Kimi Räikkönen & Sebastian Vettel

Kimi Räikkönen & Sebastian Vettel

maanantai 10. kesäkuuta 2019

Canadian GP: A controversial penalty turned the race into a farce!

Montreal was hit with a heat wave, as the race day came. The temperature was almost 30 degrees Celsius, which meant an increasing challenge for the soft tyres especially. Hamilton was facing some extra tension, as his W10 had suffered from a hydraulic leak in the morning. However, the mechanics had been able to fix his Silver Arrow in time for the start.

Mercedes and Ferrari started to the race on the medium Pirellis, whilst the other top ten drivers had the soft compound on. Red Bull's Verstappen, who had been promoted to P9 due to Sainz's and Magnussen's penalties, opted for the white-walled hard rubber. All top three cars had a successful start, and I was happy to see Sebastian holding on to his lead. Hamilton and Leclerc followed the German closely. Bottas, who had started to the race from P6, lost a position to Renault's Hulkenberg at the start. It was a bit odd, that Bottas was really struggling with his medium tyres. There was no way he could match his teammate's pace. Verstappen, who had the hard Pirellis on, was making his way up through the field and in no time the Dutchman was already at the Finn's tail.

Sebastian had been able to pull out a two-second gap to Hamilton, as the pit stop window opened. The German pitted on lap 26, for a fresh set of hard tyres. He re-joined the track in P3. Hamilton pitted three laps later, for a similar tyre choice to Sebastian. Leclerc, who was now leading the race, was told on the team radio to extend his first stint. Some laps later also Bottas and Leclerc pitted for a new set of hard Pirellis. Bottas re-joined the track behind Renault's Ricciardo. Although the Finn clearly had more pace, it proved unbelievably difficult to get past the Australian. It took eight long laps, before Valtteri finally managed to overtake Ricciardo. Meanwhile Verstappen, who hadn't pitted yet, complained on the team radio, that his brake pedal went to the floor every time he braked.

Hamilton's pace on the hard tyres was even more convincing than it had been on the medium ones. The Briton had gotten within DRS distance from the German and was pushing flat out. Lap 48 was the decisive and dramatic turning point in the Canadian GP. Sebastian made a tiny mistake and ended up on the grass in Turn 4. He re-joined the track as fast as he could, but was close to lose control of his SF90 with grass on the tyres. He could just barely keep his car on track, and there was a close call with Hamilton, who had to back off to avoid contact with Sebastian. Although the situation looked like a racing incident, the stewards took it into investigation. The verdict was cruel: Sebastian was handed a 5-second time penalty for his unsafe return to the track! I definitely didn't agree with the stewards. Sebastian was clearly trying to re-join the track as safely as possible in those circumstances. It's very hard to predict the grip level, when you re-join the track on dirty tyres. He was just barely able to maintain control of his car, so there wasn't anything he could have done differently. The incident caused no harm for Hamilton, except a missed overtaking move. Did the stewards think, that Sebastian was supposed to brake dramatically and re-join the track in "turtle speed", to make sure he re-joined the track safely? No F1 driver would do that! The penalty turned the otherwise exciting and entertaining race into a farce.

Sebastian was extremely gutted and furious, when he was told about the penalty on the team radio. The only way he was going to win the race was to be able to build up a 5-second gap to Hamilton. But Sebastian knew Hamilton wasn't going to let that happen. Meanwhile, Verstappen finally pitted for a fresh set of medium Pirellis and attacked Ricciardo after his pit stop. The overtaking move on Ricciardo looked almost easy, and Max claimed P5 already.

As Bottas was driving in secured P4, he was called in for a second pit stop three laps before the chequered flag. Valtteri switched to the soft compound and began the chase of the fastest lap time. Thanks to the new soft tyres, Valtteri took the fastest lap time and the extra point under his belt on the closing laps.

Sebastian crossed the finish line first, but didn't win the race, as Hamilton was only two seconds down on the German. What an anti-climax indeed! Hamilton took his seventh race win in Canada, which equals Michael Schumacher's legendary record. Sebastian had to settle for the bitter second place, which he definitely wouldn't have wanted to settle for. Leclerc completed the podium, and Bottas was left off the podium in P4. Verstappen finished the race fifth for Red Bull and Ricciardo sixth for Renault. Nico Hulkenberg made the day successful for Renault, as he finished in P7. Red Bull's Gasly was left in modest P8. Home hero Stroll was responsible for the most positive surprise in the race, as the Canadian drove to the chequered flag in P9, scoring two points. Kvyat scored the last point for Toro Rosso.

