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Qualifying – Hamilton and Raikkonen on Front Row at Silverstone

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton matched Jim Clark’s record of five British Grand Prix pole positions on Saturday, after beating Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen by half a second in qualifying at Silverstone. The Briton put on a stunning display for his home fans, taking the 67th pole position of his career – and with the biggest margin of the season so far.

Hamilton was briefly under stewards’ investigation after the session for possibly blocking the Haas of Romain Grosjean early in the final phase, but the officials quickly decided that no action was warranted.

Championship leader Sebastian Vettel was third, ahead of Valtteri Bottas who had a big lock-up on his final Q3 run. The Finn will drop five grid places for an unscheduled gearbox change. Max Verstappen was fifth, but his Red Bull team mate Daniel Ricciardo – already carrying the same penalty as Bottas – will start from the back after a suspected turbo failure in Q1.

Nico Hulkenberg took a superb sixth for Renault, ahead of the Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon. McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne scored his best grid position to date, while the aforementioned Grosjean completed the top ten.

Hamilton owned the first runs on Q3, with 1m 27.231s, but Ferrari were close with Vettel on 1m 27.430s from Bottas on 1m 27.580s and Raikkonen on 1m 27.622s.

But when it really counted, the crowd favourite put the spurs to it with a lap of 1m 26.600s, which left Raikkonen a little breathless in the lead SF70H on 1m 27.147s, and Vettel behind him with a disappointed 1m 27.356s. Bottas couldn’t better 1m 27.376s, as Verstappen was a distant fifth on 1m 28.131s for Red Bull.

The start of Q2 had seen everyone move to slick tyres after earlier rain, and the session ultimately accounted for Renault’s Jolyon Palmer, Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso (out-qualified by team mate Vandoorne for the first time), Carlos Sainz, hampered by suspension problems on his Toro Rosso, and Williams’ Felipe Massa. Alonso will drop to the rear of the grid thanks to penalties totalling 30 places due to power unit element changes.

Bottas was notably the only man to progress to Q3 on soft rather than supersoft tyres, meaning he will be the sole top-ten runner to start Sunday’s race on the more durable rubber.

A do-or-die, last-minute lap from Alonso after a switch to dry rubber had seen McLaren top a thrilling Q1 phase, which started in damp conditions. The red flags came out briefly as Ricciardo’s stricken Red Bull was cleared and the Australian was eliminated along with Williams’ Lance Stroll, Haas’s Kevin Magnussen and Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson.

Thus, with the penalties for Bottas, Ricciardo and Alonso taken into account the provisional grid reads: Hamilton, Raikkonen; Vettel, Verstappen; Hulkenberg, Perez; Ocon, Vandoorne; Bottas, Grosjean; Palmer, Kvyat; Sainz, Massa; Stroll, Magnussen; Wehrlein, Ericcsson; Ricciardo, Alonso.

 

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THREE TAKEAWAYS: 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

The latest addition to the Formula 1 calendar, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, produced one of the most dramatic races of this decade as chaos ensued at the Baku City Circuit.

After polesitter Lewis Hamilton had suffered an unusual incident with his headrest not being secured and Sebastian Vettel being given a time penalty, putting both in the pitlane one more time, Daniel Ricciardo took his fifth win in the sport.

Valtteri Bottas rebounded from a first lap puncture to finish second after beating Lance Stroll on the line.

Every team that had one car left in the event scored, with Renault being the only team to suffer a double retirement.

Ricciardo’s Fifth Win

Red Bull is rarely having a straightforward day in 2017, and Daniel Ricciardo certainly worked hard to claim another victory.

Ricciardo started in 10th after a qualifying crash and was forced to pit on Lap 6 to remove debris from his brakes, pushing him down to 17th.

As drivers around him suffered incidents, teammate Max Verstappen became the sixth team retirement of the year, and he made passes, Ricciardo was already up to 10th by a Lap 13 safety car period and fifth by the red flag ten circuits later. The safety car stint also saw him move onto the faster supersoft tires while the rest of the top-10 continued on the soft compound.

The Australian also again showed his gutsy overtaking abilities on his mission to the front. He passed both Marcus Ericsson and Carlos Sainz in turn 1 on Lap 10 for 13th, jumping on Sainz’s overtake of the Swede. A move by both Williams of Stroll and Felipe Massa took him to the podium positions at the inside of Turn 1 on Lap 24 thanks to late braking before the two leaders disappeared.

