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It’s been a sad week for F1 with the death of former world champion Niki Lauda. I remember back in 1976 when it was the final day of the Montreal Olympics. Any other time that would have dominated the sporting news, but it was overshadowed by Lauda’s near-fatal accident in the German Grand Prix. None of us that day thought he’d be back in his Ferrari in six weeks’ time. I’ll write an obituary to Niki next weekend.

This weekend it’s the Monaco Grand Prix, a race Mercedes last won in 2016. Can their domination of this season’s title races be continued on this legendary street circuit? There will rightfully be plenty of tributes paid this weekend to the Austrian legend. Sebastian Vettel is wearing a helmet that is modelled on the one Lauda wore when winning the world title for Ferrari.

Latest Standings

Drivers’ – Lewis Hamilton 112 Valtteri Bottas 105 Max Verstappen 66 Sebastian Vettel 64 Charles Leclerc 57

Constructors – Mercedes 217 Ferrari 121 Red Bull 87

First Practice Session

Mercedes haven’t always had the best of times around the Monaco street circuit, but it was Lewis Hamilton who was fastest in the first practice session. It was a close-run thing though as he was only 0.059 seconds ahead of Max Verstappen in his Red Bull.

Just behind Verstappen was the other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas. He was only 0.072 seconds behind his team-mate.

Ferrari filled fourth and fifth spots with Charles Leclerc 0.356 seconds faster than Sebastian Vettel. However, Leclerc’s time was 0.361 seconds behind that set by Hamilton.

The other Red Bull of Pierre Gasly was sixth fastest (a second behind Verstappen) but had a few problems when ending up sideways exiting the first Swimming Pool chicane. As you’ll soon read, he wasn’t the only driver to have problems during the first practice session. Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg was seventh, just 0.038 seconds behind Gasly. The top ten was completed by Kevin Magnussen in his Haas, Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) and Daniel Ricciardo in the other Renault.

There were a few near crashes during the practice session. Williams had problems in Spain with George Russell, and It was his team-mate Robert Kubica’s turn this time. He lost control coming out of the exit of Casino Square but was able to avoid a full-on smash into the wall. Russell did manage to hit the wall, but no damage was reported to his Williams.

Behind the Ferraris, Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly was sixth quickest, a second slower than Verstappen and just 0.038secs quicker than Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, who pipped Haas driver Kevin Magnussen, Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi and the second Renault of Daniel Ricciardo.

It wasn’t a great session for McLaren though. Carlos Sainz could only manage a single ‘installation ‘lap after an electrical problem. Lando Norris finished 15th fastest.

Kimi Raikkonen finished and had trouble getting the room to record a fast lap. He came out with one of the quotes of the season though. After another failure to get a clear run, he commented: “Yeah, I have that Force India or whatever the f*** it’s called!”

Second Practice

Mercedes had a 1-2 (think I’ve written that before this season) in the second practice session Lewis Hamilton finished 0.081 seconds clear of Valtteri Bottas as he chases only his third win in Monaco. Sebastian Vettel was third fastest but won’t be happy at the fact his Ferrari was 0.763 seconds behind Hamilton. That gap widened to over a second when it came to the race-simulation runs.

It could have been worse for him though as he locked a wheel when entering Tun One and nearly hit the barriers. His team mate Charles Leclerc slumped to 10th fastest after his car suffered braking problems.

Pierre Gasly was fourth in his Red Bull but 0.82 seconds behind Mercedes. Team mate Max Verstappen didn’t spend too much time on the track in this session. His Red Bull had a water leak and eventually he could only manage sixth place and moaned about a lack of grip.

It was an impressive session for Alexander Albon. His Toro Rosso was fifth-fastest. He likes the track “a lot” and said it was “really fun out there.”

Kevin Magnussen was seventh for Haas with the two Alfa Romeos driven by Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen in eighth and ninth. Daniel Ricciardo won this race last year but could only finish 17th in this session.

Another day of domination for Mercedes then and the possibility of a sixth-straight 1-2 for them is looking likely. Neither Ferrari or Red Bull seem able to bridge the gap between themselves and Mercedes. I’ll be back tomorrow with a report on the final session and qualifying, till then, enjoy your racing.

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We look set for another Hamilton v Bottas contest in tomorrow’s Spanish Grand Prix after Mercedes again dominated final practice and qualifying. Bottas will start on pole for the third time this season.

