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2017 F1 Grand Prix of Azerbaijan — Results & aftermath

Red Bull’s Ricciardo capitalizes on chaos for Baku victory as Hamilton and Vettel clash; Mercedes’ Bottas fights back for gritty P2, Williams’ rookie Stroll scores maiden podium

Sunday’s Azrbaijan Grand Prix on the tight and windy Baku City Circuit was everything last year’s first-ever running was not: exciting, chaotic and unpredictable. In a race disrupted by several long and eventful Safety Car periods and one Red Flag timeout for debris on track, as well as a host of retirements and disabled vehicles, the preferred script of pole-sitter and Mercedes ace Lewis Hamilton vs the pursuing Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel did not play out according to plan. Not even close. Instead, what had been a largely respectful rivalry turned sour when, during the second Safety Car period, Vettel ran into the back of Hamilton as the Englishman slowed his Silver Arrow coming out of Turn 16. The surprised German then pulled beside him to make his displeasure known. In a stunning turn of events the Ferrari bashed into the side of the Mercedes. Whether the 4-time World Champion made the move deliberately or merely lost control while yelling at Hamilton we may never know. But in the end intent was not important, as Vettel’s reckless move both lost him respect from Hamilton and also earned the German a 10-second stop & hold penalty.

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

The penalty was late in coming, however, and was only issued after a lengthy Red Flag period necessitated by a crash between Force India teammates Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez and the unacceptable accumulation of debris on the track. And there were many who felt that Vettel got off lightly, Hamilton chief amongst them. Nevertheless, he must have been thinking that victory was all but certain when the race restarted and his Merc ran free and clear in first position. But Hamilton soon faced a crushing disappointment of his own when it became apparent that his headrest was not properly re-installed during the Red Flag period and kept popping up, a somewhat inexcusable lapse by the team. Despite his best efforts to secure it while driving 200mph down the straights Hamilton was forced to pit for repairs for that unforced error on Lap 31, an ill-timed extra stop. Hamilton emerged P8 and when Vettel finally took his penalty on Lap 33 his Ferrari still managed to come out ahead of the circulating Mercedes. So despite being the aggrieved party, Hamilton got no revenge on Vettel in this race and was never able to pass him. Vettel finished P4 despite his transgression with Hamilton P5 and the Englishman now trails his newly bitter rival by 14 points. More than that, the seemingly friendly competition is over between the two — it will now be war between Vettel and Hamilton in the fight for the title.

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There were many beneficiaries of the contretemps between the two championship aspirants but the biggest and happiest was Daniel Ricciardo. Despite pitting early to clean the break ducts on his Red Bull, Ricciardo was able to work himself back up to a competitive position via the Safety Car periods and attrition in the field, including his unlucky teammate Max Verstappen, who dropped out with engine failure on Lap 13. When the third and final Safety Car period ended on Lap 24 the affable Aussie was all the way back up to P5 and was ready to pounce. And pounce he did, picking off two Williams with one late-breaking power move. That left only Hamilton and Vettel ahead and when they each suffered their respective race-altering issues, Ricciardo inherited the race lead. He never looked back and no one else ever got a sniff as he piloted his Red Bull to his fifth GP win and first since Malaysia in Round 16 of last season. It was also the fourth podium in a row for the surging Ricciardo, much to the chagrin of his podium mates who are more often than not are forced to drink champagne out of his hot, race-worn shoe in a bizarre but endearing ritual.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, also benefitted from the chaos, clawing his way back from a first lap coming together with fellow Finn and Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen that cut down his left front tire and forced him to limp around to the pits and rejoin a lap down after a tire service and a front wing change (Raikonnen would eventually be forced to retire on Lap 47 due to the accrued damage after his team tried valiantly to keep his car in the race). Again, though, the host of Safety Cars worked to Bottas’ advantage, as did the misfortune of his teammate and rivals, and Bottas was not only able to unlap himself but drove steadily up through the field with good pace. As the laps ran down, he had worked his way all the way back up to P3 and was hunting the last surviving Williams of Lance Stroll. Bottas never stopped pushing and slipstreamed Stroll, surging past him right at the line for a hard fought P2. It was an excellent drive for the Finn and a definite bright spot on a rather mixed day for Mercedes.

