Hamilton on pole yet again in Hungary

Hamilton took his 9th pole position of 2015 in Hungary (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Hamilton took his 9th pole position of 2015 in Hungary (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Hamilton’s incredible run of pole positions continued as the reigning World Champion topped qualifying for tomorrow’s Hungarian Grand Prix. Hamilton now has nine pole positions out of ten races in 2015, and five poles in a row. Nico Rosberg completed the front row of the grid for Mercedes, the fifth race in a row that has happened.

Who can beat Hamilton to pole? So far only Nico Rosberg has done so this year, and on only one occasion. The rest of the season, Hamilton has seemed untouchable. In qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix, Hamilton lapped over half a second faster than team-mate Rosberg, which is a massive margin in equal equipment. Rosberg didn’t seem to be able to put together a clean lap, perhaps a sign of how hard he is having to push to catch Hamilton.

Hamilton’s five poles in a row equals the most consecutive pole positions by a driver currently racing in Formula 1. Fernando Alonso achieved the feat in 2006 and Sebastian Vettel has done it twice – in 2010-11 and again later in 2011. Hamilton still has a way to go to beat Ayrton Senna’s astonishing record of eight successive pole positions, set in 1988-89, but it is certainly possible that Hamilton might dethrone Senna a bit later in 2015.

In a sport as competitive as Formula 1, any small advantage can be the difference between winning and coming second. Pole position provides at least two such advantages – pole position is generally on the “cleaner”, more grippy side of the track, which makes for a better start to the race than second place; the pole-sitter also controls the pace of the warm-up lap, which allows him to maximise the preparation of his own car for the start of the race. Pole position is definitely the place to be at the start of a Grand Prix.

Tomorrow, Hamilton will start from pole position for the ninth time this season. For the ninth race in 2015, he will have the advantages that make his race start a little bit easier and therefore potentially faster. And the Hungaroring, where the race is taking place, is a track at which overtaking is notoriously difficult. It’s not quite as simple as Hamilton needing to just make a clean start to win the race, but it’s not far off that. If Rosberg can pass Hamilton on track, it will be an impressive move indeed.

Once again, Hamilton has set himself up to have the best chance of victory in a Grand Prix. That’s just one of the many reasons he’s currently the man to beat in Formula 1.

Hamilton closing in on pole records

Lewis Hamilton (pictured in Canada) has dominated qualifying in 2015 (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Lewis Hamilton (pictured in Canada) has dominated qualifying in 2015 (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Lewis Hamilton is the reigning Formula 1 World Champion. He is leading the 2015 Drivers’ Championship and is the favourite to be this year’s champion too. One of the reasons for his current dominance is his qualifying performance. Hamilton has qualified in pole position for nine out of the first ten races of the season. That performance is remarkable, and could lead to Hamilton breaking some records in the not too distant future.

What’s perhaps most impressive about Hamilton’s qualifying record in 2015 is how much he has improved since 2014. Last season, Nico Rosberg had team-mate Hamilton soundly beaten in terms of pole positions over the season, taking 11 poles to Hamilton’s seven. In 2014 so far, Rosberg has just one pole position (in Spain), while Hamilton has had the top spot on the grid for every other race.

The record for most pole positions in a season is currently held by Sebastian Vettel, who was on pole an astonishing 15 times out of 19 races in 2011. Hamilton will need another seven pole positions this season to beat Vettel’s record. After this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix, there are nine races left in 2015. If Hamilton keeps up his Saturday dominance, there is a distinct possibility that Vettel’s record could be under threat.

Given the dominance of the Mercedes team since the start of 2014, it looks like Hamilton is set to have many more pole positions over the next season or two. And that puts a more significant milestone within reach – Michael Schumacher’s record of 68 career pole positions.

Hamilton is currently on 47 career pole positions (up to and including the 2015 Hungarian Grand Prix), 21 shy of Schumacher’s record. There are not enough races left in 2015 for Hamilton to challenge the record this season, but it could be within reach as soon as the end of 2016 if Mercedes can produce another dominant car for next year.

At just 30 years old, Hamilton still has potentially quite a long career in Formula 1 ahead of him. Even if he finds himself in less than dominant cars for a few seasons, it is still likely that he will ultimately beat Schumacher’s qualifying record.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that Sebastian Vettel (currently on 45 pole positions) will get there first.

Taken too soon – Jules Bianchi dies

Jules Bianchi, pictured during testing in 2014, has died aged 25 (Image: Ferrari)

Jules Bianchi, pictured during testing in 2014, has died aged 25 (Image: Ferrari)

The Formula 1 community is in mourning following the passing of 25-year old Jules Bianchi on Friday night 17 July 2015. Bianchi had been hospitalised since suffering head trauma during the Japanese Grand Prix on 5 October 2014 and never regained consciousness after the crash..

