It was Kimi Raikkonen’s day

Scuderia Ferrari’s sixth win of the season came about thanks to determination, a calm approach and strategy implemented by the driver and the entire team. Sebastian Vettel finished fourth, having to fight all the way. Mathematically at least, both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships remain undecided.

The sun finally shone on the Circuit of the Americas, after two days of cold and rain, with the thermometer showing 21 degrees air temperature and 32 on track. Raikkonen was second on the grid, running Ultrasofts. Vettel, with a three-place penalty, was fifth on Supersofts.

As the lights went out, Raikkonen was in brilliant form, getting the better of Lewis Hamilton to take the lead. Vettel stayed fifth, attacking Ricciardo who immediately fought back. The Ferrari and the Red Bull collided at turn 13 and, on the inside, Vettel spun round, but kept going, although it meant he had to start yet another climb up the order from 15th place. The Stewards decided it was a normal racing incident.

Raikkonen was suffering from bad oversteer, while the number 5 Ferrari was lapping quickest of all, and Vettel was already back in ninth spot.

On lap 10, Ricciardo parked at the hairpin and that required a crane on track, so the Virtual Safety Car was indicated, requiring drivers to slow by 40% compared to the reference point. As expected by those on the Ferrari pit wall, Hamilton pitted and dropped one place. At the restart, Vettel dealt with Hulkenberg to move up to fifth.

Raikkonen held off Hamilton on tyres that were now well worn for 21 laps, which was some help to his team-mate’s return up the order. Then he pitted for the yellow-banded tyres, the hardest on offer, to run to the flag with just the single pit stop. Shortly after, he swapped places with Vettel (setting the fastest race lap on the way) as the German was due to come in for fresh tyres. He too went for the Softs.

On fresher rubber, Raikkonen closed up to the leader, while Vettel, quickest on track, caught up to Bottas. On lap 37, Hamilton pitted for a second stop, which meant Raikkonen was leading again.

With ten laps to go, a battle ensued for the top three places, with Vettel right behind, closing in on Bottas. In the final few kilometres, as Verstappen fought Hamilton, Raikkonen made the most of it to pull out a bit of a gap. Vettel was duelling hard with Bottas who overshot at turn 12 which meant the Ferrari number 5 went up to fourth. Raikkonen meanwhile was first past the chequered flag to take his first win for five years.

He well deserved it, and so did Ferrari.

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.”

The Ferraris have it; Lewis gives it away

 

Scuderia Ferrari has recorded its fourth win and second one-two finish of the year – the 228th and 83rd respectively in the team’s history.

This was Seb Vettel’s seventh win in red and the 46th of his career. It came at the end of a race that was anything but easy, even if both cars started from the front row.

The two SF70H cars maintained those positions off the line, with Kimi tucked in behind Seb, while battle raged behind them and Ricciardo was already out following a collision. As Daniel was stuck on track, the Safety Car was called out for quite a while – five laps in fact – as oil had to be cleaned up off the track surface.

The Ferraris made a second good getaway when the race restarted and they were followed by Bottas, Verstappen, who would have to take a 10 second penalty for hitting his team-mate, and then Hamilton. In this phase of the race, the Reds were the quickest cars on track, the only ones lapping under the 1’23”.

At one third distance, nothing had changed, except that the two leading cars were backing off to spare their equipment. Then Seb came on the radio saying there was something wrong with the steering, which was pulling to the left down the straight. Kimi closed in until the gap closed to just over a second.

The number 5 Ferrari pitted at the end of lap 32, after his closest pursuers had already changed tyres. The Supersofts made way for the Softs. Next time round, Kimi came in and emerged back on track just behind his team-mate. The lap times went up and down, partly because of the need to pass backmarkers.

