2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Preview

After an exhilarating and breathtaking Chinese Grand Prix, where Australian Daniel Ricciardo claimed the sixth race victory of his career, none of which have come from the top three spots on the grid, Formula One heads to the streets of Baku for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Round Four of the 2018 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship, with the championship interestingly poised!

Sebastian Vettel (54 points), who had a difficult race in Shanghai after leading the early stages of the race, being overtaken by Valtteri Bottas during the pit-stops, and then a collision with Max Verstappen saw him finish seventh in China, still leads the championship for Ferrari by nine points over Mercedes driver and defending world champion Lewis Hamilton (45 points).

Hamilton, with his fourth-place finish in Shanghai, became the record-holder for most-consecutive race finishes inside the points in Formula One history. This weekend, he will look to turn around his underwhelming record in Baku, where he has finished fifth in each of the last two years.

Bottas (40 points) is third in the world championship in his Mercedes after consecutive podium finishes in Bahrain and China after his disappointing performance in Australia, and will be looking to continue the form of the last two races into this weekend in Azerbaijan. He is ahead of Ricciardo (37 points) in the championship, with Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer showing in China that they are very capable of challenging for the world championship.

Vettel’s teammate at Ferrari, Kimi Räikkönen (30 points), is fifth in the championship, 24 points behind his teammate after rebounding from the awful pit-lane incident where one of the mechanics broke his leg with a well-deserved third-place finish in China.

Fernando Alonso (22 points) and Nico Hülkenberg (22 points) are sixth and seventh in the world championship for McLaren-Renault and Renault respectively after scoring three points-scoring finishes each. Alonso is ahead of Hülkenberg in championship by virtue of his fifth-place finish at the Australian Grand Prix.

Ricciardo’s teammate at Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer, Verstappen (18 points), is eighth in the championship after mixed performances in each of the first three rounds with a sixth-place finish in Australia after a spin, a transmission failure with his car in Bahrain after three laps, which happened after a very early racing incident with Hamilton, causing Verstappen to puncture his tyre, and then the collision with Vettel in China adding to his woe, where he finished fifth, but could have won the race!

Verstappen has got to find the happy medium between being aggressive and being conservative going forward without losing the ability to be bold on the circuit, which will take time that is for sure!

Pierre Gasly (12 points) for Toro Rosso-Honda, and Kevin Magnussen (11 points) for Haas-Ferrari complete the top 10 in the drivers’ championship.

Looking at the standings in the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes (85 points) lead by a single point over Ferrari (84 points) with Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer (55 points) having plenty of work to do to catch up with their main rivals in third, ahead of McLaren-Renault (28 points), Renault (25 points), Toro Rosso-Honda (12 points), Haas-Ferrari (11 points), Sauber-Ferrari (two points), Force India-Mercedes (one point), and Williams-Mercedes (zero points).

So, who will win the Azerbaijan Grand Prix?

On paper, this has been a circuit which has suited Mercedes, pace-wise at least, as it has been a power circuit, rewarding straight-line speed and engine/power-unit performance. In saying that, Ferrari believe their engine/power-unit performance is close to being on-par with Mercedes, so this could be an interesting battle!

If Mercedes wins, you sense that they are still the car and team to beat in terms of the championship, but if they don’t win or aren’t ahead of the field on merit, you sense Ferrari, and perhaps Red Bull are a strong chance of taking the championships away from Mercedes.

My gut feel is that Mercedes still has an advantage, and I believe it will be third-time lucky for Lewis Hamilton in Azerbaijan to take his first race victory of the season!

2018 Grand Prix of the Americas (MotoGP) – Preview

After one of the most dramatic and strangest races in MotoGP history a couple of weeks ago in Argentina, Round Three of the 2018 MotoGP World Championship takes place this weekend from the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas for the 2018 Grand Prix of the Americas, and the battle in terms of the championship is most certainly the widest that we have seen in some time!

Cal Crutchlow (38 points) is leading the championship for LCR Honda, becoming the first British rider since Barry Sheene in 1979 to lead the premier class world championship at any given time after his shock victory in Argentina, raising questions among many people as to whether he can win the world championship this year?

In my view, I don’t think Crutchlow against this field on his current machinery has what it takes over the course of a season to win the world championship in 2018, but if there are more crazy races like the last one, he could well be a chance!

Andrea Dovizioso (35 points) is second in the championship on his Ducati after finishing sixth in Argentina, a weekend where Ducati simply had no pace, with Johann Zarco (28 points) after his brilliant second-place finish on his Tech3 Yamaha in Argentina sitting third in the championship, ahead of factory Yamaha rider Maverick Viñales (21 points), who finished fifth at the Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo.