In a sport that has made enormous developments in driver safety over the past few decades, it comes as a real shock that a driver can die as a result of injuries sustained in a crash during a Grand Prix. Bianchi’s death is a reminder of the inherent dangers in motorsport and the constant need to improve safety wherever possible.

Bianchi’s death marks the second tragedy to befall the Marussia F1 team, after the death of Maria de Villota in October 2013. De Villota was involved in a testing crash in July 2012, as a result of which she lost her right eye. Although she was released from hospital and resumed her public life, on 11 October 2013 De Villota suffered a cardiac arrest, which may have been related to her injuries of a year before. She was dead at just 33-years old.

It’s been 21 years since a driver died as a result of a crash on a Grand Prix weekend. The last driver to do so before Bianchi was, of course, Ayrton Senna. I remember watching Senna’s crash live on television and I remember vividly watching the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix and fearing a similar fate for Bianchi. I’m sure the loss I feel in the wake of Bianchi’s death is but a shadow of the anguish his family is going through. My thoughts are with them at this very difficult time.

Jules Bianchi was a phenomenal talent. He won races in Formula 2, Formula 3, Gp2 and Formula Renault 3.5 before progressing to Formula 1, where he immediately impressed. He scored the first ever points (and only points to-date) for the Marussia F1 team when he finished 9th at the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix.

As a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy, Bianchi was frequently speculated to be in the running for a Ferrari Formula 1 drive, which could well have happened if not for his fatal injury. Bianchi was Ferrari’s test and reserve driver in 2011 and fulfilled the same role for Force India in 2012 before making his F1 race debut in 2013 for Marussia.

Bianchi was considered by many to be a future race winner and potential world champion. In that respect, and in terms of his clear skill behind the wheel of a racing car, comparisons can be drawn with the late Gilles Villeneuve, who is considered one of the great talents of Formula 1 but died without a championship to his name.

Early on Saturday morning 18 July 2015, the Bianchi family released the following statement:

It is with deep sadness that the parents of Jules Bianchi, Philippe and Christine, his brother Tom and sister Mélanie, wish to make it known that Jules passed away last night at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire (CHU) in Nice, (France) where he was admitted following the accident of 5th October 2014 at Suzuka Circuit during the Japanese Formula 1 Grand Prix.

“Jules fought right to the very end, as he always did, but today his battle came to an end,” said the Bianchi family. “The pain we feel is immense and indescribable. We wish to thank the medical staff at Nice’s CHU who looked after him with love and dedication. We also thank the staff of the General Medical Center in the Mie Prefecture (Japan) who looked after Jules immediately after the accident, as well as all the other doctors who have been involved with his care over the past months.

“Furthermore, we thank Jules’ colleagues, friends, fans and everyone who has demonstrated their affection for him over these past months, which gave us great strength and helped us deal with such difficult times. Listening to and reading the many messages made us realise just how much Jules had touched the hearts and minds of so many people all over the world.

“We would like to ask that our privacy is respected during this difficult time, while we try to come to terms with the loss of Jules.”

Rosberg gets one over on Hamilton in Austria

Nico Rosberg celebrates his Austrian Grand Prix victory (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Nico Rosberg celebrates his Austrian Grand Prix victory (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Nico Rosberg has joined the 2015 Formula 1 World Championship fight with a superb victory at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. Rosberg beat team-mate Lewis Hamilton in a straight fight for the win, with Felipe Massa finishing third for Williams.

This is not Rosberg’s first win of the 2015 season – in fact it’s his third – but it’s a very significant victory. Why? Because it’s the first time in 2015 that Rosberg has beaten Lewis Hamilton in a straight fight. It’s a psychological victory more than a points victory and it signals the start of what could be an epic battle for the Drivers’ Championship.

Hamilton is the reigning world champion. He’s had the lion’s share of pole positions – 7 out of 8 races this season, with the other one going to Rosberg in Spain – and has been the man to beat in all of the races so far, winning 4 out of 8 in quite dominant fashion. And until today, it looked like Rosberg might not have an answer for Hamilton’s form.

It’s true that Rosberg had already won two races this season, but neither would have been as satisfying as today’s win. In the Spanish Grand Prix, Rosberg drove flawlessly to win from pole position, but was never in a straight fight with his team-mate, who had a poor start and was stuck behind Sebastian Vettel for much of the race.

In Monaco, Hamilton had the race firmly under control when his team called him into the pits at the wrong time in response to the safety car being deployed late in the race. Rosberg inherited the win, but it had clearly been Hamilton’s day.