While Stroll would have loved to have taken P2 he was nonetheless thrilled with his first career F1 podium, which was also Team Williams’ first of the season. The 18-year-old Canadian rookie became the second youngest driver to podium behind Max Verstappen. After scoring his first points in his home Grand Prix two weeks ago Stroll seemed to find his footing and put the rough start to his year behind him. Certainly the field was scrambled in Azerbaijan but Stroll was genuinely fast all weekend on this demanding circuit, out-qualifiying his veteran teammate Felipe Massa P8 to P9. And when the opportunities presented themselves in the race he didn’t miss them, driving flawlessly and avoiding contact with walls and other cars. He kept it throughly tight and clean and in the end the young Canadian was rewarded with a P3, a very significant achievement at the beginning of his F1 career.

The lone surviving Force India of Esteban Ocon took P6 despite damage incurred while dicing with his teammate Sergio Perez coming out of the second Safety Car period (their accident caused that eventful Red Flag). It was the second race in row where the two drivers were at loggerheads after Perez balked Ocon’s progress in Montreal, denying the young Frenchman a potential podium. That ill will is sure to continue, as the collision eventually led to Perez’s retirement and pushed Ocon down the order. Force India were left to wonder what might have been when they could have been the biggest beneficiaries of all the chaos and looked at one point like putting both cars on the podium. The team has got to get control of their two talented and strong-willed drivers lest they continue to let massively valuable points slip through their fingers due to lack of team discipline.

Rounding out the Top 10, Kevin Magnussen drove an excellent race and came home P7 in his Haas, Carlos Sainz recovered from an early spin to bring his Toro Roso home safely in P8 and Fernando Alonso scored McLaren’s first points of the season with a decent P9 despite his Honda engine still being down on pure power. And both McLarens finally ran a full race distance! Pascal Wehrlein took P10 for struggling Sauber, only the team’s second points-scoring finish in 8 rounds this year.

Top 10 finishers of the Azerbaijan GP:

POS NO DRIVER CAR LAPS TIME/RETIRED PTS
1 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 51 2:03:55.573 25
2 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 51 +3.904s 18
3 18 Lance Stroll WILLIAMS MERCEDES 51 +4.009s 15
4 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 51 +5.976s 12
5 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 51 +6.188s 10
6 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 51 +30.298s 8
7 20 Kevin Magnussen HAAS FERRARI 51 +41.753s 6
8 55 Carlos Sainz TORO ROSSO 51 +49.400s 4
9 14 Fernando Alonso MCLAREN HONDA 51 +59.551s 2
10 94 Pascal Wehrlein SAUBER FERRARI 51 +89.093s 1

Complete race results available via Formula1.com.

The next race is in two weeks time from the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria. With tempers getting as hot as the summer weather and respect between Vettel and Hamilton, not mention Bottas and Raikonnen, evaporating like the early morning dew it should be a hammer and tongs showdown between Ferrari and Mercedes. Hope to see you then!

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2017 F1 Grand Prix of Azerbaijan — Qualifying results

Hamilton bests Bottas for pole at Baku in inter-team Mercedes battle; Raikkonen & Vettel 3-4 for Ferrari

Mercedes Lewis Hamilton pipped his teammate Valtteri Bottas for pole in dramatic fashion at the Baku City Circuit in Azerbaijan this Saturday. Coming out of a Red Flag period caused by Daniel Ricciardo’s shunt, the drivers were left with only 3:33 to set a faster time than Bottas’ seemingly untouchable provisional pole run around the tight and treacherous turns of Baku. But despite this year’s tire compounds’ problematic and prolonged warm-up period, the cars lighter weight from fuel burn off at the end of the session saw no decrease in performance in that last minute scramble. And in fact Hamilton was able to set a blazer of a lap for his 66th career pole — breaking a tie for second all-time with his idol Ayrton Senna — even as his impressive first year teammate Bottas improved his speed on his way to a solid P2 start and a Mercedes front row lockout. Both Ferrarari’s were also able to jump up the pylon, albeit more than half a second behind the Silver Arrows, with Kimi Raikkonen besting his usually quicker teammate Sebastian Vettel, P3 to P4. In fairness, Vettel was forced to switch to an older power unit prior to quali so he might be a bit down on horsepower to the Finn. Watch for the Vettel and the Scuderia to have some tricks up their sleeves come race day.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was overtaken by both Prancing Horses at the end of the day but after a host of technical issues in the practice sessions he should probably feel well pleased with starting P5. Whether his increasingly fragile Renault power plant and RB13 chassis can make it to the end of Sunday’s race, however, remains to be seen. After his terminal slide into the wall late in Q3 the other Red Bull of Riccardo saw his fastest time, once good enough for P7, eclipsed by all the other runners in the final session and the Aussie will start back in P10. Force India look set to continue their increasingly tense drivers’ dual after their memorable spat in Montreal a fortnight ago, with Sergio Perez desperate to keep the rapidly improving your Estaban Ocon behind him in the team pecking order. Perez was faster than Ocon by a mere .07 and they will line up P6 and P7 respectively. And Williams Lance Stroll seemed to take his first-ever points scoring F1 race at his home Grand Prix in Canada and covert it into much needed confidence at this tricky track, looking quick all weekend and out-qualifying his veteran teammate Felipe Massa for the first time this year, P8 to P9.

