Magnussen in, Maldonado out at Renault

Renault F1 Team have officially announced Kevin Magnussen as their second driver for the 2016 Formula 1 Season after sponsorship payment negotiations with Pastor Maldonado fell through.

Maldonado had a lucrative sponsorship agreement with PDVSA, a petrol company in his native Venezuela, thought to be worth somewhere in the region of $46Million per year, but it appears the change of ownership at Lotus/Renault, combined with PDVSA’s president Rafael Ramírez moving from his position in a government re-shuffle in 2014, has prompted an annulment of the contract.

The Venezuelan has been at the Enstone-based team (formerly known as Lotus) for the past two years. He joined F1 in 2011 with Williams, and made history with them in 2012 by winning the Spanish Grand Prix. It was not only his first win, but the first win in F1 history for a Venezuelan driver, and the first for Williams in seven-and-a-half years.

Pastor became the fifth different race winner in 2012 with his magnificent win. Photo: Cahier Archive
Pastor became the fifth different race winner in 2012 with his magnificent win. Photo: Cahier Archive

However, he also picked up a reputation for colliding with drivers, spawning websites such as Has Maldonado Crashed Today? and the Twitter account Did Maldonado Crash. His most notable collision(s) were arguably with Esteban Gutierrez, whom he flipped upside-down at the 2014 Bahrain GP, and Lewis Hamilton, with whom he collided on the penultimate lap of the 2012 European GP while both fought for a podium position.

His replacement, Magnussen, last participated in F1 when he deputised for Fernando Alonso at last year’s Australian Grand Prix, although his McLaren-Honda engine expired before he even made it to the grid. Before that, he had a stellar 2014 campaign with the British team alongside Jenson Button, the highlight of which was a second-place podium finish on his debut in Australia.

Magnussen_2014_Italy_06_PHC
Magnussen at the Italian GP in 2014. Photo: Cahier Archive

Magnussen has looked a shoo-in to replace Alonso or Button at McLaren as the pair come towards the end of their F1 careers, but he was unceremoniously dropped from McLaren’s roster on his birthday late last year.

It means that Renault will have one of the most inexperienced driver pairings in the sport in 2016, with Magnussen partnering 2014 GP2 Champion Jolyon Palmer. Magnussen will resume the use of car number 20, while Palmer will take the vacant number 30 which he has used in test and practice sessions.

Magnussen crashes in FP2 | 2015 Australian Grand Prix – Free Practice 2

Mercedes led the way again in FP2 ahead of the Australian GP in Melbourne, but a crash for Kevin Magnussen at Turn 6 was the main focal point of the session.

The Dane, deputising this weekend for the recovering Fernando Alonso, took too much speed into Turn 6, lost the rear end, and careened into the wall after a jaunt through the gravel. He was unhurt, but his car was not so fortunate, and with a broken front-left corner, he was out of the session.

It brought the red flag out for the first time this season, but when the session was resumed, the drama did not stop.

After so much turbulence in the run up to the weekend, Sauber needed to get some time on the board after neither driver ran in FP1. However, this was not to be the case.

Marcus Ericsson exited the final corner with 40 minutes gone, but the car reacted strangely, and the left-rear suspension broke. The Swede was unfortunate enough to have to complete an entire lap in this condition, during which the tyre began rubbing violently against the bodywork, creating a large amount of smoke.

Ferrari showed some impressive pace on the medium tyre before switching to the soft, the latter of which was the tyre that everyone set their best lap on.

Jenson Button managed better running that in the first session, but reported a loss of power late on. Couple that with blue flags for apparently being too slow in front of Valtteri Bottas

Felipe Massa was unable to get out in FP2 due to a water leak. He was joined in the ‘no running club’ by Daniel Ricciardo who had an engine change, and both Manor drivers.

