Sebastian Vettel

2016 Singapore Grand Prix Review

Photo: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1

The heat, The humidity and the back drop of a beautiful brightly lit city alongside the Marina bay set the scene for a Singapore Grand Prix that had a tense feeling in the air. The final third of championship was to begin here and the heat is now well and truly on.

Unfortunately for Romain Grosjean the race didn’t even get going after brake by wire issues hampered his attempts to even make the grid, this meant a DNS for the frenchman who clearly isn’t happy with his current situation, especially after  qualifying describing his VF-16 as “The worst he has ever driven”.

As the rest of the drivers lined up in their respective grid slots, the tension was palpable. 

When the lights went out Nico Rosberg got a great start while everyone else bogged down especially Max Verstappen, while Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg went to pass the slow Dutchman, it was Hulkenberg getting squeezed into a gap that swiftly closed, causing massive damage including a hit into the pit wall. No one was at fault for the incident, it was just an unfortunate set of circumstances.

Jenson Button and Valtteri Bottas also got caught up in the melee, while Button moved to avoid the spinning Hulkenberg he clipped the rear of Bottas’ Williams, this meant a broken front wing, damaged brake ducts and broken floor for the McLaren driver while Bottas luckily only suffered a puncture.

As a safety car was called to slow the pack down so marshals could collect the wrecked Force India, due to the amount of shattered carbon fibre across the pit straight the cars were ordered to travel through the pit lane to avoid the huge chucks of debris. 

In a strange set of circumstances messages from race control on lap two appeared confusing and the safety car ducked in at the end of that lap, however that message either wasn’t passed on correctly or that race control got the call wrong, but this led to a marshal running for his life at turn one as Rosberg led 20 other Formula One cars at full speed as the race restarted. No doubt there will be a swift investigation as to how on earth this happened.

With the race still in it’s infacy both Mercedes cars already were managing brake issues, while brakes are always on the limit in Singapore managing them this early on was a concern for those in the team.

Despite starting on the red marked supersoft tyre, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo couldn’t quite keep up with Rosberg in the early stages of the race allowing Rosberg to get away, this however would later change.

While the race continued to be a slow burner and the strategies played out, we were treated to a great tussle between Max Verstappen versus the man he replaced at Red Bull; Danil Kyvat. The Russian did not give a quarter to Verstappen at all, you could get the sense this was personal for him, to prove he can race and be just as good as he has shown before. 

Valtteri Bottas had a very strange issue with his seatbelts coming undone on lap 30, despite pitting immediately to get them done back, unfortunately he had to retire five laps later with mechanical issues, Jenson Button also had to retire following damage to car causing too many issues with his Mclaren caused by the first lap clash with Bottas avoiding the spinning Hulkenberg.

However when all thought the race was run after the second stops were made, it all burst into life on lap 45 when Mercedes ignited an inspired strategy to help Hamilton get back third place from Raikkonen, this triggered the Ferrari to stop the Finn the next lap in an attempt to prevent the powerful undercut on fresh tyres. Despite the Scuderia’s efforts Hamilton made the outlap count to pass Raikkonen as he exited the pitlane.

Because of the respective stops Hamilton and Raikkonen made, this allowed Red Bull to pull the trigger and try to do the same for Ricciardo to catch Rosberg. With the undercut being so strong the Mercedes strategists had to make a do or die call whether to pit the leader or keep him out and gamble with the race victory, or put him for fresh tyres and risk losing the lead to fight with the Red Bull for the final 14 laps.

Mercedes decided to stay out and gamble, meanwhile Ricciardo was using his fresh supersofts to full effect, closing Rosberg down at two to three seconds a lap. It was starting to look as if the win was in jeopardy because the gap between the two was in freefall, however in the final five laps Rosberg was granted a repreive in the shape of lapped traffic.

This allowed Rosberg some breathing space while Ricciardo had to make his way through it at some of the slower points of the circuit, by the time Ricciardo got clear of the traffic it appeared his tyres were beginning to scream enough and he would not make it to Rosberg. On the final lap he gave it everything he could, the nailbiter in all of us would of watched as he gained through every corner, the gap was visibily shrinking every second. 

Despite all of his efforts Ricciardo lost out by just 0.488 of a second in his hunt for victory (pictured above), both drivers looked exhausted not only through the physical endurance of the event, but also through how much they had put in to fight for that win.

Other inspirational performances from the race were Sebastian Vettel, definitely deserving his driver of the day award after coming back from last to fifth with an inspired strategy to get through the field, also a great result for Fernando Alonso in seventh place giving McLaren a boost. Danil Kyvat also made the points helping his fight to keep his F1 career alive and Kevin Magnussen who got Renault’s second points finsh of the season.

The 2016 Singapore Grand Prix was a race of many stories which culminated in a nailbiting finish, I was certainly happy with what the race has to offer and it’s given another twist in tale of the drivers chanpionship too. With Nico Rosberg taking his eighth win of the year and snatching the lead of the championship in the process, the onus is now on Lewis Hamilton to make a comeback if he wants that fourth title and to prevent Nico taking his first.

