2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Preview

After 20 hard-fought, and exciting races, the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship comes to a close at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi for Round 21 of the championship, a season that will be remembered for Lewis Hamilton winning his fifth world championship, equalling the record of Juan Manuel Fangio, and moving to within two of Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world championships.

However, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will mark the end of the Formula One career of two-time world champion Fernando Alonso. 313 entries (311 starts), 32 wins, 97 podiums, 22 pole positions, and 23 fastest laps, racing for the likes of Minardi, Renault, McLaren, and Ferrari over the course of 17 seasons in Formula One. It has truly been a remarkable career for the most part.

For the record, Hamilton (383 points) leads the championship for Mercedes by an unassailable 81 points over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel (302 points), but the focus in the world championship lies in the battle for third between Kimi Räikkönen (251 points), Valtteri Bottas (237 points), and Max Verstappen (234 points) with only 17 points separating the three with one race to go.

Both Räikkönen and Verstappen have been in great form in recent races, with the Finn having three-straight podiums in the last three races, including claiming the United States Grand Prix, and will be looking to secure third in the championship before leaving Ferrari for Sauber-Ferrari next year, while the Dutchman has been on the podium in four-straight races, including winning the Mexican Grand Prix, and should have won in Brazil after Esteban Ocon, who was attempting to unlap himself, collided with Verstappen while he was leading the race.

However, Bottas hasn’t been on the podium in the last three races, finishing fifth in all three of those races, and will be desperate to get a win before the season comes to an end.

As far as the championship permutations for third, this is how each driver can claim third in the world championship.

For Räikkönen:

  1. If he finishes ahead of Bottas and Verstappen.
  2. If Bottas wins the race, Räikkönen must finish 4th or higher.
  3. If Bottas finishes second, Räikkönen must finish 8th or higher assuming Verstappen doesn’t win the race.
  4. If Bottas finishes third, Räikkönen must finish 10th or higher assuming Verstappen doesn’t finish inside the top two.
  5. If Bottas finishes fourth or lower assuming Verstappen doesn’t finish inside the top two.
  6. If Verstappen wins the race, Räikkönen must finish 5th or higher.
  7. If Verstappen finishes second, Räikkönen must finish ninth or higher assuming Bottas doesn’t win the race.
  8. If Verstappen finishes third or lower assuming Bottas doesn’t finish inside the top two.

For Bottas:

  1. If Bottas wins the race, Räikkönen must finish 5th or lower.
  2. If Bottas finishes second, Räikkönen must finish 9th or lower assuming Verstappen doesn’t win the race.
  3. If Bottas finishes third, Räikkönen must finish 11th or lower assuming Verstappen doesn’t finish inside the top two.

For Verstappen:

  1. If Verstappen wins the race, Räikkönen must finish 6th or lower.
  2. If Verstappen finishes second, Räikkönen must finish 10th or lower assuming Bottas doesn’t win the race.

Behind the top five in the championship, Daniel Ricciardo (158 points) will finish in sixth, while there is, mathematically at least, a six-way battle for seventh in the standings between Nico Hülkenberg (69 points), Sergio Pérez (58 points), Kevin Magnussen (55 points), Fernando Alonso (50 points), Esteban Ocon (49 points), and Carlos Sainz Jr. (45 points), while Romain Grosjean (35 points), Charles Leclerc (33 points), and Pierre Gasly (29 points) all remain in mathematical contention of finishing inside the top 10 in the world championship.

As far as the Constructors’ Championship is concerned, Mercedes (620 points) claimed their fifth-straight championship in Brazil, and lead by an unassailable 67 points over Ferrari (553 points), while Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer (392 points) will finish in third.

Behind the clear top three, the battle is still on for fourth between Renault (114 points) and Haas-Ferrari (90 points), while McLaren-Renault (62 points) are sixth, but could still be challenged by Force India-Mercedes (48 points) and Sauber-Ferrari (42 points), who could still yet be challenged by Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda (33 points), while Williams-Mercedes (seven points) will certainly finish 10th barring a minor miracle.

So, who will win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix?

