It’s all about belief, and a few other things

 

Last weekend, the Formula 1 paddock was set up in Mexico for the 19th time. Since the country made its return to the racing calendar in 2015, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez has hosted four Grands Prix. Two of those races were won by a Mercedes driver (Nico Rosberg 2015, Lewis Hamilton 2016) and two by Red Bull driver Max Verstappen (2017, 2018). Lewis Hamilton has actually had cause to celebrate two even more outstanding achievements in the Mexican Grand Prix, because it was the race in which he clinched the Drivers’ World Championship in both the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

However, the current campaign still has some way to go: in the remaining two races in Brazil and Abu Dhabi, the team will be aiming to secure the Constructors’ Championship for the fifth time in a row.

This fifth world title for Hamilton puts him in among an elite group of racing drivers who have won the Formula 1 World Championship five times or more. In Mexico, he moved up to level pegging with the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio, who also won two of his five titles (1954 and 1955) with Mercedes. However, Hamilton will need to claim a further two titles before he matches the achievement of record world championship winner Michael Schumacher. In one particular classification, he has already surpassed the seven-time World Champion: Hamilton tops the pole position leaderboard on 81. He still has some way to go in terms of race victories (Schumacher 91 – Lewis 71), podiums (Schumacher 155 – Lewis 132) and fastest laps (Schumacher 77 – Lewis 41).

 

Lewis Hamilton: “I think it is going to take some time to really digest everything that has happened. After the race, I was with the engineers, and we all had a drink together. Everyone is so united, everyone has worked so hard this year, and everyone has raised their game. I truly believe I am only a chink in the chain, because there are so many of us. Without every single individual, it just doesn’t happen. The chain wouldn’t move. I am just proud that I was able to deliver in my space. It has been a long journey with them. I have been in this team for six years now. From day one, the day that I decided to join this team, I truly believed that something great was possible. Look what we have achieved together. Now we need to complete the job this year by winning the constructors’ championship.

People watching only ever see the tip of the iceberg. When you see someone successful on TV, it’s obviously without a full description what they have done to get to where they are. You just see the success that they are having now. To perform this way this year – trust me – it has been the hardest season for me. To keep raising the bar and racing against a four-time World Champion in a really incredible team who were so fast this year – most of the time faster than us – and to have pulled together as a team and turned it around has been a real collective effort from everyone. So I am really proud of everyone. Honestly, I never stopped believing – that’s just how I am wired. I truly believed from the beginning of the year, even when we had difficult races such as Shanghai or Montreal. I never for a moment doubted or lost belief in this team, in my guys or in myself.

I got back to Los Angeles, where my dogs were. I worked nonstop and had meetings all day on Monday. But I had dinner with a bunch of friends to celebrate. In general, I just feel content. I don’t need anything. I just want to enjoy and harness the feeling and try to realise what it is that I have done. Because to me, it was just another day of racing which I am really grateful for. When you think of Fangio, who is for me the godfather of racing drivers, he had five World Championships, and now I have five as well. But it doesn’t connect at the moment. It doesn’t feel real, but I am humbled and grateful to all the people around me, because there have been a lot of them along the journey.”

Is he really running away with it?

 

Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport scored a 1-2 victory in Suzuka. Hamilton took his 71st career victory – his 50th with Mercedes, ninth of the 2018 season and fourth at the Suzuka International Racing Circuit. Bottas came in second to complete the second 1-2 for the team in a row – his first podium at the Japanese Grand Prix and 30th podium finish in Formula One. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third.

Today’s result marks the fifth consecutive win in Suzuka for Mercedes and tenth win at the Japanese Grand Prix for Mercedes-Benz Power. Mr Hamilton (331 points) leads the Drivers’ Championship by 67 points from Sebastian Vettel (264 points) with Valtteri Bottas (207 points) in P3 and with 100 points left to be scored in the season.

It does rather look like Hamilton is on the way to his fifth world title but, as we know only too well in F1, you just can’t be too sure – anything can happen. Always expect the unexpected.

Lewis Hamilton: “I was having so much fun driving this track. I was really able to just embrace the moment and enjoy every single lap, every single corner and the feel of the car. Suzuka is such a unique circuit, you go down a hill into Turn 1, then up-hill, you go underneath the track – it’s one of my favourite circuits.

“The pace was really great and this is definitely the best weekend I’ve had here and the best feeling I’ve had here balance-wise, it was really lovely. There’s still 100 points available, so we have to try and focus and never be complacent. (However)… The harmony in the team and the performance of every single individual in the team is the best it’s ever been. But we’ve always got areas that we can improve on, collectively and for me personally, so we will keep pushing and keep raising the bar.”

