Vettel dominates qualifying to claim pole at Monza

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Sebastian Vettel has continued his searing pace from practice by securing his fourth pole position of 2013 for tomorrow’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

The German driver finished fastest in every session as his dominant spell of form continued on Saturday as he locked out the front row for Red Bull alongside teammate Mark Webber and surprise package Nico Hulkenberg in third. For Ferrari, Saturday was less fruitful as Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso could only finish fourth and fifth respectively despite playing the tactical game in qualifying.

Q1 began in hot and sunny conditions with Nico Rosberg coming out early in order to make up for the time lost in FP3 due to his car overheating. The German driver soon moved to the top of the timesheets ahead of Esteban Gutierrez early on, but Toro Rosso proved that their good practice pace was no one-off, with Vergne enjoying a good spell in P1 on the hard tire. However, he was soon displaced by Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, with the two former winners at Monza both showing signs of good pace ahead of the race tomorrow. The German driver left it late to put in his first time, but he finished the session a full two-tenths clear of Nico Rosberg in P2. Further down the order, Force India and Williams scrapped to avoid the dropzone, and a last-gasp lap from Pastor Maldonado was enough to secure the Venezuelan driver a place in Q2. Less fortunate was Valtteri Bottas, whose could not improve and was eliminated alongside Esteban Gutierrez, Giedo van der Garde, Charles Pic, Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton.

Keen on continuing his fine performance from Q1, Ricciardo was the first driver out in Q2 and he immediately laid down a benchmark that his teammate could not match. It wasn’t until home favorite Alonso posted his first time that the Australian driver was displaced, with the Spaniard moving almost half-a-second clear of his teammate, Felipe Massa, who was in P2. Webber finally emerged from the pits with six minutes remaining, followed by Vettel sixty seconds later. When they finally posted their first times, the Red Bulls looked strong once again with Vettel moving two-tenths clear of Alonso, whilst Webber trailed the Spaniard by just 0.036 seconds. Lewis Hamilton nearly went off on the exit of Parabolica, and the Mercedes driver could only go P9 with his first competitive time. However, it wasn’t enough as the Briton dropped out in Q2 for the first time this season, and he was joined by Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean as Lotus appeared to struggle. Sergio Perez did enough to make it into Q3 with a late lap, whilst Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg performed admirably to finish fourth and fifth.

Keen on making up for his teammate’s failure, Nico Rosberg was the first driver out in Q3 along with Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo. Ferrari were also quick to send their drivers out, lining up once again to try and give Alonso greater straight line speed thanks to Massa’s tow. However, neither driver could match Webber’s benchmark time, a full four-tenths behind the Australian. Vettel resumed normal service by going quickest of all with five minutes remaining, with his teammate for 2014, Ricciardo, going fourth with his first time despite a mistake on the exit of turn five. Webber could not topple his teammate late on, but Massa managed to outqualify his illustrious teammate to line up fourth. Nico Hulkenberg upset the odds to finish an incredible third, but it was his compatriot, Vettel, who went quicker still on his final lap to lock out the front row for Red Bull.

This result marks Vettel’s fortieth pole position in Formula One and fourth pole of the season, and this result is made all the more sweeter by the failings of his championship rivals. Qualifying also marks a return to form for Sauber, with Hulkenberg securing the team’s best result of the season for Sauber, but home favorites Alonso and Massa will be frustrated not to have finished in the top three.

Title contenders stumble on the streets of Toronto

Photo: IndyCar
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The championship picture of the Verizon IndyCar Series saw a massive shakeup after Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto. While points leader Scott Dixon ended up in victory lane, his third win on the streets of Toronto and his third win of the 2018 season, all of his championship rivals stumbled.

Josef Newgarden, the pole sitter and second-place man in championship – he trailed Dixon by 33 points entering Sunday – led from the pole and looked to be a contender for the win, but a Lap 34 restart saw his day come apart.

