Hamilton extends lead in championship as Bottas is denied victory

Team orders came into play with Lewis Hamilton extended his Formula 1 title advantage over Sebastian Vettel with victory in the Russian Grand Prix after Mercedes ordered Valtteri Bottas to move aside.

Bottas led from pole and was running in the de facto race lead, behind the yet-to-pit Max Verstappen, when he was told to let Hamilton past to protect him from Vettel.

Hamilton’s eighth victory of the season means his lead over Vettel is now 50 points with five Grands Prix left and 125 points up for grabs after Bottas, who sacrificed a first win of 2018 for his team-mate, restricted the Ferrari driver to third.

Bottas held his lead at the start as a good Vettel launch allowed him to attack Hamilton through the Turn 1 kink, but Hamilton regrouped in Bottas’s slipstream and rebuffed the Ferrari.

Hamilton had such a good run behind his team-mate that he closed right up and locked up slightly under braking for Turn 2, which allowed Vettel to attack again through the ensuing long left-hander, but Hamilton held the place.

Bottas led until pitting on lap 12, with Vettel stopping on the next lap and Mercedes keeping Hamilton out another lap longer.

Mercedes told Bottas to slow down and back Vettel up, but it was not enough to prevent Vettel undercutting Hamilton and stealing second.

Hamilton moved quickly to respond and was in Vettel’s slipstream two laps later on the run Turn 2 but Vettel appeared to move to the right twice in the process.

Hamilton retaliated with a good run out of the corner and toughed it out on the outside through the long left-hand Turn 3 and nailed Vettel on the inside of Turn 4.

Hamilton caught and followed Bottas for several laps but started to develop a blister on his left-rear tyre, not helped by Bottas being backed up by the long-running Verstappen.

Mercedes acted on lap 25, telling Bottas to slow and let Hamilton by at Turn 13, which he did.

Hamilton moved into second but did not start attacking Verstappen, which frustrated Bottas and led Mercedes strategist James Vowles to tell Bottas over the radio that he understood his concerns but had to make the team orders decision to secure Hamilton’s position.

Verstappen continued to lead with relative comfort and extended a stunning first stint in which he rose from 19th to fifth in just seven laps.

Hamilton reported engine “hesitations” but as those concerns appeared to ease he attacked Verstappen on lap 42 but had the door slammed in his face.

Verstappen finally stopped a lap later, releasing the Mercedes pair with ten laps to go to ease clear to a comfortable one-two. Bottas asked how they would finish the race, indicating he wanted to be let back ahead, but was told they would maintain position.

Kimi Raikkonen was a muted fourth after Verstappen lacked the pace on fresh ultrasofts to mount a challenge in the closing stages.

Daniel Ricciardo made it back to sixth in the second Red Bull, having been passed by Verstappen at the start and failing to replicate the speed of his team-mate’s early charge.

Charles Leclerc produced a fine drive to take seventh, having ran as high as fifth early on, and claimed his first unofficial ‘Class B’ win of the season for Sauber.

Kevin Magnussen claimed eighth for Haas after fending off the Force Indias for the duration of the race, including an on-the-limit defence against Esteban Ocon early on.

Ocon finished ninth ahead of Sergio Perez having briefly led Perez ahead to try, unsuccessful, to pass the Haas.

The race featured only two retirements: Toro Rosso team-mates Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley suffered independent spins almost simultaneously but made it back to the pits to retire their cars having suffered brake failures.

The causes was not immediately determined but Toro Rosso had changed the rear brake duct blanking before the start.

So a muted celebrations for Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton had gained an extra 7 points with this Russian Grand Prix victory but Valtteri Bottas was denied the top result in the sake of the championship.

Yet the star of the race was birthday boy Max Verstappen. Even with grid penalties, the recently turned 21 year old drove an incredible race from P19 to finish in the points with fifth. Excellent result for Red Bull Racing.

Russian Grand Prix, race results:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 53 1h27m25.181s
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 53 2.545s
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 53 7.487s
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 53 16.543s
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 53 31.026s
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 53 1m20.451s
7 Charles Leclerc Sauber/Ferrari 53 1m38.390s
8 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 52 1 Lap
9 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 52 1 Lap
10 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 52 1 Lap
11 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 52 1 Lap
12 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 52 1 Lap
13 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 52 1 Lap
14 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 52 1 Lap
15 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 52 1 Lap
16 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 51 2 Laps
17 Carlos Sainz Renault 51 2 Laps
18 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 51 2 Laps
– Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 4 Brakes
– Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 4 Brakes

Drivers’ standings:
1 Lewis Hamilton 306
2 Sebastian Vettel 256
3 Valtteri Bottas 189
4 Kimi Raikkonen 186
5 Max Verstappen 158
6 Daniel Ricciardo 134
7 Kevin Magnussen 53
8 Nico Hulkenberg 53
9 Fernando Alonso 50
10 Sergio Perez 47
11 Esteban Ocon 47
12 Carlos Sainz 38
13 Pierre Gasly 28
14 Romain Grosjean 27
15 Charles Leclerc 21
16 Stoffel Vandoorne 8
17 Lance Stroll 6
18 Marcus Ericsson 6
19 Brendon Hartley 2
20 Sergey Sirotkin 1

Constructors’ standings:
1 Mercedes 495
2 Ferrari 442
3 Red Bull-Renault 292
4 Renault 91
5 Haas-Ferrari 80
6 McLaren-Renault 58
7 Force India-Mercedes 35
8 Toro Rosso-Honda 30
9 Sauber-Ferrari 27
10 Williams-Mercedes 7

Bottas beats Hamilton to Russian Grand Prix pole

Valtteri Bottas achieved his second Formula 1 pole position this season, leading a Mercedes lockout of the front row at Sochi.

