Kimi Räikkönen & Sebastian Vettel

Kimi Räikkönen & Sebastian Vettel

sunnuntai 19. kesäkuuta 2016

Europe GP: Rosberg triumphed to victory!

Air temperature was 33 degrees Celsius, when the lights went out at Baku City Circuit. Hamilton had been given a permission to change his tyres; the FIA had considered his qualifying tyres to be in too bad a shape for the race. The start felt hair-raising. Would there be collisions in the first corners? How many safety car episodes would we see?

It was amazing, how clean the start was! Rosberg was able to maintain his lead with Red Bull´s Ricciardo second. The Ferraris of Sebastian and Kimi followed the Australian closely. Perez in his Force India, on the other hand, was right at Kimi´s tail. Red Bull´s young talent Verstappen was struggling with his pace on the opening laps. Bottas in his Williams could pass the Dutchman quite easily, and Mercedes ace Hamilton was right at Verstappen´s tail. Max ended up going wide, and Hamilton made it past Verstappen in an easy-looking way. From the beginning it was obvious, that Red Bull was struggling with heavy tyre degradation. Ricciardo in the second Red Bull was also in trouble. Sebastian had closed the gap to the Australian, and on lap 6 the German made a successful overtaking move on his ex teammate at the finish straight. Ricciardo pitted already on the following lap -for a fresh set of soft tyres.

By lap 9 Rosberg had increased the gap to Sebastian into ten seconds. Sebastian was told on the team radio to pit, but Sebastian questioned the request by asking, whether the team was sure about that. Sebastian said his pace was very good. The team replied, that they wanted to prevent Ricciardo from benefitting of the undercut. Sebastian didn´t pit; instead it was Kimi, who pitted also for a fresh set of soft tyres. To me it seemed like a two-stop strategy. Would it be possible to drive 40 laps on the soft tyres? Kimi rejoined the track in P11.

Kimi faced a setback on lap 12, as the Iceman had been taken into investigation by the stewards for crossing the white line at the pit entry. Penalty was inevitable; Kimi was given a 5-second time penalty for his infringement. It was such a shame, as Kimi´s pace seemed utterly excellent and he kept improving lap by lap! Kimi was absolutely flying on the track and kept banging fastest lap times one after another.

Hamilton pitted on lap 16, and Perez a lap later -both opted for the yellow-marked soft rubber. At this time Rosberg in the lead had already increased his gap to Sebastian into 20 seconds. It was clear, that nobody could challenge the German Mercedes ace for victory by driving! Sebastian pitted not until on lap 20; his tyre choice was similar to his teammate´s. Rosberg pitted from the lead a lap after Sebastian -for a fresh set of soft tyres as well.

Towards the halfway of the race Sebastian had closed the gap to his teammate due to his fresher tyres. Kimi didn´t even try to prevent Sebastian from overtaking him, which was a classy team effort from the Iceman. A moment later we heard a legendary team radio message from Kimi. The team thanked him for letting Sebastian through. Kimi answered the team to tell Sebastian to push, as he didn´t want to have anyone in front of him. Sebastian answered immediately by setting the fastest lap time!

With some 20 laps to go, Hamilton had a technical issue with his car. The Briton was driving in P5 and he was struggling with his pace. Hamilton sounded frustrated on the team radio; he kept asking the team, what he should do to change the settings on his car. Due to the new radio regulations the team, however, wasn´t allowed to advice Hamilton on the correct procedure. Hamilton sounded absolutely gutted, and he said he was going to change every setting of the car, but the team strongly replied, that they "wouldn´t advice on that". At the same time we heard really heated Kimi on the team radio raging about Sauber´s Ericsson, who didn´t seem to notice the blue flags; Kimi lost plenty of valuable time, before Ericsson finally let the Iceman through. Kimi was only a couple of seconds ahead of Force India´s Perez, and there was the 5-second time penalty on the way...

