Kimi Räikkönen & Sebastian Vettel

Kimi Räikkönen & Sebastian Vettel

sunnuntai 25. marraskuuta 2018

Abu Dhabi GP: Hamilton wrapped up the season with 11th win!

The season finale was emotional for many drivers, as six drivers altogether -Alonso, Hartley, Ocon, Ericsson, Sirotkin and Vandoorne- started to their very last F1 race, at least so far. The start itself was very clean, as pole-setter Hamilton dived into Turn 1 first, with teammate Bottas at his tail. Sebastian held on to his third place, followed by Kimi, who was driving his farewell race for Ferrari. Red Bull's Verstappen, on the other hand, had problems with his launch. The engine of his RB14 didn't work as expected, and Max lost three positions, dropping down to 9th. Opening lap saw a dramatic situation in the midfield, as Haas' Grosjean and Renault's Hulkenberg collided in Turn 9. Hulkenberg's rear-right tyre touched Grosjean's front-left tyre, which made Hulkenberg's Renault go airborn. Hulkenberg's car flipped in the air and ended up upside down into the wall! Due to the head protection device Halo it was very difficult for the German to get out of the car. The crash aside, there were also flames coming out of the rear of Hulkenberg's Renault! Luckily the fire extinguishers were near, and the marshals quite rapidly managed to turn the car back on its wheels. Luckily Hulkenberg got out of his car unharmed. Safety car was deployed.

Safety car came in on lap 4. Sauber's Leclerc had made his way up to 5th right before the safety car. Verstappen was having a heart-stopping battle with the Force India duo. Max and Ocon kind of continued where they left off in Brazil! Once again Max knew what he wanted; he made an audacious and aggressive overtaking move on the Frenchman, moving ahead of the Force India pilot. This was definitely Max's driving at its best! Like a lion unleashed.

Before the race I had hoped, that Kimi would end his career in the red on a high. Well, reality turned out different. Kimi's SF71-H was suddenly hit with an electric failure, which made the car stop on the finish straight on lap 7. It was a real pity, as I would have wanted to see the Iceman on the podium one more time in the red suit! Virtual safety car was deployed, and Mercedes called race leader Hamilton in. The world champion switched to the red-walled super-soft compound, and re-joined the track in P5. This seemed like a genius tactical call from the world champion team; but would it be possible for Hamilton to make the tyres last for over 40 laps?

Sebastian in P2 was the next top driver to pit on lap 16. The German, too, opted for a fresh set of super-softs. However, there was a small delay in his pit stop. Race leader Bottas pitted on the sequential lap, also for the hardest rubber. The Finn re-joined the track well ahead of Sebastian. Verstappen, who had started to the race on the hyper-softs, pitted not until on lap 18, for a similar tyre choice to the other top drivers. Teammate Ricciardo was now leading the race, with Hamilton second, Bottas third, Sebastian fourth and Verstappen fifth. Against all odds there was light drizzle around lap 23, which isn't a common phenomenon in the dessert of Abu Dhabi. However, due to very low intensity it had hardly any influence on the track conditions.

Ricciardo in the lead proved his skills in tyre management, as the Australian came in not until on lap 33. Ricciardo re-joined the track on super-softs in P5. The Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Bottas were now back in the double lead. However, with 20 laps to go, Bottas seemed to be in serious trouble with his tyres. Sebastian had been able to close the gap to the Finn and was lurking for a chance to get past. He didn't have to wait for long, as Bottas locked up his brakes, and Sebastian attacked the Finn right away, snatching P2. Sebastian immediately opened a gap to Bottas, once getting past. After Sebastian it was Verstappen's turn to make it past Bottas. It was another overtaking move in Verstappen style, as their front-wheels touched in the heat of the moment. Teammate Ricciardo made Bottas' misery even worse, as the Australian, too attacked the Finn and made a successful overtaking move! In only a few laps Bottas had dropped from P2 down to P5! As the Finn had nothing to lose anymore, the team called him in for the second time. Bottas switched to a fresh set of ultra-softs, and re-joined the track in P5. He didn't lose any positions due to his pit stop, as Renault's Sainz in P6 was massively behind already.

Hamilton in the lead had everything perfectly under his control. Despite the early pit stop, his tyres were still very much alive. His gap to Sebastian varied from four to five seconds. Verstappen in third was a couple of seconds behind Sebastian, and teammate Ricciardo was another couple of seconds off Max. So there were no wheel-to-wheel battles for podium places at the closing stages. Hamilton crossed the finish line as the dominant race winner for the 11th time this season. Sebastian ended the season on a high by finishing as the runner-up. Max has driven a sensational last third of the season, completing the podium also today. Ricciardo finished fourth, ahead of disappointed Bottas. Sainz finished 6th for Renault and Leclerc 7th for Sauber. The Haas duo of Grosjean and Magnussen completed the top ten.

