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2017 F1 Grand Prix of Mexico — Results & aftermath

Hamilton & Vettel collide on opening lap but Hamilton still earns 4th World Title with P9 finish; Verstappen class of the field to win Mexican GP going away

With Sebastian Vettel stubbornly clinging to a mathematical improbability to keep his championship hopes on life support and Lewis Hamilton vowing to win the Mexican GP outright and seal his fourth career Drivers’ title something had to give on Sunday. Sure enough, both supremely talented drivers refused to compromise their hard-charging styles when the lights went out at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. Starting from pole, Ferrari’s lead man faced an instant challenge from Red Bull’s upstart wunderkind Max Verstappen, who Vettel had just pipped in qualifying, as they streaked down the long front straight heading into Turn 1. Not content to play it conservatively and bide his time for the simple fifth-place or higher finish that would guarantee his championship no matter where Vettel finished, Hamilton shoved the nose of his Mercedes right in amongst the front two runners. The somewhat predictable result was 3-into-2 won’t go — when Verstappen made a power move to ward off Vettel’s Prancing Horse, damaging the German’s front wing as a result, Hamilton thought he saw an overtaking opportunity. But instead Vettel bounced back to the outside and sliced down Hamilton’s rear right tire with the now razor sharp remains of his wing endplate. In an instant the top two contenders had compromised their race and had to make first-lap pit stops. Hamilton’s fate was more severe, perhaps a just reward for tempting the racing gods with his ambitious hubris, as the Englishman had to limp his Merc around the length of the circuit at low speed with his deflated tire. After emergency service for both combatants Vettel rejoined in P18 and Hamilton dead last in P20.

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

It also seemed the injuries to Hamilton’s car were more severe than Vettel’s simple wing change, perhaps due to damage to the Mercedes’ floor, as the former had a lot more trouble picking off back markers and making his way through the field than the Ferrari. While the situation must have seemed desperate to Lewis, who even asked at one point whether Vettel had hit him deliberately (which could be forgiven after Baku), it soon became clear that the biggest possible threat to Hamilton’s desire to wrap up the Championship in Mexico was the reliability of Verstppen’s power unit at the front of the field. Red Bull had to be quite nervous as they saw first Verstappen’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo’s brand new Renault engine (which necessitated a penalty that saw the Aussie start from the back of the grid) suffer turbo failure on just Lap 5. Then other Renault-powered runners Nico Hulkenberg and Toro Rosso’s new man Brendon Hartley also suffer terminal issues (Hulkenberg’s Renault teammate also retired but this was due to steering issues). If Verstappen’s engine also failed late in the race, Hamilton’s Mercedes wingman Valtteri Bottas would inherit the lead but more significantly Vettel’s Ferrari stablemate Kimi Raikkonen would be elevated to P2. That would certainly lead to the Iceman being given team orders to let Vettel through and provide the German contender the desperately needed position to keep his championship hunt alive for the next race in Brazil.

It didn’t happen. Verstappen’s lead over Bottas was so commanding that he was able to minimize the stresses on his Renault power plant and make it to the checkered flag unchallenged and without drama. In the end, the superlative Dutchman won the race by nearly 20 seconds. Bottas held his second for the honor of Constructors’ Champion Mercedes and Raikkonen salvaged third on a day that seemed to encapsulate the squandered promise of 2017 for the fabled Scuderia from Maranello. Vettel roared back for a valiant P4 but it wasn’t enough to prevent seeing his title hopes extinguished. Hamilton finished P9 and joined Vettel in the ultra-exclusive 4-time World Champions club alongside the great Alain Prost. Only Michael Schumacher with 7 and Juan Manual Fangio with 5 have more championships than Hamilton now. If it wasn’t quite the way he pictured himself taking the title in the end that will be a pure footnote. Hamilton did what he set out to do at the beginning of the season following his disappointment over coming second best to his now retired teammate Nico Rosberg last year. He has now won his fourth crown and has clearly marked himself as one of the top drivers of this or any other generation. Simply put, Lewis Hamilton is a Hall of Fame Formula 1 driver.

The rest of the field was pleasantly shuffled due to so many retirements (5 DNFs in all): Force India had another fantastic day, their best of the season in fact, that saw their talented young Frenchman Esteban Ocon come home an impressive P5 and local hero Sergio Perez take P7 in front of his adoring countrymen in the grandstands. That secured fourth in the Constructors’ points for the little team from Silverstone, a massive — and massively lucrative — achievement for this low budget team. Lance Stroll was back in the points for Williams, driving a smart and well-composed race to finish P6. That it came on his 19th birthday must have been all the sweeter. Kevin Magnussen also excelled for Haas at a track where the team really struggled because of the high altitude. Magnussen was able to bring his chassis home in the points in P8. And Fernando Alonso grabbed the last points-paying position for McLaren in P10, although the Woking-based team had to be a bit concerned by all of Renault’s unreliability in this race, as they are jumping to that engine manufacturer next year while ditching the increasingly steady Honda.

Top 10 finishers of the Mexican GP:

POS NO DRIVER CAR LAPS TIME/RETIRED PTS
1 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 71 1:36:26.552 25
2 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 71 +19.678s 18
3 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 71 +54.007s 15
4 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 71 +70.078s 12
5 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 70 +1 lap 10
6 18 Lance Stroll WILLIAMS MERCEDES 70 +1 lap 8
7 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 70 +1 lap 6
8 20 Kevin Magnussen HAAS FERRARI 70 +1 lap 4
9 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 70 +1 lap 2
10 14 Fernando Alonso MCLAREN HONDA 70 +1 lap 1

Complete race results available via Formula1.com.

