Race Analysis

Hamilton’s surprising admission and why Mercedes is on the ropes

2018 Belgian Grand Prix analysis

“I need more power” – quite an admission from a driver who has been at the wheel of Formula 1’s most complete package for the entirety of this era.

Since the dawn of the V6 hybrids in 2014, Mercedes has blown away the opposition and claimed four consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ championships. Last season, Ferrari mounted the biggest challenge to the Silver Arrows’ supremacy, only to run out of steam at the end of the season.

However, this year looks set to be different and after the Belgian Grand Prix weekend, Mercedes has found itself in rather uncharted territory.

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Image Credit: Octane Photos

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The ‘Fight for Five’ begins at the British Grand Prix

2018 British Grand Prix analysis

Scorching temperatures were matched by red-hot track action at Silverstone, as the 2018 British Grand Prix delivered the race in which the 2018 title fight was truly ignited.

Sure, this was round 10 of the season and chief title protagonists Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel had already exchanged top spot in the drivers’ championship on three occasions in 2018.

However, the billed ‘Fight for Five’ – in which four-time champions Vettel and Hamilton would fight each other in a duel to secure a fifth crown – had somewhat been lost in other storylines. Valtteri Bottas has starred, only to be hampered by misfortune. Red Bull has won three races with it’s strongest package since 2013.

These distractions dissolved at Silverstone, replaced by what felt like the first gloves off duel between Vettel and Hamilton. It highlighted and potentially foreshadowed some of the themes that will define the outcome of the championship.

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Image Credit: Octane Photos

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An unpopular take on an unpopular race

2018 Monaco Grand Prix Analysis

When watching Formula 1 races, I steer clear of Twitter. It’s for the same reason as for why it’s best to avoid reviews of a film before watching it for the first time – it’s better not to have someone else’s opinion impeding on your own impressions.

My first reaction when the chequered flag fell on Sunday afternoon – ‘what a brilliant race.’ Safe to say, it was rather surprising to see that the Twitter machine had fired into a frenzy to the contrary, with fans lamenting what they believed to have been a boring race.

Even Fernando Alonso powerfully described it as “the most boring F1 race ever.”

While the top six may have finished in the same positions that they started and overtaking was at a premium, the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix was far better than the critics would lead you to believe.

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Image Credit: Octane Photos

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“A day like this is worth 50 bad ones”

2018 Chinese Grand Prix Analysis

 

“Sometimes you’ve just got to lick the stamp and send it.” Daniel Ricciardo is not known for being shy when it comes to attempting an overtake. It was this trait which allowed him to emphatically convert a strategic roll of the dice from Red Bull into his sixth career victory.

On lap 32 of the 57 lap Chinese Grand Prix a safety car was deployed. Red Bull took the opportunity to change from a one-stop strategy into a two-stop, double-staking Max Verstappen and Ricciardo and switching both cars onto new soft tyres.

Emerging from the pitlane in fourth and sixth respectively, both drivers had lost track position in the process but ahead were drivers on older and harder tyres. Game on.

When Verstappen ran off the track at the high speed left-hander of Turn 7 after ambitiously attempting a heroic overtake around the outside of Lewis Hamilton, a composed Ricciardo became the lead Red Bull.

Simon Rennie, Ricciardo’s race engineer, accurately described his drive to the front as “clinical.” Ricciardo picked off Kimi Raikkonen under braking into the Turn 14 hairpin. Next, he dived to the inside of Hamilton, demoting the reigning champion from a seemingly impossible distance behind before the braking zone. Ricciardo’s audacity and skill caught a four-time world champion knapping.

Passing Sebastian Vettel was easier. With the use of DRS, Ricciardo simply drove around the Ferrari. Ricciardo then had just Valtteri Bottas between him and an unexpected victory. He picked Turn 6, sent his Red Bull to the inside of Bottas and despite a defensive move from the Finn, Ricciardo was unstoppable.

From sixth place to the race lead in 10 laps, Ricciardo was sublime.

“I could tell that we had the advantage coming in at the safety car and having those softs,” said Ricciardo. “I sensed the opportunity. Initially, it was ‘OK, maybe now we can fight for the podium’ and at the rate that we were going through the field, and I could feel the tyres were holding on well, then I was fully set on the win.”

“I had pace over all the guys that I got ahead of but you still don’t want to sit behind for too long. I saw Valtteri defend but I was kind of committed already from Turn 3 that I was going to try.

“It was cool, it was close but I would say close but fair and it’s cool when you go wheel-to-wheel and I think it’s fun for drivers and it’s good TV so I enjoyed it. It makes it a bit sweeter than just maybe cruising past on the straight so that was a lot of fun.”

Ricciardo’s blockbuster performance has ended a frustrating run of races. There was heartache during the Australian Grand Prix weekend when a minor infringement of red flag procedure during a practice session resulted in a three-place grid drop for his home race. Ricciardo recovered to fourth, narrowly missing out on a podium

In Bahrain, unreliability struck when an electronics issue on only the second lap of the race caused his Red Bull to shut down.

“A week ago [in Bahrain] I was with my head down after two laps on Sunday. Frustrated at the sport, frustrated at all the variables that are involved in the sport.

“Sometimes I question why I chose this sport because there are so many other things out of your control and it does get you down a lot – but then when you have a day like this it’s worth 50 of those bad ones.”

It had seemed for a while as though unreliability would again drail Ricciardo’s weekend. A turbo failure during final practice meant that Ricciardo’s session ended in fiery fashion. The team then had just two hours to complete a three-hour job – a complete engine change – in order to get Ricciardo on-track in time for qualifying.

