Spotlight: Lewis Hamilton’s first F1 victory – ten years on

Ten years ago, on the 10th June 2007, Lewis Hamilton took his first ever Formula One victory.

The 22 year old McLaren driver had already made quite the impact on the F1 world before arriving in Canada. He was tied at the top of the championship on points with team-mate Fernando Alonso. In 2007 points were awarded for positions one to eight, with ten for the winner, and both McLaren drivers were sitting on 38 after five rounds.

Five podiums from five starts had demonstrated Hamilton’s immense rookie talent but he had not as yet stood on the top step of the podium. He had finished second to Alonso’s first twice – including at the Monaco Grand Prix where the pair dominated the field and lapped everyone bar Felipe Massa in third. Everything was about to change in Canada, however, and the tilt shifted in Hamilton’s favour.

It was Alonso who topped the first two practice sessions before Hamilton took charge in FP3. He was three tenths faster than Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen before they headed into qualifying. It proved to be a McLaren front row lock out – the second race in a row – but, for only the second time that season, it was Hamilton in front of Alonso and by nearly five tenths of a second. All eyes were on Hamilton after securing his first F1 pole position – would he be able to convert it into a victory?

In a race which saw four safety car periods – including for Robert Kubica’s big accident – Hamilton kept his cool and went on to win, beating BMW’s Nick Heidfeld by just over four seconds. Alexander Wurz finished the race in third place. Hamilton was in control through the whole race not letting any of the safety car periods phase him. It turned out that Hamilton did not have to wait long for his second victory which came just a week later at the US GP at Indianapolis.

Since the Canadian Grand Prix, Hamilton has won 55 Grand Prix putting him second on the all time list. He has taken at least one victory in every season since 2007 – the fewest being two in one season (2009) and the most being 11 in 2014.  He won 21 races with McLaren and has so far won 34 for Mercedes.

This weekend will see him go for a sixth victory at the Canadian Grand Prix. Following his debut win in 2007 he also won there in 2010, 2012, 2015, and 2016.

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Five reasons to attend an Irish road race

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Cookstown 100 2015 © The H Duct
Motorbikes? Check. Public roads? Check. Sunshine? Occasional check…

Irish road racing, there’s nothing quite like it. Every year hundreds of riders turn up to compete on closed public roads north and south of the border, literally ‘between the hedges’. The Isle of Man TT may get most of the attention but there are plenty of reasons to attend an Irish national road race – at the likes of Tandragee, Cookstown, Armoy –  in 2017. Here are just five:

1) Close racing

With mass starts, and two or three groups, there are plenty of riders providing plenty of action throughout the grid. Races can be incredibly close – for example William and Michael Dunlop were separated by just 0.007s in one race at Armoy last year. Due to the different groups leaving the grid at different times, a rider from the second or third group can win the race on corrected time adding an extra level of excitement and intrigue. It’s not often you get to see bikes go wheel to wheel on narrow roads with fields on either side.

2) Full schedules

While the International races feature just the Superbike, Supersport, Superstock and Supertwin classes, National races include classics and support. This means on a race day there will be a good mixture of classes and more riders get a chance to compete. You certainly get plenty of bang for your buck – although a lot of races are free to watch. Which brings me to my next point…

3) Support local clubs

It has been well documented recently that insurance prices are significantly rising year on year meaning many clubs are struggling. A number of races have sadly been struck from the calendar because they are not financially viable to continue running. While many road races are free to attend, fans can still support clubs by buying a programme or paying to sit on the grandstands. The programmes are full of information about riders, interviews, previous results and give full itineraries of the event races and riders taking part. Supporting the clubs will help to insure more races aren’t lost in the future.

4)  Top talent

All the attention may be focused on the return of a certain truck mechanic from Grimsby, but the Irish road racing scene is frequented by a number of other talented riders throughout the year. Of course the Dunlop name is synonymous with road racing in Ireland and Michael, William, Gary and Sam are regulars at the nationals. You’ll also get to see the likes of Derek Sheils, Derek McGee, Davy Morgan, Dean Harrison, and Dan Kneen to name a few. Michal Dokoupil is a frequent visitor to the Irish nationals along with Veronika Hankocyova. Paul Jordan, Michael Sweeney, Adam McLean, James Cowton and Gareth Keys are just a few more of the riders you can see in action.

