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26 Nov 2018
'Trumpets' race review - Abu Dhabi

Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale breaks down the story of the Abu Dhabi GP

Ambient 32° Track 34° Humidity 39% Wind 2.6 m/s

Prelude

The crushing heat that enveloped the paddock in the late afternoon at the 2018 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was shimmering away as the sun dipped towards the horizon, the lights were illuminated to fight the coming darkness and the race start approached. A last minute pneumatic top up for Carlos Sainz led the list of things that happened to be concerned about, along with a quick check of Hamilton's wiring, after changing out his Energy Store the previous evening, with no penalty as they were already in his pool of parts.

Staggeringly, with 10 minutes to go, there was a 40% chance of rain, and an even greater chance of Verstappen overtaking on lap 1, as he was the cat amongst the pigeons, the fox amongst the hens, the well, I'll stop there but you no doubt get the idea as he was the only top 6 starter on the Hypersofts and it was all going to be down to his performance on the first laps. Having seen earlier races how much of a difference softer tyres can make at launch it promised much spectacle at the start, though with a short run to T1 (300 metres) the potential for disaster also loomed for the Dutchman's strategy....

Pirelli were also announced as having won the next tyre contract, through 2023, and they had on display an 18" tyre and wheel to count coup, and in celebration the ever exciting one-stop was predicted for the 55 lap race. Lots of change in the offing but first there was a race to be run and as they rolled off on the formation lap, amidst the congratulations and goodbyes, the thrill in the air was palpable....

Summary

Lights Out!!!! Great start from Hamilton, with Bottas slotting into P2 as they entered the first turn. It was Leclerc with a fantastic launch, though, by Grosjean and dicing with Ricciardo down the long straight to T8. DISASTER for Verstappen, as he was down to P10, as it looked as if he was having some kind of massive PU issue off the line with his rain light flashing, indicating harvesting as he was on maximum throttle, shades of Rosberg in Barcelona. This ultimately left him trying desperately trying to get back round Ocon, so not at all to plan at all to plan for Red Bull. And then, just like that, Hulkenberg was upside down and into the wall on the outside of T8. He had been having a go at Grosjean into T7 and going into T8 his rear ran over Grosjean's front launching him into a series of barrel rolls. On the radio, on being asked how he was, he replied "I'm hanging here like a cow".


That moment of levity disappeared rapidly as the car then caught on fire, but with the marshals on scene it was rapidly extinguished and the car righted, as Hulkenberg was unable to extricate himself whilst it was upside down against the barriers. Post-race he himself was unsure after the fact whether the halo indeed had prevented his escape, sure to be seized on by the nay-sayers as grist for their mill.

Naturally, this incident brought out the Safety Car as well as an investigation into the contact and in no particular order, Hartley, Perez, Sainz, Ericsson, Gasly Alonso Stroll Magnussen, Vandoorne and Sirotkin all took advantage to rejigger their strategy... As they filtered through the pits, the stewards announced no further action on the Grosjean/Hulkenberg incident and the teams prepared to resume racing.

Lap 4 and the race was back on, with a nice restart from Hamilton, big lunge on Ocon from Verstappen into T7 and he got the move done, but not for long as Ocon kept on it, and was right back around and Max's compromised exit also let Perez through. Clearly something not right with the car, and Max was told to fail C3, to reset a sensor or turn it off, most likely. Hartley managed to lose the car and tag a wall, definitely a pro move to steal focus...

2 laps later it was still on as Verstappen, finally by Perez, brutally forced his way up the inside on Ocon (with a wee bit of contact) and Ocon settled in and into the next turn Ocon was back by, but with DRS the Red Bull was finally able to make a decisive move. During that spectacular battle, Raikkonen suddenly lost power and he pulled over just across the finish line and out came the Virtual Safety Car on lap 7. Potential 2 stopper suddenly possible and in came Hamilton, Leclerc and Grosjean. Ferrari was busy talking Raikkonen through a power cycle and Hamilton was back out in P5, just behind Verstappen, on the Supersoft tyre....

Lap 8 and the VSC ended, just as Bottas, now leader on the track, was on his way to T18. Hamilton was just 9 seconds back and was told by the team that he was headed to the end, 10 or so seconds to the good with his stop, but a long, long stint to go. Verstappen heard from Red Bull that he had suffered from unanticipated PU protections, hampering the start of his race. The fact that Leclerc and Grosjean pitted removed the midfielders from Verstappen's race, and that now posed a problem for Hamilton, who, stuck behind Verstappen needed a quick pass to get his race on track. He was able to get round fairly quickly but Verstappen was able to grab his slipstream and on the next straight was by and scampered off on his Hypers with an apparently sorted engine, and perhaps some foreshadowing for next season to boot.

2 laps later and Verstappen was well on his way, with Hamilton's race reduced to save the tyres and stay in the window, job on point for the moment, 9 seconds back but he was already on the radio saying he didn't think the tyres would last. Lap 13 and Sainz was doing the job on Ericsson, which after a robust defense from Ericsson finally fell the way of the Spaniard for P8.

Happily enough by that point, Verstappen was now drafting Ricciardo, just 1 second back. Lap 16 and Vettel was in, kicking it off at the front. But it was a slow stop, by nearly a second over their usual time, out on the Supers and behind not just Hamilton, but Ocon as well. This left Ricciardo P2, 5 seconds back of Bottas and trailed by Verstappen as the only leaders yet to stop. Bottas was in the next lap to fend off the undercut, and the slow stop and having to pass Ocon really put the hurt on the Scuderia. Bottas slotted in between Hamilton and Vettel, a nice empty spot with a fresh set of Supers.

Sainz had meanwhile progressed to the point of getting stuck behind Ocon, and their battle had opened the door for Ericsson to catch back up whilst the strategy battle at Red Bull had tilted in favour of Ricciardo, as Verstappen was forced to come in as his tyres had finally started to give up. Lap 18, then and Ricciardo swanned it at the front, trailed by Hamilton, Bottas and Vettel. The following lap, Ocon was in for a set of Supers, and out he went, though doomed to the tail end of the field.

