Is Hamilton back in the hunt?

By Daniel Wilson.

It’s fair to say Lewis Hamilton has had a tough start to the season, with his attempts to defend his world championship thwarted by poor starts and reliability issues.

However, the tide finally turned in his favour yesterday, as he took his first win of 2016 and brought himself back into the championship race.

And it happened at one of the Briton’s ‘bogey’ tracks – Monaco. Lewis hasn’t won around the famous streets since his first championship winning season in 2008. And Sunday’s race was almost a re-write of that first win.

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Lewis Hamilton won in the wet from third in 2008.

Hamilton and Mercedes pulled off a one-stop strategy from full wet tyres to dry tyres to jump ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo – albeit thanks to a slow pit stop for the Australian because his team weren’t ready with his tyres.

From there, track position at Monaco proved as critical as always, and despite a fierce challenge from Ricciardo, Hamilton held on.

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Daniel Ricciardo didn’t hide his anger at Red Bull for costing him victory again.

But it wasn’t just his victory that was significant. His title rival and championship leader Nico Rosberg struggled with brake problems and raw pace and could only manage seventh – meaning his lead that was 43 points has been almost halved to 24.

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Hamilton thanked Rosberg for ‘being a gentlemen’ when he let him past on lap 18.

Of course, it remains to be seen what this will do for Lewis’ confidence heading into the rest of the season, but ending that drought of victories can only be used as a springboard to get back on level terms with his teammate.

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Bromance? Lewis Hamilton shared his winning celebrations with Justin Bieber.

However, those reliability problems mean Lewis will most likely have to take grid penalties towards the end of the season, and so his championship charge may yet be taken out of his hands.

But fingers crossed, with Hamilton winning again and Red Bull joining the party, this year’s title race is just about to get very tasty.

 

 

Does F1 need Mercedes?

By Daniel Wilson.

The weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix was one of the most dramatic and exciting for a long time, and it was largely because of what happened between the two Mercedes team-mates on the first lap.

Hamilton and Rosberg’s calamitous crash at turn four meant we were set for the first Grand Prix without a Mercedes since their dominance began two years ago, and so does this raise the question as to whether the sport needs the team?

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The crash between Hamilton and Rosberg was considered a ‘racing incident’ by the stewards.

It’s no secret that Formula One has been labelled ‘boring’ lately, and much of that is down to one team dominating. Mercedes have won 36 of the last 43 races since the V6 turbo era began in 2014, and have subsequently taken back to back driver and constructor championships. Only Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel have kept Mercedes off the top step of the podium in that time, but yesterday a new star emerged.

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The last time the two Mercedes came together was at Spa in 2014.

After the Silver Arrows beached themselves in the gravel, Red Bull were in a position they used to call home. Ricciardo led from his new teammate Max Verstappen, with home-boy Carlos Sainz in third in the sister Toro Rosso.

But the battle soon emerged between the Red Bull’s and the Ferrari’s, and two conflicting strategies meant we had four cars and no idea what order any of them would finish in.

However, unless you’ve been living under a rock in the last 24 hours, you’ll know F1 has a new star in the shape of Max Verstappen, who at 18 years old, became the youngest ever GP winner and the first Dutchman to stand on the top step of the podium in Barcelona.

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Max Verstappen replaced Sebastian Vettel as the youngest ever race winner – 18 years, 227 days.

Verstappen, who was making his debut for Red Bull in Barcelona after the demotion of Daniil Kvyat, ran a set of medium tyres for 32 laps and held off a persistent Kimi Raikkonen to claim Red Bull’s first win since Belgium two years ago.

But Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo were left wondering why their team had given the then number two drivers a quicker two-stop strategy, leaving them third and fourth at the chequered flag.

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Daniel Ricciardo’s chances of a podium finish were ruined by a puncture on the penultimate lap.

However, it proved how good F1 can be when there is a level playing field, and unfortunately, it’s taken the unthinkable for Mercedes to silence F1’s critics.

Formula One does need Mercedes, because they are a part of the sport’s history that stretches back to the 1950’s. Sadly, they, like any other team in their position, are not going to stop striving for success, so it’s up to Ferrari and Red Bull to take on the mighty Merc’s even when they remain on track.

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The Monaco Grand Prix in two weeks should serve up a treat.

And who knows, with developments in the pipeline and tracks like Monaco coming our way, those two might be about to join the party. Well, that’s the hope!

 

 

Were Red Bull too quick to ditch Kvyat?

By Daniel Wilson.

Red Bull’s recent decision to drop driver Daniil Kvyat has been played down by the team themselves, but has divided opinion around the paddock as to whether their actions were too harsh.

The Russian driver was dropped from the senior ranks following a disastrous home Grand Prix in Sochi last weekend.

After starting the race eighth, Kvyat ended up hitting the back of Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari into Turn 2, and then again around Turn 3, ending Seb’s race.

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Kvyat broke too late into turn two and hit the back of Vettel, who also hit Ricciardo.

And it wasn’t just that, the Russian was also the reason Red Bull failed to score points last Sunday after his accident saw him and teammate Daniel Ricciardo forced onto a slower race strategy – a day the team want to forget.

So, can we judge Daniil on one race alone or has this decision been a long time coming?

In his first year at Red Bull last year, the Russian was more than match for his teammate, finishing ahead of him in 10 of the 19 races and three points ahead in the final standings.

