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 Brazilian Grand Prix – Preview

It was a magnificent win for Max Verstappen at the Mexican Grand Prix, another tough race for Daniel Ricciardo ending in his eighth retirement of the season, but the biggest headline was Lewis Hamilton becoming just the third man after Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher to win five Formula One World Championships, an incredible achievement.

However, the focus now turns to the Autódromo José Carlos Pace in São Paulo, Brazil for the penultimate round, Round 20 of the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship, and a battle not only for the Constructors’ Championship, but also for third in the Drivers’ Championship.

Hamilton (358 points) became a five-time Formula One World Champion after his fourth-place finish in Mexico, a performance in any other circumstances would have been described as a lacklustre one, finishing 78.738 seconds behind race winner Verstappen, and the last car on the lead lap. Hamilton and Mercedes will be looking for a much better performance in the final two races of the season in Brazil and Abu Dhabi, two circuits which should suit Mercedes on paper much better.

Sebastian Vettel (294 points) has secured second in the world championship after finishing second in Mexico, which wasn’t enough to keep the championship battle going in his Ferrari, but the positive sign for the Prancing Horse is that Ferrari have regained the speed that they had before the flyaway races, winning in Austin with Kimi Räikkönen, and being the second-best car in Mexico behind Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer at a track which very much suited Red Bull.

Talking about Räikkönen (236 points), he leads a three-way battle for third in the world championship with Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas (227 points), and Verstappen (216 points), while Ricciardo (146 points) will finish 2018 in sixth after retiring for the second-straight week, this time due to a hydraulics failure.

Behind the top six in the championship, there is a huge scrap for seventh with Nico Hülkenberg (69 points), Sergio Pérez (57 points), Kevin Magnussen (53 points), Fernando Alonso (50 points), Esteban Ocon (49 points), and Carlos Sainz Jr. (45 points) all within 24 points of each other with two races remaining.

Looking at the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes (585 points) could claim their fifth-straight championship Brazil, currently leading by 55 points over Ferrari (530 points). Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer (362 points) are locked-in for third with Renault (114 points) close to locking up fourth ahead of Haas-Ferrari (84 points).

Then beyond the top five, McLaren-Renault (62 points) are hanging onto sixth ahead of Force India-Mercedes (47 points), while a great battle continues for eighth in the championship with Sauber-Ferrari (36 points) overtaking Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda (33 points), while Williams-Mercedes (seven points) will finish 10th in the Constructors’ Championship barring a minor miracle.

Looking at the championship permutations, Mercedes can claim the 2018 Constructors’ World Championship in Brazil if they are not out-scored by Ferrari by 13 points or more. If Ferrari finish first and second in São Paulo, the battle will go down to the final race in Abu Dhabi regardless of what Mercedes does. However, if one Mercedes driver finishes the Brazilian Grand Prix inside the top two, the other Mercedes driver must finish fifth or higher unless the first Mercedes driver win, with a Mercedes win being enough to clinch the Constructors’ Championship regardless of what Ferrari does.

And, we also have the battle for third in the championship on the line in Brazil, which can be decided in favour of Kimi Räikkönen:

  1. If Räikkönen wins the race, Bottas must finish 6th or lower.
  2. If Räikkönen finishes second, Bottas must finish 9th or lower, and Verstappen must finish 4th or lower.

So, who will win the 2018 Brazilian Grand Prix?

In my opinion, I think Mercedes will return back to their best form, but I still suspect Ferrari will be with them in the battle for the victory at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace. Overall, I think Sebastian Vettel will find his best form to claim his sixth race win of the season, but I think the two Mercedes will be on the podium to claim their fifth-straight Constructors’ World Championship.

2018 Mexican Grand Prix – Preview

Kimi Räikkönen took his 21st career race victory in Formula One, but his first since the 2013 Australian Grand Prix, when he was with the Lotus F1 Team, by taking out the 2018 United States Grand Prix, his first win in the United States, holding of Max Verstappen, who charged from 18th on the grid to claim second, and claimed the Driver of the Day award, and Lewis Hamilton, with Mercedes taking a strategic gamble by taking the pit-stop under the virtual safety car, but it backfired, but despite requiring a second pit-stop, Hamilton charged back to finish in a close third.