At the sharp end, Verstappen was just edging into the pit window of Ricciardo, and Bottas was closing in on Hamilton, at about 0.8 second per lap and 8 seconds between them. Rain reported in the downtown area, just for fun. That didn't last long, with Hamilton upping his pace and everyone around 1:44 a lap with 34 laps to go. Danny Ricky was happy with his tyres and off into the desert night they raced, bets placed and strategies set, the only question being what tyres the Aussie would get when he finally was in for his stop.

The following lap and Verstappen was now inside 20 seconds on Ricciardo, and it was Leclerc, who looked to be virtual leader of formula B in P11 and inside the pit window of Perez who led on track, albeit yet to stop for his second set of tyres. A few drops of rain sprinkled around the track and Ocon, who had been stuck at the back, finally got round Hartley and Sirotkin, with the effect that McLaren wanted to extend Alonso's stint to take advantage of his difficulties.

Lap 26 and Ericsson, who had been struggling, announced that his car had become undriveable and lost power, and thus not with a bang, but with a whimper his F1 career was done as he quietly boxed for the final time. Hartley, taking advantage of Sirotkin doing a bit of rallycross, was able to go round the outside of T1 and gain a whole position...

Leclerc was around Alonso and Perez was in and out, ultimately retaking the track behind Magnussen, who was running very long for his race. Hamilton was on the radio, meanwhile, complaining again about the state of his tyres. Despite that, an uber slow lap for Ricciardo brought him within 3 seconds of the leader on track. Lap 29 and Alonso was in and the race was so electric that wind direction was now being featured on team radio. Vettel had lit the board purple, and the reason became clear as he had also caught up with Bottas, inside of 2 seconds and a battle for position looking very likely as lap 30 entered the books and lightning was reported in the distance. With luck, that will foreshadow the action at the end of the race.

Lap 31 and Perez was on the gearbox of Leclerc, but the action was further back, as Vandoorne, Ocon and Grosjean went 3 wide into T9, with Vandoorne coming off best and Ro-Gro forced to bunny hop the kerbs and back into P13. Ocon kept up the battle, and was by Vandoorne, although he ran off the track and seemed like a return of that spot would be called for. Or not, as there was no effort made and then it was Rogro, also by Vandoorne who had yet to stop and off in pursuit of Ocon, who had nothing at all to lose in his last race.


Or possibly, as the pass on Vandoorne wound up being investigated by the stewards on lap 34, he did have a bit of time to lose. Red Bull chose the same lap to pit Ricciardo and it was a set of Supers and 21 laps to make best use of them as he emerged just behind Verstappen, leaving Hamilton back in the lead, with Bottas 6 seconds back and 20 laps to go....

Vettel, who had been lingering astern of Bottas, chose to finally pull the trigger, perhaps due to a mistake in the middle sector by Bottas, and was by with nary a fuss, leaving Bottas to defend from Verstappen suddenly, with P3 at stake in the WDC. Lap 36 and a lock up by Bottas into the chicane was not helping him in the slightest. Ricciardo was setting fastest laps, 2 seconds a lap faster. Despite the lock up, Bottas simply ran into the run off and maintained his position, again a situation that might call for giving up a position. The maths were being run by the commentariat and it transpired that P2 wsa needed for him to take P3 from Raikkonen and doom him to the FIA gala.

Lap 39 and T12 was where Verstappen finally got the job done, into P3 with a bit of contact as befitted his driving style/personality, places given or no. Ricciardo was next to have a go at the Mercedes, and it was job done, as Bottas looked to be struggling for reasons not adequately defined, either during or after the race. Lap 40 and it was Hamilton, then, with 6 seconds over Vettel, 10 seconds over Verstappen and 13 seconds over Ricciardo as the finale of the race began to unfold. No obvious issues reported from the team side for Bottas, and it was out into the lane for the Mercedes mechanics as Valterri was in and out on the Ultras.

Vettel and Verstappen had both lifted their pace into the upper 1:42's on the same lap, and then Hamilton responded, matching their pace. But looking at the times, it was Ricciardo who was making the most ground, as he was running in the 1:41's, tearing massive chunks of time out of the lead, 2 seconds back of Verstappen but with the race lead firmly in mind. Bottas, it transpired, was boxed due to concerns about the right rear, post Verstappen contact according to Mercedes. Sainz had managed to get round Leclerc during all the drama and was now leading Formula B by nearly 10 seconds.

Magnussen was finally in, lap 43, dropping him to P12 but with the gift of fresh Ultras, looking to make much hay in the final laps. At the front, the progress was glacial with Vettel now just 5 seconds back at the end of lap 44, but the fratricidal battle between Ricciardo and Verstappen looked very much on. And then Vettel, too, appeared to be upping the pace, notching a half second out on the following lap. Ocon was then taken out by an oil leak, and with a bit of a bang there he went, Force India career done as he pulled over in the pit entry and the marshals were quick to try and push him. Nothing doing as the engine was seized and out went the yellow flags in the pits.

Gasly was the next to start smoking, down the start/finish, and it looked rather terminal for him as well. Indeed it was, and Pierre was told to pull over in a safe position, which he did very neatly. This rapid attrition left Alonso P11 and 5 seconds back of Magnussen in the final points position. Double points for HAAS was a good look for them as the last laps were queued up and ready to go, but suddenly at the front it looked to be all but over. Verstappen was suddenly going backwards from Vettel and at the front, Hamilton, who had been saying his tyres were terrible the whole race, suddenly knocked off a 1:42 dead, easily matching his rivals and making one wonder how much of his complaints had been for the strategic consumption of his rivals.

Mclaren then attempted to urge Alonso on to try and grab a final point, to which he replied, "I already have 1800 points" maintaining his acerbic radio presence. Nonetheless, he did pick up the pace and was off in pursuit of Magnussen as well as the award for radio message of the year. At first it looked possible, as he picked up nearly a second, but then it became clear a large part of that was down to him giving a chicane an entire miss after a lock up. Hopes again dashed for Macca fans....

