3 Dec 2019
Ambient 26.6° Track 30.6° Humidity 60% Wind 1.2 m/s
A gentle breeze wafted silkily through the paddock as the low ripe sun hung on the edge of the horizon, belying the frantic preparations underway as the teams got ready for the last race of the year. And yet again, Ferrari under pressure as the FIA determined there was a significant discrepancy in the fuel reported to be in Leclerc's car versus the amount that was ACTUALLY in his car. To be investigated after the race, but given the focus on Ferrari and their fuel system it's not a good look, to say the least, regardless of the cause.
Predicted to be a one-stopper, Medium-Hard ideal, it's primarily Vettel and the top 10 midfielders that will be facing a challenge as they start on the Soft compound. Bottas at the back due to engine penalty will be looking to make maximum forward motion in order to keep the shot at a podium alive. The start, as always, will be crucial, with Hamilton very much wanting to have clear air to sail off into, instead of a visor full of Red Bull or Ferrari. Likewise, if neither team gets in front of him early on, then it will very much be game, set and match such was the advantage on race pace the Mercedes' appeared to have after the second free practice.
The midfield, on the other hand, has it all to do, with 6th in the WDC on the line, between Gasly and Sainz, and potentially 5th in the Constructors down at Renault, after Toro Rosso's epic finish in Brasil. Those starting on the harder tyre from P11 down also look to have a potential advantage, and both Gasly and Perez are have to be counted as contenders for best of the rest as the formation lap approached.
Lights Out!!!! Great Start by Hamilton, and he comes over and covers off the inside as Verstappen couldn't quite get there. Leclerc was on the back of Verstappen and up the inside he went, taking P2 away from the Dutchman into T8. Further back, Magnussen was on the attack and had launched himself into P9 by the end of the first lap and it was Gasly, tagged by Stroll who was the big loser, into the pitlane for a new front wing as the rest of the field raced off into the twilight.
Norris had also managed to get himself ahead of Sainz and Ricciardo and as they settled down, it was quite the good launch for the McLaren youngster. AS lap 4 got underway, the issue at the sharp end was with Vettel, whose Softs were not going to be long for the world, stuck behind Verstappen on the longer lasting Medium tyre, watching his race disappear up the road.
Even worse, DRS was disabled due to a technical issue, disadvantaging not only Vettel, but also Bottas, who had climbed up to P14 but had fetched up behind the very slippery Racing Point of Lance Stroll. That did seem to induce a bit of creativity as Bottas rocked past him into turn 5, not the usual overtaking spot, and got on with it. Stroll reported that damage to his front right was making it quite difficult to control the car. Hulkenberg had retaken P9 from Magnussen and into lap 6 Stroll was into the pitlane to have his car sorted.
Giovinazzi was the next victim of Bottas, and Kmag, after putting up his usual good fight, was passed by Perez as his HAAS simply lacked the pace to run with the big dogs. AT the front, Leclerc had let Hamilton go, and the Mercedes had extended the gap to nearly 5 seconds. On the radio, it was plan A for Leclerc, which was most likely beating Verstappen based on the current timings. There was trouble at Red Bull as well, with Max unhappy with the ICE behaviour and Red Bull insisting he stay in mode 6 and not access mode 7.
By lap 9, despite the issues, Leclerc was falling into the undercut of Verstappen and he was told to push by Ferrari, and he dutifully knocked off the fastest first sector of the race. The following lap saw Norris in for a set of Hard tyres, and out in P16. Though whether that was to release Sainz from the pressure of Ricciardo or whether it was simply optimum strategy for Norris remained to be seen. Confounding the issue was the fact that the pit stop was not trouble free, with the rear left sticking and costing him extra time.
Lap 11 and Bottas was into P10 and within Albon's pit window, nice driving by the Finn and he was within a second of the Racing Point of Perez, just ahead. Leclerc had no answer to escaping the undercut with Verstappen hanging roughly 2.5 seconds back of the Monagasque. Ricciardo was into the pits on lap 12, and out with a set of Hards and Norris was well clear of him.
The following lap both Ferraris were in, a double stack, both onto the Hards, but it was Vettel suffering an issue, and losing massive chunks of time as the front left simply refused to play ball. This put him out behind not only Bottas, but Perez as well. Vettel wasted little time getting round Perez, but it cost him a big lockup as he set off in chase of Bottas.
Albon was in lap 14 and Vettel's quick work on Perez had ensured he stayed ahead of the Red Bull driver, as Albon emerged from the pitlane. The race on track now was between Leclerc on fresh tyres and the pit window of Verstappen, one which the Ferrari was winning by about 4 seconds on lap 15. IT was 6 seconds that he needed to trouble Hamilton and he was slowly nibbling little bits out of that lead, but it looked not nearly enough.
In the midfield, Sainz' pit stop had spat him out behind Ricciardo, and after a few laps of battle, he was back round the Renault driver and locked in behind Norris as they were all stuck in the Grosjean train, the Frenchman running long on his Mediums and holding up the race on fresh tyres just behind him, with no DRS to help the passengers. Bottas had gotten stuck behind Hulkenberg and Mercedes was watching his race evaporate, as he was slowly falling into direct competition with the midfield. And Vettel was now on his gearbox and on lap 18 he had a proper go, but Bottas was able to fight him off and Vettel dropped into his slipstream and kept the battle running. The German popped out into clear air and had a go yet again, but Bottas picked up the tow of Hulkenberg down the straight and was able to get round the outside and maintain his position.
But that was about to be academic, as DRS was enabled and Hulkenberg let Bottas go, bottling up Vettel as the Renault driver was headed for the pits and a set of Mediums. Out just behind Norris and Sainz (who had been held up by Grosjean) he made short work of Sainz and with DRS it was now a different race for the Renault driver as he set after Norris.
Lap 21 saw Magnussen into the pits and he was out in P14, just behind Ricciardo, an effective P11 once the trio of Perez, Kvyat and Raikkonen finally decided to come in. The reinstatement of DRS saw an end to the interesting overtakes and at the front, it was indeed coming down to the race for P2 as Leclerc was hanging 30 seconds back of Hamilton but about 3 seconds up on Verstappen, who would have a big tyre advantage when he finally deigned to visit the pits. From the radio played on lap 23, he was starting to have more issues with them and it wasn't going to be long now. A bit of excitement further back as there was contact between Kubica and Giovinazzi. During that contretemps, Raikkonen was into the pits, leaving Kvyat and Perez as last of the long runners. The stewards decided to have a look because, one presumes, they were bored and had nothing better to do.