At the end of the season it is well-deserved to say, that Hamilton won the world championship in a superior way, as the gap to Sebastian turned out as massive as 88 points. Mercedes, too have an 84-point gap to Ferrari in the constructors' standings. So now it's time to wrap up the 2018 season... And look forward to the next one. Kimi will be testing Sauber's this year's car already next Tuesday at Pirelli's tyre tests. I can't wait, what kind of plot twists the 2019 season will hold! I will miss Kimi in red, but I have a strong hunch, that he will make miracles happen at the wheel of Sauber next year!

Abu Dhabi GP / Qualifying: History repeated itself, as Mercedes conquered the front row!

Yesterday it was time for the last qualifying session of the year. And what would have been more memorable and impressive venue than Abu Dhabi and the Yas Marina Circuit with its artificial lights! Although both championships have already been secured, Abu Dhabi always brings extra magic into the season finale.

The pecking order of Mercedes and Ferrari seemed extremely evenly matched in the first session. Sebastian went fastest on his first run, with Kimi second. However, both Silver Arrows managed to improve their lap times on their second runs. Bottas moved second, being only marginal 0.014s off the German Ferrari ace. Hamilton in third was also only a blink of an eye behind Sebastian, the gap being 0.053s. The last-minute sensation of the first session was Force India's Ocon, who jumped fourth on his last run. Sauber's Leclerc continued his excellent performances, moving seventh at the end of the session. It was a bit surprising to see both Toro Rossos out of Q2. Gasly was setting a competitive lap time on his last flyer, but the Frenchman was hit with a technical issue, which dropped him out of the second segment. McLaren's Vandoorne was beaten by teammate Alonso for the 21st time this year, which is a crushing defeat for the Belgian driver. In addition to Vandoorne, both Williams drivers missed out on Q2 as well.

Q2 saw an expected tyre strategy in terms of the three top teams. Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull all sent their drivers out on the purple-walled ultra-soft compound. More surprising was to see the Force India duo also opting for the middle compound. World champion Hamilton absolutely nailed it on his first flyer. He set an outstanding new track record by driving an aggressive and sensational lap. Teammate Bottas came nowhere close on his first run, being massive seven tenths down on the Briton. Both red-suited drivers were a second down on the Briton's benchmark! Red Bull's Verstappen didn't have it easy on the harder tyres. The Dutchman was in tame P10 after his first run, which meant, that he had no choice but to switch to the hyper-soft compound for his last run. Verstappen's second attempt was rewarding; the flying Dutchman jumped second in the standings. The track conditions kept improving towards the end of the session, and sensational Leclerc jumped third on his last flyer. Also Renault's Hulkenberg made an impressive job, moving fourth at the closing stages of Q2. Sebastian made a second attempt on the ultra-softs, making it third in the standings. But there was no beating Hamilton's incredible benchmark! Out of Q3 were Renault's Sainz, Sauber's Ericsson, Haas' Magnussen, Force India's Perez and McLaren's Alonso.

Hamilton's first run in Q3 was everything but perfect. He had a lock-up in the middle sector, and his W09 seemed to suffer from a restless rear end. In spite of these imperfections, the world champion took provisional pole by 0.057s to Sebastian. Bottas was third, only a tenth down on his teammate. Ricciardo was fourth, Kimi fifth and Verstappen sixth. At this point I was very much hoping, that Sebastian could seriously challenge Hamilton for pole under the floodlights of Yas Marina Circuit. My hopes proved very wrong. Hamilton improved his lap time by half a second, setting another new track record. Teammate Bottas set the screens purple in the second sector of his last run, but lost a tiny bit of time in Turns 17 and 18, and was finally 0.162s off his teammate. However, it was another front-row lock-out for the Silver Arrows in Abu Dhabi. Sebastian was left third, the margin being as significant as 0.331s. Kimi locked down the second row for the Scuderia. Red Bull made it on the third row, this time Ricciardo having the upper hand on Verstappen. Haas' Grosjean was the best of the rest in P7, Sauber's Leclerc will start to the race alongside the Frenchman. Force India's Ocon and Renault's Hulkenberg rounded out the top ten.

