session at an overcast Monza this morning.
The Briton responded to made the best of the morning with a quickest tour at 1:26.187s – some eight-tenths faster than his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.
McLaren’s Jenson Button split the two silver machines. He registered a quickest tour some two-tenths up on Rosberg, but still well adrift of the top-spot.
Such is Hamilton’s pace, the field will be hoping the former world champion set his time on low fuel; however it was not all clear sailing for the Mercedes man. The Briton had a brief lock-up into Ascari, as did teammate Rosberg, but was able to continue without any issues.
Despite this, Hamilton managed a healthy twenty-five laps, with Button and Rosberg completing twenty-seven and twenty-six without issue.
It was brief session for Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo who suffered a mechanical failure near the halfway point of the session, ensuring the Australian completed only twelve laps.
Kevin Magnussen touched the thirty-lap marker, but did lose a small chunk of time when his headrest came loose mid-run.
The Toro Rosso’s were the busiest of the day with Daniil Kvyat and Jean-Éric Vergne clocking up sixty-three laps between them.
Force India discovered the trouble with running two drivers in one car for FP1. Daniel Juncadella ran the first thirty minutes, before handing over to Sergio Perez for the final hour. It was a fruitless endeavor that only served to lose the Silverstone team plenty of time, as Perez’ engineers lost nearly a half-hour switching the seats, pedals and settings from Juncadella to Perez.
On the other hand, the money probably tasted good.
One does not have to look too far into history to understand that British Formula 3 has seen better days.
That only seven drivers turned out for the sixth round of the 2014 season is indicative of the struggles the famed championship has faced in recent years.
British F3 is not alone by any stretch of the imagination. Other national series’, such as German and Australian F3, are also struggling to keep driver numbers up, while the Euroformula Open (previously the European F3 Open) is experiencing a severe dip in numbers this year.
As Peter Briggs, chairman of the Formula Three Association, commented on Sunday, “The teams are here, the cars are here, there are plenty of spares and extras – all that’s missing are the drivers.” A former F3 team boss, Briggs has been involved in motorsport for almost forty years and is determined to keep British F3 afloat.
While a merger with the German championship may not be permissible, Briggs has been in discussion with his German counterparts as they explore the possibility of sharing rounds.
Recent developments have dealt a blow to that plan; however it is not dead yet. “Ideally,” says Briggs, “there would still be British and German championships, but we would share races. I would like a situation where we shared grids for four UK and four German events, but that could be a five-to-three split if needs be.”
It’s a daunting task for both categories as they attempt to soak up drivers from the European market. “Drivers don’t come to the UK anymore from entry-level, they go to Europe and Formula Renault, where they can race of international tracks,” Briggs notes, before adding finally, “We have to capture that.”
The series has a huge job ahead if it is stay afloat and Briggs is determined to help steer the ship in the right direction.
It is not the most enviable of tasks.
Hong Kong based British racer Dan Wells is to make his début in the beleaguered British Formula 3 Series at Brands Hatch this weekend with Double R Racing.
The 23-year-old has spent much of the last three seasons in the Far East, competing in the likes of Formula Masters China and its predecessor the Formula Pilota China Series; however budget issues cut his 2013 season short.
The Briton finished as runner-up in the Formula Pilota China Series in 2012, and currently lies 3rd in Formula Masters. Wells has set his sights on a season in Japanese F3 for the 2015 season, although his Brands outing will also qualify the Salisbury man for an F3 outing at Macau. Of the upcoming contest, he commented, “I’m looking forward to my first F3 race and it’s great for it to be on the Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit too.”
While he has never raced with Double R previously, it will not be the first time Wells has had a contact with the Surrey-based team. “I went to the 2009 British F3 races at the circuit as a guest of Double R before I had started my racing career, so it’s a happy coincidence that I will make my F3 debut with the team now. I anticipate a productive weekend and would like to thank Double R and DWI for this opportunity.”
Of the addition, Double R team principal Anthony ‘Boyo’ Hieatt said, “We’re delighted to be able to give Dan his Formula 3 debut at Brands, he’s a driver we’ve known since he started out in racing and has had a lot of success in Asia since he moved there three years ago. It’s going to be a big step up into the F3 car for the first time in a racing environment, but we’re confident he’ll do a very good job.”
Wells will join F4 regular Camren Kaminsky, while Max Marshall returns for a second round as he prepares for a future Formula Ford GB round at the Kent circuit.