With the appeal lodged by HAAS, points for Force India were going to be marked as provisional at the end of the race and then the stewards, to cap off Alonso's career, tagged him with a 5 second time penalty for keeping his foot in it when he missed the chicane. Vettel rocked up with a fast lap, but at 3 seconds back it was not a threat and thus they ended, with Hamilton leading the way, trailed by Vettel and then Verstappen. It was then some fairly anemic donuts from Hamilton, who was joined by Vettel in post race celebrations....

Sainz led home Formula B, followed by Leclerc, setting the stage for an interesting next season at Ferrari as the merry go round of driver change prepared to sweep through the paddock. Alonso rolled around, and then in triple unison, he, Hamilton and Vettel AGAIN engaged in making some donuts, at the urging of his team. Verstappen's podium meant he officially overtook Bottas for P4 in the WDC, and with his strong finish, Sainz overtook both his idol Alonso and Ocon, going P10 in his final race with Renault. Leclerc managed to overtake Grosjean for P13, since we're being comprehensive and that was that for the driver's side. As expected, no movement on the Constructor's side of the chart and with that, after a brief moment of sentimental radio calls that was decidedly won by Ricciardo's response to his engineer, it was off to the season of whispers, rumours, inference and everyone's favourite, bare-assed speculation as everyone's most wonderful time of the year rolled around, the time of endless argument with no available data..... Thanks for stopping by, as always, and have a great off season!!!
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25 Nov 2018
'Trumpets' qualifying notebook - Abu Dhabi

Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale gives us the lowdown on the events leading up to and including qualifying for the 2018 Abu Dhabi GP.
Ambient 28° Track 32° Humidity 46% Wind 01.6 m/s

Prelude

Qualifying for the 2018 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix sported typically perfect weather, the deep purple hues of twilight just beginning to descend over the paddock as the teams were feverish with activity and, to the surprise of no one, FP3 sported yet another typical breakdown for Ricciardo late in the session with a water leak. Ocon, too, had issues, though his were with his power steering and that saw him in the garage till just before the checquers, and immediately faster than Perez with his one shot. Also featured from FP3, a beef between a late running Gasly and a cooling down Grosjean, in which Rogro first blocked Pierre on the racing line, then turned in once Gasly had launched himself up the inside and went straight on, ignoring the turn in order to make the classic F1 hand gesture at the HAAS driver. The inevitable silly contact, littered the track with carbon fibre from both their cars and drew the unwelcome attention of the stewards involved...

Also out in FP3 was the stewards decision that Racing Point Force India was entitled to call themselves a constructor, brought about by HAAS protesting both cars as having not been built by RPFI and the rules stating that teams may not buy parts from a competitor. The stewards basically concluded that once Force India ceased to be a competitor, essentially the situation was no different to purchasing parts from a 3rd party. The stewards also clarified that RPFI is indeed a new entrant, which may play a part should HAAS pursue a settlement regarding column 1 money from FOM, which would've been the main point all along, as new entrants are excluded from collecting prize moneys for the first 2 years of their entry, a mark HAAS has just passed. With 9 instead of 10 claimants, obviously the share would go up for HAAS, as well as the rest of the teams. More on point, with RPFI apparently being guaranteed column 1 money as a new entrant, HAAS' retroactive share over the last 2 years would rock up to around $60 million, a not insignificant sum. A sticky situation indeed for the new owners to sort through, and grist for the winter mill...

Onto more controversy, with all but Bottas' defense of P3 from Verstappen settled, Mercedes have announced that indeed they will positively consider running their super trick wheels with their non-aero cooling configuration that might indeed have an aero benefit if you are a Ferrari fan.... Or not, but looking at FP3 times, in particular the S3 times where many competitors melted their rears on quali sims, it would seem that they are ready to brave a protest and go with them. Although with an evening start and lower track temperatures, the times will be faster and the competition closer. Also on point, Raikkonen, who was a tenth up on Vettel, as Sebastian was not happy with his setup as Kimi. Formula B was led by Grosjean and HAAS by nearly half a second as temperatures dropped and the teams made their last minute preparations for the final qualfiying of the 2018 season.

Summary

Green Light!! Alonso, Vandoorne, Leclerc, Gasly and Hartley were first off, with Ericsson trailing a bit behind, all the drivers on the Hypersofts. Sirotkin and Stroll were out with a minute offset and then, as Leclerc and Alsonso were off on their first push lap, Raikkonen rolled casually out of the pitlane...

Leclerc lit up the board early days, but it was his teammate, Ericsson, trailing behind, who took the final honours from the first, group, fastest through S1. It was Hartley, in S2, and as the times rolled up on the board, it was Gasly and Hartley at the top of the first group of runners. But with Raikkonen a purple dot on the timing screens it was a matter of seconds before he ascended to the top, nearly 1.7 seconds faster with a 1:37.010.

12 minutes to go and Mercedes were out and about, but all eyes were on Vettel, lapping after the Mercedes and taking S1 honours away from his teammate. To the top he went with a 1:36.946, as it was clear that Mercedes were doing multiple prep laps for their tyres. Wasn't enough though, for Mercedes as Hamilton was in with just a P3 and Bottas about 3 tenths back in P4. Not much in it, with just a tenth or so covering the top 3 as Red Bull finally rocked onto the track, with 8 or so minutes left in the session. Despite the problem in FP3, it was Ricciardo just ahead of Verstappen, only hundredths between them but nearly half a second off the top of the field. Formula B was led by Hulkenberg, with Rogro just behind, off by 0.05 seconds and according to Gunther Steiner, balked by traffic.

On the outside looking in with 5 minutes left, it was Magnussen, Ericsson, Vandoorne, Sirotkin and Stroll with it all to do, with Alonso on the bubble. As the clock ticked down to 3 minutes, it was Hamilton, back out on a push lap, unusually so for Mercedes. P2, for him, and then Bottas outpointed him as the rear of the car looked loose in the final sectors, a place where overheated tyres will give up their grip. A replay of Kmag's first lap showed him running wide over the kerbs and losing some bodywork from underneath the car, never a good thing.

