Typhoon Phanfone

Rosberg in the Suzuka sun. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

Rosberg in the Suzuka sun. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

In the slow motion replays onscreen, his front left wheel lock-up created a miniature ‘typhoon’. For himself. It disrupted a clean lap until then, but he was outside Nico’s time through the entire mid-sector anyway. So pole may have been out of the question for Roscoe’s master in the Japanese Grand Prix qualifying sessions.

Rosberg’s superb lap he said, was thanks to the unbelievably-quick car Mercedes have strung up this weekend. The only piece of news that overshadowed team Mercedes’ 8th front row lock-out this season was from their countryman.

Sebastian Vettel.

The quadruple & defending world drivers champion announced today that he’s not planning to continue with Red Bull in 2015! It was long rumoured that he would eventually  replace Fernando Alonso at Ferrari. Who in turn is rumoured to be moving to McLaren/Honda next year. But no other details were revealed – so for the moment everyone is certain about Phanfone and its furious arrival but nothing is certain about the German and Spaniard’s future team identities.

Drama in Suzuka. A storm that could affect the whole race. World Champions who are being cagey about their drives next season. And teammates, who may just replicate a ‘Senna-Prost-Turn-1-incident’ to influence the 2014 world championship.

You cannot afford to blink.

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P1 Rosberg – Mercedes AMG 1m 32.506
P2 Hamilton – Mercedes AMG 1m 32.703
P3 Bottas –  Williams Martini Racing 1m 33.128

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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!

–

PODIUM

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

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It’s Hammertime!

SILVERSTONE REVIEW

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 4.12.29 pm

Lewis’ fandom at Silverstone. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

Lewis Hamilton bathed in the ecstasy of a home win at the British Grand Prix, after the agony of losing pole position to his team mate in qualifying on Saturday.

Cheered on by a 120,000-strong, partisan crowd he took his 27th career win, equalling Sir Jackie Stewart’s total and is now behind only Nigel Mansell, for most number of wins, by an English driver. It was his fifth win this season.

Two DNFs in Australia and Canada, yellow flags in Monaco, slow pit-stops in Austria and a 29-point deficit to Rosberg before this weekend, did not bode well with Hamilton fans worldwide. They believed the German, was getting the better deal in the intra-team rivalry at Mercedes. At half distance in Silverstone, had they finished as they were, Rosberg would’ve had the luxury of settling for P2 in the next five grand prix without losing the championship lead!

But it wasn’t to be. Nico Rosberg’s W05 sputtered and stopped on Lap 29 with gearbox downshifting issues. Putting an end, to his long streak of consecutive points finishes and any suspicion that Mercedes AMG Petronas were building only one bullet-proof car. It’s worth remembering that the last team order that actually influenced the result of Mercedes’ race was made by Ross Brawn, in the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix. Back then Rosberg was asked to hold station behind Hamilton although he was much quicker –– the team felt Hamilton was nursing a wounded car home and it wouldn’t be fair to race him.

With Nico, registering his first DNF of the season, Lewis is now just four points behind him in the title fight on 161, with 10 races to go.

At the race start, both Mercedes cars got off the grid cleanly. With the performance advantage of his W05, Hamilton was quick to blast past a sluggish Nico Hulkenberg in his VJM07 and a poor starting Sebastian Vettel in the RBR10. On Lap 2 the race was red flagged because of Kimi Raikkonen’s spectacular shunt on the Wellington Straight. The Finn was seen limping away from the site of the accident which also saw the end of Kamui Kobayashi’s and Felipe Massa’s afternoon. During the restart, Hamilton overtook the McLarens of Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button, while Rosberg built a gap of 5s to P2.

Meanwhile, behind them the Williams of Valterri Bottas was on a blistering run to attack the final podium position. Overtaking Alonso, Button, Magnussen, Vettel and Ricciardo on the outside of the racing line, he was a racer on form fresh from his P3 finish in Austria.
He ultimately, went one better here in Silverstone.

Back at the front, Lewis brought down the gap to 2.3s to Nico and pitted for fresh rubber after running longer. A problem with the rear left wheel nut however saw him exiting the pits almost 2s slower than his team mate, who now rebuilt the gap back to about 6s.

