Kimi Räikkönen & Sebastian Vettel

Kimi Räikkönen & Sebastian Vettel

maanantai 17. huhtikuuta 2017

Bahrain GP: Superb win for Sebastian!

The sun had already set, when the lights went out and the Bahrain GP got underway. Mercedes´ Bottas, who had conquered his maiden pole only a day before, got the perfect start and held on to his lead. Hamilton, who started on the dirty side of the track, was overtaken by storming Sebastian. Right away the German Ferrari ace was right at Bottas´ tail and definitely "smelled the Finn´s blood". Red Bull´s Verstappen, starting from P6, had an excellent start as well, making it ahead of teammate Ricciardo. The poorest start was taken by Kimi, who lost positions both to Williams´ Massa and Red Bull´s Verstappen on the opening lap and dropped down to P7.

It was extremely tight between the top five. Kimi was clearly faster than Massa; the Iceman was losing valuable time behind the Brazilian. On lap 8 Kimi decided to make an overtaking move on the finish straight and made it ahead of his ex-teammate. Meanwhile, Bottas in the lead was complaining about lack of grip in terms of the rear tyres. The Finn was told on the team radio, that his rear tyre pressures were high. It clearly influenced Bottas´ pace.

Ferrari made a bold strategic move, as they called Sebastian in already on lap 11. Ferrari decided to try the undercut, although it was possible, that Sebastian could get stuck in the traffic. The German opted for another set of super soft Pirellis and was absolutely flying after his pit stop. Red Bull reacted right away and took Verstappen in. But immediately after the pit stop the flying Dutchman suffered a rear brake failure and his race was over! And there was more drama to come. Toro Rosso´s Sainz, who was exiting the pits, crashed into Stroll´s Williams, causing a lot of debris on the track. Both Sainz and Stroll were out of the race, and safety car was deployed. (After the race Sainz was given a 3-place grid penalty for the next race for causing the collision.)

The Mercedes drivers drove into the pits sequentially. Race leader Bottas pitted first, but his pit stop wasn´t perfect. The Finn opted for another set of super soft tyres -similar to Vettel. Hamilton slowed down unnecessarily much, coming into the pits; by this move he impeded Ricciardo, who was right behind the Briton. The stewards took Hamilton´s move into investigation. When safety car came in a few laps later, Sebastian was leading the race with Bottas second and Hamilton third. Massa was fourth, Ricciardo fifth and Kimi 6th. So once again Kimi was behind Massa!

After the re-start Ricciardo, who had opted for the yellow-marked soft Pirellis, was in trouble with lack of grip. Kimi made a great overtaking move on the Australian and jumped fifth. The Iceman immediately started to chase down Massa. And on lap 24 it happened: at the end of the finish straight Kimi managed to get past Massa, making him already fourth in the race. Meanwhile, Hamilton was given a 5-second penalty for driving unnecessarily slowly in the pits!

Sebastian in the lead had increased his gap to Bottas into five seconds. Bottas was struggling with his pace, which had miraculously disappeared over night. Teammate Hamilton, on the other hand, was absolutely flying. In no time the Briton was right at his teammate´s tail. The team asked Bottas to let Hamilton past, which must have been a bittersweet moment for pole-setter Bottas. The Finn had no choice but to obey.

After the second pit stops Sebastian was still in the lead. Bottas was second, as Hamilton had suffered the 5-second time penalty during his second pit stop. However, Bottas´ problems with his pace continued, and Hamilton had an easy task to move ahead of his teammate. Sebastian and Hamilton had a different tyre strategy, as Sebastian was on the soft compound, whereas Hamilton ran the super soft Pirellis. Hamilton was hungry to chase down Sebastian and challenge him for the victory. However, there were 8 seconds separating the rivals.