His run of four straight podiums since Spain is the best of his career and the chances of a third top-four championship finish are looking brighter by the weekend. That is if Red Bull’s unreliability problems do not develop.

Stroll’s First Podium

Fans of the sport are now left on a cliffhanger over whether the Canadian racer is beginning to blossom.

Stroll looked fantastic all weekend and rarely made an error on track in practice or qualifying.

His first points finish of ninth in Canada and more track time seemed to have given him more confidence.

He out-qualified teammate Felipe Massa for the first time in qualifying, leaving McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Renault’s Jolyon Palmer as the only permanent racers to not do this after eight rounds in 2017.

This is Williams’ 16th podium of this decade. Stroll is the fourth competitor to claim a top-three finish alongside Bottas, Pastor Maldonado and Massa.

He is the youngest person to score a podium in their rookie season, at 18 years and 239 days. It happened over a year since the team’s last top-three finish at the 2016 Canadian Grand Prix.

A third top-10 finish in a row in Austria may help the argument over his ability. Only five other Williams entrants have done this in the last 10 years – Nico Rosberg (2007, ’08), Rubens Barrichello (’10), Bruno Senna (’12), Bottas (’14, ’15, ’16) and Massa (’14, ’15, ’16).

Vettel and Hamilton Take Gloves Off

This contest sparked to controversial life as the safety car pitted at the end of Lap 23. Lewis Hamilton prepared for the restart, and Sebastian Vettel made contact with his rear before pulling alongside and hitting his right sidepod.

The German was penalized on Lap 32 with a 10-second stop-and-go penalty, resulting in a pit lane time loss of around 30 seconds. Vettel eventually recovered to fourth place, extending his Drivers’ Championship lead by two to 14 points.

Vettel’s incident had memories of 2010 when he was involved in some dramatic events while fighting for his first title, including his infamous ‘crazy’ gesture towards Mark Webber when the Red Bull rivals crashed at Turkey. In a way 2017 is like 2010 for him, when many may have thought he was not ready to become a champion because of his crashes. It is the first time since then he hasn’t had as much control of his destiny.

From 2011 through 2013, he had arguably the fastest car on the grid and had the mental advantage of being reigning champion. This year, like seven years ago, he is fighting to take the title against the odds.

Vettel now has nine penalty points, and if he were to offend again in Austria and gain another three-point penalty, he would be given a one-race ban for gathering 12 on his license. He may need to be careful and drive conservatively.

EMAIL CAMERON AT @cpatersonf1@gmail.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Qualifying – Hamilton storms to Baku pole

Lewis Hamilton will start the 2017 Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix from pole position after beating Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas by half a second in a frantic end to Saturday’s qualifying session in Baku. Championship leader Sebastian Vettel finished fourth behind Ferrari partner Kimi Raikkonen.

Q3 was red flagged with 3m 33s remaining after Daniel Ricciardo lost the rear of his Red Bull on the exit of Turn 6 and clouted the wall, ending the Australian’s hopes. It set up a barnstorming end to the hour when running resumed.

Max Verstappen was first on track and took the sole remaining Red Bull to fifth, ahead of the Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon. Williams rookie Lance Stroll out-qualified team mate Felipe Massa for eighth, with the unfortunate Ricciardo completing the top ten.

Hamilton had dominated Q1 with a lap of 1m 41.983s which left Verstappen breathless on 1m 42.544s as Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Vettel (with a new ‘old’ engine in his Ferrari after his car developed a water leak in FP3) and Bottas followed.

Down the back, Kevin Magnussen saved what was looking like a disastrous session for Haas by bumping Fernando Alonso out of Q2 at the last moment. Thus the McLaren star was 16th on 1m 44.334s ahead of ‘wallbanger’ Romain Grosjean in the other Haas on 1m 44.468s.

Marcus Ericsson was the lone Sauber eliminated on 1m 44.795s as team mate Pascal Wehrlein had produced a great 15th fastest lap of 1m 44.317s, which left McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne as the final dropout in 19th with 1m 45.030s, as Jolyon Palmer’s Renault was still out of action following its FP3 fire.

Hamilton went even faster in Q2, drawing gasps with 1m 41.275s, which Bottas eventually got closer to with m 41.502s as Vettel claimed third with 1m 41.911s.