The next race is in but two weeks time — the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos, the penultimate contest on the 2017 F1 calendar. The big prizes may have already been awarded but with only two races left before the long, cold winter break best to tide yourself over with some more great Formula1 memories to carry you through those long, dark nights ahead. Hope to see you then!

2017 F1 Grand Prix of Mexico — Qualifying results

Ferrari’s Vettel bests Red Bull’s Verstappen for pole in Mexico City; Mercedes off the pace with Hamilton P3, Bottas P4

Showing the fight of a true champion, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel laid down a track record lap of 1:16.488 for pole in the rarified air at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City on Saturday. Still mathemeaically alive in the Drivers’ Championship, albeit barely so, Vettel earned his 50th career pole by besting Red Bull’s ultra-quick wunderkind, Max Verstappen, by a scant .09 seconds. Verstappen had looked like the quicker man coming into Q3 but the young Ducthman, driving with a chip on his shoulder after being denied the podium by the stewards a week ago in Austin, couldn’t quite hook his laps up in the final qualifying round. Still, the Red Bull man was faster than both Mercedes, who struggled for outright pace against their usually inferior rivals a week after securing their fourth consecutive Constructors’ title. Points leader Lewis Hamilton, who can secure his fourth championship even if Vettel wins by finishing fifth or better on Sunday, could muster a time good enough for only P3 on the dusty, low-grip circuit. His wingman Valtteri Bottas vaulted himself to P4 on his only timed run in Q3 after a promising early attempt was spoiled by nearly colliding with a slowing Verstappen in the final sector (this tike Vertsappen escaped the stewards’ wrath). So for once in that proverbial blue moon the mighty Mercedes look like the third fastest cars on track, an unusual position to say the least and one that may be caused by the shortness of the circuit and the longness of their wheelbase. However the race could be a different proposition, particularly as the Silver Arrows are at least grouped to fight together while Vettel & Verstappen’s teammates are both separated from them further down the grid.

In fact, Ferrari #2 Kimi Raikkonen will start behind the two Mercs in P5, while the second Red Bull of Daniel Riciciardo looked a bit lost and could do no better than a P7 time. The affable Aussie saw himself bested by Force India’s Esteban Ocon, who qualified ahead in P6. The young Frenchman also outdid his teammate and archrival, Mexican national Sergio Perez, by a considerable margin. Perez could manage no better than P10 despite the passionate encouragement of his countrymen in the stands for his home Grand Prix. Rounding out the top 10, Nico Hulkenberg pipped his new Renault teammate Carlos Sainz, P8 to P9.

Top 10 qualifiers for the Mexican GP:

POS NO DRIVER CAR Q1 Q2 Q3 LAPS
1 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 1:17.665 1:16.870 1:16.488 20
2 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:17.630 1:16.524 1:16.574 19
3 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:17.518 1:17.035 1:16.934 21
4 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 1:17.578 1:17.161 1:16.958 17
5 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 1:18.148 1:17.534 1:17.238 20
6 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:18.336 1:17.827 1:17.437 19
7 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:18.208 1:17.631 1:17.447 15
8 27 Nico Hulkenberg RENAULT 1:18.322 1:17.792 1:17.466 17
9 55 Carlos Sainz RENAULT 1:18.405 1:17.753 1:17.794 17
10 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:18.020 1:17.868 1:17.807 19

Complete qualifying results available via Formula1.com.

Tomorrow’s race airs live on NBC at 3PM Eastern here in the States. Can Vettel live to fight another day or will Hamilton issue the coup de grâce and be crowned 2017’s champion? Might Verstappen steal the spotlight from both veterans by laying down a marker as next year’s man to beat? Hope to see you then to find out!

2017 F1 Grand Prix of the United States — Results & aftermath

Hamilton moves closer to title with dominant win in Texas as Mercedes clinch fourth straight Constructors’ Championship; Vettel salvages P2, Raikkonen third after Verstappen penalized

Mercedes’ ace Lewis Hamilton had a superb weekend for both himself and the team at an American track that has come to seem like a second home to the Englishman. Starting from pole at The Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, the championship points leader was able to overcome a fast start by the last remaining obstacle to the pursuit of his fourth Formula 1 crown, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. Vettel was quicker on the opening lap and got by Hamilton with authority. For a brief moment it seemed that Ferrari could put their miserable 3-race tailspin behind them and get back on level footing with mighty Mercedes. But Hamilton’s Silver Arrow proved the stronger car as the laps accumulated and the tires settled in. Hamilton closed down the German relentlessly and by getting to within DRS range was able to pass Vettel on Lap 6, taking a lead he would never really relinquish again.

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Perhaps because of Ferrari having to trim downforce off the car to match Mercedes’ pace at this long flowing track the Prancing Horses were not quite as good on their tires as they had been in other races. While Vettel had to stop for fresh rubber on Lap 17, Hamilton ran until Lap 20 (although one could argue this was a lap too late as he really hit the cliff by then). Hamilton was then able to run his Soft tires until the end of the race on his way to the victory, while Vettel threw the dice for a second tire change on Lap 39 of 56. It didn’t pan out for the Scuderia man — he had lost too much track position. In the end Hamilton won decisively by over 10 seconds while Vettel pushed his way back to the front and then was let through by his teammate Kimi Raikkonen for P2, keeping the Drivers’ Championship mathematically alive for another race weekend. Hamilton’s win in the States also helped earn the Mercedes factory team their fourth Constructors’ title on the trot. And to think that most people thought Hamilton was mad to jump from McLaren to Merc back in 2013. It was also Hamilton’s astounding fifth win at COTA in six attempts.