Times from Practice 2

1) Rosberg, Mercedes, 1.27.697 (29 Laps)
2) Hamilton, Mercedes, 1.27.797 (25 Laps)
3) Vettel, Ferrari, 1.28.412 (33 Laps)
4) Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1.28.842 (33 Laps)
5) Bottas, Williams, 1.29.265 (32 Laps)
6) Kvyat, Red Bull, Kvyat, 1.30.016 (27 Laps)
7) Sainz Jr, Toro Rosso, 1.30.071 (41 Laps)
8) Maldonado, Lotus, 1.30.104 (11 Laps)
9) Grosjean, Lotus, 1.30.205 (37 Laps)
10) Hulkenberg, Force India, 1.30.473 (30 Laps)
11) Nasr, Sauber, 1.30.755 (33 Laps)
12) Perez, Force India, 1.30.980 (32 Laps)
13) Button, McLaren, 1.31.387 (21 Laps)
14) Verstappen, Toro Rosso, 1.31.395 (6 Laps)
15) Ericsson, Sauber, 1.32.303 (14 Laps)
16) Magnussen, McLaren, 1.33.289 (4 Laps)

– No Time –

Ricciardo, Red Bull
Massa, Williams
Stevens, Manor
Merhi, Manor

Vettel signs for Ferrari and the dominos fall once more

Reigning and 4-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel is to leave Red Bull at the end of the current season for a place at Ferrari in 2015.

The move was announced on Saturday, October 4th, just before Qualifying at the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka. Reportedly, Vettel summoned team boss Christian Horner to his hotel room, where the pair talked about the upcoming departure, one which is said to be emotional for Horner.

The move is seismic as it marks the first time that a front-running team has announced a change in its team next year. Schumacher’s second retierement caused the cascade in 2012, and in 2013 it was Maldonado’s shift to Lotus that opened the silly season floodgates, but the first domino has now been toppled in 2014.

After just a single season at the junior team Toro Rosso, Daniil Kvyat is to take Vettel’s empty space at Red Bull, it is understood.

THE DOMINOS

Make no mistake, silly season is here, and the domino effect will filter its way down the pack, forcing some talented drivers out, and bringing some new faces too. The move means that at least one of Ferrari’s two current drivers, Alonso and Raikkonen, will be moved out.

Here’s a quick look at some of the drivers that could be moving around.

ALONSO

640px-Fernando_Alonso_Bahrain

Alonso is being linked with a move back to McLaren. With Honda engines and a squadron of talented chaps at the heart of the Woking team, there is no reason that Alonso would not choose to go back to his 2007 home. Ferrari set the absolute standard in F1, being the only ever-present team and holder of most championship wins. Alonso is regarded by many as the best driver in the sport, and when you combine the two, it seems like a certainty that Alonso should have added another World Championship to his resume; a change of scenery might do him good, and now that that pesky Hamilton chap is no longer at McLaren, it could be the best place for him.

Failing to sign for a top team, Alonso also has the possible, but unlikely option of a sabbatical, which would see him sit out of the sport for a year. His current team mate (See below) was the last driver to take a sabbatical from the sport, and it paid off quite well. When Raikkonen left the ailing Ferrari in 2009, he returned to win two races for Lotus, before re-signing. They say every cloud has a silver lining – perhaps a sabbatical would herald a silver car, be that a McLaren, or even a Mercedes.

 

RAIKKONEN

800px-Kimi_Räikkönen_Moscow_2013_cropped

So, where next for the Finn? Some doubt that The Iceman’s will to stay in F1 extends beyond the end of the current season. A season of lacklustre performances have alienated Raikkonen a little, squandering one of the most sought-after seats on the grid, something not lost on the Ferrari team, who have development drivers in their sights. Jules Bianchi’s name is thrown up a lot when it comes to future talent. The Frenchman has tested for Ferrari many times, most recently at the mid-season test in Silverstone, and with Marussia’s Ferrari customer engines, the link is very clear. Of course, after his horrific crash in Japan, the Frenchman taking this seat is incredibly unlikely.

 

VERGNE

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Verstappen is coming in to the picture in 2015. Now that the Frenchman has been snubbed at Red Bull for the second time in as many years, he will have to drag his STR9 to unfathomable heights to even remain in the sport. Antonio Felix da Costa is one of the names touted to replace him at Toro Rosso if he is unable to impress the Red Bull bosses.

 

 

 

 

 

MAGNUSSEN

Kevin_Magnussen_2012-2

If Alonso’s only real option is McLaren (the Spaniard has stated that he does not wish to drive for Williams or Lotus) then one of the current McLaren drivers may have to face the axe. It would be a bitter pill to swallow for Magnussen who has only this year joined the McLaren team, to be booted out just a year later, as was the case with 2013 signing Sergio Perez. The young Dane has impressed with a very mature attitude this season. He had a meteoric start to his career with a majestic podium in Australia, finishing third and later inheriting second after Ricciardo was disqualified, but has lingered lower down the points ever since.