While a win counts for 25 points no matter how it is earned, Rosberg will have been aware that he had yet to beat Hamilton in a straight for victory this season. But that’s all changed now. In Austria, Rosberg made a stunning start to beat Hamilton (who was on pole) into the first corner. He then fended off a determined attack from Hamilton into turn 2 and again into turn 3 on the opening lap.

Rosberg controlled the rest of the race to take a much-needed victory and close the gap to championship leader Hamilton to just 10 points. But perhaps more importantly for Rosberg, he had a wheel-to-wheel battle with Hamilton and won. In Austria, Rosberg was the better driver.

Until today, it was hard to imagine Rosberg beating Hamilton to the title. But now it’s a possibility. Hamilton and Rosberg could be locked in a battle for the title reminiscent of Senna and Prost in the 1980s. Formula 1 just got exciting again.

Mercs are so dominant they can screw up

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg dominated qualifying in Austria (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg dominated qualifying in Austria (Image: Mercedes AMG)

Mercedes have the fastest car in Formula 1 at present. That’s no secret. But just how fast is their car? It’s so fast that both drivers can go off during what should be their fastest laps in qualifying… and they still lock out the front row. That’s exactly what happened yesterday in Austria.

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were fastest and second fastest in the final part of qualifying, when they started their final flying laps, each attempting to go quicker. Rosberg was ahead on the track and on a quick lap.

Hamilton put a wheel on the grass under braking for the first corner and spun, ending his chances of improving his lap time. Rosberg was up ahead, unaware that Hamilton had spun and pushing hard to try to take pole position. Going into the last sector of the lap, it looked like Rosberg might have just done enough to beat Hamilton to the top spot. But then Rosberg also went off, running wide on the exit of turn 8 before losing the back end of his Mercedes into turn 9.

Although Rosberg managed to catch his car in time to prevent a spin, he ran out of space and went off into the gravel on the outside of the corner, which put an end to his session.

In motor racing, the track typically (not always but usually) gets faster the longer a session goes on. That’s because the cars lay rubber down on the track on every lap they do. More rubber on the track means more grip, which means quicker lap times. That’s why the fastest lap in a qualifying session is almost always done right at the end, and the teams and drivers time their final lap to start at the last possible second to take advantage of the track being at its quickest.

Yesterday in Austria, Mercedes didn’t need their final laps. That’s how quick those cars are. Even without setting a lap time when the track was in optimal condition, they were still faster than everyone else. Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari was over a third of a second off Hamilton’s pace in third place, with no answer to the speed of the mighty Mercedes.

Can anyone beat the Mercedes drivers in the race? We’ll find out this afternoon, but I’ll be surprised if that’s the case.

Rosberg still needs to beat Hamilton in 2015

Nico Rosberg celebrates his Spanish Grand Prix victory (Image: Mercedes AMG F1)

Nico Rosberg celebrates his Spanish Grand Prix victory (Image: Mercedes AMG F1)

Nico Rosberg took a big step forward in his 2015 championship campaign by winning the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday. But there’s still an important step Rosberg needs to take if he is to challenge for the championship this season – he needs to beat Lewis Hamilton in a straight fight for victory. That didn’t happen in Spain.

Let’s take nothing away from Rosberg’s Spanish Grand Prix performance. He did everything right. His race was faultless. He took pole, led from the start and didn’t put a wheel wrong all afternoon – all of which resulted in a commanding victory.

The trouble was Hamilton was never really in the fight for victory. Having qualified second, Hamilton started from the dirty side of the track (the part of the track not on the racing line). He made a less than perfect start and was passed by Sebastian Vettel into the first corner. From then until the second round of pitstops, Hamilton was stuck behind Vettel, unable to get close enough to pass despite having a much faster car.

Rosberg took full advantage of the situation and pulled away, creating a gap that Hamilton could not hope to close once he eventually passed Vettel using pit strategy. Full marks to Rosberg for controlling the race. But he will be aware that he did not actually out-drive Hamilton. At no point in the race did Rosberg have to pass Hamilton, or defend against him.

Had Hamilton made it into the first corner second, instead of third as was the case, then the race would have been entirely different. Rosberg would have had to fight Hamilton for victory from lights to flag. As it happened, the two Mercedes drivers were not really in the same race, although they ended up finishing first and second in the Grand Prix.

So Rosberg won fair and square. But at no point in the race was he actually racing Hamilton. In the entire weekend, Rosberg only really did two things better than Hamilton – he took pole, which is to Rosberg’s credit as that was a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers; and he made a better start, which is at least partly the result of starting on the “clean” side of the track.

So Rosberg’s satisfaction at winning the race, while significant, will be tempered by the knowledge that he still needs to assume some form of psychological ascendancy if he is to mount a serious title challenge. Admittedly, that wasn’t possible as the race played out on Sunday. Perhaps it will still happen.


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