Final Practice

After the success his team-mate had yesterday, it was Lewis Hamilton who was fastest in final practice. He finished 0.531 seconds ahead of the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc as Mercedes again showed their superiority over the Italian team.

Bottas was third fastest just 0.024 seconds behind Leclerc. It wasn’t the smoothest of sessions for him though. Earlier in the session he’d caused the red flag to come out for seven minutes as he ended up in the gravel after spinning at Turn 5.

Sebastian Vettel finished in fourth, 0.604 seconds off the pace and it was a good session for Haas. They filled fifth and sixth spots with Romain Grosjean ahead of Kevin Magnussen with the former just 0.2 seconds behind Vettel.

Max Verstappen was seventh but 0.99 seconds behind Hamilton. Team-mate Pierre Gasly could only manage 14h position. He was unable to complete his final run, more about that in a moment. The top ten was completed by Alexander Albon, Kimi Raikkonen and Carlos Sainz.

The session ended early after George Russell had problems at Turn 4. The Williams driver lost the rear of his car, went through the gravel and then ended up in the wall backwards. The incident prevented Gasly, Hulkenburg and Norris from completing their final runs.

Norris has been given a five-place grid penalty after a gearbox change to his car was made prior to qualifying.

Qualifying

Valtteri Bottas will start the Spanish Grand Prix on pole as his challenge for a first world title grows ever stronger. He finished 0.634 seconds of Lewis Hamilton for another Mercedes 1-2.

Hamilton made plenty of errors on his first lap in the final part of qualifying. That lap included going wide out of Turn Seven, bouncing over the kerbs on the exit and then going wide at both Turns 12 and 13. By the time he got back out the slower track (mainly caused by the gravel Hamilton had caused to end up on it) meant he was never going to get pole off his team-mate.

Sebastian Vettel will start in third, but he was 0.866 seconds behind Bottas. Red Bull snatched fourth place on the grid as Max Verstappen finished ahead of Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari driver was restricted in the final session due to being short of new tyres.

Pierre Gasly finished sixth fastest in the other Red Bull and they could well give Ferrari a fight tomorrow. Haas filled both seventh and eighth spots with Grosjean just ahead of Magnussen. Daniil Kvyat was ninth in his Toro Rosso with Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault in tenth. However, Ricciardo has a three-place grid penalty after reversing into Daniil Kvyat’s car in Azerbaijan, so will start in 13th taking McLaren’s Lando Norris into 10th.

Renault have a new engine this weekend, but it’s been a struggle for them. Nico Hulkenburg didn’t make it out of Q3 and will start in 16th place. He also broke the front wing of his car during Q3 and will have to use an old-spec one tomorrow.

Valtteri Bottas was delighted with securing pole and said, “I feel better and better in the car.” Lewis Hamilton was happy for his team-mate but not so pleased with his own performance. “I just didn’t put the laps together,” he said and added that “it just wasn’t a good enough job.”

Sebastian Vettel wasn’t in the best of moods with his car saying that on his second run in the final part of qualifying, “I had to try something a bit different and it didn’t work.” He admitted that his car just isn’t quick enough.

Those of us hoping there won’t be a fifth straight Mercedes 1-2 tomorrow could well be disappointed. Their aerodynamic upgrade has kept them well ahead of Ferrari despite their upgraded engine. I’ll be back later in the month with more news from the F1 season, till then enjoy your racing.

By Steve Ashfield for Pillow Motor Sports

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The season has been dominated by Mercedes with 1-2 finishes in all four of the races so far. With respect to Mercedes, we could really do with that not happening this weekend at the Spanish Grand Prix, but Friday’s practice sessions were full of more good news for the championship leaders.

Championship Positions

Drivers – 87 – Valtteri Bottas   86 – Lewis Hamilton 52 – Sebastian Vettel 51– Max Verstappen 47 – Charles Leclerc

Constructors – 173 – Mercedes 99 – Ferrari 64 – Red Bull

First Practice

World Championship leader Valtteri Bottas continued his good form as he finished fastest in the first practice session. His Mercedes was 0.115 seconds faster than Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel with his team-mate Charles Leclerc 0.221 seconds off the pace.

It could have been another Mercedes 1-2, but Lewis Hamilton could only finish fourth fastest. He wasn’t happy with his tyres moaning that “Tyre prep terrible. Rear tyres are done.” when recording his quickest lap as he set a time 0.624 seconds behind Bottas.