 

 

BUTTON

220px-Jenson_Button_bahrain_2012

F1’s current oldest driver has endured a couple of tough seasons at McLaren. Despite his inherited third place in Australia (See above) the 2009 Champ has not stood upon the rostrum since winning the season-closing 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix. The Interlagos track saw his best result of last season with fourth. It’s also the track at which he clinched his World Championship. With Brazil coming up in two races’ time, the end of the season could make or break his contract. McLaren have been typically coy about their driver signings; they have not let anything slip thus far, and have no drivers signed for 2015.

Rapid Ricciardo takes second consecutive win | 2014 Belgian GP Report

Daniel Ricciardo won his third grand prix of the season (and of his career) at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix. The Aussie avoided trouble and kept a cool head in a race which saw Championship leaders Hamilton and Rosberg collide, with the Brit eventually retiring. Rosberg recovered to take second, and the podium was completed by Valtteri Bottas.

LAP GUIDE

Last year I made a lap guide to help people get to know the corner names at Spa, so here’s Lewis Hamilton’s Pole lap from 2013.

BACKGROUND

There was a new boy in at Caterham for the Belgian GP; German endurance racer Andre Lotterer got his F1 debut in place of Kamui Kobayashi. Max Chilton was due to be swapped out for American Alex Rossi, but the Marussia line-up was only altered for the first practice session. You can read more about the swaps here, and also about Toro Rosso’s new driver for 2015.

Saturday’s qualifying event was a wet-dry affair; Spa’s famous micro-climate playing its usual part. One of the biggest surprises of Q1 was Jules Bianchi making it in to the next session ahead of Nico Hulkenberg. Both are favourites to replace Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari next year after a disappointing return to the team, and clearly this round went to Bianchi, in a much less-competitive car.

At the business end of the grid, Rosberg took Pole ahead of Hamilton, with a resurgent Sebastian Vettel due to start third. The top five teams dominated Q3 and ensured there was no room for anyone else, with both McLarens making the cut for only the fifth time this year.

RACE DAY

The teams started the day as usual, but Ferrari were already in trouble. The mechanics for Fernando Alonso’s car were on the grid after the two-minute warning (at which point team personnel must leave the grid) and so the Spaniard collected a 5-second Stop/Go penalty before he had even turned a corner.

At the start, Hamilton made a fantastic start and powered past his team mate. Further back, Q1 sensation Bianchi made contact with new boy Lotterer, leaving the Frenchman with a puncture, and the German out. Fellow German Vettel fared much better, though. He passed Rosberg after a fantastic start, and then hounded Hamilton. He pulled alongside, and the TV graphic momentarily showed him ahead, but Hamilton maintained the advantage.

At Les Combe, the first corner after the long straight, Vettel went wide, allowing Rosberg to get back past. However, the next time round, things did not go so smoothly. Rosberg chased Hamilton once more. On the outside of the corner, he attempted to cut back behind, but the cut he actually made was to his team mate’s tyre. Hamilton had to drag his wounded Mercedes back to the pits, falling to 19th position, and damaging the floor in the process.

On Lap 4, Daniel Ricciardo made short work of Fernando Alonso, squeezing past for 3rd in the DRS zone. Not long after, The Aussie was right behind his own team mate. When Vettel went wide at Pouhon corner (a rare mistake for the Weltmeister) Ricciardo did not waste any time, and claimed what was then second place. His ascendency was all but complete when Rosberg pitted for tyres on Lap 9, earlier than was expected. Ricciardo had the lead.

On lap 10, Adrian Sutil’s car flicked up a piece of shredded tyre, likely from Bianchi’s car. The rubber tangled itself around Rosberg’s radio antenna, distracting him. He attempted to rip the rubber away while passing Sutil and travelling at 200mph, but was unable to, and had to get it taken off during his next pit stop.

Alonso’s race was a little quiet – he made a decent getaway at the start, but since then he had faded in to the background somewhat. That was until he pulled a cracking move around the outside of Sergio Perez at the Rivage corner, a very tight, second-gear hairpin.

