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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!!

Remember, Play Nice in the Comments!

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30 Oct 2018
'Trumpets' race report - Mexico

Settle in, as Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale brings us another of his fantastic race reports....
Ambient 19° Track 32° Humidity 38% Wind 2.5 m/s

Prelude

Another grey day to plague the photographers at the 2018 Gran Premio de Mexico, as the madness intensified with the race start growing ever closer. With Hamilton all but certain to clinch another WDC, the weather did its best to counterbalance any anticipatory celebrations, a perfect reflection, in fact, of the leery mood at Mercedes, as the closer they got the more they had to fear around every corner. Particularly, in this case, T1, a noted site of intramural demolition derbys and with the immovable object of Verstappen starting next to the unstoppable force of Ricciardo, despite Horner's protestations to the contrary it would be a minor miracle (or a terrible start for one of them) for the pair to exit T1 without at least one of them on the wrong side of the white lines. Or not, which is why they actually run the race. Still, it will be a moment of great anxiety for Merc until Hamilton sees the back of lap 1.

AS if that's not enough, with the high altitude come extra challenges in terms of managing temperatures, with brakes and engines both prone to overheating in the thin air. Without a Vettel win it's all done, and he will want to do everything possible to salvage whatever shred of pride he can from the remainder of the seasons. Fortunately for him, the Red Bulls are both fairly slow in a straight line and if he gets a good tow then all the shenanigans become possible.

Strategically, the midfield is more interesting, with Force India chasing on the Super Softs with Alonso wedged in between on some Ultras whilst all those ahead Renault and Sauber, will be on the rapidly degrading Hypers, meaning an early stop and potentially 2 to get through the race. Last time that happened, those in the top 10 suffered maximum pain.

Summary

Lights Out!!!! Great Start by Hamilton as Ricciardo got bogged down. Down the straight they went into T1 with Hamilton almost a full length ahead until Verstappen, on the inside took the lead back in the braking zone, as Hamilton trailed safely through behind him. This bottled Vettel a bit and allowed Ricciardo and Bottas through dropping Vettel to P5, which was definitely NOT a part of Ferrari's strategy. . Ocon and Hulkenberg had some contact behind, and Vettel wasted little time redeeming himself, passing Bottas less then half a lap later. Ocon had come off worse in his tangle and missing a huge chunk of his front wing was into the pits, deranging his strategy thoroughly as well. Raikkonen, having momentarily lost out to Sainz, retook the place into T1 as lap 2 got underway. AS the dust settled. Hartley pitted as well and ominously, Bottas was already falling off the lead group, while Vettel was just over a second back of Ricciardo, and with all the work to do.

Lap 4 and it was Kmag with an off trying to get round Stroll, emerging in front on track and having to give the place back. Alonso then parked, race over having picked up bodywork from Ocon though whether that was the terminal event had to be determined and the VSC was deployed lap 5. This opened the door for the midfielders to pit and rid themselves of the Hypers, for the cost of half a pit stop, but this didn't happen and off they swept, as the VSC was in. With Verstappen at the front, and Sainz leading Formula B the race was on...

Next lap and the tyres reports began to trickle in, led by Hamilton saying the tyres were "fragile". 2.5 seconds was the gap, and as his engineer suggested a differential change, he requested that he be left alone for the moment to get on with it. Perez, trailing Ericsson, was on the attack, within DRS as lap 10 rocked on. On the radio, Hamilton's tyre woes continued to dominate, as the fronts were graining and he was picking up savage understeer as a result. This let Ricciardo back into the race and into the meat of lap 11 he drew ever closer.

Perez had continued to edge closer and he had his first proper go into T1, which was close but Ericsson defended well. 2 corners later and he had another go, but again Ericsson covered him off. Hamilton was in for a set of Supers and Bottas followed him on, both on lap 12 as the tyres were done. P5 for Lewis on the way out and P8 for Bottas, with both Leclerc and Hulkenberg to get round. Ricciardo covered off the move for Red Bull, and the undercut had been neutralised by Mercedes move. Lap 13 an in came Verstappen, out in front of Hamilton, with all rocking onto the Supersofts. The open question now, could anyone get them to the end without another stop.