Fifth fastest was Romain Grosjean in his Haas with the McLaren of Carlos Sainz in sixth using a new engine. He was just ahead of the other Haas driven by Kevin Magnussen. Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly was eighth-fastest with the top ten completed by Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) and the Renault of Nico Hulkenburg who was 0.061 seconds ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.

It wasn’t a perfect session for Bottas as his Mercedes suffered an oil leak. A precautionary engine shutdown took place and he wasn’t racing for the final 20 minutes of the session. For the final quarter-of-an-hour he was joined by Max Verstappen after his Red Bull had a fluid leak. He only managed to set the 12th fastest time in the session.

Ferrari are introducing an upgraded engine as well as aerodynamic upgrades for this weekend but that wasn’t in use today, so something to look forward to tomorrow. No upgraded engine for Mercedes but they have got some aerodynamic upgrades.

The session ended early after Racing Post’s Lance Stroll crashed at Turn Nine after brushing the grass, he ended up going straight into the wall. There was only a minute of the session left, so no great loss and Stroll was uninjured.

Second Practice

It was a Mercedes 1-2 in the second practice session of the day with Valtteri Bottas 0.049 seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton. The British driver was able to get a faster time when using soft tyres on his second lap but couldn’t better the earlier time set by his team-mate.

Ferrari filled third and fourth places with Charles Leclerc 0.301 seconds behind Bottas and Sebastian Vettel a further 0.088 seconds behind. It was a better session for Max Verstappen as his Red Bull finished fifth fastest but 0.751 seconds off the pace. Romain Grosjean filled sixth place ahead of the other Red Bull driven by Pierre Gasly. Kevin Magnussen was eighth with Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat ninth and tenth respectively.

Another dominant day for Mercedes then and when using the same tyres, they seemed to be at least 0.5 seconds faster than Ferrari. It’ll be interesting to see what Ferrari can do tomorrow but the signs are that it’s going to be another good weekend for Mercedes. I’ll be back tomorrow with a report on the final practice session and qualifying, till then enjoy your racing.

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Pillow Motor Sport Tours by Pillow Motorsports - 1M ago

Friday and Saturday seem to be telling the same story a great deal at the moment. Ferrari do well in practice and look to be faster than Mercedes, who then pull out all the stops in qualifying. That happened again in Azerbaijan as Mercedes took 1-2 in qualifying and it’s Valtteri Bottas who will start on pole.

Final Practice

The day got off to a good start for Charles Leclerc as he finished fastest in the final practice session. He was 0.198 seconds ahead of team-mate Sebastian Vettel. Leclerc and Vettel were over a second ahead of the rest of the field.

Third fastest was Max Verstappen with the two Mercedes in fourth and fifth. Valtteri Bottas finished ahead of Lewis Hamilton but neither broke 1 minute 43 seconds while both Leclerc and Vettel were below 1 minute 42 seconds.

Sixth fastest was the Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat with Kevin Magnussen’s Haas in seventh. Alexander Albon took his Toro Rosso into eighth and could have perhaps finished higher but for oversteering around the castle. Ninth went to Sergio Perez in his Racing Point with Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo 10th.

Qualifying

Charles Leclerc may have had a good start to the day, but it didn’t last. It’s Valtteri Bottas who will be on pole position for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after a chaotic qualifying session. Again, despite earlier Ferrari dominance it’s a Mercedes 1-2 on the grid tomorrow.

Lewis Hamilton had posted the fastest time in Q1, but he couldn’t keep that up in the final part of qualifying. The defending world champion lost time in the first sector and that allowed Bottas to set a faster time.

Sebastian Vettel was third-fastest and 0.302 seconds behind Bottas. Max Verstappen will start fourth in his Red Bull and was 0.574 seconds off the pace. The Racing Point of Sergio Perez made fifth place with Daniil Kvyat driving his Toro Rosso into sixth position on the grid. Lando Norris will be delighted with his seventh-place finish. Eighth and ninth spots were filled by the two Alfa Romeo’s with Antonio Giovinazzi ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.

For Leclerc it was a bit of nightmare as he crashed his Ferrari in Q2 and as a result will only be ninth on the grid on Sunday (he goes up a place because Antonio Giovinazzi has a ten-place grid penalty). He had qualified for the final qualifying session, but his car was too damaged to take part. His immediate reaction was simply “I am stupid” and later called himself “useless.” He needs to get that out of his system before tomorrow’s race.

