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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 Singapore — Qualifying results

Vettel seizes pole for Ferrari in Singapore; Verstappen P2 & Ricciardo P3 for Red Bull; Mercedes struggle

After showing subpar speed during all three practice sessions, Sebastian Vettel and his Ferrari shone brightest under the beautiful lights of the Marina Bay Street Circuit in Singapore when it mattered most. The German 4-time champion earned a dominant pole for tomorrow’s race with a blistering track record quali lap of 1:39.491. Vettel’s heroics came at Red Bull’s expense, as it seemed for a while that their wunderkind Max Verstappen might become the youngest F1 driver to earn a pole position. But Vettel, the man who set that record when he earned his first pole at the age of 21 years, 72 days in 2008 at Monza, spoiled the 19-year-old Vertstappen’s potential party on that count. Nevertheless Red Bull must be well pleased with their slippery chassis’ starting positions with Verstappen on the front row alongside Vettel in P2 and teammate Daniel Ricciardo right behind in P3. Vettel’s Ferrari stablemate Kimi Raikkonen came home fourth fastest so it should make for a very interesting opening lap in anger with the first two rows a combative Ferrari-Red Bull mix.

Further behind were the two Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, who qualified P5 and P6 respectively. Though potentially damaging to Hamilton’s championship pursuit on a track where it is notoriously hard to overtake the subpar result was not altogether a surprise for the Silver Arrows. Mercedes even struggled at Singapore last year when they had no true competition in the Constructors’ fight. It is simply a track where their usual straight line speed advantage is nullified by the Marina Bay’s twisty nature and lack of long flat out sections and the fact that they are just not quite nimble enough without that power edge to make up the difference to their main rivals. Their best hope for tomorrow is to run clean and hope there is a damaging tangle between the Ferraris and Red Bulls up front. As unpredictable as Verstappen and Raikkonen can be that is not that bad a bet.

Nico Hulkenberg qualified a very solid P7 for Renault, while besieged McLaren had a rare bright moment with both of their cars getting into the top 10. Fernando Alonso was P8 while Stoffel Vandoorne was P9. Ironically it came on the same weekend that McLaren announced that they were divorcing their engine supplier Honda and switching to Renault power for 2018. But again horsepower is not the main thing in Singapore so it’s the McLaren chassis that really deserves the credit in this instance. Carlos Sainz had the tenth fastest time for Toro Roso and he also made news when it was announced that he will be loaned out to the Renault factory team for next season to partner Hulkenberg and replace Jolyon Palmer. Bringing the game of musical chairs full circle Toro Roso will switch to Honda power in place of their current Renault engines for 2018.

Top 10 qualifiers for the Singapore GP:

POS NO DRIVER CAR Q1 Q2 Q3 LAPS
1 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 1:43.336 1:40.529 1:39.491 19
2 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:42.010 1:40.332 1:39.814 18
3 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:42.063 1:40.385 1:39.840 18
4 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 1:43.328 1:40.525 1:40.069 18
5 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:42.455 1:40.577 1:40.126 17
6 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 1:43.137 1:41.409 1:40.810 16
7 27 Nico Hulkenberg RENAULT 1:42.586 1:41.277 1:41.013 18
8 14 Fernando Alonso MCLAREN HONDA 1:42.086 1:41.442 1:41.179 20
9 2 Stoffel Vandoorne MCLAREN HONDA 1:42.222 1:41.227 1:41.398 19
10 55 Carlos Sainz TORO ROSSO 1:42.176 1:41.826 1:42.056 20

Complete qualifying results available via Formula1.com.

Tomorrow’s race airs live starting 8AM Eastern on NBC Sports here in the States. Can Mercedes battle back to relevance at their own personal bogey track? Will Ferrari and Vettel rule the day? Or will Red Bull come up aces under the lights? 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!

2017 F1 Grand Prix of Belgium — Results & aftermath

Hamilton too quick for Vettel at Spa as title rivals finish 1-2; Ricciardo an opportunistic 3rd

Mercedes ace Lewis Hamilton returned from the summer break refreshed and ready to fight for his fourth World Championship. Needing to recapture momentum that had recently swung to his nemesis at Ferrari, points leader Sebastian Vettel, Hamilton threw down the gauntlet with a dominant performance at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the Ardennes forest, the first of two back-to-back European classics that kick off the business end of the championship. Starting from his record-tying 68th pole position, a time that also set the track record, Hamilton kept his lead when the lights went out on Sunday and managed to hold off a hard charging Vettel in the opening laps and pull out a DRS-proof lead on the Ferrari. And when the race got bunched up again for a restart after a Safety Car period later Hamilton kept his cool and managed the trick again despite Vettel being on softer, grippier tires. Perhaps Hamilton benefited from the aero disruption in close quarters of this year’s high downforce configuration chassis that seems to somewhat negate tire advantages between otherwise equally matched cars. And in the end Hamilton romped to victory in his 200th Grand Prix, his 3rd career win at Spa and the Englishman’s 58th victory overall. That cut Vettel’s championship lead back down to a mere 7 points. As the two team leaders head into Monza next weekend, which should be a frenzied sea of Ferrari red, it is clear that there is virtually nothing to choose between the Prancing Horses and the Silver Arrows. The key difference maker going forward will be the pilots. And with Hamilton and Vettel proving themselves superior to their teammates it is all but certain one of these superlative drivers will be the champion at season’s end.