Into lap 26 and it was all on, Verstappen in for a set of Hards, flawless stop for Red Bull and that led to Mercedes pulling the plug on Hamilton, called in for the following lap. Verstappen was out with 5 seconds up the road but crucially, with Kubica and Stroll ahead of him as well. Hamilton was in, and out 7 seconds to the good on Leclerc. Verstappen was in some unhappiness about how his PU was working, saying something was not correct, but no further details were immediately forthcoming, aside from a change of settings, as he called it "massive handbrake effect" likely engine braking not working as expected. No further action on the Giovinazzi/Kubica contact as the race settled down for it's second act.
AT the front, Hamilton was loving his new tyres, and was rocking purple sectors, but the real interesting fight was a bit further back, with Sainz in a Renault sandwich and tight on tyre life as he was first in of Formula B. Bottas was still rocking his first set of tyres, and there was now a nice gap for him to fall into, just behind Albon and at the end of lap 29 they pulled the trigger on the move. In, out, off on some Hards and chasing Albon 12 seconds up the road with just Gasly in the way.
Verstappen continued to be vociferous about his braking, and Red Bull were sounding more and more like there was little or nothing that can be till after the race. Still, he pronounced it the best compromise and regardless, was whittling away at the gap to the Ferrari ahead.
Lap 31 and it was DRS time, but the massive straight line advantage kept Leclerc ahead for the moment and the battle rolled onto lap 32. Down the back straight it looked to be done and despite grabbing DRS from Russell, Verstappen was later on the brakes and up the inside. Leclerc hadn't given up and at the end of the following straight he jumped outside and had a proper go. It came to naught, as it appeared on look back that Leclerc initially hadn't fully defended the inside as he lapped the Williams, opening the door for Verstappen.
Leclerc, having lost out, was then pushing for Plan C, presumably a 2 stop. The question for Ferrari now was giving up P3 on the road, as Vettel was slowly coming under pressure from Albon. Though with the fuel discrepancy, Ferrari might as well do some experimenting, since those sorts of technical lapses are almost certain DQs.
In any event, lap 36 and the window was disappearing rapidly as he had just 2 seconds between Bottas and Albon to hit. It would at least give the commentariat something to talk about. The following lap it was down to 1 second and it looked more and more like Ferrari was choosing to NOT put Leclerc and Vettel onto the same patch of tarmac, for no reason that anyone could possibly think of.
In the midfield, it looked very much like the battle for P8 was being kicked to the end of the race as they were all now hanging at quite respectable 1.5 second intervals. The super long stint of Kvyat and Perez meant they were likely going to whack on some fresh tyres and have a good chase, to liven up the proceedings. Perez was in to box on lap 39 and he chose to grab a set of Hards, so that left just Kvyat as longest runner. Plan C for Ferrari as well, and it was again a double stack, Softs for Leclerc and Mediums for Vettel. Bottas also chose that lap to have a go at Albon, and with a lovely move he was by, despite some fight back from Albon. That left Leclerc the next target, 5 seconds up the road, but on brand new Softs.
Farther back, Perez was making best use of his Hard tyre, and rocked by Ricciardo as Kvyat was into the pits for his fresh set of tyres, and quite possibly the last stop of the year. Sainz suggested that it was a good time for a stop if Macca wasn't sure about getting to the end. Lap 43 and Sainz was in for fresh Mediums, as his race was very much on as he was tied with Gasly on points in the WDC, immediately destroying my previous speculation. Ricciardo chose to pit as well, leaving only Norris as the passenger in the Grosjean train whose race seemed to have survived the journey.
Bottas was told his race was very much on but he was still losing time to everyone save Albon, directly behind him. Norris requested the same strategy, but McLaren demurred, thinking the least amount of damage to their overall finishing points would be done be keeping him out on track.
Lap 46 and the battle between Perez and Hulkenberg was well underway, but the wily Renault driver was doing his dead level best to frustrate the Racing Point driver, his years of experience serving him well. With DRS though, there was much less recourse and the following lap it was done, starting on the Medium tyres looking more and more like the winning strategy as the end of the race approached, especially with the long stint without DRS.
Kvyat, following in Perez' footsteps, surprised Hulkenberg on lap 48 and despite some swervy movement from the the German, nervelessly was by the Renault. Stroll was out of the race the same lap and Perez was rocking a half second advantage over Norris ahead, who was given the green light to use his tyres hard to the end. Vettel also looked on track to catch Albon by the end and with 5 laps to go, it looked like a decent finale was on. But wait, Bottas was then authorised to turn it up to 11, well, mode 2 which was quali, for the last 5 laps and with 4 seconds between them. On the road, Sainz needed a single point to take sole possession of 6th in the WDC. Otherwise, it was looking to be a 3 way tie, which would favour Gasly.
3 laps to go and Sainz was 1.7 seconds back of Hulkenberg. By the close of lap 53 it was 1.3 seconds and up the road a bit, Norris was doing the business on Perez, keeping him at bay despite the tyre disadvantage. AT 0.2 seconds it should be mentioned however. Lap 54 and Vettel with DRS looked like he had it done on Albon, but incredibly late on the brakes he managed to keep the spot, but only for a bit as Vettel rocked by down the back straight. Sainz was in DRS with Hulkenberg and Perez had DRS on Norris as the last lap was on.
Massive defending from Norris kept him ahead of Perez as they headed to the back straight it was Perez, by the McLaren driver and into 7th place, claiming best of the rest in the race and taking 10th in the WDC to boot. Bottas was into DRS on Leclerc, but it was just a bit late and Sainz, with exultant radio, was by Hulkenberg and into 10th, a double points finish for McLaren. AS for the race leader, it was a pretty boring day at the office, if you ignore the fact that he rocked up a grand chelem as well.