Hamilton managed to decrease the gap, but there was no catching Sebastian! The German took his second win of the season under the floodlights of Bahrain. What a brilliant victory indeed! Hamilton crossed the finish line second, and teammate Bottas completed the podium. It must have been extremely disappointing for the Finn, who -without the tyre pressure issues- would have had the chance of his life to fight for the victory. Kimi finished the race in P4. Once again, there was a lot of talk about Ferrari´s strategy. Why didn´t Ferrari take Kimi in sooner on his second stint... Kimi sounded extremely upset on the team radio, questioning the strategy. Sebastian´s strategy was perfect, but the one with Kimi was far from that! Ferrari can´t afford mistakes like this, if they want to win the constructors´ championship!

Behind the top four, Ricciardo finished 5th for Red Bull, Massa 6th for Williams, Perez 7th for Force India, Grosjean 8th for Haas, Hulkenberg 9th for Renault and Ocon 10th for Force India. Once again, good points for the pink cars :) Sebastian is now leading the drivers´ championship standings! He has now 68 points to Hamilton´s 61. Bottas in P3 is 30 points down on Sebastian and Kimi is already 34 points down on his teammate. In terms of the constructors´ standings, it´s extremely tight! Ferrari has now 102 points to Mercedes´ 99. What a thrilling show this season will be!

Sebastian looked so happy on the top step of the podium. He definitely has the momentum on his side at the moment. I can´t wait for the Russian GP, which I´ll be watching live at Sochi Autodrom!

lauantai 15. huhtikuuta 2017

Bahrain GP / Qualifying: Maiden pole for Valtteri Bottas!

The third qualifying session of the season got underway under the floodlights of Sakhir in Bahrain. Once again Mercedes and Ferrari were the teams, which stood out of the crowd in terms of their tyre strategy. They decided to run the yellow-marked soft tyres, whereas all their rivals came out on the red-marked super soft Pirellis. After the first runs Hamilton was topping the timesheets, Red Bull´s Verstappen was second and Ferrari´s Vettel was third. I was wondering, if Red Bull had really managed to take a step forward and make it closer to Mercedes and Ferrari, as especially Verstappen had performed extremely well in the free practice sessions. However, it was impressive to see Sebastian third, in spite of the harder tyre compound. Bottas, Massa and Ricciardo were among the top six, who all opted to sit out the second runs -which was a risky decision especially from Massa and Ricciardo. Kimi made his second run on the super soft Pirellis and jumped 3rd. In the very last minute Sainz´s Toro Rosso stopped on track, and the Spaniard complained on the team radio about losing power completely. In addition to Sainz, also Vandoorne (McLaren), Perez (Force India), Ericsson (Sauber) and Magnussen (Haas) were knocked out in the first session; some of these (Perez for example) were hurt by the yellow flags for Sainz´s stoppage. Worth noting is, that Pascal Wehrlein was back behind the wheel of his Sauber, and the German managed to make it through to Q2.

Q2 was extremely tight between Mercedes and Ferrari. Once again Hamilton went fastest, but teammate Bottas was only two hundredths of a second down on the Briton! Sebastian set an impressive lap time as well, being only 61 thousandths of a second down on Hamilton! Teammate Kimi was already three tenths off Hamilton´s pace, but the Iceman had made his first run on a used set of tyres. The top seven -Mercedes teammates, Ferrari teammates, Red Bull teammates and Williams´ Massa- sat out the second runs. Renault had an excellent qualifying, as Hulkenberg leapt to fifth at the closing stage of Q2, and teammate Palmer also made it into the final session. Haas´ Grosjean made his first Q3 of the year. The unluckiest of the session was Alonso; a broken power unit accounted for Alonso´s McLaren, leaving him 15th, without a time.