Although Red Bull were six or seven tenths down on Mercedes in terms of the single-lap pace, their race pace is definitely on a different level. Max is the only driver in top six to start to the race on the softest rubber, but Max showed already in Brazil, that he is very good with saving the tyres. Tyre management is definitely one of the key factors in the race. Abu Dhabi will mark Kimi's last race as a Ferrari driver, so I really hope the Iceman will end his Ferrari career on a high!

maanantai 12. marraskuuta 2018

Brazil GP: Backmarker robbed Verstappen of victory!

At the time of the lights out the conditions were dry. Among the top ten the Ferrari drivers were the only ones to start to the race on the soft rubber. Red Bull's Ricciardo, who had qualified 6th, had been dropped down to P11 due to a turbo charger change. Hamilton on pole took a confident start, holding on to his lead. Teammate Bottas took an amazing start as well, and the Finn made it ahead of Sebastian, who had started to the race alongside Hamilton. There was an extremely tight wheel-to-wheel battle between Kimi and Verstappen, who very often seem to "find each other" on track. Aggressive Max managed to make it ahead of the Iceman, but Kimi was stubborn to fight back. Kimi snatched his fourth place back in no time. However, Max was like a lion unleashed. He attacked again on lap 3, and passed Kimi again in Turn 1. Max was utterly on flames. A lap later he already attacked Sebastian. Another bold overtaking move made Max jump already third in the race. Sebastian made a small mistake, which offered Kimi, too a chance to move ahead of his teammate. Sebastian's pace wasn't too convincing...

Hamilton had only a 2-second lead to his teammate Bottas. And Verstappen was closing the gap to the Finn lap by lap. On lap 6 he was already within DRS distance from the Finnish Mercedes pilot. Meanwhile, Ricciardo had made his way through the field, and was in P6 already. And there was no stopping Verstappen! On lap 10 he made his move on Bottas, which proved successful. Max had just claimed P2 in the race.

Mercedes were clearly struggling with the out-worn super-soft tyres. Kimi had hunted down his compatriot, and was lurking for a chance to overtake. But it didn't turn out easy. Bottas was the first top driver to pit on lap 19. Like predicted, he opted for a fresh set of white-walled medium tyres. Teammate Hamilton pitted from the lead on the sequential lap, for a similar tyre choice. After his pit stop Hamilton was able to set competitive lap times, but only after a few laps the Briton complained on the team radio, that his tyres didn't feel very good. Sebastian pitted on lap 28, for medium rubber as well.

Verstappen in the lead didn't seem to have problems with tyre degradation. Max even reported on the team radio, that the performance of his tyres had improved, although there were over 30 laps on those super-softs! Kimi, on the other hand, pitted on lap 32, for mediums as well. Kimi re-joined the track in P7, which meant losing positions both to Bottas and teammate Sebastian. Sebastian, however, was seriously struggling with his pace. Kimi was clearly faster than his teammate. At that point we saw a rarely-seen call from the Red Team, as Sebastian was told to let Kimi past. After switching positions, Sebastian had no chance to match his teammate's pace.

Verstappen pitted not until at the halfway point of the race! Against the odds the flying Dutchman switched to the middle compound, re-joining the track in P2. Hamilton, however, was only a couple of seconds ahead. Max could already smell the world champion's blood. Teammate Ricciardo pitted on lap 40, for a similar tyre choice to his teammate. Meanwhile, Max had hunted down Hamilton and attacked the Briton at the end of the main straight. There was nothing Hamilton could do to prevent Max from taking the lead!

Lap 44 was the turning point in the race. Something very unexpected happened between race leader Verstappen and Force India's Ocon. The Frenchman had just exited the pits, and he was a lap down already. However, Ocon had decided to overtake Verstappen to reach the same lap with him... This led to a bizarre incident, Ocon crashing into Verstappen's RB14! Max span, and the floor of his Red Bull took significant damage. Hamilton saw his opportunity and took the lead. Max was able to continue, and luckily the floor damage had a surprisingly small effect on his performance. Meanwhile, Kimi was able to overtake Bottas, moving third.

Ricciardo, too was flying on his soft tyres. Sebastian was in serious trouble with his ex-teammate. Their wheels had already touched a few laps earlier, but on lap 46 the Australian managed to overtake Sebastian, claiming P5. Sebastian pitted on lap 54 for the second time, now switching to the super-softs. He re-joined the track in P7, in the middle of traffic. Meanwhile, Force India's Ocon was given a stop-and-go penalty, which I considered quite a mild penalty for robbing Verstappen of the race win.