The Toro Rosso boys batted throughout and were the first fallers in 11th and 12th, with Daniil Kvyat on 1m 43.186s and Carlos Sainz on 1m 43.347s. Behind them, Magnussen was 13th on 1m 32.796s, as Nico Hulkenberg struggled to 1m 44.267s after electrical problems on his Renault, and Wehrlein lapped his Sauber in 1m 44.603s.

Hamilton looked set to dominate the first runs in Q3 again, but had a less than great third sector, so Bottas was the faster this time with 1m 41.274s to 1m 41.428s. That left them comfortably ahead of Verstappen on 1m 42.261s and Raikkonen on 1m 42.446s, however, as Vettel’s hopes of improving on 1m 43.194s ended in the Turn 2 escape road.

Then Ricciardo’s Red Bull stopped in Turn 6, after he broadsided and brushed the outer wall, bringing out the red flag. At the same time Raikkonen had gone off in Turn 2, and Perez brushed a wall, so team mate Ocon was the faster Force India in fifth on 1m 42.833s, ahead of Vettel.

Neither Williams had run by this stage.

After the nine-minute delay, would anyone be able to generate sufficient tyre and brake temperatures to improve in the three and a half minutes that remained?

Yes was the answer. Bottas improved, to 1m 41.027s, but Hamilton pulled out a stonker to snatch pole back with 1m 40.593s.

As Verstappen failed to improve on 1m 41.879s, Red Bull saw their second-row slot disappear as both Raikkonen and Vettel improved, to 1m 41.695s and 1m 41.841s apiece.

Perez jumped up too, to sixth in 1m 42.111s as Ocon failed to better his 1m 42.186s, while Stroll just edged out Williams team mate Massa, with 1m 42.753s to 1m 42.798s. Ricciardo was left 10th on his previous 1m 43.414s.

Both McLarens will start from the rear of the field on Sunday thanks to multiple grid penalties for use of additional Honda power unit elements, while Sainz will lose three grid spots for causing a collision last time out in Canada.

Saturday’s qualifying result marks Mercedes’ second front-row lock-out of the season, and Hamilton’s 66th F1 pole – leaving him just two shy of matching Michael Schumacher’s all-time record.

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THREE TAKEAWAYS: 2017 Canadian Grand Prix

The look of the Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship has changed again after Lewis Hamilton gained vital points on Sebastian Vettel by winning the Canadian Grand Prix.

Hamilton dominated the race for his sixth victory in Montreal, becoming the second driver to do this following Michael Schumacher (seven).

It is the first track he has won at on six occasions, and the third time in his career he has taken three straight victories at a circuit (Britain, United States 2014-16; Canada 2015-17). After placing 25 points behind the German after Monaco, the gap lies at just 12, marking a critical moment in stopping Vettel’s momentum as soon as possible.

Further down the grid, fan favorite Fernando Alonso again suffered a DNF for McLaren-Honda, classifying 16th. It was ironic that Alonso was in the top-four after 21 laps of this race, where he would have expected to be in the final portion of the Indy 500 had his engine not blown on Lap 179. This season is the first time that McLaren has not scored points in the first seven races of a year as its pace/unreliability crisis grows.

Hamilton Changes Record, Again

On Saturday, the Brit equaled his hero Ayrton Senna’s tally of pole positions (65) and is set to break Michael Schumacher’s record of 68 in coming months.

His pole time was an all-time venue record at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, a 1m11.459s, while his race fastest lap of 1m14.551s was the quickest since Kimi Raikkonen in 2005 (1m14.384s).

Hamilton led every lap of a race for the 11th time in his career, moving to joint-fourth on the all-time list alongside Schumacher and Jackie Stewart. He also achieved his best lead of the year, 19.783 seconds, after triumphing by just three and six seconds in Spain and China. It was also the biggest difference between Hamilton and another driver since the 2015 Italian Grand Prix (Vettel, 25.042s behind), 36 races ago.

He completed the ‘grand slam’ of having the pole, win, fastest lap and leading every lap for the second time this year, and fourth time overall. Hamilton is the first driver to do this twice in a season since Nico Rosberg in Russia and Baku in 2016.

Important Drive?

Although just seven races have passed in 2017, Vettel will already be thinking about the long game.

The German finished just fourth after being forced to make two stops because of front wing damage, ending his run of six podiums. It was his 12th consecutive top-five finish, continuing the second-best streak of his career (19, 2010 Brazilian – 2011 Indian Grands Prix).

Vettel made one of the overtakes of the year at the left-handed first turn on Esteban Ocon on lap 66 after six laps behind the Force India driver.