Pit stops came and went, and positions remained relatively similar, Ricciardo maintaining a decent advantage over Rosberg. Puncture pals Bianchi and Hamilton (Who both suffered popped tyres on laps 1 & 2 respectively retired with six laps to go, their ruined afternoons compounded by gearbox issues.

The racing appeared to be over, until a dramatic scrap for fifth place, with Magnussen led a group of Button, Alonso, and Vettel. Along the Kemmel Straight, Alonso went for the right, but Magnussen blocked, and the Ferrari had to take desperate avoiding action on the grass. Button and Vettel looked on in hope of a chance, so a few corners later when Magnussen defended and pushed Alonso wide, the other two took full advantage. Button then tried his luck against Magnussen but also found no room, which let Vettel and Alonso past him.

Vettel eventually got the better of all three other drivers, but Magnussen’s impressive defense skills were deemed too feisty by the stewards, and they handed him a 25-second penalty. That promoted everyone up a place from 6th down, and meant that Nico Hulkenberg got the final point. Magnussen finished 12th.

FINISHING POSITIONS

1) D Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing
2) N Rosberg, Mercedes AMG
3) V Bottas, Williams
4) K Raikkonen, Ferrari
5) S Vettel, Red Bull Racing
6) J Button, McLaren
7) F Alonso, Ferrari
8) S Perez, Force India
9) D Kvyat, Toro Rosso10) N Hulkenberg, Force India
11) JE Vergne, Toro Rosso
12) K Mahnussen, McLaren
13) F Massa, Williams
14) A Sutil, Force India
15) E Gutierrez, Sauber
16) M Chilton, Marussia
17) M Ericsson, Caterham

OUT/ UNCLASSIFIED

J Bianchi, Marussia (Gearbox)
L Hamilton, Mercedes AMG (Gearbox)
R Grosjean, Lotus ( Battery)
A Lotterer, Caterham (Electrics)
P Maldonado, Lotus (Exhaust)

The next race will take place at the historic Monza Park in Italy, the home of the Tifosi, and will occur on September 7.

Rosberg dominant in Deutschland | 2014 German GP Report

Newly-married Nico Rosberg has increased his Championship lead by winning a hectic German Grand Prix on Sunday, ahead of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas. It follows the trend for Mercedes drivers to win their home race, a feat accomplished by Hamilton in Britain a fortnight ago. The Brit finished 3rd on Sunday, climbing through the field after a disastrous qualifying session.

BACKGROUND

The last race in Hockenheim was in 2012, and saw a win for Fernando Alonso. However, last year’s German Grand Prix (held at the Nurburgring) was a closely-fought race between Vettel and Raikkonen, culminating in another home-grown winner.

Qualifying was a day of mixed fortunes for the home team, as Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg grabbed pole. By contrast, the session also included a big crash for Lewis Hamilton in the arena section when his front right brake disc exploded, launching him into the gravel and eventually the barrier. This left him 15th on the grid, until a change of gearbox and brakes dropped him to 20th on the grid.

RACE DAY

Sunday arrived, but the predicted thundery weather did not. At the start, Rosberg and Magnussen got away well from 1st and 4th respectively. K-Mag looked to take advantage of the slow-starting Felipe Massa at the first turn, but neither had quite enough space. The result was another first lap retirement for Massa – he hit the front left wheel of the Dane’s car, and flipped upside down.

With so much mayhem, the Safety Car was inevitable, and led the field for a couple of laps. Daniel Ricciardo lost out the most from the incident. Staring 5th, the Aussie had to take to the gravel to miss the flying Williams, and slumped to 15th. Hamilton had got to 17th after the start, leaving the duo to scythe their ways through the pack.

After the restart the action did not die down, as Lewis quickly dispatched the Marussia of Max Chilton. Hammy and Danny then both pounced on Adrian Sutil at the hairpin. The Red Bull driver made it through cleanly, but Hamilton’s lunge was a little later, and Sutil made light contact with him.

Kvyat and Perez were the next two to tangle at turn turn 7. The young Russian has not made many mistakes in his rookie year despite being just 19, but this time, he gave Perez no room, tried to overtake on the outside, and subsequently spun himself after making contact with Checo.

