Race: Bottas wins in Japan as Ferrari make it easy

Valtteri Bottas returned to winning ways at the Japanese GP, taking the chequered flag ahead of Sebastian Vettel while Charles Leclerc took Max Verstappen out of the fight.

After an early morning start for qualifying, the 53-lap Japanese Grand Prix was part two of Sunday’s action at the Suzuka circuit. And, like qualifying, it also got off to a chaotic start.

Vettel, starting from pole position, appeared to move on the grid making for a jumped start. He was then slow to get going allowing P3, Bottas, to storm into the lead.

Ferrari’s troubles continued as Leclerc tangled with Verstappen. The Dutchman spun off the track while Leclerc’s Ferrari suffered front wing damage.

He didn’t pit telling Ferrari he wants to “continue a little bit more”. He was told to “box” but replied by saying that the “car doesn’t feel bad but probably looks bad”. It did look bad and, after two trips past the pit entrance, finally pitted for a new wing handing third place to Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton was perplexed as to why Leclerc “not been given a warning flag” while Verstappen complained that “he just went straight into my car!” In a strange move the stewards ruled no investigation only to announce laps later that there would be, but after the race.

Red Bull’s woes continued a few laps later when Alexander Albon and Lando Norris traded bodywork as the Red Bull driver tried to pass, didn’t leave space, and the two collided pushing Norris off the track. The McLaren rookie had to pit as his brakes were overheating thanks to debris from Leclerc’s Ferrari.

10 laps in: Bottas, Vettel, Hamilton, Sainz, Albon, Pierre Gasly, Lance Stroll, Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo. Leclerc was P16, Verstappen 17th.

“Keep it coming, this is good stuff” was the message to Bottas as he eked out a four second lead over Vettel.

There was some good news for Ferrari as the stewards declared no action against Vettel as he never crossed the line when he made his momentary move on the grid. The bad news for Red Bull fans is that Verstappen became the first retirement of the afternoon, parking his RB15 on lap 15 due to crash damage.

Vettel was the first of the top ten to pit, boxing on lap 17 and swapping his softs for a fresh set of softs. Two stop strategy for the German then. Bottas stopped a lap later, swapping to the medium Pirellis. Hamilton led the race.

With pit stops coming in thick and fast the top ten on lap 20: Hamilton, Bottas, Vettel, Sainz, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Perez, Albon, Leclerc and Daniil Kyvat.

Hamilton stopped on lap 22, swapping softs for mediums. He came out P3, 22 seconds behind race leader Bottas and 11 behind second placed Vettel. He asked the team to “please explain” why he had lost so much ground on the leading duo.

As the top four held station, Formula 1’s midfield again delivered the action as wheel-to-wheel racing and a few rather close calls saw P5 to P16 change places.

Lap 30: Bottas, Vettel, Hamilton, Albon, Ricciardo, Sainz, Gasly, Stroll, Hulkenberg and Perez. Leclerc was P11.

With his two-stop strategy in play Vettel pitted on lap 32 for medium tyres, coming out 20s behind Bottas, who still had to stop, and seven adrift of Hamilton, who did not. Bottas did his second stop on lap 36 coming out eight seconds behind Hamilton.

Lap 40: Hamilton, Bottas, Vettel, Albon, Sainz, Leclerc, Gasly, Stroll, Hulkenberg and Perez.

But while it initially looked as if this was Bottas’ race, the Finn was not able to catch Hamilton despite running fresh tyres. Instead of closing the gap, Bottas fell off the pace tenth by tenth. He was 9.2s down five laps after his stop

Mercedes told Bottas that “Lewis still has to stop”. Bottas replied: “Are you sure Lewis will stop?” He was told “he will.” He did, stopping on lap 42, dropping to third behind Vettel.

While Bottas raced towards the victory, Hamilton closed the gap on Vettel to run within DRS with five to go.

Ferrari gave Vettel “more performance” to keep Hamilton at bay as the reigning World Champ looked inside and outside for a way through. Hamilton too asked for “more power”. It wasn’t enough.

Bottas took the chequered flag, his first win since April, while Vettel was second ahead of Hamilton. Hamilton also claimed the fastest lap point to hand Mercedes the Constructors’ title.

