F1 2019 Season Preview

Feature image: Twitter – @F1

It’s finally here, Formula 1 2019. It’s taken a long time to get here but we are here, the start of it all again.

And it promises to be a fascinating season in prospect, with the gap between the top three teams seemingly as tight as ever, if testing is to be believed (always a dangerous thing).

Let’s break this title down between the top three, the midfield and then those near the back. In the process, I’ll touch on the drivers and the such, before making a few predictions and the such.

We’ll have fun.

The Top Three

Everything in testing should be taken with (many) grains of salt but, listening and reading the thoughts of people — well-informed people — who were there at Barcelona and the experts that were there, it would seem that Ferrari are the early team to beat.

It’s tough to gauge Mercedes in testing because they generally stick to their own programme and tend not to really care about what anyone else is doing, but when you hear the quotes from the drivers being unhappy with the balance and Mercedes bringing a heavily revised car to Week 2 of testing and another revised car to Melbourne, it would seem to suggest they’re on the back-foot (something Lewis Hamilton reaffirmed on Thursday).

I do think Mercedes are closer than people think but if they haven’t fixed their balance issues, it’s going to be a difficult opening for them in Melbourne if they can’t get on top of that quickly.

Ferrari, in comparison, seemed pretty happy with testing — at least in Week 1, all smiles with Vettel and company, though, the second week wasn’t as good as the first, they still set the fastest lap in testing and, according to those who are in the know, Mercedes’ fastest lap of testing wasn’t a true reflection of the gap between the two teams — the lap times suggesting that things are closer than things would appear.

We’ll see what happens but the Scuderia look good.

Red Bull look really intriguing, they’re a team that could easily spring a surprise at Australia, and some think they could be right there with Mercedes.

It’s hard to say where they will fall, we didn’t really see their true pace during Test 2.

They always build good cars but have been left wanting in the power department since 2014. Now armed with Honda engines, they enjoyed good reliability (Pierre Gasly letting them down in Spain more so than Honda) and I think there’s some genuine optimism for the Red Bull outfit.

It’ll be one of two things for Red Bull — they’ll either spring the biggest surprise in the paddock if they can turn up quicker than Mercedes, or we’ll see how much sandbagging has actually taken place between Ferrari and Mercedes and Red Bull will, again, be a distant third.

We’ll see.

Out of the top three teams, only Mercedes retained their driver lineup of Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas.

Hamilton comes in as a five-time champion and coming off one of the most consistent seasons I’ve ever seen — I’d imagine he’s in a good place.

It’s a different story for Bottas, who — from race number one — I’d imagine will be under pressure. He’s technically out of contract at the end of this year and Esteban Ocon is lingering, waiting for a seat to present itself. F1’s infamous politics kept Ocon — a member of the Mercedes driver programme — out of a seat in 2019 but a repeat of last season for Bottas would surely result in a change of drivers for 2020.

Bottas was unlucky in many spots last year (Baku, France etc.) but he was poles apart from Hamilton when it counted. If he’s in the title hunt after seven, eight races, Mercedes will probably let them at it — as they’ve historically done when their two drivers have been in genuine contention for the title. But if Hamilton has a significant advantage — as he did last year — you can only see it swinging as it did last year with Mercedes giving their backing to Hamilton.

Bottas says he’s ready and raring to go but we’ll see how he responds in Australia — a track where, of course, he binned it in a major way in Q3.

At Ferrari, it’s a case of ‘out with the old, in with the new’ as Kimi Raikkonen makes way for Charles Leclerc.

Where Mercedes let their cars race — for the most part — Ferrari have held preference in terms of drivers for a while now: it’s Sebastian Vettel > teammate.

Ferrari have been back and forth in their comments about letting the two race and whether Leclerc is a number two or not… It’s all words at Ferrari but until we see it in action for sure, nothing that has been said matters — that’s the reality of it.

If Leclerc gets off to the dream start and beats his teammate in Australia and is ahead of Vettel in the standings, say, after Spain, it’ll make for a fascinating situation at Maranello.

I ultimately think that Vettel’s savviness and experience will edge Leclerc in his first season at Ferrari, and I think this year could prove a learning experience for Leclerc about what it means to be a Ferrari driver, what it means to win races and it means to have every mistake/inconsistency scrutinised.

It’s a pressure he’s never faced before.

That’s not to say he can’t be in the hunt and take it to Vettel — I’m sure he will at times. But over 21 races, everything would point toward Vettel edging Leclerc — experience, savviness and his position in the team, which matters massively at a team like Ferrari.

Their car looks incredibly promising but the issue with Ferrari is their development throughout the season. They had to go backwards to go forwards, shedding the upgrades they had placed on the car from Singapore onwards off at USA and boom, the car was back at the front.

Mercedes, in recent history, have been able to out-develop Ferrari over the course of the season, so if Ferrari have an advantage they need to maximise it in the first few rounds before Mercedes bring those upgrades. Ferrari having their upgrades actually work would also help…

Red Bull officially made Max Verstappen their number one driver as Daniel Ricciardo moves on to Renault. Pierre Gasly arrives from Toro Rosso very much as a number two driver.

I’m not a huge Gasly fan and I think he will struggle against Verstappen.

That pairing is going to be explosive and not in a good way. Danny Ric was great for Max and those two personalities got on well even after a clash or two, they could at least exist but if Max and Gasly come together, you’d fear the worst, and I think those two aren’t going to like each other and it’s not going to take long for that happen.

A personality clash waiting to happen.

Red Bull themselves are an interesting prospect. We have no idea what to expect other than they’ll probably be in the top three. After that, who knows? They do develop quite well historically, so if they’re close to Ferrari and Ferrari have another development disaster, it’s going to be interesting.

The Midfield

The midfield battle looks as tight as ever, and it’s hard to say who’s leading the way.

It’s very unpredictable.

McLaren went for some headline laps in testing, so it’s hard to say where they’re at whereas Racing Point’s car in testing is going to be very different to one we see at Australia — so it’s tough to say where those two teams will figure amongst the pack.

Haas had a mixed winter but whispers are they’re looking decent but I’d imagine the top two in the midfield will come between Renault and I think Alfa Romeo could be in the mix. Their front wing design is one that everyone is talking about and I think they could easily mix it up with Haas and maybe Renault but I’m a bit skeptical about that one.

Toro Rosso, I’d imagine, will be in the lower part of the midfield but there’s optimism for them after a strong testing. Perhaps they could be duking it out with McLaren, we’ll see.

Speakng of, McLaren is where arguably the most change has occurred as both Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne exit, and Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris come in. Sainz will be fine, he’ll do well. I don’t think there’s any need to worry there. It’s Norris where the unpredictability lies. I like Norris’ superstar potential. I think his ceiling is higher than George Russell’s but I think his floor is lower.

What I mean by that is I think there’s a greater potential for stardom in Norris but more chance of Norris being a bust. There’ll be ups and downs for Norris in his rookie season but I think he’ll be OK — I do expect Sainz to better him in his rookie season though.

Alfa Romeo have also changed their lineup, replacing the outgoing Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson with Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi — old and young. Raikkonen is a great addition and I think he’s going to enjoy a somewhat resurgent season, even though I thought he had a good season last year. But he’s free of Ferrari. Free of ‘number two status’, free of the awful strategies Ferrari put him on to help Vettel/hamper Mercedes. As a team leader, I think Raikkonen will have a strong season.

Giovinazzi is already under pressure due to his past. He filled in in 2017 for the injured Pascal Wehrlein and binned it on both occasions when it mattered, as well as binning it in Hungary too in a test with Haas. He’s got to build some consistency and I have no idea what to expect.

All change at Toro Rosso too, as Daniil Kvyat returns and Alex Albon is promoted from F2. I like Kvyat and I think he can have a bounce-back season but I think Albon has a tough season ahead and, with the exception of perhaps Lance Stroll, there’s a chance Albon is the worst driver on the grid — never even setting foot in an F1 car until testing.

Speaking of Lance Stroll, he joins the newly named Racing Point team alongside Perez. Perez should smoke him, I don’t believe in Stroll at all but let’s see. Their car is going to be interesting, let’s see where they’re at with this new car in Australia, again, vastly different from the one we saw in Spain.

Haas were one of the few teams to stick with their driver lineup, in fact, the only Haas and Mercedes are the only teams to retain their lineups in 2019 with Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen. Magnussen is in good shape but there’s a lot of pressure on Grosjean after his mixed 2018. He’s a good driver, for sure, but is prone to mistakes so if he can iron those out, he should have a good year because the car I think could be promising out of the box.

Renault are an intriguing prospect and I think boast one of the better lineups in Nico Hulkenburg and Daniel Ricciardo.

It’s going to be an interesting year for Hulkenburg.

Many thought (myself not included) that Sainz would come and slap Hulkenburg but it never happened, Nico acquitting himself very well in that battle, besting Sainz in the end. But Ricciardo will be a different beast. As long as he can match, even if he finishes a few point behind Ricciardo (reliability depending, of course), that’s a successful season for Hulk.

