Hamilton beats the heat to take pole in Hungary

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Lewis Hamilton has claimed his fourth pole position of the season during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix after a fine performance in the dying stages of Q3 saw him edge out Sebastian Vettel by just 0.038 seconds.

The British driver, who has won three times at the Hungaroring before, had shown signs of good pace in Q1 and Q2 but after Vettel took provisional pole with his first effort in the final session, many considered the result to be secured. However, as Nico Rosberg, Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen all failed to beat the defending world champion’s time, Hamilton produced a fine lap to seal his third pole position in a row.

Qualifying began in a rather quiet manner as many of the teams elected to leave their runs until later on in order to save tires. However, Esteban Gutierrez was quick to get out in order to make up for missing FP3 this morning, setting this first time of 1:23.998 which was quickly beaten by Paul di Resta for Force India. Valtteri Bottas soon stormed to the top of the timesheets on the softer tire and the rest of the field soon followed his example when it came to tire choice in order to save the medium tires for the race tomorrow. It wasn’t until the final five minutes of the session that the front-runners finally began to post some competitive times as Fernando Alonso and Romain Grosjean both occupied P1 momentarily. Eventually though, the Mercedes pair of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton closed out the top two positions with some good laps as pre-qualifying favorites Red Bull struggled to repeat their Friday form. Mark Webber, suffering from an electrical problem, could not improve on P13 and faced a nervous final few moments as Gutierrez and di Resta tried to get out of the drop zone. However, neither driver could improve and they joined both Caterham and Marussia drivers in the dropzone, bringing their qualifying to an early end.

Things went from bad to worse for Webber at the beginning of Q2 when his electrical problem was confirmed to be a KERS failure, giving the Red Bull driver a lack of power for the rest of qualifying. Kimi Raikkonen was the early pace setter for Lotus but Grosjean continued his good form to move ahead of his teammate along with Adrian Sutil. Mercedes once again showed their hand by moving into 1st and 3rd – Hamilton ahead of Rosberg – with Alonso slotting in 4th until Vettel became the first man to dip into the 1:19s to open up a strong lead at the top. Rosberg was quick to respond as Mercedes once again finished the session in P1 and P2, but Webber could only scrape into Q3 on his final lap along with Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo who secured his fourth consecutive top-ten start. As a result, Jenson Button and Nico Hulkenberg were bumped out of the top ten and subsequently eliminated alongside Sutil, Vergne, Maldonado and Bottas.

The final session saw all ten drivers quickly take to the track in order to give themselves the best possible chance of claiming pole position, but McLaren looked to play it safe with Perez by putting him on medium tires. Once again, Mercedes led the way with Hamilton and Rosberg on scrubbed soft tires ahead of Lotus and Ferrari, but Vettel soon responded to put himself on provisional pole by eight-tenths of a second. In the other Red Bull, Webber was forced to get out of his car due to the KERS failure, leaving him 10th on the grid. Raikkonen, Rosberg and Grosjean all failed to top Vettel’s time on their final laps allowing Lewis Hamilton to produce a fine lap to move 0.038 seconds ahead of the defending world champion at the top, and as Vettel failed to improve the British driver claimed his thirtieth career pole and fourth of the season.

The battle for the win tomorrow looks set to be between Red Bull, Mercedes and Lotus with the three teams occupying the top three spots on the grid. However, with Ferrari also lurking in the shadows, the drivers will have to make sure that they do not let the heat (upwards of 100ºF) get to them in the race tomorrow as Hamilton chases a fourth win in Hungary.

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.