Top 10 qualifiers for the Azerbaijan GP:

POS NO DRIVER CAR Q1 Q2 Q3 LAPS
1 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:41.983 1:41.275 1:40.593 20
2 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 1:43.026 1:41.502 1:41.027 23
3 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 1:42.678 1:42.090 1:41.693 23
4 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 1:42.952 1:41.911 1:41.841 23
5 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:42.544 1:41.961 1:41.879 22
6 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:43.162 1:42.467 1:42.111 21
7 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:43.051 1:42.751 1:42.186 21
8 18 Lance Stroll WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:43.613 1:42.284 1:42.753 21
9 19 Felipe Massa WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:43.165 1:42.735 1:42.798 22
10 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:42.857 1:42.215 1:43.414 20

Complete qualifying results available via Formula1.com.

Tomorrow’s race airs live on NBC Sports starting at 9AM Eastern here in the States. Still a green circuit in only its second running, Baku has all the technical aspects that make for a really good F1 circuit. And with the walls just waiting to catch out the unsuspecting virtually anything could happen to any of the drivers in the race. Hope to see you then to see how it all shakes out!

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2017 F1 Grand Prix of Monaco — Results & aftermath

Ferrari & Vettel victorious in Monte Carlo, Raikonnen ; Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo P3 to keep Mercedes off the podium

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel jumped his pole-sitting teammate Kimi Raikkonen for the victory on Sunday at the legendary Monte Carlo street circuit for the team’s first Monaco GP win since 2001. While suspicious minds contemplated possible secret Scuderia team orders, Vettel was the faster driver and was able to extend the life of his preferred Ultrasoft Pirelli rubber, banking 6 valuable fast laps and pulling out a lead  greater than the pit stop delta after Raikonnen had already pitted. Vettel therefore emerged in front of Raikkonen on pit out on Lap 40 and with passing at such a premium in the tight street circuit and the bit between the 4-time World Champ’s teeth the victory was formality. In the end and, as has been the case throughout this season, Vettel simply outperformed Raikkonen, who still finished a solid if disappointing for him P2. For Ferrari, it was a fantastic points scoring day made even better by the fact that their main rivals for the Constructors’ Title, mighty Mercedes, were kept off the podium. The Prancing Horse had been stymied at the principality since the legendary Michael Schumacher’s win in 2001, and it was also the team’s first 1-2 here since 1999 when Schumacher also won and his teammate Rubens Barrichelo was P2. On a more somber note, the 2017 Monaco GP also marked 50 years since the death of the well-liked Ferrari driver Lorenzo Bandini in a fiery crash in 1967 at the very same race.

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Mercedes’ had issues all weekend long and were doomed by an uncharacteristically poor qualifying effort from Lewis Hamilton that saw the British contender forced to start from way back in P13. His Silver Arrows teammate Valtteri Bottas qualified P3 but faltered to lose a position in the race and came home P4. And while Hamilton battled back all day long, running a very long stint on his first set of tires and eventually working his way up to a hard-earned P7 finish, both the team and drivers took serious points hits. Meredes now trails Ferrari by 17 points in the Constructors’, while Hamilton saw his deficit to Vettel balloon to 25 points. Bottas still leads his countryman Raikkonen for third but now only by 8 points. While all their woes could have come down to the long wheel base of their F1 W08 chassis’ particular unsuitability to the low speed twists and turns of Monte Carlo, Mercedes’ inability to stick closer to Ferrari in this one race could come back to haunt them at season’s end. It must also be of concern to Toto Wolff, Niki Lauda and the rest of the Merc brain trust how their car will perform down the road at a track like Singapore, a place where they have often struggled even when more dominant than they are now and where rotation of the car in tight turns is nearly as paramount as at Monaco.