And with this, the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship battle is still alive heading into the 2018 Mexican Grand Prix, Round 19 of the championship.

Hamilton (346 points) leads the world championship for Mercedes by 70 points over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel (276 points) after another disappointing performance by the German, finishing in fourth after spinning on the opening lap when racing Daniel Ricciardo, throwing away yet another opportunity for a crucial race victory.

Behind Hamilton and Vettel in the championship, Vettel’s teammate Räikkönen (221 points) has re-taken third in the standings ahead of Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas (217 points), while Verstappen (191 points) is closing in on both of them in a close fifth for Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer, but the Dutchman’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo (146 points) is still mathematically in the hunt, but realistically knows that sixth is the best he can do this year in the world championship after suffering his seventh retirement of the season.

However, while the battle for third in the championship is starting to heat up, the battle for seventh in the standings has been blown wide open, with Nico Hülkenberg (61 points) moving up to seventh after a sixth-place finish at the Circuit of the Americas for Renault, with Sergio Pérez (57 points) slipping one place back to eighth in the world championship after finishing in the same position at the United States Grand Prix for Force India-Mercedes.

Behind Hülkenberg and Pérez, the trio of Kevin Magnussen (53 points) for Haas-Ferrari, Fernando Alonso (50 points) for McLaren-Renault, and Esteban Ocon (49 points) for Force India-Mercedes, who in the case of Alonso retired from the United States Grand Prix, and in the case of Magnussen and Ocon were disqualified after technical breaches in regards to their fuel usage, with Magnussen using beyond the maximum 105kg of fuel, and Ocon for exceeding the fuel-flow limit on the opening lap of the grand prix, while Hülkenberg’s teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. (45 points) moves into the tussle for seventh in the world championship after finishing seventh in Austin.

Looking at the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes (563 points) have had their lead narrowed slightly to 66 points over Ferrari (497 points), while Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer (337 points) will finish third regardless of what happens in the final three races of the season, but behind them, Renault (106 points) have taken a firm grip on fourth ahead of Haas-Ferrari (84 points), while Force India-Mercedes (47 points) close in on McLaren-Renault (58 points) for sixth, a tight battle continues for eighth in the championship between Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda (32 points) and Sauber-Ferrari (28 points), while Williams-Mercedes (seven points) have had a lock on 10th in the Constructors’ Championship for quite a while.

So, with the opportunity of both the Drivers’ World Championship, and the Constructors’ World Championship to be claimed this weekend by Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes respectively, this is how they can do it.

For Hamilton to claim his fifth world championship at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City:

  1. If Vettel wins, Hamilton must finish 7th or higher.
  2. If Vettel doesn’t win, Hamilton becomes a five-time Formula One World Champion.

For Mercedes to claim their fifth-straight Constructors World Championship at the 2018 Mexican Grand Prix, Mercedes must out-score Ferrari by 20 points or more.

So, who will win in Mexico?

Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer have been targeting this race as a chance to grab a win before the 2018 season comes to an end, and judging by their form in Austin, they are a strong chance of success, and with the high altitude reducing the power-unit advantage of Mercedes and Ferrari, you could see a race victory from either Max Verstappen or Daniel Ricciardo, and if that happens, Lewis Hamilton will be a five-time world champion.

2018 United States Grand Prix – Preview

Lewis Hamilton has taken six of the last seven races, and now has the distinct opportunity to become only the third driver in history to become a five-time Formula One World Champion when Round 18 of the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship takes place from the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas for the 2018 United States Grand Prix.

Hamilton (331 points), who has won the United States Grand Prix six times, including five times at the Circuit of the Americas, including in each of the last four years, leads the championship for Mercedes by 67 points over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel (264 points) after claiming his fourth win in a row at Suzuka, and with the big step-up in performance Mercedes has taken, particularly during the flyaway races, it is almost a fait accompli that Hamilton will take out his fifth world championship, if not in the United States, at the following race in Mexico.