In terms of Renault themselves, even if they don’t start out fourth quickest, I thoroughly expect them to end fourth quickest. How close can they get to the top three? I think they’ll be closer but not close enough to compete for podiums on raw pace.

The Rear

Williams, I’m afraid, look a long way off everyone else after their disastrous start, missing the majority of the first test in Spain.

Robert Kubica returning to F1 is a great story but it’s probably not going to be a great year for him in terms of the machinery he has underneath him to work with — he already seemed fed up with the car in Spain in testing. It might be tough to measure Kubica’s season against rookie George Russell, given that Russell, well, is a rookie.

If Russell completely out-paces him, it’s going to be tough to say whether Russell is legit or if coming back to F1 was one step too many for Kubica, faced with physical limitations no other driver has to deal with after his rallying accident in 2011.

I’m hopeful Williams will be better than advertised but it’s not looking good. The car looks great in terms of its livery but in terms of performance… Yeah… Sorry.

Awards/Predictions

Let’s get into the fun stuff. Awards and predictions.

Driver’s Champion: Sebastian Vettel

Constructors’ Champion: Ferrari

Best of the Rest: Renault

Surprise of the Season: Alfa Romeo

Best Rookie: Lando Norris

Most Improved: Daniil Kvyat

Most Disappointment Driver: Pierre Gasly

Most Disappointing Team: Williams

Best Livery: Ferrari, their matte finish and the added black really stand out. What a gorgeous car.

Worst Livery: Racing Point. I like the pink but the blue they added is in the wrong places, and it just doesn’t look great.

Best Helmet:

The most important one of the lot. Here are the helmets, put together fantastically by Racefans.net:

racefansdotnet-f1-drivers-helmets-2019.jpg

Lewis Hamilton’s is great this year, Lando Norris’ is great too as is Charles Leclerc’s.

I’ll say Danny Ric though — just way off the beaten path but looks fantastic — the most wild one out there.

Worst Helmet: Pierre Gasly. Hands down. Awful. There’s 1000 better ways to incorporate the French flag in your helmet, Romain Grosjean does a good job if it but this is awful…


I can’t wait for it to all unfold.

F1 2019 promises to be the most exciting season in recent memory. May she live to the hype.

Let’s go.

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Is Sebastian Vettel’s legacy being altered amidst title fights with Lewis Hamilton?

Image: Manuel Goria/Sutton Images via F1.com

Sunday afternoon provided another exciting Grand Prix in 2018, as a tight affair between Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen was ultimately decided by tyre wear and Mercedes’ great tactics — positioning the yet-to-stop Valterri Bottas in front of Raikkonen to draw Hamilton close — with Hamilton emerging as the victor and extended his championship lead to 30 points over Sebastian Vettel.

For Hamilton’s title rival, Vettel, his P4 required a recovery drive after a spin on lap 1 following contact with Lewis Hamilton heading into the second chicane sent him to the back of the grid.

The stewards ultimately deemed this a racing incident, but really this is Vettel’s fault and he rightly bore the brunt of the outcome as he spun around. Hamilton left him more than enough room and Vettel should’ve gotten out of it — I just think Vettel didn’t want to accept that Hamilton had just brilliantly done him around the outside and expected Hamilton to just get out of the way? Like that was going to happen…

Whether Vettel had the pace to win in Monza, whether his presence up front may have actually helped Ferrari win the race we’ll never know, but what do we do know is that it was another crucial swing in the championship as Hamilton extended his lead to 30 points over his German rival.

Vettel and Hamilton have shared the grid since 2007 and have both enjoyed driving title-winning cars, but only in 2017 did the two finally share a title-contending car at the same time and lock horns together as the two title favourites (2010 doesn’t really count, that was a Vettel-Webber-Alonso title showdown. Hamilton was just on the fringes come showdown). In these two years where Formula 1’s selling point has been ‘Hamilton vs. Vettel’, what has become abundantly clear is the consistency of Hamilton across an entire season compared to Vettel, who has faltered under the pressure with the Italian Grand Prix proving to be another blot for the German’s copybook in his quest to become the first Ferrari champion since 2007.

With this latest knock in the German’s title challenge, the question that should be arising about now: is Vettel’s legacy going to be altered as a result of the outcomes of his two title battles against Lewis Hamilton?

Let’s go over it so far…

Vettel has enjoyed a glittering career in which he has won four titles and amassed over 50 grand prix victories.

He quickly rose from the ranks of Toro Rosso to replace the retiring David Coulthard at Red Bull in 2009 and continued his rise as one of Formula 1’s hottest new properties as he secured the first win for Red Bull in China.

In 2010 he went all the way as he won the title at the final Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi, pipping Fernando Alonso and teammate Mark Webber to the throne and claim the honour of youngest World Champion.

As Vettel made history, Red Bull had quickly developed a car that was the class of the field. By the end of 2009, it was the quickest car on the grid as Red Bull won the final three races of 2009.

In 2010, Ferrari and McLaren arrived with much improved cars from their 2009 counterparts — enabling Alonso, Hamilton and Jenson Button to win races — but the superiority eventually swung back to Red Bull, who won 9 of the 19 races in 2010.

By Abu Dhabi, the McLaren’s of Hamilton and Button had no chance of winning the title (Hamilton technically could have but it was never going to happen) and Alonso was sucking absolutely everything that Ferrari had to offer — it was clearly the worse car between itself and the Red Bull.

In 2011, Red Bull pressed their advantage right from the off as the Austrian outfit clearly had the best package right from the get-go as Vettel tore away to win five of the first six races. The respective packages from McLaren and Ferrari wasn’t up to snuff over the course of the season to contend with the Red Bulls, leaving Hamilton, Button and Alonso with no chance of contending for the title. The sister Red Bull in the hands of Mark Webber fared no better than Alonso, Button or Hamilton. By his own admission in his book, after his best title opportunity in 2010 slipped away, Webber admitted the “stuffing was knocked out of him”. He had prepared to retire after he had won the title but it didn’t happen, and Webber was on the decline in his career — no match for Vettel. In the end, it was a very easy title for Vettel to claim — which he did by round 15 of 19 in Japan — in what was easily the best car on the grid.

In 2012, again, the Red Bull proved to be the best car on the grid with Alonso, incredibly, willing his Ferrari to a title challenge despite winning just three races and winning none of them from Round 10 onwards — the infamous 2010 German Grand Prix where Ferrari enforced team orders, forcing Felipe Massa to move aside for Alonso. It took until the final round again but Vettel ultimately prevailed as he always should have given his machinery — his third world title coming a lot closer than it really should have.

And for the last of Vettel’s current four titles, 2013 was an absolute landslide as he won 12 races, including the last nine in a row, to win by 157 points over Alonso in second — the Red Bull as dominant as it’s ever been in the final year of the V8 era.

At the point of 2013, Vettel has had the dream career powered by a great car which had been the class of the field every year since the end of 2009.

Of course, Vettel’s unrelenting pace, in addition to a dream car, was unquestionable. His place as one of Formula 1’s finest drivers ever was, arguably, secured at the end of 2013 as he scured his fourth title in a row.

Anything that came after only cemented it…or did it?

Since 2014 began, Vettel hasn’t had everything his way. He went winless in 2014 as his teammate Daniel Ricciardo won three races before moving to Ferrari for the 2015 season, replacing Alonso. In his first two years with the Scuderia, Vettel didn’t have a title-winning car underneath him as Mercedes continued their domination in the V6 era.

In 2017, things changed.

After a regulation reshuffle, Ferrari finally produced a car in which the accomplished Vettel could finally mount a challenge to Lewis Hamilton’s and Mercedes’ throne, and so Vettel was thrust into the title fight.

When you’re in a title challenge, the microscope is incredibly fine. If there’s a fault in you it will be found out, especially when your opponent is Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes.

The 2017 Ferrari was equally as capable of winning the 2017 driver’s title as the Mercedes but its challenge was let down by two things. One was the Ferrari’s reliability, which gave up the ghost in Japan (forcing Vettel to retire in the early stages) and Malaysia, where Vettel was also forced to start from the back of the grid after an engine issue.

The second reason why Vettel’s title quest came up short was that Vettel cracked in key moments whereas Hamilton did not.

At Round No. 8 in Baku, Vettel saw red as he intentionally drove alongside and then into the side of Hamilton’s Mercedes after Vettel adjudged the Brit to brake-check him under the safety car, leading to some damage to Vettel’s front wing.

Vettel was handed a 10 second stop-go penalty for his actions, which ultimately cost him victory after Hamilton was forced to pit after his head-rest became loose, requiring a replacement. Vettel ultimately finished fourth ahead of Hamilton in fifth but needlessly threw away the victory, and 13 points were lost that day on account on his own recklessness…

Arguably the pinnacle moment of the entire 2017 season (certainly an iconic one) ,and the moment that the championship tide turned for good, came that Singapore.

