2017 Austrian Grand Prix Preview

The ninth round of the 2017 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship takes place this weekend at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria.

Sebastian Vettel leads the world drivers’ championship for Ferrari on 153 points, extending his lead over Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton (139 points) to 14 points after both finishing off the podium in Azerbaijan in fourth and fifth respectively, making it the first race since the Malaysian Grand Prix last year where neither Vettel or Hamilton finished on the podium.

Both the championship protagonists had problems in Azerbaijan, with Vettel receiving a 10 second STOP-AND-GO penalty after causing a collision with Hamilton, while Hamilton had to unexpectedly pit to change his headrest after it wasn’t attached properly after the red flag midway through the race.

The penalty for Vettel received a lot of criticism for various media sources close to Formula One, as well as teams, drivers, and legends of the sport.

I have stated my opinion on the incident between Vettel and Hamilton last week and while I thought Vettel should have been disqualified for breaches of Article 27.4, and Article 39.8 of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations, I can understand the difficulty stewards had in handing out a penalty that fit the crime due to the penalty-points system that has been introduced into Formula One in recent years, and thought it was the better way of handling the incident, although many people would disagree with this.

Valtteri Bottas is third in the world championship for Mercedes on 111 points after salvaging a miraculous second after being a lap down after two laps after a tyre puncture after a collision with Kimi Räikkönen.

Räikkönen drops to fifth in the world championship on 73 points after having a myriad of issues in Azerbaijan, eventually retiring with an oil leak. He needs to respond this with a podium (at worst), otherwise his place at Ferrari for 2018 will be under scrutiny.

The man in fourth position in the world championship is Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo (92 points) after a remarkable victory on the streets of Baku, taking his fifth race win of his Formula One career, and capping off a run of four-consecutive podiums.

While he has never had to best car throughout his Formula One career so far, Ricciardo has this innate ability to put himself in at the right place, at the right time to pick up the pieces if rivals have problems, and run with it!

Talking about fierce rivals, Ricciardo’s teammate Max Verstappen cannot a trick right now in his Red Bull, suffering his fourth retirement of the season, and his second retirement in a row at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, growing ever frustrated at his team’s inability to produce a reliable car.

Verstappen looked like a genuine contender for a race victory in Baku for most of the weekend until encountering issues with his car. Red Bull have got to sort out their reliability issues with both cars if they want to make sure they keep third place in the Constructors’ Championship ahead of Force India.

Before I touch on the Constructors’ Championship, I would like to give a special mention to Lance Stroll for his first podium in Formula One. Stroll drove a very mature race to become the second-youngest driver to finish on a Formula One podium, and while he is not the finished product yet, he does have some untapped potential and deserves to be persevered with.

In terms of the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes (250 points) lead by 24 points over Ferrari (226 points), with both Red Bull (137 points) and Force India (79 points) comfortably in third and fourth respectively. There is a good scrap for fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship with Williams (37 points), Toro Rosso (33 points), Haas (21 points), and Renault (18 points) all within 19 points of each other, with Sauber (five points) and McLaren (two points) battling for ninth and 10th in the Constructors’ Championship after Fernando Alonso scored McLaren’s first points of the season in Azerbaijan.

Looking at who will be strong at the Red Bull Ring, on paper Mercedes looks like the better package, who have all the ingredients for success in Spielberg, with a strong powerunit, a well-balanced car through the quick corners and changes of direction, and decent traction out of the slow to medium speed corners.

Ferrari also look close to Mercedes on paper, while it will be interesting to see whether Red Bull will have a good package in Austria to challenge Mercedes and Ferrari.

I am tipping a Mercedes victory, with Lewis Hamilton leading home a Mercedes one-two finish.

 

The first two practice sessions (90 minutes each) are on Friday at 10am and 2pm local time (6pm and 10pm AEST).

The final practice session (60 minutes) and qualifying is on Saturday at 11am and 2pm local time (7pm and 10pm AEST).

The 71 lap race is on Sunday from 2pm local time (10pm AEST).

My take on Vettel/Hamilton incident

The 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix was one of the more remarkable and strangest races in recent times!