Raikkonen was next on the hit lists of Hamilton and Ricciardo. On Lap 13 Ricciardo managed to get past Kimi, but Hamilton’s ambition was even greater. Again using the hairpin as his overtaking point, he made himself three-wide with Raikkonen and Ricciardo, squeezing against Kimi and knocking a small piece of front wing off. The result was Hamilton getting past both drivers, and though a little scruffy, it was surely one of the overtakes of the season so far.

After being overtaken by two cars, Raikkonen’s confidence must have taken a hit – an assumption that was all but confirmed when exactly the same thing happened just two laps later. Vettel emerged from the pits and found himself behind Raikkonen but ahead of Alonso. Sebastian and Fernando both got DRS and once again mugged Kimi at the hairpin. The Iceman made even more contact, bumping both cars and losing more of his front wing.

Fast forward to lap 30, and former team mates Button and Hamilton were close to one another. Lewis made a lunge at – you guessed it –  the hairpin, but instead of a textbook overtake, collided with his compatriot’s sidepod. The next lap saw him get past cleanly, passing the McLaren before the corner itself. In a sporting gesture, Lewis put his hand up to apologise for the contact, and moved onwards.

The damage to their friendship had been salvaged, but Lewis’ car was in a less than favourable condition. The contact had removed one of his front wing end plates, and it was hurting his tyres badly, meaning he had to pit for an extra set later on.

Those with tickets for the grandstand at the hairpin definitely got their money’s worth, as on Lap 46 Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso cried enough, erupting into flames at the hairpin. An Oil leak was the end to his first German Grand Prix, and it caused a great deal of fire to spew from the Renault power unit’s bowels.

Adrian Sutil’s featureless season continued when he lost the back end of his car coming out of the final corner. He tried to spin his car around to resume his race to 15th place, but the engine cut out and he was stranded in the middle of the track. The German decided not to try and move his car to a safer place and instead abandoned it, expecting a Safety Car. Bizarrely, no Safety Car was deployed, and Marshalls had to run across the track to move the stricken Sauber.

It was easy to forget that Nico Rosberg was even racing, such was the ease with which he won. It was the first time since 1939 that a German driver in a German car had won the German Grand Prix, but 75 years on, young Nico had made some history, and improved his championship gap while he was at it. Valtteri Bottas clung on to take his third podium finish in a row, and the 3o0th for the Williams team. He was chased all the way by a spirited Lewis Hamilton, whose drive from 20th to 3rd shows why he is not out of the title fight in the slightest.

FINISHING POSITIONS

1) N Rosberg, Mercedes AMG
2) V Bottas, Williams
3) L Hamilton, Mercedes AMG
4) S Vettel, Red Bull Racing
5) F Alonso, Ferrari
6) D Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing
7) N Hulkenberg, Force India
8) J Button, McLaren
9) K Magnussen, McLaren
10) S Perez, Force India
11) K Raikkonen, Ferrari
12) P Maldonado, Lotus
13) JE Vergne, Toro Rosso
14) E Gutierrez, Sauber
15) J Bianchi, Marussia
16) K Kobayashi, Caterham
17) M Chilton, Marussia
18) M Ericsson, Caterham

NOT CLASSIFIED

A Sutil, Sauber (Spin)
D Kvyat, Toro Rosso (Oil Leak)
R Grosjean, Lotus (Water Leak)
F Massa, Williams (Collision)
The results put Rosberg 14 points clear of Hamilton in the standings, and both are well clear of Daniel Ricciardo who lies 3rd in the standings. Alonso is in fourth, with the rising star of Valtteri Bottas just eight points behind, in fifth.

The next race will take place just one week later on July 27, from the Hungaroring in Budapest, Hungary.

Rosberg rampant in Monaco | 2014 Monaco Grand Prix Race Report

Nico Rosberg kept a cool head through several incidents and pressure from Hamilton to win the Monaco Grand Prix for the second year in a row. Hamilton suffered vision loss when a piece of debris got in his left eye and nearly cost him second place to Daniel Ricciardo, who completed the podium. Elsehwere, Marussia F1 scored their first ever points thanks to Jules Bianchi’s 9th place finish.

BACKGROUND

Rosberg took Pole by less than a tenth of a second from his team mate on Saturday. The session ended in suspicious circumstances when Rosberg nearly crashed, and brought out the yellow flags, thus forcing his team to abandon his final run.

Marcus Ericsson was handed 2 penalty points and a pit lane start due to a crash with Felipe Massa in Q1.

