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2017 F1 Grand Prix of Azerbaijan — Results & aftermath

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

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

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 10 finishers of the Azerbaijan GP:

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

Complete race results available via Formula1.com.

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

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2017 F1 Grand Prix of Azerbaijan — Qualifying results

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

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

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

Top 10 qualifiers for the Azerbaijan GP:

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

Complete qualifying results available via Formula1.com.

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

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2017 F1 Grand Prix of Canada — Results & aftermath

Mercedes’ Hamilton returns to form with dominant win in Montreal, teammate Bottas P2; Ricciardo takes P3 for Red Bull, Vettel a valiant P4 for Ferrari

The Canadian Grand Prix nearly always seems to be the tonic Lewis Hamilton needs to get back to his winning ways. And two weeks after his disappointing 7th place finish in Monaco the Mercedes ace dominated this race yet again, running away from the field after a terrific start from the pole. Leaving all pursuers in his wake at the place where he won his very first F1 race in 2007, Hamilton romped to his remarkable sixth career victory at the beautiful parkland course on the Ille Notre Dame in Montreal. There are some tracks that simply suit certain drivers and Hamilton has repeatedly proven that Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is his personal playground. With his teammate Valtteri Bottas finishing a distant second place some 20 seconds behind it was an all round excellent day for the Mercedes factory team but an even better one for Hamilton and his championship aspirations.

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Not only was Hamilton dominant but the expected dual with his nemesis, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, never materialized. While the German points leader started from P2 on the grid and looked for all the world like he had the pace to battle Hamilton for the win he got away slowly and was tagged at the very first turn by the overtaking Red Bull of Max Verstappen. That clout damaged his Ferrari’s front wing. But when a safety car was deployed on that opening lap due to the spinning Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz collecting the Williams of an unlucky Felipe Massa neither Vettel or the team noticed the damage. By the time they did and called Vettel into the pits for a wing change the safety car period was over and cars were back circulating at race pace. That cost Vettel a ton of track position and when he rejoined he was back at the tail of the field in P18. Nevertheless, with some patient but forceful driving and clever pit strategy to switch to two stops for tires instead of only one, Vettel worked his Prancing Horse back through the field and into contention for a potential podium. While that huge task eluded him he was able to overtake the dicing Force India’s of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon due to his relatively fresh Ultra Soft tires, locking up a valuable P4 at the checkered flag. So though Hamilton trimmed the points lead back down to just 12 with his win it was still a good day of damage control for Vettel. However, with the Mercedes one-two Ferrari lost their lead in the Constructors’ battle and now find themselves 8 points behind the Silver Arrows.

The Scuderia was not helped by Kimi Raikkonen’s subpar performance. After also getting away slowly at the start and losing positions from his P4 grid spot, Raikkonen’s attempt to battle back into contention was thwarted late in the race by incurable break issues that forced the Iceman to back off on his pace. Running in conservation mode Raikkonen could do no better than P7. Ferrari’s misfortune was Daniel Ricciardo’s opportunity, as the senior Red Bull driver took advantage of a good start to ward off all comers and secure P3, his second consecutive podium. But all was not well for Red Bull because Ricciardo’s teammate Max Verstappen did not complete the race. Despite a lightning getaway and surviving the early contact with Vettel, the Dutch wunderkind’s troubled 2017 season continued when his car lost a battery on Lap 11 and he was forced to retire. Versttappen has now retired in three out of seven races to start the year and has only one podium so far, a P3 in China. With Red Bull’s woes and third-best status in the paddock it is distinctly possible that the talented youngster will be looking to jump to a team with greater reliability and performance next year so he can fulfill what everybody believes is his championship potential.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Canadian Grand Prix - Race Day - Montreal, Canada

What should have been a banner day for overachieving Force India was marred somewhat by internal team dissension. While Sergio Perez finished P5 and Esteban Ocon came home P6, an extremely valuable trove of points for the little squad, it seemed that for want of a little more cooperation between their drivers they could have done even better. With Ocon running faster times on fresher rubber due to pitting after Perez the young Frenchman had the pace and potential to take the fight to Ricciardo and perhaps onto the podium. Perez refused to yield his position pleading with his team to let him be the one to attack Ricciardo. But lap after lap Perez failed to get by Ricciardo while Ocon was stuck behind Perez as his tire advantage dissipated. And that enabled Vettel to pip both of them for P4 in the final laps. So while in other races Force India would be giddy with a 5-6 finish, in Canada it felt a bit like they had left points on the table.  It also remains to be seen how the two previously friendly teammates deal with Perez’s stubbornness. Ocon was certainly disappointed at not having the chance to fight for a podium during the narrow window when he had the pace in his tires to do so.

