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“F1: A five-star Hamilton victory, as Vettel blows it”

Großer Preis von Singapur 2017, Sonntag – Steve Etherington

Lewis Hamilton came through from 5th on the grid to win the Singapore Grand Prix yesterday, but it required some luck, skill and a start line crash that took out three of the top four qualifiers.

In a race peppered with safety car periods, Daniel Ricciardo drove well to score a podium in his ailing Red Bull, while Valtteri Bottas made it two Mercedes’ on the podium, with a quiet drive to 3rd.

‘What a day – I can’t believe it, I’m so happy! I came in today and I saw that I was raining and I knew that this balances everything out. I love racing in the rain, then everything unfolded in the beginning.’

That’s one way to put it. Realistically, Mercedes were nowhere for much of this weekend. Their pace was weak compared to the Ferrari’s and Red Bull’s – a facet fully exposed in qualifying – and yet a mistake by Ferrari poleman Sebastian Vettel initiated a start crash that took Vettel, his teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen out of the running instantly. But, oh, what a mistake!

With rain having fallen in the hour leading up to the green light, parts of the track were sodden, while other sections were merely wet, but liveable. Thankfully, there was no call for a safety car start, although Haas’ Romain Grosjean did get in a lively moan on the warm-up lap, but that is not completely unexpected.

As the lights counted up and flashed off, wheel spinning away from the line, Vettel saw Verstappen coming on the inside, but missed Raikkonen’s blistering start on the inside of both of them. ‘I had an average start and then I moved slightly to the left trying to defend my position from Max,’ said a disappointed Vettel.
Raikkonen’s ace start mixed with Vettel’s swerve to the left only served to squeeze the helpless Verstappen and the trio pinballed off of each other, with Verstappen and Raikkonen clashing and Vettel and taking another hit as the crash unfolded. The Finn was phlegmatic as always: ‘I don’t think I could have really done anything differently to avoid it, apart from doing a bad start and not being there,’ Raikkonen said flatly afterward. Had all gone to plan, it should have been a Ferrari 1-2 going into turn one.

Although one could point the finger of blame at Vettel, it was a racing incident and no additional sanction was declared or deserved. In the eyes of Ferrari and Vettel, Hamilton taking the lead was sanction enough.Verstappen, meanwhile, was a touch more blunt about the outcome. ‘My start was a little bit better than [Vettel’s] and I think he saw that so he tried to move to the left to squeeze me out of the line a bit but he did not know Kimi was on my other side.
‘I think it wasn’t the smartest move and you can’t make excuses for it when you are fighting for a world championship. Kimi had a great start and was alongside me very quickly, I didn’t try and defend that as I knew it would be a long race, he then started to squeeze me also, at which point there wasn’t a lot I could do.’

GP SINGAPORE F1/2017
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER FERRARI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

In the middle of all the start melee, McLaren racer Fernando Alonso had made a very good start and had jumped from 8th to 3rd, having missed much of the initial carnage, only to be pummelled by the spinning Raikkonen and Verstappen as he negotiated the first bend. ‘I wasn’t aware of what was happening on the inside,’ Alonso said. ‘All I know is that at Turn One some cars crashed and hit us. In that situation, you are just a passenger, there’s nothing you can do.’ Alonso continued for a time, but in the end eight laps was all he could muster, as damage to his ailing MCL32 ended his day prematurely.

Aside from the crash, a good start by Hamilton allowed him to jump the slow-moving Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) and when the recovering Vettel spun again on the straight exiting turn three – leaving Vettel facing oncoming traffic – the lead belonged to the Englishman as the safety car was called.
Such was the mesh of carbon fibre through the opening chicane, the field was brought through the pitlane until the restart on lap six and from there, it did not take much for Hamilton to draw away from Ricciardo. It was an element that surprised the Mercedes leader somewhat. ‘Starting on the Intermediates I thought it was going to be much closer pace-wise. These conditions give you the opportunity to really make a difference with your driving.’

The Red Bull’s had been expected to do well; however Ricciardo’s RB13 began losing oil pressure from the gearbox early doors, rendering his charge null and void. In theory, the slow start didn’t help Ricciardo’s cause, but the Australian was – for once – thankful for the poor getaway. ‘My start was quite slow off the line. In hindsight probably a good thing, because it allowed the chaos to unfold in front of me.’
The gap grew slowly – Ricciardo’s mechanical issues served to dampen Hamilton’s own handling issues at a Marina Bay circuit, with the lead growing to just 5.1s when the second safety car was called – this time for Daniil Kvyat, who planted his Toro Rosso in the barrier only a turn after passing Magnussen. ‘Unfortunately I made a mistake and missed a good opportunity of scoring a good result today. I managed to overtake Magnussen and straight after that I locked my front wheel and went straight into the wall…’
Ricciardo pitted, but Hamilton, his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso), Lance Stroll (Williams) and Grosjean all stayed out – all of whom having started on inters.
Interestingly, having run 3rd and 5th in the early running, both Renault’s of Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer decided to stay out an extra lap before swapping their wet Pirelli’s for intermediates. The delay dropped both to 5th and 7th respectively, with Bottas climbing to 3rd, ahead of the impressive Sainz (4th), with Sergio Perez (Force India) running 6th.

Upon the restart on lap 15, Hamilton again pulled away from Ricciardo, only this time the rate was less emphatic. With the track drying very slowly, the Mercedes runner made the best of the damp and greasy conditions and was almost immediately lapping in the 2’01s range while those behind remained in the 2’02s-2’04s range.
Building a gap to Ricciardo, Hamilton was giving the Formula One field a masterclass performance. Come the halfway mark, the three-time champion became the first man to break the two-minute barrier and repeated this feat a few more occasions when he stopped to change from inters to Pirelli’s ultra-soft tyres on lap 29. Ricciardo and Bottas had actually done the same on lap 28, while Sainz swapped over to super-softs on lap 27. Felipe Massa (Williams) and Kevin Magnussen (Haas) had got the ball rolling on lap 24, although arguably this was a touch early.
At first, Ricciardo made the best of the ultra-softs and took a modicum of time out of Hamilton’s lead. The only problem was, Hamilton was still over 9s down the road and it would require more than a tenth-or-two per lap to make any significant difference to the lead.

