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.

 

Time to get a little emotional. Today my baby starts junior school, which is a surreal sentence to write. I don’t see how she can be that big, yet she is off to begin the next chapter of her education and start the next chapter of her life. My baby is not a baby, not anymore.

Such is the way of life. We can only move forward with time, though sometimes, wouldn’t it be nice for time to move more slowly?

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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 saw this on Twitter, earlier today, and wanted to correct a few misconceptions.

Firstly, atheism and communism are not one and the same. I have this argument brought up again and again as a sign that those of a religious faith are more ‘moral’ and better than atheists. You can be a communist and an atheist. You can be a communist and a Christian, or a communist and a Muslim. You can a capitalist and an atheist (and so on). This is a classic example of ‘false equivalence’, a problem that seems to be growing in the wake of Trump’s ill-fated words on the Charlottesville riots. That the followers of Stalin’s breed of communism carried out so many atrocities has nothing to do with the absence of faith. Atheists do not see themselves as gods, and do not act in the interests of only themselves (well, some of them perhaps, some of them don’t, but guess what, this applies to people who are religious too, no matter what they may say). This swings back to discussions and comments on the subject of morality. It also wants to treat various blocs of people as monolithic entities. ‘All atheists think X, all Christians think Y, all Muslims think Z’. This is completely false. It’s a method of thinking that gives rise to all sorts of unreasonable stereotypes that end up doing far more harm than good.

People have died in the name of political causes, cultural ideals, and yes, religious beliefs. Morality is not something that can be sourced only through divine ideas. Anyone, from any walk of life, is capable of being cruel. Equally, anyone is capable of acts of great compassion. Can we move past the idea that only the faithful can be moral?

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Sometimes kids will mispronounce things, and it can be hilarious! They will also come out with funny stuff. My daughter frequently reminds her mother and I that ‘we’re allowed to kiss because we’re married.’ When she was smaller she would sometimes ask to watch Shrek and Fiona, but get her words jumbled and come up with something virtually unprintable…

She was travelling home on the train from a day out yesterday and chatting away to her niece (yes, my daughter is an auntie – it’s a complicated family dynamic!), who is around the same age. I was at work at this point so I didn’t get to witness this first hand – if I had, I don’t think I’d have been able to keep a straight face…

So they’re ‘having tea’ and making their purses talk… yes, talk. Then my daughter has said something along the lines of ‘and let’s not talk about the time when I shit my pants at the party!’. How my wife didn’t erupt into fits of laughter I do not know. My step-daughter thinks she actually said ‘when I lost my pants’, which is to be honest, nearly as funny, but still!

To answer this question effectively, we need to go back, to a time before she was born – to the time when I first learned I was going to be a father. We’d been trying for a baby for a little while, but I wasn’t sure how long it would take for my wife to fall pregnant. Then, one evening, she took a test, and it came up as positive. Another test followed the next morning; she confirmed it – she was pregnant – I was going to be a father!

I went to work that morning in something of a daze. I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to tell everyone, but of course, you can’t – so I kept my mouth shut, waiting until the twelve week scan mark. That felt like a long wait!

In fact, whilst I waited for nine months to see my little girl, it actually felt like a moment my whole life had been building up to. Sitting with my wife in the hospital as we waited, and waited, and waited for my daughter to arrive, was one of the longest days (and nights!) of my life. Then, after an eternity, one of the midwifes announced she could see the baby’s head, and at that point, I felt my control snap. Emotions hit me and hit me hard. This was the moment I would finally lay eyes on my baby.

I cried. I cried when she appeared, I cried when she let out her little cry, and when I got to hold her for the first time, telling her (as my voice threatened to crack) ‘hello, I’m your daddy’. Even as I type this, I can feel myself welling up. In that moment, my life and my world were complete. I had everything I could never want or need.