On lap 43, the Ferrari duo was back out in front, after a very late stop from Verstappen. Behind them the two Mercedes changed places without a fight. With 15 laps remaining, the top three cars were covered by just two seconds. Seb then pulled out a bit more on lap 58, his fastest of the race. Kimi did likewise to ensure Hamilton could not get into the DRS range.

The final laps were nerve wracking, as Seb could not take the lines he would have liked through the corners but he held firm, as did Kimi right behind him.

Sebastian Vettel: “Everybody inside the team can be very happy and proud of what we have done! Afterwards, I said to Kimi that I was sorry, because I was slow and struggling during the race. For Kimi it was not good to be there in the middle of a sandwich. It was a tough race that, in the end, kept a good shape.

“I developed a problem with the steering wheel and I don’t know why yet. We need to avoid it happening again of course, but during the race I didn’t have an option. It’s not like parking the car, check if everything’s all right and then fix the problem. It was quite annoying because it was a strange feeling. But then, at some point, I forgot about it and just tried to get used to it, which was tricky because it just kept changing and getting worse.

“However, in the end the pace was still there. More generally, I don’t like the short term view that some people have, that after a good race everything is great and you are the hero, but after a bad race it is a disaster. It is not fair because people work hard spending a lot of time, working all together on the car.

“In my opinion, we have the best car and downforce which hasn’t been the case for many years. In the end we can make a difference and we have done that so far. We have our testing days here this week and we have a lot of work to do. After that there will be the Belgian GP. Our car has been good there and I think we have some improvements, so it should be fine.”

Kimi Raikkonen: “I had no worries that the Mercedes could get me. I had a pretty good start and a good run in the first corner; then I took it quite easy. In places like this it’s tricky to try and overtake and I did not want to force things too much with my team mate. When you end up between two cars is not the easiest situation.

“When they called me for the pit stop I wanted to stay on track a bit longer because I felt I had the speed, but the team has the big picture and I trust them. I ended up following Seb through the whole race and I was never able to use my full speed. I knew I had all the tools to finish in a better position, but I should have done a better qualifying. I’m happy for the result that we achieved as a team and this is the main thing. I’m here to win races, but If you take the big picture it was a great weekend, we got the maximum out of it.”

Valtteri Bottas: “The pace was not so much a problem. But once you get within 1.5 seconds to the car in front of you it becomes so difficult to close the gap. And that track position was a big benefit for Ferrari. Even though Sebastian was struggling, no-one could pass him. We tried as a team to swap positions, but Lewis couldn’t get past them either. We didn’t gain any points but I’m glad we tried it.

“I was promised that Lewis would let me back if it didn’t work out. I was struggling with the back markers so the gap to Lewis became bigger than I wanted. But Lewis and the team kept their promise and we swapped positions back in the last lap. I don’t think every team-mate would do that in a championship fight, so I think that was really nice of him and it shows that he is a real team player. Our situations still is not too bad with regards to the points and the championship standing. Lewis and me are still in the fight.”

Lewis on those points

“I tried my best out there. It’s tough when you push so hard and you work so hard and you end up in the same place that you started. When the radio didn’t work, I was thinking that the team was worried about the tyres not going the distance. So maybe they were going slow so that they could speed up later. I was pushing and I had all this pace, but I was stuck behind Valtteri and I couldn’t tell the team because of the radio.

“But in the final laps, I kept my word. I said that if I couldn’t pass Kimi then I would let Valtteri back. I have said through this year that I want to win this title in the right way – and perhaps I will look at it in a different way if, at the end of the season, I lose out by a small margin – but I believe in doing the right thing and that when you put good things out there, they come back to you.

“I was 20 points behind before, but down to one, and now back to 14. We have lost quite a few points in the first half of the year – but I know that we can win it, once we come back even better after the summer break.”

 

Ferrari 1-2 at Monaco; Hamilton fights back to seventh

 

A historic win at a historic race: Sebastian Vettel took the victory ahead of Kimi Raikkonen as Ferrari triumphed in Monaco. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was third. Lewis Hamilton battled from P13 on the grid to claim seventh at the chequered flag.