Only the race hit another bump in the road when Marcus Ericsson binned his unforgiving Sauber while entering the Anderson Bridge. The crash itself was minor, but the Swede’s awkward finishing position ensured a tow vehicle was required to move the Ferrari-powered Sauber.
For Ericsson, the incident was the result of a double-whammy, beginning on lap 27, when he pitted and changed to the Pirelli soft tyres – the slowest tyres on offer for the weekend. The stop was not a pretty one and Ericsson lost 20s in the pits, before stopping again four tours later to change to ultra-softs. ‘I was pushing hard to make up for lost time, and went a bit over the limit,’ said Ericsson, sheepishly adding,‘Unfortunately, that caused me to spin out of the race.’

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© Red Bull Content Pool

The final restart came on lap 42 and, as before, Hamilton eased himself away from Ricciardo, who was now under threat from a resurgent Bottas. The race leader was urged by the pitwall not to pull too much of a gap, lest he bring Ricciardo and Bottas with him and create a gap for them to fall into to allow for a late tyre change should another safety car period come to play. But it was not necessary.

Hamilton opened up the gap to Ricciardo again and was comfortable in doing so, building a 4.5s lead come the flag, securing his third consecutive win in the process. At a venue where the Anglo-German squad were expecting the worst, the race incredibly fell into Hamilton and Mercedes’ lap, gifting the Englishman a 28-point lead thanks to Vettel’s non-score. ‘We came to a track that was potentially our weakest circuit and we leave with a win like this and so many points – that’s a very fortunate scenario for us.
‘It was the first time for all of us driving here in the rain, so it was a massive challenge. But I love that when you have to rise to the toughest of challenges, that’s the most exciting part for me. Then it was all about staying focused and not making any mistakes.’
Despite this, one can’t help but wonder how much more Hamilton had available to him had he been under real pressure. From nowhere, he scored the fastest race lap – a 1:45.008s – three tours from the end, setting a time that was almost a second faster than what he had been registering up until that moment. Satisfied, he dropped back to his “normal” pace to the chequered flag.

For Ricciardo, the eighteen-points for 2nd place gave the Australian a welcome gap over Raikkonen in the Driver’s Championship, but considering the pace the Red Bull’s showed over Friday and Saturday, it was not difficult to understand if he were deflated. ‘Normally I’m happy with a podium; obviously it’s great. It’s more that we didn’t have the pace that we showed on Friday in the long run,’ said the Red Bull man. ‘Then in the first few laps I felt we were okay in the wet but then I felt we were a bit harsh on the tyres. Even when we pitted and had fresher tyres, we couldn’t really make an impact on Lewis.’
The subtle loss of oil pressure added another element to his race, but as Ricciardo noted, when it came to the rain, the playing field was levelled. ‘The rain made it all pretty hectic today. Everyone was in the same boat though and we hadn’t driven in the wet here before so it’s all about switching on early, being aware of the situation and trying to adapt as quick as you can. Of course I came here to win and really wanted it, but second place is great and I’m not going to complain about it.’

Großer Preis von Singapur 2017, Sonntag – Wolfgang Wilhelm

After a brief surge, Bottas fell backwards again in the later laps, but the Finn had more than enough of a gap ahead of Sainz to not worry too much about the Spaniard. It was a curious performance from Bottas, who appeared to be a geniune threat up until the summer break, but who has fallen by the wayside in the races since.
Scoring his 10th podium of the year, Bottas acknowledged that his Mercedes W08 felt better in the dry conditions that came later in the race, but the early wet laps were tricky. He was fortunate in one sense – a bad start was softened by the Vettel / Verstappen / Raikkonen clash, but from 6th on the grid, Bottas was passed by Hulkenbeg and Perez, while Palmer got by on the lap six restart. ‘Our approach today, it was all about damage-limitation. I think this was pretty good damage limitation today, so we can be quite happy about that.’
Staying rewarded Bottas, but beyond that, it was not a weekend to shout about.

One driver who had plenty to celebrate was Sainz. The Toro Rosso man ran 9th in the early laps, with a bold lap nine pass on Esteban Ocon gifting another position. There is some irony that it was the crash by teammate Kvyat that helped propel Sainz up the order – as with Bottas, staying out proved a worthwhile tactic that gained him four positions in one swoop. Thankfully for Sainz, such was the lack of heavy tyre degradation, he found ample grid against those behind, despite running on older rubber.
The move to supersofts meant his pace was slower than the chasing Perez; however Sainz had just enough speed to solidify the position and keep the Mexican at bay, to score his best finish in Formula One. ‘I have to say that the most difficult part of the race for me was the start of my stint on the supersoft – it was not easy at all! From then onwards it was all about defending from [Perez], who had been faster than us on Friday and also was on ultras! It was very difficult to keep him behind, looking in my mirrors the whole time, but in the end we did it!’
A very worthy effort.

Perez eventually came home 5th, just 2.6s shy of Sainz. It had a brilliant start by the Force India racer, who jumped from 12th to 4th amidst the festival of carbon fibre on the opening lap. Pitting at the second safety car period cost Perez positions to Bottas and Sainz, but the Mercedes-powered racer pressed hard thereafter, but could do nothing about Sainz ahead.
Perez’ 6th place became 5th when Hulkenberg pitted with an oil leak on lap 38 – an issue that would cause the Renault’s retirement nine laps later. Having run 3rd in the early laps, it was a great shame for Hulkenberg who finally like breaking his 128-race run without a podium – this result now makes the German the driver who has competed the most races without a podium in Formula One history. ‘It was a very disappointing race, you put in a lot of hard work throughout the weekend and then these things happen,’ a disappointed Hulkenberg said. ‘It’s not great but it is a technical sport and a team sport. Unfortunately we had some technical issues with the engine and we had to retire the car.’