Sebastian was so angry after the race. In the heat of the moment he decided not to attend the post-race interviews and parked his Lina in a wrong place. The frustration and disappointment was very understandable. He had just lost the race win due to a controversial penalty by the stewards. In the heat of the moment you do childish things. Like Sebastian took the number 1 board away from Hamilton's car and moved it where his car was supposed to be. He did give an interview on the podium after all. And Sebastian showed great sportsmanship and respect to his rival Hamilton, which he can be very proud of. So in that way he is a good role model for young drivers. But all in all he was definitely robbed of the victory! The majority of people seem to think that the penalty was a wrong call from the stewards. I was so so happy on Saturday, when Sebastian clinched the pole! But yesterday I felt huge disappointment and sadness due to the unexpected loss of victory! This isn't the way that Formula 1 races should be won! No wonder fans are losing their interest in the sport!

I feel Sebastian's pain at the moment. But I know he will get over this and become a stronger driver. His time to win will come, sooner or later. Forza Ferrari! Forza Sebastian!

sunnuntai 9. kesäkuuta 2019

Canadian GP / Qualifying: Magical Sebastian back on top form!

Coming to Canada, my expectations weren't too high in terms of Ferrari's performance, as Mercedes had dominated all first six rounds of the season. And in addition to that, Mercedes had brought a power unit upgrade to Montreal, which was planned to make the Silver Arrows even more competitive and dominant.

In the first session the holder of the top spot changed continually. After the first flyers Leclerc was the fastest man on track, with Verstappen second, Hamilton third and Bottas fourth. After a cool-down lap Sebastian made a second run, jumping second in the standings, only a tenth off his teammate's pace. But like expected, there was more to come from the Mercedes drivers. Bottas gave his answer and went fastest, with teammate Hamilton right behind. Only a moment later the red-suited drivers bounced back, challenging the Silver Arrows for real. Sebastian clocked the fastest lap time, with teammate Leclerc only 0.014s down on the German! The top two teams' pace seemed surprisingly evenly matched, as Bottas in third was also 0.029s off Sebastian only. Hamilton in fourth was three tenths off the pace. Alfa Romeo Racing, which had had a competitive start to the season, was still struggling, like in Monaco two weeks ago. Kimi managed to make it 10th in the standings at the end of the session, but unfortunately many others improved their lap times as well. Ironically, it was Kimi's teammate Giovinazzi, who managed to jump 15th at the end, knocking Kimi out of Q2 for the first time this season. This was the very first time, that the Italian managed to out-qualify the Iceman. Out of the second session were also the Racing Point duo of Perez and Stroll and the Williams duo of Russell and Kubica.

As the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit is known to be extremely demanding on tyres, the top teams wanted to avoid using the soft tyres in the race. That's why both Mercedes and Ferrari sent their drivers out on the medium compound. The medium rubber proved extremely competitive, as Sebastian went fastest, edging Hamilton by 0.027s only. Red Bull decided to send Verstappen out on the yellow-walled mediums as well, but the Dutchman's pace left a little to hope for. He was soon dropped from P4 down to P6, and the track conditions kept improving... Leclerc, whose first run had been everything but flawless, now went fastest on his second attempt. But the young Monegasque was robbed of the top spot by his teammate only a short moment later. Verstappen's teammate Gasly had opted for the soft compound, and the Frenchman went second fastest. As there were seven minutes remaining in the clock, Verstappen was in modest P11, which meant trouble for the Dutchman. He had been unable to improve his lap time due to traffic and loss of grip. He had no choice but to pit for a fresh set of soft tyres. With only five minutes to go, Hamilton set the benchmark with a tiny 0.085-second gap to teammate Bottas. However, the end of Q2 turned out dramatic. Magnussen lost control of his Haas on his final time-lap, which threw the Dane into the Wall of Champions! Red flags were out, which meant bad news for many drivers, who were still on their time-lap. The biggest casualty was definitely Verstappen, who was out of the last segment! Also Magnussen's teammate Grosjean got eliminated because of the crash. Ironically, Magnussen would have made it into Q3, had he not crashed out!

