Thursday, April 20, 2017

Hamilton Heralds Strong 2017 Offensive With China Win

Photo Credit: Daimler AG/Mercedes AMG

Formula 1 teams arrive to the Shanghai International Circuit having already made a first impression for the infant 2017 tour. Differences in the first pit stop cycle in the Australian Grand Prix rocked the series in its season opener. Bolstered by fast pit work and opportune timing, Sebastian Vettel was able to edge the lead away from Lewis Hamilton and piloted his Ferrari to a popular win. Showing to be no slouch in overall pace, Scuderia Ferrari stood out in Australia as potentially countering Mercedes AMG in a way not seen since the German team’s dominance stretching to the 2014 Formula 1 season. The second race in China would go a long way to declare whether Ferrari enjoyed what would be one or maybe several flukes or could be a legitimate, season-long challenger for the championship.

Hosting the Chinese Grand Prix for a 14th time, the Shanghai International Circuit has a history for providing a lively competitive affair with several occasions of overpassing. For the 2017 edition of the 56-lap race on the 5.451-kilometer track, a passing rain shower added the challenge of a damp track as all but two drivers started the race on intermediate tires (Carlos Sainz Jr for Toro Rosso and Jolyon Palmer’s Renault were the only exceptions choosing supersoft slick tires). Collecting his second pole of 2017, Lewis Hamilton grows one step closer to setting a new Formula 1 record in the grand prix events upcoming this season. The Mercedes AMG’s total 63rd pole positions is only two behind Ayrton Senna and five short of Michael Schumacher’s current record of 68 poles. Similar to his start at the Australian Grand Prix, Hamilton timed his acceleration perfectly. While Lewis Hamilton’s launch served as a major race-impacting move, much of the talk after the start of the Chinese Grand Prix was Sebastian Vettel’s positioning at his grid spot. Though the Ferrari was located noticeably further to the left of his designated starting position, the FIA stewards chose not to levy any form of penalties against Vettel (However, the sanctioning body did caution this may not be the case if similar incidents occurred in the future). This was the second time in this young 2017 Formula 1 season where a start was marred with an irregularity.

Photo Credit: Daimler AG/Mercedes AMG

Evidently, Sebastian Vettel’s positioning provided no tangible advantage as the pole-sitting Mercedes AMG race car darted away for an early lead on the Shanghai International Circuit. Clockwork for the leaders, the opening stage of the Chinese Grand Prix would contain some turmoil for others. Sainz Jr on slick tires spun on lap 1 but was able to resume the grand prix and would ultimately post a strong effort. Unfortunately for Canada’s Lance Stroll, an impact between his Williams-Mercedes and Sergio Perez’s Force India ended poorly for the rookie on the first lap. Alter starting 10th after making his first career Q3 appearance in Formula 1 qualifying, Stroll’s race ended with the turn 10 collision. “I was in front, knew the corner was mine and had to turn in eventually. It was just unfortunate as that was my race over. I got hit and then the car was broken, most likely with a puncture and damaged suspension.”, said Lance Stroll has two retirements to show for his first two Formula 1 starts. For Williams Martini Racing, a strong qualifying effort by both cars was foiled on race day fully as Felipe Massa struggled with grip in the remaining team car crossing the finish line in 14th place.

A virtual safety car came out for Stroll’s gravel trap parked Williams would be replaced by an actual safety car period. On the final corner of lap three for Antonio Giovinazzi, his Sauber-Ferrari kept some standing water on the track and flew dramatically into the inside track barrier. As the yellow flag was deployed and the wrecked Sauber was retrieved, remaining competitors of the grand prix were led down pit road for three laps going through that section. The Italian driver was unhurt from the hard impact that was his second major single-car collision for the weekend in China. Giovinazzi has also crashed in the same area of the Shanghai International Circuit in qualifying on Saturday.

While almost every starter chose intermediate tread tires for the start of the Chinese Grand Prix, the time spent on that type of rubber was brief. Despite track dampness at the start, the remaining Formula 1 field had all converted to Pirelli slick tires by lap four.

When the race went back to green, the drying Shanghai track was controlled at the front by a strong Mercedes AMG race car. As Lewis Hamilton led the Chinese Grand Prix, some of the most impressive driving arrived from competitors who started in the back of the Formula 1 field. Lined up in 16th place on the grid after reported power unit issues in qualifying, Max Verstappen for Red Bull Racing soared quickly through the field. Verstappen climbed to 7th place after 11 laps with his progress continuing during the ensuing laps that would result in a climatic fight.

