A double-header today, as I didn’t get around to writing up the Chinese GP yesterday. The simple story of the Chinese race would be yet another win for G Thompson of Black Arrows, cementing his place at the top of the standings. Behind him was J Hill of Mopar, scoring the best result of the season so far, for both driver and team. D Hill of Pulurburz was third, and then J Smith in the second Black Arrows was fourth. The top four were separated by only seven or so seconds, and just behind them came… me! Or more precisely, G Thompson of Meerkat Racing, scoring his best result so far (not to mention the best result I’ve had this season). Once again a two-stop strategy for G Thompson appeared faster – albeit only just – than the three-stopper used by some of the other teams. Someone is going to have to start taking chances if Black Arrows are to be beaten.

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Fresh from a reasonable but somewhat stunted start for me personally comes round 2 of the iGP championship. The hot and bumpy venue of Malaysia is where the cars and teams have headed, with the weather pre-race looking set to be dry. Practice… well, see for yourself.

Being .758 seconds down on S. Mansell of Moe Corp didn’t necessarily mean anything. After all, J. Bernard, winner of the first race, was .555 seconds down of Mansell. However I wasn’t overly confident of challenging for a win. My car is very much a ‘work in progress’, not least of all because of tyre economy issues. I set up both cars on three-stop strategies, initially relying on combos of hard and soft compounds (two stints on each).

Long runs on the hard tyre mean a lot of fuel, so Thompson (starting on the hard tyre) qualified way down the field, however as the fuel decreased the car got faster, eventually pumping out competitive lap times and taking advantage of stops for cars in front. At one point Thompson was running in podium places, though it was always unlikely he’d stay there. Taylor meanwhile, started on the soft tyres but faded when he went onto the hard compound – he is young and still learning, though I wonder if a different strategy might be worth considering for him.

So how did the race pan out? For me personally, the target was P12, and I managed to beat that with a late piece of risk-taking. Rather than pit for soft tyres late on for Thompson, I took on supersofts for the last few laps. I was worried they would degrade too quickly, but they held out and allowed Thompson to climb up past cars on slower tyres.

Within the story of the race came a nice little conversation about coffee – Lou and George, I am pleased to say I now know your coffee habits! And sorry Lou for not pitting several times late on to help you out ;). Nicholas… I promised a mention and all I can say is, keep pushing! Time will yield results!

So who won? D Thompson of Black Arrows, who had been the dominant driver of the dominant team last season, won the race, but was only 1.883 seconds ahead of Australia’s pole sitter Schumacher. The pair were somewhat clear of the rest – Dudek completed the podium, seven seconds behind Thompson. Interestingly, Thompson won on a two-stop strategy, one of only two points finishers on a two-stopper (the other being Dudek). 8th place for my own Thompson was soured slightly by 24th place (out of 32 racers) for Taylor. He is very much a work in progress.

So after two rounds, the Constructor’s Championship looks like this:

1. Black Arrows: 63 points.

2. Badger Racing: 39 points.

3. RBHRT: 38 points.

4. 221op: 30 points.

5. Pulurburz: 16 points.

6. Meerkat Racing (yay!): 10 points.

7. Mopar: 4 points.

8. Melo Motorsports: 1 point.

9. kkrl3c4762551 (catchy name!): 1 point.

The Driver’s Championship looks like this:

1. D Thompson: 43

2. J Bernard: 35

3. R Dudek: 30

4. J Smith: 20

5. M Skaife: 20

6. M Schumacher: 18

7. D Hll: 16

8. G Thompson: 10

9. J Hill: 4

10. M Sato: 4

11. E Roberts: 1

12. M Wood: 1

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As explained a little more detail here, I’ve got a game/app that is all about F1 management. These sorts of games have often failed to excite me, so it was nice to find one that is pretty good, offers real-time multiplayer, and even dynamic, real-time weather (if it’s really raining at Silverstone, expect a wet race on the game, and if the rain stops in reality, it stops in the game too). What I’m doing is keeping a record of the latest season, which is a 17-race event, starting with the Australian GP.

With a time of 1.24.881 M Schumacher (yes, I know, the players don’t choose the drivers’ names) of RBHRT set the quickest time in practice. My own best performance was from veteran G Thompson, setting a time of 1.25.265 and settling for 10th for Meerkat Racing, putting Thompson 0.384 seconds off the pace of Schumacher. Crucially, both cars were running the supersoft compound when their times were set and, intriguingly, the top 20 cars (yes, 20!) were all within a second of each other. With that in mind, strategy would become key for the race.

