Vettel on pole at Baku

Three is the magic number as Sebastian Vettel claimed his third consecutive pole position in qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

The Ferrari driver’s first run in the Q3 was good enough to secure pole position by 0.179 seconds from Mercedes driver and title rival Lewis Hamilton after a lock-up spoiled his second attempt.

But in the final seconds of the session, it seemed Kimi Raikkonen was set for pole position having set the fastest times of all in the first two sectors.

The Iceman threw away that time by being too aggressive on the throttle out of the Turn 16 left-hander, which led to him losing enough time that he did not improve on his first run time.

This put Raikkonen down in sixth position, behind Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas and the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.

Five of the top six will start on the supersoft Pirellis, having used them to set their times in Q2, the exception being Raikkonen who locked up on his flying lap and set his time on his second run using the ultrasofts.

Ricciardo appeared to benefit from a slipstream tow from Raikkonen to pip his team-mate by less than a tenth of a second.

Esteban Ocon performed strongly throughout qualifying to end up as best of the rest in seventh, a second off the pace, and just ahead of Force India team-mate Sergio Perez.

Nico Hulkenberg was ninth fastest, although has to serve a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change and will hand the place to Renault team-mate Carlos Sainz.

Lance Stroll came close to knocking Ricciardo out in Q2 with his late lap, which was just 0.103 seconds slower than the Red Bull driver’s supersoft pace and good enough for P11.

That put him three tenths clear of Williams team-mate Sergey Sirotkin, who survived an investigation into impeding Sauber driver Marcus Ericsson in Q1 without any action being taken.

Fernando Alonso was P13 for McLaren, having been shuffled down from ninth place after the first runs despite improving on his second set of ultrasofts.

Sauber’s Charles Leclerc was P14, while Haas driver Kevin Magnussen was just under seven tenths down in P15 after lapping over a second slower than he had in Q1.

Stoffel Vandoorne was the quickest driver to be eliminated in Q1 thanks to Stroll’s late lap of one minute, 44.359 seconds, which was 0.130 seconds quicker than the McLaren driver.

That also relegated Pierre Gasly to P17 after the Frenchman’s second run was ruined by an incident with Toro Rosso team-mate Brendon Hartley.

Hartley was moving slowly with a puncture at Turn 14 when Gasly happened upon him at the fast left-hand kink while on a lap that looked quick enough to get him into Q2.

Gasly just managed to swerve around the right side of Hartley and narrowly avoid contact, but he mounted the outside kerb and ended up in the Turn 15 escape road before returning to the pits – labelling what happened “unacceptable” over the radio.

“I was trying to get out of the way of Gasly but it was too late,” said Hartley over the radio. “I feel pretty stupid about Gasly.”

Hartley had to abandon his quick lap from the first run, and did not have time to have another run after his puncture so ended up down in P19 behind Ericsson having not set a serious lap time.

Haas driver Romain Grosjean was P20 having not set a time thanks to stopping with a gearbox problem early in Q1.

So a brilliant result for Sebastian Vettel with his 53rd pole position in Formula 1. His Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was too aggressive in the final sector and had to settle with P6.

Sunday’s race is going to be fascinating as Mercedes and Red Bull are looking strong. The long straights at Baku will help overtaking so Vettel needs to keep an eye on his mirrors to stay out in front.

Qualifying positions:
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m41.498s
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m41.677s
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m41.837s
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 1m41.911s
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 1m41.994s
6 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m42.490s
7 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 1m42.523s
8 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m42.547s
9 Carlos Sainz Renault 1m43.351s
10 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1m43.585s
11 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 1m43.886s
12 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 1m44.019s
13 Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 1m44.074s
14 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m43.066s*
15 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m44.759s
16 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 1m44.489s
17 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 1m44.496s
18 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m45.541s
19 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 1m57.354s
20 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari –

*Five-place grid penalty following gearbox change

Ricciardo victorious in China as Verstappen and Vettel clashed

Daniel Ricciardo charged from sixth to score an awesome victory at the Chinese Grand Prix as Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel collided.

Bottas and Vettel were locked in their own battle for the win until Ricciardo and Verstappen pitted again for fresh, soft tyres during a safety car just after the halfway mark as their rivals stayed on mediums.

Ricciardo then overtook his team-mate, Lewis Hamilton and Vettel in quick succession before pulling off an incredible pass on Bottas into the tight Turn 6 right-hander for the victory.