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Nico Hulkenberg had another solid run for the Renault factory team finishing in P8. And after his teammate Massa crashed out on the opening lap, young Canadian Lance Stroll flew the flag for Team Williams in his home Grand Prix scoring his first F1 points in his seventh career race with a well driven P9. After a poor start to his F1 career the 18-year-old sorely needed a good result and scoring points in front of his ecstatic countrymen should give Stroll the confidence boost all drivers require to succeed. Finally, Haas’ Romain Grosjean managed to survive the Sainz-induced opening lap shunt and, despite an early pit stop for repairs, managed to grab the last points paying position in P10.

Top 10 finishers at the Canadian GP:

POS NO DRIVER CAR LAPS TIME/RETIRED PTS
1 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 70 1:33:05.154 25
2 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 70 +19.783s 18
3 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 70 +35.297s 15
4 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 70 +35.907s 12
5 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 70 +40.476s 10
6 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 70 +40.716s 8
7 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 70 +58.632s 6
8 27 Nico Hulkenberg RENAULT 70 +60.374s 4
9 18 Lance Stroll WILLIAMS MERCEDES 69 +1 lap 2
10 8 Romain Grosjean HAAS FERRARI 69 +1 lap 1

Complete race results available via Formula1.com.

The next race is in two weeks time with the second running of the cool Baku City Circuit in Azerbaijan. With the fight between Vettel and Hamilton and Mercedes and Ferrari tight as a tick every race takes on major significance, so best not to miss any of them. Hope to see you then!

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2017 F1 Grand Prix of Canada — Qualifying results

Hamilton blisters track record to score pole in Montreal but Vettel right behind in P2; Bottas P3

Mercedes ace Lewis Hamilton set the all-time fastest lap on the ultra-quick and treacherous Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve on Saturday logging a blistering 1:11:459 on Illes Notre Dame in Montreal, Canada and besting his closest pursuer, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, by 3-tenths of a second. Desperate to make amends for his subpar Monaco qualifying performance, which saw him bounced in Q2 en route to a damaging P7 finish, Hamilton’s superb effort gave him his 65th career pole. That tied the Englishman with his personal hero, Ayrton Senna, and after the session was over the Senna family presented him with a period official publicity helmet from the late F1 legend with a promise of an actual race worn version to come. Hamilton was visibly moved by the gracious gesture and it should give him even more motivation to run to victory come Sunday on a track where he has often dominated and where he has 5 career wins, including his first ever top step in F1 back in 2007 when he was a rookie with McLaren.

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

But as dominant as Hamilton’s Mercedes was Ferrari and Vettel must be well pleased to have ended up so very close to the lead Merc. The Monaco winner and points leader slotted in at P2 with the only other time below 1:12 and it will be all to play for when the lights go out so look for some fierce dicing between these ultra-competitive pilots, as well as key strategic decisions between the two mega-factory teams. Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valterri Bottas was just a bit behind the elite duo in P3, while Vettel’s wingman Kimi Raikkonen, still stewing over a potential Monaco win that he failed to convert from pole, took P4. The start of the tomorrow’s race with those mixed Silver and Red front two rows should be very interesting indeed.

The Red Bulls were once again the best of the rest, with Max Verstappen laying down a time good enough for fifth on the grid and Daniel Ricciardo following up his excellent Monaco podium with a P6 start. Felipe Massa showed one again that the Williams is suited to tracks with long straights and nabbed a P7 starting spot, while Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon both showed  good pace for Force India with laps good enough for P8 and P9 on the grid respectively. Renault’s excellent Nico Hulkenberg gave a good effort to get into Q3 and will start P10.

Top 10 Qualifiers for the Canadian Grand Prix:

POS NO DRIVER CAR Q1 Q2 Q3 LAPS
1 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:12.692 1:12.496 1:11.459 21
2 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 1:13.046 1:12.749 1:11.789 21
3 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 1:12.685 1:12.563 1:12.177 20
4 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 1:13.548 1:12.580 1:12.252 23
5 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:13.177 1:12.751 1:12.403 26
6 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:13.543 1:12.810 1:12.557 28
7 19 Felipe Massa WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:13.435 1:13.012 1:12.858 27
8 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:13.470 1:13.262 1:13.018 22
9 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:13.520 1:13.320 1:13.135 22
10 27 Nico Hulkenberg RENAULT 1:13.804 1:13.406 1:13.271 24

Complete qualifying results available via Formula1.com.

