Photo courtesy of Jamey Price
The post race press conference at the Japanese Grand Prix started like this, “Q: ‘Lewis, let’s pick it up with you first. At the start obviously you lost ground. What part did the dampness on that side of the race track play, do you think, in your getaway? Perhaps a little detail about your fight back and then the championship position as it stands, trailing Nico by 33 points with four races to go.’
LH: ‘Firstly, big congratulations to the team, incredible success for the last three years, very proud to be a part of it and to help contribute to it – so a big thank you to everyone for all of their hard work. This is a great result. Yeah, I don’t think the damp patch had really anything to do with it. I just had… I made a mistake and then just working my way up from there was tricky but, y’know, I did the best I could.’
Q: ‘And the 33 points, four races to go, feelings on that.’
LH: ‘That’s a healthy margin for Nico, he did a great job, so congrats to him.’”
That’s the most defeated, and gracious, I’ve encountered Lewis Hamilton when asked about relative performance to his teammate this season, if not ever. And he’s right, with four races and only 100 more points available in 2016, Rosberg holds a formidable margin and the momentum. After Italy, Hamilton lead by two points. In the following three races, he scored 30-points, Rosberg collected 65. Rosberg won more times this season as well, a tiebreaker would currently fall the German’s way. Hamilton then has to score 34 more points than Rosberg. Or an average of 8.5 more points per race for the remaining races. Critically, even if Hamilton wins the next four in a row, Rosberg can hold the title with four second-place finishes.
But certainly do not count Hamilton out. Rosberg once lead Hamilton by 43 points. Hamilton went on to win six of the next seven Grands Prix and put Rosberg 19 points in the hole. But, frankly, I’ve never seen Rosberg drive so well and while Hamilton certainly suffered more points-robbing bad luck, the last few races Rosberg beat Hamilton with pace. It’s pretty much been a head-to-head race for the title since 2014, but this year could prove the most exciting fight yet. And maybe, just maybe, the 2017 rule changes will allow another team to challenge.
The other underdog strong performance came from Force India. They now hold a 10-point gap in the Constructor’s title over Williams, making fourth place seem possible and approaching likely. In Malaysia and Japan both Hulkenberg and Perez scored points, Perez heading the charge.
McLaren didn’t fare to well in the Japanese Grand Prix, Honda’s home race, but they didn’t expect to either. For whatever reason, Suzuka exacerbates the McLaren’s weaknesses, not strengths. It’s an ironic anomaly in an otherwise encouraging second half of the season. In Malaysia, McLaren earned a double points finish and they now enjoy a solid 15 point lead over Toro Rosso, sixth in the Constructor’s championship is likely.
For the remainder of the season, all eyes will stay focused on Mercedes’, they clinched both the Constructor’s and Driver’s Championship in Japan, now it’s just a matter of which driver.
Photo courtesy of Jamey Price
“…Very happy, it was a hard slog yesterday with trying a few things, [but the] car is a bit more normal now. I enjoyed qualifying, it’s always a pain when you’re 30 milliseconds behind the car in front but, uh, P9 is not too bad considering the Force India’s pace so far this weekend. I’m very happy with that, in front of both Williams.”
So said Jenson Button to Formula 1 News after carrying through to Q3 and, with just one run, qualifying 9th for the Malaysian Grand Prix. That in of itself is not that big of a deal, but this is Button’s 300th grand prix, which puts him behind Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher and no one else in number of race starts. Tomorrow Button becomes just the third driver in history to achieve such longevity. In fact, his teammate Fernando Alonso is 4th on the list, 32 grands prix behind. McLaren does not currently build quickest chassis nor does Honda manufacture the strong power unit, so Button’s performance deserves accolades.
Even more exciting, Button goes on to say that he thinks he can stay ahead of both Williams and race the folks around him, so perhaps he’ll also finish in the top ten. Finishing in the points would be a well-deserved feather to put in his 300-grand-prix-hat.