On the radio, Hamilton was quite assured that despite appearances, it was not as easy as it looked from the outside. Bottas, meanwhile, had a stonking run to P4 from the back of the grid, despite 20 laps with no DRS to help him. It was not that far from a P3, and with a few more laps of quali mode, it looked to be a foregone conclusion for him to have made the podium, such was the dominance of the Mercedes on this weekend. It was a proper valedictory from Renault thanking Hulkenberg for a great tenure only to have him reply "I wish I could say the same" to much laughter from his race engineer as the great wheel of time turned another tick and Ocon prepared to take his seat at Renault for testing next week.
P6 in the WDC for Sainz, passing Hulkenberg on with 10 corners to go (and with a massive lock up to boot) to take it away from Gasly is the kind of story you think they might want to show on the telly, but I guess we plebes know nothing and that's far too boring so we were left to just see it on the timing screens. And that's leaving out calling his own second stop to be in position after he saw the writing on the wall as Perez was coming through like a freight train. That gain was Hulkenberg's loss, however, as Kvyat's 9th tied him with the Renault driver and on countback P13 was his as Hulkenberg said his goodbyes, for the time being at least. No change on the Constructor's side.
Despite losing out to Perez on the last lap, Norris was ecstatic on the radio with his engineer, Andy Jarvis, who was leaving McLaren and after laughing and teasing him for getting a bit verklempt, Norris himself wound up contributing to the waterworks, in a stunning display of everything that has made Lando such an amazing addition to the paddock and McLaren.
Down at HAAS, Steiner thanked his drivers for their efforts and almost sounded like he was pleading with them to not leave the team in the off season, though given the way F1 seats are at the moment, it's hard to see where the might traipse off to, without leaving the sport all together. Despite that, it was Grosjean's long stint, bottling up the front runners in Formula B, that provided all the non-televised fireworks at the end so at least they can congratulate themselves on positively contributing to the last race.
The collision at the start of the race scuppered any chance Toro Rosso had of closing the gap to Renault, which would be cold comfort as they stare at the massive gap in points to McLaren ahead of them. Alfa find themselves in a position not too dissimilar to HAAS, except with slightly more points. Little progress and unable to keep up with the top teams in their division. Still, a bit of a smile as Giovinazzi appears to have gotten on top of racing at this level, gradually developing the consistency necessary to stay in F1.
With much bigger smiles on their faces were Racing Point, despite the late retirement of Stroll, as Perez delivered a masterful drive, running super long on his opener with the Mediums and then carving through the field with fresh tyres, seizing P7 on the last lap after an epic defense by Norris. Had he finished behind Norris, he also would've lost 10th in the WDC to boot so pretty much everything was on the line for them during that final lap. Promising signs for next season and glimmers of an even fiercer battle amongst the midfield.
Red Bull will be happy with P2, big signs of progress with Honda and real hope that they will be competitive next season, especially if Albon can continue his progression. Three way fight might be optimistic, but RBR look more and more like they will start tilting the scale in their direction.
Which leaves Williams, who have a new driver to look forward to, and Ferrari, who, well, have a stewards' inquiry to look forward to in the short term, and some more restructuring in the longer term, having ditched their head of aero, Alessandro Cinelli and their head of vehicle dynamics (?), Giacomo Tortora, who is off to greener pastures at Mercedes. Still the picture one gets is one of a team with a fair amount of potential in what seems like perpetual disarray. The biggest lack at Ferrari is not so much the vehicle or the drivers, but the culture itself, something Marchionne had seen and set out to remedy before his passing. The question of whether or not Binotto can deliver on his unfinished plans remains, but if he can then the last year of these current regulations might well be the best......
A fond farewell then to Hulkenberg and Kubica, the former ranking high amongst the close but no cigar category and the latter, despite having lost out 21-0 in qualifying, still managing to outscore his teammate as well as Williams only point of the season in the thoroughly rain deranged race in Germany. OF course, as much as anything else, the mere fact that he was able to return to F1 after his horrific rallying accident was a testament to what might have been, and his name will continue to echo in F1's hallowed halls....
Next week will see the teams reach their final conclusions regarding Pirelli's proposed 2020 tyre as out of season testing gets underway, so even though the racing is done, there are still a few laps left in 2019 for the hardcore fans.....
And remember to play nice in the comments!!
30 Nov 2019
- Saturday, November 30, 2019
- 0 comments
Ambient 26° Track 31° Humidity 67.3% Wind 1.2 m/s
The last rays of light shot through the paddock at the end of golden hour, sun dipping slowly below the horizon as the last race weekend of the year ground slowly into gear. Bottas, as if it weren't enough to be starting from the back of the grid, earned a further reprimand for trying to dive up the inside on a completely clueless Grosjean. And pour one out for the HAAS team as that collision also wrecked the single experimental floor they had, that was running so well up until that point Grosjean had been best of the rest and they had planned to race it. Not to be as the race gods clearly had it in for the tiny team that (almost) could.
As usual, FP3 was mostly pointless, given the savage temperature change on track and given Ferrari's history here, it looked very much up to Red Bull to take the fight in the race to Mercedes if they could. Intriguingly however, Leclerc's pace on the free practice 2 Hard tyre long runs was just about a tenth off Hamilton's on the Soft and slightly faster than Bottas' on the Mediums. Albon was quick on Mediums as well and with no Medium data for Ferrari, welp, let's just say it might be moar fascinating than the timing sheets thus far suggest.....
Green Light!! Albon was first onto the track and there was little time lost before a big chunk of the midfield joined in, Raikkonen, Magnussen and Grosjean, Giovinazzi, Stroll, Perez and Kubica. 6 seconds for a tow was thought optimum on the radio and off Albon went, sparking down the straights as the titanium skid blocks did their job. HE was fastest through sector 1 till Perez took that away from him. The Racing Point was no match for him in the last two sectors though and it was to the top for Albon, though not by much, only 0.386 up on Perez, and it wasn't long before Norris flashed by and was even quicker, as the Red Bull driver complained that the track was quite slippery.
By then the big boys were out to play and it was Vettel, spinning in the final corner as he prepared to launch his hot lap, and as he donutted it round to get pointed the right direction, pretty much on the start line, Hamilton was just finishing his lap and despite the distraction he was fastest at the sharp end. Verstappen was next up and then Leclerc as their times climbed up on the board.
