SEBASTIAN Vettel heads into Formula One's summer break with a 14-point advantage over nearest rival Lewis Hamilton after managing a steering issue on his Ferrari yesterday to claim a tense and tight Hungarian Grand Prix victory over teammate Kimi Raikkonen.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo’s hopes were torpedoed by a careless Max Verstappen in Turn Two of the opening lap when the young Dutchman locked a brake and slammed into the side of his Red Bull teammate, puncturing his radiator and inflicting terminal damage. Ricciardo labelled him a "sore loser".
“You’re never going to get that place back in turn two the way it was, so, just overambitious, ” a visibly frustrated Ricciardo said from the pits. “That’s youth.” Asked if the clash was down to Verstappen’s inexperience, Ricciardo didn’t hold back: “That sounds too nice. It’s not that. Probably immaturity,” he said. “I would have loved to have raced today, and it didn’t need to be done.”
Right there it seems their professional relationship, for a long time relatively comfortable, has taken a swift turn towards toxicity.
Ferrari’s first win since Monaco in May didn’t come easily, despite the two drivers appearing to have the race well in control through the opening stint, while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton back in fifth struggled to find a way forward.
One potential problem was resolved by stewards, who punished Verstappen’s rashness with a 10sec time penalty to be taken at the first pit stop.
But the other difficulties, specifically overtaking, were not easy to manage, as Valtteri Bottas explained afterwards: “The pace was not so much a problem. But once you get within 1.5secs to the car in front of you it becomes so difficult to close the gap. And that track position was a big benefit for Ferrari today. Even though Sebastian was struggling, no-one could pass him.”
The mysterious steering problem on Vettel's car was obvious in in-car camera shots and his time warned that he should stay away from and kerbs for the remainder of the race, costing him lap speed.
This put Raikkonen under pressure late in the race as Vettel’s Ferrari backed his teammate into the Mercedes drivers in third and fourth
In the second phase of the race, with Hamilton clearly faster than Bottas but bottled up behind his teammate, the Mercedes brains trust elected to swap its drivers, allowing the Briton to attack Raikkonen in the final 20 laps.
Raikkonen certainly looked quicker than Vettel for much of the GP but Ferrari strategists held their nerve and allowed the German to stay in front.
This proved significant in world title terms, particularly after Hamilton discovered that his pace was compromised in the turbulent air behind Raikkonen. Hamilton sportingly redressed in the final corner, upholding his part of the bargain to hand back third place to Bottas.
Verstappen finished fifth and was left rueing his adventurous opening lap. Remove his 10sec penalty and he would have been right in the fight for a podium. His was a move struggling Red Bull didn’t need, and Ricciardo didn’t deserve,
An incandescent Ricciardo, realising his chances of a great result were ruined his impetuous team-mate, by vented angrily at Verstappen, describing the move as amateurish and suggesting the pass was never on.
After the race, the Red Bull release quoted Ricciardo in a more measured way: “The start wasn’t too bad and I got a good exit out of Turn One, I saw Bottas on the inside of Turn 2 so knew I had plenty of room on the outside. I thought it was a good place to position myself and protect my position through the turn. I felt a hit but couldn’t see who it was, I knew Max was on my inside going into Turn 2 so assumed it must have been him.
“It’s really frustrating as we know our car has been better than sixth all weekend so we went out there to push for a good result and get on the podium. We will discuss the incident in de-brief this evening and me and Max will talk privately also and sort it out. I would have loved to race today and now I have four weeks to wait until I can get in the car again. It’s a shame to finish the first half of the season and head into the summer break in this way.”
Verstappen’s official mea culpa was lengthy and apologetic: “I think the situation started from Turn One. My start was actually quite good but then I got squeezed a bit wide on to the Astroturf and lost quite a bit of speed. Then Daniel and I were both fighting for position at Turn 2 so we braked quite deep into the corner.
“I had a car in front of me so I lost quite a bit of downforce and locked the front tyres, from there I was just a passenger. I was trying to avoid Daniel of course but unfortunately that was not possible. It is never my intention to hit anyone, but especially not your team-mate, and especially with the relationship I have with Daniel, it's always really good and we can always have a laugh. This is not nice and I apologise to Daniel for that and also to the team because we could have scored some good points here.”
Fernando Alonso claimed a battling sixth position for McLaren-Honda, the under-pressure team’s best result of 2017. Adding to the McLaren smiles, Stoffel Vandoorne scored his first point of the season.
Astonishingly Alonso also set the fastest lap of the race. Que?
