Sunny days – Canadian GP quali

With the Wall of Champions waiting patiently for the unwary, it was McLaren’s Fernando Alonso heading the pitlane queue out onto a dry track as the Q1 session light went green. All hopes for a decent qualifying for McLaren were riding on him, as team mate jenson Buton was forced to watch from the garage, his car withdrawn from qualifying due to an enforced engine change. It was an eventful first lap for Sebastian Vettel: with the Ferrari promising a performance step forward this weekend, Vettel found himself withdrawing from his first timed lap with turbo problem. With much of the pre-race discussion being on the state of Lewis Hamilton’s mindset after his Monaco strategy mishap, it was Merecedes team mate Rosberg setting the pace in the first session. Lotus’ improving form was compromised somewhat by Maldonado taking a spin on his flying lap. Nothing serious though. With just over two minutes left on the clock, Vettel rejoined the session after frantic work in the garage, taking to the track on the supersoft tyres to try to guarantee his progression to q2. Ultimetaely, he did not have the power and found himself eliminated in P16, along with a struggling Massa (Williams) and the two Manors of Merhi (P18) and Stevens (P19). To round off a topsy turvy session, it was Grosjean’s Lotus topping the timesheet.

Out from 20: Button (DNQ), Stevens (Manor), Merhi (Manor), Massa (Williams), Vettel (Ferrari).

Vettel’s early exit from qualifying seemed to be the spur that those chasing a second row spot needed. Raikkonen was the early pace-setter until, that is, the Mercedes duo set their first representative times. Bottas, carrying the Williams flag in the absence of his team mate, seemed to be running well, if still nearly a second off Hamilton’s mid-session time. There was half a second from Mercedes to the Ferrari/williams/Lotus scrap for those higher Q2 slots. Alonso’s day did not improve, finding himself qualifying in 14th. All eyes are on those second row slots. With McLaren showing a serious deficit in straight line speed, it was Grosjean topping that chart, being clocked at 212mph.

Out from 15: Nasr (Sauber), Alonso (McLaren), Ericsson (Sauber), Verstappen (Toro Rosso), Sainz (Toro Rosso).

Force India’s Hulkenberg was first out for Q3, with both cars in the final session for the first time this season. Rosberg, trailing Hamilton, was complaining of a lack of rear grip, leaving him vulnerable to a charge by any of the chasing pack. For the final scramble, both Lotuses exited their garage at the same time, almost colliding in the pitlane. As the session drew to a close, it was Raikkonen heading the chasing pack. So, Hamilton on pole (his 44th, fact fans), from Rosberg, prompting Rosberg to comment “what a rubbish end to qualifying”, with Raikkonen and Bottas sharing Row 2 in the absence of their team mates. A Lotus Row 3 and then Hulkenberg putting his Force India ahead of the Red Bulls and then his team mate Sergio Perez rounding out the top ten.

(grid positions provisional on pending penalties).

2015: Canadian Grand Prix Preview

The European F1 season gets a brief interlude this weekend as teams travel to North America for the Canadian Grand Prix. Considered by many as one of the best weekends on the Formula One calendar, racing at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve always provides excitement and intrigue with different strategies coming into play. While in Monaco it was the close proximity of the barriers all around the track that drivers had to keep themselves out of, in Canada it is the infamous wall of champions which has seen the likes of Michael Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel hit.

The main talking point coming into the Canadian Grand Prix is that moment from Monaco when Lewis Hamilton pitted under the safety car and ultimately lost the win after dominating most of the race. Team-mate Nico Rosberg is the one with the momentum having won the last two races and cutting Hamilton’s championship lead to just ten points.

Circuit: Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve
Number of Laps: 70
Circuit Length: 4.361km
Number of Corners: 14
Lap Record: 1:13.622 Rubens Barrichello (2004)
Previous Canadian Grand Prix winners still on the grid: 6
Most Successful Team: Ferrari & McLaren (13 wins)
DRS Zones: 2   
Pirelli Tyres: Soft and Supersoft

In stark contrast to the high downforce requirements of the streets of Monte Carlo, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is medium to low downforce. A lot of focus is put on power and getting good traction out of the corners. It has long straights where the speeds build as well as slow corners, giving it a very stop/start feel. Ferrari and Honda have used engine development tokens ahead of this weekend and reliability will play a key role in the weekend.

Last year Mercedes looked to have another 1-2 finish sewn up until MGU-K issues hampered both cars races. Struggling from a loss of power, the chasing pack were able to close up on Hamilton and Rosberg. Hamilton eventually retired from the race with brake failure while Rosberg drove around the issue to salvage second place. Instead it was Daniel Ricciardo who took his maiden Formula One win with team-mate Sebastian Vettel in third.