Ocon was stuck behind teammate Sergio Perez, moving to his right while Vettel attacked the left. It was incredible that Vettel managed to stay away from contact by expertly braking, while Ocon was forced to run out of track and go across the run-off. This lost Ocon momentum and allowed Vettel into fifth before attacking Perez on Lap 69.

Stroll’s Breakthrough

During 2017, the story has always been that Williams has relied on Felipe Massa for points.

For the first time in Canada, Lance Stroll led the team when Massa’s race ended after just one lap through a crash with Carlos Sainz.

Stroll made many confident overtakes throughout the race, not making any errors, before finishing ninth to become the third Canadian to score in F1 after Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve. Canada now has 338 points in the sport.

Williams’s chief technical officer Paddy Lowe believed Stroll’s result was one of the team’s best of the year, especially after Stroll started with three straight DNFs.

“It’s a great story,” Lowe said. “Given the difficult start Lance has had to his F1 career, this feels like a race win to us. It was an incredible drive. I think this result will boost his confidence going forward and will give him some real momentum.”

F1’s next round, the first official Azerbaijan Grand Prix, could produce anything with no current drivers winning at Baku in the past, and the circuit where Hamilton had one of his ‘off days’ in 2016.

EMAIL CAMERON AT @cpatersonf1@gmail.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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What We Learned from Canadian Grand Prix 2017

The Big Picture: The Canadian Grand Prix, held since the early 1980s in historic Montreal, is the most stable of all North American Formula One races. Mexico City has been on and off. The US’s race has been in many locations and irregular in frequency. Contracts signed last weekend extend the event through 2029.

The Event:  The Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is laid out on the Ile Notre-Dame in the St. Lawrence River. 2.87 miles in length, the track is famous for its “Wall of Champions” into which many a world champion driver have crashed, including Sebastien Vettel, Michael Schumacher, and Jensen Button.

In Our Last Episode:  Vettel won decisively in Monaco with teammate Kimi Raikkonen as a disgruntled second place.

Qualifying: Lewis Hamilton earned his 65th career pole, tying the record of his idol, Ayrton Senna. The Senna family presented Hamilton with one of Senna’s actual race helmets. Starting after the jubilant Briton was Sebastian Vettel, Valterri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen and the Red Bulls.

Start: Clean, but Max Verstappen got around Vettel and Bottas which led to wing damage for Vettel. Lap 2 featured contact between Romain Grosjean and Carlos Sainz. Sainz then collected Felipe Massa. Neither Sainz nor Massa finished.

Race: This was Lewis Hamilton’s day from start to finish. Vettel was unable to take podium because of his early wing damage. Bottas had trouble keeping up with Hamilton but was assured of second when Verstappen’s car stopped on Lap 11 for unknown reasons. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo claimed the final spot on the podium. Hamilton led every lap, scored the fastest lap, and won the race, giving him a grand slam.

Best Team:  Mercedes was the most outstanding team of the weekend, taking pole, fastest lap, and the race win.

What We Will Remember:  It was Lewis Hamilton’s second grand slam of 2017 and the fourth of his career. His grand slams now equal the total for Sir Jackie Stewart, Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, and Sebastian Vettel.

Quote of the Weekend: “It’s been such an incredible weekend. I just couldn’t be happier with how it’s gone and I’m so grateful for this result. We came away from Monaco and we were scratching our heads, but we pulled together and look what we achieved. We came here with a much better understanding of the car and we delivered a real blow to the Ferraris. Valtteri did a fantastic job too and this is our first one-two finish together. We’ve scored a big load of solid points and it’s well deserved. It’s crazy to think I had my first pole and win here 10 years ago. The race actually felt very reminiscent of 2007, in terms of how it unfolded. It’s a long race here, especially when you’re out there on your own, but I knew the car would hold together and it did perfectly.” Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes driver.

Runner-up Quote of the Weekend: “I think my start was not particularly good but at the same time not that bad either. The car was good, I think it was clear that today we could have been better than fourth, but that’s how we finished and what is done is done. Overall, we know we have a strong car. Looking back at the start, Bottas and I were trying to go from the inside when Max came around but these things can happen. Then, with the safety car on track I did not realize that the damage to the front wing was as bad as it actually was, we only noticed it at full speed. There was also some additional damage to other parts of the bodywork, hard to say what they cost me in terms of laptime, but the car did not feel as the one I had driven in the past two days. Yet the pace was there and I would have liked some more laps to finish on the podium, the trophy here looked nice… That was my target and I missed it. But we are growing up as a team.” Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari driver

Schedule:  In two weeks, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in the capital city of Baku on June 25th.