The start of Q3 was delayed due to Magnussen's crash, as the marshals had it difficult to get the Haas transferred out of the way. This time the most competitive midfield teams were Renault and McLaren, which got their both cars into the last session. The battle for pole was going to be hair-raising, as the gap between Mercedes and Ferrari seemed absolutely tenuous. Hamilton laid his hands on provisional pole, by 0.188s to Sebastian. Leclerc was third after his first flyer. Bottas, on the other hand, had a true moment of scare on his first flyer, as the Finn spun in Turn 2 in high speed! Miraculously he managed to avoid hitting anything, but now it was all down to the very last attempt. At the end of the session Hamilton was hungry to improve his lap time, which the Briton also did. However, Sebastian had an absolutely magical last sector, which made him claim pole by a two-tenth gap to Hamilton! It was a truly phenomenal effort from Sebastian, who managed to repeat his last year's success in Montreal. Hamilton split the red-suited drivers, as Leclerc qualified third. The most positive surprise of the qualifying was Renault's Ricciardo, who made it 4th on the grid! Gasly qualified fifth, and Mercedes ace Bottas was left 6th after his mistake-filled last run, which is by far the worst grid slot for the Finn this season. Hulkenberg made it an impressive day for Renault by qualifying 7th. The McLaren duo of Norris and Sainz was left 8th and 9th (and Magnussen 10th).

Due to his crash, Magnussen will start to the race from the pit lane. Sainz has been given a 3-place grid penalty for impeding Toro Rosso's Albon. These penalties benefit Verstappen, who will start to the race from P9. Canada has offered colorful racing in the previous years, so I'm looking forward to an action-packed race. Will Sebastian be able to hold on to his lead at the start? I certainly hope so! How aggressive will Verstappen be? He will certainly benefit from the soft tyres at the beginning of the race. The team, which does better job with tyre management, has the key to victory today. And I really hope, that it will be the Red Team! Success would be such a welcomed change after the problem-filled first third of the season!

sunnuntai 26. toukokuuta 2019

Monaco GP: Sebastian split the Mercedes drivers!

The weather in Monte Carlo was part cloud, but there was a 90% risk of rain during the race. The start held no surprises. Hamilton on pole got an excellent start and get-away, holding on to the lead. Verstappen, who had started from P3, was very hungry to challenge Bottas for P2. However, Max was mature enough to know, that venturesome moves on the narrow streets of the Municipality weren't a good idea, so Bottas maintained his second place. Sebastian was fourth, followed by Renault's Ricciardo, who had been able to overtake Haas' Magnussen at the start. Unfortunately Kimi had some contact on the opening lap, which caused damage to his front wing. The Iceman dropped down to P17, which was a disappointing start to the race for the Finn.

Ferrari's Leclerc was passionate about gaining positions right away. On lap 8 he was in modest P13, right behind Haas' Grosjean. Monaco isn't known for overtaking opportunities, but Leclerc was absolutely stubborn. He made an audacious move on the Frenchman, moving 12th. A lap later he was within DRS distance from Renault's Hulkenberg. Once again Charles was determined to get past, by any means necessary. He made a move on the German, but ended up hitting a barrier. This caused the Monegasque a rear-right puncture, and he had to limp into the pits. Pieces of the punctured tyre and the floor of his SF90 were flying off, as Charles made his way towards the pits. There was so much debris on the track, that safety car was deployed.

The top drivers pitted right away. Mercedes called both their drivers in on the same lap, which cost Bottas a little time, as Hamilton had the advantage to be the first Mercedes driver to pit. Both opted for a fresh set of medium Pirellis. However, Valtteri's battle against Verstappen heated up during the pit stop. Red Bull released Verstappen, but Bottas was just driving past the Red Bull box! Their cars touched, and some small pieces flew off from Valtteri's Mercedes. Verstappen made it ahead of the Finn, claiming P2. However, the contact caused Valtteri a puncture, and he had to pit again on the following lap. Valtteri also switched to the white-walled hard rubber. The extra pit stop cost the Finn a position, as Sebastian had been able to move third during Valtteri's second pit stop.

The re-start took place on lap 14. Race leader Hamilton was the only top four driver on the medium Pirellis; Verstappen, Sebastian and Bottas all had the hard compound on their cars. In spite of pitting for a fresh set of soft tyres, Leclerc was struggling badly with his performance. Hitting the wall had caused major damage to the floor of his SF90, and the Monegasque drove his Ferrari into the garage and retired the race. The stewards had taken Bottas' and Verstappen's pit lane incident into investigation for a suspected unsafe release. And the stewards gave their verdict; Max was handed a 5-second time penalty for the unsafe release!

