Kimi Räikkönen & Sebastian Vettel

Kimi Räikkönen & Sebastian Vettel

sunnuntai 12. lokakuuta 2014

Russian GP: Hamilton cruised to victory!

Before the inaugural Russian GP got underway there was a touching moment when all the F1 drivers gathered in the start line and formed a circle to express their support for Jules Bianchi, who was seriously injured last Sunday. It was a great moment of solidarity and unity. That moment naturally vanished when the lights went out and they were all racing each other.

The start was thrilling. Rosberg tried to get past his team-mate already in the first corner but he locked up his front tyres and went off track. The German managed to stay ahead of Hamilton but he had to give the position back to the Briton as Rosberg had gained advantage when cutting the corner. Locking up the tyres lead to a flat spot, which caused a lot of vibration and Rosberg had to pit already on the second lap! Rosberg switched to the white-marked medium tyres and he intended to go till the end with that set of tyres. However, Rosberg dropped down to P20. Bottas on the other hand, managed to maintain his 3rd place at the start and he could almost match Hamilton´s pace.

The big-name fallers at the start were Red Bull´s Ricciardo and Ferrari´s Kimi Räikkönen. Ricciardo dropped down behind his team-mate Vettel and Kimi lost three positions ending up in P11. Toro Rosso´s Kvyat also got a poor start from P5 and lost many positions on the opening laps. Alonso on the other hand took a stunning start and made his way up to P4. Ricciardo was called to the pits already on lap 11 for a fresh set of medium tyres. So Hamilton was leading the race with Bottas 2nd, Button 3rd and Alonso 4th. Rosberg was making his way through the field slowly but consistently.

As the tyre degradation was so low most drivers had a one-stop strategy. Bottas pitted in the halfway point of the race as his lap times started to get slower. The Finn rejoined the track right ahead of Rosberg who had pitted already on the second lap of the race. Rosberg´s overtaking move on Bottas looked easy although Bottas had quite decent pace. But somehow Rosberg managed to surprise the Finn and the Williams driver had no chance to defend his position. So it was double lead for the Mercedes duo again! At this stage I was sure that Rosberg would have to pit for a second time. I thought there was no way the tyres could last for over 50 laps!

By lap 38 Sauber´s Gutierrez in P9 still hadn´t pitted. Kimi put pressure on the Mexican and managed to overtake the Sauber driver. It was great to see that overtaking wasn´t completely impossible although Ferrari were clearly lacking straight line speed. In the Russian GP there was no need to save tyres but on the Russian soil fuel management played a major role. Force India´s Perez was told on the team radio that his fuel consumption was critical and the Mexican had to slow down to save fuel.

When there were 10 laps to go Hamilton had a 19-second lead over his team-mate, who had a 5-secong gap to Bottas in P3. At this time I was convinced that Bottas could chase down Rosberg, who had already over 41 laps old tyres! But against all odds Rosberg could push really hard and there was no sign of dying tyres. Bottas set the fastest lap time of the race on the final lap but couldn´t reach Rosberg. Unbelievable but true: Rosberg drove 52 laps with the same set of tyres, which hasn´t been done in any previous races this year!

Actually I found this race a bit boring (although I was very happy that there were no crashes to the walls!): once again 1-2 for Mercedes, who secured the constructors´ championship in Russia! Bottas completed the podium. It was a great effort from the Finn once again but in my heart I had hoped that he could have even split the Mercedes duo if not challenge both of them for victory. You could feel the significance of the inaugural Russian GP as it was the president of Russia Vladimir Putin himself who came on the podium to give the trophy to the race winner Hamilton!

McLaren succeeded well on the Russian soil as Button finished 4th and his Danish team-mate Magnussen 5th. The Dane made excellent job as he had started to the race from P11 due to the grid penalty. Alonso finished 6th right ahead of Red Bull´s Ricciardo, who had no chance to even try to overtake the Spaniard. This was quite a lame race for my two favourite drivers: Sebastian finished 8th and Kimi 9th. Perez in his Force India scored the very last point finishing 10th. Red Bull were lacking performance badly, so were Ferrari.