Daniel Ricciardo took a shock victory from tenth on the grid, which was the fifth race win of his career after falling to 17th after six laps after pitting on lap five from ninth to try and find some clear track to set some fast laps.

Valtteri Bottas took his fifth podium of the season, finishing second after falling a lap down after suffering a puncture on the opening lap after a collision with Kimi Räikkönen at Turn Two, while Lance Stroll got the first podium of his Formula One career, finishing third after starting in eighth, and became only the second teenager in history of Formula One to record a podium finish in a grand prix.

However, it is the two drivers who finished fourth and fifth in the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix that received all of the headlines in Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton and Vettel were first and second right from the opening lap respectively until the safety car was called on Lap 12/13 to recover the stranded Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat.

The race was restarted on Lap 17, but the safety car was called again after a piece of debris flew from Räikkönen’s car, and at the end of this safety car period, this was when the incident happened between Hamilton and Vettel.

On Lap 19, the announcement was made that the safety car was coming this lap, and as per normal, the leader of the race, which in this case was Hamilton, is allowed to control the speed of the field in the lead-up to the restart.

However, through Turn 15 on Lap 19, Hamilton was slower than Vettel expected, and on exit of Turn 15, Vettel hit the back of Hamilton’s car. Vettel, in the heat of the moment, thinking that Hamilton brake-tested him, came alongside Hamilton to show his disapproval to his championship rival, and then decided to turn in on him, causing a collision.

Data showed, according to the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), that Lewis Hamilton did not brake-test Sebastian Vettel, but it was clear that Vettel caused a collision with Hamilton, and the stewards had to hand down a justifiable penalty.

After Hamilton had to pit after his head-rest was not attached properly after a red flag period to clean up debris, Vettel received a 10-second stop-and-go penalty breaching Article 27.4 of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations, and after the race, Vettel received three penalty points to take his total nine penalty points, leaving him three penalty points away from a one-race ban should he break the rules in a such a way in the next two races.

Article 27.4 reads:

27.4 At no time may a car be driven unnecessarily slowly, erratically or in a manner which could be deemed potentially dangerous to other drivers or any other person.

However, did The FIA Stewards of the Meeting in Paul Gutjahr, Enzo Spano, Danny Sullivan, and Anar Shukurov get the decision right in regards to the penalty for Sebastian Vettel?

In my opinion, I don’t think they did. At the time of the incident, and seeing a number of replays of the incident, I felt that Vettel had to be disqualified from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix for such a premeditated act.

However, in this case, I think the implementation of the penalty points system in recent years saw the stewards err away from the thought of disqualifying Vettel from the race, and implement a penalty they thought was much more appropriate to the situation, and what had happened.

Under Article 4.2 of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations:

4.2 In accordance with Articles 31. 5 and 38.3, the stewards may impose penalty points on a driver’s Super Licence. If a driver accrues 12 penalty points his licence will be suspended for the following Event, following which 12 points will be removed from the licence.

Penalty points will remain on a driver’s Super Licence for a period of 12 months after which they will be respectively removed on the 12 month anniversary of their imposition.

However, the result of the penalty, after Hamilton had to pit to fix his issue, saw Vettel get ahead of Hamilton, and gain crucial world championship points over his championship rival didn’t seem morally right to most people, including Hamilton, who expressed his frustration of Vettel’s penalty during the race.

However, what wasn’t investigated was whether Sebastian Vettel overtook Lewis Hamilton under safety car conditions?

Under Article 39.8 of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations:

39.8 With the exception of the cases listed under a) to h) below, no driver may overtake another car on the track, including the safety car, until he passes the first safety car line for the first time when the safety car is returning to the pits. However, if the safety car is still deployed at the beginning of the last lap, or is deployed during the last lap, Article 39.15 will apply.

The exceptions are :
a) If a driver is signalled to do so from the safety car.

b) Under 39.12 or 39.16 below.

c) When entering the pits a driver may pass another car remaining on the track, including
the safety car, after he has reached the first safety car line.

d) When leaving the pits a driver may overtake, or be overtaken by, another car on the
track before he reaches the second safety car line.

e) When the safety car is returning to the pits it may be overtaken by cars on the track
once it has reached the first safety car line.

f) Whilst in the pit entry, pit lane or pit exit a driver may overtake another car which is
also in one of these three areas.

g) Any car stopping in its designated garage area whilst the safety car is using the pit lane
(see 39.11 below) may be overtaken.

h) If any car slows with an obvious problem.