Button qualified behind both Force India’s. Perez led in 7th, Hulkenberg right behind in 8th. That means Force India has a Button buffer between them and their closest Constructor championship rival, Williams. Force India is currently ahead by one point, but they now have a chance to widen the gap and tighten their grip on 4th, an admirable feat for the small, Silverstone based team.
Further ahead, Hamilton got serious and once again handily out-qualified teammate Nico Rosberg. But, as Rosberg said in the post qualy press conference. “As we know from this year, second place doesn’t mean that victory is not possible tomorrow. We’ve seen that so many times. Still very optimistic for tomorrow. “ It’s generally advantage Rosberg on race start, he proved it recently in Italy. One key difference I see, however, Hamilton seems laser focused and serious this weekend. I find it harder to forecast a flubbed start.
No matter, even if both Mercedes nail their starts and sail off ahead from the competition, we’ll get to see Ferrari and Red Bull duke it out for the final spot on the podium. Red Bull Racing starts ahead, but Ferrari may have an advantage on race pace and strategy. Definitely one to watch tomorrow.
Photo courtesy of Jamey Price
“… First of all, big congratulations to Nico, he drove fantastically well all weekend and fully deserved the win. Very tough day today, as always it is here in Singapore. This weekend has just been a bot of a tricky one for me, but I’m still glad I could get back up on the podium and get some points for the team.” So said Lewis Hamilton on the podium after the Singapore Grand Prix. He so rarely tips his hat to his teammate I rewound the coverage and watched again. Then I read the press conference transcript and checked a third time.
That’s how well Rosberg performed in Singapore. In qualifying he wedged half a second between his pole time and Hamilton’s P3 lap. The race start gods answered the German’s prayers and he launched the car flawlessly, leaving no gap for the ever-aggressive Ricciadro to try and fill. Rosberg went on to maintain a solid gap throughout the grand prix whilst keeping the brakes from their melting point, if only just. Red Bull applied clever strategy and Ricciardo again went on the Mercedes hunt in the closing stages of the race, yet again Rosberg answered and picked up the pace just enough to keep the energy drink emblazoned car behind.
Now Rosberg knows what it takes to receive a compliment from Hamilton. That impressed. That was a championship drive. Keep it up and you might even win over a couple English fans. In the meantime, enjoy your reclaimed lead in the Driver’s Championship, ahead by eight by the way, since you’re not “focused on points.”
Claire Williams no doubt focused on points. In Singapore, her team earned none while Force India grabbed four, which means Williams fell behind in the Constructor’s Championship by one, now 5th. Certainly a street course adorned with 23 corners does not suit the slippery and downforce deficient chassis. But name a course remaining on the calendar that does?
And perhaps the one person happier than Rosberg is Daniil Kyvat. After his demotion to Toro Rosso, the Russian drove deeper and deeper into despair. One bad result followed another, his new teammate, Carlos Sainz Jr., handily outperforming him. In Singapore, Kvyat turned a corner. His moment of redemption came when he successfully held off his seat stealing nemesis, Max Verstappen, for several laps. Verstappen started poorly, but quickly caught Kvyat. The two got very close, Verstappen definitely tried many different attempts, some of them a bit dicey, but Kvyat defended admirably and, mercifully, no team orders came to force the pass. Those several laps flooded Kvyat with much needed confidence. He went on to finish ninth, his best since switching to Toro Rosso and well ahead of his teammate. Afterwards he announced to the media that his passion was back. Our passion to see it again in Malaysia is back too.
Jamey Price always shoots with his soul. I know it because the emotion of the moment comes through beautifully in every image. Put him in a place chock full of passion and excitement and the resultant pictures are simply stunning.
Monza and it’s original banked oval. We’ve all seen it, yet it’s a sight to behold every time. The shade of neighboring trees cast their shadow on the otherwise barren concrete. It’s in stark contrast to the age of cigar shaped 160mph rockets blasting by. Memories.