Albon bagged a career-best P4 ahead of Sainz, Leclerc and Ricciardo. Gasly, Hulkenberg and Stroll completed the points.

Sergio Perez crashed on the final lap of the grand prix but was still classified P17…that was all until it was confirmed that the chequered flag was shown in the data a lap early due to a technical glitch.

That put Perez back to P9, knocked Hulkenberg back to P10 and Stroll dropped out of the points completely in P11.

Result taken from Lap 52/53
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 11.376s
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 11.786s
4 Alex Albon Red Bull 61.152s
5 Carlos Sainz McLaren 69.081s
6 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1 LAP
7 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 1 LAP
8 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 1 LAP
9 Sergio Perez Racing Point 1 LAP
10 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1 LAP
11 Lance Stroll Racing Point 1 LAP
12 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1 LAP
13 Lando Norris McLaren 1 LAP
14 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 1 LAP
15 Romain Grosjean Haas 1 LAP
16 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 1 LAP
17 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1 LAP
18 George Russell Williams 2 LAPS
19 Robert Kubica Williams 2 LAPS

Did not finish
Max Verstappen Red Bull crash damage

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Vettel undercuts Leclerc to take first 2019 victory

Sebastian Vettel clinched his first win of 2019 as Ferrari’s tactics played out in his favour in Singapore, leaving a disgruntled Charles Leclerc in P2.

Starting his third successive grand prix from pole position, Charles Leclerc was given a helping hand from Sebastian Vettel as the German attacked Lewis Hamilton for second. The Mercedes driver had to defend, which he did successfully, but it was enough to give Leclerc over a second of breathing room.

Further down the field, George Russell collided with Daniel Ricciardo, who moved up from 20 to 15 on the opening lap, into the first corner and had to pit for a new front wing. He wasn’t the only driver in trouble as Nico Hulkenberg, front left puncture, and Carlos Sainz, back right, also pitted after an incident at Turn 5.

10 laps into the 61-lap race, Leclerc still run roughly a second ahead of Hamilton, who was prepared biding his time waiting for the Ferrari’s tyres to go off, while Vettel was a further second back ahead of Max Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas and Alexander Albon. Lando Norris was running best of the rest.

Ricciardo continued his run towards the points, taking Daniil Kvyat at Turn 13. However, moments before, trying to switch back on the Toro Rosso driver, he was almost collected by Lance Stroll. “We’re not ****ing around, let’s go boys!” said Ricciardo.

Meanwhile a frustrated Hamilton ran second behind Leclerc, unable to close up to make a move even though he felt the Ferrari “an’t really go much slower.” But for Leclerc, leading the race in a Ferrari that eats tyres, it was the perfect pace. 15 laps in Leclerc was told to go back to “mode race”. The Monégasque driver went half a second faster on his next lap and half a second quicker on the next. It was time to push, and Hamilton went with him.

But while the top ten were as you were, behind them the midfield fought wheel-to-wheel as one by one they pitted and had to again work their way back up the order.

Vettel was the first of the top six to pit, lap 19, followed by Verstappen. They came out P10 and P12 with Nico Hulkenberg slotted in between but only for a lap. Leclerc, 0.8s up on Hamilton, was the next in followed by Albon and Norris. Leclerc came out behind Vettel!

Hamilton was told to do “opposite” to Leclerc and stayed out. Mercedes’ decision to leave him out was perplexing as the Brit put in 1:47s to Vettel’s 1:45s. And then Mercedes pitted Bottas first. A few laps later Bottas was told to slow down, 1:48s please, as Mercedes set the Finn up to protect Hamilton later in the race. Hamilton pitted on lap 27, coming out ahead of his team-mate.

Ferrari and Verstappen meanwhile found themselves in a queue of cars having to fight P1 Giovinazzi, P2 Gasly, P3 Ricciardo and P4 Stroll for position. None of them made it easy for the trio – except Giovinazzi for Vettel – who eventually ran 1, 2, 3 on lap 33. Hamilton was up to fourth ahead of Bottas, Albon and Giovinazzi.

However, the Italian’s incredible Sunday night was undone by contact with Ricciardo. The Alfa Romeo pushed off the track and falling down the order, Ricciardo suffered a puncture. Both pitted, Giovanizzi for his one stop of the night and Ricciardo for his second, ruining his recovery drive.