The top four were driving closely in single file. Hamilton's lap times were actually quite slow, as the Briton had to make sure, that his tyres would last till the end. Verstappen had made it within DRS distance from Hamilton, as there were still 35 laps to go. Hamilton complained on the team radio, that he didn't believe, that he was going to make it till the chequered flag on those tyres. However, a second pit stop wasn't an option, as it would have dropped the reigning world champion out of the podium. Verstappen put serious pressure on Hamilton and kept lurking for even a slightest chance to overtake his rival. But finding a place to overtake without a venturesome move proved extremely difficult. With two laps to go, the Dutchman decided to give it a try at the swimming pool chicane. But it was too optimistic a move, and the cars made light contact. Luckily there was no damage to either one of the cars. Hamilton maintained his lead, and Max kept following him.

Against all odds, Hamilton was able to make it to the chequered flag on his completely dead tyres! This was Hamilton's 13th win in the last 20 races. Due to Max's 5-second penalty, the Dutchman dropped out of podium. Sebastian finished the race second, and Bottas completed the podium. It was about time to get another result than a Mercedes 1-2! It was a shame, that Max was fourth, as he had shown fiery and passionate driving. But it was absolutely heart-warming to see Sebastian on the second step of the podium. He really deserved a good result. Red Bull's Gasly finished fifth and also got the extra point for the fastest lap time. His fifth place was well secured at the end of the race, so the Frenchman could afford an extra pit stop for a new set of soft tyres. Sainz finished 6th for McLaren and Kvyat 7th for Toro Rosso. Teammate Albon was 8th, Renault's Ricciardo 9th and Haas' Grosjean scored the last point. Unfortunately Kimi's race left a handful to hope for, as the Iceman was only 17th in the final standings. Against the odds, rain didn't interfere with the course of the race.

Hamilton increased his lead into 17 points in the drivers' championship standings. At this point it's crystal clear, that the battle for championship will be between the Mercedes teammates. Sebastian is third, 55 points down on Hamilton. Sebastian has a close fight with Verstappen for the third place, as Max is only four points off Sebastian. Practically Mercedes have already won the constructors' championship... I don't see any way, how Ferrari would be able to turn a 118-point defeat into a victory in 15 races!

Championship aside, my heart always beats for Sebastian (and a little for Kimi and Max as well). I'm looking forward to Canada, which offers a new chance for the Red Team to take a leap forward in terms of performance. Go Sebastian!

lauantai 25. toukokuuta 2019

Monaco GP / Qualifying: Mercedes made Monaco their turf!

This weekend it was time for the legendary Monaco GP, as the F1 caravan arrived in Monte Carlo for round 6. The glamour of Monte Carlo was overshadowed by the passing of Niki Lauda, the triple F1 world champion, who had passed away on Monday at the age of 70. The iconic F1 star has been remembered by all teams. All Mercedes team members wear a black crape this weekend. Sebastian wears a special helmet, inspired by Niki Lauda. A true racer and a legend is now gone, but he will never be forgotten.

The Monaco qualifying is known for the traffic. Getting a competitive lap time is all about getting the right track position. All cars came out right away, as the light turned green, as it was crucial to set a banker lap, had there been yellow flags or virtual safety car. Red Bull had convincing pace, as they had had also last year. Verstappen went fastest in the halfway point of the first session. Sebastian had a very tame start to the session, and he was only 10th fastest, as there were 8 minutes left in the clock. Mercedes' Bottas gave a storm warning by going fastest, with five minutes remaining. Sebastian was still struggling with the rhythm at the end of the session. He set the screens purple in the first sector, but touched the barrier in the sector two, which forced the German to abandon his flyer. He was just barely able to start his last flyer in time. And what a flyer it turned out! Sebastian went fastest, topping the time sheets in Q1! He was followed by the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Bottas. Verstappen was fourth and Toro Rosso's Kvyat fifth. But what was an unbelievable and unexpected catastrophe for Ferrari, was the elimination of home hero Leclerc! The Monegasque wasn't sent out again at the end of the session, which proved an extremely costly error. The track conditions improved so significantly, that Charles' time, which had been set at the beginning of Q2, simply wasn't competitive enough! Poor Charles had to face a bitter disappointment in front of his home crowd, being the first driver to be knocked out of Q2. Both Racing Points and both Williams cars were also out of the second session.