Praise to Paul di Resta, too, the Williams reserve driver called up to sub for the ill Felipe Massa just a half an hour before qualifying. The Scot had been expecting to fulfil commentary duties for Sky TV but instead found himself in an urgent briefing by the team.
Di Resta, who last drove an F1 car in anger in 2013, responded beautifully. In just four serious laps, he finished 19th fastest, only seven-tenths slower than Williams teammate Lance Stroll.
Even though di Resta failed to finish (outed with an oil leak on lap 60), many in the paddock were mightily impressed, including Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff.
Ricciardo began proceedings hearteningly when he was fastest in Friday’s opening two practice sessions, but had to sit out much of FP3 with car issues.
It was vital for Ferrari’s Vettel to stem the points bleeding to Hamilton in Hungary and he began in the best way possible.
Qualifying was a Ferrari crush, with Vettel snatching pole from Raikkonen to lead a neat queue – Mercs (Bottas then Hamilton) on row two, Red Bulls (Verstappen and Ricciardo) on row three.
Since May’s Monaco GP when the Scuderia hammered home a stunning one-two result, the world championship campaign has gone a little pear-shaped for Team Red.
The following four races realised just 79 points for Ferrari while Mercedes piled on 151 points.
Certainly the nature of the previous four grand prix circuits – Montreal, Baku, Red Bull Ring and Silverstone – possibly favoured the longer wheelbase of the Merc W08s.
The twisty Hungaroring should have suited the Ferrari. It did.
Conjecture over Honda’s future in F1 continued over the weekend, after Sauber announced it has changed its mind about its intention to use the Japanese power units next year. McLaren’s double points scoring result in Hungary probably won’t change things much.
A decision is expected in September.
Supercars: McLaughlin, Mostert share spoils at Queensland Raceway
Scott McLaughlin has stretched his lead in the 2018 Supercars Championship, the DJT Team Penske Ford young gun notching a win and second in a typically hard fought couple of races at Queensland Raceway.
Saturday’s win was the sixth this year for McLaughlin while Mostert’s impressive victory on Sunday (after a strong second place on Saturday) was his second in 2017 and showed that the Prodrive Australia squad has recovered from its loss of competitiveness in recent rounds.
It was a tough Saturday for title contender Red Bull’s Jamie Whincup who had to deal with some demoralising setbacks. Firstly he qualified a poor ninth-fastest and then copped a further five-place grid penalty for an ill-advised pit release which resulted in contact with James Moffat. Then in the race he had to endure a lengthy delay during the pit stop due to a faulty coupling to the in-built jacks.
The team’s uncharacteristic fumbles on Saturday left Whincup a lowly 20th, but there was a commendable bounce back the following day with the six-times champ qualifying a competitive third behind McLaughlin and Mostert, and then racing well to take fourth. He took heart from this result.
Whincup’s Red Bull teammate Shane van Gisbergen lacked the car speed of the Fords ahead, but helped by sensible pit stop strategy and a late safety car on Sunday produced a pair of third place finishes.
The safety car intervention (for tyre debris) wiped away Mostert’s comfortable buffer to McLaughlin and gave van Gisbergen a chance to use his fresher rubber to advantage in what was effectively an eight-lap sprint to the flag.
After the restart, Mostert managed to edge away from McLaughlin while van Gisbergen accounted for Fabian Coulthard and then Whincup in his late-race lunge at the podium.
“I was a bit annoyed with the safety car [call],” Mostert remarked. “There wasn’t much debris around and the guys behind had fresher tyres. I didn’t expect to hold on but I did what I had to.”
It was a good recovery for pole-man McLaughlin, who on the dirty side of the track dropped to fifth by Turn One, and then had to move to a different pit stop strategy to get back in the game.
McLaughlin now leads Whincup in the championship by 129 points ahead of next month’s Red Rooster Sydney SuperSprint.
WRC: Rookie Lappi rises to the top in Rally Finland
Local rookie Esapekka Lappi seized the moment to dominate the fastest and most spectacular round of the World Rally Championship after many established names struck trouble, made errors or crashed out of another memorable Rally Finland.
The 25-year-old Finn, driving for only the fourth time at the top level of the WRC, took a stunning victory for Toyota by 3.06sec ahead of Welshman Elfyn Evans, who won a thrilling three-car fight for second to match his career-best result.
Carrying a 49.1sec advantage into Sunday’s short final leg, Lappi measured his pace through the four tests, keeping his cool when he wrecked his car’s rear left wheel after running wide.
“Amazing, just amazing,” he said. “I’m on my home soil so I should have been strong here and I was, but a victory was beyond my dreams. I have to really say a big thanks to the team because they built such a fast car in such a short time.”