Looking at various replays of the incident again, it appeared that Vettel did pass Hamilton under safety car conditions, but this has appeared to have been missed by the stewards, and if this is the case, Vettel should have received another penalty.

It is something that the FIA and Formula One have got to review the footage as soon as possible to determine whether Vettel did overtake under safety car conditions.

However, the events of Azerbaijan will ensure that the world championship battle between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton will be one of titanic proportions!

2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Preview

The eighth round of the 2017 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship takes place this weekend at the Baku City Circuit, on the streets of Baku, which is the capital city of Azerbaijan.

Coming into the eighth race of this intriguing and exciting 2017 season, Lewis Hamilton (129 points) has closed the gap to championship leader Sebastian Vettel (141 points) to 12 points after winning the Canadian Grand Prix last time out, claiming the fourth grand slam of his career (pole position, race victory, fastest lap, and leading every lap of the race), with Vettel salvaging fourth-place after suffering a damaged front wing on the opening lap in Montreal.

Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas is third in the world drivers championship on 93 points, 48 points behind championship leader Vettel, and 36 points behind Hamilton after being comprehensively outperformed by his teammate in Canada, to the tune of 19.783 seconds, despite finishing second in the race, and it is looking ever more likely that Bottas will be playing second-fiddle to Hamilton throughout the rest of 2017.

Likewise Kimi Räikkönen at Ferrari, whose disappointing seventh-place at the Canadian Grand Prix leaves him on 73 points, 68 points behind his teammate and world championship leader Vettel.

Australian Daniel Ricciardo leads the charge for Red Bull Racing on 67 points, 74 points behind the championship leader after securing a distant third-place finish in Montreal, while his teammate Max Verstappen had to retire from the Canadian Grand Prix due to electrical issues with his car, making it his third retirement of the season.

In terms of the Constructors Championship, Mercedes (222 points) retakes the lead of the championship from Ferrari (214 points) by eight points, with Red Bull being a distant third on 112 points, with only Force India (71 points) putting up a somewhat consistent challenge for third-place in the Constructors Championship, 41 points behind Red Bull.

After this, there is a good scrap for fifth-place in the Constructors Championship, with Toro Rosso (29 points), Williams (22 points), Renault (18 points), and Haas (15 points) all looking like that they can challenge for the final points-scoring positions on any given weekend.

However, they are all lacking a consistent two driver points-scoring effort, with only Toro Rosso (twice) with their drivers Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat, and Haas (once) with their drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, achieving at least double points-scoring finish in 2017 so far.

Then it is the sorry sight of Sauber (four points), who are in turmoil after team principal Monisha Kaltenborn left the team in the lead-up to this grand prix, and will be moving from Ferrari to Honda power-plants from 2018.

Talking about Honda, McLaren continue to be the most awful and disappointing story of 2017, having scored no points in the first seven rounds, and wanting to end their relationship with Honda, who simply haven’t performed close to anyone’s very realistic expectations, in terms of delivering a strong, quality power-plant.

The actual chassis, according to most industry insiders, is just about on par with the Red Bull, and would be capable, with the right power-plant in it, of challenging for podiums, and maybe even the odd race victory.

However, the two people I feel most sorry are the two drivers in Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne.

Vandoorne, who was considered by McLaren as a better overall driver than Kevin Magnussen, is struggling to develop in an environment, and with equipment, that is simply not up to Formula One standard as a first-year driver in the premier category in world motorsport, which is a terrible shame.

As for Alonso, many people who will read this article will consider him still to be the best driver in the sport, or at least right up there with the best, and the way he has performed so far in 2017 shows that he hasn’t lost it, out-qualifying and in races, out-performing his teammate numerous times as long as reliability has held up, with probably his best performance coming in qualifying at the Spanish Grand Prix, where he qualified seventh in front of his home crowd in what was undoubtedly one of the laps of the season so far, and definitely of that qualifying session.