Daniil Kvyat running nearly a car width past the “track limits” of Parabolica. You know, not that long ago Kvyat would’ve been skating off in the grass. Is this real progress? Safer, maybe. But definitely not the same challenge to nail the throttle early while exiting this fast increasing radius corner.
Focusing on Mercedes does put everything else in a blur. According to Jamey, they look incredibly planted compared to the rest. Around Monza, that’s crucial. The lap times prove it.
When Hamilton’s hands touch that wheel, the results devastate the competition. He lapped Monza half a second quicker than Rosberg and third quickest Vettel by nearly nine-tenths.
Race day. No grand prix comes remotely close to the passion seen in Italy, where nearly everyone bleeds Ferrari red. By the way, is that a Finnish flag I see waving atop the prancing horse? Nice.
It’s easy to say in hindsight, but Hamilton looks to lack the intense focus you imagine a driver needs when preparing for the race start.
Rosberg, on the other hand, stayed focused, nailed the start and put on a clinic. Unlike 2014, he kept his wits and didn’t give Hamilton any chance to steal away this race result.
The Italians didn’t care. Look at the near homogeneous Ferrari red in the stands. That image is mirrored at every grandstand. Look at the attention. It’s Ferrari or nothing.
Jamey Price captured the entire grand prix in this shot. You can see the elation in Rosberg, the disgust in Hamilton, and the bewilderment in Vettel. How will Ferrari catch Mercedes? It’s a head scratcher.
Vettel feels the love. And it shows. In Italy, it is Ferrari. If you are part of it, you are a hero.
Photo courtesy of Jamey Price
“To be clear, I’m very definitely not retiring. I’m contracted for both 2017 and 2018, I intend to work hard on car-development, and I’m sure I’ll get behind the wheel of the new car at some point.” Said Jenson Button in regards to him not sitting in a race seat next year. Button also said, “I love McLaren-Honda – I firmly believe it’s made up of the best bunch of people I’ve ever worked with – and I have no intention of ever driving for another Formula 1 team,”
Photo courtesy of Jamey Price
Button, allow me to be clear with you. You’re retiring. Yes, I get it. You’ll still develop the car. And, yes, you may enter a grand prix if either Vandoorne or Alonso cannot. But you’re no longer a full-time driver anymore. You retired from that role. I’m sad about your decision because Williams, almost certainly, offered you a seat. They’re the other proud English team and, in-fact, more successful than McLaren. I’m even sadder that you cannot admit your decision means the close of one-chapter and an opening of another.
Felipe Massa on the other hand, announced his retirement without any different label. “My career has been more than I ever expected and I am proud of what I have achieved,” Massa added. “Finally, it is a great honor to finish my career at such an amazing team as Williams Martini Racing. It will be an emotional day when I finally conclude my Formula One career with my 250th Grand Prix start in Abu Dhabi.” Massa’s performance became inconsistent this season; he’s leaving at the right time and with dignity.
Nico Rosberg isn’t retiring. He’s not quitting either. After the Belgium Grand Prix we said Rosberg needed a little luck. Luck came, Rosberg capitalized. The race start at Italy mirrored Germany. There, Rosberg outpaced Hamilton and left the Briton to fume about his inability to match his teammates pace. No matter, on race day Rosberg slugged away from the line and finished fourth.
In years past, Rosberg struggled at Monza. In fact, the 2014 Italian Grand Prix proved pivotal as he, again, benefitted from a poor Hamilton start, but failed to defend when Hamilton caught him. Hamilton took the win and went on to take the Championship. Not this year, the German managed his pace, tires, and wherewithal perfectly. He started clean and built a healthy gap straight away. This applied too much pressure for Hamilton to overcome. As Formula ends its post-summer-break, two-race stint in Europe, Rosberg closed the gap to Hamilton to 2 points from 19. Momentum is on his side as well. Game on in Singapore.