In the tightest title battle since 2009, Lappi is the sixth different winner in nine rounds.
Lappi grabbed the lead on Friday when he won eight of the 12 stages.
Teammate Jari-Matti Latvala fought back spectacularly to win five of the first eight stages on Saturday, building a 8.5sec lead over Lappi before his hopes of a fourth victory on his home event ended. His Yaris ground to a halt with a suspected electrical problem midway through the famous Ouninpohja special stage, leaving Lappi clear.
Evans started the final day in fourth in a Ford Fiesta behind Teemu Suninen and Juho Hänninen. The trio swapped places in every stage before Evans overhauled Hänninen in the final kilometres to secure the runners-up spot by 0.3sec.
The third place landed Hanninen’s first WRC podium and brought further delight to Toyota.
Suninen held a slender second until miscuing and crashing his Fiesta in the penultimate test. He finished fourth, 25.2sec behind Hänninen, a remarkable result for the 23-year-old Finn in only his second World Rally Car drive.
Consistent Irishman Craig Breen was the leading Citroën driver in fifth despite handling issues throughout.
Thierry Neuville’s sixth place brought the Hyundai driver level on points in the championship lead with M-Sport’s Sébastien Ogier, one of man to crash out or strike trouble.
Ogier’s big off into trees on Friday should have handed the initiative in the WRC fight to Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, but the Belgian struggled all event to get good speed from his i20.
Neuville is now level on points with Ogier in the WRC lead as the fight is set to continue on asphalt at Rallye Deutschland, August 17-20.
IndyCar: Will Power second at Mid Ohio
Aussie Will Power has finished second to Penske teammate Josef Newgarden at Mid Ohio, the young American now taking a seven-second lead over Helio Castroneves with just four races to fight for in the 2017 IndyCar Series.
Power earlier took pole from Newgarden, but had no answer after his colleague hit the lead with a remarkable feint left, right-side pass mid-race.
Newgarten, the best new local hope to emerge in recent seasons, is the first American to lead the IndyCar Series for three years.
Defending champion Simon Pagenaud, another Penske driver, was third at the undulating Mid Ohio road course.
Euro F3: Mawson lands three top 10 finishes at Spa
Despite unsatisfactory qualifying performances, Australian Joey Mawson clawed his way forward in all of the three races comprising the FIA Formula 3 European Championship at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium, scoring three top 10 results.
Mawson finished fifth for Van Amersfoort Racing in the opening race after a strong surge on the opening lap from 11th on the grid.
Starting 13th for race two, the Sydney driver moved to 10th where he became involved in a hectic race-long duel with his mate and old sparring partner from German F4, Mick Schumacher. He fought his way ahead of Schumacher briefly but was out-dragged on the final lap.
In the final race, Mawson converted a 12th into a 10th place result despite taking a hit from behind that cost him a couple of spots.
British driver Lando Norris, who will next week test with the McLaren Formula One team, won two races with Austrian Ferdinand Habsburg winning the other.
“It has been a solid weekend at Spa, to have three top 10 finishes was a real positive,” said Mawson.
The next race is at Zandvoort in the Netherlands on August 18-20.
Audi fights back to take Spa 24 Hours
Audi’s Sainteloc Racing has fought back from more than one lap down to take victory in the 69th running of the Spa 24 Hours, with drivers Markus Winkelhock, Christopher Haase and Jules Gounon sharing the winning R8 LMS.
Running as a factory-backed team for the first time, Sainteloc Racing scored a narrow 11sec victory over the M-Sport Bentley of Maxime Soulet, Andy Soucek and Vincent Abril at the legendary Belgian circuit. It was the fourth win for Audi at Spa.
The winning R8 prevailed after recovering from time lost time over a mis-threaded wheel, which meant a painfully slow lap and an immediate unscheduled return for rectification.
Haase, who has now added a first Spa victory to his two triumphs in the Nurburgring 24 Hours, said: "I can't believe I've just won the Spa 24 Hours – it is incredible.
"We lost two laps in the night and came back. I'm done, but that's the emotion of Spa."
The runner-up #8 Bentley Continental GT3 also dropped a lap during the night, but surged back into contention on Sunday morning.
The Auto Sport Promotion Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Raffaele Marciello, Edoardo Mortara and Michael Meadows, which had led for good parts of the last 12 hours, lost second place to the Bentley when it had to be held in the pits at the final stop so not to infringe strict rules on the 65min maximum driver stint length.
It finished third, 40sec behind the Bentley.
The Tim Bernhard-run Porsche 911 GT3-R shared by Laurens Vanthoor, Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen took fourth place.