Raikkonen was awarded the last step on the podium in controversial fashion after Red Bull’s Max Verstappen made a stunning pass on him for P3 on the very last lap of the race. But the Dutch wunderkind who hurtled himself all the way up from a 16th place starting position after engine penalties, slicing through the field like a hot knife along the way, was deemed by the stewards to have exceeded track limits in gaining the advantage on Kimi. He was hit with a 5-second time penalty while waiting in the podium green room and had to give way to Raikkonen in shocking fashion. The 20-year-old phenom was justifiably livid at the decision in a race where track limits seemed to have been abused all day long with no similar consequences. In the end, though, the now fourth place Vertsappen could only take satisfaction in adding to his growing resume of superb overtaking drives, as well as signing a new multi-year contract with Red Bull, a smart move by the team in locking up such a prodigious if still maturing talent. Adding to the mixed feeling for Red Bull after the US Grand Prix their other driver, Daniel Ricciardo, suffered engine failure on Lap 16. It was a major disappointment for the Aussie after a roaring start from P4 on the grid and some hot and heavy wheel-to-wheel action with Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas.

Bottas lost ground late and finished P5 but it was still enough of a points haul to put Mercedes over the top for the title. Force India’s Esteban Ocon drove well despite battling the flu and finished P6, while his teammate and jousting partner Sergio Perez came home P8. That consolidated the team’s fourth place in the Constructors’ title, a remarkable result for the little Force India team. Carlos Sainz was extremely impressive in his maiden run for the factory Renault team, driving superbly to a P7 finish. Felipe Massa took P9 for underachieving Wiliams and Sainz’s old teammate Daniil Kvyat was P10 in his return to his Toro Rosso seat after a two-race enforced absence by the team.

Top 10 finishers of the US Grand Prix:

POS NO DRIVER CAR LAPS TIME/RETIRED PTS
1 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 56 1:33:50.991 25
2 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 56 +10.143s 18
3 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 56 +15.779s 15
4 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 56 +16.768s 12
5 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 56 +34.967s 10
6 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 56 +90.980s 8
7 55 Carlos Sainz RENAULT 56 +92.944s 6
8 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 55 +1 lap 4
9 19 Felipe Massa WILLIAMS MERCEDES 55 +1 lap 2
10 26 Daniil Kvyat TORO ROSSO 55 +1 lap 1

Complete race results available via Formula1.com.

The next race is in but a week’s time, just south of the border from Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City. Can Sebastian Vettel prolong the inevitable or will Lewis Hamilton join the German in the elite 4-time F1 Champions’ club? Hope to see you then to find out!

2017 F1 Grand Prix of the United States — Qualifying results

Hamilton fastest at COTA pipping Vettel for pole; Bottas P3

In just completed qualifying at the fantastic purpose-built F1 track Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, Mercedes’ ace Lewis Hamilton pipped Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel for pole by a mere 0.24 seconds. Hamilton had been looking the strongest by far in all three qualifying sessions setting track record after track record. But Vettel managed to show the Ferrari’s true pace in his final opportunity. The German 4-time world champ put it all together with time running out in Q3 to vault up to P2 on the grid and give himself a chance to take the fight to Hamilton and keep his own championship aspirations on life support. After Ferrari’s wretched three-race run of self-induced bad luck all Hamilton has to do is win the race and see Vettel finish 6th or lower and the Englishman will win his own fourth F1 title. Vettel showed on Saturday that he intends to make that as difficult as possible.

Vettel’s superb last-minute effort pushed Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas back to P3, while the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen qualified P4 and P6 respectively. Unfortunately for Verstappen, the young Dutchman will have to start from the back of the grid due to a host of penalties for equipment changes on his car. Vettel’s Ferrari stablemate Kimi Raikkonen seemed to regress a bit as qualifying entered its crucial phase, dropping from a front row contender down to no better than a P5 time. The Force Indias of Esteban Ococn and Sergio Perez qualified P7 and P10 respectively and Carlos Sainz willed his factory Renault all the way up to P8 in his maiden drive for the team after making the leap from Toro Rosso. McLaren’s Fernando Alonso was the 9th fastest qualifier, making best use of some new aero upgrades added to his car for this weekend at COTA.

Top 10 qualifiers for then United States GP:

POS NO DRIVER CAR Q1 Q2 Q3 LAPS
1 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:34.822 1:33.437 1:33.108 18
2 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 1:35.420 1:34.103 1:33.347 18
3 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 1:35.309 1:33.769 1:33.568 17
4 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:35.991 1:34.495 1:33.577 14
5 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 1:35.649 1:33.840 1:33.577 17
6 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:34.899 1:34.716 1:33.658 13
7 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:35.849 1:35.113 1:34.647 17
8 55 Carlos Sainz RENAULT 1:35.517 1:34.899 1:34.852 17
9 14 Fernando Alonso MCLAREN HONDA 1:35.712 1:35.046 1:35.007 15
10 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:36.358 1:34.789 1:35.148 19

Complete qualifying results available via Formula1.com.

In other F1 news, endurance racer and this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans overall winner Brendon Hartley came in to replace Sainz at Toro Rosso and put in a creditable effort in his first time back in a single seater in about 6 years. The New Zealander ran P18 in qualifying and will be partnered by a returning Daniil Kvyat for Sunday’s GP, though whether the out-of-favor Russian remains with the team for the next race in Mexico remains highly doubtful.

Tomorrow’s US GP airs live on NBC at 3PM Eastern here in the States. Hope to see you then to find out whether Hamilton can wrap up his fourth world title or if Vettel can extend the championship hunt for at least one more contest!