Whilst that drama ensued, Perez finally got the job done and with Sainz and Hulkenberg having run through the pits, it was P7 for the hometown hero. Verstappen, on a mission, was by Raikkonen and on the radio, it was Vettel, arguing to not rush the job as Ferrari clearly were thinking of a 1 stop. Relative to Verstappen, Hamilton caught Raikkonen in a fairly bad spot and there was definitely time lost as Kimi seemed to be a bit more spirited in his defense and it was a T1 and T2 job for Lewis to get round. But the job was done and now Ricciardo was dead on Hamilton's gearbox, having gone through with the Mercedes once the battle was over.

Lap 18 and Vettel was in, and out behind Ricciardo. Raikkonen followed suit and was shuffled out behind Bottas as the next phase of the race was underway. Leclerc rocked by Grosjean the following lap, and Kmag was next in his sights as the HAAS pair ran long on Supers to their strategy. At the front, Hamilton continued to bleed time, even on the Supers, and it was almost 9 seconds now to the lead of the race. With Vettel now catching Ricciardo, and Ricciardo just 2 seconds back of Hamilton all the elements were coming together for some seriously entertaining racing.

Lap 22 and as they ran, best of the rest was Perez, Sainz, Hulkenberg and Kmag, with the first and last yet to pit. Sure enough, stealing focus, Hamilton again was on the radio, saying the Supersofts were also not feeling great. Raikkonen was fastest of the sharp end, followed by Vettel. 5 laps later and Hamilton was still in for plan A, with Mercedes promising an update as he continued to lose massive chunks of time to Verstappen and hold up both Ricciardo and Vettel behind. Looking back in his pit window he seemed like he would just clear Raikkonen, but with many many laps left he was already out of fresh tyre options. Perez was still managing decent times on his tyres, howeve asn as they headded to lap 30, he was maintaining a nice lead, though there would be lots of work to be done once he came in.

Complicating the picture for Mercedes, was the fact that the big train of midfield cars had been caught, and both he and Verstappen were in the process of lapping them. Ricciardo was on it, sensing the weakness and having a go into T1. Vettel, behind had a go around T4 as now Ricciardo was suddenly trapped. Lap 31 and a sudden reprieve, as the VSC was deployed for Carlos Sainz, who was out at T13 looking to be the victim of a dodgy PU. As he approached T13 the rears just locked and he spun, engaging the clutch and rolling it to a stop off the circuit. Perez took advantage and rocked in for his new set on lap 32, while Mercedes demanded Lewis stay out.

With the VSC off, Ricciardo had a decent start leaving Vettel a bit behind. Vettel rocked it down the straight behind him, but wasn't able to get close. HAAS were now also the lone team to have not pitted as the Ricciardo Vettel battle caught Perez having a go at Leclerc. down the straight and Vettel went for it. Ricciardo didn't cover and couldn't stay with him around the outside as Sebastian squeezed him and then into P3 went Vettel. The following lap, Perez got the job finally done, into T1 and decisively showing the door to the Sauber and starting the chase to Hulkenberg, 15 seconds up the road.

Also chasing was Vettel, cranking down the lap times, nearly a second a lap faster than Hamilton. At this point, a pitstop would put the Mercedes' driver out behind Raikkonen and in 6th place. So still in it for the championship, but the Silver Arrows clearly not all the way on it at this circuit. Lap 39 and Vettel went blazing down the straight with DRS, and into T1 he took the place from Hamilton, who frankly didn't really make too much of an effort, properly so as he had a championship to win.

Ricciardo's race engineer noticed this, and was on the blower, encouraging the Aussie to take advantage of Hamilton's tyre woes. Tragedy for Perez then, he had a big twitch and then drove straight on, rocking it round to the pits and his day truly done with what appeared to by some kind of rear suspension damage. At the same time, Ocon was having a go at Hartley, and together they came, with Ocon and Hartley both looking to lose some bits and pieces in the exchange.

Vettel had quietly kept the wick turned up and was more than half a second a lap faster than Verstappen at the front, with 13 seconds and 25 laps to go. Hamilton sounded less and less happy, wanting to know how Ricciardo had gained a second a lap on him, as he was hitting the targets Mercedes was giving him. Not much in it other than the obvious, that Ricciardo's tyres were working and his weren't. Astonishingly, Magnussen still had yet to pit and then Ricciardo was into DRS on lap 45. Ricciardo had his first go, and wasn't quite close enough into T1 but it looked to be just a matter of time as the last step on the podium was on the line. The next lap and not close enough into T1, saving his fire for T4. Again, he decided to wait and as the battle raged, it was HAAS finally pulling the trigger and pitting their drivers on lap 47.

