Rosberg rules in Britain as Vettel’s luck runs out

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Nico Rosberg has won today’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone after a tenuous race that saw a series of large tire failures, forcing drivers to be extra careful if they were to keep it on track.

Mercedes have struggled with their tire wear so far this season and pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton suffered a puncture when leading in the early stages of the race. Despite inheriting the lead, Sebastian Vettel’s luck also ran out as he suffered a loss of drive with just eleven laps remaining, allowing Rosberg to lead home a charging Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso.

Off the line, Hamilton held his position well to lead through the opening complex from Sebastian Vettel as their teammates, Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber, both failed to manage a clean getaway. Webber’s cause was not aided by a side-swipe from Romain Grosjean, which left the Red Bull with front-wing damage and a battle to recover down in 15th place. Felipe Massa made a superb start from 11th to sit 5th behind Adrian Sutil, but his teammate, Fernando Alonso, failed to make his traditional good start and lost out to Jenson Button.

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Just as Lewis Hamilton began to create a gap at the front, his hopes of winning the British Grand Prix for a second time soon burst after a tire failure on the left-rear of his Mercedes caused him to drop down the order, with a similar failure on Felipe Massa’s car occurring just minutes later. This signalled to the rest of the field that it was time to pit as Vettel maintained his lead thanks to a slick stop. Jean-Eric Vergne was the leading driver not to have stopped, but he quickly paid the price as he too suffered a puncture, leaving debris on the entry to Stowe and bringing out the safety car. Webber was informed that Vettel had cuts in his rear tires, whilst Rosberg was told to avoid overheating his tires and running over the kerbs for want of preventing a similar failure to that of his teammate.

Once the clean-up had been completed, the safety car came back in and the racing resumed with Vettel leading the cars across the line. Webber’s fightback continued at the expense of Sergio Perez as his teammate was told to manage the gap to Rosberg, focusing on a progressive increase rather than an instantaneous one. Felipe Massa began to pick off the backmarkers, moving up to P13 come the second round of stops. Raikkonen was the first to pit, and he was quickly followed by Fernando Alonso and teammate Romain Grosjean. Hamilton worked his way back up into the points, tussling with compatriot Paul di Resta for 7th as Nico Rosberg began to close the gap to Vettel at the front. Raikkonen managed to leapfrog Alonso during the stops, with Webber also passing the Ferrari. Vettel and Rosberg both pitted and maintained their positions due to the huge gap that had been created, but Adrian Sutil fell from 3rd after staying out too long on his tires.

Lewis Hamilton may not have envisaged fighting for P11 after starting from pole, but both he and Paul di Resta showed great racecraft during their fight over the position which eventually went to Hamilton under DRS. The Briton then worked his way into the points by passing Romain Grosjean, following the example set by Jenson Button just one lap earlier. Just as Vettel appeared to have the race win secured, drama struck. His Red Bull lost drive and grinded to a halt on the pit straight, putting him out of the race and handing the lead to Rosberg, with the safety car being deployed to recover the stricken RB9. The front runners all decided to pit for fresh tires except for Kimi Raikkonen, who questioned the decision. This left Rosberg out in front having stopped, but Webber and Alonso both had to pass cars that had not stopped if they were to reach the podium.

On the restart, Rosberg began to pull away from Raikkonen as Alonso hounded the McLaren drivers for P6 and P7, eventually passing Button into Copse. Perez soon followed after his MP4-28 slowed into the pits, releasing Alonso into 6th ahead of Hamilton. The former McLaren teammates forced their way past Daniel Ricciardo, leaving Sutil as the next driver on their hit list. Webber and Raikkonen went wheel-to-wheel, with the Red Bull driver eventually making it through as Alonso took Sutil through the final complex of corners before catching Kimi Raikkonen after the Lotus driver lost out to Mark Webber. Fresh tires had clearly done the trick for the front runners, with Rosberg and Webber trading fastest lap times. Hamilton continued to follow Alonso’s example, disposing of Kimi Raikkonen down the Hangar Straight as Webber closed on Rosberg. However, it was not enough as the German driver kept it on track to win the third grand prix of his career.

F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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