See more about Qualifying and Practice.

RACE DAY

At the start, the Silver Arrows maintained their places, but Kimi Raikkonen surged forwards from 6th to 4th, nestling in behind his team mate. The cars made their way around the lap, but at Mirabaeu, Jenson Button and Sergio Perez tangled; the Mexican out on the spot. His Force India was stuck in the middle of the track and inevitably the Safety Car was deployed.

The Safety Car stayed out for two laps while the vehicle was cleared, and when it came in, demise was the order of the day for both Red Bulls – Raikkonen passed Ricciardo, and then Sebastian Vettel suffered a power failure which saw him drop to 20th. He came in for attemped repairs, but his RB10 was going nowhere fast, and he duly retired. Six laps later, another Renault-powered car retired; Daniil Kvyat.

Last year for Force India, Adrian Sutil made a lot of moves on a track which is nigh-on impossible to overtake. A change of team did not affect this for 2014, and after an early pit stop under the Safety Car, he made swift progress at the expense of Ericsson and Chilton. The German was looking to make progress through the back-markers, but on lap 26 he was pitched into the barriers when braking at the bumpy Nouvelle Chicane. Adrian was okay, but the track was littered with chunks of Sauber, and the Safety Car returned again.

The best overtake of the race came courtesy of Nico Hulkenberg on Kevin Magnussen, who somehow squeezed down the inside at the corner before the tunnel.

Raikkonen’s potential podium was wiped out when he got a puncture during the yellow flag period. He pitted and was down to 14th, so it was a comfort to him when he managed to pass Kamui Kobayashi at Rascasse. Jules Bianchi followed him through as well, something that paid dividends at the end of the race. Bianchi then went on to pass fellow Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne, but not too long after, Vergne retired with an engine failure.

Monaco usually has a higher rate of attrition than elsewhere, and Valtteri Bottas obliged that statistic less than a lap later, when his engine erupted into plumes of smoke too. Esteban Gutierrez added to the list of casualties too, clipping his rear wheel on the barrier at Rascasse and ruining his suspension.

In the later laps of the race Hamilton dropped back from Rosberg. The Brit had strangely got some debris in his eye, and suffered a loss of vision in his left eye. He dropped well back, and Daniel Ricciardo closed to within less than a second.

After his puncture, Raikkonen was keen to make up places, but an over-ambitious move on Magnussen saw the pair go ever so gently into the barrier. Both cars continued, but it let Jules Bianchi get up to P8. Bianchi would have finished there, but a 5 second penalty for being in the wrong grid slot dropped him behind Romain Grosjean. Still, a fantastic result for the team.

FINISHING POSITIONS

1) N Rosberg, Mercedes AMG
2) L Hamilton, Mercedes AMG
3) D Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing
4) F Alonso, Ferrari
5) N Hulkenberg, Force India
6) J Button, McLaren
7) F Massa, Williams
8) R Grosjean, Lotus
9) J Bianchi, Marussia
10) K Magnussen, McLaren
11) M Ericsson, Caterham
12) K Raikkonen, Ferrari
13) K Kobayashi, Caterham

OUT/ UNCLASSIFIED

E Gutierrez, Sauber (Accident)
V Bottas, Williams (Engine)
JE Vergne, Toro Rosso (Engine)
A Sutil, Sauber (Accident)
D Kvyat, Toro Rosso (Mechanical problem)
S Vettel, Red Bull Racing (MGU-H)
S Perez, Force India (Collision)
P Maldonado, Lotus (Did not start)

The result moves Rosberg back up to the top of the drivers’ standings by just 4 points. Alonso and Ricciardo follow, then German duo Hulkenberg and Vettel. The relationship between the Mercedes drivers appears to be getting more and more strained, as the childhood friends both push towards the Championship. Marussia’s first points sees them move ahead of not only nemesis Caterham, but unthinkably, established team Sauber.

The next race will be in Canada on June 8th.

Hamilton triumphant in scintillating Sakhir Showdown | 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix Report

Lewis Hamilton won yesterday’s Bahrain Grand Prix in fine style, fending off from his team-mate Nico Rosberg who was on much faster tyres. The Mercedes duo were merely a sliver of the action, as intense battles behind saw several drivers in contention for the final podium position; which was ultimately gained by Sergio Perez, claiming Force India’s second ever podium.