Lewis, on hard tyres now was expected to be slower. But to everyones surprise, the hard tyres suited the race temperature perfectly and he was able to cut the deficit by almost a second a lap! The home crowd anticipated a big showdown and the atmosphere was electric. Sadly Nico’s gearbox then decided to give up. And the lead was Lewis’ to keep.

A year ago at the same venue, Hamilton was in the lead when his tyres blew and the win was Rosberg’s to cherish.

The crowd’s focus now shifted to the battle for P5 between Alonso and Vettel. An epic fight that involved unbelievably close racing, questionable manoeuvres and numerous radio messages that kept TV audiences entertained too. Alonso, who was flagged down for leaving the track limits repeatedly, received a five-second penalty for overshooting his grid and had numerous complications with the performance of the F14T still managed P6 after Vettel passed him for P5!

Jenson Button charged home to P4 after hounding Ricciardo’s Red Bull in the closing stages in an attempt to give the British fans a fuller weekend. McLaren team mate Kevin Magnussen led home Nico Hulkenberg from Daniil Kyvat and Jean Eric Vergne for positions 7, 8, 9 and 10 respectively.

Eric Clapton, Naomi Campbell, Jude Law and Prince Harry were amongst the celebs present to celebrate Silverstone’s 50th Grand Prix. It was Lewis Hamilton’s victory though, that commemorated the occasion best, as the fight for the championship had now come alive once again.

Hockenheimring in Germany, is up next. Mercedes and Nico Rosberg’s home race. It seems the only team that can stop the Silver Arrow juggernaut from a clean sweep again, is the German team themselves.

_

PODIUM

P1 Hamilton – Mercedes AMG 2hr 26m 52.094s
P2 Bottas – Williams Martini Racing
P3 Ricciardo – Red Bull Racing

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Ricciardo beats Mercedes

MONTREAL REVIEW

Daniel Ricciardo celebrates. Image Copyright © Red Bull Racing

Daniel Ricciardo celebrates. Image Copyright © Red Bull Racing

Red Bull Racing’s new signing Australian, Daniel Ricciardo, will never forget his debut win. Choking with emotion over the radio on the slow down lap, Formula One’s newest Grand Prix winner could hardly believe what he had just achieved. A fantastic attacking drive from P6 on the grid signalled the end of the Silver Arrow’s domination and granted Ricciardo the podium’s top step in the last two laps!

The bullet-proof W05s finally broke. The Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve is a renowned car-breaker. But in recent times cutting edge technology, together with stringent regulations by the FIA saw F1 cars achieve solid milestones in reliability. However, 2014 and the Turbo Hybrid cars were a brand new story in Montreal.

It looked like a another Mercedes 1-2 in the making, but after about 45 laps of trouble free running, both drivers reported a massive loss in power from their ERS K units. This amounted to a reduction of speed of almost 3 seconds per lap with the hungry pack of Force Indias, Williamses and Red Bulls on full charge pursuing them.

The Canadian Grand Prix finish was certain to be a belter with the top 7 cars all 10 seconds within each other with just 10 laps remaining.

The ERS K failure on Lewis Hamilton’s car meant another DNF for the Briton as his close trailing of Nico Rosberg in the first half of the race led to overheating rear brakes that subsequently refused to work as the energy recovery system shut down. Nico, on the other hand managed to hold on to his injured car and nursed it back astonishingly to take P2 ahead of Sebastian Vettel who looked pleased with the outcome of the race and his own P3 finish.

On understanding Hamilton’s brake issues the Mercedes team were quick to advise Nico to adjust his car’s brake bias as forward as possible so he won’t face his teammate’s woes. It worked. And towards the closing stages Rosberg drove tactfully through sectors 1 and 3 to ensure he was out of the DRS range of the charging Sergio Perez. Although Ricciardo and Red Bull won the race, Rosberg’s relentless drive might prove crucial in his bid to become champion this year.

William’s Felipe Massa at one point looked most likely to take the win after the Mercedes cars called in sick. But his tyre management meant he would have to work real hard for it in the last stint of the race. During his charge back from his second pitstop he found himself nudging a late turning Sergio Perez into Turn 1. What ensued was a spectacular accident which saw both cars hit the barriers at 27G! Thankfully they’re both out of danger. But the Force India driver incurred a five-second penalty for the next round.

