Bottas claims pole in Austria ahead of Vettel; Raikonnen to start P3 due to Hamilton penalty
Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas claimed pole at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria on Saturday, outpacing Ferrai’s Sebastian Vettel by .04 seconds in a truncated Q3. When Romain Grosjean’s Haas came to a halt in Sector 2 and brought out the yellow flag with time running out in that third qualifying session no other drivers had the opportunity to better Bottas’ fast time. That included his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton, who slotted in third fastest but was levied a 5-spot grid penalty for a pre-quali gearbox change and will therefore be pushed back to P8 on the grid. That is a blow to Hamilton’s aspirations of overhauling Vettel in the Dirvers’ standings, something he desperately wants to do after Vettel’s out-of-control antics two weeks ago in Azerbaijan. But the Englishman will be the only driver in the top 10 starting on the harder Supersoft Pirelli tires come race day so he and the team should have some strategic cards to play to help push his Silver Arrow back up to the sharp end of the field.
Vettel’s Ferrari stablemate Kimi Raikkonen was fourth quickest and moves up to P3 on the grid after Hamilton’s penalty. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo also gained a spot and will now start P4, as did his teammate Max Verstappen who will now start from P5. Grosjean was boosted to P6 on the grid despite his car conking out late in Q3.But with Grosjean’s teammate Kevin Magnussen suffering a suspension failure during Q1 Team Haas may have some reliability concerns that could come back to bite them in the race at this rigorous, high-curbed circuit.
Rounding out the Top 10, Sergio Perez was Hamilton’s last beneficiary and is bumped up to P7 while his increasingly estranged teammate Esteban Ocon starts P9. Carlos Sainz will start from 10th on the grid for Toro Rosso. Neither McLaren, Williams or Renault could get a car into Q3 so look for a mad scramble from the midfield as those drivers desperately try to make up ground and get into the points paying positions.
Tomorrow’s race pre-coverage begins at 7:30 AM Eastern and will air live on CNBC here in the States. Watching Hamilton try and force his way to the front to do battle with Vettel, his fierce Ferrari rival, should be worth the price of admission. Hope to see you then!
Ferrari & Vettel victorious in Monte Carlo, Raikonnen ; Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo P3 to keep Mercedes off the podium
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel jumped his pole-sitting teammate Kimi Raikkonen for the victory on Sunday at the legendary Monte Carlo street circuit for the team’s first Monaco GP win since 2001. While suspicious minds contemplated possible secret Scuderia team orders, Vettel was the faster driver and was able to extend the life of his preferred Ultrasoft Pirelli rubber, banking 6 valuable fast laps and pulling out a lead greater than the pit stop delta after Raikonnen had already pitted. Vettel therefore emerged in front of Raikkonen on pit out on Lap 40 and with passing at such a premium in the tight street circuit and the bit between the 4-time World Champ’s teeth the victory was formality. In the end and, as has been the case throughout this season, Vettel simply outperformed Raikkonen, who still finished a solid if disappointing for him P2. For Ferrari, it was a fantastic points scoring day made even better by the fact that their main rivals for the Constructors’ Title, mighty Mercedes, were kept off the podium. The Prancing Horse had been stymied at the principality since the legendary Michael Schumacher’s win in 2001, and it was also the team’s first 1-2 here since 1999 when Schumacher also won and his teammate Rubens Barrichelo was P2. On a more somber note, the 2017 Monaco GP also marked 50 years since the death of the well-liked Ferrari driver Lorenzo Bandini in a fiery crash in 1967 at the very same race.
Mercedes’ had issues all weekend long and were doomed by an uncharacteristically poor qualifying effort from Lewis Hamilton that saw the British contender forced to start from way back in P13. His Silver Arrows teammate Valtteri Bottas qualified P3 but faltered to lose a position in the race and came home P4. And while Hamilton battled back all day long, running a very long stint on his first set of tires and eventually working his way up to a hard-earned P7 finish, both the team and drivers took serious points hits. Meredes now trails Ferrari by 17 points in the Constructors’, while Hamilton saw his deficit to Vettel balloon to 25 points. Bottas still leads his countryman Raikkonen for third but now only by 8 points. While all their woes could have come down to the long wheel base of their F1 W08 chassis’ particular unsuitability to the low speed twists and turns of Monte Carlo, Mercedes’ inability to stick closer to Ferrari in this one race could come back to haunt them at season’s end. It must also be of concern to Toto Wolff, Niki Lauda and the rest of the Merc brain trust how their car will perform down the road at a track like Singapore, a place where they have often struggled even when more dominant than they are now and where rotation of the car in tight turns is nearly as paramount as at Monaco.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo capitalized on Mercedes’ woes and drove a superb race to pip Bottas for the last step on the podium. A year after his team blew what seemed a sure win for the affable Aussie, Red Bull made amends to Ricciardo by running him longer his first set of tires, the preferred Ultrasfofts. And much like Vettel, that enabled him to jump his higher qualifying and earlier pitting teammate Max Verstappen when the time finally came for his pit stop. Continue reading →
The first race back from the summer break was marked by clashes, shunts and remarkable performances in Belgium. Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg had a flawless drive from pole, making a speedy getaway, getting the most out of his tires for long stints and leaving the drama in the rest of the field far behind. In the end it led to a dominant victory at the historic Spa-Francorchamps track on Sunday. But while Rosberg was untouchable in the win he still must have been slightly unnerved seeing his teammate and archival Lewis Hamilton charge through the field and astonishingly come home P3. Hamilton started from the back of the grid after the team made multiple strategic engine changes and somehow willed his way to the podium, limiting Rosberg’s gains on the day. If there was a thought bubble above Rosberg’s head as he looked at Hamilton during the podium ceremonies it probably read: “What the hell are you doing up here?” For surely in his heart of hearts the German contender was expecting — and hoping — that Hamilton would finish out of the points completely and that he, Rosberg, would re-take the championship lead. Instead, despite his perfect day in the Ardennes, Hamilton’s scrappy effort insured that Rosberg remained behind him by 9 points as the two head into next weekend’s tussle at Monza, where they will once again be fighting on even terms. As has been said more than once before, if you want some serious passing done in Formula 1 better call Lewis Hamilton. And if you want to beat Hamilton in the championship you better keep him out of the points on those rare days when all the cards seem to be stacked against him.