Jolyon Palmer (GBR) Renault Sport F1 Team RS17.
Singapore Grand Prix, Sunday 17th September 2017. Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore.

There were celebrations on the other side of the garage when Jolyon Palmer – finally – picked up his first points of the season with a fine drive to 6th place. It is a good response from Palmer, whom was confirmed to be dropped by Renault last week. ‘I’m so happy, it’s been a long time coming but today everything fell into place. It was a tricky race with the drama at the start and the heavy rain but the circumstances put us in a good place to score some points,’ commented the clearly delighted Englishman.

Stoffel Vandoorne drove another excellent race to 7th place in the McLaren-Honda. The Belgian’s race was compromised slightly after he ran over debris on the first lap and then further still when he lost nine seconds during his second pitstop, costing him a place to Palmer.
Stroll secured four points for Williams with a solid drive to 8th place, despite starting a lowly 18th. Pre-race, Williams split their driver strategies with Stroll beginning on inters and Massa starting on wets – a strategy that worked best for the Canadian teen.
Romain Grosjean took 9th place for Haas. The French/Swiss racer enjoyed a brief battle with Stroll and later Ocon, the latter of whom would finish 10th to round out the point scorers.

Felipe Massa endured a poor day with three stops that hampered his race – he came home 11th. From wets, the Brazilian left it too long and stayed out until lap 17, before pitting for inters, only swap to new ultra-softs seven tours later. Massa stopped again for ultra-softs on lap 38, before taking his Williams machine home.
Massa finished just one place ahead of the final runner, Pascal Wehrlein (Sauber), who ended the Singapore Grand Prix two laps adrift of the winner. Like Massa, Wherlein started on wets, but inexplicably, was brought in for new wets on lap two and then left on aging rubber until lap 21. Thereafter he managed seven laps on interes, before pitting for ultra-softs on lap 28 and then doing the same again nine tours later.
On a day where some of the big names were taken clean out of the race, there is an opportunity for the midfield and lower runner to take some significant points, but strategic thinking needs to be pinpoint accurate. On Sunday, this did not come to pass for the Swiss squad.

The pre-race formbook said that Mercedes would take some punishment at Marina Bay, yet the opposite happened. Vettel’s startline implosion opened the door up for a dominant Hamilton run to the flag and instead of retaking the lead, the Ferrari racer dropped 28 points behind the Briton, while Mercedes opened up a 102 point lead in the Constructor’s Championship.
This was a disastrous day for Ferrari and the glum faces on TV said everything.

Großer Preis von Singapur 2017, Sonntag – Wolfgang Wilhelm

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“F1: Hamilton takes championship lead with emphatic victory”

2017 Italian Grand Prix, Sunday - Steve Etherington

Mercedes racer Lewis Hamilton scored an emphatic victory at the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday, taking with it the championship lead over Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel.

Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas came home 2nd to make it a Mercedes 1-2 finish, while Vettel completed the podium.

‘This is obviously an incredibly exciting season; the last two races have been really strong for us as a team. The way things have come together in the second half of the season is exceptional.’ And so it was. The victory – the 59th of Lewis Hamilton’s Formula One career – was never in doubt.

Admittedly his start wasn’t perfect and it trapped fellow front row starter Lance Stroll (Williams) slightly, just enough to allow Force India’s Esteban Ocon through into 2nd, demoting Stroll to 3rd. But Hamilton himself was never under threat. As those behind squabbled for position, the Briton eased away and looked untroubled thereafter as he drew away.

It only took until the fourth tour for Bottas to climb to 2nd place, but the task was not completely straightforward. ‘The start was quite poor for me, just a lot of wheelspin.’ The Finn enjoyed a brief, but fantastic dual with Kimi Raikkonen having lost a spot to the Ferrari-man off the line. This culminated in a wonderful overtake by Bottas around the outside of Parabolica, before Raikkonen fought back, with Bottas solidifying the deal soon thereafter. He continued, ‘One of the Ferraris got ahead and I had to get him first, which was normally going to be the difficult part and the most important part for us today. But also then pretty quickly got to P2, which was good.’ Taking Stroll and Ocon was less stressful, but by this point Hamilton was already 3.3s up the road.

For a time, the Mercedes duo swapped fastest laps, showcasing their domination of the class, although one wonders just how far the power unit at the back of the W08 was truly pushed. Team boss Toto Wolff was keen to emphasise that his drivers were keeping it sensible. ‘We were looking at the damage matrix and were trying to find a sensible way of letting them race, while not damaging the engine,’ he said in the Mercedes motorhome after the race.
Hamilton had built a gap of 3.6s on lap, before Bottas pulled it back to 2.7s within a few tours, before Hamilton drew away again. The gap toed-and-froed and was never greater than 5.07s, although this only occurred as the leading pair lapped backmarkers for the first time.

The lead had stabilised at around 4.5s by the time Hamilton pitted on lap 32, to change from his super-soft Pirelli’s to the softs, with Bottas doing the same a lap later – it would be the only time in the race that lead swapped hands – but such was the smoothness of the Monza Autodrom, tyre degradation was not a factor. ‘The car felt fantastic, particularly on that first stint. As we had a bit of breathing room behind us, it was easier for us to extend the life of the tyres,’ said the race leader. With the stops out of the way, Bottas charged again, but this race was always going to be Hamilton’s.

The Mercedes duo ticked off the remaining twenty laps with relative ease; Hamilton securing the win ahead of Bottas by 4.4s, and securing twenty-five points and the championship lead in the process. It ensured the Briton also became the first back-to-back winner of the season. ‘Today the car was fantastic and really a dream to drive. I think it’s all just to do with the team pulling together and trying to maximizing everything on the car and Valtteri and myself really trying to do the best job we can with the car.’ Yet as the European leg of the season draws to a close, Hamilton knows the battle will be tougher in Singapore. ‘The fight will continue, the Ferrari’s have been really quick this season, especially on the high-downforce tracks. It will continue to be really close between us, so it will be ‘ beast mode’ all the way to the last chequered flag.’