At this stage, McLaren are on-track, other than being disqualified from the Constructors Championship in 2007 after the espionage controversy, also known as “Spygate”, for their first season without scoring a single point, which would be a terrible shame for their supporters, and for Formula One.

Going back to the front-runners, the Baku City Circuit is expected again to be low grip, and should suit Ferrari, but the high-speed nature of the street circuit should also suit Mercedes, so it should be another great battle between the two best teams.

My tip is for a Lewis Hamilton victory in a close battle with Sebastian Vettel, with Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen fighting for the final spot on the podium.

 

The first two practice sessions (90 minutes each) are on Friday at 1pm and 5pm local time (7pm and 11pm AEST).

The final practice session (60 minutes) and qualifying is on Saturday at 2pm and 5pm local time (8pm and 11pm AEST).

The 51 lap race is on Sunday from 5pm local time (11pm AEST).

2017 Canadian Grand Prix – Preview

This weekend, the seventh round of the 2017 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship takes place at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in city of Montreal, where Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton will be looking to fight back against the might of Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel.

Coming into the seventh race of the season, Vettel (129 points) leads the Drivers’ World Championship by 25 points over Hamilton (104 points) with Valtteri Bottas (75 points) and Kimi Räikkönen (67 points) a fair way behind heading to a circuit where both Hamilton and Vettel have been strong at.

In the Constructors’ World Championship, Ferrari (196 points) lead the way after Monaco by 17 points over Mercedes (179 points).

Hamilton has been particularly dominant in Montreal, winning there five times, including his first victory in Formula One back in 2007, and claiming five pole positions, including his first in 2007 from his nine appearances at the circuit.

Only seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher has won the Canadian Grand Prix more times than the three-time world champion with an amazing seven victories at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Hamilton has always started in the top five in each of his nine appearances in Montreal, including eight times from the front row, and in the six times he has finished the Canadian Grand Prix, he has always finished on the podium.

Adding to this, not only will Hamilton be looking to claim his 65th career pole position, and move into equal-second alongside Ayrton Senna on the all-time pole position list in Formula One, Hamilton will also look to claim his sixth Canadian Grand Prix victory, which would make it the race that he has won the most in the sport.

Vettel has also been successful here, and although he has only won the Canadian Grand Prix once, Vettel has taken three pole positions at the circuit, and along with Hamilton have claimed pole position in eight of the last nine editions of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel will also be looking to become the first driver in the 2017 season to achieve consecutive wins after winning the Monaco Grand Prix almost a fortnight ago, and in the last six years, the first driver to win consecutive races in each of those seasons has gone onto win the world championship.

Out of the other drivers currently on the grid, only Kimi Räikkönen, Fernando Alonso, and Daniel Ricciardo have tasted victory in Canada, with Alonso the only other driver currently on the grid to have grabbed a pole position in Montreal.

Looking at the circuit characteristics, and the strengths of the cars, it appears to be a battle between Ferrari and Mercedes for the victory, with it being wide-open behind them.

On paper, the Ferrari looks like the better package with its ability to manage tyre temperatures, and its apparent strength through lower-speed corners, as evidenced by their one-two performance in Monaco.

However, the Mercedes should also be strong due to the power demands of the circuit, and judging by the competitiveness of Mercedes in comparison with Ferrari at every other circuit, except at Monaco, they should be back in the victory hunt here.

All the evidence points to a Vettel vs. Hamilton battle on Sunday, but will Hamilton cut his deficit over Vettel in the world championship, or will Vettel march one step closer towards a fifth world championship?

I am tipping Hamilton to fight back and claim his third victory of the season.

 

The first two practice sessions (90 minutes each) are on Friday at 10am and 2pm local time (Saturday morning at 12am and 4am AEST).

The final practice session (60 minutes) and qualifying is on Saturday at 10am and 1pm local time (Sunday morning at 12am and 3am AEST).

The 70 lap race is on Sunday from 2pm local time (Monday morning 4am AEST).

 

 

2017 Monaco Grand Prix – Preview

The sixth round of the 2017 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship takes place this weekend on the famous streets of Monaco, with the championship battle between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton, and their respective teams, Ferrari and Mercedes, evenly poised.