5) Get closer to the action

While health and safety may have kicked into gear, meaning some areas that were once available for viewing have become prohibited, you can still get closer to the action than you would at a circuit. Nothing prepares you for the sheer exhilaration of seeing a bike flash past you when you’re standing just at the other side of the hedge or the fence. As the races are held on closed public roads quite often the paddocks are in muddy fields or a farmyard. People help each other out and it is a real community – where else would you see a competitor help work on a fellow competitor’s bike? Irish road racing is really something else.

Road racing is currently the topic of a three part documentary by DoubleBand films on BBC Northern Ireland and it shows just what it means to those who are part of the sport – from the riders to the fans and everyone in between. There’s no sport quite like it and once you go once, you’ll be hooked. Sitting in a muddy field, getting rained on or battered by the wind is not generally my idea of fun, but throw in a few bikes and some good company and you’re in a for a good day!

End of an Era: Sebastian Vettel & Red Bull

Prior to the Mercedes domination of 2014, there was one partnership eclipsing the competition. That was, of course, Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing.

Over his six seasons driving for the team Vettel has 44 pole positions, 65 podium finishes and 38 wins, not forgetting the small matter of four world championships. Ever since making his race debut with Sauber at the 2007 US GP, the young German has demonstrated his considerable talent. Winning his first race at a wet Monza in 2008 set Vettel on an incredible journey.

Vettel made his Formula One debut with Sauber – the team that has given us Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen amongst other drivers – and it wasn’t long before he was breaking records. In fact, six seconds is the amount of time it took him. As he drove down the pit-lane in Turkey in his first ever Formula One session he broke the speed limit. He continued 2006 as a test driver for Sauber before making his first race appearance for them at the 2007 US GP, standing in for an injured Robert Kubica. Vettel went on to pick up a point – his first of many – before swapping to Toro Rosso for the remainder of the 2007 season. 2008 brought with it a solid first full season in Formula One as Vettel finished eighth in the standings and he was rewarded with a seat at Red Bull Racing for 2009.

Vettel wasted no time in getting involved in a championship battle as he finished runner up to Jenson Button in 2009. The gap was 11 points by the season’s end and Vettel racked up four wins on his way to second place. In 2010 he went one better and won his first world championship. Winning the Abu Dhabi GP saw him win the title in emphatic style, especially as he had not led the championship at any stage during the season, instead just being on top when it mattered most. 2011 was a stark contrast as Vettel led the championship start to finish with a pole position and victory at the season opener in Australia giving a sign of what was to come. He won 11 races and only failed to finish on the podium twice – a fourth place at his home race in Germany and a DNF in Abu Dhabi. He finished 122 points clear of his closest rival – Jenson Button. 2012 was another 2011-esque year as Vettel went head-to-head with Fernando Alonso and not with a clear advantage. He overcame a 44 point deficit to his rival to eventually win by three points. A nine race in a row victory streak at the end of 2013 saw him once again beating Alonso, this time wrapping up the championship by round 16 and over 150 points clear of second place.

While Vettel has been linked with Ferrari in the past it still came as somewhat of a shock when he confirmed that he would be leaving Red Bull. A lacklustre 2014 season which saw Vettel beat by new team-mate Daniel Ricciardo resulted in Vettel ending the year in fifth. His contract with Red Bull denied him the chance of driving for Ferrari at the post-season test in Abu Dhabi, but he was spotted in the back of the garage. He then made his on track debut with his new team at Ferrari test track Fiorano in the F2012. Ferrari had a disappointing year in 2014 but Vettel’s new team-mate Kimi Raikkonen suggested that next year’s car is moving in the right direction. It is the dawn of new era for the German driver who, at the age of 27, still has a lot to give in Formula One.

Guy Martin returns for second series of Speed

Guy Martin – motorbike racer, TV presenter and oh, did he mention he’s a truck mechanic. A man of many talents and impressive sideburns, the ever popular Guy Martin is fronting another series of Speed, which first aired at the end of last year.

Speed with Guy Martin follows Martin as he attempts to break a number of speed records in his pursuit of recreating the thrill he experiences while racing at the Isle of Man TT. In the last series Martin broke the British record for outright speed on a bicycle – hitting 112.94mph and breaking the previous record of 110mph – as well as riding a motorcycle across a lake, building a human powered aircraft and smashing the world record for the fastest gravity powered sled by over 20mph. And now he’s back with four more episodes starting with a 24 hour cycle.

Episode one of series of Speed will see Martin discovering how far it is possible to cycle during 24 hours of non-stop pedalling. He will be assisted by bicycle experts Miles Kingsbury and Mike Burrows and partnered by endurance expert Jason Miles. The series will also have an episode focusing on his trip during the summer to Pike’s Peak for the infamous Hill Climb. He’ll also be looking to break the outright speed for a hovercraft and record the fastest speed achieved by a Gravity Racer (a motor-less vehicle).