Tomorrow’s race airs on NBC proper live starting at 2PM Eastern here in the States. With Hamilton and Vettel nice and tuck and the Mercedes-Ferrari dual as close as possible it’ll be game on in Montreal to see who bag glory and the most points out of this demanding and fast race. Hope to see you then!

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2017 F1 Grand Prix of Monaco — Results & aftermath

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

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

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

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

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

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2017 F1 Grand Prix of Spain — Qualifying results

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

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

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

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

Top 10 qualifiers for the Spanish Grand Prix:

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

Complete qualifying results available via Formula1.com.

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

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2017 F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain — Qualifying results

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

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

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

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

Top 10 qualifiers for the Bahrain Grand Prix:

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

Complete qualifying results available via Formula1.com.

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

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2016 F1 Grand Prix of Mexico — Results & aftermath

Hamilton dominates in Mexico for second win on the trot, Rosberg drives spirited race to secure P2; Ricciardo declared P3 after both Verstappen & Vettel demoted

Lewis Hamilton continued to do the only thing he can do to keep his Championship aspirations alive and the heat on his points-leading Mercedes teammate Nico Roseberg: just win, baby. After dominating last weekend in Austin, Texas at the US Grand Prix, Hamilton continued showing untouchable pace in the thin air of Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City. Starting from pole, the English contender and current two-time consecutive World Champ seems to have put his chronic starting woes well and truly behind him and blazed off the line cleanly. Despite Hamilton’s locking up and running off course briefly, Rosberg was still unable to match Hamilton’s acceleration, probably because the German was duking it out for positions with the two aggressive Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo. But even though Rosberg had every incentive to drive conservatively and perhaps live to fight another day he banged wheels with Verstappen rather than cede second to the precocious Dutchman.

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Careening off and then back onto the track ahead of Verstappenan after the contact, it could have been argued that Rosberg gained an unfair advantage but the stewards ruled no action was warranted. So Rosberg’s decision to fight it out paid off and, as it has more than once this season after contact, he managed to escape any significant damage that might have compromised his race. Despite an early Safety Car period that scrambled the contenders’ tire strategies somewhat, the two Mercedes did what they have done 6 times this season: take another dominant 1-2. Hamilton was never really challenged for the victory, his 51st in F1 overall tying Alain Prost for second all-time. And while Rosberg again had to fight off Verstappen again on Lap 49 to secure second, the day still played to Rosberg’s undoubted advantage. With only two contests remaining in 2016 the 31-year-old German leads by 19 points over his bitter rival in the quest for his first Drivers’ Championship. Even if Hamilton takes the final two victories it will require failure from Rosberg or his car to overhaul him. And with the now-impressive combination of skill and determination that Rosberg has more often than not displayed this year, as well as more than a touch of necessary good fortune, it’s hard to see that happening no matter Lewis’ supreme talent.

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Despite being the only real challengers to Mercedes dominance in Mexico the day did not quite play out according to script for team Red Bull. Continue reading

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2016 F1 Grand Prix of Mexico — Qualifying results

Surging Hamilton grabs another pole, Rosberg salvages P2 in dying seconds of quali; Verstappen fast enough for 3rd on grid

After dominating all race weekend in Austin last week en route to a commanding win, Mercedes ace Lewis Hamilton showed yet again that he is not ready to concede the title belt to his teammate, archival and current points leader Nico Rosberg. Displaying his typical grit and determination, Hamilton once again comprehensively out-qulaified the entire F1 field to grab pole in Mexico City and give himself the best possible chance to not only take victory in Sunday’s Mexican GP but also keep his hopes of a third consecutive title alive in the face of dwindling races and odds. The Englishman bested Roseberg for the second weekend in a row and for a while it looked like the German contender might actually be pushed back to the second row in P4. But Rosberg dug deep in the dying seconds of Q3 and vaulted himself over the very competitive Red Bulls and up to P2, albeit a quarter of a second behind the man who has what he desperately wants. But Rosberg knows that if he can just keep finishing on the podium he can run out the clock no matter how many victories Hamilton claims in these last 3 races. In fact, if Rosberg should somehow win tomorrow and Hamilton stumbles to a sub-tenth place finish the Championship will be mathematically decided in the German’s favor.