With that in mind I decided to split my strategy. Young but talented newbie G Taylor would run a two stop race, predominantly on the hard tyre but with a stint on mediums toward the end. Thompson would run a three-stopper, involving stints on the soft compound. The key issue will depend on temperature. Melbourne is the venue that hosts the Australian Grand Prix and the temperature looked set to be low.

Having qualified 13th with Thompson and 23rd with Taylor, after five laps Thompson had seasawed and was 11th with Taylor still 23rd. Schumacher was nearly seven seconds ahead of the chasing pack. By lap 7 the gap was eight seconds, but how would the supersofts hold out? Thompson was up to 9th for me.

Schumacher dropped to 14th after pitting and this promoted J Bernard, on soft tyres, into the lead. Further stops and suddenly I had Thompson in the top four! In fact, at one stage Thompson was leading, but it was short-lived. Meanwhile, Taylor was leaden with fuel on long hard tyre runs, which in hindsight hurt his race. He would fail to score any points, whilst Thompson would finish 7th (pretty good, but the target was 6th). Bernard won for Badger Racing with last season’s champ D Thompson (there’s a few Thompsons) was second for Black Arrows. Dudek of 221op completed the podium.


I don’t know if my aim to win a race is feasible, but with each race will come improvements to the car. We shall see.

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If there comes a moment where we look back on the 2017 F1 season and pinpoint the event that proved pivotal in the destiny of the championship, it would be the opening lap of the Singapore Grand Prix.

In qualifying things had panned out more or less as expected. The Ferraris and Red Bulls were faster than the Mercedes’, with Vettel parking his Ferrari in P1, despite Verstappen looking faster in Q1 and Q2. The young Dutchman lined up alongside Vettel, with Daniel Ricciardo slotting into third and Kimi Raikkonen fourth on the grid. Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were fifth and sixth in their Silver Arrows. The stage was seemingly set for Vettel to retake the championship lead.

There was an unexpected variance to proceedings. The notoriously hot and humid affair of the Singapore race was given the added dimension of rain, shortly before the race was due to start. Cue differing wet weather tyres, with some teams opting for full sets and others for inters. How would the conditions affect the race? Well, for three drivers it would have no impact, for their race was the ended on the first lap. As the lights went out Vettel got away reasonably well but Verstappen was already trying to get alongside him and Raikkonen was darting up the inside of Verstappen, having made the best start of the three. Vettel swerved aggressively to the left, forcing Verstappen into Raikkonen and promptly tipping Kimi’s car into the sidepod of Vettel’s own machine. Raikkonen skidded across the track, collecting Verstappen again, and Verstappen would knock into the fast-starting McLaren of Fernando Alonso. Alonso would initially carry on going, whilst Vettel would make it around the first sequence of corners but then suffer the problem of his front wing falling off. As it was, his car had a damaged radiator and that was that for the four-time champion.

FerrariCollide

Amidst the chaos Hamilton had climbed into the lead, with Ricciardo behind him. After a safety car spell (continuing the ‘tradition’ of a safety car at every Singapore Grand Prix) the action got underway again and Hamilton began to pull away from Ricciardo, apparently in defiance of how the race was expected to proceed. After a few laps Alonso retired; his car had been damaged in the first corner shunt and his best chance of a good points haul was gone. Elsewhere, Nico Hulkenberg was up into third in his Renault – quite impressive – with Bottas in fourth. The teams were contemplating tyre choices, waiting to see when the track would permit slick compounds, with everyone waiting for everyone else to blink first. The track was drying slowly, and the teams were given further food for thought when Danil Kvyat rammed his Toro Rossi into the wall, having just squeezed by one of the Haas cars. A second safety would nullify Hamilton’s advantage over Ricciardo – the Australian pitted for fresh inters whilst Hamilton stayed out. Hulkenberg lost out, with Renault waiting an extra lap to pit him, sending him tumbling down the order.

Within the middle of the pack there were a few surprises and a few scraps. The Force Indias, Haas’, Williams’ and Renaults were all getting mixed up, and there were some impressive performances. Sergio Perez qualified 12 but finished 5th. Lance Stroll, new to the venue, finished 8th having qualified 18th. McLaren rookie Stoffel Vandoorne took a very credible 7th. Yes, the crashes benefited quite a few drivers, but nonetheless the performances were good. A third safety car period (caused by the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson punting a wall on lap 35) didn’t do too much to transform the pecking order, but it did ensure that the race would run to its two-hour time limit.