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management, or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Race – Hamilton Untouchable as Ferrari Fade in Montreal

Lewis Hamilton stormed to his sixth Canadian Grand Prix victory on Sunday, leading home team mate Valtteri Bottas as Mercedes dominated in Montreal. Third place went to Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo after Ferrari hit trouble early on, with Sebastian Vettel battling back to fourth, his lead in the drivers’ championship cut to from 25 to 12 points.

It was massively windy in Montreal all day, and that played havoc with the cars’ aerodynamic stability in the race. Vettel picked up front wing damage almost instantly when Max Verstappen made a blinding start from fifth on the grid to go round the outside of him into second place by Turn 1, as Bottas went for the inside to grab third.

Further round the lap, exiting Turn 2, Romain Grosjean and Carlos Sainz tangled, the Haas spinning the Toro Rosso down the grass on the inside of the track until it collected the innocent Felipe Massa’s Williams in the chicane that follows. Exit two cars on the spot, as Grosjean limped back to the pits for a new nose. Out came the safety car.

On the restart on lap four Hamilton pulled clear and thereafter simply controlled the race all afternoon, pitting to switch his ultrasoft Pirelli tyres for supersofts on the 32nd of the 70 laps.

Bottas’ way to second was smoothed when the unfortunate Verstappen’s Red Bull simply stopped in Turn 2 on the 11th lap, but the Finn pitted for soft tyres on the 23rd lap, and struggled to hold pace with Hamilton thereafter as he steadily dropped away after keeping him honest for a while.

Meanwhile, Ricciardo maintained fourth place ahead of Perez, Raikkonen and Ocon. Raikkonen pitted first, for supersofts on lap 17. Ricciardo went for softs on 18, and Perez for supersofts on 19. Force India kept the ultrasoft-shod Ocon out until the 32nd lap, by which time he was running second to Hamilton. The stop dropped him back to sixth, but that became fifth when Raikkonen pitted again for ultrasofts on the 41st lap.

Now Perez began to hound Ricciardo, but Ocon had ideas of his own as Raikkonen was recovering on the softer tyres and Vettel was charging his way through the field. With 20 laps to go Force India were asking Perez to let Ocon by on his 13-lap fresher tyres, with the promise that positions would be reversed if his attack was unsuccessful, but the Mexican wasn’t having it and begged to be allowed to race. Meanwhile, the Ferraris were getting closer and closer.

The red cars switched places on the 60th lap, when Raikkonen – complaining of brake issues – ran wide down the inside of the kerbs in the final corner, and Vettel’s task was made easier when Perez resisted a side-by-side challenge from Ocon going into that corner on the 65th lap. As the Frenchman lost momentum, Vettel overtook him going into Turn 1 on the 66th lap, obliging Ocon to run wide into the run-off area to avoid contact, when he found Perez slamming the door as he tried to put the Ferrari inside it.

Perez actually made it easier for Vettel to pass him than he had his team mate, two laps later in the final corner, and the two pink cars went on to finish side-by-side, two tenths of a second apart in fifth and sixth, as Vettel just failed to dislodge the Red Bull that took the podium they had coveted. It was Ricciardo’s third successive visit to it.

Outside the top ten, Renault’s Jolyon Palmer held on to 11th by a fraction from Haas’s Kevin Magnussen, who was penalised for overtaking under the virtual safety car, as the Saubers of Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein sandwiched Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren for 13th and 15th places.

That came after Fernando Alonso’s McLaren quit on him with two laps to go when the team’s first point of the season was in his hand.

The other retirement was Daniil Kvyat, who was handed a drive-through penalty after the team incorrectly told him he could regain his starting place after he initially failed to get away from the grid on the formation lap. Later the stewards decided they’d given him the wrong penalty and gave him a 10-second time one instead

The Montreal result reverses Hamilton’s misfortunes from Monaco, and indicates that Mercedes – who reclaim their lead in the constructors’ standings over Ferrari – have a handle on their tyre problems at last, keeping the mighty title fight right on the boil.