Hamilton-BelgianGPSpa_2017

Another standout at Spa was Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who once again showed why he is likely the most opportunistic F1 driver in the paddock. Despite the RB13s lack of pure pace at this very fast and long circuit the Aussie took advantage of the post-Safety Car restart on Lap 34 to jump the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas and hold off the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen with a lovely, gutsy pass up the Kemmel Straight. So despite running quietly in P5 for the entirety of the first two thirds of the race Ricciardo’s brave move saw him vault up into a podium spot. He made it stick and kept his pursuers behind for the rest of the race earning that ever-valuable last step on the podium with a sparkling P3 finish. That makes six podium finishes this year for Ricciardo — including that serendipitous win at Baku —  who has displayed the kind of luck in the reliability department his teammate, Max Verstappen, has sorely lacked. Verstappen’s Red Bull mount once again betrayed him, this time on Lap 8 and in front of a huge throng of orange-clad fans from nearby Holland. The Dutch wunderkind has now failed to finish an astonishing 50% of the contests so far in 2017. Will he be looking for the exits and a more reliable ride for next year? Couldn’t blame him if he is.

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Ricciardo’s ballsy pass meant Kimi Raikkonen had to settle for P4. But in truth the Iceman probably felt relieved by that result after having incurred an 10-second stop & hold penalty for failing to lift for the yellow flag brought out by Vertappen’s stalled Red Bull. Continue reading

2017 F1 Grand Prix of Belgium — Qualifying results

Mercedes’ Hamilton earns record-tying pole at Spa, Vettel P2 for Ferrari pipping Bottas

Formula 1’s long summer break is over and Mercedes ace Lewis Hamilton returned to action in style earning the pole at venerable Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium with a new track record for the current layout of 1:42.553. That impressive pole position also tied him with the great Michael Schumacher for most all time in F1 with 68. All in all it was perfect way for Hamilton to kick off his second half efforts in the quest for his fourth World Championship. As the season enters its pivotal final phase beginning with the two European classics at Spa and then Monza next weekend, the English contender will look to impose his will from the front of the field come  race day in the unpredictable Ardennes.

It was not quite as perfect a day for Hamilton’s Mercedes team, however, as it was for the man himself. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the current points leader, put in a tremendous effort on his final Q3 lap to overhaul the other Silver Arrow of Valtteri Bottas, wrestling P2 from the Finn. That should make for an extremely interesting start when the lights go out tomorrow with Hamilton & Vettel now side by side at the front of the grid. And with his P3 starting position Bottas finds himself next to Vettel’s Ferrari teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, who muffed his final lap after complaining of vibration all session long but still had a time quick enough for P4. With no love lost between the two Finnish countrymen on the second row or between Hamilton & Vettel at the front watch for potential opening lap Mercedes-Ferrari fireworks as this quartet flies into Eau Rouge.

Best of the rest in quali were Red Bull’s dynamic duo of Dutch wunderkind Max Verstappen and Aussie veteran Daniel Ricciardo, who clocked in at P5 and P6 respectively. Nico Hulkenberg led an impressive qualifying result for Renault with a very solid P7 time and even though teammate Jolyen Palmer suffered gearbox failure early in Q3 he’ll still start from P10. So it ws a good day for the improving factory Renault program. Force India did their usual yeoman’s work even though they were down on downforce with Sergio Perez qualifying in P8 and Esteban Ocon in P9.

Top 10 Qualifiers for the Belgian GP:

POS NO DRIVER CAR Q1 Q2 Q3 LAPS
1 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:44.184 1:42.927 1:42.553 18
2 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 1:44.275 1:43.987 1:42.795 13
3 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 1:44.773 1:43.249 1:43.094 19
4 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 1:44.729 1:43.700 1:43.270 11
5 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:44.535 1:43.940 1:43.380 12
6 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:45.114 1:44.224 1:43.863 12
7 27 Nico Hulkenberg RENAULT 1:45.280 1:44.988 1:44.982 15
8 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:45.591 1:44.894 1:45.244 14
9 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:45.277 1:45.006 1:45.369 14
10 30 Jolyon Palmer RENAULT 1:45.447 1:44.685 DNS 10

Complete qualifying results available via Formula1.com.