The third race of 2014 fell on the Bahrain International Circuit in the province of Sakhir. It would prove to be a race of many milestones, the 10th Anniversary of the Gulf Island’s first race, the 250th race for Jenson Button and perhaps most prestigious of all, the 900th Grand Prix in the history of the sport.

The inaugural event in 2004 was in drastically different circumstances, perhaps the fastest year in F1 history. Since then, four cylinders have been lopped off the cars and key individuals have come and gone. One such individual was Michael Schumacher, who happily showed signs of consciousness and awakening this week, giving hope to the millions of anxious fans who await his recovery from a skiing crash in December.

BACKGROUND

Mercedes had been dominant thus far and led the constructors by 25 points from McLaren. Rosberg topped the Drivers’ standings with 43 points, followed by his team-mate Hamilton who stood on 25, just ahead of Alonso with 24, and Button, holding 23 points.

The first back-to-back pairing of four this season meant there was little time to reflect on the events of Malaysia, in which the Mercedes cars were all-dominant. Daniel Ricciardo was informed he would receive a 10-place grid penalty for his unsafe release in Malaysia. For a personal opinion on that decision from the author, click here.

The Qualifying session under the lights saw a couple of shocks, in Vettel and Hulkenberg not progressing to Q3. Q1 will probably be best remembered for a near-collision between Sutil and Grosjean, the former of whom received a 5-place penalty. Rosberg and Hamilton, as you can expect, took the limelight, with the German marginally ahead.

RACE DAY

As darkness fell on the Sakhir track, the teams and drivers were all ready for the first ever night race in Bahrain.

At the start, Hamilton and Rosberg led away from the rest of the field. The Mercedes duo raced one another to the heavy braking zone of turn 4, where Lewis seized the lead. Just behind them, Felipe Massa surged past team mates past and present, getting the better of Raikkonen, Bottas and Perez to move into third. Further back Jean-Eric Vergne got clouted by Romain Grosjean, giving the Toro Rosso a puncture and the team a headache.

Disappointed with 12th in qualifying, Hulkenberg began to make up places. He’d got up to 9th after turn 1, and his first racing overtake came at the expense of Alonso, whose Ferrari seemed to be struggling in the heat. A few laps later he was following Button, and the pair of them manage to sneak past Valtteri Bottas.

Hulkenberg’s team-mate Perez was also highly motivated, and perhaps irked by losing out at the first corner, snatched back 3rd from fellow South American Massa. The podium looked set to be dominated by Mercedes all evening, with the Force India and Williams cars all looking extremely rapid.

Adrian Sutil was the first retirement of the race on Lap 17, after two smashes with Jules Bianchi’s Marussia. Sutil had been on the back foot all race after starting 22nd and last, so was keen to make up places. He banged wheels with the young Frenchman and rubbed off the yellow markings on one of his tyres, but got the pass done. However on the next lap, Bianchi came back at him, locked up, and shoved the Sauber off the track. Bianchi continued after a pit stop for a puncture, but Sutil’s damage was too great, an ailment shared by Jean-Eric Vergne who also retired. Vergne had been lapped pretty much straight away due to his incident at the first turn, but ever-decreasing pace signaled the end of his race.

The Force India and Williams cars formed a handsome train of four cars, with the orange and black machines leading the white ones. Four cars with identical engines all battling for third place – this was exactly what Formula One needed. Hulkenberg was leading his team-mate until a brave move by Perez through the quick chicane (what would prove to be his favourite corner on the track) relegated Nico to 4th. Then, while Bottas pitted, both Force Indias pulled an excellent double-overtake of Felipe Massa.

It was not a foregone conclusion up front either. Hamilton and Rosberg were barely a second apart and occasionally, Rosberg would lunge down Hamilton’s inside, only to brake slightly too late and give the advantage back. This would prove to be the story at the sharp end. Time and time again, Rosberg got close enough to look down the inside, but was always either too far back to make the move, or went too deep and once ahead, was quickly re-passed.

Turn 1 was the site of a lot of action during the race, and on lap 31, one of the more dramatic ones occurred. Following Kvyat and Raikkonen, Bottas was losing time. He was anxious to make up places as they were at the tail-end of the points, but when Kimi braked a little earlier than his fellow Finn, the Williams driver had to take desperate avoiding action. That was merely a precursor for the most dramatic event of the race, though.