Bottas held a tiny advantage over team-mate Lewis Hamilton of just 0.004 seconds after the first runs in Q1, with everyone using the hypersoft Pirellis.

But on the second Q3 run, Hamilton was forced to abort his lap after setting the fastest time in the opening sector thanks to running wide in the middle sector.

This gave Bottas a clear run to post a one minute, 31.387 seconds lap to take pole by 0.145 seconds.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was third, 0.556s slower than Bottas, and admitted over the team radio that there was “one-and-a-half, two tenths, but not enough,” left in the car after making a small mistake.

Kimi Raikkonen had a difficult Q3, complaining on his first run that his set of tyres was not as good as the one used in the previous segment of qualifying, then failing to improve on is second run.

The top four will all start on ultrasoft Pirelli compound having used them to set their Q2 times, with the rest of the top six starting on hypersofts.

With Red Bull missing from Q3 thanks to grid penalties for engine part changes, meaning the team didn’t even attempt to run in Q2, Kevin Magnussen was best of the rest for Haas in fifth place, 1.794 seconds off pole.

That put him comfortably ahead of the Force India of Esteban Ocon, who shaded Sauber’s Charles Leclerc for sixth by just 0.006 seconds.

Sergio Perez was eighth, with Romain Grosjean ninth ahead of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson.

Q2 was rendered an irrelevance because only ten cars ran, inevitably meaning they all reached the final segment of qualifying.

The Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo sat out the session because they will drop to the back with engine penalties, as will Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly.

Renault pairing Carlos Sainz Jr and Nico Hulkenberg also did not run because they are guaranteed to start P11 and P12 with a free tyre choice behind six midfield rivals who will all start on the hypersoft Pirellis.

All five of those who did not take to the track were classified in positions P11 to P15 based on their Q1 pace.

Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley was the fastest of those eliminated in Q1 in P16.

The former WEC champion, who will drop to the back thanks to Honda engine component changes earlier in the weekend, was unable to improve on his second run after backing off for the yellow flag caused by Sergey Sirotkin spinning his Williams at Turn 9.

Fernando Alonso was P17, almost half-a-second slower than Hartley.

Alonso also has engine-related grid penalties but is not due to start on the back row thanks to his car, driven by Lando Norris, being the first on track in FP1 of the five cars carrying penalties – which impacts the order of the five cars serving grid drops.

Sirotkin’s first-run time was good enough for P18 ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne, while Lance Stroll was slowest after also encountering yellow flags because of Sirotkin on his final lap.

So congratulations to Valtteri Bottas in scoring pole position at the Russian Grand Prix. This Sochi track suits the Mercedes so well and Bottas even achieved his first victory.

As for the championship fight, Lewis Hamilton is one position ahead of Sebastian Vettel. It’s going to be fascinating to see how the champs will do in the Russian Grand Prix.

Qualifying positions, Russian Grand Prix:
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m31.387s
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m31.532s
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m31.943s
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m32.237s
5 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m33.181s
6 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 1m33.413s
7 Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 1m33.419s
8 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m33.563s
9 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m33.704s
10 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m35.196s
11 Carlos Sainz Renault –
12 Nico Hulkenberg Renault –
13 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 1m35.612s
14 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 1m35.977s
15 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1m36.437s
16 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 1m35.504s
17 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault –
18 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda –
19 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 1m35.037s
20 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault –

Hamilton victorious in Singapore Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton achieved his 44th career victory in Formula 1 was a dominant display at the Singapore Grand Prix as another Ferrari tactical blunder cost Sebastian Vettel the chance of race win.

Vettel had to settle for third position behind Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen.

Hamilton and Vettel made the best starts of the top three and the pole-sitting Mercedes cut cleanly through the first three corners as second-placed Verstappen had to defend his position from Vettel.

Behind them, Sergio Perez nudged his Force India team-mate Esteban Ocon into the outside wall at Turn 3, eliminating him from the race and bringing out the safety car.

But before race control took the decision to neutralise the Singapore Grand Prix, Vettel had made use of a better exit from Turn 5 to draw alongside Verstappen and pass him on the outside into Turn 7.

In their wake, the majority of the top ten got away in grid order – Bottas in fourth followed by Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo, Sergio Perez and Romain Grosjean – but ultrasoft runners Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz Jr each gained two positions on the opening lap, at the expense of Nico Hulkenberg and the now-absent Ocon.

The race got under way again on lap four but the frontrunners were running cautiously, nearly 11 seconds off qualifying pace, to manage their fragile hypersoft tyres and extend the first stint as far as possible.

As the lap count entered double figures the frontrunners lifted their pace in anticipation of the pitstops. Vettel was the first to dive in, on lap 14, taking on a set of ultrasofts.

The stop would prove disastrous for Vettel, since he emerged behind Perez and spent two laps bottled up behind him.

Meanwhile Hamilton and Verstappen pitted on successive laps to take on soft Pirellis with a clear strategy of running to the end with no further stops.

Hamilton returned seamlessly into the net lead, and although Verstappen’s engine stuttered slightly as he left the pit apron, he just squeaked ahead of Vettel into Turn 3.

The initial pitstop phase left Hamilton with a three seconds lead over Verstappen once Ricciardo became the last of the frontrunners to change tyres, on lap 27.

Vettel was a frustrated third, telling his Ferrari team: “We were again too late. We will not make it to the end.”

As at the Monaco Grand Prix, drivers starting outside the top ten with a free tyre choice benefitted as some of those ahead on softer rubber pitted first.

Conversely, when Perez, Nico Hulkenberg and Grosjean shed their hypersoft boots they emerged behind the tail-end Williams pairing of Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin, who had started on soft tyres and had no plans to stop promptly.