Despite the Red Bulls looking very pacy at the high altitude, low drag Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez track all weekend long, they ware foiled by Rosberg’s last-second surge. Wunderkind Max Verstappen was still good enough for P3 and his senior teammate Daniel Ricciardo took P4 on the grid. Nico Hulkenberg was surprisingly fast for Force India and turned in a Q3 lap that earned him an impressive P5 for tomorrow’s race, while Kimi Raikkonen out-qualified his more decorated Ferrari teammate, Sebastian Vettel, P6 to P7. However sitting behind a Force India is not exactly where the Scuderia envisioned themselves on race day.  The two Williams managed to hoist themselves into the top 10 starters’ group after looking like dangerously dropping out in Q2 — Valtteri Bottas will start P8 and the retiring veteran Felipe Massa will occupy P9 on the grid. Following a strong P6 finish for the generally underwhelming Toro Rosso chassis at COTA last weekend, Carlos Sainz again showed improving skill and pace in a mediocre car and will start from P10.

Top 10 qualifiers for the Mexican GP:

POS NO DRIVER CAR Q1 Q2 Q3 LAPS
1 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:19.447 1:19.137 1:18.704 18
2 6 Nico Rosberg MERCEDES 1:19.996 1:19.761 1:18.958 22
3 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:19.874 1:18.972 1:19.054 14
4 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:19.713 1:19.553 1:19.133 15
5 27 Nico Hulkenberg FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:20.599 1:19.769 1:19.330 22
6 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 1:19.554 1:19.936 1:19.376 21
7 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 1:19.865 1:19.385 1:19.381 17
8 77 Valtteri Bottas WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:20.338 1:19.958 1:19.551 20
9 19 Felipe Massa WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:20.423 1:20.151 1:20.032 19
10 55 Carlos Sainz TORO ROSSO FERRARI 1:20.457 1:20.169 1:20.378 24

Complete qualifying results available via Formula1.com.

Tomorrow’s race airs live on NBC starting at 3PM Eastern. With an ultra-fast circuit and a rabid fan base down Mexico way it should be a heated contest full of energy and excitement — just the kind of venue that a hard charger like Hamilton enjoys in his quest to come from behind and put the pressure back on Rosberg to defend his title aspirations. Hope to see you then to find out how it all shakes out!

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2016 F1 Grand Prix of Malaysia — Results & aftermath

Red Bull 1-2 in Malaysia — Ricciardo wins & Verstappen places; Hamilton undone by late engine failure, Rosberg fights back for P3

After a string of poor results things finally seemed to be going all Lewis Hamilton’s way this race weekend at the Sepang Circuit in Kuala Lumpur. The Mercedes’ driver was the fastest in two out of three practice sessions and then set a blistering lap for pole in Saturday qualifying. Hamilton even made a clean getaway with no hint of the clutch-bite problems that have plagued his starts recently. Better yet, his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg was tagged by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel early in the opening lap, spinning the German points leader and dropping him down through the field. After that Hamilton sped away and controlled the race from the front with only the two Red Bulls of Max Verstappen & Daniel Ricciardo giving even token pursuit. He appeared on his way to a sure victory.

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

Pics courtesy GrandPrix247.com

But on Lap 41 Hamilton’s luck ran out. Out of nowhere his nearly new Mercedes engine gave up the ghost, coughing out flame and fluid and bringing his usually impervious Silver Arrow to an abrupt stop. As the Englishman held his head in disbelief, his mechanical misfortune gifted the race lead to the twin Red Bulls, with Ricciardo having assumed the dominant position after a side-by-side dice with his precocious junior teammate, Verstappen. Meanwhile, Rosberg’s chassis had survived not only the opening lap belt by Vettel but also a rash challenge into the side of the other Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, earning Rosberg a 10-second time penalty for avoidable contact. Nonetheless, through dint of good fortune and persistence, Rosberg not only fought his way through the field lap after lap at this most sweltering of tracks but pushed clear enough of Raikkonen at the death to negate his penalty. In the end, it was Ricciardo’s victory, the affable Aussie’s first in two years, with Verstappen falling in line after the earlier challenges for an obedient P2. Rosberg came home a remarkable and oh-so-valuable P3 after what could only be described as a Hamilton-esque drive back from adversity. Meanwhile, the man himself could only rue his ill fortune and vent his spleen at such a flukey mechanical failure. Hamilton scored zero points with his DNF after looking like a sure winner and saw his deficit to Rosberg balloon to 23 points. With only 5 contests left in 2016, Hamilton’s task is daunting but not impossible. He can only be hoping that the reliability gods switch sides and bite Rosberg next time.