Newgarden ran wide exiting the final corner coming to the green flag and smacked the outside wall. He plummeted through the field and pitted under caution – for a Turn 1 pileup involving Graham Rahal, Max Chilton, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, and Sebastien Bourdais – to allow the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet Team Penske group to examine the car for damage.

Newgarden continued on, but was never a contender the rest of the day, ultimately finishing ninth.

“I knew it would be low grip, but not zero grip. I just lost the front end completely,” Newgarden said in describing how the wall contact happened. “I feel terrible, it’s not fun to make a mistake.”

Alexander Rossi, who sits third in the championship, ran a steady sixth in the first stint until Lap 27, when contact with Will Power damaged his front wing. Rossi was then caught up in the melee on the Lap 34 restart, getting airborne over the left-front of his Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay.

Rossi again pitted for a new front wing – he had six stops in total – and ended up eighth on a day when he felt like a podium beckoned.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result. I don’t think we had the car to beat Scott (Dixon), but for sure with the problems that everyone had, we could’ve finished second. It’s been a difficult string of races,” Rossi said afterward.

Hunter-Reay, too, had a day forget. After going from sixth to third on the start, he spun his No. 28 DHL Honda into the Turn 3 Barrier on Lap 27. And like Rossi, he was caught up in the Lap 34 pileup, falling off the lead lap in the process.

Hunter-Reay languished in 16th at the checkered flag.

“It was a very unfortunate day and a big loss for us in points,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “The DHL Honda was running comfortable in third and pushing hard, but I had too much front brake lock and found the tire barrier – that’s my fault. Then after that, we got caught up in a wreck, which put us a lap down. From there we just fought to stay in front of the leader.”

Power, too, hit his struggles after the first stint, when contact with the Turn 11 wall, an incident similar to the one that his Team Penske teammate Newgarden had, bent the right-rear suspension of his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. He also had contact with Rossi later that lap.

Power lost two laps in the pits as the team made repairs, and he took the checkered flag in 18th.

“In the last corner, I brushed the wall and bent a rear toe link, so the car was a little bit out of whack. I didn’t even know that (Alexander) Rossi and I touched. I was just kind of trying to hang on until we got a yellow and could pit,” Power explained. “I’ve never had so many DNFs; not DNF for this race, but like a DNF in a season. Still, it’s kind of how this sport can go.”

All told, their struggles mean that Dixon leads the championship by 62 points over Newgarden. Rossi sits third, 70 points of the lead, followed by Hunter-Reay and Power, who sit 91 and 93 points out of the lead respectively.

And the next race, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (July 29 on NBCSN) won’t make it easy for them to make up ground, as Dixon’s record there is astoundingly strong. The four-time IndyCar champion has five wins at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, his most recent triumph coming in 2014, a race in which he famously came from last on the grid (22nd) to win.

Conversely, Newgarden, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, and Power have a combined one win at Mid-Ohio (Newgarden, last year).

However, the likes of Newgarden and Rossi still appear confident that they can make up for their Toronto struggles.

“We have to move on now and try to pick it back up. With the championship battle, we’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help but look, we have plenty of racing (left),” said Newgarden. “We need to keep our head up here. We’re going to be just fine, we’ve got fast cars and the best in the business. If we get our mistakes sorted out, we’re going to be just fine.”

Rossi, who finished sixth at Mid-Ohio last year, echoed similar sentiment, and thinks Mid-Ohio presents an opportunity to get back on track.

“We’re very good at Mid-Ohio, we’re kind of circling Toronto and Mid-Ohio as two races we were going to be pretty good at, so we got to reset, man, and just execute,” Rossi explained afterward. “We’re fast. We’re there every weekend. That’s the important thing. It’s a lot harder to be outside the top 10 and looking for answers. We’re fighting for pole every weekend. We’re in the Fast Six virtually every weekend, so you’re putting yourself in position to have a good result, it hasn’t come really since Texas.”

The 2018 championship is far from over – the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma being a double-points event helps ensure as much. But, if Dixon does claim the 2018 title, Toronto may be the race that serves as the turning point.

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