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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.

Alonso’s unfortunate career moves

Fernando Alonso drives for McLaren in practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix (Image: McLaren)

Fernando Alonso drives for McLaren in practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix (Image: McLaren)

Fernando Alonso is one of the top drivers in Formula 1 at present, perhaps ever. And yet he has not won the Drivers’ Championship since 2006. Why not? I think it’s largely the result of repeatedly being in the wrong team at the wrong time.

Consider Alonso’s career moves since starting in Formula 1. His career began in 2001 with Minardi, where he impressed enough in his first season to land a drive with Renault in 2003. Just a few years later, Alonso won back-to-back championships with Renault in 2005-2006. So far, so good.

For 2007, Alonso switched to McLaren. The car was competitive. Alonso was in form. There was just the quite significant problem of a rapidly deteriorating relationship between team and driver. Alonso never felt at home at McLaren-Mercedes, as it was then, and at the end of the season he and the team agreed to part ways. Alonso went back to Renault for 2008.

Unfortunately for Alonso, the 2008 Renault was nowhere near as good as that year’s McLaren. Alonso finished a distant fifth in the championship while Lewis Hamilton, in a car Alonso could have been driving, won the championship. Had Alonso stuck it out with McLaren, it is quite possible that the 2008 championship would have been his.

Another season with Renault followed, in which it became apparent that the car was simply not good enough. Alonso failed to win a single race in 2009, and at the end of the season made a high-profile switch to Ferrari.

From 2010 to 2013, Alonso gave his all for Ferrari, comfortably out-performing team-mate Felipe Massa and generally competing, to at least some degree, for the championship. But all four of those seasons were won by Sebastian Vettel for Red Bull.

And here is perhaps the most unfortunate of Alonso’s career decisions so far. When he left McLaren to return to Renault for 2008, there was another team rumoured to be interested in his services. That team was Red Bull.

Had he made the move to Red Bull, Alonso could quite conceivably have dominated Formula in the same manner that Vettel did. But it didn’t happen. Instead, Alonso went to Renault and struggled in an under-performing car.

Alonso’s final season for Ferrari, 2014, was another year of struggle with an inferior car. The Ferrari power unit was no match for that of Mercedes, and Alonso once again was not able to challenge for the championship.

In his most recent career move, Alonso made the switch from Ferrari to McLaren for 2015. The much anticipated reunion of McLaren and legendary engine supplier Honda was expected to provide Alonso with a way back to the top of the results sheets.

But again, it seems to not have worked out, although it’s still very early in the season. Alonso missed the first race in Australia due to a concussion from a heavy crash in testing, but in his absence, McLaren drivers Jenson Button and reserve Kevin Magnussen were well off the pace, as Honda struggled to provide the power required for the car to be competitive.

The McLarens occupied the back row of the grid in Australia, and look likely to be quite far down the order again for this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix. It promises to be a tough season for Alonso, unless Honda can get their act together quite quickly.

And here again, Alonso seems to have made the wrong move. Or at least he appears to have moved at the wrong time. A resurgent Ferrari are currently best-of-the-rest to Mercedes, ahead of Williams to the surprise of the entire F1 field. Sebastian Vettel, who moved from Red Bull to take Alonso’s place at Ferrari at the end of last year, is revelling in the pace of the car and scored his first podium for the team at his first attempt.

Will McLaren come good for Alonso? For the sake of Formula 1, one can only hope. It is a real pity that one of the true greats of the sport has had such poor luck with cars. Unfortunately, 2015 doesn’t look like being the year his fortunes will change.

Ferrari unveils 2014 F1 car

Ferrari F14 T (Image: Ferrari)

Ferrari F14 T (Image: Ferrari)

The latest Formula One car to be unveiled in the 2014 pre-season is the Ferrari F14 T, the car that will be driven by Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen in this year’s World Championship.

As with all of the cars revealed thus far, the most striking feature of the F14 T is the nose, although Ferrari have gone with a different solution to that seen on the Williams, McLaren and Lotus cars. Whereas its rivals have generally gone with very thin ends to the nose, Ferrari have gone for a wider, flatter nose, which makes the car the most attractive (the word is used cautiously) to be unveiled yet.

Ferrari F14 T (Image: Ferrari)

Ferrari F14 T (Image: Ferrari)

Ferrari are the first team to show images of the rear-end of their 2014 car. However, it appears that they have fitted a dummy diffuser for the photographs. As the diffuser produces a significant amount of downforce, it is not unusual for the teams to keep their diffusers under wraps as far as possible before the season starts.