2017 F1 Grand Prix of Japan — Results & aftermath

Hamilton holds off Verstappen for win at Suzuka consolidating championship lead; Ricciardo P3 but Vettel out early with engine problems

Mercedes ace Lewis Hamilton had an essentially prefect race weekend in Japan. The English points leader shattered the track record at Suzuka on Saturday en route to his first pole at this fabled track. Then on Sunday he was not only the fastest car and driver on the circuit but his main rival for the Drivers’ Championship was out early and did not finish. Capping off a nightmare three-race run for Scuderia Ferrari, their title aspirant, 4-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel, suffered another engine problem apparently due to a faulty spark plug of all things that saw him down on woefully power and forced the retirement of his car on Lap 5. After the team’s crash-induced double DNF in Singapore, persistent engine woes in Malaysia that saw Vettel forced to start from last and Kimi Raikkonen not make the race start at all and then this disaster for Vettel in Japan, Ferrari’s once-promising season appears to have completely unraveled. In the face of this year’s all but bulletproof Mercedes F1 W08 chassis the legendary team from Maranello are now too far behind in the Constructors’ chase to have a realistic shot and Vettel saw his deficit to Hamilton balloon to 59 points after Sunday’s latest non-scoring DNF. That leaves the victorious Hamilton on the brink of his fourth world title and he could conceivably wrap it up as soon as the US Grand Prix two weeks hence in Austin. So all-in-all it was another superb day for Hamilton and the Silver Arrows and another unmitigated disaster for Ferrari.

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Red Bull’s wunderkind Max Verstappen tried his best to spoil Hamilton’s party. After being elevated to P4 on the grid due to penalties against Valtteri Bottas, Verstappen was even quicker in race trim, besting his teammate Daniel Ricciardo early and then taking advantage of Vettel’s misfortune to firmly secure second position for the majority of the race. Even though the Red Bull lacks a bit of horsepower when stacked up against Mercedes, Verstappen wrung every ounce of performance he could from his lithe RB13 chassis, almost having enough to close down Hamilton after a late Virtual Safety Car period precipitated by Lance Stroll’s off. But lapped traffic got in the way, particularly an obstinate Fernando Alonso, and the laps ran out on the Dutchman. The Malaysian GP winner had to be content with a very stout P2 podium result just 1.2 seconds behind Hamilton’s winning time. Ricciardo was a little bit further up the road and finished P3 for the second consecutive GP. That also makes it 4 podiums in the last 5 races for the smiling Aussie.

The second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas wasn’t able to keep pace with the frontrunners but played a valuable role for the team by allowing Hamilton by him mid-race and then stacking up the pursuing Verstappen, costing the Red Bull some valuable laps in its quest for a possible victory. Bottas would come home off the podium in P4 but surely earned a lot of credit with the team and Hamilton as a valuable wingman with that unselfish effort. Vettel’s teammate Raikkonen also drove well to fight his way back from a penalty-effected P10 start, as well as getting pushed off track by Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and falling even further back through the order on Lap 1. Raikkonen regrouped to will the lone surviving Ferrari up to a P5 finish. It was a strong drive by the Iceman but in the end small consolation on another terrible day for Ferrari.

The Force Indias ran well yet again, with Esteban Ocon besting his nemesis Sergio Perez, P6 to P7. Despite their mutual loathing and season-long on track skirmishes the Force India duo have nonetheless performed well enough to essentially guarantee the team fourth place in the Constructor’s Championship, a massively lucrative result for the little team from Silverstone. Both Haas cars also got good points in Japan with Kevin Magnussen staying ahead of his teammate long enough to make a forceful pass on the Williams of Felipe Massa late in the race for P8 and Romain Grosjean following close behind to finish ninth despite starting from P16 after a big shunt knocked him out of qualifying early on Saturday. Massa was able to hold on against the charging McLaren of Fernando Alonso to take the last points paying position for Williams in P10. After the race Alonso was given a 2-point penalty on his Super License for not obeying blue flags and letting Vertstappen by as the Red Bull man was making his late-race charge.

Top 10 finishers of the Japanese Grand Prix:

POS NO DRIVER CAR LAPS TIME/RETIRED PTS
1 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 53 1:27:31.194 25
2 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 53 +1.211s 18
3 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 53 +9.679s 15
4 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 53 +10.580s 12
5 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 53 +32.622s 10
6 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 53 +67.788s 8
7 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 53 +71.424s 6
8 20 Kevin Magnussen HAAS FERRARI 53 +88.953s 4
9 8 Romain Grosjean HAAS FERRARI 53 +89.883s 2
10 19 Felipe Massa WILLIAMS MERCEDES 52 +1 lap 1

Complete race results alive via Formula1.com.

In other news, Carlos Sainz, who wiped out his Toro Rosso on Lap 1, will make the switch to Renault for the last remaining races of 2017, bouncing the star-crossed Jolyon Palmer from his seat and presumably from Forumla 1 entirely. The erratic Russian Daniil Kvyat will return to his Toro Rosso ride but his partner for Austin may or may not be Pierre Gasly, as the rookie sensation still has an opportunity to win the Super Formula title that weekend. And whether Toro Rosso keep on Kvyat in 2018 also remains an open question.

The next race is in two weeks time, the United States Grand Prix from the always fun Circuit of the Americas in Austin. Will Hamilton be able to wrap up the title there or can Ferrari get back on the beam and put up a fight? Hope to see you then to find out!