Tomorrow’s race airs live starting at 7:30 Eastern on NBCSN here in the States. Can Hamilton use the momentum of this record-setting pole to get back to his winning ways on the grand old Spa circuit? Or will Vettel spoil those best laid plans and extend his lead in the points? Hope to see you the to find out!

2017 F1 Grand Prix of Hungary — Results & aftermath

Ferrari rules the ‘Ring — Vettel wins from pole, Raikkonen second; Bottas P3 & Hamilton P4 for Mercedes

Ferrari dominated the last race weekend before the long summer break joyfully watching their ace, Sebastian Vettel, manage niggling problems on his car to somehow stay out in front and win the Hungarian Grand Prix from the pole. In a race that was more fascinating from a pit-wall strategy perspective than for actual on-track action, Vettel was able to maintain enough pace to forestall Ferrari team orders that might have forced him to hand the lead over to his teammate Kimi Raikkonen when it seemed like Vettel might not have the speed. But to their credit Ferrari never made that call and despite some sort of steering woes plaguing the 4-time Champion’s chassis, Vettel rewarded the Scuderia’s confidence and gamely guided his SF70H home to earn the top step of the podium. Despite his fears of being overtaken if he wasn’t let by Vettel Raikkonen was easily able to hold off the best efforts of Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton to take P2. And in the end Hamilton did the gentlemanly thing and ceded his third place position back to his Silver Arrows teammate, Valtteri Bottas, who had let the Englishman through earlier in the race to try to hunt down the Prancing Horses when Mercedes did play the team orders card. Hamilton could never manage to catch them despite some nervous moments for Maranello and, coming up short on the last lap, honorably re-payed Bottas by allowing him to finish P3 as the checkered flag flew and slipping back to come home P4. The strong 1-2 result for Ferrari meant that the team closed the deficit to Mercedes to just 39 points in the hunt for the all-important Constructors’ Title. Meanwhile, Vettel also increased his lead over Hamilton 202-188 in the Drivers’ Championship after they had been separated by a single point coming into the weekend. Looking back at their near-perfecr weekend at the tight and twisty Hangaroring Ferrari will be well pleased with the trajectory of their season-long performance improvements going into the break, while Mercedes will know they’ve got work to do to close the gap on other similarly short, tight circuits like upcoming Singapore and Brazil.

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen had a very eventful race on his way home to a solid P5 finish. That good result was somewhat tarnished when he and his senior teammate Daniel Ricciardo came together on the opening lap when Vertsappen locked up into Turn 2 while Ricciardo was on the outside of him. Verstappen’s right front wheel clouted Ricciardo’s radiator pod dealing the Aussie’s car terminal damage in the process and causing a multi-lap Safety Car period. The race stewards deemed Verstappen at fault and handed down a 10-second time penalty but the Dutch wunderkind stayed out extraordinarily long on his starting set of Pirelli Supersoft tires and only pitted for fresh rubber on Lap 42, far later than the other contenders. So even with the 10-second penalty he managed to come out just behind the Merc of Bottas. Despite looking very dangerous on fresher Soft tires, Bottas pushed hard and Vertsappen could never make it past the Finn on a track where passing is at a premium. It was another excellent drive by Verstappen and one has to wonder what might have been without the Ricciardo incident. For certain the team will be talking to their talented young charge about the risk-reward benefit of first lap heroics. Whether Ricciardo and Verstappen will be talking much any more is another story.

F1GPHungary-RedBulls_2017

Further back in the field McLaren had their best day of 2017. Veteran Fernando Alonso, who turned 36 on Saturday, drove aggressively all race long, dicing and scrapping with a car finally fast and reliable enough to compete with the other mid-pack runners. Alonso charged home to a P6 finish, which must have felt like a victory to the team and especially Honda, their beleaguered engine supplier. Alonso’s stablemate Stoffel Vandoorne took the last points paying position with a solid P10 marking the first time this year both McLarens finished in the points. Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz also gave maximum effort on his way to an impressive P7 finish. And the Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon overcame a lackluster qualifying effort to come home P8 and P9 respectively, another terrific points haul for one of F1’s smallest teams.

Top 10 finishers of the Hungarian GP:

POS NO DRIVER CAR LAPS TIME/RETIRED PTS
1 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 70 1:39:46.713 25
2 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 70 +0.908s 18
3 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 70 +12.462s 15
4 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 70 +12.885s 12
5 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 70 +13.276s 10
6 14 Fernando Alonso MCLAREN HONDA 70 +71.223s 8
7 55 Carlos Sainz TORO ROSSO 69 +1 lap 6
8 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 69 +1 lap 4
9 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 69 +1 lap 2
10 2 Stoffel Vandoorne MCLAREN HONDA 69 +1 lap 1

Complete race results available via Formula1.com.

The traditional F1 summer break is now upon us and the next race is a full four weekends away. Hope to see you at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps Circuit in Belgium to kick off the home stretch at the end of August!