Towards the end of the race, Hamilton´s issue had suddenly disappeared. But it was too late to even dream about a podium finish. Rosberg cruised to his fifth victory of the season, although he had allegedly suffered from a similar issue with his car to his teammate. Sebastian had driven a brilliant race; one-stopper was definitely the right strategy today! Kimi´s SF16-H was already on a fuel-saving mode on the final lap, and Perez managed to overtake the Iceman easily on the final lap. Although it wouldn´t have made any difference, if Kimi had been able to keep Perez behind, as there was the 5-second time penalty for the Finn. That mistake was such a shame; it was Kimi´s own fault, he hadn´t paid attention to the white line at the pit entry, until it was already too late. But still, Kimi´s performance was very strong today. And at the end of the day, Kimi really was able to drive 40 laps on the same set of soft tyres! It would have been such a pleasure to see both red-suited drivers on the podium today!

Hamilton had to settle for P5 today. Bottas in his Williams was also on a one-stop strategy, and the Finn finished 6th. Red Bull had difficulties with the tyre management and they were struggling with their performance in spite of the two-stop strategy. Ricciardo couldn´t finish higher than P7, and in spite of some great overtaking moves Verstappen also had to settle for P8. Hulkenberg finished 9th and Massa 10th. But no safety car in the race! No hitting walls and no crashes at the start! And this time, no seagulls, either ;) So in that way it was quite a surprising inaugural Azerbaijan GP. Rosberg has now a 24-point lead over his teammate in the championship standings. Sebastian is third and Kimi fourth.

Can´t wait, what will happen in Austria in a fortnight! Still eagerly waiting for that first Ferrari victory of the season!

P.S. You´re welcome to read my thoughts on the inaugural Baku race also here:

lauantai 18. kesäkuuta 2016

Europe GP / Qualifying: Rosberg owned qualifying, as Hamilton crashed out in Q3!

Everyone was excited, as the Formula 1 circus moved to the brand new Baku City Circuit in Azerbaijan this weekend. From the very first practice session it was obvious, that it was a tricky circuit: the walls were near and it was very easy to make a mistake at the braking. I found it absolutely amazing, that the drivers were actually going 350 km/h on the 2-kilometre long finish straight!

The Mercedes drivers Rosberg and Hamilton came out right away, as Q1 got underway. They set the fastest lap times of the weekend already on their first attempts. Williams´ Bottas had been very competitive in Friday´s free practice sessions, and the Finn jumped third on his first run. There was no doubt about Hamilton´s pace at Baku, but it turned out to be hard for the Briton to put a lap together. We saw Hamilton going down the Turn 15 escape road and then heading for the pits. The Ferrari drivers Kimi and Sebastian came out not until towards the halfway of the first session. Ferrari was a bit lost with their performance in the narrow streets of Baku, and Kimi had to settle for the modest P9 in Q1, his teammate being down in P11. Out of Q2 were the familiar names: the Manors of Haryanto and Wehrlein, Button in his McLaren, Ericsson in his Sauber and the Renaults of Magnussen and Palmer.

Ferrari´s tame performance continued in Q2. After the first run Sebastian was in P3; massive two seconds down on Rosberg, who was topping the timesheets! Hamilton´s difficulties continued in the second session, as the Briton made another costly mistake at the braking, which caused flat spots on his both front tyres. At this point there were only 2 minutes left in the clock and the Briton was down in P10. Hamilton managed to put together a decent lap in the dying moments of Q2 and jumped second -a second down on his teammate. Force India´s pace seemed extremely competitive, and Perez was third fastest in Q2. Eye-catching was the fact, that this time it was Kvyat, who made it among the top ten, whereas Toro Rosso teammate Sainz was knocked out of the decisive last session. The top ten consisted of the top four teams: Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and Williams. In addition to these, Perez in his Force India and Kvyat in his Toro Rosso made the top ten.