The Silver Arrows were back in business, as Q2 got underway. Bottas set the benchmark by clocking a new track record! Teammate Hamilton was four tenths behind his Finnish teammate respectively. Verstappen showed impressive performance and went second fastest. After the first runs Sebastian was only 9th in the standings, 1.2s off Bottas' pace. With five minutes remaining in the clock, all 15 cars were out on track. Verstappen at the wheel of his RB15 snatched the top spot from Bottas, who was followed by teammate Hamilton. Sebastian found the rhythm on his last run, jumping fourth. However, there was no matching the Silver Arrows' pace, as Sebastian was massive six tenths off the pace. Although both Alfa Romeos had been among the top ten in the last free practice session in the morning, their pace had somehow mysteriously vanished, coming to the qualifying. Against all odds, Kimi was only 14th and had no hopes of getting into Q3. Teammate Giovinazzi in P15 shared his teammate's fate. Also Renault's Hulkenberg, McLaren's Norris and Haas' Grosjean were knocked out of the final segment.

The question was, whether Mercedes ace Bottas was going to claim his fourth consecutive pole. The flying Finn had a phenomenal start to the last segment, grabbing firmly on the provisional pole. Hamilton didn't manage to put together a competitive lap time on his first attempt, but his second flyer made him jump second in the standings. Two tenths of a second were separating the Mercedes teammates. Verstappen was third, with almost a four-tenth gap to the Finn. Unfortunately Sebastian wasn't capable of challenging the top three by any means. However, the second runs at the end of the session played a crucial role. Once again Sebastian set the screens purple in the first sector, but touched the barrier in sector two, already for the second time! No wonder he was unable to improve his lap time. Bottas had an issue with the traffic on his last warm-up lap, which meant, that starting his last flyer, his tyre temperatures weren't in the perfect window. The Finn proved unable to improve his lap time, whilst his teammate pulled out a perfect lap, snatching pole! Bottas, who qualified only 0.086s behind his teammate, was extremely disappointed with his second place. On the narrow streets of Monte Carlo, the pole position is bigger an advantage than at any other race track on the F1 calendar. Verstappen maintained his third place, and Sebastian was left fourth. This was the first time this season for Sebastian having qualified out of the top three. Red Bull's Gasly and Haas' Magnussen locked down the third row, followed by Renault's Ricciardo and Toro Rosso's Kvyat. McLaren's Sainz and Toro Rosso's Albon were the last of the top ten.

In Monaco the qualifying is usually more exciting than the race, as overtaking is considered almost impossible on the streets of the Municipality. Hamilton, being the pole-setter, has an extremely high chance of winning the race tomorrow. I wouldn't be surprised if it was the sixth 1-2 for Mercedes tomorrow. But I certainly hope it won't! The Monaco GP requires perfect and 100 % concentration from the driver throughout the race, as the narrow track with walls close, won't forgive any mistakes. Mistakes like Sebastian made in the last free practice, where he ended up into the wall after a lock-up. It certainly would be a refreshing change to see some red surprises in the race!

sunnuntai 12. toukokuuta 2019

Spanish GP: The insane fifth 1-2 in five races for Mercedes!

The weather at Circuit de Catalunya was part cloud, which meant excellent conditions for the race. The lights out was the most thrilling moment of the Spanish GP. Pole-setter Bottas had an unexpected issue with his clutch, which made the Finn's start everything but smooth. Teammate Hamilton used his chance and stormed into the lead. Sebastian, who had started from P3, made a venturesome move at the end of the start straight, diving into the outside of Bottas. He locked up his front-left tyre, which caused a major flat spot on the tyre. Sebastian ended up going a bit wide, which was a relief for the Finn, who managed to keep his second place. Red Bull's Verstappen took full advantage of Sebastian having damaged his tyres, making a successful overtaking move and moving third in the race. Further down in the midfield, Kimi had a bad start on the medium Pirellis. Cold tyres made the opening lap challenging, and Kimi went wide in Turn 1, driving quite a bit on the gravel before getting back on the track. After this the Iceman was at the very back of the pack.

Hamilton took control of the race right from the very first laps. Soon the Briton had built a 2-second gap to his teammate. Verstappen was third, followed by the Scuderia duo of Sebastian and Leclerc. Leclerc was putting serious pressure on his teammate, who was struggling with his flat-spotted tyres. Charles was within DRS distance from Sebastian, and at the end of the main straight the Monegasque was lurking for a chance to get past. Verstappen benefited from the Ferrari drivers' battle, which lasted for several laps. On lap 12 the team obviously told Sebastian to let Charles by, and they switched positions. Charles was significantly faster and opened up a gap to his teammate right away. Sebastian was in serious trouble with his tyres and asked on the team radio, that the team would pit him.

