Shifting Back to Gear

Sebastian Vettel (Car No. 5) now owns the fastest lap ever recorded around the Hungaroring. Credit: Official Formula 1 Website

The four-week summer vacation of the Formula One world is about to come to a merciful end as the tour heads over to the iconic Spa-Francorchamps circuit for the Belgian Grand Prix in a week’s time. As for me, wannabe Formula One writer that I am, I’m also returning to my writing hobby after being busy (and burned out) from actual work. I hope I have fully refueled my mind to get myself ready for what seems to be a cracking second half of the F1 season. Three drivers, two teams are all contending for the title with nine races to go.

I guess I’ll keep this post short since I’m not really feeling the mood to write a long article recapping all the news, storylines, and gossip over the past few months that I haven’t been writing. The only reaction I have from all the noteworthy news is that I sincerely wish for a full-on Robert Kubica comeback somewhere down the road.

Now, I will just write briefly about the previous race in Hungary. My main take-away from that is that it was a massively important win for Sebastian Vettel and a massively important one-two finish for the Scuderia. Vettel maintains his championship lead despite a dominating stretch of races from the Mercedes drivers.


Lewis Hamilton turned in magnificent performances in Montreal and Silverstone. Photo from: Sky Sports

My last blog post was Ferrari’s win in Monaco and over the time I wasn’t writing, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas quickly bounced back to remind us that Mercedes haven’t lost their touch. Hamilton dominated Canada and was supposed to win that intense Baku race if not for the unlucky headrest problem that crucially dropped him behind Vettel. In the scenic Mountains of Styria in Austria, Mercedes’ smooth operator Bottas left little doubt that he’d convert his second career pole position into his second career win. Finally, in front of his home fans at Silverstone, Hamilton repeated the dominance he had in Canada, while disaster struck the two Ferrari drivers in the form of imploding tires very late in the race. Vettel lost more valuable championship points by finishing a season-low seventh.

Valtteri Bottas won in Austria and made tremendous recovery drives in Baku and Silverstone. He is so far only 33 points behind the championship lead. Photo credit: LAT Photographic

At Hungary, the Scuderia roared back with an emphatic front-row lockout in Qualifying but the race wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for them even though they eventually held their positions up to the checkered flag. Vettel had to endure a steering problem that came up at the race’s halfway point, slowing him and teammate Kimi Raikkonen down at the front of the pack. The two Ferraris quickly became vulnerable to the charging Silver Arrow of Hamilton at third but the twisty nature of the Hungaroring plus the traffic from the back-markers provided Seb and Kimi enough cushion for defense.

Vettel spent the four-week break still in command of the championship standings. His fourteen-point lead over Hamilton is definitely not invulnerable. Meanwhile, Will Buxton recently wrote a column on Bottas, likening him to a shark that smells blood in this year’s title race. I agree that the Finn is a dangerous threat but his window of opportunity closes a lot sooner than his teammate—Bottas needs to pounce immediately with a big result in Spa. While Mercedes are ready to quickly pick apart any weakness from their rivals, Ferrari ride on to Belgium fueled by the much-needed momentum boost they earned in Hungary.


No Controversy: 2017 Monaco GP Race Review


Sebastian Vettel earned the win at the Monaco Grand Prix because of superior pace, pure and simple. Sky F1 commentators can speculate about intra-team politics all they want because quite frankly, Lewis Hamilton was irrelevant in this race, and they had to talk about something. Is Ferrari favoring Vettel over Kimi Raikkonen? Was this race confirmation of a driver hierarchy within the Scuderia? Crofty sure found a thousand ways to raise those questions for a better part of the race broadcast. So let’s cut through all the conjectures with Occam’s razor and stick to things that actually happened in the race.

But first, let’s set the background. The Mercedes’ handling looked twitchy all Saturday, during Qualifying. In Q2, Bottas had to wrestle his way into the top ten while Hamilton struggled to put together the usual smooth, fast, Lewis Hamilton brand lap. To make things worse, he was on his final flying lap before Q2 ended when the McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne hit the wall, drawing yellow flags in the final sector. Lewis had to abandon his lap and ended up in 14th.

The top ten shootout was intense. Ferrari locked out the front row of the grid, with Raikkonen claiming his first pole in nine years. Vettel missed out on pole by just 0.043 seconds, while third-placer Valtteri Bottas missed it by just 0.045 seconds. Man alive, this is why Monaco is a great track for Qualifying, but not so much for racing.