This prompted the race’s second significant incident when Perez grew impatient with Sirotkin and swerved at him as he finally went past at Turn 17 on lap 33, picking up a puncture in the process and enabling Hulkenberg to nip through.

As Grosjean tried to follow Hulkenberg through the pair baulked Hamilton as he came up to lap them, briefly enabling Verstappen to enter attacking range.

Once clear, though, Hamilton stretched his margin out to three seconds again and remained out of reach until the chequered flag, eventually finishing 8.9 seconds clear – with Vettel a further 30.9 seconds down the road.

While Hamilton, Verstappen, Vettel and Bottas nursed their tyres to the finish, a battle for fourth place erupted in the closing laps as Ricciardo closed in on and challenged Raikkonen, who in turn crept up on Bottas. But nothing came of it and Bottas crossed the line 1s clear.

Fernando Alonso won ‘class B’ for McLaren from 11th on the grid, taking advantage of a long first stint on the ultrasofts to gain track position at the expense of Perez and Grosjean, and then undercutting Sainz for seventh place when he made his single stop on lap 38.

Charles Leclerc, another driver to start outside the top ten on ultrasofts, followed Sainz home in ninth place, while Hulkenberg completed a solid recovery drive to round out the top ten after losing track position on the opening lap.

So a fantastic result for Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. That magic pole in qualifying sealed an important track position to take race victory. A massive 40-point advantage over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel is just perfect and it’s going to be a real challenge to fight back.

Singapore Grand Prix race results:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 61 1h51m11.611s
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 61 8.961s
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 61 39.945s
4 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 61 51.930s
5 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 61 53.001s
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 61 53.982s
7 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 61 1m43.011s
8 Carlos Sainz Renault 60 1 Lap
9 Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 60 1 Lap
10 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 60 1 Lap
11 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 60 1 Lap
12 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 60 1 Lap
13 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 60 1 Lap
14 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 60 1 Lap
15 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 60 1 Lap
16 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 60 1 Lap
17 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 60 1 Lap
18 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 59 2 Laps
19 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 59 2 Laps
– Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 0 Collision

Drivers’ standings:
1 Lewis Hamilton 281
2 Sebastian Vettel 241
3 Kimi Raikkonen 174
4 Valtteri Bottas 171
5 Max Verstappen 148
6 Daniel Ricciardo 126
7 Nico Hulkenberg 53
8 Fernando Alonso 50
9 Kevin Magnussen 49
10 Sergio Perez 46
11 Esteban Ocon 45
12 Carlos Sainz 38
13 Pierre Gasly 28
14 Romain Grosjean 27
15 Charles Leclerc 15
16 Stoffel Vandoorne 8
17 Lance Stroll 6
18 Marcus Ericsson 6
19 Brendon Hartley 2
20 Sergey Sirotkin 1

Constructors’ standings:
1 Mercedes 452
2 Ferrari 415
3 Red Bull-Renault 274
4 Renault 91
5 Haas-Ferrari 76
6 McLaren-Renault 58
7 Force India-Mercedes 32
8 Toro Rosso-Honda 30
9 Sauber-Ferrari 21
10 Williams-Mercedes 7

Epic Singapore Grand Prix pole position for Hamilton

Lewis Hamiton achieved an important pole position in terms of the world championship with an epic lap around the Marina Bay street circuit.

The Mercedes driver set a best time of one minute, 36.015 seconds on his first run in Q3, with engineer Pete Bonnington telling him “that was an epic lap” after crossing the line.

Hamilton abandoned his lap on his second run in the middle sector after running wide out of the Turn 7 right-hander, but had done enough to secure pole by 0.319 seconds from Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen.

Verstappen was on a lap that was close to Hamilton’s time after two sectors on his second run, but a slow final sector put paid to his chances of taking pole position.

Verstappen said “this feels like a victory” after struggling with engine complaints.

Sebastian Vettel also failed to improve on his second run, ending up 0.613 seconds down in third place and less than a tenth ahead of the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas.

Kimi Raikkonen was fifth for Ferrari, two tenths ahead of Daniel Ricciardo.

Sergio Perez was seventh, a second slower than Ricciardo, for Force India ahead of the Haas of Romain Grosjean.

Force India teammate Esteban Ocon survived a brush with the wall at the exit of Turn 21 to claim ninth place ahead of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg.

McLaren’s Fernando Alonso was bumped out of the top ten by Grosjean’s late improvement, leaving him P11 and fastest of those eliminated in Q2.

He missed out on a place in the top ten shootout by just 0.107 seconds having outpaced Renault driver Carlos Sainz, who failed to improve his time on his second run and complained of “absolutely no grip”.

Sauber pairing Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson were P13 and P14, albeit with seven tenths separating the duo.

Toro Rosso driver Pierre Gasly was P15, lapping over two tenths slower than Ericsson.

Kevin Magnussen was the quickest to be eliminated in Q1 in P16 after failing to improve on his second run and being shuffled into the drop zone by Ericsson

Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley was P17, lapping two tenths off teammate Gasly but half-a-tenth ahead of McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne.

Williams pairing Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll were a distant P19 and P20, lapping 1.4 seconds off the rest of the field.

So an awesome lap from Lewis Hamilton. Six tenths clear over his title rival Sebastian Vettel. Mercedes were not the favourites for pole and yet the defending champion delivered the result with this fine pole.

Qualifying positions, Singapore Grand Prix:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m36.015s
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 1m36.334s
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m36.628s
4 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m36.702s
5 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m36.794s
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 1m36.996s
7 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m37.985s
8 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m38.320s
9 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 1m38.365s
10 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m38.588s
11 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 1m38.641s
12 Carlos Sainz Renault 1m38.716s
13 Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 1m38.747s
14 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m39.453s
15 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 1m39.691s
16 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m39.644s
17 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 1m39.809s
18 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 1m39.864s
19 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 1m41.263s
20 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1m41.334s

Leclerc promoted to Ferrari seat as Raikkonen joins Sauber

Kimi Raikkonen has stepped down from Scuderia Ferrari at the end of this season, giving way for rising Formula 1 star Charles Leclerc.