Bottas, meanwhile, seemed quite happy to have finished 2nd, considering his early dramas with Raikkonen. Yet while describing the virtues of the W08 machine, one couldn’t help but sense a slight hesitation, as – maybe – deep down he knows his championship shot has gone. ‘The car was so well balanced today and so strong. For sure we were quick in a straight line, but this weekend also we were really quick in every corner of the track,’ noted Bottas. ‘I think we just found a different kind of stability this weekend that we haven’t found before. We had a perfect result; Lewis won, so well done for that, me 2nd is great for us, but now it’s whether we can learn from this weekend what we need to and be strong again in Singapore…’

2017 Italian Grand Prix, Sunday - Wolfgang Wilhelm

© Daimler AG

Where Hamilton pulled away from the start, the scene in his mirrors was far more tense. Following a slow start from the front row, Stroll dropped behind Ocon, before being swarmed by Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari). Stroll briefly held his own in 3rd place, only Bottas to slip by on lap three, with Vettel – having eased past Raikkonen – following two laps later.
Ocon, too, would succumb to Vettel’s charge, but despite the championship being very much on the line, the German was unconcerned about pressing his quick, but inexperienced rivals. ‘I knew that I had to get past quickly […], but I think Lance knew we had stronger pace, so he was quite fair,’ Vettel said of the Williams rookie; however the Ferrari man was conscious the Ocon would prove a more aggressive challenge, with Vettel passing on lap eight. ‘Esteban tried to cover a bit more but I had a very good run out of the last corner so for me it was clear I would get past and I just had to choose left or right and I just wanted to make sure, so that’s why I dived down the inside.’

By then, Vettel had already lost over 9s to the lead, but even then in clear air, the Ferrari’s pace fell well shy of the leading Mercedes’. Whereas Hamilton was clearing laps in the early 1’25s, Vettel was routinely some six-tenths or so slower and as the fuel diminished, the pace increased, but the gap in pace remained. And at their home event, Ferrari had no answer. It was only at the end of his tyre stint did Hamilton’s pace edge toward what Vettel was managing, but when the Scuderia brought Vettel to the pits on lap 31, Hamilton had already built a pitstop’s worth of an advantage.
The Ferrari situated was exasperated somewhat when Vettel had a slight off at the Rettifilo with twenty lap remaining, with Vettel claiming that he was struggling thereafter. ‘I went off in Turn 1 and I think something broke in the car. The left-hand side of the steering was a bit down and I couldn’t trust the car, especially on braking and it’s a braking track. So the last laps I don’t think they showed the pace we could have gone.’ But if one is to honest, the race was a distant ghost long before this… Vettel would eventually finished 36.3s behind Hamilton, at the most Ferrari of tracks. This was more a slaughter than mere defeat…

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© Ferrari F1 Media Site

If the Ferrari-man had nothing for the pair up the road, he certainly had to turn it on to keep Daniel Ricciardo at bay. Starting 16th due to power unit penalties, the Australian made quick work of the lower-midfield runner and had climbed to 12th place by lap four. In the following tours, he picked off Nico Hulkenberg (Renault), Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) and Kevin Magnussen (Haas), before settling into a catch-up game with Sergio Perez (Force India).
Interestingly Ricciardo simply had the better pace over his Mercedes-engined rival and drew to the back of Perez by lap 12 and passing the Mexican six tours later. He was doing the same to Williams’ Felipe Massa and Stroll, when both eventually removed themselves to the pits, gifting Ricciardo some precious free air and chasing Vettel.
This would be critical of course. Having started on Pirelli softs, the Red Bull racer was going for a long first stint and time in clear air clocking fast laps was time well spent. Solid points was a target, but with a change to super softs coming on lap 37, was a podium possible..? When Vettel did stop, Ricciardo kept up his charge, with laps remaining in the mid-1’25s, knowing that Vettel’s fresh tyre pace would be strong as well.
Once both had changed, the gap had extended to 17s, but then there was Vettel’s little off and over 3s went missing. Suddenly Ricciardo was catching quickly as Vettel’s pace fell away… ‘Some good overtakes in the race kept me excited and I had some real pace in the end. I could see Seb and the thought of a podium was tempting me, so I was obviously trying to catch him right up to the end.’

For each tour that passed, the Red Bull closed by just under a second and it was looking close, until Vettel raised the bar in the final four laps. Considering that Ricciardo had originally qualified 3rd before his penalty, one might think the Australian would be aggrieved with his final outcome, but he remained upbeat with 4th. ‘We couldn’t have done much more from where we started. Of course I wanted to be up there on the podium as it looked unreal, but I believe it will come next year. Today has been a really good boost for everyone.’

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© Ferrari F1 Media Site

Raikkonen concluded what could be bets described a s a quiet run to 5th. The Finn struggled for balance throughout the entire weekend and simply never looked at one with the Ferrari. ‘Most of the time we were lacking the grip and the pace. It was not an easy weekend, we were fighting in all conditions, in the dry and even more in the wet. This is something that we have to fix for these kinds of circuit.’

Ocon and Stroll expected to fall down the order and so fell to 6th and 7th respectively, with Massa and Perez just behind. It had been a feisty encounter for the Ocon/Stroll/Massa trio, who spent much of the event covered by less than 2s, although one wonders just how much Massa was really challenging his younger teammate.
There was tension late on when in an effort to keep the charging Perez at bay, Massa took some rather odd and aggressive lines into the Rettifilo and Roggia chicanes in order to create a roadblock and keep Perez in 9th. There were other dramas too – Massa and Perez also had minor contact early on, with Massa also clattering with Verstappen, as the Dutchman attempted to surge up the order. Perez then lost time with a slow pitstop, as did Stroll.
Verstappen rounded out the point-scorers, after he took Magnussen for 10th on lap 46. It was a trying day for the Red Bull man, who pitted for super softs on lap 3, after the clash with Massa gave him a puncture. Verstappen spent much of the first half of the race playing catch up at the back of the field, but began to make up time and positions when pitted for more super-softs on lap 27. Verstappen’s second-half push was impressive, as he took Romain Grosjean (Haas), Fernando Alonso (McLaren), Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso), Hulkenberg and Kvyat, before turning his attention to Magnussen.