This was the Scuderia’s 227th world championship win, and the 44th of Vettel’s career. He now leads the championship on 129 points.

As always in Monaco, so much is at stake in the few seconds it takes to get off the grid and run down to the braking zone at Sainte-Devote. However, when you have both your cars on the front row, you in fact have the most normal of starts.

Raikkonen got away well from pole on the right side of the track, pulling Vettel along behind him, who was fighting off the Mercedes. The two SF70Hs soon pulled out a bit of a lead over Bottas, Verstappen and Ricciardo. However, the hot conditions made it difficult to follow another car too closely as there was a risk of overheating. Vettel was running around 1’14” behind Raikkonen at this point, but the Ferraris began to up the pace, lapping in the low 1m 17s.

The basic strategy was quite straightforward: just one tyre stop shortly before half distance, switching from the Ultra to the Superset – therefore it was best to try and build up a small lead right away. A sixth of the way through, there was just a little more than two seconds splitting the Ferraris, while Bottas was dropping back. Things livened up on lap 15 with Vettel posted a fastest lap of 1’16”197.

Next time round, Hulkenberg’s Renault began smoking at the back in the run down to Mirabeau. The engineers started planning for a safety car scenario, but only yellow flags were required.

By lap 26, the backmarkers were already on the agenda and Raikkonen lost time getting by Button and Wehrlein who were scrapping between themselves. Vettel also got past but Bottas had made up 4 seconds and therefore the two Ferrari men responded immediately. On lap 32 Verstappen’s Red Bull kicked off the run of pit stops and next time round it was Bottas’ turn. Immediately Ferrari moved to protect its position and, as planned, brought Raikkonen in first for his stop.

Vettel thus found himself leading from Ricciardo who was pushing very hard, trading fastest sector times with Seb. Vettel’s best lap, a 1’15”587, gave a good idea of the Ferrari’s potential. Ricciardo pitted at half-distance and Vettel continued to push in anticipation of his stop at the end of lap 39. Would that be enough to get him ahead of Raikkonen? Yes, the move worked.

In Monaco, it usually takes some major incident for things to change at the front. Vettel continued to push, while Raikkonen held off Ricciardo. And then came that major incident: with just 18 laps to go, Wehrlein was hit by Button and his Sauber was tipped on its side against the barrier at Portier.

The Safety Car came out and the gaps were wiped out, including the leader’s 12 seconds over Raikkonen. Vettel asked about Pascal over the radio and was told he was okay. The Safety Car stayed out for a long time, coming in with 12 laps to go. The race was on again with the two Ferrari’s getting away well. Behind them there were some battles and Vandoorne went off at Sainte-Devote.

Lewis Hamilton

“The strategists said P10 was probably the maximum today, so it feels great to have beaten that target. To score six points, considering where I was on the grid after a disastrous day on Saturday is a good recovery.

“Today it was impossible to overtake and I tried everything to get past Carlos (Sainz) at the end. I’m just grateful to have ended up in P7. I went on the radio at the end there to make sure the team know that this battle isn’t over. We’ll be sure to push those red cars hard next time out in Canada. We’ve got a real fight on our hands, but there are still 14 races to go.”

That was a bit tense

 

Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes took his 55th career victory today – his second at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, and second of the 2017 season, beating Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel into second place with Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull, third.

This race was one of the best of the year – an epic Grand Prix. Racing simply doesn’t go more wheel to wheel – and we were treated to some fantastic racing for the win.

A perfect getaway from second on the grid saw Vettel move ahead of Hamilton and into the lead. Things did not go so well for Kimi Raikkonen: at the first corner, he was tapped from behind by Valtteri Bottas and that pushed him into Max Verstappen which meant the ice man had to pull over to the side of the track with a broken front left suspension.