In the late laps, Max Verstappen held third place with a hard charge coming from his teammate Daniel Ricciardo. After a nightmarish start to the season in his home country’s grand prix, Ricciardo obviously wanted a podium finish as a form of redemption. Daniel Ricciardo appeared to his left nothing on the table when it came to challenge the young Verstappen.

Photo Credit: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Handsomely controlling the Chinese Grand Prix from the start, Lewis Hamilton and the Mercedes AMG team retaliated against the challenge of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. Crossing the finish line 6.250 seconds ahead of the German establishing himself as the Brit’s 2017 title rival, Hamilton felt the pressure in what he described as “some really tricky conditions” on the track.

In the drivers’ points standings, the result means Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are tied based on the fact they swapped finishing positions from the Australian Grand Prix. The win combined with Valtteri Bottas’ sixth place finish  does hand Mercedes AMG a slim single point lead in the constructors’ title after two races over Ferrari. The fourth consecutive victory for Mercedes AMG, the victory was the time both the team and Lewis Hamilton collected top honours at Shanghai. The retired 2016  world champion Nico Rosberg won last season for the team while also capturing a momentous 2012 win that served as the Silver Arrow’s first full-fledged constructor victory since 1955. Three of Hamilton’s triumphs in the Chinese Grand Prix came with Mercedes AMG with the other two took place with McLaren.  

Aside from some minor controversy relating to the grid positioning, Sebastian Vettel’s 2nd place run in China will be remembered with some positivity for fans looking forward to a solid fighter against the Mercedes AMG juggernaut of recent years. The fastest race lap of Vettel’s Ferrari was just 0.045 seconds short of Lewis Hamilton’s best effort. Ferrari’s second car driven by Kimi Raikkonen finished 5th ahead of Bottas’ Mercedes AMG.

The duo between the Red Bull-TAG Heuer machines ended after 56 laps with Max Verstappen prevailing. Within DRS range in the final laps, Daniel Ricciardo just couldn’t find a way around his teammate. The second race of the 2017 Formula 1 season saw the podium represented by three distinct teams. That feat was accomplished only four times during the entire 2016 21-race season with many eager to see greater parity through the upcoming 2017 grand prix events.

In 7th place, Carlos Sainz Jr recovered from his less-than opportune race start to post collect points in both Formula 1 events in 2017. For the first time this season, Haas F1 Team registered a point-scoring result. A newcomer to the American-based Formula 1 organization Kevin Magnussen took the 8th spot at the end of the Grand Prix of China. Magnussen has taken to the Formula 1 grid with all four power units (Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Ferrari and Renault) over four seasons and has gained top-10 finishes with three of them. Off to a good start in 2017, Force India repeated an optimistic feat in China for the team. In order, driver Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon scored the final two point-paying positions indicating a consistent effort from Force India.

From China, the 2017 Formula 1 departs for Bahrain setting up the season’s first back-to-back race weekend stage. The Bahrain Grand Prix is set for Sunday April 16th.

2017 Formula 1
Chinese Grand Prix
Race Results

Pos # Car # Driver Team Engine

1 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
2 5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Ferrari
3 33 Max Verstappen Red Bull TAG Heuer
4 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull TAG Heuer
5 7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari
6 77 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
7 55 Carlos Sainz Jr Scuderia Toro Rosso Reanult
8 20 Kevin Magnussen Hass F1 Team Ferrari
9 11 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes-Benz
10 31 Esteban Ocon Force India Mercedes-Benz
11 8 Romain Grosjean Haas F1 Team Ferrari
12 27 Nico Hulkenberg Renault Renault
13 30 Jolyon Palmer Renault Renault
14 19 Felipe Massa Williams F1 Mercedes-Benz
15 9 Marcus Ericsson Sauber Ferrari
16 14 Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda
17 26 Daniil Kvyat Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
18 36 Antonio Giovinazzi Sauber Ferrari
19 2 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren Honda
20 18 Lance Stroll Williams Mercedes-Benz

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Vettel And Ferrari Send Message With Season-Opening Win in Australia

Photo Credit: Ferrari S.p.A.

Serving as the opening season round of Formula 1 competition in 24 of the previous 26 seasons, the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne hosts 10 teams and 20 drivers all aspiring to put immediately place their best foot forward in 2017. A new season already promising to be one of intrigue, new vehicle regulations and driver lineups greatly buffers a transition from a 2016 campaign.