Bottas fought off against the recovering Kimi Raikkonen to claim third, after Verstappen tipped Vettel into a spin at the hairpin with 14 laps to the flag.

Vettel had led from pole in the opening stint and built a lead of just over three seconds over Bottas, and Mercedes moved first on strategy by pitting Bottas on lap 19 of 56.

Ferrari reacted a lap later, but a great middle sector from Bottas helped him sweep past into Turn 1 as Vettel exited the pits.

Bottas resisted that advantage over the next few laps until Vettel had a brief chance to attack when they caught Raikkonen, who was running a much longer opening stint.

Raikkonen kept Bottas behind into the hairpin at the end of the lap but was powerless to stop an aggressive attack from his fellow Finn around the outside of Turn 1 immediately after.

Vettel followed suit swiftly and put pressure on Bottas into Turn 6 but was rebuffed, and Bottas had eked back out of DRS range when the Toro Rossos collided at the hairpin.

Pierre Gasly misjudged a move on Brendon Hartley and spun them both round, littering the track with broken carbon fibre and wing mirror glass that required a safety car in order to clear it up.

Verstappen and Ricciardo, who were running third and fifth either side of Hamilton after a good first stint on ultrasofts with the others on softs, immediately dived for the pits and rejoined fourth and sixth.

Ricciardo made short work of Raikkonen, who had only just switched to mediums before the safety car and also stayed out, before catching the squabbling Hamilton and Verstappen.

He passed his team-mate when Verstappen went off-track trying to pass Hamilton on the outside of Turn 7, then nailed Hamilton into the hairpin.

At this point Ricciardo was 2.8 seconds off the lead, but he hacked into that gap and breezed past Vettel on the back straight using DRS.

Bottas had a small lock-up soon after Ricciardo was into second, and with 12 laps to go they were nose-to-tail.

Ricciardo acted swiftly into Turn 4, getting inside Bottas even though his rival defended and forcing him to concede the place.

From there he bolted clear to win by 8.8 seconds as Bottas just about held off Raikkonen, who was given a free pass into third when Verstappen hit Vettel.

Verstappen had caught Vettel on lap 43 and tried an opportunistic move inside the hairpin as Vettel ran deep.

But the two collided when Vettel turned in and both spun in unison, delaying Hamilton in the process.

They rejoined but Verstappen picked up a ten-second time penalty, so even though he recovered to fourth on the road he was dropped to fifth – behind Hamilton – in the results.

That was no consolation to Vettel, who fell to eighth at the flag after struggling post-contact and was passed by Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault and Fernando Alonso’s McLaren.

Behind Vettel, who was furious at Alonso’s aggressive pass through the Turn 1-2 complex, Carlos Sainz and Kevin Magnussen completed the points finishers.

What a difference 24 hours make for Daniel Ricciardo. Following an engine failure in FP3, the Red Bull team managed to repair the honey badger’s car just in time for qualifying. Ricciardo repays the result with a fine race win.

As for the incident between Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen, that was a silly mistake by the Red Bull driver. Too impatient and misjudged the opportunity to pass the championship leader. A time penalty was issued to Verstappen but Vettel took a bigger hit, in loosing important points. An advice to Max – calm down.

Chinese Grand Prix, race results:
1 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 56 1h35m36.380s
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 56 8.894s
3 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 56 9.637s
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 56 16.985s
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 56 20.436s
6 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 56 21.052s
7 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 56 30.639s
8 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 56 35.286s
9 Carlos Sainz Renault 56 35.763s
10 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 56 39.594s
11 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 56 44.050s
12 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 56 44.725s
13 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 56 49.373s
14 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 56 55.490s
15 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 56 58.241s
16 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 56 1m02.604s
17 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 56 1m05.296s
18 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 56 1m06.330s
19 Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 56 1m19.066s
20 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 51 Not running

Drivers’ standings:
1 Sebastian Vettel 56
2 Lewis Hamilton 45
3 Valtteri Bottas 40
4 Daniel Ricciardo 37
5 Kimi Raikkonen 30
6 Nico Hulkenberg 22
7 Fernando Alonso 20
8 Max Verstappen 18
9 Pierre Gasly 12
10 Kevin Magnussen 11
11 Stoffel Vandoorne 6
12 Carlos Sainz 3
13 Marcus Ericsson 2
14 Esteban Ocon 1
15 Sergio Perez 0
16 Charles Leclerc 0
17 Romain Grosjean 0
18 Lance Stroll 0
19 Sergey Sirotkin 0
20 Brendon Hartley 0