As Vettel got down to sorting himself out, Leclerc was on a second lap and Hamilton was concerned about some clicking he could hear from his seat. Leclerc's lap was stellar through the first two sectors suggesting that track evolution was going to be a thing. Bottas rocked up with a purple 3rd sector and went P3 and Leclerc was again unable to bring it home, sector 3 continuing to be their bete noire, as it was yesterday. Sainz and Norris, in that order, were best of the rest, to the surprise of few at this point, and it was Renault finishing off the top 10, Ricciardo ahead of Hulkenberg.
In the zone of despair were Raikkonen, Grosjean, Russell, Giovinazzi and Kubica as the teams retired to the pits to get ready for the last great tilt to reach the glories of Q2. AS the midfield got ready to go, Hamilton reset the fastest time going 1:35.851.
On the way out of the pits, Kvyat was released into the path of Grosjean, who was most unhappy about it, saying "Not again". Raikkonen was set to be first off, followed by his teammate, Giovinazzi. Gasly then Magnussen, followed by Grosjean, Kvyat and Hulkenberg.
The next set were Norris, Stroll, Ricciardo and Perez with Albon, Russell and Sainz completing the picture. AS the stragglers were completing their outlaps, it was Raikkonen to P15 putting Stroll out. Hulkenberg was next across the line to P9 and that sank Raikkonen. Magnussen to P10, Grosjean to P14 as the HAAS drivers completed their laps as Stroll then was then the only one left on track with the power to do damage and he went P10, sending Grosjean out. Albon went P2 with little notice and Perez snuck quite tidily into P6, ahead of Vettel, whose session had got off to a less than ideal start.
So it was that Grosjean, Giovinazzi, Raikkonen, Russell and Kubica going no further, off in search of some Machboos as the rest turned it around for the rigors of Q2.
Albon once again was first out of the gate at the start of Q2, and it was the Medium tyre, as was greatly suspected from second practice running. Magnussen followed Albon and then a nice gap to Gasly. Hamilton and Stroll were next up, then Sainz and Norris. Kvyat, Hulkenberg and Perez emerged next and then it was the Ferrari pair, Vettel leading Leclerc as Albon rounded the final turn and headed off into the gloaming.
Magnussen was on the Mediums as well, but as Ferrari rocked around it was the Soft tyre they were running, an interesting and contra strategy. Early days it was Hamilton, again dominating as his teammate was apparently taking no further part in the festivities, sitting in the garage with his multitude of engine penalties.
And it was Hamilton then Albon at the top until Sainz came through and split them, the lack of a tow showing in the Red Bull runner's times. Verstappen was easily quicker than Sainz and then it was the Ferrari's Leclerc going P2 ahead of Vettel and just 0.062 off Hamilton which seemed good until you remembered they were running the Soft tyre and still were unable to go faster.
The Medium tyre was proving problematic for Red Bull and as the field retired to get ready for the final scramble for the glories of Q3, surprise, Bottas rocked onto the empty circuit and casually went P2 on the Mediums. On the outside looking in then were Kvyat, Norris, Stroll, Gasly and Magnussen, no surprise slowest on the Mediums.
3 minutes to go and off they went, Stroll leading the way, then Ricciardo and Gasly. Gasly's teammate, Kvyat was next, then Norris and Magnussen. Sainz and Perez tailed them and then Verstappen, on a safety with a set of Softs along with Albon. Ferrari were out too, with Leclerc on the Medium (whut?) and Vettel on the Softs, and they bracketed Hulkenberg the last runner with anything to defend, perhaps save Albon who in P7 might have been at risk with an evolving track.
Stroll kicked off the fun, P13 and looking to make Q3. Personal bests for him through the first two sectors and P10 across the line. Gasly next immediately stuck the knife in deep. Ricciardo to P8 and P13 for Kvyat, unable to find any additional time. Norris to P8 put a savage amd brutal end to Gasly's hopes. No improvement for Magnussen and then it was just Hulkenberg, who rocked up to P10 and shoved Perez, who abandoned his lap, off the cliff.
Going no further then, were Perez, Gasly, Stroll, Kvyat and Magnussen, off in search of some laban to soothe their wounded feelings. Leclerc took top spot on his Mediums and it was officially a split strategy for Ferrari then. Verstappen wanted his front left suspension checked as he hit the inside kerb on his lap, and they looked at it with ultrasound it appeared, just to make sure all was copacetic as Q3 loomed large in their wing mirrors.
Hulkenberg, Norris and Sainz were first off for the final qualifying session, with Hulkenberg losing the stand off and being first on track. The Mercedes were next on track, Hamilton ahead of Bottas and Ferrari followed them, Vettel ahead of Leclerc. Albon finally got his wish, and he was out behind Verstappen and finally getting a tow in his first run.
Sainz was fastest of the first trio then it was Hamilton and Bottas in that order through the first sector, until Leclerc upset that applecart flashing up purples as he rocketed through. Hamilton purpled sector 2 as well but this time it was Vettel who was quickest through there and it was onto the final sector, by far the strongest for Mercedes. To the top then went Hamilton, followed by Verstappen then Bottas, Leclerc and Vettel. Vettel having lost 0.7 seconds in the final sector to 0.5 seconds for Leclerc, against the seemingly invulnerable Mercedes. Ouch indeed!
Sainz was best of the rest, then Norris Hulkenberg and Ricciardo as everyone rolled in to prepare for the last savage go at the ultimate palmares of pole position.
Ricciardo rocked off onto an empty track with 3 minutes left and it was personal bests for Ricky Danny and he wailed across the line and into P7 as his teammate was just navigating the end of the tricky pitlane and emerging onto track. Behind Hulkenberg, was Norris, for a bit, until Hamilton got round him, then Sainz, Verstappen and Bottas. Albon as well and they were arguing over positions most vociferously as time was running short, with no one wanting to have the short straw of lacking a tow. Vettel and Leclerc were at the end and there was a bit of concern from Leclerc as Vettel slowed, and sure enough, that kept him from making the checquered flag and it would be no time set for his final lap, a mistake of colossal, foreseeable, and yet somehow entirely predictable proportion.