For the first time since 1994, a Formula 1 season will not feature the reigning champion in title defence. Skillfully capturing the 2016 Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship after a heated battle with favoured teammate Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg shocked the motorsport world by announcing his retirement from the series almost before the champagne from the celebration had a chance to go stall. Causing some reorganization within Mercedes AMG (one of four Formula 1 teams intending to maintain their driver lineup for 2017), popular rumours ended up true as Williams Martini Racing driver Valtteri Bottas was named to fill the vacated seat. The move led Felipe Massa out of retirement to retake a place in the second Williams-Mercedes race car alongside Formula 1 newcomer and 2016 Formula 3 champion Lance Stroll.

Beyond chain reaction caused by Nico Rosberg’s surprise pullout of Formula 1, changes made for the 2017 championship includes the addition of Kevin Magnussen to the now-sophomore Haas F1 Team, Nico Hulkenberg joins Renault while Pascal Wehrlein has found a new ride with Sauber in the wake of Manor Racing’s shutdown. Wider Formula 1 cars with an overall width expanded by 20 centimetres compared to 2016 rules are joined by tires with an increased tire width. Promising to deliver fast cornering speeds for 2017, the new cars are also features updated looks courtesy of new team colours. The most striking sights on the 2017 Formula 1 grid are the pink Force India race cars as the Australian Grand Prix prepared to be launched on the 5.303-kilometer race track for 58 laps.

For the fourth year in a row, the Mercedes AMG handled by Lewis Hamilton grabbed the first pole position of the Formula 1 season at Albert Park. Thanks to the new technical regulations, Hamilton obliterated his 2016 pole qualifying lap time by 1.649 seconds. The 1-minute, 22.188-second lap time that gave the #44 Mercedes AMG the top spot for the Australian Grand Prix was the Brit’s 62nd career pole position in series competition drawing his total to within three of Ayrton Senna and six of Michael Schumacher. In defiance to the common appearance of an all-Mercedes AMG front row, Sebastian Vettel piloted his new Ferrari SF70H race car to the second-fastest effort in qualifying narrowly beating Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes by a mere 0.025 seconds in Q3. Kimi Raikkonen recorded the fourth quick time resulting the first two rows of the 2017 Australian Grand Prix being shared by race cars from Germany and Italy. The third row of the first grand prix of the year was shared by Max Verstappen’s Red Bull race car and Romain Grosjean’s Ferrari-powered Haas F1 Team race machine.

Photo Credit: Andrew Hone/LAT Images/ Pirelli

Over the course of the previous three seasons, the Mercedes-Benz factory team had only lost eight grand prix events. The seemingly indomitable Silver Arrows have used victory at the Australian Grand Prix as the launching pad for year-after-year of dominance. After an aborted start caused by a mispositioned race car on the grid that saw a lap trimmed from the race’s running distance, Lewis Hamilton powered to an early lead. However, while the Mercedes AMG occupied the top spot, Sebastian Vettel maintained a tight interval with Hamilton. Within a second of the leader in the opening laps, the early pace of the Ferrari resulted in Vettel being able to rely on DRS. Under pressure, Lewis Hamilton still showed some of his trademark strength eventually pulling away from Sebastian Vettel’s car.

With Mercedes AMG and Ferrari showing themselves as frontrunners in the maiden laps in Australia, the appearance of a third team was lacking a second car. Max Verstappen’s Red Bull Racing RB13 ran strong but his teammate endured a frustrating outing in his home country’s race. Daniel Ricciardo crashed in qualifying and his race team rushed to have their driver compete for the Sunday event. Despite their best efforts, the Red Bull Racing team missed preparing Ricciardo’s car for the start of the race. After the second lap, Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull TAG Heuer vehicle was sent out on track to the delight of the Australian fans. Sadly, this outing was brief as Ricciardo and his team retired their race car after 25 laps. Understandably, Daniel Ricciardo regretted missing the opportunity to mount a good showing for his home nation’s fans. Expressing that he felt for the fans and that he was “...super grateful for everyone that came this weekend”, the Australian competitor responded fondly, “Even when I stopped they were still cheering and shouting my name”.

Daniel Ricciardo travelled further than Romain Grosjean, Jolyon Palmer and Marcus Ericsson who suffered early ends to their opening outings of the 2017 Formula 1 season. With the first grand prix of 2017, the trip to Melbourne was also the first-ever event for Canadian Lance Stroll in the world’s top open wheel racing series. Struggling in qualifying to dial in his Williams-Mercedes, Stroll started at the tail end of the starting field for the Australian Grand Prix. The race provided a better debut outing for Lance Stroll until a brake failure resulted in a retirement after 40 laps.