Constructors’ standings:
1 Ferrari 86
2 Mercedes 85
3 Red Bull-Renault 55
4 McLaren-Renault 26
5 Renault 25
6 Toro Rosso-Honda 12
7 Haas-Ferrari 11
8 Sauber-Ferrari 2
9 Force India-Mercedes 1
10 Williams-Mercedes 0

Vettel beats Raikkonen to Chinese Grand Prix pole

Sebastian Vettel beat his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen to P1 for the Chinese Grand Prix by less than a tenth of a second to claim his 52nd pole position.

Raikkonen looked set to top qualifying after setting the fastest time on the first runs in Q3, and was ahead of his team-mate in the first two sectors of his final lap.

But Raikkonen’s slow pace in the final sector gave Vettel a shot and the championship leader set the best final sector time of the session to snatch pole by 0.087 seconds.

Both the Ferrari and Mercedes drivers set their Q2 times using the soft Pirellis, so will start the race on that compound while the rest of the top ten will all use ultrasofts

The Silver Arrows never looked to be a serious pole position threat, with neither Valtteri Bottas nor Lewis Hamilton able to improve on their first-run times in Q3 and both having to abandon their final runs.

Bottas was third, half-a-tenth faster than Hamilton, with the latter only 0.12 seconds faster than Max Verstappen.

Daniel Ricciardo was sixth after joining the first segment of qualifying late thanks to a turbo problem in free practice, lapping 0.152 seconds slower than his Red Bull team-mate.

Full credit to Red Bull in fixing Ricciardo’s car just in time for Q1. The Honey Badger was able to take part in qualifying and P6 is the end result. That’s team effort.

Nico Hulkenberg was best-of-the rest for Renault. 1.473 seconds off the pace, ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz.

Romain Grosjean was slowest in Q3, ending qualifying tenth and 0.036 seconds off Sainz’s Renault.

Haas driver Kevin Magnussen was eliminated in Q2 for the first time this season after a poor middle sector on his final lap prevented him from improving on his first-run time.

This allowed Sainz to relegate him to P11 by 16 thousandths of a second, with Force India’s Esteban Ocon not far behind.

The McLarens of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne gave each other a tow on the long back straight, but it wasn’t enough to haul the Renault-powered cars into Q2 and left them P13 and P14 respectively.

Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley was slowest in Q2 and ended up P15, just under three tenths slower than Vandoorne.

Sergey Sirotkin was knocked out in Q1 at the last minute when Sainz jumped up the order lap and pushed the Williams driver down to P16 in the closing moments of the first stage of qualifying.

Sirotkin had looked to be a serious Q2 threat, but failed to match his personal best pace in the first sector and ended up half-a-tenth slower than Hartley.

Bahrain Grand Prix hero Pierre Gasly was P17, giving away enough time in the middle sector relative to his previous best to fail to make the cut, admitting after the session that overnight set-up changes had made life more difficult for him in qualifying.

Lance Stroll was P18 for Williams ahead of the Sauber of Charles Leclerc.

Leclerc survived a spin after losing the rear on the power exiting the final left-hander on his second run to relegate team-mate Marcus Ericsson to last on their final runs.

Ericsson has been summoned by the stewards for an investigation into not slowing under the yellow flags thrown for Leclerc’s spin.

So a brilliant qualifying result for Ferrari. Another front row for Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. To have the Scuderia half a second clear from rival Mercedes is surprising. Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix is going to be fascinating.

Qualifying results, Chinese Grand Prix:
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m31.095s
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m31.182s
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m31.625s
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m31.675s
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 1m31.796s
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 1m31.948s
7 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m32.532s
8 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m32.758s
9 Carlos Sainz Renault 1m32.819s
10 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m32.855s
11 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m32.986s
12 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 1m33.057s
13 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 1m33.232s
14 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 1m33.505s
15 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 1m33.795s
16 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 1m34.062s
17 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 1m34.101s
18 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1m34.285s
19 Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 1m34.454s
20 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m34.914s

Vettel wins from Bottas in tense finish at Bahrain

Sebastian Vettel resisted huge pressure from Valtteri Bottas to win a fascinating Bahrain Grand Prix and make it two wins from two races in this season’s Formula 1 world championship.

