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.

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.”

 

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.”

 

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!

 

 

Ferrari nails it

Valtteri looks a bit cheesed off.

 

Sebastian Vettel produced a gutsy drive this evening to win the Bahrain Grand Prix, having started from third on the grid. His victory was also down to the strategic calls from the Scuderia Ferrari pit wall. Lewis Hamilton took the 107th top three finish of his Formula One career in P2, and Valtteri Bottas, having started on pole, sealed a double podium for Mercedes in P3.

Sebastian Vettel: “At the start, it was important for me to get second place. Also, we got everything right with the strategy. We decided to pit early and this tactic proved to be working. Towards the end, I tried to manage the gap I had over Lewis. I expected him to charge through. Of course I was concerned with all the traffic ahead of me. But in the end it was all OK.

“The car was like a dream to drive. I felt right from the beginning that we had the speed to win. I had a good feeling yesterday. The lap back to pits was so sweet, with all the fireworks around, and I really savoured it. Tonight we enjoy the moment, but tomorrow we’ll be back at work. I haven’t changed my mind – to become world champion, you must first beat the Mercedes. We’ll take it race by race.”

Lewis Hamilton: “It’s been a challenging weekend. The start of the race was OK but Sebastian was in my blind spot so I didn’t know where he was and I lost a position there. It was really hard to follow but we generally had similar pace. Under the Safety Car, I just misjudged it myself the situation; that was my fault, so my apologies to the team.

“I had good pace in the second and final stints and we honestly thought we could catch Sebastian. But the five second penalty made that twice as hard. I believe it was the right choice to go with the Soft in the final stint. I think that was the best call as I still had a long way to go. Our guys have been making good calls all year so far. I tried my best to recover from the mistake but it wasn’t quite enough. We still come away with good points.”

Valtteri Bottas: “Not a good day. We had an issue with the tyre pressures at the start. I don’t know what it was but I could really feel it in the first stint and was sliding around as early as Lap 2. The pace wasn’t good and Sebastian put us under real pressure. I tried to extend the first stint but I couldn’t keep up with the pace.

“The second stint was better but I was still struggling with oversteer and then I couldn’t get the rear-end to work in the last stint. Under the Safety Car at the first stop there was a problem and we lost some time in the stop; maybe otherwise I would have just been in front but I know that the team will investigate the issue.

“I had some good racing with Sebastian after the restart but unfortunately it was just for a short moment. I’ve not had the race results that I’d been hoping for so far, but will be targeting a strong weekend in Sochi.”

 

“Sorry you were asked to let me past….. err, twice”

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