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Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo capitalized on Mercedes’ woes and drove a superb race to pip Bottas for the last step on the podium. A year after his team blew what seemed a sure win for the affable Aussie, Red Bull made amends to Ricciardo by running him longer his first set of tires, the preferred Ultrasfofts. And much like Vettel, that enabled him to jump his higher qualifying and earlier pitting teammate Max Verstappen when the time finally came for his pit stop. Continue reading

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2017 F1 Grand Prix of Monaco — Qualifying results

Raikkonen claims dominant pole in Monte Carlo to lead all-Ferrari front row, Vettel P2; Mercedes’ Bottas P3 but Hamilton bounced out in Q2

Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen grabbed his first pole since 2008, dominating his more heralded teammate Sebastian Vettel and leaving both rival Mercedes well in his wake. Vettel was still good enough for P2 .05 behind his Finnish wingman in the excellent Ferrari chassis, scoring the second front row lockout of the year for the Scuderia. Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas was able to muscle his Silver Arrow up to P3 with a spirited challenge but his teammate, Lewis Hamilton, struggled for grip on the iconic street circuit throughout the day and then was fatally balked on his final lap in Q2 by the crashing McLaren of Lance Stroll at the Swimming Pool. That left Hamilton in the unfamiliar position of starting from P14 with all to do to fight his way through the field for points on a street circuit where passing is at a premium.

The two Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo seemed well suited to the ultra-tight twists and turns of the principality, qualifying P4 and P5 respectively. They could well be spoilers at Ferrari’s presumptive party, with Ricciardo looking to avenge last year’s bitter disappointment and young Max simply looking to finish his first Monaco GP. Carlos Sainz was able to lift his Toro Rosso up to P6, while Sergio Perez was seventh fastest in his Force India and Haas’ Romain Grosjean took an admirable P8, a solid recovery after numerous spins seemed to spell doom for his efforts. Rounding out ten Top 10, the two McLaren’s were able to thrive on this low speed circuit where their poor Honda power plant was not as exposed as in most venues. The returning veteran and 2009 champ Jenson Button, driving a one-off while Fernando Alonso races the Indianapolis 500 halfway around the world on Sunday, did yeoman’s work to make it through to Q3 with his P9. And his teammate Stoffel Vandoorne was truly quick and might have done better than P10 if he hadn’t binned his McLaren in that fateful shunt at the end of Q2 that brought such grief to both him and Lewis Hamilton.

Top 10 qualifiers for the Monaco Grand Prix:

POS NO DRIVER CAR Q1 Q2 Q3 LAPS
1 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 1:13.117 1:12.231 1:12.178 23
2 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 1:13.090 1:12.449 1:12.221 23
3 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 1:13.325 1:12.901 1:12.223 30
4 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:13.078 1:12.697 1:12.496 24
5 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:13.219 1:13.011 1:12.998 21
6 55 Carlos Sainz TORO ROSSO 1:13.526 1:13.397 1:13.162 30
7 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:13.530 1:13.430 1:13.329 23
8 8 Romain Grosjean HAAS FERRARI 1:13.786 1:13.203 1:13.349 29
9 22 Jenson Button MCLAREN HONDA 1:13.723 1:13.453 1:13.613 27
10 2 Stoffel Vandoorne MCLAREN HONDA 1:13.476 1:13.249 20

Complete qualifying results available via Formula1.com.

Tomorrow’s race airs live at 8 AM Eastern on NBC here in the States. Will Ferrari dominate the day as all signs point to? And can Kimi knock off his championship-leading teammate for once? Or will Mercedes work some strategic magic to pull Hamilton up from the midfield to perhaps help Bottas take the fight to Ferrari? Hope to see you then to find out!

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

2017 F1 Grand Prix of Spain — Results & aftermath

Hamilton reigns in Spain after besting Vettel in thrilling duel; Riccardo third for Red Bull

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

In the young season’s best race so far, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton gave everything he had to come out on top in a mano-a-mano duel with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain. Hamilton started on pole but made a less than spectacular getaway that saw him quickly passed by Vettel as the lights went out. But Hamilton survived a big bottleneck in Turn 1, which was more than could be said for Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s young phenom Max Verstappen. With Mercedes’ second driver Valtteri Bottas looking for an advantage over Raikonnen on the inside at that pivotal first bend, the two cars touched wheels. That sent Raikonnen’s blood red Ferrari across the track and into the ambitious Vestappen’s Red Bull, who had also stuck his nose into the melee on the outside, terminally damaging both vehicles’ suspensions. In less than a lap, two premier runners were out of the race and Vettel had lost a crucial ally.