Back in the universe of normally operating teams, Hamilton knocked a further 0.4 seconds off his time, as Bottas was up to P2 with Verstappen not able to improve, though meaningless as he would be relegated to the back with penalties. Norris was the only midfielder to better Ricciardo's time, and then it was Sainz and Hulkenberg, so a nice and mixed up fight for best of the rest was on. Vettel had an error in T1, and looking back he was borked by Albon looking for space and it was 0.08 seconds that Leclerc didn't have the chance to find thanks to the incredibly slow outlaps. Though congratulations of a sort were in order, as at least they brought some kind of drama as to what would happen across the finish line, though perhaps not of the sort they might have preferred. Another fun debrief for the Scuderia then, but at least with a split strategy they have less to worry about with regards to their drivers yet again trying to occupy the same bit of track. However, Ferrari are long and practiced at snatching hats out of rabbits so no doubt they will find some way to underperform. Sheer and utter dominance for Mercedes, back to a track that they have long preferred, with Bottas aiming to get back into contention for a podium and Hamilton looking for a proper valedictory performance with his first pole since, wait for it, Germany. Perhaps Red Bull will find a way to make it interesting for a bit at the sharp end with some sort of clever strategy, but truly the dysfunction at Ferrari is likeliest to provide the real drama.
The race for P2 has the potential to be interesting though, and it's worth remembering there are a host of midfield spots up for grabs on the WCC and the WDC, with Toro Rosso only 8 points back of Renault (and that step being worth some real cash), though by today's results not looking likely to close that gap. On the driver's side, Sainz and Gasly are tied on points for best of the rest, with Norris a single point off Perez for 10th and Raikkonen just 2 points behind him.
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17 Nov 2019
- Sunday, November 17, 2019
- 0 comments
Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale gives us a rundown of the Brazilian in his own inimitable style
Ambient 20.5° Track 49.5° Humidity 62% Wind 1.6 m/s
Bright and sunny, with huge puffy clouds bouncing throughout the firmament, the preamble to the Brasilian Grand Prix saw the track radiating heat, asphalt temperatures approaching 50°C as the start of the race approached. Pirelli once again saying that a one stopper was the way to go, with the Soft being followed by the Medium although the 2 stopper (2 Softs and a Medium) was rated as just about as fast, and with the higher temps it might well be the way to go for Ferrari especially. The high temps could also see the Hard tyre come into play, especially in the midfield, but given the lack of running at this temperature the propect for a strategically interesting race have gone up considerably.
The question for Mercedes will be do they use both drivers to put Verstappen in a bind strategically, either with an early undercut or rocking long after the predicted pit window, or do they cover off Vettel? As always, the start will be crucial but Brasil has a habit of chucking up surprises, and with Toto on vacation, perhaps it will be Mercedes on the defensive this time round.
Lights Out!!!! Great Start by Verstappen and into the first turn it was Hamilton round the outside into turn 1 and taking the position from Vettel. Vettel, having not given up pressed the issue into turn 2 and as Lewis was forced to defend, Max was off to the races. Further back Leclerc made good on his promise and was very aggro off the line, rocking by Norris with a lovely battle and then taking it round Giovinazzi. By the second lap, he was already into the points and looking at Magnussen as his next challenge.
At the front, Mercedes was already thinking that Verstappen was on a two stop strategy such was his pace, nearly 2.5 seconds up on the Mercedes of Hamilton. Albon, meanwhile, seemed to be taking his time but by the end of lap 5 he was nearly inside DRS on Bottas and that battle seemed to be shaping up quite nicely.
At the back of the field, Sainz was getting busy, McLaren having fitted him with some Softs to better slice through the midfield and he was doing exactly that with relish. P14 by lap 7 and by the notoriously difficult Perez with Ricciardo just up the road and well within his DRS.
The following lap Magnussen, who was dropping down the field like a stone, had contact with Ricciardo who had chucked it up the inside into turn 4. Magnussen went off and to the back of the field, whilst the front wing of Ricciardo was thoroughly disarranged, and he was forced to pit. On replay, it looked that Ricky Danny had locked up and understeered into the side of Magnussen, but the stewards wrote it off as a racing incident, at least for the moment.
This was a nice distraction, during which Leclerc continued his forward progress and to a large cheer from the crowd, he rocked past Gasly easily, which put him into the top 6 and just 16 seconds back of Verstappen, just within his pit window and virtually identical laptimes.
Still running in P9, Grosjean was leading a fairly large train, mainly because of the fight that was occurring directly behind him, between Giovinazzi and Norris. AS Giovinazzi gradually prevailed, his gap was slowly being whittled down as the opening of the two stop pit window was just 3 laps away as lap 15 went into the books. The stewards having had a look, decided that Ricciardo deserved a 5 second penalty, making guessing the stewards' verdicts almost as good as a guessing a random number generator.
The commentariat was quick with universal ridicule for the continuing lack of standards. Lap 18 saw Perez in to start the dominoes falling on the 2 stop in the midfield. He emerged into clear air P17 and about 9 seconds back of Magnussen. Leclerc had closed up to Albon a bit, under 2 seconds and at the front Vettel was gradually falling away, 5 seconds back of Hamilton whilst Hamilton was just 2 seconds back of Verstappen.
With 4 seconds between Albon and Bottas, an undercut for Red Bull for P4 was not unthinkable, and were that to occur, that would free Leclerc to make some more progress. But it was Mercedes first to pull that trick as they pitted Hamilton on lap 21 to undercut Verstappen with a set of Softs. On the radio, given laptimes, he replied "Don't miss this shot". No pressure then and completely committed to the two stop it would appear. He was out in P5 behind Leclerc and immediately purpling the first sector. Further back, on the following lap, Sainz rocked by Stroll and Red Bull brought Verstappen in for some Softs as well. It all went to plan until he got to the end of the pitlane, when Williams flat out released Kubica directly into his path, and it was out behind the Mercedes he came.
But it wasn't all puppy dogs and rainbows for the Mercedes driver, as he had fetched up behind Leclerc who was not making life easy for him, resulting in his battery being drained as Verstappen was clawing all over his gearbox.
As Max rather quickly jumped the Ferrari as they rounded the final turn and headed for the finish line, Verstappen with DRS Hamilton made a big defensive move to the inside, but it was nothing doing and the Red Bull was easily by and away, taking the virtual race lead away from Mercedes.
