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Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

2017 F1 Grand Prix of Spain — Results & aftermath

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

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

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

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

And then Mercedes, which had been caught flat-footed in the season opener that saw Ferrari outsmart them for a Vettel win in Australia, had the strategic coup of the race. With a Virtual Safety Car deployed for McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne’s off on Lap 36, Hamilton was quickly called into the pits for a switch back to soft tires. When Vettel then pitted under normal race conditions on Lap 38 for his mediatory switch to the medium tires, the German came out of the blend line only just in front of Hamilton’s charging Silver Arrow. The two elites of the field were now neck-and-neck for the next few laps, with the Ferrari ace even forcefully shoving Hamilton over and partially off the track to maintain his lead at one point. Meanwhile Hamilton also lost his teammate, as Bottas’ rebuilt engine blew on Lap 40, making the Mercedes team’s decision not to switch to a new one for the race look questionable. But in the here and now that meant it was down to Vettel versus Hamilton for victory in Spain and no one else.

And on Lap 44 of the 66 lap contest, Hamilton finally seized his opportunity, using his faster rubber and DRS down the start/finish straight to easily pass Vettel’s Ferrari. Now the question was whether Hamilton could muscle his car around the demanding Catalunya circuit for 12 more laps on his more rapidly degrading yellow-banded soft tires. That quandary led Vettel and his race engineers to ponder an extra stop for new soft tires of their own but as the laps dwindled it became clear that they had crunched the numbers and didn’t think such a gamble would work. Despite his audible shortness of breath from the extra G-forces that these new 2017 high-downforce, wide-tire cars generate versus last year’s spec, Hamilton was able to extend the life of his tries while still pulling out his advantage over Vettel as both men fought through lapped traffic. In the end, Hamilton crossed the line over 3 seconds to the good after an exhausting but exhilarating battle that saw him start from pole, lose his lead and then claw it all back for the victory with clever pit strategy, a little bit of luck with the Safety Car and determined driving when it really counted. The Briton’s win also sliced Vettel’s Championship lead down to a mere 6 points. The dual between these two titans of the sport is looking like one for the ages and it should go right down make Monaco even more interesting than usual. One thing’s for sure: if the rest of the races are anything like this battle in Barcelona was we are in for a rare treat.

Top 10 finishers at the Spanish Grand Prix:

POS NO DRIVER CAR LAPS TIME/RETIRED PTS
1 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 66 1:35:56.497 25
2 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 66 +3.490s 18
3 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 66 +75.820s 15
4 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 65 +1 lap 12
5 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 65 +1 lap 10
6 27 Nico Hulkenberg RENAULT 65 +1 lap 8
7 55 Carlos Sainz TORO ROSSO 65 +1 lap 6
8 94 Pascal Wehrlein SAUBER FERRARI 65 +1 lap 4
9 26 Daniil Kvyat TORO ROSSO 65 +1 lap 2
10 8 Romain Grosjean HAAS FERRARI 65 +1 lap 1

Complete race results available via Formula1.com.

The next tilt is in two weeks time from the storied Monte Carlo street circuit in Monaco. The perfect appetizer to Memorial Day’s feast of motorsport Monaco is never a Grand Prix to be missed. And with Hamilton versus Vettel heating up as one of the best inter-team rivalries in years, the street fight in the principality could be another pivotal moment in their road to the championship. Hope to see you then!

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2017 F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain — Results & aftermath

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

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

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

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

F1GPBahrain-2017

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

Top 10 finishers at the Bahrain Grand Prix:

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

Complete race results available via Formula1.com.

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

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2017 F1 Grand Prix of China — Results & aftermath

Hamilton back on top in Shanghai, Vettel a close 2nd; Verstappen P3 after another wonder drive in the wet

Mercedes’ hard-charging ace Lewis Hamilton was back to his winning ways at the Shanghai International Circuit dominating the Chinese Grand Prix from pole and taking his first victory of the year. In the new season’s second contest Hamilton avenged his defeat two weeks ago in Australia by driving a masterfully fast and controlled race and keeping all comers in his rearview mirrors. In the end, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was the closest contender on a damp day following up his victory in Melbourne with a solid P2 some 6.25 seconds adrift of the English Mercedes driver. Vettel proved again that the new Prancing Horse will be a force to be reckoned with and a genuine threat to mighty Mercedes’ recent run of unchallenged dominance. The two most talented drivers from the most competitive F1 factory teams are now tied in Championship points and it looks for all the world that we will be treated to a genuine nip-and-tuck year long chase between teams and star pilots to see who comes out on top.

