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.
Photo courtesy of Jamey Price
Pascal Wehrlein, clearly. So say the numbers at least. First and most obvious, Wehrlein is ahead in the Driver’s Championship, 17th with one point verses Gutierrez in 19th with none. Gutierrez has a best finish of 11th. Dig one layer deeper and you see that Gutierrez clearly drives the quicker car. Haas currently sits 8th in the Constructor’s Championship, holding 28 points; Manor, on the other hand, clings on to Wehrlein’s single point and sits 10th. In fact, the two teams share the statistic of one driver delivering all the points.
But Esteban suffered bad luck this year, you say. So has Pascal. Gutierrez started the season with two DNF’s, but since finished every race. Wehrlein couldn’t finish on two occasions either. And here’s more numbers, Wehrlein averaged 16.6th place, Manor’s average 17.6th, Gutierrez mirrors that performance averaging 14.6th against Haas’s 13.5th. One clearly under-performs the other outperforms.
Photo courtesy of Jamey Price http://jameypricephoto.com
“So the brake pedal going to the floor is not classed as a safety issue? Quite interesting. I think Charlie [Whiting, FIA race director] needs to read up on what is safe and what isn’t.”
That was Jenson Button over the radio after receiving a drive-thru penalty for banned radio communication with his McLaren Honda team. It is yet another example of the silliness of the FIA’s radio rules. Had driver coaching from the engineers gone too far last year? Perhaps. Fans of the sport don’t benefit from teammate one being told that teammate two is faster in corner x, so try a different widget setting. But those same fans do benefit from seeing more cars finish the race and fight for positions. They do benefit from seeing their favorite driver compete and pass others, or fight to defend positions. Drivers can’t do that when things overheat or brake pedals go to the floor.
The call for the men in the cockpit to handle it themselves fails to recognize the incredible, and frankly outlandish, complication of a modern F1 machine. Hundreds of settings and sensors and data points and variables that teams of engineers monitor, literally hundreds. Is that what we love about drivers? Their sensitivity to hydraulic pressure and a memorized matrix of troubleshooting tactics? No! We love them because they enter a corner faster than the next guy, or dare to brake later, or pass on the outside in dirty air. That takes talent and courage. Learning spreadsheets do not. I’m a bit fed up with rules.
In fact the rules regarding track limits also sparks ire. The beauty of racing is that it demands bravery, the aforementioned courage and talent, but also cunning to find the fastest way around a circuit. If a driver does that by traveling extra distance to maintain a higher speed, I support it with all my heart. If Formula 1, the FIA, or track owners don’t like it, make going that way slower not faster. I admit there are occasions where it’s simply not possible, the chicane after the tunnel at Monaco is a good example. But drivers avoid that because it’s logical and purposeful and the curbing highly unsettles the car.
The good news? The vast majority of teams have voiced opinions and their cry for change gets louder. The Hungarian Grand Prix thrilled in a few senses. Throughout the race Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg stayed within three seconds of each other. Hamilton came out on top for the fifth time at this track. Matching his Canadian GP record of five out of ten. He also took the lead in the Driver’s Championship for the first time this year, now ahead by six points. But Rosberg’s home race is less than a week away and he’s fast there.