Ricciardo finally got the job done, defending fiercely into T1 on the inside, then locking it up, bouncing across the grass before carrying on, the last step on the podium receding into the distance. Even as Hamilton was brought for a set of used Ultras, Bottas, defending against Raikkonen did exactly the same, locking up and going straight on. Ferrari had taken advantage of the Mercedes missteps and brought Vettel in for a new set of Ultras. So the new order at the sharp end was Verstappen, Ricciardo, Vettel, Raikkonen, Hamilton and Bottas. Raikkonen was one stopping so potentially vulnerable if Hamilton could catch him but the interest now ws at the front, with Vettel on new tyres now 2 seconds back of Ricciardo, with another 6 to the race lead, which was the minimum for him to extend the championship.

The problems continued for Hamilton, still unable to match the times of the frontrunners, but with 18 laps remaining, he was well in it to walk off with the WDC at the end of the race, so perspective. Lap 55 and Ricciardo was into the thick of the traffic, which just opened the door for Vettel. Lap 57 and into DRS for the Ferrari driver, with Ricciardo taking advantage of Ericsson, getting a tow and maintaining his advantage over Sebastian.

Clear of traffic, Ricciardo began to rocket off, as Vettel had either burned up his tyres or overheated his engine and was forced to go through a management phase. Verstappen continued to put in fast laps and as the 61st lap rolled into the books he was nearly a half a second faster, stretching his lead out to over 11 seconds. Despite having 45 lap old tyres, he began to look at closing in, and then, a plume of oily blue smoke erupted from the back of his car and that was that. Ricciardo parked the car on lap 63 and out of the race he went, the cruelest of blows. Again the VSC was called into action and immediately the Mercedes pit crew were out. Bottas was in from what was now P5 and onto the Hypers he went as that was pretty much all that was left. He was out just before the VSC was removed and off they went, 7 laps to go.

The gap to Verstappen had gone out for Vettel, 14 seconds between them and the engineers at Red Bull on maximum alert for any irregularities in the data. Verstappen was on the radio, out of character a bit and suggesting he'd be more than happy to turn his engine down if necessary. But there was no need, as Vettel was at best matching his times, whilst behind, Hamilton had turned on float home mode, nearly 3 seconds off the pace. Bottas was enjoying a fast lap or two with his quicker tyres, but both he and Lewis were fairly large bubbles with no one to race. HAAS plan to chase with fresh tyres had come to naught, and having not been ordered to turn down the power, Max had instead decided he would try to outdo Bottas with the his Hypersofts. This brought his race engineer onto the radio to politely ask him to slow down. When that failed, it became "We have turned the engine down" and the fun was all over.

Formula B was led by a fairly untouchable Hulkenbeg, nearly 11 seconds up the road from Leclerc. Vandoorne had managed to work his way into P8, and Ericsson and Gasly rounded out the top 10. No points again for HAAS and the pendulum had surely swung once again in favour of the team from Enstone. With the checquers went the champoinship and even before Vettel hit the line it was done, Lewis Hamilton with his 5th WDC. The glories and honours awaited Mercedes as their driver ascended into some fairly rarefied air and once again, Ferrari were left shaking their heads at what might have been. Oddly, the mood at Mercedes seemed to be more one of relief than celebration, perhaps because the Constructor's championship was still in the balance, though at Ferrari's rate of progress the maths still favoured them. Still, a bit of champagne and probably all would be better.

Congratulations then to Mercedes and Hamilton, whose 5th WDC equals Fangio, with just Schumacher looming in the gloaming, and condolences to Ferrari and Red Bull as next season starts it all over.....


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28 Oct 2018
'Trumpets' qualifying notebook - Mexico


Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale talks us through the ins and outs of qualifying for the Mexican GP...

Ambient 19° Track 25° Humidity 60% Wind 0.8 m/s

Prelude

After the changeable weather at COTA produced such a stellar race, the Mexican GP seemed honor bound to try and best it, and with Friday's track temp of 47° melting all of the top competitors, along with the Hypersoft tyres, it seemed another dose of unexpected results was in line for the weekend. Hamilton P7, Verstappen P1 with Sainz and Hartley both ahead of the Mercedes was definitely a shake of the head for most observers.

As it turns out, Mercedes had cranked the PU down to prevent overheating, so their results weren't ever going to be representative, but even with the lower power, they, along with Ferrari, couldn't get more than 2 or 3 laps of a long run done before the Hypersoft tyres started dropping 3+ seconds a lap. Red Bull were doing a bit better, but clearly whatever calculations had been done when these tyres were picked, had been changed massively by the brutal heat on track.