The session had two lengthy stoppages, the first occurring after Robert Kubica crashed his Williams into the wall at Turn Eight. That led to his car cannoning into the barrier on the outside. The Baku street circuit is again proving difficult with the walls being hit several times. That included Sebastian Vettel who hit the inside wall at Turn Eight.

Post qualifying, Valtteri Bottas, who seems to have become the chief threat to Lewis Hamilton this season was delighted with taking pole position. He admitted that Ferrari have been “really strong” but Mercedes “did everything to take an advantage” after Leclerc crashed his car.

Championship leader Lewis Hamilton said that Ferrari had looked “incredibly quick” but the 1-2 for Mercedes was “a massively great result” for the Mercedes team. That’s particularly as unlike Ferrari, his team hasn’t had an upgrade this weekend.

Sebastian Vettel was disappointed at only finishing third-fastest as Ferrari were “expecting to have a better session.” That seems to be the story of their season so far and if Mercedes were to get another 1-2 here, then Ferrari really are in trouble. They are going to start on medium tyres tomorrow so it could be an interesting race on a tricky street circuit. After what’s happened on Friday and Saturday, another eventful race looks on the cards tomorrow. I’ll be back in May with more F1 blogs, till then enjoy your racing.

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After the third race of the season, Mercedes already have a good lead over Ferrari. The teams head to Azerbaijan this weekend with Ferrari looking to close the gap.

Championship Positions

Drivers – 68 – Lewis Hamilton 62 – Valtteri Bottas 39 – Max Verstappen 37 – Sebastian Vettel 36 – Charles Leclerc

Constructors – 130 – Mercedes 73 – Ferrari 52 – Red Bull

Grid Penalties are Back

Alfa Romeo probably won’t win a race this season, but they have come first in terms of grid penalties. Antonio Giovinazzi has received a ten-place grid penalty after a new control electronics box was fitted to his car. That’s the third change in four races and only two are permitted before the grid penalties start being applied.

First Practice Cancelled

The weekend didn’t start well as the first practice session was cancelled. George Russell’s Williams had its floor smashed after his car caught the edge of a loose manhole cover. The chassis needed to be changed and that meant the Williams won’t be able to run again until final practice on Saturday.

The blame for the loosening of the manhole seems to have been directed towards the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc. At that point only the Ferrari’s had set lap times. That was important though as the Italian team have a major aerodynamic upgrade for this weekend.

The bizarre start to the weekend continued as the truck given the job of taking Russell’s car back to the pits crashed into a bridge and leaked hydraulic fluid onto the Williams car. Lewis Hamilton used the additional time to catch up on ‘Game of Thrones.’

Second Practice

Charles Leclerc avoided the manholes and finished fastest in an eventful second practice session. He finished 0.324 seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel for a Ferrari 1-2, followed by Lewis Hamilton (now up to date with the goings on at Winterfell) in third place. His Mercedes was 0.669 seconds behind Leclerc. He wasn’t too happy with Kevin Magnussen who swerved towards him and then to make it worse gesticulated at the British driver.

Fourth went to Max Verstappen who was 0.252 seconds behind Hamilton. Both Red Bull and Toro Rosso have seen their Honda engines receive an upgrade for this race. A “quality control issue” is the reason given for the upgrade.

Valtteri Bottas was fifth fastest but 1.13 seconds off the pace. He was ahead of Daniil Kvyat in sixth, more about him in a moment. The McLaren of Carlos Sainz was seventh, 0.006 seconds behind the upgraded Toro Rosso.  Alexander Albon finished eighth-fastest in the other Toro Rosso with Lando Norris tenth.

Pierre Gasly was ninth in the other Red Bull but half a second behind Verstappen. It was a poor session for him as he ended up being penalised for failing to stop at the weigh bridge. As a result of that, he’ll be starting the race in the pit lane.

The red-flag came out twice during the session. Lance Stroll crashed his Racing Point at Turn Two. That took off the front-left corner of his car. Also, in trouble was Daniil Kvyat who was sixth-fastest when having problems at Turn Seven damaging the left-hand side of the Toro Rosso.

Speaking after the second practice session, Lewis Hamilton said “The Ferrari’s are clearly very quick, and it looks like they’re quite a bit ahead of us.” He’s not confident of Mercedes making up 0.7 seconds overnight.