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Qualifying – 65th pole puts Hamilton level with Senna

A thrilling Canadian Grand Prix is in prospect tomorrow after Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel battled for pole position, but it was not his unreal speed that left the Mercedes driver speechless as he beat his Ferrari rival. It was the presentation, in front of thousands of fans, of a real Ayrton Senna helmet from the Senna family as he matched his idol’s second-place record of 65 pole positions, only three adrift of Michael Schumacher’s record.

After holding it aloft in its glass box, Hamilton admitted: “I’m shaken. Speechless. I know that Ayrton was for many of you your favourite driver, and he was the same for me. He was the one who inspired me today, so to match him and to receive this is a great honour. To Ayrton and his family, God bless you, thank you.”

After being beaten by Ferrari in practice this morning, Mercedes had found something extra for the afternoon showdown and Hamilton’s team mate Valtteri Bottas took third ahead of compatriot Kimi Raikkonen in the second scarlet car.

Red Bull weren’t far off the pace either, with Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo fifth and sixth respectively, followed by Williams’ Felipe Massa, the Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, and Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg who completed the top ten.

With the secret to a good lap here being to warm up the front tyres, everyone was very dutiful as the Q1 session began in warm sunshine. Bottas narrowly headed Hamilton, ahead of Vettel and Verstappen, Massa, Perez and Ocon. But Vettel used supersoft ruber as the others went straight to ultrasofts – the clear inference was that Ferrari had the option to keep some powder dry for Q2 and Q3.

Pascal Wehrlein ruined his chances with a late spin which backed his Sauber into the wall in Turn 1. That didn’t help McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, local hero Lance Stroll in the Williams or Haas’s Kevin Magnussen, who were left in the lurch, as was Marcus Ericcson in the other Sauber.

Hamilton headed Q2 initially from Raikkonen, Bottas and Vettel, who had a big slide in the chicane. Hamilton’s 1m 12.496s was the fastest lap thus far this weekend.

Carlos Sainz didn’t help himself by spinning in Turn 1 early on, and neither he nor Toro Rosso team mate Daniel Kvyat, who hit a wall and punctured a tyre, made it through to Q3. The Russia finished just ahead of Fernando Alonso’s down-on-power McLaren, Sainz, Romain Grosjean’s Haas, and Jolyon Palmer’s Renault.

Hamilton’s first run in Q3 smashed Ralf Schumacher’s qualifying lap record from 2004 of 1m 12.275s, with 1m 11.791s, and left his rivals reeling, as Bottas lapped in 1m 12.177s, Raikkonen in 1m 12.341s and Vettel in 1m 12.423s.

Vettel’s response on his second run was equally stellar, though, coming up just four-thousandths short at 1m 11.795s.

Hamilton, however, had an answer – 1m 11.459s – to seal the deal, even though Vettel did a third run and trimmed his time fractionally to 1m 11.789s. It was all brilliant stuff and further endorsement of how close F1 is these days.

Thus the provisional grid will line up: Hamilton, Vettel; Bottas, Raikkonen; Verstappen, Ricciardo; Massa, Perez; Ocon, Hulkenberg; Kvyat, Alonso; Sainz, Grosjean; Palmer, Vandoorne; Stroll, Magnussen; Ericsson, Wehrlein.

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What We Learned from Spanish Grand Prix 2017

The Big Picture: The Spanish Grand Prix is one of the world’s oldest auto races, and Sunday’s contest was the first of the European events this year. It’s therefore quite easy to forget that the Catalunya circuit has only been in use since 1991. Not as vintage as it may appear.

The Event:  Barcelona is glorious in the springtime, so  high attendance  this year is no surprise. That and having two Spaniards, Fernando Alonzo, and Carlos Sainz entered in 2017, that is.

In Our Last Episode: Valterri Bottas demonstrated his talents at the Russian Grand Prix, taking his first series win.

Qualifying: At the front, it was another Sebastian Vettel versus Lewis Hamilton fest with the Briton edging out the German for the pole. After those two, it was remarkable to see Alonzo qualify seventh before his home crowd.

Start: Hamilton had a bad start, and a first lap collision took out Ferrari’s popular Kimi Raikkonen and fan favorite Max Verstappen. Other than these two matters, the start was fine.

Race:  Vettel led for much of the race, but there was an epic battle with Lewis Hamilton throughout the day. And for this occasion, Hamilton had something for him all day, including a pass using the DRS late in the game which ultimately gave him the win. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo got his first podium of the year and the Force India twins Sergio Perez and Esteban took third and fourth. Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein earned his team’s first points of the season with his eighth, leaving Honda McLaren as the only pointless team in Formula One.