There´s now a 17-point difference between the Mercedes team-mates in favour of Hamilton. Ricciardo is already 92 point off the championship leader Hamilton but the Australian still has a mathematical chance to win the championship. Bottas is currently in the fourth place 54 points off Ricciardo. So now there´ll be a 3-week break until the F1 circus moves to Austin. Hopefully by then there´re some good news to tell about Bianchi!

lauantai 11. lokakuuta 2014

Russian GP / Qualifying: Hamilton claimed his 7th pole of the season!

It was only 6 days ago when the fatal Japanese GP took place. The Marussia driver Jules Bianchi is still lying at the Japanese hospital fighting for his life. No improvement in his condition so far: his condition is still critical but stable. There´s no guarantee that the Frenchman will recover from his injuries, which feels so cruel. Normally I love back-to-back races but now I´ve had difficulties to put my thoughts together. My thoughts are with Jules and his family and I can´t do anything but hope that he will recover from the serious head injury! At pre-school where I work we´ve been talking about guardian angels this week. I really really hope there´s one sitting beside Jules´ bed!

Nevertheless, the Sochi International Street Circuit is an impressive new venue for Formula 1 racing. It reminds me of Valencia, which is also a street circuit situated by the sea. The Sochi Autodrom is the third longest circuit on the calendar with long straights. It´s also technically demanding and due to the brand new asphalt there´s almost no tyre degradation. The drivers have found the track enjoyable to drive. Marussia participates in the GP weekend with one car only. Bianchi´s car is in the pit garage standing empty but scrutineered and ready to race. All drivers have a sticker on their helmet saying "Tous avec Jules!" Everyone wants to show respect and support for their colleague.

The qualifying for the inaugural Russian GP was exceptional tyre-wise. All drivers started to Q1 with the soft-compound tyres except Perez in his Force India and the McLaren drivers Button and Magnussen. Even the option tyres needed several laps before they were in the optimum temperature and produced competitive lap times. This meant that the drivers made a long stint with several laps but still some drivers had difficulties getting the tyre temperature up. Q1 proved a disaster for Massa in his Williams as the Brazilian was struck by a fuel pressure problem and duly was unable to make it into Q2. Hamilton and Rosberg topped the time sheets with Bottas 3rd in the other Williams. What was a delight to my eye was to see Kimi being one tenth of a second faster than his team-mate Alonso! Surprisingly Ericsson in his Caterham made it in P17 being ahead of Massa, his team-mate Kobayashi and Marussia´s Chilton.

McLaren had clearly managed to improve their pace since Japan and both drivers seemed competitive in Q2. The top three remained the same as in the first session: Hamilton fastest, Rosberg 2nd and the flying Finn Bottas 3rd. McLaren could almost match Williams´ pace with Magnussen 4th and Button 5th. Unfortunately there was another big-name faller in Q2 as Sebastian Vettel at the wheel of his RB10 struggled throughout Q2 and was left out in P11! Usually I`m very upset when something like this happens but now I was having so contradictory thoughts. Bianchi´s accident has been a cruel remainder of what happens when things go wrong in F1. It was also a horrific remainder of how everything can be taken away from you in a heart beat. No matter which team or driver you support you don´t wish a thing like this for anybody! So actually I wasn´t so upset that Sebastian faced a tough qualifying. I was so so happy that I was able to see him racing! Things shouldn´t be taken for granted. Success or not, I´m happy that I can cheer for Sebastian through ups and downs!

Q3 was a tense fight for pole. Rosberg took a firm grip on pole at the beginning of the final session and Bottas showed clear signs that he could really challenge the Mercedes duo and make it on the front row. Hamilton, however, managed to improve his lap time and Rosberg´s lap time left him two tenths of a second shy of Hamilton´s improved time. In the closing moments of the decisive last session Bottas showed how dangerous he really was. The Finn set overall bests in the first two sectors of his final run but he pushed too hard in the last sector. Bottas got loose in turn 17 and ended up going wide in the last corner so he couldn´t improve his time but made it in P3 (4 tenths of a second shy of polesitter Hamilton and only 8 hundredths of a second shy of Rosberg!) anyway. A superb effort from the Finnish Williams driver! Maybe he couldn´t have challenged Hamilton for pole but 2nd place might have been there to take... Bottas has really been on fire this weekend, his driving has been such a pleasure to watch!