Not exactly a quiet Friday then but one that was promising for Ferrari. They need to get a win this weekend to close the already wide gap that Mercedes have. Their upgrade seems to have added some more pace, so it’ll be an interesting qualifying session tomorrow. I’ll be back tomorrow with news of the final practice session and qualifying, till then enjoy your racing.

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Just two races into his Ferrari career, Charles Leclerc had a day to remember forever. He was fastest in final practice and then qualified in pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Final Practice

Ferrari dominated the two practice sessions held on Friday and they were again fastest in Saturday’s final practice. Charles Leclerc finished 0.169 seconds ahead of team-mate Sebastian Vettel. All eyes were then on how far the two Ferrari’s finished ahead of Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton was third fastest and 0.596 seconds behind Vettel. His team-mate, championship leader Valtteri Bottas was in fourth place. He could have snatched third but ran wide on his best lap.

It’s not been a great time in Bahrain for Red Bull with Max Verstappen down in eighth, though he was only 0.151 seconds behind Romain Grosjean who was fifth fastest. Sixth and seventh positions went to the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg and Lando Norris in his McLaren. There were two McLaren’s in the top ten (not something written that often) with Carlos Sainz Jnr in ninth with Daniil Kvyat in 10th.

Williams again struggled as they filled the final two places. George Russell was fastest but 1.2 seconds behind the rest of the cars with a DRS glitch not helping matters.

Qualifying

Charles Leclerc completed his unforgettable day by taking pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix. In doing so he became the second youngest driver to start on pole. He’ll most likely be congratulated by the youngest ever seeing that just happens to be Sebastian Vettel.

Leclerc was 0.294 seconds faster than his team-mate as Ferrari took 1-2 on the grid. Vettel achieved second with only one run in the final qualifying section after needing a second set of tyres on a previous qualifying lap.  Leclerc recorded the fastest lap only to see it beaten by his team-mate but then came back to retake pole. Lewis Hamilton was third but only 0.324 seconds off the pace with Valtteri Bottas a further 0.066 seconds.

Fifth fastest was Max Verstappen in his Red Bull but 0.886 seconds behind Leclerc. His team-mate Pierre Gasly struggled and will start the race in 13th. Both drivers reported problems with the balance of their cars.

Sixth spot on the grid went to the Haas of Kevin Magnussen and a good weekend for McLaren continued with Carlos Sainz Jnr in seventh and Lando Norris 10th. Sandwiched between them ere the other Haas of Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen in his Alfa Romeo.

Just outside the top ten was Daniel Ricciardo who will start in 11th in his second race for Renault with the Toro Rosso of Alexander Albon 12th.

Speaking after qualifying, Leclerc said that he was “truly happy.” He’d put a lot of work in after admitting being “not satisfied” with his qualifying performance in Australia a fortnight ago when only finishing fifth. Sebastian Vettel was pleased with his car and believes Ferrari are “in a good place for the race.”

Lewis Hamilton admitted that Ferrari are “incredibly strong” and interestingly claimed that “I couldn’t have done Charles’ time.” “We have some work to do,” said the defending world champion.

It’s been a dominant weekend for Ferrari on Friday and Saturday, will it continue into Sunday? The start of the race is going to be important for sure. With it being made clear that there are no team orders in Ferrari (at present), Leclerc could well lead this race and keep it till the end. Only time will tell. I’ll be back in April with more blogs, till then enjoy your racing.

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Pillow Motor Sport Tours by Pillow Motorsports - 2M ago

The expectation before the opening race of the season was that Ferrari were ahead of Mercedes. That didn’t transpire and it was a 1-2 for Mercedes in the Australian Grand Prix. A fortnight later, Ferrari dominated the first two practice sessions for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Title Standings

Drivers’ – 26 Valtteri Bottas 18 – Lewis Hamilton 15 – Max Verstappen 12 – Sebastian Vettel 10 – Charles Leclerc

Constructors’ – 44 – Mercedes   22 – Ferrari 15 – Red Bull

First Practice

It was a Ferrari 1-2 in the first practice session with Charles Leclerc 0.263 seconds ahead of team-mate Sebastian Vettel. Mercedes filled third and fourth with Valtteri Bottas nearest the times set by the Ferrari’s, but his car was 0.974 seconds behind Leclerc. Lewis Hamilton was 1.247 seconds behind the quickest of the Ferrari’s. He could have been the quickest of the Mercedes but ran wide at the final corner when on his best lap.