Nevertheless, Vettel swanned away from the pack and up the road, leaving Hamilton to bide his time and settle in for the chase. Vettel pitted early on Lap 14 for another set of  the better performing soft tires, on which he had started the race, while Mercedes ran both Hamilton and Bottas longer, with Hamilton going to Lap 21 and then switching to the slower but more durable medium compound Pirellis. And with Bottas yet to come in that enabled the Finn to hold up Vettel somewhat when the German Ferrari man was desperate to put as much distance between himself & Hamilton while on the superior soft rubber. That small impedance by the second Silver Arrow may have proved pivotal as Hamilton did not lose as much time as he might have without Bottas’ entirely legal obstructions. Vettel managed to pass the Finn on Lap 25 and Bottas subsequently let his teammate by quickly and then came to the pits for his first stop and his own set of medium tires on Lap 28, indicating that Mercedes were committing to a 2-stop strategy for both their cars while the sole remaining Ferrari’s options remained open.

And then Mercedes, which had been caught flat-footed in the season opener that saw Ferrari outsmart them for a Vettel win in Australia, had the strategic coup of the race. Continue reading

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2017 F1 Grand Prix of Spain — Qualifying results

Mercedes’ Hamilton takes pole in Barcelona over Ferrari’s Vettel; Bottas P3 in second Silver Arrow

Eager to regain his momentum after a disappointing fourth place finish in Russia two weeks ago, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton stormed to a blisteringly fast pole position on Saturday at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain. With most of the cars sporting significant upgrades entering Round 5 and the beginning of the pivotal European portion of the Championship, Hamilton ran a remarkable 1.19.149 lap during the latter part of Q3. It was good enough to keep him in front of the hard charging Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel on the warm and windy track if only by a scant .05. Hamilton’s Silver Arrows teammate, Valtteri Bottas, who is coming off the high of his first F1 win at Sochi, was not quite as quick as the elite top two despite pushing his ride to the limit. That separated Bottas from his teammate and pushed him onto the second row in P3. Vettel’s Prancing Horse teammate Kimi Raikkonen slotted in alongside Bottas in P4, once again seeming to be very fast in all the practice sessions but then missing that final special something when the real qualifying began.

The two Red Bulls struggled for top end speed and stability somewhat versus their top-flight opposition despite their own upgrades. Max Verstappen once again outpaced his senior teammate Daniel Ricciardo, P5 to P6. McLaren had a surprisingly good day coming off a huge oil leak issue in practice, with Spaniard Fernando Alonso vaulting his troubled chassis all the way up to P7 despite a serious lack of track time. Must have been the home cooking and tennis break on Friday while the mechanics scrambled to fix the Honda-powered car. Spain will be Alonso’s last race before he skips Monaco and takes on the daunting challenge that is the Indianapolis 500 in two weeks. He and the team would dearly love to grab some points before that cross-continetal adventure after a slew of DNFs to start the season.

Rounding out the Top 10, the two Force Indias once again made a very representative showing, with Sergio Perez qualifying P8 and young Esteban Ocon taking P 10 on the grid. Felipe Massa spilt them with his P9 time for Williams.

Top 10 qualifiers for the Spanish Grand Prix:

POS NO DRIVER CAR Q1 Q2 Q3 LAPS
1 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:20.511 1:20.210 1:19.149 12
2 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 1:20.939 1:20.295 1:19.200 16
3 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 1:20.991 1:20.300 1:19.373 15
4 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 1:20.742 1:20.621 1:19.439 14
5 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:21.430 1:20.722 1:19.706 12
6 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:21.704 1:20.855 1:20.175 12
7 14 Fernando Alonso MCLAREN HONDA 1:22.015 1:21.251 1:21.048 15
8 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:21.998 1:21.239 1:21.070 14
9 19 Felipe Massa WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:22.138 1:21.222 1:21.232 15
10 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:21.901 1:21.148 1:21.272 17

Complete qualifying results available via Formula1.com.

Tomorrow’s race airs live on NBC Sports at 8AM Eastern here in the States. With Ferrari nipping at Mercedes’ heels and Lewis Hamilton desperate for a win it should be all to play for on a track these drivers all know so well. Hope to se you then!