In the past it has been a track where Hamilton has excelled or retired. Since his breakthrough win in his rookie season (2007) he has won the race once more and finished third once. He has retired on his three further visits to the track with the race not being held in 2009. Red Bull have won the race on the past two occasions but before that McLaren had won three in a row. McLaren-Honda picked up their first points of the season in Monaco when Jenson Button was classified eighth while team-mate Fernando Alonso’s race came to an early end after the car overheated. The team will be focused on improving their reliability as they look to become more consistent points scorers. Max Verstappen came under fire following the last race after his move on Romain Grosjean which sees him come into this weekend carrying a five place grid penalty. Having gone second fastest in his first F1 session in Monaco, the highs soon turned to lows when he tried to make a move on Grosjean on the pit straight and crashed out. The incident brought out the safety car which in turned proved to be Hamilton’s downfall.

Verstappen’s fellow rookie and team-mate impressed after racing from the pit-lane to pick up one championship point. Vettel picked up yet another podium for Ferrari while team-mate Kimi Raikkonen finished down in sixth. The Finn is a previous Canadian Grand Prix winner in 2005 and will be hoping to move back up the order. Racing in Canada can often be unpredictable and it will no doubt be another exciting race this weekend.

Sebastian Vettel sets the pace in the third and final practice session in Monaco

Sebastian Vettel set the pace in FP3 ahead of qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix.

It was a dry session for the drivers after some wet running on Thursday, giving them the first opportunity to try out the new super-soft tyres. Lewis Hamilton lead rookie Max Verstappen in the first practice session before going fastest again in FP2, this time ahead of team-mate Nico Rosberg.

After compromised running on Thursday, teams wasted no time in getting their drivers out on track for the start of the third and final practice session. Both Mercedes drivers and both Manors went straight out on the super-soft tyre and Hamilton set the initial pace with a 1:19.074 before improving to a 1:17.504. Rosberg slotted into second place behind his team-mate after his first couple of laps.

Ferrari did not go out of the garage straight away as some adjustments were carried out to both car, and Kimi Raikkonen set his first lap-time with nearly 20 minutes of the session gone. It was enough to see him go third fastest on the soft compound tyre behind the Mercedes duo. When he put the super-soft tyre on he improved his lap time before ending up in the barriers at Sainte Devote, causing damage to the left rear tyre. The session was red flagged in order to allow marshals to recover the stricken Ferrari.

Elsewhere Fernando Alonso had been about to start a lap in his McLaren but was compromised after coming across the Ferrari. The session was quickly green flagged again and the action recommenced as drivers instantly took to the track. Having already lost significant time on Thursday due to the weather time is of the essence to get some substantial running in ahead of qualifying and the race. A number of drivers throughout the session struggled to get their cars stopped out of the tunnel and ran across the Nouvelle Chicane.

Verstappen, who had gone second fastest in the first practice session, got it wrong at Anthony Noghes, losing part of his rear wing as a result. Marcus Ericsson complained throughout the session about lack of grip and locked up going into Sainte Devote. Rosberg had a late improvement to end up six hundredths behind his team-mate. Vettel set a very impressive lap-time with about five minutes of the session remaining, going five tenths quicker than Hamilton and Rosberg. Rosberg improved to within two tenths of Vettel’s pace.

In the closing minute of practice, cars backed up at the final corner trying to find clear space to set a final lap-time. There were a number of improvements including Carlos Sainz and Jenson Button.

Free Practice 3 times:

  1. Sebastian Vettel – 1:16.143 – 27 laps
  2. Nico Rosberg – 1:16.361 – 31 laps
  3. Lewis Hamilton – 1:16.705 – 31 laps
  4. Daniel Ricciardo – 1:17.120 – 26 laps
  5. Carlos Sainz – 1:17.256 – 39 laps
  6. Kimi Raikkonen – 1:17.401 – 11 laps
  7. Daniil Kvyat – 1:17.471 – 28 laps
  8. Jenson Button – 1:17.767 – 28 laps
  9. Max Verstappen – 1:17.788 – 23 laps
  10. Romain Grosjean – 1:17.806 – 28 laps
  11. Sergio Perez – 1:17.832 – 30 laps
  12. Pastor Maldonado – 1:17.956 – 28 laps
  13. Nico Hulkenberg – 1:18.102 – 32 laps
  14. Fernando Alonso – 1:18.197 – 26 laps
  15. Valtteri Bottas – 1:18.212 – 29 laps
  16. Felipe Massa – 1:18.242 – 32 laps
  17. Felipe Nasr – 1:18.767 – 38 laps
  18. Marcus Ericsson – 1:19.269 – 37 laps
  19. Will Stevens – 1:21.093 – 31 laps
  20. Roberto Merhi – 1:22.225 – 30 laps