The Italian team have spent the last fortnight going through the data from the Australian Grand Prix. A period that Vettel described as “intense”, but they seem to have found some answers. However, he added that “we are not in a position to be able to make promises.”

Max Verstappen was fifth in his Red Bull with team-mate Pierre Gasly in sixth. It was another promising session for McLaren with Carlos Sainz seventh quickest. The top ten was completed by the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg, Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) and Kimi Raikkonen in his Alfa Romeo.

The only crash of the session was by Lance Stroll in his Racing point car. He damaged the front wing after losing control at Turn Four after hitting the wall. There was a better performance by the Williams team. They filled the last two spots, but George Russell was only 0.6 seconds adrift of Stroll in 18th.

Second Practice

Again, it was a 1-2 for Ferrari but this time it was Sebastian Vettel who was fastest. He was just 0.035 seconds ahead of Charles Leclerc but again there was a good-sized lead over Mercedes.

Lewis Hamilton was third-fastest but 0.568 seconds behind Vettel. He was only 0.108 seconds ahead of his team-mate Valtteri Bottas but at least he finished ahead of him for a change.

Fifth fastest was Nico Hulkenburg in his Renault. It was a poor session for Red Bull with Max Verstappen 0.783 seconds behind Vettel. His team-mate Pierre Gasly down in 13th, 0.862 seconds behind Verstappen.

Haas had a good session with Kevin Magnusson in seventh and Romain Grosjean ninth. Sandwiched in between them was the McLaren of Lando Norris. The top ten was completed by Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat.

Speaking after the second practice session, Hamilton said that Ferrari were producing something “completely different to what we’ve seen in Melbourne.” He added that he’d had some problems with the balance of his car in the first practice session, but they had been improved for the second session. The defending world champion believes “everything will get a little bit closer” when it comes to qualifying but is expecting a “tough battle.”

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto believes his team are “progressing” but also has the view they had been running their engines more aggressively than Mercedes, hence the gap.

We look to be in for an intriguing Saturday. Can the Ferrari’s keep up their strong pace or will Mercedes grab pole position for the second race in a row? I’ll be back tomorrow with a report on the final practice session and qualifying, till then enjoy your racing.

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Pillow Motor Sport Tours by Pillow Motorsports - 2M ago

This may have been written on the odd occasion in the past, but Lewis Hamilton will start the Australian Grand Prix in pole position.  It  was a Mercedes 1-2 as the battle between Mercedes and Ferrari hasn’t quite worked out the way we thought it was going to.

The day’s drama began with a busy time for Red Bull. They had a race against time to change the chassis of Max Verstappen’s car. Red Bull explained this was a “precautionary change due to a concern with the fuel cell.”

Final Practice

Lewis Hamilton made a clean sweep of the practice sessions by finishing quickest in the final session. He didn’t lead throughout with team-mate Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel (on new soft tyres) both posting the quickest time at one point during the session.

Hamilton’s best time was set on new softs and he finished 0.264 seconds ahead of Vettel. Charles Leclerc was third-fastest, and it was a good session for Haas with Romain Grosjean (0.82 seconds off the pace) and Kevin Magnusson filling fourth and fifth spots.

Sixth quickest was the Red Bull of Pierre Gasly and Valtteri Bottas was back in seventh. He’d have finished higher but for running wide on the penultimate corner. Daniil Kvyat was eighth with Max Verstappen finishing ninth. The top ten was completed by Daniel Ricciardo. It was another disappointing session for Williams as they were again rooted to 19th and 20th positions. George Russell was 19th but 1.4 seconds slower than McLaren’s Lando Norris who was 18th.

Robert Kubica had a troublesome session as he hit the pit wall. There was also a pitlane incident with Norris. That resulted in McLaren being fined f€5000 for an unsafe release.

Qualifying

The first qualifying session of the 2019 season saw a familiar result with Lewis Hamilton taking pole and it was a Mercedes 1-2. As often seems to be the case, Hamilton left it late to snatch pole but ended 0.112 seconds ahead of Valtteri Bottas. It’s the sixth year in a row that Hamilton has clinched pole position at the Australian Grand Prix.

The dominance over Ferrari was evident with Sebastian Vettel finishing third, but 0.704 seconds behind Hamilton. Max Verstappen was fourth benefiting from an error on his final lap by Charles Leclerc who finished fifth.