Having stuck his Ferrari on pole, Vettel’s getaway off the line in the wet was slow, with both Max Verstappen and Raikkonen both enjoying much better starts. Raikkonen hugged the wall as he went to attack Verstappen while Vettel — with all the track to his right available to him — veered to the left to cover off his threats and pinched Verstappen in between the two Ferraris, which ended up in a massive crash and all three were forced to retire, but not before Vettel had a second off as he lost the back-end and made contact with the wall.

The stewards decided that this was a racing incident but, really, Verstappen isn’t making contact with Raikkonen until Vettel comes over, which left Verstappen between a rock and a hard place. But the ultimate backshot was that Hamilton ended up winning the race — at a track Mercedes were genuinely struggling and Ferrari thriving — and extended his championship lead from 3 points to 28 points.

It marked the beginning of the end of Vettel’s title challenge…

After the reliability issues of Malaysia and Japan, Hamilton beat Vettel to victory in USA and had the chance to clinch the title at the next round in Mexico.

Having qualified on pole, Vettel faced pressure from Verstappen heading into Turn 1. Verstappen hangs his car around the outside through Turn 1 and is left very little room by Vettel. The two make tyre-to-tyre contact before Turn 2, before Verstappen claims the corner and makes slight contact with Vettel’s wing as they head into Turn 3. Meanwhile, Hamilton switches back on Vettel heading into Turn 2 and gets himself ahead of his rival. Vettel then makes contact with Hamilton’s rear tyre, damaging his own wing and giving Hamilton a puncture. After being forced to pit, both cars fought through the field in recovery drives but it wasn’t enough for Vettel to deny Hamilton his fourth world title.

In the race that would decide the title, Vettel not only lost a position off the line, squeezed another car off of the track limits, he has also made contact with his main championship rival in an incident that probably could’ve been avoided. Some believe that Vettel knew exactly what he was doing when he made contact with Hamilton…

If it was intentional, it didn’t pay off as Hamilton secured his fourth world title and Vettel is left to reflect on what could’ve been…

Ultimately, Vettel had the machinery to beat Hamilton in 2017. Yes reliability played its part in Malaysia and Japan but the Ferrari had the potential to win the title on pace — those cars were incredibly close, with perhaps a slight edge going toward Mercedes ultimately in terms of performance but it was marginal.

But in the end, over the course of the 20-race season, Vettel made more mistakes than Hamilton. Hamilton — who is used to facing incredible pressure in intense title fights with Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg in particular — didn’t falter under the pressure, didn’t make mistakes as Vettel did and remained calm while Vettel made mistakes and lost his cool in Baku.

When the big moments came, Hamilton seized them and Vettel faltered.

While 2017 was a missed opportunity for Vettel and Ferrari, 2018 held a lot of promise, with Ferrari building on their 2017 resurgence.

Though Ferrari won the first two races, the general feeling was that Mercedes still held the quicker car but this advantage wouldn’t last for long as Ferrari made significant engine gains. The general feeling by Canada was that Ferrari now had the quicker car.

Heading into the French Grand Prix, Vettel led the championship by a single point after his win in Canada. The weekend not only represented F1’s first return to France in 10 years but the first major moment in terms of the championship.

Heading into Turn 1, Vettel — having qualified behind both Mercedes — locks up and makes contact with Valterri Bottas, resulting in a puncture for Bottas (as well as damage to the rear of the car and leaving him in last place for good measure) and a new wing required for Vettel. Hamilton would go on to secure an easy win, uncontested from his teammate and his title rival Vettel (who finished in 5th), and take the lead of the championship by 14 points.

A pretty major, unforced error from Vettel who received a five second penalty for the accident, ruined the race of Valterri Bottas and ruined his own race single-handedly, while handing the championship lead to Hamilton.

Vettel was handed a reprieve for his error in France as Hamilton suffered a mechanical fault in Austria while Vettel finished third, allowing Vettel to re-take the championship lead before extending it further to eight points in Britain after a brilliant victory at Silverstone.

The most pivotal moment of the season (at least as of right now) came in Germany…

Having absolutely smashed his way to pole position at his home grand prix (with a huge opportunity to extend his lead after a failure for Hamilton is qualifying meant he started from P14), Vettel comfortably led the first part of the race before making his pitstop on lap 26. Having got the jump on his teammate having stopped earlier, Kimi Raikkonen was ordered to move aside for Vettel as the rain loomed in the air. On Lap 44 the rain arrived and then on Lap 52, arguably the most important moment of the whole season arrived.

Leading the race, Vettel lost control as he made his way through the beginning of the stadium section and helplessly skidded into the gravel, into the barrier and out of the race, with German admitting afterwards he was on the brakes too late.

Vettel sounded extremely upset over team radio and sounded like a man who knew he had made a catastrophic error… An error that has probably cost him the world title…

It was the same conditions for everyone out there (though, perhaps a tad different for Pierre Gasly, who Toro Rosso incredibly sent out on full wets for a period) but ultimately it was only Vettel who fell victim to the conditions and retired as a result.

Meanwhile Hamilton (though in controversial circumstances after a shady excursion between the pitlane and the track) recovered to win the race and retake the championship lead by 17 points.

Even if Hamilton had finished 2nd behind Vettel in 1st, Vettel would’ve extended his lead to 15 points. Instead, it’s a DNF and Hamilton claims victory — a 32 point swing in favour of Hamilton. Instead of Vettel picking up the full 25 points and extending his lead into double figures, it’s Hamilton who takes the double-digit lead.

When the rain came again in Hungary on Saturday, it was Mercedes who triumphed over Ferrari, leaving Hamilton on pole on a track where track position is everything. With Vettel out-of-place in fourth, he did well to salvage second on race-day, but was powerless to prevent Hamilton from winning — as the German struggled behind the sister Merc of Bottas after a poor pitstop from Ferrari left him behind the Finn — and powerless to prevent Hamilton extending the championship lead to 24 points heading into the summer break.

With it all to do after the summer break, Vettel was able to strike-back in a statement win at Spa as Ferrari left Hamilton and Mercedes trailing in their dust, reducing the Hamilton’s gap to 17 points.

But just when momentum seemed to be with Vettel again, it slipped away.

Already disgruntled over how qualifying went at the Italian Grand Prix, Vettel — starting P2, ahead of Hamilton — was unable to get a move done on teammate Raikkonen heading into Turn 1. On the run down to the second chicane, Vettel is off the racing line on the left-hand side of the track as he tries to find a way by Raikkonen. Under braking, an opportunity opens for Hamilton around the outside. Hamilton’s overtake is delivered to perfection, clean around the outside whilst leaving Vettel fair space. But Vettel didn’t apply enough steering lock heading out of the corner, didn’t leave enough space for the second part of the chicane and makes contact with the Mercedes, spinning Vettel around and damaging part of his car.

The stewards, again, decided that this was a racing incident but, really, Vettel is to blame here. Hamilton left enough space and the move was done — that was Hamilton’s corner. Vettel could’ve avoided this incident if he had gotten out of it and applied more sterring lock instead of allowing his car to open up into Hamilton. Again, if Vettel expected Hamilton to get out of that move, he should’ve known better — he could’ve avoided this accident.

Hamilton would go on to win the race while Vettel finished fourth, the Brit extending his championship lead to what could be an insurmountable 30 points.

The error marks the third major error Vettel has made this season that has cost him significant points — France, Germany and now Italy. Against Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, such errors are punished and Hamilton has taken victory in each race Vettel has faltered in 2018.

Vettel isn’t out of this title race yet but it’s going to be extremely difficult to come back from here. Hamilton has, again, proven unshakable this season, and Vettel is going to have to hope Hamilton makes a mistake (which is very rare), or hope Mercedes’ bulletproof reliability is tested later in the year.

Again, in the key moments of the season, it’s Vettel who has made the mistakes and not Hamilton.

So, I come back to the question of which this piece is named after… Is Sebastian Vettel’s legacy being altered amidst his title fights with Lewis Hamilton?

Yes is the answer.

During his first four titles with Red Bull, and his battles squaring off against Fernando Alonso, Vettel clearly had the best car each and every time, he won the title. And that’s where things are different here. His car has been as good (2017) if not better (2018) than Hamilton’s.

In two title fights with equal cars this time around, there will be something said for Vettel’s inability to beat Hamilton over a season — that it was Vettel who made more mistakes over this two-year period than his title rival.

A huge knock some had on Vettel’s first four titles was ‘He had the best car, the best car by far’. There was no way to know for sure but what is for sure is that when Vettel has had more-or-less equal equipment than his title rival, he has fallen short.

Reliability issues near the end of 2017 were a factor for Vettel and Ferrari in their title quest but when people talk about 2017’s title and the key moments, Singapore and Baku (i.e. Vettel’s main errors) are the main talking points over the reliability issues in Malaysia or Japan. Japan was the exclamation point after the damage that Vettel had done in Singapore.

