Hamilton’s 7th heaven

SINGAPORE REVIEW

If your title rival, your nearest threat, your intra-team nemesis, your thunder-stealer begins to suffer your share of bad luck will you feel satisfied? Will you feel the world and it’s populace isn’t really on your case? Will you rediscover the real you?

It appears that Lewis Hamilton has begun to rediscover his genius. The genius that brought him into this massive spotlight called F1â„¢. At Singapore a few nights ago his stride had a bounce in it. A proper fashionista swagger. Alighting from his shiny chauffeur-driven AMG he walked unescorted towards the Paddock gates and responded to a fan’s ‘you all right Lewis?’ with a ‘Yeah I’m great, thanks!’.

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Hipster Hamilton arrives at the Marina Bay. Image Copyright © Ajit Devadason

Fresh from the feisty conquest at the temple of speed, Hamilton revelled in another completely dominating weekend leaving Rosberg trailing by 3 points in the Championship.

Rosberg suffered a start-line nightmare when his steering wheel all but failed. He couldn’t engage the clutch and his paddles were double-shifting. While the rest set off on the formation lap Mercedes #6 was wheeled away into pit lane.

When the lights went out, Hamilton floored it to perfection taking T1 well before the chasing pack. Behind him Alonso jumped both Red Bulls from P5 with no real intention of braking to make the corner! He went off but came back onto the racing line holding onto P2. Which he decided to give back to a fast-starting Vettel who in turn capitalised on Rosberg’s empty Mercedes grid slot ahead of him.

On Lap 4, positions 1,2 and 3 were held by champions. All past winners of all the Singapore Grand Prix. Meanwhile the pit-lane-starting Championship leader Rosberg, was making no impression on the Caterhams and Marussias running ahead of him. His MGP W05 was truly in a lot of pain and woefully out of pace. The street circuit notorious for lack of overtaking space wasn’t helping either.

Between him and the leading trio a train of battles ensued between Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Massa, and further back Button, Bottas and Magnussen. The Toro Rosso team mates duelled too – Vergne getting the better of Kvyat while on Lap 10 Rosberg was still in P20. Three laps later Vettel, Alonso and Ricciardo all pitted in succession. Hamilton, by this time had built a large enough gap to Vettel that he exited ahead of the German after his first pit stop.

On Lap 14 Rosberg came in for his pit stop but the steering trouble was terminal.
A big moment for the Championship shoot-out had just unfolded at Singapore! Mercedes’ boss Toto Wolff was later quoted as saying “…we have built a missile but we must make it more reliable”.

In the next successive laps Ricciardo, Hamilton and Alonso traded fastest laps with each other and Alonso, closed in rapidly on Vettel. It was soon time for the second round of pit stops and Alonso, Vettel and Raikkonen dived in for fresh rubber. This left Hamilton out in front ahead of Ricciardo by 17 seconds. By the time he and Ricciardo made their second stops the gap to P2 was down to 7 seconds.

An incident between Force India’s Perez and Sauber’s Sutil wrecked the Mexican’s front wing and strewed debris all over the track. Considering how the Pirellis can shred nowadays, the Safety Car was deployed as is inevitable on a street circuit.

The race wasn’t going to remain as straight forward as it initially appeared. The long Safety Car period meant tyre strategies needed re-thinking! Red Bull and Williams believed they could stick with a two-stop strategy to catch Mercedes whose big lead was reduced to nothing. Mercedes however required to pit again for prime tyres! This meant Hamilton had to build a gap of over 27 seconds to Vettel. He did so. Lapping almost 2 seconds faster than anyone else at times, he began a relentless chase to the finish line. He stopped and exited just behind Vettel on fresh tyres. In the space of a lap and a half he overtook the German aggressively through T7 and secured a deserving win for Mercedes amidst spectacular fireworks.

For the seventh time this year.