Q3 saw a hectic start. Verstappen in his BR12 went off at Turn 1, then having a territorial dispute with Williams´ Bottas. Hamilton was four-tenths up on his teammate on his first run, when he locked up and went straight on at Turn 15, and Rosberg had to back off his lap as a result. After the first runs Force India´s Perez was topping the timesheets with Sebastian second and Kimi third! This time there were only nine-thousandths separating the Ferrari teammates. This was calm before the storm; only a moment later Rosberg stormed to the lead, being seven-tenths up on his rivals! Hamilton´s disastrous session ended, when he walloped the inside wall with his right-front wheel, which damaged the suspension, and the Briton was out of the session! The red flag was deployed with two minutes and five seconds remaining. At the restart there was an incident, which looked like an unsafe release, as Bottas was released from the pits right ahead of Ferrari´s Sebastian Vettel. After that Bottas and Verstappen immediately restarted their turf war and spoiled each other´s efforts. Rosberg decided to sit out the final run. Red Bull´s Ricciardo was able to improve his lap time, with an identical time to Sebastian! Rosberg took a sweeping pole with Force India´s Perez second! Ricciardo qualified 3rd, having set the lap time a fraction before Sebastian. Kimi qualified 5th, Massa 6th, Kvyat 7th, Bottas 8th, Verstappen 9th and  Hamilton was left in P10 due to his crash. Perez, however, has been handed a 5-place grid penalty due to a gearbox change, so the Mexican will drop down to P7.

What a race is in prospect, as Rosberg seeks redemption after two poor races, Hamilton has to once again fight his way through the field, and Perez, Ricciardo, Sebastian and Kimi smell blood in the water. Ferrari had massive difficulties to get the tyres up to temperature in Canada. Hopefully that won´t be the case at Baku tomorrow. At least the conditions are much warmer in Azerbaijan. Mercedes seems absolutely dominant in terms of performance, but I hope Sebastian will be able to challenge Rosberg at the start. And what about Hamilton and his flat-spotted tyres? Will he get his tyres to work normally or do the flat spots have an effect on the Briton´s race? Baku City Circuit should offer plenty of chances for overtaking, so I´m looking forward to an entertaining show -hopefully by Kimi, Sebastian and certain Max Verstappen!

maanantai 13. kesäkuuta 2016

Canadian GP: Ferrari´s tyre strategy costly for Sebastian!

Surprisingly it wasn´t raining, when the race was about to get underway. It was cold and windy, but luckily no rain. What a spectacular start Sebastian took from P3! He stormed to the lead making it past both Mercedes drivers right away! The Mercedes teammates were alongside each other going into Turn 1, and their front wheels touched, which made Rosberg go wide and lose many positions. The German rejoined the track in disappointing P10.  Hamilton was second and Verstappen third, after passing his teammate Ricciardo at the start. Kimi was fifth and the other Finn Bottas in P6.

By lap 10 Sebastian and Hamilton were running away from their rivals, as Verstappen was already 8 seconds down on the race leader Sebastian. Ricciardo, on the other hand, was right at his teammate´s tail. It seemed, that Ricciardo was faster than Verstappen, and soon Max got the expected message on the team radio: "Don´t hold up your teammate." I was almost certain, that Max wasn´t going to obey the team order. And I was right; Max immediately started to set more competitive and faster lap times.

On lap 11 McLaren´s Button suffered a sudden loss of power, and the Briton´s race was over. Button´s retirement caused virtual safety car to be deployed. Both Ferrari drivers were called into the pits, and they both opted for the red-marked supersoft compound. I was quite surprised about the tyre choice, as there was no way the Ferrari duo could drive till the very end on those tyres! Sebastian rejoined the track in P4, but Kimi instead dropped down to P14 due to his early pit stop. After the pit stop Sebastian was significantly quicker than the Red Bulls ahead of him, and Ricciardo was Sebastian´s first target. And finally there was nothing the Australian could do to prevent the hungry Ferrari ace from overtaking him. Only a lap later Sebastian made a stunning overtaking move on Verstappen, and Sebastian jumped already second. At this point it seemed, that Sebastian was definitely going to fight for victory at Montreal.