Valtteri Bottas: “This is a perfect result… and a great reward for an amazing performance from the entire team this weekend. I’m happy that we could bring it home like this after qualifying on the front row yesterday. This was my first podium here in Suzuka which was great. I get a lot of support from the local fans, I can really feel it and it means a lot to me.

“My race was pretty straightforward. We actually had a bit of margin to save the engine. It probably looked much closer on TV than it actually was. I had one lockup going into the last chicane where Max got a bit closer, but otherwise I was just managing and it was all under control. The first stint on the Soft tyres was a little better than the second one on the Mediums, where blistering was a bit of an issue, but no drama. Overall, this was a great weekend for the team.”

Max Verstappen: “After the penalty and incident with Seb I’m really happy to come away with another podium in Japan. The car felt good and we were able to compete at the front for the entire race, which at this track makes it even better. Judging by a few mistakes he made it looked like Bottas was pushing hard on the last few laps. It’s hard to follow anyway so I just did my best hoping he would make another fault and I could be in a position to take advantage.

“I felt a little hard done by with the penalty I got while defending against Kimi. I was trying my best to get back onto the track as quickly as possible instead of just cutting the corner, perhaps next time I will just cut the track. The incident with Sebastian was a very similar mistake to mine in China earlier this year, I think he could have passed easier if he had waited. It shows that even the most experienced drivers can make errors when under pressure. I’m now very excited to get to Austin, we have good performance and it’s a great place to visit.”

 

Mercedes 1-2 – the adventure continues

 

Lewis Hamilton scored his 70th career victory today in Formula One – his eighth of the 2018 season and third at the Sochi Autodromo. Valtteri Bottas finished the race in P2, with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in 3rd.

You had to feel sympathy for Bottas pulling over for Hamilton to go through half way through the race, but it was the right decision.

As Toto Wolff explained: “We are all racers at heart and what we want to see is out and out racing and may the quickest man win. But then we are a bunch of rational guys – we discuss things in the morning and then everything is different in the race… We discussed who to pit first and then we did it with Vatteri because that would protect his win. It was one lap too late with Lewis and he lost the position to Sebastian.

“This triggered this mess because Lewis came out behind Sebastian and then needed to attack. That caused the blister and we needed to protect when Sebastian was all over Lewis on damaged tyres… This is a harsh reality also that on such a day you can extend the lead by several points more in a Championship that has been very tough and very difficult at times. Sometimes you have to take it and this is what we did today. We finished 1-2, we have a 50 point advantage and that feels good on a day that has otherwise been very difficult.”

Lewis Hamilton: “Valtteri was an incredible gentleman today. Honestly, it’s the strangest day I can remember having in the sport in my career. I remember, we have crossed this situation and discussion before. It’s always felt super uncomfortable, I was like ‘Look, I want to win the right way’, that’s always how it is for me. I would say ‘Look, as racing drivers we exist to win, and if you tell us we can’t win, it’s like you are taking our air away, our life away’. It’s that deep. I would never wish it upon anyone else and would never ask for it, ever. I made sure when we were in a meeting before, I was like ‘Just so you know, I’ve never gone to Toto and those guys, this is not how I want to win’.

“Obviously, the team took the decision when they saw that my tyres were blistered and Vettel was charging from behind. There are stronger heads in the team who are like ‘We have to win, it’s all about the win. We have got to win both Championships, we don’t care who finishes ahead’. I think ultimately, it’s really important right this second to first acknowledge Valtteri, because as I said he was just the ultimate gentleman.

“It is very weird to feel down but we’ve also got to feel grateful to the guys back at the factory. So many people are working flat-out to make sure we have a 1-2 like this, the team have just done an incredible job this weekend. We have to really embrace the moment still, but it’s definitely a victory on my list of wins that I am least proud of.”

 

Valtteri Bottas: “It’s been a tough day. We got a good result for us as a team with maximum points, but for me personally it was a difficult race. Although I already understand the situation. If you put yourself in the team leader’s shoes, for them it doesn’t matter if it is me or Lewis winning, as long as we are 1-2 we get the maximum points.

“For the end of the year, it’s only Lewis fighting for the Championship, I am not. So, for the team, it is always better that Lewis wins – that’s how it goes. It is not ideal for me as an athlete and a person, but that is a fact. We are playing as a team and I am prepared to play as a team. I took one for the team today, I will take one for the team tomorrow. That’s how it goes, but I am also looking forward to next year, starting a new season.