All due credit to the English defending champion but Hamilton was also helped by a lengthy Red Flag period that bunched up the field and neutralized a lot of potential tire strategy with free changes available in the pits (as an aside, it is truly a ridiculous rule that tires can be changed in the pits during Red Flag periods in F1 — absolutely incomprehensible for race that has been “frozen”). The stoppage came when Ranault’s Kevin Magnussen suffered a prototypical Spa crash on Lap 7 when he lost control at high speed coming to the top of the big uphill sweeping left-hander Eau Rouge and smashed into the tire barriers. Though it looked nasty, Magnusson suffered only a minor ankle injury and was able to limp away with help from the medical crew. But the tire wall he speared into was badly damaged by the fierce impact and required 17 minutes worth of significant repairs. It capped a hectic opening stanza to the race featuring multiple collisions and retirements but after the Red Flag period the contest would settle down somewhat.
The Grand Prix got off to that contentious start when Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s wunderkind Max Verstappen all came together trying to squeeze through Turn 1, damaging all of their cars to some degree in the process. But the Red Flag period also wound up helping that combative trio when they were able to recover valuable track position after time-consuming repairs to front wings and under trays that should have destroyed all their races. While the two Ferraris got quickly back up to speed, Verstappen could never seem to recover his poise after that early incident where he felt hard done by. And while he diced and made life difficult for both Prancing Horses to the point of dangerous blocking maneuvers, they were able to overtake him eventually and score at least some points to salvage what had looked to be a dismal day in Belgium for the Scuderia. In the end, Vettel finished P6 and Raikkonen came home P9, which is something but maybe not enough to forestall major shakeups at Maranello. Verstappen, meanwhile, finished out of the points in P11 and with his erratic performance in front of huge crowd boosted by many of his enthusiastic Dutch countrymen (he also claims Belgian heritage) it seemed like the sheer moment of the occasion got to him. On days like yesterday it’s worth remembering that while Verstappen shows all the signs of being a super talented prodigy he is still just 18-years-old. At the intense Spa circuit and under the weight of so much expectation that lack of maturity seemed to cost him.
But all was not lost for resurgent Red Bull, as their senior driver Daniel Ricciardo drove a beautiful race, keeping his nose clean and maximizing his car’s greatly improved pace to come home P2 after starting from 5th on the grid. The Aussie was all smiles after the race and his ebullient spirit seems to have reemerged in full after a bit of a down period post-Monaco, where his team fumbled away what appeared to be a certain victory. The fact that Red Bull are now 22 points up on Ferrari for second in the Constructors’ standings and that it was also his third podium in a row couldn’t be hurting Ricciardo’s mood either. Also all smiles were the Force India duo of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez, who came home P4 and P5 respectively. While Hulkenberg may have been slightly disappointed that he couldn’t score his first career podium in F1, The Little Team That Could saw their drivers’ excellent efforts vault them ahead of mighty Williams for 4th in the incredibly lucrative Constructors’ standings.
And speaking of bettering Team Williams, Fernando Alonso did just that in his at long last improving McLaren, besting a game Valtteri Bottas P7 to P8. It was fine finish for the Spaniard, who also started at the back of the pack due to penalties, and the McLaren team as a whole. One has to wonder what might have been had Jenson Button, starting from P9 on the grid, not been punted out of the race early on by Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein. Bottas’ teammate Felipe Massa took the last points paying position with P10 but all in all it was forgettable weekend for Williams, where their chassis’ continued lack of downforce proved too big a challenge to overcome at this long, fast but also twisty all-time great circuit.
The next race is but a week away and it’s at yet another historical European track — the very fast, very storied Monza Autodromo in Italy. It’s Ferrari’s home circuit but the fight for victory should end up being between the evenly matched Silver Arrows of Hamilton and Rosberg. With only eight more contests to go each race becomes more and more important in determining 2016’s champion and every little twist and turn takes on added significance — hope to see you then!