Then we get to Marc Márquez (20 points) who sits in fifth in the championship on his factory Honda after his trials and tribulations in Argentina, in which he was penalised in the race three times!

He was given a ride-through penalty for failing to adhere to the instructions of marshals/stewards after stalling his bike after the warm-up lap after the start of the race was delayed. However, after looking at the 2018 FIM World Championship Grand Prix Regulations, I raise the pertinent question of whether the start of the race should have actually have been delayed in the first place?

My answer to that question is No!

In my opinion, if the conditions are improving, the conditions are getting safer! So, why would you (race direction) delay the start of the race? Would it be to get more suitable tyres onto the bike?

After the bikes/riders get to the grid, according to Article 1.18.6 of the 2018 FIM World Championship Grand Prix Regulations: “The Race Director will, at this stage, declare the race as “wet” or “dry” and will indicate this to the riders on the grid and those who may still be in the pit lane by the display of a board. If no board is displayed the race will automatically be “dry”.”

And, according to Article 1.18.7 of the 2018 FIM World Championship Grand Prix Regulations: “Riders on the grid may at this stage make adjustments to the machine or change tyres to suit the track conditions.

“Tyre warmers may be used on the grid.

“Riders may use a generator to power tyre warmers on the grid. Only one generator per machine may be used. The generator must be of the “hand carried” type and have a maximum output capacity of two kilowatts.

“Starter engines may also be used on the grid.

“Generator and starter engines should be located at the rear of the motorcycles.

“All adjustments must be completed by the display of the 3-Minute board. After this board is displayed, riders who still wish to make adjustments must push their machine to the pit lane. Such riders and their machines must be clear of the grid and in the pit lane before the display of the 1-Minute board, where they may continue to make adjustments, or change machine in MotoGP only. Such riders will start the warm up lap from the pit lane and will start the race from the back of the grid.”

So, the teams and the riders had ample opportunity to make a decision as to what tyres they should start the race on, and the race was declared WET, so why did race direction decide eight minutes and 20 seconds later that it was best to delay the start of the race?

The conditions were not dangerous! If your choose WET/RAIN weather tyres, but believe that they are going to overheat, but you aren’t confident the conditions are suitable for slicks, then you do the warm-up, start the race, and come into the pit-lane to change bikes when the suitable time arrives!

Adding to this, only one rider, that being Jack Miller (19 points), who is sixth in the championship after finishing fourth on his Pramac Ducati after starting from pole position, could follow the rules and regulations as stated, and yet doesn’t get to reap the rewards of his decision because of race direction making seemingly, according to the rules and regulations, the wrong decision!

The conditions were not dangerous, the conditions were consistent and improving! It wasn’t like there was a sudden torrential downpour, or one particular corner having significantly different conditions compared to everywhere else. So, why was the start of the race delayed?

I could go on all day about the race that Marc Márquez had, including the subsequent penalties for the incidents with Aleix Espargaró and Valentino Rossi after the first penalty, but really, in my opinion, the race wasn’t run properly, and the FIM, Dorna Sports, and MotoGP need to have a very good, hard, and long look at themselves!

Completing the top 10 in the championship are Danilo Petrucci (17 points), Rossi (16 points), Álex Rins (16 points), and Andrea Iannone (15 points).

So, looking ahead to Round Three at the Circuit of the Americas, I cannot go past Márquez to bounce back and win in Austin after the disappointment of Argentina. He is undefeated at the Circuit of the Americas, and I can see him making it six wins from six appearances in Austin.

 

2018 Chinese Grand Prix – Preview

It is a quick turnaround for all the drivers and teams ahead of Round Three of the 2018 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship, which takes place this weekend from the Shanghai International Circuit in Shanghai, and with Sebastian Vettel taking a second victory in a row to start the season, which was the first time since 2011, when he was at Red Bull Racing, that he has won the opening two races of a season, Vettel and Ferrari have taken an early stranglehold on the championship, putting pressure on Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes to respond with a strong performance in China.

Vettel (50 points) leads the championship by 17 points over Hamilton (33 points) after the defending world champion finished third after starting from ninth after a five-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change, with the highlight of his charge to the podium being when he passed three cars at once into Turn One on Lap Five. With that performance, Hamilton equals Kimi Räikkönen’s record of 27-consecutive points-scoring finishes in Formula One

However, Vettel was the star, but not the driver of the race, after managing to outlast Valtteri Bottas late in the Bahrain Grand Prix to claim his 49th race victory. Bottas (22 points) is third in the championship for Mercedes after bouncing back from a disappointing weekend in Australia to finish a very close second behind Vettel in Bahrain.