“I know that today I was supposed to win and I could’ve won the race on equal terms. I know myself I am the winner of this weekend. I don’t have the trophy but it doesn’t matter. That’s how it is and I move on.”

Sebastian Vettel: “Today the feeling with the car was very good and I was able to push, but I just wasn’t as fast as the others. Obviously, today it was better than yesterday in terms of pace, but it wasn’t enough to put pressure on our competitors. We tried everything and I am happy that we got a podium finish, but obviously this is not the result we were looking for.

“My start was good, but there wasn’t much track space for me and I could go nowhere. After pit stop we were able to overcome Lewis, but he could pull ahead more than us and at the end there was nothing to do. We lost some points during the two last races and it doesn’t help, but we have our plan to follow and hopefully we can make some progress in the races to come.

“Maybe the next couple of tracks are better suited for us, we will know when we get there. We need to keep pushing and try; who knows what will happen in the next races.

Well, there you go…

 

Popping off the start into that all-important first corner somewhat gingerly but controlled, Mr Hamilton scored his 69th career victory – his seventh of the 2018 Formula One season and fourth at the Marina Bay Street Circuit. The feisty Max Verstappen finished a glorious 2nd with Sebastian Vettel 3rd. Mercedes’ Chief Vehicle Dynamicist accepted the Constructors’ trophy on behalf of the team.

Hamilton (281 points) leads the Drivers’ Championship by 40 points from Sebastian Vettel (241 points) with Valtteri Bottas (171 points) in P4.

Said Hamilton: “I had a great start and from then I was able to manage it. When I hit the traffic, I was just mindful not to take any risks. When you start to get closer to another car, you start losing grip and start sliding around more, so there’s a higher chance of mistakes. If you’re lucky you catch the cars at the right point and they let you by so you don’t lose any time, but today I always caught them at an unfortunate point.

“So when Max was right behind, I had to go on the defensive, and I thought to myself ‘Bro, you’re not getting by – not today!’ It was physically such a demanding race, so I’m relieved that it’s over now – it felt like such a long night, but I’m super grateful for the result.”

James Allison: “Yesterday felt great, exhilarating and breathless, but about five minutes afterwards, those feelings disappear and our thoughts turn to the race. Making good on pole position takes over our world.

“Now, just 24 hours later, a wonderful feeling of contentment washes through the whole team from the knowledge that we’ve done a good job here and increased our lead in both championships. More importantly, we have put right the weaknesses that have plagued us at this circuit for a number of seasons and validated a lot of the theories and analysis of why we have suffered previously. This sport can beat you up, like what happened recently to us in Spa, but it is days like today that remind us why we are so very fortunate to work in Formula One.

“But this feeling, too, will last for about 10 more minutes before we begin fretting about Sochi, because our competition is desperately strong and the remaining races cover a very wide range of challenges. We are all aware that we need to keep having weekends like this one if we are to finally achieve the results that we so crave.”

 

 

Max Verstappen: “It was a shame to lose a position to Sebastian so early on but there was not a lot I could do as we were both flat out. I should have been able to hold the line but I just couldn’t match his speed. My only real chance to win was at the start, unfortunately it was a bit all over the place and I knew my chance had gone.

“Luckily the team had me on a great strategy and therefore managed to get me back into second place with a brilliant pit stop. When I got close to Lewis due to back markers I never really thought the pass would be possible. It’s hard to overtake here so I didn’t want to take the risk. It was also slightly unfair how he had been held up by drivers not getting out of the way.

“I had a few driveability issues again behind the Safety Car and pulling away from the pit stop was dreadful, but in the end we managed it well and got the result we wanted. After the way the car has felt at certain points this weekend, qualifying on the front row and taking second place today is an amazing result.”

Sebastian Vettel: “It’s never easy to come and win even if, obviously, that was our target. Yesterday the qualifying didn’t go the way we wanted and we couldn’t extract the best out of ourselves. Today, starting from third position, we had to try something different, but it didn’t work out and we finished where we started.

“We were running second after a good start which allowed me to get past Max. I was happy and confident when I got the call to box. I knew I needed a mega out lap to try and challenge for the lead but it didn’t work. I lost time behind another car and the brakes got a little too hot. It was close but we got the worse of it.

“I fully support the team’s decision because, as I am sitting in the car, I can’t be aware of everything that goes on, so I rely on them. Our target was not to finish third, but today we just did not have enough speed.”

