As the old saying goes, sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good. Lewis Hamilton would certainly tell you that after the season that he’s had so far. Heading to Silverstone, he’s had Mercedes’ only two DNFs along with a 2nd in Monaco because of a yellow flag caused by his teammate, Nico Rosberg.
This time, it was Rosberg who was bitten by bad luck. His first retirement of the season cleared the way for Hamilton to be the one to take advantage. With Rosberg suffering a gearbox failure, it was Hamilton who picked up the win in his home Grand Prix.
The race started with Rosberg on pole and Lewis Hamitlon back in 6th after a qualifying session in changing conditions and a circuit which saw varying conditions at each end of the track. This resulted in a jumbled up order that saw Sebastian Vettel in an unexpected 2nd, Jules Bianchi in 12th and the Williams and Ferraris failing to make it out of Q1.
It’s that latter point that would prove most critical. Battling with backmarkers, Raikkonen was forced wide at the hairpin onto the Wellington straight. Attempting to rejoin the circuit, he lost control, hit the armco along the straight which ricocheted him back onto the track and collected Felipa Massa.
The result was an hour-long red flag as course workers had to replace a portion of the armco barrier damaged by the impact. Raikkonen limped away from the crash with some bruises on his ankles and knees. Massa was able to drive away but had to retire the car due to damage sustained in the crash.
The relatively new red flag restart procedure saw Rosberg establish a massive lead. That procedure sees races restart from red flag after a lap under safety car and allowed Rosberg to pull out a massive gap as soon as the safety car pulled off. This is why I support the NASCAR / IndyCar style restart zones even if it’s expanded to restarting any time after the pit lane entry but not before just to squeeze that gap down.
While Rosberg pulled away, three cars behind him marched to the front. Hamilton quickly scythed his way through the field to second and began marching down his teammate. Farther back, Alonso and Bottas were making up ground from their poor starting positions and quickly dispatching midfield runners.
The two Mercedes drivers traded the lead on the exchange of pitstops and it looked like Rosberg would run away with the race thanks to the gap built up during Lewis’s charge to 2nd. However, that would only last until Lap 30 when he started experiencing gearbox troubles while downshifting. Soon, that would become complete gearbox failure that would force Rosberg into his first retirement of the season.
While Lewis stormed away with the lead, Bottas continued marching forward through the field. Thanks to the early race red flag, he was able to quickly get through his prime tyre stint without needing a pit stop to get onto the options. As such, he was able to complete the race on one pit stop the combination of speed and strategy got him up to 2nd. Behind him, Sebastian Vettel and Alonso had an almighty multi-lap battle that saw side-by-side racing as they both tried to lock down 5th. Thanks to his far fresher tyres, Old Four-Time was able to win a duel through the old start-finish complex.
The win was Hamilton’s fifth of the season and the 27th of his career which brought him to 7th on the career list. He also moved to four points behind Rosberg for the championship lead. Bottas finished second which make it the second-straight race in which he set a new personal best career finish. Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the podium for his 4th top-three of the season.
Jenson Button got a lot of help this weekend after starting third thanks to a wonky qualifying sessions and a slow start by Vettel. He finished fourth. Vettel outdueled Alonso which saw the pair finish 5th and 6th, respectively. Kevin Magnussen had a strong debut in his team’s home race in 7th. Nico Hulkenberg remains only one of two drivers who have scored in every race by finishing 8th. And the Toro Rosso boys backed up their qualifying efforts with Daniil Kvyat finishing 9th and Jean-Eric Vergne in 10th.
As I mentioned in the Canadian Grand Prix write-up, Tony Fernandes was quietly trying to get out of Formula One by selling the whole of Caterham. It turns out that he only ended up selling the Caterham F1 team but he still sold one of his two professional sports teams (the other being Queen’s Park Rangers which he bought from Bernie Ecclestone and friends).
The new ownership group hasn’t been specifically identified but they were announced as a consortium of Swiss and Middle Eastern investors. Financial terms weren’t disclosed but it was announced that the team would retain the Caterham name and continue operating out of its current factory at Leafield.
Most interestingly is all the personnel movements associated with this change. Current team boss Cyril Abiteboul was let go by the new owners with former F1 driver Christijan Albers and Manfredi Ravetto, formerly of HRT, taking over day-to-day management of the team.
The investment group are being advised by former F1 team principal (of many teams) Colin Kolles. Kolles is also the lead adviser to the soon to enter Romanian team Forza Rossa. So when action begins in Romania, where does Kolles’ loyalty lie?
Cyril Abiteboul’s unemployment didn’t last too long though. As has been speculated for the last little bit, the sale of Caterham resulted in Abiteboul losing his post as Caterham team principal and returning to his former job as Managing Director of Renault Sport F1.
This news comes on the heels of reports that Red Bull is interested in manufacturing their own engines. The team is behind the rest of the pack as a result of the underpowered Renault engine. Renault has tried to appease them with the change in management at Renault Sport but Red Bull could consider buying the Renault F1 engine manufacturing department and take it over as their own.
The belief is that a Red Bull engine (possibly branded Infiniti) could get around engine freeze rules. Presumably, Red Bull could buy the assets of Renault Sport rather than the whole division to get around engine freeze rules and get a fresh engine into the RBR chassis.
Completely independent of the goings on at Caterham and Renault, Bernie is busy causing trouble. The F1 Supremo is hinting that Monza could be left off the Formula One calendar when its contract expires after the 2016 Italian Grand Prix.
According to Ecclestone, the Italian Grand Prix’s contract isn’t commercially beneficial for the Formula One Group (the commercial rights holder of F1) and is considering dropping the Grand Prix after the current contract expires in just over two years.
Of course, cynically, it’s easy to write this off as a typical Bernie negotiating tactic. It’s not too surprising to hear Bernie try to gain whatever leverage he can to earn more money. It’s been a long time since he cared about Formula One as a sport and is only interested in it as a way to print money.
I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Bernie drop Italy. With every other emerging economy and wanna-be world power throwing money at Hermann Tilke to design a terrible and generic track and Bernie to host a race, it’s not like he’s short on options to make more money. If there’s more money to be made elsewhere, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Bernie jump at that chance. Look at the sham that was Bahrain, the unprepared Korean track and empty seats of Abu Dhabi.
The next round of the 2014 Formula One season will take place in two week’s time. After a trip to the Nurburgring last year, it’s Hockenheim’s turn to host the German Grand Prix.
Interestingly, this might be the final year that Hockenheim hosts the Grand Prix for a while. Both Hockenheim and Nurburgring have been in an arrangement to alternate the race between the tracks since 2008 with Hockenheim hosting the even years. Reports out of Germany say that the Nurburgring has signed a deal with Bernie to host the race annually starting next year. This came as news to the bosses at Hockenheim who are scheduled to host in 2016 and 2018. We’ll have to see how this plays out but I think we should follow the money.
As per usual, it’ll be a battle between the two Mercedes cars. Hamilton has been lacking in qualifying pace and it’s hurt him in the races. A win this weekend might boost his confidence and get him back on top of his game. He’s a bit of a fickle driver and seems more mentally fragile than teammate Rosberg. If the mental edge is back, he could be unstoppable just like his four-race winning streak earlier this season.