Away from Double R Racing, it was also revealed that FIA European F3 regular Santino Ferrucci will championship challengers Matt Rao and Martin Cao at Fortec. The addition of Ferrucci, Wells and Marshall brings the entry list up to seven for the series’ penultimate round.
Unnecessary. That is one of the only words that can describe the incident between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton early during Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix.
But it was not unexpected.
Such is the growing intensity of this championship battle between the former junior category rivals, it was always likely that something of this nature would eventually feed onto the circuit.
After all, these are two young men at the height of the competitive powers and energies and there is a world championship at stake. Those who hold back only serve to get left behind.
Unlike the unsubtle ribbing the pair exchanged at the Grand Prix in Bahrain in April, the heat has been turned up and pointed barbs and accusations now host the language of choice.
Rosberg’s on track actions – and his unwillingness to back out of an uncertain passing move – cast additional light upon his “mistake” during qualifying at Monaco, as well as his missing of the final chicane while under pressure from Hamilton in Canada.
On the other hand, Hamilton’s unwillingness to allow Rosberg through in Hungary while on fresh signposted stages of this burgeoning aggression. Neither Rosberg nor Hamilton are under any illusions the title fight is on.
Where a clearly quicker Rosberg clipped the left rear of Hamilton on the 2nd lap at Spa-Francorchamps, the German was determined to not back down.
In Bahrain, Rosberg was beaten on track by his teammate – he was keen to not let that happen again; however in doing so, he merely punctured Hamilton’s tyre, while also damaging his front wing, conceivable costing Mercedes a race win.
There are those who believe the collision was an entirely deliberate one and that Rosberg was attempting to forcefully remove his main challenger from competition, but that is nonsense – Rosberg had too much to lose to be so clinical.
One, however, must be take some care as to how this is being played out though. Hamilton, conveniently, informing the British press of comments by Rosberg from the post-race debrief was a nicely played tactic.
Although his shock at Rosberg’s revelation that he had ‘prove a point’ was genuine, there was no doubt the Briton knew exactly what he was doing when he let such details slip.
Rosberg and the team have distanced themselves from those comments, but Lewis is not an idiot, he knows the score and he is playing his game. If Hamilton’s tale about Rosberg’s comments in the debrief are true, then the German may already be losing the psychological battle.
Alas, after forty-four laps, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo emerged as the victor of the Ardennes and while some will point to Ricciardo as a potential title contender, it unlikely that it will come his way when considering just how strong the Mercedes package is.
A Ricciardo victory in the title battle would be nice, but Daniel can wait – his time will come, eventually.
For now, this title fight is a Mercedes driver versus Mercedes driver and that seriously complicates matters for the German marque, who would – behind closed doors – have been hoping for a clear an easy victory in the Constructor’s Championship, while their pairing collected 1-2 finishes.
But that is not how competitive animals operate. There is precious little chance of either driver dutifully accepting team orders and risk dropping out of the title fight as a result and it is here a catastrophic explosion in the driver tensions may occur.
In the end, Rosberg may have taken the advantage in points scored, the chance of victory was lost and his relationship with the Mercedes management may have taken considerable damage. Those bonds, once strained, can be difficult, if not impossible to repair.
The first of the two Mercedes drivers who believes they have nothing left to lose will either take this title with fists flying or just collapse altogether.
Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo won his third Grand Prix of the season at Spa-Francorchamps today.
The Australian took the 44-lap Belgian event ahead of world championship leader Nico Rosberg and Williams’ rising star Valtteri Bottas.
Starting 5th, Ricciardo was 4th by lap two and made that 3rd when he passed Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso on lap four. One tour later that became 2nd when Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) fell to the Australian’s prowess and when Rosberg pitted after eight tours, the lead was Ricciardo’s.
Thereafter the Red Bull racer only lost the lead for one lap and even then only because he had moved to change tyres, but for much of the event, Ricciardo drove a canny, calm race.
Following a stop ten laps from the end, Rosberg drew back toward Ricciardo as he took advantage of his much fresher tyres, but the Australian was too far ahead for Rosberg to affect a realistic challenge.
But the race was in no way that straight forward. Indeed, it could be argued that – like the Canadian Grand Prix – Ricciardo had this one handed to him by an overly forceful Rosberg.