What an amazing lap – a piece of Hamilton genius

 

Well, it’s all been sinking in. No-one expected a 1′ 36″ when Lewis suddenly pulled it out of the bag in qualifying – his 79th career pole position, fourth at the Marina Bay Street Circuit and seventh of the 2018 Formula One season. It may well be the pole that seals the championship.

Said the man himself: “That lap just started perfect and it just kept going – it felt magical. It felt like one of the best – if not the best lap I’ve ever done. It’s what my brother and me would call a ‘sexy lap’. I only had that one lap in me today, I just couldn’t go any faster afterwards.

“This track is all about confidence, confidence in your braking points and the stability of the car, you only have a few laps to build your steps towards it. As soon as you lose it, it’s very hard to build back up to it. So I’m grateful that I had the extra two laps on the HyperSofts in Q2 as I could try and understand the tyre a bit more. In Q3, it really felt like each corner was on the limit, but no more, I didn’t have any wheel spin or any of that.

“I think the races have generally been quite strong for me this year, so I hope this will continue tomorrow. I’m going to work hard tonight to make sure the start is good. After that it will be all about looking after the tyres. Making the HyperSofts last long won’t be easy, but we’re all in the same boat, so it should be interesting.

“The Ferraris and the Red Bulls in particular had good long-run pace, so we have a fight on our hands tomorrow. But I’m just so grateful that we did a better job today and so grateful for the support from everyone in the team today. This journey that I’m on with Mercedes and the entire team is just a remarkable experience.”

 

What an incredible win…

Back online, just… And what a time to be back.

As if Lewis Hamilton’s earlier fastest lap in Monza – his 40th fastest in Formula One, hadn’t wound up the tifosi already, what turned out to be his 68th career victory today – his sixth of the 2018 Formula One season and fifth at the Italian Grand Prix – really rubbed salt in the wound when we all thought the Ferraris had Monza stitched up.

Valtteri Bottas finished the race in P3 – his sixth podium of the season and 77th points finish.

Lewis Hamilton: “That was one tough race, but a really enjoyable one – I’m very, very happy. This afternoon has shaken off to be one of the best. It’s so close between Ferrari and us, this race was really down to who makes the least mistakes and who looks after their tyres the best. Valtteri did a great job extending his stint which enabled me to close up to Kimi. It was really great team work today, a great pit stop, great communication with the team.

“It was an intense first lap, we all got off to similar starts. When we went into Turn 4, I was a bit surprised that Sebastian chose the inside and did not go for the outside. That was my opportunity and I had to make sure that I was far enough alongside him. We touched for a brief moment and my car was slightly damaged afterwards, but fortunately I was able to continue and keep up with Kimi. Once I had closed the gap to Kimi on my second stint, I could see that his tyres were blistering, so I started to take care of my tyres and made sure that I didn’t blister mine.

“When Valtteri then came in for his pit stop it was a bit harder to keep up with Kimi, but I knew that my tyres were in better shape. I had to push as hard as I could to close the gap, particularly through the Lesmos and Ascari. But this track is really just incredible, it’s such a phenomenal circuit to drive with all its high-speed corners – and the fact that you can follow through the corners and the chicanes make it one of the best tracks in the world. It’s always a real privilege to win in Italy. But we need to keep our heads down, work hard and make sure that we put up a good fight in Singapore.”

 

Well, there’s a surprise

L-r: Hamilton, Vettel and Bottas.

 

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel has beaten Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. It’s the former’s first win since the Singapore GP in September 2015.

Hamilton started in pole and it looked as though it might be another Merc 1-2, but Vettel had an advantage on pace and tyre wear, forcing Mercedes into an early pit stop with Hamilton then held up by Max Verstappen.

“A big congratulations to Sebastian and Ferrari. I know this win has been a long time coming for them. This shows we’ve got a real race on our hands this season and it’s a challenge we will relish,” said Hamilton after the race.

“It’s going to be great for the fans. We had a really good start which is fantastic. It was nice to get a good getaway. But I was struggling with grip from the get-go. Sebastian was able to always answer me in terms of lap time and just go quicker. Towards the end of the first stint I caught some traffic and that overheated the tyres.

“I struggled for grip to the point where I needed to come in, plus the gap was closing up and I was sliding around a lot. We made the call to pit, because otherwise I think Sebastian would have come past me anyway. After my stop I got caught in some traffic which was unfortunate but that’s motor racing.”

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