In 2018 so far, it’s actually been Hamilton who has been the recipient of reliability issues over Vettel, and Ferrari (marginally) have had the better car this year so far too. And yet, Hamilton is 30 points ahead…

It’s been Vettel’s errors/mistakes that have left him with everything to do with seven races to go and Hamilton’s consistency that has him in the ascendancy in the race for a fifth world title.

In two title battles with effectively equal cars, mistakes are going to define who wins the title and who doesn’t, and, consistently, it’s been Vettel who has slipped up and not Hamilton. It’s been Hamilton who has proven to be the more complete and consistent driver, not Vettel.

Hamilton and Vettel are two of the best drivers of their generation — entering Formula 1 at about the same time. Their careers will eventually end and they will draw comparisons for the rest of time, as two of the greatest drivers of their time. They’ve both enjoyed the best car in Formula 1 on their way to world championships — dominant cars at that — have taken many pole positions, many podiums, many wins and many world championships.

But, ultimately, in this two-year stretch where they’ve shared title winning cars and squared off for the world championship, it’s been Hamilton who has emerged on top and Vettel the one folding under pressure, Hamilton proving to be the model of consistency while Vettel continues to make mistakes.

And that is why Vettel’s legacy will be affected, unless he find away to overturn a 30 point deficit in the remaining seven races…

Ricciardo to Renault and a 2019 lineup prediction

Image: Manuel Goria/Sutton Images via F1.com

We all knew the silly season was coming, but come on…

In what was expected to be a quiet week — with the F1 summer break upon us and the mid-season testing just finished with — Daniel Ricciardo and Renault blew everyone away on Friday afternoon when the rumours broke that the Red Bull driver had signed a contract with Renault for 2019 before the news was confirmed first by Red Bull (that he wouldn’t be with the team in 2019) and then by Renault who were obviously delighted to announce the deal.

This comes as a surprise for many reasons but mostly because, with Mercedes and Ferrari looking beyond Ricciardo for 2019, everything pointed to Danny Ric re-signing with the only F1 team he has considered home (I think that’s fair to say) — it really was a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’.

Heck, even Ricciardo himself gave a pretty strong indication that he would re-signing with Red Bull, telling reporters in Hungary that his extension with Red Bull “…will definitely be done by Spa,” and that “It’s just a little bit of fine tuning here and there…it’s all good.”

A pretty strong indication, you’d have to say.,,

It’s unclear right now (writing this the day the news dropped) what has caused this 180 turn but I have a few theories…

Firstly, I don’t think Red Bull’s decision to switch to Honda engines from 2019 onwards played that much of a role. Since Canada, where they brought a significant upgrade, that Honda engine has shown some solid competitiveness — how much worse, if at all, is it to Renaut’s engine now in terms of both pace and reliability? A lot more Red Bull-Renault engines seemed to have given up the ghost more than Toro Rosso-Hondas this season…

I do think finance has played a big part here. Being a works team, it’s no secret that Renault have a bit more disposable income at their discretion than a team like, say, Williams or Force India. I also think it’s no secret that Ricciardo is underpaid across the board, not only for what he delivers on track but off of it too — an extremely marketable (and fantastic) personality with the team itself and sponsors. We don’t know what the figures from the respective Red Bull and Renault offers were, but you’d have to imagine that the Renault offer was significantly more handsome than what Red Bull might have offered — who, it’s well documented and mentioned by team principal Christian Horner, already pay a handsome amount to Max Verstappen…

Speaking of Max Verstappen, I’m sure he played a part in this decision too. Not so much to do with Max himself (they seem to get on pretty well) but everything surrounding him — the hype, the attention (media and fans alike), Max’s growing position in the team (you can definitely sense small elements of Vettel-Webber) and possibly his salary compared to Danny Ric for all we know.

The reasons I’m sure will become a bit more clear when Ricciardo and the F1 circus arrives at Spa near the end of August but the fact of the matter is the Aussie will be donning yellow next season, leaving the team that have nurtured his 7-year Formula 1 career that started in the HRT at Silverstone in 2011…

I think it’s an extremely bold move to Ricciardo to make when he had a very safe option in Red Bull on the table. For sure, Renault have made gains in each season since their return to F1 in 2016 but they still have a long way to go if they want to be challenging Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari, and I don’t expect them to be challenging Red Bull next season either unless Renault make significant steps forward with their car and engine and Red Bull fall backwards with Honda power.

But there comes a time where every man has to make a change in his life, the bird must leave the nest at some stage in its life, and Ricciardo I think will do well with a new change of scenery — I’m just worried he’ll be fighting for P6’s, P7’s, P8’s next year instead of top 5 finishes, including race victories.

With this mega announcement, Renault have confirmed their driver lineup next year as Ricciardo joins Nico Hulkenburg, paving the way for what could be a lot of change down the paddock. The silly season had begun anyways but now it’s been ignited with jet propulsion.

And, really, it depends greatly on what Red Bull decide to do with their now vacant seat for 2019. A year ago, if this situation where Daniel Ricciardo leaves Red Bull had arisen, Carlos Sainz would’ve been the no-brainer to be his replacement. But it’s not that simple anymore.

Not only has Sainz, who has been in reported contract talks with McLaren, endured a difficult season at Renault (by his own standards) and has been outdriven by teammate Nico Hulkenburg, who many expected to trail the highly rated Spaniard, but the emergence of Toro Rosso starlet Pierre Gasly — who has performed brilliantly in his Toro Rosso this season, guiding his Honda-powered car to P4 in Bahrain and more recently P6 at Hungary — has thrown a spanner in the works when it comes to Sainz and Red Bull.

But more than that, according to RaceFans.net (article linked above), Red Bull’s advisor and head of young driver programme, Helmut Marko, is reportedly against the idea of reuniting former Toro Rosso teammates Max Verstappen and Sainz again at Red Bull. With Red Bull already nailing their colours to the mast that is Max Verstappen, that would be a problem for Carlos Sainz and Red Bull, so it would seem unlikely based on that and performance this season compared to Gasly (which may or may not be a factor), that Sainz will reunite with Verstappen…

Sainz has been discussing a possible deal with McLaren, who rate Sainz highly.

“We think Carlos is an excellent racecar driver,” McLaren chief Zak Brown said. “Of course Carlos is potentially on the market, I don’t know his exact situation at Renault and Red Bull but he’s certainly someone as you go down the shortlist of drivers that you’d consider putting in your car.

“If he was free, and if we had a seat, he would certainly be high up the list for a racing seat.”

If it ends up that it’s not Ricciardo for Sainz in a like-for-like swap, it blows the driver market wide open.

Firstly, it opens up the Red Bull seat to, more than likely as discussed, Pierre Gasly. I’d love to see Fernando Alonso in that Red Bull seat but that seems unlikely given how Red Bull normally promote from within — usually from their young driver programme — and possibly Alonso’s relationship with Honda (given how he often threw Honda under the bus during their three-years together) could also play a part.

If Gasly is promoted, that opens up a spot at Toro Rosso and there could be two spots open should they decide not to bring back Brendon Hartley. I still think, if Alonso stays and Sainz joins his fellow Spaniard at Woking, McLaren and Toro Rosso could come into an agreement to send Lando Norris to Toro Rosso for a season/until Fernando Alonso calls time on his stellar Formula 1 career — especially if Norris wins F2, with F2 rules preventing champions from returning to the series. It’s beneficial for everyone: Toro Rosso get a quality driver for a year or two and McLaren have their man in an F1 seat (though the complications there are obvious, it’s just a theory of mine) And after that, I think Toro Rosso are better off sticking with Hartley over test driver Sean Galael… And as for the Red Bull junior driver programme, I think they’re a year or two from promoting another one to Toro Rosso.

At McLaren, there could easily be two spots going there too if the team elect not bring Stoffel Vandoorne back and Fernando Alonso either moves on to another F1 team or retires from F1. Vandoorne has had a terrible season compared to Alonso and he’s definitely under pressure for his F1 future. If Alonso retired, his McLaren career might be safe, depending on what McLaren choose to do with junior driver — and current F2 championship leader — Lando Norris and if they sign Carlos Sainz in the process.

With the Renault lineup confirmed, the Esteban Ocon-Renault rumours disappear immediately, leaving Ocon likely to spend another season with Force India. The other seat at Force India is up for debate, with Sergio Perez rumoured to be heading to Haas and who knows what else will go down there with the recent administration. And where Lance Stroll/Lawrence Stroll potentially figure into things remains to be seen in the midst of the administration/potential new ownership process.