Bottas was in trouble with his dying mediums, and Ricciardo finally managed to overtake the Finn on lap 59. After losing a position to the Australian, Bottas pitted for the second time. The Finn re-joined the track on the softs in P5. With five laps to go, Ricciardo was right at Kimi's tail, hungry to make it on the podium. But Kimi defended his third place in style and impeded all overtaking moves. Hamilton crossed the finish line as the race winner, and deeply disappointed Verstappen had to settle for being the runner-up. Kimi completed the podium; this was already the 12th podium finish for the Iceman this season! Ricciardo was left 4th, Bottas 5th and Sebastian 6th. Charles Leclerc was the impressive 7th, and Grosjean and Magnussen brought valuable points for Haas. Force India's Perez rounded out the top ten. So now it's official: Mercedes have clinched their fifth constructors' championship.

Max was extremely furious after the race. He showed his rage for Ocon right away. Max got so carried away with the fury caused by Ocon ruining his race, that Max even pushed Ocon multiple times during that "conversation". I don't accept Max's actions but I do understand him. Max would have won the race, had Ocon not crashed into him! And they weren't even running for positions at that point! And what a phenomenal race Max drove! Staggering overtaking moves without stupid mistakes. Max shone like a star at Interlagos yesterday. On track he was pure professional. The same can't be said about his behavior after the race... However, it's humane to get carried away by strong emotions.

One more round to go. The season finale will take place in Abu Dhabi in a fortnight. Hopefully the red-suited drivers will have a glamorous end to their season! It will be the very last race for Kimi in the red suit. One era is coming to an end.

sunnuntai 11. marraskuuta 2018

Brazil GP / Qualifying: 10th pole of the season for Hamilton!

As there was a 60 % chance of rain during the qualifying, everyone headed out on the red-walled super-softs right away. Red Bull's Verstappen topped the time sheets after the first runs, with Kimi second and Hamilton third. Once again Sauber showed amazing pace, Leclerc being faster than Mercedes' Bottas after the first attempts. The red-suited drivers were extremely evenly matched, as Kimi and Sebastian set identical lap times on their second runs. The much-expected rain arrived at Turn 12, when there were about eight minutes left in the clock. The rain intensified a little towards the end of the segment, but the track still remained dry enough for the slicks. The battle in the midfield was extremely tight, and the margins were tiny. Renault's Sainz, who was the first driver to miss out on Q2, was tenuous five thousandths of a second off Force India's Ocon, who was the last driver to get through to the second session. Toro Rosso's Hartley, Williams' Stroll and the McLaren duo of Alonso and Vandoorne were also out of Q2.

Again, everyone rushed out straight away, as the second session was kicked off. It was vital to get a banker lap in, in case the rain would worsen the track conditions. Mercedes sent their drivers out on the softest rubber, as did Ferrari. However, Ferrari opted to call their drivers in after an installation lap. Both red-suited drivers switched to the yellow-marked middle compound, which was a risky but courageous call from the Red Team. Bottas went fastest, but Sebastian on the harder rubber was only five hundredths of a second off the Finn. Hamilton was third, Verstappen fourth and Kimi fifth. As soon as the other two top teams saw, how competitive the Ferraris were on the softs, they, too sent their drivers out on the soft compound. However, with seven minutes left in the clock, there began heavy rain at Turns 13 and 14. Neither the Red Bull drivers nor the Mercedes duo were able to improve their lap times in the changing conditions. There was a scary-looking incident, which involved Hamilton and Williams' Sirotkin. Hamilton was on a cool-down lap, and Sirotkin was coming from behind. The Russian had to make a sharp evading move, not to hit the Briton. However, Hamilton didn't get a penalty for impeding Sirotkin, as the Russian, too had been on a cool-down lap, in spite of the pace difference. The track conditions turned more challenging at the end of the second session. There was only one driver, who was able to improve his lap time in the end. And that was Sauber's Leclerc! The team already asked the Monegasque to drive into the pits, but he insisted, that he wanted to give it a one more try. And he jumped 8th after a magnificent lap! Also teammate Ericsson managed to make it through to the last segment. Eliminated from Q3 were Haas' Magnussen, the Force India duo of Perez and Ocon and Williams' Sirotkin.

There was no more rain, as the last 12-minute session got underway. When it came down to the decisive laps, Hamilton nailed it once again. The Briton took provisional pole by 0.073s to Sebastian. Bottas in third was 0.14s down on his teammate and Kimi in fourth was 0.155s off the five-time world champion. In dry conditions the Red Bulls proved unable to take the battle to Mercedes and Ferrari. The second runs saw no change in terms of the top five. Hamilton was the only driver, who managed to improve his lap time, but only by two hundredths of a second. This meant the 10th pole position of the season for the superior Briton. Sebastian got quite close, being only 0.093s off the Mercedes ace. The Finns locked down the second row, with Bottas having the upper hand on his fellow countryman. The third row belonged to the Red Bull drivers, with Verstappen 5th and Ricciardo 6th. Sauber made a stunning job by locking down the fourth row (Ericsson 7th and Leclerc 8th). Haas' Grosjean and Toro Rosso's Gasly rounded out the top ten.