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© Ferrari F1 Media Site

It made Magnussen the first of the non-scorers, after his almost race long fight with Kvyat and Hulkenberg came to naught. A difficult weekend for Toro Rosso was completed when Sainz could do no better than 14th, while Grosjean crossed the finish line in 15th. Wehrlein was the final finisher in 16th, although both Alonso and Marcus Ericsson were both classified, despite retiring in the final few tours.
Stoffel Vandoorne retired with a power unit issue on lap 33 after an impressive run and Jolyon Palmer was the first retiree on lap 29 with a transmission issue, but not before receiving a drive through penalty for taking an unfair track advantage when battling with Alonso early on.

The Italian Grand Prix was not a stellar one, but rather a pivotal one. Mercedes’ pace was ominous and if this advantage carries through to Singapore, then Ferrari and Vettel will find themselves in trouble very quickly. But then there’s Ferrari’s new engine…

2017 Italian Grand Prix, Sunday - Wolfgang Wilhelm

© Daimler AG

f1 result monza

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“Italian GP: Vandoorne turns it on”

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© McLaren-Honda Racing

McLaren racer Stoffel Vandoorne may have retired at the end of lap 33 of the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday, but the Belgian racer impressed many with his performance at Monza.

On paper, the 2017 was a disaster for McLaren. Another race and another pair of retirements for the Honda-powered team, with neither Stoffel Vandoorne nor Fernando Alonso making it to the end of the race.

Curiously, however, it was Vandoorne who carried the flag for the Woking-based McLaren’s. It helped initially that Vandoorne got his MCL32 into Q3 during Saturday’s lengthy qualifying session, although Alonso’s soft run in Q2 opened the door slightly for the Belgian.
With a 35-place grid penalty coming for the Spaniard, it made little sense to impede his teammate, as he explained on Saturday evening. ‘We needed to keep an eye on Stoffel’s position too, as we didn’t want to be in Q3 with the wrong car,’ said the former champion. ‘We didn’t want to push too much in qualifying because there was no point – we’ll start last anyway, due to the penalty – so we just saved the tyres and used the engine in a lower power mode, but we still did a decent qualifying.’

At a circuit where it was feared McLaren’s pace would ultimately be destroyed, Vandoorne edged in car into the top ten and was elevated to 8th place once grid penalties for both Red Bull’s were taken into account. But this was a wet qualifying session and the race was expected to be dry.
Although not obvious at the time, but Vandoorne’s qualifying run was hampered somewhat. His final run was nixed by a developing engine problem, forcing McLaren to change to replace several elements of the power unit. Vandoorne said, ‘It’s a shame because I really think we could have pushed our way further up. We could have taken more time to find the limit and taken a few more risks, but we didn’t get that chance.’ This resulted in a grid penalty for the Belgian, dropping him an 18th place start, just ahead of Alonso.

And yet while running, Vandoorne’s pace was not ultimately destroyed. From his lowly grid spot, the 25-year-old emerged from the usual turn one melee ahead of Jolyon Palmer (Renault) and Pascal Wehrlein (Sauber), before the other Sauber of Marcus Ericsson dropped behind on the next tour and a pitting Max Verstappen (Red Bull) brought Vandoorne to 14th by the end of lap three.
Thereafter Vandoorne sat in behind Carlos Sainz in the Toro Rosso and maintained a solid pace in the early-1’28s. Alonso was there too; however when Vandoorne passed Sainz on lap six, Alonso could do nothing but sit under the rear wing of his young Spanish rival, until the Toro Rosso racer pitted on lap 15. By this time, Alonso was beginning to suffered gearbox sensor issues and Vandoorne was already eleven seconds up the road.

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© McLaren-Honda Racing

At this stage, those ahead of Vandoorne were making stops and clearing the way for the Belgian to climb to 9th position on lap 20, at which point the speed of the McLaren began to ebb away. Fights with Kevin Magnussen (Haas), Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) and Nico Hulkenberg (Renault), Vandoorne appeared potent force and appeared quite able to keep with the midfield pack.
Peeling into the pits, Magnussen and Hulkenberg would soon depart the battle, but on this relatively low degradation surface, Vandoorne was able to keep in the early 1’27s, aided by a dropping fuel count, although getting passed Kvyat proved a little too tricky. At this stage, the only drivers quicker than Vandoorne were the leading pack and those on fresh Pirelli’s, but towards the mid-point of the race, the McLaren’s pace began to fade. ‘It’s a similar issue to yesterday, and it’s a shame because we changed the engine overnight for a brand new one today. To have another problem in a race which was going very well is obviously frustrating.’

Passed by both Williams’ of Lance Stroll and Felipe Massa, Vandoorne was beginning to struggle to hang on and eventually pitted at the end of lap 33, but despite the non-finish, it was a very positive performance by the Belgian. ‘From my side, it had actually been a really positive weekend in terms of my driving and the performance I’ve put in – it’s been very strong. The last few races have been very strong for me, in fact. It’s just such a shame to finish with another retirement, and not have any reward for all of that. And we’ve had another issue today, but we have to move on.
‘I guess it’s possible I’ll have another grid drop in Singapore, although we don’t yet know exactly what the issue was today, despite it looking like a similar problem. We’ll have to wait and see.’