Button in his McLaren also had a great qualifying making it in P4. Toro Rosso´s Kvyat drove an outstanding qualifying as well. The young Russian claimed a tremendous career-best 5th in front of his home crowd! Thus the grid will line up: Ricciardo 6th (Magnussen qualified 6th but the Dane will face a 5-place gris penalty due to a gear box change and will be dropped down to P11), Alonso 7th, Räikkönen 8th, Vergne 9th and Vettel 10th. Hulkenberg and Chilton have also been handed a 5-place grid penalty for gear box changes.

Toro Rosso´s performance has looked impressive and one thing especially caught my eye: both Toro Rossos made it among the top ten in terms of the straight line speed but neither one of the Red Bulls did the same! They both have a Renault power unit so this makes me wonder a bit... Kvyat even made it ahead of Ricciardo, which is quite an impressive achievement. And Sebastian has been struggling with his RB10 once again so I´m expecting a tough race. Kimi´s car on the other hand has looked a bit better than in Japan where the Iceman was struggling with the front end of his F14T. But I´m definitely expecting to see Bottas challenging at least one of the Mercedes drivers and why not both of them! I´m sure we´ll see an entertaining race tomorrow. Just hoping everyone will have a safe race!

sunnuntai 5. lokakuuta 2014

Japanese GP: A tragic end to the rain-hit race!

This time the weather forecasts were completely accurate: heavy rain started moments before the race was about to start and track conditions were extremely tricky and slippery as there was lots of standing water on the track. The race started behind safety car with everyone having the full-wets on but visibility was so bad that the cars could go only 80 km/h and the race was red-flagged after two laps. All cars arrived in the pit lane and the race was delayed by 20 minutes. Luckily the rain stopped and the race got re-started behind safety car. Alonso in his Ferrari was the first driver to retire from the race: his F14T stopped on the track on lap 3 when the Spaniard suddenly lost all power in his car.

On lap 9 the conditions had finally improved so much that the safety car came in and the race was finally on! Only a lap later McLaren´s Button thought the track was dry enough for the intermediate tyres and the Briton was the first driver to pit for the green-marked intermediates. That proved to be the right call. Button is known for his excellent intuition in terms of the tyres and mixed conditions have always suited him well. A few laps later all the top drivers pitted for a fresh set of intermediate tyres.

After the pit stops the situation remained unchanged in terms of the lead: Rosberg was leading the race with his team-mate Hamilton right at the German´s tail. Button had jumped third thanks to his genious pit stop strategy. Vettel had managed to get past his team-mate during the pit stops. Williams were struggling a lot in the wet conditions and suffering from the lack of grip whilst both Red Bulls seemed to fly especially in the fast corners! Massa had no chance to hold the Red Bull duo behind although DRS wasn´t enabled at this stage of the race. Red Bull had so much more downforce in the high speed corners that overtaking looked easy. Vettel was the first to overtake Massa and Ricciardo did the same only a short moment later. After getting past Massa it was only a matter of time when Sebastian managed to chase down Bottas in the other Williams. It was an easy task as the Finn was two seconds slower than the Red Bulls! Bottas shared his team-mate´s fate and couldn´t defend his position against the Red Bull duo. At this point I was so glad to see how competitive Sebastian was in the wet after yesterday´s tough qualifying!

Kimi was in P9 when he pitted for the second time on lap 24. Kimi´s pit stop was delayed by 8 seconds as there were difficulties with the attachment of his front right tyre. Kimi´s F14T just seemed to lack pace: a few laps on the fresh tyres seemed competitive but the pace dropped significantly after that. The delayed pit stop meant the Iceman had it difficult to even fight for a points finish today.

In the halfway point of the race the conditions had improved in a way that DRS was enabled, which meant that finally Hamilton got his chance to challenge his team-mate for the victory! On lap 29 it happened: Hamilton made a bold overtaking move on Rosberg who suffered from strong oveersteering issues and took the lead!  Hamilton instantly pulled away from his team-mate after that.