2015: Monaco Grand Prix Preview

The Monaco Grand Prix is a race like no other on the Formula One calendar. Unforgiving Armco barriers line the street circuit and it also features a tunnel, which brings with it is own unique challenges. The race is known for its glitz and glamour, including the huge yachts docked in the harbour overlooking the track. It is an event which requires not only high downforce and good mechanical grip, but intense concentration from drivers – moreso than usual. “The best thing about coming to Monaco is that it’s a circuit where the driver has more influence on events,” Daniel Ricciardo has said ahead of the weekend. With the lowest average speed of the year – 98mph – Monaco is less about outright performance, meaning those not always finishing in the top ten could take the opportunity to score points. It is also very difficult – but definitely not impossible – to overtake on the streets of Monte Carlo.

Circuit: Circuit de Monaco
Number of Laps: 78
Circuit Length: 3.337km
Number of Corners: 19
Lap Record: 1:14.439 Michael Schumacher 2004
Previous Monaco winners still on the grid: 6
Most Successful Team: McLaren (15 wins)
DRS Zones: 1
Pirelli Tyres: Soft and Supersoft

Nico Rosberg has taken pole position and the race win on Formula One’s last two visits to Monaco. Last year his pole was tinged with controversy as he ran wide at Mirabeau, resulting in yellow flags which compromised team-mate Lewis Hamilton’s running. Hamilton said Rosberg did it deliberately, and inter-team relations continued to crumble after that. Rosberg held off Hamilton in the race to win with Daniel Ricciardo picking up third for Red Bull. It is once again Mercedes going into the race dominating proceedings. Rosberg took his first win of the year in Spain, giving him the psychological edge going into what is his ‘home’ race. His strong results in the past will also help him as he looks to cut the gap further to Hamilton.

Hamilton, on the other hand, enters the weekend off the back of securing a new three year deal with the team. With contract negotiations finally completed he will be able to give his full attention to the job in hand. Their main rivals Ferrari are a team who have performed well at the circuit in the past – second just to McLaren in terms of victories there – however, the Scuderia’s last win at Monte Carlo was back in 2001 when Michael Schumacher crossed the line first.

Elsewhere it will be a bittersweet race for Manor. The team picked up their first – and so far only – points in Formula One when Jules Bianchi took ninth place in the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix. It has been a difficult 12 months for the team since then with Bianchi’s horrific accident in Japan and the team entering administration within just a couple of months of each other. The team made a valiant effort to make the Australian Grand Prix, and are still racing their ‘B’ spec car, and will no doubt be thinking of their team mate over the course of the upcoming weekend.

The Circuit de Monaco is made up of a number of iconic corners such as La Rascasse, the Swimming Pool, Mirabeau, Sainte Devote, and Tabac, amongst others. Its winners list features a number of iconic drivers including Schumacher, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Gilles Villeneuve, Mika Hakkinen to name a few. As the saying goes, “to finish first, first you must finish”, a phrase which takes on more meaning at a place like Monaco. In last year’s race there were eight retirements and if a car stops on track there will undoubtedly be a safety car. Just who will come out on top? Action commences tomorrow with Thursday practice.

First 2015 in-season test line-up confirmed

Nine of the ten Formula One teams will take part in the first in-season test on Tuesday and Wednesday.

In 2015 there will be two in-season tests – down from the four last season – and the first of these is due to take place in Spain following the Grand Prix at the weekend. Every team bar Manor will run on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Circuit de Catalunya. The Sporting Regulations have stipulated that each team must run a driver with less than two F1 race starts on two of the four test days.

The schedule for the two days in Barcelona is as follows:

  Tuesday Wednesday
Mercedes Nico Rosberg Pascal Wehrlein
Red Bull Daniil Kvyat Pierre Gasly
Ferrari Raffaele Marciello Esteban Gutierrez
Williams Felipe Massa Alex Lynn
McLaren Oliver Turvey Jenson Button
Force India Pascal Wehrlein Nick Yelloly
Toro Rosso Pierre Gasly Carlos Sainz
Lotus Pastor Maldonado Jolyon Palmer
Sauber Marcus Ericsson Raffaele Marciello

As well as seven current Formula One drivers, seven test and reserve drivers will also take the wheel. Pascal Wehrlein, Raffaele Marciello, and Pierre Gasly will be the busiest drivers as they split their running between two teams. Mercedes test driver Wehrlein who also tested for Force India during pre-season testing will continue to run for both teams, starting with Force India on Tuesday. Marciello is a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy and will run for the Scuderia on Tuesday before taking up his official Sauber test and reserve driver duties on Wednesday. Finally, Red Bull Junior driver Gasly will get running for both Toro Rosso and Red Bull over the two days.