The Ferrari driver held on in a grandstand finish as Bottas, on mediums to Vettel’s fading soft tyres, was unable to pass and steal victory.

Lewis Hamilton recovered from a five-place grid penalty to complete the podium after Kimi Raikkonen’s hopes were dashed during a pitstop that left a Ferrari mechanic hurt and forced him to retire.

Vettel held the lead at the start as Bottas nabbed Raikkonen into Turn 1, and Vettel built a lead of more than three seconds over the first stint.

Bottas began to claw back time and was just two seconds back when Ferrari brought the race leader in for a change of tyres.

Vettel switched to softs and Raikkonen pitted a lap later as Bottas continued for two more laps, with the Ferraris benefiting from the power of fresher rubber.

When Bottas finally stopped, taking on mediums, Vettel’s lead was around eight seconds and Raikkonen had closed back in on the Mercedes.

The lead trio held station for several laps, only really disrupted when Vettel caught the longer-running Hamilton – who had risen from ninth – and had to wait to pass the Mercedes.

Raikkonen then made a second stop that threatened to inject a strategic variable into the lead fight but ended up removing him from the picture.

The Iceman pulled away before the left-rear had been changed and struck a mechanic’s leg, while Raikkonen stopped in the pitlane with three new tyres and the unchanged old one on his car and retired.

On-track Vettel appeared to be preparing for a two-stop race but his commitment to a one-stop became clear as his pace held up and Bottas failed to make significant ground.

The gap dipped below five seconds heading towards the final ten laps, and suddenly Vettel’s lead began to quickly diminish.

Bottas entered DRS range with two laps to go but a half-hearted look at Turn 1 on the final lap was as close as he got.

Hamilton finished 8.5 seconds adrift of the lead duo in third, with Red Bull the only missing ingredient after both its driver’s races imploded in the first couple of laps.

Max Verstappen squeezed Hamilton too hard exiting Turn 1 after passing him at the start of the second lap damaged his left-rear wheel, which caused a puncture.

He got back to the pits and had the tyres changed, but parked up shortly after with a differential problem.

Team-mate Daniel Ricciardo’s race ended shortly after Verstappen picked up a puncture when his car shut down exiting the Turn 8 hairpin.

Red Bull’s junior team afforded it reason to be cheerful though: Pierre Gasly was an incredible fourth place for Toro Rosso on only the team’s second start with Honda power.

Gasly kept clear of the squabbling Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg, who clashed through Turn 2 over sixth on the opening lap but somehow escaped without damage, and was faultless for the remainder of the grand prix to bank his first points in Formula 1 in style.

Magnussen then survived a near-miss with team-mate Romain Grosjean, who was out of sync on old tyres, at Turn 2 in the second half of the race to finish fifth.

Fernando Alonso leapt from P13 to ninth on the opening lap and drove a strong race after McLaren’s “astonishing” poor performance in qualifying.

He caught Hulkenberg’s Renault in the closing stages but had to settle for seventh, ahead of team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne who used medium tyres to good effect to climb to eighth after his second stop.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson banked his first points since the 2015 Italian Grand Prix in ninth place after running an extremely long first stint on softs and switching to mediums to execute a one-stop strategy to good effect.

Carlos Sainz Jr completed the points finishers in tenth.

So a fantastic and tense Bahrain Grand Prix. The tyre strategy and overtaking made this race entertaining. Fantastic to see Sebastian Vettel winning while Pierre Gasly achieved a top result for Toro Rosso – in a Honda-powered car – with a career best fourth.

Bahrain Grand Prix, race results after 57 laps:
1 Sebastian Vettel Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 57 1:32:01.940
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport Mercedes 57 +0.699s
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport Mercedes 57 +6.512s
4 Pierre Gasly Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda Toro Rosso-Honda 57 +62.234s
5 Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari 57 +75.046s
6 Nico Hulkenberg Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault 57 +99.024s
7 Fernando Alonso McLaren F1 Team McLaren-Renault 56 +1 lap
8 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren F1 Team McLaren-Renault 56 +1 lap
9 Marcus Ericsson Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Sauber-Ferrari 56 +1 lap
10 Esteban Ocon Sahara Force India F1 Team Force India-Mercedes 56 +1 lap
11 Carlos Sainz Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault 56 +1 lap
12 Sergio Perez Sahara Force India F1 Team Force India-Mercedes 56 +1 lap
13 Brendon Hartley Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda Toro Rosso-Honda 56 +1 lap
14 Charles Leclerc Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Sauber-Ferrari 56 +1 lap
15 Romain Grosjean Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari 56 +1 lap
16 Lance Stroll Williams Martini Racing Williams-Mercedes 56 +1 lap
17 Sergey Sirotkin Williams Martini Racing Williams-Mercedes 56 +1 lap
– Kimi Raikkonen Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 35 DNF
– Max Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Red Bull-Renault 3 DNF
– Daniel Ricciardo Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Red Bull-Renault 1 DNF