With the checquers flying, Ocon was on it, across the line into P4. Next up was Leclerc P7. Kmag was into P13 with Perez, trailing him, rocking up a P9. Alonso was next with a P14 and Vandoorne wasn't able to do better than P18 as Gasly pulled off, smoke coming from his Honda just as he exited the final turn. Done like a dinner were Hartley, Gasly, Vandoorne, Sirotkin, and Stroll, with Kmag breathing a big sigh of relief. Off they went in search of some Madrooba as the rest turned it around for Q2.

And away they went, Hamilton and Bottas leading the parade this time around, trailed by Hulkenberg, Leclerc Ericsson and Ricciardo. All the top teams were running UltraSofts, no surprise really, but Force India as well chose this gambit so fun times for all. The mixture of tyres also led to more than usual jockeying for position. AS the board lit up purple and green with the first push laps, it was Hamilton to the top with a 1:35.693, a new track record and nearly 7 tenths up on Bottas and more than a second faster than Raikkonen. Yikes!!!! With Ferrari owning S1, all that time was coming from the twisty bits of the track. And that was clearly visible as Hamilton was nearly a second faster than Vettel in the last sector alone.

Once jaws were removed from floors, it was Ricciardo going P5 and Verstappen P10 (really!), with Sainz being best of the rest followed by Grosjean. In the danger zone were Magnussen, Ericsson, Ocon, Perez and Alonso, with it all to do as the track fell silent and teams sorted their final adjustment to make the glory that is Q3. Magnussen had a water leak according to Steiner, and as the clock ticked past the 3 minute mark, it was Hamilton leading the way on Hypers, covering off any improvements and prepping for Q3.

Leclerc purpled S1 but it was Grosjean ahead of Sainz early days on their last push laps. Leclerc continued to rock up the purples till Vettel got on with a new lap on Ultras. But before he finished, it was Leclerc to P3. Not for long as Vettel slotted in P2, still 0.5 seconds off Hamilton's time though. Verstappen was purpling the board behind, albeit on a set of Hypers and then he was through, but with the strategic wrinkle of starting on the Hypers contra the rest of the sharp end. Ocon was up to P8, with Hulkenberg and Grosean getting it done as well. Not so much for Kmag, and with Ricciardo dropping like a stone down the board he was hard on it with a new set of Hypers, till the maths dictated he needed no more as Sainz wasn't able to get it done and he just squeaked through in P10.

Off in search of Sulaimani, then, were Sainz, Ericsson, Magnussen, Perez and Alonso, as the rest turned it around for the ultimate playground of Q3.

Ocon, Grosjean, and Leclerc were most eager to get on with it, with Mercedes just behind. 9 minutes to go and they were off, Rogro owning S1 early days, as Hamilton went a bit wide into T8 and T9. Again, T14 some twitches but not enough to stop him going P1 with a 1:35.295, with Bottas just a tenth behind. Raikkonen looked strong through the first 2 sectors, but again Ferrari lost so much in the 3rd sector that he wound up P5. Vettel was much stronger, and he went P2, just 0.05 seconds back of Hamilton. Ricciardo had a splendid P4 then Raikkonen and Verstappen. Grosjean went best of the rest, nearly 0.5 seconds up on Hulkenberg.

Grosjean, Ocon and Leclerc led the way after the interval, with Mercedes again just behind them. Hulkenberg and Ricciardo followed by Verstappen were the next group on track and it was Ferrari, waiting till the last possible second before rocking out of the pitlane. A minute to go when Grosjean hit the line and then it was Hamilton, across the line with 50 seconds left in the session.

As the lap rolled on it was Vettel behind who purpled S1 just as Hamilton was doing the same in S3 and then across the line for a 1:34.795 with Bottas behind rocking up just 0.15 back in P2 as Vettel was entering S3. Again, it was a massive bleeding of time for the Ferrari in the last sector and P3 with a 1:35.125 was the best the Scuderia could do. Raikkonen was 2 tenths back and then Ricciardo and Verstappen with Grosjean taking the Formula B palmares for the last time in 2018.

Tomorrow's race is full of interest then, as Verstappen on the faster tyres will no doubt seek to make hay at the start, when the others should be most vulnerable in the opening laps and try to steal P3 from Bottas in the WDC. In the midfield, similar hijinks are no doubt planned as those out of the top 10 will seek to make maximum use of their tyre choice to confuzzle those starting on the quick degrading hypers. The stakes are a bit higher in the WDC as well, with Magnussen 3 points adrift of Perez for P8, Ocon a single point off Alonso for P10 and Grosjean just 2 up on Leclerc for P13 (admittedly, I may be stretching here).

At any rate, it's the last race in the season so just go enjoy the darn thing for once!!!

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11 Nov 2018
'Trumpets' race report - Brazil

Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale guides us through the tumultuous scenes that unfolded at the Brazilian GP.
Ambient 24° Track 39° Humidity 70% Wind 1.8 m/s

Prelude

The sun pounded mercilessly down on the paddock as the track temperatures climbed relentlessly, not reassuring news for fans of the Silver Arrows starting on the faster but more fragile Supersofts, who have often struggled in high heat conditions with blistering and overheating, but tantalising indeed for fans of the Scuderia, who were starting on the longer lasting and more durable Soft but vulnerable at the start as they take longer to bring into the window of optimum performance. Mercedes, too, looking at sector times have loaded on downforce to help protect the rear tyres, leaving Ferrari faster in S1 and S3, but giving them quite the advantage in S2.

Unhappy news for fans of Hamilton as well, as there was some kind of minor oil leak on Hamilton's car, which was discovered as the car sat on the grid. Ericsson, too, had an issue, as he lost a chunk of his extractor on the way to the grid, leading to a human wall around his car as various mechanics slid underneath in an effort to sort it out and make the most of his starting position, P6.

Worth mentioning neither Hamilton nor Vettel picked up grid penalties for their hijinks yesterday, Vettel ultimately exonerated because he did "eventually" (passive aggressive wording directly from the steward's report) turn off his engine and a weight was recorded for his car. He was fined for the damage he did to the scales whilst after hearing from Williams the issue of Hamilton blocking Sirotkin apparently went no further.