I think Mercedes will be strong once again in the United Arab Emirates, but I think they will face some strong competition from Ferrari. Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer can challenge, but they will need to focus fully on the race if they are to challenge.

In my view, this is the best chance for Valtteri Bottas to claim a race victory in 2018, and if he does claim victory in Abu Dhabi, it will certainly be well-deserved!

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2018 Belgian GP – Preview

After a summer break of almost a month, the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship is about to recommence in earnest from arguably the most famed circuit in Formula One, and perhaps the world of motorsport, the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium for the Belgian Grand Prix, and the battle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel is set to intensify as both of them attempt to claim their fifth world championship crown in 2018.

Hamilton (213 points) leads the world championship for Mercedes by 24 points over Vettel (189 points) for Ferrari as we head into the second half of the season. Hamilton was magnificent, both in qualifying (when it was wet), and in the race at the Hungaroring in claiming his fifth victory of the season, while Vettel was disappointing, considering the expectations of him and Ferrari, in the last two races before the mid-season break, crashing out while in the lead of the German Grand Prix, and Ferrari not performing up to expectations at the Hungarian Grand Prix, despite finishing second.

You sense in the championship battle, Hamilton has the upper-hand, but Vettel has the car with the most potential of world championship glory, but needs to cut out the silly mistakes in order to extract the full potential from the Ferrari.

However, there is a strong battle for third in the championship between four drivers in Kimi Räikkönen (146 points) for Ferrari, Valtteri Bottas (132 points) for Mercedes, and Daniel Ricciardo (118 points) and Max Verstappen (105 points) for Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer, all separated by just 41 points.

Räikkönen has been in fine form in grabbing five podiums in the last five races, but hasn’t been able to get onto the top step, and should he claim his 21st victory in Formula One, it would be his first victory since the 2013 Australian Grand Prix when he was driving for Lotus, but his future at Ferrari (and in Formula One) is firmly under the microscope with Sauber’s Charles Leclerc lined up to potentially take his seat at Ferrari in 2019.

Bottas’ seat is safe though at Mercedes, but will want to improve his performances during the final nine races of the season after a mixed bag of races in 2018, while Ricciardo will be looking to finish his time at Red Bull on a high after announcing at the start of the mid-season break that he will be joining Renault next year, partnering up with Nico Hülkenberg, with Hülkenberg’s current teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. joining McLaren-Renault in 2019 to replace the departing two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, who is leaving Formula One, either for the FIA World Endurance Championship, which he has been competing in this year alongside his F1 commitments, or for the IndyCar Series in order to achieve his quest of becoming just the second driver to complete the unofficial Triple Crown of Motorsport (winning the Monaco Grand Prix, 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Indianapolis 500).

While back at Red Bull, Verstappen is coming on strong as 2018 is progressing, but will be disappointed with his performance in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix in seventh, before retiring after five laps after losing power. Verstappen will be joined by Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda driver Pierre Gasly at Red Bull next year in a team that will be known as Red Bull Racing-Honda.

Completing the top 10 in the championship is Hülkenberg (52 points) in seventh, Kevin Magnussen (45 points) for Haas-Ferrari in eighth, Alonso (44 points) in ninth, and Sergio Pérez (30 points) for Force India-Mercedes in 10th, with Hülkenberg’s teammate Sainz (30 points) tied on the same amount of points as Pérez.

Looking at the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes (345 points) have a 10-point lead over Ferrari (335 points), with Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer (223 points) in a comfortable third. Renault (82 points) have taken a stranglehold on fourth in the championship with a battle raging behind them for fifth between Haas-Ferrari (66 points), Force India-Mercedes (59 points), and McLaren-Renault (52 points). Completing the standings are Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda (28 points) in eighth, Sauber-Ferrari (18 points) in ninth, and Williams-Mercedes (four points) in 10th.

So, who will win at Spa-Francorchamps?

I am expecting a tight and tough tussle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, and I am thinking both the Mercedes and the Ferrari should be well-suited to this circuit, and if that’s the case, it is going to be one amazing race!

 

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 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.