Lap 25 Albon was in for a stop and no surprise, out on the Mediums as Verstappen continued to track down Bottas. Lap 26 Vettel was in and onto the Medium tyre and the following lap Bottas answered the call, covering the Ferrari driver, but on a set of Hards. This put Verstappen back in the lead, and he was followed at 2 seconds by Hamilton, with Vettel 12 seconds back on a different strategy.
Leclerc continued until lap 30 and he was out on the Hard, copying Bottas, the end of the race clearly the goal. Hamilton continued to be seriously unhappy on the radio with the team's comms regarding Verstappen leaving him defenseless, though in all fairness, there was little that was going to be different aside from foreknowledge. Williams got dinged for an unsafe release with Kubica and by lap 33 Verstappen had added a full second to his advantage, as the Mercedes, as has been the case all season, was a bit marginal on cooling.
The situation continued to deteriorate for Mercedes as Hamilton's tyres were simply not lasting as well as Verstappen's but his current pit window on lap 36 would put him out behind Albon in all likelihood. Difficult choices for the Silver Arrows loomed as it was Leclerc who was actually putting in the fastest laps at the moment.
In the midfield, with the first round of stops now completed, it was Gasly that was maintaining supremacy as best of the rest as Macca had waited to the latest possible moment before chucking both their drivers onto the Hards to run to the end with the biggest possible tyre advantage for a late run on their rivals.
Lap 41 and the Hards were clearly not working for Bottas, and that was being complicated by the fact that the wind was not only picking up, but shifting about and all of the top teams' radio were full of comments by the drivers referencing that topic. AS Bottas demonstrated that the Hards were not the way forward based on his pace, now nearly 10 seconds back, Hamilton continued to complain that the Mediums were not lasting, putting Mercedes in a bit of a quandary.
Nonetheless, in came Valterri lap 43 to prevent the undercut and Mercedes sent him out on the Medium tyres. At the front, Vettel was beginning to look VERY interesting, as he was now just 12 seconds back of Verstappen as Hamilton pointed out he was as close as he was going to get and what exactly was the team waiting for. Apparently they were just waiting to annoy him, as he was brought in lap 44 and was back out in the midst of a lot of midfield traffic with another set of Mediums.
Verstappen covered him off and was out on the Mediums, about 1.5 seconds ahead of Hamilton and 6.5 seconds back of Vettel, with 25 laps to go. Half a second gone on the first lap as behind, Bottas, was now having a serious go at Leclerc. But the Ferrari was not going quietly and it was another lap in the dirty hot air for the Finn, the Ferrari retaining enough of an advantage on the straight bits that even with DRS, the Mercedes was unable to get the job done.
Happy wreaking destruction on the strategy of Mercedes, Ferrari decided to hold Leclerc out for the time being. AS lap 50 rolled into view, Verstappen had continued to close down Vettel and with 21 laps left he was just about in the DRS. Behind, Bottas had a good go into turn 2 and wound up crossing himself up and letting his prey get away.
With Verstappen firmly planted in his wing mirrors, Ferrari thought discretion being the better part of valor, brought Vettel in for a set of Softs, and a good run to the end of the race. 21 seconds, 20 laps and off he went as Bottas was now beginning to get critical on temps. Lap 52 and Albon was in for some Soft tyres as Red Bull sniffed an opportunity and out he went, just 5 seconds back of Bottas.
But the laps the Mercedes spent behind the Ferrari were beginning to take a toll and small plume of blue smoke erupted from the rear of his car and within a lap and a half his race was done, and he pulled over with terminal damage to the engine. This brought out local double waved yellows, and Verstappen was on the radio complaining that Hamilton failed to slow enough as he was now within a second.
Not that it mattered as the Racing Gods decided a safety car was the way to go and lap 55 Hamilton was told to do the opposite to Verstappen. Red Bull rolled the dice and brought Max in for a set of Softs to the end and dutifully Hamilton stayed out. Leclerc was in as well and Hamilton was begging for more power like Captain Kirk and he was told to preselect Strat 5 as that was all they had "at the moment"...
Being on reasonably used Mediums, the next order of business was to get the Safety Car to go fast enough to keep them up to temperature and he was on the radio to try and achieve exactly that result. Behind, Vettel was also somewhat concerned that Leclerc had been given new tyres whilst he hadn't and hoo boy that was going to be fun during the debrief. Lap 58 and the field well on its way to unlapping itself, the end of the Safety Car period in sight and it was suddenly pick up sticks for the strategists as they awaited the lapped cars catching the back of the pack.
End of lap 59 and the Safety Car was in, with Hamilton full of doubt on the radio and Verstappen being told he'd already done this once. OOOH Hamilton slowed to a crawl and then floored it as they came up the hill and around to the start finish. Down the straight they rocketed and this time it was around the outside went the Red Bull as behind, it was Albon jumping both of the Ferraris whilst they distracted each other. Hamilton tried a desperate maneuver into Turn 4 to regain the lead, one that Verstappen remorselessly shut down, forcing him to back out. Behind, Albon kept Vettel at bay and was off in chase of Hamilton, with his fresh tyres now being all the everything.
Sainz, by staying out, had made it temporarily into 7th, but with old tyres it was going to be a long defense for the McLaren driver with 8 laps left. An engine problem for Grosjean saw off HAAS last, best hope for some points.
By lap 65 Albon had crawled into contention with Hamilton, but behind, Vettel had not given up and down the straight into turn 1 Vettel had a serious go and Albon was having none of it, going to the apex and forcing the Ferrari to back off. This rolled the boulder down the hill as Leclerc had the speed on Vettel with his new tyres and it was suddenly a case of Vettel trying to defend from Leclerc as the Monegasque took full advantage of DRS down the start finish straight.
Into turn 1 Leclerc got it done with an amazing dive, going from outside to inside and taking the lead into the Senna esses. But Vettel was in no mood to play, and his tyres were not that far gone and he kept it planted on Leclerc's gearbox, gaining DRS down the straight to turn 4.He took to the outside as he closed down his teammate, who kept it planted in the middle of the track as he rocked by. But as the turn approached, he moved back to the center and the resulting contact broke Lelcerc's suspension and sent him off with a puncture, destroying Ferrari's day. This brought the Safety Car out, and Mercedes decided to gamble and brought Hamilton in for fresh tyres and on lap 67 the running order was Verstappen, Albon, Gasly, Hamilton and Sainz. Mental.