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All credit to Red Bull despite the somewhat gift-like nature of the win. Since about the first quarter of the season the team have made tremendous improvements to the car and bringing Verstappen over from the junior Toro Rosso team now looks like a stroke of genius. Verstappen’s unbridled ferocity and ambition have pushed Ricciardo to up his game and after coming up just short in Singapore two weeks ago, the talented Australian is showing once again why he is so highly regarded in the paddock. The 1-2 in Malaysia was Red Bull’s first in three years, the amazing Vettel-Mark Webber salad days, and the massive points haul put them 46 points up on Ferrari for second in the all-important Constructors’ standings. With a lot of hard work and clever in-season development, as well as wringing ever more power out of the much-maligned Renault engine, it is Red Bull that have put themselves firmly in position to capitalize on days when things go wrong for Mercedes.

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And that has been at the expense of Ferrari. It was another disastrous day for the Scuderia and another early lap exit for their putative team leader Vettel, as the damage on the front suspension after his first lap clout into Rosberg was instantly terminal. That left it once again in the hands of Raikkonen to fly the colors for Ferrari and the veteran Finn did the best he could to come home P4. Ever since he re-signed with the team, Raikkonen has driven steadily and with poise, salvaging good points and keeping the car out of trouble while his much vaunted teammate has frankly had an erratic campaign. Perhaps the pressure from Maranello has gotten into Vettel’s head somewhat because he has not always been the icy cold killer that he was when he was winning four consecutive titles. On the contrary, the German has often been impetuous and sometimes unlucky, getting caught up in shunts on track that are sometimes his fault and sometimes not. It all points to overdriving a car that has not developed as Ferrari had hoped and has waned as Red Bull has waxed ascendent. While Raikkonen seems to drive within himself, fighting when necessary but bringing the car home safely and in the points, Vettel seems to be trying to manufacture performance from the SF16-H that simply isn’t there. At this late date in the season Ferrari just look like the third best team in F1 and sometimes one has to accept the results. Obviously the team will keep fighting until the end but there’s a fine line between valiant and desperate and Vettel appears to be on the wrong side of that line all too often this year.

Williams got a decent and much-needed result when Valtteri Bottas drove very well to take P5. But after being shutout in Singapore all was still not terrific for the team. Felipe Massa had a disastrous day when his car wouldn’t fire on the reconnaissance lap and then suffered further misfortune after starting from the pits with an early puncture. Needless to say Massa did not finish in the points so Williams’ disappointing season continues. On the flip side, Force India continued to impress with Sergio Perez coming home P6 and Nico Hulkenberg P8, a strong points haul that kept the little team just ahead of mighty Williams for fourth in the Constructors’. Adding further cause for optimism, Force India announced that it had re-signed Sergio Perez for next year, adding welcome stability to the team by holding on to the talented Mexican driver alongside the very good German ace Hulkenberg for much-needed consistency in their driver line-up.

McLaren also had an encouraging day with Fernando Alonso good enough for P7 and Jenson Button finishing P9 in his 300th Fomrula 1 start. That puts Button third all-time amongst divers and sets the Honda-powered team up nicely for next weekend in Japan at the Honda-owned Suzuka circuit. You know McLaren will be wanting a strong showing there at their engine suppliers’ home court, as will Button at what looks to be his final Japanese GP. And after an up and down weekend Jolyon Palmer had a wonderful end to it all with a surprise P10 for beleaguered team Renault. Utilizing a bold one-stop strategy, Palmer drove beautifully, managing his tires until the end and taking the last points-paying position. After suffering a fuel fire on the sister car in Friday practice the team did yeoman’s work to get that Kevin Magnusson chassis ready for quali. And while Magnusson did not finish on Sunday, Palmer’s point seems a just reward for the entirety of the Renault team’s hard efforts this weekend, so kudos to them.

Top 10 finishers in Malaysia:

POS NO DRIVER CAR LAPS TIME/RETIRED PTS
1 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 56 1:37:12.776 25
2 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 56 +2.443s 18
3 6 Nico Rosberg MERCEDES 56 +25.516s 15
4 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 56 +28.785s 12
5 77 Valtteri Bottas WILLIAMS MERCEDES 56 +61.582s 10
6 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 56 +63.794s 8
7 14 Fernando Alonso MCLAREN HONDA 56 +65.205s 6
8 27 Nico Hulkenberg FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 56 +74.062s 4
9 22 Jenson Button MCLAREN HONDA 56 +81.816s 2
10 30 Jolyon Palmer RENAULT 56 +95.466s 1

Complete race results available via Formula1.com.

The next race is but a week away from the storied Suzuka course in Japan. Can Hamilton get back on track and cut Rosberg’s lead back down to a manageable size? Will Red Bull continue to thrive on Mercedes’ misfortune? Hope to see you then to find out!