McLaren’s Racing Director, Eric Boullier, was certainly very pleased with Vandoorne’s run while it lasted. ‘His performance all weekend has been stellar, and this afternoon he was running in the top ten for the duration of his race – at one point as high as seventh from 18th on the grid.’
However when addressing the technical issues suffered by Vandoorne over the weekend, Boullier was less forgiving. ‘It’s both frustrating and a huge shame that once again engine reliability issues have meant that he was not only forced to waste the opportunity to start the race in eighth place on the grid, but that all the hard work he would ultimately put in to make progress through the pack and aim for points would be rendered pointless.
‘For the whole team – who have all worked so hard to give us a fighting chance on this most challenging of tracks – it’s an utterly frustrating and disappointing way to end our Italian Grand Prix weekend and the European season.’

Alonso, meanwhile, carried on and although largely uneventful, he would have a brief tussle with Palmer, prompting some exasperated radio messages from the Spaniard. His day would also end prematurely and Also eventually retired from a distant 15th place with three laps remaining – although there may a touch of strategy at play with this.

The Grand Prix circus visits the streets of Singapore for a race around Marina Bay. With a high number of twisty sections and relatively few straights, this may be venue that plays well for McLaren, but when it comes down to it, it may still only be for minor points. But for Vandoorne, it will also be another opportunity to display his growing confidence and untapped skill.

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© McLaren-Honda Racing

“F1: Hamilton claims pole position record at Monza”

Mercedes racer Lewis Hamilton claimed a record 69th pole position in Formula One at a damp and dreary Monza this evening.

In a session that stretched to over three hours-and-forty minutes following numerous rain delays, Hamilton secured the top spot with a best of 1:35.554s – a lap some 1.1s faster than the next quickest driver Max Verstappen.

Verstappen’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo recorded the 3rd quickest time; however as both Red Bull’s are taking severe grid penalties, 4th fastest qualifier Lance Stroll will start on the front row alongside Hamilton.

After a lull, rain return for the final part of qualifying prompting a move to full wets for much of the top ten. Both Mercedes’ and both Ferrari’s started on intermediate weather tyres, but returned to the pits immediately to make a switch to wets.

Hamilton was nothing if not consistent in Q3. With each quicker lap, the Briton jumped to the top of the timings, swapping regularly with Verstappen and Ricciardo, while Stroll and Force India’s Esteban Ocon ran the leading trio close.

Verstappen set his stall out in the opening minutes and where Hamilton would set a 1:37.227s, Ricciardo responded by going one-tenth quicker, before the Mercedes man took another two-tenths off of his time.

After a final switch to wet tyres, Verstappen recorded a 1:36.762s, but Ricciardo could only go one-tenth slower to sit just behind his teammate. Hamilton meanwhile hooked up a spectacular final half-a-lap, as conditions began to dry.
A 30.7s left the Mercedes racer level with Verstappen through sector one, but gained four tenths on the Dutchman through the Lesmo’s. Hamilton then went one step further and was eight-tenths quicker than Verstappen in the final sector, gifting the Briton a huge margin as he crossed the line.

Ricciardo was three-tenths quicker than his teammate in the final sector, but lost a similar amount to Verstappen in the middle of the lap. The difference between the pair came down Ricciardo losing a tenth through the Rettifilo chicane, leaving the Australian just shy of Verstappen.

Stroll and Ocon did excellently to set the 4th and 5th best times respectively, while Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas recorded a disappointing 6th. The Ferrari’s of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel ended the session a downbeat 7th and 8th, while Felipe Massa (Williams) and Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) closed out the top ten.

Sergio Perez missed out on Q3 by just 0.002s, when he fell short of teammate Ocon. The Mexican headed Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg by half-a-second, while McLaren’s Fernando Alonso could do no better than 13th. Toro Rosso suffered a dreadful session, as they could only take the 14th and 15th slots, before penalties drop them to the rear of the grid.

Kevin Magnussen the best of the Haas duo, after teammate Romain Grosjean crashed at the start Q1. Following this, the opening part of qualifying was red flagged as the Frenchman aquaplaned on the start-finish straight, pitching Grosjean into the barrier on the outside of the straight.
The Frenchman’s now out-of-control machine then crossed the sodden circuit, eventually finishing on the inside of the Rettifilo chicane. With several other drivers, including Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes), Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) and Renault pair Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer all missing the chicane at the Rettifilo, it was decided to bring out the red flag.
Before spinning, Grosjean had set a time of 1:43.355, but was audibly ruffled by the conditions on track, calling the session ‘dangerous’, adding that ‘it was stupid to run [qualifying].’ With rain coming down hard, there followed a two-and-a-half hour gap before conditions were deemed safe enough to continue.

Beyond Magnussen, Jolyon Palmer (Renault) qualified 17th, ahead of the Sauber duo Marcus Eriksson and Pascal Wehrlein.

“F1: Kerb extension laid at Parabolica”

Following a lengthy drivers meeting yesterday, an additional kerb has been added to the exit of Parabolica for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix.

With drivers using the excess run-off at Parabolica to obtain a better drive onto the start-finish straight, it was agreed to add an additional kerb to dissuade competitors from going too far off track during sessions.

© FIA.

© FIA.

© FIA.

“F1: Rain renders meaningless FP3 session”

Williams duo Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll topped a wet and meaningless FP3 session at Monza this morning.

With the track sodden following several hours of constant rainfall, only seven drivers set times, with the rest of the field completing installation laps before returning to the pits.

Thanks to the cool conditions and with no end to the rain in sight, it is likely that qualifying will also be run under very wet conditions.

“F1: Red Bull cut a lonely pace, ahead of busy race”

MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 01: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB13 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 1, 2017 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

On paper, Red Bull’s pace in yesterday’s free practice sessions at Monza looks set to cast the Milton Keynes team into a lonely battle for 5th and 6th.

But a range of penalties – due to mechanical maladies – means Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen may have far more interesting races than originally expected.

Come tomorrow’s Italian Grand Prix, it is likely that Ricciardo and Verstappen will take up positions on the final two rows of the grid.