First one, then the other

Vettel pulled away in the early laps and behind him, Hamilton reacted. For the opening laps, the gap stayed around the two-second mark and then it looked as though the Mercedes man was trying to close with the intention of pulling off an undercut by pitting early to emerge in front. Ferrari reacted, bringing Vettel in on lap 14, fitting another set of Softs. Vettel rejoined behind Ricciardo. At the start of lap 16, he passed the Red Bull under braking and set a fastest lap of 1’24”901.

Hamilton pitted on lap 21 and went for the Medium tyres, while Vettel was attacking Bottas who was doing everything he could to keep ahead. Lap 35 and Vettel dived to the left, went on to the grass and got by at Turn 1, so the Vettel-Hamilton duel was back on. Lewis was 4 seconds down but on the harder rubber. On lap 33, Stoffel Vandoorne closed the door on Felipe Massa, went off the track and the race went into Virtual Safety Car mode. Hamilton came in on lap 37 and soon after the race was on again. Vettel went for the mandatory set of Medium tyres.

Master stroke

Hamilton was passed on the straight and yet again the duel resumed. Vettel pushed hard, really hard in the first two corners. The SF70H hung on to the lead, while Bottas retired. Vettel made the most of getting through the backmarkers to also be able to use the DRS down the main straight. But with a clear track, Hamilton made the most of his tyre advantage and the moveable wing to get ahead finally on lap 44.

But the fight wasn’t quite over, because Vettel’s rival had to look after his softer tyres. “Keep your head down,” Vettel’s engineer Ricky Adami advised his driver. But there were no more opportunities for attempting one final assault.

Lewis Hamilton: “It’s been a really good weekend and a great way to bounce back from Russia. It was the rawest fight that I can remember having in a long-time. I loved it, this is why I race. This is what made me get into racing in the first place. This is what the sport needs to be like every single weekend. To have a close battle like that with a four-time champion is awesome.

“I lost out on the start and had to watch Sebastian fly by. He was so fast out in front and it was such a push to keep in touch with him and not let him pull away. I was able to manage my tyres in the first stint and keep relatively close, then it was tricky to keep up on the Medium tyre and then after the second stop.

“We came out so close together which was super tight into Turn 1. He didn’t give me much space, it was close! I thought Seb would get me at the end of the final stint but I was able to do it. I have to congratulate my team today, with the strategy and the pit stops, as well as everyone back at the factory that has worked so hard to deliver these upgrades, enabling us to be so close in this fight with Ferrari.”

Sebastian Vettel: “My start was good, I saw Lewis struggle with wheelspin, and kept looking in the mirror to see if anybody else had a better start. The first stint went OK, then we had to pit, otherwise they might have got us with an undercut. My second stint was also pretty good: I managed to get close to Valtteri who was all over the place with his tyres. He blocked me. In the end I managed to get past, but by then I had lost an awful lot of time. Then in the last stint we did everything we could, the car was good.

“It was close with Lewis. I am happy when we have the chance to race the Mercedes cars, we can be very happy but not entirely happy today. The most important thing, though, is that we were in the fight. The team is in great form, we need to improve because we want to be ahead of them.”

Daniel Ricciardo: “I’m happy to be back on the podium today, it’s the first one of the season for me which is nice but actually the race was quite a lonely one. I didn’t have any real battles and my race was more about trying to keep a rhythm and maintain concentration.

“I got a bit fortunate with Valtteri’s problem towards the end of the race which bumped me up to third, but of course I’m still happy to be up there again and see all the smiles from the team. Today we will enjoy the podium but tomorrow we need to understand how to further close the gap to Ferrari and Mercedes.

“I want to take the positives from this weekend, we will keep working hard and chipping away. I don’t think it’s impossible to catch the leaders at some point, maybe it will take a little longer than we had hoped but we will get there. I think I got the maximum out of the car today and moving on to Monaco we will have a few more updates, which will hopefully give us another step, and at that track it’s fair to say anything can happen.”