But this year has been a very different story. After another failed start in Australia, Kvyat has been largely outpaced by Ricciardo in the last three races. He finished seventh in Bahrain and as mentioned, was the cause of the chaos in Russia.

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Sebastian Vettel went to see former boss Christian Horner about the man who replaced him at the team.

However, do the team have short memories? In China, Kvyat gave Red Bull their only podium of the season up to now, with a hard fought third place. Of course, he took advantage of the safety car and his teammate’s tyre blowout while leading.

And of course, there was controversy between him and Vettel in the pre-podium room surrounding Kvyat’s aggressive drive into turn one.

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Max Verstappen is only 18 and has completed 23 Grands Prix in Formula One.

Red Bull just need to assure fans they aren’t being dictated to by their former drivers, as Vettel has had much to discuss recently when it comes to Daniil.

I, personally would’ve kept Kvyat until the end of the season. Of course, removing him paves the way for the talented Max Verstappen. But after some immature outbursts over team radio in Australia, only time will tell as to whether he is ready for the top job at Red Bull.

Can Lewis afford another bad weekend?

By Daniel Wilson.

Anyone who has been looking at the media since Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix will know that Nico Rosberg is now the odds-on favorite to win this year’s world title, despite being only three races into the season.

The German driver has won all three opening events, and victory at the weekend secured a sixth straight win for him – one better than the personal record of his teammate Lewis Hamilton.

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Nico Rosberg is only the seventh driver in F1 history to win the opening three races of the season.

The current world champion suffered his biggest setback yet in Shanghai. As if going into the race with a five place grid penalty wasn’t enough, the Englishman was then let down by the reliability of his Mercedes engine – something not many of us have said in quite a long time.

But after two poor starts had cost Hamilton pole to flag wins in Australia and Bahrain, a last place start in China was the last thing he needed. Lewis recovered back to seventh despite a first corner collision with Sauber’s Felipe Nasr. However, a poor getaway from the Ferrari’s handed Rosberg another win – and with it a 36 point lead in the world championship.

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Michael Schumacher was the last driver to win the opening three Grands Prix in 2004.

Statistics are also favoring Rosberg in the long game as he aims for a first world title. The last six drivers to win the opening three races of the season have gone on to win the championship.

Hamilton’s challenge for a fourth crown is also looking bleak when you crunch the numbers. It’s the biggest deficit he has faced against a teammate while fighting for the title – even more than the gap Nico opened up in the mid-part of the 2014 season.

Lewis himself has admitted he has no more jokers left this season, and I think everyone would agree with that. As I mentioned previously, he seems to be in a better state of mind and isn’t letting the poor run get to him – but even the most relaxed of drivers will run out of patience.

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Lewis will be looking for a hat-trick of wins in Sochi to get his title hopes back on track.

So the answer in this, the longest ever F1 season, is no – he can’t afford another bad race. The Russian Grand Prix – a race which only he has triumphed at so far – is a must win if he is to mount a challenge all of us want to see for this year’s world title; because as the man himself said – Nico is running away with it.

Has Hamilton lost his focus?

By Daniel Wilson.

There’s no denying that Nico Rosberg is winning the inter-team battle at Mercedes right now. With five consecutive wins under his belt and a best possible start to the season, he seems to have found some much needed form over team-mate Lewis Hamilton in his latest quest for a first world title.

But that form has largely been built on race day – which of course is what counts when you look at the points tally. And after such a dominant season last year, questions are now surfacing about Hamilton’s race day performances. The world champion has been on top of his team-mate in qualifying, taking pole position in both Australia and Bahrain – there beating the lap record set in a V10 engined car.

But its the race starts that have cost Hamilton chances of taking a first win since securing his third championship at the US Grand Prix in October. The Briton went from pole to sixth in the opening lap of the Australian Grand Prix and was down to a similar position a fortnight later when he was hit by Valterri Bottas at the first corner at Sakhir.

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Valterri Bottas was given a drive-through penalty for the incident.

And while that collision wasn’t Lewis’ fault, it’s a good example of the consequences some drivers face when they don’t get off the line well and so it needs fixing – quickly. He’s already 17 points behind leader Rosberg, but it’s not just the points gap Hamilton has to bring under control – it’s Rosberg’s mindset.

After equalling Hamilton’s best run of wins in F1, Nico has a psychological advantage he’s probably never had, and that is equally as important as a points advantage in this sport and one he needs to carry forward in the next 19 races if he wants to secure the ultimate prize in motorsport.

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Nico Rosberg leads the world championship by 17 points after two races.

The questions over Hamilton’s focus now seem to be being carried over from the end of last season, when Rosberg won in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi. At that time, most people put it down to Hamilton taking his foot of the gas after securing his life-ambition of three world titles.

But can his shaky start to the 2016 campaign  also be put down to the same reason? Has he now got nothing to aim for because three has always been his magic number? Personally, I don’t buy that. I think Mercedes and Lewis have to address their poor starts because the issue isn’t new – despite only having one clutch this year. Just cast your minds back to Hungary for one example.

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Lewis Hamilton dominated F1 in 2015 to win his third world title.

Lewis Hamilton simply has to crack Rosberg’s run and if not win, then at least beat him at this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix. Otherwise, his season may be over before it barely got going.

 

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