I think it’s at this point in the driver market where the Ricciardo-Renault news begins to have less of an effect when it comes to drives. The likes of Ferrari, Mercedes Williams, Haas and Sauber…

With regards Perez, he’s rumoured for a seat at Haas, who don’t have anything lined up for 2019, though it’s safe to assume Kevin Magnussen has done enough to secure a seat. I personally believe Charles Leclerc would be best suited for that Haas spot rather than a promotion straight to the best seat F1 might have to offer if Ferrari move on from Kimi Raikkonen. Romain Grosjean is certainly still quick enough to be in F1 but his consistency has been left wanting this season — involved in a number of accidents/incidents this season.

Perez has also been rumoured to return to the team that gave him his first seat in 2011: Sauber. I’d be surprised if it happened but upon thinking about further, you can talk yourself into it. I certainly don’t expect rising star Charles Leclerc to remain with the Swiss outfit and I think time will finally expire on Marcus Ericcson’s Formula 1 career now that Sauber are in the points hunt again. With that said, and with Leclerc surely moving on, I expect another Ferrari junior driver Antonio Giovinazzi to take his place. That 2nd spot next to Giovinazzi could end up being the lifeline of drivers such as maybe Stoffel Vandoorne, Romain Grosjean or even Kimi Raikkonen, whose name has been mentioned with Sauber…

At Williams, I’d imagine Sergey Sirotkin will remain but Lance Stroll’s spot is a bit more questionable with this Force India link. Force India, obviously, need the cash and Stroll offers that. If Stroll moves on, I’d expect Mercedes to use their connection with Williams to try push junior driver George Russell into an F1 seat at Grove. Junior driver Olly Rowland would be a good shout for the second drive as is test driver Robert Kubica.

For Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas were signed to deals at Hockenheim, so nothing doing there.

And, lastly, at Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel is secured for another season whereas Kimi Raikkonen’s seat is not guaranteed. Raikkonen has had a strong 2018 (certainly better than his 2017 season) and I think has done enough to earn one more season with the Scuderia. Charles Leclerc is the obvious replacement — and he will be one day — but I think it’s a year or two too soon for him. There’s a lot of pressures and expectations that comes with a Ferrari drive and I think the experience at Haas for a year or two would help round him out, improve as a driver and help iron out some of those little errors he makes at times that may not mean much in a Sauber but mean everything in a Ferrari — the difference between pole position and the second row. Plus, it’s not in Ferrari’s nature to promote young drivers to their seats, especially ones heading into just their second season — they just don’t do it. So for those reasons, I’d be very surprised if Ferrari actually went through with it — it would be incredibly un-Ferrari.

So, with all of that said, I’m going to (horribly) predict the F1 2019 grid.

Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton & Valterri Bottas

Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel & Kimi Raikkonen

Red Bull: Max Verstappen & Pierre Gasly

Renault: Daniel Ricciardo & Nico Hulkenburg

McLaren: Fernando Alonso & Carlos Sainz

Haas: Charles LeClerc & Kevin Magnussen

Force India: Esteban Ocon & Lance Stroll

Toro Rosso: Lando Norris & Brendan Hartley

Sauber: Sergio Perez & Antonio Giovinazzi

Williams: Sergey Sirotkin & Robert Kubica

Should be fun to see how wrong I am, but hey…always fun.

Winners and losers on Renault, McLaren, Honda and Red Bull agreement

Image: Sutton Images 

On Saturday 15th of September it was announced that the multi-team deal between Renault, Red Bull/Toro Rosso, McLaren and engine providers Honda was done. Here’s the lowdown:

Renault get: Carlos Sainz on a years loan from Red Bull

McLaren get: Renault engines from 2018

Toro Rosso get: Honda engines from 2018

So, who won in this flurry of activity?

McLaren (for now)

We’ll start with McLaren, the reason this deal happened in the first place.

They’re finally free of Honda and, with a Renault engine for 2018, might stand a chance of returning to where they belong.

They had to act because everyone was losing in this situation because of Honda’s poor performance: the team, sponsors, the fans and, of course, the drivers. The move also all but ensures that Fernando Alonso hangs around for at least one more season at Woking, ensuring that a world-class driver remains with the team.

There is an issue though. Sure, Honda are gone from the lives of McLaren, but how far will Renault push McLaren? Will that gap to Mercedes and Ferrari ever close up before the new engine regulations expected for 2021? How much happier will they be?

Time will tell.

Red Bull

Red Bull are also winners but not from an engine point of view. Sure, having Honda supply Toro Rosso keeps Red Bull’s options open but from what Red Bull team principal Christian Horner hinted at the end of FP1 that Red Bull could be running Aston Martin engines in 2019.

No, Red Bull are winners from a drivers perspective.

They haven’t lost Carlos Sainz in all of this — he’s loaned to Renault for a year. This is huge for Red Bull. Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen can both hit the driver market for the 2019 season and, if rumblings are to be believed, both drivers are considering leaving — both have eluded to wanting a race winning car and Red Bull haven’t been providing that. Should one, or both of Ricciardo or Verstappen leave, Red Bull could slot Carlos Sainz into the Red Bull, something Sainz has always wanted to do.

The idea of loaning Sainz was an excellent idea and keeps at least one ace card in Red Bull’s driver deck for 2019 should things go wrong with either Ricciardo or Verstappen.

Renault (at least for 2018)

Renault are winners because they now boast a very interesting driver lineup for 2018 with Carlos Sainz joining up with Nico Hulkenburg.

While this is a great lineup to have for 2018, it might only be for that — 2018.

Sainz is loaned from Red Bull and who knows what’s going to happen with Ricciardo and Verstappen from 2019 onwards. What happens at Red Bull will be integral to Renault’s ability to keep Sainz long-term. In an ideal world, Sainz would’ve been locked up for the long term by Renault but that’s not the reality of the situation.

Long term, who knows, but for 2018 Renault look promising.

Losers

Toro Rosso

What did Toro Rosso gain out of this?

They lost their best driver in Sainz and they’re stuck with Honda engines from next year. If that Honda engine anything like it is this year, Toro Rosso are going to be right at the back. Toro Rosso have been used to scrapping for points for years now, it’s been a long time since they’ve been a back-marker team — 06, 07?

Unfortunately, those are the breaks when you’re a B-Team, but at least there’s a seat for Pierre Gasly next year? Yay?

 

Azerbaijan GP Winners and Losers

Feature image: Sutton Images via F1.com

Quotes: F1.com

Wow, wow, wow. What a race.

Daniel Ricciardo, from 10th on the grid, won a crazy, crazy incident/controversy filled Azerbaijan Grand Prix ahead of Mercedes’ Valterri Bottas and Lance Stroll, who secured his first podium in F1.

Losers

Normally we start with the winners but given the weekend that was in it, we’ll start with the losers.

Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton

Oh boy, where to start with this one… Let’s start with ‘Red-5’.

Vettel

Red is colour of his car and red was what he saw when he was caught napping behind Lewis Hamilton behind the safety car. I initially thought that Hamilton had brake-checked Vettel but the FIA looked at the telemetry and found that Hamilton was consistent in his speed prior to restarts.

I think Vettel was clearly upset that he had damaged his front wing, how the damage could’ve been much more and that his race could’ve easily been ruined and decided to give Hamilton a piece of his mind.

Vettel didn’t understand, at the time, why he received a 10 second stop/go penalty for this moment of madness, but I honestly don’t think he realised what he actually did in the moment.

You can see from the onboard camera that when he pulled out from behind Hamilton to go alongside him he takes his hands off the wheel just as he’s about to pull alongside him. His hand doesn’t actually go back onto the steering wheel when he hits into Hamilton, so I don’t think it was pre-meditated just really careless and clumsy. But he would’ve obviously felt the significant contact, so he would’ve known he hit him…

A rush of blood to the head ultimately cost Vettel victory but he still managed to recover to fourth place ahead of Hamilton.

Hamilton

Hamilton’s race, on the other hand, was not affected by Vettel’s moment of madness but, of all things, a loose headrest which he forced him to pit from the lead to fit a new one and ensure it was secured properly. Of all things… Not an engine/gearbox/suspension element malfunctioning but an insecure headrest… Quite incredible, and it was the difference between catching Vettel in the championship standings to having the gap increase further (from 12 to 14 points).

Post race, the war of words ensued:

Toto Wolff has said that “the gloves are off” now, and you’d figure this ‘lovey-dovey’ stuff between Vettel and Hamilton would eventually end and this will surely do that. With the gloves off, the mind games will surely begin soon and the heated rivalry we’ve all wanted will surely take off.

The “Could’ve, would’ve, should’ve” races…

For many teams and many drivers, a huge ‘what-if’ will be placed upon this weekend. There’s so many of them.

What if Lewis Hamilton’s headrest was secured properly?

What if Max Verstappen’s engine hadn’t failed? Could he have challenged for the win?

What if Felipe Massa wasn’t forced to retire? Could he have challenged for the win?

What if Sergio Perez hadn’t collided with his teammate? Could he have won this race?

What if Kimi Raikkonen hadn’t picked up a puncture from the Ocon-Perez scrap? Could he have won this race?