On lap 35 the mandatory, at least for Singapore, Safety Car came out as Russell tangled with Romain Grosjean and finished his race in the Turn 8 wall with front left damage. “What the **** was he doing?” said Russell. “I shouldn’t be surprised.” Nico Hulkenberg was the only driver inside the top ten to stop.

The Safety Car meant Vettel’s 4.5s lead was slashed to nothing, giving Leclerc the perfect opportunity to attack his team-mate for the lead. The Ferrari rookie, though, was still smarting over the earlier undercut handing Vettel P1. “My head is down and it will be done until the race [is done]. I just want to let you know my feelings,” he told the pit wall. “To be completely honest with you I don’t understand the undercut but we will discuss after the race.”

Race resumed on lap 41 with Vettel leading ahead of Leclerc, Verstappen and the two Mercedes. Further back Stroll tried to take on Gasly and came off second best. Corners later, and without Gasly’s input, he hit the Turn 17 and damaged his front wing, forced to pit for a new one. Racing Point’s day went from bad to worse as two laps later Sergio Perez retired his RP19 on the side of the track bringing out the Safety Car and once again negating Vettel’s lead, although this time it was just 0.9s over Leclerc.

With the restart imminent, Leclerc attempted to bargain with Ferrari for the power to attack Vettel for the lead. Asking for “everything”, he was told Ferrari wanted to “bring the car home”. He swore he would not do anything “stupid” but his request was denied.

The race resumed on lap 48 and Vettel again pulled away easily with Leclerc a buffer between the German and the rest of the field. As the top seven, Vettel to Norris, ran without issue, those behind again tussled for position with Ricciardo attacking as he looked to return to the top ten only to fall foul of those behind and drop to P16.

His troubles, though, weren’t as bad as Kimi Raikkonen’s as the Alfa Romeo driver tangled with Daniil Kyvat, turning in on the unsighted Toro Rosso and breaking his front suspension. He became the race’s third retirement and brought out the race’s third Safety Car.

Again the race resumed, this time on lap 52 and with 17 minutes remaining in the two-hour limit. As he had on the other restarts, Vettel stormed off, putting vital metres between himself, Leclerc and Verstappen. Hamilton and Bottas ran fourth and fifth, dropping Albon lap after lap.

Starting the penultimate lap Vettel was 2s up on Leclerc and looking as if he would claim his first win of 2019. His team-mate appeared to be comfortably in second as Verstappen, instead of attacking Leclerc, was having to defend with Hamilton all over the rear of his RB15. He asked the team to “more power” but is told by the team he has the best they can offer him.

Vettel raced to the win, his first since Spa last year, leading home a Ferrari 1-2 at the Singapore Grand Prix. Verstappen held onto third, leaving Mercedes off the podium, P4 and P5. Albon was sixth as he once again scored for Red Bull Racing.

Norris brought his McLaren home in seventh place ahead of Gasly, Hulkenberg and Giovinazzi.

Result
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
2 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 2.641s
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull 3.821s
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 4.608s
5 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 6.119s
6 Alex Albon Red Bull 11.663s
7 Lando Norris McLaren 14.769s
8 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 15.547s
9 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 16.718s
10 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 17.855s
11 Romain Grosjean Haas 35.436s
12 Carlos Sainz McLaren 35.974s
13 Lance Stroll Racing Point 36.419s
14 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 37.660s
15 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 38.178s
16 Robert Kubica Williams 47.024s
17 Kevin Magnussen Haas 84.853s

Did not finish
Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo crash
Sergio Perez Racing Point mechanical
George Russell Williams crash

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Impeccable Hamilton marches towards title No.6

Lewis Hamilton took another step towards a sixth World title as he claimed win number six of 2019 with a flawless display from pole to flag at the French GP.

Hamilton started from pole position and raced unchallenged to the first corner. Unchallenged was in fact the order of the day for the reigning World Champion.

Valtteri Bottas, the only realistic opponent on the day, didn’t even try to fight Hamilton into the first corner, just pulling in behind his team-mate and slotting into second.

53 laps later, it ended as it began.

Hamilton, who ran a medium-hard one-stop strategy, romped to the victory with a touch of engine setting dramas and a seat issue thrown into the mix – potentially to pretend there was a bit of spice and excitement.