The midfield, too, was rife with tyre strategy, with all those not making Q3 starting on Softs save Perez P12 on the Supers and Hartley P16 on the Mediums. Chance of light rain ala qualifying as the grid set off on their parade lap and made their way to the grid... oooh spicy as Vettel had an issue selecting gear as they launched for the parade lap, maximum drama!!!


Summary

Lights Out!!!! Rocking start from Vettel but Hamilton covered him and then it was Bottas around the outside as Vettel locked up approaching T1. FFaikkonen back around of Verstappen who'd gotten him off the line. Ericsson down to P8 and then back to it as KMag rocked wide and was down to P11 when the dust settled. Ricciardo to P9 into the 2nd lap, wasting little time on what's a very short lap, chasing Gasly.
Sainz had a move on Hulkenberg that was a bit, as they say firm, with the Spaniard getting the better of it around the final turn headed into lap 4, as Verstappen again had a go at Raikkonen into T1 and this time was successful, around the Ferrari on the outside for P4. At the front, Hamilton was hardly running away, with it, and Verstappen, taking advantage of the train, made the move again, this time into T1 up the inside and by Vettel he went as Vettel was distracted with Bottas ahead of him. Vettel then went wide into T4 with a lock up and suddenly it was Raikkonen, again the front running Ferrari.

Lap 5 and it was just 1.5 seconds between Bottas and Hamilton, who was leading, but Verstappen was on it, just 0.5 seconds behind the trailing Mercedes. On replay, again Ericsson's car dropped a massive chunk of carbon fiber, not making his day any easier at all. By lap 7 Verstappen was on the attack again, just 0.3 seconds off the gearbox of Bottas, but the wily Finn was doing a good job of making space when he needed it and the battle raged on. Behind, Vettel, was inside DRS on Raikkonen but still a bit far to make a move. The top 6, in fact were all within 6 seconds and of those, P3 through P5 were all inside DRS on each other.....

In the midfield, K-Mag had recovered from his earlier rallycross and was up to P10 as Verstappen went up the inside, and despite a move to the middle from Bottas, easily rocked by into T1 as Bottas moved back a bit to grab the racing line. On race radio, the message Bottas might be running out of battery to Verstappen was played post overtake, an interesting insight into how the battles are won and lost on track. The gap to Hamilton hung at just under 2 seconds as having been defeated by Verstappen, Bottas immediately fell into the clutches of Raikkonen. Wasting no time, Raikkonen had his first go on lap 11, with Bottas doing the dead minimum to keep Raikkonen from getting by.

Verstappen knocked 0.2 seconds off on his first full lap of chasing, whilst the attack of Raikkonen was slowing Bottas even further, as the Mercedes were decidedly not the fastest of cars on track at that moment. Lap 13, 1.3 seconds between Verstappen and Hamilton. Behind, Magnussen on the Softs had carefully(ish) made his way up to P9 as Ericsson was dropping like a stone through the order, his car struggling massively with the loss of downforce due to losing a big chunk of his diffuser.

At the front, the battle for P3 was slowing the rest of the frontrunners so much that Leclerc had started to appear in the background of the shots, and in fact he was just 2.3 seconds off the back of Ricciardo. Verstappen on the radio noted that Hamilton was slow, and sliding more than him, to which he was told to creep up on him. Bottas opened the door a bit for Raikkonen, but Kimi was not quite able to get the job done, and there were visible blisters on the rears of Bottas' car.

Alonso had a dodgy stop in which he was stopped on his way out to reattach a loose wheel, a shame as the stop was being done to get him out ahead of Ericsson and it failed spectacularly, leaving readers to draw their own analogies. Lap 18 and Vettel was no doubt kicking himself for letting his teammate by, and Ferrari rolled out a set of Mediums to the pitlane, only to roll them immediately back.

Lap 19 and Bottas was into the pits, onto the Mediums, not a happy stop as that put him out behind K-Mag into P9, so not going to protect so much against the undercut. Hamilton was in the next lap, and out again on the Medium while Verstappen was looking at a nice piece of empty racetrack to drive into. Fast lap for him then, and it turned out Mercedes had brought Lewis in before he thought his tyres were done. Stuck behind Grosjean, Hamilton was losing chunks of time as Ericsson had a spin, his day going from bad to worse in a heartbeat.

Clear of Grosjean, Hamilton knocked off a purple S1 and was 0.7 seconds faster than Verstappen and 17 seconds back. Ericsson was brought in to retire, a crushing blow for the Swede who had looked set to have his best ever race till the car literally fell to pieces around him. Lap 23 and Verstappen was kept out, with a 7.8 second lead over Raikkonen. For Ferrari, obviously looking to extend their stint and slow their rivals from behind, they were setting times in the upper 1:13s as Hamilton was all over the back of Leclerc and then by, into P5 on lap 24.

Of course, all that overtaking and pushing comes with a cost to the tyres, even on the hardest and more durable tyre offered for the race, which was looking at a total of 49 laps if a one stop was still the Strategy for Mercedes. A fairly large chunk of the midfield had already cycled through the pits and that traffic was beginning to affect Verstappen, who was catching them most inconveniently in S2.

3 laps later and in came Vettel and onto the Mediums, ostensibly to protect him from Ricciardo, as Bottas caught, and was severely defended, by Grosjean, costing him nearly 2 seconds on the same lap. Lap 29 and he got the job done as it came in that Vettel's stop was a staggering 1.9 seconds. Hamilton was told to match Verstappen's times and even as he was complaining about how close he was, Verstappen radioed his tyres were feeling better, and he was up to the 1:13.2's and Hamilton was just shy of 20 seconds back and according to Mercedes, just 0.7s to the good.

Lap 32 and Raikkonen was in and out on on Mediums, but out behind Vettel, the undercut having been just powerful enough. 20.1 seconds now between Hamilton and Verstappen as Hamilton was approaching another chunk of lapped traffic and the Red Bull was running some sort of powerful tyre protection spells. Hulkenberg was told to retire lap 34, not helping Renault at all in their attempt to hold P4 in the WCC.