After the first quarter of the season, Vettel (104 points) leads the Drivers’ World Championship by six points over Hamilton (98 points), while Mercedes (161 points) leads the Constructors’ World Championship by eight points over Ferrari (153 points).

After their retirements in Spain, and their relative lack of pace and performance compared to their teammates, both Valtteri Bottas (63 points), who retired with engine problems, and Kimi Raikkonen (49 points), who retired with a broken suspension, who are 41 and 55 points behind the championship leader, look set to be cast into supporting roles for their respective teammates Hamilton and Vettel as the championship heads to Monaco for the next installment of the Vettel vs. Hamilton battle.

Heading into Monaco, Vettel is on a run of six consecutive podium finishes in Formula One, including finishing the first five races of the season in the top two positions, including winning the Australian Grand Prix and the Bahrain Grand Prix.

He is also looking to win his second Monaco Grand Prix, and win Ferrari’s first Monaco Grand Prix since 2001, when seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher (then a three-time world champion) won in a Ferrari one-two, with teammate Rubens Barrichello coming home in second place.

Meanwhile, Hamilton, who bounced-back from his fourth place in Russia by claiming victory at the Spanish Grand Prix has finished on the podium in 16 of his last 18 races in Formula One, including winning 10 of those 16 races where he has finished on the podium.

In Monaco, Hamilton is looking to claim his 65th pole position in Formula One, which would move him level with the late-great Ayrton Senna (who secured six victories, and five pole positions in Monaco) in equal-second on the all-time pole position list. Michael Schumacher has the most pole positions in Formula One history with 68.

Hamilton will also aim to achieve his third Monaco Grand Prix victory, and become the ninth driver to win consecutive successes in Monaco.

In addition to this, Hamilton’s team, Mercedes, is looking for their fifth-straight victory on the streets of the principality, after Nico Rosberg’s three victories in 2013, 2014, and 2015, along with Hamilton’s own victory with the team in 2016.

However, there will be plenty of fierce competition from rivals in Monaco, who are looking not to allow Vettel and/or Hamilton run away with this world championship.

Both Bottas, who is looking for his second victory in Formula One, and Raikkonen, who is looking for his second Monaco Grand Prix victory, 12 years after his only success to date on the Monaco Street Circuit in 2005.

Can they challenge their teammates in Monaco?

Or, can Red Bull Racing (72 points), and either of their drivers, Daniel Ricciardo (37 points) or Max Verstappen (35 points), challenge Mercedes and Ferrari for glory on the streets of Monaco?

They head back to Monaco, one year after a bungled pit-stop cost Ricciardo an almost certain victory on the streets of the principality.

So far in 2017, Red Bull have been clearly the third-fastest car, but have been troubled by a series of reliability issues.

Ricciardo with a fuel pressure issue in Australia after starting from the pit-lane after stopping on the lap(s) to the grid with mechanical issues, compounding a horror qualifying session the day before, when Ricciardo crashed his car into the barriers after a spin at Turn 14.

Then in China, Verstappen had a misfiring issue with his engine, and could only qualify 19th (starting 16th), before fighting back to a brilliant third on the Sunday, before reliability issues struck in Bahrain, with Verstappen retiring from the race with a brake failure, with the same braking issues struck in Russia for Ricciardo.

Then in Spain, a first lap collision involving Verstappen, Raikkonen, and Bottas resulted in broken suspensions for both the cars of Verstappen and Raikkonen, forcing both of them to retire from the Spanish Grand Prix.

To add to Red Bull’s misery, Ricciardo finished the Spanish Grand Prix 75.820 seconds behind race winner Hamilton in third spot as the last car on the lead lap. This was the first time this has happened in Formula One since the 2008 British Grand Prix, when only three cars finished on the lead lap.

So can Red Bull make it a three-team, six car fight in Monaco?

My view is that it will be tough, and I expect a battle royale between Vettel and Hamilton for the victory.

 

The first two practice sessions (90 minutes each) are on the Thursday (instead of the usual Friday) at 10am and 2pm local time (6pm and 10pm AEST).

The final practice session (60 minutes) and qualifying is on Saturday at 11am and 2pm local time (7pm and 10pm AEST).

The 78 lap race is on Sunday from 2pm local time (10pm AEST).