Long-time Ferrari protege Leclerc had been tipped to replace Raikkonen earlier this season after an awesome start to his rookie season at Sauber that impressed then Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne.

Marchionne’s death in July threatened Leclerc’s promotion and boosted Raikkonen’s prospects of extending his second stint at Ferrari by another year because Marchionne’s replacement as CEO, Louis Camilleri, is a supporter of The Iceman.

The situation then advanced over the Italian Grand Prix weekend when it emerged Ferrari wanted to honour Marchionne’s original plan to replace Raikkonen with Leclerc next season.

Ferrari has now confirmed Raikkonen “will step down from his current role” and officially announced that Leclerc will team up with Sebastian Vettel from next season on wards.

The 2007 world champion has started 284 Grands Prix, winning 20 of them since making his debut with Sauber in 2001.

Raikkonen left Formula 1 two years after winning the world title with Ferrari to spend two years competing in the World Rally Championship, before returning to the sport with Lotus in 2012.

He rejoined Ferrari two years later but has failed to add to his nine victories with the team in his second spell – he qualified on pole for the recent Italian Grand Prix but was denied the win by Lewis Hamilton.

“During these years, Kimi’s contribution to the team, both as a driver and on account of his human qualities, has been fundamental,” said Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene.

“He played a decisive role in the team’s growth and was, at the same time, always a great team player.

“As a world champion for Scuderia Ferrari, he will always be part of the team’s history and family.

“We thank Kimi for all of this and wish him and his family a prosperous future.”

Raikkonen will leave Ferrari as one of its most successful drivers, racking up 144 starts – only Michael Schumacher (179) has more – and nine wins with the famous team.

With Charles Leclerc’s promotion to the works Scuderia team confirmed, he becomes the first Ferrari Driver Academy graduate an unique opportunity to drive for the main outfit.

The 20-year-old will also be the second-youngest driver in history to race for Ferrari, older only than Ricardo Rodriguez.

Leclerc took to social media after the announcement to declare that “dreams do come true” and his messages included a heartfelt tribute to his late father Herve and friend Jules Bianchi.

“Eternally grateful to Scuderia Ferrari for the opportunity given,” Leclerc wrote.

“To Nicolas Todt for supporting me since 2011. To my family.

“To a person that is not part of this world anymore but to whom I owe everything of what is happening to me, Papa.

“To Jules, thank you for all the things you learnt me [sic], we will never forget you.

“And to all the persons that supported me and believed in me.

“I will work harder than ever to not disappoint you.

“But first, there is a season to finish with an amazing team that gave me the opportunity to fight and show my potential.”

Leclerc won back-to-back titles in GP3 and Formula 2 to earn his Formula 1 graduation with Sauber this season, and a stunning start to his Grand Prix racing career convinced Ferrari’s top management he was ready for an immediate promotion.

He has scored a best result of sixth, in Azerbaijan, and bagged 13 points to lie P15 in the championship, outperforming his much more experienced team-mate Marcus Ericsson.

His results and a dip in form for Raikkonen convinced the late Sergio Marchionne, Ferrari’s former chairman, to green-light Leclerc replacing The Iceman next season.

That was complicated when Marchionne passed away in July and was replaced by Louis Camilleri, a supporter of Raikkonen, but Ferrari’s new hierarchy decided to honour Marchionne’s original plan.

Leclerc’s current team boss at Sauber, Fred Vasseur, said: “It has been a great pleasure to support Charles Leclerc in his rookie year in Formula 1.

“Since his arrival, he has given the team great motivation. We have constantly improved and we will work hard until the end of this season to achieve the best possible results together.

“We are aware of Charles’ talent and are confident that he will have a bright future.

“We will keep on following him closely and we wish him the best on his path.”

So fantastic news for Charles Leclerc. A promotion to the senior Ferrari team is a brilliant career move for Leclerc and it’s going to be a major challenge to drive alongside Sebastian Vettel. The pressure to succeed is on.

As for Kimi Raikkonen, he will return to Sauber in 2019 after losing his spot at Ferrari.

Raikkonen made his Formula 1 debut with Sauber in 2001, before joining McLaren the following year, and will now head back to the Swiss team next season.

The move to Sauber is a two-year deal for Raikkonen, who wrote on his official Instagram account: “Guess who’s back?! Next two years with Sauber F1 team ahead!

“Feels extremely good to go back where it all began!”

Though the 2007 world champion has not won a race since 2013, and has not tasted victory in his second stint with Ferrari, his return represents a major signing for Sauber.

The team has been on a major rebuilding project over the last year since Fred Vasseur took charge amid an ownership change.

“Signing Kimi Raikkonen as our driver represents an important pillar of our project, and brings us closer to our target of making significant progress as a team in the near future,” said Vasseur.

“Kimi’s undoubted talent and immense experience in Formula 1 will not only contribute to the development of our car, but will also accelerate the growth and development of our team as a whole.

“Together, we will start the 2019 season with a strong foundation, driven by the determination to fight for results that count.”

Sauber’s revival has facilitated Leclerc’s stunning rookie season, which has earned the 20-year-old an immediate graduation to Ferrari.

Raikkonen taking one of the 2019 Sauber seats means its other 2018 driver Marcus Ericsson is under pressure to earn his stay with the team.

So a major swap deal between the Ferrari-backed drivers. Kimi Raikkonen for Charles Leclerc. Position switched at Ferrari and Sauber. Best of luck to both in their new roles at the outfits and it’s going to be fascinating how competitive both will be come the new Formula 1 season.

