Vettel takes 50th F1 pole in Mexico qualifying, denies Verstappen record

Leave a comment

Sebastian Vettel left it late to charge to the 50th pole position of his Formula 1 career in qualifying for the Mexican Grand Prix on Saturday, edging out Red Bull rival Max Verstappen.

Verstappen had looked poised to become the youngest pole-sitter in F1 history and break Vettel’s own record from the 2008 Italian Grand Prix, having laid down the pace in Q2 before taking provisional pole with his first Q3 run.

However, a slow final effort opened the door to Vettel, who nailed his final qualifying lap to nick pole away for Ferrari, with his time of 1:16.488 being just 0.086 seconds faster than Verstappen’s best time.

Verstappen was left “super annoyed” in second, knowing the pole record had been in his grasp, while the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were left to lock out the second row in P3 and P4 respectively.

While Hamilton could only finish four-tenths slower than his sole remaining title rival, the Briton only needs a top-five finish to wrap up his fourth drivers’ championship on Sunday in Mexico.

Kimi Raikkonen took fifth for Ferrari ahead of Force India’s Esteban Ocon, who sprung a surprise by breaking into the top six ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, who was seventh for Red Bull.

Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr. both reached Q3 for Renault, taking eighth and ninth, while Sergio Perez struggled to P10 in his home qualifying session.

Williams failed to get either of its drivers through to Q3 as Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll took P11 and P12 respectively. Massa finished two-tenths of a second back from Perez in P10, while Stroll was over 1.3 seconds adrift after a slow effort in Q2 on his sole fast run.

Brendon Hartley made his way through to Q2 for the first time in F1, easing through the first stage of qualifying, but was unable to get a shot at making it into the top 10 after suffering an engine issue before he could post a lap time.

As a result, the New Zealander finished 13th, ahead of McLaren drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne as they sat the session out due to pending grid penalties.

Toro Rosso teammate Pierre Gasly’s tough Mexican Grand Prix weekend continued as the engine issue that forced him to park up in FP3 meant he could not feature in qualifying, leaving the Frenchman P20 and with grid penalties to take.

Sauber picked up where it left off in Austin by nearly making it through to Q2 once again, with Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein qualifying 16th and 17th respectively. The pair finished clear of Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean as the team’s Mexico problems from 2016 reared their head once again, leaving them 18th and 19th respectively ahead of Gasly in P20.

The Mexican Grand Prix is live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 2:30pm ET on Sunday.

F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

Follow@KyleMLavigne