Sixth on the grid will be the Haas of Romain Grosjean with his team-mate Kevin Magnusson in seventh.  Lando Norris will start in eighth on the grid in his McLaren, a great debut for the young driver. He admitted afterwards that he was so nervous that “it almost ruined the enjoyment.” He finished ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in ninth and Sergio Perez (Racing Point) in tenth. Renault were 11th and 12th with Nico Hulkenberg ahead of Daniel Ricciardo.

Debutant Alexander Albon will start 13th on the grid, finishing two places ahead of his Toro Rosso team-mate Daniil Kvyat. Williams predictably filled the last two places on the grid and George Norris was 0.707 seconds clear of Robert Kubica who was struggling with a lack of grip. When that did improve, he ended up hitting the wall and getting a puncture!

Speaking after qualifying, Lewis Hamilton said he was still shaking as it had been so close. The defending champion said Mercedes “had no idea where we would be” after testing in Barcelona.

Sebastian Vettel said that there wasn’t anything wrong with his Ferrari but was surprised by the gap between his car and Mercedes. He said the team had “some homework” to do” to work out what was going on but still believes he has a great car.

So, the scene is set for the first race of the new season. It’s been surprising so far that Mercedes have had a strong advantage over Ferrari, will that continue in the actual race on Sunday? Only time will tell of course, I’ll be back next weekend with a look back at how the Grand Prix went. Till then, enjoy your racing and the late-night you’re about to have.

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Pillow Motor Sport Tours by Pillow Motorsports - 2M ago

A new season but the same old result as Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes dominated the first two practice sessions of the Australian Grand Prix. But is all as it seems?

First Practice

The first practice session of the season saw defending world champion Lewis Hamilton set the quickest time. It was close at the top though with only 0.196 seconds separating the top four. Lewis Hamilton was just 0.038 seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel with his new team-mate Charles Leclerc 0.036 seconds adrift. Fourth fastest was the Red Bull of Max Verstappen.

The other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas finished fifth and nearly hit a wall at one stage, with Alfa Romeo debutant Kimi Raikkonen in sixth.  All of the top six set their times on soft tyres but seventh-quickest Daniil Kvyat in his Toro Rosso was on medium.  Pierre Gasly had a troubled testing session recently but was eighth fastest in the other Red Bull over a second behind Verstappen. The top ten was completed by the Haas of Kevin Magnusson and Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault. It wasn’t the easiest of sessions for Hulkenburg who missed the first half of it due to a technical problem.

Alexander Albon crashed his Toro Rosso at Turn Two. That knocked off the front wing, but he was still able to get his car back to the pits He set the 13th quickest time in the session. Daniel Ricciardo was back in 17th but was baulked by Romain Grosjean during his quickest lap, so he’s capable of a lot better in his Renault.

Williams were at the back of the field but the gap of two seconds to the next car isn’t as bad as it looks. Their time was set on the medium tyre but it’s still a poor start to what looks like being another tough season for them.

Second Practice

The second practice session ended in a Mercedes one-two with Lewis Hamilton again quickest. He was 0.048 seconds ahead of Valtteri Bottas. Third and fourth spots were filled by the two Red Bulls with Verstappen ahead of Gasley. Hamilton had a time 0.8 seconds faster than Verstappen with Gasley a further 0.042 seconds adrift. Verstappen’s best time was set at the start of a long run with a lot more fuel on board than when his rivals set their times.

Sebastian Vettel was fifth and 0.873 seconds off the pace. The feeling is though that the Italian team are hiding their real pace and qualifying may well be a different story. The other Ferrari of Charles Leclerc was back in ninth.

Sixth fastest was again filled by Kimi Raikkonen with the two Renaults in seventh and eighth. Nico Hulkenberg was 0.090 seconds ahead of Daniel Ricciardo. With Leclerc in ninth, tenth went to the Haas of Romain Grosjean. Ricciardo’s troubled day continued as he needed to adjust his seat because it wasn’t exactly all that comfortable.

Sebastian Vettel wasn’t happy after the second practice session and said Friday had been “a tricky day.” He feels Ferrari “are not there yet where we would like to be.” That didn’t just refer to pace but the “car feel and handling.” When asked about the pace of Mercedes, he claimed they were “in a league of their own.”