At the front, a single pit stop among the leaders established the winner of the Australian Grand Prix. Coming to the attention of his Mercedes AMG team on lap 17, Lewis Hamilton was able to swap out his purple-sidewalled ultrasoft Pirelli tires in favour of yellow-sidewalled soft compound tires turning the lead over to Sebastian Vettel. Having not pitted, Vettel led five laps before what would be his stop for tires. When lap 22 arrived, the Ferrari driver made his one and only pit stop. The combination of an attentive service by the Ferrari pit crew and some traffic Hamilton contended with meant Vettel left the pit lane just ahead of the Mercedes AMG F1 W08 EQ Power race car of Lewis Hamilton. The pit exit win was the deciding move as the Ferrari would pull away.

Crossing the finish line 9.975 seconds in the lead, Sebastian Vettel won the Australian Grand Prix and the first race of the 2017 season. Vettel’s 43rd victory in Formula 1 competition, the German driver only previous win at Albert Park came in 2011 when he piloted a Red Bull-Renault. Sebastian Vettel becomes the first driver outside of the Mercedes AMG to lead the World Drivers’ Championship standings since the start of 2014.

Photo Credit: Daimler AG 

Going through the entire 2016 Formula 1 calender without a win, Ferrari returned triumphant with their new SF70H race car. After the race, Ferrari’s chairman Sergio Marchionne stated “It was about time.” for the race team to once again celebrate a win in Formula 1. Along with Sebastian Vettel’s victory, Kimi Raikkonen took 4th place in the Finnish competitor’s best result in the Australian Grand Prix since winning it in 2013. Collecting a total of 37 constructor points, Scuderia Ferrari leads the team standings.

Settling for second-best, Lewis Hamilton recorded his 105th podium result in his Formula 1 career. Graciously accepting his effort in Australia, Hamilton was happy with the start but realized the threat of Vettel’s Ferrari as the starting set of tires on his race car overheated. In his first outing with the Mercedes AMG Formula 1 team, Valtteri Bottas made an admirable on-track debut. Capturing the final podium spot, Bottas’ finished less than 1.3 seconds behind his teammate. Both Mercedes AMG team drivers cited grip issues on their ultrasoft slick tires at the beginning of the event but Bottas maintained on the race track eight laps longer than Hamilton before his pit stop. Mercedes AMG left the first race of the 2017 Formula 1 season with a respectable 33 points in the constructors’ championship.

Max Verstappen recorded his best career finish in the Australian Grand Prix in 5th place while Felipe Massa jumped one position from his starting spot to claim 6th place. Force India’s first outing with the eye-catching VJM10 race cars was a double point-scoring affair. Sergio Perez finished in 7th position while Frenchman Esteban Ocon grabbed his first-ever point in Formula 1 competition by crossing the finish line in 10th place.

Photo Credit: Zak Mauger/LAT Images/ Pirelli

Sandwiched between Force India cars in the final result of the 2017 Australian Grand Prix was Scuderia Toro Rosso. Starting his third season in Formula 1 by maintaining a perfect record of scoring points in the opening round, Spain’s Carlos Sainz Jr took the eighth spot driving the STR12 race car powered by a non-branded Renault power unit. All but one top-10 finisher of the 2017 Australian Grand Prix depended upon a single pit stop strategy. The only driver to crack the points-scoring positions using a two-stop plan was Daniil Kvyat finishing behind his Toro Rosso teammate in ninth place.

Heading to the Shanghai International Circuit for the Chinese Grand Prix set with an April 9th race date, the sampling of what could be in store for Formula 1 fans in 2017 presented at Australia may be indicating one of the most contentious seasons in years.


2017 Formula 1
Australian Grand Prix
Race Results

Pos # Car # Driver Team Engine

1 5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Ferrari
2 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
3 77 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes AMG Mercedes-Benz
4 7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari
5 33 Max Verstappen Red Bull TAG Heuer
6 19 Felipe Massa Williams F1 Mercedes-Benz
7 11 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes-Benz
8 55 Carlos Sainz Jr Scuderia Toro Rosso Reanult
9 26 Daniil Kvyat Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault
10 31 Esteban Ocon Force India Mercedes-Benz
11 27 Nico Hulkenberg Renault Renault
12 36 Antonio Giovinazzi Sauber Ferrari
13 2 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren Honda
14 14 Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda
15 20 Kevin Magnussen Hass F1 Team Ferrari
16 18 Lance Stroll Williams Mercedes-Benz
17 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull TAG Heuer
18 9 Marcus Ericsson Sauber Ferrari
19 30 Jolyon Palmer Renault Renault
20 8 Romain Grosjean Haas F1 Team Ferrari