For a while there were rumors after qualifying, that Sebastian could get penalized for a weighbridge infringement, which had taken place in Q2. On his way to get the softs on, Sebastian was called for a weigh-in. Sebastian was very annoyed about that, as he was in a hurry to get the lap done on the softs. Sebastian waved his hands irritably and told the officials to hurry up. According to the regulations the car must be pushed off from the weighbridge by the officials, but Sebastian decided to drive off himself. This caused major damage to the weighbridge. At first I was sure, that Sebastian was going to get a penalty for his actions. With an infringement like this, the driver could be excluded from the qualifying results. However, Sebastian only got a reprimand and a 25 000 -dollar fine. The key things to avoid the penalty were the facts, that he did turn his engine off on the weighbridge and that the officials managed to weigh the car successfully. But still I wonder, what has got to Sebastian this season. He doesn't seem to be himself... Any of the drivers could get the call for the weigh-in, so why lose nerves like this?

Ferrari seemed to suffer from blistering on the long runs on Friday, so today's race will certainly be interesting. Mercedes will have the advantage at the start, as they start to the race on the softer compound. But will Ferrari be able to make their strategy work better on the race distance? Everything changes, if it rains... Looking forward to an action-packed race! Forza Ferrari! Go Kimi! Go Sebastian!

maanantai 29. lokakuuta 2018

Mexico GP: Win for flying Verstappen, world title for Hamilton!

After a bitter disappointment in qualifying, Verstappen had slept only three hours, and there was an aggressive Red Bull pilot on the second grid slot on Sunday. As the lights went off, Verstappen attacked with full throttle, taking the lead. Pole-setter Ricciardo, on the other hand, had a bad start, and lost a position to Hamilton as well. The Briton came close to challenge even Verstappen for the lead. Kimi, who had started from P6, was overtaken by Renault's Sainz, but Kimi snatched his 6th place back on the following lap. There was a close call on the opening lap, as Sebastian's front-right tyre touched Bottas' front wing. Luckily there were no consequences due to the contact!

It was very surprising to see, how huge an issue the tyre degradation turned out, especially for the Silver Arrows. Hamilton was in severe trouble with his out-worn ultra-softs already on lap 8. Kimi, too was struggling with his tyres. There was no way this was going to be a one-stop race! The Mercedes teammates Hamilton and Bottas both pitted on lap 12, for a fresh set of super-soft Pirellis. Red Bull's Ricciardo pitted on the sequential lap, also for the red-walled super-softs.

Race leader Verstappen pitted on lap 14, opting for a similar tyre choice to his teammate. The flying Dutchman re-joined the track in P3, right behind Kimi, who hadn't pitted yet. Ferrari's strategy seemed to be to keep Kimi on track, to slow down Verstappen. However, Max was absolutely flying on his fresh tyres, so Kimi was facing a mission impossible. The difference in the pace of these two was so significant, that Max could easily make it past the Iceman at the end of the main straight. Kimi's lap times at this point were four seconds slower than Verstappen's! This seemed as a very poor strategic call from Ferrari at this point... On lap 17 both Hamilton and Ricciardo passed Kimi, who had no chance to defend his position on his dying tyres.

Both red-suited drivers pitted on lap 18, opting for the hardest compound as well. Sebastian re-joined the track in P4 and Kimi in P6. Verstappen in the lead was in a class of his own, as the gap to Hamilton was already nine seconds. Kimi's pace on the second stint was extremely promising, and he was clearly faster than his fellow countryman Bottas. Hamilton, on the other hand, was once again in trouble with the tyres! Mercedes seemed to be harder on the tyres than Red Bull and Mercedes. It was kind of weird to see Mercedes struggling so much with their pace, as they have been so competitive all season so far.

On lap 29 Sebastian was right at Ricciardo's tail. The German was allowed to use DRS, and this time he was patiently waiting for his chance to make a move. Meanwhile Sainz's Renault was hit with a power unit failure, which deployed the virtual safety car. On lap 34 Sebastian made a successful overtaking move on his ex-teammate in Turn 2. I was so happy for Sebastian, who made the move perfectly and snatched the third place from Ricciardo. After overtaking the Australian, Sebastian rapidly closed the gap to Hamilton, who was struggling desperately with his tyres and missing pace. And Sebastian attacked again on lap 39! The hungry German passed his title rival at the end of the main straight, moving second already. Sebastian started banging fastest lap times, and the storming Ferrari ace was half-a-second per lap quicker than Verstappen in the lead.

