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.
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.
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 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.
The youngest triple World Champion in F1 history is set to become the youngest four-time World Champion at the end of this season. Sebastian Vettel just keeps on winning, and stretching his championship lead. With six races remaining in the season, Vettel is now 60 points ahead of main title rival Fernando Alonso and it’s becoming less and less likely that the Ferrari driver will be able to do anything about the German’s dominance this year.
To put Vettel’s lead into practical terms, let’s take a look at what his rivals must do in order to beat him this season:
Alonso is second in the championship, 60 points behind Vettel. With six races remaining in the season, that means Alonso has to score an average of 10 points more than Vettel per race until the year is over. Plus one point, of course. That’s the equivalent of Alonso winning and Vettel finishing third at each remaining race (If Alonso does that, he only needs to equal Vettel’s points tally, as he will then have more wins, 8, than Vettel, currently on 7).
If Alonso finishes second at each remaining race, Vettel must finish sixth, and once Vettel must finish lower than sixth. If Alonso finishes third, Vettel must be eighth. If Alonso finishes fourth, Vettel must finish ninth, and have one result worse than ninth. If Alonso finishes fifth or lower at every race left in the 2013 season, Vettel will be World Champion, unless of course one of the other title contenders pulls off one of the miracles listed below.
Hamilton is third in the championship, 96 points behind Vettel. Hamilton must score an average of 16 points more than Vettel at each remaining round, plus 1 more point, in order to be World Champion. Let’s leave the gap to Alonso out of this calculation, as it will just get too complicated.
If Hamilton wins each remaining race and Vettel finishes sixth or lower, Hamilton will win the title. If Hamilton finishes second and Vettel ninth each time, plus one tenth or worse for Vettel, Hamilton will be World Champion. However, if Hamilton finishes an average of third or lower, he is out of the title race, regardless of what Vettel does in the remaining races.
Raikkonen is in the same boat as Hamilton, being just two points behind the Mercedes driver. The only difference is Raikkonen needs Vettel to finish tenth or lower three times or worse rather than just once in the event that Raikkonen finishes second at each remaining race.
Webber is fourth in the championship, 117 points behind Vettel. That means he has to score 19.5 more points per race than Vettel if he is to overhaul his team-mate in the title race. If Webber wins each remaining race, he has to hope that Vettel finishes an average of eighth or lower. If Vettel scores 8 more points than Webber at the next race in Korea, Webber will be mathematically out of the title race.
Rosberg is the last driver in the points table who could still, in theory, beat Vettel to the 2013 title. Vettel is 131 points ahead of Rosberg with six races remaining. If Rosberg wins each race and Vettel finishes ninth or lower each time, Rosberg can be World Champion. However, if Rosberg does not finish at least 6 points ahead of Vettel at the next race in Korea, he will no longer be in contention (realistically or otherwise) for the 2013 title.
Realistically, only Alonso is in with a chance, and it’s a small chance at that. But a single retirement from Vettel could suddenly bring Alonso back into contention. A 60 point gap with 6 races remaining seems enormous. A 35 point gap (which is what it would be if Alonso were to win and Vettel score no points in Korea) with 5 races remaining seems slightly less daunting. Another retirement for Vettel with a win for Alonso would see it fall to 10 points.
At the earliest, Vettel could be crowned 2013 World Champion in Japan on 13 October. That’s if he wins the next two rounds (Korea and Japan) and Alonso scores 10 points or fewer in those two races combined. What happens to the other contenders in those two races is immaterial in that scenario.
So the title race is not over, not by any means, but the odds are stacked heavily in Vettel’s favour. It’s unlikely that he will take the title in Japan, but he could do so at the next race in India. That’s if Vettel wins the next three races, no matter where Alonso finishes.
Sebastian Vettel has taken his third win in a row in 2013, and his third consecutive win in Singapore, with a display of dominance hardly seen since the era of Michael Schumacher at Ferrari. Such was Vettel’s pace, he was over two seconds a lap faster than the rest of the field at points in the race where he needed to build up a gap. He led every lap of the race from pole position, and set the fastest lap on the way to victory. Fernando Alonso finished second for Ferrari, with Kimi Raikkonen third for Lotus.