Norris to replace Vandoorne at McLaren from next year

Rising British racer Lando Norris will make his Formula 1 debut for McLaren next season, replacing Stoffel Vandoorne.

The Formula 2 front runner has impressed the Woking-based squad with his recent runs in free practice sessions and has won the battle to become Carlos Sainz’s team-mate.

The announcement about his plans comes shortly after McLaren revealed that it is not retaining Stoffel Vandoorne for 2019.

Norris has been part of the McLaren young driver programme since 2017, having won a host of junior motorsport categories in his career including last year’s European Formula 3 title. He is currently battling with Mercedes junior George Russell for the Formula 2 championship.

Speaking about his promotion, Norris said: “To be announced as a race driver for McLaren is a dream come true. Although I’ve been part of the team for a while now, this is a special moment, one I could only hope would become reality.

“I’d like to thank the whole team for this amazing opportunity and for believing in me. I’m also extremely grateful for the commitment McLaren has already shown in my development, allowing me to build my experience in a Formula 1 car in both testing and on Fridays during the past two race weekends.”

McLaren CEO Zak Brown added: “We believe Lando is an exciting talent, full of potential, who we’ve very deliberately kept within the McLaren fold for exactly that reason.

“Lando is an integral part of our plan for rebuilding our Formula 1 operation for the future, and he has already developed a strong relationship with the team.

“In Lando and Carlos we have an impressive duo who, despite their relative youth, hold valuable experience in Formula 1 and with McLaren, and represent the next generation of McLaren drivers to lead the team forward.

“While our short-term focus is fixed on securing the best possible result for the remainder of the 2018 season, we’re also massively motivated by the opportunities that lie ahead.”

So fantastic news for Lando Norris. This is the perfect opportunity to showcase his talent in the pinnacle of motor racing and it’s going to be fascinating how he compares to his new McLaren team-mate Carlos Sainz.

As for Stoffel Vandoorne, this is a disappointment and ends his two year season of difficult circumstances at McLaren.

Vandoorne will part ways with the Woking-based team after the final race of the season, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

“We’re immensely thankful for Stoffel’s dedication, hard work and commitment during his time at McLaren,” said McLaren CEO Zak Brown.

“He’s a talented racing driver with an incredible list of accolades in his junior career. We’re proud to have played a part in his break into Formula 1, from his role as test driver to his fantastic points-scoring debut in Bahrain in 2016.

“It’s clear we haven’t provided Stoffel with the tools to show his true talent, but throughout our relationship he’s proved to be a fantastic team player. His work ethic is impressive, he has a great reputation within the team and we’ve really enjoyed working with him.

“Of course, we would have loved to achieve more success during our time together, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that he will always be a part of the McLaren family of grand prix drivers.

“For now, we look to the future and to the remaining grands prix in 2018, where I know both Stoffel and Fernando will be pushing hard to fight for as many points as possible before we close the curtain on this season.

“We wish Stoffel all the best in whatever direction he chooses to take next in his career, and we’ll be supporting him all the way. We will announce our full driver line-up for the 2019 season in due course.”

McLaren has already signed Carlos Sainz Jr to replace Fernando Alonso when the two-time champion steps down at the end of the season.

Vandoorne, who has recently had to deny speculation he could be replaced before the end of the season, thanked McLaren for its prior support for his career in a parting statement.

“I’m very grateful to McLaren for investing their faith in me over the past five years,” Vandoorne said.

“While we haven’t achieved the success we’d all hoped for, I’ve really enjoyed the past two seasons racing for McLaren and I have a great relationship with everyone in the team.

“My time at McLaren has been a great chapter in my career and I’m thankful for the opportunity the team, Shaikh Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa and Mansour Ojjeh have given me to gain valuable Formula 1 experience and develop as a driver.

“I intend to give it my all for the remaining seven races of this season, and will announce my plans for next season in due course.”

Best wishes to Stoffel Vandoorne. Fingers crossed he can land a decent seat in Formula 1 next season.

So all change at McLaren with Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz forming the driver line-up in 2019. Out goes the double Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne. It’s going to be a fascinating to see how the young talent of Norris and Sainz can help move McLaren forward. Good luck!

Hamilton takes victory at Monza

Lewis Hamilton scored his 68th career victory at Monza and managed to escape unscarred from his first-lap contact with title rival Sebastian Vettel.

Hamilton overtook Vettel around the outside into the second chicane on the opening lap, and Vettel ran wide, hit the Mercedes and spun to the back.

Sebastian charged through to finish fourth behind Valtteri Bottas, as a time penalty dropped Max Verstappen from the podium to fifth.

Raikkonen maintained the lead despite pressure from Vettel and a lock-up into the first corner, before Hamilton drafted the Ferraris and attacked Vettel around the outside the Roggia Chicane.

Hamilton held his car level with the Ferrari, which drifted into the side of the Mercedes and spun.

Vettel dropped to the back and had to pit as he damaged his front wing in the contact as well, but was handed a silver lining thanks to a safety car.

Brendon Hartley pulled over on the right-hand side of the circuit seconds after the start, having been squeezed on the run to the first corner and suffered a front-right breakage on his Toro Rosso.

Racing resumed on lap four and Hamilton pressured Raikkonen but was not close enough to mount an attack.

That was the story of the opening stint as Hamilton gradually drifted outside of DRS range, but Raikkonen’s lead never rose above two seconds before he stopped on lap 20.

Mercedes was ready to receive Hamilton as well but instead the Briton did not pit and ran another eight laps, shipping five seconds to Raikkonen in that time.

However, Mercedes kept Bottas on track, with the Finn fighting to overhaul Verstappen, who had just pit, for third.

That meant Bottas was able to hold up Raikkonen and, within three laps of Hamilton pitting, he was within DRS range of Raikkonen and on fresher rubber.