With just three minutes of Q1 remaining, Ricciardo emerged from the garage and scraped through the first part of qualifying. He eventually qualified sixth. It was only the “miraculous” work of his mechanics that saved him from starting last and serving as a reminder of the fine margins by which race weekends are defined.

“A win lost”

For the third consecutive race, Mercedes was left disappointed. Valtteri Bottas may have another 18 points in his pocket but after a perfectly executed strategy and solid race pace, he deserved 25.

Bottas managed to vault ahead of Raikkonen at the start and while Vettel worked to extend the gap in the opening stages, the lead-Mercedes remained in touch with the race-leading Ferrari.

This was crucial when the pit window opened. Bottas dived in on lap 20, switching to the medium compound tyre to commit to a one-stop. A two-second pitstop coupled with a stunning out-lap put Bottas into the undercut window. When Vettel pitted one lap later after a poor in-lap, a 2.8 second stop meant that Bottas had jumped Vettel and seized first place.

The timing of the safety car hampered both drivers, as they had passed safety car line one when it was deployed, meaning that they were unable to pit.

“The race was going pretty well for us and we were looking strong all the way, until the guys, during the safety car, stopped and we were in trouble then with Daniel and nearly with Kimi in the end.

“It is disappointing. We were giving everything we had and it kind of felt like we deserved victory – but not today.”

Less hero, more zero

 

 

Flashes of brilliance soured by moments of madness, Verstappen’s desire to win exceeded his almighty talent in China.

The weekend started in promising fashion. His strong pace was evident on Friday, where he recorded the second fastest long-run pace – only beaten by Vettel – based on average lap times. His 1m39.07s eclipsed the Mercedes duo by a tenth.

In the race, Verstappen delivered a sensational opening lap. He dispatched Hamilton at Turn 2 and proceeded to drive around the outside of Raikkonen at Turn 6, making the 20-time race winner look like a rookie.

When Red Bull pitted under the safety car, Verstappen emerged in fourth and with track position over his team-mate. He had time on his side, with 21 laps in which to make three overtakes. Instead of delivering decisive moves at the right times, Verstappen fluffed his lines.

His attempted pass around the outside of Hamilton at Turn 7 was unprecedented for a reason – it is an impossible spot to pull off an overtake, particularly at that point of the race when the circuit is at its dirtiest off-line. The run-off area spared Verstappen’s blushes on that occasion.

When he eventually made a clean move on Hamilton under-braking into Turn 6, he chased down Vettel for third. Again, Verstappen rushed his opportunity when he reached Vettel’s gearbox, diving late to the inside of the championship leader and pitching them both into a spin after locking his rear-brakes and clattering into the Ferrari’s sidepod.

“I could see he [Vettel] was struggling on the tyres and tried to brake late in the corners,” Verstappen said. “I locked the rears and hit him. It was, of course, my fault. Not what I want.

“It is easy to say after that I should have waited, and that probably would have been the best idea, but unfortunately it happened.”

A 10-second time penalty was justified for an incident that was clearly attributable to Verstappen’s over-ambition. A fourth career win and what would have most likely been part of a 1-2 finish for the Red Bull pair slipped away, but the 20-year-old will have learnt valuable lessons.

Why luck was not the only factor propelling Vettel to victory

2018 Australian Grand Prix Analysis

 

 

“We were a little bit lucky today,” said Sebastian Vettel after having grabbed victory in the opening round of the 2018 Formula 1 season. Buying a lottery ticket on the way home might not be the best option for him – lightning doesn’t strike twice.

When Romain Grosjean’s Haas crawled to a stop on the exit of Turn 2, Vettel suddenly stole a race defining advantage. As the only front-runner yet to make his pitstop, Vettel dived into the pitlane under the subsequent virtual safety car conditions.

Long-time race-leader Hamilton, who had stopped during the green flag running, could do nothing at that moment to stop Vettel emerging from the pits ahead and in the lead of the race. With Albert Park being the second hardest track on the F1 calendar at which to overtake, it was game, set and match to Ferrari in that race-defining moment.

Had it not been for the deployment of the VSC, Vettel would have finished second at best. Luck played a key role but was not the only factor propelling Vettel to victory.

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Stewarding inconsistencies that blotted the Mexico Grand Prix

One of the frustrating elements of an otherwise excellent 2016 season has been regulatory inconsistencies. The rulebook has been evolving over the year, with modifications coming on a near-weekly basis.

Unprecedented levels of tinkering have given way to stewards decisions that more often than not set the precedents as opposed to following them. They have been redefining the goalposts week in, week out.

The Mexico Grand Prix featured inconsistencies within the same race and I can fully understand Max Verstappen’s frustration at being stripped of third place when all things are considered.

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Ricciardo vs Hamilton and the fine margins of motorsport

In Spain, Mercedes’ mistake afforded Red Bull the opportunity to snatch victory. Just two weeks later it was Red Bull who, having dominated the weekend, made a costly error to allow Lewis Hamilton the opportunity to take his 44th race win.

Such is the speed at which fortunes can change in motorsport, pole sitter Daniel Ricciardo saw his maiden win at the Principality slip away, when a miscommunication between pit wall and garage saw him arrive in his pit-box, while his mechanics were still fumbling over which compound of slick tyres to fit.

Elation on Saturday became heartbreak on Sunday for the Aussie.

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Image Credit: Rachel Clarke (via Flickr) [CC-BY-NC-2.0]

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