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2017 F1 Grand Prix of Russia — Results & aftermath

Mercedes’ Bottas holds off Ferrari’s Vettel for maiden F1 win; Raikkonen P3 for the Prancing Horse; Hamilton off the podium in P4

Valtteri Bottas drove a nearly flawless race to score his first-ever Formula 1 win at the Russain Grand Prix on Sunday. Always highly regarded in his years at Williams, the 27-year-old Finn is finally piloting a win-worthy ride with his unexpected elevation to a factory Mercedes drive after outgoing champion Nico Rosberg’s surprise retirement at the end of last season. After showing promising pace in the first three rounds of 2017, Bottas put his excellent new equipment to best use at the Sochi Autodrom to claim his maiden F1 victory after 81 races, a great moment for any driver in the sport. Despite Ferrari’s first front row lockout since 2008 Bottas got the jump on the two Prancing Horses of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen as the lights went out, surging from his P3 grid position up through the Ferraris to take the race lead with a fine outbreaking maneuver going into Turn 2. Proving once again that a strong start into clean air is worth its weight in gold in an F1 tilt, Bottas quickly stretched the lead over his two blood red pursuers, as well as his teammate Lewis Hamilton, who remained mired in fourth with mysterious overheating issues.

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Despite an early Safety Car due to a collision between the Haas of Romain Grosjean and the Renault of Jolyon Palmer that bunched up the field before one full lap had even been run Bottas sprinted away again when the track went green three laps later, proving that his Silver Arrow had the legs for any and all comers on this day. Vettel’s race engineers gambled on running a longer first stint than Bottas on the Ultra Soft Pirelli tire compound so that his Super Soft set would be fresher at the death of the race. As the laps wound down it looked like the bet might pay off for the Scuderia, with Vettel carving large chunks of time off the anxious Finn so desperate to see the checkered flag. But Bottas mastered his nerves and ran near-perfect laps under that considerable pressure from the 4-time World Champion just behind him. He also took advantage of slower traffic by not only picking them off quickly but also by deploying his DRS when close to the non-contenders to negate Vettel’s own use of the open wing. Bottas came home .6 seconds to the good and after so much promise he will forever finally be known as a Formula 1 race winner. Now the question remains if he can build on this career-defining victory and truly challenge Hamilton for supremacy within the Mercedes team and perhaps even the World Championship.

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Despite their obvious improvement Ferrari must still have been somewhat disappointed at not getting the race victory after qualifying 1-2. But Vettel and Raikkonen did earn valuable points with their respective P2 and P3 podium finishes. Vettel now leads the Drivers’ Championship by 13 points over Lewis Hamilton after four rounds and Ferrari are only one point behind mighty Mercedes in the Constructors’ points. If Raikkonen can find a way to raise his game and take the fight to his teammate Vettel we could even be in for a crazy 4-driver slam bang shootout for the title. Certainly Mercedes and Ferrari have shown themselves to be the class of the manufacturers’ field this season and the battle between the two elite automotive giants now appears to be so close that it could well go down to the final race to decide 2017’s ultimate victor.

Bottas’ Mercedes teammate Hamilton was left wondering how his weekend in Russa went so wrong. Continue reading

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2017 F1 Grand Prix of Russia — Qualifying results

Ferrari locks out front row at Sochi with Vettel taking pole, Kimi P2; Mercedes on the back foot in quali with Bottas besting Hamilton, P3 to P4

If there were still doubts about Ferrari’s surprisingly strong start to the 2017 season after three strong rounds for the fabled Scuderia they were laid to rest during Saturday qualifying in Sochi, Russia when the two Prancing Horses locked out the front row for an F1 race for the first time since 2008. Sebastian Vettel put in a storming lap with time running out in Q3 to pip his teammate Kimi Raikkonen for the pole by less than half a second. The excellent pace of the two Ferraris knocked both Mercedes Silver Arrows off the front row, an usual sight in the new turbo era to say the least. Even more unusual, Mercedes ace Lewis Hamilton was pushed out of the top 3, out-qualified by his new teammate Valtteri Bottas for the second week in a row. Hamilton finds himself starting from fourth position on the grid aside Bottas’ superior P3. Obviously come race day the getaway from the line will be paramount for this contending quartet. But Ferrari have clearly shown that they have an advantage in getting maximum performance out of the new generation of extra wide Pirelli rubber, which has enabled them to seriously challenge Mercedes’ formerly unquestioned dominance. And in Vettel they have a driver with the supreme talent to wring the utmost out of this excellent and much improved new SF70H chassis and compete with a superstar like Hamilton on even terms for victories.