The pit stop roulette started again on lap 47. Sebastian pitted for a fresh set of ultra-softs, whilst Hamilton had to opt for a used set of the middle compound. Meanwhile, there was an intense battle between the Finns. Kimi was right at Bottas' tail, putting pressure on his compatriot. Bottas locked up in Turn 1 and ended up going wide. Kimi thanked for the chance and passed Valtteri. Red Bull reacted right away and called Verstappen in. The Dutch Red Bull ace switched to another set of super-softs and re-joined the track in the lead. Teammate Ricciardo was second, four seconds behind Max. Sebastian was third and Kimi fourth. Bottas pitted for a used set of ultra-softs, as there were no fresh sets left. It was a bit weird to see the Silver Arrows back in P5 and P6.

With 20 laps to go, Sebastian had hunted down Ricciardo. Although Sebastian managed to make it within DRS distance, he seemed to be stuck behind the Australian. Until something dramatic happened on lap 62. There was smoke coming from the rear of Ricciardo's RB14! Once again the Australian's Red Bull was hit with a technical failure, and this was already the 8th DNF for the unfortunate Honey Badger. Ricciardo has the very questionable honour of having more DNFs than any other driver this season. What a bitter and heart-rending disappointment for Ricciardo! Ricciardo's retirement brought out the virtual safety car. It was no wonder, that Max in the lead became very worried about the condition of his power unit.

On lap 67 Bottas pitted for the third time already. The Finn had to opt for the pink-walled hyper-softs, as there were no other compounds left. Meanwhile dominant race leader Verstappen lapped the Finn! Mercedes were definitely having a bad day in the office! Luckily that wasn't the case for the Red Team. Kimi had made excellent job with tyre management, and Kimi proved, that it was possible to make the one-stop strategy work. So what had first appeared to be a bad tactical call from Ferrari, proved a genius one at the end of the race, as Kimi had jumped third thanks to the one-stop strategy.

As a precaution Red Bull turned Verstappen's engine down at the end of the race. But there was nothing, that could threaten the flying Dutchman's victory! He crossed the finish line as the race winner for the second time this season. Sebastian finished the runner-up after a strong race, with teammate Kimi completing the podium. Hamilton finished the race in P4, which was high enough for the Briton to secure his fifth world championship. Teammate Bottas finished 5th, with Renault's Hulkenberg 6th, Sauber's Leclerc 7th, McLaren's Vandoorne 8th, Sauber's Ericsson 9th and Toro Rosso's Gasly 10th.

I have to admit, that Hamilton really deserves the fifth championship. He has had an impressive season with hardly any mistakes. Sebastian showed true sportmanship, as he went to congratulate his rival right after the race. Mercedes still haven't clinched the constructors' championship, but the Red Team is 55 points behind them already. There are two more rounds to go... Hopefully two more victories to take for the Red Team! Never give up! Forza Ferrari!

sunnuntai 28. lokakuuta 2018

Mexico GP / Qualifying: Ricciardo led Red Bull to a front row lock-out!

Red Bull had proved extremely competitive in the free practice sessions, with Verstappen stamping his authority all over the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. Mexico was known to be the venue, where Red Bull would have their best chance to fight for pole position. It was surprising to see, that both Mercedes drivers came out on the ultra-softs already in Q1. Sebastian showed excellent pace right away, and the German went fastest, setting the fastest ever lap time around the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. The Red Bull aces came out at the halfway point of the first segment. The Red Bulls were absolutely shining especially in the last sector through the stadium. Verstappen went on the top, with teammate Ricciardo just a tenth off the pace. The Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Bottas came out on the hyper-softs at the end of the session. Bottas had an impressive second flyer, and topped the timesheets, with Hamilton second. The Ferraris and the Red Bulls, on the other hand, sat out the second runs. Both Saubers made it through to Q2, whilst both Haas drivers got knocked out already in Q1. Seeing McLaren's Vandoorne and the Williams duo of Stroll and Sirotkin out of Q2 was no surprise.