From pole, the Mercedes man bogged down, allowing teammate and rival Lewis Hamilton to take the lead, with Vettel following through. Whereas Vettel was quickly dispatched, Hamilton proved a far more trying opposition for Rosberg.
At just over half-a-second shy of the lead at the beginning of the second lap, Rosberg clung to the rear of Hamilton through Eau Rouge, Radillon and along the Kemmel Straight.
Holding the lead into Les Combes, Hamilton took his line, only for Rosberg to slice Hamilton’s left rear tyre on his front wing endplate, puncturing the Pirelli tyre instantly and dropping him to the rear of the field.
Unable to escape the clutches of Ricciardo, Rosberg continued with a slightly damaged front wing until lap eight, eventually stopping for fresh medium tyres and a new nose.
Meanwhile the 2008 World Champion also damaged the floor on the way back to the pits and emerged from the stop in 19th…
As far as Hamilton was concerned, the blame lay with his opposite man. “I gave him plenty of space, took the corner like I usually do and suddenly felt a big hit from behind.”
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff had some choice words. “To see that kind of contact, so early in the race, is an unacceptable level of risk to be taking out on track. It cannot – and will not – happen again.”
Ricciardo Out Front
For all the claims regarding the Rosberg / Hamilton clash, Ricciardo still needed to drive the car and drive it hard. Using a two-stop strategy, Ricciardo pitted on lap eleven, taking on a new set of softs – and it is here that the 25-year-old made his mark in the race.
Emerging some 2.5s ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, Ricciardo recorded set eleven laps in the 1’54” range, while Raikkonen – having already stopped on lap eight – pushed hard, ripping the best from his rubber early on.
While Ricciardo’s pace was quick, one could argue that the steady nature of his run in the gentle nature of the RB10 helped extend the life of his second set of soft Pirelli’s for sixteen laps.
As the stint aged, the leader drew a 7.7s gap over the Finn, before Ferrari called him in for his third set on lap 21, momentarily promoting Vettel to 2nd, before his pitstop allowed Bottas to take the mantle of chasing the leader on lap 22.
Any thoughts of Bottas catching the lead were pipe dreams though. From (a brief sojourn in) the lead, the Williams man was brought in for new runner on lap 12, only to emerge behind Rosberg, who in turn was losing pace behind a sluggish Vettel.
Until Vettel and Rosberg made their second stops, Bottas dropped 7.8s over the course of the next nine laps – effectively neutering his challenge to Ricciardo. As the field ahead cleared itself, Ricciardo’s lead was now over fourteen seconds. This race was a done deal…
Rosberg Charges Back
Except it wasn’t. Well, not quite.
Forced onto a three-stop strategy following his lap two mishap, Rosberg sidestepped for new tyres on laps 19 (mediums) and 34 (softs). Add to that a wet qualifying session, which – like the rest of the field – ensured the championship leader had a full compliment of new tyres for the race.
So Rosberg pushed. On the mediums, the German effectively matched Ricciardo’s pace over his longer run; however when Mercedes bolted a set of softs onto Rosberg’s car eleven laps from the end, the 29-year-old charged.
When the Finn returned to the track after his final Pirelli switch, he immediately launched into a barrage of laps in the 1’51” range and even set three tours in the 1’50s.
There was further fortune and force. Emerging just ahead of Bottas, Rosberg escaped the Finn, while also powering past Raikkonen. Tellingly Rosberg was over four seconds per lap quicker than the Ferrari man, as Raikkonen’s two-stop race theory (with a 23 lap stint on mediums) hung by a thread.
From 22.57s, the gap to Ricciardo began to shrink at an incredible rate, but this is where the leader made his consistency really count. Despite the threat, the Red Bull man maintained a pace in the low-1’53s, refusing to be drawn into a dogfight that would only destroy his tyres in the closing laps.
A Calculated Win
As the immediate effectiveness of Rosberg’s rubber deteriorated toward the end of the race, Ricciardo was rewarded with victory – and deservedly so following a superbly executed race, yet there were still some lingering worries. “I think we had some really good pace today and surprised ourselves. […] It was difficult staying out at the end of the race,” said Ricciardo.
Considering the length of Ricciardo’s final stint, there were naturally some concerns as to whether the Pirelli’s would last, but Australian was keen to reassure his engineer Simon Rennie.
“I said I think I can keep more or less this pace, and we were able to, then on the last lap I found a couple more tenths. Today was more calculated and it was nice to win under different circumstances.”