Drivers’ standings:
1 Sebastian Vettel 50
2 Lewis Hamilton 33
3 Valtteri Bottas 22
4 Fernando Alonso 16
5 Kimi Raikkonen 15
6 Nico Hulkenberg 14
7 Daniel Ricciardo 12
7 Pierre Gasly 12
9 Kevin Magnussen 10
10 Max Verstappen 8
11 Stoffel Vandoorne 6
12 Marcus Ericsson 2
13 Carlos Sainz 1
14 Esteban Ocon 1
15 Sergio Perez 0
16 Charles Leclerc 0
17 Brendon Hartley 0
18 Lance Stroll 0
19 Romain Grosjean 0
20 Sergey Sirotkin 0

Constructors’ standings:
1 Ferrari 65
2 Mercedes 55
3 McLaren-Renault 22
4 Red Bull-Renault 20
5 Renault 15
6 Toro Rosso-Honda 12
7 Haas-Ferrari 10
8 Sauber-Ferrari 2
9 Force India-Mercedes 1
10 Williams-Mercedes 0

Vettel beats his Ferrari team-mate Raikkonen to Bahrain Grand Prix pole

Sebastian Vettel scored his first pole position this season at the Bahrain International Circuit after beating his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen by 0.143 seconds.

Raikkonen had the advantage after the first runs in Q3 by 0.095 seconds from Vettel, but was unable to improve on his second run.

Vettel, who had a precautionary change of the control electronics of his power unit ahead of qualifying, set a lap of one minute, 27.958 seconds using the supersofts that were the tyre of choice to secure his 51st pole position in Formula 1.

Valtteri Bottas was third, just 23 thousandths of a second behind Raikkonen after making a two-tenths improvement on his final lap.

That put him just ahead of Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who has a five-place grid penalty so is set to line up ninth place.

Hamilton was the only driver to set his Q2 time using soft-compound Pirellis, so he will start the race on that tyre.

Daniel Ricciardo was fifth fastest, almost two-tenths slower than Hamilton and nearly a second clear of the chasing pack.

Pierre Gasly put in a superb performance to secure his best qualifying result in Formula 1 with sixth place, and is set to move up to fifth on the grid thanks to Hamilton’s penalty.

Kevin Magnussen was just 29 thousandths of a second slower in seventh, with the Renaults of Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr sandwiching the Force India of Esteban Ocon in ninth.

Brendon Hartley missed out on making it a double Toro Rossos in Q3 by less than a tenth of a second, after a small mistake in the final corner on his only effort in Q2 using fresh supersofts left him P11.

That put him just ahead of Sergio Perez’s Force India, with the McLarens of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne never looking to have top ten pace and ending up P13 and P14 after struggling for grip.

Max Verstappen lost the rear of his Red Bull and spun exiting the slow Turn 2 left-hander while on the fourth lap of his Q1 run.

He hit the barrier with his front wing and front left wheel, which led to the session being red flagged with five-and-half minutes remaining.

Verstappen ended Q1 fourth fastest, so technically made it to Q2, but was unable to run again after the crash and was classified P15 for Red Bull.

Romain Grosjean was fastest of those eliminated in Q1 despite setting an identical lap time to Alonso in the first segment of qualifying.

The Haas driver’s late one minute, 30.530 seconds lap during the five-and-a-half minutes of running after the red flag caused by Verstappen left him down in P16 and ranked behind Alonso, thanks to the McLaren driver setting his time first.

Grosjean subsequently complained over the radio about his outlap being “a mess”.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson failed to improve on his third and final Q1 run and ended up P17 ahead of Williams driver Sergey Sirotkin, who had to rely on his first-run time.