Stroll meanwhile had suffered a right front suspension failure and had pulled his car over, adding to the length of the Safety Car stint, still running strong on lap 68. Sainz for McLaren was keeping them updated on debris as Macca was desperate to extend the length of the Safety Car having left him out on a one stopper to maintain track position, but there was nothing to it and the announcement went out that the Safety Car would be in at the end of lap 69.
A two lap stint then and Versappen waited until just about the Start line before he dropped the hammer, and then he was away. Hamilton all over Albon, a little lock up by Albon into turn 1 not helping him any and down the hill the Mercedes stayed close. Albon was able to maintain a gap though and into the twisty 2nd sector they went, Albon on course for his first podium and then, into turn 10, he went wide for the traditional racing line. This sniff of an opportunity prompted Hamilton to have a peek up the inside and as Albon swung back to finish the corner there was contact, which tipped Albon into a half spin and sent Hamilton off to the inside. This promoted Gasly to second and into the last lap it was Hamilton with damage to his front wing chasing Gasly. The damage for Albon was worse as he was forced to wait until most of the pack was by before he could get going again. Hamilton chased valiantly but Gasly kept his head and into the final turn it was a drag race to the line. As Verstappen crossed the line the Mercedes and Toro Rosso were side by side and by the merest of a tenth, Gasly rocked it home in P2 as the Albon/Hamilton contretemps was being investigated by the stewards.
Amazing race by Red Bull, and massive win for Honda as well as Verstappen. Tragic for Albon, who was ever so close to his official blooding as a member of the sharp end, but you'd have to have a heart of cement to not feel good for Gasly, taking second after being kicked off the senior team was an astonishing story of redemption. Though one might be forgiven for thinking that perhaps Sainz going from 20th to 4th on a one stop, the only one in the entire field, was also worth a shout.
A banner day for Alfa as well, with Raikkonen and Giovinazzi rounding out the top 6. Norris in P7 made it double points for Macca, and Kvyat in P10 gave the same to Toro Rosso. This left the every wily Perez sneaking into P9 for Racing Point as the final points holder, although the stewards were hard at work, looking into use of DRS on lap 53 under double waved yellows, as well as the Hamilton/Albon collision, which left the possibility open that there might yet be a McLaren on the podium.
Of course, Ferrari led the way in the sads department, and the argument as to whether it was strategy or lack of driver management that caused their disastrous own goal being one for late nights in the pub, but as to the proximal cause, the re-emergence of the Vettel that hearkens back to the incident at Istanbul Park would decidedly be it, his move on Leclerc destroying a quite likely podium for Ferrari.
The real agony is going to be at HAAS, after a difficult day, with Magnussen just on the outside looking in on the points. Perhaps the evening race at Abu Dhabi will give them the tiniest bit of redemption, sorely needed after the grueling season they've had.
Next week Honda's board meet to decide whether to continue their participation in F1, and one would think today's results might be a bit of a finger on the scale in terms of continuation. Regardless, everyone gets one last chance to get a result and there will be more than a whiff of desperation as the cars hit the track for the last time in just 2 weeks. And after today's podium, Toro Rosso is just 6 points back of Renault for 5th in the Constructors and for best of the rest, Gasly is now 3 points up on Sainz so even though the top step is already spoken for, there's still plenty left to play for, including that best of all prizes, glory..... and a bit of late breaking news, Hamilton hit with a 5 second penalty for causing a collision, and barring the results of the Sainz investigation for DRS under double waved yellows, Sainz and McLaren with their first podium in several forevers......
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16 Nov 2019
- Saturday, November 16, 2019
- 0 comments
Ambient 20.5° Track 35.3° Humidity 70% Wind 1.3 m/s
The rain that plagued the first day of practice stayed away overnight, but it was a grey and cloud filled sky that loomed over the paddock as the last, intense burst of action on the garages prefaced the brutal session that was about to commence.
At Mercedes, Hamilton's car was receiving all sorts of attention after he last reported a sudden power loss and returned quickly to the pits, holding all the cards it must be said, fastest in all 3 sectors and at the top of the timing sheets.
Verstappen's car, too, was having some adjustments made and somewhat entertainingly, the new front wing that Red Bull brought was being quite difficult to install, which wasn't doing anything to make Horner less grumpy. How grumpy, one might ask? Grumpy enough that the twittersphere was alight with rumours that Red Bull and Mercedes might well file a formal protest against Ferrari, after poring over the GPS data, courtesy of AMuS, naturlich. And that's even before you mention Albon's crash to him.
At Ferrari, they were certainly behind in terms of time, potential protests notwithstanding, several tenths down after FP3 and with Leclerc looking at a 10 spot ding for needing a new ICE at a track at which they have historically been less than stellar.
Also of interest will be whether Mercedes persists with it's remarkable tyre prep regimen, which saw them treating Bottas' rear tyres to being cooled and Hamilton's front hubs being cooled. Never a dull moment...
Green Light!! Kubica led the way for Williams, his ignominious crash in FP2 putting him far, far behind his teammate, who was next off, as he basically missed both Free Practice sessions, having given over the car to Latifi for the first session. Giovinazzi and Raikkonen were next out, then Kvyat.
As they completed their runs it was Kvyat briefly at the top, before he was then eclipsed by Gasly. Giovinazzi was next, then Raikkonen and Russell. By this point, most of the rest of the midfield was out along with the Ferraris.
To the surprise of no one, Ferrari littered the board with green and purple and to the top Vettel went, with Leclerc just 0.036 seconds behind. Lest you think that was fast, Albon, who had snuck out while I was playing with some new features on the F1 app, rocked up to the top of the sheets.
Bad news for Sainz, who radioed in something went on his engine as Verstappen was on his hot lap, a neat effort given the traffic he had, that saw him 0.261 seconds ahead of Albon with a 1:08.242. 5th and 6th for Mercedes as Sainz followed up with the thought that perhaps it was the driveshaft....
7 minutes left and Magnussen took over best of the rest as Hamilton suggested that a single lap cooldown was not sufficient for another go. Leclerc was off for another bite at the apple and a personal best for S1, before dropping a load of time in the second sector. Both Mercedes stayed out and it was Bottas, able to improve enough to clear Vettel at least, as Leclerc's time had taken him up to P2.