Rosberg was 3.3s shy of the top step come the flag and for all of his valiant efforts late on, the race was lost in that second lap contact. “We had the pace to win today but the incident cost us a top result, so I’m really disappointed because for the team.”
There was further controversy following the race when Hamilton told crash.net that Rosberg admitted to not lifting off on the approach to Les Combes, initiating the incident. “We just had a meeting about it and […] he said he did it on purpose, he said he could have avoided it. He said ‘I did it to prove a point’…”
Hamilton continued on until the 38th lap, but with his floor heavily damaged following the clash, Mercedes told the Briton to retire his car; however this too has raised eyebrows as the order came following several requests by Hamilton to retire his car to ‘save the engine’. The no-score for Hamilton means Rosberg’s championship lead increases to 29 points.
Another Bottas Podium
Bottas may have led for a lap, but it was never an honest lead once strategies played out and as they did Bottas settled into a top four position, which became 3rd as Raikkonen’s tyres cried foul late on.
Indeed Raikkonen’s tyres were so destroyed in the later tours that he dropped 9.4s to Bottas in the final five laps alone and while the Finn has not yet reached the podium this season, 4th place was easily Raikkonen’s best finish of the season.
Behind Raikkonen, an epic last dash battle for 5th was playing out between McLaren pairing Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button, Alonso and Vettel. Through the final three laps, the quartet swapped places repeatedly as gripless tyres dealt their final hands.
Wheel spinning across the track through the middle sector, Magnussen ran wheel-to-wheel with Button, allowing Alonso and Vettel opportunities to take places, until they too slipped back behind the McLaren’s in an enthralling battle.
It all came to a head on the final tour when Magnussen – having momentarily shaken off Button – squeezed Alonso off the road at Stavelot, allowing Vettel to feed through the gap and take 5th.
Magnussen would recover to take 6th ahead of Button and Alonso, only for Magnussen to be punished with a 20-second post-race penalty for not leaving enough room for Alonso, forcing him off the track. The sanction promoted Button to 6th, while Alonso was classified in 7th – Magnussen, meanwhile, had to make do with 12th overall.
Sergio Perez (Sauber) drove a solid race to 8th, finishing just ahead of Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat (9th), after the latter closed upon the Mexican late on. After initially finishing outside the points, Nico Hulkenberg was promoted to 10th following Magnussen’s penalty – small reward for the Force India driver, who remains stuck in midfield peril.
Jean-Éric Vergne needed a big performance, but could no better than 11th, while Felipe Massa took 13th. Adrian Sutil (Sauber) led teammate Esteban Gutierrez to unspectacular 14th and 15th place finishes.
Max Chilton (Marussia, 16th) and Marcus Ericsson (Caterham, 17th) were the only other finishers, as Jules Bianchi (Marussia) was classified 18th, but had retired on lap 40.
Neither Lotus finished and André Lotterer retired on the first lap of his Formula One debut with Caterham. Whether the impressive Lotterer gets another opportunity in the future remains to be seen.
If nothing else, the Mercedes situation is becoming more and more intense as the second half of the season gets under way. Whether this intensifies once Mercedes wrap up the Constructor’s Championship will make the close of the title even more intriguing.
And then in the background was a smiling Australian, who is also getting closer to the silver machines.
2014 Belgian Grand Prix (Rd 12, Spa-Francorchamps) Pos Driver Team Time/Gap 1. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 1h24m36.556s (44 laps) 2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes +3.383s 3. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes +28.032s 4. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari +36.815s 5. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault +52.196s 6. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes +54.580s 7. Fernando Alonso Ferrari +1m01.162s 8. Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes +1m04.293s 9. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso-Renault +1m05.347s 10. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes +1m05.697s 11. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Renault +1m11.920s 12. Kevin Magnussen McLaren-Mercedes +1m14.262s* 13. Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes +1m15.975s 14. Adrian Sutil Sauber-Ferrari +1m22.447s 15. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari +1m30.825s 16. Max Chilton Marussia-Ferrari -1 lap 17. Marcus Ericsson Caterham-Renault -1 lap 18. Jules Bianchi Marussia-Ferrari -5 laps Retirements: Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +6 laps Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault +11 laps Pastor Maldonado Lotus-Renault +43 laps Andre Lotterer Caterham-Renault +43 laps
Kevin Magnussen (McLaren) received 20-second post-race penalty for pushing Alonso off track on final lap.