Further back on the grid, Daniel Ricciardo did very well to bank a lap good enough for P5 after the Red Bulls had struggled to find outright pace on the very low abrasion Sochi Autodorm circuit. The veteran Aussie’s time was signifcantly better than his wunderkind teammate Max Verstappen’s, who could do no better than P7. Splitting the Red Bull duo was the Williams of Felipe Massa, who qualified P6 and showed that perhaps the Williams is finally beginning to find some consistent speed after an underwhelming beginning to the season. But rookie teammate Lance Stroll could do no better than P12 and Team Williams will need more from their young Canadian driver if they are to start banking those ever-valuable Constructors’ points on a regular basis. Nico Hulkenberg was excellent once again, pulling his factory Renault within shouting distance of the contenders in P8, his third Top 10 qualifying effort in a row. And overachieving Force India also performed well, with Sergio Perez taking P9 and the impressive young Frenchman Esteban Ocon quick enough for P10.

Top 10 qualifiers for the Russian GP:

POS NO DRIVER CAR Q1 Q2 Q3 LAPS
1 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 1:34.493 1:34.038 1:33.194 20
2 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 1:34.953 1:33.663 1:33.253 18
3 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 1:34.041 1:33.264 1:33.289 18
4 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:34.409 1:33.760 1:33.767 19
5 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:35.560 1:35.483 1:34.905 20
6 19 Felipe Massa WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:35.828 1:35.049 1:35.110 20
7 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:35.301 1:35.221 1:35.161 18
8 27 Nico Hulkenberg RENAULT 1:35.507 1:35.328 1:35.285 21
9 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:36.185 1:35.513 1:35.337 18
10 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:35.372 1:35.729 1:35.430 20

Complete qualifying results available via Formula1.com.

Tomorrow’s race airs live starting a 8 AM Eastern on NBC Sports here in the states. Can Ferrari follow up their impressive qualifying with a matching 1-2 when it really counts or will Mercedes find the race pace to deny the Scuderia that fervent wish? Hope to see you then to find out!

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2017 F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain — Results & aftermath

ADVANTAGE FERRARI: Vettel bests Mercedes’ Hamilton for victory in Bahrain; Bottas P3 in the second Silver Arrow

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel made another emphatic statement that he and his team are up for a season-long championship fight against mighty Mercedes with a sparkling drive to victory under the lights at the Bahrain International Circuit. Once again willing to gamble on tire strategy, Ferrari rolled the dice early on an undercut for Vettel with an early pit stop on Lap 10. It seemed to backfire almost instantly on the Scuderia when a Safety Car emerged on Lap 13 following a collision between Williams’ Lance Stroll and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz. The Mercedes duo then dove for the pits simultaneously under the full course yellow flag along with several other runners, including the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo. But in having to service both Bottas, still leading from pole at that point, and Hamilton at the same time the Mercedes duo were forced to stack up and Hamilton wound up slowing significantly in front of Ricciardo. The pokey pace was deemed egregious by the stewards and Hamilton was levied a tough 5-second time penalty for impeding Ricciardo. That would prove pivotal because while Hamilton worked his way past Ricciardo and his faltering teammate Bottas in his effort to get back up to Vettel he was put irreparably on the back foot by having to spend those 5 extra seconds in the pits to serve the penalty. Despite running significantly faster than Vettel on fresher Soft compound Pirellis as the laps wound down the  gap could not be overcome by the Mercedes ace and in the end Vettel scored his second victory out of three races to start the season, hitting the checkered flag over 6 seconds to the good. It looks to be well and truly game on for a fierce Ferrari versus Mercedes/Vettel vs. Hamilton battle all year long. And that could lead to a very special Formula 1 season.

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Bottas, who scored his first ever pole position on Saturday, struggled with his overall pace in comparison to the top two finishers. While he was able to hold off a charging Vettel in the opening laps the Finn couldn’t maintain his lead for long and wound up shuffled backwards with persistent oversteer after that first controversial pit stop. Good enough to fend off all but Vettel and Hamilton, Bottas came home a distant P3, ceding the question of team leadership unequivocally to Hamilton. Still, it was a solid day after his inexplicable spin behind the Safety Car two weeks ago in China and good for the Mercedes #2’s overall confidence.

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Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen was once again underwhelming, coming home in P4 after never really being in the mix for a podium. Ricciardo was game but his Red Bull was not strong enough to challenge the frontrunners in the cool and dry nighttime desert conditions on this high deg track. The Aussie finished P5 but his talented teammate Max Verstappen unfortunately crashed out on Lap 11 with brake failure. Felipe Massa had a very good drive for Williams showing his car’s outright pace in the straights and staying out of trouble to take a valuable P6. Romain Grosjean got his first points of the year with a P8 for Haas and Nico Hulkenberg made it two races in a row in the top 10 for Renault at P9. Rounding out the Top 10 little Force India placed two drivers in the points for the second consecutive contest with Sergio Perez crossing the finish line in 6th and young Esteban Ocon coming home in P10.