The habit of penalising drivers who utilise more than four elements of their power unit struck Red Bull, rendering Ricciardo’s and Verstappen’s efforts rather mute – although for pairing, there is still something to look forward to, as the Australian Ricciardo relates. ‘Even though I’ve got the penalty I’m actually excited for tomorrow and the race on Sunday, knowing we’ll start at the back we have a chance to have a fun race. Of course it’s disappointing knowing that the chance of a Monza podium is unlikely, but the chance of a fun race is there.’

Alas there is an issue for the duo – and that is an oft-ineffectual Renault power unit, that is down on power (compared to Mercedes and Ferrari at least) and unreasonably frail should your name be ‘Verstappen’. Red Bull’s Class A chassis design – a given for the most part – is clearly an effective machine on circuits where medium-to-high speed cornering is a premium, but there is little of that at Monza. ‘It is hard for us on this track with the long straights, which we have to combine with a very low-downforce setting,’ Verstappen explains. ‘We just try to make the best of it. We will start the race a bit further back with the penalties but hopefully I can enjoy overtaking a good number of cars on Sunday.’

MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 01: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB13 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 1, 2017 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

But they knew that long beforehand and while the collective penalties for Red Bull comes to 35 places (20 for Ricciardo and 15 for Verstappen), it makes sense to sacrifice grid position for a race where potential and expectation is already at a minimum. ‘It makes sense to take the penalties here as this track is already not that good for us, Singapore is better for our car so we don’t want to risk anything there,’ continues the young Dutchman.
Ricciardo adds. ‘I expected this a few races ago so at least I was prepared, however I’m excited for the chance to pass a few people on Sunday.’

Ricciardo was keen to emphasise that the RB13 is relatively competitive and only requires minor adjustments, but with a dry race expected, Red Bull will do well to collect take points home from Monza.

© Red Bull Content Pool.

“F1: Mercedes dominate Friday sessions at Monza”

Großer Preis von Italien 2017, Freitag – Steve Etherington. © Daimler AG

Mercedes dominated the free practice time sheets at Monza on Friday, but on hot and fiercely humid day, it was easy to see Ferrari prowl.

Instability seemed to be the word of the day for many drivers. For some, it was an issue cured as the day aged; for those with more sensitive machinery, there was little hope for sympathetic drivability.

Of course, those toward the front of the order enjoyed the best of things – that is not a shock – inherent stability and performance is often what gets a good team to the front whatever the whether.

And “whatever the weather” was a saying latched to the tongues of many in the paddock all through Friday. Through the build-up, the weather forecast looked – and felt – truly wretched.

Yet beyond a light sprinkling in the latter stages of FP1, the day remained very dry, as Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas explained. ‘It was nice that it stayed dry today. All the forecasts said that the rain could affect the running and we could have limited running before qualifying and the race in the dry. But we got our full plan done. In FP1 we were actually ahead of the plan because we were still worried about the weather.’
This was a story that was repeated up and down the paddock. Eventually it wasn’t until just after the final support series action of the day that the rain came, and it is only then that one is reminded that Monza rain can be ferocious.

The kind of downpour that belatedly arrived would have brought out red flags – especially in modern motorsport, where risk and peril is measured on a scale against court-ruled damages.

Meanwhile, back to Valtteri. Having set the fastest time of the day in FP2, the Finn was delighted that his weekend was back on track following a stumble in the opening session. ‘Initially in FP1 we went slightly in the wrong direction with the set-up, but we managed to change it around for FP2 and the car felt a lot better.’ Although this is only practice and that the real meat comes on Saturday and Sunday, Bottas is keen to avoid a repeat of Spa, where anonymity cast him adrift of teammate Lewis Hamilton and championship leader Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari).

Hamilton, meanwhile, was one of the few that enjoyed clean Friday running, so while he may have dropped to 2nd in FP2, Hamilton has been around long enough to know that this is only the small game. ‘It’s been a good day, a clean day,’ he said. ‘We got the running done, we got through our programme with no problems. The car seems nicely balanced here. We just have some work to do to eke out a little bit more performance.’ Like at Spa, the Briton knows rivals Ferrari are close, as the demons of Silverstone was washed away.

GP ITALIA F1/2017
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER FERRARI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

But Monza is not Spa or Silverstone. It’s ‘lonnnnnng straight; tight chicane; lonnnnnnng curving right-hander; tight chicane; short chute-fast right-short chute-fast right; lonnnnnnnng straight; fast chicane; lonnnnnnnng straight; lonnnnnnng curving right-hander; lonnnnnng straight’ format renders it a very different prospect to almost anything on the calendar today.
This will be, as is common in modern Formula One, the fastest race of the year.

Yet despite closing up on the Mercedes in FP2, Vettel was… unconvinced about Ferrari’s potential, with the German complaining of a lack of stability and balance in the low downforce SF70H machine. ‘Today has been a mixed day and I hope tomorrow is going to be better,’ Vettel said. ‘This afternoon for the first part of the session we mostly used Soft tires, but I am not entirely happy because we had a mixed run with a lot of traffic and the Virtual Safety Car period. Overall, we should have enough data to go through now. If we can improve a couple of things tomorrow, then it should be better.’

And Ferrari do need to be better. Whereas it is generally accepted that Ferrari have shown more muscle at medium-to-slower layouts, Mercedes have been the strongest on faster layouts like Monza, as Vettel admits. ‘Mercedes has been strong here during the last couple of years but we focus on ourselves. We try to improve the car because there’s still a little bit missing and then we’ll start from there.’

While it will be necessary to score high where one is strongest, this championship will likely be decided by a team’s performance at their weakest tracks.
A victory on merit for Vettel and Ferrari at Monza would not only extend his championship lead, but also strike a blow against Mercedes on a layout where they are perceived strongest.

Großer Preis von Italien 2017, Freitag – Steve Etherington. © Daimler AG

FP1 Classification. © FOM

FP2 Classification. © FOM

“The Most Interesting of Times”

This weekend’s Formula One Grand Prix in the Royal Park of Monza will no doubt be an interesting one for followers of the sport.