What if Valterri Bottas hadn’t picked up a puncture and gone done a lap one lap 1?

What if Jolyon Palmer wasn’t forced to retire? Could he have scored some points?

And so on…

A weekend of many regrets and what-ifs for many drivers and teams…

Force India

Force India were a hot topic of discussion in Canada for not enforcing team orders and allowing Esteban Ocon ahead of Sergio Perez to challenge Daniel Ricciardo for a podium position before Sebastian Vettel inevitably caught them. With Perez insisting the team to let them race, he failed to pass Ricciardo and was caught and passed by Vettel, consigning Force India to a 5th and 6th placed finishes.

This weekend seemed to escalate the, perhaps, already existing tensions at Force India. With Perez and Ocon running in P4 and P5 after the first restart on lap 20, the two got quite punchy and Ocon didn’t really give Perez the space he should have and the result was a collision between the two.

While Ocon was able to recover thanks to the safety car/red flag, Perez’s race was utterly ruined, and with Massa, Hamilton and Vettel (who all ran into issues later in the race, literally in the case of some) the only drivers running in front of Perez at the time, there was a real sense of ‘what-if?’ with Perez and Force India.

They could’ve easily have had their first race victory and that was taken away from them.

These haven’t been the best two races for Force India. Sure, the points they’ve netted have been alright but it could’ve been so much more…

I would love to be a fly on the wall in that debrief room…

Sauber

Why are Sauber here? They scored a championship point, why are they losers? They’re losers because they botched a swap-job.

Marcus Ericsson was running P10 when Sauber switched Ericsson and Wehrlein to see if Pascal make a run at 9th placed Alonso, with Wehrlein to give the position back to Ericsson if he couldn’t. But with McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne fast approaching and on their tails by the end of the race, Sauber couldn’t manoeuvre the switch, meaning Wehrlein kept P10, much to the reported anger of Ericsson…

Winners

Lance Stroll

What a race for Lance Stroll but to be fair to him, he was on it the whole weekend. When everyone was going off the road in FP2, Stroll kept his nose clean and followed his first points finish with his first ever podium — finishing in P3, JUST behind Valterri Bottas who nicked P2 from Stroll right at the death.

Though Stroll was cruelly robbed right at the death, I don’t think he’ll ultimately care a bit.

“…Coming into this weekend I never thought I would be standing on the podium,” said an elated Stroll. “It’s an amazing feeling and, for me, a dream come true…”

Star recovery drives from Ricciardo and Bottas

Daniel Ricciardo

What an eventful race for Daniel Ricciardo. Having being forced to pit in the early stages in this race (due to a piece of debris clogging the brakes ducts which needed clearing), Ricciardo was sat — having started in P10 after his Q3 crash — in P17 with seemingly no chance of a podium, let alone a win. But he just kept at it and made his way through the field, avoiding the mayhem in front of him.

While Ricciardo was one of the many beneficiaries of the carnage happening in front of him, he launched himself into an unlikely podium position when he brilliantly launched past both Williams cars after the safety car restart.

Just as his defensive driving against his teammate Max Verstappen in Malaysia, this move also proved to be ultimately decisive and would help give Danny-Ric victory following the calamities between Hamilton and Vettel.

Having sat in P17 at one stage, this was one of the most unlikeliest victories in F1 for quite some time.

And it wouldn’t be a Daniel Ricciardo victory without…

A fifth career victory for ‘The Honey Badger’, and I wonder where this one ranks…

Valterri Bottas

When Valterri Bottas was forced to pit after the first lap with a puncture (after colliding with Kimi Raikkonen) he was a lap down with seemingly zero chance of any sort of points.

But due to the crazy nature of this race, Bottas was allowed to un-lap himself under the safety car and scythed his way through the field, benefitting from the multiple incidents in front of him: Max Verstappen’s retirement, the Force India scrap and Raikkonen’s subsequent puncture, Felipe Massa’s retirement, Sebatian Vettel’s 10 second stop/go and Lewis Hamilton’s unscheduled pitstop.

He passed Esteban Ocon on lap 40 (of 51) and set about hunting down the Williams of Lance Stroll. As we’ve seen already, he was ultimately successful in catching and passing the Williams, albeit right at the death.

From one lap down to P2…no doubt he had help but still a fantastic drive from Valterri Bottas.

“…for Valtteri, it just goes to show you can never give up”, said Mercedes boss Toto Wolff. “He did a sensational job from a lap down and it was the perfect finale to steal P2 on the line…”

McLaren-Honda

A half-winner/half-loser here for McLaren-Honda. Though Fernando Alonso secured McLaren’s first points of the year at a track they probably would never have expected, how many more points could this have been on another day?

Eric Boullier certainly wasn’t enthusiastic about McLaren’s first points of the season…

“I’m not smiling, I’m not excited, because it’s not the reason why I’m racing, and especially not racing with McLaren”, Boullier said via autosport.com

On a weekend where Fernando Alonso’s seemingly inevitable departure picked up much more traction, what do two measly points ultimately mean? Were McLaren really winners this weekend? Days like this only heighten the frustration.

They’re ultimately winners because they finally scored some points but deep down…

 

Canadian Grand Prix Winners and Losers

Feature image: Sutton Images

Quotes: F1.com

Lewis Hamilton converted his excellent pole into a flawless win in Round 7 of the 2017 Formula 1 ahead of his Mercedes teammate Valterri Bottas with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo rounding out the podium slots in what a thrilling race.

Winners

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes

If you had presented the weekend that eventually unfolded before Lewis Hamilton on Thursday, he would’ve taken both of your arms and your legs off of you.

Hamilton was certainly against the odds heading into the weekend — trailing by 25 points in the championship — and even by the end of practice session 3 where Vettel topped the timesheets Hamilton was facing a huge challenge.

But qualifying came around the corner and Hamilton produced one of the greatest qualifying laps I’ve ever seen to not just beat the competition but destroy them, equalling his hero Ayrton Senna’s tally of 65 pole positions in the process.

Max Verstappen’s mega start from P5 made life for Hamilton’s competition off of the line (Bottas and Vettel) difficult and they couldn’t mount a challenge on Hamilton off the start, instead having to go defensive. In an effort to sweep around Vettel’s outside, Verstappen clipped Vettel’s front wing which would eventually force the German to pit not long after the safety car (deployed for the Grosjean-Sainz-Massa incident) peeled back into the pit-lane, putting him well down the order.

Though Vettel managed to recover to P4, Hamilton was flawless out the front and never looked in any danger. We’ll never know how Ferrari’s true race pace compared to the Mercedes but Lewis Hamilton, I reckon, is fine with not knowing and he reduced the 25 point deficit to just 12 points.

“It’s been such an incredible weekend,” said Hamilton. “I just couldn’t be happier with how it’s gone and I’m so grateful for this result. We came away from Monaco and we were scratching our heads, but we pulled together and look what we achieved. We came here with a much better understanding of the car and we delivered a real blow to the Ferraris…”

For Mercedes, it was their first 1-2 finish of the season and Ferrari’s troubles meant that the Silver Arrows jumped back into 1st place in the constructors standings. It really was a perfect weekend for Toto Wolff and company.

“That feels absolutely great,” said Wolff. “We have finally taken a 1-2 finish and done so at a track that we expected would be difficult for us – and which certainly was for us last year…”

It’s great to have a championship contested between more than one team.

Lance Stroll

It looked like another weekend for Lance Stroll. Starting from P17, no one gave Lance much of a chance heading into the race but not only was he involved in some great scraps with drivers, Stroll also managed to drive a clean race and finish in P9 — picking up his first points finish of the season and indeed his young career.

“I am just happy for myself, for the team, for everyone,” Stroll said. “The balance of the car was good all race. I was in a flow. I knew we had good straight line speed in the Williams. I chose my overtakes at the right times, sometimes I could have done them a lap earlier, but it was a bit risky so I did it a lap later and stayed patient…”

Stroll was certainly patient, if not a little too tentative but his race-craft will improve with time. This was a huge weekend for him, potentially ground breaking for his career.

“…It’s a great story”, Williams chief technical officer Paddy Lowe remarked post-race. “Given the difficult start Lance has had to his Formula One career, this feels like a race win to us. It was an incredible drive. He showed some fantastic race-craft, great overtaking and he really earned those points today. From 17th on the grid up to ninth, including a battle with a double world champion, which he took in his stride. I think today’s result will boost his confidence going forward and will give him some real momentum…”

Esteban Ocon

We’ll touch on the whole Force India issue in full soon but although P6 wasn’t the result Esteban Ocon was hoping for, he won a lot of fans over for his great drive on Sunday and his continued consistency this season.

He drove a great race yesterday and continues to prove he’s the right man to be sat in that Force India seat. Though the standing don’t really reflect this, Ocon has definitely proved a stiff challenge to his much more experienced (and highly rated) teammate Sergio Perez and he stuck with Perez right until the end on a different strategy.