Martin is used to pushing himself to the limit and has impressed over the years in his road racing career. A focus point of the critically acclaimed TT 3D: Closer to the Edge – a docufilm about what some of the most high profile riders go through in their desire to win at the iconic Isle of Man TT – Martin’s media career has taken off in recent years and he has fronted a number of shows. The truck mechanic has presented four of his own TV shows starting with The Boat That Guy built where he and his friend Mave renovated a houseboat. He then delved into the Industrial Revolution in How Britain Worked and assisted in the restoration of some of the biggest engineering achievements of the 19th century. Then it was the aforementioned Speed with Guy Martin before his recent Guy Martin’s Spitfire where he joined the two year restoration project of a Spitfire. He has also fronted More4’s coverage of the Sheepdog trails previously.

The show airs as speculation about Martin’s road racing future intensifies. He has been linked with BMW and, with Michael Dunlop revealing that he won’t be with BMW next year, this rumour is becoming stronger. Adding to that, another rumour is that Martin’s current team – TAS Racing – will be using BMW’s bikes next year although this has not been confirmed by the team.

Episode one of Speed with Guy Martin airs tonight (Sunday 26th October) at 8pm on Channel 4.

Ferrari’s points streak comes to an end

Ferrari’s record breaking string of consecutive points finishes has come to an end.

Their run of 81 races beat the previous record – set by McLaren in 2013 – of 64 races with at least one car scoring points at every race on the calendar. McLaren’s run of points started at the start of the 2010 season and ended at the Canadian GP in 2013 when Jenson Button and Sergio Perez failed to score. The British Grand Prix in 2010 was the last occasion in which Ferrari left a race weekend picking up no points.

The team failed to score at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix and it was the first time they have not had one car finish in the points since the 2010 British Grand Prix. Ferrari’s record run started at the 2010 German Grand Prix when Fernando Alonso won the race ahead of then team-mate Felipe Massa.

A disappointing race in Japan saw Ferrari come away with no points following a power failure on Alonso’s car and set-up problems and issues with the tyres for Kimi Raikkonen. “It was a real shame losing the opportunity to take part in this race because, with nothing to lose in terms of the championship, I could have taken a few more risks and maybe aimed for the podium,” Alonso said after the race. “I still don’t know what caused the unfortunate technical problem, only that suddenly, the car lost all its electrics, maybe down to a short circuit caused by the rain.” Raikkonen was similarly disappointed, even though he made it to the chequered flag. “Overall, this was a very disappointing weekend. I had set-up problems right from the first day and again today in the race I didn’t manage to drive the way I would have liked,” he revealed. “After the start behind the Safety Car, the track conditions were pretty atrocious and visibility was very poor, but my car was handling okay. Then, when the rain eased, I fitted the Intermediate tyres, but after a few laps, they were no longer up to temperature and they began to give me problems at the front end, which meant I had to slow down.”

Fernando Alonso set for pastures old?

Speculation that Fernando Alonso and Ferrari could be about to go their separate ways has reached fever pitch. The whisperings which have been swarming for a number of months are becoming louder with Autosport reporting that an announcement is not far away.  This has further been compounded by the fact that Sebastian Vettel has confirmed his departure from Red Bull at the end of the season. The four time world champion was coy about his destination but both Helmut Marko and Christian Horner spoke of him moving to Ferrari. So, does this confirm that Alonso is on his way out? In 2011 Alonso signed a contract extension which would see him remain at Maranello until the end of 2016. This in itself has seemed increasingly unlikely to be honoured in the recent months but now it looks like the two-time world champion won’t make it to 2015 with the team.

Following qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix, Alonso let little away but revealed he had a plan. “I still have not decided completely,” he said. “I have a plan in my head, I have had my mind set for the last two or three months. I have the privileged position because more or less I can choose wherever I want to go in the moment that I want to go.” That plan could involve a return to McLaren, having previously driven with the Woking based squad back in the ill-fated 2007 season. There were obviously fireworks at the time between him and team-mate Lewis Hamilton, and Alonso also found himself intertwined into Spygate. Many have questioned whether Alonso and Ron Dennis could work together again after their infamous falling out but it has been seven years, so you would imagine it would be water under the bridge now. Alonso has not hidden the fact that he wants to win another world championship and Ferrari have admitted it could be another two or three years before they are back in contention. McLaren are not any better off than Ferrari but Alonso could be banking on the Honda engine helping to catapult McLaren back to the front end of the grid, rather than the midfield where they currently lie.