As the track cleared and everyone reset, it was Hulkenberg, Stroll, Russell, Kubica and the stricken Sainz on the outside looking in, as the field turned it around for their last chance at reaching the rigours of Q2.
Kvyat and Gasly took advantage of the lonely track to have a go, and it was P8 Gasly and P12 Kvyat as the rest took to the track to work it out.
P10 for Hulkenberg, then, ahead of Ricciardo. Perez, who had been dropped to P16, rocked up to P13, which quickly became P14 as Giovinazzi pipped him and then P15 in the hotseat, when Raikkonen, too, went faster. This left just Stroll to knock his teammate out, but it wasn't close and that's the way the session ended. Kvyat, Stroll, Kubica and the unlucky Sainz, off to look for some pao de queijo to soothe their wounded egos as the rest turned it round.
Q2 started with a whole lot of nothing, Mercedes definitely doing their mega tyre prep as they waited in the garage, blowing cold air through the front hubs with the blankets off as had first been spotted in FP3 by Sky. At long last, with 11:30 left, off went the Mercedes on the Softs, Hamilton leading Bottas and then Hulkenberg. After a respectable interval, the midfield popped out, causing some timing issues for the Mercedes, Perez leading the gaggle onto the track.
10:47 and off went Hamilton, taking honours just barely in Sector 1, then a bit of traffic in Sector 2 not slowing him at all. Across the line and 2 tenths up on Bottas as Verstappen was the next of the big hitters on a lap. Grosjean, Magnussen and Raikkonen best of the rest and then Leclerc, on the Medium tyre (thanks to his impending midfield start due to his penalty), edged Hamilton by a proper 2 tenths then Verstappen on the Softs rocked up to the top with a 1:07.503, 0.385 seconds up on Leclerc. Vettel on the Softs was slightly behind Leclerc, because nothing about this qualifying was going to make sense and it was Norris, Ricciardo, Giovinazzi, Perez and Hulkenberg on the outside looking in. And it has to be mentioned, with a potential power loss issue from FP3 unresolved publicly, the possibility that Mercedes was running with it's PU turned down to prevent a reliability issue......
Regardless of anyone's speculation, 2 minutes to go and the track was full, with Raikkonen on the hotseat and the midfield being anyone's game. Perez led the way onto the hotlaps, the last chance for the glories of Q3 wafting in the air. No real improvement for Perez as he entered the final sector and then a brief P14 and then right back to P15. Giovinazzi rolled a double yellow into T7 that pretty much ended the lap of everyone behind him, which, as happens, ensured that his teammate would go through to Q3...
Going no further were Norris, Ricciardo, Giovinazzi, Hulkenberg, and Perez, off in search of some caipirinhas to drown their sorrows. A bit of Sky punditry in search of the answer to whether or not Ferrari have lost their straight line advantage confirmed they were marginally faster up the hill to the line, relative to Mercedes but perhaps of more import was the fact that the track temps had dropped to 31.7°...
As the hallowed grounds of Q3 beckoned it was Raikkonen, Gasly and Grosjean first to dip their toes into the pool, with around 9 minutes left in the session. Vettel, Leclerc, Albon and Verstappen were the tail enders, with Hamilton leading Bottas out just in front of the back of the bus. Off they went, and it was Grosjean fastest of the trio of midfielders as the sharp end settled down to their grim work. Hamilton to the top, then busted by Vettel, with Leclerc just behind and the gap to the Merc 0.2 seconds, which left just Albon and Verstappen to do their business. Albon slotted behind Bottas and then it was Verstappen, to the top by the slimmest of margins, 0.008 seconds ahead of Vettel..... and no, not your imagination, the times were slower as the temps dropped away. Bit of concern from Verstappen about his front wing as he clearly left some time on the track around turn 8. Leclerc's lap also not the cleanest so all that remained to be seen was whether any of the drivers could wring more time out of a track that seemed to be going away from them.
Albon was first out for the final tilt at the palmares, followed by Verstappen. Raikkonen, Grosjean, Magnussen, then Leclerc, Vettel, Hamilton and Bottas as the final playing order was seemingly settled. Halfway through his outlap, however, Verstappen had quite the duel with Raikkonen for position (which Raikkonen won) and then he was away. Almost even through the first sector, and then the Ferraris dropped away through the second sector, as Hamilton behind was putting on a charge. Hurtling through the final sector it was too little too late for the Scuderia, but Verstappen was able to slice another tenth or so off his time, up to a 1:07.508. Hamilton had also saved his best for last, and with a 1:07.669 managed to split the Ferraris setting up a quite happy race at the front. The 10 spot penalty for a new ICE will send Leclerc back to P14 and leave Vettel all alone in the strategy department, which should make life interesting given how notoriously bad they have been on tyre management in the race, at least relative to the others at the sharp end.
Pretty good birthday present for Christian Horner, with Verstappen rocking onto pole, and not bad for Toro Rosso either, with Gasly claiming best of the rest. Intriguingly, post race K-Mag let slip that one of their biggest issues was losing downforce in high yaw turns, which, along with a ridiculously tight set up window was behind their maddeningly inconsistent performances this year.
Less happy day for McLaren, with Norris unable to get into Q3 and Sainz sidelined with an engine issue (reportedly electronic) before he even set a time. Norris will have a good chance with the contra strategy, starting P10 after the penalty to Leclerc, but it will be a long and brutal day for Sainz, chasing at best a point or two for his team. Racing Point were nowhere today, and perhaps a clue was the fact that they were running cameras in free practice and evaluating tyre temperatures, perhaps suggesting that they were either more focused on the race performance, or still struggling to get the tyres where they wanted them for qualifying.
Tomorrow's race will be an interesting struggle between Verstappen and Hamilton at the sharp end, and though it's likely to be a one-stopper that's quickest, it's worth noting that last year Vettel did run a two stop race. In the midfield, those starting on the more durable Medium tyres will look to take advantage and it will all come down to how well they can manage the tyres in the opening laps. Leclerc coming from P14 will be good for some highlights and as Mother Nature adequately demonstrated today, all it takes to upset the F1 applecart is some changing track temperatures......
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