FP3 then naturally turned up cold and damp, with no running for more than half the session as the track was in that perfect state where Inters were burning and slicks were, well, TOO slick, before finally brave Sir Alonso took to the track on Hypersofts to show it could be done. With that the dam broke, the track filled and Verstappen confirmed his speed, going P1 this time without a hydraulics failure to mar his effort. Hamilton was just a tenth back, presumably benefitting from a PU turned up to 10. Not so much so for Bottas, whose engine cut out on him near the end of the session, resulting in an engine swap, though no penalty as the one he will be using for the rest of the event was already in his pool. Vettel P3 set his times earlier whilst the track was still evolving and Ricciardo P4 was held due to traffic.

Leclerc was best of the rest as the Alfa strongly seemed to love these conditions, Ericsson also being in the top 10 with just Gasly in between. Sainz too, was a fan of the wet/dry (or was it dry/wet?) outpacing Hulkenberg to go P7, as with Bottas out the Formula B spots started P6. not having fun were Force India and HAAS, Ocon P11 and Grosjean P13. Kmag suffered an intercooler change and had no running at all, just to add insult to injury.
As qualifying fast approached, along with potential showers/ thunderstorms, the teams feverishly worked to ready the last minute changes to cars, forced to account not only for the weather today, but the weather tomorrow as well......

Summary

Green Light!! Gasly was first out on the Hypersofts, as the track had warmed all the way up to 25°, essentially half of yesterdays temperatures. Bottas had his new engine installed with nary a fuss and it was Valterri that followed Gasly onto track, albeit at a 30 second gap. Hamilton followed his teammate, with both on the Ultras, presumably to do with their remaining tyre inventories. Sirotkin and Vettel followed just as Gasly finished his first hot lap, going 1.17.876.

Bottas was quick to dispatch that, going into the low 1:17s,, but Raikkonen and Vettel on the Hypers smashed that. Hamilton was closer to the Ferrari's going 1:16.746 to Vettel's 1:16.089. Raikkonen was sandwiched in between as the Formula B runners rocked onto their laps. Ericsson, Leclerc, Grosjean and Gasly in that order from P5 as Red Bull had yet to emerge from the pits with 12 minutes remaining in the session. Ocon to P6 and then Perez to P5, drawing huge cheers from the crowd.

Bottas was told to try one more push lap, but to abort if he needed to save his tyres for the race. Hamilton reset his time, drawing closer to Vettel, just 0.378 seconds back. Lockup for Vettel torched his Hypers, leaving them with bald spots as he was forced to pause at the weighbridge on his way back to the pits. Red Bull was out as well and Ricciardo was en fuego (possibly correct, don't @ me) and to the top he went, only to see Verstappen, starting with a pedestrian Sector 1, going to the top with a 1:15.756. Hartley was through with a P8 and it was Vandoorne, Alonso, Magnussen, Stroll and Sirotkin on the outside looking in with 6 minutes left in the session. Grosjean sat on the bubble as the track cleared and the teams undertook the last tweaks to try and get their drivers into the promised land of Q2.

Taking advantage of the clear track, Mercedes sent both drivers out on the Hypersoft tyres, to get a read for Q3 with the stated goal of getting of starting on the Ultras. Bottas seemed to like the tyre better, going to the top with 1:15.58 faster than Hamilton who was almost a full tenth slower but still ahead of the Red Bulls. Suddenly, it was Ferrari who was a bit of a wonder, though given the condition of FP3 no doubt track evolution was playing its part.

Of those in the drop zone, Alonso was first on it and as he crossed the line, it was P7, with Vandoorne up to P8. Sainz was next to improve, then Grosjean pushed Leclerc out. Leclerc was still on it, though, with Hartley outpointing Gasly as everyone was into their second efforts. It was all madness and chaos and as the times were sorted, it was Grosjean, Vandoorne, Magnussen, Stroll and Sirotkin off in search of some mole as the rest turned it round for Q2. Torrid result for HAAS, already plagued by reliability on Magnussen's car, though in light of a similar Q1 departure in 2017, perhaps it's their bogey track....

Listening to Grosjean, it was an inherent weakness out of slow speed corners, with sudden snaps of oversteer as he attempted to get on throttle on exit. Nothing doing now, but not helping their chase of Renault in the slightest.