I’ll be back tomorrow with a report on the final practice session and qualifying. Then we’ll find out just how fast the Ferrari’s can be on this track. Till then, enjoy your racing.

By Steve Ashfield for Pillow Motor Sport

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Pillow Motor Sport Tours by Pillow Motorsports - 2M ago

The long wait is over and on Friday March 15, practice will begin for the Australian Grand Prix. There have been many changes made for the new season, so this article will look at some of them and the new-look teams.

Sadly, just before the new season begins, the news has broken that Charlie Whiting, the head of Formula 1 for the FIA, has died at the age of 66. Whiting was the official race starter and oversaw all rules matters in F1. Our condolences to his family and friends.

Teams for 2019

Mercedes – Lewis Hamilton (defending champion) and Valtteri Bottas

Ferrari – Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc

Red Bull – Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly

Alfa Romeo – Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi

Haas – Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnusson

McLaren – Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris

Racing Point (formerly known as Force India) – Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll

Renault – Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg

Toro Rosso – Daniil Kvyat and Alexander Albon

Williams – George Russell and Robert Kubica

Calendar

March 17 – Australian Grand Prix

March 31 – Bahrain Grand Prix

April 14 – Chinese Grand Prix

April 28 – Azerbaijan Grand Prix

May 12 – Spanish Grand Prix

May 26 – Monaco Grand Prix

June 9 – Canadian Grand Prix

June 23 – French Grand Prix

June 30 – Austrian Grand Prix

July 14 – British Grand Prix

July 28 – German Grand Prix

August 4 – Hungarian Grand Prix

September 1 – Belgian Grand Prix

September 8 – Italian Grand Prix

September 22 – Singapore Grand Prix

September 29 – Russian Grand Prix

October 13 – Japanese Grand Prix

October 27 – Mexican Grand Prix

November 3 – United States Grand Prix

November 17 – Brazilian Grand Prix

December 1 – Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Testing Results

The testing sessions in Barcelona proved to be successful for Ferrari. They had the quickest lap with a time of 1m16.221s and that’d been a faster time if carrying less fuel. That’s despite Charles Leclerc saying that they haven’t been running “flat out yet.” Lewis Hamilton believes that Ferrari are half a second faster than Mercedes so could this be the year they turn the tables on Hamilton and Bottas? They may be doing well in terms of speed, but testing did reveal a few reliability problems that could again prove costly for the Italian team.

There’s a “hill to climb” for Mercedes according to Lewis Hamilton. Although Mercedes seemed to be doing plenty of sandbagging with their new car, they put in some good times towards the end of the second week of testing on the softest tyre, but the time set by Bottas was still 0.3s behind Ferrari. Changes have been made since Barcelona so that gap is likely to be narrower this weekend.

Red Bull will again be contenders with their Honda engine being successful in testing. Max Verstappen could well finish In the top three and their cars proved to be reliable. New recruit Pierre Gasly needs to cut out crashing into the barriers as he did in testing on more than one occasion. They look to be behind the top two though.

Haas showed good pace in testing, but reliability looks to still be a problem, though week two proved more successful with more laps completed. They’ll have a shot at being the best of the rest outside the top three.

McLaren had some good moments in testing but see this as an interim season. There’s no Fernando Alonso (at least not in the races) and their team of Sainz and Norris may struggle. Another sixth place in the constructors’ championship would be a good result.

Williams look destined to have a poor season. Not turning up on day one of testing was a nightmare for them. It didn’t get much better when they finally got on the track with no times under 1m 18s.

New Points System

Don’t worry it’s not the return of double points but an extra point for the driver setting the fastest lap in each race. That will only be awarded though if they finish in the top ten in the race, so set the fastest lap, retire or finish 11th and you get nothing.

It’s not a completely new rule though, the extra point was part of the sport until 1959 and now after sixty years it’s back. F1 managing director Ross Brawn believes this could “improve the show while maintaining the integrity of the sport.”  Speaking about the new rule, he added that drivers often ask who’s had the fastest lap and now they’ll get points rather than just “prestige.”

He hopes that this will “make the final part of the race even more interesting.” That could be the case, imagine a scenario where one car is clear of the rest and looks assured of victory. There will still be the interest in who might get the fastest lap and that additional point. If the rule had been in force in 2008, we’d be calling Lewis Hamilton a four-time champion as he’d have lost to Felipe Massa.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a report on the first and second practice sessions as the new season gets underway, till then enjoy your racing.

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