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

As good as Hamilton and Vettel were special mention must be reserved to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. The 19-year-old wunderkind started way back in P16 after mechanical issues ruined his qualifying effort. But just as he put on a passing clinic in the rains of Brazil last year the Dutchman once again excelled in wet conditions in China, making up a ton of positions right after the lights went out to start the race and then carving his way through tougher traffic. After hustling and dicing with essentially all the top contenders including both Ferraris and Hamilton’s Mercedes, Verstappen found himself dueling with his teammate Daniel Ricciardo for the last podium place as the laps wound down. Despite the more experienced Aussie’s pressure tactics and his keen desire to repay his junior partners exception earlier pass on him Verstappen held on for P3, another amazing drive in this talented kid’s growing legend. For Ricciardo the disappointment over missing out on a podium must have been eclipsed by his strong P4 finish and ability to contend with the best drivers in the field after an utterly miserable DNF at his home Grand Prix in Australia a fortnight ago. It should be interesting, however, to see if Red Bull can replicate these strong performances in the perfectly dry conditions that as we are sure to have in Bahrain next weekend, as their Renault power plant still seems down on pure power.

F1GPfChina_2017-RedBull

Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen was again not quite up to speed and complained throughout the race about lack of torque. Unable to stick with the elite pack and bested by Vettel for a second race weekend the Iceman settled for a P5 finish. Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas also had a disappointing day with an inexplicable spin behind the safety car early on costing the Finn big time. Bottas was able to recover somewhat but came home back in P6, a big letdown after qualifying P3. Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz was the only driver to take the big gamble to start on slicks starting the race and with a poor opening lap that saw him lose control several times it looked like a huge mistake. But with no more rain falling and the track drying relatively quickly the Spaniard hung on and was somewhat vindicated, eventually coming home a very solid P7. Haas’ Kevin Magnussen put on an impressive drive displaying impressive passing skills to score the American team’s first points of the season by taking P8 well ahead of his more heralded stablemate Romain Grosjean, who could not overcome his poor starting position and missed out on points at P11. The two Force India’s of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon rounded out the Top 10 by finishing P9 and P10 respectively, a particulary good drive from the young Frenchman Ocon who started dead last from 20th on the grid.

Top 10 finishers in the Chinese Grand Prix:

POS NO DRIVER CAR LAPS TIME/RETIRED PTS
1 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 56 1:37:36.158 25
2 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 56 +6.250s 18
3 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 56 +45.192s 15
4 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 56 +46.035s 12
5 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 56 +48.076s 10
6 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 56 +48.808s 8
7 55 Carlos Sainz TORO ROSSO 56 +72.893s 6
8 20 Kevin Magnussen HAAS FERRARI 55 +1 lap 4
9 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 55 +1 lap 2
10 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 55 +1 lap 1

Complete race results available via Formula1.com.

Other race notes: Williams had a terrible weekend and scored no points, once again seeming to lack enough downforce to compete at such a twisty track in such cool conditions. Canadian rookie Lance Stroll was out on Lap 1 after a collision with Perez beached him the gravel and Felipe Massa was easy prey for several mid-pack teams when he simply could not get enough heat in his tires. The veteran Brazilian finished P13 despite qualifying 7th. Honda-powered McLaren also had an awful day despite good pace by Fernando Alonso, as they saw both their cars DNF again for the second race in a row. But perhaps the worst weekend belonged to stand -in rookie Sauber driver Antonio Giovinazzi, who crashed heavily on Lap 4 entering the start-finish straight away in an almost identical fashion to his shunt in Saturday qualifying. It must have been a real punch in the gut for the financially struggling Sauber team after working hard to get the car race ready in the first place and Giovinazzi did his F1 career no favors with his nightmare weekend in Shanghai.

The next race is in but one week’s time as the teams hustle off to ultra-dry Bahrain. It should be quite a contrast from rainy China and with the score 1-1 between Hamilton and Vettel and Mercedes and Ferrari you know the battle for supremacy is only going to get hotter in the desert. Hope to see you then!