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Crashes, penalties give F1’s Finns difficult Saturday at Suzuka

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Formula 1’s Finnish contingent had a difficult Saturday ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix as both Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen encountered crashes and penalties at Suzuka.

Bottas’ five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change was confirmed on Friday, but the Mercedes driver’s plight deepened when he crashed into the barrier exiting Spoon in FP3, damaging his car.

Bottas was able to bounce back in qualifying and finish second behind teammate Lewis Hamilton, only to lose his front row spot due to the grid drop. He will start sixth after the grid is re-jigged.

“With the incident I had in FP3, there was some extra work for the guys. They did really well to get the car together, it worked perfectly,” Bottas said, having also qualified for the race on the soft compound tire.

“It’s been a tricky weekend, not quite so clean so far, and going slightly over a kerb in FP3 can make a massive difference. I had to reset and go for it.

“It’s going to be a long race, but it’s just a real shame [to drop back]. It would have been better to start one and two as a team. That would have been nice, but it is what it is.”

Bottas’ struggles almost mirrored those of compatriot Raikkonen, who also crashed out in FP3 after making a mistake, running wide at Degner 2.

Ferrari was forced to change the gearbox on Raikkonen’s car ahead of qualifying, giving him a five-place grid drop. Like Bottas, the 2007 world champion opted for an alternate strategy, also taking soft tires.

However, Raikkonen was not able to match his fellow countryman for pace in Q2, and will start the race 10th following his penalty.

“It was not a great start of the day to go off track this morning in FP3, not the ideal preparation for qualifying. After that, everything got more difficult, but the team did a great job to get the car back in one piece,” Raikkonen said.

“In qualifying the car felt OK, but it was a bit tricky. The biggest issue was the limited running we had had with new tires in the morning. In Q3, when I really had to push, I made a mistake in the first run and I had a pretty average lap time in the second one. Now I pay the price for my mistake.

“After my crash, we’ve got a five places penalty for replacing the gearbox. This obviously complicates our race even more.

“Tomorrow it’s not going to be easy, but I think that we have a good car for the race.”

The Japanese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from midnight ET on Sunday.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.