Pastor Maldonado pitted on lap 40, and when he emerged from the pits, Esteban Gutierrez was sweeping into turn 1. The Lotus driver tried to sneak past on the apex, while Gutierrez took the usual line through the corner. The Lotus’ sloped nose got underneath the Sauber, flipping it violently. The car went fully upside down at one point, and the car was absolutely wrecked. With so much of the Sauber strewn across the track, the Safety Car was inevitable. It wiped out Lewis Hamilton’s lead; he was nearly 10 seconds ahead of his team-mate Rosberg, but Nico was on the softer tyre, and so the incident gave him a huge advantage.

The Stewards rightly deemed Maldonado to be at fault, giving him three points on his FIA Superlicense, a 10 second stop/go penalty, and a 5-place grid penalty for China in two weeks. His car was amazingly undamaged from the clash. The Safety Car remained on track for six laps while the carbon fibre was swept up, during which most drivers pitted, Kevin Magnussen doing so permanently as his McLaren succumbed to clutch failure; the first McLaren retirement since Hamilton in Brazil 2012. Another rookie, Marcus Ericsson, had also retired with a fuel pipe leak.

The Safety Car came back in on Lap 47 and immediately, Jenson Button was passed by Vettel, Ricciardo, Bottas and Alonso. The McLaren was clearly ailing and with just a couple of laps to go, he retired with similar problems to his team-mate, marking the first double-retirement for the team since 2006.

While that was going on, there were scraps going on everywhere up and down the grid. First and foremost was the fight for the lead between Rosberg and Hamilton. The German clearly had a quicker strategy at that point due to the timing of the safety car, but Hamilton was in full defence mode, so whenever Nico slipped down his inside, the Brit got back past.

The chase for the points was even more fierce; Sergio Perez in the Force India led the pack, with a couple of seconds between himself and the others. Nico Hulkenberg was sitting in 4th place in a slowing Force India, which turned out to have ERS problems later in the race. The Red Bulls were spoiling for a fight, and at turn 1 on lap 50, one of the most important overtakes of the season took place, when Daniel Ricciardo got past his team-mate Vettel. This was one of the most anticipated things talked about in pre-season, and now finally, the public got to see that the Australian really could push the World Champion.

Ricciardo was not content with passing one German though, and got the better of Hulkenberg lap 53, and set about chasing Perez for the bottom step of the podium. Hulkenberg had to defend from Vettel, who himself was under increasing pressure from Felipe Massa. However, everyone maintained position until the end; Hamilton kept Rosberg at arm’s length, Perez just held back Ricciardo, and Hulkenberg stayed fifth.

The fact that there were so many brilliant and brave overtakes for all sorts of positions really has to silence the critics of the new formula, as this was unanimously proclaimed as the best race anyone has seen in ages.

Hamilton and Rosberg play-fought after the race, indicating that they love to challenge one another, and that their friendship (they were team mates when karting as children) can last the strains of being the two fastest drivers on the grid.

The Safety Car meant that the Mercedes could really get the hammer down, as fuel saving was not necessary. Their pace was clear – their nearest challenger was 25 seconds behind. That was Sergio Perez, who brilliantly took Force India’s first podium since Belgium 2009, when Giancarlo Fisichella nearly won the race from Pole.

Fireworks may have been on display after the race, but there was explosive racing all evening. A race that will last long in the memory for sure.

FINISHING POSITIONS

1) L Hamilton, Mercedes AMG
2) N Rosberg, Mercedes AMG
3) S Perez, Force India
4) D Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing
5) N Hulkenberg, Force India
6) S Vettel, Red Bull Racing
7) F Massa, Williams
8) V Bottas, Williams
9) F Alonso, Ferrari
10) K Raikkonen, Ferrari
11) D Kvyat, Toro Rosso
12) R Grosjean, Lotus
13) M Chilton, Marussia
14) P Maldonado, Lotus
15) K Kobayashi, Caterham
16) J Bianchi, Marussia

Out/ Unclassified

J Button, McLaren (Clutch)
K Magnussen, McLaren (Clutch)
E Gutierrez, Sauber (Collision)
M Ericsson, Caterham (Oil leak)
JE Vergne, Toro Rosso (Collision damage)
A Sutil, Sauber (Collision damage)

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