In the final decisive session the Ferraris were a little breathless in their wake. Hamilton took provisional pole by five hundredths of a second to his teammate Bottas. Sebastian was third after his first run; surprisingly as much as four tenths down on Hamilton. Kimi in fourth was already over eight tenths off the Briton´s pace. Also Red Bull seemed unable to match Mercedes´ pace, although their pace had seemed so promising in Q1. The shootout for pole was breath-taking. Bottas put together a magical lap, which teammate Hamilton ended up unable to match. The Finn took his maiden pole by 23 thousandths of a second to his teammate, who is known as a fantastic and extremely fast qualifier. Sebastian´s SF70-H was joined on the second row by Ricciardo´s RB13, with their teammates Kimi and Verstappen a row further back. The yellow-and-black-liveried Renault had a superb qualifying session, with Hulkenberg 7th and Palmer 10th. Between the two Renaults there´s Massa in P8 for Williams and Grosjean in P9 for Haas.

I have to say, that I´m extremely happy for Valtteri Bottas, who beat his teammate and took his maiden pole. Snatching pole must feel superb for Valtteri after the bittersweet Chinese GP. Lewis Hamilton is one of the fastest drivers in F1 and beating him in the qualifying is no walk in the park! I´m sure this result improves Valtteri´s self-confidence significantly, and he has every opportunity to win the race tomorrow. However, I´m expecting to see "a red challenge" in tomorrow´s scorching race. Ferrari´s long-run pace has seemed very competitive, so it won´t be an easy win for either one of the Mercedes drivers.

I have to say I´m a bit worried about Kimi, who once again complained about understeer issues during the qualifying. Kimi´s difficulties seem like a mystery for me; how come the Iceman´s pace always seems to disappear especially in Q3? However, it seems that for some steering-related reason Kimi can´t get the maximum out of his SF70-H. A perfect strategy will be needed for both red-suited drivers to make it on the podium tomorrow! Sebastian and Kimi, you are in my thoughts and I´ll definitely keep my fingers crossed for you!

sunnuntai 9. huhtikuuta 2017

Chinese GP: Hair-raising overtaking by Vettel and Verstappen!

In spite of the previous weather forecasts, the risk of rain during the race was only 20 %. There had been some light rain in the morning, so at the time of the start the track was partly dry but partly damp. Tyre choice was going to be the key factor in terms of the race: slicks or intermediates? All drivers, except Toro Rosso´s Sainz, opted for the green-marked intermediate compound. Sainz had decided to run the red-marked supersoft Pirellis. When the cars drove on the grid after the formation lap, Sebastian in P2 was significantly out of his grid slot. Luckily the German got away without a penalty for his action. As the lights went out, Hamilton stormed to the lead with Sebastian second and Bottas third. Ricciardo, who had started from P5, managed to jump Kimi and make his way in P4. Ricciardo´s teammate Verstappen, having started from P16, had an absolutely magical opening lap. The flying Dutchman managed to gain 9 positions right away! The harder the conditions are, the more Max Verstappen shines! My hunch was definitely right saying, that today was going to be a staggering overtaking show by the young Red Bull pilot.

The opening lap didn´t lack drama; Williams´ rookie Lance Stroll span off and got stuck onto gravel after Force India´s Perez had touched his rear tyre. Virtual safety car was deployed. Sebastian pitted already on lap 3 for a fresh set of yellow-marked soft Pirellis. However, other top four drivers -Hamilton, Bottas, Ricciardo and Räikkönen- decided to stay out. Sebastian re-joined the track in P6 behind Verstappen, who had already made his way up to P5!

But only a lap after virtual safety car had ended, Sauber´s stand-in Giovinazzi crashed to the wall on the finish straight! There was a huge amount of debris on track, and safety car was deployed. Both Mercedes drivers and Kimi in his Ferrari pitted for a fresh set of soft Pirellis. Red Bull teammates Ricciardo and Verstappen, on the other hand, opted for a fresh set of supersoft tyres. Driving behind safety car, Valtteri Bottas made an amateurish mistake. He was warming up his tyres, when the Finn suddenly lost the rear of his car and span. As if that hadn´t been enough, he span again when trying to re-join the track. Bottas lost awful lot of time and dropped down to P12!