Photo courtesy of Jamey Price
Hamilton stole Rosberg’s best chance of retaining his own championship hopes at Spa. With 55 grid positions tacked on the 44 car, Rosberg secured pole and saw his best chance to swallow up his teammates points lead and head to Italy on top. Indeed, the German checked every box within his control. He won the race without overly stressing the car and collected maximum points. But Hamilton, storming from the back and avoiding calamity along the way, made it to the podium. Collecting 15 points instead of the 1 or 2 most expected. He kept the championship lead most expected him to lose by a margin of 9 points. And now he also has a fresh supply of engines, or power units, or whatever you want to call them.
To win the championship, Rosberg now has to rely on talent, and talent alone. He possesses lots of it. Rosberg is extremely quick and cunning and capable. But history shows you need that, and a bit of luck to take on Hamilton. Belgium presented a chance to give Rosberg an edge and a chance to carry momentum, which is one of his strengths. But now he’ll need to start winning like the beginning of the season and not stop for another 8 races.
Kevin Magnussen took a massive hit after losing control of his Renault exiting Eau Rouge. But reports are positive that he will pass all medical tests and race again in Italy. The Renault cocooned Magnussen brilliantly, but largely he walked away from that accident due to luck. That same impact, nose first, would’ve hurt. We are also lucky as fans that the accident played out as it did. Racing is fundamentally a dangerous sport. Drivers control incredible amounts of energy. And controlling energy is like handling a Black Mamba snake, if it gets even the slightest bit out of hand, it’s potentially deadly.
Too many accidents like Magnussen’s allow fans to take-for-granted the real risk drivers endure. Don’t. We’re lucky not to see energy bite more often. So, thank you safety team for working quickly. Thank you current safety rules for mandating both the track and the car better absorb impact. Thank you Kevin Magnussen for trying everything to get back in the car in Italy.
Photo courtesy of Jamey Price
Fifteen. That’s the number of points that Force India trails Williams in the Constructor’s World Championship (hence my super catchy headline 😉 ) If the Force India Formula 1 team gains 15 points over Williams within the next 10 races, they’ll finish fourth in the championship. Fourth! That means they’ll finish behind Mercedes, Red Bull, and Ferrari; but in front of McLaren, Williams, Renault, Toro Rosso, and the rest. That’s incredible.
The team that spent the first 24 years of its life in Formula 1 as Jordan went through a fast cycle of name changes in the mid 2000’s. In 2005, it became the Midland team. Not long after, they changed again to Spyker F1. In 2008, Indian businessman Vijay Mallya bought the team and rebadged the apparel to the name we know today. From the beginning, we’ve seen a relatively steady rise in performance, from back marker to solid-mid-pack. These days, especially the middle of the 2016 season, seeing both Force India cars in the points is no surprise.
WCC = World Constructor Championship
Breakout performances from Mexican driver Sergio Perez put Force India on the podium twice this year. Hulkenberg finished as high as sixth. And both drivers earned points in seven of the twelve Grands Prix. Perez has certainly led the charge, collecting 48 points, compared with Hulkenberg’s 33. In fact, performance from Perez piqued the interest of other teams. And rumors abound that he may sit in the Renault cockpit in 2017. I’m not sure that’s a good idea.
In Germany today, Hulkenberg and Perez finished seventh and tenth, respectively, adding seven points to Force India’s tally. At Williams, Bottas only managed ninth and Massa DNF’d. Even more stark, in the last three grand prix, Force India scored 22 points, compared with Williams earning just 4. At this rate, Force India may well surpass Williams and take fourth in the championship. In 2016, Renault sits ninth with six points. As a factory team, they will certainly improve in 2017. But how much is a risk. Just ask Pastor Maldonado. My advice? Stay where you are, Sergio Perez. Ride the Force India wave for another year, who knows where it might take you.