Top 10 finishers at the Bahrain Grand Prix:

POS NO DRIVER CAR LAPS TIME/RETIRED PTS
1 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 57 1:33:53.374 25
2 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 57 +6.660s 18
3 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 57 +20.397s 15
4 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 57 +22.475s 12
5 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 57 +39.346s 10
6 19 Felipe Massa WILLIAMS MERCEDES 57 +54.326s 8
7 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 57 +62.606s 6
8 8 Romain Grosjean HAAS FERRARI 57 +74.865s 4
9 27 Nico Hulkenberg RENAULT 57 +80.188s 2
10 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 57 +95.711s 1

Complete race results available via Formula1.com.

The next race is in two weeks time from Russia at the Sochi Autodrome. With these new cars already scheduled to go through their first in-season development in the interim and Mercedes and Ferrari so closely matched after three races Round 4 should be a key contest to find out who can gain that elusive advantage. Hope to see you then!

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2017 F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain — Qualifying results

Bottas takes first career pole by besting Mercedes’ teammate Lewis Hamilton; Vettel qualifies P3 for Ferrari

Intent on atoning for his inexplicable spin behind a Safety Car last week in China first year Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas scored his first career pole in Bahrain. Bottas pipped his more heralded triple World Champion teammate Lewis Hamilton by a razor thin .023 of a second. The Finn and former Williams driver showed his quality in a hot car under the lights on the cooling track and will be hunting his first F1 victory in tomorrow’s race. But as any F1 fan knows besting Hamilton in race competition will be harder said than done. Then again Bottas has a chance to prove that the real intra-team Mercedes competition did not end with Nico Rosberg’s shock retirement at the end of 2016.

Bottas not only kept his teammate behind him but also finally the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel. For the first time in this young season Vettel was unable to get on the front row after splitting the Mercedes duo in the first two fast Saturdays of 2017. Vettel will start from P3 on the grid. His teammate Kimi Raikkonen, who was a little too vocal with his displeasure for the Scuderia’s liking in China en route to a fourth place finish, was unable to line up next to him and will start in P5. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo bested Raikonnen by sneaking in a fast lap good enough to claim P4, while his exciting young teammate Max Verstappen, who added to his legend with another monster drive in the wet in Shanghai, could do no better than P6 at the ultra-dry Bahrain International Circuit. The Renault factory team had an impressive effort after a frustrating start to the season, showing rapid development to their engine & chassis that enabled Nico Hulkenberg to take a very strong P7 and junior teammate Jolyon Palmer able to make it into Q3 for the first time in his career with a solid P10 time. Now the yellow Renaults have got to try to put it all together in a race and grab some points. Rounding out the Top 10, Williams’ Felipe Massa took P8 and Romain Grosjean will start P9 for Haas.

Big news was also made off-track when McLaren’s Fernando Alonso announced that he will skip Monaco this Memorial Day and race in the Indianapolis 500 for Andretti Autosport instead. The prospect of the 2-time Formula 1 champion racing at the Brickyard has whet the appetite of every race fan around the world and it should be exciting to see how the Spaniard performs in his first-ever oval race at the grandaddy of all American tracks. Jenson Button will come out of retirement to sub for Alonso for a one-off in Monte Carlo in the non-competetive McLaren.

Top 10 qualifiers for the Bahrain Grand Prix:

POS NO DRIVER CAR Q1 Q2 Q3 LAPS
1 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 1:31.041 1:29.555 1:28.769 12
2 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:30.814 1:29.535 1:28.792 13
3 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 1:31.037 1:29.596 1:29.247 12
4 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:31.667 1:30.497 1:29.545 12
5 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 1:30.988 1:29.843 1:29.567 16
6 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:30.904 1:30.307 1:29.687 12
7 27 Nico Hulkenberg RENAULT 1:31.057 1:30.169 1:29.842 15
8 19 Felipe Massa WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:31.373 1:30.677 1:30.074 12
9 8 Romain Grosjean HAAS FERRARI 1:31.691 1:30.857 1:30.763 16
10 30 Jolyon Palmer RENAULT 1:31.458 1:30.899 1:31.074 15

Complete qualifying results available via Formula1.com.

Tomorrow’s race airs live starting at 10:30 AM Eastern on CNBC here in the States. Can Bottas take his first ever F1 victory? Or will Hamilton and Vettel resume their duel for supremacy? Can a Red Bull get into the mix and make their claim as a serious contender? Hope to see you then to find out!