Next stop is in Malaysia. I wonder what’s next in the magical story of the 2016 championship, no doubt there will still be twists to come. 

The Final Push

Photo: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1

With the european season is now over as Formula One begins it’s final third of the season, teams will be preparing for the final push, the onslaught of seven more races from the bright night lights of Singapore right through to the heat of the desert for the grand finale in Abu Dhabi.

Just two points now separate title protagonists Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in the championship standings, the closest it’s been for a very long time. Both drivers will be looking across the garage at each other knowing that one mistake, one reliability issue or one clash could end their respective title bids, but do not expect they’ll give each other any quarter to claim the grand prize.

The fight behind the warring silver arrows couldn’t more alive, Red Bull have really pushed on in 2016 by taking on the mught of Ferrari and beating them. With Max Verstappen taking victory in Spain ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo’s pole position and near Monaco victory, Ferrari still have not managed to record neither a victory or pole position through major inconsistancies much Sebastian Vettel’s dismay.

The fight for second place will get more intense as each race gets crossed off the list, despite the big prize being out of reach, pride is on the line for both Red Bull and Ferrari. Neither will back down without a fight with just 11 points between them, so don’t expect niceties, expect a dogfight to the bitter end.

Same could be said for the fight for fourth place in the constructors between Williams and Force India, both teams are  performing valiantly for their much more smaller outfits compared to those ahead of them. There is no telling who may come out on top of this fight with them both being so evenly matched. Just three points lie between the two privateers, so every position & overtake matters greatly.

McLaren-Honda recently pinched sixth place from Toro Rosso and with their recent upgrades taking to great effect with both chassis and their power unit. Despite Jenson Button’s recently announced sabbatical and the always fired up Fernando Alonso relishing a fight, it could be a tall order for the junior Red Bull squad to take it back. With no power upgrades available to them and just chassis improvements the only weapon in their arsenal, it’ll no doubt make their efforts more tricky.

The criticism that Renault have faced all season for their results has been quite unfounded, the car was what was leftover from the very underfunded and deeply in debt Lotus team last season. With only six points to their name so far in 2016, it may seem from the outset they’ve had very poor season for a manufacturer, but don’t be fooled, with both Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen always pushing to prove their critics wrong, I’d be wary of what the results that could be possible. 

Locked in a fight for that coveted tenth place in the constructors standings, Manor and Sauber are pushing like crazy to beat each other. Manor hold the high ground having scored a crucial single point with Pascal Wehrlein in Austria, while the swiss outfit have struggled all season long with financial woes that have hampered much of their intended progress, there are still seven races that could throw a surprise result in either teams favour, so don’t the fight isn’t over yet. 

While all of the teams have now converted their full focus to the new chassis regulations of the 2017 season that lies ahead, updates that were pre-planned are still filtering through. Despite this the pecking order we see won’t change dramatically if at all, what we will see is the gladiatorial clashes of that will keep us on the edge of our seats.

With still plenty to fight for regardless of their positions whether it’s the prized world title or the pride of a top ten finish, this season is far from over, I expect the final third of the season to showcase the best of what Formula One always has to offer. 

Let’s Race!

The Growing Dilemma For Sebastian Vettel

Photo: Scuderia Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel; four time Formula One world champion and winner of 42 grand prix so far, will enter the final year of his contract with Ferrari heading into the 2017 season, one I feel that will be a pivotal moment in his near ten year career in Formula One so far. 

2016 has so far been a winless season for Ferrari and by their standards it’s been branded a failure. After the anticipation and aims set by Scuderia from winter testing they were clearly aiming for Mercedes to take them on in a straight fight for title, yet this hasn’t materialised and now they find themselves in a fight with Red Bull rather than the silver arrows.

After potential victories that were squandered earlier on in the season in Australia, Spain & Canada and first corner incidents between themselves in China and Belgium have really shown the struggles they have had so far.

Vettel moved to Ferrari in an attempt to emulate his hero Michael Schumacher and win further more grand prix and titles, but in the near two years with the team he has spent so far, just one pole position three victories so far have been the fruits of their efforts together. 

With massive regulation changes coming for 2017 and one final year left in his contract at the Scuderia despite an offer on the table to extend until 2020, Vettel has a lot to think about. It’s becoming ever more evident through his persona in interviews and body language that he is slowly getting fed up with being so close to victory but is always missing out, sometimes by the finest of margins.

Despite his goals to emulate his hero at the Scuderia will be a continued burning desire in his heart, the will to win burns harder and brighter. If Ferrari do not deliver in 2017 under the new regulations, could it just be possible for Vettel to leave Ferrari after just only three years? 

While I don’t think it’s possible to give a straight answer to that question, I do believe that it is a distinct possibility. 

Ferrari are failing to deliver outright performances that match the rhetoric they’ve been making. CEO of Ferrari Sergio Marchionne is demanding results happen fast. All of this including losing James Allison from the team will also effect the development moving forward despite their profuse attempts that it won’t be the case.

If Maranello don’t provide the car capable of victories for Vettel next year he could decide to depart the team. There is no visible disharmony at present, but who is to say that feelings behind closed doors might be different.