On lap 8 safety car came in, and the race was back on. Hamilton was leading, with Ricciardo second and Kimi third. However, Red Bull´s Verstappen seemed to be absolutely flying and in no time the Dutch Red Bull ace made his way past the Iceman, snatching P3 already. Kimi was complaining about lack of torque on the team radio, which sounded quite worrying. Teammate Sebastian was right at the Finn´s tail as well.

On lap 11 flying Verstappen made a stunning overtaking move on teammate Ricciardo and snatched P2 from the Australian. Kimi, too started to put pressure on the "Smiling Avenger". For some eight laps there was an intense and exciting battle going on for P3 between Ricciardo and the two Ferraris. On lap 20, however, Sebastian was determined to get past his teammate and made a successful overtaking move on Kimi. After that it was Ricciardo, who was Sebastian´s next target. A couple of laps later it happened; Sebastian braked very late and went into the outside of Ricciardo. For a moment the ex-teammates were driving side by side. There was a breath-taking moment, when their wheels banged together, but Sebastian made it past Ricciardo! What an absolutely staggering overtaking move indeed! What an adrenaline rush the move caused! Bravo Sebastian, that was some proper racing!

On the other hand, Kimi got stuck behind Ricciardo and was unable to repeat his teammate´s move to pass the Australian. Once again, Kimi seemed to be struggling with the performance of his SF70-H, no matter how hard the Finn tried to push. But Sebastian was utterly on flames at Shanghai International Circuit. By lap 28 he had chased down Verstappen, who was struggling with his worn supersoft tyres. Usually Verstappen is a very tough driver to overtake, but this time he locked his wheels at the braking and ended up going wide, and Sebastian managed to overtake him easily. Now Sebastian was 2nd again!

Verstappen pitted for the second time on lap 30 -for another fresh set of supersoft Pirellis. Teammate Ricciardo shared a similar pit stop strategy. Red Bull´s rivals were also on a two-stop strategy. Both Mercedes drivers and Sebastian opted for another fresh set of soft tyres. Kimi had a longer second stint and was called into the pits not until on lap 40. This turned out to be a wrong strategic call, as Kimi dropped down to P6 behind Toro Rosso´s Sainz. Luckily Kimi managed to make his way past the Spaniard, but it wasn´t much of a comfort, as both Red Bull drivers were out of the Iceman´s reach.

Unfortunately Hamilton in the lead had already an 8-second gap to Sebastian. However, behind the top two there was an exciting battle for the last podium place between the Red Bull teammates. Ricciardo put extreme pressure on his young teammate, but Verstappen kept his third place. The Finns Kimi and Bottas had to be content with P5 and P6. Toro Rosso´s Sainz drove a strong race, in spite of spinning on the opening lap on the slicks. The Spaniard finished in P7, followed by Haas´ Magnussen. The eye-catching pink Force Indias of Perez and Ocon rounded out the top ten.

After season-opening Australian GP many people were complaining about the lack of overtaking on track. But today´s race was in a different class! I can´t help admiring Max Verstappen, who seems to know something about overtaking that others don´t! Like post-race interviewer Herbert stated on the podium, it was almost like Verstappen would have been playing a video game! No wonder he was once again been voted as the Driver of the Day -he got my vote as well!

Although Finnish Williams pilot Bottas had a disappointing race due to his own mistake, I appreciate his attitude a lot. In the post-race interview he didn´t blame cold tyres or anything, but honestly and forthright admitted, that he blew it. In terms of the tyres, he said, that others managed to keep their cars on track but he didn´t. In Bahrain we´ll see, whether Valtteri will be able to cope with the pressure and turn setbacks into success. I sincerely hope all the best for him!

The drivers´ championship standings look thrilling -Hamilton and Sebastian both have 43 points. Verstappen is third (25 points), Bottas fourth (23 points) and Kimi fifth (22 points). In terms of the constructors´ standings the situation is equally exciting; Mercedes has only a 1-point lead to Ferrari at the moment. Can´t wait for the Bahrain GP, which will be already next week!

lauantai 8. huhtikuuta 2017

Chinese GP / Qualifying: 63rd career pole for Hamilton!