Charles Leclerc declared himself to be “so stupid” over the radio after spinning at the final corner on his last lap and ending up P19.

His best lap, set on the second of three sets of tyres as the Sauber drivers and Hartley managed to squeeze in two runs before the red flag, was just 0.006 seconds slower than Sirotkin.

Lance Stroll was slowest, the Williams driver just under a tenth slower than Leclerc.

So a fantastic qualifying result for Ferrari with Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen locking out the front row. By sealing pole position, Sebastian has the a superb opportunity to score big points over rival Lewis Hamilton following a gearbox penalty. It’s going to be challenging for Mercedes to recover. Bring on the Bahrain Grand Prix!

Bahrain Grand Prix, qualifying results:
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m27.958s
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m28.101s
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m28.124s
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 1m28.398s
5 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 1m29.329s
6 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m29.358s
7 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m29.570s
8 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 1m29.874s
9 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m28.220s*
10 Carlos Sainz Renault 1m29.986s
11 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 1m30.105s
12 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m30.156s
13 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 1m30.212s
14 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 1m30.525s
15 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault –
16 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m30.530s
17 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m31.063s
18 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 1m31.414s
19 Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 1m31.420s
20 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1m31.503s

*Five-place grid penalty for changing gearbox

Vettel jumps Hamilton to score victory at Melbourne

Sebastian Vettel took advantage of a mid-race safety car period to steal victory from rival Lewis Hamilton at the Australian Grand Prix.

The Ferrari driver Vettel was third in the opening stint but ran longer than his rival Hamilton and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen. Sebastian benefited a great deal from a caution period just before he was due to pit for tyres.

Vettel was able to hold off Hamilton’s subsequent recovery attempt with ease, aided by his fellow four-time champion running off-track in pursuit, to win by 5.9 seconds as Raikkonen completed a double Scuderia Ferrari podium in third.

Hamilton kept the lead at the start and rebuffed an attack from Raikkonen at Turn 3 before settling into a comfortable lead that stood at more than three seconds, as Vettel kept a watching brief in the other Ferrari.

Kevin Magnussen’s move around the outside of Turn 1 to jump Max Verstappen gave the front three chance to break clear, and the race was descending into a procession as the first stint developed.

Verstappen’s Red Bull looked erratic behind the Haas and he complained of overheating rears, which concluded with a dramatic spin at Turn 1 that dropped Verstappen to eighth.

The only other movement before the pitstops was Carlos Sainz Jr running wide at Turn 9 in his Renault and allowing Fernando Alonso’s McLaren into ninth, but the race was turned on its head by the two Haas pitstops.

Magnussen pulled up at Turn 3 after his left rear wheel was not correctly fitted, and team-mate Romain Grosjean suffered a similar fate just a lap later when a problem on his front left led to the Frenchman pulling over on the left-hand side on the exit of Turn 1 immediately.

That triggered a virtual safety car, which was a blessing to Ferrari as it had used its two-against-one advantage over Mercedes to good effect, bringing in Raikkonen early so Hamilton had to stop one lap later to protect against the Ferrari’s fresh-tyre advantage.

Vettel stayed out several laps longer and, with the virtual safety car deployed, he was able to take advantage and pit while the rest circulated slowly. The Ferrari emerge just ahead of Hamilton, turning a nine-second deficit into the race lead.

A real safety car soon replaced its virtual equivalent and the race remained neutralised until lap 32, giving Hamilton 26 laps to overhaul Vettel.

Hamilton stayed around a second behind Vettel for a lot of that time, then started a serious push with a dozen laps remaining but locked up at the Turn 9 right-hander and skated over the grass.

That dropped him back to almost three seconds behind and though he briefly got back within DRS range with five laps to go he complained of overheating rears and slipped back again.

Raikkonen kept a charging Daniel Ricciardo at bay to finish third, while Alonso – the other big winner from the mid-race safety car – claimed fifth despite immense pressure from Verstappen.

Nico Hulkenberg had a quiet run to seventh place for Renault, chasing Alonso and Verstappen late on.

Valtteri Bottas’s unspectacular recovery from P15 was boosted by the safety car and he took eighth from another beneficiary, Stoffel Vandoorne, with a nice move at Turn 3 on the restart. He then closed on Hulkenberg but was unable to pass and ended up back under pressure from Vandoorne.

The final point of the season opener went to Carlos Sainz Jr in the second Renault, who held off Sergio Perez’s Force India despite claiming he was suffering from nausea in the final third of the race.