As the pink-walled hyper-soft compound was predicted to be an extremely unfavourable choice for the race, all three top teams resorted to the purple-marked ultra-soft rubber in Q2. More unexpected was to see both Force India cars come out on the super-softs, which is the hardest compound of the weekend. It was thrilling to see, how evenly matched the top three teams were in terms of performance. Verstappen was the fastest man of the second session, but edged Mercedes' Hamilton by four thousandths of a second only. Sebastian was third, only 0.075s off Max's benchmark. Ricciardo was fourth, followed by the Finns of Bottas and Kimi. As expected, all top six drivers came out on the softest compound at the end of the segment, but neither of them improved his lap time. The Force Indias made their second runs on the middle compound, which seemed a bizarre choice, as they both missed out on the decisive last segment. Mexico with its high air definitely mixed up the teams' pecking order. In addition to the top three teams, also both Renault drivers and both Saubers made it among the top ten.

The battle for pole was super exciting. Pole position was within any of the top six drivers' reach! Verstappen showed amazing pace and self-confidence, taking provisional pole. The gap to Sebastian was surprisingly big, 0.185s. Hamilton was third, two tenths down on flying Max. Ricciardo was fourth, Bottas fifth and Kimi sixth. Before the final runs, the question on everyone's mind was, whether Max would snatch the pole and rob the record of the youngest-ever pole-setter of Sebastian. However, something extremely unpredictable happened at the end of the session. Ricciardo's RB14 came alive on the Australian's second run, and the Honey Badger made it on pole by 0.026s to his teammate! This was the first pole position that Ricciardo hasn't scored in Monaco. Max made it a front row lock-out, which was the first for Red Bull since 2013! The championship leader Hamilton was left third, 0.135s off the pace. Sebastian was fourth (+0.2s), Bottas fifth (+0.4s) and Kimi sixth (0.5s). However, an interesting and revealing statistic detail is, that Kimi remains the only driver to start every race in the top six in 2018. The Renault duo of Hulkenberg and Sainz paired up on the fourth row, followed by the Sauber duo of Leclerc and Ericsson.

Verstappen was extremely disappointed after losing the eagerly-hunted pole to his teammate. Max didn't hold back his emotions, either. Entering the parc ferme, the Dutchman ostentatiously hit the number 2 sign. In the post-qualifying interview he referred to his qualifying as "crap". So I'm sure we're going to see an extremely gutted and hungry Verstappen at the start today. But there is a worrying question about Red Bull's reliability. Will both energy company cars make it to the chequered flag today? Hamilton, on the other hand, has no pressure in the race. P7 is enough for the Briton to secure his fifth world championship, no matter where Sebastian finishes. Without technical issues I believe we're going to see a Red Bull victory today. But I hope the red-suited drivers will be up there to challenge the Bulls closely. I'm definitely looking forward to an entertaining Mexico GP tonight!

maanantai 22. lokakuuta 2018

US GP: Grande Kimi won after a 5-year dry season!

What a start the US GP had! Kimi, who started from P2 on the ultra-soft Pirellis, took control right away. The Iceman challenged pole-setter Hamilton for the lead, going into Turn 1. Kimi went to the inside, and although Hamilton tried everything to block the ice cool Finn, Kimi squeezed it past the Briton, taking the lead. That was a moment of pure joy! Kimi had absolutely nailed it at the start!

On my yesterday's blog post I wrote, that Sebastian couldn't afford any first-lap mistakes in the US GP. Well, unfortunately my hopes weren't answered! Sebastian had a tight battle with Red Bull's Ricciardo for P4 after the start. Sebastian seemed to have an advantage in terms of pace, but again the German was lacking patience! Sebastian tried a move on his ex-teammate, going into the outside of Ricciardo, but their wheels touched and Sebastian span! Once again Sebastian had made the race extremely challenging for himself. He dropped down to P14 and had to start a recovery run...

The opening lap wasn't problem-free in the midfield, either. Sauber's Leclerc had a collision with Haas' Grosjean, and another crash involved Williams' Stroll and McLaren's Alonso. The Spaniard was the first driver to retire, and Stroll was handed a drive through penalty for causing the collision. Grosjean, too had to retire due to the incident with Leclerc.

Red Bull's Verstappen, on the other hand, had an amazing start to the race. The Dutchman had started from P18, but by lap 7 he had made his way up to P5 already! The further back on the grid Max starts, the better he seems to perform. He made overtaking look so easy. Max always delivers when it comes to putting up a staggering overtaking show. However, teammate Ricciardo was once again the victim of Red Bull's reliability issues. The Australian lost all power on lap 9, and his RB14 stopped on the track. A very frustrated Ricciardo got out of the car.  So it was good-bye for P4 and valuable points! Virtual safety car was deployed, as Ricciardo's Red Bull had stopped dangerously on track.