Sebastian came in on lap 20 as the first top driver. The German switched to the yellow-walled medium compound. Red Bull reacted to Sebastian's strategy and pitted Verstappen on the following lap. Max was clearly on a two-stop strategy, as the Dutchman opted for another set of soft Pirellis. Teammate Gasly, on the other hand, opted for a fresh set of medium compound. Ferrari called Leclerc in on lap 26. The Monegasque's tyre choice was quite surprising, as he switched to the white-marked hardest compound. Charles re-joined the track right ahead of his teammate, who was on the softer tyres. Both Mercedes drivers pitted for a fresh set of medium rubber.

Towards the halfway point of the race the tables had turned in terms of the red-suited drivers. Now Sebastian was within striking distance from his young teammate and seemed to have more pace than Charles. They kept driving closely in single file for some six laps, which cost valuable time for both drivers. On lap 36 they swap places again, and Charles let Sebastian by. Now it was Sebastian, who opened a gap to his teammate right away.

Hamilton had the race perfectly under his control. He had increased the gap to his teammate into nine seconds already. On lap 41 Sebastian opened the second round of pit stops. He opted for another set of medium Pirellis and re-joined the track in P6. Red Bull's Gasly was right ahead of him, but Sebastian managed to overtake the Frenchman with ease. Verstappen pitted for a similar tyre compound to Sebastian. Mercedes drivers were a different case. They had no fresh sets of mediums left, so both drivers had to settle for a used set of soft tyres.

With 20 laps to go, McLaren's Norris tried an overtaking move on Racing Point's Stroll, which led into contact between the two. Both of them spun on the gravel, which ended the race for both of them. Safety car was deployed. Hamilton and Leclerc saw their chances and pitted right away. Behind the safety car the order of the top six was unchanged; Hamilton was leading the race, with teammate Bottas second, Verstappen third, Sebastian fourth, Leclerc fifth and Gasly sixth.

Safety car came in on lap 52, and the race was on again. The re-start saw no changes in the positions of the top six. Hamilton's pace was absolutely outstanding, as the Briton managed to build up a four-second gap to Valtteri in just two laps. The pecking order of the top six was stabilized, but further down in the midfield there was a thrilling battle between the Haas teammates for the 7th place. McLaren's Sainz was also putting pressure on Grosjean, which led into a wheel-banging contact, but the Frenchman managed to keep his 8th place just barely. However, a lap later Sainz managed to get past Grosjean, snatching P8.

Hamilton crossed the finish line as the race winner for the 76th time in his career. Bottas made it an astonishing fifth 1-2 for Mercedes in five races, which is the ultimate jack pot indeed. Verstappen completed the podium, which was well-deserved. Ferrari, who had brought an engine upgrade to this GP in order to improve their performance, had to settle for modest P4 (Sebastian) and P5 (Charles). Gasly finished 6th for Red Bull and Magnussen 7th for Haas. McLaren's Sainz, Toro Rosso's Kvyat and Haas' Grosjean completed the top ten. Unfortunately Kimi didn't make it in the points this time.

Hamilton has now taken back the championship lead by 7 points to his teammate. Thanks to Max's podium finish today, the Dutchman moved third in the standings, leaving Sebastian fourth. In terms of the teams, the Red Team are in serious trouble, not only with Mercedes but also with Red Bull. Mercedes have increased their lead to Ferrari in terms of performance. On the other hand, Red Bull have caught Ferrari insidiously race by race. After five 1-2s it seems inevitable, that there's only one team, which is the favorite for winning the constructors' championship this year. But the second place certainly cannot be taken for granted by Ferrari, as Red Bull are lurking right behind the Red Team's back. The Red Team seem to in a crisis, more or less. What should be done to turn things around? If the Red Team knew the answer, they wouldn't be in the current situation.

lauantai 11. toukokuuta 2019

Spanish GP / Qualifying: Unbeatable Bottas conquered his third pole in a row!

My beloved son's funeral took place yesterday, so Formula 1 hasn't been the number one thing in my mind this weekend. It was a beautiful ceremony, but filled with tears, sadness and never-ending yearning. However, in spite of grieving the lost years, I want to gratefully pay attention to those 16 wonderful years, that I was privileged to spend with my dear Samuel.