Two other performances need mentioning. Jolyon Palmer, whose seat at Renault will be taken by Carlos Sainz next season, managed to score his first points of the season with sixth. It was important that he put himself in the shop window and he duly did so. Yes, he benefited from so many retirements, but then that benefited several drivers, and Palmer exploited it very well. However, it was Sainz who scored his best finish so far in F1 with fourth, providing evidence of his underlying talent, and validating Renault’s move for him.

The day though, belonged to Lewis Hamilton, who extended his championship to 28 points (more than a race win’s worth of points). The title race is far from over, but his advantage is considerable, and Vettel will be hoping for his chief rival to have a DNF of his own. Vettel could win the title anyway (if he won all the remaining races it wouldn’t matter where Hamilton finished), but with some of the remaining tracks seeming like strong prospects for Hamilton victories, it may be that the championship is now out of Vettel’s hands. He will need to start clawing Hamilton back next time, in Malaysia.

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Welcome to F1’s premiere night race, and one of those rare sights – a counter-clockwise race. It is also one of the most gruelling tests of a driver’s stamina and endurance, for this bumpy track is surrounded by walls that will punish the slightest mistake, whilst the drivers must race for nearly two hours in hot, humid conditions that will leave them literally sweating off the pounds. This is Singapore.

Such is the nature of the venue that there has been a safety car at every single F1 race held here, and with the 2017 cars allowing for faster cornering it will not be a surprise to anyone if we get another safety car on Sunday. This long lap has several areas that could yield accidents, including the twisty turns at the start of the lap and the end of the DRS section that is Raffles Boulevard. The infamous ‘Singapore Sling’ that is now turn 10 has been neutered in recent years but turn 13 is a very tight left-hander and the sequence through turns 16-21 comes up pretty fast on the drivers.

The generally accepted idea is that Ferrari will have an edge on Mercedes here, with Ferrari’s car being better adapted to the slower, high-downforce circuits. It remains to be seen if that theory pans out, though it has been true of previous races, whilst Red Bull will being eying up a chance to get right into the mix here. Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen could well be wildcards in proceedings on Sunday, especially if they qualify strongly.

Another team with hopes of getting a decent points haul will be McLaren, who have announced they’ll be splitting from Honda at the end of the year. The plan for 2018 is to run Renault engines, which in theory is only a marginal improvement on where they are now, but it will be a step in the right direction. For now, the slow corners of Singapore will suit their overall design better than any remaining track.

From a championship perspective the equation is very simple – if Sebastian Vettel picks up a win he will go back into the lead of the title race, no matter where Lewis Hamilton finishes. Given that Vettel has more wins here than anyone else, he has every reason to be confident of his chances. For Hamilton Sunday might be all about damage limitation. We shall see.

Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix (or as it should be known, the Grid Penalty Grand Prix) will perhaps be best remembered for the chaotic qualifying, and for the host of penalties that saw the field shuffled to a near-farcical degree for race day. I understand that the FIA have to impose some kind of penalty for rule infractions, but the extent of it in Italy was insane.

Qualifying was equally insane, with torrential rain leading to a lengthy delay to the session, following an early crash from Grosjean in his Haas. When (after a couple of hours) qualifying did finally take place, it was the Mercedes of Hamilton who dominated, albeit not without a minor scare from an unlikely place – the Force India of Ocon was at one point running top of the standings in Q3, with the cars kicking up huge amounts of spray in the sodden conditions. In the end though, Lewis Hamilton took his 69th career pole and in doing so, claimed the record for the most poles in F1 (overhauling Michael Schumacher’s record of 68). Elsewhere, the craziness of the penalties meant young Williams driver Lance Stroll would start second and Ocon was third. Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes would start fourth, just ahead of the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.

The poor showing in qualifying from the Ferraris (at least, in relation to Hamilton, who was 2.5 seconds faster than his title rival Vettel) was at least in part due to the wet conditions in which Hamilton excels, so come the race itself there was a hope that they could turn things around, even if only a little. An early tussle between Raikkonen and Bottas saw the two get very close at one point, before Bottas, even before DRS was active, blew by the Ferrari. Stroll (who had started cautiously and let Ocon get ahead of him) was an easy target for Bottas, and soon the Finn was by Ocon as well. Hamilton was out in front, easing out a gap of around four seconds and content to control the pace from there.