2017 F1 Grand Prix of Japan — Qualifying results

Hamilton blisters track record for pole at Suzuka, Bottas back on form in P2; Vettel third quickest as grid shuffled by penalties

Making emphatic amends for never having scored a pole at the legendary Suzuka circuit, Mercedes ace Lewis Hamilton shattered Michael Schumacher’s 11-year-old lap record by over 1.6 seconds en route to the 71st pole of the Englishman’s sparkling career. Better yet for the Silver Arrows, Hamilton’s wingman Valtteri Bottas returned to form after a run of mediocre qualifying results and qualified P2. That stout effort by Bottas pipped the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, Hamilton’s only real competition for the Drivers’ title, but the Mercedes #2 has a gearbox penalty to serve and so was pushed back to P6 with Vettel inheriting the second spot on the grid beside Hamilton. After Vettel’s wonder drive in Malaysia a week ago where he came from last to finish a remarkable fourth the German 4-time World Champion must be salivating at the prospect of starting from P2 and being able to go mano a mano with Hamilton right from then get go.

However, Vettel may have to go it alone, as his Scuderia teammate Kimi Raikkonen had another difficult day a week after his car failed to start the Malaysian GP due to turbo problems. The Finnish vet got it wrong in free practice 3, smashing into the armco at the Degner curves and damaging his suspension and gearbox in the process. His mechanics did yeoman’s work to get the car ready for qualifying but Raikkonen couldn’t find the speed and ended up a lowly P7. With his and others’ penalties factored in Raikkonen got pushed back to P10. He’ll just be hoping that his car can get to race after last week’s disaster at Sepang Circuit. But when you start mid-pack the chances of bad things happening on the opening lap increase exponentially so I think it’s even money whether the sometimes accident prone Raikkonen can make it to the finish.

The two Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Vertstappen qualified P4 and P5 respectively but both will move up one spot and line up side by side on the second row. With their strong performance in Malaysia fresh in their minds where Verstappen got the win and Ricciardo was P3 they could once again be better in race trim. So watch out for at least one of the Red Bull duo to perhaps challenge the front runners for victory tomorrow. Esteban Ocon out-qualified his Force India teammate and arch rival Sergio Perez P7 to P8 and Ocon will start P5 come Sunday due to Bottas’ demotion. Williams Felipe Massa set the 9th fastest time and will move up to P8 on the grid, while Fernando Alonso got his McLaren into Q3 at Honda’shome track. But the Spaniard also faces a host of penalties for parts changes on his car that will drop him all the way to last position. That ironically benefitted his slower teammate, Stoffel Vandoorne, who could only muster the 11th fastest time in Q2 but will see himself elevated all the way up to P9 on the grid come race day.

Top 10 qualifiers for the Japanese GP:

POS NO DRIVER CAR Q1 Q2 Q3 LAPS
1 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:29.047 1:27.819 1:27.319 18
2 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 1:29.332 1:28.543 1:27.651 17
3 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 1:29.352 1:28.225 1:27.791 19
4 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:29.475 1:28.935 1:28.306 13
5 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:29.181 1:28.747 1:28.332 12
6 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 1:29.163 1:29.079 1:28.498 15
7 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:30.115 1:29.199 1:29.111 16
8 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:29.696 1:29.343 1:29.260 17
9 19 Felipe Massa WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:30.352 1:29.687 1:29.480 16
10 14 Fernando Alonso MCLAREN HONDA 1:30.525 1:29.749 1:30.687 13

And the adjusted front grid after all penalties are factored in:

POS DRIVER CAR TIME GAP
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m27.319s
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m27.791s 0.472s
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault 1m28.306s 0.987s
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Renault 1m28.332s 1.013s
5 Esteban Ocon Force India/Mercedes 1m29.111s 1.792s
6 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m27.651s 0.332s
7 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 1m29.260s 1.941s
8 Felipe Massa Williams/Mercedes 1m29.480s 2.161s
9 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren/Honda 1m29.778s 2.459s
10 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m28.498s 1.179s

Complete qualifying results available via Formula1.com.

Tomorrow’s Japanese Grand Prix airs live on NBC Sports starting at 1AM here in the States. So stay up late singing karaoke and then enjoy the race with a cold glass of sake to see if anyone has anything for Hamilton or if he will simply leave them all in his dust. Hope to see you then to find out!

2017 F1 Grand Prix of Malaysia — Results & aftermath

Verstappen victorious for Red Bull in Malyasia, Ricciardo P3; Hamilton extends lead with P2 but Vettel pulls miracle drive to come from last to fourth

Max Verstappen took full advantage of Ferrari’s startling misfortune and mediocrity by Mercedes to take a dominant victory at the Sepang Circuit on Sunday. The young Red Bull driver, who only turned 20 on Saturday and whose 2017 season has been blighted by bad luck, finally had something to cheer about when he overtook the pole-sitting Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton early in the race and never looked back, besting the points leader by a whopping 12.77 seconds at a track that rightly should have suited the Silver Arrows. Verstappen and Red Bull were also aided by more unreliability at Ferrari when their best placed driver, Kimi Raikkonen, was unable to start the race with what appeared to be the same turbo problem that bedeviled Vettel in qualifying, sending him to the back of the grid without setting a time. So instead of the Iceman fighting with Hamilton for victory the stunned Ferrari garage was left praying for their lone surviving Prancing Horse to make a miracle run through the field just two weeks after their catastrophic double-DNF in Singapore .