Verstappen pitted on lap 20, and the Dutchman opted for the yellow-marked soft tyres, which was the hardest compound used in Montreal. Teammate Ricciardo pitted a couple of laps later -also for a fresh set of soft tyres. Soft tyres were also Rosberg´s choice, as the German pitted a lap after Ricciardo. Now I started to be pretty worried about Ferrari´s tyre strategy: Had the Italian-based team made the right call when opting for the supersofts? Bottas in his Williams pitted on lap 24 and race leader Hamilton on lap 25 -both for a fresh set of soft tyres. Ferrari was the only team to choose the supersoft tyres for the second stint. And it seemed, that the Ferrari drivers were the only ones on a two-stop strategy!

On lap 27 Sebastian was leading the race; Hamilton was 13 seconds down on the Ferrari pilot. Verstappen was third, Kimi was 4th, Ricciardo 5th, Bottas 6th and Rosberg 7th. On lap 34 Kimi pitted for the second time -this time for a fresh set of soft tyres. Due to his pit stop Kimi dropped down to P8. Sebastian pitted three laps later, and his tyre choice was similar to Kimi´s. Sebastian rejoined the track in second place, but had many cars ahead of him to be lapped. Bottas managed to get past Red Bull´s Ricciardo, and the Finn jumped fourth. Ricciardo was struggling with his race pace; also Rosberg managed to overtake the Australian a few laps later. Ricciardo was called  into the pits, this time for another fresh set of soft tyres.

Verstappen pitted on lap 47 -this time for a fresh set of ultrasoft tyres, and the Dutch Red Bull pilot rejoined the track in P5 -right ahead of Kimi. At this point Sebastian was consistently closing the gap to Hamilton in the lead. Rosberg on the other hand, was facing difficulties, as there were several warning lights on his steering wheel. He was also told on the team radio, that he was having a slow puncture, and the German had no choice but to pit on lap 52. On the fresh tyres Rosberg was flying; inevitably the German made his way first past Ricciardo and then past Kimi.

With 10 laps to go Hamilton was leading the race, Sebastian was second, and Bottas was convincingly third. Verstappen was fourth, Rosberg fifth and Kimi 6th. Sebastian´s chase for Hamilton wasn´t entirely problem-free, as the German went wide at the chicane more than once. One time there were two seagulls sitting in the middle of the chicane, which caused Sebastian a lock-up! In the closing laps Rosberg had also chased down Verstappen and put lots of pressure on the Dutch teenager. A couple of times Rosberg even made it alongside Verstappen, but Max defended his fourth position in a brilliant and genius way; he was absolutely persistent not to let Rosberg through! On the second last lap Rosberg ended up spinning when trying to get past Max; however, he still managed to keep his fifth place. This battle showed once again, that there´s something extraordinary about this young Red Bull driver. Not every driver has the courage and attitude to drive like this young man does!

So fifth Montreal win for Hamilton. I had been hoping, that Sebastian could have challenged the Briton for victory for real. It was close, but still so far away! Williams has been struggling with their performance this season, so Bottas was absolutely delighted about making it on the podium. Verstappen made an awesome job by finishing 4th, and Rosberg had to settle for P5. Kimi was also struggling with his pace; to me it seemed as if Kimi had been driving a whole different car compared to his teammate!

Yesterday´s result means, that Hamilton is now only 9 points down on his teammate in the drivers´ championship standings. Sebastian has now jumped third, but he´s already 38 points down on Hamilton. Luckily racing is back on already this week, as Formula 1 moves to a brand new venue of Baku street circuit in Azerbaijan! Can´t wait!

P.S. My article on the race is also available on the Scuderia Ferrari Club Riga web site:

sunnuntai 12. kesäkuuta 2016

Canadian GP / Qualifying: Hamilton claimed his fifth Montreal pole!