Bottas led until lap 36 before pitting, releasing Raikkonen and Hamilton to duke it out for the win.

Hamilton was closer than ever as they crossed the line to start the 45th lap but only drew alongside the Ferrari as they approached the braking zone but nailed Raikkonen around the outside.

Raikkonen tried to fight back into the Roggia Chicane but Hamilton held the place and quickly broke clear as Raikkonen nursed a blister on his left-rear tyre.

That situation was so “critical”, as Ferrari put it, for Raikkonen that he fell almost 9 seconds behind Hamilton, whose victory extended his points lead in the championship to 30 as Vettel received a late gift by nicking fourth from Verstappen.

Bottas had used his fresh tyres to quickly wipe out Verstappen’s three-second lead and started to attack for the final podium place with ten laps to go.

He got a great run on Verstappen and pulled to the outside when Verstappen moved under braking for the first chicane, which bumped Bottas onto the grass and sent him onto the run-off.

Verstappen was hit with a five-second time penalty, then defended aggressively from Bottas when his rival recovered a four-second deficit, telling his team he did not care that he was costing himself time to Vettel.

That allowed Vettel, who stopped again in his fight back to fifth on-track, to sneak within five seconds of the Red Bull and salvage another two points.

Romain Grosjean was almost unseen on FOM but came under immense pressure from the Racing Point Force Indias in the best-of-the-rest fight.

Grosjean just held on to claim sixth for Haas, with Esteban Ocon besting a charging Sergio Perez – who started P14 – to P7.

Carlos Sainz finished ninth for Renault, while Lance Stroll claimed only the second points finish of the year for Williams as he completed the top ten.

Two drivers joined Hartley in retirement over the grand prix. Fernando Alonso stopped his McLaren with an unconfirmed problem on lap 10, while running in the points, while Daniel Ricciardo pulled a smoking Red Bull over exiting the second chicane just before mid-distance.

So congratulations to Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes in winning the Italian Grand Prix. This was an important result for the championship and taking victory at Monza was just magic.

Italian Grand Prix, race results:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 53 1h16m54.484s
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 53 8.705s
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 53 14.066s
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 53 16.151s
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 53 18.208s
6 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 53 56.320s
7 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 53 57.761s
8 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 53 58.678s
9 Carlos Sainz Renault 53 1m28.140s
10 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 52 1 Lap
11 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 52 1 Lap
12 Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 52 1 Lap
13 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 52 1 Lap
14 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 52 1 Lap
15 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 52 1 Lap
16 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 52 1 Lap
17 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 52 1 Lap
– Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 23 Power Unit
– Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 9 Retirement
– Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso/Honda 0 Collision

Drivers’ standings:
1 Lewis Hamilton 256
2 Sebastian Vettel 226
3 Kimi Raikkonen 164
4 Valtteri Bottas 159
5 Max Verstappen 130
6 Daniel Ricciardo 118
7 Nico Hulkenberg 52
8 Kevin Magnussen 49
9 Sergio Perez 44
10 Fernando Alonso 44
11 Esteban Ocon 43
12 Romain Grosjean 35
13 Carlos Sainz 32
14 Pierre Gasly 28
15 Charles Leclerc 13
16 Stoffel Vandoorne 8
17 Marcus Ericsson 6
18 Lance Stroll 5
19 Brendon Hartley 2
20 Sergey Sirotkin 0

Constructors’ standings:
1 Mercedes 415
2 Ferrari 390
3 Red Bull-Renault 248
4 Haas-Ferrari 84
5 Renault 84
6 McLaren-Renault 52
7 Toro Rosso-Honda 30
8 Force India-Mercedes 28
9 Sauber-Ferrari 19
10 Williams-Mercedes 5

Raikkonen scores pole position at Monza

Kimi Raikkonen achieved his first Formula 1 pole position of 2018 in a thrilling qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix.

The Scuderia Ferrari driver was second fastest behind championship leader Lewis Hamilton on the first runs in the Q3 top ten shootout, but while both drivers improved Raikkonen outpaced the Mercedes star.

Sebastian Vettel briefly took top spot in after crossing the line ahead of Raikkonen, before The Iceman completed his lap to post a time 0.161 seconds faster.

Raikkonen’s superb pace in the final sector – aided by a tow from his Ferrari team-mate – was key to his pole, completing it a tenth-and-a-half faster than Vettel.

Hamilton did improve on his second run, but it wasn’t by enough and he ended up third, 0.014 seconds slower than Vettel.

Valtteri Bottas, in the other Mercedes, has struggled to match his team-mate’s pace all weekend and was fourth, 0.136 seconds slower than Hamilton.

Max Verstappen was fifth for Red Bull Racing, 1.5 seconds off the pace, and ahead of Romain Grosjean’s Haas and the Renault of Carlos Sainz Jr.

Esteban Ocon took eight for Force India, just half-a-tenth slower than Sainz.

Toro Rosso driver Pierre Gasly was ninth after a perfect run in Q2 got him into the top ten shootout, but didn’t have the pace to threaten the top eight.

Williams reached Q3 for the first time in 2018 after Lance Stroll’s strong performance in Q2. He ended up P10 and almost three-tenths behind Gasly.

Kevin Magnussen was eliminated in Q2 after heading into the first chicane side by side with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso on his final lap.

Alonso ended up P13 having failed to set a serious time on his second run as a result, saying “Magnussen wanted to race into Turn 1” and laughing over the radio.

After Q2, Haas team principal Gunter Steiner and McLaren boss Zak Brown had what appeared to be a heated discussion, presumably about this incident, in the pitlane.

The race stewards will investigate the incident after qualifying.

Magnussen’s lap was also ruined, but his first-run time almost got him into the top ten, as he ended up just 0.002 seconds slower than Gasly and just ahead of the Williams of Sergey Sirotkin.

Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg did not set a time in Q2 because he is set to start on the back row thanks to a combination of a 10-place grid penalty for causing a start crash at Spa.

But Hulkenberg did do a lap, meaning he was classified ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who is also set to start on the last row thanks to power unit penalties and did not run in Q2.

Force India’s Sergio Perez was the quickest of those eliminated in Q1 during a flurry of late improvements, with both of the Williams drivers, Hulkenberg and Gasly jumping him late on.

Perez only completed one run during the session and ended up just one-thousandth of a second slower than Grosjean in the battle to make the cut in Q1.

Sauber’s Charles Leclerc failed to improve on his final flier and was relegated to 16th late on, asking “why are we so slow?” over the radio on his in-lap after lapping just 0.002 seconds off P15.

Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley was P18, with the team telling him he lost a tenth-and-half in the first corner on his final lap.

This would have been enough to elevate him comfortably into the Q2 positions given he was just 0.133 seconds off tenth position.

Marcus Ericsson, who escaped a massive accident at the first chicane during FP2 on Friday was P19 ahead of McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne.

So congratulations to Kimi Raikkonen in scoring pole position at Ferrari’s home race. This was The Iceman first P1 since last year’s Monaco race. Championship challengers Sebastian Vettel is second with Lewis Hamilton third. Bring on the race.

Italian Grand Prix, qualifying positions:
1 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m19.119s
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m19.280s
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m19.294s
4 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m19.656s
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 1m20.615s
6 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m20.936s
7 Carlos Sainz Renault 1m21.041s
8 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 1m21.099s
9 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 1m21.350s
10 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1m21.627s
11 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m21.669s
12 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 1m21.732s
13 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 1m22.568s
14 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m21.888s
15 Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 1m21.889s
16 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 1m21.934s
17 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 1m22.085s
18 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m22.048s
19 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault –
20 Nico Hulkenberg Renault –

Vettel takes Spa victory after mayhem start

Sebastian Vettel has surpassed Formula 1 legend Alain Prost with his 52nd victory in a dramatic Belgian Grand Prix which featured a first-corner crash provided the major talking point.

Vettel slipstreamed championship rival and poleman Lewis Hamilton on the Kemmel Straight on the opening lap, drafting past the Mercedes as the Racing Point Force Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez almost made it four-abreast heading towards Les Combes.

Ocon backed out having pulled almost level with Vettel, which allowed Vettel to hold the lead from Hamilton as Perez swept around the outside of Ocon into third.

That happened just before the race was neutralised with the safety car following a massive first-corner crash in which Alonso was pitched airborne over Charles Leclerc.

Nico Hulkenberg misjudged his braking and locked up both front wheels on his Renault and slammed into the rear of Alonso, who was launched into the back of – and then over – Leclerc, hitting the Sauber’s halo device on the way down.

All three cars were eliminated on the spot, and the drivers emerged under their own steam.

This crash was very similar to Alonso’s 2012 crash in which his car was airborne after taking a hit from Grosjean.

Luckily the drivers in this smash escaped unharmed, in particular the halo did its job in protecting Charles Leclerc from the airborne Fernando Alonso.

Daniel Ricciardo’s rear wing was broken by the flying Alonso, which contributed to the Red Bull running wide through La Source and inflicting a right-rear puncture on Kimi Raikkonen’s the Ferrari.

Ricciardo and Raikkonen pitted for repairs before rejoining, although they did not complete the race – Raikkonen stopped a few laps later while Ricciardo, who fell two laps down as Red Bull worked on his car then returned to the garage with 13 laps to go.

The safety car was out for four laps following the crash, with Hamilton half-attacking Vettel into the final chicane at the restart but falling into line with a small lock-up.

Vettel quickly built a three-second lead that he maintained until Mercedes brought Hamilton in on lap 21, with Vettel following suit one lap later at exactly the halfway mark.

Hamilton’s rapid out-lap threatened to put him in position to attack Vettel but he caught the Red Bull of Max Verstappen at the end of the lap, which meant Vettel emerged out of DRS zone.

The Ferrari quickly re-established its healthy advantage, as Hamilton drifted back and eventually finished 11 seconds behind, meaning Vettel cut the championship gap to 17 points.

Verstappen scored a lonely third place having got ahead of the Force Indias early on, drafting Ocon on the run to Les Combes three laps after the restart and pulling the same move on Perez a few laps later.

Verstappen ended up half a minute behind the winner and roughly the same amount clear of Valtteri Bottas, who claimed fourth in the closing stages.

The Mercedes driver started at the back after exceeding his engine limit for the season by taking the manufacturer’s upgraded engine, but climbed steadily up the order and passed Perez with just a few laps to go.

That demoted the ‘new’ Force India team to fifth and sixth on its debut, as its 18-point haul immediately put the entry ahead of Williams in the constructors’ championship and just one point behind Sauber, which only stays ahead because of Marcus Ericsson’s tenth place finish.

The new Force India also matched the best points haul for a team on its F1 ‘debut’, equalling the 18 points earned by Mercedes (in 2010) and Brawn (in 2009, under the old 10-8-6-4-3-2-1 points structure).

Haas duo Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen enjoyed a quietly effective grand prix to finish seventh and eighth, which moved the team to just six points behind Renault in the fight for fourth in the constructors’ championship.

Carlos Sainz Jr’s P11 meant Renault failed to score for only the second time this year.

Newly-confirmed 2019 Red Bull driver Pierre Gasly bagged two points for Toro Rosso and Honda in ninth place, with Ericsson completing the top ten.

So a fantastic result for Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel. This was payback after a disappointing end in the German Grand Prix by winning at Spa-Francorchamps.