Fernando Alonso (16 points) is in a shock fourth position in the championship after finishing seventh in Bahrain in his McLaren-Renault, and is ahead of Räikkönen (15 points) after the Ferrari driver was force to retire from the Bahrain Grand Prix after a wheel wasn’t attached properly at his second pit-stop, causing an unsafe release, and breaking the leg of one of the Ferrari mechanics after Räikkönen ran over his leg!

Nico Hülkenberg (14 points) is a surprising sixth in the championship for Renault after his sixth place finish in Bahrain, and is ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo (12 points), who along with his teammate Max Verstappen (eight points), who sits in 10th position in the championship for Red Bull, were forced to retire from the race with electrical and transmission issues after Lap One and Three respectively!

Pierre Gasly (12 points) is eighth in the championship for Toro Rosso-Honda after producing the best result and weekend of his Formula One career to date, qualifying sixth, starting fifth, and finishing in an unbelievable fourth, which was the best result since Honda returned to the sport in a large capacity in 2015.

Kevin Magnussen (10 points) is ninth in the championship for Haas-Ferrari after finishing fifth in Bahrain, which was his best result since the 2014 Russian Grand Prix.

In terms of the Constructors’ Championship, Ferrari (65 points) leads by 10 points over Mercedes (55 points), with these two teams having a clear advantage at this early stage.

Looking ahead as to who is going to win in China, I think Mercedes will be much stronger overall than what they were in Bahrain, as the Shanghai International Circuit is more of a front-limited circuit compared to Bahrain, and given Lewis Hamilton’s strong record on these types of circuits, I expect a big response from him, ahead of a tight battle between Sebastian Vettel, Valtteri Bottas, Kimi Räikkönen, Daniel Ricciardo, and Max Verstappen.

2018 Argentina GP (MotoGP) – Preview

After one of the closest races in recent memory to open up the season in Qatar, with the top seven covered by just five seconds, Round Two of the 2018 MotoGP World Championship takes place this weekend from the Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo in Argentina, with the battle between Ducati, Honda, and Yamaha set to be fierce once again.

Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) leads the world championship by virtue of his victory in Qatar after a cracking battle with defending world champion Marc Márquez (Honda), with Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) also getting involved in the fight for the victory, with Cal Crutchlow (Honda), Danilo Petrucci (Ducati), Maverick Viñales (Yamaha), and Dani Pedrosa (Honda) completing the top seven, with Johann Zarco (Yamaha), who started the race from pole position, leading 16 out of the first 17 laps before dropping away late in the race to finish in eighth.

And while Andrea Iannone finished ninth aboard his Suzuki, he was probably overshadowed by the performance of his teammate Alex Rins for most of the weekend, before Rins sadly crashed out on lap 13 whilst in a very strong position, but the performance from Suzuki as a whole in Qatar showed that they could be a serious threat to Ducati, Honda, and Yamaha going forward.

Someone who won’t be happy with his performance in Qatar is Dovizioso’s teammate Jorge Lorenzo, crashing out on lap 13 after struggling to keep in touch with the front-runners, and after a season in 2017 where he failed to claim a single race victory, he was hoping to get on equal terms with Dovizioso pace wise, but at the moment, Lorenzo needs to find the sweet spot with his machinery, which for Lorenzo doesn’t seem to be in a consistent place, especially in comparison with his teammate.

Overall, Márquez has always been fast in Argentina, claiming pole position in each year since the Grand Prix of Argentina re-joined the championship back in 2014, but it has been a win or bin it mentality from the Spaniard at the Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo, and while others have been solid, no one consistently has had an answer, pace wise at least, to stop Márquez in Argentina.

And, with the Honda seemingly in a much better position compared to this time last year, the defending world champion will be a very hard man to beat!

2018 Bahrain Grand Prix – Preview

After an opening race of the season in Australia, where Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel managed to get ahead of defending world champion Lewis Hamilton under virtual safety car conditions and win the Australian Grand Prix, Round Two of the 2018 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship takes place this weekend from the Bahrain International Circuit, in Sakhir, which is just outside of the capital city Manama.

Vettel has the championship lead by virtue of winning in Australia, but will certainly come under competition from Hamilton (2nd), Kimi Räikkönen (3rd), Daniel Ricciardo (4th), Max Verstappen (6th), as well as Valtteri Bottas (8th), not only in Bahrain, but for the rest of the season for Mercedes (Hamilton and Bottas), Ferrari (Vettel and Räikkönen), and Red Bull (Ricciardo and Verstappen).