The weather forecast said there was a slight chance of rain during the qualifying, so everyone rushed out, when Q1 got underway. Everyone -except the Force India duo of Hulkenberg and Perez- opted for the purple-marked ultrasoft compound. Once again I couldn´t help wondering the performance of this new tyre compound. In spite of being the softest of all compounds, it took a while to make the tyre work in the cool conditions of Montreal, and it was possible to run many time laps on the same set of ultrasoft tyres! Q1 saw light rain towards the end of the session, but it had no effect on the track conditions. Rosberg, Vettel and Ricciardo were the fastest men in Q1, which predicted a good fight for pole between Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. Palmer in his Renault was the first faller in Q1 -his teammate Magnussen couldn´t even participate in the qualifying after Renault were unable to get his car repaired in time following his FP3 crash. Out of Q2 were also the Manors of Wehrlein and Haryanto and the Saubers of Ericsson and Nasr.

The sky was alarmingly grey, when Q2 got underway. The second session was punctuated by a red-flag period five minutes in after Sainz clouted the right side of his Toro Rosso against the infamous wall of champions. Hamilton and Rosberg topped the time sheets, with only two hundredths of a second separating the Mercedes teammates. Ricciardo in his Red Bull was half a second down on the Mercedes duo. Alonso in his McLaren managed to set a competitive lap time and made it among the top ten; whereas his teammate Button was bumped out of the decisive final session. Joining Button on the Q2 elimination list were Perez in his Force India, Kvyat in his Toro Rosso and the Haas duo of Gutierrez and Grosjean. Toro Rosso´s Sainz had already ruined his qualifying when hitting the wall of champions.

In Q3 Kimi in his Ferrari and Williams´ Massa were the only drivers to sit out the first runs. Making only one run in Q3 has never quite worked for Kimi, so I couldn´t help wondering, why the Finn had opted for this strategy again. I got the explanation after the qualifying, though; Kimi had only one set of fresh ultrasoft tyres left. Hamilton took provisional pole, but his teammate Rosberg was only 0,063s down on the Briton! After the first runs Red Bull´s Verstappen was phenomenally third in the standings. Sebastian had a scare when he brushed the wall of champions, but luckily he avoided damage. The German was fourth after his first attempt. Kimi and Massa came out not until there were 5 minutes left in the clock. Hamilton didn´t manage to improve his lap time on his second run; Rosberg, too had a lock-up in Turn 1, which made him abandon his attempt. Pole therefore was Hamilton´s -his fourth of the season, fifth in Canada and by the closest margin so far in 2016! Sebastian managed to jump third on his second run, being 0,178s down on pole-setter Hamilton. Sebastian´s pace was convincing, but not quite enough to challenge the Mercedes duo for pole. Ricciardo beat Red Bull teammate Verstappen to fourth place, whereas Kimi had to settle for P6. The Williams teammates Bottas and Massa locked the fourth row; Force India´s Hulkenberg and McLaren´s Alonso completed the top ten. What caught my eye, was the fact, that at the end of the day Kimi was almost 6-tenths off his teammate!

In terms of the Canadian GP there´s one question in everybody´s mind: how many casualties will the wall of champions claim in the race and who will they be? In variable weather the risk to hit the wall of champions will definitely increase. In two previous years Kimi has spun in the hair pin on the out-lap after his pit stop; hopefully history won´t repeat itself this year! Red Bull has definitely closed the gap to Ferrari, so I´m confident there´ll be an entertaining fight for positions in today´s race. Mercedes´ and Ferrari´s long-run pace is quite evenly matched; could we finally see a red-suited driver on the top step of the podium today?

I´m sure Verstappen learned his lesson in Monaco and he will stay away from the wall of champions. In the pre-qualifying broadcast for the Finnish TV the former Finnish F1 driver Mika Salo told, that he had met Max Verstappen´s father Jos after the Monaco GP. Jos had told Salo, how he used to punish Max as a boy by making him stand in the corner, when he had made something wrong. Jos had joked, that he had told his son to stand in the corner again after coming home from the mistake-filled Monaco GP. The Finnish F1 reporter Mervi Kallio asked about this story when interviewing Verstappen after the qualifying -what an utterly awkward moment for Max! Well, I hope Max will shine like a star today, so that he won´t have to stand in the corner again ;)