PODIUM

P1 Hamilton – Mercedes AMG 2hr 00m 04.795s
P2 Vettel  – Red Bull Racing
P3 Ricciardo – Red Bull Racing

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Ricciardo rules again

HUNGARORING REVIEW

Dani strikes twice! Image Copyright © AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic

Dani strikes twice! Image Copyright © AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic

He hung his RBR10 out over the kerbs at T2. He held on like a matador in a bull-fight, muscling Hamilton out through the inner racing line of T3. Next up was the Spaniard in the red Ferrari, who has taken to ‘bullfighting’ of late, but this time around, was easy meat for the Aussie on fresh soft tyres. Nothing now, could deny the smiling Daniel Ricciardo a second Grand Prix win in 2014.

But while he was sealing his victory, behind the trail of Alonso and Hamilton – a charging Rosberg was eating away into all three of them’s race at nearly 3secs per lap! And with 9 laps remaining in the 70-lap race, the Hungarian Grand Prix instantly became the season’s classic!

Hamilton, the Safety Car and wet-weather conditions ultimately denied pole-sitter Rosberg, a podium place. He crossed the start-finish line in P4, his lowest points finish of this season so far. But it wasn’t without controversy and drama.

When the lights went out at Hungary, Rosberg blitzed away from the pursuing pack at a storming pace. Posting fastest laps in rapid succession he was almost 9 seconds ahead in the lead when the first Safety Car was brought out. A crashing Caterham of Marcus Ericsson, left debris scattered all over the track with the car and driver in a dangerous position.

In a dramatic twist however, the top four of the leading pack had crossed the pit entry and caught the Safety Car after the pit exit. This meant they had to complete another full lap at a slower pace before switching to fresh rubber while the rest of the field pitted. Including Lewis Hamilton, who started from the pit lane! He saw his entire disadvantage of starting from that far behind wiped out clean. When the racing was resumed, Ricciardo led from Button’s McLaren and Massa’s Williams.

SC! SC! SC! Image Copyright © AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic

SC! SC! SC! Image Copyright © AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic

Rosberg, Magnussen, Vergne, Vettel and Alonso trailed behind them followed by Hulkenberg, Perez, Bottas, Gutierrez and Hamilton.

Romain Grosjean spun at T3 and crashed out forcing the Safety Car to stay out longer. At the restart, Alonso began to pounce on the cars in front of him getting past Vettel, Vergne, Magnussen and Rosberg! Demoting the Championship leader to P6.

Hamilton dismissed Perez, Hulkenberg, Bottas and Gutierrez all in a single lap, leaving just Vettel sandwiched between him and his title rival, Rosberg!

On Lap 23, at the final corner, Sergio Perez ran over the outside kerb and got caught out. His VJM07 spun around violently crashing into the main pit wall. The crash saw the Safety Car intervene again! Race leader Ricciardo and the two Williamses dived into the pits. And Alonso was now leading the race. Vergne held off all attempts of passing, by Rosberg, while Vettel, Hamilton and the fresh-tyre shod Ricciardo, chased.

Mercedes called in Rosberg for fresh tyres as well, as he was making no progress on the Toro Rosso. His strategy now was to be a three-stopper while Hamilton running on primes was always on a two-stopper. It seemed, the strategy for the car starting last was more about damage-limitation than for a win. Vettel in his RBR10, almost carbon-copied the accident of the spinning Force India in the last corner. But he managed to hold on to a dramatic 360º spin, just narrowly missing the wall, but flat-spotting all four tyres. His challenge for a podium spot vanished at this point. Another mistake for the four-time champion, while his rookie team mate raced away in the distance.

It was Hamilton’s turn, while in hot pursuit of Alonso, to deal with the Toro Rosso of Vergne. Having attempted to pass on the straight, the Briton kept the momentum going through to T4 on the outside of the Frenchman. It was an amazing take, with his right rear wheel flicking up dirt!