Button´s third pit stop also got delayed by a few seconds and due to the delay both Ricciardo and Vettel managed to get ahead of the Briton. By lap 38 it had started to rain lightly and a lap later I had a very scary moment when I saw Sebastian going wide in the slippery conditions. Luckily he didn´t lose any positions and was able to rejoin the track safely. By lap 41 the rain had increased so much that using DRS wasn´t allowed anymore. Track conditions deteriorated and Magnussen in his McLaren pitted for a fresh set of full-wet tyres.

The incident on lap 43 was the beginning of what turned into catastrophic series of events. Sutil in his Sauber was still driving on the intermediate tyres but due to the aquaplaning he lost the control of his car and crashed into the tyre wall. There were yellow flags but no safety car was deployed until a couple of laps later.  On lap 46 the commentators told on TV that there was also an ambulance on the location where Sutil had crashed and that Marussia´s Bianchi was also out of the race. At this stage I had no idea what had happened. All of a sudden the race was red-flagged on lap 47 with 7 more laps to go and all the cars came into the pits. Soon there was more information: Bianchi had also lost the control of his car and crashed his car into the recovery vehicle, which was lifting Sutil´s Sauber off the track. There was no TV footage of what had happened but I got very scared. Bianchi had lost the control of his car at high speed and crashing into a crane sounded extremely dangerous and frightening... There were also some track marshals there and maybe involved in the crash...

This is actually completely irrelevant at the moment but Hamilton won the race with his team-mate Rosberg second. Vettel was in P4 when the race was red-flagged as he had pitted when the safety car had been deployed on the closing laps and due to the extra pit stop Ricciardo had jumped into P3. The final standings were determined by the situation on the lap 44 and that´s why Sebastian made it in P3 as it was right before his pit stop. But like I said, this feels so secondary even though it´s my favourite driver who was standing on the podium. But no spraying champagne on the podium and all the top three drivers looked so serious and concerned. There was no news about Bianchi´s condition except that he had been unconscious and had been moved to the nearest hospital.

When I´m writing this there´s still no new information on Bianchi´s condition. The FIA steward Mika Salo has told that Bianchi´s car went straight underneath the recovery vehicle, which automatically means serious consequences. I hope from the bottom of my heart that Bianchi isn´t suffering from a serious head injury and that he´ll have a speedy recovery. This is the saddest side of Formula 1 racing: serious accidents happen seldom but when they do it´s devastating :´( I´m shocked about what happened and there´s no use to think "what ifs" at the moment, what if the safety car had been deployed right away after Sutil´s crash and so on, it doesn´t change the fact what has already happened. It´s always shocking when there´s a serious crash, no matter which driver is involved. You don´t want to see these things happening to anybody. I´ll update my blog when I hear something new on Bianchi´s condition. Despite Sebastian´s comforting success all my thoughts are now with Bianchi and his family!

P.S. It has now been confirmed that Bianchi has suffered a severe head injury and the Frenchman has been operated at the local hospital. Bianchi is in a critical condition in ICU. I'm so worried. I know it'll be hard to fall asleep tonight.

lauantai 4. lokakuuta 2014

Japanese GP / Qualifying: The Mercedes duo light years ahead of the opposition!

When I opened my eyes this morning at 6 am I had no clue what a qualifying Saturday I had woken up to! Instantly after turning on the TV I heard some breaking news: it had been confirmed that Sebastian Vettel will leave Red Bull at the end of the season! And team principal Christian Horner had already slipped out that Vettel was heading for Ferrari! My tiredness was gone in a heart beat and I couldn´t believe what I was hearing! This news took many people by surprise -including me. I thought there was perfect harmony inside the Red Bull team and Sebastian was completely happy there although this has been an extremely tough season with a lot of setbacks for the German. I was convinced Sebastian was going to stay at Red Bull as he still had one more year in his contract. But Sebastian had activated a break clause in his contract and according to his own words he isn´t leaving the team because of the tough season or because he would be running away from his team-mate Ricciardo who has been outperforming him in most races this year.