Best Team: Mercedes was the best due to Hamilton’s victory, even though there is disappointment that Bottas’ engine blew up.

What We Will Remember: This race continues to be unpredictable as it has been in previous years. We saw a comeback to the Winner’s Circle for Hamilton, and neither Constructor’s Championship contenders managed to finish both cars. This may tip more points towards the second-tier teams, Red Bull, and Force India.

Quote of the Weekend: “It’s been a really good weekend and a great way to bounce back from Russia. It was the rawest fight that I can remember having in a long-time. I loved it, this is why I race. This is what made me get into racing in the first place. This is what the sport needs to be like every single weekend. To have a close battle like that with a four-time champion is awesome. I lost out on the start and had to watch Sebastian fly by. He was so fast out in front and it was such a push to keep in touch with him and not let him pull away. I was able to manage my tyres in the first stint and keep relatively close, then it was tricky to keep up on the Medium tyre and then after the second stop. We came out so close together which was super tight into Turn 1. He didn’t give me much space, it was close! I thought Seb would get me at the end of the final stint but I was able to do it. I have to congratulate my team today, with the strategy and the pit stops, as well as everyone back at the factory that has worked so hard to deliver these upgrades, enabling us to be so close in this fight with Ferrari.” Mercedes driver and race winner Lewis Hamilton

Runner-up Quote of the Weekend “It has been an incredible day for us and I’m very proud of our team and the job we have done all weekend. Everything worked out for us and we have come away with some big points. We made the most of the opportunities that came up and we were there when it mattered to pick up the points. I didn’t make the best start, but I stayed out of trouble and made it safely around the first lap. Then I kept my head down, managed my speed and controlled the race to bring the car home. The only small issue was a slow pit stop, but I had enough time to the car behind and it didn’t make a difference. So big congratulations to the whole team because it hasn’t been an easy weekend in terms of finding a car set-up. To be leaving here with a fourth place feels amazing and gives us big confidence for the rest of the season.” Force India driver Sergio Perez

Schedule: In two weeks, Formula One will stage its most iconic race of the year, the Monaco Grand Prix, on May 28th!

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management, or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Formula One Open Wheel

Hamilton, Vettel Set Up Title Battle

The Spanish Grand Prix may be the pivotal moment in the 2017 season that saw the competitors of for the title battle emerge.

Lewis Hamilton won his 55th career race after a race-long battle with Sebastian Vettel. He made a crucial overtake at the first turn on Lap 44 to take the lead stolen by Vettel at the start.

For many events, it has been hoped that the two with a combined seven championships might be the two fighters because of their history in Formula 1. That hope may now just be a reality.

After DNFs in Spain, Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas now have a massive deficit to their teammates. Vettel and Hamilton have 104 and 98 points, with Bottas 35 and Raikkonen 55 away from both main rivals. A massive 450 points remain, but it will be hard to gain them back.

Bottas was also put down after his highest point of the year, winning in Russia, giving no space to develop momentum. Raikkonen realistically just delivers consistent top-fives, but nothing too spectacular.

Also, Red Bull suffered their worst classified result of the year, with Daniel Ricciardo 75 seconds adrift and Verstappen failing to finish. The team isn’t likely to take many points away apart from occasional flukes, potentially next time out in Monaco.

Hamilton and Vettel rarely have off weekends, putting any immediate bad luck potentially out of the way.

They are not making errors, with Vettel managing to provoke a system restart after a minor problem in qualifying. He could have stopped on track instead and started at the back.

Both expertly fought with danger by banging wheels as Hamilton attacked Vettel at Turn 1 and went off the track near Turn 2 on Lap 38.

Vettel is currently on a six-race podium streak, his best form since 11 in a row (winning nine) in 2013. Hamilton has 18 from his last 21 events. This evidence may produce a nail-biting final few races.

Just One Thing Left…

At some point, pressure has to start to emerge, with Hamilton particularly giving dramatic messages over his radio in this contest.

It may have been the position of his radio earpiece, but he appeared to be heavily breathing while driving the car and trying to fight Vettel. He also looked exhausted after the race.

Vettel has appeared confident all year and both seem mature enough to keep up the public image. Add to that, neither has been in a strong title battle against a car from another team for years (Hamilton 2008, Vettel ’12) so they may just enjoy it.

For now, the two are still laughing and joking to the public, but for how long?