“…The battle between Sergio and Esteban was one of the stories of the race and showed how closely matched they are as teammates…”, Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernely said.

Though he was disappointed, Esteban conducted himself very well for a young driver where it would’ve been easy to still possibly angry, Ocon carries a nice smile on his face instead.

“My time will come.”

Sir Patrick Stewart

No explanation needed here.

Losers

Ferrari

Fairly obvious this one, wasn’t it?

I honestly believe Ferrari could’ve won this race and this was about the worst thing that could’ve happened this weekend: Mercedes score a 1-2 finish and they struggle — Vettel with that front wing and floor damage forcing him to pit early and Kimi’s brake issues late in the race resulting in 4th and 7th place finishes respectively.

“Unfortunately, our race was compromised right from the start, when Seb’s car was damaged so he was no longer able to give it his best shot”, said team principal Maurizio Arrivabene. “Initially, our data showed the damage was not too serious. It was only in the following laps that the wing broke, causing further damage to the turning vanes and the floor. As for Kimi, towards the end he had a problem with the braking system control…”

Ferrari also decided to pit both cars a second time (most other teams choosing to do a one-stop) and this would’ve been the correct call if it had been done a few laps earlier. It made sense to stop again, they would’ve just toiled behind the Red Bull and Force Indias struggling to overtake on extremely worn tyres (Vettel pitting for fresh tyres very early in the race when he changed his wing). Ferrari projected that they would be back onto the Ricciardo, Perez and Ocon train about eight laps from the end but it was probably about six/five laps. Though Vettel managed to dispatch both Perez and Ocon, he fell short of Ricciardo but would’ve easily overtaken him if he had one/two more laps.

Even though the race itself was a bit of a disaster for Ferrari, they’re still in a good position in both championships — they trail Mercedes by only eight points and Vettel still holds a 12 point lead.

Force India

Though they netted some nice points, I’m giving the ‘Boys in Pink’ a loser here.

The scenario here was very simple: Sergio Perez had more than enough time to try to overtake Ricciardo and he wasn’t getting it done. Ocon was on 13 lap younger tyres and unable to get by his teammate, who has DRS on Ricciardo. The Ferraris were coming and were going to cruise up to the back of them by the end of the race and will probably overtake them. One of the Force Indias simply had to get past Ricciardo or else the red monster behind them was going to eat them and cost them points.

Ocon did the right thing by radioing in, basically saying ‘Look, I think I can overtake Ricciardo but I need the opportunity’. The team gave Perez three laps to overtake Ricciardo and then would ask Perez to move over and let Ocon have a go. Perez and the team basically negotiated while the race was ongoing about the situation, and the end result was that Perez still couldn’t get by Ricciardo and both he and Ocon were overtaken by Vettel late on.

Could Ocon have actually overtaken Danny-Ric? We’ll never know but I think he could’ve. With DRS assistance on a Mercedes engine (versus a Renault engine), much fresher rubber and on the softer compound tyre I think he could’ve done it. He could’ve finished 3rd which would’ve been huge for the team. But instead they finished P5 and P6 and that should have been P6 and P7 were it not for Raikkonen’s brake problems.

Though Force India don’t imply team orders, this situation needed a firm and authoritative voice to tell Perez to move over and let Ocon by while they were still able to. That voice would’ve been Bob Fernley. In the end, it cost the Pink Panthers points and possibly a podium.

Ruined races/what could’ve been: Max Verstappen and Felipe Massa

Sports are generally a large “what could’ve been…” but both Max Verstappen and Felipe Massa were both left to wonder at what could’ve been in Montreal.

We’ll start with Verstappen.

Max had the start of dreams, jumping from P5 to P2 by the end of the second turn 2.

Verstappen was feisty on the restart and looked like he could’ve spoiled the Mercedes party but an engine store problem cut the engine out on lap 11 and Max was forced to retire, much to his displeasure.

“The way the race ended for me was very frustrating after such a good start”, said a disappointed Verstappen. “I think a podium was possible but once again we come away with nothing…”

If he wasn’t heading for P2, Verstappen was certainly set for P3 but instead handed it to his teammate.

For Felipe Massa, it was all over before it really began. Before the Ferraris had their issues or Verstappen retired, he was T-Boned heading into Turn 3 — a complete passenger in the Sainz-Grosjean incident.

Massa had shown great pace all weekend and I think he could’ve definitely been in the Ricciardo, Perez, Ocon hunt for a podium. But a rough start and lost positions meant that Massa was in a position where he could’ve been affected by something like this. Had he maintained his grid position he wouldn’t have been involved in this accident. Not to say you should expect something like this to happen…

“I’m so disappointed to be out after just three corners. I was a complete passenger in the collision,” said Massa. “I think Carlos was hit by somebody, but I was the only car that he hit. It’s a shame to finish the race like that, especially when the car has been so competitive all weekend and we could have scored a good amount of points.”

Either Massa or Verstappen could’ve been stood on that final rostrum spot but in the end it was neither…

McLaren-Honda

Things were looking good for McLaren Honda with two laps to go as Fernando Alonso held 10th place and was set for a point. But then…McLaren-Honda happened. Alonso’s engine failed just two laps from a point on a day where so many things fell into the laps of McLaren. Empty handed yet again due to another Honda failure.

Team principal Eric Boullier told it as it was after the race.

“For the first time this season, running in 10th place within spitting distance of the flag, we dared to hope…”

Hope is a dangerous thing, Eric, especially at McLaren-Honda…

“OK, what we were daring to hope for were hardly rich pickings: a solitary world championship point for Fernando, who had driven superbly all afternoon, as he’s driven superbly every race-day afternoon for the past two-and-a-half years. But, after so much toil and heartache, even that single point would have felt like a victory.

“And then came yet another gut-wrenching failure.

“It’s difficult to find the right words to express our disappointment, our frustration and, yes, our sadness. So I’ll say only this: it’s simply, and absolutely, not good enough.”

Even when the car was running it was just getting absolutely mugged on the straights. Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne are utterly helpless, just sitting ducks waiting to be overtaken.

There’s been a lot of chatter this weekend about this, now seemingly, inevitable split between McLaren and Honda and this week might have been the final nail in the coffin. It’s been an utter disaster and it simply can’t go on.

Alonso, however, boosted his ever-increasing popularity. After he stopped on the track, he wanted to give his gloves to the supporters in the grandstand. Then he ended up inside of it.

Alonso had driven another great race and, again, proved why he is one the best to have ever graced the F1 paddock. His awareness, how much he is able to process and figure out while travelling over 200 mph is something else. When radioed about his strategy, Alonso replied “You are not giving me useful information. I need the pace of Magnussen…”

He knows who he’s racing…

Later on, he noticed how Raikkonen wasn’t pulling away from him that quickly on the supersofts and how Vettel wasn’t catching him as quickly as he imagined, also on the supersofts and questioned whether the supersoft tyre was the right tyre to be on. The information he’s able to process while his mind is required to be constantly engage is incredible.

Toro Rosso

Not the best weekend for Toro Rosso. A squabble about teammate slipstreaming in qualifying was followed by a double DNF. Carlos Sainz did not see the Haas of Romain Grosjen on his inside and squeezed him somewhat before Grosjean — having to get back onto the track — touched the Toro Rosso which sent Sainz into a nasty spin which caught the unfortunate Massa and both headed into retirement.

“…I have to say I never saw the car there, it’s simply a dead angle in my mirrors so I never knew he was there”, said Sainz. “If I had realized I was there, of course I would’ve been more careful and left some space. Once we collided I was just a passenger, crashed into the wall and that was the end of my race unfortunately…”

For Kvyat, he had issues getting off the start line on the formation lap, didn’t recover to his 11th place on the grid in time, was handed a drive-through penalty before it was discovered that wasn’t the correct punishment and was then handed a 10 second time penalty in addition to the drive-through penalty he had already served.

Needless to say, he was not happy. In addition to some very colourful language over the team radio, Kvyat added “They should cancel this stupid rule. Who is this rule for? Are we taxi drivers here or Formula 1 drivers? I don’t understand this. It’s a circus, a stupid fucking circus. I will go and talk to Charlie. It’s annoying me, it’s really annoying me…”

A problem in the pits severely delayed the already angry Kvyat and he subsequently retired. It’s a shame, because Kvyat was running in P7 before having to serve his drive-through and then fought back into the points before his nightmare pit-stop.

Monaco Grand Prix Winners and Losers

Feature image: Sutton Images

Sebastian Vettel claimed his 3rd win of the season — and Ferrari’s first at Monaco in 16 years — on the streets of Monte Carlo, leading a Ferrari 1-2 ahead of Kimi Raikkonen with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo rounding out the podium places.

Winners

Sebastian Vettel’s title hunt

With Lewis Hamilton’s struggles in qualifying, this was a great opportunity to extend his championship and took full advantage of his rival’s struggles. Ferrari helped him out by seemingly giving Vettel the optimum strategy (the overcut) to jump his teammate in the pits and from there on out there was no way he was letting victory go. Vettel’s win extended the championship lead to a race wins worth: 25 points.