Vettel had rocked up behind Bottas and was trying to put the moves on him, trailing at just 0.3 seconds as they tocketed down the straight on lap 35 but just not quite close enough to get the job done into T1. Vettel then moved aside to let Raikkonen by and have a go on fresher tyres. The virtual battle raged between Hamilton and Verstappen and as Max came upon some new traffic Red Bull called him in and it was on. Verstappen was out on the Softs, but it was a 3 seconds stop and this let Hamilton by after a white knuckle trading of laptimes over the previous 18 laps. Now it was a hunt and chase for Verstappen with grippier and fresher tyres and just a 3 second gap.

With Max looming in his mirrors, Hamilton again was complaining of sliding as behind, Raikkonen was under half a second on Bottas, who was trapped behind Alonso. Into T9 Alonso finally let Bottas by, but turned in ahead of Raikkonen, slowing his lap as well, before moving aside into T11 and releasing the Ferrari back to the chase. From radio traffic it emerged Red Bull was betting on fresher tyres over track position, and as if the racing gods heard them, Hamilton was complaining of engine dropout which Mercedes was "looking into" just as Ricciardo was into the pits, on lap 39.

But too little too late as on Lap 40 and down into T1 it was Verstappen and Hamilton wheel to wheel down the straight and Verstappen was into the lead, coming around the Mercedes onto the straight and just outdragging him down to T1, using the extra grip of his tyres to carry a massive dose of momentum. But Hamilton wasn't done and he chased the Red Bull down the hill, but by time they got to S2 the extra grip of the Softs saw Verstappen opening up the lead.

Having played the cautious game up to this point, Ricciardo, on the back of Vettel and with a fresh set of Softs, had a rather cheeky go around the outside but Vettel neatly closed that door and then, disaster for Verstappen at the start of lap 44 as he was suddenly picked up off track, spinning his wheels and regaining the track out of the Senna esses after Hamilton flashed by. 
On replay, it was a collision with Ocon as Ocon, 1 lap down and in P16, tried to go round the outside into T1 with fresh tyres and unlap himself. Verstappen kept the inside through T1, then as he took the apex for T2 and the start of the esses, Ocon kept his nose in as they went into T2, his front axle and the rear of Verstappen's car suddenly trying to occupy the same space and doing fairly decent damage to both cars. Trashed floor for the Red Bull and a distinctive hobbling of his pace. Needless to say, that was an incident the stewards were going to investigate and indeed, precious little time elapsed before the notice flashed up.

Lap 46 and Ricciardo finally got round Vettel into T1, Vettel kept the battle raging and Ricciardo was able to keep the place into T4 even as Vettel pulled alongside. by outbraking him into the entry, his Soft tyres more than a match for Vettel's Mediums. Even as Verstappen was all over the radio, trying to figure out how to balance out the damage to the aero, Mercedes was on with Lewis and concerns about the health of his PU were suddenly very, very real.

Lap 53 and now Bottas was the concern for the Silver Arrows, as he was under severe attack by Ricciardo, as Red Bull informed him that Bottas was forbidden to use any more overtake as they rolled into the second half of the lap.

Lap 54 and Vettel was back in for a set of Supers, as his race was rolling backwards and going nowhere fast. But another failed gambit from the Ferrari strategy screw up machine, as he wound up behind both Leclerc and Grosjean. This baffled Mercedes, but nonetheless they rocked out the team in case they decided to bring in Bottas and cover it off.

The following lap and back in they went, with Verstappen just inside 4 seconds off Hamilton and Ricciardo inside half a second on Bottas. Mercedes asked Bottas to hold him up, and his reply was, that without the overtake button he couldn't guarantee anything. Vettel was now the fastest thing on track, but the numbers that mattered most was Verstappen, even with his damage, half a second a lap faster than Hamilton and 13 laps to get it done.
Lap 58 and the stewards had their say, stop and go for Ocon, to the surprise of no one as the following lap, Ricciardo stole the position away up the inside into T1, and Bottas, unlike Ocon, backed off as the apex of T2 beckoned, sparing himself the ignominy of the Force India driver. Having been passed , Mercedes then brought Valterri in to cover off Vettel. This opened the possibility that Mercedes could actually take the WCC if they finished as they ran on lap 61.

Ahead, Ricciardo was plotting to make Ferrari's job more difficult as he had set his sights on getting by Raikkonen and nabbing the final podium position with 8 laps and 2.5 seconds to go . Both Vettel and Bottas were mired in traffic that was variously impeding him and the blue flags were flying, with both McLarens under investigation for ignoring them.

Despite appearing to have a little extra pace, Verstappen wasn't able to significantly close the gap and with 5 laps left, the damage appeared to be too great for Max to make up for it. But there was still some drama, as Hamilton was up and lapping a battle between Stroll and Alonso, neatly done as he split them down the straight, trailed Alonso through the esses and then rocked it by into T4 on lap 66.

Ricciardo then was on the back of Raikkonen's gearbox, inside half a second with the last podium spot beckoning as the traffic at the front was now paring Hamilton's lead massively, a full second lost getting by Sirotkin and Perez, whom he was lapping for the second time. Ricciardo continued to dangle just off the back of Raikkonen but there was radio drama at Toro Rosso as Gasly was incensed that he would be asked to move aside for Hartley, who was on a different strategy than him. A slo mo replay of Hamilton's tyres showed a neat line of blisters but with 2 laps left there was nothing in it, and without traffic to aid him, the best Verstappen could do was match Hamilton's pace.

Into T4 and Hartley was by Gasly, that internecine war settled and the raging battle for 3rd looked to be falling the way of Ferrari, as Raikkonen was able to use the more powerful engine to stay ahead and as the last lap ticked into the history books and Hamilton crossed the line, it was the double for Mercedes, WCC and WDC. On radio, Verstappen was apparently less happy, although it was hard to tell as aside from a hope that he and Ocon not cross paths, the entire rest of his message was bleeped out. Obviously tinfoil time, but there will be 0 escaping the speculation that Ocon, a young Mercedes driver, was operating on supersecret instructions to win Mercedes the race... so if you have proof, then by all means hit us up, but outside that, it was just Ocon trying to prove a point and getting it all wrong. Very, VERY wrong.