McLaren’s Ron Dennis told Sky F1’s Martin Brundle that no drivers have been signed yet for the 2015 season by McLaren but that the team want to sign the most competitive drivers available. McLaren seem to be Alonso’s only viable option for a competitive drive, with Mercedes confirming that they are keeping both their drivers for next year and Red Bull promoting Daniil Kvyat to join Daniel Ricciardo. The Alonso to McLaren rumour is not a new one and has been mentioned for quite a while and the Spaniard has returned to teams in the past. After the 2007 season he returned to Renault before moving to Ferrari for 2010. His deal with the Scuderia was announced at the end of 2009 – after fierce denials from Ferrari that they were dropping Kimi Raikkonen – and he arrived to partner Felipe Massa. “I’m very happy and very proud to become a Ferrari driver,” Alonso said at the time. “Driving a single-seater from the Prancing Horse is everybody’s dream in this sport and today I have the opportunity to make this dream come true.” But now that dream seems to have fizzled out and become more of a nightmare.

Alonso moved to the team with high hopes of winning championships but he has been unable to do that with under-performing cars. He came very close in 2010 but lost out in the season finale in Abu Dhabi after a rather frustrating race stuck behind Vitaly Petrov. He finished fourth in 2011 with just a solitary win. He finished second again in 2012 and 2013 again with a car not capable of taking the fight directly to Vettel and Red Bull. 2014 has proven to be another disappointment and he is currently fourth in the championship with Ferrari slipping to fourth behind Williams. His year with McLaren 2007 is the closest he has got to winning another championship since his titles in 2005 and 2006. He eventually finished third despite tying on points with Hamilton. Alonso took four victories and eight further podiums that year. 2010 was close as well – with five wins – but since then the wins and even podiums have fizzled out. His last win was the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix and he has only picked up two podium positions – not enough for a man who harbours a dream of winning a third world championship.

He has obviously become frustrated in his current situation. Ferrari have been ruthless this year as they strive to get back on top and both Stefano Domenicali and Luca di Montezemolo have exited the team. It has often been stated that no individual is bigger than Ferrari, but what does the future hold for Alonso? Is he on his way back to McLaren or does something else lie ahead for the Spaniard? Time will tell…

F1 2014: The Season So Far in Numbers

With eleven races having already been completed just eight stand between 22 drivers and the end of the 2014 Formula One season. Mercedes have dominated so far and the team are leading the constructors championship by a considerable margin while Nico Rosberg is on top of the drivers championship. We have already looked at the winners and losers of 2014 (part one & part two) but here is an overall look at the season so far in numbers.

The Basics

Unsurprisingly, Mercedes top most of the basic statistics. Nico Rosberg has most pole positions (6), Lewis Hamilton has most wins (5), and Rosberg also has most podiums (9). Mercedes have the most pole positions overall (10) – Williams are the only other team to have a 2014 pole – while they also lead the wins tally (9), with Daniel Ricciardo winning the other two for Red Bull. Mercedes have 16 podiums in total (from a possible 22) compared with Red Bull’s 7.

It’s Fernando Alonso who has most points finishes – a 100% record for the year – but Mercedes have most points finishes as a team. You will also find the Silver Arrows at the top of the fastest laps total as well as the team have 7 – that’s six more than any other team. While Mercedes may be dominating every other statistic one area they falter is finishes.

Jenson Button and Alonso have most classified finishes – another 100% record – with McLaren and Ferrari also leading the way with 21 each. Mercedes have 19 classified finishes from 22 so far. Alonso is the only driver to finish every race in 2014 and Ferrari lead the actual finishes tally as well.

Qualifying

Not one driver in 2014 has a clean sweep in qualifying. The driver with the best record over their team-mate is Romain Grosjean who currently leads Pastor Maldonado 10 – 1. Nico Hulkenberg leads Sergio Perez 9-2 as does Kamui Kobayashi over Marcus Ericsson. Other biggish gaps are 8-3, with Valtteri Bottas leading Felipe Massa and Jules Bianchi leading Max Chilton.

The most evenly matched team-mates in qualifying can be found at McLaren, Toro Rosso, and Red Bull where one driver is beating the other 6-5. Jenson Button, Jean-Eric Vergne, and Daniel Ricciardo are the drivers ahead.