This advantage now means Vettel is firmly in the driving seat for the title as both himself and Hamilton had both exchanged blows to begin the season. With that in mind, how does Vettel — and indeed Hamilton — respond in Canada?

You could say it’s Vettel’s title to lose right now but there’s a long way to go.

Daniel Ricciardo

Danny-Ric was a frustrated figure after qualifying on Saturday. He was frustrated that he wasn’t dropped in clear space for his final run and he qualified 5th as a result, behind his teammate Max Verstappen.

But Sunday held different fortunes for the ‘Honey-Badger’.

With Verstappen attempting the undercut on 3rd placed Valterri Bottas forcing Mercedes to react and pit Bottas, Ricciardo pumped in some incredible laps, trading fastest laps with Sebastian Vettel, and these lifted Ricciardo not only above his teammate into 4th but ahead of Bottas into 3rd. From there, it was rudimentary for Ricciardo and he took home the final podium place.

Unlike last year where he looked like a miserable man despite finishing in 2nd place (a race he should’ve won), Danny-Ric was very happy with his 3rd place finish.

Great drive from Danny-Ric. Amidst all the stardom that surrounds his young teammate, Max Verstappen, he’s still proving he’s still top-dog at Red Bull.

Haas

A very nifty double-points finish for Haas with Romain Grosjean having a very quiet afternoon finishing 8th and Kevin Magnussen finishing 10th.

Magnussen was unlucky he was forced to pit due to some damage to one of his tyres after his first stop but got himself back into the points after Sergio Perez’s and Daniil Kvyat’s collision boosted his position two spots.

Not much else to say here, just a nice double-points finish for Haas, who now move level with Renault on 14 points for 7th place in the constructors standings.

“It’s the first time we’ve had two cars in the top-10, so that’s really good, especially in Monaco…”

Romain Grosjean

Carlos Sainz

How long will it be before Carlos Sainz is in a situation where he can fight for podiums/race wins? The guy is immensely talented and he proved it again on Sunday, holding down to the 6th place he secured in qualifying and taking his season tally to 25 points. That’s more than Felipe Massa and more than Esteban Ocon, both of whom drive faster cars.

You forget sometimes that Sainz is in a Toro Rosso, but to be fair that machine was well hooked up even in Thursday practice. Canada might be a tougher hunting ground for Sainz where the Renault engine in the back of that Toro Rosso might hamper him in comparison to the Mercedes powered engines in the back of the Force Indias and Williams’.

“What a result, what a perfect weekend! We need to enjoy this moment, because it’s not usual to achieve a faultless Grand Prix on the streets of Monaco – and this time we did! We put in good laps in practice, in yesterday’s qualifying session and, in today’s race, we were able to keep a World Champion in a faster car behind and finish P6 – it definitely feels so good! We’ve also been quicker than the rest of the midfield throughout the whole weekend and I’d like to thank the whole team for this, they gave me a very good car to drive! I really enjoyed today’s race – now it’s time to celebrate this well-deserved result with the team before starting to think about the Canadian GP, which is up next!”

— Carlos Sainz

Young drivers around Monaco

Normally the tight streets of Monaco claim the races of the younger drivers of the field due it’s ruthless nature and the sheer concentration it requires for 78 laps. Prior to this season, Max Verstappen had crashed out of both of his Monaco appearances and Jolyon Palmer crashed out last season. But this season the young drivers fared quite well in terms of not binning it in the wall.

Max Verstappen finished in 5th, Carlos Sainz finished in 6th and did a good job fending off Lewis Hamilton, Jolyon Palmer finished in 11th, Stoffel Vandoorne was running 10th before Perez, sort of, directed him into the barriers at Sainte Devote, Lance Stroll kept himself out of the wall (a cooked front left brake forcing him to retire late on), Pascal Wehrlein was sent sideways by Jenson Button and Esteban Ocon finished his 1st Monaco Grand Prix at the first attempt.

A good outing for the young’ns.

Jenson Button’s and Fernando Alonso’s pre-race radio exchange

JB came out of retirement for one race, to race in his former teammate’s place as the Spaniard competed in the Indy 500. Before the race, Alonso spoke to Jenson wishing him luck and JB’s response was hilarious.

Amazing.

Losers

Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen

The most talked about item from this race was Ferrari’s decision to pit Kimi Raikkonen before Vettel. This allowed him the optimum strategy around Monaco (the overcut) and to pound some super laps in before pitting him. The ultimate result was a seemingly perfect execution of the switch Ferrari wanted the German jumped the Finn after the only round of scheduled pitstops. It looked engineered, a ploy to get the Ferrari the team wanted in front…

This made it very clear that Ferrari have put all their chips on Vettel to win the title. It’s race 6-of-20. RACE SIX. It’s way too early to do this kind of thing…

Lewis Hamilton was also absolutely convinced that Ferrari knew what they were doing when they pitted Kimi first.

“On strategy that just doesn’t happen – the leading car, it’s very hard for him to get jumped by the second car unless the team decide to favour the other car. That’s very clear.”

— Lewis Hamilton

For Kimi himself, this officially labels him as the clear number two driver for the rest of the season and what does this mean for him going forward into next year? Is this it for Kimi in F1 after this season? I’m sure there’s a team who’ll sign him but I don’t think Kimi is interested in anything other than a Ferrari drive.

What should’ve been a wonderful day for Kimi and many F1 fans turned into stoic expressions.

Lewis Hamilton

Though Lewis Hamilton did a good job to limit the damage that was inevitably going to be done after his difficult qualifying by finishing 7th, he does however find himself now 25 points behind Vettel in the title race.

The good news for Hamilton is that there’s plenty of time to recover but it’s obviously never ideal to be down 25 points at any stage of the season. We’ve seen how he can seemingly just turn it on and romp away with 3/4 straight wins. He’s going to need to do that — or hope that Vettel slips up/breaks down — in order to catch up.

A lot of work to do for Lewis.

McLaren

If there was a weekend for McLaren to score points this was it. But they were already compromised even before the race started. Despite both McLaren’s qualifying in the top 10, both Button and Vandoorne started outside of it due to various penalties, Button starting from the pitlane.

Track position is everything at Monaco, and unfortunately for Button he was screwed from the start. He got tucked up behind Pascal Wehrlein for his entire race despite McLaren trying a different strategy to get Button in free air, and his frustration eventually got the better of him as JB tried to send one up the inside of the Sauber at Portier… Not exactly an overtaking spot and Wehrlein was un-sighted by the move, turned in for the corner, caught JB’s wheel and flipped over.

Not JB’s finest moment and he netted himself a three-place grid penalty for the next race… I somehow doubt that penalty will ever be applied… Joking aside, had he not had to deal with his various penalties, I’ve no doubt he would comfortably finished in the top 10 where he qualified.

As for Vandoorne, he was running well in P10 but stuffed it in the barrier after Perez’s dive down in Sainte Devote forced him to adjust his line out of turn one and, as is the case with Monaco, he ran out of space.

With the next two tracks (Canada and Baku) being power tracks, it’s hard to imagine — barring major upgrades — when McLaren will be in a position to contend for some points again in the near future.

“Sometimes you visit the Monte-Carlo casino and hit the jackpot; other times you walk away empty-handed. For us, this was just one of those unfortunate days when the luck didn’t go our way…”

— Eric Boullier

Force India

Rotten weekend for Force India. Perez’s race was ruined on lap 1 when he sustained some front wing damaged that forced him to eventually pit, sticking him behind the Williams of Lance Stroll. After recovering to the points positions, Perez was involved in two separate incidents with Vandoorne and Daniil Kvyat, the latter forcing the Russian to retire and the Mexican to pit again, placing him last of the finishing runners at 13th.

And the only punishment for Perez was a 10 second penalty, not a grid penalty for the next race which would’ve been well deserved.

For Esteban Ocon, he was compromised with his qualifying spot but found himself in more trouble when he was forced to make an unscheduled stop after suffering some damage to his tyre in the same way K-Magg did in the Haas — a loose manhole cover/track breakup in Sainte Devote.

He was near the back of the field for most of the race but did finish ahead of his teammate in the end, thanks to Perez’s adventures.

They have been double-points finishers for the first 5 races but that streak was abruptly broken on the streets of Monte Carlo.

“A day of unrealised potential on both sides of the garage. Sergio’s contact with Sainz on lap one proved very costly with the early pit stop to change the nose. For Esteban, it was always going to be difficult to battle through from P15 on the grid, but the race was coming to us until he picked up a puncture. It cost Esteban a handful of points and that was a real shame. So it was one of those days when things didn’t go our way – as can often be the case in Monaco. We will dust ourselves down and look to come back strongly in Montreal in two weeks’ time.”

— Bob Fernley