Jenson Button overtook both Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso in the last couple of laps to register an exciting drive to P4 after the retirements of Massa and Perez. While Valterri Bottas, Jean Eric Vergne, Kevin Magnussen and Kimi Raikkonen rounded off the top ten points finishers.

It was a dramatic victory for Daniel Ricciardo, though it became a reality only once it was clear the Mercedes cars were nursing technical issues. But when an opportunity presented itself, the young smiling Aussie grabbed it with both hands. True signs of a champion in the making.

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PODIUM
P1 Ricciardo – Red Bull Renault 1hr 39m 12.830s
P2 Rosberg – Mercedes AMG
P3 Vettel – Red Bull Renault

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Battle of the Benzes

BARCELONA REVIEW

Rosberg rejoined the track 4.8 seconds behind Hamilton with 20 laps remaining. On the faster option tyre. Suddenly the Spanish Grand Prix had come alive and memories of the Sakhir thriller were revisited.

Lewis at times was so anxious with his race engineers that it seemed he was suspecting the team’s strategy and finishing preferences. The pit wall crew calmed him down and let him know exactly where he was losing time to the German. He demanded more info and pit-stop rationale constantly, knowing Nico was gaining on him rapidly.

The gap was down to .663 of a second on the penultimate lap! He had the AMG Hybrid W05 #6 car filling his mirrors menacingly. It wasn’t clear if he was panicking to keep his winning streak intact or whether he felt Nico’s superior car set-up would comfortably clinch the race. Or did he not want to tangle again, banging wheels to decide P1?

But he held on stoically. Win number 26 was his. And fourth on trot from his teammate.

In the post-race conference the mind games were evident. Lewis reiterated that Nico had the better and faster car in Spain. Yet he won. Rosberg insisted he would’ve had Hamilton if there were one lap more. But that’s his theory. If it were one lap shorter Lewis would’ve probably been even more difficult to beat.

Meanwhile team Mercedes AMG Petronas are earning the respect of Formula One fans for allowing their racers to race. That’s as important for the brand as the transfer of technology to their road cars.

LH44 surrenders in victory. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

LH44 surrenders in victory. Image Copyright © Mercedes AMG

Behind the Mercedes intra-team mind games and on-track strategic battles, Red Bull Racing showed first signs of waking up to take the fight. Daniel Ricciardo drove a lonely calculated race to cover any threat from Williams driver Valterri Bottas to record his first podium finish. He finished 49 seconds behind Hamilton and about 27 seconds ahead of his charging World Champion team mate.

Vettel begins to recover. Image Copyright © RBR

Vettel begins to recover. Image Copyright © RBR

Sebastian Vettel drove a fighting race of recovery after being shifted down to start at P15 by the stewards. His car lacking straight-line speed and not working perfectly to his corner-entry preference the four-time champ is making slow but sure progress back to the top. The lack of testing pre-season courtesy Renault’s engine woes has hurt him big time.

We’re experiencing a precision racer being put to the test. It was interesting to watch him make quick work of both the Ferraris and Bottas’ Williams. The RBR10 might come back to him before the season is out but most certainly will not help him fight for the championship with the Silver Arrows, who are in a class of their own. Atleast for now.

At Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen expressed concern about the team’s strategy to pit Fernando Alonso first although he was behind on track position. But the more telling quote from him post-race was “…we cannot be happy with sixth and seventh places, because we are a long way off where we want to be.” The Italian team’s updates at Barcelona weren’t making a visible difference. They could, however take consolation from the fact that their traditional arch rivals McLaren are deeper in performance trouble with Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen finishing P11 and P12 respectively. The Force India’s rounded off the bottom of the top ten finishers with Sergio Perez overcoming Nico Hulkenberg once again.

If there’s one race on the calendar where any of the top six teams have a fairly reasonable shot at victory it is Monaco.

The tight twisty street circuit offers very few overtaking opportunities, so all emphasis will be on qualifying. Both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are now residents of the principality. A win would impress the neighbours mightily. It’s no secret who has the momentum for pole position on Saturdays. But on race Sundays the armco barriers at Monaco have historically taken no prisoners.

Mercedes versus the chasing pack. It’s going to be a classic street fight.

PODIUM
P1 Hamilton - Mercedes AMG 1hr 41m 05.155s
P2 Rosberg - Mercedes AMG
P3 Ricciardo – Red Bull Renault

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