Bottas and Hamilton led the way for Q2, followed by Raikkonen and Vettel. Red Bull were out early as well, with all of the top 3 on Ultras, half the midfield on Hypers and the Force Indias on Supers. Hartley and Alonso sat and waited as this time around, as this time around Hamilton was quicker than him, by a robust 0.279 seconds. Much closer was Vettel, again 0.071 seconds back and then it was Verstappen to the top, by a ridiculous 0.004 seconds. Ricciardo had less luck with his run, but it was still enough to put him in front of Bottas. Raikkonen, still floating on a wave of glory from COTA, was the slowest of the top 6 and he was just 0.25 seconds faster on Hulkenberg, who set his time on the Hypers.

Alonso and the Force Indias were out in the interval, followed by Hartley. Gasly with a penalty was possibly done and it was Hartley going P11 and Alonso P14 on used tyres. AS Alonso crossed the line, Gasly emerged from the pits with both Force Indias circulating slowly on their Supersofts. Gasly rocked back in without setting a time and the track was empty, with Hartley, Perez, Ocon, Alonso and Gasly in the drop zone and Ericsson firmly planted on the bubble as the teams turned it around to tilt for the ultimate glories of Q3.

Alonso was first off, with 2:30 left, followed by Leclerc, Vettel, Ocon, Sainz, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg and Ericsson. The briefest of intervals, and then it was Hartley. Perez, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Verstappen, Bottas and Vettel. Both Force Indias were rocking the Ultras and the top runners just out on Hypers, just in case and to get a feel for the

Alonso to P12, Ocon P11 and then P7 for Hulkenberg. Perez was next through, just into 13th as Hartley was shoved into P14 as he messed up his lap. Off for some reposada they went, while the rest turned it around for the shoot out on the hallowed grounds of Q3.

Ferrari led the way into battle, Raikkonen followed by Vettel. Mercedes were dead on their heels, Hamilton first, then the Renaults and Saubers, with Red Bull last team on track. Early days it was Vettel fastest through Sector 1, with neither Mercedes looking brilliant. Sector 2 saw the tables turned, with Hamilton turning it purple. Sector 3 and it was not enough for the Mercedes driver, with both he and Bottas splitting the Mercedes. Verstappen was looking fast as Ricciardo split the Mercedes duo, going P3 as Verstappen laid down his marker, going 0.185 seconds faster than Vettel to take provisional pole with a 1:14.785. Leclerc was best of the rest but Renault were out with used tyres so with that in mind, it was all to play for as the teams retreated to the pits, and got ready for their last shot at glory.

Just under 3 minutes and they all decided to leave at the same time, with Bottas and Vettel nearly coming to blows in the pitlane. This time, the Mercedes runner outwaited Verstappen, possible at the expense of perfectly preparing the tyres, since he and Max were both going to have to hustle a bit to hit the line before the checquers fell.

Raikkonen was first off, with both drivers neatly throgh the first sector but both slower than their first run. Behind, it was Ricciardo improving and Hamilton, with everyone else holding station. P6 for Raikkonen, Vettel stayed P2 with Bottas and it was Ricciardo, into provisional pole with Verstapen and Hamilton left. A bit of a wiggle, and pole belonged to Ricciardo, with Hamilton having done just enough to get ahead of his title rival. P3 then and that rara avis of a Red Bull lockout, last seen in the 2013 US Grand Prix. This apparently displeased Verstappen, as he smashed his P2 bollard down on the grid, much to the amusement of the crowd.

On fresh tyres, Renault was unstoppable in Formula B, Hulkenberg again faster than Sainz, then Leclerc and Ericsson. But a serious problem as well, since they were doomed to start on the Hypers while those chasing behind would have the advantage of longer running, with the early pitstops certain to drop those on Hypers into painful traffic that will extract a maximum amount of pain and slow their times considerably.

At the sharp end, without a Vettel win, it's a Lewis championship to be celebrated, but honestly that's nothing compared to the almost certain to develop fireworks between Ricciardo and Max, with the Aussie snatching pole position out from underneath Verstappen's nose at the very last moment, the Dutchmen blaming a non-compliant car for his misery at the end, and clearly unhappy at the outcome. Tomorrow's race has plenty of opportunities for plot twists: will Vettel spin (well, OK maybe not the best example) will Grosjean get a race ban with just 2 points to spare (OK, I'll work harder on those next time)? With lap 1 traditionally being a bit of a demolition derby, it's truly anyone's race to win and with the altitude playing its part, robbing engines of power, reducing the benefits of aero and making cooling massively more challenging another tomorrow's race will certainly be one worth watching.

Green Light!!

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