Elsewhere Nico Rosberg, Daniil Kvyat, Felipe Massa, Pastor Maldonado, and Marcus Ericsson will kickstart the running for their respective teams. Jenson Button and Carlos Sainz will also be in action. Former Sauber driver Esteban Gutierrez will get his first running for Ferrari after joining the team as one of their test drivers for the 2015 season. Long-time McLaren test driver Oliver Turvey will get a days running as will Williams development driver Alex Lynn. Lotus reserve driver Jolyon Palmer will be in action on Wednesday with Nick Yelloly sharing the Force India with Wehrlein.

The second in-season test will take place following the Austrian Grand Prix in June.

2015: The Spanish Grand Prix in Numbers

Statistics from the Spanish Grand Prix weekend

Total number of laps completed (by driver)

Nico Rosberg 166
Max Verstappen 158
Felipe Massa 158
Carlos Sainz 157
Sebastian Vettel 153
Felipe Nasr 153
Kimi Raikkonen 148
Jenson Button 147
Lewis Hamilton 146
Nico Hulkenberg 142
Sergio Perez 140
Valtteri Bottas 140
Will Stevens 137
Roberto Merhi 126
Marcus Ericsson 125
Daniil Kvyat 120
Pastor Maldonado 117
Daniel Ricciardo 113
Romain Grosjean 109
Fernando Alonso 104
Susie Wolff 22
Jolyon Palmer 21
Raffaele Marciello 15

Total number of laps completed (by team)

Williams 320
Toro Rosso 315
Mercedes 312
Ferrari 301
Sauber 293
Force India 282
Manor 263
McLaren 251
Lotus 247
Red Bull 233

Total number of laps completed (by engine supplier)

Mercedes (4 teams) 1161
Ferrari (3 teams) 857
Renault (2 teams) 548
Honda (1 team) 251

Number of race laps: 66
Number of safety cars: 0
Number of race starters: 20
Number of times race lead changed hands (includes pole sitter): 4
Number of different race leaders (excludes pole sitter if lead changes off the line): 3
Number of classified drivers: 18
Number of retirements: 2
Number of drivers on lead lap at chequered flag: 6
Number of teams scoring points: 6
Most places gained: Sergio Perez 5 (18th – 13th)
Number of visits to pit-lane: 48
…of which were pit-stops: 46
Stop/go penalties (added to pit-stop): 0
Drive through penalties: 0
Retirements in pit-lane: 2
Fastest lap: Lewis Hamilton 1:28.270

It’s coming home – Spanish Grand Prix quali

There’s a persistent feeling in F1 that glamorous as the flyaway races are, the real business is done on the European circuits. As the circus rolled into Barcelona, a number of questions persist: has Alonso’s move to a floundering McLaren Honda lost him support in his home country; will Ferrari have brought the fight any closer to a dominant Mercedes; will Hamilton continue to subjugate his team mate in the season’s most high profile intra-team rivalry?

Free practice hadn’t hinted that there was to be any change to the existing order, despite a scrappy final session from the current leader of the Drivers’ Championship. Eyes were also on McLaren, still struggling to benefit from the incremental developments to their all-new chassis/motor package. Would they be able to convert a seemingly improved practice performance into qualifying success?

Local favourite Mehri was first out for Q1 onto a track registering at the upper end of the expected temperature range. As is becoming customary, it was the Mercedes pair trading fastest times through the session, with Vettel’s Ferrari duelling with the Williams pair to be ‘best of the rest’. Raikkonen, who had opted not to run the aero developments brought for this race, was complaining about a lack of rear grip. The McLaren pair quickly posted top ten times, boding well for their progress to Q2. Biggest casualties of Q1? Force India, with both drivers failing to progress.

It was ‘Fred’ Nasr first away in the remaining Sauber for Q2 but as expected, it was the Mercedes pair setting the pace despite Hamilton being released into traffic for his first run. McLaren’s improvement faltered  as they failed to beat the Lotus pair and progress to Q3. Lotus remained upbeat about their prospects for Sunday, citing their race pace.

With history illustrating the importance of a front row start, there was extra pressure on the frontrunners for the final session, particularly Raikkonen who outpaced his illustrious team mate in the preceding runs. Perhaps underlining the twitchiness of the cars on this circuit, Bottas put his Williams well outside the track limits as struggled to hold it on his first timed lap. It was again Rosberg, seemingly more comfortable in the car, who set the target time for pole. As all ten remaining qualifiers raced to the flag, it was indeed Rosberg who held his nerve to take pole from is teammate, with Vettel’s Ferrari and Bottas’ Williams lining up on row 2 behind them.