In spite of all the sadness in my mind, watching Formula 1 felt the right thing to do. It was a cloudy day in Barcelona, which meant cooler track temperature and slippery conditions. Renault's Hulkenberg was the first driver to go off on the gravel in Q1. The German was able to continue, but groveling on the track ruined the first flyer for Kimi. Williams' Russell spun a moment later, which underlined the slippery conditions. Leclerc went fastest, with teammate Sebastian two tenths down on the Monegasque. Mercedes sent their drivers out not until in the halfway point of the session. Meanwhile, Verstappen set the fastest lap time. The Dutchman's joy was only momentary, as Bottas deprived the top spot of the Red Bull ace. Hamilton lost time behind one of the Racing Point cars, and the Briton was only third after his first flyer. On his second run Kimi made it 11th for Alfa Romeo Racing. Due to a problem-filled beginning of the session, Hulkenberg was the first driver to be knocked out of Q2. The German was accompanied with Racing Point's Stroll, Alfa Romeo's Giovinazzi and the Williams duo of Russell and Kubica.

In Q2 the teams were unbelievably unanimous in terms of the tyre strategy. Everyone came out on the red-marked soft compound, although the medium rubber had produced very competitive lap times in the free practice sessions. Mercedes have conquered every pole at Circuit de Catalunya during the modern turbo hybrid era, so it was no surprise, that the Silver Arrows stamped their authority all over the place again. This time Hamilton set the benchmark, with teammate Bottas  two tenths off the pace. Ferrari had brought an engine upgrade to their SF90 this weekend, but still, the Red Team were missing pace badly. Sebastian was massive six tenths down on the pace-setter Hamilton. Not to mention Leclerc, who had an extremely tame first run, which saw the Monegasque 1.4s off the pace. Alfa Romeo Racing were also struggling on the Circuit de Catalunya, especially in the low-speed corners. The Iceman's first run saw the Finn out of the top ten, and unfortunately his second run wasn't  any more competitive. At the end of the session Bottas deprived his teammate of the top spot. Ferrari had no chance to match the Silver Arrows' pace; Sebastian was third and Leclerc fourth. Both McLarens were eliminated from Q3, as were Toro Rosso's Albon, Alfa Romeo's Räikkönen and Racing Point's Perez. Haas proved the strongest midfield team, as the American-based team got both cars among the top ten.

Which one of the Mercedes aces was to snatch pole? The flying Finn Bottas gave his answer already on his first run. The beard-faced Finn set an incomprehensible lap time, which left teammate Hamilton massive six tenths shy of his teammate's phenomenal lap time. Sebastian was third, which seemed the absolute maximum for the German. It was kind of sad to witness, that there were unbelievable eight tenths separating Sebastian from the leading Finn. After the first runs Verstappen was fourth and Gasly fifth. Ferrari youngster Leclerc had a single run only, which made him not higher than fifth in the standings. Neither one of the top four drivers was able to improve their positions at the end, which meant a sensational third pole in a row for the brand new Bottas 2.0. As Leclerc split the Red Bulls, Gasly was left sixth. The Haas duo of Grosjean and Magnussen locked down the fourth row, with Toro Rosso's Kvyat and Renault's Ricciardo completing the top ten.

I'm sure tomorrow's start will see an epic and fiery battle between the Mercedes teammates. I bet Hamilton is fed up with watching the back lights of his teammate's W09, so I'm sure he won't "play nice" at the start anymore. Mercedes' race pace is in a class of their own, so without any Mercedes drama Sebastian has no chance to make it higher than P3 tomorrow. One thing is for sure: in order to keep their championship hopes alive, Ferrari desperately need to score more points than Mercedes tomorrow!

maanantai 29. huhtikuuta 2019

Azerbaijan GP: Unbelievable fourth 1-2 of the season for Mercedes!

The sun has set a long time ago and I'm sitting in the kitchen in candlelight. It's almost midnight here in Finland. Writing is my therapy now.

There was bad news for Alfa Romeo Racing's Kimi Räikkönen already before the start. The Iceman had been excluded from the qualifying results due to a front wing flexibility issue. This meant, that Kimi was going to start to the race from the pit lane, alongside Red Bull's Gasly. Ferrari's Leclerc was the only top ten driver to start to the race on the medium compound, which gave the Monegasque a potential advantage in terms of the first stint. The lights out started a wheel-banging dual between the Mercedes teammates. Hamilton got a slightly better ignition from P2, making it alongside pole-sitter Bottas. They were driving side by side, but with mutual respect. Going into Turn 3, Bottas determinedly took his lead, leaving Hamilton behind. Sebastian followed the Silver Arrows in P3. It was a little surprising to see, that Racing Point's Perez in P5 put serious pressure on Red Bull's Verstappen. On lap 3 the Mexican made his move on the stubborn Dutchman, and with the help of DRS he snatched P4. However, the Dutchman's revenge took place some three laps later, as he attacked Perez on the main straight, claiming back his fourth place.