Vettel would get by Raikkonen in short order, and soon he too was dispensing Stroll and Ocon, aided in part by Stroll trying to put pressure on the Force India man. Once Vettel was in clear air he would have hoped to exert some pressure of his own on the Mercedes duo, but he was powerless to get near them, and the two Silver Arrows streaked off into the distance.

The Red Bulls of Ricciardo and Verstappen had found themselves out of position near the back of the pack, thanks to the aforementioned grid penalties, but Ricciardo was charging up the order – despite a weaker Renault engine, the setup of the Red Bulls was near-perfect, allowing Ricciardo to pump in some very fast laps. Verstappen was not so lucky, suffering a puncture early on after a tangle with the second Williams of Felipe Massa, and fell down the order. He would work his way back up, eventually stealing a point for 10th, but it was Ricciardo who went on to earn the driver of the day tag, reaching fourth after a typically bold display of late braking into turn 1, diving down the inside of Raikkonen. He then chased after Vettel (by this point, Ricciardo was on supersoft tyres, whereas Vettel was on softs), but couldn’t quite catch him.

Hamilton would cruise to a comfortable victory and Mercedes would claim only their second one-two finish of the year, stretching their lead in the constructor’s championship, whilst Hamilton now leads the driver’s championship, albeit by only three points. It was his sixth win of the season, the first time anyone has won back-to-back races this year, and his 39th win from pole, along with the 59th of his career. It remains to be seen whether this is a tipping point in the title fight, with the next round in Singapore in theory favouring Ferrari.

 

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F1 races are like buses – you wait ages, then two come along at once! Following swiftly on Belgium’s heels is the Italian Grand Prix, held at another of Formula 1’s classic venues – Monza.

There’s nowhere on the calendar as fast as Monza. With long straights and mild curves, this is where the engines get to stretch their legs, and the drivers get to put their foot down. With the 2017 regulations producing some of the fastest F1 cars ever designed, we could be in for some supreme displays of speed here. The rundown to the opening chicane has produced high drama in the past, and could well do so on Sunday, given the approach speeds of clusters of F1 cars. A similar approach follows to turns 4 and 5, and the Curve di Lesmo looks slower than it actually is – with the increased downforce of these cars, it may well be taken nearly flat out.

This then takes us down the Curva del Serraglio, one of two DRS zones, so not only is it a fast run toward turns 8, 9 and 10 (itself a nippy sequence), but with DRS open it could prove to be particularly tricky. Getting a good exit is vital here, in order to get hard onto the power down the final straight, before the trickier-than-it-looks Curva Parabolica, which takes us to the start/finish straight. Rinse and repeat.

There is a lot of history here, and Ferrari fans will be out in force. Ferrari’s factory is not far away, so this is very much a home race for them, but in terms of raw engine power, Mercedes still have the edge. The signs from the first practice sessions are that Mercedes are very quick here, with the Silver Arrows appearing to be faster on slower tyres. Hamilton needs to win here, to at the very least tie the score with Vettel, as the next round – Singapore – will favour the Ferraris. It’s very much a crucial race on Sunday.

A fairly humdrum Belgian Grand Prix saw Lewis Hamilton halve the gap to Sebastian Vettel by taking top spot, and managing to absorb the near-constant presence of the Ferrari driver throughout the race. Vettel was never much farther than two seconds behind Hamilton, requiring the Mercedes man to be on his game, and on it he was – Hamilton coped nicely with the pressure, and the car itself demonstrated its strength on circuits like Spa – even on the soft tyres, Hamilton was able to control the gap to Vettel, who was running on the ultrasoft tyres at the end, following a safety car. The incident that led to the safety car… that was more than a little interesting.

Perez and Ocon get Rough

On the very first lap Perez, whilst tangling with another car on the run up to Eau Rouge, nearly pushed his Force India teammate Ocon into the wall. That could be forgiven as a racing incident – what happened as the race entered its final third was more controversial and likely to cause a heated discussion as the team try to deal with this latest moment of contact between the pair. Ocon was trying to get by Perez (the two had been battling throughout the race) and the Frenchman felt he’d been unfairly squeezed as the pair once again approached Eau Rouge at great speed. Ocon ended up losing part of his front wing and Perez suffered a puncture that ruined his race, though Ocon would recover to finish ninth. Ocon had some harsh words for Perez in the immediate aftermath of the race – it remains to be seen what the team will do.

Alonso’s had Enough

After qualifying 11th, Alonso put his McLaren up to seventh on the first lap, but it quickly became apparent that the underpowered Honda engine wasn’t going to resist the faster cars behind it, and Alonso dropped back down the field, much to his consternation. It’s difficult to believe he will end up staying at McLaren if they don’t make serious changes.