Vettel is clearly missing the success he once enjoyed at Red Bull as Lewis Hamilton did in his later years at McLaren but; For how long will Seb put up with the current efforts from Ferrari before he gets fed up and feels his future lies elsewhere?

That I feel is the biggest question of all.

SC

2016 German Grand Prix Review

Photo: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1

Finally! Formula One returned to Hockenheim for the German Grand Prix. After last season the Nurburgring couldn’t afford to pay the fees for the race to be held there. 

It was safe to say that everyone was glad to be back even if attendance figures have been down in recent years, the turn one grandstands had been covered over because of the lack of ticket sales. However on race day the stadium section up to turn one was almost full which was great to see. 

In qualifying it was Nico Rosberg who stuck it on pole with an incredible lap after his first run in Q3 was hampered by an electrical glitch that affected his throttle capabilities, something that’s on the list of things you never want as a driver. Lewis Hamilton couldn’t quite make his final run count and both of the Red Bull’s were certainly a lot closer than first thought, this made race day a very appetising prospect.

On race day the tension was palpable with both Mercedes on the front row looking to get into turn one first. As the lights went out Rosberg got a shocking start after lighting up his rear tyres and fell back to fourth, Hamilton made the better get away into the lead. Verstappen managed to get past his team mate round the bold outside move into turn one also. 

Felipe Massa was unfortunately hit by Jolyon Palmer on the opening lap and left the Brazilian with a poor handling Williams before retiring on lap 36. Sergio Perez had a very poor start from starting ninth on the grid but fell to as low as 16th before climbing back through the field.

Back at the front of the field, Rosberg couldn’t find a way around Ricciardo and had to settle into the first part of the race to perhaps try a different strategy. 

With the supersoft tyres degrading fairly quickly, Verstappen and Rosberg were the first to blink on lap 11 and both bolted on more supersoft tyres to try and undercut their respective teammates up the road.

Ricciardo stopped a lap later to cover off the fast charging Rosberg and managed to maintain track position over the German. Hamilton stopped on lap 14 but wasn’t under threat after managing to create a big enough gap. 

Lap 29 proved to be a contentious one when Rosberg dived up the inside of Verstappen in an attempt to take third place, however he nearly didn’t make the corner and in the stewards eyes forced the young Dutch driver off the circuit, I personally felt it was a tough, bold but just on the limit move. The decision from stewards however to give Rosberg the five second penalty was more likely because of his precedent from his clash with Hamilton in Austria and not just because of the move itself.

The hard work Rosberg put in for that middle stint to pass and gap the Red Bull’s was put to waste when Rosberg served the penalty at his next pit stop, the Mercedes pit wall unfortunately timed his penalty wrong by accidentally waiting eight seconds instead of the five it was supposed to be. 

In the dying laps, the final points positions became a great watch as Williams gambled on keeping Valtteri Bottas out on severely old soft tyres trying to make a two stop strategy work, while Nico Hulkenberg made his three stop work in his favour to pass the Finn towards the end of the race.

Both McLarens had a tough end to the race, with the Honda power unit in the back proving that while the several upgrades have come in recent races; it is still very thirsty on fuel. Despite this fact while Fernando Alonso had to keep saving fuel and fell out of the points, but with the Williams of Bottas having hit the cliff of those Pirelli tyres, Jenson Button managed to gain eighth place by the chequered flag.

With the summer break now here and teams having to shut their factories for two complete weeks, their hardworking personnel can go home and enjoy time with families to refresh themselves for final nine races that lie ahead.

I don’t know about you? But I’m surely excited to see what the rest of this season has to offer, because one thing for sure is that this title battle is far from over!

SC

Allison Parts Ways With Ferrari

Photo: Scuderia Ferrari

As I wrote last week, there was mounting speculation that James Allison was leaving his post with Ferrari to move back to the UK. An announcement was made by Ferrari today that this was now confirmed.

Team Principal Maurizio Arrivabene said “The Team would like to thank James for his commitment and sacrifice during the time spent together, and wishes him success and serenity for his future endeavors.

James Allison also made a statement in which he said “During the years I spent at Ferrari, at two different stages and covering different roles, I could get to know and appreciate the value of the team and of the people, women and men, which are part of it. I want to thank them all for the great professional and human experience we shared. I wish everybody a happy future with lots of success.”

It is unclear the long term goals that Ferrari may now have, but they have announced that Mattia Binotto will take over the Chief Technical Officer position within the team.

This is probably not a massive surprise to Ferrari, however this will still no doubt have be a shock to the team in the long run; especially as this stage of the season the massive upward turn in development towards the 2017 regulations will be taking place.

Alongside this story is the talk of an apparently unhappy Sebastian Vettel. With Allison leaving the team it will no doubt unsettle Vettel about the long term ambitions of the team and how they will move forward with the new regulations.

Allison’s long term future plans are unknown and I wouldn’t like to speculate as to his possible ventures, but after a devastating year for him and his family, I hope you’ll join me in wishing him well for his future.