EMAIL CAMERON AT @cpatersonf1@gmail.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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News Open Wheel

Race – Hamilton beats Vettel in Spain to close title race

Lewis Hamilton won a drama-filled Formula 1 Gran Premio de Espana Pirelli 2017 on Sunday, as Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull all saw just one car make the finish at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Hamilton took the flag 3.4s ahead of title rival Sebastian Vettel, with Daniel Ricciardo a distant third.

It was Hamilton and Vettel’s best encounter yet this year, as each had turns leading a very tactical race before the Briton was finally able to overtake the German to score his 55th career victory and the second of the season. It moves him within six points of Vettel’s championship lead as they head to Monaco.

An excellent afternoon for Force India saw Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon finish fourth and fifth respectively, with Nico Hulkenberg an equally impressive sixth for Renault. Carlos Sainz took seventh in his home race for Toro Rosso, while Sauber celebrated their first points of 2017 thanks to Pascal Wehrlein’s eighth place. Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat and Haas’s Romain Grosjean completed the top ten.

The race began with drama. Hamilton and Vettel ran side by side down to Turn 1, with the Ferrari finally getting the advantage as the Mercedes struggled with wheelspin. Behind them, Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes almost got past Hamilton before tucking back in behind him, but as the Finn rode up the inside kerb his car was edged into contact with fellow countryman Kimi Raikkonen, to his left. The Ferrari was in turn nudged into Max Verstappen as he was trying to go round the outside in his Red Bull.

The Ferrari and the Red Bull were immediately eliminated with suspension damage, while in another incident Williams’ Felipe Massa collided with Fernando Alonso, who had made a slow start in his seventh-placed McLaren. Both continued, but finished only 12th and 13th.

Vettel led until pitting to switch to a fresh set of soft Pirelli tyres. Hamilton then took over and led until the 21st lap, when he pitted for medium tyres. That put Bottas into the lead and Mercedes tactically left him there so he could try to contain Vettel as Hamilton recovered. Vettel was able to overtake him on the 25th lap, however, and Hamilton also closed in and moved ahead of his team mate. Now he had to wait and see whether he could maintain pace with Vettel on his faster soft-compound tyres, as Mercedes’ strategy called for him to run his mediums and then take a fresh set of softs to have an advantage later in the race.

But then fate intervened, when the face of the race changed as Stoffel Vandoorne collided with Massa in Turn 1 on the 34th lap, bringing out a virtual safety car (VSC) – and ultimately costing Vandoorne a three-place grid drop for the next round of the championship.

Mercedes snatched the chance to bring Hamilton in for soft tyres, and because of the VSC he was able to rejoin right alongside Vettel as the track went green as they went into the 38th lap. Hamilton was on the left and got alongside the Ferrari as they turned in, and they touched as each pursued their goal. The Ferrari pushed the Mercedes wide, as Vettel kept his lead. Hamilton was forced to drop back, and they laughed about it later.

But after shadowing the Ferrari for six laps, Hamilton used his DRS to sweep by Vettel and though there was a possibility that Ferrari might implement Plan C and make a third stop, for fresh soft tyres and a counter-attack, it was too late. Hamilton stayed clear to win by just over three seconds, and that was that.

Mercedes lost their second car, however, just as Ferrari had, when Bottas’ engine expired in Turn 6 on the 39th lap.

It was a gruelling race for Red Bull, for though Ricciardo took the final podium position, his very heavily updated RB13 was 75.8s behind…

Force India not only maintained their recent run of top-ten finishes with both of the VJM10s, but took a big haul of 22 points as Perez led home Ocon well clear of Hulkenberg’s Renault. Each had a lonely race, but that could not be said of the next drivers.

Sainz spent an awful lot of his race behind Wehrlein’s Sauber after some brilliant strategy allied to a brilliant drive from the young German enabled the Swiss team to hold track position over Toro Rosso and Haas, as five cars chased car number 94.

Wehrlein incurred a five-second penalty for missing the pit entry bollard on his sole pit stop, but that only cost him a place to Sainz, who pleased the spectators by taking seventh. Wehrlein took eighth on pure merit, leaving Kvyat to secure ninth in the other Toro Rosso as Grosjean picked up the final point for Haas.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, Alonso, Massa, Haas’s Kevin Magnussen who dropped back after a late stop to replace a punctured tyre after a clash with Kvyat, a lonely Jolyon Palmer in the Renault and Williams rookie Lance Stroll completed the finishers.