Behind the top two in the championship, the battle, in terms of the points score, has really fizzled out in the battle for third, with Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas (207 points) starting to take a firm grip on third in the world championship ahead of Vettel’s teammate Kimi Räikkönen (196 points), who will be looking to finish his time with Ferrari on a high before joining Sauber-Ferrari in 2019.

Max Verstappen (173 points) is fifth in the championship for Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer, and has a good chance of finishing third or fourth in 2018, ahead of his teammate Daniel Ricciardo (146 points), who seems destined to finish his final year with Red Bull, before linking up with Renault in 2019, in sixth position in the world championship despite three-straight points-scoring finishes.

And, behind the top six in the championship, we have five drivers separated by just four points battling to finish seventh, with Sergio Pérez (53 points), Kevin Magnussen (53 points), Nico Hülkenberg (53 points), Fernando Alonso (50 points), and Esteban Ocon (49 points) jostling between each other for the “best of the rest” title.

Looking at the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes (538 points) have a stranglehold on the world championship, leading by 78 points over Ferrari (460 points), and could take their fifth-straight Constructors’ Championship at the next round in Mexico.

Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer (319 points) are guaranteed to finish third at worst, should they, as expected, not be able to catch Ferrari, while the battle behind only continues to heat up, with Haas-Ferrari closing in on Renault for fourth, McLaren-Renault coming under increasing pressure from Force India-Mercedes for sixth, while Sauber-Ferrari are still in touching distance of Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda for eighth, while Williams-Mercedes are destined to finish 2018 in 10th.

Looking at the championship permutations, Lewis Hamilton must finish inside the top six at the 2018 United States Grand Prix, and ahead of Sebastian Vettel if he is to become a five-time world champion this weekend. Hamilton will become a five-time world champion at the Circuit of the Americas if:

  1. If Hamilton wins, Vettel must finish in 3rd or lower.
  2. If Hamilton finishes in 2nd, Vettel must finish in 5th or lower.
  3. If Hamilton finishes in 3rd, Vettel must finish in 7th or lower.
  4. If Hamilton finishes in 4th, Vettel must finish in 8th or lower.
  5. If Hamilton finishes in 5th, Vettel must finish in 9th or lower.
  6. If Hamilton finishes in 6th,  Vettel must finish outside of the points-scoring positions (11th or lower).

So, who will win the 2018 United States Grand Prix?

Unless Ferrari magically find some mind-blowing speed, Mercedes are most certainly the team to beat, and given what we saw in Russia and Japan, it would not be surprising if Mercedes finish first and second in Austin, and if that is the case, as long as Hamilton wins the United States Grand Prix for the seventh time, and at the Circuit of the Americas for the sixth time, he will claim his fifth world championship, and join Juan Manuel Fangio in equal-second for the most Formula One World Championships.

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 Spanish Grand Prix – Preview

After four interesting and exciting flyaway races to start off the season in Australia, Bahrain, China, and all of the late drama in Azerbaijan, the 2018 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship moves back into more normal territory, to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Montmeló, which is about 30 kilometres north-east of Barcelona, near the east coast of northern Spain, where pre-season testing took place in difficult conditions for the most part, so this will be the first real opportunity for the drivers and teams to test out the re-surfaced track in optimal conditions.

Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton (70 points) leads the world championship by just four points over Ferrari driver and fellow four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel (66 points) after a crazy finish to the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after the incident between the two Red Bull drivers, and the unusual crash into the wall from Romain Grosjean.

Vettel, who was looking good for his 50th win in Formula One, had lost the lead of the race under the safety car to Valtteri Bottas, tried to overtake him after the safety car came in, but couldn’t make the move stick into Turn One on Lap 48, losing a few positions, and then at the start of Lap 49, Bottas picked up a sudden tyre puncture, which forced him out of the race early, which allowed teammate Hamilton to pick up the scraps to do a Steven Bradbury, and claim his first victory of the season.