Luckily qualifying turned out dry, as almost two entire practice sessions had been missed due to dense fog in the circuit area. Tyre wise Q1 was interesting. Where everyone else opted for supersoft tyres, the Ferrari drivers used softs. In spite of the tyre choice it was Sebastian at the wheel of his Gina, who went fastest in the first session. In terms of pace, Mercedes and Ferrari seemed once again quite evenly matched. Red Bull´s Verstappen, on the other hand, was struggling with an engine software problem and was unable to do better than P19! Neither Ricciardo was able to match the top two teams´ pace but was already a second off Sebastian´s pace. There has been a lot of talk about the Williams rookie Lance Stroll, who has had difficulties to keep his FW38 on track. This time Stroll put together an impressive lap, lapping his Williams fifth fastest. There was drama at the closing stage of Q1, as Pascal Wehrlein stand-in Antonio Giovinazzi spun and heavily damaged his Sauber against the wall. The fallers in Q1 were McLaren´s Vandoorne, Haas´ Grosjean, Renault´s Palmer, above-mentioned Verstappen and Force India´s Ocon.

Q2 was delayed by 10 minutes, as the walls were repaired after Giovinazzi´s crash. Everyone came out on the supersofts, and once again Sebastian stamped Ferrari´s authority on Q2. It was extremely close between the silver cars and the Scuderia, as Hamilton was only 15 thousandths of a second off the German. In spite of the competitive first runs, the Ferrari duo opted for a second run at the end of the session. This time it was Kimi´s turn to shine, as the Iceman went fastest, with a 2-tenth gap to his teammate. Renault´s Hulkenberg caught my eye this time; the German lapped his Renault sixth fastest in the second session. Toro Rosso´s Kvyat has had a good start to this season -after disappointing 2016 season- and made it to Q3; whereas teammate Sainz was unable to pull through. Renault´s Magnussen, McLaren´s Alonso and Sauber´s Ericsson were also eliminated from the decisive last session.

Q3 was absolutely thrilling. Hamilton took provisional pole in spite of a big slide in the second sector. Kimi, too made a mistake in the first sector and was seven tenths down on Hamilton. Hamilton managed to improve his lap time on the second run. Sebastian extracted the maximum out of his SF70H but was still almost two tenths off pole-setter Hamilton, who claimed his 63rd career pole. However, there was only a thousandth of a second separating Sebastian and Mercedes´Valtteri Bottas! It equals 5.9 cm on track! However, I was utterly happy to see Sebastian splitting the silver cars. Teammate Kimi -after shining in Q2- was complaining of poor rear-end grip and asking whether his previous settings had been changed. The Iceman had to be content with fourth, almost half a second down on Hamilton. Ricciardo in his RB13 was fifth, and Massa pushed his Williams into sixth. Renault´s Hulkenberg was 7th, Force India´s Perez was 8th, Toro Rosso´s Kvyat was 9th and Williams´ Stroll rounded out the top ten.

With almost 100 % certainty tomorrow is going to be a wet race. Extreme conditions might make the race a lottery. One thing is for sure though: most likely we´re going to see a staggering overtaking show by Max Verstappen! The Dutchman will start from P17 (both Grosjean and Palmer have been dropped to the back of the grid due to ignoring yellow flags in Q1), but wet conditions won´t stop the hungry Dutchman from overtaking. Like we saw in Brazil last year, Verstappen shines in difficult conditions, as he has the courage to make bold overtaking moves. But how will the fight at the very top turn out? Hopefully Sebastian will be able to overtake Hamilton already at the start. But the harder the conditions are, the more of an importance it is to keep your car on track. The wetter it is, the higher the chance is to end up crashing out... I´m definitely looking forward to a hair-raising race and a red podium!