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

But Maranello’s prayers were nearly answered, as Vettel methodically carved his way through back-markers with a masterful effort to put himself in striking distance of the podium. With the laps winding down the 4-time world champion amazingly found himself duking it out with Verstappen’s veteran teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, for the last step on the podium. But the gritty Aussie managed to hold Vettel off long enough for the latter’s tires to lose their punch and it was Ricciardo who took that valuable P3. That sealed a very good day for Red Bull at a track where they always seem to run well — the current line-up went 1-2 last year after a Hamilton engine failure and Vettel won three out of the four contests during his championship run at Red Bull between 2010 – 2013. The team must be sad to see Malaysia being dropped from the schedule for next year. Still, despite Ferrari’s disappointment it was a good day of damage limitation for Vettel with Hamilton only adding 6 points to his now-34 point lead in the Championship on a day where it looked like the Englishman might outscore the German 25 to nil. And as if the weekend was not bizarre enough for the Scuderia, Vettel and Williams’ Lance Stroll came tohgther on the cool down lap, totaling Vettel’s SF70H. It was the perfect ending to a perfectly ghastly weekend and it’s certain they can’t wait to turn the page at Suzuka and hopefully exploit their new found race pace without anymore technical glitches in the final five Grand Prix.

Further behind the frontrunners, Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas had a bit of a mystifying weekend and found himself well off the truly competitive pace. Bottas finished where he qualified in P5, some 44 seconds behind Hamilton, and struggled to get temperature and balance into the front tires with some new aero tweaks that Hamilton chose not to run. So perhaps the split strategy hurt Mercedes in terms of maximizing points. But it could also be that Bottas has hit a bit of personal slump with his recent run of underwhelming performances. Sergio Perez did rather better in maximizing the perfomance of his Force India coming home a solid P6 despite once again getting together briefly with his junior teammate Esteban Ocon. Ocon, who also had a few other skirmishes throughout the race, could do no better than P10, although it was still a good points haul for overachieving Force India. Stoffel Vandoorne had another strong drive for McLaren for his second consecutive P7 finish (his teammate Fernando Alonso finished outside the points in P11). The two Willaims of Lance Stroll and Felipe Massa also had eventful races but both managed to make it to the end in P8 and P9 respectively with the Stroll-Vettel contretemps mercifully coming after the checkered flag had flown.

Top 10 finishers of the Malaysian GP:

POS NO DRIVER CAR LAPS TIME/RETIRED PTS
1 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 56 1:30:01.290 25
2 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 56 +12.770s 18
3 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 56 +22.519s 15
4 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 56 +37.362s 12
5 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 56 +56.021s 10
6 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 56 +78.630s 8
7 2 Stoffel Vandoorne MCLAREN HONDA 55 +1 lap 6
8 18 Lance Stroll WILLIAMS MERCEDES 55 +1 lap 4
9 19 Felipe Massa WILLIAMS MERCEDES 55 +1 lap 2
10 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 55 +1 lap 1

Complete race results available via Formula1.com.

With the races dwindling to a handful the next key contest is in but a week’s time from the always challenging Suzuka International Racing Course in Japan. Will Red Bull continue to make life difficult for the frontrunners and perhaps play spoiler? Can Ferrari get back on the beam and get both cars through a full race? And will Hamilton and Mercedes return to their dominating ways before heading to the Americas for the stretch run? Hope to see you then to find out!

2017 F1 Grand Prix of Malaysia — Qualifying results

Hamilton speeds to pole in Malaysia, Raikkonen P2 for Ferrari; Verstappen P3 as Vettel suffers engine failure in Q1, will start last

After a disastrous Singapore Grand Prix two weeks ago that saw both Ferarris crash out on the opening lap, Maranello showed tremendous speed in practice at the Sepang circuit and were surely hoping to be rewarded in qualifying on Saturday. Instead, the Scuderia’s bad luck continued when their lead driver Sebastian Vettel suffered engine problems in Q1 to his newly installed power plant. Despite frantic efforts by the team it proved unrepairable to be able to get the car out and set a timed lap and Vettel will face the monumental challenge of starting from last on the grid come Sunday. That opened the door to Mercedes and their championship-leading driver Lewis Hamilton. Despite looking like lacking the pace up against Ferrari and even Red Bull in all three practice sessions, Hamilton laid down a flyer good enough for a new all-time track record as well as a dominant pole. After lucking into the win at rainy Singapore despite starting back in P5 Hamilton now finds himself in his more accustomed front row perch where he will be very hard to beat. Vettel and Ferrari have got be hopimg for a typical torrential Malaysian downpour to shake up the contest and give them some extra strategy options to pick up positions.

On the other side of their garage, however, Kimi Raikkonen did well to fly the flag and give Ferrari some hope, lifting his Prancing Horse up to P2 with a very representative lap a mere .05 behind Hamilton’s streaking Silver Arrow. It looks like the Iceman will be Lewis’ key competition when the lights go out so look for Kimi to try and ambush the lead Mercedes early in Lap 1. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who turned 20 on Saturday, was also very quick and pipped his teammate for P3, with Daniel Ricciardo having to settle for P4. If something goes down between the first two competing cars look for the Red Bulls to try and take advantage at a track where they were 1-2 last year. Hamilton’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was once again off the pace in quali and could do no better than P5. Esteban Ocon was the lead Force India, besting his stablemate and arch-rival Sergio Perez P6 to P9 respectively. And both McLarens were once agin in the top 10 with young Stoffel Vandoorne P7 and veteran Fernando Alonso P10. Nico Hulkenberg was a solid P8 for the improving factory Renault team.