As well as the race-changing Haas failures, three other teams lost a car over the course of the opening grand prix.

Williams rookie Sergey Sirotkin was the first retirement of the season after suffering a brake problem on lap six, while Marcus Ericsson brought his power steering-less Sauber into the pits on lap 14 and Pierre Gasly failed to finish after a Honda engine problem in his Toro Rosso.

So a fantastic result for Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel at Melbourne. The virtual safety car definitely helped on race strategy to jump ahead of rival Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton. This was Vettel’s ninth victory for the Scuderia and his 48th in Formula 1. Congratulations on this top result.

Australian Grand Prix, race results:
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 58 1h29m33.283s
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 58 5.036s
3 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 58 6.309s
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 58 7.069s
5 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 58 27.886s
6 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 58 28.945s
7 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 58 32.671s
8 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 58 34.339s
9 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 58 34.921s
10 Carlos Sainz Renault 58 45.722s
11 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 58 46.817s
12 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 58 1m00.278s
13 Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 58 1m15.759s
14 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 58 1m18.288s
15 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso/Honda 57 1 Lap
– Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 24 Retirement
– Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 22 Retirement
– Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 13 Retirement
– Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 5 Hydraulics
– Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 4 Brakes

Drivers’ standings:
1 Sebastian Vettel 25
2 Lewis Hamilton 18
3 Kimi Raikkonen 15
4 Daniel Ricciardo 12
5 Fernando Alonso 10
6 Max Verstappen 8
7 Nico Hulkenberg 6
8 Valtteri Bottas 4
9 Stoffel Vandoorne 2
10 Carlos Sainz 1
11 Sergio Perez 0
12 Esteban Ocon 0
13 Charles Leclerc 0
14 Lance Stroll 0
15 Brendon Hartley 0

Constructors’ standings:
1 Ferrari 40
2 Mercedes 22
3 Red Bull-Renault 20
4 McLaren-Renault 12
5 Renault 7
6 Force India-Mercedes 0
7 Sauber-Ferrari 0
8 Williams-Mercedes 0
9 Toro Rosso-Honda 0

Hamilton achieves seventh Australian Grand Prix pole while Bottas crashes

A big contrast between the Mercedes drivers as Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position for the 2018 Formula 1 season-opening Australian Grand Prix, while Valtteri Bottas crashed out of qualifying.

Hamilton looked under pressure after the first Q3 runs, but produced an incredible final lap to take pole position by 0.664 seconds from Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.

Sebastian Vettel had been just 0.034 seconds behind Hamilton after the first runs, but couldn’t find enough time on his final run to keep team-mate at bay or pressure the Mercedes driver – suggesting he had pushed too hard in Turn 13 on his final attempt.

Max Verstappen, who had been just over half-a-tenth off Hamilton after the first Q3 runs, ended up third position after losing the rear through the Turn 13 right-hander ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.

While ultrasofts were the tyres of choice for the rest of the field throughout qualifying, the Red Bull drivers will start on the supersofts, having used them to set their Q2 times.

Despite qualifying fifth fastest, Ricciardo is set to start eighth thanks to a three-place grid penalty for a red flag infringement during Friday practice.

Haas pairing Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean made good on the team’s promising testing and practice pace with sixth and seventh fastest, albeit two seconds off the pace.

Thanks to Ricciardo’s penalty, this means Haas is set to start with a third-row lockout. An awesome result for the American team.

Renault pairing Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz were eighth and ninth, with The Hulk shading his team-mate by just under half-a-tenth.

Bottas ended up tenth after crashing at Turn 2 on his first flying lap in Q3.

The Mercedes driver hit the inside kerb at Turn 1, which appeared to push him deep mid-corner and meant he touched skimmed the damp grass with his left-rear wheel.

He attempted to hold it through the second part of the right/left, but lost the rear and backed into the wall – coming to rest in the middle of the track.

Fernando Alonso was eliminated in Q2 after failing to improve on his second run, having a moment in Turn 3 and ending up three-tenths slower than his earlier attempt.

That was enough to put him one place ahead of McLaren-Renault team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne.

Sergio Perez admitted Force India “has work to do” over the radio after ending up P13, one position ahead of Williams driver Lance Stroll.

Stroll, like Alonso, overdid it into Turn 3 but then ran through the gravel, meaning he was unable to improve on his first-run pace.

