Blog 4 – Formula One’s Tex-Mex: The Title Decider?
MEXICO – A LOOK BACK In Part 1 of this blog, we have no problem admitting that our The Hard Compound prediction for the Mexican Grand Prix was further off the mark than Emerson Fittipaldi’s decision to join Copersucar for 1976 (Hopefully that reference won’t be lost on you. If it is, look for the reference in the film “Rush”).
It was a thoroughly enjoyable race at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on Sunday, and there were more than a few surprises and incidents along the way; no surprise bigger than the almost catastrophic blunders in no fewer than three of the pit stops.
In a year where we’ve seen pit stops more finely tuned than one of Kimi Raikkonen’s Hublots, it was almost unbelievable to see McLaren, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari failing to either properly attach wheels or making a mess of keeping cars stable for tyre changes of Lando Norris, Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovanazzi respectively. We should incidentally say well done to McLaren for letting Norris know what had happened so quickly, enabling him to stop safely before crossing the pit lane limiter lane and thus save them a penalty for an unsafe release – the old “no harm done” ruling from the stewards in a rare moment of common sense.
At least we avoided the sight of tyres bouncing hazardously down the pitlane, like we did in the 80s and 90s.
So, the race itself – more surprises. While it was no surprise to see the Ferraris initially struggle off the line as they punched a clean hole in the dirty air for everyone to funnel into, it was definitely a surprise to see them not pull away initially, certainly where Mercedes were concerned. We fully expected Mercedes to struggle here in the thin air of Mexico City, combined with the high downforce advantage for Red Bull and the high speed advantage of Ferrari, but the Silver Arrows hung on to the tails of the aforementioned teams and got ahead of Max Verstappen when the Dutchman attempted a (perhaps ill-advised?) passing manoeuvre on Valtteri Bottas at one of the less-recognised overtaking places on the circuit, and had a neat slice cut into his left rear Pirelli as Bottas switched back behind him.
It could be said that an over-eager Mr. Verstappen could have waited for clearer opportunity further down the line, but when real racers see a gap…
Verstappen eventually carved an impressive swathe through the order from the back of the pack to finish 6th after changing the offending tyre, and was rewarded with Driver Of The Day for his efforts – although I must add that in our opinion, making a silly mistake and having to correct it (no matter how impressively) perhaps isn’t the best thing to be rewarded for. Anyway, in an apparent mis-read of tyre degradation ahead of this race, Ferrari seemed to be struggling to deal with Mercedes despite the German outfit constantly having to request that their drivers take it easy on the brakes at this punishing circuit - indeed it was mentioned during the race that the callipers can reach temperatures of 1200 celsius… crazy numbers, but handy if you fancy a post-race omelette I suppose!
Leclerc’s charge ended with the pit lane incident we mentioned earlier as one of his wheels decided it wasn’t in the mood to go racing when it was asked. Vettel impressively stuck as close as he could to the rear wing of Hamilton as the Englishman made steady, calculated progress through the laps and his Finnish team mate did the same in third behind Vettel. Further down the order, and again proving that you can never tell how cars are going to fare in Mexico despite using the best logic, the Renault of The Hard Compound favourite Daniel Ricciardo was making excellent ground in the middle-order of the points, and Alex Albon was getting the most he’s managed yet out of the 2nd Red Bull to narrowly miss out on a podium. Impressive stuff. Sergio “Checo” Perez had a superb seventh spot to celebrate in front of his adoring and raucous home fans, while Pierre Gasly hauled the Toro Rosso into a points scoring position with an excellent display in challenging circumstances. Were you watching, Christian Horner…?
Further back, steady progress was made by Alfa Romeo as expected (despite Giovanizzi’s car seemingly falling off a jack during his pitstop), while Kvyat and Hulkenburg enjoyed an excellent late tussle for the final World Championship point, before Kvyat decided to adopt a British Touring Car approach to overtaking and punted the latter into the barrier… It’s not like he’s done that before is it…? Do spare a thought for McLaren, who had a pretty hideous Sunday all round with a baffling lack of pace after a decent showing in qualifying, and the indignity of failing to get a left wheel to stay on Norris’s machine in a pit stop.