McLaren look better than they have in recent years with their new Renault power-unit, and achieved just their seventh-double points-scoring finish in the last 62 races. Fernando Alonso looked very strong, and very much at his brilliant best in the race in Melbourne, gaining five positions to finish in fifth, which was his best finish since the 2016 United States Grand Prix.

Another team who looked strong was Haas-Ferrari, but despite their strong performance in qualifying, both Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean had to retire within a couple of laps of each other after leaving the pit-lane with one of their wheels not completely attached to the car, which was a massive shame for the American team, who scored their first points in Formula One at the 2016 Australian Grand Prix.

Also looking pretty decent at Albert Park were Renault, joining Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull, and McLaren in scoring a double points-scoring finish at the Australian Grand Prix.

So, looking ahead to Bahrain, I expect Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton to bounce back in the desert despite losing the Australian Grand Prix due to a bug within their system which governs the virtual safety car. Hamilton and Mercedes were the fastest combination at Albert Park, and I expect the defending world champion to claim his first victory of the season this weekend.

The Masters – 2018 Preview

It is Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, and a tradition unlike any other is about to commence once again! It is the first major of 2018, and the fight for The Green Jacket will be intense as the world’s best, and some of the greatest of all-time attempt to win The Masters.

Coming into Augusta, there has been one player who has been creating all of the major headlines thanks to his wonderful comeback after his tremendous struggles with a back injury, and that man is of course the four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods.

The 14-time major champion since his return at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas in December last year has only missed the cut once, and has had three top 10 finishes from his six events on his return from injury, including at the Hero World Challenge (Tied for ninth), and at his last two events coming into The Masters at the Valspar Championship (Tied for second behind Paul Casey), and at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard (Tied for fifth behind Rory McIlroy).

Overall, Woods has played in just nine events over the past 24 months, and while he may be ranked 103rd in the world, based on the points he has garnered in those nine events, he is very much playing like a Top 10 player, there is no doubt about that! However, if Woods were to claim The Masters this week for the fifth time, not only would he become the lowest-ranked player to win at Augusta National, it would also be his first major since the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines, which he of course won in that 18-hole playoff with Rocco Mediate (which then went to a sudden-death playoff) while battling a knee injury, which he was forced to miss the rest of 2008 season because of that.

And, considering what Tiger Woods has been through over recent years, if he were to claim his 15th major crown, it would rank as one of the greatest sporting achievements of all-time!

However, there are plenty of others who are willing to contend for the title of being a Masters champion, including World No.1 and 2016 US Open champion Dustin Johnson, who of course missed The Masters last year due to a back injury suffered by falling down a staircase at his rental home near Augusta; World No.2 and the winner of the 2017 PGA Championship Justin Thomas; World No.3 Jon Rahm, who won the Farmers Insurance Open in 2017, which was his first professional victory, to announce himself to the golfing world as a future star; World No.4 and three-time major champion Jordan Spieth, who of course won The Masters in 2015; 2013 US Open champion, and 2016 Olympic gold medallist Justin Rose; Hideki Matsuyama, who won the WGC -HSBC Champions in 2016, and the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational in 2017; four-time major champion Rory McIlroy; World No.8 Rickie Fowler, who won THE PLAYERS Championship in 2015, and defending Masters champion Sergio Garcia.

However, recent history is against the likes of Johnson, Thomas, Rahm, Spieth, Rose, Matsuyama, McIlroy, Fowler, and Garcia, who are all ranked inside the world’s Top 10, as eight of the last 11 Masters tournaments have been won by a player ranked outside the world’s top 10, including three of the last four, and the last two. The last four of those eight who won The Masters while ranked outside of the world’s top 10 were ranked inside the Top 20, with the last three ranked 12th or higher.

So, if you are looking for outside contenders to win The Green Jacket, you would be looking at the likes of Jason Day, who won the PGA Championship in 2015; World No.12 Tommy Fleetwood, who has won in Abu Dhabi for the last two years (2017, 2018), and is slowly rising up the rankings, as well as World No.13 Paul Casey, who won the BMW PGA Championship in 2009; World No.15 Alex Noren, who won the BMW PGA Championship in 2017: three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, and two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson.

Overall, when I look at all of the contenders, the one that stands out is Justin Thomas, who had a breakout year in 2017, winning five times, and has already won The Honda Classic in 2018, finishing inside the top 10 in his last four events, and in my opinion is the one to beat at Augusta National.