The pit stops were predicted to happen around lap 20, but Kimi came in already on lap 7. He switched to the medium rubber and re-joined the track at the back of the pack. Meanwhile, Bottas had built up a small gap to his teammate and was controlling the race. At this point Leclerc's pace was extremely consistent; on the medium Pirellis he was almost a second faster than race leader Bottas. The young Ferrari pilot was in P5, but he was definitely having a podium finish in his mind.

Sebastian was the first top driver to pit on lap 12. The German re-joined the track on a fresh set of yellow-marked medium Pirellis, behind Verstappen in P5. Mercedes were forced to react, and race leader Bottas was called in a lap later, for a similar tyre choice to Sebastian. On lap 14 it was Hamilton's turn to pit, and Leclerc moved to the lead. Towards the halfway point of the race, the Monegasque still hadn't pitted yet. His mediums were out-worn, and he was losing pace lap by lap.

On lap 30 the battle between the top three was extremely intense. Leclerc had only one-second gap to Bottas, and teammate Hamilton was only a second down on the reborn Finn. There were all ingredients for an epic battle for the victory, although Leclerc hadn't done his pit stop yet. However, with his dying tyres, Leclerc had very little chances to defend his lead against the Mercedes. On lap 32 Bottas attacked the Ferrari ace, snatching the lead back to himself. Hamilton repeated his teammate's move on a sequential lap, jumping second.

Meanwhile, there was a bizarre and even comic incident between Renault's Ricciardo and Toro Rosso's Kvyat. They were battling for positions, and they both missed the corner, ending up wide. Ricciardo was in a panic to re-join the track as fast as he could, so he ended up reversing into Kvyat's Toro Rosso! This silly mistake ended the race for both of them.

Sebastian had also closed the gap to his teammate, who was struggling badly with his dying tyres. There was no drama; Leclerc let his teammate past. The Monegasque pitted not until on lap 35, for a fresh set of soft Pirellis. He re-joined the track in P6, behind the Red Bull duo of Verstappen and Gasly. However, a lap later Charles was already at Gasly's tail, and overtaking in the DRS zone was only a formality for the Ferrari's future star.

With 12 laps to go, Gasly's RB15 was suddenly hit with a technical failure, and the Frenchman had to stop his car on the track. This brought out virtual safety car. With only five laps to go, the battle between the Mercedes teammates evolved fiery. Hamilton had made it almost within DRS distance from the fighting Finn. There was no room for errors. Ferrari took Leclerc in for the second time, as the Monegasque was in a safe fifth place. On the fresh soft tyres he was hungry to take the fastest lap time and the extra point under his belt. With two laps to go, Hamilton was already within less than a second from his teammate. Valtteri kept his head cool, giving Hamilton no chance to attack him. On the second last lap, Hamilton made a small mistake, trying to chase his teammate, and this resolved the battle in favor of Valtteri. The flying Finn set the fastest lap time on the second last lap, only to be deprived of it by Leclerc on the penultimate lap!

Sensational Valtteri led Mercedes into the unbelievable fourth 1-2 this season. Sebastian completed the podium, which I was happy about. Verstappen finished fourth and Leclerc fifth. Against my expectations, Leclerc's pace on the soft tyres hadn't proved as competitive as on the medium ones. Perez has been on the podium twice in Baku, but this time he was left sixth. McLaren achieved an excellent result, as Sainz finished 7th and Norris 8th. Stroll completed a good result for Racing Point by finishing 9th. Kimi was the last driver to score points on the narrow streets of Baku. Kimi has now scored points for Alfa Romeo Racing in every race this season.

Valtteri has now made it back in the drivers' championship lead, but only by one point to his teammate. Sebastian jumped third in the standings, but he is already 35 points down on Valtteri. Verstappen, on the other hand, is only one point off Sebastian. In terms of the constructors' standings the battle isn't as thrilling. Mercedes have dominated the beginning of the season overwhelmingly, and they now have 173 points to the Red Team's 99.

Round 5 brings the F1 circus to Europe in a fortnight. Hopefully the new updates for the SF90 will help the Red Team to turn around the pecking order.