Sunday’s win was Hamilton’s sixth of this season and his back-to-back French GP triumph. It increased his advantage in the Drivers’ standings from 29 to 36 points over Bottas, who was second on the day.

Thankfully behind the Mercedes drivers there was competition, although not exactly the closest one ever seen on a F1 track, for the final podium position.

While Charles Leclerc was informed he’s on “Plan A”, Max Verstappen had a “lag” out of the corners and Sebastian Vettel had to work his way past the McLarens before he could get involved.

The trio were separated by eight seconds with Verstappen in the middle of a Ferrari sandwich when the Red Bull driver pitted. Leclerc stopped a lap later while Vettel was told to “run as long as possible”. He pitted on lap 25, only three after Leclerc. Like those ahead he also opted for a medium-hard strategy.

After their pit stops the trio were separated by 12 seconds with Leclerc seven ahead of Verstappen and Vettel five behind the Red Bull. That was it, game over, podium decided.

Although Leclerc was at one stage told to push by Ferrari to try catch Bottas, he replied: “I could, but it’s not good for the tyres, so no.”

Verstappen was fourth with Vettel P5. The Ferrari driver’s only moment of glory with a late run for fastest lap, pitting on the penultimate lap of the race. He took it – and the point – on the very last lap.

Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz, which quickly became Sainz and Norris, made a fist of it for McLaren. They ran fifth and sixth ahead of Vettel before falling to the Ferrari driver at the chicane; lap 5 for Norris, lap 7 for Sainz.

With 15 laps to go a rather frustrated Norris closed up on Sainz but wasn’t able to find a way past. He complained to McLaren, they opted to keep the status quo especially as Norris had a DRS problem and was told that he “could not use DRS”.

A few laps later it was clear that the hydraulic issue was bigger than just DRS with Norris suffering with heavy steering and other issues. This allowed Daniel Ricciardo to close the gap on the injured McLaren.

Sainz brought his MCL34 home in sixth place with Ricciardo making a late pass on Norris for seventh, who would then fall to tenth in the final few corners. It was still the Woking team’s second double points-haul of the season.

Kimi Raikkonen, Nico Hulkenberg and Lance Stroll all started on the hard tyre and one by one worked their way up to sixth place when they pitted on lap 32, 35 and 40 respectively.

Raikkonen was eighth with Hulkenberg ninth as both overtook Norris in a rather messy situation that saw Norris pushed off the track on the final lap. The stewards are investigating. Pierre Gasly missed out in 11th place. Stroll was P13.

It wouldn’t be F1 at the moment without a controversial penalty, this time for Sergio Perez. He had an off at Turn 3 on the opening lap and although he worked his way around the bollards as the drivers had been instructed to do, he was investigated for leaving the track and gaining an advantage. He was slapped with a five-second timed penalty.

Robert Kubica beat George Russell for the first time this season but the Williams rookie made two stops to his team-mate’s one.

Romain Grosjean was the only retirement on Sunday afternoon, parking his Haas in the pits on lap 47.

Update: Ricciardo has since been given two five-second timed penalties for leaving the track, rejoining unsafely and forcing another driver off the track and gaining advantage.

It sees him go from P7 to outside of the points in P11.

Result  (after Ricciardo penalty)
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 18.056s
3 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 18.985s
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull 34.905s
5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 62.796s
6 Carlos Sainz McLaren 95.462s
7 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 1 LAP
8 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1 LAP
9 Lando Norris McLaren 1 LAP
10 Pierre Gasly Red Bull 1 LAP
11 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 1 LAP
12 Sergio Perez Racing Point 1 LAP
13 Lance Stroll Racing Point 1 LAP
14 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1 LAP
15 Alex Albon Toro Rosso 1 LAP
16 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 1 LAP
17 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1 LAP
18 Robert Kubica Williams 2 LAPS
19 George Russell Williams 2 LAPS

Did not finish
Romain Grosjean Haas lap 47

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RACE: Ricciardo wins wild Chinese Grand Prix for Red Bull

A collision, a safety car and a Red Bull gamble. Those three ingredients delivered the most exciting Grand Prix in recent memory. Sebastian Vettel led. Then Valtteri Bottas led. But it was Daniel Ricciardo who came out on top when it mattered….
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