Ricciardo was in P3. On Lap 38, Alonso pitted followed by Hamilton the next lap. The Red Bull, now leading, had to pit again and therefore required to build a gap of about 22 seconds to rejoin ahead. The lead was now about 16 seconds. And on Lap 54, Ricciardo took his final stop. He joined ahead of Rosberg but behind Hamilton and Alonso. Crucially he was on new faster, soft option compounds.

Meanwhile, Rosberg who was going to swap tyres once more found Hamilton in front of him. The team asked Hamilton to move over for Rosberg because ‘he was on a different strategy’ they explained. A modified strategy to win from pole position, originally.

Hamilton refused to budge. And in doing so, held onto valuable track position even after Rosberg rejoined the fight with new tyres that were faster than Ricciardo’s, on Lap 61. Hamilton secured P3. An astonishing feat given that he started last from the pit lane.

Has he denied Mercedes AMG Petronas another win this season? Or has he lived up to their public image of allowing both their drivers a fair shot at the title?

Pit lane to P3. Image Copyright © AP Photo/Petr David Josek

Pit lane to P3. Image Copyright © AP Photo/Petr David Josek

The end of the summer break has never ever been so eagerly anticipated. Bring on Spa!

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PODIUM

P1 Ricciardo – Red Bull Racing 1hr  53m 05.058s
P2 Alonso – Scuderia Ferrari
P3 Hamilton – Mercedes AMG

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Hamilton & Rosberg hat-trick

SHANGHAI REVIEW

The biggest moment of the 2014 Formula 1 UBS Chinese Grand Prix was at the start. Felipe Massa veered his FW36 left wards into the charging field resulting in a heart-stopping thwack with Fernando Alonso’s F14T. They both continued into Turn 1 unscathed. But the Williams’ left rear wheel nut was jammed in, causing a disastrously long pit stop later in the race that saw the Brazilian finish only in P15.

Nico Rosberg starting from P4 dropped down four places after a poor start. After that his afternoon was all about using the W05’s superior pace to claw back the gap to his teammate and rival. He managed to finish 18s behind in P2 ultimately. For the third time in a row. His body language post-race spoke frustration. His mind was perhaps wandering to his victory in Melbourne and wondering what might have ensued if his weekend nemesis did not have engine troubles there.

Maybe Lewis Hamilton would’ve recorded a lights-to-flag victory there too? The 2008 World Champion has everything covered so far. If he finishes, he finishes first. If he loses Pole he still wins the race. His pace is outstanding. His confidence is such that even though Rosberg leads the championship by a slim margin currently it’ll only be a matter of time before his lead is overhauled. It’s not going to be an easy season for the German for sure. For Ferrari, things looked promising in China. Fernando Alonso was at his fighting best. Just how he managed P3 in a slow car overcoming the Red Bulls is one for the story books. After surviving the collision at the start his was a calculated drive to the podium.

He offered no challenge whatsoever when Rosberg came past him fully aware that his race pace was no match for the Mercedes. But crafted his last stint managing a gap that was fast diminishing to the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo in P4.

Ricciardo put his illustrious teammate in the shade again. After Qualifying, Sebastian Vettel admitted he cannot do much if his teammate is genuinely faster than him in the RB10. However during the course of the race it seemed like he would disobey team orders and hold back the charging Aussie. When Vettel did allow his teammate through it didn’t seem like he did so deliberately as he seemed a bit out of control and ran wide off the apex. Christian Horner agreed that the German defending champion is not in sync yet with the new low-downforce cars. Lets prepare for some fireworks within Red Bull when he is.

The Force India’s of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez recorded another dual points finish topping the race for best-Mercedes-customer engines. Hulkenberg held off Valtteri Bottas from a dismal Kimi Raikkonen. Behind them Sergio Perez made it into the points from P16 and Daniil Kvyat claimed the last point after starting P13. The young Russian has 3 points finishes in the premier league of racing before his 20th birthday. Imagine the support for him at the inaugural Russian Grand Prix later this year! His stellar drives so far can only be overshadowed by car #44, a full lap up the road from him.