At the start of the race, the top three stayed as is, while the two Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo followed closely behind. This order maintained itself for almost half of the race: Raikkonen, Vettel, Bottas, Verstappen, Ricciardo.

And then we get to the fun part. Here are the critical events of the race, occurring in short succession:

(A) Verstappen, running fourth, gets called to pit. A lap later, Bottas gets called in to cover off Verstappen’s attempt to “undercut” him. Bottas re-emerges still ahead of Verstappen. Red Bull’s undercut didn’t work.

(B) Shortly after that, race leader Raikkonen was called in for his pit stop, theoretically to cover off Bottas and Verstappen. Seems like a fair, safe, and sensible decision for Ferrari. This however, is the turning point of the race. Raikkonen encountered traffic on his proceeding laps. People who were rooting for Kimi to win are debating if this was the right call.

(C) When Raikkonen pitted, Vettel and Ricciardo inherited the top two spots. The two of them deferred their pit stops by roughly a handful more laps and just took off with blistering pace. It also helped that they encountered little traffic from backmarkers. For added luck, the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson pitted just as Vettel was about to catch up to him. Here is a tweet showing Raikkonen’s and Vettel’s respective lap times during these crucial moments of the race. Notice how significantly faster Vettel was. Pretty simple. This was the point that Pat Symonds was stating, which pretty much made him the calm voice of reason among the Sky F1 crew last Sunday (actually, every time he’s there).

(D) Ricciardo pits and emerges comfortably ahead of Bottas and Verstappen. This is a successful “overcut”, since Ricciardo was able to leapfrog those who pitted earlier than him. Flash forward to later in the race during the restart from a Safety Car period, Ricciardo grazed the wall on the exit of Turn 1 but suffered no damage and kept Bottas behind him in check. The Aussie kept third place until the end.

(E) Vettel pits and re-emerges ahead of Raikkonen, retaining the overall race lead. The overcut worked because Vettel turned in those fast lap times right after his teammate pitted. Vettel would continue on in the lead until the checkered flag, while Raikkonen’s pace faded. The Iceman settled for second.

Kimi would prefer to drink that bubbly immediately as Seb celebrates Ferrari’s first Monaco GP win since 2001. Credit: Claude Paris / AP

It’s never fun to be a victim of an overcut strategy. Raikkonen and Verstappen were highly disappointed with the outcomes of their respective races. During the podium ceremony, Kimi’s dejection showed through his ever icy poker face. Some people say (speculate) that he’s angry at his team for giving him a pit strategy that ultimately didn’t work, but it can also be said that he was quite simply disappointed at himself. Right? Kimi took pole, made a good start, was in line for the win after leading almost half the race but his teammate was plain faster. He was already losing pace a few laps before his pit stop, while Seb was visibly catching up.

As much as I like Kimi, I think he lost this race by himself. Conversely,  Vettel earned this victory by himself. I think there’s nothing controversial about this result. If people want to talk about “team orders”, we can talk about Mercedes in Bahrain just last April. At least that one was blatant but to be fair, it was also reasonably necessary.

Seb takes the flag. Credit: Sutton Images

Are Ferrari prioritizing Seb over Kimi? Based on Championship standings at the moment, it’s reasonable of them to do so (with all due respect, Kimi).

Did Ferrari sabotage Kimi’s race? No, I highly doubt it. Kimi lost cleanly. Seb won cleanly.

Let’s stop overthinking and move on to Canada, a fortnight’s time. I heard the infamous Wall of Champions is getting re-angled for safety.

Bottas Snags Maiden Victory: 2017 Russian GP Race Review

A couple hundred meters into the start of the race, Valtteri Bottas took the lead from polesitter Sebastian Vettel. Photo credit: Clive Mason, Getty Images

Arguably the next star F1 driver coming out of Finland, Valtteri Bottas has finally achieved his first race victory after 81 career races. As the replacement to the retired reigning World Champion Nico Rosberg at Mercedes, the Finn has quickly proven his worth at the head of the field. In a race that did not feature lots of overtaking, the battle for the win was tense nonetheless, which involved Bottas trying to preserve his lead against the Ferrari of polesitter Sebastian Vettel, who was on fresher tires. But if there’s one quality that makes Bottas a future star of the sport, it’s his ability to be calm under pressure, and that was exactly what was put to the test on his way to his maiden win. Continue reading “Bottas Snags Maiden Victory: 2017 Russian GP Race Review”