Hamilton defeats Vettel in thrilling Spanish GP strategic scrap

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The battle between Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel reached a fever pitch in today’s Spanish Grand Prix, as a mix of differing tire strategies, contact and hard work saw Hamilton emerge with his second win of the 2017 Formula 1 season after a thrilling battle.

With Vettel in second, Hamilton has now closed what was a 13-point gap entering the race (86-73) to just six (104-98) with a crucial victory heading to the Monaco Grand Prix later this month.

Behind the top two, Daniel Ricciardo scored his first podium of the season for Red Bull, albeit quite a ways behind, with Sahara Force India having a banner day in fourth and fifth with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, who continue their points scoring streaks.

Both of the top two drivers turned in star drives, but the midfield battle was fascinating to monitor as some of the heavy hitters fell out of contention early.

On the start, Vettel got the launch passed Hamilton, but last year’s first and second place finishers, Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen, were done on the first lap.

Contact between the two of them – plus Valtteri Bottas – saw the first two with significant damage to their wheels and suspension and out of the race, and thus unable to repeat their encore performance of a year ago.

Bottas got a flying start and got to the inside of Raikkonen, who was sandwiched in the middle and sustained left front damage. Verstappen, on the outside, collided with Raikkonen and sustained right front damage while Bottas emerged unscathed.

A young Ferrari fan was sad and captured on camera, and Raikkonen looked stranded before commencing the walk back to the paddock, although that would later have a happy ending.

In the chaos, Fernando Alonso also ran wide after starting seventh at the exit of Turn 2 and Felipe Massa also had smoke emanating from his Williams, as the two former Ferrari teammates collided on exit, with Massa suffering damage.

Vettel had a two-plus second lead over Hamilton at the end of the first lap with Bottas third, Ricciardo fourth and the pair of Force Indias up to fifth and sixth as Perez and Ocon capitalized for position. Nico Hulkenberg (Renault), Kevin Magnussen (Haas), Carlos Sainz Jr. (Toro Rosso) and Romain Grosjean (Haas) moved into the top 10 with Alonso dropping down to 11th, and Pascal Wehrlein up to 12th in the first Sauber.

Both first lap incidents were reviewed by the stewards with no further action taken. Bottas’ role in the three-wide incident was also later reviewed, also with no further action taken.

With all drivers except Jolyon Palmer, Daniil Kvyat and Stoffel Vandoorne starting on Pirelli’s soft tires – these three started on mediums – tire management the rest of the way was going to be key to success, and came down to pit stops as to whether Hamilton could complete the undercut to overcome Vettel’s sustained two-plus second lead.

But it was Vettel that blinked first for Ferrari, pitting on Lap 14 and continuing on a second set of softs, which set him up for a three-stop strategy. That promoted Hamilton to the lead over Bottas but Vettel got Ricciardo for third on Lap 16, and on a fresher set of tires could begin his charge back from 20-plus seconds back.

Around the same time, a cracking scrap between Magnussen and Sainz on track continued elsewhere as they nearly collided – twice – while leaving the pit lane. That incident was placed under review by the stewards.

Hamilton finally responded on Lap 22, but switched onto mediums, which meant he was good to go to the regulations but would be on the slower tires while Vettel could continue to run further on the softs. Hamilton emerged about eight seconds behind Vettel at this time, while Bottas moved into the lead having not yet stopped.

Bottas was then left to defend against Vettel, who needed to get past the Finn. Bottas locked up his tires on Lap 24 which nearly left an opening for Vettel, but the German was unable to get through… briefly.

Vettel finally made it past Bottas, almost on the grass, into Turn 1 for the lead on Lap 26. But he’d lost a fair bit of time behind Bottas in the process, which allowed Hamilton to close up on the medium tires. Hamilton passed Bottas for second place shortly after Vettel got Bottas.

Bottas finally pitted and switched onto mediums himself, so he and Hamilton were on the same tires at the same time. A bit further back, behind the Force Indias in fifth and sixth, Sauber got Pascal Wehrlein up to seventh as ace strategist Ruth Buscombe looked to run Wehrlein on a one-stop strategy.

At the halfway mark of Lap 33, Vettel led Hamilton by six-plus seconds with Bottas 20-plus seconds back in third, Ricciardo, the two Force Indias and Ocon.

The race’s complexion changed following a Virtual Safety Car period a lap later as Vandoorne’s tough rookie season continued, as he contacted Massa’s Williams going into Turn 1.

Hamilton and Vettel’s battle raged after their pit stops. Hamilton went from mediums to softs on Lap 37 but Vettel countered a lap later with a move the other way from softs to mediums.

The two collided at Turns 1 and 2, with Hamilton to Vettel’s outside, and going off track as a result. Vettel continued in the lead but on the slower tires with Hamilton then stuck in behind.

On Lap 39, Bottas’ day ended with smoke billowing from the rear of his Mercedes, which meant each of the top two teams only had one car left in the fight. It was a fiery exit for him and the first retirement of his career with Mercedes.

By Lap 44, Hamilton made the pass for the lead on Vettel into Turn 1, going to the outside of Vettel into the corner and then working to streak away.