There have been 17 grid drops so far in 2014 with drivers losing a combined total of 94 places between them (not including when drivers are excluded from qualifying/made to start from the pit-lane).

A total of 12 drivers have received grid penalties in 2014 of either 3, 5 or 10 places. Esteban Gutierrez has dropped the most places in total – 23 – from four grid penalties. Three of these were as a result of car problems (gearbox) and one was for a driver error (causing a collision). Other drivers with grid penalties this year are as follows:

  • Valtteri Bottas: 1 car (5 places, gearbox), 1 driver (5 places, impeding)
  • Max Chilton: 1 car (5 places, gearbox), 1 driver (3 places, causing a collision)
  • Daniel Ricciardo: 1 car (10 places, unsafe release)
  • Jean-Eric Vergne: 1 car (10 places, loose wheel in practice)
  • Sebastian Vettel: 1 car (5 places, gearbox)
  • Jules Bianchi: 1 car (5 places, gearbox)
  • Kamui Kobayashi: 1 car (5 places, gearbox)
  • Lewis Hamilton: 1 car (5 places, gearbox)
  • Adrian Sutil: 1 driver (5 places, impeding)
  • Pastor Maldonado: 1 driver (5 places causing a collision)
  • Sergio Perez: 1 driver (5 places, causing a collision)

The top ten in terms of average starting position is as follows:

  1. Nico Rosberg 1.90
  2. Daniel Ricciardo 5.09
  3. Lewis Hamilton 6.09
  4. Sebastian Vettel 6.45
  5. Fernando Alonso 6.72
  6. Valtteri Bottas 7.72
  7. Felipe Massa 8.18
  8. Nico Hulkenberg 8.18
  9. Jenson Button 9
  10. Kevin Magnussen 9.54

In terms of starting positions the biggest gap between team-mates is 4.18 between the Mercedes duo while the smallest gap between team-mates is 0.45 between the Toro Rosso and Williams pairing.

Races

Monaco, Canada, and Hungary have been the races so far with most safety cars – 2 – while Malaysia, China, Spain, and Austria all had 0 safety cars.

All but two of the eleven races so far have seen all 22 cars start the race. Sergio Perez failed to start in Malaysia due to a gearbox problem while Pastor Maldonado failed to start in Monaco thanks to a faulty fuel pump. The races with most classified finishes were China and Spain – both with 20 – while Australia had the fewest classified finishers (13). The race with most retirements was the Canadian Grand Prix which saw 9 drivers retire from the race while China and Spain had fewest retirements – 2 each.

The race with the most lead changes was Hungary (8) which also had the most different race leaders (5). Bahrain saw 15 drivers finish on the lead lap while only four managed that feat in Monaco. Eight teams scored points in Monaco – including Marussia’s first ever Formula 1 points – while only 5 scored in Bahrain and Austria. The most positions gained in one race was achieved by Lewis Hamilton last time out when he climbed 19 spots from 22nd and starting in the pit-lane.

The Malaysian and Bahrain Grand Prix both saw 60 visits to the pit-lane while the British Grand Prix saw fewest visits (25). The Bahrain Grand Prix saw 57 pit-stops with the British Grand Prix only featuring 23.

The race with most retirements in the pit-lane was Canada (5) while Spain and Germany saw none. There were most penalties in the pit-lane (stop/go or drive through) in Monaco (4) and fewest in China, Spain, Canada and Hungary (0).

Leading

Eight drivers have led a race in 2014: Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa, Jenson Button, Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas. Of the eight drivers Rosberg has led most laps (342) while Button has led fewest (1).

Laps

Fernando Alonso is the only driver in 2014 to complete every racing lap. So far this season there have been 698. Next up are Jenson Button with 693 and Daniel Ricciardo with 691. Marcus Ericsson has completed fewest racing laps (466) with Jean-Eric Vergne and Pastor Maldonado both also completeing fewer than 500 laps each (484 and 487 respectively).

McLaren are the team who have completed most racing laps in 2014. They have completed 1369/1396 (98.07%). Only one other team has completed over 90% of available racing laps and that is championship leaders Mercedes who have completed 1303 in total (93.34%).

McLaren also dominate in overall laps for the season with 1695 for Kevin Magnussen the most of any driver. This takes into account laps completed in all three practice sessions, qualifying, and the race every weekend. The Caterham duo have completed fewest laps overall with Kamui Kobayashi on 1212 while Marcus Ericsson has completed a few more (1277). McLaren as a team have completed 3357 laps overall – 133 more than Mercedes.