With that, Hamilton took his podium tally to 120 (63 wins) in his career, and extended his points-scoring streak to a record 29 races, and since joining Mercedes in 2013, has finished 94 of his 102 races with the team inside the points.

Kimi Räikkönen (48 points) recovered from some early misfortune in Azerbaijan to claim an eventful second in Baku in his Ferrari to overtake the unlucky and unfortunate Bottas (40 points) into third in the championship.

Next comes Daniel Ricciardo (37 points), who maintains his fifth position in the world championship in his Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer despite the collision between himself and teammate Max Verstappen, which was adjudicated by the stewards as being a racing incident, but both drivers have been forced by team principal Christian Horner to apologise to the whole team back at Milton Keynes.

However, with Ricciardo regarded as one of the hardest, but cleanest drivers in the world, the attention of scrutiny falls squarely onto the back of Verstappen, who has struggled under the weight of pressure and expectation in 2018 so far.

He has had the spin in Australia, mechanical failure in Bahrain, the collision between him and Vettel in China, and now the collision with his teammate in Azerbaijan, and despite having achieved three race victories, and a further eight podiums in his 64 race career at the age of just 20, including becoming the first (and so far only) teenage to win in Formula One (18 years, and 228 days old), you get the sense that maybe things have come too easily and too soon for Verstappen, and now for the first time in his Formula One career, he is under serious pressure, so it will be intriguing for all of us to see not only how he handles it, but also how Red Bull handles it, given the lack of patience Red Bull, with both Red Bull and Toro Rosso, has shown its drivers in the past.

Fernando Alonso (28 points) is sixth in the championship in his McLaren-Renault after a fourth-straight points finish to start the season in Baku despite some non-terminal damage suffered on the first lap, carving his way through the field to finish an impressive seventh, and is ahead of Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg (22 points), who is seventh in the championship despite his accident on Lap 10, forcing him to retire from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Verstappen (18 points) is eighth in the world championship with Sergio Pérez (15 points) in ninth position in the championship after his wonderful third-place finish in his Force India-Mercedes, while Carlos Sainz Jr. (13 points) completes the top 10 in the championship in his Renault.

As far as the Constructors’ Championship is concerned, Ferrari (114 points) have overtaken Mercedes (110 points) to take the lead of the championship, with Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer (55 points) still in third despite scoring no points in Azerbaijan. They are followed by McLaren-Renault (36 points) and Renault (35 points), who are separated by a single point in their battle for fourth, and are ahead of Force India-Mercedes (16 points), Toro Rosso-Honda (13 points), Haas-Ferrari (11 points), Sauber-Ferrari (10 points), and Williams-Mercedes (four points).

So, who will win the Spanish Grand Prix?

Usually the fastest and best car wins, and if you judge that by the opening four races, it is the Ferrari that looks the strongest, but I sense Mercedes are going to come strong with their car with some timely upgrades, and I also think Red Bull will also be strong.

However, to do well at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, first you must qualify well! 20 out of the 27 winners of the Spanish Grand Prix at this circuit have won from pole position with a further four winning from second-place on the grid. In addition to this, no one has won from lower than fifth on the grid at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

Given Red Bull’s failures to match the engine modes of both Ferrari and Mercedes, you sense it is going to be between those two teams, and most likely Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton as to who will win the Spanish Grand Prix!

2017 Italian Grand Prix – Preview

The 13th round of the 2017 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship takes place this weekend at Monza in Italy, and the battle between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton is set to explode, and likewise between Ferrari and Mercedes with only eight races remaining in the season.

Vettel (220 points) for Ferrari leads by a slender seven point margin over Mercedes driver Hamilton (213 points) as we head towards the most important stages of the season. Both drivers haven’t had to retire from a single race so far in 2017, and have finished inside the points in every single race, and in fact, the lowest finish both drivers have had in 2017 has been a seventh place finish (Vettel at Silverstone, Hamilton at Monaco).