Wehrlein’s dream drive to seventh had him just ahead of Sainz, Magnussen and Kvyat on Lap 47 and poised for big points, but the Sauber driver was later issued a five-second time penalty for not adhering to the pit entry bollard correctly. It then meant he’d need to turn it on for the final 20 laps to ensure he could deliver enough of a gap to get more points.

The race’s final act turned to whether either Vettel or Hamilton would make another pit stop for fresher tires, but the window passed when Vettel would opt not to pit for new softs.

As the laps ticked closer to the conclusion, Hamilton’s softs started to fade while Vettel was able to close a bit more on the mediums.

One final act turned with just two laps to go. Magnussen was ninth and poised for his second points finish of the year, but lost it owing to a late puncture. It was a heartbreaking end to a thrilling race from his cockpit. He pitted for fresh tires, and in consolation, Grosjean moved up to 10th place as a result.

Hamilton was able to hold on for the victory from Vettel, with Ricciardo in third quite a ways back. The Force India twins were next to complete the top five.

On the road, Hulkenberg, Wehrlein, Sainz, Kvyat and Grosjean completed the top 10. Wehrlein dropped back one position to eighth as a result of that five-second time penalty.

Magnussen dropped behind Marcus Ericsson and Alonso, who at least finished but dropped back five spots from his starting position, and Massa fell to an unlucky 14th place. Jolyon Palmer and Lance Stroll completed the runners.

Bottas, Vandoorne, Verstappen and Raikkonen were the four retirements.

Provisional results are below.

Haas F1 driver Romain Grosjean to launch cookbook

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Haas Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean may be one of the sport’s most promising talents on-track, but he also has a burning passion off it: cooking.

Grosjean may have been spent a good part of this year cooking his brakes, but you’ll now be able to cook bakes instead…

F1’s resident foodie is set to release a cookbook alongside wife Marion Jolles in the coming weeks, as announced on his Facebook page.

Grosjean currently sits 13th in the F1 drivers’ championship with 18 points to his name, helping Haas to match the points total from its debut season after just 10 races in 2017.

Mercedes F1 engine chief warns against underestimating Honda

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Mercedes Formula 1 engine chief Andy Cowell has warned against underestimating the threat of Honda despite its ongoing power unit struggles, tipping the Japanese manufacturer to bounce back in the near future.

Honda returned to F1 as a manufacturer in 2015, supplying V6 turbo power units to the McLaren team, but has struggled for either performance or reliability through that period.

The struggles have led McLaren – currently sat bottom of the constructors’ championship – to consider cutting ties for 2018 given how far adrift compared to the other three engine suppliers Honda has been.

Mercedes has been the benchmark for engine performance since the change in regulation for 2014, but Cowell feels that Honda could make up ground quickly, with the removal of the token system for 2017 helping performance to converge through the field.

“I think collectively we’ve helped with convergence in Formula 1 in the opening season, performance development through the year,” Cowell said.

“But then the opportunity to do a big change with Honda coming in, we all agreed that Honda could have that same opportunity to change everything in the first year and then the request came from manufacturers in addition to Honda saying ‘please can we take this crazy token table away because it’s bad for the sport?’

“It’s bad if somebody can’t train to get better and so we agreed, yeah, take the table away because it’s better for the sport because it means that you can innovate, you can introduce whatever you like.

“I think none of us should underestimate the technical prowess of Honda and of McLaren and I think my money is on that combination coming good and coming good pretty quickly. No pressure…”

Williams happy to ‘hold off’ on 2018 F1 driver decision

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Williams is happy to “hold off” on making a decision on its Formula 1 driver line-up for 2018 as it focuses on improving its on-track displays after a tough start to the season.

Williams currently fields Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll, a mix of experience and youth, but has failed to keep up with midfield front-runner Force India through the first half of the year.

Force India sits fourth in the constructors’ championship with more than double the points of Williams, who leads a tight-knit group down to Renault in eighth place, 15 points adrift.

While Stroll looks set to continue with Williams and Massa has hinted he may look to continue through to 2018 despite initially planning to retire at the end of last season, deputy team boss Claire Williams has confirmed that no decision about next year’s line-up will come any time soon.

“There’s a lot of talk already isn’t there, about drivers across the paddock. For us, we’ve decided we’re going to hold off a bit on our driver decision,” Williams said.

“We’ve got a fight on our hands on the race track at the moment and to be distracted by those kinds of conversations isn’t something that we want to be happening at the moment.

“[Force India’s] got a nice points haul on us at the moment we need to focus on, rather than anything else.”

Nico Rosberg visits Stanford University, considering study options

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2016 Formula 1 world champion Nico Rosberg is considering study options at Stanford University after visiting the college earlier this week as part of his tour around California.

Rosberg sensationally announced his retirement from F1 just five days after winning his maiden world title last November, wanting to spend more time with his young family.

The German has been enjoying his retirement, recently embarking on a tour of Silicon Valley and California that saw him hold meetings with electric car giant Tesla, among other companies.

In a video posted to his Twitter account on Sunday, Rosberg spoke warmly about a visit to Stanford, revealing that he is considering some study options in the near future at the historic institution.

Rosberg was previously offered a scholarship to study engineering at Imperial College London when he was younger, only to turn it down in order to embark on a racing career. He also reportedly holds the highest ever score on Williams’ engineering aptitude test.

Should Nico sign up to a course at Stanford, we imagine he’d take things one class at a time…