Top 10 qualifiers for the Malysian Grand Prix:

POS NO DRIVER CAR Q1 Q2 Q3 LAPS
1 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:31.605 1:30.977 1:30.076 18
2 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 1:32.259 1:30.926 1:30.121 14
3 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:31.920 1:30.931 1:30.541 12
4 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:32.416 1:31.061 1:30.595 16
5 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 1:32.254 1:30.803 1:30.758 17
6 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:32.527 1:31.651 1:31.478 17
7 2 Stoffel Vandoorne MCLAREN HONDA 1:32.838 1:31.848 1:31.582 18
8 27 Nico Hulkenberg RENAULT 1:32.586 1:31.778 1:31.607 17
9 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:32.768 1:31.484 1:31.658 18
10 14 Fernando Alonso MCLAREN HONDA 1:33.049 1:32.010 1:31.704 17

Complete qualifying results available via Formula1.com

In other news it seems this will be the Malaysian Grand Prix’s last time on the F1 calendar for the foreseeable future, ending a 19-year run. And reigning GP2 champion Pierre Gasly made his Formula 1 debut this weekend, stepping into the Toro Rosso for a few races and relegating the erratic Daniil Kvyat to reserve status. Gasly qualified just behind his teammate Carlos Sainz in P15 and may get a permanent seat with the team when Sainz jumps to Renault next year.

Tomorrow’s race airs live on NBC Sports at the ungodly hour of 3AM here in the States. So set the DVR or brew an extra pot of coffee to pull an all-nighter because watching Sebastian Vettel try to carve his way through the field in pursuit of Hamilton should be worth the price of admission. Hope to see you then!

2017 F1 Grand Prix of Singapore — Results & aftermath

Hamilton romps to victory after chaotic opening lap in rainy Singapore; Ricciardo survives to come home P2, Bottas P3; Vettel, Raikkonen & Verstappen crash out in Turn 1 melee

Mercedes ace Lewis Hamilton spoke of needing a miracle after qualifying a lowly P5 on Saturday in Singapore well behind the Ferraris and Red Bulls. On Sunday the weather and recklessness of his rivals gifted him a pivotal victory in the hunt for his fourth Drivers’ Championship. With a cloudburst hitting the already tricky Marina Bay Stret Circuit right before the start of the race, teams were forced to start on wet weather tires on a very slippery and now quite green track. But instead of feeling out conditions when the lights went out the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen and the Red Bull of Max Verstappen decided to fight it out on the greasy asphalt going into Turn 1. It wound up taking all three contenders out and seriously damaged pole-sitter Vettel’s championship aspirations.

Starting from P4 on the grid, Raikkonen launched well and made a power move to the outside of the P2-placed Verstappen. At the same time Vettel moved his line to the left, squeezing the young Dutchman directly into the path of Raikkonen’s Ferrari. That spun Raikkonen into his teammate Vettel’s side pod and sent the veteran Finn careening across the track. Verstappen likely had a broken front suspension anyway after being the meat in the Ferrari sandwich but ironically Raikkonen’s unsteerably out of control car found him again, smashing into his side and doing unquestionably terminal damage to his Red Bull chassis. McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, who had made a dynamite start of his own, was collected by the two combatants as an innocent bystander, sending his car vaulting through the air and forcing the Spaniard to retire later in the race. Despite being able to continue past the initial point of contact, Vettel’s car had radiator leakage that caused a hard spin into the wall up the road form the main accident. Just like that the 4-time World Champion was also bounced out of the race before one full lap had been completed.

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

That meant that Hamilton, who avoided the carnage skillfully, was now the front runner at a circuit that generally ill-suits the longer wheel base Mercedes. Given such a gift, the English championship contender never relinquished that lucky lead and cruised home to a significant victory that saw him extend his advantage over Vettel to 28 points in the race for the title. Despite a representative drive from Ricciardo in the last remaining Red Bull, which finished P2, Hamilton was untouchable on wet tires and then dry rubber when the surface finally was ready for slicks. As the old saying goes, luck is the residue of design and while everything that could go right for Hamilton certainly did in Singapore he still kept his nose clean and let others make the unforced errors. Hamilton has now won the last three Grand Prix on the trot and must be extra confident claiming victory in a place where a podium would have been considered a very good result before the state of the race.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas was also a big beneficiary of the melee up front, vaulting himself from a poor P6 start all the way to the last step of the podium with a P3 finish. That drove home just how disastrous a day it was for Ferrari on a track where they had aspirations of a 1-2 finish and instead got zero points. Because of the Scuderia’s untimely double DNF Mercedes extended their lead in the Constructors battle to a whopping 98 points.

Further back in the field, Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz also had good fortune when his future teammate Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault suffered race-ending hydraulic issues. The Spaniard drove a very smart and consistent race to take a terrific P4, showing his future French employers that they made the right choice in hiring him for 2018. Force India’s Sergio Perez also kept it clean and finished a solid P5. The man Sainz is replacing at Renault, Jolyon Palmer, had his best finish of the year with what must have been a bittersweet P6. The lone surviving McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne also ran well with a valuable P7 for the beleaguered team form Woking. And Williams rookie Lance Stroll had a quietly remarkable race battling back from a lowly P18 starting position all the way up to P8. Romain Grosjean was P9 for Haas and Esteban Ocon took the last points-paying position at P10 in his Force India.

Top 10 finishers of the Singapore Grand Prix:

POS NO DRIVER CAR LAPS TIME/RETIRED PTS
1 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 58 2:03:23.544 25
2 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 58 +4.507s 18
3 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 58 +8.800s 15
4 55 Carlos Sainz TORO ROSSO 58 +22.822s 12
5 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 58 +25.359s 10
6 30 Jolyon Palmer RENAULT 58 +27.259s 8
7 2 Stoffel Vandoorne MCLAREN HONDA 58 +30.388s 6
8 18 Lance Stroll WILLIAMS MERCEDES 58 +41.696s 4
9 8 Romain Grosjean HAAS FERRARI 58 +43.282s 2
10 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 58 +44.795s 1

Complete race results available via Formula1.com.