Monza follows next weekend and this victory will give a positive feeling heading to the Italian Grand Prix for Ferrari.

Belgian Grand Prix race results:
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 44 1h23m34.476s
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 44 11.061s
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 44 31.372s
4 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 44 1m03.605s
5 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 44 1m11.023s
6 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 44 1m19.520s
7 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 44 1m25.953s
8 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 44 1m27.639s
9 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 44 1m45.892s
10 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 43 1 Lap
11 Carlos Sainz Renault 43 1 Lap
12 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 43 1 Lap
13 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 43 1 Lap
14 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 43 1 Lap
15 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 43 1 Lap
– Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 28 Retirement
– Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 8 Retirement
– Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 0 Collision
– Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 0 Collision
– Nico Hulkenberg Renault 0 Collision

Drivers’ standings:
1 Lewis Hamilton 231
2 Sebastian Vettel 214
3 Kimi Raikkonen 146
4 Valtteri Bottas 144
5 Max Verstappen 120
6 Daniel Ricciardo 118
7 Nico Hulkenberg 52
8 Kevin Magnussen 49
9 Fernando Alonso 44
10 Sergio Perez 40
11 Esteban Ocon 37
12 Carlos Sainz 30
13 Pierre Gasly 28
14 Romain Grosjean 27
15 Charles Leclerc 13
16 Stoffel Vandoorne 8
17 Marcus Ericsson 6
18 Lance Stroll 4
19 Brendon Hartley 2
20 Sergey Sirotkin 0

Constructors’ standings:
1 Mercedes 375
2 Ferrari 360
3 Red Bull-Renault 238
4 Renault 82
5 Haas-Ferrari 76
6 McLaren-Renault 52
7 Toro Rosso-Honda 30
8 Sauber-Ferrari 19
9 Force India-Mercedes 18
10 Williams-Mercedes 4

Hamilton beats title rival Vettel for Spa pole

Lewis Hamilton edged out his championship rival Sebastian Vettel to pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix in wet conditions.

Rain that started to fall when drivers were heading back to the pits at the end of Q2 meant Q3 started in slightly damp conditions with everyone on slick tyres.

But with the rain intensifying, and Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas spinning coming through Blanchimont on his outlap, all the drivers except the Racing Point Force India drivers dived straight into the pits.

With Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon having to abandon their subsequent attempts to set a time on slicks, the former after a big moment at Eau Rouge, everyone opted for intermediates.

Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen both had spells at the top before Vettel went fastest with just under three minutes remaining with a lap of two minutes, 02.466 seconds.

While Hamilton lost a lap to an off-track moment on his second flier, Vettel improved his time to a two minutes, 01.188 seconds.

It came down to a battle on their final fliers, with Hamilton posting a one minute, 58.179 seconds to take pole – 0.726 seconds clear of Vettel.

Ocon claimed an impressive third late on with a lap 3.672 seconds off the pace in improving track conditions, with team-mate Sergio Perez completing a second-row lockout for the revitalised team despite an off at the chicane.

Haas driver Romain Grosjean and Raikkonen ended up on the third row, with Verstappen and Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo taking the fourth row.

Kevin Magnussen was the slowest of those to set a time in Q3, ending up ninth place, with Bottas knowing he will start from the back thanks to grid penalties and not returning to the track after his outlap.

Toro Rosso driver Pierre Gasly was the fastest of those eliminated in Q2 in P11, half a second away from a slot in the top ten.

His final lap was compromised by team-mate Brendon Hartley triggering a yellow flag by spinning in front of him when the rears locked as he hit the brakes for the first hairpin – although he only lost two-tenths of a second compared to his personal best in that sector.

Hartley’s spin meant he did not improve on his second run and ended up P12, and led to him asking the team to investigate what the cause of the rears locking.

Sauber pairing Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson had both been in the top ten in Q1 but ended up P13 and P14 respectively.

Leclerc improved on his second attempt, but was two-tenths slower than Hartley and four-tenths off his Q1 pace.

Ericsson was around a quarter of a second slower, but did not return to the track for a second run.

Nico Hulkenberg, who will start at the back thanks to grid penalties incurred for a change of his whole Renault engine package on Friday – then another turbo change this morning – did not run in Q2 and was classified 15th.

His Renault team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr was 0.088 seconds slower on his second run than the time he had set on his first, meaning he was bumped into P16 and eliminated in Q1.

Sainz complained about a lack of rear grip over the radio after being jumped by Ericsson in the dying seconds of the session.

McLaren’s Fernando Alonso also failed to improve on his second run despite a tow on the Kemmel Straight from team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne.

Alonso set personal best times in the first and second sectors, but lost time on the run through the last sector and ended up P17 ahead of Williams duo Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll.

Vandoorne was slowest, 0.390 seconds behind Alonso after not being close enough to his team-mate to get a tow – setting a time 0.367 seconds slower in the first sector.

So congratulations to Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton in achieving pole position at Spa-Francorchamps. That was vital in terms of the championship to score one over Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel.

And yet the stars of qualifying will definitely be Racing Point Force India. To achieve a row two start as a ‘new outfit’ is just remarkable. A positive outcome after going into administration during the Formula 1 summer break. This P3 and P4 is great news to boost moral. Job well done.

Qualifying positions, Belgian Grand Prix:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m58.179s
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m58.905s
3 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 2m01.851s
4 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 2m01.894s
5 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 2m02.122s
6 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 2m02.671s
7 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 2m02.769s
8 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 2m02.939s
9 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 2.04.933s
10 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 1m43.844
11 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 1m43.865
12 Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 1m44.062s
13 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m44.301s
14 Carlos Sainz Renault 1m44.489s
15 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 1m44.917s
16 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 1m44.998s
17 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1m45.134s
18 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 1m45.307s
19 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes –
20 Nico Hulkenberg Renault –