Esteban Ocon completed a difficult day for Force India, aborting his first run in Q2 and then lapping just over half-a-second slower than Stroll to end up P11.

Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley was quickest of the five drivers eliminated in the first segment of qualifying, missing out on a place in Q2 by just 29 thousandths of a second to Ocon.

The Sauber drivers completed three runs, with Marcus Ericsson ending up P17 and less than a tenth ahead of rookie teammate Charles Leclerc.

Leclerc complained of an error in the Turn 4 left-hander that cost him a shot at advancing to Q2.

Williams debutant Sergey Sirotkin was outside the drop zone after the first Q1 runs in 15th place, but was shuffled down to P19 by the end of the session despite improving by just over three tenths on his second run.

That put him ahead only of the second Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly, whose final attempt was ruined by locking up and running off track and through the gravel at the Turn 3 right-hander.

So a superb seventh pole position for Hamilton at Melbourne. The speed of that Mercedes W09 is impressive. It’s going to be challenge for everyone to catch the champ on race day. Hopefully the Ferraris can keep Lewis honest.

Qualifying positions, Melbourne:

1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m21.164s
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m21.828s
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m21.838s
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 1m21.879s
5 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m23.187s
6 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m23.339s
7 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m23.532s
8 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 1m22.152s
9 Carlos Sainz Renault 1m23.577s
10 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes –
11 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 1m23.692s
12 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 1m23.853s
13 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m24.005s
14 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1m24.230s
15 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 1m24.786s
16 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 1m24.532s
17 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m24.556s
18 Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 1m24.636s
19 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 1m24.922s
20 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 1m25.295s

Toro Rosso launches the STR13 powered by Honda

Scuderia Toro Rosso has officially unveiled their 2018 Formula 1 racer with a presentation in the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya paddock.

The STR13 made its track debut at a wet Misano circuit, with Brendon Hartley in the driving seat.

The former WEC sportscar champion will take on driving duties for the first day of the Barcelona test, with Pierre Gasly taking over on day two.

Hartley will then be back in the car for day three, with Gasly completing the four-day test.

After images of the car were leaked online, Toro Rosso responded by sharing the first official photo on social media.

It then officially revealed the car, which sports a similar livery to the one it raced last season, in the pitlane ahead of the start of pre-season testing.

Toro Rosso will run Honda power for the first time in 2018, after the Italian team switched from Renault to the Japanese manufacturer.

This will be interesting times for both team and engine manufacturer, with the latter suffering from a nightmare three seasons with McLaren.

Hopefully this new technical partnership will showcase Honda’s potential to succeed without the heavy pressure of winning demanded by McLaren. Best of luck to Toro Rosso in the season ahead.

Force India takes wraps off new car at Barcelona

As pre-season testing was about to begin, Force India pulled off the covers of its 2018 Formula 1 challenger to the media at the Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya.

Development driver Nikita Mazepin will be at the wheel for the Mercedes-powered car’s first run on day one of testing, before Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez will then take turns in the car later on.

Ocon and Perez will then have two days apiece in the VJM11 for the second pre-season test.

Force India has finished fourth in the constructors’ championship for the last two seasons.

The team insisted that it is not considering any offers to sell the team, following recent speculation linking it with an energy drinks company.

As for the rumour name change to the team’s identity, Force India says there is a high chance it will be rebranded before the start of the championship in Australia, Melbourne.

In the meantime, the popular ‘pink panthers’ colour scheme works well for the team and best wishes for the year ahead.

Papaya orange returns to McLaren

The historic papaya orange makes a welcome return to McLaren as the team presented their 2018 Formula 1 racer.

The Renault-powered MCL33 was unveiled online, just three days before the first pre-season test at Barcelona.

McLaren’s MCL33, which will be driven by Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne this season, has all-orange bodywork with a hint of blue and black.

The move to a papaya orange will please many fans who felt last year’s switch to an orange-and-black design was not close enough to the colours used by founder Bruce McLaren in the team’s early years in Formula 1.

The new design is similar to the one used by Alonso when he drove a McLaren-branded Andretti entry in the Indianapolis 500 last year. So its refreshing to see the famous livery on the Grand Prix car.

With Renault power, the competitive order should help McLaren back to winning ways after three nightmare seasons with Honda. Hopefully Alonso and Stoffel can score points and podium finishes.