Lewis Hamilton led home Nico Rosberg again in a third consecutive one-two finish for Mercedes AMG Petronas. They head into Barcelona in three weeks time with almost a 100 point lead in the constructors championship. Hamilton is now 8th in the all-time winners list with 25 victories to his credit. And his career seems to have resurrected by Mercedes on Easter Sunday. How fitting.

Hamilton completes the hat-trick! Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

Hamilton completes the hat-trick! Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

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PODIUM
P1 Hamilton - Mercedes AMG 1hr 33m 28.338s
P2 Rosberg - Mercedes AMG
P3 Alonso – Scuderia Ferrari

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The King returns

Will his young successors welcome him?

Michael Schumacher. Image Copyright  © Mercedes AMG

Michael Schumacher. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

After a 36-month hiatus Michael Schumacher has decided to have another crack at winning in his sport.

“More of the same!” he seems to demand from the sport that defined him. The sport that crowned him. Made him a legend. And carved his initials onto gleaming trophies that he proudly brandished so often all over the world. All other competitors were mere actors. It was his stage. His sport.

His sport however, tore him and wore him out too. At the end of the 2006 season his followers began to believe his best days were behind him. Fernando Alonso had dethroned him twice in 2004-2005 and Ferrari, his team, were getting impatient.

They wanted a successor. One who would dominate all over again for them. Finnish ace Kimi Raikkonen brought the World Drivers Championship back to Ferrari in 2007, the season after Schumacher’s retirement from the sport. In the following season, Britain’s Lewis Hamilton became the youngest ever World Drivers Champion aged 23, for McLaren. And Jenson Button wrapped up the title last season in the dominant BrawnGP car.

These young champions were imposters to his throne. The new rulers in a new era of Formula One. And now they all want to add to their booty.

Sebastian Vettel, touted by many as the next ‘king’, is in the hunt to claim his rightful throne too. His team Red Bull, had the fastest car last season and have promised him a winner in the New Year. Nico Hulkenberg, another German prodigy, is all set to make his mark as the challenging prince in Formula One.

Meanwhile, the Spaniard, Fernando Alonso is eager to clean up his image after Renault’s Singapore ‘crash-gate’ scandal last year. He along with Felipe Massa, launch a fresh conquest with Ferrari’s complete weaponry in 2010. Ferrari have unveiled an aggressive design approach for their new car after suffering a humiliating season.

Amongst all these fiery intentions and battle plans Schumacher has decided to return to what was once his. Will the announcement of Michael Schumacher’s return worry the new protagonists? Surely any racing driver would want to dice with the legend, go wheel-to-wheel with him, post fastest-lap times and grab pole from him.

Hamilton, Vettel and Hulkenberg have never sat on the grid alongside him before. They have never had the legend as a direct competitor. Would they lift off at Turn 1? Would they brake later than him? To what extreme would they go to win. To beat the king.

One thing’s for certain. Schumacher cannot hide his craving anymore. He’s out in the open. The whole wide world of Formula One racing is staring into his visor anxiously. There are those who believe he would dominate in the new Ross Brawn penned Mercedes. There are others like ex-Grand Prix driver and former teammate Johnny Herbert who believe he will find it tough.

A three-year contract with the legendary German marque who themselves are returning to conquer the sport they once dominated, takes Schumacher’s career full circle. Back to where it all began with Mercedes in Group C Sports cars way back in 1990.

That’s when Michael as a young charger learnt and mastered the art of conserving tyres and fuel. He learnt to endure a race distance. He developed superior race craft, which many years later brought him endless victories in Formula One.

Two decades on Mercedes call on his experience in a bid to maintain the advantage BrawnGP enjoyed in 2009. To rule once more. But can the King no matter how dominant return to his sport and win all over again? Maybe. But with his return he runs the risk of being conquered. Being banished forever. By young successors, who more than ever, will relish that.

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