Despite the celebrations, not necessarily a great race for Mercedes either, as they clearly didn't have the best car yet again. The baffling call from Ferrari as well, pitting both cars on Softs 8 and 4 laps earlier than Verstappen on the Supers looked down to a loss of telemetry from Seb's car from early in the race, shortening their options considerably. With the disaster that befell Ericsson, Leclerc took up the mantle, and pulled off best of the rest, a nice bookend to his call to have one more shot at a laptime at the end of Q2, which brought him many kudos. HAAS gained 6 points on Renault, but with a 24 point gap they would need a 2nd and 3rd to overhaul Renault at this point, so basically a space alien zombie apocalypse scenario. The closest race left for Abu Dhabi is Kmag v Perez, with the HAAS driver gaining a point on his rival and just 3 points between them....

Speaking of zombies, the battle between Grove and Woking nominally went to Woking, with Vandoorne 2 places up on Sirotkin, but honestly, it's a reach to find much to say other than thank goodness there's bit of a reset with the regs next year that might offer something for fans to hang their hats on. Renalt were blanked, and the retirement of Hulkenberg perhaps weighing a bit more heavily on Ricciardo's mind, as outside COTA and Mexico, Renault's season has been a slow downward arc the second half of the season, which could, of course, putting most of the resource toward's next year's offering.


Update: Verstappen indeed did find Ocon and did a great imitation of a WWE presser, shoving Ocon about as the Force India driver seemed mostly amused at his treatment, not that it stopped him from mentioning it in his post race interview....

Discuss!!!

And remember to play nice in the comments!!

Also, don't forget to check out Matt and the rest of the crew of Missed Apex as they discuss the Brazilian GP....

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10 Nov 2018
'Trumpets' qualifying notebook - Brazil

Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale presents his qualifying notebook for the Brazilian GP
Ambient 23° Track 38° Humidity 74% Wind 2.6 m/s

Prelude

Heat shimmered off the asphalt in the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, in Sao Paolo, Brasil, as track temps were nearing 50C° as the start of qualifying for the Brasilian Grand Prix drew near whilst off in the distance, coming ever closer, massive banks of dark clouds roiled, threatening yet again to upend all the hard work of the teams over the last 2 days. This was, in some ways, the perfect metaphor for qualifying after a torrid stretch for alternatively Ferrari and then Mercedes, the world was regaining a familiar shape as the results from FP3 had Vettel slightly ahead of Hamilton and Red Bull once again looking like it might be split by a HAAS driver, but with many questions looming....

Hamilton's car had a mechanical problem at the start of his first run, which was repaired in reasonable time but still cost him his originally planned running and left him occasionally belching smoke from his exhaust in an alarming fashion, but apparently not a serious thing judging by the mien of his engineers, at least after he made it round the track the first time without a terminal failure.

Raikkonen and Bottas were locked in their own private battle, as it turns out there is just 9 points between them for sole possession of 3rd place in the WDC, with Raikkonen ahead at the moment. In the Formula B battle with a 12 point lead Hulkenberg looked fairly tight for best of the rest, but K-Mag was just 4 off Perez for P8, and Alonso just a further 3 points back. Given the stochastic nature of the midfield the last 2 races will be nail biters for the teams and drivers involved as sponsors for the coming seasons will no doubt be wooed vigorously with the results a rather large carrot.....

Both Ricciardo (turbo) and Ocon (gearbox) were nailed with 5 spot dingers for bolting on replacement parts, Ricciardo's the result of his non-finish in Mexico, the vigorous application of the fire extinguisher, well, extinguishing his chances (forgive me)...

Sector times show a significant Mercedes advantage in S2, which is the twisty one, whilst Ferrari dominate S1 and S3. It's possible that Merc are starting to lose the rears a bit by the end of the lap in the higher temperatures, and worth noting, despite Toto Wolff's denials, that Mercedes AGAIN choose not to run their new trick rims with the cooling (or aero, depending on your loyalties) holes in them, and again, without them, are behind the Scuderia, in the dry, natch.... Of course, the real impact will show up more in the race than over the course of a single lap, but should Mercedes struggle again, well, correlation and causation etc., but the data is piling up very rapidly that without them, Mercedes looks far more vulnerable than with them...

Summary

Green Light!! With the clouds ever closer, there was a queue at the end of pitlane as the track opened, the track temps had dropped to the mid 30's and contra usual procedures, with rain in the offing both Ferrari and Mercedes were amongst the hoi polloi. Bonnington told Hamilton on the radio rain was expected and it was Bottas first off on his hotlap with everyone on the Supers. Hamilton was purpling the sectors behind him, and behind him it was Raikkonen even faster, until he made a mistake in the final corner. Nevertheless, he was still a wee bit faster than the Mercedes, but it was Verstappen who had the first properly good lap, with a 1:08.205. Leclerc had a remarkable outing, going P6 just 0.3 seconds slower than Ricciardo and it was Vandoorne, Sirotkin, and Stroll on the outside, looking in as the Toro Rossos were yet to set a time.

Gasly P15 and Hartley P17 and with 10 minutes left to go, it was Bottas who was furthest off, as he was blocked going into the final turn on his fast lap and drops were reported on the outside of turn 12, and it was turn on the lights dark over the backside of the track. On the Supers, 2nd efforts were not making much of a difference, even as fuel was being burned off.

8 minutes to go and the track was still alive with activity, Perez up to 10th as the usual interlude was simply not going to happen thanks to the weather. Grosjean to P8 with his run and then it was Sirotkin, ahead of Ocon for the moment and up to 13th. Leclerc nudged ahead of Grosjean and Hulkenberg was up to P11 as the names were bouncing up and down the board with alarming rapidity.

Ocon was on it, big lockup into T10 but still managing P14 and putting Alonso out with 5 minutes left and the weather worsening according to Hulkenberg who reported heavier rain over the back of the circuit, on turns 4 and 12. Gasly was on the radio and his call was "it's raining, it's raining," followed by a long bleep, the sound of someone who's left it a bit too late in P17. Still, it was P12 at the end of the day, and there was time still to be found.