With Mercedes racer Lewis Hamilton chasing down Sebastian Vettel and his Ferrari, this is the race upon which the 2017 world championship may well spin.

There will be much talk about Mercedes’ decision to introduce their final engine specification of the year, just as the FIA tighten the rules regarding oil burning in the combustion chamber, but that is a discussion for a different time. All that can be said is that the silver-and-turquoise team have played a canny hand, which may deliver the crown.

This Grand Prix will also mark the first time since the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that I have covered Formula One on site. There was no intention for this gap to go for such a long time – indeed, I fully expected to be in Sepang in 2015, but for various reasons, that fell through. It has taken thirty-three months, and I am looking forward to seeing what has changed.

When last in F1, Bernie Ecclestone was still running the show and while materially, very little has changed under the stewardship of Liberty Media – they are very limited in what can be done until various contracts come up for renegotiation – I will be keen to find out if the atmosphere has changed.

Following a rather trying situation with a publisher of very questionable repute come the end of 2014, if it had not been for the help of the wonderful Sam Collins and Andrew Cotton at Racecar Engineering Magazine, it is quite likely that I may have had no choice, but to throw in the towel two years ago.
In the meantime, there has been support from and work with the likes of Kate Walker, Kevin Turner at Autosport and a later foray into televised motorsport commentary with Dave Richardson and Chris Hartley on ITR’s DTM and Formula 3 package. In another turn, I will be making my Super GT commentary debut in October for the series’ penultimate round – alas not from Thailand; that would be too much to ask.
For this, I can only thank all of the above.

Paid work in motorsport can be pretty hard to find and it has pleased me no end that those that have worked with me in the past two-and-a-half years have been fair and I hope that the work supplied has been well received by readers.

This weekend, I will be working with Crash.net to bring coverage of the Italian Grand Prix; hopefully it will an interesting and exciting event – although not too exciting, as a plane home needs to be caught on Sunday night.
These events allow me to earn a reasonable extra amount of extra income – just enough to put money aside for a house deposit in London (!) and make reporting my tax return irritating, but very necessary. Still work needs to be done and I will be back in the office for the daily job at 8am Monday morning.

FIA EUROPEAN FORMULA 3 TECH UPDATE

2017-FIA-F3-06-Suer-2917

© Thomas Suer / FIA European F3 Championship

This piece was initially written in May for a run in a print magazine; however unfortunately was not published at the time. While things have moved on slightly as teams have gathered greater understanding of the aero updates, much of it is still relevant and worthwhile.
Without wishing to get too far ahead, I may soon be able to tell you more about the new-for-2018 Formula 2 car and engine package.

FIA EUROPEAN FORMULA 3 TECH UPDATE (May 2017)
Since our last Formula 3 technical update, there have been numerous sweeping changes to the F3 regulations. As budgets have risen to approximately €700,000-750,000 per season for a top drive (not including the Macau Grand Prix), teams have either struggled to find drivers or have simply resigned altogether.
With the aim of cutting costs, the FIA have outlawed individual windtunnel testing by teams, with the chassis manufacturer completing aero development work and delivering performance updates to the teams. The first result of this update came earlier this year in testing, when Dallara delivered a new package, which included a front wing with new endplates and outer front wing flaps; a new rear wing with an adjusted profile endplates and a new floor and diffuser designed to increase downforce and reduce drag. This has also increased the weight of the car by 15kg.
According to front-running one team principal, ‘the new floor has eased the instability at the rear of the car that the previous version had, making it easier to accelerate out of corners.’ The team boss also felt that this should help the field close up, as the new stability allows “lesser able” competitors find to get on the throttle much quicker on corner exit, with reduced risk of the back end stepping out.

There have also been safety modifications to the Dallara F317. The nose box has been pushed slightly back and the nose itself lowered to prevent cars getting airborne, while the front impact structure has been updated, resulting in an increase of the impact energy absorption by about 25 per cent. In line with Formula One safety regulations, additional secondary U-shaped intrusion panels have been added to the sides and bottom area on the front of the car.
The survival cell of the monocoque has been fitted with additional padding to protect drivers’ legs and wheel tethers have been upgraded to sustain forces of up to 6kJ instead of 4kJ, to further minimise the risk of wheels getting detached from the chassis in case of a crash. There will also now be data sharing between the teams, as the series aims to equalise opportunities for drivers in a category that has been won by a Prema Powerteam pilot every year since 2011.

According to Prema Powerteam racer Callum Ilott, the car which already had a reasonable amount of downforce now has even more. Ilott added, ‘the front wing is more efficient – this is noticeable – particularly this is coming from the end plates, while the new diffuser has improved the car.’
The teenager also noted that the weight increase of the car exaggerates the handling, amplifying the feel of oversteer. Ilott concluded by saying, ‘these are very small changes though – it doesn’t feel like a step change in handling. The effect overall on the car in the feeling is small but it has had the effect of closing the gap between all the teams at this point in the season.’

While the modifications are impressive, there have been some quiet criticisms regarding the cost of the complete update package, with comments that any savings made by windtunnel ban have been largely negated by the additional spend on the performance and safety update kit. The aforementioned team boss told me of a round figure of €45,000 or higher for the new kits, depending on how much a given F3 car needed to be updated. Personnel limits have also been placed on the teams, although it is believed that this likely mostly affected the likes of Hitech GP and to a lesser extent van Amersfoort Racing.
The European Championship has been reduced to five teams running nineteen drivers (as of the season opener at Silverstone) and while there have been rumours that British teams Fortec and T-Sport would re-enter should the right driver with the right budget appear, it is still the smallest field since the European Championship’s rebirth earlier this decade. Alas as it stands, both teams are currently stuck with cars in 2016 chassis configuration in their factory’s.

FIA Formula 3 European Championship 2017, round 4, Hungaroring (HUN)

© Thomas Suer / FIA European F3 Championship

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