The rear-end image shows the rear-exiting exhaust well. The lower beam wing seen on F1 cars from previous years is conspicuous by its absence, as it has been outlawed by the regulations for this season.

In terms of other noticeable changes on the car, the sidepods are larger than on last year’s car, as required by the regulations, and the front wing is narrower.

The F14 T will make its testing debut in Jerez, Spain on Tuesday 28 January.

Click here for the full image gallery of the F14 T.

 

Ferrari F14 T Image Gallery

Alonso quickest in shortened FP1 in Austin

Fernando Alonso was fastest in a delayed and shortened FP1 in Austin, Texas (Image: Ferrari)

Fernando Alonso was fastest in a delayed and shortened FP1 in Austin, Texas (Image: Ferrari)

Fernando Alonso set the pace in a delayed and shortened Free Practice 1 session at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Jenson Button was second fastest for McLaren, ahead of Valtteri Bottas, who was third for Williams.

The circuit was shrouded in heavy mist at the scheduled start time of the session. The conditions were too poor for the medical helicopter to take off, which meant the start of the session had to be delayed.

40 minutes after the scheduled start time, conditions had improved enough for practice to get underway. It was announced at that point that the session would be shortened to an hour as a result of the late start. Heikki Kovalainen was first out on track, keen to get as much mileage under his belt as he acclimatizes to the Lotus team after being drafted in to replace Kimi Raikkonen, who has undergone surgery on his back and is out for the remainder of the season.

All of the drivers did at least one lap before returning to the pits. The McLarens of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez made good use of the early running time, racking up as many laps as possible in the 15 minutes before the red flag came out and the session was stopped.

The cause of the stoppage was soon revealed: the medical helicopter, quite apart from not being able to take off, had not even arrived. The session had only started at all because the helicopter had apparently been on its way to the track, but when the drivers started to set quick lap times and the helicopter had not arrived, race control had no choice but to halt the session on the grounds of safety.

Half an hour later the medical helicopter finally arrived and the session could continue. When the green flag came out, there were just 32 minutes remaining in the session, as it had to be further shortened to finish by 11am local time, as F1 regulations require a break of at least 2 hours between F1 sessions and FP2 is scheduled for 2pm.

At the end of the combined 47 minute practice session, Fernando Alonso was quickest for Ferrari, demonstrating that his aching back is not affecting his ability to drive on the limit. Jenson Button completed 25 laps, more than any other driver, and set the second fastest lap time in the session. Valtteri Bottas was an impressive third for Williams.

Heikki Kovalainen, in his first practice session for Lotus, was just a quarter of a second off the pace of his team-mate, Romain Grosjean. Considering that Kovalainen had never driven the Lotus E21 before today, that is an impressive performance from the Finn.

Daniil Kvyat made his F1 weekend debut, driving Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso in FP1 just a week after earning his FIA Super Licence. Kvyat will race for Toro Rosso in 2014. Other drivers who subbed in for the session were Rodolfo Gonzalez, who drove Jules Bianchi’s Marussia, and Alexander Rossi, who took over Giedo van der Garde’s Caterham in front of his home crowd.

Gonzalez coasted to a halt in the closing stages of the session as his Marussia’s engine switched off to protect itself from imminent failure. That was the only on-track incident of the session.

Full result from FP1:

Pos No Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:38.343 16
2 5 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:38.371 0.028 25
3 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1:38.388 0.045 17
4 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1:38.532 0.189 18
5 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:38.657 0.314 21
6 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:38.979 0.636 21
7 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:39.005 0.662 17
8 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:39.083 0.740 17
9 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1:39.158 0.815 17
10 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1:39.200 0.857 15
11 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:39.238 0.895 13
12 6 Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1:39.256 0.913 17
13 7 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1:39.487 1.144 18
14 15 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:39.699 1.356 15
15 14 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:39.836 1.493 15
16 19 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 1:39.863 1.520 19
17 18 Daniil Kvyat STR-Ferrari 1:40.065 1.722 20
18 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:40.662 2.319 21
19 21 Alexander Rossi Caterham-Renault 1:41.399 3.056 21
20 23 Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1:41.605 3.262 19
21 20 Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1:42.054 3.711 19
22 22 Rodolfo Gonzalez Marussia-Cosworth 1:43.716 5.373 17
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