Mercedes made a strategic call to take Hamilton in during the virtual safety car. The Briton switched to the yellow-marked hardest compound. Ferrari told Kimi on the team radio, that Hamilton was probably on a two-stop strategy. I didn't believe it, I have to admit. I was sure, that it was Hamilton's first and last pit stop in the race. Meanwhile, Sebastian had managed to make his way through the field, and had moved fifth already.

After his pit stop, Hamilton was absolutely flying around the track, decreasing the gap to Kimi extremely rapidly. Bottas was told on the team radio to give way for his teammate, and the Finn obeyed the team order. Kimi was a second per lap slower than Hamilton, who was storming on his fresh set of tyres. At this point I was seriously thinking, that Ferrari had made a wrong tactical call by not taking Kimi in during the virtual safety car. On lap 19 Hamilton was right at the Iceman's tail, benefitting from the use of the DRS. Turn after turn, Hamilton was patiently lurking for a chance to overtake the Iceman, but the ice cool Finn played it smart and defended his position with a big heart and ice cool attitude. Two laps later Kimi pitted for a fresh set of soft tyres. Kimi re-joined the track in P5, 19 seconds off Hamilton.

Verstappen, who had been utterly on flames, pitted for a different tyre strategy. The Dutch Red Bull ace opted for a fresh set of super-soft Pirellis. Bottas, who pitted a lap later for a similar tyre choice to his teammate, lost a position to Verstappen, when re-joining the track. On lap 25 we saw quite a rare team order from Ferrari, as the Red Team told Sebastian to give way for Kimi, who was much faster on the fresh set of tyres. Hamilton was now leading the race, Kimi was second and Sebastian third. Verstappen was fourth and Bottas fifth.

Sebastian pitted on lap 26 for the hardest rubber, and re-joined the track in P5. Kimi had banged excellent lap times, and the gap to Hamilton was now 17 seconds. Hamilton had 10 laps more on his tyres, and the championship leader started to struggle with his tyres. Kimi's lap times were much more competitive than the Briton's, and on lap 36 the gap between these two was only some 10 seconds. In no time Hamilton was in serious trouble especially with his rear tyres, which were badly blistered. Hamilton had no choice but to pit for a fresh set of softs on lap 37. Kimi took the lead, as Hamilton re-joined the track in P4. The teams had missed the long runs on Friday due to the rainy conditions, so tyre degradation must have come as a surprise for Mercedes. I was so happy for Kimi! I knew, that having taken the lead, Kimi was determined to take the win!

Hamilton was absolutely storming on his fresh tyres. His lap times were two seconds faster than Kimi's! Would Kimi's worn softs last till the end? The last 15 laps were such a thriller! I was kind of glad, that I was watching the race at hospital; at least the nurses would be close, if I got a heart attack! Once again Bottas let his teammate past, and Hamilton kept up his superior pace. With seven laps to go, the top three drivers were within 2.5 seconds! Kimi was leading the race, with Verstappen right at his tail. Hamilton, on the other hand, was lurking right behind Verstappen. I wanted Kimi to win the race -I wanted it so badly! I was happy, that Verstappen was behind Kimi, because I knew, that the Dutchman wouldn't let Hamilton to get past. The closing laps seemed to take an eternity... Verstappen was allowed to use DRS against Kimi at some point, but Kimi defended his position absolutely flawlessly. Hamilton made a move on Verstappen three laps before the chequered flag, but ended up going wide.

Sebastian and Bottas had an intense battle of their own for P4. The Finn struggled with his out-worn tyres, and Sebastian squeezed it past Bottas on the second last lap. It was certainly a convincing recovery from Sebastian after his first-lap mistake. But Kimi won the US GP! This was the first win for the Iceman since the 2013 Australian GP! The Iceman showed the world, that as 39 years old he is not too old for Formula 1! I was so so happy for Kimi. It was a dream come true to see him on the top step of the podium and hear the national anthem of Finland. Verstappen finished the runner-up, and Hamilton was left third. This meant, that Hamilton didn't clinch the world championship, at least not yet. Sebastian finished fourth and Bottas fifth. Renault's Hulkenberg was the "best of the rest", finishing 6th. Force India's Ocon and Haas' Magnussen, who had finished 7th and 8th, were excluded from the results due to a fuel infringement, so Renault's Sainz was promoted 7th. Force India's Perez, Toro Rosso's Hartley and Sauber's Ericsson completed the top ten.

The F1 circus stays in America, and round 19 will take place in Mexico already this week. Hopefully Kimi will keep up his amazing momentum! I want to see more red victories at the end of the season!