And so it was Hamilton who took the spoils, but he will have to wait at least another race to be crowned World Champion as Bottas just did enough to keep things alive by taking the final podium spot as the Silver Arrows were split by the impressive Vettel’s Ferrari. It’d be remiss of us at this point to not mention the extraordinary podium setup after the race. Situated in the complex at the end of the lap where the fanatical supporters surround the action, the Champion-elect appeared from beneath the podium, rising through it on a platform with his faithful Mercedes in front of him – sparks everywhere, DJ Tiesto giving it the beans, and tickertape all over the show. IT was either magnificent or tacky, depending on your leanings!
At least Vettel ignored that annoying “Stig in a Sombrero” with a selfie stick. He’s grown on us here, he’s actually a very nice, respectful and funny chap.
All of which leads us nicely on to part 2: The United States Grand Prix this Sunday.
AUSTIN – A LOOK FORWARD The big topic going into this weekend is the clinching of a Sixth World Championship by Lewis Hamilton. It's a simple equation: Even if Valtteri Bottas wins and takes the fastest lap, Lewis Hamilton only needs to finish eighth to take the crown. If Bottas doesn’t win, the title is done and dusted and heading back to Britain, and with the only thing seemingly standing in Hamilton’s way is an almighty malfunction by the ever-reliable Mercedes, you’d put your house on it all being decided this weekend.
Austin is of course a high speed meandering circuit and puts huge stresses on these cars, and there’s always opportunity for accidents in both the race and the qualifying. Barring the latter, we think this is a done deal as, should the race require it, Hamilton will nurse the car round inside the top ten with ease.
At the risk of this sounding a lot like our Mexican Grand Prix Preview last week we think Ferrari and Red Bull can run well here, especially in the series of high speed bends after turn one. Bottas in the Mercedes will of course go all out in the perhaps forlorn hope of prolonging the title tussle, but the impressive return to form of Sebastian Vettel in Mexico and the constant improvement by Charles Leclerc (pit lane misfortune aside) both pose a real threat to the top two steps on the podium. While another strong drive by Alex Albon shouldn’t be ruled out, it is Max Verstappen who has the ability and testicular fortitude to really attack The Circuit Of The Americas, and pressure the Ferrari duo the most. The young Dutchman has shown on his previous two visits to Austin that he loves this place; finishing second last year and pulling off a brave high-speed (if ultimately illegal) overtake on Kimi Raikkonen in the final stages of the 2017 contest.
Personally, we think this is ideally suited to a Ferrari one-two with Verstappen in third, but it’s impossible to rule out Mercedes. Of course we can’t predict first corner incidents here, just like we couldn’t do with Mexico, and the opening turn at Austin is a tricky one – a steep incline to a hairpin bend to rival La Source at Spa with a short braking zone is always going to be testing, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see some chunks of carbon fibre flying high into to the huge Texan skies this area is famous for. However, it’s hard to see the top six being anything other than just that come the chequered hankie on Sunday.
Further back, we are predicting continued improvement from Mr. Kvyat in the Toro Rosso after a strong race in Mexico City, as well as a return to the pace they so bafflingly struggled to find for McLaren. Renault may have high hopes for this weekend too after a strong showing last time out, but Haas must be dreading a return to a track where their luck is flimsy at best. Racing Point have been decent here in the past with Ocon and Perez taking 5th and 7th here two years ago, but a lot has changed in that time and they’ll be just outside the points… we think…
An interesting side note: Last year here, Kimi Raikkonen took his final win for Ferrari (are probably his final win in F1?) as speculation over his future with the team intensified. The rumour mill is suggesting Vettel may part ways with the Scuderia at the end of this season, so could there be a repeat performance from a potentially departing star?
Pure speculation of course.
To close out, we think Lewis Hamilton will get what he needs to surpass the great Juan Manuel Fangio and take his 6th title, although we think the day itself will belong to Ferrari.
They say everything is bigger in Texas; Skies, hats, cattle, egos and houses, but nothing will be bigger on Sunday than the party in the Mercedes motorhome as they celebrate another double Constructors and Drivers Championship double victory.
As always feel free to offer your opinion either on here or on social media. Enjoy the race, and the all-American Pomp and Ceremony that will doubtlessly come with it.
Rich - THC
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