Sebastian has been part of the Red Bull family for 15 years, that´s a very long time. Sebastian has already won 4 consecutive world championship crowns at Red Bull and 4 constructors´ titles as well. What else is there to achieve at one team? I understand well it´s time for a new challenge although it´s always a risk to leave a team that is the reigning world champion! But when one door closes another one opens. The decision to leave must have been an awfully difficult one to make but at the end of the day you have to follow what your heart tells you. Obviously Ferrari haven´t confirmed Sebastian´s move to the Italian-based squad yet but it´s only a matter of time. And if I´m asked, Ferrari will have the best line-up ever next year in Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen! That´s definitely an ultimate dream team -at least for me. Those two are also good friends so I´m sure they´ll have a lot of fun driving for Ferrari next year! Right after announcing Sebastian´s departure from the team Red Bull also confirmed that Toro Rosso´s Daniil Kvyat will replace Sebastian in the main team next year.

After news like these it was a bit difficult to concentrate on the qualifying which was once again ultimate dominance by the Mercedes duo. Q1 held no surprises. Hamilton set the fastest lap time with Rosberg right behind him. Bottas in his Williams was "the best of the rest" with Massa in the other Williams in P4. The Red Bulls made only one run in the first session on the hard-compound Pirellis and Sebastian was only 14th fastest. In addition to the midfield teams also Kimi had to rely on the white-marked medium tyres to make his way through into Q2. Both Lotuses were out of Q2 as well as the backmarkers of Marussia and Caterham.

The Mercedes dominance continued in the second session, except the fact that this time Rosberg was topping the time sheets. The pecking order seemed clear: Mercedes dominated in a superior way and Williams had the second fastest car. Kimi was only able to make it in P9 and Sebastian in P10. What was even more concerning was the fact that Kimi was 1,1 seconds slower than his team-mate Alonso! Not a good sign at all. Once again also Ricciardo was quicker than Sebastian... It hurts every time. Excluded from the final and decisive session were both Toro Rossos, both Force Indias and both Sauber drivers.

The Mercedes duo were light years ahead of the opposition so there was actually no excitement about which team was going to conquer the front row. Rosberg had the upper hand on his team-mate today and clinched the pole by 0,2- second margin over his team-mate Hamilton. Bottas drove a superb qualifying again and the Finn made it in P3 (0,6 seconds off Rosberg), which was the absolute maximum the Finnish Williams driver could achieve today. Bottas´ team-mate Massa completed the second row. Thus the grid for the Japanese GP will line up: Alonso 5th, Ricciardo 6th, Magnussen 7th, Button 8th, Vettel 9th and Räikkönen 10th. Kimi was the only driver to make only one attempt in Q3. It was crushing to see how slow Kimi was compared to Alonso today: over a second off the Spaniard´s pace! Once again Kimi had faced engine related technical issues in the final free practice session and the Finn hadn´t been able to finish the set-up work he needed to make his F14T perform competitively on the track.

What caught my eye as well was the fact that Sebastian was 1,9 seconds slower than polesitter Rosberg! That´s almost 2 seconds! In Singapore Red Bull had almost been able to challenge the Mercs and now Sebastian was 2 seconds off the pace (Ricciardo 1,5 seconds)! Heavy rain is predicted for Suzuka tomorrow so I thought Red Bull had chosen a wet-race set-up for their cars, which cost them time in the qualifying. I hope that´s the case and everything will turn well in tomorrow´s race. A typhoon is predicted to hit the area tomorrow so it´s interesting to see if they can actually race tomorrow. There were some talks about advancing the race due to the typhoon but it has been confirmed that the race will start as planned in the first place. I do hope there won´t be pouring rain (like it tends to be in Japan) and the race can be driven. No guarantees about that though.

Grid penalties for taking the 6th engine of the season have started to emerge: Toro Rosso´s Vergne in P11 will be dropped back to P21 and Lotus´ Maldonado will start to the race from the back of the grid (the Venezuelan qualified 17th so he will drop 5 places in Japan with the remainder of the 10-place penalty carrying over into Russia next weekend).  I do hope Red Bull have the perfect wet-race set-up and Sebastian will have a strong race. And this goes for Kimi, too!