Not even Fernando Alonso could challenge Vettel for victory today. Alonso was simply the best of the rest, taking second place as a result of a stunning start and bold tyre strategy. After qualifying seventh yesterday, Alonso rocketed off the line when the lights went out in Sunday’s race and emerged from the first three corners in third place. But he didn’t have the pace to challenge Vettel and Rosberg ahead, and was only able to finish in front of Rosberg due to the safety car.
On lap 25, Daniel Ricciardo made a mistake on the entry to turn 18 and ploughed into the barrier on the outside of the corner. As Ricciardo’s car was stuck on the track around a blind corner, there was no choice for race control but to deploy the safety car. As soon as that happened, a number of drivers streamed into the pits to change tyres, among them Alonso and Raikkonen. Both Red Bulls stayed out on track, as did both Mercedes drivers.
It soon became clear what the plan was for those drivers who pitted under the safety car: They intended to run to the end of the race without pitting again. Considering that the safety car period ended at the end of lap 30, that meant those drivers would have to do 31 racing laps on a single set of tyres to make it to the end of the 61 lap race. Pirelli confirmed to the BBC commentary team that it was possible, but the tyres would be right on the edge of grip by the end of the race.
And so it proved to be for many of the drivers who attempted the bold strategy. Jenson Button and Sergio Perez found themselves going backwards in the last few laps, from third and fifth with ten laps to go, to seventh and eighth by the chequered flag. Nonetheless, it was another good haul of points for McLaren, who are looking good for fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship this season.
Alonso and Raikkonen made the strategy work. Whether through superior driving or simply having cars that were gentler on their tyres, Alonso and Raikkonen managed to drive the entire second half of the race on a single set of medium tyres each. For Alonso, that meant being patient after the safety car until the two Mercedes drivers and Mark Webber made their second pit stops. For Raikkonen it meant he had to push hard and make some aggressive passing moves. Most notably, Raikkonen passed Jenson Button around the outside of turn 14 on his way to securing a podium place.
Raikkonen’s drive was more than a little impressive. He qualified 13th yesterday after back pain compromised his setup work in third practice. But in the race he used his bold tyre strategy and some skilled, aggressive driving to fight through the field, all the while preserving his tyres so that he could avoid a pitstop in the last 31 laps of the race. He said on the podium that his back had not been too bad during the race, but was starting to hurt once he got out of the car. Sore back or not, it was a storming drive by the popular Finn.
The driver who lost out most in the safety car period was Nico Rosberg. After a stunning start, Rosberg led for a few metres before running wide at turn 1 and losing position to pole-sitter and eventual winner Sebastian Vettel. Rosberg was then in a secure second place until the safety car came out. At that point, Mercedes had a decision to make: pit under the safety car and try to run to the end of the race, or stick with the plan and stop for a second time later on. They chose the latter option, based on their expectation that the Mercedes W04 would not be able to make its tyres last to the end of the race.
Rosberg pitted from second place on lap 41, and from then on found himself chasing after cars who were not intending to stop again. Somewhat bizarrely, Rosberg and his race engineer had a small argument on the team radio, when Rosberg was told to push to make sure he could capitalise on a possible last minute stop for Alonso. Rosberg was adamant that he needed to preserve his tyres, and disagreed with his engineer for a few corners to the general entertainment of television audiences who got to hear the conversation.
In the final laps of the race, Rosberg and Hamilton, who had pitted two laps after his team-mate, found themselves coming across cars who were running out of grip. The two Mercedes drivers were quite effective at fighting through the traffic and ended up fourth and fifth by the end of the race.
Mark Webber was the unfortunate victim of unreliability in his Red Bull. Like the Mercedes drivers, Webber spent his last stint on fresh tyres fighting through the field. It looked like he had the pace to reach the podium, but a few laps from the end he was told by his team to short-shift (i.e. change gear early, instead of waiting for the engine revs to reach their limit before up-shifting). The instruction was repeated with increasing urgency, suggesting that Webber had a gearbox problem. On the penultimate lap, it was clear that something was very wrong, and Webber confirmed over the team radio that he had lost power. Nonetheless, he attempted to complete the final lap, although by that stage he was so slow that drivers who had been quite far behind were passing him easily.