Verstappen’s Woes

For the sixth time in twelve races, Max Verstappen ended up retiring – this was an engine fault (it’s not the first time that’s happened this year), and it only took eight laps for his car to give up on him. That particular little detail also led to a ten-second stop go penalty for Raikkonen, who had failed to slow enough at the yellow flags. Raikkonen would recover pretty well, ending up in fourth, benefiting from the safety car as Bottas went wide at the end of the Kemmel Straight, during a particularly audacious move by Daniel Ricciardo (who went on to take third place, a very credible result given Red Bull’s power deficiencies in Belgium.

The Gap Shrinks

Hamilton’s win (on a weekend where he also equalled Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of 68 pole positions) sees him reduce his deficit to Vettel to seven points. His fifth win of the year was a vital one – in a week’s time in Italy, another power track, he has the chance to at the very least draw level with Vettel, an absolute must with Singapore (a Ferrari track) looming.

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They’ve had four weeks off, now they can get back to work! Formula 1 returns at the weekend, and it will involve one of its most famous venues – Spa-Francorchamps.

The track itself has changed considerably over the years, with the original configuration being a 15km-long run through the forests that involved a great deal of danger. Spa is one of the deadliest circuits, having claimed 48 racer’s across various motorsport formulas since 1925, as well as four officials. It is a testing, challenging race, for a variety of reasons.

It’s not uncommon for rain to add an extra dimension to proceedings, and it’s been known for parts of the track to be damp and other parts to be dry, owing to the rolling, hilly nature of the place. The first sector is very fast, so low-down force settings are desired, but sector two is filled with winding mid-speed corners that are better suited to more down force, whilst sector three goes back to being fast again. Therefore, Spa is tricky to pin down in terms of setup.

So, with the faster cars of 2017, we can expect some very fast lap times around here, and it might approach some hair-raising speeds, especially as the cars go screaming up the superfast kink of Eau Rouge, before hurtling down the Kemmel Straight. With the Kemmel Straight usually being a DRS zone too, this could create some nail-biting moments on the approach to turn 7 and the Les Combes complex. Likewise the run down Blanchimont toward the final chicane will create some spectacular overtaking opportunities and some tense moments.

The expectation is that Mercedes will have the slight edge over Ferrari here, and therefore Lewis Hamilton will have a golden opportunity to close the gap on championship leader Sebastian Vettel. However, 2017 has so far proven that nothing should be assumed, so I won’t be making any bold predictions. Instead, I will hope for a fun, interesting and close race!

I’ve not seen this race, but I’ve seen the second corner incident between the Red Bull pair of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, so I thought I’d weigh in on that. Verstappen had initially made a good start and was hassling Hamilton’s Mercedes around the first corner. He got squeezed by the Ferraris and Mercedes’ and as a result Ricciardo was moving ahead of him on the approach to turn 2. Verstappen was too punchy, braking too late and locking up, smacking into Ricciardo and damaging the side pod, causing some kind of leak that ended Ricciardo’s race on the first lap. It wasn’t a deliberate move but Verstappen was desperate to keep ahead of his teammate and that desire manifested itself in the form of an error. Ricciardo was furious, and I would be intrigued by what words were exchanged after the race.

Beyond that incident, what happened?

Whereas last time around in Britain I was saying Mercedes and Hamilton had looked dominant, Ferrari bounced back with a vengeance in Budapest, with Sebastian Vettel taking pole and victory, with Kimi Raikkonen taking second. Even here, there was a manner of mild controversy. Vettel was suffering from handling problems and Raikkonen was quicker, but Ferrari bosses wanted Raikkonen to hold station and act as a buffer to the Mercedes pair behind them. This in turn put more pressure on Raikkonen, with first Bottas, then Hamilton, pushing at him.

Honourable Hamilton

Bottas had originally moved aside to let Hamilton have a crack at Raikkonen, but the Mercedes is not great at following other cars, and Hamilton just couldn’t mount an attack. He gave up third to Bottas at the final corner, honouring an agreement with his teammate, but was it the smart move? World championships have been decided by margins of three points or less on several occasions – and Hamilton just gave up three points. Time will be the judge of this.

Spare a thought for Fernando Alonso – the McLaren man took a highly credible sixth place and also ended up with the fastest lap – a reminder that the car has a strong design, just not an engine that does it justice.

Formula 1 now powers down for a month. We resume hostilities in Belgium.