Under 2 minutes and it was now Sainz in P17, with it all to do, while Alonso on the radio amusingly asked to be told when people started going off. P16 for Sainz and that was the end of that, as he lacked the resource to put in another full push lap. Stroll improved massively from P20 to P19 (yes, I couldn't resist), making Vandoorne the lanterne rouge.

Sainz, Hartley, Alonso, Stroll and Vandoorne were done for the day off in search of some Pao de Queijo whilst the rest turned it around for Q2. Notable for other reasons, Kmag pulled off a P5, ahead of both Ricciardo and Bottas, with Leclerc ahead of Grosjean in P8 and Renault looking not particularly competitive at this circuit.

IT was again a mad rush for the pit exit at the start of Q2, with the rain there or thereabouts, and Leclerc ready to be first off, Trailed by Ericsson, Kmag and Grosjean and Hulkenberg. Supers for all, the imminent rain putting the kibosh on the plans for Ferrari and Mercedes to try and sneak through on the Softs to Q3. 4 minutes to rain, one and done then for the shot at the ultimate glory of Q3. Raikkonen was in, along with Vettel and Ferrari was quick to pull the strategy switch, and both Ferrari's were in for the Soft tyre. Meanwhile, it was Ericsson fastest of the first bunch, with the top teams pounding towards the line. Bottas, Hamilton, Verstappen, then, in that order as Ferrari were dragging around on their outlaps on the Softs, rain increasing every second. Bang, off went Raikkonen, and the rains held off, up to P4 as Red Bull was into the pits and copying the strategy of Ferrari. Vettel, on the Softs, up to P2 as the Softs seemed to be working better on the cool track.

8 minutes to go and Hamilton just about took out Sirotkin, moving directly in front of him as the Williams headed for the final turns and the start of a push lap. Verstappen just missed improving on his Super soft time and Ricciardo, too was unable to best his banker, meaning only Ferrari would have the advantage on starting on the Softs. Kmag managed to improve with 7 minutes left, up to P10 and then it looked as if the track conditions crossed, with no one able to improve as the track got greasier and greasier.

4 minutes to go and Leclerc, Perez, Ocon, Hulkenberg and Sirotkin looked done, off for caipirinhas early, with the track done for the session even with time left. Mercedes, too, had a go on the Softs, but the track was too slippery and even prior to ruining Sirotkin's lap, Hamilton was slithering about demonstrating how badly the track had degraded.

But wait, 1:20 to go and there were again cars out on track, hoping against hope that there might be some time to be found, as the track had been spared an utter shellacking, and indeed there was, with Leclerc up to P8 and putting Kmag out!!! Big oversight from HAAS to not be on track as Gasly, too, was rocking a personal best in S1. Indeed, of the 4 that were on track, Ocon, Gasly, Hulkenberg and Leclerc, the up and coming Ferrari driver was the only one to improve his time. Good move by the Sauber driver then and off to drown his woes with the others then was Kmag, and perhaps Gunther Steiner as well, as Leclerc joined the Q3 party....

The infinite wait for the opening of the pitlane in changing circumstances always tests the patience of even the best of teams, and the anxiety was writ large across the faces of all the team personnel. Wow, and then, Vettel in front of the stewards for an amazing incident at the weighbridge during Q2. As he rolled into the pitlane to switch onto the Soft tyres, he got called to the weighbridge. First, he knocked over a cone, which took the FIA stewards who cleared it at least 10 seconds to retrieve. Then, as he mounted the scales, according to Jo Bauer, the technical delegate, he failed to turn off the engine which meant it took longer to get a result. Finally, after he rolled back off the scales, he put it in gear and picked up a bit of wheelspin as he headed off, destroying the rear set of scales. The FIA stewards were a bit cross about this...

Leclerc, again was first off, followed by Ericsson, and still not wet enough for the intermediate tyres. They were trailed by pretty much the entire rest of the field, but it was a respectable 1:08.432 for Ericsson as it was Vettel lighting the board purple as the big boys were fully underway. Behind Vettel, Bottas reset the fastest time for S1 as Raikkonen was first to the top. Vettel cracked that time, with a 1:07.301 and only Hamilton was able to outdo him, by a mere 0.073 seconds.

Mercedes led the way for the final go, with Vettel at the back of the pack, Bottas first to go, followed by Verstappen, Hamilton and Ricciardo, who were desperate to space themselves out. Raikkonen was quickest on the second go round and then Vettel went even faster in S1. Hamilton shaved another tenth off across the line and then it was slippery S2, undoing their efforts, dooming Vettel to P2, the gap jumping to 0.093 as T8 was his undoing. As it stood, Bottas and Raikkonen then Verstappen and Ricciardo for the sharp end, then Ericsson, Leclerc, Grosjean and Gasly. Nice exclamation for Ericsson, who is moving onto IndyCar next season, starting P6 once Ricciardo's penalty gets appliedbut with all the hard work to come in the race tomorrow.

With both Vettel and Hamilton under investigation, perhaps Raikkonen or Bottas were in with a shout. With Hamilton's adventure on Sirotkin's outlap, which it's not being a push lap might augur in his favour, should he be found at fault, it would likely be a 3 spot for him. For Vettel, the stakes were decidely higher, if he was found guilty then he could face being disqualified from the qualifying session, starting him at the back of the pack.... 

The hearing was set for 30 minutes after the end of qualifying, so it'll be a state of uncertainty for this report. Still 100th pole for Mercedes, despite the sloppiness and without rain tomorrow, and assuming that Vettel and Lewis both don't get punted off the front of the grid, it will be a fascinating race of alternate tyre strategies at the sharp end. Similarly, Formula B will see a very fast K-Mag on Soft tyres starting P10 thanks to Ricciardo's penalty, chasing the Super clad quartet ahead of him. But it was Marcus Ericsson who was the real winner, outpointing his star quality teammate and starting on the 3rd row of the grid as the end of his tenure as a Sauber driver unreels.

Discuss!!

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