While he was cruising around on the final lap, Webber’s Red Bull caught fire, presumably as a result of a fuel or oil leak related to his lack of power. He pulled off and jumped out of the car while flames licked at the bodywork of the Red Bull. The retirement cost Webber fourth place and 12 championship points.
To add insult to injury, Webber was handed a reprimand for rejoining the track without the permission of the marshals after the race. Webber accepted a lift back to the pits on Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari, but apparently breached the regulations in the process. Alonso also received a reprimand, for stopping on the track against the instructions of the marshals, and causing two cars to take evasive action as a result. Webber’s reprimand is his third of the season, which means he will receive a 10-place grid penalty for the next race in Korea.
Felipe Massa had a strong if sligthly frustrated drive to sixth place from sixth on the grid. Massa made a flying start, but found his way blocked in turns one to three and could not capitalise on his surge off the line. He spent almost the entire race trying to pass one car or another, but on the tight Marina Bay street circuit, passing was always going to be difficult. When the safety car came out, Massa pitted, just as Alonso did. But Ferrari chose to split their strategies, sending Alonso out on the medium tyres in the hope of making it to the end of the race without another stop, while Massa put on a set of supersoft tyres, intending to make another stop for supersoft tyres later in the race.
As it happened, Massa ended up stuck behind Paul Di Resta, who was also on supersoft tyres, in the period after the safety car. When it was time for Massa’s final pit stop, Di Resta also pitted, which meant Massa faced the prospect of staring at Di Resta’s gearbox until the end of the race. But Di Resta crashed out in turn 7 in the final few laps of the race, releasing Massa to chase after the cars ahead that were on older tyres. He made up a few places and finished sixth, where he had started.
Nico Hulkenberg had a frustrating race for Sauber. He made a very strong start and found himself battling with the two McLarens early on. At one point, Sergio Perez tried to pass him in turn 7, but Hulkenberg did not yield and held position around the outside. On the exit of the corner, Hulkenberg bottomed out on the kerb and ran off the track. He rejoined without losing position. The stewards ruled that he had gained an advantage by running off the track, which seemed very harsh considering that Perez had at no point been ahead of Hulkenberg and there seemed to be some minor contact between them as Hulkenberg ran wide.
But there was nothing Hulkenberg could do about the decision, and he had no choice but to yield to Perez. He spent the rest of the race behind the McLarens, eventually finishing in ninth place to collect another two points in a season that has been tough for the young German in an underperforming Sauber.
The final points position went to Force India’s Adrian Sutil. He had a fairly uneventful race but found himself at the back of the train of cars that included the McLarens at the end of the race. At that point, however, his tyres were starting to go off and he had no way of getting past Hulkenberg and had to settle for tenth place.
Full results from the Singapore Grand Prix:
|1||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||61||1:59:13.132||1||25|
|2||3||Fernando Alonso||Ferrari||61||+32.6 secs||7||18|
|3||7||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus||61||+43.9 secs||13||15|
|4||9||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes||61||+51.1 secs||2||12|
|5||10||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||61||+53.1 secs||5||10|
|6||4||Felipe Massa||Ferrari||61||+63.8 secs||6||8|
|7||5||Jenson Button||McLaren||61||+83.3 secs||8||6|
|8||6||Sergio Perez||McLaren||61||+83.8 secs||14||4|
|9||11||Nico Hulkenberg||Sauber||61||+84.2 secs||11||2|
|10||15||Adrian Sutil||Force India||61||+84.6 secs||15||1|
|11||16||Pastor Maldonado||Williams||61||+88.4 secs||18|
|12||12||Esteban Gutierrez||Sauber||61||+97.8 secs||10|
|13||17||Valtteri Bottas||Williams||61||+105.161 secs||16|
|14||18||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||61||+113.512 secs||12|
|15||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull||60||Engine||4|
|16||21||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham||60||+1 Lap||20|
|17||23||Max Chilton||Marussia||60||+1 Lap||22|
|18||22||Jules Bianchi||Marussia||60||+1 Lap||21|
|19||20||Charles Pic||Caterham||60||+1 Lap||19|
|20||14||Paul di Resta||Force India||54||Accident||17|
|Ret||19||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso||23||Accident||9|