Perhaps the last word though should go to Mercedes’ Technical Director, James Allison: “Grands Prix like that are why we go motor racing. Winning is always lovely. But when you win a proper 12-round heavyweight fight in this kind of style, and along the way answer all sorts of questions about tyre degradation, following other teams and the car’s handling – and then see a driver at the peak of his craft like Lewis was today – there’s nothing better than that.”

Lewis by a whisker

 

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton claimed his 64th career pole position – his third in four years at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and third of the 2017 season. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel set the second fastest time. Valtteri Bottas will start tomorrow’s Spanish Grand Prix from P3.

Lewis Hamilton: “That was a really intense qualifying. We had to pull out every millisecond we could to take pole. We made some changes ahead of qualifying and the car felt great, so I was very happy with it. The race pace is looking good and the team has done an incredible job this weekend, as always.

“I don’t know if the guys back at the factory get tired of hearing this, but they’ve done an incredible job. To make this step forward and bring a great package for this weekend to keep us in the fight with the Ferrari, I’m so grateful to them. We’ll work as hard as we can on Sunday so that effort doesn’t go to waste.”

Sebastian Vettel: “I don’t know how the mechanics did it (a precautionary replacement of the Power Unit required an extraordinary team effort to have Vettel on track in time for Q1). It’s a lot of work to put together. I want to say a big thanks to the team.

“This morning we couldn’t do what we wanted to. We know the track and the car, and I know that it is working. In the end we could have got pole position, but I missed the apex at the chicane. I was a bit late and lost a bit of time there. But, overall, putting the car on the front row is a massive success.

“I think we worked really well. We realised that there was an issue and that we could fix it. Tomorrow, with the race rhythm, it will be fine, because when you get into the pace it is easier. A good start looks always good, so we’ll see, but I am confident for tomorrow and I always try to keep a smile”.

Valtteri Bottas: “For most of the weekend we’ve had the edge on Ferrari but in Q3 they raised their game. For me starting the day with the engine change and moving back to the old engine, I was always going to be on the back foot. I really struggled through qualifying with the rear stability of the car, so it was difficult to find a good rhythm.

“It wasn’t one of my best qualifying sessions but I’m happy with the job that the team has done. You could see Lewis was very strong and quick today. It’s a shorter run down to Turn 1 than in Sochi, but we’ve seen in the past that you can make positions from the second row. I’ve done some good things from P3 before. Everything is still wide open. We’re happy with the race pace and upbeat for tomorrow.”

What a cracker! Bottas hits the big time

 

Valtteri Bottas took his maiden Formula One victory today after jumping the two Ferraris off the start, then edging out Sebastian Vettel in a nailbiting, race-long battle.

Today’s result marks the 400th podium finish for Mercedes-Benz Power in Formula One. Some achievement.

Kimi Raikkonen finished third (on the podium for the first time this season) in a Russian Grand Prix that was settled in two moments: the start and the final lap. Vettel extends his lead in the Drivers’ classification over Lewis Hamilton (who finished fourth) to 13 points. Hamilton struggled with overheating throughout the race.

Valtteri Bottas: “It’s going to take a while to sink in. Normally I’m not that emotional but hearing the Finnish national anthem was very special for me. It’s all a bit surreal, the first win and hopefully the first of many. It was definitely one of my best races ever.

“The pressure from Sebastian wasn’t too bad. The main issue was with the lapped cars, trying to get past those. It was tricky to pass them without losing time. I also had a lockup with about 15 laps to go that hurt the pace, but it was manageable. I asked for a bit of radio silence just to get on it and focus.

“I’m sure this victory will give me lots of confidence going forward. I knew I could do these results, I always trusted my ability, but this result confirms it.”

Good man. It’s no secret that Finns enjoy a good drink from time to time. Now, is one of those occasions. Many congratulations Mr Bottas, you jolly well deserve it!

 

 

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