Overall, Hamilton has the most race victories so far in 2017 with five, compared to Vettel’s four, but the Ferrari driver has had more podium finishes with nine, compared with seven for the Mercedes driver.

The teammates of both Hamilton and Vettel, Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen look set to be cast into support act roles for the remainder of the season by both Mercedes and Ferrari respectively as both teams focus on the drivers’ world championship, and their lead drivers Hamilton and Vettel.

Bottas (179 points) is third in the championship, 41 points behind Vettel, and 34 points behind teammate Hamilton, and has had a wonderful season, his first season with the Mercedes team, with eight podiums, and two potentially crucial race victories in Russia and Austria when Hamilton was having a difficult weekend, preventing Vettel, who finished second in both of those races, from extending his championship lead to a greater margin.

However, Bottas will likely be deployed as a number two driver for the rest of the season, but has shown that he is very capable of stealing crucial points away from Ferrari, and in particular Vettel in the championship battle.

However, Räikkönen (128 points), who is fifth in the championship, 92 points behind teammate Vettel, and 85 points behind Hamilton, hasn’t been able to show in 2017 that he can get that crucial victory to help his teammate in the championship, and deny Hamilton of vital world championship points, but has had four podiums so far in 2017.

In saying that though, Räikkönen has been deployed by Ferrari as a number two driver throughout most of 2017, but at some point during the last eight races, he is going to be faced with a scenario where he has going to have to win a race when Vettel is in trouble, or having a difficult weekend to potentially deny Hamilton the championship. Whether he can or not remains to be seen in 2017.

However, someone who can spoil Vettel’s or Hamilton’s championship challenge is Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo, who sits fourth in the world championship on 132 points, 88 points behind Vettel, and 81 points behind Hamilton.

Ricciardo has shown that he has that uncanny knack of getting himself into the right place at the right time to pick up a race victory in Azerbaijan, as well as a further five podiums (all third places) in a car not as quick as either the Mercedes or Ferrari, but his teammate Max Verstappen has had lots of reliability issues with his car.

Currently sixth in the world championship on 67 points, Verstappen has had six retirements in the opening 12 races, most of them mechanical, and needs some luck to go his way, as he has generally been quicker than Ricciardo. I think if his car is reliable, Verstappen can win a race in 2017 in the right conditions, and have an impact on the championship battle.

In seventh and eighth position in the world championship are the two Force India drivers, Sergio Pérez (56 points) and Esteban Ocon (47 points), and while this is not a battle for the world championship, it is battle to settle their futures that has erupted out on the track with collisions in Azerbaijan and Belgium in a feud that has threatened to overheated since Canada.

And while you would suspect, due to his Mercedes connection, that Ocon will remain with the team next year, Pérez has got to be very careful because he could end up without a seat in Formula One next year if this feud continues.

In terms of the Constructors’ World Championship, Mercedes (392 points) lead by 44 points over Ferrari (348 points), with Red Bull (199 points) comfortably in third position, ahead of Force India (103 points), who are equally comfortable in fourth position in the constructors’ championship. After them is a tight battle for fifth in the championship, with Williams (45 points), Toro Rosso (40 points), Haas (35 points), and Renault (34 points) separated by just 11 points, with McLaren (11 points) and Sauber (five points) bringing up the rear of the field.

Fernando Alonso, who is currently 15th in the championship on 10 points, is getting increasingly frustrated about the reliability and performance of the Honda, and has been heavily criticised for perhaps retiring the car in Belgium when it had no problem, which was the eighth time in the 11 races he has competed in during 2017 that his car hasn’t seen the chequered flag, although two of the times he has been classified as a finish.

Unless something dramatic happens at McLaren as far as their relationship with Honda is concerned, Alonso looks set to leave the team, and I believe he could well be heading to Williams, and I doubt he will be worried how much he is paid considering the troubles of the last three years.

Looking ahead to who will win the Italian Grand Prix, I sense it is going to be a tight battle between Mercedes and Ferrari, and I think Vettel might get the victory ahead of Hamilton in front of the patriotic Italian crowd in a thriller.

 

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