The next race is in two weeks time from Malaysia. Will Vettel and Ferrari overcome their dreadful disappointment at Singapore to get back into the championship hunt? Or will Hamilton’s winning ways continue for a stranglehold on the title? Hope to see you then to find out!

2017 F1 Grand Prix of Italy — Results & aftermath

Hamilton dominates Monza for Mercedes, takes Championship lead; Bottas chips in with strong P2, Vettel settles for P3 for Ferrari in front of tifosi

On a race day that was the exact opposite of Saturday’s water logged qualifying, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton nonetheless vaulted from his wet weather record setting pole position to dominate the Italian Grand Prix at legendary Monza. No one could touch the English championship aspirant as he used his all-time best 89th pole position to run away from a scrambled grid and claim a relatively easy win on this ultra-high speed circuit. Better yet, Hamilton’s Silver Arrows teammate Valtteri Bottas redeemed himself after a poor qualifying effort saw him start from a lowly P6. But with the sun shining the Finn was ready for the fight willing his way past not only both Ferraris but also the other unlikely upstart drivers blocking his path. If Bottas was never as dominant as Hamilton he proved second fastest in Monza by a wide margin coming home an ever-valuable P2 for Mercedes, which put serious distance between themselves & Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship by dint of their barely contested 1-2 finish.

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247com

Ferrari’s de facto home track proved less than suitable to this year’s iteration of Prancing Horses. After being bested in that epically wet quali by not only both Red Bulls but also midfield runners from Williams and Force India the Scuderia had to be very grateful for the demotion of those rivalrous Red Bulls due to engine component change penalties. Sure enough their lead ace, Sebastian Vettel, was able to overcome his now P6 starting position to jump his teammate Kimi Raikkonen and then go full tilt at the upstarts in front of him, Lance Stroll of Williams and Esteban Ocon of Force India. Vettel got them both in due time and settled into P3 after it became clear he had nothing for the two Mercedes men running well ahead of him. He maintained that position to the end for the last step on the podium, giving the tifosi at least some reason to be happy on a day when the German Silver Arrows marched into Italy and spoiled the planned Ferrari festivities. But with Hamilton’s recent run of victories — he’s the first diver to win back-to-back races in this very competitive season and has now won three out of the last four — Vettel now finds himself pushed out of the top spot in the Drivers’ Championship standings. The German 4-time champ now trails his English rival by 3 points, the first time Vettel hasn’t been at least tied for the lead all year.

Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen struggled with rear grip early in then race, was never a podium factor and could do no better than P5. Splitting the two Prancing Horses was Daniel Ricciardo who drove his Red Bull to a remarkable 4th place finish after starting way back in P16 due to a raft of engine component penalties. The affable Aussie put on a clinic of overtaking including a power move into the Turn 1 chicane on Raikkonen that sealed the Iceman’s fate as an also-ran. Ricciardo’s precocious teammate Max Vertstappen looked to be matching his teammate in moving to the front but continued his star crossed ways this season when he negated his terrific start by coming into contact with Williams’ Felipe Massa, leading to a puncture. By the time the Dutch wunderkind limped back to the pits for service he was dead last. But to his credit Verstappen didn’t give up on the race despite yet another 2017 misfortune. His car stayed spry and young Max doggedly worked his way up through the back markers, picking them off one by one. As the laps wound down he was so determined to score points he shoved Haas’ Kevin Magnussen off the road to grab P10 and the last points paying position, showing once again the ruthlessness and talent that may one day bring him a title. If he can ever find some good luck again.

Esteban Ocon of Force Indiia and Lance Stroll of Williams, the two rookies who started P3 and P2 on the grid respectively after their impressive wet weather qualifying, couldn’t quite maintain their lofty positions in the dry race. Nonetheless they both performed admirably and came home safely and with a raft of valuable points for their teams. Ocon was slightly superior and passed Stroll, making the most of being away from his pesky teammate Sergio Perez to come home a very solid P6. And though Stroll could never find a way by Ocon again the young Canadian was able to hold off his veteran teammate Felipe Massa and take P7 at the checkered flag. The hard charging Massa ended up P8 and Perez was right behind in P9. So very good day for Force India and an even better one for previously struggling Williams who were able to find mystery pace not only for the flukey wet qualifying but also in the dry race, securing a much-needed cache of points.

Top 10 finishers of the Italian Grand Prix:

POS NO DRIVER CAR LAPS TIME/RETIRED PTS
1 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 53 1:15:32.312 25
2 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 53 +4.471s 18
3 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 53 +36.317s 15
4 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 53 +40.335s 12
5 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 53 +60.082s 10
6 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 53 +71.528s 8
7 18 Lance Stroll WILLIAMS MERCEDES 53 +74.156s 6
8 19 Felipe Massa WILLIAMS MERCEDES 53 +74.834s 4
9 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 53 +75.276s 2
10 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 52 +1 lap 1

Complete race results available via Formula1.com.

The next race is in two weeks time, the beautifully incandescent night race on the tight & twisty streets of Singapore. With a lower speed course much better suited to Ferrari than Mercedes and Vettel desperate to regain his championship lead over Hamilton with the races dwindling it should be a pleasingly frought — and hard-fought — affair between two ultra-competitive athletes. Hope to see you then to find out how it all shakes out!